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A whisper away from a beautiful end

Chapter Text

In the days following the Battle of Ice and Fire, most avoid him like the grey plague.

It’s no wonder, really. After defeating the army of the dead, it must be terrifying to see a man come back to life in earnest. Many have one hand on their blades when he passes, fearing he will turn on them yet, that he will single-handedly continue the Night King’s vile work. It doesn’t help that his eyes have been blue since he was born.

Jorah can’t say he’s particularly bothered by it. True resurrection is nearly unheard of in Westeros, and the Westerosi – and Northerners in particular – have always been sceptical of the supernatural, unwilling to believe anything they have not witnessed for themselves. He used to be exactly like them, before he was forced to flee to Essos. But in the Eastern Continent, Red Priests and Priestesses have widespread the faith of R’hllor. In the Free Cities, firemages perform on every street corner, old crones predict the future with eerie accuracy, and bloodmagic is practiced in secret for copious amounts of coin.

Yet even then he never completely lost all of his disbelief – at least, not until he found Daenerys crouching down amidst the ashes of her husband’s funeral pyre, unburnt, unharmed, and clutching three hatchling dragons to her chest. In the face of that miracle, returning from the dead seems like little more than a parlour trick.

That’s not to say he isn’t insurmountably grateful for the second chance he’s been given. Jorah died the way he always wanted to – in battle, protecting his Queen, the epitome of a true knight. But Daenerys has not yet taken the Seven Kingdoms, does not yet have other protectors, is not yet safe. He is the first of her Queensguard, the only of her Queensguard, and he cannot leave her yet. He will serve her, gladly and with honour, until death takes him a second time. Because she needs him by her side, now more than ever.

The Great War may be over, but the Last War is still to come.

Before they can launch an attack on King’s Landing, however, the brave men and women who died in the battle against the Night King must be honoured. It was quickly decided that the corpses of the fallen are to be burned, the earth too stiff to bury anyone until winter has passed. Those who unwillingly served in the army of the dead are stacked high, to be set alight by dragonfire; those who lost their lives fighting for the living are being collected with more care, to be burned on pyres.

Jorah has spent most of his waking hours outside the walls of Winterfell, away from the distrusting stares, taking charge in the building of the pyres. During his time spent with Khal Drogo’s khalasar, he’s helped build quite a few of the massive wooden structures, not the least of which was the great Khal’s own, the pyre that would birth the first dragons the world had seen in centuries. He’s learned how to stack the wood, how to distribute the kindling, how to ensure the wood will burn quickly and evenly and brightly. It’s not a skill he expected to need ever again.

A few dozen of the Unsullied are under his command, building pyres with his instructions. They don’t work as quickly as the Dothraki could, but the men who remain of Daenerys’ khalasar have been avoiding Jorah’s presence as much as the Westerosi have. To them, returning from the dead can be naught but bloodmagic, and bloodmagic is one of the greatest taboos in their culture. Regaining their trust and respect will be a time-consuming process.

He’s dragging a set of logs from the large pile near the walls back to the pyre he’s been working on when he feels the other ends of them lift off the ground, and he looks over his shoulder to find that Jon Snow is the one sharing his burden.

Jon gives him a tentative smile. “Hard to sit still, isn’t it?”

“There’s much to be done,” Jorah responds. “The fallen won’t honour themselves, and there’s yet another war to prepare for.”

“Aye,” Jon agrees, “but that’s not what I meant.”

“Then speak plainly.”

They heave the logs atop the half-finished pyre, and Jorah sets to tying them in place. “It’s hard to sit still,” Jon says again, “when you know just how still you might otherwise have been.”

Jorah looks at him over the stacked wood, one eyebrow raised. “And what would you know of it?”

“I died once, too,” Jon reveals, placing a hand over his heart. “At Castle Black.”

And that’s – not as unexpected as it should be. “How?”

“Mutiny,” Jon grinds out the word. “When I made the decision to let the Free Folk come south of the Wall, it didn’t sit well with some.”

Jorah can’t contain the disdainful snort that escapes him. “I imagine it wouldn’t.”

His father died in much the same way, butchered by his own men for defending the rights of those living beyond the Wall. The Night’s Watch always was a curious militia, their ranks filled with criminals sent to man the Wall as punishment for their crimes, but also with respectable warriors, those who took the Black voluntarily to help guard the realms of Men. A good combination, when the honourable outweigh the wicked, and a terrible combination when the wicked outweigh the honourable.

“I was lucky,” Jon says. “When I died, the Red Woman had only just returned to Castle Black. If Stannis Baratheon’s army hadn’t fallen, I would have stayed dead.”

“Lucky,” Jorah repeats, the word tasting sour on his tongue. “If the Red Priests and Priestesses are to be believed, there is no such thing as luck. There is only fate.”

“Maybe they’re right,” Jon has to admit. “But I have to wonder what ours is, then, that we were pulled back from death itself.”

Jorah would be lying if he said he hadn’t wondered the same thing. But then it’s pointless to worry over something out of his control. “We don’t know how our fates will unravel. No one knows that. We can only live well, and make our own path.”

Jon is quiet for a long time, contemplating his words, and Jorah has taken to stuffing dry straw and twigs between the logs of the pyre before the silence is broken again.

“I thought my fate was to end the Long Night,” Jon murmurs, looking back at the towers of Winterfell. “I thought I’d been brought back to defeat the Night King. To die with him.”

That gives him pause. “You believed you would not survive the battle?”

“I was convinced of it,” Jon confirms. “And yet…”

“Here you stand,” Jorah finishes for him, the Words of his House bringing a solemn smile to his face. With Lyanna gone, and himself long past his prime, it’s more than likely the Mormont name will end with him.

“Here I stand,” Jon echoes. “And I’m not sure where to go from here.”

The statement hangs in the air between them, not quite a question but undeniably a request. “Are you asking for advice?”

Jon looks away. It’s easy to forget he is so young still, with the weight of his responsibilities aging him well beyond his years, and Jorah’s heart goes out to him. Jon is a good man, and Jorah does like him, even if he doesn’t quite trust him with Daenerys – but then he’s never trusted anyone with Daenerys. Not Drogo, not Daario, not Hizdahr, and not even himself, at times.

“You’re the only one left who knows what it’s like, now that Beric Dondarrion isn’t coming back again,” Jon mutters eventually. “And Dany seems to value your counsel.”

He’s not sure if he has any meaningful counsel to offer. He’s only been living his second life for a handful of days, and he doesn’t have all the answers Jon seeks. But he can at least share his insight. “You live,” he says simply, because that is exactly what he’s decided for himself. “You live, and you do what you believe is right. That’s all you can do.”

Jon frowns in that way all Starks tend to do, seeming to glower but really just deep in thought. “What if,” he begins, hesitantly, “what if what I believe is right isn’t what others believe is right?”

“Then you fight,” Jorah replies readily.

“And what if I don’t want to fight anymore?”

He sounds so very tired. He’s seen so much bloodshed in his life already, and they both know there is far more yet to come. “Then you should re-evaluate if what you believe to be right truly is right,” Jorah advises. “If it is, it will be worth fighting for.”

Jon nods slowly. It’s easy to see something is weighing heavily on him, but it’s not Jorah’s place to pry. “Come on,” he says instead, beginning the trek back to the walls. “The logs aren’t going to haul themselves.”

“No,” Jon chuckles as he falls into step beside Jorah, “it takes a pair of dead men to do that.”

Chapter Text

When there is a knock at his door late that evening, he doesn’t have to guess to know who’s come to see him. “Come in, Khaleesi.”

Daenerys enters the small room he gets to call his for the duration of their stay at Winterfell, as she has every evening since the Night King fell to Arya Stark’s dagger. Late-night calls from his Queen aren’t unusual; she often seeks out his company, especially during trying times, because he is her oldest friend. But there is something different about these visits. It’s as though she has to look upon him with her own two eyes before she can close them soundly for the night, knowing he is, in fact, still alive.

Tonight, however, there seems to be something more on her mind than a mere friendly chat. “Ser Jorah, I am in need of your counsel.”

Jorah inclines his head, offering her the lone chair furnishing his humble chambers before sitting himself down on the edge of his bed. “Of course, Khaleesi.”

Daenerys smiles faintly at his use of her old title, a privilege he worked hard to earn again. But it doesn’t reach her eyes, and her form is tense as she sits, folding her hands in her lap. She looks more like the girl he first met in Essos than the Queen she grew to be, and that is disconcerting. “What I am about to divulge,” she begins, “can never leave this room.”

“It won’t,” he promises swiftly. “I swear on my – well, perhaps not on my life.”

It’s enough to startle a laugh from her. “That’s horrible,” she chides, but her eyes are brighter than they were before. “Swear on your honour, then. You’ve yet to lose that.”

On the contrary; he’s lost his honour many times before. He lost it the day he sold slaves, then again the day he began to inform Varys of his Queen’s movements, and a last time when she banished him from her side. But he likes to think he’s regained some of it while serving her, and he will never betray her trust again. “I swear on my honour.”

Daenerys nods, taking a deep breath. “Before the Night King and his army arrived, Jon Snow told me something,” she says, a hint of bitterness in her voice. “I was unsure if he spoke truly, but I inquired with the Three-Eyed Raven, and he has confirmed it.”

Jorah leans forward, unease creeping up his spine. “What did he tell you?” he questions, his tone laced with the promise of retribution. He has a lot of respect for Jon, but if he has hurt Daenerys in any way…

She swallows thickly. “There were records, at the Maesters’ Citadel, of my brother. Rhaegar,” she clarifies when Jorah’s eyes darken at the thought of Viserys. “It seems he –” She chuckles mirthlessly. “Before the War of the Usurper, Rhaegar had his marriage to Elia Martell annulled, so he could wed another.”

She falters, and Jorah offers her his hand. When she takes it, he squeezes her fingers gently. “Another?” he nudges gently.

She looks him in the eye when she says it. “Lyanna Stark.”

Lyanna Stark.

The girl who was engaged to wed Robert Baratheon, the girl who was said to have been kidnapped and defiled by Rhaegar, the girl whose love started a rebellion that would end the Targaryen reign. The girl for whom his cousin was named.

And Rhaegar Targaryen married her.

“So the rumours were false,” he whispers, horror-struck. There wasn’t a soul in the Seven Kingdoms who did not believe Rhaegar had taken Lyanna against her will, not with her betrothed looking as he did in his younger years. “Forgive me, Khaleesi. If I had known of your brother’s true intentions, I never would have picked up a blade in Robert’s name.”

“I know,” she says, gracing him with a brief smile, “but that is beside the point.”

“Beside the point?” he repeats, his mind reeling. What could possibly be worse than knowing her brother died for naught but loving the wrong woman?

“Rhaegar and Lyanna had a child together. A son,” she divulges – and that really is the only thing that could be worse. “He was born in Dorne, not long after Rhaegar fell in battle. His mother did not survive the birth, but before she died, she entrusted her child to her brother, asking him to raise him as his own to avoid the inevitable wrath of Robert Baratheon.”

It takes a moment for the penny to drop.

“You don’t mean – Jon Snow is actually –?”

“Aegon Targaryen, the umpteenth of his name,” Daenerys confirms, a sardonic smile on her lips. “Rhaegar’s legitimate child. The true heir to the Iron Throne.”

“No,” Jorah protests immediately, the word little more than a growl. “He’s not.”

Daenerys shakes her head. “He is the male offspring of my older brother. That places him ahead of me in the line of succession. By law.”

By law,” he grinds out, “the Targaryens lost their claim to the Iron Throne when Robert Baratheon seized it for himself. By law, the rightful heir of the Seven Kingdoms is his firstborn bastard son.”

She draws herself up, regal as a true Queen. “The Targaryens,” she speaks the name with pride, “have ruled Westeros for centuries.”

“That they have,” Jorah agrees, “because Aegon the Conqueror earned his name, when he came from Old Valyria with his dragons. But before, from the first, this land belonged to the Children of the Forest, until they were nearly rendered extinct by the arrival of the First Men. Then the First Men lost most of Westeros to the Andals, and the Andels had to cede part of their land to the Rhoynar. Wars have been fought over this continent since the dawn of time, Khaleesi, and what was a certainty yesterday could very well be ancient history tomorrow.”

Daenerys purses her lips, the way she tends to do when something displeases her. “If that is the case, Ser Jorah, if I truly have no claim to the Iron Throne at all, then why have you followed me all these years? Why did you proclaim me your Queen if I have no right to rule?”

“Because there is a difference,” he says delicately, “between having a right to rule, and being the right one to rule. I told you years ago, in Qarth, that centuries come and go without a person who can and should rule coming into the world. But you are that person, and that is why you are my Queen.”

There’s a spark of recognition in her eyes. “‘There are times when I look at you, and I still can’t believe you’re real’,” she murmurs the words he’d spoken to her then, the first time he’d let show just how much he loves her. “It’s funny. These past few days, I’ve often thought the same thing about you.”

He cannot help the soft smile that tugs at his lips, nor the way his heart foolishly soars at her words. “If there’s one thing you should know by now, Khaleesi, it’s that it is not so easy to be rid of me.”

“Indeed not,” she returns his smile. “Nor do I wish to be, Ser. Good advisors are hard to come by, and dear friends even harder still.”

“I am honoured you consider me as such,” he says, and that he means wholeheartedly. There was a time when he yearned for more than her platonic affections – and perhaps a small part of him does still – but being banished from her side put in perspective just how lucky a man he is, to be allowed in her presence on a daily basis. He will never put their relationship in jeopardy again. “I will always be yours to command.”

“Tell me, then,” she commands indeed, “what I am to do about Jon Snow? The law may not put his claim above mine, but if people learned of his true heritage, they might seek to name him King in my stead.” Her hands clench into fists in her lap. “I don’t know whether to swear him to secrecy or to cut his throat while he sleeps.”

Her voice hitches; she would never be capable of killing a man in his sleep, least of all a man she’s come to care for. Despite everything, she still has that gentle heart she tries so hard to hide.

“Perhaps you should do neither,” Jorah muses, absentmindedly scratching his chin. “Perhaps you should be the one to share this news.”

Her eyebrows draw together in confusion. “What?”

“Information this valuable has a way of spreading, Khaleesi,” he explains. “Sooner or later, word will get out, no matter how much you try to keep it hidden. I believe it would be best if you stand with him when he unveils the truth, and let others see that you are still the Queen. His, and theirs.”

“It will show them I have naught to fear,” she murmurs, and he can practically see the fire gleaming in her eyes. “Jon Snow may be a Targaryen, but I am the last dragon.”

“Indeed you are, my Queen,” Jorah inclines his head, smiling fondly. “And if my advice serves you ill, I could always stage a sparring accident.”

He says it only half-jokingly, but it has the desired effect; she laughs, and Jorah will never cease to feel proud of coaxing that beautiful sound from her. “I will hold you to that, Ser.”

She leaves him with a word of gratitude and a gentle kiss on his forehead, and Jorah sleeps soundly that night.

Chapter Text

The standing army of Bear Island has been reduced to a mere two dozen men.

Jorah only knows perhaps a handful of them, the familiar faces of his youth long gone. Most of the remaining Bear Islanders are young still, though no longer fresh-faced; the harsh climate of their homeland creates hardy, weathered people, no great beauties in any light but most certainly the fiercest fighters in all the Seven Kingdoms.

And Lyanna Mormont was their Lady not only in name, but also in spirit.

“She felled a giant,” Tormund Giantsbane says, his hand clasping Jorah’s shoulder as they both look down upon her too still body, given a place of honour at the frontmost pyre. “Wee little thing, ran right up to him and stabbed the fucker in the eye. It was beautiful. Mormont or not, I would’ve been proud to fight alongside this one.”

Jorah cannot quite manage to smile. “It’s the Mormont way,” he mutters, recalling Tyrion Lannister’s words to him on their journey to Meereen, a lifetime ago. “Long sullen silences and an occasional punch in the face.”

And Tormund laughs, loudly, uncaring for the way people stare at the madman expressing such joy at a wake. “Sounds about right, aye.”

He squeezes Jorah’s shoulder firmly and moves on, paying his respects to the others who’ve given their lives in the Great War. By all accounts, Jorah should be too, but he simply can’t pull himself away from the sight of his last kin, gone long before her time. It seems like a cruel joke for him to be the one still standing, the last member of House Mormont, while she won’t even get to see her fourteenth nameday.

Another presence appears at his side, and Jorah doesn’t have to turn to know it’s Jon Snow – or Aegon Targaryen, whichever name he prefers. “When Sansa and I went to ask for support in taking back Winterfell from the Boltons,” he says, his voice hoarse, “she told me every man from Bear Island fights with the strength of ten mainlanders. I’d have called it a boast, if I hadn’t seen the two of you fight in the Great War.”

They also both got themselves killed in the Great War, but that’s to be expected. With the strength of ten men also comes their overconfidence, and their lack of self-preservation. “I tried to get her to stay with the women and children down in the crypts,” he finds himself saying, shaking his head at his own foolishness. “Should have known better.”

Jon chuckles softly. “I’m surprised you even lived to participate in the battle.”

He snorts something that could pass for a laugh, but it sticks in his throat, just like the tears he’s yet to shed.

Jon seems to understand, squeezing his shoulder like Tormund did before stepping away. More come and go, lords and ladies and knights and commoners alike, the sight of the dead piled atop the pyres convincing even the most fearful that Jorah is not an enemy, despite his unconventional return from death. Some even attempt to give him words of solace, comfort he doesn’t deserve, not when he left their home when she was but three years of age, not when it’s his absence that thrust her into this position of leadership, when it’s ultimately his fault she’s cold and stiff despite their victory.

And to add insult to injury, he is the one who will have to lead Bear Island now, his title of Lord restored by her demise. He left the lordship behind with Longclaw when he fled from justice, expecting to never regain either of them, only to be offered both within the last year. The blade he refused, but the title he cannot. There’s no one else to take up the mantle, now that he is the only one in all the Seven Kingdoms and beyond to carry the Mormont name.

If the Red Priests are right, and life is determined solely by fate, then she’s a cruel mistress indeed.

The sun has dipped low, on the verge of disappearing behind the horizon, and that is when Daenerys comes to stand beside him. She doesn’t speak, but her mere presence is grounding, a welcome source of strength when his legs want nothing more than to give out from under him. She told him long ago, when they traversed the Red Waste, that he was her strength – but the reverse is true just as much.

“Look,” she says eventually, pointing up to the sky, and Jorah follows her finger to see the night’s first star shine brightly above their heads. He knows what it means; the Dothraki believe stars are the spirits of the greatest warriors, and pyres cannot be lit until one of them has appeared to guide the spirits of the newly deceased onwards into the heavens.

It’s time.

He leans down to press a kiss to Lyanna’s forehead. “You stood tall, cousin.”

Only when the wood has been set alight and the flames rise high does he allow the tears to fall. If anyone asks, he’ll blame it on the smoke.


The feast is a loud, obnoxious affair he wishes he could have forsaken for the privacy of his room.

He can’t, of course. Daenerys is here, surrounded by people who are unfamiliar to her, people to whom she is unfamiliar, and he won’t leave her unprotected. It takes only one drunk with a knife and half-decent aim to fell a Queen.

It means he’s stone-cold sober, having refused even the customary goblet of wine served with dinner, and the ever-increasing rambunctious atmosphere is very quickly getting on his nerves.

And there is one person who can get on his nerves like nobody else can. “You know this is a party, right, Mormont?” Tyrion asks as he holds out a goblet of wine for Jorah, his voice already slightly slurred from the copious amount of alcohol he’s consumed. “To celebrate that we survived?”

Jorah places his palm atop the goblet and pushes it down towards the table. “I didn’t exactly ‘survive’, now did I?”

“Technicality,” Tyrion waves away his protest, but when Jorah still doesn’t take the wine from him, he scowls. “Fine, be like that. Gods forbid the wine’ll actually make you crack a smile.”

“Gods forbid,” Jorah drawls.

Tyrion takes the goblet and drains it himself, in three large gulps. “You’re still the least charming man I’ve ever met, you know.”

“And you still haven’t ever shut up,” he counters.

“I’m certainly not planning on it tonight,” Tyrion laughs, trying to drink from the goblet again only to find it already empty. “There’s wine, there’s women, and the night’s still young! What more could you want?”

“Peace and quiet.”

“Alright, I got it, I’m going. Jaime will entertain me,” the dwarf proclaims. “In the meantime, Mormont, my seat is empty.”

And with a decidedly unsubtle wink, he saunters off in search of his brother.

Despite himself, Jorah looks over at the chair Tyrion has vacated, a seat of honour at the high table next to the Queen, as befit her Hand. Would that that were his seat; would that he’d never sold information to Varys, that he’d never been banished, that he’d been present the day she chose her Hand. But this is the path he’s forged for himself – and compared to being dead, or living as a Stone Man, or being denied the presence of his Queen – he doesn’t have much reason to complain.

Daenerys catches his eye, and, to his delight, beckons him over.

“You aren’t drinking,” she observes as she gestures for him to sit. “Is the wine not to your liking?”

Despite himself, he chuckles. “After tasting the fermented mare’s milk the Dothraki favour, any wine is good wine.”

“Then why not indulge?”

“I can’t protect you if my judgement is clouded, Khaleesi.”

She frowns. “You think these people are enemies?”

“Not enemies, no,” Jorah shakes his head. “But the more wine a man drinks, the more common sense he loses.”

Daenerys takes a delicate sip from her goblet; it’s wine, but it’s still her first cup. “I find I have little mind for celebration myself,” she confesses, glancing about the hall. “We burned thousands of people today, and –” She stops, looking away. “And I can’t stop imagining you atop one of those pyres.”

Gods, but he wants to hold her. “Khaleesi –”

“I saw him riding that thing!” Tormund’s voice booms from a few seats over, startling the both of them from their conversation.

Daenerys hastily wipes at her eyes. “I’m merely being foolish, of course.”

“There's nothing foolish about it,” Jorah murmurs gently. “I had terrible dreams for weeks after you climbed into Khal Drogo’s pyre with your dragon eggs.”

“Fire cannot kill a dragon,” she mutters, almost out of habit.

Jorah smiles. “And swords have a damn hard time taking down a bear.”

Daenerys huffs a quiet laugh, lost amidst the cacophony of loud voices – not the least of which is Tormund’s.

“What kind of person climbs on a fucking dragon?” the wildling bellows. “A madman, or a king?!”

He has his arm firmly around Jon’s shoulders, singing his praises, because he loves him – they all love him, and they don’t spare a thought for her, when it’s she who has brought her armies and her dragons south, when it’s she who has suffered the greatest losses in this war that wasn’t even hers to fight.

“Or a queen,” Jorah cannot help but cut in, annoyed at the interruptions, annoyed at the pedestal they’re placing Jon Snow atop when Daenerys Stormborn is the one who rode a dragon long before he even knew they still existed.

“Or a queen!” Tormund exclaims happily, raising his horn of drink with such vigour the wine spills out. “Dragonriders, utterly mad I say!”

Daenerys’ face falls, as it always does when the word ‘mad’ is uttered in relation to her person. The reputation of her father, well-earned it may be, still weighs heavily on her shoulders.

“Excuse me,” she says, her voice toneless. “I believe I’ll retire for the evening.”

Jorah rises with her. “Shall I escort you to your chambers, Your Grace?”

“That won’t be necessary,” Daenerys denies, gesturing for him to sit back down. “But I thank you for your companionship, Ser Jorah.”

He inclines his head in deference and watches her go, purposefully ignoring Varys’ pointed gaze.

Perhaps he’ll have a drink after all.

Chapter Text

“Aegon Targaryen?”

Sansa Stark’s incredulous words echo throughout the eerily silent council chamber.

“It is the truth,” Bran Stark speaks, in that strangely detached voice of his. “I have seen it. And Samwell Tarly has found written proof in the writings of the High Septon formerly known as Maynard.”

“I uh, I brought it with me, if anyone would like to read it,” Samwell adds meekly. “It’s quite a fascinating read, really. The High Septon was a true poet, his use of alliterations was astoundingly –”

“So are you going to be King now?” Arya Stark interrupts the excited babbling of the Maester-in-training.

That seems to have been the questions on everyone’s mind, judging by the tension that sweeps over the gathering.

“No,” Jon says calmly. “Daenerys Targaryen is our Queen. I pledged myself to her, and I will honour that pledge. My name does not change that.”

The war council is overcome by hushed whispers, some disconcerted, others excited, and none of them in agreement about this shocking revelation.

Varys is the one who speaks up, after careful deliberation. “Then why tell us this at all?”

“You of all people should know, Lord Varys, that information of this nature has a way of spreading far and wide,” Daenerys echoes the words Jorah spoke to her before. “I would rather see it divulged here and now than let it fester until it cannot be contained.”

From the other side of the table, Tyrion meets Jorah’s eye, and gives him an ever-so subtle nod of approval. The dwarf is annoyingly clever, and he’s spent enough time in the company of both Jorah and Daenerys to know it was his advice that prompted their Queen to take this path.

“It’s not uncommon for a line of succession to be broken,” Tyrion addresses the council. “Most recently, Aemon Targaryen refused the Crown when it was offered to him, preferring to serve the realm as a Maester rather than its King.”

“And thank the Gods for that,” Jon smiles, locking eyes with Samwell. “Maester Aemon was invaluable at Castle Black.”

“You knew him?” Daenerys asks, her tone laced with an unmistakable sense of longing.

“Aye,” Jon confirms. “He was one of the finest men I’ve ever met. He served the Night’s Watch with honour and loyalty, even when he wanted nothing more than to help his family.” His eyes shine with sincere admiration, and no small amount of grief. “I wish I’d known we were kin when he was still with us.”

Daenerys’ shoulders tense, yearning for the family she never had written plainly across her face.

But as quickly as it came, the emotion is locked away, her regal mask back in place. “We should get back to the matter at hand,” she says. To someone who hasn’t spent years in her company, she would sound impassive – but Jorah knows her better than that, and he can see how hard she has to fight to keep the girl from overtaking the woman. “There is still a war to be fought.”

With over a third of their combined army gone, and the Golden Company now bolstering Cersei Lannister’s troops, their forces are nearly evenly matched. Brute strength won’t win them this war, not anymore; a siege will be necessary. Once the people of King’s Landing realise Cersei would sooner let them starve than give up her crown, they will denounce her as their Queen.

It’s a good plan, but it will take time. Time Daenerys scarcely has the patience for, after waiting so long for this moment.

It’s Sansa who pours just a drop too much oil on the fire. “The men we have left are exhausted. Many of them are wounded,” she points out. “They’ll fight better if they have time to rest and recuperate.”

“How long do you suggest?” Daenerys asks cordially enough.

“I can’t say for certain, not without talking to the officers.”

From the way Daenerys’ lips purse, Jorah can tell she’s displeased. “I came north to fight alongside you, at great cost to my armies and myself,” she bites out the words. “Now that the time has come to reciprocate, you want to postpone?”

Sansa draws herself up, her nostrils flaring. “It’s not just our people; it’s yours,” she snaps back. “You want to throw them into a war they’re not ready to fight?”

“The longer I leave my enemies alone, the stronger they become.”

“Your Grace,” Jorah calls, and she turns to face him. “Forgive me, but I believe Lady Stark raises a valid concern. In the time we’ve spent fighting the dead, Cersei Lannister has finished whatever preparations necessary for the coming battle. She is already at the height of her strength; leaving her be won’t increase her power. But giving our armies time to rest will increase yours. A man at half his strength can only fight with a quarter of his potential.”

“And Cersei wouldn’t dare march her armies up north,” Tyrion jumps in. “She won’t give up the advantage of fighting on familiar ground.”

Daenerys looks from her Hand back to Jorah, holding his gaze for a long moment, and he can see her resolve crumble as the truth of her advisors’ words sink in. “Very well,” she sighs, turning back to address Sansa. “Speak to the officers. Let the men rest. We shall march the day the last soldier is prepared for battle.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” Sansa inclines her head.

For the remainder of the war council, Jorah can feel her eyes on him, studying him. She’s learned how to judge people from Petyr Baelish, one of the sharpest minds in Westeros, a dangerous man brought down only by his love for the wrong woman. He wonders, briefly, what she thinks of him, if she deems him friend or foe, but then it doesn’t matter. He will always stand on the same side as Daenerys; whether Sansa Stark is his ally or his enemy depends entirely on her.

The meeting draws to a close before long; the increased downtime Daenerys has approved will give them plenty of opportunity to create a solid plan of attack, and it’s clear no one’s mind is truly on the war to come in the wake of Jon’s unexpected reveal.

Jorah lingers longer than most, sending Daenerys ahead with Missandei, Tyrion, and Varys. There’s something he still needs to do, for which he hasn’t had the chance amidst the chaos. So he waits, until there is only one other person left in the room, gathering up the many missives, maps, and books scattered across the table.

“Maester Tarly,” he calls, and Samwell nearly drops the stack of parchments he’s holding. “A word, if I could?”

“Oh, of course, Ser Jorah,” he agrees easily, laying the rolls of parchment back onto the table. “What can I do for you?”

Jorah undoes the buckle that keeps Heartsbane strapped to his back, the greatsword too large to carry at his side. “This is yours,” he says, holding out the Valyrian steel blade. “It served me well in battle, but it belongs to House Tarly.”

“It does,” Samwell agrees, but he makes no move to take the sword from him. “I still can’t hold it upright, though. There’s no one in my family who can wield it.”

“But there will be again,” Jorah argues.

“Yes, I hope so,” he says wishfully. “But it will be at least a decade before little Sam will be able to hold a sword like this, and even then I can’t be sure if he’ll want to. I’d rather this blade be in the hands of someone who knows how to use it, in that time.”

It’s a touching sentiment. “I’ll wield it proudly, then. When you want it back, it’s yours,” he promises, strapping the blade to his back again. “Otherwise, I’ll make sure it is returned to House Tarly upon my death.”

My second death, he doesn’t say, but Samwell seems to understand nonetheless. “I’m glad you were brought back, Ser Jorah.”

“As am I,” Jorah smiles. “It would have been a waste of your hard work to cure me of my disease otherwise.”

Samwell returns the smile and opens his mouth to speak, then falters, thinking the better of it. “I should go,” is clearly not what he initially intended to say. He begins to gather up his parchments again. “I still need to put these away before nightfall.”

Jorah lays a hand on his upper arm to stop him. “Nightfall is a few hours away still,” he says. “You’ve more than enough time to speak plainly, if you care to.”

Samwell looks torn between wanting to take him up on his offer and wanting to leave the room as quickly as possible. “What’s it like?” he asks eventually, eagerly, his thirst for knowledge outweighing his anxiety. “Coming back from the dead?”

“It hurt,” Jorah answers, simply but truthfully. He’d been fatally injured in the battle, and he came back to find his wounds closed but the pain inflicted by them still very much present. “It’s quite a shock to the body, having to start up again after shutting down so completely.”

Samwell nods, hastily unrolling one of the pieces of parchment and uncapping an inkwell to scribble along with his words. “Could you recall what had happened?” he fires off another question immediately. “Did you realise you’d… well, you know?”

“Died?” he supplies. “I knew. I had too many wounds, lost too much blood. I knew it had to be the end.”

He dips his quill in the ink again, rapidly documenting Jorah’s every word. “And what about... afterwards?” His eyes shine brightly at the prospect of uncovering such an impossible piece of information. “After we die, is there anything waiting for us?”

Jorah has to disappoint him. “If there is, I can’t remember,” he shakes his head. “It felt as though no time had passed between dying and waking, like a mere fluttering of the eyelids.”

Samwell hums as he writes. “I see.”

“I’m sorry I can’t give you a more coherent account.”

“Oh no, this is quite helpful,” Samwell practically beams at him. “Thank you, Ser Jorah.”

“It’s the least I can do. I owe you more than I can ever repay,” he murmurs, inclining his head. “If there’s anything else you need, I am at your disposal.”

Samwell’s smile fades, a look of contemplation replacing it. “There is… one thing,” he says, hesitantly. “A request, if you will.”

“Anything.”

“Her Grace heeded your counsel, during the meeting. She listens to you,” Samwell assesses, not incorrectly. His expression is serious, his eyes unbearably sad. “Please, make her listen. Don’t let her burn any more innocent people.”

If only he had been there when Randyll and Dickon Tarly refused to bend the knee. If only he hadn’t been infected with Greyscale. If only he’d confessed his betrayal to Daenerys before Ser Barristan uncovered it – if only he’d never betrayed her at all – perhaps they would never have had to have this conversation.

But he has chosen his path, and he can only move forward.

“You have my word.”

Chapter Text

He’s forgotten how much he loathes finances.

Hours upon hours he used to spend, going over the books, attempting to find more coin than he had, coin he could use to buy the things he believed would make Lynesse happy. He pulled funding from every industry on Bear Island, loaned gold by the thousands with more interest than he would ever be able to repay, and eventually, to his undying shame, resorted to selling men into slavery.

Even those first few months in Essos, before Lynesse left him for a wealthier man, he spent every coin he made as a sellsword on her, on expensive food and drink and clothing, granting her the most lavish lifestyle he could while he himself went hungry more often than not. Anything to give her what she wanted, anything to see her smile at him as she had when he crowned her his Queen of Love and Beauty. But she hardly ever smiled anymore, and most certainly not at him. She had ceased to love him long before.

It was only after he was cast out of Lys that he truly learned how to manage his coin. He learned which foods went longest without spoiling, and which of those were easiest to come by in each of the Free Cities. He learned it was better to save money to buy a solid pair of boots than to take cheaper, less resilient leather. He learned how to sew, so he would not have to pay for someone else to fix the tears in his tunic. And above all, he learned not to spend gold on the wiles of women, no matter how enticing the plentiful brothels of the Free Cities could be.

It serves him well now, as he bends over the bookkeeping of Bear Island for the first time in a decade. Lyanna was a good, fair ruler, but she was also young, and reliant on her household for counsel. Too much of the budget has been reserved for arms and medicine; in this time of winter, it’s the fisheries that need funding, as the ocean is one of the few sources of food that can be exploited even as the temperatures drop. Demand for fish always increases during the long winters, when the soil grows rigid even down south, and Bear Island can provide – if its workers are given the necessary financial aid.

So once again, he spends hours upon hours allocating coin, only this time, he seeks to pour the wealth back into Bear Island rather than drain it. To better the lives of its people – his people, though it’s hard to again think of them as such; to ensure House Mormont will be remembered with fondness rather than disdain when it inevitably dies with him.

His candle is burning low by the time the customary knock at his door echoes through his humble chambers.

“So this is what you’ve been doing all day,” Daenerys says when she enters, eying the clutter of books and papers on Jorah’s desk. “Should I leave you to your work, Ser Jorah?”

“No, no,” Jorah denies immediately. He would never shun her company, and if his burning eyes and cramped fingers are any indication, he’s long overdue some respite. “Please, come in, Khaleesi.”

He stands so he can offer her his chair, and she takes the seat with a softly spoken word of gratitude.

“You’ve more administrative duties than I expected,” she remarks, nodding at a precariously stacked pile of old ledgers. “Not even my desk in Meereen was quite so encumbered.”

“It’s less than it seems,” Jorah says as he sits down on his bed, resting his elbows on his knees. “Most of this is for research purposes. The old Maester of Winterfell kept a record of the yearly inventory for each of the bannermen pledged to House Stark, and I requested to borrow the ones detailing the last years of my father’s lordship.”

“Your father’s?” Daenerys questions. “Why?”

“When I was first named Lord of Bear Island, winter had just made way for spring, and the ensuing summer lasted until long after I went east,” he explains. “I’ve not governed the island during wintertime before, but I recall my father left its coffers as full as they’ve ever been.”

Daenerys graces him with a fond smile. “You want to be better for your people.”

“I do,” Jorah confirms, inclining his head. “It shouldn’t be hard. I wasn’t much good to them the first time.”

Her smile fades, a look of contemplation replacing it. “Because of your wife, was it?”

“Her desire for finery was more important to me than the basic needs of my own people,” he sighs, old, familiar shame churning in his stomach. “I was so desperate to please her I thought it acceptable to trade a man’s freedom for the sum I would need to buy her a string of pearls.”

“And now, because of you, thousands upon thousands of slaves have been set free from their masters across all of Slaver’s Bay,” she tells him, her eyes shining with pride. “You have more than made amends.”

She gives him far too much credit. “You were the one who freed them, Khaleesi, not I.”

“Yes,” Daenerys agrees, “but I would not have been able to do so if not for you, Ser. I would have perished in the Red Waste, or I would have been sent to the dosh khaleen, or I would have drunk from that barrel of poisoned wine I was gifted without ever suspecting foul play.”

Jorah shakes his head. “The only reason that wine merchant sought to kill you at all was because of the information I sent to King’s Landing. If I had never informed Varys of your child…”

“If you had not, another would have,” she proclaims – and she’s quite likely correct. “I was never truly safe, not while the Usurper lived.”

“That does not diminish my guilt.”

“Nor does it diminish everything you’ve done to atone for that guilt,” Daenerys counters stubbornly. “You received Robert Baratheon’s royal pardon that day in the marketplace, did you not? You could have returned home that very second. You could have returned home after you exposed the wine merchant, with your conscience soothed. But you stayed.”

He did stay. Despite the piece of paper granting him leave to return to Bear Island, he stayed with Drogo’s khalasar, with its khaleesi. Because even back then, before she was a queen, before she birthed her dragons, before she showed the world what Daenerys Targaryen was truly capable of, he believed in her, with all his heart. “I couldn’t go back to Westeros. Not without you, my Queen.”

She leans forward so she can take his hand. “You stayed with me. From the first. And when you could not stay, you did everything in your power to come back. Even when I didn’t want you to, even when it was impossible, you came back.” She squeezes his fingers, her eyes wet with tears she refuses to shed. “When I say you are forgiven, Jorah the Andal, I am not being kind, or merciful. You have earned my forgiveness, as I’m sure you will earn the forgiveness of your people.”

It’s too much. Her words, her gentle tone, the soft look in her eyes, her hand atop his – it’s too much, far too much, he’s not done anything to deserve this, to be forgiven so completely by the woman he betrayed, the woman he loves, more than he’s ever loved anything. His heart is pounding so hard in his chest he feels as though it may break through his ribcage at any moment, and he has to close his eyes to entrap the moisture threatening to leak from them.

If he was brought back from death itself only to experience this very moment, he will die again a happy man.

He takes her hand in both of his and presses a kiss to the back of it, the one act of intimacy a knight is allowed of his queen. “Circumstances aside,” he murmurs, his voice hoarse from the lump in his throat, “I will be forever grateful I was travelling with the khalasar on the day you were wed to the Khal, Khaleesi.”

“It was destiny,” Daenerys says, with such conviction it takes his breath away. “As surely as I was meant to be the Mother of Dragons, so were you meant to be by my side.”

“Always,” Jorah rasps.

Her free hand comes to rest upon his cheek, and it is so easy to lean into her touch, so easy to forget that her heart belongs to another man, that this is not the courtly relationship a knight and his queen should have. He may be a better man than he used to be, but he still clings to a shred of selfishness, of lordly entitlement, and he allows himself this – this brief, foolish delusion that she could ever be truly his, in every sense of the word.

It is a lie, he knows. But it’s a pretty one.

And he’s not ready to let go of it just yet.

Chapter Text

“Excuse me, Lord Mormont?”

They’ll be leaving soon.

The soldiers are rested, their wounds healed. Whoever isn’t well by now won’t be well for a long time, time they cannot afford. Cersei Lannister remains a threat every day she sits on the Iron Throne, and Daenerys’ patience is wearing thin. There will be one more night before they depart, before their armies surround and lay siege to King’s Landing, to wait for its people to depose Cersei of their own volition.

Jorah won’t be marching with the rest of their forces, instead joining Daenerys and her inner circle at Dragonstone. The Queen and her dragons will lay low, prepared to take on Euron Greyjoy’s Iron Fleet when it inevitably attempts to ferry more rations to King’s Landing. As the first of her Queensguard, Jorah will serve as Daenerys’ last line of defence, should it come to that.

“Lord Mormont?”

From here, atop the recently mended battlements of Winterfell, he can see the North stretch for miles and miles, lush forests and snow-covered ground as far as the eye can perceive. Used to be one could see the Wall from here; now there is just more open ground, mountains on the horizon in the distance. If he concentrates, he can almost imagine he can see Bear Island, past the snow and the trees and the ocean.

He takes it in, breathes the cold air, lets the North settle in his bones. This is his homeland, but his home is with Daenerys, always, and it is south they’ll have to go. With the war yet to come, he doesn’t know if he’ll ever be back here again.

At least Bear Island will be in good hands. He hasn’t spent his evenings bent over the books for nothing, and Lyanna’s household – his household, he has to remind himself – should be able to carry out his instructions without issue. This isn’t the first time the isle’s ruler has gone off to war, and it likely won’t be the last. Bear Islanders have never been good at sitting still while others fight their battles.

“Lord Mormont!”

The voice just at his back pulls him forcefully from his reminiscence, and only now does he realise it’s Sansa Stark who’s been calling his name – his title – for quite a while now.

“Forgive me, Lady Stark,” he hastens to say, pairing his words with a stiff-backed bow. “I seem to keep forgetting I’m once again a Lord.”

Her look of mild annoyance is quickly replaced by a smile that’s meant to look soft – but he can see the shrewd intelligence gleaming in her eyes, knows full well she’s trying to make him feel at ease while she remains vigilant. He’s witnessed Daenerys deploy that look at people with questionable loyalties too often not to recognise it.

“It’s quite alright,” she assures him as she steps up to stand beside him. “With three brothers, I never expected to be Lady of Winterfell either.”

“And yet, here you stand,” Jorah can’t help but invoke the words of his House. “Is there something I can do for you, my Lady?”

Her smile warps into something sardonic. “It’s funny,” she says, though her tone conveys no humour, “I spent so long with the Lannisters and the Tyrells in the South, I nearly forgot how quickly Northerners tend to get to the point.”

He can’t help but notice she’s dancing around it, right now. “Then with all due respect, Lady Stark, please make yours.”

“I can’t figure you out, Lord Mormont,” she speaks as bluntly as he’s requested. “I pride myself on being a good judge of character, but I cannot make sense of you.”

It’s frustrating her more than she lets on, Jorah can tell from the way she purses her lips – not at all unlike Daenerys. For two women so often at odds, they’re more alike than they would ever admit. “In what regard, my Lady? To my knowledge I haven’t been deceptive.”

“No, you’ve been quite transparent,” Sansa agrees. “You’re in love with her. With the Dragon Queen.” She doesn’t wait for his confirmation – she knows she’s right. “And she doesn’t love you back.”

Jorah leans against one of the merlons and raises an eyebrow at her. “It seems to me you’ve figured out quite a bit, Lady Stark.”

Sansa mirrors his position, leaning against the next merlon. “And yet the most important part still eludes me,” she confesses. “Why do you follow her? She’s not going to give you what you want.”

He’s reminded unpleasantly of Viserys’ taunting words about his desires, the day the Beggar King tried to steal his sister’s dragon eggs. “And what is it I want, exactly?”

She scoffs. “You want what all men want,” she proclaims. “How long until you simply take what you’re owed?”

He subconsciously stands up straighter, his hands balled into fists. “The Queen owes me nothing.”

“She owes you her life,” Sansa points out.

“And I owe her mine,” Jorah counters. “She has no debt to me.”

“Then why do you follow her?” she asks again.

“I follow her because I believe in her,” Jorah answers promptly. It’s a simple truth. “I believe in her with all my heart, and what I want, Lady Stark, is for her to be happy.”

“And that’s all you want?”

Indeed, there was a time when he wanted much, much more – but he’s long since realised that loving her, truly loving her, means putting her happiness above all else. Even if he isn’t the one making her happy the way he’d like to, the way he knows he could if she’d let him. “Yes.”

Sansa’s eyes narrow. “Really? Even at cost to yourself?”

“It’s no cost at all.”

“No cost at all?” she repeats, dubious. “You died for her.”

“I did,” Jorah nods. “And I’d do it again if I had to.”

Her brow furrows. “So, what, you’re a true knight, is that it?” she sniffs, scepticism dripping from her every syllable. “Like the ones from the stories?”

He cannot help the incredulous laugh that escapes him. “I’m no true knight, Lady Stark,” he says, and that is another simple truth. “I sold slaves. I fled justice. I’ve killed people who deserved to live, and let live people who deserved to die. If I qualify as a true knight, then the term has truly lost all its meaning.”

“The term lost its meaning a long time ago,” Sansa murmurs in response.

She’s so young, and she’s already been through so much. It’s no wonder she no longer believes in the old tales of valiant knights and virtuous maidens, but the death of innocence is a loss that’s not nearly mourned enough.

“Perhaps you’re right,” he concedes. “No one man is a force of pure good in this world, no matter how much he may try. But that doesn’t mean he has a right to stop trying.”

“And that’s what you’re doing?” she asks. “Trying to be a good man?”

“Every day.”

She looks at him as though she’s trying to peer into his very soul, and he lets her. He has nothing left to hide; his every secret has long since been exposed, from his shameful betrayal to his deepest love. He’s been broken and reforged so often there are plenty of cracks for her to see through, exposing his innermost core. What she’ll find there, even he doesn’t know.

The spell is broken only when Drogon and Rhaegal fly overhead, back from their daily hunt, the dragons’ satisfied screeches carrying for miles.

“I must take my leave,” Sansa says then, her eyes still on the sky. “Thank you for your time, Lord Mormont.”

“Of course, Lady Stark.”

She indeed takes her leave, though not before turning to address Jorah a last time. “Perhaps,” she begins, a faint smile tugging at her lips, “a true knight is nothing more than a man who never stops trying. Wouldn’t you agree?”

His first, immediate instinct is to deny her – because whatever deity watches over them must know he has not lived as a true knight should, despite his feeble attempts. But though he certainly did not live a true knight, he did, in fact, die one, and that may just make all the difference. “Perhaps so, my Lady.”

Her smile widens, and she graces him with a curtsey before she departs, back into the warm halls of her home.

Chapter Text

It’s strange to watch the Targaryen armies march south without him at their helm.

Not that command isn’t in good hands; Jon Snow is leading the Westerosi, while Grey Worm heads the Unsullied and what remains of the Dothraki. But Jorah has spearheaded nearly every conquering in Daenerys Targaryen’s name, from Qarth to Yunkai to Meereen. He knows his job as the Queen’s last line of defence is equally as important, yet there is something disconcerting about staying behind with the women and the dwarf and the eunuch.

Varys notices the stormy look in his eyes. “It can’t be easy,” the Spider drawls, “having been gifted such a big sword and not being allowed to swing it.”

“The whole point of the siege is keeping our blades clean,” Jorah counters, purposefully ignoring the blatant innuendo. “And I go where the Queen commands me to go.”

Tyrion snorts a laugh. “Don’t even try to banter with this one, my friend,” he tells Varys, patting his elbow. “It’s like trying to amuse a brick wall.”

Varys gives him a thin-lipped smile. “If a fool fails to amuse a king, to whom does the blame fall?”

“Oh, not another one of your blasted riddles,” Tyrion laments. “Lucky for us, he’s not a king, and we’re not fools.”

Jorah slowly raises a single eyebrow at the dwarf, and Tyrion’s grin swiftly slides off his face.

“Well,” Varys lilts, amusement clear in his every syllable, “I do believe you were just outwitted by a brick wall.”

It was easy to forget, in the midst of waging war and burning the dead and planning to wage war yet again, how tiresome the Hand of the Queen and the Master of Whisperers are when they’re put together. Clever men they are, their political minds indispensable in Daenerys’ quest for the Iron Throne, but Jorah finds he has very little patience for their combined malarkey. Back in the day of Joffrey Baratheon’s reign, when the two of them served on the small council together with the likes of Petyr Baelish, the biweekly meetings must have felt like at least one of the seven hells.

He’s thankfully spared any further needless repartee when their Queen emerges from the gates of Winterfell, Missandei at her side, a small delegation of Unsullied trailing behind them. Standing just inside the gates are the Lady of Winterfell and the latest addition to her personal guard, his scarred face not visible from this distance but still easy to imagine, fearsome and scowling as always.

Jorah cannot quite keep from smiling. It seems Sansa Stark has found her true knight in a man not ever knighted, and there is surely a song to be made from that.

“I’m must say, I’m surprised, Your Grace,” Varys comments as the Queen comes to stand with them to watch the last of her armies depart. “I was expecting a grander farewell between you and your dear nephew, considering your… relations.”

Daenerys’ face is perfectly impassive. “The relations between Jon Snow and myself are strictly familial, Lord Varys.”

Varys and Tyrion share a look, but it’s Jorah who speaks up, in a gentle tone. “What happened, Your Grace?”

“We decided it was best for our relationship to regress into an alliance,” she tells her advisors, her head held high – though Jorah has known her too long to miss the hint of sorrow in her eyes. “When I take the Iron Throne, I cannot rule with a male of my blood as my consort. It would undermine my authority.”

“Ruling together with any man would undermine your authority,” Varys points out, not unreasonably so. “Loathe as I am to say it, genitalia are important, at least to the lords of Westeros.”

“Only a man of significant noble birth,” Tyrion counters his point. “There would be no problem with a commoner, or a knight, or even the Lord of a small House.”

“I need to seize the Iron Throne first,” Daenerys says, in no uncertain terms. A familiar fire burns in her eyes as she watches the rearguard of her army grow smaller on the horizon. “Once I’ve claimed the Seven Kingdoms, it doesn’t matter whom I take as my consort. If I take a consort at all.”

She won’t need a consort. Not like Cersei, who had no choice but to trade her virtue for Euron Greyjoy’s ships – as long as she has her dragons, as long as she has her armies, as long as she has even one person who truly believes in her, Daenerys Stormborn will never have to barter for power. She is power.

When the last of their forces have vanished from sight, Daenerys turns away. “We’re leaving now,” she announces. “The Lannister forces will be focused on my army, but that can only distract them for so long. You should head for the coast and set sail as soon as possible.”

Daenerys herself won’t be joining them on the ship – she’ll return to Dragonstone atop the creature for which the island was named, soaring high above any that may seek to harm her.

“Are you sure it’s wise to fly, Your Grace?” Tyrion inquires. “We sailed here together; we ought to return together as well.”

It’s the exact opposite argument Jorah made when they departed Dragonstone, and from the way her brow furrows, Daenerys remembers it clearly. “I cannot think of a safer place for me than up in the air. We know where the Iron Fleet has positioned itself, thanks to Lord Varys’ scouts. Nothing will be able to harm me or my dragons.”

Tyrion nods. “You’ll be safe for the journey, yes. But you will land days before we reach Dragonstone, and your whole army is across the seas,” he explains. “There will be no one to protect you in that time.”

Varys hums in agreement. “It will take just one assassin lurking in the bowels of the castle, Your Grace. Your dragons won’t be of much help then, I’m afraid.”

They make a fair point. It would be just like Cersei Lannister to have hired a few Faceless Men along with the Golden Company. “You’re right. I will need a protector,” Daenerys agrees, a sly smile curling her lips. “Ser Jorah can ride Rhaegal alongside myself and Drogon.”

Jorah is sure he’s pulled a muscle, so quickly does he whip his head around to regard her. “I… beg your pardon, Your Grace?”

Daenerys’ smile widens, and beside her, Missandei ducks her head to hide her own. “You’ve ridden before,” the Queen says offhandedly, “when we returned from beyond the Great Wall.”

He recalls it was not so much riding as it was dangling over the side of the massive creature, prevented from plummeting to his death only by Tormund Giantsbane’s quick reflexes. “I have, Your Grace,” is what he says, inclining his head. “But I’ve not learned how to steer.”

“You won’t need to,” she assures him. “Rhaegal will follow me.”

Like you do, she doesn’t say, but then she doesn’t have to. He’ll always follow her, even if that means climbing atop a dragon and flying with her across the Narrow Sea. Tyrion is quite correct; if Daenerys goes alone, she’ll have no protection once she lands on Dragonstone, and that is simply unacceptable. He knows he’ll never forgive himself if something happens to her because he couldn’t muster up the courage to brave the skies.

Besides, Jon Snow managed to ride Rhaegal, and Jorah still has some manner of pride.

“Very well, Your Grace,” he says. “Rhaegal and I will follow you.”

“Good,” she nods, her eyes shining brightly at the prospect of flight, as they always do. “We’ll go at once, while there is still daylight to spare.”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

“Try not to fall off and die again, Mormont,” Tyrion disguises his genuine concern with a grin. “With Grey Worm and Jon Snow off to King’s Landing, there won’t be anyone left to glower at me.”

“And we can’t have that,” Varys cuts in. “He’s already insufferable enough as it is.”

“And whose fault is that, my friend?”

“I do hope you’re not insinuating…”

Jorah has long since stopped listening, turning instead to Missandei. “Good luck with them.”

“I thank you, Ser,” she says, her playful smile belying her serious tone. “I fear I shall need it.”

He leaves the three of them behind, following his Queen around the walls of Winterfell, to the small valley her dragons have taken a liking to. Drogon and Rhaegal perk up as they approach, greeting them with soft croons meant only for their mother and her most trusted knight. Seeing them now, these massive beasts that can swallow a man whole, it’s hard to imagine they could once be carried in one hand.

But he has carried them in one hand, the only man left in the known world to have seen them grow from hatchlings to the fearsome creatures they are, and there is something strangely poetic about allowing them to carry him now, as he’d once carried them. A circle fully traversed.

Daenerys climbs atop Drogon, as he’s seen her do so often, and Jorah follows her example, stroking Rhaegal’s neck before heaving his armoured body onto the green-scaled dragon’s back. It’s a less than graceful display, nothing like the Queen perching atop her chosen steed as regally as she would a throne, but she smiles brilliantly at him nonetheless.

“Hang on!” she calls, and that’s all the warning he gets before Drogon spreads his wings and takes off, scattering snow all around. Jorah has the sense to do as she says, grabbing onto the frills protruding from Rhaegal’s neck only just before the dragon follows his brother’s example, taking to the skies with a loud, happy screech.

And gods, it’s awful, it’s awful, he was not meant for this, he doesn’t belong up in the air, should be down below with his feet planted firmly on the ground – the words of his House are Here I Stand, for crying out loud. His stomach churns, each flap of Rhaegal’s wings increasing the risk of him bringing up the bread and bacon with which he broke his fast, and it’s as though he is forever slipping, clinging to whatever purchase he can find with more desperation than he cares to admit.

But then Daenerys looks back at him, her whole face alight with joy in a way he’s never seen it before, not quite like this, as though she doesn’t have a single care in the world, all her responsibilities and troubles left behind on the ground. The sight is breathtaking, and Jorah straightens to regard her better, to commit this image to memory as best he can – and only in that moment, when she is at the forefront of his mind, does the terror leave him. Because he may not have been made to fly, as she is, but he knows he is meant to follow her, no matter how high she rises or how low she sinks.

Jorah Mormont flies, and it is glorious.

Chapter Text

Dragonstone is quiet.

Before they left for the North, the Targaryens’ ancestral seat was home to the whole of Daenerys’ great army. Every room in the castle was occupied, a large portion of the grounds reserved for the encampment of the khalasar. There were people everywhere, and even in the privacy of his own rooms, no matter the hour, Jorah could always hear the Unsullied train, or the Dothraki feast, or one of the servants rushing up and down the hall.

But now, with only a handful of guards and servants maintaining the island, the soldiers out in the field and the Queen’s advisors still days away by boat, it feels as though he and Daenerys are the only ones here.

Mere years ago, he would have killed for the opportunity to be alone with his Queen, no lovers or advisors or obligations present to steal her attention away from him. But now, the notion fills him with dread. Because he is alone not only in her presence, but also in his duty to keep her safe. And while he knows he will do everything in his power to protect her, knows, now with absolute certainty, that he will die for her if need be, he is terrified, terrified, that it won’t be enough.

What if the Iron Fleet attacks Dragonstone while Drogon and Rhaegal are off hunting? What if Cersei Lannister sends Faceless Men to their shores, assassins who adapt the likeness of the servants or the guards, assassins who could poison the food, or draw a knife just when he’s not looking? What if one of the servants decides to turn on their Queen, enticed by the monetary reward Cersei is sure to offer for Daenerys’ life? What if, what if, what if.

And though he is alone, he is not the only one who’s concerned.

“Ser Jorah,” Daenerys addresses him during dinner the day after their arrival, “I have a request.”

“Whatever you need, Khaleesi.”

Her lips curl upwards at his prompt response, but her eyes are contemplative, uncertain.

He holds out his hand for her, palm upward – she told him, when she banished him from her side, that he should never presume to touch her again, and so he hasn’t. He will always offer his support to her, but she has to be the one to take it. “Anything, Khaleesi.”

Daenerys’ eyes flick to his offered hand, but she doesn’t take it. Instead, she draws herself up tall, regal, and makes her request. “I want you to teach me how to wield a sword.”

His eyes widen in surprise, because that was not at all what he’d expected – but he does understand. Jorah recalls, with startling clarity, the way she picked up a blade and stood at his back the night he died, protecting him as surely as he protected her. It was clear she had never held a sword before in her life, but she still swung it, still beat off the wights he couldn’t see coming, still fought for all she was worth. She owes her survival that night just as much to herself as she does to him.

His hand is still outstretched, forgotten, and he is shaken from his reminiscence when Daenerys takes it, both of her own curling tightly around his fingers. “I am not questioning your ability to protect me,” she speaks softly, misinterpreting his silence. “I merely wish – if we ever again find ourselves surrounded as we were that night, I want to be able to stand my ground. So that you won’t – so that I won’t have to watch you die again.”

Her voice doesn’t quite break, but it quivers in a way he hasn’t heard in years, not since the days they rode together in the khalasar and she confessed to him how badly she hurt from being in the saddle all day. It’s a quiver that betrays pain, pain too great to keep hidden, pain he has caused her by making her believe he would not ever return to her side again. Pain a small, twisted part of him is glad she feels, because it means he is worth something to her.

He places his other hand atop hers, engulfing them in warmth. “I would be honoured to teach you, Khaleesi.”


When she meets him on the beach the next morning, Daenerys’ hair is braided – not, as has become customary, in an elaborate coiffure, but in a single long braid trailing down her back, not unlike the way a Dothraki khal would wear it.

She notices his gaze, and she smiles. “I expect to adorn it with a bell after today, Ser.”

There’s a challenge in her eyes. “I have no doubt that you will, Khaleesi.”

He hands her one of the blunted shortswords he procured from the castle’s armoury, a weapon well-suited to her slight stature and lean frame. Jorah spins his own sword lazily in his hand, trying to get a feel for the blade; he’s not fought with a shortsword in at least a decade, not since before he fled Westeros. His aunt Maege taught him how to use the armament, just as she taught him how to wield an axe and a dirk, but he’s always favoured the bigger blades.

Daenerys grasps her sword somewhat uncertainly – she doesn’t hold it with two hands, as she clutched the blade she’d picked up on the battlefield that Long Night, but her grip is far too tense, her fist clenched so tightly around the hilt of her sword that her knuckles have turned white.

“Ease your grip, Khaleesi,” he implores. “Let your arm carry the burden, not your wrist.”

She does as he says, and the sword slips from her hold, saved from the sand only because of her quick reflexes. “How do I hold it, then?” she demands. “Show me.”

Jorah steps up beside her and stretches his swordarm, showing her just how his fingers are loosely curled around the hilt of his blade. “The Braavosi say you should see your sword as an extension of your arm,” he tells her. “Relax, and trust your muscles. They already know what you have yet to learn.”

She heeds his words, adjusting her grip to mirror his, but her fingers are splayed too far apart. Jorah instinctively reaches for her, to guide her hand into the correct position as he would do for his squires, back when he was a young Lord – but he stops himself, just barely, her scathing words from that awful day still fresh in his mind.

Don’t ever presume to touch me again, or speak my name.

“If I may?”

“Of course,” she’s quick to grant him permission, her eyebrows raised at his hesitance. “You do not need to ask my leave to guide me, Ser.”

Jorah focuses on her hand, gently nudging her fingers closer together. “I wouldn’t want to presume, Khaleesi.”

He hears her sigh. “Jorah.”

She’s not spoken his name without its prefix in years, not since she banished him. Not since she told him never to address her by her given name again, in the same breath with which she forbade him to touch her.

His head snaps up at the address, and he finds that unbearable kindness in her eyes once again, the kindness he does not deserve, the kindness he craves more than anything. “Khaleesi?”

“Daenerys,” she says, carefully enunciating every syllable. “You may call me by my name, when the situation allows for it, and you may offer me your support, when you feel it is needed.”

“Daenerys,” he repeats dutifully, and it is not a presumption, he will never presume again, because he has been granted the privilege. Still, his voice is quiet, soft, as though he fears being struck down by the gods for daring to take her name in vain.

Her answering smile is radiant. “Exactly,” she murmurs, fondly. “Now show me, what is an appropriate stance?”

When Daenerys Stormborn sets her mind to a task, she does not cut corners. Jorah answers her by slinking into a proper pose, facing sideways, feet planted apart, sword held at an angle, at the height of his diaphragm. A defensive stance, because he prays to whatever God is still listening that she won’t ever be forced into the role of an aggressor.

“Find your centre of gravity,” he instructs as she mimics him as best she’s able. “If you find your balance, not even the strongest blow can knock you down.”

Daenerys has him copied limb for limb, but her body is slighter than his, and her stance is off; her feet are splayed too far apart, her hips angled oddly, her shoulders tense. “This does not feel secure, Jorah.”

An hour ago, he would not have had the courage to step forward and lay his hands on her shoulders, but he does now, gently pushing them down until they are parallel with her clavicle. “Relax your muscles,” he says, and his hands move down, one settling on the small of her back, the other grasping her hip with a feather-light touch, guiding her feet together, helping her body straighten. “And chin up.”

That, she needs no assistance with. Holding her head up high is something she’s always known how to do, no matter how hard the world tried to get her to bow.

They spend the rest of the morning going through a set of defensive manoeuvres, and, at her behest, also make a start on offense. Daenerys does not have a talent for physical combat, will never be a knight like Brienne of Tarth or an assassin like Arya Stark. But she is diligent, and she is focused, and Jorah will sleep better at night knowing she will be able to defend herself, should he ever fail in duty to protect her.

Before they adjourn for lunch, he braids a bell into her hair personally.

Chapter Text

They spend exactly eight days in solitude.

It’s a week of the most peculiar routine. Mornings are dedicated to teaching Daenerys the noble art of the blade, afternoons are for teaching Jorah the much more obscure art of riding a dragon, and in the evenings, they sit by the fire and go over battle plans and reports and old memories alike. They’re completely removed from the armies, from the siege, from the war being waged in Daenerys Targaryen’s name, and yet everything they do revolves around it, somehow. It’s like the last breath of clean air before taking a plunge in freezing water, and Jorah alternates between wanting to attack King’s Landing right there and then, and wishing they could stay put in this strange, deceptively peaceful limbo forever.

But time, as always, knows no way to travel but forward.

When the boat carrying the Queen’s advisors and Unsullied guards arrives at Dragonstone, neither Daenerys nor Jorah notices it. They’re in the middle of their morning sparring session, the throne room their battlefield for the day; the weather outside is abysmal, rain and hail hurtling from the sky as if the Warrior himself has a score to settle with the very earth, and neither of them were very keen on braving the storm.

Jorah brandishes a blunted greatsword today, letting Daenerys practice her defensive manoeuvres against a different type of weapon. Greatswords are larger, heavier, and they hit with much more force than a shortsword ever could. But they’re also slow, swinging them requiring a fair amount of strength, and the strikes are easier to dodge than they are to block.

Daenerys, he’s found this past week, does not much care for dodging. She prefers to meet her challenges head-on, and Jorah has been teaching her the basics of how to block the most common methods of attack, from all kinds of swords – but a strike from a two-handed greatsword cannot be blocked by a lithe woman and her shortsword, no matter how resolute she is. It’s a lesson she learned when her first practice sword lost a sizeable chip from the impact of Jorah’s attack, an attack not even executed at full force because he was, and is still, petrified of accidentally hurting her.

So now she follows his instructions without question; she ducks and weaves, avoids his attacks and looks for openings she can exploit with her light blade and nimble step, the six bells that adorn her hair – one for each day of their training – playing a gentle melody all the while. A few times now, she’s managed to tap his ankle with her sword, a short stab that would cripple an opponent if her blade had an edge. It isn’t much, and she’ll need quite a bit more training before she will be able to properly defend herself against a practiced swordsman, but it’s a start. For only a week’s worth of lessons, she’s performing splendidly.

“Relax your shoulders,” he still has to tell her every once in a while, and this time, she obeys immediately, letting not just her shoulders, but her whole body drop as she lunges for his calves. Not a bad move, had her eyes not screamed her intentions at him – they always betray her – and Jorah steps aside with ease, swinging his sword overhead to strike down at her.

But then – a flash of steel in the corner of his eye, and he jumps back on instinct, barely managing to avoid the attack aimed at his head, coming away with only a small cut on his cheek.

For a split second, his mind is blank as he feels blood well from the cut – live steel, not a practice blade, not Daenerys, an intruder, danger – but he has no time to wonder, not when the tip of the spear swiftly attempts to find his eye socket a second time. Jorah smacks it away with the flat of his blade, and only when his attacker stumbles from the change in momentum does he realise it’s an Unsullied who’s trying to kill him, a look of utter fury twisting the man’s features.

Because he just entered the throne room to find Jorah attacking their Queen.

Shit.

More spears are aimed at his head, a whole platoon of Unsullied rushing into the throne room, and Jorah couldn’t hope to take them all even if his blade had an edge. He deflects another blow, racking his brain desperately for the High Valyrian word for peace, or feint, or just stop, stop, stop

Kelītīs!”

And everything comes to a screeching halt.

Daenerys steps in front of him, facing her Unsullied soldiers, holding her blunted shortsword as though it is a viable weapon. She looks as if she is prepared to fight every last one of them should they make the perilous choice to engage her, her stance and her grip that of a true fighter, the bells in her hair tinkling softly.

She looks like a goddess, like a warrior, like a queen. The Stallion – no, the Mare Who Mounts the World.

The Unsullied immediately lower their spears and kneel before their Queen, the two dozen soldiers moving near perfectly in unison. She commands them effortlessly, with but a single word, and Jorah will never fail to be awed by her, by her strength, by her faith, by her rule. Centuries truly come and go without a person like her coming into the world – and to be alive now that she is here, to be allowed the sight of her, to be given her attention, is more than he ever could have asked for.

The spell breaks when the Queen’s advisors make themselves known, and the reality of the war against Cersei Lannister sets in once again.

But the image of Daenerys Targaryen standing before him, prepared to fight with him, for him, will be seared into his mind forever.


Daenerys calls for an immediate war council, during which she shares with her advisors the scarce news they’ve received from the armies this past week. Varys, in turn, has some titbits from his spies to offer, though there is still little to report. The Targaryen forces are in position, but the siege has barely started, and Cersei has yet to make a move. All they can do for now is wait, no matter how arduous the task may be.

“Mormont,” Tyrion calls as the Queen’s inner council is filing out of the Chamber of the Painted Table, “a word?”

Jorah stops in the doorway, letting Missandei slip past him. “What do you want?”

“Ah, I did miss your kind voice and your lovely smile while we were at sea,” Tyrion jabs. “You could stand to be a bit more courteous, you know.”

“I don’t like wasting time,” Jorah tells him, but he steps back into the room regardless. “Nor do I care for mincing words.”

Tyrion’s face turns uncharacteristically serious. “I will follow your example, then,” he says. “Tell me, why is Her Grace all of a sudden proficient at wielding a sword?”

A curious question, though easy enough to answer. “Because I’ve been teaching her.”

“Why?”

“Because she asked me to.”

“Why?”

Jorah furrows his brow, annoyed. “I thought you weren’t going to mince words, Lannister.”

Tyrion shrugs. “I lied. Indulge me.”

Jorah sets his jaw, but obliges regardless, if only to escape the relentless pestering that is sure to follow should he refuse. “Because she nearly died on the battlefield.” The memory of her terror-stricken face as he decapitated that first wight trying to kill her is still fresh in his mind – anyone would want to learn how to protect themselves after an ordeal like that. “What does it matter?”

“Her Grace also nearly died that day in the fighting pits of Meereen,” Tyrion sees fit to bring up. “She nearly died when she was captured by Khal Moro. And I’m sure she nearly died on several different occasions before I ever met her, yet she never requested lessons in swordplay before. Why?”

“This was different. She was alone,” Jorah mutters, his hands clenched into fists. “Drogon flew off. I died. There was no one left to protect her, and she didn’t know how to protect herself. That’s why she wants to learn.”

“Interesting theory,” Tyrion nods. “Wrong, of course, but good effort. Would you like to know what I think?”

“Not particularly.”

Tyrion, as always, does the exact opposite of what he’s been told. “I don’t think she wants to learn how to protect herself. I think she wants to learn how to protect you.”

“I don’t need –” Jorah begins immediately, hotly, because despite all else, he is still a knight, and he will not have his honour or his capabilities questioned by a perpetually drunk dwarf.

“You died!” Tyrion interrupts him, his voice loud and incredulous. “You died, Mormont, because you had to keep taking blows meant for her, because she couldn’t hope to deflect them herself!”

Jorah shakes his head. “She knows I would gladly trade my life for hers.”

“Yes,” Tyrion huffs, “but there’s a difference between knowing you would, and knowing you did.”

So that I won’t have to watch you die again, he can almost hear her speak the words, hear the quiver in her voice, see the pain in her eyes.

“What is your point, Lannister?” Jorah growls, his patience all but gone.

Tyrion lets out a sigh that speaks of long suffering. “You’re a clever man, Mormont, but you grow exceptionally dim when it comes to her.”

That’s enough. Jorah can’t be sure what Tyrion hoped to accomplish with this pointless exercise, but he’s not about to let himself be insulted. The Hand of the Queen ought to be grateful they aren’t confined to the close quarters of a sailboat this time around, because Jorah’s hands are most certainly itching.

Instead, he walks away.

He’s taken but three steps when Tyrion Lannister roots him to the spot with a single phrase as easily as a rope cinched around his ankles would. “She loves you.”

Jorah cannot contain the snort of insincere laughter, a mocking, self-deprecating sound. He has no doubt that she loves him, as a queen loves her knight, but she does not care for him the way Tyrion is insinuating – because she is light, life, fire made flesh, and he is nothing compared to her.

“I wouldn’t have believed it either, if you’d told me a few moons ago,” Tyrion says, his voice deceptively light as he comes to stand beside Jorah. “But then that was before you allowed yourself to be flayed alive for her. Before you died for her. Before you clawed your way back from death itself for her.”

He has more in common with his former lady wife than he probably realises. “Her Grace owes me nothing,” Jorah echoes the words he spoke to Sansa on the battlements of Winterfell.

“No,” Tyrion agrees easily, “she does not. But she is free to bestow her affections upon whomever she chooses. And it’s clear as day that she’s chosen you, for whatever reason. Perhaps because your death proved to her beyond any doubt that you are loyal to her. Perhaps because she can take you as a consort without jeopardising her rule. Perhaps she just has a thing for glowering Northerners who aren’t her nephew.”

“You’re wrong,” Jorah says, but even he can hear the lack of conviction in his own words, the insufferable feeling of foolish hope softening his voice. “She can’t. She shouldn’t.”

“And yet she does. I’ll bet you a lifetime’s worth of wages,” Tyrion offers, holding up the single piece of silver their slaver gave them, the piece of silver Jorah took with him beyond the Wall. “She loves you.”

He tosses Jorah the coin, and Jorah catches it without thinking. “Try not to let your self-loathing ruin things, Mormont,” are Tyrion’s parting words. “You’ve both been through enough misery for one lifetime.”

And the dwarf saunters from the room, leaving Jorah with a single silver coin and a flaring spark of hope that could set the world ablaze as easily as dragonfire.

Chapter Text

A month comes and goes at Dragonstone, and with every passing day, Jorah grows more and more certain that Tyrion has led him down the garden path.

The Queen does not look upon him any differently than before, despite her Hand’s claim. Her eyes always betray her, whether in combat or in conversation, and when she looks at him, he sees nothing in them but the fondness that has always been there, the careful love forged between a queen and her knight. It is a love he cherishes, a love he would protect with his life – a love he has protected with his life – and to hope for anything more is an insult to all she has given him. He should not have allowed Tyrion to rekindle the foolish ember of hope he never quite managed to douse.

Fortunately, there is little time to dwell on interpersonal relationships, not when the Queen’s advisors have brought with them a whole new slew of responsibilities. With the Siege of King’s Landing now well and truly underway, it will not be long before Cersei Lannister is forced to call upon the Iron Fleet to ferry rations to the capital. King’s Landing is home to half a million people, plus the full force of the Lannister armies and the Golden Company. Its food stores cannot last for much longer, and once the Iron Fleet sails for Blackwater Bay, the war will finally begin in earnest.

The Queen and her advisors spend long days huddled over the Painted Table, attempting to discern the optimal plan of attack. They will have to strike before the city starves, but the battle needs to be quick, clean, to keep the risk to the common people to a minimum. Drogon and Rhaegal can help them against the Iron Fleet, but only a ways away from the city; Daenerys won’t risk their dragonfire harming any civilians. Yet over open water, the dragons are vulnerable, the risk of them drowning higher than ever now that Euron Greyjoy has reportedly mounted scorpions on each and every one of his ships.

It means Rhaegal will need a rider, someone to guide him as Daenerys guides Drogon, and to Jorah’s simultaneous honour and displeasure, that task has fallen to him. He spends a sizeable part of each day on dragonback, practising how to control the imposing creature, how to make the dragon weave and dive and speed up and slow down with nothing but a tug at his frills. To his surprise, it isn’t all that difficult to get Rhaegal to listen to him, even when Daenerys and Drogon are not there to lead them. The dragon has a gentle disposition, much like the man he was named for, and he obeys Jorah’s unspoken commands as though the two of them are of one mind.

Flying still terrifies him. But he’s starting to see why Daenerys holds such love for it; there is no greater freedom than the skies.

Daenerys, however, spends most of her days with her feet planted firmly on the ground. The Queen’s time is in high demand, and when she is not kept busy with councils or paperwork, she is adamant to continue her study of the blade, whether with Jorah or one of her Unsullied as her sparring partner. She is a rock even amidst a tumultuous sea, and she simply cannot have her head in the clouds, whether literally or figuratively.

She takes it all in stride, though, like the true ruler she was born to be.

Until one evening, after a particularly gruelling council regarding the distribution of rations amongst the citizens of King’s Landing once the city has surrendered, when Jorah finds Daenerys lingering by the Painted Table, her gaze fixated on the fire crackling merrily in the hearth.

The Queen’s advisors file out of the room, prepared to retire to their beds after a long day, but Jorah remains. “Is something troubling you, Khaleesi?”

Daenerys’ head snaps up. “What makes you ask that, Ser?”

“The flames,” Jorah offers as an explanation. “You always seek comfort in them.”

Her eyes widen, and she looks back to the fire. “You know me far too well,” she says, a soft smile gracing her lips. “If I weren’t so assured of your loyalties, I’d be disconcerted.”

She steps away from the hearth, sitting herself down at the head of the Painted Table, and beckons Jorah to take the chair on her right, normally reserved for Tyrion. “Tell me, Ser Jorah,” Daenerys implores, “what will you do once I have won the Iron Throne?”

The question catches him off-guard. “I assumed I would serve as a member of your Queensguard, Your Grace,” he answers, cautiously. “Though I am yours to command however you see fit.”

Daenerys hums in acknowledgement, her eyes once again drawn to the hearth. “Would you not prefer to return to Bear Island? It is your home, after all, and you are its Lord.”

For an instant, Jorah’s heart thuds painfully hard in his chest, fear squeezing it until he can barely breathe – she’s sending him away, he thinks, she wants to be rid of him – but then he realises that the fear he feels stems not from himself, but from her, from her voice, from her gaze. His Queen is afeard he will want to leave her.

“Daenerys,” he murmurs her name, “all I’ve ever wanted was to serve you. As long as you’ll have me, I won’t stray from your side.”

The words do not have the comforting effect he’d hoped for. She turns on him, her eyes ablaze. “And what about your people, Ser? Would you leave them to fend for themselves?”

“Yes,” Jorah says, because, after careful consideration, that is exactly what he plans to do. “The people of Bear Island are strong and hardy and practical. I have no doubt they’ll be able to choose a ruler of their own.”

Daenerys’ eyebrows draw together in contemplation. “Let the people choose their own ruler? What about your House, Ser Jorah?”

“I am the last of my House, Khaleesi,” he sighs, the truth of the statement still weighing heavily on his heart. “The Mormont name will die with me. I could remain a Lord until I perish, or I could step aside now and ensure the isle will not be gripped by civil war when the Lord’s chair sits empty. I will have them elect a leader, like the Night’s Watch has done for centuries. Whoever feels worthy of the lordship may put forth his or her name, and whoever receives the most votes shall wear the mantle until their death.”

She stares at him as though she has never seen him before. “You’re freeing them,” she whispers, and in that moment, she looks every bit the idealistic girl she was when he first met her. “You’re breaking the wheel.”

He cannot quite contain the pleased smile that tugs at his lips. “If you have taught those who follow you anything, my Queen, it is that there is nothing more valuable than the power to choose your own fate. I’m merely extending that courtesy to the people I’ve been tasked to lead.”

One heartbeat. Two. And then she rises abruptly from her chair, sending it scraping loudly across the stone floor. Alarmed, Jorah rises with her, his hand immediately going for his sword, but all his worries are thrown out the window when Daenerys surges forward and wraps her arms tightly around his shoulders.

It’s not the first time he’s been gifted her embrace, but it is the first time there are no eyes on them, no decorum to uphold, and Jorah is profoundly aware of the rarity of their privacy. Gently, he settles one hand on the back of her neck, his other arm snaking around her waist, and he pulls her close, holds her as though he never means to let her go again. Daenerys, in turn, clings to him as though he is the only thing standing between her and certain death – except, for once, there is no threat to their lives, no disease or soldiers or undead intent on dragging them apart. There is only them.

Jorah releases her only when he realises her shoulders are shaking, and Daenerys steps back immediately, wiping at her eyes. “Forgive me, Ser,” she says, her voice strangled as she tries to hold back more tears. “It’s been… a tiring day.”

“There is nothing to forgive, Khaleesi.”

“It was untoward,” Daenerys argues, but her tone holds no anger. She merely sounds tired. So very, impossibly tired. “You are my knight, and I am your Queen.”

She never did share with him the source of her troubles. “Your Grace,” he begins, granting her the respectful distance she clearly craves, “no one can survive in the world without help.” He’s told her this before, when her dragons were stolen in the brief moment he deigned to leave her side. Whether that help means a sword at her back or an embrace to soothe her worries is of no importance. “You are not alone.”

Daenerys has taken to staring at the flames again, even if the fire in the hearth is slowly being reduced to embers. She doesn’t speak for a long time, leaving Jorah to wonder if his presence is even wanted anymore – but he has not been dismissed, and he has long since learned not to walk away from his Queen.

“Missandei is leaving,” Daenerys says then, and though her voice is hoarse, the words spoken barely above a whisper, she may as well have shouted them at him. “When the war is won and I rule the Seven Kingdoms, she and Grey Worm wish to retire to Naath.”

Ah. That explains much. “I’m sorry, Khaleesi.”

“They’re free,” Daenerys murmurs, her smile at odds with her still glistening eyes. “I freed them. I’m proud of that. I am. But –”

“You’ll miss them,” Jorah finishes for her.

“I will,” she breathes, fresh tears escaping her eyes. “But I am not alone. I won’t ever be alone. Thank you for reminding me of that, Jorah.”

She smiles at him, open and honest and genuine, and that is when he sees it.

Love.

Not the love a queen holds for her knight. Not the love of a friend or a confidant. Not the courtly, innocent love he’s come to know and cherish. This is the love he’s craved, the love he knows must be visible in his eyes whenever he looks upon Daenerys Targaryen, the love that is intense, unconditional, and felt with all of one’s heart. This is love.

Daenerys wipes the last of her tears from her eyes and steps closer to him, but a hair’s worth of space left between them. “It’s strange,” she muses, almost idly, as she lays a hand atop his chest, “how easily we are blinded to what is right in front of us. Until the day our eyes are opened, and we could not shut them again even if we wanted to.”

He can’t breathe.

“Daenerys,” he whispers her name like a prayer, like a plea, without knowing what it is he’s asking for.

And Daenerys, without a moment’s hesitation, cups his cheek as she did before she stepped into the flames of Drogo’s pyre, as she did when he tried to dissuade her from entering the House of the Undying – and then her lips are on his as she pulls him into a soft, unhurried kiss. It’s a kiss that holds a promise, a promise of more, a promise of later, a promise of always, and Jorah is helpless to do anything but to drown in it, in her, in them.

When they break apart, she gives him no chance to recover, tightly grasping his hand and wordlessly leading him out of the Chamber of the Painted Table. He follows, as he always has, as he always will, whether this is a particularly kind dream or an ever kinder truth.

Drogo used to call her the moon of his life, but to Jorah, she is the sun – bright, warm, and full of life, full of light, full of love.

And if he flies too close to it, he will gladly burn.

Chapter Text

There are times when he looks at her, and he still can’t believe she’s real.

It was true when he told her as such that day in Qarth, the day he had inadvertently let her see just how deep his feelings for her run, and it is still true to this day. She is a phenomenon, a miracle, a dragon, and more than once he’s wondered if she’s not merely a figment of his imagination, all of his dreams and wishes and hopes manifested, because it seems impossible that a woman this kind, this determined, this good, could exist in a world as cruel as theirs.

It seems even less likely that he would be allowed to awaken with her in his arms.

And yet –

“Good morning,” Daenerys murmurs.

He couldn’t speak if he tried, not when confronted with the sight of her nestled against him, her eyes bleary and her hair in disarray, a soft smile on her lips. Instead, he tightens his arms around her and presses a gentle kiss to the top of her head, willing his heart to slow and his tongue to untie.

He may have trouble believing it, but this is real. She is real.

“Good morning,” he manages, his voice little more than a breathless rasp.

Her smile widens, and she reaches up to kiss him properly, her fingers caressing the scar tissue that covers his chest, stopping just shy of his neck, where Samwell Tarly flayed his skin clean off to cure him of his disease. Last night, it had been a source of embarrassment, one of the many blemishes on a body already long past its prime, but Daenerys made it a point to kiss his every scar, from the ones he sustained during the Long Night to those he’d received long before he ever met her. She claimed they told a story of survival, a story of his road to be here with her, as he was always meant to be – and Jorah could do naught but believe her, not when she spoke with such conviction, such faith.

He’s known since he met her that she is his destiny – but now, for the first time, he’s beginning to think he may also be hers.

“If only we had no council meeting to attend,” Daenerys sighs, “I’d be content to stay here for the day.”

“I’d be content to stay here for all of my days,” Jorah responds, whispering the words into her hair like a secret.

She breathes a laugh against his collarbone. “I’m afraid my days belong to my people as much as they do to me,” she says, “but I will gladly grant you all of my nights.”

It’s an easy declaration, a gift given freely, a gift given gladly, and when his words fail him once more, Jorah simply kisses her, then kisses her again, and again, and again.

They’re going to be late for the council meeting.


When Jorah and Daenerys enter the Chamber of the Painted Table a respectable twenty minutes after it was due to begin, Tyrion has but to glance between them before a wide, knowing grin spreads across his face. Without saying a word, he holds up his hand, and Jorah smacks the familiar silver coin into his awaiting palm with a bit more force than strictly necessary.

Varys raises an eyebrow at the unorthodox exchange. “I wasn’t aware you’d been made Master of Coin, Ser Jorah.”

“Only the one coin, Lord Varys,” Jorah says as he takes his seat at Daenerys’ left hand, “and I just lost it.”

“I told you so, Mormont,” Tyrion proclaims as he aimlessly spins the coin he just earned between his fingers, clearly pleased with himself. “I do love it when I’m right.”

“Right? You?” Varys gasps, feigning surprise. “Well, there’s a first time for everything, I suppose.”

“Oh, don’t worry, my friend,” Tyrion doesn’t miss a beat, “I’m sure your first time will come one day too.”

Varys sighs dramatically. “Back to the eunuch jokes, are we?”

Tyrion laughs. “Well, if you’ve the balls for it…”

Daenerys clears her throat demonstratively, and her advisors sagely fall silent. “If we could return to the matter at hand,” she requests, though she seems more amused than annoyed. “We do have a war to win.”

“Of course, Your Grace,” Varys says swiftly, extracting a letter from within his sleeve. “I received news from one of my informants just last night. It seems a large portion of the Iron Fleet has set sail for Essos.”

“Essos?” Daenerys echoes as she takes the parchment from Varys, quickly scanning its contents. “What does Cersei want from Essos? More soldiers?”

“She can’t,” Tyrion muses, his brow furrowed in contemplation. “Even with her loan from the Iron Bank, Cersei barely has enough coin left to pay the Golden Company. She can’t afford any more soldiers, and the Iron Bank won’t give her another copper until she pays back what she owes.”

“Rations,” Jorah realises. “The Iron Fleet has been sent out to fetch rations.”

“That is what we believe,” Varys nods in agreement. “With Dorne pledged to our cause and Highgarden sacked, it’s become increasingly difficult for those supporting Cersei Lannister to come by food in Westeros. Essos, however, has no qualms selling their wares to whoever is willing to pay.”

“Forgive me, Lord Varys, but I do not believe that is accurate,” Missandei speaks up. “From what I have seen, many merchants in the Free Cities are more than happy to raise their prices when selling to those who hail from different parts. The Iron Fleet in particular has not accumulated a very favourable reputation in Essos. They will likely face difficulty procuring the amount of food they are in need of to sustain the capital.”

If the Ironborn have to barter – or better yet, fight – to obtain the food they need, they will be away from Westeros for a good while. Long enough for Daenerys’ armies to launch an attack on King’s Landing, an attack unhindered by Euron Greyjoy and the majority of his fleet. But –

“Cersei doesn’t have many cards left to play,” Tyrion mutters as he surveys the map, “but she will have a plan of escape, if nothing else. And with the Iron Fleet able to join forces with her in Essos…”

“We cannot allow it,” Daenerys says immediately, fiercely. “If she flees, we can be sure she’ll return to extract her vengeance sooner rather than later, with Euron Greyjoy at her back. We could lose the capital as quickly as we won it.”

“Then we have to wait until the Greyjoy Fleet returns west,” Varys concludes, sounding uncharacteristically grave. “Only if we sink their ships can we be certain of victory.”

The room is blanketed in a heavy silence, the reality of the impending war now truly taking root in their hearts. Even slowed, the journey to Essos and back will take no longer than a fortnight for the Iron Fleet, and by that time they will have to be prepared to launch an attack on the fleet and the Lannister armies simultaneously.

All the pieces are in place. Now it just comes down to making the right moves at the right time.

One way or another, the Game of Thrones will reach its end.


Daenerys was right. The days do not belong to them.

The days belong to council meetings, to sword fighting, to dragon riding. The days belong to the war, to the false Queen, to the true Queen. The days belong to the people of Westeros.

But the nights – the nights are theirs, completely and unequivocally. Some nights, Jorah sleeps more soundly than he has is years, soothed by the knowledge that Daenerys – his Queen, his love, his everything – is safely encircled in his arms. Some nights, he lies awake while she slumbers, marvelling at her peaceful state, counting his blessings, squashing down the sinking feeling that she’s made the worst mistake of her life. Some nights, neither of them gets much sleep at all.

And then, all too soon and far too late, it’s time.

The Iron Fleet is nearing Blackwater Bay.

Jorah can see them from his spot atop the cliffs, a mass of black sails in the distance, and he absentmindedly strokes Rhaegal’s rostrum, attempting to calm his racing heart. He knows war, knows the chaos, the bloodshed, the fear and the losses and the triumphs. He can even say he died on the battlefield once, performing his duty to the bitter end. He’s quite literally been through it all.

But then he’s never ridden a dragon into battle before.

“He can sense your fear,” Daenerys tells him, gently laying her hand atop his, stopping his increasingly rough petting. “A dragon is very susceptible to his rider’s emotions.”

Her very presence is soothing, and Rhaegal stops shifting under their hands, moving across his snout in tandem. “Forgive me,” Jorah murmurs, both to the Queen and to the dragon. “I’ve known for years I would fight to claim the Iron Throne in your honour, Daenerys. I simply didn’t expect…”

He looks back to Rhaegal, and Daenerys laces her fingers with his, squeezing them gently. “He’s chosen you, you know,” she says, smiling lovingly at her child. “You’re his bonded rider. No one else will fly him for as long as you live.”

“Jon flew him,” he cannot help but point out.

Daenerys shakes her head. “That was different,” she proclaims. “I think Rhaegal knew, sensed, that he shares my blood. But they never bonded like you have. I doubt he would allow Jon onto his back again.”

It would explain why the dragon seems to know Jorah’s thoughts before he even knows them himself – and, indeed, why Rhaegal is so restless compared to his brother, the great Black Dread still curled up atop the hill, looking as though he’d be content to stay there for the day. Daenerys, like the dragon she rides, is calm – determined, he can tell from the set of her jaw and the gleam in her eyes, but calm. She truly has complete faith in herself, in her children, and in him.

And he will make sure her faith, her trust, her love, is not misplaced.

“I won’t fail you,” he promises her, his eyes on the dragon that has chosen him, just as the Mother of Dragons has. “We won’t fail you.”

Daenerys’ smile is fond. “I know,” she says simply. “You never have.”

Yet when she kisses him, she does so with urgency, almost desperation.

“Don’t die,” she whispers against his lips. “I command it.”

Jorah takes her hands in his and bends down to press a kiss to them, just as he did when he left to find a wight beyond the Wall. He returned alive then. And he will return alive now, because she has commanded it, and he has sworn to obey her for all of his days.

He watches her walk away, towards Drogon, towards war and danger and fire and violence – and he would be concerned, if she wasn’t the Mare Who Mounts the World, the Last Dragon, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains. Daenerys Stormborn has survived much, much worse than Cersei Lannister and Euron Greyjoy, and she will not fall today. As Lord Commander of her Queensguard, he will make sure of it.

Jorah climbs onto Rhaegal’s back, the great green dragon by now a familiar mount, and together, the two dragons and their riders take to the skies.

It’s time to win the Last War.

Chapter Text

Years ago, before his father joined the Night’s Watch and left the lordship of Bear Island to his son, Jorah owned a great chestnut stallion. It was a northern breed, with a thick mane and strong legs, made to survive, to thrive, in the harsh cold climate of his home. When he was invited to partake in the tourney at Lannisport, the very tourney that earned him Lynesse’s hand in marriage, the chestnut was the horse he rode during the joust, the mount he was astride when he broke nine lances in the final match against Jaime Lannister.

He sold the horse, just shy of a year into his marriage, so he could buy Lynesse some trinket or another – a poor decision, he knew even before he made it. He was convinced he would never again own such a fine steed, that no other mount could ever live up to the stallion of his youth.

But then he never considered he would one day bond with a dragon.

Flying, he’s learned by now, is inherently uncomfortable. Up in the air, it’s freezing cold, the wind stings his eyes continuously, and staying seated atop the large creature that’s flapping its great wings every few seconds requires the use of muscles he didn’t even know he had. Yet he’s also learned that his control, his influence as a rider, is absolute. Rhaegal responds not to his directions, but to his very instincts – he has but to think of a change of course before Rhaegal moves as he wants him to, dragon and rider in sync as no two others could ever be.

The chestnut stallion brought him to a stalemate against one of the most talented fighters in the world. He can only hope the green dragon will carry him to certain victory against the Iron Fleet.

They’re rapidly nearing the armada, the mass of black-sailed ships that seemed so small from atop Dragonstone’s highest hill now revealed for the force it is. A thousand warships, the greatest fleet on the fourteen seas, proven unbeatable out on the open ocean time and time again – but this time, it’s not fleet against fleet, ship against ship. It’s man against dragon.

And as if on cue, a bolt from one of Qyburn’s scorpions whizzes overhead, the high-pitched sound of its velocity ringing in Jorah’s ears – and in that fraction of a second, the battle has begun.

Another bolt – left, Jorah has but to think, and Rhaegal shifts effortlessly, the bolt soaring past without finding purchase. More, now – up, right, right, down, left – and from the corner of his eye, he can see Drogon doing much the same, Daenerys guiding her child through the onslaught. A pause – they’re reloading – and the dragons come closer, ever closer, almost close enough to unleash their fire on the fleet –

And that’s when he sees it.

A single ship, its sail devoid of the golden kraken depicted on all the others, sits still in the water some distance away from the armada. Small, inconspicuous, and with no fewer than six loaded scorpions on deck – all of them, he realises with a jolt, aimed at Drogon and Daenerys.

No!

Before he knows what he’s doing, before he knows what he’s thinking, Rhaegal turns, the beat of his wings speeding up as Jorah urges him to go, go, go – and the green dragon slams into his brother, veering them both off course as half a dozen bolts miss both dragons by mere centimetres.

And Jorah would feel pleased about it. He would.

If he weren’t hanging off Rhaegal’s side, clutching one of his frills in a desperate attempt not to plummet to certain death.

There’s no Tormund Giantsbane to pull him up this time, nothing to hold onto but Rhaegal’s slippery scales. His feet kick helplessly underneath him, trying to find purchase – and then one does, his left foot digging into the joint that connects Rhaegal’s wing to his body. The dragon screeches, not so much in pain as in annoyance, when Jorah pushes himself up, up, almost, almost

Another bolt streaks past, close, dangerously close, too close, so close that Rhaegal has no choice but to jerk out of the way – and Jorah loses his footing.

And then he’s falling, falling, falling, his arms still outstretched as though trying to reach for Rhaegal, and all he can do is hope, pray, that he’ll hit the water, that he won’t crash into one of the ships and break every single bone in his body because Seven Hells, wouldn’t that be the worst way to die his second death?

Miraculously, his back does not slam onto the deck of a ship, but into the cold, unforgiving ocean.

And it hurts – it hurts – and he can taste blood on his tongue, can feel his muscles seizing, his lungs screaming, the greatsword strapped to his back pulling him down, and he doesn’t know how deep he’s sunk, doesn’t know which way is up, doesn’t know anything but pain and panic and desperation because he has to go up, has to swim to the surface, has to survive because Daenerys is still up there, alive and alone, and he swore to her, he swore, that he would not fail her today.

In all of his days to come, he will not be able to recount how he managed to calm himself, how he managed to still his limbs and focus on the shine of the afternoon sun on the surface, penetrating the water, letting him know which way to go. And despite his aching muscles, despite his burning lungs, he pushes himself towards it, just a bit further, just a bit, only a bit –

He breaks the surface with a gasp he cannot contain, the sudden rush of air in his lungs positively dizzying. The Iron Fleet is all around him, ships as far as the eye can see, but their attention – and his own – is on the skies, on Drogon and Rhaegal still airborne, dodging the onslaught of scorpion bolts as best they can.

Yet they do not retaliate, no Dracarys spoken or carried out – because Jorah is down below, and Daenerys doesn’t want to risk his life. The realisation is accompanied by a surge of affection for his Queen, and also a curse, because as grateful as he is for her gentle heart, as grateful as he is that he has a place in it, he does not want her concern for him to get her killed – and if this keeps up, it will. The Iron Fleet has come prepared with a plethora of bolts, and even dragons get tired.

He needs to let her know his position.

The ship nearest to him is a cargo ship, laden with rations and likely light on crewmembers, no scorpions or cannon to man and no course to plot. Jorah swims towards it, glad for his light leather armour, glad for the lowered gunwale of the cargo ship, glad for his fitness despite his age, and he pulls himself from the water, arduously climbing the steep wooden planks before hoisting himself over the ship’s railing.

The second he finds his footing, he unsheathes Heartsbane, ready to fight at a moment’s notice – but rather than Ironborn warriors, he is met with the shocked faces of Pentoshi merchants and deckhands. It seems Missandei was correct in her assertions; the Ironborn lost some men fighting to obtain rations, and subsequently had to hire some of the locals to ferry their cargo ships.

“Please,” one of the merchants is brave enough to step forward, his eyes darting nervously to the greatsword in Jorah’s hands, “we have no wish to die.”

He speaks the common tongue admirably, if not with a thick accent. “Cut the sails,” Jorah demands, trying not to show just how fatigued his fall has left him. “Do it quickly.”

At once, the deckhands trip over themselves to obey his order, hastening to unfasten the black-and-gold sails depicting the Greyjoy’s sigil, and before long, the kraken drops, leaving the ship dead in the water – and, hopefully, informing Daenerys of his location.

Dracarys,” he murmurs to himself, his eyes locked on the sky. “Dracarys, Khaleesi, please.”

But Drogon climbs ever higher to stay out of the scorpions’ reach, and Daenerys doesn’t see, Daenerys doesn’t know, Daenerys doesn’t act –

A loud screech breaks through his despair, and he whips around to see Rhaegal flying low. The membrane of one of his wings is torn, and his neck bobs from left to right continuously, searching for his rider.

It’s the only chance he’ll get. “Rhaegal!” he bellows up to the sky, in much the same way he shouted for Daenerys when she disappeared into the House of the Undying. “Dracarys!”

And the world is set alight.

Dragonfire explodes all around him, Greyjoy ships bursting into flame left and right, and the Pentoshi merchants scream in fright. But Jorah is calm, apathetic, almost, because he knows he will not be hurt. He is not a Targaryen, and fire will burn him – but he is a dragonrider, and Rhaegal won’t harm him.

Drogon joins the fray soon after, and Jorah breathes a sigh of relief when he sees the familiar streak of silver still in place on the black dragon’s back. Ships are destroyed by the dozens, by the hundreds, and fire is all around him, as though he is the centre of a tornado of flames. The greatest armada of the fourteen seas will soon be naught but a memory.

They’re going to win.

It’s a certainty, now – over half of the Iron Fleet has already gone up in flames, the rest sure to follow. And a lesser man, a man unused to the volatile nature of war, might have let his guard down at the confirmation of victory. But Jorah has fought too many battles to be so careless, and it’s pure experience that has him whirling around and bringing up Heartsbane to block the incoming strike from behind.

Standing before him, dripping wet and with a positively maniacal gleam in his eyes, is Euron Greyjoy.

“Jorah Mormont. Second through the breach at Pyke,” Greyjoy says conversationally, as though he’s merely greeting an old friend. “You’re quite spry for an old man.”

He’s quite spry for a dead man, actually. “Euron Greyjoy,” he spits, pushing back hard. “You’re quite slow for a young man.”

Greyjoy stumbles back a pace, his grin never wavering. “They knighted you for killing my kinsmen, Mormont. Gave you a fancy title while I –” a strike, aimed at his side, easily parried, “– was forced into exile.”

“You were exiled for defiling your brother’s wife.”

“And you were exiled for selling some bastards into slavery,” Greyjoy counters. “Oh, no, you were sentenced to death for that. But you were too much of a coward to face judgement.”

It’s clear he’s trying to bait him, so Jorah stands and waits. “I was pardoned,” he says, “by the Queen.”

Greyjoy strikes again, faster this time, but Jorah keeps up. “Tell me,” he continues in that same, unsettling conversational tone, “how did you go from a knight supporting Robert’s Rebellion to an exile serving a Targaryen bitch?”

“Daenerys Targaryen is the rightful Queen,” Jorah growls through clenched teeth.

“Ah,” Greyjoy makes a show of having an epiphany, “so you want to fuck the Queen. I’ve been there. Done that, too.”

Greyjoy lunges, one strike, two, three, and now Jorah can longer stay on the defensive. He parries the first, blocks the second, and sidesteps the third entirely, taking advantage of Greyjoy’s momentary imbalance to swing Heartsbane at his head.

Greyjoy ducks out of the way only just in time, Jorah’s blade catching his shoulder rather than his neck. “You drew the first blood,” he smiles, utterly unperturbed by the wound. “But you won’t draw the last.”

Without warning, he tosses his sword aside and leaps at Jorah, tackling them both to the deck. Heartsbane is knocked from his grasp, the air forced from his lungs, and a fist connects hard with his jaw, splitting his lip. Jorah kicks at him, and Greyjoy rolls away – he gets to his knees as quickly as his pounding head lets him, searching frantically for his sword, or Greyjoy’s sword, or any weapon that can help him end this

“Looking for this?”

Greyjoy holds Heartsbane in one hand, his own sword trapped firmly underneath his boot. “Pretty blade,” he comments, stroking the edge of the Valyrian steel sword and coming away with blood on his thumb. “I’ve always found it fitting to kill a man with his own sword. Poetic, really.”

He advances, taking Heartsbane into both hands now, drawing it back, preparing to swing

And then he stops.

He was right. Jorah does not draw the last blood, for the sword that pierces Greyjoy’s neck is not his own – but it is lethal, Greyjoy’s eyes bulging as he attempts to draw in air he cannot get, blood flooding into his lungs until he is drowning on dry land. It is a battle he cannot win.

Euron Greyjoy falls face-first onto the deck, dead.

And standing over him, a bloodied shortsword clutched in her hand and a look of pure, unadulterated fury on her face, is Queen Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, and the Breaker of Chains.

Chapter Text

For a moment, they merely stare at one another – him, on his knees, a nasty bruise forming on his lower jaw, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, and her, standing tall, a stained sword in her hand, spatters of blood visible on her face and in her hair – and then her shortsword slips from her grasp and clatters to the ground, and Jorah cannot get to his feet fast enough, cannot clamber over the corpse between them fast enough, cannot take her in his arms fast enough.

She trembles in his embrace, her breath coming out in soft gasps, and he holds her tightly, gently stroking her hair. “It’s alright,” he murmurs, even though his own heart is still beating a mile a minute, even though he fully believed he would die his second death not a minute earlier. “We won.”

Daenerys pulls back, her eyes alight with both fury and fierce love. “Don’t you ever,” she all but growls, despite the hitch in her voice, “do that to me again.”

“Forgive me,” is all he can say before her lips find his, and he knows he is forgiven.

She stays within the safe encirclement of his arms for just a moment longer, just one moment longer. But though the battle is won, the war is not yet over, and the Queen cannot dally here.

He watches in awe as she turns to the Pentoshi crew of the ship – those who did not jump overboard when the dragons rained fire from above, that is – and speaks to them in rapid Valyrian, looking every inch the calm, collected ruler she is, despite the burning wreckage surrounding them, despite the corpse laying face-down on the deck, despite the blood on her hands.

Fire and Blood, indeed. But it is the warmth of fire that drives her, not its destructive nature, and it is the blood of her enemies, not that of innocents, which has been spilled today.

“Jorah,” she calls, and he is at her side in an instant, exactly where he belongs, “we need to head for the capital.”

“By sea or by sky, Khaleesi?”

“By sky,” she says immediately, only the smallest furrow of her brow betraying her concern. “With luck, Jon and Grey Worm have advanced far enough into the city to force Cersei’s men to abandon the scorpions. We should be able to make for the Dragonpit.”

The Dragonpit, at least, will be sheltered from any potential onslaught. “Let them see where the Dragon Queen got her name,” Jorah concludes, smiling fondly.

Daenerys returns his smile with a disarming one of her own. “Exactly. I do not intend to be Queen of the Ashes, and we will not use dragonfire unless we truly have no other choice,” she proclaims, her gentle heart laid bare within her words. “But Cersei and her soldiers don’t know that.”

Gods, but she is a clever woman. “Very well, my Queen. I will follow you.”

To his confusion, she shakes her head. “No,” she says, taking his hand, “you will stay beside me. That is your place, as my King.”

And by the Seven, by the Old Gods and the Drowned God and the Lord of Light, he swears he did, in fact, drown in the unruly ocean, because nowhere but in an extraordinarily kind afterlife would he ever have dreamed of hearing those words.

“King Consort,” is all he manages to rasp, because he will always defer to her right and capability to rule. After all, centuries come and go without a person like her coming into the world.

Daenerys laughs, more freely than he has seen her laugh in years. “My King Consort,” she corrects, her eyes dancing with mirth.

“Yours,” he agrees, because he is, completely and unequivocally. “Always.”

He can feel the smile on her lips when she kisses him – and then it’s so easy to forget that the false Queen still sits the Iron Throne, that there is yet another battle to be fought, that the Targaryen armies are likely fighting that battle in this very moment. As long as he has Daenerys in his arms, even his own name is easy to forget.

But her, he will always remember. Until his last breath, he once said – but even now that he has expelled it once, he will remember. He could die a thousand deaths, live a thousand lives, and still awaken with her name on his lips, her face on his mind, her love in his heart. And he will always, always, find his way back to her.

Because at her side is where he belongs.


From up in the air, King’s Landing looks deceptively peaceful.

Sometimes, war is all-consuming. It’s fire and blood, destruction and screams and corpses and pain. Pyke was like that, and so was the Long Night. Volatile, erratic, capricious; it’s army versus army, man versus man, and there are no winners, not even amongst the victorious.

But sometimes, war is tactics. It’s hours spent hunched over maps, talking deep into the night; it’s a handful of seasoned warriors and clever men that are more important than all their forces combined; it’s a ruler who does not wish to spill the blood of her subjects. They conquered Slaver’s Bay with cunning, Astapor and Yunkai and Meereen falling not to their armies, but to their wits, and it saved thousands of lives.

Yet it does not mean tactical warfare is without its horrors. Jorah knows, even without being able to see what is happening below, that the people of King’s Landing are suffering. He knows the common people are poor and hungry, the siege having left the city with so little food that merchants charge more than triple their usual rate. He knows that they are afraid, of the soldiers outside the walls, of the soldiers inside the walls, of the dragons flying overhead, of illness and famine and death. Because the common people – they pray for rain, health, and a summer that never ends, and they don’t care who sits the Iron Throne.

And he knows that despite their best efforts, someone is going to die today.

Such is the nature of war.

Jorah and Rhaegal approach the Dragonpit from the north, soaring over the Dragon’s Gate to the Hill of Rhaenys; Daenerys and Drogon will come from the south, trying to fly as close to the Red Keep as they can to try and get eyes on the situation – and to strike some fear into the hearts of Cersei Lannister and her ilk.

Reaching the Dragonpit is curiously easy, a mere three bolts haphazardly shot at Rhaegal, only one of which he actively has to dodge. Jorah tentatively takes it as a good sign; if the scorpions atop the northern wall have been abandoned, it means the soldiers manning them have either been defeated in battle or called away to help defend the Red Keep. The Targaryen armies must have broken through.

And indeed, they have. For when he prepares to land Rhaegal within the safe confines of the Dragonpit, he has to avoid the throng of Northerners gathered on the hill, the army led by Jon Snow having made it this far into the city already.

When he dismounts Rhaegal, Jon is the only one who’s brave enough to greet him. “Ser Jorah,” he calls, looking, wide-eyed, from Rhaegal to his rider. “I wasn’t expecting you. Not from the sky, at least.”

Jorah does his best to quash the unwanted feeling of petty self-satisfaction in the face of Jon’s bewilderment. “I’m Queensguard,” he says. “I have to be able to reach the Queen.”

“Fair enough,” Jon smiles, offering Jorah his hand. “Good to see you either way.”

Jorah clasps his forearm. “You too.”

It is in that moment that a shadow falls over them, as Drogon soars overhead and lands carefully next to his brother.

Daenerys dismounts with a grace Jorah could never emulate. “Jon,” she greets her nephew with a respectful nod.

“Your Grace,” Jon returns.

“What’s the situation?” Daenerys wastes no further time with meaningless pleasantries. “I was expecting more resistance.”

“So were we,” Jon admits. “But the Golden Company has left Cersei’s employ. Without them, she barely has enough men to guard the Red Keep.”

“The Golden Company defected?” Jorah questions. “What happened?”

Jon smiles sardonically. “Lord Varys happened.”

“Varys is at Dragonstone,” Daenerys points out, her brow furrowed in contemplation. “What could he possibly have done?”

“He cut a deal with Harry Strickland,” Jon explains, “offering to match whatever Cersei is paying them, on the condition they leave the city.”

“Leave the city,” Daenerys repeats, incredulity clear in her tone. Yet it sounds exactly like something Varys would think of, a surreptitious but sure way to remove twenty thousand pieces from the board without even having to spill their blood. “I thought the Golden Company never breaks a contract?”

“They haven’t, until now,” Jorah affirms. “But Strickland is not known for his bravery – and if Cersei’s coffers were running dry, it wouldn’t have been a difficult decision. It’s not every day you get paid to avoid violence.”

Daenerys’ lips are pursed, but also curled into a smile. “Lord Varys really ought to learn to consult me on these matters,” she sighs, “but I cannot argue with his logic.”

Indeed, it is difficult to resent the Spider for his secrecy when he has basically handed them King’s Landing on a silver platter.

“What’s our next move?” Jorah inquires.

“We march,” Jon says simply. “Grey Worm and his men have positioned themselves at Visenya’s Hill, and we sent a small platoon into the tunnels running underneath the city to make sure Cersei can’t flee. All that’s left is taking the Red Keep itself.”

“Then we march,” Daenerys declares, her eyes shining brightly. “We will end this war today.”

And as the Queen commands it, so it shall be.


The streets are all but empty.

Jorah keeps a firm grip on Heartsbane, prepared for a surprise assault, but as they make their way through the city, it becomes increasingly clear that there isn’t going to be a surprise assault, or any type of assault. Cersei has no soldiers left to waste, no cannon fodder to throw at her enemies. Every man still loyal to her has been called back to defend the Red Keep – but they must know, Cersei must know, that it will only delay the inevitable. The Iron Throne won’t be hers for much longer.

There are few commoners brave enough to leave their houses, and those who have are keeping their distance, watching Daenerys Targaryen and her armies march for the Red Keep. Most of them seem fearful, some sad, a few outright furious – but there are no happy faces to be seen. Unlike Viserys’ naïve expectations, no one cheers for the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Because to them, Daenerys is just another monarch, just another ruler to appease, just another spoke of the wheel. And while Jorah knows, better than anyone, that she is so much more, he cannot bring himself to resent the citizens of King’s Landing. Most of them haven’t known a proper ruler in their lifetime.

Daenerys has noticed too. “They’re frightened of me.”

“They are,” Jorah can only affirm. “The people of King’s Landing have suffered the most under the weight of the wheel, Khaleesi. It will take time to convince them you aren’t merely another spoke.”

“It’s a lot easier to break chains than it is to break a wheel,” she murmurs, her eyes on the sky, where Drogon and Rhaegal fly circles around the Red Keep. “But it will be broken.”

“I know,” is all Jorah says, because he does. When Daenerys Targaryen sets her mind to something, it becomes an inevitability. So it was with Qarth, with Slaver’s Bay, with the North, and so it will be with the Seven Kingdoms.

Perhaps even sooner than he anticipated.

For when the outer gate of the Red Keep looms overhead, they hardly have time to think on how to break it down. It opens on its own, the heavy steel bars raised without preamble – and Jorah, his mind ever suspicious, wonders if this is an ambush, if this is Cersei Lannister’s last gamble, a desperate final hurrah to try and take out the Dragon Queen. It would be just like her. But Cersei has no allies left, no influence to wield, no power to abuse. If he wasn’t sure of that before, he is now.

Because they’re ringing the bells.

They’re surrendering.

It’s the most curious victory Jorah has ever witnessed, marked by bewilderment and uncertainty rather than the customary elation and relief. Daenerys’ entire army has gathered around the Red Keep, yet none of her soldiers seem to know how to proceed.

Eventually, Grey Worm makes his way to the front, insisting on being first through the gate, a platoon of his best Unsullied at his heels – and he returns with the most extraordinary news.

“The false Queen, she is dead,” he tells them, his usually serious expression undermined by a tentative smile. “I saw her body. She took poison when she could not flee through the tunnels as she had planned.”

Poison.

Of course she poisoned herself. From the first, Cersei Lannister has been playing a game of cyvasse, liberally sacrificing her game pieces to ensure her victories. But she failed to realise that life is not a game, that sacrificed pieces do not come back for another round. In her last moments, her board sat empty but for the lone Queen teetering on the edge of defeat, whereas Daenerys’ side of the playing field was filled with people, people who cared for her, people who loved her, people willing to fight for her. From the Dragon moving steadily forward to the Spider removing enemy pieces behind the scenes, Cersei didn’t stand a chance. And rather than giving her enemies the pleasure of a checkmate, the false Queen decided to knock down her final piece personally.

And poison – poison is not the death Cersei Lannister deserved. Peaceful, quick, quiet; everything Cersei herself was not. She deserved to die screaming as Mirri Maz Duur had, as the Thirteen had, as the Masters and the Sons of the Harpy and the White Walkers had. She deserved to suffer all of their punishments combined.

But in this world, people do not always get what they deserve.

People do get what they have earned, however. And despite the strange turn this war has taken, Daenerys Targaryen has more than earned the right to sit the Iron Throne.

Jorah has the honour and privilege of escorting her through the courtyard, up the steps to the Great Hall. Jon and Grey Worm and some of their soldiers make to follow, but they cannot – Drogon curls up in front of the double doors as soon as Jorah and Daenerys have entered, and then they are curiously, wonderfully alone in the throne room.

Daenerys wordlessly takes hold of his hand, grasping it tightly as he leads her to the seat of the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, the seat she has coveted, the seat she has fought for, the seat she has earned.

She lets go of his hand just before climbing the final few steps up to the throne, and Jorah steps aside, more than content to finally watch his Queen take what is hers.

Daenerys lays her hand atop the hilt of one of the swords composing the armrest. “When we were in Qarth,” she says, her soft voice echoing throughout the empty hall, “I asked you what it was you wanted. Do you remember what you told me then?”

He does. “To see you on the Iron Throne,” he repeats the words he spoke to her back then – not a lie, not in the least, but not the whole truth either. “It’s been a long time coming, Khaleesi.”

She turns around to face him, and he is shocked to see her eyes brimming with tears. “I’m sorry, Jorah,” she whispers, a heartbreakingly sad smile on her face. “It seems I can’t give you what you want after all.”

And she walks away from the throne, from her birthright, from her destiny, back to the double doors that lead out into the courtyard. Drogon still rests in front of it, one yellow eye regarding his mother curiously as she lays a hand on his snout, stroking it softly.

And then –

Dracarys.”

And the Iron Throne melts.

Chapter Text

Today is the day.

The ship doesn’t look like much, but she’s sturdy, and, if Ser Davos is to be believed, captained by one of the finest sailors in the known world. A pirate, to be sure, because no one who looks and acts like Salladhor Saan does could be anything but, but a fine sailor nonetheless.

It’s enough. The trip will be long, and a small ship is less likely to attract attention and be attacked on the open seas. As long as they mind the tides and their rations, they should make it safely to their destination with but one necessary stop, in Volantis.

“You’re certain the rations will be enough?” Daenerys questions the captain. “I could arrange for more.”

“Do not worry your lovely silver head, Dragon Queen,” Salladhor assures her, bowing unnecessarily deeply. “I, Salladhor Saan, will make sure nothing happens to your precious cargo.”

He tries to take her hand to kiss it, but he falters when Jorah steps up beside her, one hand already on the hilt of Heartsbane. Not that he needed to; Daenerys seems more than ready to draw her own sword should it come to that.

“My friends are not cargo, Captain Saan,” she says frostily. “You would do well to remember that.”

Salladhor holds up his hands in a placating gesture. “It is merely a term of the trade. Of course I shall treat your friends as though they were royalty themselves. This, Salladhor Saan guarantees.”

Of course he guarantees it. Grey Worm has his pay, and he will not be given a copper until his ship safely reaches Naath.

“Then I wish you fair tidings, Captain Saan.”

“With your blessing, goddess, the tidings would not dare disobey.”

And Salladhor Saan disappears into the bowels of his ship, with a swaggering gait that betrays his sea legs.

In his place, Missandei and Grey Worm appear from below deck, their belongings safely stowed away.

Daenerys wastes no time drawing her dear friend and confidante into a tight embrace, the last for a while to come.

While the women say goodbye, Grey Worm clasps Jorah’s forearm. “Take care of our Queen when I am gone.”

“Always,” is an easy promise to make. “You keep Missandei safe.”

“There will not be another slaver’s raid in Naath for as long as I draw breath,” Grey Worm avows. “This I swear.”

Jorah doesn’t doubt him for a moment. “It was an honour to serve with you, Torgo Nudho.”

“And you, Jorah the Andal.”

Grey Worm gives him a firm nod and a rare smile before turning away to bid his Queen farewell.

Jorah, in turn, is graced with a warm hug from a teary-eyed Missandei. “Please make me a promise, Ser Jorah,” she requests.

“Of course,” Jorah agrees easily, expecting her, too, to ask him to look after Daenerys.

But she already knows he would do anything for their Queen. Her request is much more simple, yet infinitely more complicated. “Be happy.”

A year ago, he didn’t think he’d ever be truly happy again. Content, surely, as long as he was allowed back into the Queen’s service, but happiness was a concept he left behind when he was chased from Lys by Lynesse’s new lover, a concept he never even hoped to redefine. But his hope was resurrected with his body after the Long Night, and now that they’re here – now that the last war is won, now that his honour had been restored, now that he is allowed to share Daenerys’ bedchambers – he could not be unhappy if he wanted to.

“I will.”

And that is a promise he aims to keep.

The ship casts off as soon as all its passengers are on board, Grey Worm joined by a handful of Unsullied also wishing for a more peaceful existence, and Jorah and Daenerys are left alone on the Red Keep’s little private dock just off Blackwater Bay, watching the ship grow smaller and smaller on the horizon.

Daenerys wordlessly leans into his side, her eyes dry but her shoulders hunched in that way that lets him know she’s upset, and Jorah wraps an arm around her waist and pulls her closer, assuring her, as he has before, that she is not alone.

They stay like that long after the ship has vanished from sight.

But when the sun has nearly reached its highest point, Jorah knows it’s time to go. “The small council meeting will begin soon.”

“I know,” Daenerys sighs, though she shows no intention of moving. The small council has been meeting almost daily for months now, ever since Daenerys announced her intentions for the future of the Seven Kingdoms.

When she’d burned down the Iron Throne, most hadn’t thought much of it. They believed it to be a symbolic gesture, to show the common people she would be different than the monarchs before her, but they had not expected her to actually be any different. After all, even the best of rulers hadn’t had the courage to break the wheel.

But Daenerys has always been different, has always been better, and when she called for a Great Council to be held in the Dragonpit, Jorah knew it would be the day she cemented her place in the history books.

And she did.

Because no one, not a one, expected the woman who had fought tooth and nail to claim her birthright, the woman who finally got to call herself Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, the woman who had more right to rule than anyone else, to step up and calmly declare hereditary monarchy a thing of the past.

Rulers will no longer be born, they will be chosen. And not by a council of noble born lords and ladies, but by the people a ruler is supposed to represent, to protect, to serve. Like the Night’s Watch has chosen its leader, like the North has chosen its King, like Bear Island will be choosing its Lord, so too will the Seven Kingdoms elect their monarch. There will be no more wars of succession, no more mad kings, no more unworthy sovereigns. There will be no more wheel.

And as the Queen declares it, so it shall be – but building a whole new electoral system costs a great deal of time and effort. Do eligible candidates for the Crown have to be of noble stock? From what age will the people be allowed to vote? Can the people be allowed to vote for a candidate from their native kingdom, or will that skewer the results? So many questions to answer, so many things to consider – but Daenerys is willing to put in the work, and so are the people she has gathered around her.

The wheel will not merely be broken. It will be eviscerated.

“Jorah,” Daenerys calls softly, her eyes still on the horizon, “if I’m not chosen to be Queen –”

“You will be,” Jorah says immediately, because there is not a shred of doubt in his heart.

She looks up at him with a fond smile. “If I’m not chosen to be Queen,” she repeats, her voice firm, “is there anywhere you’d like to go?”

The question catches him off-guard. He’s seen more of the world than most Westerosi ever will, more than he ever expected to see when he was young. But there is more he has yet to see. “I wouldn’t mind seeing Bear Island again,” he confesses. “And I admit I’ve always been curious about the Thousand Islands.”

Daenerys nods. “Then that is where we will go,” she declares. “Drogon and Rhaegal can carry us wherever we wish.”

She says it so easily, as though it is not a gift, but a given. “If there’s nowhere else you’d rather go, Khaleesi,” he says, tightening his arm around her shoulders. “I will be at your side regardless of where we are.”

“I only want to go home, Jorah,” she murmurs.

What do you pray for, Ser Jorah?

Home.

I pray for home, too.

“When I was a girl, I lived in a big house with a red door,” she tells him, her voice so soft it’s hard to hear over the gentle lapping of the water against the shore. “There was a lemon tree outside the window of my bedroom. I would have been content to live out the rest of my days there.”

She’s never told him about this before. “We can always go back there, Khaleesi.”

Daenerys shakes her head. “It wasn’t my house. It was Ser William’s. He saved Viserys and myself from Dragonstone, when it became clear Robert Baratheon had won the war. But he was already old. And when he died, we were no longer welcome in his house. I doubt it is still standing today.”

“I’m sorry,” is all he can offer her.

“Don’t be. It took me a while to realise,” she says as she takes on of his hands, running her fingers along the calluses on his palm, “but I know now that home does not have to be a place. Home can be a concept, or a time, or… a person.”

She looks up at him, and he can see that love again, intense and unconditional and felt with all of one’s heart. “My home is you.”

He’d known from the moment he received his pardon, that fateful day in the marketplace, that Bear Island was no longer home. All he wanted then, all he’s wanted since, all he wants now, is to be in her presence, to bask in her light and her warmth and her love. His home is in her eyes, in her smile, in her heart, in her very being, and he would not have it any other way.

Holding her is home. Kissing her is home. Loving her is home.

She is Bear Island, and he is the house with the red door, and they will always return to one another.

Welcome home.