Chapter 1: The Kingsroad
It had begun to snow again.
The Kingsroad ahead was still more or less clear, previous snowfalls having been tamped down to slush by horses' hooves and cartwheels and the booted feet of intrepid travelers. On either side of the road, however, ditches piled up, and soon the drifts would be high enough that they must spill onto the path, closing the way behind them. There could be no turning back now, Jorah thought, shifting in his saddle to glance over his shoulder in the direction from which they'd ridden.
Not that there had been any turning back in a fortnight, when he'd declared to the queen as they broke their journey at a humble roadside inn that despite the odds set against them-a small party riding out in the dead of winter-they'd completed half the journey to Winterfell in no more time than it would have taken in the height of summer.
"Why so surprised?" Daenerys had asked with a smile, cradling a pewter flagon of scalding spiced mead as she curled in an armchair in the innkeep's own chamber, knees drawn up beneath her fur mantle. "Isn't that exactly why we struck out from King's Landing with but my Lord Commander, three Dothraki bloodriders, and my handmaids? So we might cut across my country with the swiftness of the winter wind?"
She'd reached out her hand to touch Jorah's cheek as he sat before her on a low stool to partake of their simple supper of stew and bread; if he closed his eyes, he could almost imagine they were back in Vaes Tolorro, in Qarth even, when such moments in her sole company had been sweet, as yet untainted by her rejection of his love, her discovery of his betrayal, his own shame at the brand burned into his flesh.
He'd sat back from her, and thought he heard the softest sigh as Daenerys had drawn back into her cloak. Or it might have been the hiss of a settling ember in the fireplace.
"You worry too much, my bear."
"Aye," he'd replied. "So my queen tells me."
Indeed, the journey itself did not lie at the heart of his anxieties. He'd survived greater perils journeying with Daenerys and her little khalasar, and even with a dwarf and no sword but his own in Essos, and Jorah knew winter. It was what they left behind that worried him: her long fought-for kingdom, entrusted to the rule of her Hand. The Martells were the Targaryens' oldest allies, it was true enough, and he'd agreed with Tyrion's advice that not only was Princess Elia's death, and her children's, cause to continue as joined Houses, but Oberyn's as well-Cersei's doing, and a further grievance for Dorne against Daenerys' Lannister enemies—but even so, Jorah was wary of admitting someone so little known to her as Lady Arianne as her closest counselor.
"You should be glad I didn't bind our houses in holy wedlock by marrying her brother Quentyn," Daenerys had said.
"You see? It's not only men's motives I mistrust in my queen's company," Jorah had japed, though Daenerys' uneasy laughter had made him second guess whether she had made light of their old quarrel.
Daario Naharis had turned cloak, but the queen never spoke of her former paramour, or of the jealousy Jorah had borne the bravo; likewise she was silent on the subject of Hizdahr zo Loraq, the husband she'd taken-and executed-in Meereen. He had not been sorry to learn of it-or that Quentyn Martell was not a rival for the queen's affections. Since she had taken her throne Jorah held his breath every time a new suitor sought her hand, but breathed more easily each time Daenerys sent them away and gave no indication that she desired to marry again, at least not any time soon, even as her rejection of them made him re-live her refusal of his own suit. He could not be sure whether she remembered that he had kissed her once, four years ago now, though scarcely a night had passed in the thousand since that he had not closed his eyes and felt her mouth open to his tongue, the bare hollow of her back beneath his callused fingertips, and woken again aching for her.
And why should she remember his vow to love her more truly and faithfully than any other man? She had forgiven him, but she could not forget; the demon's mask on his face presented her with a reminder of his betrayal each time she looked at him, as surely as that of justice having been meted out and served.
Of course, he was well aware that everyone else who looked at him saw him as a force not to be reckoned with; thus his relative certainty that between an unruly former slave and three Dothraki warriors armed with arakhs, few would present a threat to the queen in the road. Lady Arianne had said as much, sauntering up to where he'd stood guard over the Iron Throne and tracing a delicate fingertip over the bear rampant that clasped the ends of his white cloak at his throat.
"Gods speed your grace's journey. Only are you certain so fearsome a knight would not better serve to safeguard the queen's Hand and her realm?"
She'd spoken in tones as sweet as a dram of the Dornish red of her country-which was why Jorah had sensed a viper's hiss behind the sensuously curved lips.
"It wasn't a threat," Daenerys had told him when he expressed his concerns about leaving the seat from which she had ruled for scarcely longer than a year. "Just a game. A little game Lady Arianne is trying to get me to play along with. I'm sorry she drew you into it."
Her gaze had flickered briefly to the mark on his face, a sad furrow forming between her eyebrows, and Jorah realized he was being mocked. He'd never been a handsome man, even before the slavers' brand further marred his face, yet being the butt of a fair, highborn lady's japes-not to mention the fact that his queen, apparently, bore the brunt of his shame-was one more cause for dismay with every hoofbeat they came nearer to Winterfell.
A howling gust swept a swirl of snowflakes before Jorah's eyes, and he glanced down at Daenerys, pale skin and fair hair, wrapped in white fur upon her little silver mare. "We'll have to ride hard if we're to reach Winterfell before nightfall."
Her violet eyes glimmered bright as she lifted her face toward him. "Then let's ride hard, Ser Jorah."
With a grin, she dug her heels into her horse's flanks, her long braid whipping lose from her hood as it fell back and streamed out behind her; Jorah couldn't stop a smile as he spurred his own mount to keep pace with her, though it faded quickly enough after the initial burst of memory at riding like this with her through the Dothraki Sea receded. Daenerys was restless in King's Landing, he'd had known that even before she told him. In fact he'd suspected this day would come since they left Meereen and she'd admitted what a relief it was to leave behind the wooden bench where she'd held court in her pyramid. She'd grown too accustomed to the saddle as khaleesi to sit on her pretty little arse going nowhere and doing nothing toward her goal of reclaiming the Iron Throne. What had she thought she would do with the Iron Throne once she'd won it but sit on it? But the queen's nomadic existence went further back than her time with the Dothraki. She'd been born wandering, in search of her home.
And now that search appeared to be leading her to his.
His heart, pounding in time with the hoofbeats, leapt within him as they took a jump over a branch that had cracked under the burden of snow and fallen across the path, only to come crashing back to earth again with the landing. The smile fell from his face, and his gloved fingers slackening on the reins, so that his horse began to lag behind Daenerys on her silver. Gripping them all the harder, he pushed ahead, keeping apace, though he could not match her mood again. How could he dare to hope that Daenerys would find what she sought when he had no way of knowing whether the long and wandering road he'd taken to Bear Island really would lead him home?
Maege still had the rule of the island. She knew he lived and was on the way, for he'd sent a raven to inform her of the Queen's intent to see the northlands, and her terse reply had been a typical one for any of his kin, expressing no wish that he not return. Though how could she, when he wrote as her liege's own emissary? Nor did she pen one word of forgiveness.
He may look on the familiar, beloved pines that stood where they had for a thousand years, before his kinfolk did, but their arms stretched ever upward, and could not bow to embrace.
As for Daenerys…not for the first time did the sight of her remind him of Lynesse. And while he knew the similarities between the two women went only skin deep, and his love for Daenerys had taken root much, much deeper… Daenerys was also not the first fair young lady who asked him to take her home, and it was most likely she, like the one who had come before, would find only bitter disappointment. He could not allow his mind to travel further down the road to hope; that way lay only madness.
Ser Jorah had looked as though he thought her mad when she had proposed, more than a month ago now, that they visit his family's island. It did seem a bit mad to abandon the throne she had sat for barely a year, but Dany was confident her Hand would rule well in her stead, and truth be told, Kings' Landing was beginning to stifle her.
She had expected a hard fight for her kingdom, but the chaos she found among the ruins of Westeros still had shocked her. Winning the land was simpler than keeping it – even after their defeat, the high lords grumbled and bickered and, she suspected, whispered behind her back. She had pardoned men for crimes she had not witnessed, witnessed crimes she could not fathom, and smiled brightly at those she would sooner see hanged, drawn, and quartered. After their War of Five Kings, it was left to her to sew back together the pieces of this broken country.
She did not know how she would have done it without Lady Arianne. The Dornish princess had the Westerosi breeding Dany lacked, and was completely fearless besides. She would have been a perfect choice for the Queen's Hand even had Dany not been bound to her family by an old promise and by her guilt at poor Quentyn's demise.
Even with Arianne's help, keeping Westeros was more challenging even than navigating the political quagmire of Meereen. Part of her had expected her countrymen to welcome her with open arms – as the Martells had – but most simply seemed to resent her and her foreign army. Ser Jorah had been right about that - and about so much else.
At the crossroads inn he had made a jape of his fervent mistrust of her early allies, yet she could not deny that his paranoia had been painfully accurate.
"You were right about the motives of men," she had admitted, "but I know women well enough. Lady Arianne has no reason to deceive me."
"As you say, your grace."
Though Daenerys still trusted her knight's advice, she often took it more warily than she had before she had learned of his dealings with Lord Varys. In some ways - though it pained her to think so - she doubted her faith in him would ever be what it once was. She had not been keen to welcome him back when he had appeared at her court in Meereen, but the voice that had whispered to her in the grass won out – and perhaps the child in her as well, who only wanted her bear at her side again. The ruler in her kept him at a distance, allowing him a place in her Queensguard but not a return to his position as captain of her army and first of her knights. It had taken weeks to bring herself to look at him again, longer to speak to him without choking back tears, and months of battle before she allowed herself to believe he was truly on her side. Her Commander, sweet old Ser Barristan who had been like a father to her, had fallen in the final battle and she had allowed Jorah to replace him only after she had sent his body to the Stormlands and finished his entry in the White Book with her own hand.
Hizdahr she had executed, Daario Naharis had turned cloak and taken his Stormcrows with him, and so it was as it had been in the beginning, but for the addition of her Unsullied – Queen Daenerys and her khalasar, swelled with the addition of the late Khal Jhaqo's riders, her bloodriders, and her Queensguard. The new Queen of Westeros had received no shortage of marriage proposals, but most of the men remaining in Westeros after the long war were either much too young or much too old, and Dany was already weary of political marriages. Despite Lady Arianne's constant efforts at matchmaking, she preferred to rule on her own for the near future.
Not that that decision had silenced her Hand.
"Then we shall find you a paramour."
"I do not want one."
"Your Grace, you are the most beautiful woman in all the world – next to myself, of course – surely you would not waste the flower of your beauty growing sour on your twisted chair."
"Next to yourself? Surely I have misheard you, most loyal friend."
Arianne had ignored the barb and plowed on, determined.
"The Lord Commander loves you."
At that, Dany had felt the familiar flush that came when a member of her court insisted on reminding her of what she had known already for years. She knew he had loved her, but everything had been different between them after Meereen. She had not known what she felt for him even when she had believed in his loyalty completely, and now she was less certain than ever. And she had a kingdom to rule.
She gave Arianne her customary response. "Ser Jorah is the head of my Queensguard and my trusted protector. Not a plaything."
"As though any man minds being played with," the Hand snorted.
"Knights of the Queensguard swear not to take lovers, as you well know."
"Vows can be broken, my queen. I have a taste for white knights myself…in fact, if you let your Commander linger too long I may try at him. That demon tattoo is so…dangerous."
She was only jesting, but Dany did not like to be reminded of what had happened to Ser Jorah during his banishment under the walls of her own city.
"That is not amusing, Lady Arianne."
She had used her most queenly tone, and her Hand demurred. "My apologies, Your Grace."
Of course Dany had known that would not be the end of it. Lady Arianne had indeed tried – Arianne Martell always made good on her threats – but fortunately Ser Jorah had only been confused at her somewhat less than subtle hints. She was always careful to speak to him within the Queen's hearing, and Dany fought to suppress her giggles at the woman's antics. Though she had to admit, poor Jorah's blatant ignorance was oddly endearing.
Yet in the past weeks Arianne's once amusing persistence had become grating as the walls of the Red Keep grew smaller around Dany. Her palace had begun to feel like a gilded cage, her crown like a weight bearing down upon her head. Her bloodriders were at each others' throats after so many months living within the gates of the city, and she could see how they longed for the open skies above their great grass sea. Even Jorah, who had adapted quietly to every strange location she had brought them to, seemed ill at ease in the capital city of their homeland.
For years she had done what she must to fulfill her destiny, to protect her realm. Just for a brief time, Daenerys Targaryen wanted to feel free.
"Your Grace," her Lord Commander had protested, "You've only just woven the kingdom back together, are you certain it would be wise to leave now?"
"I am not leaving my kingdom. In fact, I expect it will do me good to see more of it. I've left Lady Sansa to her own devices in the vast North, should I not inspect her efforts for myself?"
"That would take you to Winterfell, not to Bear Island."
"And if I make a small detour on the way, what does it matter?"
"It is not on the way, khaleesi."
It was just like him, she thought, to stubbornly insist on arguing with her even when she was trying to give him something he wanted. And Dany did not miss the transition to the Dothraki title he often used as a persuasive tactic. Well, she had tactics of her own.
"I promised to bring you home," she reminded him, trying a softer tone.
That at least earned her a pause before he countered, "You brought me to Westeros."
"That was not what I meant."
"It is enough."
Maybe for him, but not for her. She took his hands in hers and addressed him directly, as she so rarely had since his banishment.
"Jorah. My bear. You refuse to believe anything good will ever happen. The war is over now, and we have won. Can you not let the past be?"
That silenced him, so Dany seized her opening.
"This city is choking me. I need air. Take me to your island. Please?"
They set out on the Kingsroad a fortnight later, with her bloodriders and as small a retinue as Dany could manage. The Hand made a striking figure perched upon the Iron Throne, but the Queen felt confident that her kingdoms were secure under Lady Arianne's protection.
Thus far they had made excellent time, and Dany already felt freer on the back of her silver, surveying her kingdom with her own eyes in the cold, clean air. Her Dothraki were quietly thrilled to be on horseback again; Jhogo and Aggo bragged and japed with one another all along the Kingsroad, and Irri and Rakharo often rode suspiciously close to one another as Jhiqui scowled behind them.
As Castle Cerwyn grew further behind them, she realized both her handmaids had been suspiciously quiet this morning. Sure enough, she spied Irri and Rakharo several feet ahead of the rest of the party, their spurred feet nearly touching. Dany could not help but smirk a little at the sight of them.
Though Ser Jorah had kept pace at her side since morning, it took her a moment to realize he was looking at her. When she turned to him he raised a questioning eyebrow, and she raised hers in response, nodding at the riders in front of them. He seemed not to understand for a moment, but soon a slow grin spread across his face.
Something about his expression made her pulse quicken. Dany nearly drew her reins back in surprise at her own reaction; as a young bride in Essos she had found comfort in his smiles, but this was something different. Was it only that it had been so long since he had been at ease in her presence? That riding across Westeros with only her Dothraki for company made her remember a time when things were simpler between them?
Before she could sort her thoughts, his smile dropped. In the distance, the round spire of a tower rose up before them, surrounded in the next moment by a set of massive stone walls lined in snow.
Ser Jorah cleared his throat.
"Winterfell, Your Grace."
Chapter 2: The Feast
Winterfell was much larger than Daenerys had expected.
What little she knew of the North she had heard from Ser Jorah, who always emphasized the wild desolation of his homeland. But Winterfell was a proper castle – admittedly not as grand as her Red Keep or as opulent as Sunspear, but quite comfortable. The walls ran with heated water, so that even the cold was not as fierce as she had feared. Upon meeting Lady Sansa, who had adorned herself in a fine gown of ice-blue silk for the Queen’s arrival, Dany instantly wished she had thought to pack something a bit more festive alongside her heavy furs.
She supposed her warmer gowns would have to do; as she fretted over her reflection, a heavy hand rapped against her chamber door.
“Irri, let Ser Jorah in.”
The girl was doing no good with her hair, anyway; in fact, she seemed to be glancing more at her own reflection in the glass than her Queen’s. Dany reached behind her head to pull her long braid over her shoulder and resumed weaving it herself as the mirror revealed the burly form of her Lord Commander stepping through the doorway.
For the feast at Winterfell he had donned his white cloak again. She had not seen it since they left Kings’ Landing; her Queensguard preferred to travel as inconspicuously as possible, and the white cloth tended to stain on the roads. She had forgotten how the color drew out his dark features...Dany shook her head as she felt her cheeks warm. What on earth was she thinking lately?
“Your grace, Lady Stark awaits your presence in the great hall.”
She knotted the end of her braid and stood to face him. “I will have to apologize for my lateness. One of my handmaids seems to have left a few of her wits along the road…”
Irri turned beet red and began to stammer an apology, but Dany only laughed.
“It’s alright, sweetling, you can go.”
“Your bloodriders are waiting in the hall as well…” Jorah muttered carefully. Irri’s face somehow grew even deeper crimson as she scurried out the door.
“Do I look a mess?” Dany asked him when the girl was out of earshot. “Irri has been nearly useless all day, and I would hate for the North to think their ruler a pauper.”
“You look…like a queen.”
She smiled at him, though she feared his words were only courtly manners. Not that she truly expected him to notice any changes in her appearance. My queen, and the bravest, sweetest, most beautiful woman in all the world. Dany realized too late how awkward her question had been.
“Shall we, then?”
Her knight stepped aside to allow her to pass through the door and fell into step beside her as she navigated the narrow halls of Winterfell. She had walked from the hall to her chambers the previous evening, but found the simple stone walls still impossible to distinguish from one another
“You know the way, don’t you? You have been here before.”
“Many times, your grace. My family are bannermen to the Starks.”
As you were, once. She had not meant to remind him of his lost lordship, but they did intend to set out for Bear Island soon…Perhaps it was best to confront it now.
“Do you remember your first visit to Winterfell?”
“Not well,” he admitted, “I was very young, I think. Rickard Stark, Lady Sansa’s grandfather, was Lord of Winterfell then.”
Until my father burned him alive. She tried not to cringe at the reminder of yet another reason the Starks might oppose her reign.
“When Lord Stark was killed, you rode to battle to avenge him.”
“Aye. As did all the Northern houses.”
“And now you serve House Targaryen.” She tried to smile as though it were a jest, though she often wondered at the true cause of the Northman's loyalty. Is it only that you loved me, or am I truly your Queen as well?
“Your grace, you are not your father.”
He had told her so again and again, as the truth about Mad King Aerys and his reign had unraveled before her, and yet still she wondered.
“Does Lady Sansa agree?”
“If she did not, would she have agreed to an allegiance with your house?”
“She had little choice,” Dany reminded him. By the time they had arrived in Westeros the North was torn between Stannis’s forces and the small groups of Northerners still fighting for the memory of their lost king, and there was hardly a Stark to be found in Westeros. Lord Eddard’s youngest daughter Arya seemed to have vanished, and her younger brother may as well have done, choosing to live out his days as a tree. The bastard, Jon, had turned out to be not Lord Stark’s bastard but Rhaegar’s, and Daenerys had sent her dragons to her newfound nephew at the Wall. Only by luck had she found Lady Brienne and Lady Sansa in the Crownlands and promised to return the girl to her seat in Winterfell, as her surviving brother Rickon's regent, in exchange for her fealty. Did the Starks resent her, the daughter of the man who had burned two of their lords? She herself had carried so much hatred for the men Viserys had called “the Usurper and his dogs”, how could she blame Lady Sansa for doing the same?
“Did you not say yourself, your grace, that we should ‘let the past be’?”
I said you should.
“I suppose I have little choice,” she agreed. For now the great hall of Winterfell was opening before them, the old stone scrubbed nearly to gleaming in expectation of Her Grace’s presence. Stark banners hung from the ceiling everywhere Daenerys looked, the grey direwolf proud and prominent against snowy white. She took Ser Jorah’s arm and allowed him to lead her to the table, suddenly grateful for the presence of her Queensguard.
Have I walked into a den of wolves?
A sharp jab to his ribcage startled Jorah out of his reverie. Blinking, he looked down at the man seated to his left, his elbow right in line with the throbbing spot on Jorah's side, and frowned into the mismatched pair of eyes that glinted mockingly up at him from the scarred and disfigured face.
"Now this isn't like you, old friend." Tyrion nodded at the plate of meat before Jorah at the table, untouched, then to his own, which rivaled it for portion size--or had, before he'd gnawed the impressive pile of bones clean. "I'm accustomed to seeing you attack your food with both hands in very much the fashion I imagine a real bear would, even slop not fit for vermin. My lady wife will be most distressed that nothing on her table tempts her guest. Gods only know how many weeks she's fretted over the menu."
Jorah glanced down the table, past Tyrion and Daenerys, to Lady Sansa seated at the Queen's other side. The Lady of Winterfell's lips curved politely upward at something Daenerys had said, though no laughter filled her eyes as it did the violet pair belonging to her guest of honor; instead they darted anxiously about the hall, checking that the feast was in order. With a grunt, Jorah tore off a hunk of venison with his fingers, cursing beneath his breath as it burned the tips. He ate it anyway, though he found he had no taste for it and had to choke it down, and not because he scarcely chewed before swallowing. As he washed it down with a draught of ale, it settled heavily in his stomach.
"Or mayhap it's that you prefer to dance for your supper first, Ser Bear?" Tyrion's voice once again broke into Jorah's musing, and he realized he'd nursed the ale down to the dark brown dregs at the bottom of his flagon. "Only my lady has hired the best musicians to be found in the north who are only too happy to oblige--"
He felt Tyrion eying him as the harper and the fiddler and the piper tuned up their instruments, the lad with the drum beating it seemingly for the sake of not being left out, then the dwarf turned back to his food.
"For a man who chose exile over the Wall, Mormont, you certainly do deny yourself the pleasures forsaken by the Brothers in Black."
Jorah snorted. "As if I did not acquire my White Cloak by making the same oaths."
"Have Queensguard sworn off dancing, now?"
"The last time I feasted at Winterfell was a pathetic attempt to cheer my wife," Jorah muttered. "Instead, Lynesse sat where the Queen does now, deep in her cups and weeping to Lady Catelyn about how unhappy she was in my house."
"And now you are bound for Bear Island with Daenerys," Tyrion remarked. "I see. Though might I remind you that by all accounts the Queen is not the same woman as Lynesse Hightower? Or rather, your Lady Lynesse was not the woman Daenerys is."
"A hundred of Lynesse would not equal Daenerys."
Jorah's eyes were drawn down the table, but he made them look past her to Lady Sansa, who gave him a nervous smile. Quickly he raised his cup, as if in toast, and took a drink.
"But that is not the whole of it," he continued, looking out across the great hall of Winterfell, which looked much as he remembered it, only so obviously new. Even the Lady of Winterfell herself, so hauntingly like Catelyn. But not her.
"Your lady wife had scarcely given up suck of her mother's breast then. And everyone I knew is dead." Catelyn and Eddard, Maester Luwin, Ser Rodrick and Jory Cassel… Even Ned's firstborn boy, who'd toddled after him through the halls, a toy sword clutched in his chubby fist, as fine an heir the gods could bless a man with, had perished in the war that ravaged their Northern homeland.
By all rights he ought to be, as well. It ought to have been him cut down while protecting the King in the North, not Dacey. Only that might have restored him to honor in Ned's eyes.
"I cannot imagine Sansa's lord father being best pleased to grant me a pardon," he heard himself say aloud, "much less a place of honor at the Queen's table. Does your lady know my crimes?"
"She knows in what high regard Daenerys holds you, and she has bowed her knee to the Iron Throne."
Jorah arched his eyebrow. "Not precisely an answer to my question."
Lady Sansa had greeted their arriving party at the newly rebuilt castle gates with perfect courtesy, grooms at the ready to take their tired horses to the stables for rub downs and warm straw, and serving girls plying the riders with hot drinks and the promise of hot baths in their guest chambers. Exactly as her lady mother would have done--so much so that Jorah had given a little jolt of surprise to hear her addressed as Lady Sansa. And she had flinched at the fearsome visage burned into his skin.
"And my wife knows better than most what misplaced affection and loyalty can lead a man to do."
"So she pities me, too."
"No one pities you, Jorah. Except you. You're not nice enough to evoke pity. And thank the gods for it," Tyrion added, tearing off a hunk of a loaf of bread shiny in the torchlight with melted butter. "Who wants a pity fuck?"
"If memory serves, didn't we meet in a whorehouse?"
"A valid point. As is mine."
"You have a point?"
Tyrion glanced sideways as he chewed, checking to see that the Queen's attention was elsewhere; when she spoke to Sansa, the dwarf swallowed and answered in a low tone Jorah had to incline his head to hear above the feast, "You will recall her grace did not restore you into her good graces because she pitied you.
That was true. When Jorah had presented himself to her in Meereen, her violet eyes were rich with sorrow, but not pity. If she had pitied him, she would not have said, The slaver, enslaved. If she had pitied him, she might well have carried through with her threat to have his head struck from his shoulders, to spare him the shame of returning to Westeros bearing the unmistakable mark of how low the once proud lord had been brought. Instead, she gave him a white cloak and restored him to a position of honor--even if only after Selmy fell defending their queen.
"And now she's taking you home," Tyrion's voice drew Jorah from his musings.
In spite of all his admonishments to himself not to hope, his heart quickened in his chest. He inhaled long and deep through his nose. "The Queen is merely keeping a promise made long ago. As is fitting."
"It would be fitting if she patted you on the head and sent you on your merry little way. To accompany you herself? To see your homeland with her own eyes, and to be a guest in your humble hall?" Tyrion smirked around another hunk of bread, and licked the remaining butter off his finger. "No, my dear Lord Commander Mormont, it is not for you that the Queen journeys to Bear Island. At least not in the way either of you thinks."
Jorah snorted. "And what do you think? Since you're going to tell me whether I want to know or not."
The hand that was in disproportion to the stubby arm gestured toward the table down below the dais to the one where Daenerys' three bloodriders and two handmaids sat a wary distance down the bench from the members of Lady Sansa's household. Jhiqui slumped on the wooden bench between Aggo and Jhogo, who talked over her; the handmaid was picking at her food and shooting resentful looks across the table at Irri, to whom Rakharo was offering choice cuts from his own plate. Jorah couldn't stop his mouth quirking in a grin at the sight; the young Dothraki had always been intrigued by Westerosi customs, though when he asked how an Andal made a woman his if he did not mount her like a stallion mounts a mare, he did so with an uncharacteristic self-consciousness. Clearly, Rakharo had been paying close attention to knights and ladies at court.
"It would seem that little seeds of romance are blossoming in these snowy Northern climes. Would you not agree?" Tyrion said.
"Perhaps others may follow suit if you tend them."
"You can leave off with your dubious metaphors, Imp."
"Fine," said Tyrion, "I'll speak plain. I think it's high time Ser Bear went a-courting. Again."
"I would have had to have courted her before to court her again."
Tyrion rolled his eyes. "You kissed her. And offered your hand in marriage."
Jorah swore under his breath for ever getting drunk enough with the Imp to tell him that part of his sad tale.
"But if you want to split hairs…You have so many to split--"
"She is the Queen, and--"
"She has rejected dozens of marriage proposals since she conquered Westeros--"
"Presumably she's done with political marriages--"
"--and she has taken no paramours."
"Just because she desires no one else does not mean she desires me," Jorah growled--though even to his own ears, his words sounded more wounded than provoked. He picked up his pewter flagon and caught the muted, distorted reflection of his flesh in the metal; in his mind he saw his ruined face as clearly as in any reflective surface.
Tyrion shrugged and, with some difficulty pushed his chair back from the table and clambered down from it and off the dais, looking like a bandy-legged child as he made his way through the hall to where the musicians played.
"Jorah?" Daenerys turned from where she had been speaking with Lady Sansa. "Where is Tyrion going?"
He frowned beneath his heavy knitted brow as he watched Tyrion waddle up to the lute player, who leaned over without ceasing his strumming to hear the little man's words. "To make trouble."
"Is that so?" Daenerys broke into a wide smile as she turned to Sansa. "I must confess, I generally like when your lord husband makes trouble."
Jorah grunted, but the lines of his face relaxed slightly as he watched the young queen interact with the young Lady of Winterfell. At last he understood why Daenerys had taken so readily to Arianne Martell: in all her life, the only women she had known were subjects, servants, or slaves; she had no female friends. While he was wary of the Hand, despite the Martells' historic loyalty to House Targaryen, he felt no such compunction to see her giggle girlishly with Lady Stark--though the light blue eyes of the latter, he noted, were guarded, a little leery of her new Queen. Only a very little, however, as her ladylike laugh mingled with Daenerys', and the sound made his chest tighten with the hope that other women of the north would take to her. The She-Bears wielded their weapons ferociously, but so was their affection to those on whom they bestowed it.
Lynesse had not been so lucky.
An abrupt change in the music to a familiar rollicking tune drew him from that troubled turn of thinking, and he looked up to see Tyrion smirking at him even as he waddled up the aisles and bade those assembled for the feast to push back tables and benches to make room for dancing.
"Your grace will forgive me if I respectfully disagree," Jorah said with a scowl, "but I do not like when Lord Tyrion makes trouble."
"And your grace will forgive me," Tyrion said, peering up at them from below the dais, "if I steal my fair lady wife away for a dance?"
Sansa obliged him, leaving Jorah alone at the table with the Queen.
Chapter 3: The Dance
As the feast wound on, Queen Daenerys' fears began to ebb.
She had met Sansa Stark only briefly in Kings' Landing, before her court and advisors. Now, in the Lady's own hall, Dany was surprised to find she had much in common with the younger woman. Aside from her rather intimidating Hand she had had little contact with other noblewomen and found it rather pleasant to sit and make polite conversation with quiet, proper Lady Sansa.
Still, she could not help but be reminded that her dealings with the North were tenuous at best. Jorah had warned her years ago that she would not find the coldest half of the seven kingdoms easy to subdue even if she managed to conquer it; thanks to Lord Stannis, Theon Greyjoy, and Roose Bolton much of the conquering had been already done by the time she arrived, but turning the hearts of those who once rode to battle with the King in the North was difficult work indeed. Young Rickon Stark, a boy of only nine who seemed at times half-wolf, occasionally shot her wary glances from across the table, and Dany had to pretend to ignore his sister's admonishing glares back at him. The future Lord of Winterfell, and Warden of the North.
Nor could she miss her knight's unease, evident in the way he barely picked at the lavish meal set before them and responded nervously to everyone but Lord Tyrion. Not for the first time, Dany wondered if it had been wise to return him to a home he had fled in disgrace.
When she caught him exchanging a look with their hostess, she decided - perhaps a risk encouraged by the wine she had consumed with dinner - to speak her mind.
“I hope our presence does not cause you discomfort, my lady. I know there was no love lost between Ser Jorah and your lord father.”
“He was very angry when Lord Mormont fled his punishment,” Lady Sansa admitted. “I think they were friends of a sort, once…Father never said it, but I thought he seemed rather hurt as well.”
That explained much; Dany had often wondered at the bitter tone in Jorah’s voice when he spoke of Eddard Stark.
“It matters not, Your Grace," Sansa continued. "What is past is past, and you yourself have pardoned greater crimes. My husband’s brother slew your father, and yet you allowed Ser Jaime not only to live, but to inherit Casterly Rock.”
That had been Dany's hardest decision. For so many years her brother had dreamed of vengeance against the accursed Kingslayer, the man who had betrayed the white cloak her father had entrusted to him. Were it not for the persuasions of Sansa and Tyrion, as well as a plea from Lady Brienne, the newest member of Daenerys’ Queensguard, she would have had him roasted in dragonfire. Instead she had stripped him of his knighthood, sent him back to the castle that was his by rights as the eldest living Lannister, and hoped her visits there would be few and far between.
“Besides,” Sansa added, “my lord husband seems to rather respect Ser Jorah. And Tyrion’s respect hardly comes easily.”
Dany giggled at that. She had always rather liked the little Lannister’s brash honesty, and she did have to admit he was often a surprisingly good judge of character. He and her knight made a strange pair indeed.
In fact, Tyrion had perhaps saved Ser Jorah’s life – not only in the slavers’ market, but in Meereen as well. Her fury at the sight of him in her ruined city after she had told him not to return had been cooled somewhat by the Imp’s careful words. Were it not for the distraction of the Lannister captive, she may indeed have made good on her promise to tear his head from his shoulders.
Yet she did have to agree that Tyrion’s schemes sometimes had undesirable results.
When he led his lady wife from the table, Dany realized she and Jorah were the only two still seated; all the other guests had risen to join the Lord and Lady of Winterfell in their dance. Even her bloodriders were conspicuously missing.
For a while she was content to watch Lord Tyrion and Lady Sansa twirl about the floor. They were an odd match, indeed; the lady was tall and lithe, with a wild sort of beauty and an inner quiet, and her husband stunted, scarred, but always ready with a jape and a cup of wine. They could hardly have been more mismatched – not to mention, of course, that their houses were old enemies. After the long war who would ever have expected to find a lion and a wolf living in harmony?
And yet they seemed so happy, together in the hall of her forefathers. Tyrion, who had seemed near to madness when he had found her in Meereen, was calmer now than she had ever seen him, his wife laughing as they danced.
Out of the corner of her vision Daenerys spied one of the young lords approaching her – one of the Umber sons, she thought, but truth be told she was still having difficulty telling the Northern houses apart. She looked him over, trying to decide what her response would be if his intent was to ask her to join the dance, but before she could come to a decision Lord Tyrion stepped away from his wife and called out to the young man.
“Umber!” The Lannister strode towards the Northman as quickly as his legs would carry him. “Lady Sansa was just asking after your lord father. Pray, come and speak with us.”
“Of course, my lord,” the boy stammered. Dany was amused to see how the huge lad was helpless to refuse the Imp’s request; being the interim Lord of Winterfell seemed to have afforded him the sort of power he had always craved. Tyrion shot a pointed look at her Lord Commander as he led the young Umber away.
Ser Jorah said nothing in response. He may not have noticed the gesture at all; her knight sat hunched over the table, studying his mug of ale as though it were full of secret assassins. Dany was certain he knew what she was about to ask and dreaded it. Yet it would not do for the Queen to sit aside and watch all the other guests at the feast be merry, and Tyrion seemed determined to ensure that she had no other partner to choose.
With a sigh she rose from her seat and stood before him, thrusting her hands out impatiently.
“Come on, then.”
“Your Grace-- ” he grumbled, not turning to face her.
“I know what you intend to say, Ser Jorah, and it matters not. Dance with me.”
“I do not dance.”
“You do what I command,” she reminded him. “Now come.”
Growling, he gulped down the remainder of his ale and set the mug down hard before standing to accept her hands.
Dany quickly understood why he had protested so strongly; her knight, though graceful with a sword, was hardly light on his feet. She managed, with careful concentration, to guide him along somewhat successfully, but was secretly relieved when the dancers changed partners. Her relief turned instantly to guilt, however, when she realized he was faring much worse without her. The other ladies made valiant attempts to avoid his large feet; Lady Sansa in particular struggled to be gracious when he reached her, which only seemed to make Jorah more nervous than ever. Tyrion hovered nearby, the little lord’s eyes shining with amusement as he watched her knight struggle. I have to say something. Perhaps if I distract him it will help.
Fortunately she had returned to him at last, and could now mutter softly in Dothraki as she spun into his arms.
“Hash yer nesae fin Tyrion qosay?” --Do you know what sort of trouble Lord Tyrion is plotting?
“Arranae anna, anha dirgak,” he replied. --To embarrass me, I suspect. “Vosma anha tiholak mahrazh fitte qosarvenikhi avvos.” --But I never understand the Imp's plans.
"I believe I heard my name somewhere in that barbarian garble of yours," Tyrion called from several feet away, pulling a breathless Sansa back into his arms. "It is very rude to insult a man in his own hall."
“Hash anha fatilak yeri, nesakoon.” --When I insult you, you'll know.
Dany laughed aloud. Perhaps it was inappropriate to jest at Lady Stark’s husband in a language he did not speak, but it did seem to improve her knight’s temper greatly.
She drew closer to him unconsciously, not taking notice of it until she felt a strong arm press against her back. How long had it been since she had been in a man's arms? Certainly she had not danced so closely with anyone at court; in fact, she suspected she was somewhat closer to her knight at the moment than was strictly proper. The wine had disarmed her...or perhaps it was the surprise of laughter, a thing she rarely indulged in of late, especially not with the man she had once named a traitor.
Dany lifted her eyes and found Jorah smiling cautiously at her. Unbidden, her memory drew her to a ship’s cabin, a pair of arms drawing her close, a man’s tongue coaxing her lips apart…
A sharp stab of pain drew her out of her reverie. Dany yelped, stepping back to shift her weight to her left foot as she analyzed the throbbing in her right. She kept her eyes locked on the floor, not wanting to see her knight's expression.
Well I suppose he did try to warn me.
Jorah had felt the crunch of Daenerys' toes beneath the sturdy sole of his boot at the same moment her cry of pain pierced his ears. Instantly he recoiled from her, the moment's indulgence of holding his Queen as close as he dared, of her eyes holding his and making him hope that the Imp's notions were correct, effectively quashed. She could not look at him now, nor he at her as he sputtered apologies which scarcely sounded coherent to him, swallowed up by the musicians' tune and the dancers' steps. Having expected something like to happen--past attempts at satisfying Lynesse's love for dancing had generally ended in this fashion--did not make it any less humiliating. The flush prickled hotter at the collar of his tunic as he noted the bruise already darkening on her pale skin exposed by the dainty embroidered slipper.
"You ought to have your ladies tend to that," he said gruffly. "And if I may beg Your Grace's leave, I trust you can find a partner with more talent than a dancing bear."
As he made her a curt bow he saw her start to raise her head, but before she could see the humiliation that burned on his face as surely as the demon's mask, he span away, ignoring her voice calling after him. He was almost relieved when he found himself stumbling again to keep from barreling over Tyrion Lannister, whose cringe indicated he had witnessed the entire scene. Anger burned as Jorah found someone besides himself to blame for his embarrassment.
"Damn you to the seven hells, Imp," he snarled, bulling past the little man. "And keep your nose in your own affairs."
"You might have noticed I haven't got one."
"Would that you had not a tongue."
Scarcely knowing--or caring--where his clumsy feet carried him, except out of the great hall of Winterfell, Jorah strode blindly through the well heated corridors of the castle keep. Too well heated; he was sweating in his woolen layers of clothing as profusely as ever he had in the sweltering climes of the eastern continent. At last he found himself blundering out into the courtyard. In the light that glowed from the windows behind, he made out the white flakes of snow billowing against the black of the night sky; they alit on his face like soft kisses, cooling his flush and his temper, yet when he drew deep breaths of the once familiar northern air, his lungs burned with the empty cold of it. Was there no place on earth where he belonged?
Or to be left to my morose ponderings? He gritted his teeth and exhaled a steaming puff of air through his nostrils at the soft crunch of snow beneath approaching footsteps, and the glimpse of Daenerys' bright but simple red dress in his periphery.
"With all due respect to Your Grace," he said, "I would prefer to be alone."
"Would my Lord Commander prefer me to be alone in this strange place? You advised me to tend my foot. I thought a cold compress."
"My advice was to let your maids see to--" Jorah abandoned his argument at the sharp upward cut of her eyes as she knelt on the ground to scoop snow into her pale hands. "I'll do that," he said, and went to her.
His fingers wrapped around her elbow and drew her up gently to sit on a low stone ledge that had recently been brushed clear of snow, the sooty remnant of the old burnt castle walls. At the softening of her gaze on him he averted his eyes, but felt the prickle of heat at the back of his neck anyway, licking like fire along his jaw into his face despite the cold of the winter night. Crouching at her feet, he packed a lump of snow into a ball and knotted around it a cloth procured from a pocket of his tunic. He steadfastly avoided her stare as he slipped off her shoe and placed the compress on her swollen toes, but when her shiver rippled beneath his hand, he looked up at her.
"You have no cloak."
Daenerys smiled wanly, but she must have emitted a quiet chuckle, for he saw a little cloud puff from her lips. "What good is blood of the dragon if it doesn't keep a person warm in all weather conditions?"
"Take mine." Standing, Jorah fumbled with the silver dragon cloak pin at his throat.
"Then you won't have one."
"I'm a Northman."
Ignoring the cold which cut through cloth and skin, settling into his bones, Jorah swept off his white cloak and draped it about the Queen's slight shoulders. As she huddled into its warm folds, grateful in spite of her protests, Jorah noted her long silver braid tucked into the collar and, without thinking, stretched out his hand again to sweep it free. Even bound, the strands caressed his rough and callused hand like cords of the finest spun silk, and he could not but let his fingers linger around it a moment longer than was strictly necessary. Or appropriate. Though the lilac eyes that captured his held no rebuke as his hand fell to his side, and he thought he saw her shiver again.
"And I wanted to apologize," Daenerys said. "For what happened at the feast."
Jorah shook his head. "I am the one who stomped on Your Grace's toes."
"You would not have had I not forced you to dance against your wishes."
"But you would not have forced me if the Imp had not engineered the awkward situation in the first place ."
Daenerys' eyes shone. "Then we're in agreement. It is Tyrion's fault."
"Aye." Jorah's own lips twitched to return her grin, but he felt a pang in his chest and turned away from her. The ache, however, did not ease as he stared once more into the snowy night.
"My bear?" Her fingertips brushed the back of his sleeve, and he stepped just beyond her reach, outside the pocket of torchlight. The night was impenetrable, though he heard her sigh. "What troubles you, ser?"
He had a thought that it was hardly fair of her to employ her royal authority in this context, but neither did he hesitate to make her an answer. "It is not fitting, that a Lord Commander should be such an embarrassment to his sworn Queen."
"What is not fitting is that my Lord Commander should think me so easily shamed by such a triviality as a missed dance step. Or that he should be, after he won me a kingdom."
She did not understand, and again he ground his teeth. "I refer not to the dance. Tyrion is not the only one who mocks me openly. Your own Hand--"
"I told you, do not trouble yourself about Lady Arianne. She was teasing me, not you."
"I would not have you appear a fool because of my…" Love for you, he had nearly said, but thankfully caught himself before he was even further humiliated by a verbal misstep.
Even so, his cheek seemed to burn with the heat of the branding iron again when Daenerys slipped softly around to stand before him, the folds of his too-large cloak dragging in the white snow, and she regarded the mark upon his face.
"If people think me a fool for believing a man can be redeemed, then so be it," she said. "I know no other way to be a Queen."
Jorah said nothing as she looked intently up into his eyes, her smooth brow folding into lines as she realized she still had not touched the correct reason for his shame.
"I cannot claim to know your mind, Jorah," she said, turning to gaze out into the impenetrable night beyond the castle keep. "I can only guess what painful memories this place holds for you, of a life once lived, and what you fear you will find at home. But if I am certain of anything in life, it is that to look back is to be lost."
"If only looking ahead were a certainty," he mumbled then added hastily, "My Queen speaks wisely."
Would to the gods that she did not. For her words contained echoes of that favorite phrase of his father's--the things we love destroy us every time. Try as he might, Jorah could not leave his love for her behind.
Chapter 4: The Island
Bear Hall was exactly as Ser Jorah had described it to her: little more than a wooden longhall with two stories, a few rooms clinging to the sides, stone towers at the corners of its gate, and of course the infamous carving of a warrior woman above the entrance.
The hall was full of warrior women as well. Lady Maege stood at the head of the party flanked on each side by her four daughters, all as dark and fierce-looking as their mother. And their cousin, Dany thought, with a nervous glance at her knight. He was a pale as she had ever seen him, his fingers gripping the pommel of his sword as though it were a cane propping him upright.
The trek through the Wolfswood to Deepwood Motte had taken only four days, the sea voyage from there to Bear Island about half that time. Her Dothraki looked a bit haggard after crossing the Bay of Ice, but none more so than Ser Jorah. He had said barely a word to her since they had left Winterfell; had she understood his moods less well she might have assumed he was still sulking over what had happened at the feast, but Dany was rather certain he was dreading the wrath of a pack of she-bears.
Her bear was a fearsome warrior, but as she studied his kinswomen Dany began to understand why he had protested this journey.
If only I had had them with me in Essos, she thought idly, they might have cowed entire khalasars.
Jorah had described four daughters, but Dany realized there were five girls facing them. The oldest bore the greatest resemblance to her mother – and to Jorah - and clutched the hand of a small boy, barely more than a babe. Two were Dany’s age, or near enough, and the youngest two were just at the cusp of womanhood, one perhaps a bit nearer than the other. He failed to mention the two extra children. He hardly could have known about the babe, but…which of the two youngest girls was Maege’s youngest? Were they both hers? Dany tried to assemble the years in her head – he had to have known about them both, hadn’t he?
The Lady of Bear Island was the first to step forward, but instead of bowing before the Queen as Daenerys had expected, she turned to face her Lord Commander. Jorah stood stone still as his aunt studied him, but Dany could see the tightness in his jaw, the way he tried to tilt his head so that his branded cheek faced away from her. Not that it mattered – the scarring on the opposite side was no more pleasant to look at, especially with half his left ear gone.
Either way, I’ve returned him the worse for wear.
The quick stab in her chest may have been guilt or fear; Dany could not say which. Bear Hall was completely silent, as though time had paused to await Lady Maege’s will.
When she came at Jorah, Dany nearly gasped in horror, but the older woman only pressed her head to her nephew’s chest and wrapped short arms around his waist.
Jorah looked as shocked as anyone at first, but when he realized he was not being harmed he rested his chin atop Lady Maege’s head and returned her embrace. Still no one spoke, though some of the tension in the room had lessened. Dany felt as though she were intruding on a private family matter and ought to leave, but where else could she go? She had not yet been formally introduced to the occupants of Bear Hall.
Her knight was muttering something inaudible that must have been an apology into his aunt’s hair, but Maege was perfectly still, her face hidden in the folds of his cloak.
Dany felt oddly jealous witnessing their reunion; she had wanted to do the very same thing as she had wandered the Dothraki Sea alone and delirious, but the reality of Jorah’s return had been so very different.
After he had turned up in her city and made his plea before her court, Dany had kept him in a room for three days, alone, while she questioned Tyrion Lannister and drew the courage to face her former knight herself.
That had been her only word – the only one she could manage to squeak out through the bile threatening to creep into her throat – when she had finally entered his chamber. No greeting, no preamble, only a few steps through the door she had allowed to slam shut behind her and one word.
He had been perched on the edge of the narrow mattress that dominated the room and rose when he heard the door open. Though she would not lift her gaze from the floor, Dany could nearly picture the shocked expression on his face without seeing it. She waited, arms crossed, for a reply.
“No. No. I want none of your pretending to misunderstand me when you know perfectly well what I am asking you.” She had meant to speak only that one word, “why”, and leave when she had an answer, but just the note of confusion in his voice had woken her dragon, and now the words came of their own accord, and louder than she meant to utter them.
“And I swear to any gods that may hear me, if you lie to me ever again, about even the least significant matter, I will give Strong Belwas the head I promised him. And none of your careful omissions, either. From this moment on when I question you I demand the complete truth or you will rue the day you choose to set foot in my city again. Is that clear, ser?”
He responded slowly, all the warmth gone from his voice.
“Yes, your grace.”
“Why?” she repeated.
“Varys offered me a pardon. So that I might go home.”
“That much I already know.”
“What else would you have me say, your grace?”
“I…” Dany tried to form an answer, but it was too late to stop the tears from burning down her temples.
“Khaleesi…” His voice was much softer than before, and through her downturned gaze Dany saw his foot lift from the floor and return again, as though he had meant to go to her but thought better of it.
“How could you?” She tried and failed to return to an even tone and instead eked out little more than a whisper. “You lied to me the entire time. The entire time. I trusted you above all others, I made you my right hand and let you command my armies, I named you friend. How could you look me in the face, every single day, and know you had sold me for a pardon? That everything was a lie? How could you…you said you loved me…” She could feel her mouth open and shut like a fish gasping on land, but the words had dried up.
The air was thick and silent for what must have only been seconds, but felt to Dany like an age. When his voice finally broke the air, she had to strain to hear it.
“What would you have me say?”
Dany swallowed hard.
“Nothing,” she spat. “There is nothing I would have from you.”
She wheeled around and opened the door, letting it shut again as loud as before. As she stormed back to her chamber she felt certain that speaking to him at all had been a mistake, that allowing him to keep his head had been a mistake, but that night as she chased sleep she thought of more questions that wanted answers, dozens and dozens of questions, and only one man who could answer them.
So the next evening she went and asked them, and the next evening after. After the second night the questions came easier, though the answers were still hard. Often, as the week wore on, their conversations ended in shouting and door-slamming, and always with Dany simply walking out, sometimes as Jorah was still speaking. Mid-week he began to yell back at her, though he never moved more than a foot past the bed, and she never took more than a few steps past the doorway.
By the seventh night she had gotten everything out of him – every detail, every thought, every action she had not witnessed from the time he had left Westeros to the day she had first questioned him. Even his exploits with Tyrion, which she had already heard from the Lannister himself, she made him repeat. Even the night on Balerion – though that was one of the times she had simply turned and left mid-sentence.
On the seventh night she stepped through the door and realized she had no more questions, so she had assumed her most queenly demeanor and informed the knight of her decision.
“Ser Barristan will find you a place in the Queensguard. Conditionally,” she amended, cutting off his attempt to respond. “You will swear no oath and receive no steel from me until you have proven your worth again. You will not advise me or participate in military councils; you will take your orders from Ser Barristan and follow them to the letter. To the letter. Do you understand?”
“Yes, your grace.”
She had tried to look at his face then, but the sight of the demon brand that marred it brought the bile rushing to her throat again. He earned his fate, Dany reminded herself, I will not pity him.
With a nod she had left, and that was that. At first she had thought herself a weak-minded fool, forgiving a traitor, and even in Kings’ Landing as he had regained his place in her court and her confidence she had felt foolish for continuing to care so much for a man who had lied to her for so long.
But here stood Maege Mormont, the Lady of Bear Island, embracing him. As though it were all that simple.
Jorah seemed suddenly, finally, to remember that he was in service of the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. He cleared his throat and stepped out of his aunt’s arms, nodding his head in Dany’s direction. Maege followed his gaze, taking notice of Daenerys for what appeared to be the first time, and immediately straightened.
“Of course. Forgive me, Your Grace – I am Lady Maege Mormont, the Lord of Bear Island, and behind me my daughters and grandchildren.” Dany was immensely grateful when she began to introduce each woman in turn; Jorah had told her all the names many times but they were so many that she was not at all confident in her memory. “Aly, my eldest daughter and heir.” Lady Maege gestured to the stocky woman with the child. “And her boy Ned, who will be Lord after her. Beside her are her eldest, Erena, and my youngest, Lyanna.” Lyanna must have been the taller girl, the one wearing a deep scowl much like the one Ser Jorah reserved for her suitors. Your daughter and granddaughter are of an age. That explained the extra body. Dany shot a dark look at her knight, who returned it with one of confusion.
“And these are my middle daughters, Lyra and Jorelle.” The one she had called Lyra only nodded, but Jorelle smiled shyly at Dany and bowed.
Daenerys smiled graciously, gave the usual courtly thanks, introduced her bloodriders and handmaids. It all seemed even sillier than usual, spitting hospitable platitudes when there was so much unsaid between Ser Jorah and his kin. It was odd not to be the center of attention for once; she was uncertain whether she found it annoying or liberating but was relieved when Lady Maege finally allowed her an escape.
“Aly can give you the lay of the castle. I would speak with my nephew, if your grace can spare him a few hours.”
“Certainly,” the Queen replied politely.
It had been kind of her to make it seem a sacrifice when in truth Dany wanted nothing more than to bolt from the hall before any claws emerged. As the eldest she-bear led Dany and her Dothraki from the hall, she looked back over her shoulder at her Lord Commander, hoping she was not leaving him behind as prey.
Jorah watched as the little boy--Aly's son, Ned--followed along after the Queen and her retinue with the impetuous curiosity of a bear cub. The look of one, too: dark-haired, short and sturdy of limb. Somehow, in all the years of dreaming of the moment when he returned home, Jorah never considered that there might be new faces to greet him. It made him miss the familiar but forever absent ones all the more. Hearing Maege introduce Aly, my eldest daughter and heir was like a dagger.
"When was the boy born?" he asked hoarsely.
"He's four," snapped the girl Maege had introduced as Lyanna. To his shame, he had not immediately known which of the two youngest was her and which was Aly's daughter. If she'd been this ferocious, he would have recognized her at once; even as a little girl Lyanna had demonstrated a fierce protectiveness of anything she considered her own, and well he could believe that would include looking after a nephew as she would her own cub. She made him feel like a male intruding on undisputed female territory--which would have made him feel right at home if only he could detect a hint of affection beneath her hostility. Was it little wonder, though, that she regarded him thus, scarred as he was and branded as a brute? Dangerous, Lady Arianne had described his look, and the people who cringed back from him seemed to agree.
"Ned just had his name day," said Jorelle, her voice gentler than her little sister's, tinged with the wistful note that heartened Jorah for being just as he remembered.
More like him than merely in name, she alone of Maege's daughters was a dreamer. Her elder sisters used to go near mad when deep snows confined them to the hall, but Jorelle never seemed more content than when she was curled up in his lap before the fire, begging for him to read from his books of knights and ladies, or to tell her of his adventures in the wars. She was the only one who sighed rather than scoffed when he told how he wooed and won Lynesse, and at times seemed as in love with his Southron bride as he. Though Jorelle was now of an age with Daenerys, he could easily imagine her knees drawn up beneath her skirt of green wool, lost in the yellowing pages of a romance.
Did she realize what a pretty young woman she'd grown into? Taller than the rest, her build bore a closer resemblance to Dacey than to Maege and Aly and lent her an elegance even though she was simply dressed. Her blue eyes set her apart from the others, too, and the dark plait fell down her back almost to her waist. Did she have lovers, like Aly? Did she love an island lad?
Jorah gave her a small smile. "If I'd known, there is something I would have brought him for a name day gift. I'll send it when I return to King's Landing." "It's a Dothraki--"
He stopped short with the sudden realization that if he had not been exiled, he might have presented his cousin's son to their household as proudly as if he were the heir of his own loins, the first male Mormont to come into the world since his birth. Instead, at almost the same time half a world away, he'd buried the tiny, twisted corpse of Daenerys' babe, dead through his own fault.
"Cousin?" At Jorelle's light touch upon his arm he attempted to rearrange his expression into a grin, though he suspected it was more a grimace as he turned to Lyanna.
"You knew no more than four name days when I saw you last," he said. "You've surely--"
"Grown?" Lyanna shrugged away from his hand, which had gone out instinctively as though to tousle her hair and fell limp at his side as she went on. "Yes. I had to. We all did, after you beggared and abandoned us."
She lunged toward him and he hopped back--ridiculously, he Lord Commander of the Queensguard, thrice his cousin's age and near thrice her size, as well--as if to dodge the whip-like lash of her words. She continued to deal her verbal blows.
"I'd known no more than ten name days when I defended Bear Island against the Kraken while my sisters marched to war for King Robb. When Stannis Baratheon demanded our fealty I told him to go fuck himself."
"She wrote him a letter, she means," Lyra spoke for the first time, looking a little amused.
Jorelle, however, scowled and folded her arms across her chest. "Fuck himself is a paraphrase."
"Though I expect it's exactly what Lyanna desires to say to me," Jorah said, quietly, meeting the girl's accusatory gaze though the back of his neck prickled red-hot with his shame.
She opened her mouth, but beside Jorah, Maege cleared her throat, and the girl wavered. "Well…I won't greet you with open arms like Mama."
"I don't expect you to."
"Good, because I don't like to do the expected," Jorelle said, and threw her arms around him in an embrace that caught him a little off-balance; even more surprisingly, she stretched up on her toes to peck his cheek--though the one not marred by the demon's mask. As she drew back, she said, "I'll say I want to hear all your stories of your travels."
"But that is expected," Jorah teased, giving her a final squeeze before releasing her.
"I want to hear the one about what happened to your ear," Lyra said, and Jorelle hissed at her to shut up, punching her in the arm.
"A Dothraki arakh," Jorah replied. At the confusion dimpling his cousin's brow, he explained. "The curved blade you might have noticed at the Queen's bloodriders' hips."
"And what happened to the Dothraki wielding the arakh?" Lyra stumbled slightly over the foreign word, and under her breath Jorelle tested it, too.
"I killed him."
"In defense of the Queen?" Jorelle's eyes shone, clearly thrilled by the adventurous tale which she was so sure must contain romance, too. Surely he could not be so transparent?
Jorah nodded, but couldn't bring himself to utter the affirmative aloud. He'd fought Qotho for Daenerys, it was true, but then he had carried her into that accursed tent and killed the babe in her womb.
"You always talk such foolery, Jory," said Lyanna rolling her eyes before pinning Jorah with her sharp gaze. "And what happened to your face?"
The silence that followed seemed strange after Jorelle reprimanded Lyra for asking about his ear. Curiosity, he supposed, trumped courtesy. Anyway, he'd known the moment would come when he would have to tell them. Better to have it done with at the start of his visit home. Necessary, even. He was an old hand at reciting his story by now, having stood before Daenerys and told her--everything. No lies. No omissions. Every humiliating detail about his captivity in Meereen. Admitting the simple truth to his aunt and cousins could not be so bad as that. Shoulders squared and head high, still he could not quite look directly at any of them.
"A slaver's branding iron happened to my face." The silence of his kinswomen seemed to deepen, and so did his voice. "I did not kill the slavers."
The weight of the continued silence made it difficult to keep his gaze up, his head up, even as he recited his words in his head--Here I Stand--but just as the heaviness seemed almost too much, as those whispered words that separated him from Daenerys more surely than any distance or a cage of iron bars, Lyanna spoke.
"You…were a slave?"
"There, girl, you see?" Maege's big worn hands settled on her daughter's shoulders. "The gods did him justice."
"Mama," Jorelle whispered, looking at him with sorrow, but Jorah felt the twinge of a smile at the corners of his dry lips.
There. Maege had said it. Daenerys had been thinking it--everyone who knew his sorry tale had been thinking it, he most of all--but no one had said it. Daenerys had shouted all manner of things at him, but never that. Leave it to Maege. A woman of few words, but the few were never minced. Her daughter feared the truth would wound him further, and it did--but only as the sting of raw flesh when his shackles came off, as the softened calluses on his palm when his hand closed around the pommel of a sword for the first time in months.
She said nothing more until the two of them were seated at a crude table in the sparse room that would be Maege's while Daenerys occupied the lord's chambers, a plate of oatcakes and ten years' worth of conversations between them.
"Is that how you came into the service of the Dragon Queen, then?" Maege asked, then drank from her unpolished pewter mug of warm spiced ale. "Breaker of Chains, we've heard her called. Did she break yours?"
If only his exile had led him to salvation rather into deeper sin. If only he did not have to disappoint his aunt further by admitting it.
"No, I served the Queen first. Then my crimes caught up with me."
"It's a long story," he said, not because he was unwilling to tell it but because he knew Maege was disinclined toward lengthy conversation.
"Summarize," she said around a bite of oatcake, swiping the crumbs from her chin.
Jorah snorted into his mug. That makes a change, he thought, wearied by the mere memory of the hours and days he and Daenerys talked and shouted until they had neither words nor voices to utter them.
Hunched over the table, the chair tilted on its uneven legs, he considered his reply for some moments.
"I sold my home for Lynesse," he said at length. "After I lost her, too, I sold Daenerys for home."
Maege leaned back in her chair and studied him. "You betrayed the Mad King's daughter, and she spared your life?"
He nodded, though there had been times during his captivity when he thought death would have been a kinder fate. Not least of all when they told him she had taken a husband.
"Twice," he said.
Mage drained her cup, then caught his eye again as she placed it heavily on the table. "You've been forgiven much. It almost makes me believe I'm not mad for forgiving you, if the Dragon Queen can." She gave a grim chuckle. "Then again, a Targaryen isn't the best plumb line for sanity."
"Daenerys is nothing like Aerys," Jorah growled, and his aunt looked taken aback. "She is just and kind and…" He caught himself, self-conscious under Maege's steady gaze. He looked down at his hands, clasped together. "And I'm not certain she has forgiven me. Not entirely."
"Then perhaps she's a wiser woman than me. What was that your father used to say? The things we love…"
"…destroy us every time." The words that had echoed in his head for the last week rang in his ears as he spoke them aloud.
"I don't mean you, boy," said Maege; Jorah's brows pulled together in confusion but he didn't dare look up at her. Instead he watched her hand reach across the table to grip his, smaller but as toughed as a man's by her long toil at home and at war. In his place. Yet for all the gruffness of her speech, her touch contained the gentleness that only a mother possessed.
"And Jeor was wrong," she said. "Or mayhaps he was right, but…I'd rather be torn apart for love than run from it. Gods only know how little time we're allowed." She sniffed, raggedly, and released him to wipe her nose on the back of her hand. "I'm only sorry you were never able to make amends with him."
Jorah straightened up and looked his aunt full in the face, the words that spilled from his mouth as uneven as the legs of the chair that rocked back with the shift of his weight. "Do you think Father would look at me and see me as you do, a man whose debt is paid? Do you think he'd accept the white cloak I took instead of a black?"
"I gave up trying to think like my brother a long time ago. And he did the same with me." She became serious. "Your father would understand."
That wasn't the same, but it was the truth, and it was all Maege could give him. He closed his fingers around the cool handle of the tankard and drank the now tepid ale.
"Do you know how he died?"
"No. Nor what happened to Longclaw."
"I sent it to him at the wall," Maege said. "After you left."
Longclaw lost? That was an unexpected blow. Jorah had never thought to wield it again, of course, yet some foolish part of him had also clung to the promise Daenerys made. Ser Jorah Mormont, first and greatest of my knights, I have no bride gift to give you, but I swear to you, one day you shall have from my hands a longsword like none the world has ever seen, dragon-forged and made of Valyrian steel.
"Excuse me," he said, getting dizzily to his feet. "I must go and see if I may be of any service to the Queen."
Chapter 5: The She-bears
“You neglected to tell me about Erena.”
Ser Jorah had met Daenerys in her chamber after speaking with his kinswomen, and she had greeted him with an accusation as he perched on the bed beside her.
“Yes. You told me there would be four daughters.” Four daughters minus the one who died, she thought, but Dany was not nearly foolish enough to ever mention that within these walls - or in front of her knight.
“I suppose I did forget Aly’s children,” he admitted. “Forgive me, your grace, it has been many years, and my kinswomen seem to breed at a rather alarming rate.”
Dany laughed at that. “So they do.” And often chose predictable names – Maege’s youngest was named for Rickard Stark’s long-deceased daughter, Jorelle had earned the family prefix passed down through generations, and Aly’s two were named for Jorah’s first wife, Erena Glover, and for the liege lord beheaded by Joffrey Baratheon some four years ago.
“And I was not here to meet the boy.”
That soured Dany’s mood in an instant. “You were with me.” A continent away, with another pregnant woman, whose child he could not have saved. “He is Rhaego’s age, or nearly.”
“I noticed,” Jorah replied, very quietly.
She had realized it while the boy trailed Alysane through the corridors earlier that day, leading Daenerys and the Dothraki to their rooms.
Little Ned was dark like the rest of his kin, his chubby features not quite yet smoothed out into the features of an older child. He clung to his mother’s hand, but stared curiously back at the queen and her retinue. When he met Dany’s eyes she smiled warmly back, and was pleased to see the boy grin in return.
His mother noticed the exchange and turned to the Queen as well.
“Do you have children of your own, your grace?”
“No. I…” Dany swallowed nervously, unsure if the conversation was already too intimate to share with a near-stranger, but against her better judgment she barreled on. “I was pregnant once, but my son was…stillborn.” At least she could avoid retelling the entire debacle. At this point Jorah’s cousin might only think her emotionally unstable; were she to begin discussing maegi and blood sacrifice she feared his kin would declare her as mad as her father.
“He would be about your boy’s age, had he lived.”
The other woman nodded, her face stone. What did I expect her to say? Am I truly so nervous that I have begun spouting my life’s history at a stranger?
Dany was in the midst of contemplating whether Westeros had ever known such a socially inept ruler when Aly finally spoke again.
“I lost one, some years ago. Between the two you have seen.”
Stunned by the admission, Dany could only mutter a small “oh” in response.
“You never truly forget,” Aly had added. They had not spoken again; upon showing the Queen to her chambers, Maege’s heir had lumbered off with her boy, leaving Daenerys alone to puzzle over their brief conversation.
Now, with Jorah, she wondered about the truth of his cousin’s words.
She had reached to cover her stomach at her own mention of Rhaego, an old instinct she had never managed to shake, but her bear had stopped her this time, pulling back her wrist and placing it at her side.
Dany remembered the tale he had told her in Vaes Tolorro. Do men ever forget? Or is it only the mothers who remember?
“Do you think of your babes, Jorah?” she asked, ignoring the odd sensation along her arm where he had gripped it moments before. “The ones that might have been?”
“Aye. Though not as often as I once did. That boy, though…” Her knight clenched his jaw when he paused, as she knew he often did when forced to speak about things he would rather keep silent.“When Erena was alive, it was Maege bearing all the children in the house. Soon after I brought Lynesse here, Aly and her mother were both pregnant at nearly the same time, and I thought perhaps my wife would soon join them. I suppose, in time, I grew used to seeing babes in my hall that ought to have been my own.”
Dany wondered if Lady Arianne would soon wed and begin to breed, if there would be cries and scattered footsteps in the halls of her palace before long. She could hardly expect her entire court to be free of them.
The hand Jorah had placed at her side went to his beard of its own accord, trailing along the stiff jawline beneath.
“Does it get easier?”
He swallowed slowly, considering, and it was a long time before his answer came.
Perhaps then it was for the best that she had not remarried, and did not intend to remarry. Who would wish for such pain a third time? Dany had never breathed a word to Hizdahr zo Loraq, her husband, nor her lover Daario, of the maegi’s curse. She was my mistake, and it is my burden to bear. Best not inflict barrenness on some unsuspecting man, some poor noble boy expecting his heirs to inherit the kingdoms.
Arianne had not known all that she was suggesting when she had urged the Queen to take a paramour.
But Jorah had. He had heard Mirri Maz Duur’s words as clearly as Dany herself, and had still asked to be her husband.
Because he wanted to marry you, echoed the nagging voice that had taken root in her mind since Barristan Selmy had revealed the traitor in her midst, or to shield himself from your fury before all his lies could come undone?
The thing that had haunted her most about his betrayal, the thing that still lingered after all was said and done and shouted across palace chambers, was that she would never truly know if the man who had been her closest friend, her right hand, her confidant in her darkest hours, had ever been more than a carefully constructed façade.
He must have been – must be – she had reminded herself time and again, else why would he be with her still? Yet the voice lingered, murmuring its questions.
His face was warm beneath her palm, the muscles still tensed. Dany realized she had been silent for quite some time, that her knight had been staring at her, waiting.
It was the choice of khaleesi, rather than your grace, that loosened her tongue.
“If Varys had not instructed you to protect me,” she muttered softly, “would you still have rescued me from the wineseller?”
Jorah pulled away from her fingers, a flash of irritation breaking across his eyes.
When Dany remained silent, neither agreeing with nor contradicting his answer, he pressed on. “You believe that, don’t you?”
Do I? She sighed. “I suppose if I did not, it would be foolish to have named you Commander of my Queensguard.”
It was an evasive answer, and she could tell he knew it. Yet how could she ever be completely certain?
What is done is done. Even if it had all been false, there was no way to change it. And she had made him Lord Commander, and would have to trust in his protection or be constantly looking over her shoulder, seeing spies in every corner. As my father did. Daenerys had made countless promises, to herself and to her people, not to become the ruler Aerys had been.
So that is that, she decided. No more doubting.
She nearly opened her mouth to tell Jorah as much, but he cleared his throat and spoke first.
“I had rather hoped we were past all the difficult questions.”
Dany smiled. “Perhaps if you were less difficult…”
That earned her a sly grin. She was relieved he had taken her remark in jest, rather than sulking over her mistrust. He is at ease here, she realized. He is home.
A quiet rapping came from the doorway; Jorah leapt up at once to allow his cousin to enter the room. It was the second-youngest of Maege’s daughters, Dany thought – Jorelle?
“Mother asked me to fetch you for supper,” she murmured.
Dany rose from the table and followed, taking Ser Jorah’s arm as she had in Winterfell but clinging perhaps a bit tighter than she had a week ago. For a moment she thought he might have noticed, as his eyes turned downward to catch hers, but before they met, Jorelle spoke up from Dany’s left side.
“So…did you truly hatch three dragons?”
The eyes of all Jorah's kinswomen fixed on the Queen as a serving boy placed the choicest sizzling filet of fish before her. Daenerys glanced down at it, then back up, an uncertain smile on her lips as she found her hosts watching her. Clearly, she knew no more what to make of them than they of her, and Jorah found himself unable to begin eating until he knew how this scene was going to play out.
"Plainer fare, no doubt, than what you're accustomed to in King's Landing," Maege said.
"We used to have a Southron cook," said Lyanna, darting her eyes sidelong down the table at Jorah. "Ouch!"
Her hand disappeared beneath the table to rub her thigh as she glowered up at Jorelle, beside her, who ground out through her teeth, "Shut up, or I'll do it again." It being pinch her, presumably.
"Not at all, Lady Maege," Daenerys said, slicing into her food. "Your hospitality is much appreciated, especially in these lean times. Also you must not forget, as so many people do, that when my brother Viserys and I wandered as exiles after the rebellion, we had to beg for our bread."
Jorah saw his aunt's eyes narrow slightly on Daenerys, clearly interpreting her remark as a calculated reminder of what House she claimed and which House Mormont had followed, and he choked on his meat as his first thought was the very same. After all, he had explained to her, it was not that simple--but then he noticed the Queen had become pale and her eyes and mouth went round like that of the fish before her, and he breathed easily again, knowing she had simply misspoken. Though the size of the enthusiastic portion she shoveled onto her fork in her zeal not to insult her hosts alarmed him that she might choke.
"Anyway," she said, "there are times when I miss the simple food to which I was accustomed when I rode with Khal Drogo's khalasar."
She glanced at Jorah, seated at her right, as though for help, and he twitched his eyebrows at her over his beer. "And to think there was a time when you could scarcely chew dried horse meat without gagging."
Her eyes shone with her quiet laugh, and his own smile stretched in response. How long had it been since they reminisced about those months they had ridden together in the Dothraki Sea? She had been the first true friend he'd known in his years of exile, which made the hurt all the greater that his betrayal made her doubt their friendship. But her words today made him hope, perhaps, that they had come to a turning point, that things between them might return to what they had been.
"After eating an entire raw heart," she said, "dried seems a meal fit for a queen."
"You ate a raw horse heart?" asked Lyanna, who wheeled in her chair and glared again at another pinch from Jorelle.
"You ate a raw horse heart, your grace," Jorelle corrected her.
Daenerys looked scarcely less pleased with herself for it than she had the night of the ceremony--though she was picking at her fish with her fork, much as she had picked at the food at the feast that had followed in her honor. Though in light of their earlier conversation, and the glance she'd just stolen at little Ned sitting on Aly's lap, one chubby hand clutching his curly hair as the other shared the food from his mother's plate, he wondered if it was not the unappetizing memory that stole her desire for food. A different hunger gleamed in her eyes.
"Why?" Lyanna asked, adding hastily, scooting on the bench away from her elder sister in anticipation of a pinch and bumping into Erena. "Your grace."
Daenerys drank long from her wine goblet before she answered, her smile too bright. "I think that story is better told when we're not trying to eat. Don't you agree, Ser Jorah?"
"I do, Khaleesi," he replied, and wished he could do more than that to reassure her. He glanced under the table and saw her hand in her lap, white knuckled as her fingers clutched at her skirt. Before he could second guess himself he placed his own over it and gave it a brief squeeze. Almost immediately he released her, but Daenerys grasped his hand, holding it firmly in place against her leg until his cousins resumed their mealtime chatter around them and he leaned in to ask her if he might have his hand back so he could eat.
"Oh," she said, flustered. "I'm sorry."
"I wouldn't have asked, but I wield a fork no better left-handed than I do a sword."
"I've seen you manage well without utensils."
"I only thought to make a good reflection upon my Queen, but of course if your grace would prefer me to eat like a bear…"
The remainder of the meal persisted in similar fashion, the bantering mood continuing even afterward, when they dragged their chairs and benches before the fire at the end of the hall to drink and have more tales of the Queen and her Lord Commander's adventures across the Narrow Sea.
"There was a time when I feared my dragons might make a meal of my bear," Daenerys said, perched daintily at the edge of a bench, as she'd grown accustomed to holding court in her pyramid in Meereen and continued in the Red Keep, Jorah standing just behind her to the right, as he had.
Maege chuckled. "It does make a good meal, when you can get it."
"They're all hunkered down in their dens for winter now," Lyra said, "or we'd have feasted your grace with roast bear."
"And saved you the heart," Alysane added, raising her tankard to the Queen with a grin.
"Please,," said Jorelle, on the bearskin rug with her knees drawn up beneath her skirt just as Jorah had earlier pictured her, hugging her knees to her chest as she looked up at them with amusement glimmering in her bright eyes. "Tell us of my cousin's adventures with the dragons. Or misadventures, as they may be."
Daenerys glanced up at Jorah. "You needn't stand guard over me here, ser," she told him, patting the space beside her on the bench as she scooted to the edge.
"Mayhaps it was myself I thought to guard," he mock-protested even as he obeyed, "against your embarrassing tales."
"And what is embarrassing about being one of the only men in living memory to have held a dragon?"
In the rustic hall, ruddy and shadowed in the shifting firelight, the onlooking faces of his dark-haired and dark-eyed aunt and cousins nearly as swarthy as those of the bloodriders and handmaids, it was easy to believe they were back in Vaes Dothrak. Daenerys had begged Jorah's company at the feast following the heart ceremony, he still her one friend though that night had won her the love of the tens of thousands of her husband's great khalasar.
"We were wandering through the Red Wastes of Essos after they were hatched," her voice drew him out of his musing, "and they'd had naught to eat for weeks but milk--"
"Dragons not drink milk!" Little Ned slipped off his mother's lap and approached the Queen.
"Not when they're grown, no," Daenerys said. "But when they're hatchlings, they do. Just like little bear cubs."
The boy squirmed and squealed as her hand went out to tickle his belly. As she took him up into her own lap, she looked at her audience again. "They suckled at my breasts."
Maege's head fell back with her laugh, which crackled like the logs in the fire, though she stopped abruptly when Aly nudged her. "I don't think the Queen meant that to be a jape, Mother."
"Is it true, Jorah?" asked Jorelle.
He was glad for the uncertain light in the hall and that he was already too warm from sitting so near the fire as his traitor mind easily produced the image of Daenerys sitting naked as her name day among the ashes of Khal Drogo's funeral pyre and the young dragon giving suck…her left breast bared in her Qartheen gowns…her nipples hardened against his chest as he kissed her on Balerion.
"It is," he said, his voice husky. "I saw it with my own eyes."
Lyra sniggered. "I bet he did."
"The most harmless stories become embarrassments when my cousins are the audience," Jorah muttered.
"And I thought giving my babes suck was painful when once they'd teethed," Aly said in low tones to her mother, who nodded and winced. She looked up and addressed the Queen. "You truly are the Mother of Dragons."
This seemed to please Daenerys--though Jorah had a passing though that perhaps she missed her dragons at the Wall as she missed Rhaego. He had not detected any particular yearning in her voice when she told Jorelle how she hatched them, but all the same he knew the maternal feelings she harbored for the beasts were genuine.
She said, "Perhaps I ought to have the doors of the throne room remade with a similar carving to the lady on your gate."
"There's too many teats and not enough teeth in this story," Lyanna muttered. "I thought it was meant be about Jorah being nearly eaten."
She was sulking, plucking at the wiry hairs of the bear rug until her mother swatted her on the back of her head and told her to stop before the beast ended up bald.
"Strangely enough, your cousin lost a bit of hair on this occasion," Daenerys said, and Jorah rolled his eyes and motioned for a serving girl to bring him more beer as his cousins sniggered about how he had enough to spare and was that why he was balder atop his head than when they saw him last?
"I had been trying to feed them small bites of horseflesh," the Queen's story went on, "but they refused to eat. Choosy beggars."
"Like that one," Aly said, pointing to her boy, who doubled over giggling in Daenerys' lap as her fingers tickled his belly again.
The story she told was not quite as Jorah remembered. The events were the same--there was no other meat to be found in those inhospitable lands but that of the horses which fell from exhaustion and lack of water--but when Daenerys spoke of despairing that her dragons ever taking nourishment she did so lightly, omitting the worry that had left her beautiful young face as haggard as starvation. Just as all had seemed lost, Viserion flapped his cream and gold wings and flew from her shoulder to perch on Jorah's forearm. Which was most unusual, as the dragons had as little to do with the other members of Daenerys' khalasar as they did with horse meat.
Aly nodded appreciatively. "That's babes for you. They cling to you till you go near mad for someone else to hold them and give you a moment's peace to yourself, then one day they refuse to sit in Mama's lap." She winked at Ned, whose head of wild hair rested against Daenerys' shoulder, the lids of his eyes drooping.
Jorah felt a rush of affection at the way his cousin spoke to Daenerys as one mother to another. The carving on Bear Hall's gate was, indeed, a true representation of the women who occupied it.
"What was it like?" asked Jorelle. "To hold a dragon? Did you feel as if legend had come to life?"
Another time he would tell the girl what it had been to see the Daenerys arise from the ashes and to be pierced by the dragons' song so that he could do naught but fall to his knees before her, the Dragon Queen his liege forever. For now, he kept to the tone she set for the tale.
"They say dragons are fire made flesh," Jorah said. "My flesh was almost made fire as the creature reared back his head and coughed out flame. And then he bit me."
"Only a small flame," Daenerys said indignantly over the laughter of the she-bears, "and Jorah took no harm beyond having the hair scorched off his forearm."
"And a scar in the shape of the dragon's teeth." Jorah set his mug aside and rolling up the sleeve of his tunic to reveal his skin.
Leaning in, Daenerys scrutinized it, grinning as she remarked, "The hair's grown back so well I cannot see if there is a scar or not."
Jorah snorted. "Her grace took the incident as lightly when it occurred. All she said was, “Oh! I think Viserion tried to roast you, my bear!"
His kinswomen howled, and Daenerys' lilac eyes glimmered with mirth as she met Jorah's gaze. "You should be honored, ser. It was at that moment I remembered that Viserys told me once that dragons, like people, preferred their meat cooked. You saved my dragons from starvation."
As her fingertips idly stroked his skin, he felt the usually tense muscles at his neck and shoulders relax for the first time since they began their Northward journey. He had not been sure he would find peace at home, and certainly had never occurred to him that her restlessness in the city might find its cure here, because at the root of it lay her unresolved troubles with him.
She had been right to bring him here. So long ago she had promised him she would.
Daenerys' word was true.
Chapter 6: The Fight
The crash of steel on steel sliced through the frosty air like a bolt of lightning in a clear summer sky. Jorah gave a start, though he had been watching, waiting for the two swordsmen--swordswomen--in the yard prepare to exchange blows. He was not the only one; in his periphery, the heads of the three youngest of his kinfolk--Lyanna, Erena, and little Ned--popped up from behind the snowdrift where they had been playing to watch the sparring with keen dark eyes.
Beside him, the top of her head scarcely reaching his shoulder, Maege made a grunt that might have been just that, or a gruff chuckle. "And they say women are the worriers."
"That is the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms learning swordplay," Jorah ground out through clenched teeth, not taking his eyes off the fight, "and I am the Lord Commander of the Queensguard. I swore a vow to worry about her."
"Oh, so it's because you wear a white cloak that you worry, is it?"
Heat prickled beneath Jorah's cheekbones at her inference, but hoped that the biting air had reddened his skin so that she would take no notice. He thought it prudent to make no reply, but Maege clapped him hard on the shoulder.
"A sharp blade couldn't touch her through all that fur and practice padding you insisted she wear--"
"She is no more accustomed to cold than to combat--"
"--and those swords are blunted. And it's my girls wielding them. Your Queen couldn't be safer."
It did not escape Jorah's notice that she said your Queen. Although Maege and her daughters had made no bold gestures of loyalty to the Iron Throne, he was reasonably certain that in this instance, his aunt implied mockery of a more personal nature. He exhaled through his nostrils, breath steaming in the air, and looked away from her without a word.
No sooner than he had returned his attention to the fighting lesson than the pupil lost her footing and stumbled. The sword and the layers of winter clothing and armor impeded her movement, making it impossible for her to regain her balance, and she fell headlong into the snow, so hard that she sent up a shower of white powder.
Jorah sprang toward her at once, but Maege's strong hand clamped around his elbow, at the same moment as the Queen's head came up and her laugh pealed out, breaking the spell of stunned silence. Jorelle's huskier laugh mingled with Daenerys' as she offered a hand up, underscored by Aly's chuckle, and Jorah let out the breath he'd caught. He did not move, however, or so much as blink, until Daenerys was steady on her feet again and had adjusted her helm, which had been knocked askew in the tumble.
Her silver braid dangled from the back of the dinted steel, its sheen bright in the sunlight, and reminded him of a fairy tale he'd read long ago of a princess with long golden hair in a tower. Though he'd long since given up the belief that life was anything like the songs and stories, this was one instance that he would not mind her being a little more like those damsels. But she was Daenerys of House Targaryen, Mother of Dragons, and too extraordinary for that. Of course her eyes had burned bright with fire when the she-b ears regaled her with tales of their exploits in battle.
"I know not how to wield a weapon," she'd said, in a hinting way Jorah recognized--and misliked.
"What do you call a dragon?" had come Jorelle's teasing reply, and they all chuckled, except the Queen.
"But if I'm threatened in King's Landing, my dragons at the Wall will do me little good."
"That's what a Queensguard's for," Jorah muttered.
"My Queensguard are not with me every second of the day. Surely you of all people, Ser Jorah, should approve me being suspicious of spies and traitors and assassins lurking in every dark corner. And occasionally even in broad daylight."
Aly declared it a gross lapse on Jorah's part, not giving Daenerys a few lessons in self-defense at least. Ignoring his protests that he'd been slightly busy keeping the Queen alive in Essos and hadn't time for sparring, she said she and her sisters would meet Daenerys in the training yard after they broke their fast on the morrow, if she was willing. Which Daenerys was. Or perhaps she was merely bored with the limited amusements Bear Island had to offer.
Though she certainly seemed enthralled enough as Aly offered instructions about her stance, committing it all to memory with the same determined look she'd worn in the Dothraki Sea when Jorah had told her all he knew of life in a khalasar. Gruffly, Aly reminded the Queen to keep her feet shoulder-width apart if she wanted to stay on them next time, and to swing the sword from her elbow not her shoulder lest the weight and length of the blade put her off balance again.
"It does make me wonder," Maege spoke suddenly to Jorah.
In spite of his resolve to ignore her, he turned to face his aunt. He saw the lines of her face deepen, her eyes seeming not to see the scene before her, but something in the past.
"If the girls had been kinder…if I'd made more of an effort…"
Immediately he understood her. "You're a bloody fool if you think any amount of kindness would have made Lynesse hide her lovely clothes beneath practice pads and crush her coif beneath a helm and roughen her hands to learn swordplay like a she-bear."
Maege puffed a grim chuckle. "True. But--"
"The only person who could have done anything to change what happened was me," Jorah said. "I was a bloody fool to wed her." A fool for love.
That had not changed.
His aunt remained silent for so long that Jorah thought the conversation must be at an end. They watched as Daenerys and Aly took their positions and brought their swords together with a clash, the seasoned she-bear obviously measuring her strength against her smaller and inexperienced opponent. Nevertheless, Jorelle cheered as the Queen stayed upright.
"And yet," Maege said at length, "it would seem your foolishness served a greater purpose."
"That's pious talk."
"Mayhaps. I don't know much of gods, but I do know a ruler like her never sat the Iron Throne. And you played no small part in putting her there."
While he appreciated what Maege was trying to do, and could not deny there was a measure of truth to it, he was not entirely comfortable with the turn the talk had taken, either. Muttering about how none of the girls had bothered to correct Daenerys' grip, he trudged off through the deep snow to them. His three cousins looked none too pleased about the male intrusion--and once again over the rise he noticed Lyanna had paused in her play to regard him through the dark slits of her eyes--but everyone else faded away as Daenerys looked up and bestowed on him one of her brightest smiles.
"How am I faring, Ser Jorah?"
Breathless from exertion, her beauty took his breath away despite her bulky clothes and the ill-fitting armor and helm. Her cheeks were flushed from the cold, it was true, and part of him wanted to tell her to go back into the hall with her Dothraki and warm up with a hot grog; Jhogo had poked his head out the carved door several times, watching the khaleesi fight with an expression that seemed to say he felt the same. But neither would Jorah snuff out the enthusiasm that played in her eyes like sunlight on deep water. It took him back to an earlier day, when their friendship had been new and untainted by her discovery of love and treachery, when he had taken such pleasure in watching the frightened girl he met in Pentos come into her womanhood.
"I think Brienne of Tarth is in no danger yet of losing her position as best swordswoman in Westeros," Jorah said.
"I've heard the lady's better than most of the swordsmen," Lyra said to Aly.
"But I've seen worse first lessons," he hastily added.
Jorelle chortled. "Your grace employs my cousin for his flattering tongue, I see!"
The back of his neck prickled and the warmth crept upward into his face. He thought he glimpsed a deeper red on Daenerys' cheek, too, though he stepped behind her to avoid uncomfortable eye contact, his big hand closing around hers on the hilt of her sword.
"I only mean your strokes will be more efficient if you grip your sword properly. It's a deadly weapon in its own right. You need not clutch onto it for dear life."
Daenerys stood very quiet and very still, her gaze locked on his gloved hand as he manipulated her fingers so that the thumb and first two fingers did most of the work, the others curved but lightly around the pommel. Thus positioned, he held her gingerly about the wrist to keep it still as he instructed her to swing from the elbow. As she tried it, he saw Aly lean in to Lyra again, and caught a snatch of her snigger: "Perhaps I ought to take a more hands-on approach to teaching."
"Now on your own." Jorah released Daenerys' wrist as if it burst into flames, and stepped away from her--
--exposing the Queen's back to a volley of snowball fire.
They had chased the girls and Ned out into a large clearing, Dany nearly forgetting to remove her helm before Maege called after her. She had caught up to the other girls and joined the battle, leaving armor and sword behind in the yard in favor of lighter weaponry.
Though as the enemy – Lyanna, Erena, and Ned against Dany, Lyra, and Jorelle, the older Mormonts providing counsel and commentary – continued to land hits that seemed to seep through her heavy fur cloak, the Queen began to sorely miss the shelter of steel, heavy or no.
She shivered as minimally as possible as she fought back, not wanting to appear as though she could not brave the harsh weather. Here, the cold was less a temperature and more an actual presence, an entity that belonged on the island as much as the forests did. Its denizens seemed to pay it no mind; or perhaps it merely was part of them, something unchanged and unacknowledged.
Dany, however, was accustomed to fire, not ice. She had grown somewhat more comfortable in the weeks of travel through the northern half of her kingdom, but still felt ill-suited to the climate. Often in the hall she found herself inching closer to the fires, until the girls began to mutter and shoot concerned glances in her direction. Once she'd reached a hand out towards the flame, as she often did to warm her hands in her own palace, and heard a chorus of gasps from across the room. When she turned, Jorah was holding Aly back by the arm, muttering something about "Targaryens".
Though she might never welcome the cold, Dany felt she could grow accustomed to the other denizens of the island. But for the occasional stay in Dorne and meetings with her Hand's cousins - whose nickname, "sand snakes", was well-deserved - the first Queen of Westeros had spent little time surrounded by so many women. Her small council, aside from the Hand, was all men, her Queensguard the same but for the inclusion of Brienne of Tarth, and all her travels in Essos had been in the company of her battle commanders and soldiers. Seeing a house run almost entirely by women made her feel a bit more secure about her control of the realm - despite the vague air of defiance she still sensed from the Northerners.
Lyanna Mormont, for one, remained wary of her, and spoke little. Jorelle - whose sisters called her Jory more often than not - had been curious and friendly from the beginning, and Aly had regarded her with a sort of gruff respect after their conversation about their children. Lyra was puzzling; Dany could not tell if her aloof cynicism was customary, or directed specifically at the Queen and her party. Yet most of her time was spent with Lyra and Jory, as Maege and her eldest daughter were usually occupied with their responsibilities to their children and the concerns of the islanders, and Lyanna and Erena simply ignored her.
Not that she minded - Jory was almost exactly of an age with Dany, and easily her favorite of the she-bears. Even Jorah seemed fondest of his namesake, and would happily have told her tales of Essos all day had there been time for it.
A sharp sting of cold hit the back of Dany’s neck; she turned to find Lyanna and Erena ducked behind a cluster of trees, giggling.
Well. She may not be a match for the she-bears with a sword, but surely the ruler of the realm could throw snow. Her right arm was beginning to grow sore from the effort of her earlier training, but again she kept silent. She had heard enough tales of how weaker women had fallen prey to the pack of she-bears…
Not that that was any of her concern. You are his Queen, not his wife, she chastised herself, why should the approval of his kin matter?
“Make sure you pack it tight,” Jory instructed from above as she knelt to form a round white ball between her gloves.
Her first projectile flew several feet to the left of the younger girls’ hiding spot. The giggling grew louder, and a volley of white launched in Dany’s direction. Jory tugged her arm and pulled her back to where Lyra hunched over a small hill of snow, building it steadily higher.
“What is this for?”
“For cover, your grace,” Lyra replied, “If I can build a wall high enough, we can duck behind it for defense, and launch our attack while the enemy resupplies.”
“A bit like a siege?”
Jory laughed. “Yes, your grace, a bit like that.”
“You could use a few trebuchets, perhaps,” Jorah put in. He and his aunt stood a ways away from the heart of the action, observing.
“Perhaps you ought to crawl through the sewers, Ser Jorah,” Dany quipped, “since you seem intent on ignoring your duty to defend your liege.”
“Oh, I think her grace can fight a battle or two on her own.”
Maege shot her nephew a curious look. “Sewers?”
Dany did not hear his explanation; Jory had pulled her down below the cover of their makeshift battlement as another round was launched from the trees ahead.
“You roll more, your grace, and I’ll help Lyra build the wall.”
The Queen did as she was bid, trying again to roll the soft powder blanketing the ground into an effective weapon. “If we’re going to fight alongside one another you may as well call me Daenerys,” she remarked to her fellow soldiers.
Lyra grinned for the first time that Dany had ever seen. “Aye, your grace.”
“Duck!” Jory cried. A volley of snow flew overhead again, but shorter than the last.
“I think they’re running short,” Lyra observed. “Do we have enough ammunition to launch an attack?”
“I think so,” Dany answered.
“On my mark, then. Aim and….fire!”
A chorus of squeals erupted from the woods as several of Lyra and Jory’s shots made contact with their targets. Dany, however, only succeeded in lobbing snow at the local fauna.
“I believe you were supposed to aim at your enemies, khaleesi,” her knight called. “Not trees.” When she turned his aunt was chuckling, and she could see that Jorah struggled to maintain his stern expression.
“Was I? Silly me.” She scooped up one of the last snowballs and hurled it at his chest; this time, to her gratification, the projectile exploded against the neck of his cloak.
“It appears I was right to name you my Commander after all,” she shouted back. “White suits you.”
Maege was laughing loudly now, while her knight stood perfectly still and seemed to be carefully measuring his next action.
There was one last packed snowball left on the ground. Dany needed little time to decide what to do with it.
The second shot struck the side of his face, hitting with a satisfying whack and shocking Jorah out of his hesitation. She thought she caught a flash of something in his eyes as they narrowed, forming the calculating look she knew all too well. Only at the moment she was uncertain whether it was genuine, or if he was merely playing at anger…
Often Dany forgot her bear had claws.
“Surely a proper knight such as you would not harm an unarmed woman, Ser Jorah?” She could not help but laugh at the sinister grin that crossed his mouth while he knelt, calmly collecting a handful of snow, and held her gaze as he rose with his weapon in hand. Dany stepped back slowly, still laughing.
“I am your Queen. Do not dare-”
When his arm lifted she turned and ran for the trees, hoping that with cover she might lose him, or that he would simply abandon the game rather than put forth the effort of chasing her. Soon her breath was spent, and she ducked behind a tall weirwood to rest a moment. The strange white trees grew on their own this far North, and were becoming commonplace to Dany, who had never seen one before landing in Westeros. And they were wider than other trees, offering better cover.
Not good enough, however.
Suddenly her head was freezing cold, a mound of snow unceremoniously plopped down upon it. Rivers of icy water ran down her face, down her head and neck, beneath her cloak. When she managed to clear enough of it from her eyes to see again, she found Jorah grinning before her.
“Did you think I spent my whole youth here and never learned to track an animal?”
“I imagine I was not a difficult quarry.” Dany replied coolly, trying to shake more of the melting snow off her face.
He laughed again, but his smug expression softened. “Here, let me.”
The thumbs of his gloves brushed carefully along her face, drying the moisture from them before it could freeze. The rush of heat to her cheeks was too quick to be merely relief from the cold…when she raised her eyes, Jorah’s head was much nearer to her own than she had realized. She studied it silently, waiting for him to meet her gaze, but he remained focused on his task, as though he did not notice the unusual warmth in the air, the way everything in the wood seemed still as ice…
Before she quite understood what she was doing, Dany nudged against his palm. Now he was looking at her, his features drawn in confusion. It seemed so easy, suddenly, to close the distance between them, to press her lips to his and wait for them to slowly part. His fingers closed against her skin, accepting the embrace, and for just a moment she felt them both relax, felt everything in the world fall away but the taste of her knight, the softness of his mouth.
It was over sooner than her thoughts could catch up to the racing of her heart – not as long as the last time? Jorah had pulled away, but still held her head in his hands, his fixed stare searching for something. He said nothing, but she could see how much he wanted to speak. All the things that had seemed to disappear seconds before were in his eyes, and Dany could not face any of them. Not now.
Hating herself every second, she ducked out of his embrace and walked away from the grove as quickly as her boots would carry her through drifts of snowfall. She half-expected Jorah to come after her, or call her name, but there was nothing. Nothing but the muffled sound of a fist hitting wood.
Yet that one sound followed her out of the trees, past the field where the cluster of women gave her stunned looks as she marched past them, and into the lord’s chamber in Bear Hall where she collapsed onto the wide pile of furs draped along the bed and finally, finally, inhaled.
Chapter 7: The Aftermath
For the remainder of the day, and a good part of the next, Jorah kept out of Daenerys' way. However, the smallness of Bear Hall made it impossible to do so for long, and avoidance, as he well knew from countless similar experiences with Lynesse, did not help matters anyway. Left to stew in his own juices, his wounds would only be more tender when he inevitably found himself in her company again, the simmering anger perilously close to boiling over. He feared how it would go when they must interact. Would it be Meereen all over again, when they could not speak to one another without shouting?
For now, he kept company with his kinswomen--and Aly's lad--who trudged through the snow to the side of the hall to split logs for firewood, and they seemed to have no other purpose than to make his wounds the topic of conversation.
"You ought to let someone see to that," Aly said, eyes on his right hand as he shoved his left into a glove; the knuckles glared, raw and red, where he took the skin off when he foolishly planted his fist in the tree.
Quickly he pulled on the other glove, grumbling that he'd grown accustomed to tending his own injuries--when they required it. He pushed aside the memory that leapt to the front of his mind of Daenerys' gentle hands in Vaes Tolorro, cleaning and bandaging the arakh wound Qotho had dealt his hip.
"And to inflicting them on yourself, as well?" Maege said.
Her level gaze from beneath her thick brows and the thicker grey fringe that spilled over her forehead sought his eyes as aggressively as Daenerys had avoided them during the brief midday meal, at which she had eaten little, and quickly, before asking Jorelle for a private sparring session in the training yard. Jorah could hear the clangs of their swords--he could have seen them sparring from here, if he looked, but he kept his back to his cousin and the Queen as he placed a log on the stump and picked up the axe. He gritted his teeth as he gripped the handle hard, preparing to swing, and the scabs broke as his bruised knuckles flexed. He'd rather a sword were in his hands now and not an axe, his head cleared by the jarring crash of his sword against an arakh as he sparred with one of the bloodriders--or the other way around; they liked to trade weapons sometimes. Occasionally, Jorah even convinced them to don armor. The slice of the axe head through the firewood brought about as much satisfaction as a knife through butter.
"I did not ask for your company," he growled at his aunt. He had asked if there was something he could do for the household, anything with which to occupy himself, so long as it involved physical labor. "Is there nowhere on this bloody island that isn't infested with women?"
"If Ned were a bit older you could go off on one of your hunting or fishing trips," Aly said with a nod at her boy, who scurried out from the folds of her cloak to collect the wood chips that splintered from the blow of the axe.
Lyra looked up with a smirk as she placed another log on the stump for him to split. "As you used to when we were all on our moon's blood."
"STOP!" Jorah brought the axe down again.
His flare of temper only amused the she-bears further; of course they thought it was the typical male reaction to the matters of women, and in part it was. Though those excursions to which they referred had most often included young Galbart Glover, Erena's brother who had squired for Jorah for a time, and he no more wanted to remember those old days than the current one. Pivoting to turn his back on them as he caught his breath, he found himself directly in view of the training yard through the trees.
Clearly Daenerys had forgotten everything his kinswomen taught her the previous day--he clutched the axe handle till his fingers ached in the attempt not to think of how he had stood behind her, holding her hand to adjust her grip and instruct a proper swing--and Jorelle made no effort to correct her. If she even noticed the errors, which was unlikely given how engrossed they both seemed in the discussion they were having while swinging their swords about. Jabbering. Couldn't they do that over something more suitably feminine, like needlework, and leave the sparring to the men?
Not, he thought as the scene was momentarily obscured by the cloud formed by his own breath in the air, that he would have been able to convince the Dothraki to set food outside the warmth of the hall even if the Queen had not requisitioned the training yard for her personal use. Daenerys' bloodriders had adapted to much since they bound themselves to her--not plundering, not raping, not mindlessly slaughtering--yet they apparently drew the line at the cold. Although if Irri were outside, Jorah reckoned not even the frigid climate of Bear Island would keep Rakharo indoors. He had never come to the tiny room where he bunked with Jorah and the other two during their stay in the hall of his fathers, and judging from the sly sleepy looks Rakharo traded with the handmaid across the table as they broke their fast, he had not been standing guard outside the khaleesi's bedchamber.
Rakharo was not the only one lacking sleep. It was a rare night that Jorah managed more than a few hours for nightmares of slavers' brands or, more frequently, the flames of Khal Drogo's funeral pyre licking higher--fire, always fire--but last night he had tossed and turned more than usual on his narrow bed of furs as the thought of another man knowing the warmth and softness of a woman's body bent his thoughts to where he least wanted them to dwell.
On the way she had nudged against his fingers until he opened his hand to cup her cheek, so delicate, that he could not but regret the necessity of wearing gloves against the cold…on the warmth of her skin and breath as her lips touched his, gently coaxing his apart…most of all on what he had read--or hoped he read--in her eyes as she looked up at him, just before she kissed him.
It would not be the first time he had seen what he wanted to where Daenerys' affections were concerned. The same foolish hope had prompted him to kiss her on Balerion, emblazoning his mind forever with the memory of how the heel of his hand fitted in the small of her naked back, his fingers slotting into the notches between her ribs, her nipples hardening to pink points on her small breasts where they rubbed against his leather jerkin as he embraced her. Her response, parting her lips without hesitation when he sought to deepen the kiss, had made him believe that he might press his suit. Thankfully he had not been so carried away by madness this time, compounding his humiliation, yet in every way that mattered most, Jorah felt that this was Balerion all over again. He had been the first to break the kiss then, too. Did she not know what it cost him to do so?
At least the first time she had stayed to face him. Now she had run from him, her rejection complete.
The rage that had brought him to blows with the tree yesterday roiled again. He spun and plunged his axe into the firewood instead, swinging so hard that the two pieces went flying and his kinswomen leapt backward, Aly grabbing little Ned roughly by the shoulders to dodge them.
"I suppose now would not be the ideal time to tell you it might be necessary to have a manly word with the skinny Dothraki?" she said.
"With Jhogo? What about?" In truth Jorah was grateful for the distraction--for a moment.
Then Maege said, "It seems Jory overheard her name bandied about by him and the tall handsome one."
"Rakharo." Jorah didn't mean to growl his young friend's name, but the reference to his handsomeness--by Maege, no less--only made him think again of what seemed to be transpiring between the bloodrider and the Queen's handmaid. "What did they say about her?"
"It was all Dothraki gibberish," Lyra said, eyes glinting mischievously. "That's why you need to talk to him. Find out what they said."
"She thought Rakharo was japing and Jhogo went red in the face," Maege said.
The women having abandoned all pretense of helping him, Jorah moved to grab another log to split. Ned scurried ahead of him, straining to pick up the heavy end. Was that why Jhogo had kept peeking at the swordplay from the hall yesterday? To admire the she-bear? Jorah scowled. He was not in the mood for one lovelorn Dothraki, much less two. Especially when the object of Jhogo's affection was his cousin.
"Sounds like the sort of gossip that interests women." He picked up one side and let little Ned assist him in carrying it to the stump. "Ask the handmaids."
"We did," Aly said, looking vaguely irritated by the suggestion, or as if she were considering giving him a good slap. "All they did was giggle."
"So you'd best make them talk, cousin," Lyra said, "so we can laugh at Jory, too.
“What happened to Jorah’s hand?”
Dany had been in the yard sparring with Jorelle since midday, and only now had Jory bothered to speak in anything but corrections and techniques.
“I do not know,” she lied. She knew her knight too well not to understand exactly what had happened, or why he had been cold and silent towards her since the previous day.
She felt a complete fool for destroying the easiness between them that had taken so long to build again after Meereen. Still a stupid girl, acting on whims without thinking. That same behavior had destroyed her reign in Slaver’s Bay, made her dally with a man she knew was not trustworthy, and ended with three cities returned to brick and blood. Will I never learn?
Now, as then, all she wanted was to speak to her advisor, her right hand, her oldest friend. But again she had pushed him away. She might have been less concerned than she was – they had put each other through much worse in the past, after all – but it was not at all like him to avoid her completely. Only once before had he done so, some years prior.
It had been a mistake to have him guarding her while she questioned the prisoners – she had still not yet allowed him access to her military councils – but she had wanted as many of her Queensguard with her as possible when dealing with Lannister captives. Jorah had stormed out without a word when it was finally clear what had happened to Robb Stark’s young companions at the Twins, and for once Dany had not commented on his lack of decorum.
She had found him in his tent later that day, sitting like a stone near the corner.
“It should have been me,” he said, without preamble. “I should have been the one riding into battle when Stark called his banners. I left them alone to fight my battles…” At that he stopped, his final word a choking sound.
Dany approached carefully. “You were fighting my battles, were you not?” Her knight did not respond; she had thought it might comfort him to remember how much she had needed him, and could not help but feel wounded when the expression on his face suggested it was little consolation. “Would you prefer I had perished at the hand of a poisoner, or in the Red Waste, and your kin had survived?”
His hand slammed against the table beside him.
“Enough!” The volume of his voice had shocked Dany, enough that she stepped back as he rose to loom above her, nearly spitting his words in her face. “You know perfectly well that there is nothing I would trade your life for – not a pardon, not an island, nothing. I have done all I can to prove that to you, have sweated and bled and knelt for you, I have begged like a dog to convince you of it. Enough.” He had grabbed her arm then, more roughly than perhaps he had intended. “Do not question my intentions again, Daenerys. Not today.”
She must have looked as frightened as she felt, for he released his grip and stepped away the instant she met his eye. She had left him there, back in his chair with his hands over his face, and for a few days following he had not looked her in the face at all. He had seemed slightly more himself after the next battle, though, she recalled…suddenly Dany felt a bit guilty that she and Jory were occupying the training yard.
The sinking in her stomach only worsened when her sparring partner set her sword point on the ground, refusing to accept Dany’s reply to her question.
“Forgive me, your grace, but I suspect you do know.”
She may have been ill-equipped to deflect the she-bear’s sword, but she could at least deflect her queries. “I have already told you, you may call me by my name.”
“Do not change the subject - Daenerys.”
With a sigh, Dany found herself explaining what had happened in the woods the previous day. The other girl looked less surprised than she had expected – is it so obvious? She must have made a laughable conqueror if she could not even hide something so small as a kiss from a woman who barely knew her.
“But why did you run?”
“I do not know.” Perhaps she did know, or perhaps not, but either way she could not explain it. Not to Jorelle, likely not even to Arianne; if there was anyone in whom she ever wished to confide, it was Ser Jorah, and now it might be days, even weeks, before he would deign to speak to her again.
“Do you love him?”
“I…I do not…it is more complicated than that.”
How should I know? Both her marriages had been political orchestrations, her attempt to take a lover a spectacular failure….how could she expect to know what it meant that she still trusted the man she had named traitor, that she had been so certain years before that she did not desire him but had dreamt of the heat of his mouth last night? What I have called love has always been a passing fancy, she thought, or worse.
Dany swung at Jory’s left shoulder in response, and suspected that the girl’s hesitation to parry the blow was only a kindness.
“Lighter, Daenerys. It is a sword, not an axe.”
For several minutes she thought, with relief, that Jory had forgotten their discussion, content to lazily block strike after strike and call out occasional instructions, and allowed herself to be lost in the sharp sounds of steel meeting steel against the chill air until her foe stepped back to catch her breath and spoke again in a gentle tone.
“Jorah told us what he did, you know.”
Dany wondered how much, exactly, he had told them – there was certainly a great deal for telling, and little he would be unashamed to speak of to his kinswomen.
“I know you think he betrayed you, but I must tell you truly, any of us would have done the same to return to Bear Island. To one another. Especially if it meant protecting the realm from the Mad King’s daughter.”
No one – no one – in Westeros ever referred to the Queen as the Mad King’s daughter. Not to her face. Dany could only drop her jaw in stunned silence at the brazenness of it – which was just as well, as the Mormont girl seemed intent on continuing her tirade.
“You must understand what you have meant to him, Daenerys. He fled Westeros to escape Ned Stark’s sword and left us behind, fled Lys and his wife to escape the slaver’s brand – what did he do when you sent him away, and threatened to have his head if he returned?”
He came back to me anyway.
She had never considered it that way, but the weight of the truth nearly staggered her.
“Tyrion…Lord Tyrion told me that when Jorah kidnapped him in Volantis, he expected to be brought back to Cersei in exchange for a pardon. But Jorah took them to Meereen instead.”
And into the slavers’ hands, and to Belwas’ arakh, for all he knew.
Jory nodded. “He might have returned home, to us, but he returned to you instead.”
I thought home was all he wanted…how could she have been so wrong? Blinded by my anger, finding treachery in every corner…perhaps I truly am the Mad King’s daughter after all.
Though she felt a sudden urge to weep and be sick all at once, Dany managed a wan smile.
“Does it please you to find you are wiser than the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms?”
Jorelle laughed. “Rarely can one see what is right before them, Daenerys. Even a queen.” She flung a blow at Dany’s chest, as if to prove her point, but for once the Queen managed to catch her opponent’s blade.
“Have you not seen how Jhogo looks at you, then,” she retorted, batting the attack away as the she-bears had taught her to do, “when he believes I am not watching?”
Jory’s face was immediately a much deeper shade of pink than the cold would have painted it. Her abruptly renewed interest in correcting Dany’s grip was amusingly familiar; it seemed the she-bear was not the only one with the power to raise uncomfortable subjects.
Apparently she was not the only one with lingering concerns, either.
“You call him blood of your blood – pray, what does that mean, exactly?” The girl’s vision was trained intently on their blades, but Dany could see how much the answer would mean to her. Would it were an easier one.
“A bloodrider is a bit like a knight, only…their vows are more permanent even than those of the white cloaks.” Jory’s face had gone pale, and Dany wished she could stop explaining, but she felt she owed the courtesy of truth to the woman she had begun to consider a friend. “He is my blood, and I am his. Our lives are bound together, and cannot be undone. Where I go, he goes – I offered to release all three of them after I won my throne, so they might return to their grass sea, and all refused. It cannot be undone, Jory.”
The girl was silent, the expression on her face a painful echo of the way Jorah had looked in Yunkai when she had spurned him. Dany decided now was the time to make the offer she had been mulling over for the past few days.
“But perhaps…you could go where I go as well, if you wished it. I could find a place for you at court – as a lady in waiting, or even perhaps a squire, given your skill with a blade. Lady Brienne would be thrilled to meet another swordswoman, I am certain, and mayhaps my bear would feel more at home in the South if one of his kin were there as well.”
As she spoke, Jorelle seemed at first to brighten, but then blushed, as if in shame.
“I…that is a very generous offer, your grace, but I…I have never been at court…but for King Robb’s camps in the Riverlands I have never crossed south of the Neck…”
“It was only a suggestion, Jory, not a command. Think it over.” Dany tried to keep her voice light and even, but in truth she had hoped the girl would be more keen to join her…there were so few at court that the Queen felt she could trust, and fewer still whom might name friend, but for Arianne – and Jorah, if he ever forgives me. Perhaps the company of his cousin would ease his temper…
“I will, your – Daenerys.”
They said nothing more until the sun began to lower on the horizon, and Jory mumbled that they ought to be getting inside for supper. Dany followed her obediently back to the hall, the nauseated feeling in her gut returning in full force at the likely inevitability of being thrown into close quarters with yet another Mormont she had managed to offend in the span of a day.
Within the week, she thought bitterly, I’ll have a whole pack of bears at my throat.
Chapter 8: The Trap
The stench of manure assaulted Jorah's nostrils before he'd stepped halfway through the barn door. He paused, the horse shit combining with the straw covered floor and the mud packed walls of rough hewn logs and the flicker of lanterns to take him back for a moment to Vaes Dothrak. He could have sworn he felt the heat of the Dothraki Sea, though he knew it could not be so or Jhogo and Rakharo would not be bundled up in the fur lined boots and gloves and hooded cloaks that they so despised. Even so, they looked more in their own element than he'd seen them since the khalasar departed Westeros, talking and laughing as they fed and rubbed down their horses.
Jorah lifted a hand to rub the back of his neck, which prickled as he thought of Aggo, who remained back in the hall to guard Daenerys. Because you can hardly suffer to be in the same house as her, let alone the same room. But as his gaze settled on Jorelle leaning against a rake just inside the stall where Jhogo worked, he shoved aside guilt at his own shirked duties.
He strode fully into the barn and the door shut behind him with a bang, the chatter breaking off sharply as everyone swung around to see who had entered. At the sight of him, they all whipped back to resume their chores with fervor and in silence. Like children caught up to mischief, Jorah thought, unable to stifle a low sound in his throat. They scarcely were more than children, only Rakharo having seen twenty name days.
"Jory," he said. "I would have a private word with Jhogo. Yer akka, Rakharo," he added when the older Dothraki hastily draped the bright woven blanket over his horse and, smirking, moved toward the door.
As Rakharo's face fell, Jhogo's eyes met Jory's and glimmered. She leaned on her rake again, looking on as if she found this all terribly amusing, and Jorah remembered one of the reasons his father had always seemed irritated with his sister and her children: they had the most ill-timed senses of humor.
"Jorelle," he repeated her given name, more gruffly this time.
All playfulness seemed to drain from her face as she straightened up and returned her rake to its hook on the wall of the barn. She paused halfway through the door to glance back at Jhogo, her forehead dimpling in concern between her thick brows. The look contained such obvious affection that it tugged at something in Jorah—his young cousin shared more in common with him than only his name—and as he caught the door behind her he nearly told her not to worry, he only wanted a word with the lad at this point, not his balls, but decided against it, not certain whether that was actually the truth.
When Jorelle was outside, he shut the barn door and planted himself in front of it, arms crossed in front of his chest in his most intimidating stance. Not that Dothraki bloodriders were easily intimidated. Jhogo came out of the stall with his usual horseman's swagger and stood beside Rakharo.
"What were you talking about with my cousin just now?" he asked them in Common, the more difficult for them to lie or tell half-truths if they were so tempted.
Even so, Jhogo looked him straight in the eye and said, "We just talk."
"What about?" Jorah repeated, grinding out the syllables.
Rakharo answered for his friend. "The she-bear wish to know if blood riders miss home. If regret to stay with khaleesi."
"I tell her this is not known to Dothraki," Jhogo said. "Dan Ares Queen is qoy qoyi. Dothrakhqoyi live if khaleesi live. Die if she die. Where she is home I am home."
The young warrior's words puffed in the air from the force of feeling with which he uttered them, and for the first time since he set food in the stable, Jorah felt the cold. His lungs burned as if he'd breathed too deep of the cold empty air; icy fingers wrapped tight around his heart. What do you pray for, Ser Jorah?
A wicker from one of the horses drew him out of his reverie.
"Why…?" His voice came out choked, and he paused to cough. "Why did my cousin wish to know this?"
"She not say," Rakharo replied, and Jhogo added, with a shrug. "She just…make talk? Being…you say polite?"
"She might have been just as polite to the handmaids," Jorah snarled, the momentary sadness giving way to anger once more—much to his relief—as he saw through Jhogo's attempt at brushing off his questions. "Were you flirting with her?"
He had advanced toward the Dothraki as he said this, but though they did not cede any ground to him they did look at each other with confused frowns. Jorah's temper cooled slightly as he wracked his brain for words that would translate: there was no word in Dothraki for flirtation. It was not something they did. Which was really the point of this interrogation.
Drawing up his shoulders again, he felt as though he loomed over the sinewy youths, though they were in fact almost of a height.
"It has come to my attention that the two of you were making jokes about my cousin."
Unexpectedly, the usually fearless Jhogo went red, though he kept his lips pressed tightly together while Rakharo snorted but also kept silent. Jorah gritted his teeth. He ought to have asked the handmaids—they would have known exactly what he was after and told it to him willingly. Jhiqui, in particular—perhaps because she still harbored feelings for Rakharo and resented his preference for Irri—always took such a childish glee in seeing any of the others receive a reprimand. For a moment Jorah considered changing tacks and speaking with the girls, but immediately he discarded the idea; they were worse gossips than old women, and would go straight to Jorelle afterward. Or worse, Daenerys.
And he'd had more conversations with women than he cared to of late.
"Rakharo?" he asked. "Do you know anything about these japes?"
Teeth flashed white between the black drooping tails of Rakharo's mustachio as he laughed aloud. "Jhogo say Jorelle not look like bear. He stare at her odayai--"
"Rakharo say under dress she could have much hair like Jorah Andahli."
At his side, Jorah's fingers clenched into a tight fist, he muscles in his arm twitching to deal a blow. It wouldn't be the first time he'd fought a Dothraki who mocked him—he remembered a rider left to bleed in the dust of Lhazar for jeering at his armor—but it would be the first he'd struck one of these Dothraki. Slowly, releasing a long steaming breath through his nose, he uncurled his fingers, flexing them. He didn't intend to start now, not only because he liked Rakharo, but because he had no wish to add thrashing blood of Daenerys' blood to his list of sins. This was about his kinswoman's honor, not his own pride.
He settled for eyeing Rakharo for a moment, showing him his displeasure, before he turned to Jhogo.
"I assume you're discussing what's under my cousin's dress because she's pretty."
Despite Jorah's gravity, Jhogo's expression took on a dreamy haze, and he reverted to his native tongue. "Me ray thelis tih."
She has blue eyes? If Rakharo had not sniggered, Jorah would have thought he'd misheard.
"I hope that your mooning over them means you understand that this is Westeros, where it is a crime to take a woman without her permission." Jorah grasped Jhogo by the front of his cloak and pulled to him so that the young man was almost nose-to-nose with his glower; the bloodrider's eyes went round in horror, but were fixed on the garment that had allowed this. "If you even thought of taking my cousin in the Dothraki way, I would not wait for the law to administer justice. I'd happily lop your head from your shoulders. After I'd gelded you."
"If Jhogo think of taking she-bear in Dothraki way, she geld him first," said Rakharo, and Jhogo nodded.
"Man submit to woman here."
Jorah released the cloak. "What makes you say that?"
For a man who had just been threatened with death and dismemberment if he looked at a girl the wrong way, he looked at Jorah as if he were a simpleton, spreading his hands wide. "Where all the men?"
Thinking he might be in danger of proving Jhogo correct about the position of male and female on this island, Jorah tramped through the deep drifts of snow through the woods in search of Jorelle. He found her a mile or so from the hall, looking every bit a young bear as she crouched on the ground beside a snared rabbit—and even more so when she raised her head and looked at him with a frown that may as well have been accompanied by a snarl. The flash of blue as the pale winter light slanted through the bare branches overhead and caught her eyes reminded him of Jhogo's words that had made him seek his cousin in the first place.
"Has Jhogo laid a hand on you?"
He watched Jorelle in profile, her the muscle flexing beneath her cheek as she freed the rabbit's head from the loop. He was clenching his own jaw, he realized, deliberately relaxing it, and he was not the only one of them who was annoyed. When she stood, however, the gleam in her eye was not now from the sun.
"No," she replied, dropping the rabbit into a bag that hung at her hip by a strap across her chest, over the crisscrossed straps of her cloak, "but I heard Daenerys laid a bit more than that on you."
"Her grace," Jorah corrected—through his teeth again.
Jory only turned with a shrug and trudged further into the woods, in the direction of a set of tracks to check her next snare. "She said I might call her Daenerys," she flung back over her shoulder, along with her thick dark braid.
"Don't change the subject."
Jorah followed, his longer stride catching him up to his cousin so that he had to shoot out his arms to catch her by the shoulders when she turned so abruptly that he nearly barreled over her. She scowled at his hands until he removed them, then folded her arms across her chest and looked up at him in a way that was reminiscent of the looks Maege used to give him when he was a boy. Here man submit to woman.
"What if he has?" Jory demanded. "Are you going to cut off his balls and feed them to the bears?"
"Probably," he muttered, though he knew she was mocking him.
"Then what? Will you demand to know what poor sods Aly fucked to get her babes?"
"Do you want to end up like her? A babe in your belly by a man who'll be leaving in a few days, who you'll never set eyes on again, like as not?"
"The gods are good to give me you to advise me about me about love!"
The words had scarce flown from Jory's lips than she clapped her hand over her mouth, as if to recall them. Too late; they had already hit their mark, Jorah wincing before he could school his face into a stolid mask. Her gaze bent, intent suddenly on the toe of her boot as she kicked a fallen twig, the dried leaves that clung to it scratching against the packed snow.
"And I could, you know. See Jhogo again, I mean." Meeting Jorah's eye, she said, "The Queen has asked me to go back to King's Landing when you depart."
She could not have knocked the breath out of him more acutely than if she'd punched him in the gut.
"As what? A she-bear in waiting?" His return blow was a wrong-footed, wild swing which served only to stir Jory's simmering aggravation.
"Perhaps as a new bear for her guard," she retorted, teeth bared and spittle shimmering in the air, "since the current one keeps dodging his duties."
They stood there for a moment, glowering at each other through the fog of their rapid breath, until Jorelle wheeled around, cloak flapping against her leathern breeches, and stalked off. Jorah watched her until she disappeared into a thicket, debating whether to return to the hall, where he would be hard pressed to avoid the Queen—or to avoid shouting at her about this information she had seen fit to withhold from him—when his cousin's voice pierced the silence of the wood.
"Well? Are you going to help me with the traps or not?"
Jorah found her beside another snare, though this time she stood rather than knelt beside it, and he quickly saw why. The rabbit had not been strangled, and kicked about frantically in a vain attempt to escape. His cousin twitched her eyebrows and drew a rod from her belt, which she extended to him.
"I thought she-bears weren't squeamish," he said, taking it from her.
"Funny, I thought the same about he-bears."
Her playfulness almost made him grin, though the corners of his lips tugged decisively downward as he bent to grab the struggling—and now screaming—rabbit by the scruff of its neck. He gave it a quick bash on the head with the rod which instantly silenced it—though the legs twitched once…twice…thrice…before the creature finally went slack in his grasp.
As Jory took it to slip into her sack, she said, "The Queen did say I might be a lady in waiting. Or a squire, if I prefer."
"I've no need of a squire."
Jorelle's blue eyes rolled skyward. "Oh, in that case I'd best stay home, for you're the only knight in King's Landing."
Jorah led the way deeper into the wood, remembering where the best places to set snares had always been. Sure enough, they came soon to another trail of small paw prints.
"Do you wish to be a squire?" he threw over his shoulder to Jory, who panted as she struggled to keep up with his strides, which he did not measure for her.
"I know not. I had hoped you would advise me. How does King's Landing suit a Bear Islander?"
This set of tracks led them to a bloody patch of snow where a fox or bird of prey had found their quarry first.
In truth, it suits me not at all, he nearly admitted to his cousin as they crouched together clear away the viscera and tufts of fur and the soiled snow. He did not tell her that he felt as stifled by the citadel as the Queen had.
"It is Westeros," he said, "and therefore suits me better than any other place I've been in the past decade."
Except for the Dothraki Sea. I was something like happy there, riding with Daenerys. Things had been simpler then, he her trusted companion.
Who had also spied on her. Sold her secrets…her child…
"You seem adaptable, though," Jory's voice cut through his musings as she cut a length of new cording with a small knife to make a new snare. "You're a friend of Dothraki, of a dragon. And it seems I am, as well. Or could be."
"A royal court requires a different sort of adaptability than to a culture or customs. You must be aware that danger can—and will—lurk in every quarter."
"Then luckily I have a ready sword hand." She twirled the knife between her fingers before sheathing it again in her belt.
"It's not your sword that must be sharp and ever alert at court, girl, but your wits. It's a game. An endless, exhausting game."
"Mayhaps that is why I should go," said Jory, matter-of-factly as she rose, brushing off the palms of her gloves against the front of her breeches. "So you will know you can depend on having one person who plays the game on your side." Her gaze sought his as he, too, pushed upright, grunting as his knees crackled from sitting in a crouch. "The Queen asked me in great part for your sake, you know."
She meant it kindly, accompanied with a sweet, encouraging smile, but to Jorah it felt like a new scab ripped off, and he gritted his teeth accordingly.
"So great a part that she never troubled herself to ask whether I thought a kinswoman at court would suit me or not? So much that she was only too happy to discuss what I need behind my back?"
"Then I suppose it won't interest you to know what else she said about you behind your back."
He replied by turning his back on her and starting up the embankment in the direction of the hall. Though Jorelle's footsteps did not follow him through the snow, her voice did.
"She loves you, Jorah."
That arrested him, quite against his will, and he found himself reaching for the trunk of a slender tree to lean against as she continued.
"As far as I can tell, she has done for a long time—"
"No," Jorah ground out, shaking his head.
"--but only now does she begin to recognize it. I should think you of all people would understand how the notions one has of what love is and isn't can change."
"Meddling women," he muttered. "I'll thank you to mind the affairs of your own heart." He glanced just far enough over his shoulder to glimpse, in his periphery, Jory's smirk.
"I'd thank you to do the same, but since you haven't, I'll say my piece. You have a chance, Jorah. Don't spoil it by lashing out at Daenerys like a wounded bear."
The next evening’s meal was as tense as the one that preceded it, as indeed every occasion had been between the Queen and her Lord Commander for the past two days. Whatever had changed in Dany’s mind the previous day made no matter when her knight would barely look at her, much less hear anything she might wish to say.
If anything could be said to mend what she had done.
Tonight it seemed as though she and Ser Jorah were not the only ones who wished to avoid one another. Irri and Jhiqui sat as far apart as they could manage, Jhogo would not look at anyone at all, and Lyanna’s stern face was darker than ever, her gaze shooting daggers at whoever had the misfortune to meet it.
Jorelle seemed still conflicted over the invitation Dany had posed the previous afternoon; the girl had quietly acquiesced when the Queen had invited her to take the seat at her left side, but had barely looked her way. Instead she focused on the men opposite her – whether it was Jorah or Jhogo she was annoyed with, Dany could not tell, but neither of them would meet her eyes.
Halfway through the meal the silence became too much for Dany to bear. She turned to Jory at her left side – safer than attempting conversation with the man at her right – and began the first subject that came to her mind.
“You know, in Kings’ Landing–”
“At that again, are you?”
Dany had spoken quietly, intending only Jorelle to hear her, but in the dead silence of the hall her voice must have carried two seats over to Lyanna.
“Whispering your Southron promises in my sister’s ear…" she continued. "Haven’t you taken enough from us already?”
Jory was suddenly beet red. So you told your sisters?
“Watch your tone, girl. That is the Queen of Westeros.” Hearing Jorah speak for the first time in days was a welcome shock, though the words were grudging and his gaze never left the table.
“I’ll say what I like in my mother’s hall.” Lyanna rose from the table, her posture as threatening as a thirteen year-old’s could possibly be – which was a good deal, apparently, as the girl took after her mother. “It’s you who have no right to speak here, Ser. Not after what you did. You behave as though you are one of us still, after you spent all we had on some harlot and fled your rightful punishment like a gods-damned coward. You think you can just walk back into this hall and all is forgiven, as though clutching at the skirts of this…this…usurper who has the nerve to style herself our Queen washes you clean of your sins?”
At the word usurper, every eye at the table froze on Lyanna. Even the Dothraki had learned what that word meant; Dany heard Jhiqui’s gasp, and saw Rakharo’s hand fall to the arakh at his hip. She dared not look at Jorah – his head had snapped up at harlot, and she feared his already fierce anger might turn her to stone if she met the glare he had trained on his cousin.
Aly hissed her sister’s name, but the girl barreled on unimpeded.
“No! I will not be silent anymore! It was bad enough when you lot bent the knee to Stannis Baratheon, and now you’re going to sit here and treat with Mad Aerys’ daughter? Have you forgotten your loyalties completely? Have you forgotten how her father burned your liege lord alive and slaughtered his son, how her brother kidnapped Lyanna Stark? She claims to be the rightful ruler of Westeros, but Aegon and his Valyrian blood have never belonged here – they have no right to call themselves our rulers, we of the blood of the First Men, simply because they brought fantastical beasts to burn all that we have built–”
“Are you quite finished?” Dany had not raised her voice, but years of mocking from those who had not thought her fit to rule had taught her the exact tone to cut through shouting, and every head, including Lyanna’s, turned to her.
She continued evenly, careful not to let the woken dragon battling in her chest control her words.
“You, Lyanna, are one of the few at this table who has never seen a battle. Perhaps if you had – if you had heard the sounds men make as they die, or seen fields littered with the blood of those who were once fathers, brothers, and sons – you might know the value of peace.”
The girl’s eyes went huge with shock, but her mother and sisters remained unusually calm. Dany cared little at the moment; it was too late now to stop herself from barreling on, even had the she-bears bared their teeth.
“My ancestors were of Valyria, it is true. They took seven kingdoms that were foreign to them, as your beloved First Men took it from the Children of the Forest, as the Andals took it from the First Men in turn, and on and on. What Aegon the Conqueror brought was three hundred years of peace. A kingdom united to serve the needs of all, until one of your precious Starks ran off with my fool brother and shattered all that was built. When I returned to this land it was more death than life, torn apart by men shouting for honor and rights and the blood of the First Men. I rained fire down, yes, to cleanse the blood that I will remind you I had no part in shedding, and with it re-forged what was broken.”
For just an instant she caught Ser Jorah’s eyes, and was gratified to see that for the first time in days they held something besides anger – still some anger, yes, but also a strange mixture of shock and pride. Together, she thought, we forged them together. Am I still your queen, then, if nothing else?
Dany continued, “You may disapprove of my reign, child, you may think me a foreigner and a pretender, but as you do so be glad that what you speak are only words and not battle cries, and remember that others have sacrificed their blood – be it ancient and noble or not – so that you may shout at the Queen of Westeros from behind a table while you and your remaining sisters sleep safely in your bed each night, and no more sisters and daughters, brothers and sons, ride to early graves.”
Lyanna’s fists were white at her sides – again, Dany was struck by how many of Jorah’s unconscious mannerisms his cousins displayed – but she and her sisters were deathly silent. The Queen had to remind herself that the room was full of her bodyguards; though whether Ser Jorah would leap to her defense against his own blood she could not be absolutely certain, especially when he was already so furious with her.
Fortunately, Maege’s youngest daughter quickly stormed from the room, Erena fleeing in tow.
Her absence hardly lessened the tension in the hall. Now no one – but for little Ned, who searched every face at the table in confusion – lifted their gaze from the plate before them, chewing in silence. Jorah moved nary a muscle, neither to touch the remainder of his meal nor to cease staring at the empty seat his cousin had abandoned. Should I have defended him as well? She had wanted to, truly, but suspected that fighting his battles for him would only fuel his resentment.
After several endless moments, he finally rose from the table and turned to leave. Dany managed to grab his forearm before he could escape, and though her grip was light she felt her knight flinch at her touch. He stood like a stone at her side as he waited for the Queen to speak, but did not turn.
That annoyed her. She had hoped he would at least continue to behave as her Lord Commander, not like a petulant child.
“Ser Jorah. I would speak with you. Alone.”
“Your grace, I do not–”
She sighed. “That was not a request, ser.”
He stiffened even more at the blatant command, his brow narrowed as he turned his face to her at last. Dany hated to pull rank in front of his kin, but he had given her little choice.
I would not need to command you if you would behave.
She released her knight’s arm and stood to follow him out of the hall, wondering which of them was dreading more the conversation to come.
Chapter 9: The Release
Jorah clomped up the winding rickety wooden staircase two steps at a time, not bothering to measure his strides for Daenerys who clambered up after him, her feet drumming twice for every beat of his. Though he led the way through Bear Hall, he did so at the Queen's command, her tones, harsh with breathlessness and her temper, instructing him to go to her bedchamber. When they reached it and he grasped the cold iron handle to jerk open the heavy plank door, he paused and waited for her to enter ahead of him. Once she had done, however, he allowed the door to slam shut behind him and barreled past her into the chamber.
A stone fireplace dominated the modest lord's room, and Jorah made straight for it. From the stack on the hearth he grabbed two logs and threw them atop the smoldering embers of the fire. His ears buzzed with Daenerys' voice beneath the crackle, rebuking him; it was not his intention to ignore her, but he could not stop himself grabbing the poker from its hook. He stabbed the logs more aggressively than was strictly necessary to make them catch the blaze, glowering down at the bears carved into the oaken mantel. Lynesse had hated them—she'd nagged at him to have it remade with more feminine images, chiseled from marble or some other costly stone, because she couldn't abide wild beasts staring at her as prey when she slept or made love; though when Jorah inquired how Daenerys found her accommodations—his former room—Aly reported that the Queen ran her fingers over the carvings almost reverentially and deemed them exquisite craftsmanship.
Daenerys' fingers closed around his wrist, staying his arm from thrusting the poker once more into the fire. Her flesh was ice cold, but he flinched at her touch as though one of the glowing embers had flown from the fireplace and alit upon his skin.
"You swore to serve and obey me," she said heavily."Must I now command you to look at me?"
"You had no such qualm a moment ago."
"Do you think I enjoyed shaming you in front of your kinswomen after Lyanna dressed you down?"
Jorah made no reply, the only sounds the crackling of the logs as they settled into the licking flames and of his knuckles as he gripped the iron tighter. He moved, Daenerys' hand sliding from his arm, to replace the poker on its hook. Only then did he finally turn to her. She spoke of shaming him; meeting her gaze renewed his mortification over their brief kiss, made him all the more acutely aware that his scarred face must present a constant reminder to her of why she could never love him, never forgive him.
"When your grace ran, I assumed it was because you did not care to see me."
Her eyes appeared to flare as her dilated pupils reflected the fire behind him. "You are out of line, ser! But…" She sighed. "You would not be the only one. Jorah, I understand that you—"
"No," he ground out through his tight jaw, fingers balled into fits at his sides as if to keep them there as he loomed over her. "I do not believe you do understand. And gods help me if I ever understand you. You made me hope—"
The words stuck in his throat, as they had days ago in the wood when he had searched her lilac eyes for the answers to the questions he dared not ask. And she had turned away, not wanting him to see, not wanting to see him.
"In all these years," he continued, changing tacks,"have you ever known my love for you to stand in the way of my duty?"
Daenerys' eyebrows twitched higher on her forehead, giving Jorah a look that took him immediately to that day when she'd accused him of mistrusting Daario Naharis because he saw a rival for her affections. His face burned, as did his neck and back from standing so near the fire. He could not move away, though, without stepping toward her.
"Did I ever advise you wrongly?" he demanded. "Have I ever placed you in the way of danger?"
For the first time since he'd turned to her Daenerys' gaze wavered from his face. Gods damn. Why must his own clumsy words condemn him? I know a poisoner tried to kill my son, because of you.
"I may not be a man of honor," Jorah said, drawing his shoulders back, "but I am a man of my word."
Those were the words of his House, were they not? He could almost taste the bitter irony. Here I stand. Though neither kin nor queen might ever forgive him.
"If you expect me to serve your grace, then do not give me hope that I may do more."
Daenerys' chest hitched beneath the bodice of her gown with her sharply indrawn breath, the flush high in her cheeks near as rich a scarlet as the dyed wool.
"Even so," she hissed, "that does not give you the right to sulk or to storm about or to disrespect me in the company of my subjects. You know what a tenuous hold I have on these kingdoms."
Jorah felt the sweep of her heavy skirts against his boots as she stepped nearer to him; he could not move further back, his calves already pressed against the edge of the stone hearth. Daenerys continued her verbal assault, the whites of her eyes showing and her bared teeth stark against her skin as she tilted her face up toward his.
"And while I take full blame in this instance, Jorah, a little humility would not go amiss. Or have you forgotten Meereen?"
"The sewers of that city are etched indelibly on my senses."
He revisited them in his nightmares, wading thigh-deep through shit, the great pale lizard wrapping him in its coils and pulling him under until he woke, choking, on the stench of it.
"And as for humility," he spat, giving up all pretense at moderating his words or the tone with which he uttered them, "I have been held in bondage and beaten and branded. Would you have me brought still lower? I have bent the knee. Must I crawl on my belly like a cur and whimper my apologies and my regrets?"
Jorah had not been aware of raising his hands from his sides until he felt Daenerys' delicate collarbones beneath the firm press of his thumbs as he clutched her slight shoulders in his hands. The realization ought to have made him relax his grip, but instead the strain of her back muscles in resistance to him made him hold fast, shaking her slightly.
"Will your forgiveness be always beyond my reach, as well as your love?"
"You know I expect none of that from you! But…" She stopped struggling against him, abruptly; though Jorah's hands slackened on her shoulders, she did not shrug out of his grasp, but instead frowned up at him, more frustrated than angry now. "You might say you're sorry. For once."
Jorah gaped at her for a moment, his shoulders slumping as the breath went out of him. "Surely there was no need to say…Have I not shown you how sorry I am?"
"Have I not shown you that I forgive you?" Daenerys said, a small, rueful smile on her lips. "And that I…"
One small hand went up in that familiar gesture which she never seemed to be aware of, instinctive almost. She has loved you for a long time, Jorelle's voice whispered in his head, but only now does she begin to recognize it. Jorah tilted his head, as if to resist the soft uncurling of her fingertips against his ruined cheek, but he could no more avoid Daenerys' touch than he could the truth of what had happened between them, which went so much deeper than a mistaken kiss in the woods. Or on a ship.
Words. Since he had returned to her in Meereen, what he had longed for most of all from her lips was for them to utter certain words. How had it not occurred to him that she might want the very same?
And then her lips, to which his gaze had flickered as he thought this, pressed hard against his. Her fingers curled about his neck, pulling his head down to her as her tongue swept into his mouth. He met it with his own, and for an instant all seemed to melt until he felt the brush of her breasts against his tunic and a tightness in his breeches. Fingers digging into her arms, he pushed her back, tearing his mouth from hers.
"I can't hope, Daenerys--"
"Hope." She leaned toward him again, catching his bottom lip in her teeth. "Your Queen commands you."
Her tongue licked at him again, and Jorah opened to her, yielding as if to a flame.
He was not yet, however, so consumed by passion as to have lost awareness of the actual blaze at his back. As his hands slid down from her shoulders to encircle her slender waist, embracing her tight against him, he pivoted them both a more comfortable distance from the fireplace. Daenerys carried their comfort a step further and took advantage of him being not only pliable from her kisses, but a little off-balance from the toe of his boot catching on the forgotten rug before the hearth as well; she grasped the front of his tunic in her fist and pulled him with her as she sank down onto the bearskin.
The bed with its thick down mattress and furs would have been softer than the coarse pelt on the floor, Jorah thought as he knelt with her. Then again if Daenerys was ready for this, here and now, he wasn't about to quibble over location with her. For once.
In another moment he truly was insensible of everything but her hot mouth on his, the curves of her breasts and arse cupped in his hands, her fingers tugging at the laces of his tunic and breeches and his own fumbling with the hooks and ties at the back of her gown, of a fevered scramble between kisses and caresses to remove the layers of clothing that were now all that stood in the way of him loving her as he had so long desired. His heart pounded in his chest and his blood thrummed in his ears as piece by piece their clothing fell away until Daenerys sat before him in naught but her shift of such a fine cotton that her pert dark pink nipples were plainly visible through it.
Eager as he was to proceed, Jorah hesitated, his lagging mind somehow managing to form the coherent thought that perhaps he ought to prolong this moment. He tried not to blink so as not to miss the slightest movement of her hands as they grasped the hem of her shift, her pale sinewy arms crossing as she peeled it up over her breasts and finally over her head, emerging with a sweet smile at him; he did not breathe, as if to stop his heart and time too, when she moved almost into his lap to divest him of his linen shirt and—he could scarcely dare to believe—that her eyes darkened with want as they raked over him, her fingers tracing the muscled lines of his arms, shoulders, chest, and further down his abdomen.
But Jorah was not, except by necessity, a patient man. His wait had been long, and now was at an end. He could look at her all he liked, every naked inch of her, as she lay back, hair fanned out silvery bright against the brown-black bear fur--not so bright, though, as her eyes, which looked right back at him with complete trust as he straddled her slender body and positioned himself to love his Queen.
He had only just barely pushed inside her, and already the sharp sting of pain made Dany cry out.
Has it been that long? Some years, she realized, and yet she was hardly a maid suffering at her first bedding. She clenched her jaw, preparing for him to press on, telling herself it would hurt less after a minute or so.
Instead she felt his weight lift as he pulled out of her and rolled onto his side. “I’m sorry,” she gasped, still shocked at her reaction, “I don’t-“
Jorah’s mouth cut off her words, his tongue drawing slowly along hers. His left hand worked through her hair, the thumb lightly stroking her cheek, and Dany was embarrassed at her relief that he was not angry with her. You are not a bride sold for a price, she reminded herself, you are not the girl in Pentos.
“I’m sorry, love. I wasn’t thinking,” he mumbled against her lips. “Come here.”
This is your knight, not your Khal.
His arms wrapped around her back to pull her into him so that she stretched out along the full length of his body. For a long while he only continued their slow, languid kisses, letting her enjoy the contact of their bare skin as he held her close. She tried to relax, to just feel, and nearly succeeded but for the moments her hands found the long, raised scars that she knew must span the length of his back. Don’t think of that. There were so many things not to think of…in an effort to drive them away, Dany wrapped a leg around him, arching her hips against his arousal. When she felt his groan inside her mouth she expected him to try to enter her again and tensed instinctively, anticipating only a duller pain than before, but instead her knight merely leaned over to lay her down atop the soft fur.
For a moment she felt disappointed – and cold, as the parts of her that had just now been warmed against his chest were bared to the winter air again –but soon his tongue was working the tips of her hardened nipples, his hand trailing carefully down to part her thighs.
She gasped again, but not in pain, as a finger slipped between the folds of her sex and began lazily stroking.
Doreah had taught her how to please a man, and how to take her pleasure when she could, but no one had touched her quite like this before. She exhaled slowly through her nose, trying to still her nerves against a dizzying rush of new sensations, trying not to fly apart when Jorah found just the right spot and circled there.
His lips on her neck reminded her that her knight still lay beside her, and she tilted her head to claim them in a kiss more violent than she had intended. Dany was pleased when he met her unexpected fervor, though she was quickly forced to tear her mouth away to scream as a wave of pleasure ripped through her spine. Encouraged, he slid a second finger inside her, increasing his pace.
The moans were coming quicker now, muffled into his beard, and the wanton manner in which her mound rocked against his palm was not entirely intentional. The added finger was not enough…Dany needed more, she needed him.
“Jorah,” she breathed, “Now. Please.”
Her knight obeyed, returning to his knees to hover carefully above her, aligning their hips. He paused to nuzzle her softly; Dany wrapped her arms around his neck in answer, hoping the fingertips she traced through his thinning hair were reassurance enough.
This time it was Jorah who cried aloud, when at last he was fully within her.
The feeling of being with a man again after so long was such a wonder that speaking seemed an impossible task; it was all she could do to breathe properly, to bite back the soft whimper that rose in her throat.
He caught her gaze but did not yet move; he seemed to be waiting for something, trying to slow the rise and fall of his chest, but Dany had had enough of waiting. The tension of the past two days, of the past few hours, would break her like brittle iron before long. Her legs wrapped around his waist, her ankles pressing into the center of his back to drive him deeper, and finally with a groan he pulled away. When he returned it was with agonizing caution, his cock stroking her as deliberately as his hands.
Before long their pace matched the desperation with which they had begun, Dany clinging desperately to her knight’s shoulders as her fingernails drew new scars alongside the whip marks that had given her pause only minutes ago. Ignoring the warning that lurked in the corner of her mind – forgetting to think has earned you little good – she gave over to the rhythm and let thought fade, until only the ringing in her nerves was real, the heat of Jorah’s skin against hers, the pressure building beneath her belly.
Only afterwards, as she lay gasping at his side, did she begin to consider the strangeness of it.
Never would the girl in Pentos have expected to find herself in a far-flung and freezing corner of the sunset kingdoms that now belonged to her, in the arms of the strange knight across Khal Drogo’s hall. Though she had never imagined herself a khaleesi either, nor believed she might bring life to eggs of stone and conquer an entire realm not for a brother or a son but for her own birthright. Certainly this is not the maddest thing I have done, she thought, leaning her head against a wide shoulder.
It was some time before either of them had slowed their breathing enough to speak; there was so much she wished to say, yet Dany was vastly relieved when Jorah began first.
“I am sorry, Daenerys. More than you will ever know.” He had drawn her chin up to meet his eyes, his fingers slipping around the back of her neck and into her hair. “I have never wished to hurt you.”
She traced the lines of the face she had come to know so well; the scars along his left ear where Qotho’s arakh had taken the flesh away, the dark brand on the opposite side, the sharp edges of his cheekbones.
“Nor I you.”
Yet they both had failed…but perhaps in time the wounds could heal, could fade to thin lines as had the cuts across his skin.
“I meant to pardon you, in Meereen,” she murmured, leaning her elbows against his chest so she might look down at him. “I wanted to. If you had only started by apologizing, I would have forgiven you then and there.”
His answered by dragging his thumb along Dany’s cheeks and across her lower lip; she leaned closer into his touch but avoided further contact, hovering over his face instead as his mouth parted in expectation.
“I missed you so much…”
Jorah’s hands yanked her head down, forcing her lips apart. She had meant to continue, but it seemed he had had quite enough conversation, so Dany stretched her legs around his waist and parried the thrust of his tongue with her own.
Soon she had him hard again, and rode her commander until the flame in the hearth was low. By the morning she did not remember anything else but a pair of warm arms lifting her from the ground to the bed and curling around her under the heavy furs as she slipped gradually into darkness.
Chapter 10: The Awakening
Before Jorah opened his eyes he knew he'd slept late into the morning. Darkness yet engulfed the chamber; Bear Hall did not afford the luxury of windows even in the Lord's rooms, panes of glass coming too dear for the meager coffers and every bit of warmth hard earned in these climes besides. Chill air pricked at the skin not draped beneath the furs--his shoulders and face, the bare patch at the top of his head; the fire, if it yet burned at all, no longer had fuel enough to stretch its flickering arms across the bedchamber to embrace the sleepers in its warmth.
The last thing Jorah wanted to do, however, was rise and stoke the flames to life again. His bedmate emitted a heat all her own--not quite fire made flesh, but near enough--and he had not lain so restfully in bed since the last time he slept here, though his comfort had less to do with the spaciousness of the down mattress or the abundance of pelts blanketing him than with the silken hair pillowed on his shoulder, the soft feminine curves pressed to his side, the sweet tickle of her fingertips over the wiry dark hair covering his chest. For some time he did not move a muscle, even of an eyelid, enjoying Daenerys' absent yet somehow affectionate touch even in her sleep. When her small hand moved lower, however, following the thinning hair that trailed below his chest and down his stomach, her strokes too deliberate to be unconscious, he tilted his chin downward and cracked an eye to check that she too had awakened.
At his movement she raised her head from his shoulder, and from the hearth at his back glowed a faint orange light by which Jorah could just make out her face, smiling at him. His own grin must not have stretched quickly enough, because Daenerys' hand emerged from beneath the furs to stroke his brow.
"You look confused," she said.
"Confused?" he repeated, his voice pitched low and husky from sleep and thirst. "Nay." Except by her statement.
With her slender fingertips which bore calluses from the reins of her little silver mare caressing him, Jorah was disinclined to argue. "Mayhaps. A little."
Her hand left his forehead to be replaced by the heat of her mouth, then she pushed up on her elbows so that her breasts just touched his chest as she looked down on him, their legs tangling together beneath the blankets. "To find you've been sleeping in my bed?"
"I think you've got that backward," Jorah said, sliding one hand around her to rest at the curve where her back met her bottom. He did not have to stretch his long fingers far to span the entire width of her waist, and he felt the taut sinews of her muscles, lean and strong from so much time spent in the saddle. In the other hand he cupped one of her small breasts, giving it a light squeeze. "This used to be my bed."
Daenerys giggled and squirmed at his touch, though she did not draw back from it. "That sounds like a story." She affected a deep tone. "Somebody's been sleeping in my bed, the bear said."
"Yes, and she's still here," Jorah said, his arm tightening around her as he rolled so that she lay beneath him.
He pressed his lips to her neck, working his way downward to the hollow of her throat. With the tip of his tongue he traced the delicate u where her collarbones met, tasting the salty sweat from their previous night's activities which mingled with the lingering faintly sweet traces of the perfume she'd worn to dinner. She murmured his name through her teeth as she pressed the heels of her hands against his temples, drawing his head up to claim his mouth with hers.
Though Jorah responded by opening to her tongue, and when she parted her legs he rested his hips against hers and brushed his hardness against her mound, he made no move to enter her. Of course her eagerness aroused him, yet he shared none of her urgency. Only a blessed relaxation, and a desire to go on in this unhurried fashion. To kiss her slowly, to cup her cheek in his hand and with his fingertips trace every curve and line of the face he knew so well by sight and learn them by feel, too, now that he had the liberty and the leisure to do so.
Lulled by time measured out in long deep breaths and slow beating hearts, Jorah realized what it was that made this morning unique from all the others in recent memory--in addition to sharing a bed with the Queen--the reason he felt at leisure, unhurried, where before in the long years of exile and war every breath was hard-earned through battle, every heartbeat might have been the last.
"Rest," he mumbled against her lips.
Daenerys tilted her head back on the pillows to look at him. "What?"
"You said I looked surprised when I awoke." Jorah rolled off her so that he lay facing her, on his side, his hand resting in the curve of her waist. "I was, but not by you."
"By how it felt to sleep a night entire, and not to have been plagued by dreams."
Her touch on his cheek was as soft as her voice. "What do you dream of, Jorah?"
What do you pray for, Ser Jorah?
For a moment he did not answer, his gaze drifting from her eyes to watch his own fingers absently fitting into the hollows between her ribs.
"That is dark talk, for so pleasant a morning as this. Does my Queen command me to speak of it?"
"No. But your lady would know."
Jorah buckled inside at that, but still he hesitated to speak. He trailed his fingers down from her ribcage to her hips, following the paths of the pinkish marks on her skin where her belly had stretched to accommodate the growth of her son. Crooked and curled, like upward licking flames.
"Fire," he answered at last, thickly. "You, walking into the flames of Khal Drogo's funeral pyre. The shadows dancing on the walls of his tent and the fever that raged in your body after you delivered Rhaego--" Dead. "The fear that you would be lost. And that I would be, also."
For a long time Daenerys lay looking at him, so still that Jorah had almost forgotten that her hand was on his cheek until he felt the tip of her forefinger trace the line of his cheekbone down to his jaw. The rasp of his beard against her skin broke the silence first, followed by her voice.
"As I wandered alone in the Dothraki Sea, I burned with fever."
Jorah's eyes snapped up to her face. She had been ill--and alone? And he never knew? Not that he could have done anything then, nor did it matter now. His anxiety must have shown on his brow, because her hand moved up to smooth the furrows, and she smiled.
"In my dreams you came to me. You whispered to me in the ghost grass."
Her voice, her touch, might have been a trick played on his mind by a gentle breeze, so gentle were they. Just as he had dreamed so many nights. He caught his eyes drifting shut as she soothed him, but made himself keep them open, not trusting entirely that this was not a dream which he would find himself wakening from. He took her hand and drew it down to his mouth, kissing it, and then clutching it to his chest as she slipped her knee between his legs.
"What did I say to you, in the ghost grass?"
"You reminded me who I was. Where my home is." One corner of her lips hitched higher than the other, and playfulness danced in her eyes. "And you didn't do it in the politest way. Even in hallucinations you're my gruff and grizzly bear."
Jorah attempted a frown of mock displeasure at that, but it was difficult to hold as the ball of her foot rubbed against the back of his calf and her soft giggle brought the peaks of her nipples against his chest where his own chuckle rumbled with it.
Then abruptly she was no longer laughing, but pressed herself tight against him and tucked her head beneath his chin.
"And my greatest comfort," she said. "I wanted only to be in your arms."
"You are now." Jorah's voice was taut again, and the muscles of his arms tensed beneath his skin as he wrapped them tight around her. "No hallucinations. No dreams." But here, truly.
Daenerys felt so small in his embrace, but he did not relax his hold. He knew the strength belied by her size, knew that it was even more to be trusted than his own conviction that nowhere in the wide world was she safer than this.
No sooner had he thought it than her little hand pushed against his chest and she raised her head to claim a kiss. Jorah's lips had scarcely touched hers when her tongue swept in, seeking his, and he found himself nudged onto his back by the slip of the girl who straddled his waist. His groan into her mouth as his arousal rubbed against her--she was so wet-- tuned to a gasp when she broke the kiss to sit up, one hand resting on his stomach as the other wrapped around his cock to guide it inside her. Mindful of the discomfort Daenerys endured when he first entered her last night, Jorah did not push in, allowing her to sink onto him by little as her body learned to accommodate him, though when she bit down on her lower lip, drawing in a sharp breath, he did reach out to touch the pad of one thumb to her folds; the moan she made as she sheathed him completely was one of pleasure, and not of pain.
She lingered like that for a moment, during which Jorah followed her gaze down to where their bodies joined, his dark hair and swarthy skin pressed to her fairness. The sight alone was enough to make him swell within her; when she rocked her hips forward, grinding harder onto him, his thumb still caught between them, he groaned again with the effort of not spilling into her straight away. Then she retreated, so slowly, and he removed his hand, wrapping his fingers instead around her pale thigh, lean and sinewy from the saddle, the other hand cupping her arse as it rested on his lap.
Jorah lay almost passive beneath Daenerys as she rode him, enjoying the pace she set for their lovemaking. His eyelids fluttered shut, mesmerized by the slow sway of her hips, exquisite and excruciating, the steady almost plodding rhythm bringing images to mind of riding with her through the endless grasslands of Essos. They must have made the most unlikely pair, a man past forty and a woman scarcely flowered, the only thing they appeared to share in common that they were exiles from the same homeland, she through no fault of her own and he for sinning knowingly. Yet friendship formed effortlessly between them in the khalasar. The path to love had not run so smooth, but now that they were on their way, they became lovers as easily as they had become friends. Of course for Jorah, this was the fruition of years of long nights passed in the vain attempt not to desire her; but nothing in Daenerys' demeanor since he awoke indicated that she found it any stranger than he did to be together in this fashion with the very man whom she once told she did not desire.
That was certainly not the case when, at her bidding, he opened his eyes and saw how she looked as she gave him his pleasure…and received it from him. Her head tilted back slightly, her lips parted as she panted in time to the rolling of her hips, and a pink flush painted her chest and the apples of her cheeks.
Snaking his arm around her waist, Jorah used his other hand to push himself upright. Her hands went to his shoulders as he leaned forward to take her breast in his mouth. Daenerys gasped as his tongue curled around her nipple, and again when he sucked a little harder at it, just grazing with his teeth--though that, Jorah realized, belatedly, had less to do with him than with the knock that sounded at the door.
"If that's one of my kinswomen," Jorah muttered, "gods help them."
Daenerys cinched around him with her quiet giggle. Clinging to his shoulders, she turned slightly in his lap to call over her shoulder, "Who's there?"
"Khaleesi's handmaids," came the reply--Irri--followed by Jhiqui's more hesitant, "Does…does khaleesi need anything?"
"We have all we require," Daenerys said, eyes widening a little, conspiratorially, as she turned back to Jorah. "We'll come down in a moment."
When the scurrying--and giggling--of the handmaids receded down the hall, Jorah said, "A moment, eh? You'd best move faster then."
"I will continue just as I have been," Daenerys replied with authority and gave his shoulders a push, gripping them tightly as she positioned herself low over him. "Unless you're in a hurry to leave this bed?"
In answer, Jorah wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down onto his chest. He kissed her deeply and bucked his hips up against hers as she rocked into him, at once falling into stride with each other's movements. Despite her teasing him about being in a hurry, Daenerys urged him into a faster pace than they had kept before, and he willingly went with her. His heart pounded in his chest and he felt hers beat wildly from without, increasing in rapidness until they were breathless and her hair whipped across his face. They were galloping again, across the hill country at the edge of the Dothraki Sea, and as they reached the highest peak, they broke into flight.
Afterwards, Jorah dressed again in the white tunic, trousers, and cloak he had worn to dinner and Daenerys in a fresh woolen dress of midnight blue. They spoke little as they made themselves presentable for the other occupants of the hall who, if they had any doubt as to the change in the relationship between the Queen and her Lord Commander, could not be unaware now that the handmaids had been up to check on her. Jorah paused doing up the laces in back of Daenerys' gown, a thought about that interaction occurring to him now which had not at the time.
"You said we," he remarked.
Daenerys stopped fingering the end of her braid she was plaiting over her shoulder, out of the way of her laces. "We?"
"To Irri and Jhiqui. You have no wish to keep this a secret, then? To hide our…?"
He swallowed, casting about for a suitable word to describe the state of things between them. He had told her he loved her before, in desperation, when she cast him out. That she wanted him now was a certainty, but he could not bring himself to utter the word again before he heard it from her lips.
"I've been rather too loud for secrets in this hall, and you are too large to hide." The laughter faded from her lips and eyes as she turned to look up at him, caressing his ruined cheek with her gentle hand. "But even if you were not, do you think I would hide our love as if it were some shameful secret?" She stretched on the balls of her feet and brushed her lips to his. "I am not ashamed, Jorah."
As they stepped out of the bed chamber, the Queen's hand firmly in his, neither was he.
Maege led the way through the village, navigating Dany and the others down the winding dirt path in search of the local blacksmith.
Dany wondered if it could even be properly called a village; it was little more than a cluster of thatched houses clinging to the shore, their occupants peering out from windows and milling about the yards. She had been to Flea Bottom, of course, when she could find reason to abandon her castle and show herself to her people, and she had seen other towns and hamlets across Westeros, but rarely one so tiny as this.
Jory had approached her that morning and asked the Queen if she would like to accompany Maege, Aly, and herself to the village. Dany had certainly done her part in wearing down the armory’s steel of late, and she wanted to see more of the island and its people; two weeks ago when they along the shore they had walked through the village to reach the Mormonts’ keep on the hill above, but she had been so nervous then that she had seen little beyond her own feet. Despite her curiosity, she recoiled from the offer at first, realizing they meant to leave Jorah behind. But Lyanna’s glares had driven her out of the hall, and now that she was out in the open air Dany was grateful for a bit of distance after the intensity of the previous evening.
And morning, she thought, praying her face was not as red as it felt, or that the other women would attribute her blush to the cold air.
They must have all known what passed between her and their cousin in the night – theirs was not a large hall – yet none of the she-bears had given her any hint of their knowledge. Looking again at Aly’s boy, whose father yet remained unknown, Dany suspected that the other women were accustomed to remaining silent about what occurred within their walls.
Irri and Jhiqui, in keeping with the usual Dothraki openness about such matters, had been less discreet, and Dany had been relieved to leave them behind at the hall.
She tried not think of them as the path sloped further downward and the huts along it grew closer together. There were even more islanders now, and many emerged into the street as they spotted the women approaching. Lady Mormont seemed to know all her people by name, and they greeted her without fear as she passed, some of them bowing only by nodding their heads. Dany was surprised to see so many of them out in the cold, behaving as though the winds that seemed to crawl beneath her very skin were no worse than average weather. They love her, Dany thought as Maege inquired about wives and children. She is one of them. The Lady of Bear Island made ruling seem easy, though of course the Queen knew it was not. But perhaps somewhat easier to rule one single island than seven kingdoms.
Not for the first time, the scale of her own responsibility staggered Dany. How many hundreds of villages like this one were there across Westeros, how many people in their huts? And every one of them her subject, under her care.
Under her hooded fur cloak, however, she was no more than a pale stranger to them; Aggo, with his Dothraki features, received more wary glances from the villagers than Dany did as they passed.
The smithy lay at the end of the road, surrounded by the sea on the left and the forest behind. It, too, was tiny compared to the one in Kings’ Landing, or even the one within the walls of Winterfell, with only a lone man filling its cramped walls.
“I’ve got what you need, Maege,” he called, not looking up from his anvil and hammer. “Only give me a moment.”
They waited patiently – well, mostly patiently; little Ned kept trying to break free of Aly’s grip to touch the weapons lined up along the walls – until the large man finally turned around to face them.
“I hear strange rumors, Lady Maege. Some say the Dragon Queen is up on your hill.”
“She stands before you,” Maege replied with a grin, nodding in Dany’s direction.
The man sized her up calmly, taking in her silver hair and violet eyes against the simple cloak draped over her shoulders, which looked more similar to what Maege and her girls wore than to the Queen’s usual raiment.
After a long moment, he finally bowed his head. “Your Grace.” She accepted that with a smile, and let him look her over again. “I thought a dragon would be larger.”
Dany laughed. “A dragon need not be large to breathe fire.”
“True enough.” He grinned darkly at her in return, which seemed as much approval as the Queen could hope for.
There was nothing else said after that; the smith handed Maege and the girls the items they had come for, patted Aly’s boy on the head, and sent them on their way again with hardly a second glance at Daenerys.
She thought a great deal about him, however, as she followed Maege and the girls back to the keep.
Lyanna’s outburst the previous evening had been more a confirmation of Dany’s fears than a shock. She had not come to Westeros, as her brother might have, expecting to find hidden dragon banners in the homes of the common folk. What Jorah had told her in the Dothraki Sea was still true; her people cared little who sat the Iron Throne, so long as they lived in peace, and so she had tried to bring them peace.
But some, like Lyanna Mormont, still clung to their dead kings, and she could hardly blame them. How long had she clung to dreams of vengeance for her father and brother? It had taken years to see that her reign could be more than that, that there might be a kingdom built on more than blood and anger, and she had wanted so much for her people to see it as well.
She knew she should not place such value on the approval of a blacksmith, yet the willingness of the Northmen – well, most of them – to accept her as their Queen was still a surprise to her.
But perhaps it should not have been…Jorah had been Lord of this island once, and he had thought her fit to rule Westeros. Without him at her side – and Barristan, my poor old knight – would she ever have believed that herself?
For a moment she regretted leaving her knight back at the hall. Has Lyanna torn him apart by now?
There was a tug at her cloak, and Dany looked down to find Ned’s tiny hand clutching the fabric as he ambled along. She looked to Aly behind her for help, unsure what to do; the other woman only grinned and continued walking, unconcerned.
Jory, who had kept pace with the Queen for some time, was grinning as well.
“Have you given any more thought to my offer?” Dany asked.
The other woman paused for a long while, measuring her words carefully before she replied.
“I wondered – well, we all did, when we heard our cousin was in the company of a Targaryen – wondered what could have possessed him to follow Aerys’ daughter across the world. Why he didn’t come back to us as soon as he could, but stayed in Kings’ Landing with you instead.”
I have wondered that as well.
“But you…you have a way about you, Daenerys, that I cannot place.” Jory was almost shy now, or as shy as a Mormont ever got.“Harlan is not an easy man to win over, and yet you won him with only a few short words. I think…I can understand it now. Why one might devote their life to the service of a woman such as you.”
“Does that mean you will come?”
“Aye.” The grin that stretched across Jory’s face made her seem younger than Dany, more childlike.
“It would be my honor, your grace.”
“Daenerys,” the Queen corrected.
Chapter 11: The Reckoning
After a night--and a morning--in Daenerys' bed, spending the remainder of the day in the company of a young cousin who could not have been more openly hostile if she were actually snarling and slavering was the last thing Jorah wished for. He would much rather have gone with her into the village--he'd not yet had that opportunity himself, except to pass through on their way to the hall when they first arrived on the island--but Jory's invitation had been very obviously extended only to the queen. When Daenerys realized this, she had not at first seemed any more pleased than he to be apart, which made him smile and squeeze her hand in his.
Lyanna's scowl, on the other hand, doubtless made the decision for her, and Jorah could no more blame Daenerys for abandoning him to avoid the girl than he could shirk his own responsibility to make things right with this last of his kinswomen. Or to attempt to. It was his duty to as much for Daenerys' sake as for his own to see to it that her tenuous hold over her kingdoms was not weakened by misdirected resentment. Especially not now that they were lovers.
When the heavy wooden doors of the hall fell shut with a thud behind the party, Jorah turned around before he could talk himself out of doing what he must, white cloak flapping about him, and met the pair of narrowed eyes that glittered at him across the fire-lit room.
"A word, cousin?" he said.
Lyanna's only response was to fold her arms across her chest and to quirk one eyebrow at him. Jorah wasn't sure which annoyed him more: the insolence that dared him to say something that met with her satisfaction, as if he were not more than thrice her age, or that she did not ask Aly's girl, who was shadowing her as usual, to leave them be.
"Erena," he addressed his cousin's daughter--for the first time, he realized, "the Queen's handmaids meant to see about some washing. Show them where to do it?"
She obeyed--if slinking off in in that way unique to adolescents could be called obedience; he had a sudden appreciation for why his lord father had never tolerated that attitude in him. As his gaze followed her around the perimeter of the hall and up the staircase, the barrel of ale on the sideboard caught his eye. He shambled to it and filled one of the pewter flagons, squeezing a wedge of lemon into the froth. Just as he raised it to drink, Lyanna spoke.
"How did you face the savages of the east when you can't face a girl without liquid courage?"
Ale sloshed over the toes of his boots as Jorah turned to her; he barely contained his temper as he found her sizing him up. He forced himself to take deep breath, and then a long, slow drink, never breaking eye contact with her over the rim of the tankard until the cold rolled down his throat and he could speak in a measured tone.
"You know, you have only to look in a mirror to have your proof."
"That Queen Daenerys is not like her father."
"What's a mirror got to--"
"You've not been roasted for your treasonous words."
Jorah drank again, then tilted his head so that he looked down on Lyanna. She advanced on him, however, teeth flashing white in her dark face as she craned her neck far back to meet his eye. Not only was she unintimidated by him, she seemed entirely heedless of the fact that he loomed over her.
"That was exactly the fate that befell our liege-lords!"
"Your liege-lords!" He snorted into his cup. "You weren't even bloody born."
"You're a fool, cousin, but you're no idiot. You know as well as I we've cause to suspect a Targaryen on the Iron Throne."
"Aye. Better than you, in fact." His gaze dropped from hers as drained the tankard and set it aside, then leaned back against the sideboard, the uneven grain of the wood pressing into his palms. "That was how I justified informing on them--her grace and her brother. They were the Mad King's children. What was it to me if Robert Baratheon knew where they lived, or ended their lives, if it meant I got mine back?"
He felt the tug of the frown in the deep lines of his face as he remembered that conversation across Illyrio Mopatis' table laden with such delicacies as his exile could not afford. It shamed him to think how brief his hesitation had been before he agreed to spy on the Beggar King and the princess they called Stormborn. Even more disgraceful had been seeing her for the first time at her betrothal feast, not a bride but a frightened child, and with the magister's good wine drowning out the echo of his own voice in his mind that had once pledged to do succor to women in their distress and to defend the weak.As his gaze found the empty tankard again, Lyanna drew his attention back to her, spittle glistening in the air at his chest level with the vehemence of her words.
"You wouldn't have got anything of the sort from us, if you obtained a pardon for dishonoring our House through such dishonorable means."
"But I thought you were suspicious of the Mad King's daughter."
Lyanna opened her mouth in an automatic retort, then closed it again as she realized the flaw in her logic. Her scowl almost made a smile twitch at the corner of his mouth, but then he saw her fingers clench into fists at her sides, eyes squinting up at him as her stubbornness overtook her once more.
"It's one thing not to want a possible madwoman for queen," she argued. "Wishing exiled children dead's another entirely."
Now it was Jorah's turn to be rendered momentarily speechless. Varys wanted them watched, not harmed, he wanted to utter in retort, as he had tried to defend himself to Daenerys in Meereen. But he this time, he wisely kept his mouth shut. It made no matter what Varys wanted. Robert, the Usurper, wanted Daenerys and her child killed, and nothing Jorah could say changed the truth that the information he fed the Master of Whispers nearly killed Daenerys. And her child had died, in the end, as part of that chain of events.
"Well?" One of Lyanna's wide hips jutted beneath her fist in an impatient stance he'd seen her mother model so many times, when he was an errant boy. Never mind he was old enough to be Lyanna's father. "Have you nothing to say for yourself?"
"It should please you to know Ned Stark held Aerys' children in the same regard," Jorah mumbled.
Barristan Selmy had revealed what was said on King Robert's small council, once, when Daenerys gathered her advisers to discuss her potential allies in Westeros. It had not surprised Jorah to learn how low he'd sunk in his former liege-lord's estimation--not that Ned ever had fully approved of him, even when they called each other friend--but it nevertheless rankled that their shared history, the bonds of their two Houses, were not enough to make him look beyond that one sin to determine Jorah's character.
"Ned Stark wanted your head for slave trading."
And there it was--the truth of the matter at last.
Jorah stood up straighter, shoulders squared beneath the spotless folds of his cloak. "Would the executioner's sword sing more sweetly to you than the voice of your kinsman who stands here to say…" He swallowed, and his pride tasted not so bitter as once it had. "…I'm sorry?"
He heard the rush of air from Lyanna's lungs even as he saw her posture sag as though his words had physical weight. For the first time, it seemed, since their conversation began, she blinked. "You're…?" Her lips pressed closed, and her thick black eyebrows drew together above the bridge of her nose.
Though Jorah resisted the urge to insult his young cousin's dignity by ruffling her hair, he could not stop the gruff chuckle that rattled in his chest.
"You're too like me for your own good, girl." Earning a glower from her for that, he hastened to add, "You mislike uttering the word sorry even if you're not using it to make an apology. I'm learning, only...see to you don't learn the lesson so late in life as me, eh? It'll save you a deal of heartache."
As he spoke he'd raised a hand to scuff the tips of his fingertips over his bearded jawline. He let it fall to his side again as he became aware of Lyanna's eyes staring at him from a face that was a dark, not-pretty mask, yet somehow reminded him of Daenerys' as she demanded he speak plain, without excuse.
"I'm sorry for dishonoring our House. For all that fell to you after I left. For Dacey…" Stinging moisture in his eyes refracted Lyanna's face into many as he pictured Maege and her daughters lined up to receive him and his Queen into their hall, and the one who lent as much willowy grace to his yearnings left a void as deep as if the very pines had been uprooted from the land. "The only thing I've wanted all these years was home."
"Not…" Lyanna paused to clear her throat, but still managed only to choke out, "Not her?"
"Just home." Even before she left him for her merchant prince, even when he sought solace in her arms, it had never been Lynesse of whom he dreamed as he did battle for gold up and down the Rhoyne. Mayhaps he'd known she was lost to him before he ever fled Bear Island with her. "And all of you."
Blood ran thicker...and apart from those who bore the name Mormont, only Daenerys was blood of his blood.
He reached out clumsily with his big hand, not presuming to embrace Lyanna, but only thinking to give her shoulder a squeeze, but she stepped back from him, her boots kicking up dust from the earthen floor.
"Yet you're going away again, soon. And probably taking one of my sisters this time."
Her rebuff of his affection hurt, but he tried his best to let it fall away along with his hand to his side. Years of smoldering resentment had erupted last night, and he could not very well expect Lyanna to cool off in a day; at least he could be grateful that the least forgiving member of his family now seemed more resentful that he had not returned home to say.
"At least now I won't lose my head if I visit," he said, "and you can come to King's Landing."
"The Queen will have a chamber made ready and awaiting, will she? In the dungeons, for my treasonous words?"
Jorah smirked. "Should you wish to come to court, an apology would not go amiss."
"Didn't you say I'm too like you for my own good?"
The main hall was empty when Dany and the other women returned from the village. Strangely empty. Maege’s children and grandchildren ought to have been lumbering about, or at least lurking around the yard, but they had not seen a soul upon entering Bear Hall’s gates.
In her own chamber she found Jhiqui perched on the bed, sulking, her back to the Queen.
“Have you been alone this whole time, sweetling?”
The Dothraki girl nearly leapt to her feet. “Khaleesi! You frighten me.”
“Apologies, but why is it so quiet? Where is everyone?”
“Irri and Rakharo…” Jhiqui's mouth tightened into a thin line. “They leave. The Andal was with the little she-bear. No one want to go near them.” She shrugged. “So I am here.”
“Is he still with the – with Lyanna?”
Jhiqui shook her head. “He came by here. He say to tell you he is with the horses.”
So Dany made her way to the stables, through the drifts of snow beginning to fall, past the wooden buildings that ringed the edges of the keep between its main hall and outer walls, and pushed through the heavy double doors that marked the largest structure.
Ser Jorah held the reins of her silver in one hand, leading her out to where his own chestnut destrier waited, tied to a wooden stake. She leaned against the wall for a moment, observing him, until her mare stomped a foot in the straw and whinnied in Dany’s direction, alerting him to her presence.
Her knight approached her swiftly, his hands pulling her face in, drawing his mouth hot across hers, and the force of his embrace nearly made her stumble backwards before he lowered an arm across her back to support her.
“I was only gone a few hours,” Dany gasped when he finally released her. “Were you truly so desperate in my absence?” His mouth tasted sour, like ale. “Did your cousin bare her claws?”
“I can handle a she-bear or two on my own,” he replied.
“You spoke to Lyanna, then?”
“Aye.” His half-smile suggested it had gone well, or at least not ill – at least, not for him.
“I don’t have a rebellion on my hands?”
“Not from the likes of her.”
Dany smiled, brushing her hand down the silver mare’s flank. “Now if only I ride to every noble in Westeros and shout at their supper…”
He chuckled in response, and released her arm. “Speaking of riding…”
“Yes, what are the horses for?” Both were groomed and saddled - a task Ser Jorah must have taken upon himself, for Bear Hall had no servants for its stables.
“I have something to show you.”
“Something far from here, I take it.”
“Not too far,” he said, “but too far to walk.”
“Lyanna must have frightened you after all,” she teased. "Now you’re fleeing the keep.”
“You are welcome to stay with her if you wish, your grace.”
Dany took the reins from Jorah’s hand, swinging herself onto the back of her silver in a single fluid motion.
“I would rather stare down a real bear,” she muttered, and Jorah chuckled ahead of her as he mounted his own horse and led the way out of the stables and through Bear Hall’s gates.
They rounded the wooden fence that formed the perimeter of the keep not back down the hill she had climbed hardly an hour before, but through the thick woods that circled the home of House Mormont, until Dany could no longer see its towers behind them. Pines stretched for miles on every side, blanketed in thick snow, a world of white stillness broken only by the hushed footfalls of two horses.
She might have spoken, or tried to, but it seemed wrong somehow to break the spell, and much of Dany’s attention was devoted to avoiding the branches overhead. Her knight was focused as well, trying to remember a path he had likely not travelled in ten years or more. The comfortable silence reminded her of their time in the Dothraki Sea, when long days of riding quickly wore down conversation, when the mere presence of a Westerosi warrior had helped to ease her pain.
If she were truly honest, there was something awkward in the silence, at least for her. She had always spoken her mind to Jorah, admitted things she would not have to anyone else, but everything was different between them after the previous night, and only a few days before a kiss had once again nearly destroyed their easy friendship. If the lovemaking went sour, would he leave her for good? Would he grow tired of her one day and return here, where he belonged?
Just as she worked up near enough courage to say something, the trees parted on either side of their horses, revealing a small clearing with a single weirwood in its center, wider and taller than any other Dany had yet seen. She slid from her mount and crept toward it, wondering as she often did if the Northerners were right, if their gods truly dwelt within the ivory bark of the trees they knelt to. As she approached, however, she realized the clearing dropped off several feet behind the tree and formed a rocky cliff overlooking a vast, icy sea. The tree’s red-eyed face looked over the water as well, as though it wept for some distant shore.
“I can see why you wanted a pardon so desperately.” As soon as the words left her mouth, Dany wished she could take them back. Why bring that up again now, here?
“It is only a tree, Daenerys.” Her knight had been standing several feet behind, near the horses, watching her.
“And my throne is only metal,” she countered, “yet you fought so bravely that I might sit upon it.”
Jorah’s footfalls crunched in the clean snow. “That was for you. For the good of the realm. Not for metal, or for trees.”
“You do not regret the vows you swore me, then? Though tomorrow I shall lead you away from your beautiful island, back to-“
His mouth cut her off, the kiss long and slow. Dany heard the crimson leaves shifting overhead, rustled by the sea’s breeze, and thought there might be something divine within these strange, twisted trees after all.
“I have little love for Kings’ Landing,” her knight admitted, “but I would follow you anywhere, and be glad of it.”
“Even if I asked you to wade through sewers again?”
The silence between them was heavy as Dany pondered this latest declaration of loyalty.
“There is something of the island we might bring back with us.” She might as well come clean now; surely he would notice when his cousin followed them out the gates tomorrow morning, and Lyanna had given some of it away already. “I offered Jorelle a place at court, and she has accepted.”
“She told me of your offer,” he said. “I was surprised I did not hear of it from you.”
“I am the Queen. I do not need your counsel to invite ladies to court.”
“Aye. But I had thought you might inform me when said lady is one of my flesh and blood.”
You were hardly looking at me at the time. Dany thought it best not to voice that thought just yet. She arched onto the balls of her feet instead, allowing her chest to brush against his tunic as she stretched up to nip at the untrimmed hairs below his jaw.
“An excellent strategy, Your Grace,” he growled low in her ear, “but you already used it last night, I’m afraid.”
A bluff, surely, for Dany had never had cause to doubt her powers of persuasion in this regard. “Did you ride me out all this way, away from your family, only to speak with me?”
“That depends.” His broad hands circled her waist, pulling her firmly against him. “Do you intend to run this time?”
She silenced the question in a kiss, submitting to his grip and the press of his tongue, and thought that despite the freezing air she would have gladly agreed never to walk, nor run, from this place ever again.
Chapter 12: The Journey Home
Like Jorah's apology, this update is shamefully overdue, but recent events on GoT motivated us to continue this happier story for Dany and Jorah. So here is not quite journey's end, as there's still an epilogue to come. (And we promise not to take till the end of S5 to update it!)
"Can't you sleep?" Daenerys' half-whisper cut through the silence which had blanketed the chamber, but for the rustling of the bedclothes and creaks of the ancient bedstead as Jorah rolled over in yet another futile attempt to find a comfortable position.
"Did I wake you, love?" he replied, voice hoarse as though he’d slept, though he had not. Not a wink.
The fire, burning low across the room, cast just enough light to halo her outline facing him on the pillow with the pale gold of her hair, which he reached out to stroke back from her cheek, allowing the silken tendrils to curl around his fingers. Though he could not make out her expression in the dark, he heard the gentle laughter in her voice as she admonished him:
"I don't think my sleep could be more disrupted if I shared my bed with a real bear."
"Forgive me. I never can sleep the night before a journey. I'll go bunk in my other quarters, so you can rest--"
He'd flung back the pile of furs that covered him, but when he started to push up on his elbow, Daenerys' small hand on his chest arrested him. He could have persisted, but he allowed her to push him back onto the mattress, his hands settling into the notches at the back of her hips as she leaned over him; her hair tickled as it fell over her shoulders, and the tips of her nipples grazed his bare skin.
"It's been a long time since I shared my bed. How will I get accustomed to it if you leave?"
"Only for a few hours," Jorah argued, though he made no further move to rise. "If that. It must be near dawn."
Near time for their departure.
"Then all the more reason to stay with me," said Daenerys through a yawn, lowering herself to settle into the curve of his arm, her head pillowed on the soft part of his shoulder. "We have weeks in the saddle ahead of us, and nights camped out on the ground or narrow beds at inns. Best to enjoy comfort so long as you can."
"Aye, my queen," Jorah acquiesced, though he knew as well as she did that creature comforts were of no great value to either of them, after years of living rough in exile. He bent his head to brush a kiss over the edge of her forehead, then lay back on his pillow, staring up at the faint shifting shadows of the flames on the wooden beams of the ceiling.
Daenerys lay silent and still so long in his embrace that he thought she'd drifted back to sleep, when her fingers twitched to stroke his chest hair and she spoke again.
"My bear, if you feel you have not been long enough at home--"
"You have been too long from your throne."
She tensed in his arms. "You see? Yet another discomfort for which I will exchange the ease of this bed."
"The queen's bed in the Red Keep must be more luxurious than this."
She was kissing his chest, and her lips curved in a warm smile against his skin before she raised her head to look at him, her lilac eyes dark in the dim light, but gleaming. "You shall determine that for yourself."
"I look forward to it," Jorah murmured, lifting his head to meet her as she leaned in to kiss his mouth.
"But Jorah," she broke away all too soon, "surely it must seem to you that we've only just arrived, especially when you only just secured the forgiveness of all your kinswomen. All you ever wanted was home--"
"And I have it." His arms tightened around her, and she kissed him again, her tongue darting out to trace the edge of his lip, though this time it was he who pulled back. "When I was caged in Meereen, and I had naught to do between beatings but stare at your pyramid…" When he could see out of his bruised and blackened eyes at all... "…I believed I would die there without ever setting eyes on my home or my queen again. Unforgiven, and ashamed."
Ironically, he was grateful for the dark now, which prevented his seeing her clearly now--or her seeing him, and the demon's mask upon his face which would never let her forget, no matter how fully she forgave. Daenerys shifted in his arms, straddling him, and pressed her forehead to his.
"Once you asked me what I prayed for."
"Home," she whispered. "You prayed for home."
"But in Meereen, I prayed that if I was to die, it would not be without seeing you again."
"The gods heard you."
He nodded. "Against all expectation they allowed me to see Bear Island again, too." Jorah cupped her face in his hands, holding her firmly in place as his fingers weaved through her hair at the nape of her neck. "But what I keep trying to make you understand, Daenerys, is that you are home."
Her voice cracked as she uttered his name, and they kissed again, long and slow.
"But why can you not sleep?" she asked when it had ended and she was snuggled once more against him."Are you so fearful of what might befall us on the journey?"
"I'd be a poor sort of queensguard if I were not," Jorah muttered, his beard scratching her shoulder as he pressed soft kisses along her collarbone. He felt the prickle of goosebumps rise up on her skin as his exhalation of breath became a sigh. "No, it's not the journey keeping me awake. It's the leaving."
"Again, as your queen I say that if you are not ready to leave after so long away, we can stay--"
"That won't make it easier. I'd lived my whole life here when I left before, and I had not the heart to say goodbye."
"Oh," said Daenerys. "I see."
Jorah was not entirely certain that she did see, exactly, but neither was he certain that he wanted her to know that he tossed and turned here in the dark because he was all too aware of her slight form beside him, still naked from their lovemaking, in the very bed from which he'd risen with Lynesse so many years ago on a night much like this one, and slipped from the hall under cover of darkness while his kinswomen slept, unaware of his betrayal. That his stomach soured and sickened with the same guilt that had churned within him then, despite the knowledge that he would take his leave of them properly this time, that for all their words of forgiveness, he would look on their faces and see they had not forgotten how it was before.
Daenerys' hand had been curled lightly over his where it rested on her stomach, but she squeezed it and drew it up to her mouth, placing supple kisses on each of his knuckles.
"You need not say goodbye now," said Daenerys. "After all, I have every intention of returning to Bear Island as soon as I may."
"Jory will be glad of that," Jorah told her, "if she is like afflicted by the heat of King's Landing as I am."
"Mmm. I shouldn't wish to introduce roast bear to my court in such a fashion. But I'd like to come back for my own sake, as well. I find I'm growing rather fond of snow."
Jorah snorted at that. "Fond of snow? Or of how I warm you up after?"
Daenerys drew his hand downward from her lips, clasping it in the valley between her breasts as she pressed her arse even more firmly against him. He hardened in response.
"You wouldn't be hinting that you need warming now, would you?"
"Well, since you are awake…"
The day dawned grey, to match Jorah's mood, and snow fell as the queen's cortege--which now numbered one more than when it arrived--made ready to depart the hall of his kin. As his eyes scanned the stormy horizon, Daenerys repeated her offer again to tarry a little longer on Bear Island, to wait out the weather, but again Jorah refused her.
"Unless your grace desires to pass the crossing to Deepwood with six greensick Dothraki," he said, "I suggest we make sail without further delay."
But there were other farewells to be said than the queen's, and for all his concern about the hazards likely to beset a winter's journey across her country, he could not bring himself to interrupt those which took place quietly between his aunt and her daughters. Not that the she-bears were given to prolonged sentiment.
"Don't let the Southron women do anything stupid to your hair," was all Lyanna said to her elder sister--though the gruffness in her voice, Jorah could see from the twitching beneath her rounded cheeks, was due to the effort of choking back emotion.
Jorelle's short puff of a laugh indicated a similar struggle. "And here I was plotting to ask you for a visit so the queen could command you to wear a fancy court dress."
Lyanna pulled a face, no doubt to keep her tears in check, but when Jory released her from the tight embrace, the younger girl turned away and wiped her eyes almost savagely--though not so much as the glare she shot Jorah when she caught him watching.
He could not hear the low muttered exchange between Jory and Aly, though he had a fairly good guess as to the gist of it when the stocky heir to Bear Island glanced over her taller younger sister's shoulder at Ko Jhogo. The other bloodriders harassed him over this in their own tongue; Jorah paid the banter little heed, distracted as he was by the wordless embrace shared by Jory and Lyra.
The two were near enough in age, born within a year of each other, that they may as well have been twins. That was how it had been with Dacey and Aly, he recalled with a pang, and when the latter turned abruptly from the scene to scold her son, who was reaching for the arakh in its sheath at the unsuspecting Aggo's side, Jorah suspected her thoughts had followed a similar path as his. Daenerys' tiny hand slipping suddenly into his own drew his attention down to the young queen, who was not unaffected as she looked on.
"It seems wrong to separate them," she said, her own voice pinched. "Mayhaps I should tell Jorelle she need not leave her home."
Jorah squeezed her hand. "You may be the Unburnt, the Mother of Dragons, my queen, but even you have not that power." He smiled slightly when she looked up at him, eyebrows pulling together in confusion. "Here We Stand. Those are the words of House Mormont. And we do not go back on them."
A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth, when Maege's voice diverted their eyes from each other.
"You'll do us proud."
She pushed the thick fringe of hair back from Jory's forehead, stood up on her toes to kiss the taller young woman, and then hugged her tightly, and briefly. Releasing her daughter, who trudged through the snow to her chestnut--Jorah felt guilty that his kinswomen were being deprived of a horse as well as one of their own, and had made note to have it replaced when they got back to King's Landing--Maege approached him. He stepped toward her, or Daenerys stepped back from them; in either case, her hand slipped from his grasp and they no longer stood side by side.
With their disparate statures, Maege had to tilt her head back to meet Jorah's eye. She did not say Look out for her, nor did he expect her to, for such a thought would never occur to a she-bear. On the contrary, from the way she regarded his branded cheek, he had the impression she thought that if any of their House needed looking after, it was him.
"I never thought we'd meet again," she said.
"I prayed we would."
In distant lands, where no weirwoods grew; but it seemed the heart tree's weeping eyes had watched him from across the Narrow Sea, and the old gods heard his prayer.
Maege grunted, her breath a pale cloud of steam that shimmered slightly in the frosty air. "Now you've only the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms to petition."
A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth, and Jorah felt the same pull at his own, widening until they grinned at each other, and his aunt's face swam before his eyes and a laugh or a sob choked from his throat as she caught him around the waist and hugged him, burrowing her face in his chest as he hid his in her coarse mop of hair.
They held for a moment, and when they drew apart, Jorah turned to see Daenerys looking on with a troubled expression. At first he thought she was merely uncomfortable witnessing other people's goodbyes, accustomed to much being made of her as queen, when realization dawned. Daenerys was the Mother of Dragons, Mhysa to the freed people of Essos, held every man, woman, and child in the Seven Kingdoms under her rule, yet none of these had ever embraced her farewell.I pray for home, too. Mayhaps it was not only for his sake that she offered to tarry on Bear Island.
Jorah wanted to put his arms around her, to hold her and comfort her, all the more so when he saw the ripple of effort across her face as she drew back her shoulders and addressed his kinswomen in an approximation of her usual studied poise.
"I shall not forget the hospitality you and your household have shown me, Lady Maege. Nor shall history the start of what I hope to be a long friendship between House Mormont and House Targaryen."
It was a proper farewell for a queen, but the undisguised note of strain in her voice told Jorah it was not at all the goodbye the gentle-hearted girl in her wished to make.
"You honor us," said Mage, shuffling in the snow. "But…"
Her dark eyes darted sideways to Jorah, and a glimmer in them made him wonder what she intended to do. Fleetingly, he wondered if she would bow, as she and her daughters had neglected to do upon Daenerys' arrival, but she did not.
"Only friendship, your grace?" she said, and the Lord of Bear Island caught the Dragon Queen in a fierce embrace.
At first she stood motionless, as though stunned, then she clung to Maege, too. And when the elder woman's rough lips pecked Daenerys' smooth cheek, Jorah saw in the pale breaking light that her skin shone with tears.
Winter storms followed them from Bear Island to Winterfell, from Winterfell to Moat Cailin, and all along the Trident, as though the curling snows knew Dany’s mind.
Only two years ago, all her dreams had been of the Iron Throne, of a glittering palace and a crowd of people shouting her name, but now she quietly prayed each morning for the snows to overrun the Kingsroad. They had awaited the weather three days and nights in an inn just north of the Neck, three days during which the Queen and Lord Commander rarely left the room the owner had hastily provided, and it was difficult not to wish for another such delay.
“We could roam the kingdoms forever,” she had offered on the third day, pulling the furs tighter around her, “from castle to castle, inn to inn.”
“And who would rule, your grace?”
“I would.”She scooted closer beneath the sheets, seeking his warmth. “Why must a queen sit upon a chair to rule? My people are not only in Kings’ Landing. They are here, in the villages, in the North and the South and the West. Surely I cannot rule them better when they cannot see me.”
Jorah rolled on his side to face her, the corners of his mouth turned up in amusement. Before he could advise against her plan, Dany continued.
“Drogo said a khal needs only a horse, not a throne. And I am still a khaleesi, am I not? Perhaps a mount is enough for me as well.”
“Khaleesi, if you roam forever, how will your people find you? Who will they come to when crops die and walls fail?” His fingers tangled in her hair as he argued; she stretched a leg over his, already growing weary of the debate.
“They have their lords.”
“And how will the lords find you?”
Dany kissed him swiftly, silencing his logic, and for the next hour or so she forgot where in the kingdoms she was, and where she was going, and why. The lords would part us, she thought as her knight moved inside her - the lords will demand that I wed - and she clawed at the thick skins beneath her to keep from screaming his name. I wish none of them would ever find me.
They rode on after dawn the next morning, the snows having melted to pools of muddy water shallow enough for the horses to cross, and in a fortnight the familiar Crownlands rolled past the road, beckoning the Queen home. For the first time in weeks, the sky was clear, the sun’s brightness almost mocking against the sharp cold. Miles away, Dany could see the spires of the Red Keep rising through the clouds, growing larger each day until the Dragon Gate stood before them, bordered by carved dragons and shadowed by Rhaenys’ Hill behind it.
As the gate rose, the gold cloaks nodded to their queen. “Welcome home, Your Grace.”
The odors of the streets assaulted her senses. Human and animal sweat, foods of all varieties from mouthwatering to revolting, sharp hot air from smithies and the rancid stench of emptied chamber pots; Dany had grown accustomed to the smells of her city over time, but returning after a long absence – especially in the wilds of the North, where pine trees were far more abundant than people - brought them into sharp relief again.
A glance behind at her retinue suggested that they, too, had grown accustomed to cleaner air. Most, even the Dothraki, quickly hid their disgust, but Jorelle openly blanched.
The Mormont girl was further south now than she had ever been; prior to crossing the Trident, she had solemnly described every battle north of the Neck to her cousin, falling silent only when she caught the Queen’s eye. She needn’t have done so – Dany cared little about the failed attempts of Robb Stark and Stannis Baratheon anymore, especially given that she’d been across the sea during the majority of their short-lived reigns. The Iron Throne was hers; what was past was past.
The walls of Maegor’s Holdfast seemed less impressive from only feet away, the red brick less…red, the towers less intriguing and more looming than they were from the road. But this palace was her home now – not red doors, per se, but red towers, at least – and ruling from it, her duty. My destiny, she reminded herself, looking closer at the city her ancestors had built, my birthright.
The Queen’s Hand was waiting in the Great Hall when Dany and her party entered.
“Your Grace.” She knelt low, lifting a skirt of pale, thin silk that set her markedly apart from the rest of the room’s inhabitants, all still clad in thick furs.
Dany smiled; even on an island of women, she had missed Arianne’s company. “My good Hand. I hope I shall find my realm has continued to prosper in my absence.”
“I am certain, my queen, that you shall find it as you left it,” her Hand swiftly replied. “Yet it seems your party has grown since you left.”
Several seconds passed before Dany understood; she ought to have introduced Jorelle immediately. Have I been in the wild North so long I’ve forgotten all my courtly manners?
“Lady Arianne, this is Jorelle Mormont, daughter of Lady Maege Mormont of Bear Island.”
To her great relief, Jory performed as perfect a curtsy as her riding clothes would allow.
“A pleasure,” Arianne replied. “I have met so few Northern ladies.”
“I have rarely been so far from the North,” Jory confessed.
“You will find much to like here, I am sure. I had rarely left Dorne when I first came to Kings’ Landing, and yet I have come to consider it my home.”
Jory gave her a wary smile, which Arianne returned, her grin bright as morning sun.
“Come, allow me to show you the Red Keep.”
The girl looked from the Hand to the queen, and Dany nodded her permission. Jory and Arianne left swiftly, the Dothraki behind them. But as the group filed out of the hall, Dany hesistated.
The Iron Throne impressed her each time she saw it anew; months of sitting on it day in and out lessened the ominousness of the dragon-forged steel blades, but now they were just as striking as they had been the day she had taken Kings’ Landing. As Aegon did. Aegon who had forged the throne from the blades of his enemies.
For the first time, Dany saw how monstrous it looked, the light from the wide sept-like windows reflecting from each sharp point. My family were conquerors. There had been good rulers among them, she knew - Jaehaerys and Alysanne, Baelor, Daeron - but for each good king a mad one. For each hundred years of Targaryen rule, a war among them.
It should end with me.
“They say Aegon built it as a reminder that a king should never sit easy.”
Of course he hadn’t left with the others. Of course he had known what she was thinking.
“Perhaps I should do away with it,” she mused. “My bench in Meereen was an uneasy enough seat. Perhaps my people ought to see that the days of bloodshed are past.” Did Aegon believe the same?
Even without turning, she knew Jorah was shaking his head.
“You said no more lies, khaleesi.Erasing the bad your ancestors did would erase the good as well. Your people must move on, your grace...but they cannot forget.”
The brand on his face was proof enough of that. Dany finally went to him, taking his hands in hers.
“Then we will have to give them something good to remember.” She raised her lips to his scarred cheek. We found some good in our tainted past, after all.
“I take it you’ve decided not to wander then.”
“Aye,” she sighed. “For now.”
Before she could answer further, the Great Hall’s doors creaked open. Without thinking, Daenerys took a step back at the sight of another of her queensguard.
“Your grace,” the knight began, “I heard you had returned.”
“Forgive me, my queen, for interrupting, but the small council has requested a meeting.”
Dany suppressed a sigh. She had yet to even set foot in her chambers, her clothing still bore stains from the ride...but it would not do to displease her council after so long away, no matter how tired she was, and whatever matters had arisen in her absence would only fester if untended.
“Tell them they are summoned to the council room in an hour,” she replied, “Commander Mormont and I will meet them.”
“Very good, your grace.”
Dany followed her into the hall, Jorah at her heels. When Brienne was out of sight, she turned to him.
“Come, then. We only have an hour.”
She nearly laughed aloud at his baffled expression. “To do what, your grace?”
“I can hardly go before my council in this state,” she explained, glancing down at her road-stained garments. “Someone is going to have to get me out of this dress.”
Her knight’s eyes glazed a bit when she offered him her arm, but he allowed her to lead him through Maegor’s Holdfast, and the queen and lord commander arrived only a few minutes late to the small council.