Jaime learned sword fighting from the Braavosi and spears from the Unsullied. She learned whips from the slave masters of Yunkai. And now, she joins a khalasar to learn a new host of weapons; arakhs and bolas, to sharpen her skills with daggers and whips. And she’ll perfect all these weapons, and more, from atop horseback.
It won’t be the last place she and Jon train, but it might be the hardest of their lessons yet. The khal, a large man with fearsome scars and a long braid, looks Jaime over and grins as if he thinks it’s amusing to see a grown woman wish to join a khalasar. His gaze slides to Jon and his grin growns.
“Only the strong survive,” he says either a threat or a warning. Either way, it’s all he has to say to them. Jaime takes it to mean they’re welcome until they’re not. It’s how it goes every place they visit.
She climbs atop her horse, her few possessions contained on her person or in her horse’s saddlebags. Jon mounts up as well. His skin has darkened since they first came to Essos. It was miserable when he was a babe, his skin reddened and peeled only to do the same over and over until finally his skin grew accustomed to the heat and sunlight. He shed his skin like a snake until he found one that fit him.
At six and ten, he’s tall, well-muscled because he trains with her, but he still has the mop of black curls he was born with. When she found Ned Stark at the Tower of Joy, she wasn’t sure what to expect. By all accounts, he and Robert Baratheon led the uprising against the royal family Jaime was sworn to protect. But, only a short time before she fled for Dorne, she killed King Aerys and watched her father take over her city.
So maybe it wasn’t surprising when Stark handed her a babe and told her to protect the newest Targaryen no matter the cost. Westeros wasn’t safe for Targaryens, not with her father in charge. She took the babe across the Narrow Sea and forged a life for them in any way she could.
She couldn’t protect Queen Rhaella, she couldn’t protect Princess Elia or any of the children, but by all the gods, she will protect Jon.
He’s never pressed her for more answers than she’s willing to give. He seems to enjoy their nomadic life, absorbing each shift they make. He’s the one, actually, who pushed to join a khalasar, and she couldn’t say no to him.
Gods, Jaime Lannister, a soft-hearted mother . She wouldn’t believe it except this is the life she’s lived for the past sixteen years. She’s never wanted children of her own, but she couldn’t refuse to care for the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Not that she intends to ever let him near the damned throne.
Life on this side of the Narrow Sea has been an adventure, the kind she always begged for stories of a girl. Cersei scoffed at the adventures, but sometimes, if she was in an indulgent mood, she would read them to Jaime. It wasn’t until her younger brother Tyrion was of reading age that Jaime was given her fill of the stories.
Sometimes, she wonders how her brother fares, stuck in the lion’s den without Jaime as a buffer. Her father despises his son and Cersei, the dutiful daughter, follows their father’s lead. She doesn’t have many regrets, she would kill Aerys again to keep him from what he intended, but she does regret leaving her brother behind.
It’s silly, even as a despised son, he’s still the sole son of Tywin Lannister. He has a comfortable life. He would hate the parts of Essos Jaime and Jon have seen. They’ve been to the cities, seen the silks and smelled the perfumes, but they’ve never lingered or indulged.
She and Jon ride in silence as they observe the Dothraki around them. They’re a people who pride themselves on conquest. They remind her of the Ironborn except their chosen steeds are horses not ships. But it’s the same mentality - taking instead of supporting themselves. She hopes they don’t stay long amongst the horse lords.
Not for the first time, she wonders where all this ends. Will Jon one day realize he is a man grown and leave his false mother behind to pursue a family of his own? Will he finally demand to know his true parentage and where he came from? She won’t die in Casterly Rock, old and surrounded by her family. She won’t even die in the service of the royal family. If she was going to do that, it would’ve happened years ago when she faced the Mountain.
She shakes the thoughts from her head. The sun bears down, hot and demanding, and she focuses on the trickle of sweat between her breasts rather than the night that changed the entire course of her life.
Jaime is far from fluent in Dothraki, but she knows enough to get by. It’s Jon who has a tongue for languages, but he prefers to play stupid, vacant eyes and tilted head. When they stop for the night, Jaime and Jon stick close. They’re joined by two women and a man as they lay out their bedrolls. One woman is closer to Jaime’s age, her hands rough with calluses, and her smile too sharp to be friendly. The other woman is younger and she eyes Jon as if she wants to throw him to the ground and ride him.
Jon catches her at it and flushes. Jaime rolls her eyes and when she looks up, the man is watching her. They take what they want , Jaime remembers. They only respect those who resist them. Her stomach churns and she wishes she’d told Jon that what the horse lords could teach them wasn’t worth it.
The man moves, and he’s quick. Her grabs Jaime’s arm in a bruising grip. Jon makes a sound but the two women step in front of him, blocking his path.
“No,” Jaime tells the man. She repeats it in his language.
He laughs and grabs her other arm. “Yes,” he says mockingly.
She twists an arm free and in an instant her dagger tip is between his legs. She looks up at him, furious and smug as fear creeps into his expression. She presses enough to puncture his leathers in order to make her point. “No,” she repeats.
“No,” he agrees.
He steps back, and she steps forward until they’ve reached his horse. She looks through his things until she finds a recurve bow. She takes both the bow and the quiver, and the man doesn’t protest. She adds it to her things and returns to sit next to Jon.
He quirks a smile at the younger of the women and points to himself. “Jon.”
The woman catches his hand and presses it to her chest. “Mani.”
The older woman shares a look with Jaime as if to commiserate on the folly of youth. “Asavvi.” She gestures to the man. “Hezho.”
“And now we’re all friends.” Jaime stretches out. She grunts, her muscles are stiff from riding all day. She’ll need to be awake early tomorrow to go through her spear patterns. Spear tomorrow, sword the day after, spear again. There’s no point in learning as many styles of fighting as she can only to forget them.
Hezho takes her rejection with far more grace than a Westerosi man would have. He appoints himself her teacher, showing her how to use the recurve bow. It gives him an excuse to put his hands on her and sometimes his touches linger, but she considers it an acceptable trade.
As the days pass, her muscles grow accustomed to riding, and she gains an audience during her morning training. So far, none have attempted to join her and Jon, but there are looks and she wonders what those interested will offer in exchange for teaching.
Mani’s brother Jezzo is the first to approach. He has a crude spear and thrusts it at Jon, not as a threat, but a demand all the same. Jon raises his eyebrows and looks to Jaime.
“Why not?” she asks.
It takes two raids before Jezzo gifts them each Dothraki leathers. There’s someone else’s blood on them, and they don’t fit as well as they could, but Jaime appreciates them all the same.
Felli is a young woman who approaches Jaime not long after the second raid. She shares their firepit, eats their food, but she stares at Jaime not Jon which is a new development. Once they’re done eating, she touches Jaime’s hair in question.
The Dothraki all have long hair, men and women both. Jaime’s hair is longish, but she keeps it braided tight to her head and those two braids are pinned. Felli’s fingers trail over the braids, and she tilts her head, curious. Jaime smiles and reaches her own hand out. In an instant, she has a grip on Felli’s brown locks. She doesn’t pull or tug but the girl’s eyes widen and she nods.
If Jaime was less vain, she would chop all her hair off, but the golden locks are the one thing which remind her of home and who she once was. So she braids her hair, pins it away from grabbing hands, and hopes her vanity won’t one day be the death of her.
Cersei was always the beautiful twin. Men and boys fawned over her, growing more desperate for her attention the more she denied them. Sometimes, her suitors would turn to Jaime as if they’d be willing to accept a secondary prize if it was easier to obtain.
When Jaime was seven and ten, she was appointed to the Queensguard and all marriage offers ended. Other offers did not, but she had a sword and the backing of Queen Rhaella. That was usually enough to dissuade even the most persistent of men.
Of course, Jaime wasn’t able to return the favor. The man who brutalized her queen was the one man she couldn’t lift her sword to. Until the night she decided she could , that she had to. It didn’t save her queen in the end. It didn’t save Elia or the children. She heard rumors that Daenerys and Viserys escaped Dragonstone, but she’s seen no proof of it.
Murmurs spread through the khalasar. Drogo is to take a wife. And not just any wife, but an exotic one. Jaime’s not sure what exotic means to the Dothraki, there are peoples of all kinds in Essos, but Jon reports that the bride-to-be is Westerosi.
“Then what’s she doing here?” Jaime asks.
“Maybe the same thing you are.”
Jaime slants an unamused look at her ward. “I highly doubt it. I didn’t cross the Narrow Sea for marriage.”
“Were you running from it?”
Jon’s still grinning, cheeky, but there’s a hint of curiosity as well. They don’t talk much of her life before he came into it. Her stories are almost all of Essos, the people she’s met and the things she’s learned. What good would it do to tell him he is the Targaryen heir? Robert Baratheon sits on the Iron Throne, married to Jaime’s sister. The Baratheons and Lannisters have shown they’re not only willing but wanting to kill every last Targaryen alive.
The only thing Westeros offers Jon is death, and she won’t risk it.
“With this?” Jaime taps the scar on her cheek. “Men were running from me .”
Jon huffs, clearly not believing her, but he doesn’t press her either. Jaime touches the scar, a jagged ugly thing. She’d done the stitches herself. Sewing had never been one of her strengths, and self-stitching was an entirely new challenge. The Mountain cut her face before he cut down her princess. She saved Elia from one terrible fate but not another.
She drops her hands to her horse’s reins. She misses the veils of Naath which covered her face from the nose down. Perhaps when they make their next transition she’ll take to wearing the veils again.
The khalasar descends on Pentos for the wedding and subsequent celebration. The gracious host of the event is Magister Illyrio Mopatis. Jaime doesn’t know much of him. But as she weaves her way through the crowd and hears her own language for the first time in several moons, she realizes not everyone here is a stranger.
Because standing with Illyrio are two children she would recognize anywhere even though one was quite small the last she saw him and the other was still in her mother’s womb. “Seven hells,” she murmurs as she gazes upon Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen.
“What is it?” Jon asks. “Do you know them?”
Why is Khal Drogo marrying a Westerosi girl-child? Jaime could understand any number of Westerosi lords vying for her hand, what better way to spring a revolt than by marrying one of the last Targaryens, but the Dothraki don’t care what happens across the Narrow Sea. From what she’s heard, they won’t even entertain the thought of crossing the ocean.
And it certainly isn’t a love match, Daenerys looks small and terrified as she stands next to her brother. He surveys the Dothraki around him with a certain degree of smugness and superiority. The boy appears to have inherited much of Aerys. Jaime finds herself reaching for her dagger before she realizes what she’s doing.
She cuts Jon off by lifting a hand. “You’re looking at Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen. They’re believed to be the only Targaryens to survive Robert’s Rebellion.”
“Which means they’re powerful tools for anyone unhappy with the current regime.”
Jaime’s lip curls as Viserys grips his sister’s arm and leans down to whisper something in her ear. One of them is powerful and one of them is a tool. She looks down at her Dothraki clothing and for the first time in many, many years, wishes she had her Queensguard armor.
“Uh oh,” Jon says. “What’re you thinking?”
“That Daenerys is very small and the khal is quite large. And the Dothraki only respect those who prove they deserve it.”
“I’ll make sure the horses are saddled tonight,” Jon says. “In the meantime, I’m going to try and enjoy myself.”
Jaime lets him wander off, trusting he won’t jump into any fights to the death or anything equally stupid. Herself, she avoids grabby hands and, when she isn’t quick enough, she lovingly pets the hilt of her dagger, and she’s left alone.
“You navigate the Dothraki well,” a man tells her. He isn’t dressed like a Dothraki or in the finery of Illyrio’s household. The sword strapped to his belt is wellmade. It suggests he’s a son of a prominent house, but she can’t see why he’d be here.
“They respect force, those who wield it and those who resist. The bride won’t do either.”
“She could use a protector.” The man touches his sword, his chest puffing up as if he sees himself in that role. Better him than Jaime. She utterly failed Daenerys’s family. Let someone else pick up the impossible mantle.
“And who better than a Westerosi knight?”
“Jorah Mormont of Bear Island.”
A northerner . Gods help her. Ned Stark was a northerner and he managed to fuck up her life. Most likely, Jorah won’t try to foist any babes off on her. “You’re far from home.”
“You know your Westerosi geography?”
“I’m a traveler,” she answers. “I know a lot of things.”
“I’m here to offer my service to the one true king of Westeros.”
Jaime scoffs. “Last I checked, it was Robert’s fat arse on the bloody throne.”
“He stole what rightfully belongs to Viserys.”
And Viserys is using his sister to take it back. Sometimes, Jaime wants to sharpen her sword and run through every man in the Seven Kingdoms. There isn’t a good one amongst the lot. Except maybe Jon. He can live. “Viserys is marrying his sister to a khal. If Viserys let his throne be taken then why would they think he deserves it?”
Jorah turns his sharp gaze on her. Jaime should probably keep her mouth shut, no need to raise his suspicion of a Dothraki woman who knows too much about Westeros, but that is her princess being sold to a man who will not be gentle with her.
“Have you told Viserys the Dothraki call the ocean poison water and have never crossed it?” she asks. “I doubt he’ll be too happy with an army which will never step foot in Westeros.”
“You’re very interested in this wedding,” Jorah says. His hand creeps toward his sword.
“The khal should marry for the good of the khalasar,” Jaime says. And no one will harm Daenerys while I have the strength to protect her .
“Ah.” He abandons his sword, looking amused now. “Jealous? I’m sure there are plenty of men here who could satisfy you.”
I’m sure there are not . Jaime takes her leave of the man. While the celebrations go on below, she slips into Illyrio’s home for anything worth taking. She knows where his vaults are, because there are multiple guards on duty, no doubt to keep the Dothraki from raiding. Jaime searches the bedchambers until she finds one which must below to Daenerys. She fills a bag with clothes and trinkets. There’s a drawer with a false bottom. She takes the jewels inside. She finds a larger bounty in Viserys’s rooms.
Once she has her spoils, she stops in the kitchen. She changed in Daenerys’s room, from her Dothraki clothes to one of the plainer dresses. She even scrubbed herself in the washroom. She won’t pass for a highborn lady, but she doesn’t look Dothraki anymore. It’s easy to charm food from the cook, and she takes the bounty with her.
She finds Jon near their horses. He accepts the extra bags without question. “Illyrio gifted Daenerys with dragon eggs. He says they’re petrified. It’s a shame, isn’t it? All the dragons gone?”
Aerys still found ways to burn his enemies. She doesn’t want to imagine how much worse he would’ve been with dragons on his side. “I’m going to head out.” She nods discreetly toward where Drogo and Daenerys are preparing to leave. “Change if you can. I don’t think we’ll be back here.”
Again, Jon doesn’t question. Jaime cuts a slit up her dress so she can still ride and heads off to discreetly tail the newly wed couple. Drogo surprises her by going quite a distance, until the continued celebrations can’t be seen or heard. Jaime tethers her horse to some rocks and sneaks closer to where Daenerys is staring out at the sea. There’s a look of longing on her face as if for a moment she’s forgotten where she is.
But then Drogo steps up behind her, and Jaime hears the hitched breath. It’s a precursor to tears, and Jaime’s stomach twists. How many times did she stand outside the royal chambers as Aerys took his wife while she sobbed? How many times did she hear Rhaella’s pleas for mercy? Jaime was sworn to protect her, and she didn’t. And in the end, Aerys killed her with the babe he put in her stomach.
Jaime leaps out from her hiding place as Drogo drops Daenerys’s dress and shoves the naked girl to the ground. Jaime twists Drogo’s long hair around her hand and yanks his head back. She holds her dagger to his throat. “She said no.”
Daenerys turns, and she gasps when she sees Jaime with a knife to her husband’s throat. There are tears on her cheeks as she scrambles backward.
“You can dress if you like,” Jaime tells her in the common tongue. “He will not touch you if you don’t want it.” To make her point clear, she draws a thin line of blood with her dagger.
“Who are you?” Daenerys whispers.
The woman who killed your father . “I don’t like rapers. If you want to stay here and try to coax Drogo’s army across the Narrow Sea, I will leave and you’ll never see me again. But the Dothraki have never sailed, and the khalasar is small compared to the armies of Westeros.”
“The people are waiting for my brother.” Daenerys clutches her dress to herself, but she hasn’t put it on yet. “They want another Targaryen on the throne.”
“Is that Illyrio speaking or your brother? Westeros has a king. They may not like him much, but they don’t have fond memories of the last Targaryen. From what I’ve seen of your brother, he isn’t much better.”
Daenerys offers no defense of her brother. Drogo tries to buck Jaime off him, but she yanks harder on his hair and digs her blade deeper into his neck. “Don’t remind me you’re here,” she advises him in his own language. To Daenerys she says, “We don’t have much time. I cannot offer you an army like Drogo or a life of luxury like Illyrio. I cannot even promise you safety. But I can promise you freedom and that I would give up my life if it meant saving yours.”
Daenerys’s gaze is drawn to Drogo who snarls and she scoots backward. “My brother commanded me to make him happy.”
“Then spread your legs for him and let him make a bloody mess of you,” Jaime says.
New tears leak out. “My brother hurts me, his only family. He would not be kind to his subjects.” The sound of hooves attract her attention and she turns to see Jon riding toward them.
“My ward,” Jaime says. “He will not harm you, you have my word. If you would like to come with us, put on your dress. Otherwise, I’ll leave you to your wedding night.”
Daenerys scrambles to her feet. She clumsily puts her dress back on. She stares at Jaime as she backs up, until she reaches the horse she was gifted by Drogo. The khal spits and hisses and she mounts it and rides her horse up to Jon.
“Jon?” Jaime calls out. “Be a dear and spook the khal’s horse. We don’t want him following us.”
It’s safer to kill the horse, but she can’t bring herself to kill such a magnificent creature because of its owner. When the horse takes off, Drogo puts up a renewed fight. Jaime shoves him down into the dirt and uses her dagger to slice off his hair. She drops it next to him and sprints for her horse. He howls and she mounts and joins Jon and Daenerys before he can get his wits about him.
Jaime leads them on a hard ride north to Braavos. Daenerys doesn’t complain, she doesn’t speak much at all, possibly still in shock. Jon keeps quiet as well, he’s never much of a talker. Jaime doesn’t push either of them into conversation.
When they reach the city, Jaime finds them a place where they and their horses can spend the night. She gets two rooms and leaves Jon to care for the horses as she brings Daenerys and their belongings to their rooms.
She goes through their bags to see what they have. Clothes, food, weapons, more clothes and...she unwraps what looks to be a dragon egg.
“Oh,” Daenerys breathes. She reaches out to touch the green scales. She digs through the other bags, making happy sounds as she finds the other two eggs. She gathers them to her. Jaime hears footsteps, and she throws a blanket over the eggs just in time for Jon to burst in.
He pauses when he sees the two of them, clearly hiding something. Then he grins and shuts the door behind him. “I couldn’t leave them.”
“They’re a bit conspicuous,” Jaime says but as Daenerys cradles the eggs, she knows she won’t try to sell them or leave them behind. “Speaking of conspicuous…” She touches Daenerys’s hair. “There will be people looking for a missing Targaryen.”
Daenerys takes a steadying breath and her voice doesn’t waver as she says, “Do what you must.”
That night, Jaime cuts Daenerys’s hair to her shoulders and dyes it a dark brown. The girl touches the ends sadly, but she doesn’t shed any tears.
The next day, they depart for Lorath.