The Duties of a Knight
Daenerys rose early, the light of dawn not long glowing through the silken drapes of her room in Qarth, the air still cool and perfumed with the scent of the evening jasmine that climbed the walls of the courtyard below.
She had yet to choose new handmaids to replace Irri and Doreah; their loss was still raw and painful, and she could not bring herself to fill their posts while their memory was still fresh. While she didn't think for a moment that they had been friends, they were kind to her and she missed their quiet exchanges of gossip and the ring of their laughter at some new scandal or the mischief of her dragons.
Her only children...
That they had died to protect.
Though she had found them, and defeated the Warlocks of the House of the Undying, their loss and what it had done to her was fresh too, and she was drawn to their cages where they were curled, asleep. She had never felt so lonely and hopeless as she had in those days while her dragons were missing, having already lost her home, her brother, her husband and her son, to lose her dragons and her handmaids as well had removed all connection to her past life, her stolen future, and her dreams.
Her heart still heavy with worries and sadness, Daenerys dressed in a gown of pale pink silk, and seated herself before her looking glass to begin her morning battle with her hair. Though it was selfish to admit, she also missed Irri and Doreah for their skill in braiding her hair, something she had never been particularly good at herself. She supposed this was because she had never had any girls her age to play with during her childhood, assuming it was a skill acquired through practicing with friends. She had tried to braid Viserys' hair once – and only once, as all she received for her attempts was a black eye and some harsh words – before abandoning the endeavour. So, until she could bring herself to replace Irri and Doreah, she had been forced to rise early to give her time enough to wrangle her hair into a presentable, if simple, style. She realised the first morning she attempted to braid her hair as her maids had done hundreds of times, that if the plaits were not too thick, they were too thin, or did not meet correctly at the back of her head, or they bunched in unseemly tangles at her temples and had to be brushed out and begun again. Red-faced from embarrassment and frustration in equal measure, she had had to send a servant to Xaro Xhoan Daxos to beg his forgiveness for being late, while she combed her hair into a presentable mane and composed herself.
Since then, she had risen early to contend with her silver-gold locks, and this morning was no different; steeling herself for an ordeal, she reached for her comb.
Ser Jorah Mormont rarely rose long after dawn, his sleep coming as it did, in fits and starts between dreams and nightmares; the chill light of dawn was a welcome sight to his tired eyes. Despite the small size of his room, he was as comfortable here as he had been in his tent in the Dothraki Sea, simply glad that he was close enough to his Khaleesi that he could be with her in a moment should she have need. Rising up on his toes, he stretched his arms upward, sighing in relief as his shoulders cracked in cooperation. Sucking in a deep breath and savouring the scent of jasmine on the air, the knight pulled on his shirt, somewhat cleaner for the soaking he had given it the night before. His queen had commanded him to walk the markets and the docks each morning to pick up news and rumours from all corners of the world, from the Summer Isles to Westeros to the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai. Though it was often the same old stories he heard, and mostly lies or exaggerations, he enjoyed the task and would not turn down an excuse to speak to Daenerys even if only for a few minutes to tell her there was nothing new. Buckling his swordbelt around his hips, he left his room, being careful to close the door quietly and thanking his worn leather boots that they made very little noise on the stone steps and flagstones of the courtyard, lest he disturb his queen's slumber.
It would not look right, no matter how many times she brushed and braided it, no matter what painful angles she had tried to make the hair lie flat against her head rather than bunch and tangle. Taking it out again, Daenerys sucked air through her teeth and clenched her fists, trying to quell the fire of frustration in her heart. Closing her eyes and breathing the incense of jasmine, she waited for calm to reassert itself. When it had, she tried again.
'I am the blood of the dragon. I will not be defeated,' she told herself.
'I will not be defeated by my own hair,' she added, rolling her eyes at her reflection.
She was in the middle of re-braiding one side, attempting for the second time to make them even and symmetrical, when she heard soft boots on the stones of the courtyard.
'Jorah, my sweet bear,' she thought to herself, the corners of her mouth twitching up briefly, until she saw what a mess she'd made of the plait.
"Khaleesi," came the familiar voice from the top of the stairs, "I hope you slept well."
'Must he growl that word so? His voice affects me when it should not, but what can I do to stop it? Command him not to speak? Never.' She chewed her lip, combing her hair out again.
"What news, ser?"
She listened as he regaled her with tales from far-off lands that had little truth in them and even less bearing on her conquest to retake the Iron Throne, but she knew that he enjoyed telling these fanciful and exciting sailors' stories, and she was forced to admit that he could have been listing the names of all the Kings of the Seven Kingdoms since before Aegon the Conqueror and she would not care, hearing his voice was enough to distract her from their troubles and the disaster of her hair. Of all the tongues and accents she had come across in her short but adventurous life, she had yet to grow bored of the rumble of Ser Jorah's voice, that spoke to her of misty mountains capped with snow, and a wind that whispered through tall dark soldier pines, bringing low-hanging clouds and mist rolling across purple heather moors. Lost now in her imaginary Westeros, she did not hear her knight pause and ask;
"...and they spoke of... Khaleesi, do you require aid? Khaleesi?"
"Yes?" she asked, suddenly aware of the silence, glancing to his reflection in her mirror, a respectful distance behind her right shoulder.
"Do you need any help? You seem to be...struggling." His eyebrows knitted into a frown, and she could see he was amused and confused in equal measure.
Daenerys sighed deeply and let the half-finished braid fall from her fingers, "I'm not as good at this as Irri and Doreah were. Even with three hours persistence I cannot do it!"
"It takes me so long to even get a simple style correct, and I feel so angry by the end of it, I would rather tear my hair out than have to do it again the next morning, and the morning after that!" she grumbled, working her fingers through the plaits to shake them loose and start again.
"Perhaps it is simply a matter of the angle, Khaleesi. Would you like me to try?"
Her eyebrows shot upwards at his suggestion, "You know how to braid hair, ser?"
His cheeks coloured then, and he looked away from her reflection, studying his boots, "...My...My first wife liked me to play with her hair, Khaleesi, and I learned to plait and braid it in simple styles, though she had her maid do it properly whenever we had guests."
Now it was Daenerys' turn to blush and look away. The image of such harmony and happiness made the empty space in her chest flex and stretch painfully, both for her own loneliness and in empathy for her knight, his old happy life long fled.
"You cannot be any worse than I, ser. Please do try."
He nodded, but his face betrayed no emotion as he stepped up behind her and gently took the comb from her fingers.
He had not been surprised to see his queen at the looking glass, styling her hair; he knew that she was likely doing it herself now that Irri and Doreah were gone. Allowing himself to indulge in a moment of quiet to observe her beauty, he watched her carefully comb a section of her long silver-gold hair ready to be braided.
"Khaleesi, I hope you slept well."
She smiled into the mirror, briefly meeting his gaze in the reflection, "What news, ser?"
Indeed, he hadn't thought that there was anything amiss until he was almost halfway through the tales he'd heard from sailors and traders and gamblers, when he noticed the downward tilt of his queen's mouth, and the gleam of white teeth worrying at her bottom lip as she plaited the same section of hair for the third time since he'd arrived.
'She is struggling...and increasingly angry,' he thought, pausing in his story of a great sea serpent some Summer Islanders had been telling the whole dock about, swearing it was the truth, and the beast had been of all the colours of the rainbow, with eyes like glowing emeralds and fins of gold and silver, with scales as big as a man's head and teeth as sharp as Valyrian steel.
"Khaleesi, do you require aid?""
She seemed not to have heard him, her fingers running slowly over the braid she had only half-completed, a far-off expression on her face.
"Yes?" she seemed to jump, and glanced at him in the mirror.
"Do you need any help? You seem to be...struggling." he frowned, inexplicably amused that she looked so helpless and lost, considering she was only taxed by her uncooperative hair, not lost in Flea Bottom at night, as he had once been – not an experience he would wish on anyone.
His queen sighed heavily and dropped the braid in defeat, "I'm not as good at this as Irri and Doreah were. Even with three hours persistence I cannot do it!"
That would mean she had been awake before he left for the docks, doing battle with her hair while he had been stepping over drunks and beggars and dodging nightsoil thrown from windows.
In answer to her complaint he thought of his first wife, of nights in bed when she would drop her head onto his thigh while he was reading, and ask him to play with her hair. Sometimes she had been more insistent, and simply stroking it had not been enough, but he did love the silky soft feel of it, the weight of it when he collected it all up in his hands, and she had enjoyed it when he began to plait and braid it into styles he had seen at court and village sept alike.
The memory of those happy times, and the intimacy it involved, brought a blush to his cheeks, so he framed the suggestion in more logical terms, "Perhaps it is simply a matter of the angle, Khaleesi. Would you like me to try?"
"You know how to braid hair, ser?" her surprise was to be expected, but he knew now that he would have to tell the tale.
Her expression when he finished his explanation was unreadable, but her words both pained and pleased him, "You cannot be any worse than I, ser. Please do try."
This was unexpected, he had assumed she would politely decline or turn the conversation to other matters, but he'd never have imagined she would take up his offer. Forcing his face to obey and show none of the many raging emotions he felt, he moved to stand behind her, taking the comb from her hand.
"What would you like me to do?" he asked, glancing uncomfortably at her in the mirror.
She was clearly somewhat uncomfortable with the situation herself, as shown by the way she twisted her fingers and chewed her lip.
"I don't know, Doreah used to make two braids either side and tie them together at the back somehow," she gestured to show where the plaits normally lay, "But I could never get them even on each side, or ever understand how she fixed them together so well."
"Well, I'm not Doreah," he raised an eyebrow and was pleased to see her smile back at him, "But I will try."
Pulling the comb gently through her long silver-gold hair, he tried to ignore how it felt like spun silk between his callused fingers. Focusing on the task at hand, he studiously avoided looking into the mirror to see her face, splitting the hair at her temples into sections before beginning to plait it carefully.
"Do you have a pin, Khaleesi? I need to hold this in place while I do the other side." He asked quietly, his voice coming out rougher than he had expected.
"Ah..." she opened a drawer and felt around inside, "Yes, here," she held them out to him.
As his fingers closed around the thin metal pins, a jolt burned across his skin, causing him to flinch.
"Ah! A spark!" exclaimed Daenerys, rubbing her fingertips, surprised.
Jorah answered with a tight smile, focusing again on his queen's hair as he fixed the plaits in place, sliding the spare ones through the wrap around his sword hand.
If it had been any other woman, he might have enjoyed this experience more, but this was his queen, his Khaleesi, his Daenerys, and he could not allow himself to forget who she was, no matter how he felt about her.
Finishing the last two braids, he pinned them in place and considered how he might fasten them together, stepping back slightly both to get a better view and to have a moment's reprieve from the intoxicating mixture of her scented soap and the aroma that was all her.
Daenerys had not expected him to be so gentle and he combed and braided her hair. Even though she knew he had experience from his first marriage, she had thought her knight might be too forceful with the comb, not realising how close he was to the sensitive skin of her scalp, or that he would tug and snap her hair as he braided it, but she could not have been more wrong.
Drogo had never been very interested in her hair, the only times he'd ever touched it was to grip her tighter when he took her, or more lovingly later on, when he would brush it from her face so he might kiss her and hold her close. It had been so long since any man had touched her more than briefly, and even longer since anyone, man or woman, had caressed her hair with such care and attention. She was thankful that her bear was intent on his task, so he could not see the emotions writ plain on her face as his strong, warm fingers moved through her hair.
She was so lost in thought that she felt almost panicked as she searched for the hair pins Jorah required, and she could not help but jump at the jolt that passed between them as their fingers touched. Cursing herself for her girlish, "Ah! A spark!" she focused on rubbing her buzzing fingertips to avoid whatever surprised or amused expression her knight was most likely directing into the mirror, but he said nothing.
When she had not felt his touch for some time, Daenerys looked up and found Jorah stood frowning at the back of her head, his index finger pressed to his lips in his customary position of thoughtfulness and concentration.
He jolted awake and met her gaze, "Sorry, Khaleesi, I was trying to work out how I might fasten the braids together."
"Doreah used to be able to plait all four together, but that seems impossible to me. Irri normally fixed them together with silver wires and bells, like the khals do."
She opened another drawer and brought out a jewellery box of red and black lacquered wood, depicting the three-headed dragon of House Targaryen, which had been a wedding gift. Inside there were all manner or necklaces, rings, bracelets and bangles, as well as several of the braid rings and bells the Dothraki warriors wore in their hair. Selecting two of the larger ones, she held them out to Jorah, who took them gently and went to work at the back of her head, clipping the braids together, adding the single silver bell that denoted her victory against the Warlocks.
"Will it serve, Khaleesi?"
'He growls that word again...I never want to stop hearing it, no matter what that tone implies...' she thought as he took her smaller looking glass and angled it so she might see his handiwork.
'For such a rough-looking man, his work here is as neat and impressive as his swordplay.'
"Well done, ser. You have far surpassed what little I might have achieved, and in only a fraction of the time!" she smiled at him properly now, having risen from her seat and turned to face him.
"Thank you, Khaleesi. I am happy to have been of use," his mouth stretched into a smile, if somewhat pained, and his blue eyes seemed to shine all the brighter for her praise.
Beyond professing her thanks Daenerys did not know what else to say, though she felt that there was something else nagging at the back of her mind, a compulsion to keep him here until she could identify what it was.
"Thank you, Khaleesi. I am happy to have been of use," she smiled sweetly, and he could not help but respond in kind, all the time knowing that he was about to be sent away.
A silence followed which neither could find the words to fill, so Jorah bowed his head and stepped back towards the stairs, "If my queen has no further need of me, I will continue my enquiries after Doreah, and inspect the ships at the port for any that might serve."
When she did not immediately reply, he turned to leave.
"Ser Jorah, wait."
Jorah pivoted on his heel and looked back, fighting to keep the look of expectant hope off his face as he took in the sight of her, hand outstretched, illuminated from behind by the morning sun, giving her the glowing aura of a goddess - she was a goddess in his eyes. He did not speak, did not trust his voice to remain even and without any suggestion of emotion, choosing to wait for his queen to command him further.
Her mouth remained slightly open, as if the words had forced themselves out of her mouth and she was searching for a way to chain them up again and, seeing that he'd noticed, she quickly shut it again, her tongue flicking out to wet her lips as she was wont to do while she searched for the right phrase.
When she eventually spoke again, the words came slowly, as if she were tasting each syllable individually to make certain they were the ones she wanted before she released them into the air like birds from a cage.
"Ser Jorah, I..." She paused for what seemed an eternity, "...was wondering if you...would perhaps do this for me again? It would be...advantageous, in terms of shortening the time I spend on my hair in the mornings, and you would be able to tell me the news from the city while you did it, allowing us both more time for finding a ship to take us on elsewhere," she paused and dropped his gaze for a moment, twisting her fingers in uncertainty, "O-Of course, if you think it below your rank as knight, as I well know it is, and you would prefer not to do it again that is your right, I ask you this as a friend, not as an advisor or as a Knight of my Queensguard. You have no obligations here, ser."
He watched in awe as she transformed from ethereal visitation, to commanding queen, to shy young girl in the space of one speech, and found himself at as much a loss for words as she had been moments earlier.
"I...Khaleesi, I...," his tongue tied again as she closed her eyes and sighed gently, those violet irises briefly obscured by long lashes before they came to rest on him once again, his voice still dancing beyond his control, chased away by her unparalleled beauty.
"I would be...glad to help you again, if that is your wish, and you are right that it would save us time, and allow you the sleep you've been robbed of, both by your worries and your hair. It is no trouble at all, my Queen." He smiled tentatively, folding his hands behind his back and inclining his head.
She blossomed for him then, the tension dissipating from her creased brow, her teeth releasing her bottom lip and allowing the blood back into it, painting it a riper, fuller pink than before, and she smiled; not broadly, but in that moment it felt like it was a smile made just for him, and it brightened his world in a way no sunbeam ever could.
"Thank you, Jorah, I mean it. Thank you."
Just to hear her say his name without his title was enough to make him smile, and he had to suppress the happy laughter that was bubbling in his chest, bowing his head and taking his leave.
He turned and descended the stairs, allowing his grin to spread across his face as he crossed the courtyard and headed for the docks once more.
"Ser Jorah, wait."
The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, and she raised her hand, half to stop her knight from leaving, and half as an impossible attempt to capture those words and swallow them again. She had been moved by some invisible force or feeling that compelled her to halt his retreat, to keep him here, with her, for as long as possible. Indeed, in that moment, she wanted him to stay forever.
He turned on the spot, quickly, with an only half-concealed expression of hope in his raised eyebrows and slightly open mouth, the morning sunlight picking out his dark hair in golden threads and reflecting in his deep blue eyes. Thrown by his reaction and the reality that she was going to have to explain herself, Daenerys dropped her arm back to her side and closed her mouth, searching frantically for what she wanted to say, what she could say, licking her lips unconsciously as she thought.
"Ser Jorah, I..." she stopped, unable to find the words to carry on. To tell truth, she had hundreds of words she wanted to say, a heart-full of secret wishes and desires that she could no more speak to him than she could silently form their shapes in the lonely dark of her room in the dead of night.
'Ser Jorah, I desire your company.'
'Ser Jorah, I want you to read me the Histories and Songs of the Seven Kingdoms.'
'Ser Jorah, I want you to call 'Khaleesi' me again, in that gravel voice of yours.'
'Ser Jorah, I want you to speak my name, to say 'Daenerys' in that voice that could convince me of anything, to do anything.'
'Ser Jorah, I want you to touch my hair again. Always. I want you to touch me. I want your hands on me. I want your lips on me, I want to feel the rough of your beard on my skin. Your voice growling my name, over and over. I want to go to sleep at you side and wake up at your side.'
'Ser Jorah, I never want to be parted from you again.'
But she could speak none of these things, whether she wanted to or not. And she did want to. So she said the only words she could force from her body, and spoke them slowly so as not to make any mistakes and utter one of these forbidden truths accidently.
"...was wondering if you...would perhaps do this for me again? It would be...advantageous, in terms of shortening the time I spend on my hair in the mornings, and you would be able to tell me the news from the city while you did it, allowing us both more time for finding a ship to take us on elsewhere," she paused and looked away, focusing on her folded hands while she considered her next words, how best to offer him an easy way out of the bargain, should she have read him wrong or gotten too carried away with her own desires, "O-Of course, if you think it below your rank as knight, as I well know it is, and you would prefer not to do it again that is your right, I ask you this as a friend, not as an advisor or as a Knight of my Queensguard. You have no obligations here, ser."
There it was again, the way his voice rumbled around that word, like a growl emanating from deep within his chest, and it sent a shockwave through her that forced her to close her eyes to keep her composure, managing to convert the wanton gasp she would have uttered into a quiet sigh.
"I would be...glad to help you again, if that is your wish, and you are right that it would save us time, and allow you the sleep you've been robbed of, both by your worries and your hair. It is no trouble at all, my Queen." He smiled gently then, and she felt such a wave of relief she had to restrain herself from running to him, allowing her face to relax from the worry it had previously been etched with, and smile at her bear, her true smile.
"Thank you, Jorah, I mean it. Thank you." She spoke his name like a prayer, and thanked him with more enthusiasm than was perhaps fitting, but in it were carried the thanks for ending her loneliness and for all the things he had done for her in the past, and all the things he might do for her in the future.
He smiled again, and bowed, ever respectful, before saying that word again. The one word that could weaken her knees and lighten her head.
He turned and headed down the stairs, and she quickly stepped up to the balcony to watch him go. She had to hold back her giggles as watched him hop down the last two steps and stride across the courtyard below, the curve of his cheek betraying the broad grin that must have been stretched across his face. He turned the corner at the gate and disappeared from view, and Daenerys turned and leapt onto her bed, burying her face in the thick pillows to hide her smile and muffle her joyous laughter.
'My precious knight, my sweet bear, my Jorah...'