After a trying day, Jorah Mormont sighed and pushed open the door to his small wing in the palace. Everything about the day had irked or rubbed him raw – literally. The old grayscale-scarred tissue on his torso and arm acted up from time to time, especially when the summers were hot. While he served beside the queen, heavy armor pressed against him, bringing the dull burning back to mind.
Already he'd expected a painful evening, but the day's events ensured it. A fanatic rebel lashed out as the Queen made her way through the city streets. Sir Jorah easily cut him down, but the intense movement left his body screaming. The unrest in the city was growing week over week, but the small counsel chose to pretend it was a normal part of rule. Jorah disagreed, but his voice fell on ignoring ears. Instead of proactively stopping the rebels, he spilled their blood in the streets for Daenerys Targaryen.
The silver armor clanged as Jorah grunted and removed his it piece by piece. He swore, not noticing the woman leaning against the doorway with a soft smile at her lips.
A lovely woman, just thirty, wore a kind smile and the skin at the corners of her eyes crinkled as she beheld him. Her name was Baylee. Highgarden had once been her home, but the war seemed to have displaced everyone as houses broke, expanded, and relocated. She shared the same lovely round race Queen Margery had once charmed the people of Westeros with, but as a commoner, was more tanned and built with muscle.
"Bad day, I see, my lord," she greeted him. "Dinner will be ready very soon. Wine?"
"Yes. And it smells wonderful," he replied gruffly. With another hiss of pain, he pulled off his tunic and let it fall to the floor as he examined himself in a mirror.
"Is it your arm?" Baylee asked softly as she appeared behind him with a full glass of wine. "Shall I prepare a bath?" She set the chalice down and tenderly ran her fingertips down his back. "You aren't very warm. That's a good sign." She traced around to his front side and frowned as he fingers brushed along the cracked and bleeding skin. "But this – let me draw a bath and-"
"Later," Jorah replied. "Later." He reached for the wine and took a long drink. "Thank you."
Were these the olden days, he wouldn't be permitted a wife. As a member of the Queensguard he would remain single and childless. But as expected, his Khaleesi bucked every tradition she encountered and urged those who served her to enjoy "the life they deserved," she'd put it.
Of what he deserved, Jorah did not know. What he wanted had for years been the dragon queen, but a disgraced, then redeemed knight was no match for royalty. Besides, Khaleesi neither needed nor wanted a man by her side in any romantic capacity. As for lovely Baylee, so kind, perhaps unlucky in ending up as his wife, Jorah felt he failed to deserve her, either. His desire and love had nothing to do with his guilt concerning her, and he worried whether she felt like a consolation prize.
Now she pressed a soft kiss against his stinging shoulder. "Dinner will be hot by now. Let's eat."
After dinner, as Baylee had promised, she drew a bath and prepared the potions the maester had instructed to sooth the ravaged tissue. Jorah was cured of grayscale, to be sure, and could neither pass on or become infected by the disease again, but its side effects were severe enough that he considered himself afflicted still.
He lowered himself into the cool bath and squeezed his eyes shut as the water washed over his skin. "I'm an old man with a broken body," he commented in dismay.
Baylee turned from where she was mixing liquids and tonics together at the counter. "We all die some day whether we've used up our bodies or not," she simply replied. "You have had many adventures and served a great queen with yours." She smiled down at him, even as he scowled in discomfort. "They tell stories of you, Ser Jorah the Andal." She knelt next to him and pressed an elixir-soaked rag against his shoulder. "You have all of your limbs and your life, and that's more than many men can say of the war."
Jorah nodded. She was right. Baylee was far wiser than she should be, and he loved her for it. More than a dozen years separated them, but Jorah took solace in that the woman seemed to have some secret worldly experience regarding her maturity. Besides, she seemed to enjoy being with him. "You deserve a young man, not someone you have to look after," he mumbled as guilt chewed at him like a dog with a favorite toy.
Scoffing and slapping the rag down on his collarbone harder than she meant to, Baylee sat back on her haunches and rested her hands on top of her thighs. After a few moments with a furrowed brow, she took a deep breath and smiled. "When the Mother of Dragons set about finding her great knight a wife, you have no idea how many families offered their daughters. Teenagers, children. All the remaining great houses begging, clamoring for a chance to wed a daughter to you."
Wrinkling his nose in disbelief, Jorah looked to her. "Khaleesi brought you to me and that was all I knew. She set to find me a suitable wife, and she did." He studied her face for any tell of a jest. "She said nothing of a great search."
A girlish laugh echoed about the tile room. "She told you nothing of her search for your bride?" Baylee smirked. "Royals. Princesses. Heirs to lands and palaces." When her husband's face didn't change, hers fell. "You truly didn't know."
Still confused, Jorah shook his head. In the year they'd been married, she'd actually told him nothing of how she came to be named his future wife. And he hadn't thought to ask, and now felt very foolish for it.
"I had no idea," he admitted.
She smiled again and picked the rag back up to continue her work on his angry skin. "There were meetings all across the seven kingdoms. Her advisers met with houses, and if those meetings were agreeable, met with the girls. The requirements were strict. No prior husbands. No children. No one from a traitorous house. They preferred a girl with warrior's blood. Beautiful. Thin. Young." She sighed happily. "And I wasn't even a part of any of it. Too old. No notable relatives. I was a war widow."
His eyes narrow as he tried to absorb the information, Jorah felt like he was missing something. He knew all these things about his wife. Yet if her story was true, she wouldn't have been considered, not for an instant. "How did they come about you, then?" he asked. The irritation in his skin nearly forgotten, he hung on every word.
"Well, as you know, Father is a bannerman for House Tyrell. He heard a queensguard on the street complaining about the women in Highgarden. Too stupid. Too frail. Too something, every one of them. So my father joked with them about whether a widow who meddled in mens' affairs was out of the running."
Jorah smiled and let his head rest back against the tub. "I should write your father again. I had no idea I owe my current happiness to him."
"I had just returned home on horseback a few days later when my father showed up with the Queen herself. We talked. I had no idea what more she wanted from me." Her amber eyes flickered to his and held his gaze.
"What more?" Jorah repeated. "She asked something of you before?" He sat up straighter in interest.
Nodding, Baylee studied her husband's face for a moment. "I'm afraid I haven't been completely honest with you." She sighed, then shrugged. "Many women served in the war, some in different ways than others. Me, perhaps, more intimately than most."
"Tell me," Jorah urged her.
"I gathered information; posing as a barmaid, a silent sister, a brothel girl." Baylee poured more tonic on the rag and pressed it to his wrist. "My husband was dead and I had no children. My life had to have some meaning. So I wrote the queen with what I had learned."
Water sloshed over the side of the tub. Jorah reached and grabbed her forearms. "You were Khaleesi's Highgarden spy?" His eyes were wide in utter shock. Stories about the Highgarden spy always left Jorah feeling uneasy. There had been many close calls, stints in captivity, threats, and calls for her head. A woman alone in the seven kingdoms during the war wasn't safe; especially if she worked in secret against the Lannisters in a Lannister-held kingdom. The Highgarden spy had provided priceless information during the war and Jorah had only assumed she had met an ugly end.
Instead, he had unknowingly married her.
Her eyes sparkled in a way he'd never seen before. "She thought it best if you didn't know. Anyway, on that day she asked if I'd heard of her Sir Jorah Mormont." She giggled and blushed. "And of course I had. She said we were fitting rewards for each other." After a moment of silence, she clicked her tongue. "Don't be angry, my lord. The queen said you didn't need to be burdened with-"
Jorah sat back and exhaled, shaking his head at her. The shock sent a nervous energy through his limbs. "That you can be married to a woman for a year and know nothing about her," he muttered. "I should have known." Finally, he opened an eye and grinned at her. "A spy? I presume you know of my gambling with Tyrion, then."
Relieved laughter burst from her. "My dear lord. You have no secrets from me, I'm afraid." The lovely woman offered him a lovely smile. "I have no other secrets."
Jorah wondered how he'd missed the obvious signs. She knew far more about the war than a regular commoner defending her land would know. Baylee spoke with a strange familiarity regarding Daenerys. Nothing shook her. Now he beheld her, the lovely woman who had risked her life to put his queen on the throne. "Khaleesi said she met a girl who would be my ideal wife, and that's all I needed to know."
"Was the wise queen right about that?" Baylee offered a lopsided smile. "In lieu of her hand, at least?"
The grin fell away. "In lieu of-?" Jorah whispered as his heart crashed into his ribs. He had always known it. His love for Daenerys Targaryen preceded him, and his lovely wife, who he now was certain he didn't deserve, knew it. Guilt and sorrow seemed to dissolve his capacity to think about anything else.
"My husband, I know I am not your true love," she carefully answered. "But you have become mine, and that is enough for me." She carefully pressed her lips to his temple. "We don't get to choose our place in life, but we can choose to enjoy it."