A/N: This is what happened when I came to Chapter 65 (Daenerys VIII) of A Game of Thrones and paused to ask, "What if Dany wasn't dumb and desperate and didn't ask Mirri Maz Duur to perform blood magic on Khal Drogo?" Shippy goodness, of course, but hopefully an intriguing and plausible twist on Dany and Jorah's storylines, as well. Sepcial thanks to just_a_dram, who was supposed to tell me not to undertake this thing, but was so enthusiastic about my idea that I couldn't resist writing it. Anyway, I'm getting even with her by making her beta read and answer all manner of random question about ASOIAF-verse and general details. ;) Thanks, m'dear!
1. Fight and Flight
Mirri Maz Duur's screams pealed through the Dothraki encampment like the howl of a bitter winter wind as Daenerys Targaryen emerged from the tent where her husband lay dying.
Not even an hour ago, after Drogo fell from his horse, incoherent with fever, the Lhazareen woman who had claimed to be a maegi examined the wound she; previously treated and declared it festered beyond all powers to heal. Her accented tones had fallen sharply on Dany's ears, and the dark eyes had gleamed with an emotion could only be identified as vengeance. Two of Drogo's bloodriders, Qotho and Haggo, called for the treacherous slave woman to be to staked to the ground so that all the men of the khalasar who so pleased might mount her in retribution for their khal's life. Dany had been too overcome with grief at her husband's impending fate to give much heed to what happened to Mirri Maz Duur after that, beyond a vague recollection of the bloodriders dragging the maegi from the tent by her matted hair. Perhaps Dany had given the command-truly, she could not remember-but it seemed they had followed through with their desired punishment for the woman they believed had intentionally killed their khal.
Once, Dany had balked at the Dothraki custom of rape as a show of dominance after battle, or a form of punishment for an offending slave woman. When Mirri Maz Duur's people had fallen to the Dothraki, these very cries that carried over the encampment like a dying dog's had wrenched Dany, and she wielded her power as khaleesi to rescue the Lamb Woman from her horse lord abusers. Now, Dany heard the slave's anguish and felt no compassion, or even pity. She felt nothing for her at all.
"I ought not to have stopped them in Lhazar," she said in hollow tones to Ser Jorah Mormont, who had been waiting for her outside Drogo's tent and assisted her with the door flap. "I ought to have let them rape her to death then. Instead my mercy has only forestalled her fate, and killed my sun and stars. A maester might have healed him."
Her voice broke, and her knees buckled. Expecting the impact of her hands and knees with the hard packed earth and spiked dry stalks of grass that comprised the outer edges of the Dothraki Sea, she felt instead Jorah's arms go around her, preventing her collapse.
"Do not spend yourself on regrets, my princess." His fingers brushed her hair back from her face as he bent to look into her eyes. "The journey before us will require all your strength."
Dany turned her head to gaze back over her shoulder at Drogo's tent, which swam before her through pools of tears. "I would give it to him, if it would save him."
But nothing could save Drogo; Jorah, with his wealth of battlefield experience, had confirmed it. Dany recalled Mirri Maz Duur saying something about a magic art she had learned, which might buy Drogo's life, but Qotho had had silenced her with a savage kick to the belly while Haggo roared that blood magic was cursed magic, and forbidden. Even without such a reaction from the bloodriders, or the narrow-eyed distrust with which Jorah regarded the maegi, Dany's faith in the woman was as beyond mending as Drogo's body. No matter how dearly she loved her husband, she would not run the risk of the Lamb Woman's arts resulting in a fate worse than death for Drogo. Or anyone else on whom Mirri Maz Duur wished to exact revenge.
"If you must give your strength away," Jorah said, "let it be to Khal Drogo's son, who may yet live-if we ride before your husband dies."
At the knight's reference to Rhaego, the dreamlike state that had enshrouded Dany since Drogo fell began to fade. She wrapped her arms around her swollen belly and felt the baby's limbs jostle within her. She took note of Jorah and saw that he had donned his armor in place of the Dothraki riding garb he had been wearing for the horde's southwestern march, as she had commanded him to do while she made her goodbyes to Drogo. He'd also brought their mounts, saddled and laden with an assortment of bags and bundles of provisions for a journey, along with her few valuables, including the casket containing her precious dragon eggs. He believed they must flee the horde, and, as his advice had never led her astray yet-she sickened to think how they might have been spared all this if she'd heeded him about the Lhazareen slaves-she had agreed to go with him.
"Where are my khas?" Dany glanced about as Jorah helped her onto her silver's back, for she had grown too ungainly to mount up alone.
The encampment was unusually full of activity after a hard day's march, more closely resembling the western market in Vaes Dothrak than the horde at rest. She did not spy Aggo, Rakharo, or Jhogo among the dark braided Dothraki swarming away from Drogo's tent to ravage Mirri Maz Duur or to spar with each other for status.
"They will not ride with you," Jorah replied. "It is as I told you it would be. A Dothraki man does not willingly go into exile when the chance lies before him to fight and win his own khalasar, or to be a ko under the most powerful khal."
Dany threw back her shoulders and sat more upright in her saddle, as if to shrug off the barb of their betrayal. She still struggled to conceive of how they could, one moment, bear her a love so strong that they would lay down their lives for her, yet in the next sever all loyalty simply because her husband had ceased to breathe.
"What about my handmaids?"
Jorah opened his mouth, but before he could answer, a female voice sounded behind them. "Please, Khaleesi…Do not do this thing!"
Dany and the knight turned to see Doreah and the other two slave girls huddled together beside Khal Drogo's tent, clearly having eavesdropped on the private discussion.
"The Andal would steal you away from your rightful place with the dosh khaleen," said Irri.
As always, the mention of the widowed khaleesis who presided over Vaes Dothrak as holy women sent a shiver of fear coursing down Dany's spine, despite the heat of the day. The wailing of Mirri Maz Duur crescendoed to a shrill, unearthly pitch that made Dany think of the ice-like screams of the Others in the stories Viserys used to tell her to frighten her when they were children.
"I am the rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms," she said. "Would you have me give up my crown to be as one of the crones?"
In her caution not to reveal her fear, Dany had stepped beyond bravery and instead sounded scornful of the most revered group of Dothraki society; she had heard Viserys' words fly from her mouth, had seen her maids react to them as if to the lash of a master's whip. But she found she did not care any longer about offending their cultural sensibilities than she cared about the injuries the khalasar were inflicting upon Mirri Maz Duur.
"It is honor to sit as one of the dosh khaleen," Jhiqui argued, balling her hands into fists and beating her thighs. "And if khaleesi do not go, she die. It is known."
"It is known," Irri and Doreah intoned.
"Not by me!" Dany cried. "I shall go with Ser Jorah, and as your mistress and your khaleesi, I command you to hold your tongues before I bid my knight to cut them out, and to mount your horses and-"
"With all due respect, Princess-"
"Queen," Dany snapped at Jorah, incensed that her maids-slaves-had dared argue with her.
He inclined his head slightly to acknowledge her correction, then went on, "Without the khals, Your Grace, I would advise against taking the girls with us. I am but one knight, with a queen and her unborn babe to defend. Your handmaids would only slow us down, and make extra mouths to feed. Food and water will be scarce enough in the Red Waste for we two and our horses."
Dany swallowed, but her fear-a new fear now, not of being made to join the dosh khaleen, but of the uncertainty which most women of the world faced-remained lodged in her throat like the hot, sticky horse heart custom had required her to eat. She had agreed to follow the knight's council to prevent her son being torn from her breast and fed, wailing, to the dogs, but the thought of bringing Rhaego into the world alone made her reconsider this course of action.
"Who will help me when my time comes?"
"There are birthing women in Asshai," said Jorah, and, as if the statement should have assuage her misgivings, he added, "All the more reason to ride quickly, that we may arrive there before Rhaego does."
The three handmaids gasped and approached Dany's horse with outstretched arms and pleading faces.
"Khaleesi must not pass beneath the shadow," Jhiqui said.
"Spawn of Shadows harm Khaleesi's baby!" Irri wailed.
Suddenly, Jorah's horse neighed and reared up. Dany saw the knight's hand move to rest on the hilt of his sword, and she followed his gaze across the encampment, where Mirri Maz Duur's screams were being drowned out by the clashing of arakhs and the bellowed taunts of the kos bent on destroying each other to assume Drogo's soon to be vacant place as khal.
"You don't have time to entertain superstition, my queen. If you would flee, you must do so now."
"This is truth!" Jhiqui cried.
"It is known!" said Irri.
"It is known!" Doreah agreed.
Irri grasped Dany's foot where it rested in the stirrup, and was undaunted when Dany shook her off. "Do not leave to die, Khaleesi, by Dothraki or Ashaai'i! Do not leave for stallion who mounts the world to die!"
"If I stay, Rhaego surely will be killed," Dany said, her path indubitably clear before her. "If I must give up my life so that he may have his, so be it." She leaned over the pommel of her saddle and stretched out her hand to touch her handmaid's cheek. "Someday, Irri, you will have your own child, and you will understand. Ser Jorah." She sat up and dug her heels into her silver's flanks and turning the horse about. "Let us ride."
They had not gone far from the horde when Dany's silver stood up on its hind legs, thrashing its front hooves madly as her khas, mounted on their own steeds and riding with arakhs drawn, cut them off. Dany had not fully believed Jorah that those who had been her most faithful protectors could turn against her in her time of need, showing her and her khal no loyalty because he was at the brink of death. Now she wondered whether the fabled death penalty for refusing to join the dosh khaleen was to be administered by the Dothraki men she had trusted and loved above all others in the khalasar save Drogo.
Her ears pricked at the hiss of a blade sliding from a scabbard, and she glanced sidelong, eyes smarting at the glint of sun on steel as Ser Jorah drew his sword. For an instant she saw her knight riding down hard on the khas, teeth bared and looking broader than usual in his armor-a true, fearsome bear in battle-then she was cringing back from the hot spray of blood as Jorah slashed at Aggo's horse's chest.
Dany's silver careered so wildly that it was all she could do to stay in her saddle, but she nevertheless craned her neck and saw Aggo fly from his saddle as his horse plummeted with a heart-stopping scream to the ground, pinning the man beneath it. Hearing the crunch of bone, Dany reined around and saw Aggo's head tilted backward at an angle that only could have been possible by his neck snapping.
It should not have surprised her, after the months she'd spent with the Dothraki, but Dany gaped at how Jhogo and Rakharo seemed not to miss a hoofbeat at the sight of their comrade meeting his death. Nor did they turn about to wreak vengeance upon the man who had killed him. Instead, they spurred their mounts on toward Dany who, at that moment, sat paralyzed upon her silver by a sudden tightening of her belly which was followed by an intense pressure at the base of her spine.
"Ride, Daenerys!" Jorah bellowed, brandishing his sword as he wheeled his mount back around to give chase to the other two riders. He never would have been able to catch them had he not sat astride the strong, fleet horse Drogo had gifted to him for saving Dany from the assassin in the market; as it was, the animal frothed at the mouth in its exertion. "Don't stop to grieve, you foolish child, ride!"
If it hadn't been for her terror for Jorah's life as Rakharo peeled off from Jhogo to engage the knight, Dany would have been wroth at him calling her a child. As it was, anger and fear flowed together to fuel her back into a gallop, though the pang in her back and belly had not fully passed.
She couldn't stop herself looking backward to see how Jorah fared against his opponents. Just as she turned, she saw him grimace as Rakharo's curved blade found the gap in the mail at his hip. Even as Dany cried out the knight's name, terrified that he, too, was lost to her, she saw that the wound was, in fact, what saved him; the arakh stuck in the bone, giving Jorah the time necessary to swing his own sword around-Dany didn't know how he was able to control the hefty weapon, or how he kept astride his horse with a Dothraki blade in him-and slash Rakharo across the throat, handily decapitating him.
Ser Jorah spurred his horse harder yet, wielding both longsword and arakh, which he jerked free of his hip with a roar. "Touch her, Jhogo, and you will die as well!"
But the knight was flagging, Dany knew, the thundering of his mount's hoofbeats an ever more distant rumble as she and Jhogo outpaced him.
Only one thing remained for her to do. Heedless of Jorah's shouts to keep riding hard, she slowed her silver and turned around to face the whip thin, youngest of her khas.
"While Khal Drogo lives I am yet your khaleesi," Dany called to him. "I command you to leave me, Jhogo. Your fight is for your place among the kos in the new khalasars that form upon my husband's death."
"Khaleesi of dead khal must become dosh khaleen or die," Jhogo said. "It is known!"
His fingers clutched the hilt of his arakh so tightly that his knuckles turned pale, but Dany noted the hesitation in his eyes as they darted momentarily to the Dothraki encampment, where the fighting among the horse lords had erupted into pandemonium. It was exactly the distraction she and Jorah needed if they were to escape the horde with their lives.
The knight rode up behind Jhogo, no longer on the offensive, but poised for the fatal blow should the youngman persist in thwarting Dany's escape.
"It is not my own freedom I seek," she said, her steady voice belying the frantic pulse of her heart. She curved her arms around her swollen belly. "I flee to save my child. The khal of khals. The stallion who mounts the world."
This tack was a risk, she knew, for she believed Jorah now when he said all Dothraki men regarded the child of the crones' prophecy as a threat to their own power holds. But she trusted in Jhogo's youth, and in the love he bore her.
Dark eyes never leaving hers, he raised his arakh. Behind him, Jorah moved as if to stop him, but one look from Dany stayed the knight's sword.
Jhogo reached behind his head, lifted the end of his braid, and, with a single flick of his curved blade, cut it off. Then, he dropped the bound hair at the feet of Dany's silver and galloped away.
So did Daenerys and Ser Jorah.
To be continued…
A/N: If you read this chapter, you have my thanks. And if you can spare another moment, I'd love to know whether you enjoyed it and if you're looking forward to more. The second chapter's already written, and the third is well in hand, and I have lots of ideas for the whole story-but you never know what an insightful reader comment might inspire!