A/N: First Place winner in the AU Fanfic Challenge at the 2012 Tourney of the Hand at Westerosorting on LJ. The requirement was to write, in 2500 words or less, a story that changed one canon event and showed the consequences of that change.
When the dwarf in red tumbled from the saddle and began to chase his sow across the sands, whilst the dwarf on the dog galloped after him, whapping at his buttocks with a wooden sword, Dany said, "This is sweet and silly, but…"
"Be patient, my sweet," said Hizdahr. "They are about to bring out the bear."
"The bear!" Dany had been slouched in the royal box, feeling like a wilted yellow rose in her silk tokar as the midday heat radiated off the bloodied sand of the fighting pit, but now sat up straight and narrowed her eyes through the slit in her red veil. "You said the follies were necessary so that dwarfs might eat-not that they would be eaten."
Hizdahr patted Dany's hand where it balled in her lap, crumpling her tokar into a sweat-damp mess. "Not that kind of bear, my queen. Trust me, you will like this folly."
I do not trust you, that is the trouble.
Her new husband didn't know her at all if he thought she would like to see two dwarfs pitted against a beast which had, no doubt, been starved for weeks leading up to the fight to ensure a more pleasing show for the bloodthirsty audience. The dwarfs had cast aside their wooden swords and were stripping off their armor, as well; Dany now saw that the one who had ridden the dog was a girl scarcely older than herself. She opened her mouth to voice her dismay at this when the gate of iron bars across the pit from the royal box opened and the pitmaster released the bear.
Which, as it turned out, was not a bear at all, but a man, hulking and hairy enough almost to pass for one. This did not make Dany heave a sigh of relief-though her breath did not catch in her chest for the sake of the dwarfs who were just as vulnerable to a big warrior as to a bear. What winded her was that the slave who shambled out into the searing red sand, barefoot and naked but for a soiled breechclout, his head bowed as though the gilt collar around his neck were a leaden weight as the male dwarf bellowed out "The Bear and the Maiden Fair" while the girl pranced around him, was none other than-
"Jorah Mormont," murmured Ser Barristan Selmy, standing guard to Dany's left. "Gods help him."
"Mormont!" cried Strong Belwas, swallowing the last of the locusts. He belched loudly as he leaned forward for a better view of the pit, his girth tilting the bench onto its two front legs.
Dany had always granted the brutish Belwas a measure of grace in her estimation because of his own past in the fighting pits of Meereen. Now she found herself wishing he would choke on the damnable locusts as he laughed like an imbecile and launched into song along with the dwarf and those in the crowd who knew the Westerosi tongue: A bear! A bear! All black and brown and covered with hair! The stench of the eunuch-sweat poured down him from the spiced locusts on which he'd gorged himself-mingled with the tang of the blood that had been spilled in the pit and the filth of the slaves and beasts imprisoned down below and made Dany's stomach roil; she choked back rising bile when Hizdar's hot, garlicky breath puffed in her face and seemed to cling to the fine scarlet mesh of her veil as he leaned close to speak to her.
"I heard Brown Ben Plumm tried to buy your bear so he could give you his head for a wedding gift. He could not, of course, match the wealth of Yezzan zo Qaggaz. But I think this is a more fitting gift, don't you agree, Daenerys? Seeing your proud knight made to dance before the queen he betrayed? Not so proud now, is he, the bear who loved the maiden fair?"
Jorah's shuffling steps before the royal box could hardly be called dancing, but Hizdahr was right about there being no pride left in the man who had refused to submit to her even after his treachery had been revealed. All through the seemingly endless succession of verses of the ribald song, he never once lifted his head, nor gave her so much as a glimpse of the white of an upturned eye. Seeing him brought so low was a gift Dany welcomed as much as seeing dwarfs fed to wild animals, but the irony of Jorah's fate was not lost on her-that the man exiled for selling slaves had himself been enslaved. The thought even crossed her mind that for once in her life she had witnessed the gods mete out true justice.
Or was it?
Jorah might have sold a few poachers into slavery, but he was my right hand who commanded my army to victory against the Yunkai, and who went down into the sewers of Meereen to help me set these children free. It could not be just that the very man who had made her the Breaker of Chains now wore them. Was there no redemption?
"No more." The oppressive heat and her own jumbled thoughts made Dany reel slightly as she stood. She grabbed the back of her chair for support. "I will see no more follies. Ser Barristan, take me back to my pyramid."
"My queen speaks rightly," said Hizdahr; as Selmy stepped aside for her to exit the box, she turned back to her husband just in time to see him gesture to the pitmaster. "This is a low entertainment for such a high lady."
"Neither do I wish to see more champions slain for this dubious thing you call glory," Dany said, anticipating what Hizdahr had in mind as a higher form of entertainment.
She stood by to see that dwarfs were ushered out of the pit to safety. Jorah fell in behind them, his steps as restrained as if he wore shackles, though no physical chains bound him, his broad shoulders stooped and head still bowed, until the pitmaster stepped in front of the doorway after the dwarfs passed through.
He cracked his whip at Jorah, and Dany flinched as the leather lashed him squarely across his broad chest, though Jorah bore it as if nothing more sinister than a silk scarf had touched him. She saw, then, that the thick dark hair of his back was and matted with dried blood from other lashings, which rose as pale welts from his sunburned skin.
The pitmaster's teeth were a stark white against the red of the pit as he bared them in a sneer and, with an almost dancelike step backward, passed through the doorway through which the dwarfs had gone. The barred gate crashed shut after him, penning Jorah alone in the pit. But not for long. The gate's echoing clang was drowned out by the roar of the crowd and the screech of metal as a gate at the opposite end of the arena slid open to reveal a bear, slavering and mad, straining between two leashes of chain held by its burly slave handlers.
Hizdahr roared with laughter and clapped his long, slender hands. "May the best bear win!"
"No!" Dany's veil stuck to her sweaty face, muffling her cry. She ripped it off and it pooled at her feet like the blood on the floor of the pit. "Hizdahr, I beg you, put a stop to this at once! You promised me, no one would fight here today who had not volunteered to win or die in glory."
"Or for the most vile crimes," said Hizdahr, his eyebrows raised. "How can I beg for any man's life who sold my queen's for coin?"
Not for coin-for home.
And home was Bear Island. Jorah had no doubt hunted these beasts there in his snowy pine forests; properly armed, he might actually stand a chance against this foe. Dany had never wanted him to die, not even when he'd stood so proudly before her and refused to admit to any wrongdoing.
"At least give him a weapon," she pleaded. "A sword or spear…Give him a trial by combat." Though the words felt like vomit in her mouth, she added, "Give the people a show."
"I intend to-a show of the king's justice for any who would dare betray the queen. Look at him, Daenerys," Hizdahr said, gesturing to the pit. "Even if I gave your bear the means to defend himself, do you think he would?"
"Yes," Dany choked out as Jorah slowly raised his head and she saw that one of his cheeks was marred with an ugly brand. "They have given him a demon's mask. The mark of an unruly slave."
"But look at his eyes, my queen."
Dany did; she looked straight into the familiar dark eyes which gazed up at her from sockets swollen with black bruises dealt him by his captors, and felt tears slide from her own, coursing down her cheeks along with the beads of sweat. Behind Jorah, down the length of the pit, the bear roared and struggled to escape the handlers who worked to unleash him. Nothing in the knight's stance indicated that he would do anything but go on staring at her with love in his eyes as the beast devoured him.
"All the fight has gone out of him," Dany whispered.
Hizdahr leaned close. "The slavers say they beat him till he was unconscious, but they only broke him when they told him you were wed."
At that, something inside Dany broke."
"The bear knight wants to die," Hizdahr said, but Dany heard Jorah's voice whisper to her from a corner of her memory.
Once I loved my lady wife, but I did not die with her, he'd said to her the night she burned Khal Drogo. Nor had Jorah given himself over to death when his Lady Lynesse left him to be concubine to another man. Jorah's love for Dany had never been a secret, but it seemed she had underestimated the depth of it. She'd thought he loved his home more than he loved her.
Daario did not give up when I married. Dany immediately shoved the thought away, but a question rose up in its place which she could not ignore. If I watch Jorah die for me in this foul pit, how will I go on?
Hizdahr was still talking. "If you truly pity him, my gentle queen, you will let him die."
At the same moment as the word gentle fell from Hizdahr's lips, the bear's chains snapped.
So did Dany's.
"I have been called gentle before," she said. By Jorah. "And I will prove once more that I am not."
Belwas, drunk into a stupor or heat-dazed, Dany did not know which, had at some point slumped on his bench, his head pillowed on the edge of the box. In a fluid motion she grabbed the hilt of his arakh, relishing the scrape of the blade against the leather sheath, and slashed it across Hizdahr's stomach as he stood to stop her. His entrails spilled out of him as she leapt over the low wall, heedless of Ser Barristan's call and his hand that darted out to restrain her.
She plunged down into the pit, her yellow tokar unfurling behind her like a banner. The impact of her feet-bare now, her sandals having fallen off as she jumped-hitting the hot sand jarred her. But as her knees buckled, Jorah caught her by one arm and kept her upright.
As he always had.
"Are you mad, Daenerys?" the knight bellowed at her, come to life again, just as blunt and brash as he had been before; even with the roar of the crowd and the chaos that had erupted in the arena she noted the hoarseness of his voice and wondered how long it had been since he used it. "What are you doing?"
"Breaking your chains!" Dany thrust the arakh into his hand, and Jorah threw her behind him as the bear careered toward them.
We must appear quite the folly ourselves, Dany thought, realizing what a poor weapon the short, curved Dothraki sword made against a bear-though Drogo had slain a white lion with one-and both of them practically naked. She tugged at the end of her tokar, which was still draped loosely about one arm, and flung it at the bear, and let out a triumphant shout as the voluminous swath of silk entangled it almost as effectively as a net.
She hadn't seen that the pitmaster and two of the beast handlers were upon them, though, until Jorah wheeled from the momentarily immobilized bear to slash at them. The arakh suited him well enough to deal the men three swift death blows, though, leaving him free to sprint at the angry bear. He was almost upon it when the roar of the crowd rose to an ear-splitting pitch as a shadow passed over the pit and then swooped down, quick as lightning, upon Hizdahr's writhing body in the royal box.
Jorah looked at Dany in alarm as he slit the bear's throat, but Dany snatched the whip from the dead pitmaster's slackened hand and bared her teeth in a grin.
"Will you fight for me, Ser Jorah?"
"I swore my sword and my heart to you the night you hatched that winged fury, my queen, and have never taken them back. Nor shall I ever."
Nodding, she turned and shouted with all the voice she could muster: "I am Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons and Breaker of Chains! I declare every slave in this pit free, and this mummer's farce you call a peace at an end. Fight with me and live, fight against me and…" She cracked her whip. "Drogon-DRACARYS!"