Moonlight slanted through the openings in the top of the tent, illuminating silvery hair and pale skin as Daenerys opened her sandsilk robe to reveal the swell of her belly. From Jorah's vantage point looking down on her, the bulge appeared so slight that she might as easily have overeaten as conceived his child; but Daenerys had little taste for the unvarying Dothraki diet of dried horse meat and flat bread, and in any case she had never spoken to him with greater certainty than when she compared their affair to that of her mother Queen Rhaella's ill-fated love for the lowly knight who begged her favor in a tourney. Ser Bonifer Hasty, the name leapt suddenly into his mind.
"What if my mother loved her knight in secret and married him in the eyes of the god of love? What if she carried his child?"
Daenerys of House Targaryen, pregnant by a man who was not her husband the great Khal Drogo.
The Blood of the Dragon pregnant by Ser Jorah Mormont, formerly Lord of Bear Island, now exiled across the Narrow Sea for selling poachers into slavery to pay his former lady wife's expenses.
It was so preposterous as to be laughable-more preposterous, even, than a poor lord winning the hand and heart of a highborn girl half his age-and Jorah did laugh, though he tried to contain it behind the hand he pressed to his mouth, the stubble of his beard scratching his the callused backs of his fingers. A mad laugh, a bitter puff that caught in his throat.
"You…" he choked out. "You must get rid of it!"
Daenerys blinked wide eyes at him. "The child?"
The muscles beneath his cheekbone flexed as he ground his teeth together. In her bed, he had forgotten how young she was, how little she knew about love, all her knowledge of the physical act gleaned from her handmaid whose only thought was to teach her how to please a Dothraki khal, and from himself, who only wanted to make her feel cherished and safe.
"There are herbs," Jorah told her. "Potions that induce miscarriage."
And if he'd truly had her safety in mind, he would have thought to see to it that she knew about them. Or prevented her need of them in the first place.
"Induce miscarriage?" Her voice pitched high and hoarse, as if with physical pain along with unbelief. "Surely you cannot mean…" She wrapped her arms protectively around herself, drawing her bed robe closed over her rounded belly and breasts. "Take the life of my own child?"
And then, abruptly, her face changed from aghast to authoritative and she rolled her shoulders back, stood straight, caught his gaze and held it.
"If you think I could do such a thing, ser, then you are sadly mistaken. Could you? My bear-your own lady wife died trying to give you an heir!"
"An heir to what? I'm an exile lord with no lands and no money, you're an exile princess sold to another man by the Beggar King. What have we to give a child, Daenerys?" Jorah stepped toward her, flinging his open palms out. "Do you truly imagine this story can end happily, like the ones in your bloody books?"
"The books you gave to me!"
"For your wedding to Khal Drogo!"
In the silence that followed, Jorah realized that the volume of their discussion had risen to a shouting match. Even their breathing, chests rising and falling rapidly, seemed loud to him, and he caught his as his eyes snapped to the tent flap. For a moment he watched, and listened, cursing himself when his hand went instinctively to his hip and he found that his sword did not hang at his customary place. He had let his guard down. Though after a moment he decided that the muted din outside the skin walls of his tent was only that of the usual activity of a Dothraki encampment, he retrieved his sword belt, turning his back to Daenerys as he buckled it around his waist. The familiar weight of the weapon at his side at once steadied him, and he breathed again.
"It may not be mine," he said, his voice once more low and steady. "There is a chance…It has not been so long since Khal Drogo…"
He tried to work out the sum of nights passed with her in this tent since first she came to him, but before he could Daenerys interrupted.
"It is not Khal Drogo's!" she snarled.
Never had she spoken so before, nor had she looked so, either, Jorah found, the tone compelling him to turn and face her, teeth bared, eyes aflame. Ferocious.
"The babe in my belly is the child of our love. We made it, Jorah. You and I."
She'd come to stand in front of him as she spoke, almost toe-to-toe; the press of her fingernails into the back of his hand made him realize she'd taken it, and placed it against her belly. Her touch cut, burned, and so did her words; Jorah wanted to pull away and block his ears but he could not. They were the words he'd wanted to hear from Erena: he'd made a child by her-three children-but not in love. And they had not lived.
"All my life I've had nothing, until you loved me. And then I had everything. That is what our child shall be heir to. Not to a kingdom or even an island, but to love."
And those, gods be good, were the words he'd longed to hear from Lynesse. No man loved his wife as he had her; but love had not been everything to her, or even enough.
Daenerys' hand drew his upward over the line of her body, his fingers uncurling against his better judgment to caress her breast. She pressed his palm there, over the curve of her breast, beneath which he felt his hand to touch his cheek, his beard rasping against the smooth backs of her fingertips. He leaned into her then, but as she drew his head down, her own face uptilted for a kiss, he knew that if he went back to her, he was lost.
He stepped out of her embrace.
"Khal Drogo must never know that another man may be the father." He spoke deliberately, tugging at the hem of his shirt, then at his sword belt. "If he so much as suspects, it will mean certain death-for me, for you, for the child."
"Then we must flee."
A bitter smile twitched at the corner of Jorah's mouth. He had heard those words before.
"Do you think if I stole away the wife of the khal, I could escape his reach?"
No more than he had escaped the hand of justice, he thought; he might well have taken the Black, for all he had lost his lands and his lady.
"I am not Khal Drogo's wife," Daenerys asserted again, as she had earlier in the night, when he'd tried to put an end to this before he even knew she was with child, the fire crackling once more in her eyes. "I am yours."
She moved toward him, arms outstretched as though to embrace him, but Jorah caught her shoulders, her slight build allowing him to easily hold her at arms' length.
"It was a game, my love." The endearment slipped out before he could think to stop it. "Like children playing at house. A most foolish, dangerous game, which we can never hope to win."
He released her and strode to the door flap of the tent, drawing it back to peer out into the darkness of the Dothraki camp and ascertain whether anyone was nearby to see the khaleesi in this compromising position. All seemed safe.
"Go now. You must leave this tent, and never set foot inside again."
Daenerys obeyed, but as she slipped past, Jorah saw her draw in on herself, shoulders hunched. As she had been when she entered this tent weeks ago and asked him to show her love.
If he had done that, it was not enough. Not everything. Along with his love had come pain, inflicted more deeply upon her heart than any dealt to her body by Khal Drogo.
"Your grace," said Jorah through his teeth, not turning as Viserys rode his mount alongside his-not without some difficulty, yet unaccustomed to the flat Dothraki saddles and short stirrups.
"Not riding with my sweet sister today, I see?"
If the Mad King's heir truly saw as clearly as he believed he did, then he would have noticed that Jorah had not ridden with Daenerys the past three days.
"And I thought you'd wormed your way into her…what's the savages' word for her little retinue again?"
Viserys Targaryen might not know much about the Dothraki tongue, but he did know about worms, didn't he?
"Khas, your grace," Jorah replied. He had found that styling Viserys with all due respect the rank left less of a bitter taste in his mouth when in his thoughts he granted the respect actually due the person: by grace, he meant shit, and he made sure to say it as often as he could. Today, though, he derived no pleasure from such petty rebellions. "Short for khasar. It's less a retinue than a personal guard."
"I didn't ask for an entire language lesson, Mormont," Viserys snapped, but then his lips twitched into a smirk. "Though I'm glad to see you demonstrate a good working knowledge of it-especially after our little chat the other day. My sister's husband has so generously provided her with a khas." He did not pronounce the word with great confidence. "It's hardly necessary for her to be accompanied by my sworn sword, as well."
"Indeed, your grace."
"How does a minor Westerosi lord become fluent in Dothraki, anyway?"
Jorah exhaled heavily, rolling his eyes heavenward as he considered the briefest answer possible that would shut Viserys up. Was it his lot in life always to be the butt of the gods' sense of irony? Before the interruption, he'd been musing on how lonely it felt to ride alone, when for the past two moonshe'd ridden at Daenerys' side. He'd kept out of her way since he sent her from his tent, and her fool of a brother was actually deluded enough to believe he had intimidated Jorah into doing so.
"Why, by staying alive long enough to have a conversation with them, your grace."
He gave his stallion his heels to urge the animal on ahead of Viserys, ignoring the younger man's insistence that he return at once. Jorah preferred loneliness to company if Viserys' was the only alternative; it Jorah his stomach to think he'd bent the knee and sworn fealty to this cretin who styled himself King even if he had done so only to betray him.
The intensity of his loneliness following the beak with Daenerys had come as something of a surprise. After all, in the years since he left Lys without his wife-and even during his time there with her, when he had been sellswording to keep her-he'd grown accustomed to solitude. It wasn't the three nights he'd tossed and turned, not having found his release in Daenerys before lying down to sleep alone-not entirely, anyway-not the loss only of his lover, but of the first friend he'd had in all the long years since he'd fled Bear Island.
But he must give her up. If he loved her, he must keep her safe. She would not be safe if anyone suspected that his interest in her was more a knight's should be for the sister of the man he outwardly called king, and the wife of the khal who, for some reason Jorah did not quite understand, held him in something akin to regard.
Lost in thought, he had also lost awareness of where and how quickly his mount carried him there until he looked up and saw the familiar tall figure of Rakharo astride his mount up ahead.
Jorah reined in to fall back down the line of riders, leaning forward to pat the bay's neck and mutter, "Seems I'm not the only one accustomed to being a part of the princess'retinue, eh, boy?"
As he rose upright in his saddle, he saw that Rakharo had come to a halt to the side of the trail, Jhogo and Aggo with him, their youthful faces etched vaguely with discomfort as their dark eyes scanned the passing riders. The back of Jorah's neck prickled as, in spite of himself, he glanced around for the khalessi the warriors were meant to be guarding. He spied Irri holding the reins of two little mares who bore no riders, her own and the little silver that had been Khal Drogo's bride gift to Daenerys; he looked too long and the slave girl caught his eye.
"Jadi, zhey Jorah Andahli!" she called to him, and he went to her without hesitation, though he did not immediately speak, measuring the concern with which he inquired after Daenerys. This an unnecessary worry, as the outspoken Irri answered him while the question remained unspoken. "Khaleesi qwehae."
"Khaleesi vos qwehao," argued Doreah, the direction of whose voice Jorah followed a few yards from khas to find her kneeling in the tall grass. But his relief at the rebuttal of Irri's claim that Daenerys was vomiting proved short-lived as he saw her bent over a scrubby bush, the handmaid holding her silvery braid out of the way as she gagged and heaved.
Doreah turned her eyes up to Jorah and explained in the Common Tongue of Westeros, "The princess is ill, but she brought everything up yesterday. We have offered her flatbread, horse meat, goat-"
"-and dog," Irri added, brows drawn together sharply in an expression of annoyance that she had been pushed out of the conversation.
"The khaleesidoesn't want to eat dog," Doreah snapped at her.
"Has she drunk?" Jorah interrupted the girls' bickering.
He swung down from his mount and brushed Doreah aside to take her place crouching beside Daenerys. She scarcely acknowledged him , until he offered his waterskin, and murmured, "You need water, my princess," and then she darted him a glance that made him remember he'd told her this before, in her early days as Khal Drogo's bride. When she had been too sad and scared to look to her own survival in the khalasar. He swallowed, his own throat dry and aching.
So she was back at the start. And he was to blame for it.
He spoke her name low and touched the tips of her fingers where they rested on the ground, and pressed the waterskin into it. She trembled, weak from lack of nourishment and the day's ride under the relentless sun, and Jorah helped her bring the skin to her lips. She took small sips at first then, when the water stayed down, reviving her, clutched the bottle with a claw-like grip, gulping it down thirstily. When she had emptied the skin, Jorah sent Doreah to refill it, and he took a sprig of mint from the pouch at his belt and gave it to her to chew and take away the bilious taste.
Unfortunately thathad quite the opposite effect, the mint's aroma sickening her before she could even put it in her mouth, and Daenerys doubled over the bush again. She heaved long after her stomach was emptied of the water, choking up mucous, until she curled on the ground, heedless of dirt on her face and bits of grass and burrs catching in her disheveled hair, though when Doreah returned with water she picked them out and wiped her brow with a rag.
Rakharo asked if he should ride to tell Khal Drogo the khaleesi needed the horde to stop and make camp.
Before Jorah could respond, Daenerys pushed herself into a sitting position and said, "No." Her voice contained more conviction than Jorah would have imagined her capable of in her weakened state, and she squeezed his hand hard to push to her feet. "No, I can ride."
She kept hold of his hand, leaning into him as she walked unsteadily back to her silver, and required his assistance up into the saddle. As his hands settled onto her waist to lift her onto the mare's back, Jorah cast a sidelong glance to see whether her Dothraki were watching; their faces were blank, and he realized that he had helped her thus in the past, dozens of times, and that not to do so now would arouse more suspicion about their degree of intimacy than if he did. They would know there had been a quarrel, and would wonder why. At least, as he resumed his customary place riding alongside her for the duration of the day's ride, her illness rather than estrangement seemed the most likely cause for the lapse in their previously continual conversation.
For all her earlier bravery, though, by the time the horde came to a halt and the slaves scurried to set up camp, Daenerys slumped on her silver's back, her thin pale hands slackened around the reins. She trembled so that she surely would have fallen from the saddle if Jorah had not there to catch her. He did not bother to ask if she could walk, even supported by his arm about her waist, but cradled her in his arms, heedless of Viserys' spluttering as he caught up to them or the watchful dark eyes of her khas, and ducked beneath the door flap of the tent the men just finished erecting for her and lay her gently down upon her sleeping silks.
"Jorah, please," she said, reaching for him as he straightened up, but her hand fell short of him onto her coverlet, and she did not finish the thought before exhaustion claimed her.
She used the pleading tone with which she had begged him to love her, which he possessed not the strength to deny. He stood over her, contemplating her sleeping form in the candlelight, and knew she needed him now more than ever, and that he could not abandon her. It was the vow he'd pledged to her, when he placed his cloak about her shoulders in the traditional symbol of her coming under his protection. Ironically.
He was about to lean down and sweep a lock of hair from her perspiring brow and kiss her when the tent flap pulled back and her handmaids entered. He acknowledged them, then went out into the night, glittering with starlight and hundreds of cook fires, and found his bay.
No, he could abandon her, he thought, mounting up again. But in order to help her, he would have to leave her, for a little while.
"Jorah Andahli!" Rakharo called to him from the fire where he sat with the two other members of the khas, and inquired where he was riding.
"To Qohor," Jorah replied, and galloped away toward the slice of orange setting sun in the west.
The woman in the herb stall measured Jorah with blue eyes that glittered above a hawk nose and beneath heavy white brows. For a moment she tolerated him as he wordlessly scanned the rows of shelves behind her, filled with bottles and clay bowls containing oils and unguents and powders and leaves, then she asked, her halting Common laced as heavily withimpatience as with the Qohorik burr, "You come to see? Or to buy?"
"To buy," Jorah replied in her own dialect, and the herbalist heaved a sigh of relief-though more likely because she was to earn coin than because she was to hear her native tongue while doing so.
"And what will you buy, my Westerosi friend?" She was all charm now, a consummate saleswoman, turning with a sweep of her hand to indicate the shelves-Jorah noticed that the tips of her fingers were stained with plant juices. "You study my wares as though you know your herbs."
Jorah glanced at the shelves, then back at her. "I know what they can do."
"Whatever you want them to do. Or need them to do."
The bastard Valyrian spoken in Qohor, like all the dialects spoken in the Free Cities, dripped liquid from the herbalist's tongue, though the impression it had on Jorah's ears was slow and dark as pitch. Or perhaps it was his own conscience that made him feel mired in the implication of her words.
"You have tansy, I trust?" he asked.
"Tschk! What kind of herbalist would I be if I did not have tansy? Not the kind you wish to make your moon tea." The blue eyes glinted and one of the angled brows slanted high on her forehead. "It is moon tea you want your tansy for, isn't it? Or need it for?"
"Take the life of my own child? If you think I could do such a thing, ser, then you are sadly mistaken. Could you?"
Folding his arms across his chest, he rubbed his fingers over his stubbled jawline. "Well I don't know. I have it on good authority moon tea isn't wholly reliable."
"My aunt who has five daughters despite consuming it regularly."
Though it had seemed to work perfectly for Lynesse. Unless she had resorted to alternative means; there were other ways, though he did not know them, to bring a pregnancy to its premature end. The Dothraki birthing women knew, surely, but of course he could not ask them, lest he arouse suspicion as to why the Andal, who was not known to be in the company of other women than the khaleesi and her handmaids, should require such things.
"An especially fertile woman might perhaps be better served by soapwort or cyperus. White and black hellebore do the job nicely, or pennyroyal."
It hadto be Jorah's imagination that her accent placed a slight emphasis on the last syllable of pennyroyal. The woman was an herbalist, not a witch.
"Finally there is worm fern-more commonly called prostitute's root. Though that is generally in ready supply at the brothels."
"There is no brothel in question," Jorah growled at her, at once wishing he had thought before he had spoken, as her glittering blue eyes indicated she had been baiting him. "These herbs are all effective?" he asked. "They will see the job done?"
As instantly as the light appeared in her eyes, it was extinguished again as they darkened beneath the ridge of her brow. "They are poisons. Effective at killing the babe, yes. And almost as often the mother, too, if not administered just so."
"My bear, your own lady wife died trying to give you an heir!"
The thought of holding Daenerys' hand, feeling her grasp grow weaker and watching her hand go whiter in his as Erena's had when she bled aware their babe and her life, did give Jorah pause. But when he weighed the possibility of her death by miscarriage against the certainty of it when Khal Drogo inevitably learned of her condition...As he would do, for certain, when she began to show, if not sooner; if her sickness continued, her handmaids would surely guess, and even if they did not gossip with the other women in the khalasar or do something so audacious as tell the khal themselves, there was also her mad jealous brother's serpentine tongue.
"Why is it so difficult for you idiot men to remember to pull out?" the herbalist's interrupted his thoughts. "Or to keep your cocks laced safe inside your breeches and save everyone the trouble?"
"Believe me, woman, I have been asking myself the same question."
"And so I ask you again now: what will you buy, my careless knight?"
Jorah caught his breath, eyes sweeping the bundles of dried herbs hanging across the top of the stall, and uttered his request before he could change his mind.