A Game of Thrones Chapter Fifty-four


When he had taken his pleasure, Khal Drogo rose from their sleeping mats to tower above her.His skin shone dark as bronze in the ruddy light from the brazier, the faint lines of old scars visible on his broad chest.Ink-black hair, loose and unbound, cascaded over his shoulders and down his back, well past his waist.

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His manhood glistened wetly. The khal’s mouth twisted in a frown beneath the droop of his long mustachio. “The stallion who mounts the world has no need of iron chairs.”

Dany propped herself on an elbow to look up at him, so tall and magnificent. She loved his hair especially. It had never been cut; he had never known defeat. “It was prophesied that the stallion will ride to the ends of the earth,” she said.

“The earth ends at the black salt sea,” Drogo answered at once. He wet a cloth in a basin of warm water to wipe the sweat and oil from his skin. “No horse can cross the poison water.”

“In the Free Cities, there are ships by the thousand,” Dany told him, as she had told him before. “Wooden horses with a hundred legs, that fly across the sea on wings full of wind.”

Khal Drogo did not want to hear it. “We will speak no more of wooden horses and iron chairs.” He dropped the cloth and began to dress. “This day I will go to the grass and hunt, woman wife,” he announced as he shrugged into a painted vest and buckled on a wide belt with heavy medallions of silver, gold, and bronze.

“Yes, my sun-and-stars,” Dany said. Drogo would take his bloodriders and ride in search of hrakkar, the great white lion of the plains. If they returned triumphant, her lord husband’s joy would be fierce, and he might be willing to hear her out.

Savage beasts he did not fear, nor any man who had ever drawn breath, but the sea was a different matter. To the Dothraki, water that a horse could not drink was something foul; the heaving grey-green plains of the ocean filled them with superstitious loathing. Drogo was a bolder man than the other horselords in half a hundred ways, she had found . . . but not in this. If only she could get him onto a ship . . .

After the khal and his bloodriders had ridden off with their bows, Dany summoned her handmaids. Her body felt so fat and ungainly now that she welcomed the help of their strong arms and deft hands, whereas before she had often been uncomfortable with the way they fussed and fluttered about her. They scrubbed her clean and dressed her in sandsilk, loose and flowing. As Doreah combed out her hair, she sent Jhiqui to find Ser Jorah Mormont.

The knight came at once. He wore horsehair leggings and painted vest, like a rider. Coarse black hair covered his thick chest and muscular arms. “My princess. How may I serve you?”

“You must talk to my lord husband,” Dany said. “Drogo says the stallion who mounts the world will have all the lands of the earth to rule, and no need to cross the poison water. He talks of leading his khalasar east after Rhaego is born, to plunder the lands around the Jade Sea.”

The knight looked thoughtful. “The khal has never seen the Seven Kingdoms,” he said. “They are nothing to him. If he thinks of them at all, no doubt he thinks of islands, a few small cities clinging to rocks in the manner of Lorath or Lys, surrounded by stormy seas. The riches of the east must seem a more tempting prospect.”

“But he must ride west,” Dany said, despairing. “Please, help me make him understand.” She had never seen the Seven Kingdoms either, no more than Drogo, yet she felt as though she knew them from all the tales her brother had told her. Viserys had promised her a thousand times that he would take her back one day, but he was dead now and his promises had died with him.

“The Dothraki do things in their own time, for their own reasons,” the knight answered. “Have patience, Princess. Do not make your brother’s mistake. We will go home, I promise you.”

Home? The word made her feel sad. Ser Jorah had his Bear Island, but what was home to her? A few tales, names recited as solemnly as the words of a prayer, the fading memory of a red door . . . was Vaes Dothrak to be her home forever? When she looked at the crones of the dosh khaleen, was she looking at her future?

Ser Jorah must have seen the sadness on her face. “A great caravan arrived during the night, Khaleesi. Four hundred horses, from Pentos by way of Norvos and Qohor, under the command of Merchant Captain Byan Votyris. Illyrio may have sent a letter. Would you care to visit the Western Market?”

Dany stirred. “Yes,” she said. “I would like that.” The markets came alive when a caravan had come in. You could never tell what treasures the traders might bring this time, and it would be good to hear men speaking Valyrian again, as they did in the Free Cities. “Irri, have them prepare a litter.”

“I shall tell your khas,” Ser Jorah said, withdrawing.

If Khal Drogo had been with her, Dany would have ridden her silver. Among the Dothraki, mothers stayed on horseback almost up to the moment of birth, and she did not want to seem weak in her husband’s eyes. But with the khal off hunting, it was pleasant to lie back on soft cushions and be carried across Vaes Dothrak, with red silk curtains to shield her from the sun. Ser Jorah saddled up and rode beside her, with the four young men of her khas and her handmaids.

The day was warm and cloudless, the sky a deep blue. When the wind blew, she could smell the rich scents of grass and earth. As her litter passed beneath the stolen monuments, she went from sunlight to shadow and back again. Dany swayed along, studying the faces of dead heroes and forgotten kings. She wondered if the gods of burned cities could still answer prayers.

If I were not the blood of the dragon, she thought wistfully, this could be my home. She was khaleesi, she had a strong man and a swift horse, handmaids to serve her, warriors to keep her safe, an honored place in the dosh khaleen awaiting her when she grew old . . . and in her womb grew a son who would one day bestride the world. That should be enough for any woman . . . but not for the dragon. With Viserys gone, Daenerys was the last, the very last. She was the seed of kings and conquerors, and so too the child inside her. She must not forget.

The Western Market was a great square of beaten earth surrounded by warrens of mud-baked brick, animal pens, whitewashed drinking halls. Hummocks rose from the ground like the backs of great subterranean beasts breaking the surface, yawning black mouths leading down to cool and cavernous storerooms below. The interior of the square was a maze of stalls and crookback aisles, shaded by awnings of woven grass.

A hundred merchants and traders were unloading their goods and setting up in stalls when they arrived, yet even so the great market seemed hushed and deserted compared to the teeming bazaars that Dany remembered from Pentos and the other Free Cities. The caravans made their way to Vaes Dothrak from east and west not so much to sell to the Dothraki as to trade with each other, Ser Jorah had explained. The riders let them come and go unmolested, so long as they observed the peace of the sacred city, did not profane the Mother of Mountains or the Womb of the World, and honored the crones of the dosh khaleen with the traditional gifts of salt, silver, and seed. The Dothraki did not truly comprehend this business of buying and selling.

Dany liked the strangeness of the Eastern Market too, with all its queer sights and sounds and smells. She often spent her mornings there, nibbling tree eggs, locust pie, and green noodles, listening to the high ululating voices of the spellsingers, gaping at manticores in silver cages and immense grey elephants and the striped black-and-white horses of the Jogos Nhai. She enjoyed watching all the people too: dark solemn Asshai’i and tall pale Qartheen, the bright-eyed men of Yi Ti in monkey-tail hats, warrior maids from Bayasabhad, Shamyriana, and Kayakayanaya with iron rings in their nipples and rubies in their cheeks, even the dour and frightening Shadow Men, who covered their arms and legs and chests with tattoos and hid their faces behind masks. The Eastern Market was a place of wonder and magic for Dany.

But the Western Market smelled of home.

As Irri and Jhiqui helped her from her litter, she sniffed, and recognized the sharp odors of garlic and pepper, scents that reminded Dany of days long gone in the alleys of Tyrosh and Myr and brought a fond smile to her face. Under that she smelled the heady sweet perfumes of Lys. She saw slaves carrying bolts of intricate Myrish lace and fine wools in a dozen rich colors. Caravan guards wandered among the aisles in copper helmets and knee-length tunics of quilted yellow cotton, empty scabbards swinging from their woven leather belts. Behind one stall an armorer displayed steel breastplates worked with gold and silver in ornate patterns, and helms hammered in the shapes of fanciful beasts. Next to him was a pretty young woman selling Lannisport goldwork, rings and brooches and torcs and exquisitely wrought medallions suitable for belting. A huge eunuch guarded her stall, mute and hairless, dressed in sweat-stained velvets and scowling at anyone who came close. Across the aisle, a fat cloth trader from Yi Ti was haggling with a Pentoshi over the price of some green dye, the monkey tail on his hat swaying back and forth as he shook his head.

“When I was a little girl, I loved to play in the bazaar,” Dany told Ser Jorah as they wandered down the shady aisle between the stalls. “It was so alive there, all the people shouting and laughing, so many wonderful things to look at . . . though we seldom had enough coin to buy anything . . . well, except for a sausage now and again, or honeyfingers . . . do they have honeyfingers in the Seven Kingdoms, the kind they bake in Tyrosh?”

“Cakes, are they? I could not say, Princess.” The knight bowed. “If you would pardon me for a time, I will seek out the captain and see if he has letters for us.”

“Very well. I’ll help you find him.”

“There is no need for you to trouble yourself.” Ser Jorah glanced away impatiently. “Enjoy the market. I will rejoin you when my business is concluded.”

Curious, Dany thought as she watched him stride off through the throngs. She didn’t see why she should not go with him. Perhaps Ser Jorah meant to find a woman after he met with the merchant captain. Whores frequently traveled with the caravans, she knew, and some men were queerly shy about their couplings. She gave a shrug. “Come,” she told the others.

Her handmaids trailed along as Dany resumed her stroll through the market. “Oh, look,” she exclaimed to Doreah, “those are the kind of sausages I meant.” She pointed to a stall where a wizened little woman was grilling meat and onions on a hot firestone. “They make them with lots of garlic and hot peppers.” Delighted with her discovery, Dany insisted the others join her for a sausage. Her handmaids wolfed theirs down giggling and grinning, though the men of her khas sniffed at the grilled meat suspiciously. “They taste different than I remember,” Dany said after her first few bites.

“In Pentos, I make them with pork,” the old woman said, “but all my pigs died on the Dothraki sea. These are made of horsemeat, Khaleesi, but I spice them the same.”

“Oh.” Dany felt disappointed, but Quaro liked his sausage so well he decided to have another one, and Rakharo had to outdo him and eat three more, belching loudly. Dany giggled.

“You have not laughed since your brother the Khal Rhaggat was crowned by Drogo,” said Irri. “It is good to see, Khaleesi.”

Dany smiled shyly. It was sweet to laugh. She felt half a girl again.

They wandered for half the morning. She saw a beautiful feathered cloak from the Summer Isles, and took it for a gift. In return, she gave the merchant a silver medallion from her belt. That was how it was done among the Dothraki. A birdseller taught a green-and-red parrot to say her name, and Dany laughed again, yet still refused to take him. What would she do with a green-and-red parrot in a khalasar? She did take a dozen flasks of scented oils, the perfumes of her childhood; she had only to close her eyes and sniff them and she could see the big house with the red door once more. When Doreah looked longingly at a fertility charm at a magician’s booth, Dany took that too and gave it to the handmaid, thinking that now she should find something for Irri and Jhiqui as well.

Turning a corner, they came upon a wine merchant offering thimble-sized cups of his wares to the passersby. “Sweet reds,” he cried in fluent Dothraki, “I have sweet reds, from Lys and Volantis and the Arbor. Whites from Lys, Tyroshi pear brandy, firewine, pepperwine, the pale green nectars of Myr. Smokeberry browns and Andalish sours, I have them, I have them.” He was a small man, slender and handsome, his flaxen hair curled and perfumed after the fashion of Lys. When Dany paused before his stall, he bowed low. “A taste for the khaleesi? I have a sweet red from Dorne, my lady, it sings of plums and cherries and rich dark oak. A cask, a cup, a swallow? One taste, and you will name your child after me.”

Dany smiled. “My son has his name, but I will try your summerwine,” she said in Valyrian, Valyrian as they spoke it in the Free Cities. The words felt strange on her tongue, after so long. “Just a taste, if you would be so kind.”

The merchant must have taken her for Dothraki, with her clothes and her oiled hair and sun-browned skin. When she spoke, he gaped at her in astonishment. “My lady, you are . . . Tyroshi? Can it be so?”

“My speech may be Tyroshi, and my garb Dothraki, but I am of Westeros, of the Sunset Kingdoms,” Dany told him.

Doreah stepped up beside her. “You have the honor to address Daenerys of the House Targaryen, Daenerys Stormborn, khaleesi of the riding men and princess of the Seven Kingdoms.”

The wine merchant dropped to his knees. “Princess,” he said, bowing his head.

“Rise,” Dany commanded him. “I would still like to taste that summerwine you spoke of.”

The man bounded to his feet. “That? Dornish swill. It is not worthy of a princess. I have a dry red from the Arbor, crisp and delectable. Please, let me give you a cask.”

Khal Drogo’s visits to the Free Cities had given him a taste for good wine, and Dany knew that such a noble vintage would please him. “You honor me, ser,” she murmured sweetly.

“The honor is mine.” The merchant rummaged about in the back of his stall and produced a small oaken cask. Burned into the wood was a cluster of grapes. “The Redwyne sigil,” he said, pointing, “for the Arbor. There is no finer drink.”

“Khal Drogo and I will share it together. Aggo, take this back to my litter, if you’d be so kind.” The wineseller beamed as the Dothraki hefted the cask.

She did not realize that Ser Jorah had returned until she heard the knight say, “No.” His voice was strange, brusque. “Aggo, put down that cask.”

Aggo looked at Dany. She gave a hesitant nod. “Ser Jorah, is something wrong?”

“I have a thirst. Open it, wineseller.”

The merchant frowned. “The wine is for the khaleesi, not for the likes of you, ser.”

Ser Jorah moved closer to the stall. “If you don’t open it, I’ll crack it open with your head.” He carried no weapons here in the sacred city, save his hands—yet his hands were enough, big, hard, dangerous, his knuckles covered with coarse dark hairs. The wineseller hesitated a moment, then took up his hammer and knocked the plug from the cask.

“Pour,” Ser Jorah commanded. The four young warriors of Dany’s khas arrayed themselves behind him, frowning, watching with their dark, almond-shaped eyes.

“It would be a crime to drink this rich a wine without letting it breathe.” The wineseller had not put his hammer down.

Jhogo reached for the whip coiled at his belt, but Dany stopped him with a light touch on the arm. “Do as Ser Jorah says,” she said. People were stopping to watch.

The man gave her a quick, sullen glance. “As the princess commands.” He had to set aside his hammer to lift the cask. He filled two thimble-sized tasting cups, pouring so deftly he did not spill a drop.

Ser Jorah lifted a cup and sniffed at the wine, frowning.

“Sweet, isn’t it?” the wineseller said, smiling. “Can you smell the fruit, ser? The perfume of the Arbor. Taste it, my lord, and tell me it isn’t the finest, richest wine that’s ever touched your tongue.”

Ser Jorah offered him the cup. “You taste it first.”

“Me?” The man laughed. “I am not worthy of this vintage, my lord. And it’s a poor wine merchant who drinks up his own wares.” His smile was amiable, yet she could see the sheen of sweat on his brow.

“You will drink,” Dany said, cold as ice. “Empty the cup, or I will tell them to hold you down while Ser Jorah pours the whole cask down your throat.”

The wineseller shrugged, reached for the cup . . . and grabbed the cask instead, flinging it at her with both hands. Ser Jorah bulled into her, knocking her out of the way. The cask bounced off his shoulder and smashed open on the ground. Dany stumbled and lost her feet. “No,” she screamed, thrusting her hands out to break her fall . . . and Doreah caught her by the arm and wrenched her backward, so she landed on her legs and not her belly.

The trader vaulted over the stall, darting between Aggo and Rakharo. Quaro reached for an arakh that was not there as the blond man slammed him aside. He raced down the aisle. Dany heard the snap of Jhogo’s whip, saw the leather lick out and coil around the wineseller’s leg. The man sprawled face first in the dirt.

A dozen caravan guards had come running. With them was the master himself, Merchant Captain Byan Votyris, a diminutive Norvoshi with skin like old leather and a bristling blue mustachio that swept up to his ears. He seemed to know what had happened without a word being spoken. “Take this one away to await the pleasure of the khal,” he commanded, gesturing at the man on the ground. Two guards hauled the wineseller to his feet. “His goods I gift to you as well, Princess,” the merchant captain went on. “Small token of regret, that one of mine would do this thing.”

Doreah and Jhiqui helped Dany back to her feet. The poisoned wine was leaking from the broken cask into the dirt. “How did you know?” she asked Ser Jorah, trembling. “How?”

“I did not know, Khaleesi, not until the man refused to drink, but once I read Magister Illyrio’s letter, I feared.” His dark eyes swept over the faces of the strangers in the market. “Come. Best not to talk of it here.”

Dany was near tears as they carried her back. The taste in her mouth was one she had known before: fear. For years she had lived in terror of Viserys, afraid of waking the dragon. This was even worse. It was not just for herself that she feared now, but for her baby. He must have sensed her fright, for he moved restlessly inside her. Dany stroked the swell of her belly gently, wishing she could reach him, touch him, soothe him. “You are the blood of the dragon, little one,” she whispered as her litter swayed along, curtains drawn tight. “You are the blood of the dragon, and the dragon does not fear.”

Under the hollow hummock of earth that was her home in Vaes Dothrak, Dany ordered them to leave her—all but Ser Jorah. “Tell me,” she commanded as she lowered herself onto her cushions. “Was it the Usurper?”

“Yes.” The knight drew out a folded parchment. “A letter to Viserys, from Magister Illyrio. Robert Baratheon offers lands and lordships for your death, or your brother’s.”

“My brother?” Her sob was half a laugh. “He does not know yet, does he? The Usurper owes Drogo a lordship.” This time her laugh was half a sob. She hugged herself protectively. “And me, you said. Only me?”

“You and the child,” Ser Jorah said, grim.

“No. He cannot have my son.” She would not weep, she decided. She would not shiver with fear. The Usurper has woken the dragon now, she told herself . . . and her eyes went to the dragon’s eggs resting in their nest of dark velvet. The shifting lamplight limned their stony scales, and shimmering motes of jade and scarlet and gold swam in the air around them, like courtiers around a king.

Was it madness that seized her then, born of fear? Or some strange wisdom buried in her blood? Dany could not have said. She heard her own voice saying, “Ser Jorah, light the brazier.”

“Khaleesi?” The knight looked at her strangely. “It is so hot. Are you certain?”

She had never been so certain. “Yes. I . . . I have a chill. Light the brazier.”

He bowed. “As you command.”

When the coals were afire, Dany sent Ser Jorah from her. She had to be alone to do what she must do. This is madness, she told herself as she lifted the black-and-scarlet egg from the velvet. It will only crack and burn, and it’s so beautiful, Ser Jorah will call me a fool if I ruin it, and yet, and yet . . .

Cradling the egg with both hands, she carried it to the fire and pushed it down amongst the burning coals. The black scales seemed to glow as they drank the heat. Flames licked against the stone with small red tongues. Dany placed the other two eggs beside the black one in the fire. As she stepped back from the brazier, the breath trembled in her throat.

She watched until the coals had turned to ashes. Drifting sparks floated up and out of the smokehole. Heat shimmered in waves around the dragon’s eggs. And that was all.

Your brother Rhaegar was the last dragon, Ser Jorah had said. Dany gazed at her eggs sadly. What had she expected? A thousand thousand years ago they had been alive, but now they were only pretty rocks. They could not make a dragon. A dragon was air and fire. Living flesh, not dead stone.

The brazier was cold again by the time Khal Drogo returned. Cohollo was leading a packhorse behind him, with the carcass of a great white lion slung across its back. Above, the stars were coming out. The khal laughed as he swung down off his stallion and showed her the scars on his leg where the hrakkar had raked him through his leggings. “I shall make you a cloak of its skin, moon of my life,” he swore.

When Dany told him what had happened at the market, all laughter stopped, and Khal Drogo grew very quiet.

“This poisoner was the first,” Ser Jorah Mormont warned him, “but he will not be the last. Men will risk much for a lordship.”

Drogo was silent for a time. Finally he said, “This seller of poisons ran from the moon of my life. Better he should run after her. So he will. Jhogo, Jorah the Andal, to each of you I say, choose any horse you wish from my herds, and it is yours. Any horse save my red and the silver that was my bride gift to the moon of my life. I make this gift to you for what you did.

“And to Rhaego son of Drogo, the stallion who will mount the world, to him I also pledge a gift. To him I will give this iron chair his mother’s father sat in. I will give him Seven Kingdoms. I, Drogo, khal, will do this thing.” His voice rose, and he lifted his fist to the sky. “I will take my khalasar west to where the world ends, and ride the wooden horses across the black salt water as no khal has done before. I will kill the men in the iron suits and tear down their stone houses. I will rape their women, take their children as slaves, and bring their broken gods back to Vaes Dothrak to bow down beneath the Mother of Mountains. This I vow, I, Drogo son of Bharbo. This I swear before the Mother of Mountains, as the stars look down in witness.”

His khalasar left Vaes Dothrak two days later, striking south and west across the plains. Khal Drogo led them on his great red stallion, with Daenerys beside him on her silver. The wineseller hurried behind them, naked, on foot, chained at throat and wrists. His chains were fastened to the halter of Dany’s silver. As she rode, he ran after her, barefoot and stumbling. No harm would come to him . . . so long as he kept up.

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