On the third day, the khalasar – what is left of the khalasar – wakes at last from their dream of fire. They have seen miracles, up here in the high country, seen dragons and a queen of dragons born out of the flame.
Gods are born this way, Doreah thinks, and lets the thought fill up the deepest aching parts of her. Goddesses are born this way. And she was there to see it all.
It is too big for her. For anyone. A week ago, Doreah sang and braided the khaleesi’s hair, and teased her for her swelling belly, and watched the khaleesi smile, shy and sweet and just for her.
And now the miracle is three days past, and life is going on. All of the everyday simple tasks of the grass, cooking and fetching water, horses to be shifted to better grazing with every new dawn. The shallow rainwater wells of the plateau are running low.
It is time to leave.
Three days ago the departing warriors left their tents and even their slaves behind in the cursed place where their khal had died. But they took almost all of the horses, more precious than either. More than half the khalasar must walk, starting down the path to the plain on foot. Like the lowest of slaves, except that the khaleesi has promised her people that none of them will ever be slaves again.
The khaleesi leads the way. She is dressed in the rough clothes of a Dothraki woman again, walking surefooted, leading her white mare. Two little children ride her, Lhazareen survivors taken as slaves, wide-eyed and solemn as the world unrolls around them. Last night Doreah and Irri sang and fed them fingerfuls of honey from a secret hive Irri found in the rocks, and let them sleep warm in a spare corner of the khaleesi’s tent. Three nights ago they were orphan slaves; a week ago they played fearless as lambs in their mother’s house. The goddesses give, and the goddesses take away.
All through the march the dragons twine around the khaleesi’s head and shoulders like little cats.
Doreah walks behind the khaleesi, one steady foot in front of the other through the grass. She has always been beautiful, unearthly. She has never been so beautiful as now. All through those first dazed days of walking, Doreah thinks over and over, I will follow you. I will follow you anywhere, through fire, through any storm.
Doreah has dreamed of this for all the days of her life. Doreah is following the dragon.
At night the fires of Drogo’s khalasar used to light up the plain, numerous enough to mirror the stars of the open sky. Doreah was raised among streets and walls and fine white-walled houses, but she learned to love this life so quickly. To be Dothraki, to travel among the khalasar of the great Khal Drogo – it was to be utterly strong, utterly fearless. Tens of thousands of them, a whole city riding free and mighty across the grass, and no power in this or any world could stand against them.
She was still a slave, of course. Still owned.
But the Dothraki respect strength and spirit and fierceness. As a child in the brothels, in the houses of rich men in Lys and Myr and Pentos, it was always be quiet and smile more sweetly and I am not paying to hear you speak. Beautiful she might have been, well-trained, but never, ever soft enough. Here she can ride, fight, fuck men who love her for her roughness. And the khaleesi is so fierce and brave and beautiful, growing so strong, always so kind. For a long time, to live as her handmaid did not feel like slavery at all. How could it, when she loves her mistress so?
Doreah has been in love before. A Braavosi slave in the pleasure house, a Dothraki girl, a sweet sea captain from the Seven Kingdoms across the sea who would have married her if he could afford her price. Love is so sweet, she’s learned, but to let it take you over is to drown.
Loving the khaleesi was safe, she’d thought. The khaleesi had her husband, had love for him bright as the moon and stars shining out of every inch of her. What harm in it, then, if Doreah loved her too?
(She remembers the khaleesi’s hands around her waist, the khaleesi’s wide eyes looking down on her. Their bodies tangling, breathing desire back and forth between them. And then the khaleesi had gone to her husband, and Doreah had no reason to ever touch her that way again.)
And now every night she sits near the khaleesi around the small circle of fires their people have built. They are slaves, old women, the crippled, the dreamers.
“We are strong enough,” the khaleesi says to them all, while her dragons dive and play among the flames. Sometimes she joins them, tossing live coals between her hands like jewels. “You are my people now. We are the khalasar of dragons.”
Sometimes she looks at Doreah, just at Doreah, when she talks. And Doreah smiles, and begins to speak of the first dragons who hatched from the moon, and of the long slow passion a mountain conceived for the sun. Their love made volcanoes, and near split the world in two before they cooled at last; and after they parted the mountain kept dragons close by her, to remind her of the sun’s sweet heat. There is no fire like a dragon’s flame.
After a short time, they turn away from the Dothraki Sea, heading for empty country away from the hordes. It is not safe for them there, not any longer, not with the remnants of Drogo’s great khalasar still sweeping the grass. Somewhere in the world there will be a place for them, a place to rest and grow and wait. Someday the dragons will be old and large and fierce enough to protect them, but not yet.
The little ones are growing now, almost dog-sized, and hot enough to burn the flesh of anyone unwary enough to touch. Doreah cannot help but love them anyway. She wraps herself in the thickest leather and feeds them from her hands; they have come to recognise her, and even understand that they cannot touch and play with her the way they do with the khaleesi. They are almost gentle despite their fierceness, and she loves them; loves them with a bone-deep ache, a clenching hand wrapped tightly around her heart.
At night she and Irri and Jhiqui are as they have always been, handmaidens to a khaleesi. They cook for her, braid her hair for her, bring her water for bathing.
Once the khaleesi stops their hands from tending her and unsmiling says, “You are slaves no longer, all of you. You are free to go, if you wish it.”
Jhiqui smiles at her, all soft and knowing. “And go where, khaleesi? The khalasar I rode in was broken long ago, and Khal Drogo killed the Khal, my mother’s brother, with his bare hands. My family is gone. I will follow the khaleesi.”
Irri nods. “Where would we go? No khal would take us in, save as his slaves, and I do not want to be taken again. Khaleesi, why would we ever leave you?”
The khaleesi turns her head away for moment. “You need not serve me anymore,” she says quietly. “I set you free.”
Almost against her will, Doreah’s eyes search out her mistress. The khaleesi is looking at her.
“Doreah?” she says. So quiet, almost afraid.
“I am a daughter of Lys,” Doreah says, in her own language. And then, in the khaleesi’s, “My mother sold me when I was nine years old. For the gold, for apprenticeships for my brothers and dowries for my sisters.”
All the bitterness of her life is in those words. All the bitterness she could not let the khaleesi see, months ago when she was only a scared child in her husband’s tent, alone and ignorant and afraid.
Doreah can remember being that child.
She knows that she is lucky. Lucky to be beautiful, lucky to be strong. Pity all of the daughters of Lys, but pity the ugly daughters most of all, and the ones who cannot learn to bend under the weight of their lives. Doreah has seen too many girls shatter, too many girls break.
But even so. Doreah was nine years old, when her mother sold her. Twelve years, when she first touched a man, when a man first touched her.
He took her maidenhood, and paid high for the right. And Doreah wept, and feared him, and had no choice, no choice in it at all.
The khaleesi is watching her still. And the khaleesi is older now. Old enough to hear what Doreah is not saying aloud.
There is power in love and sex and desire, and Doreah has learned to use it, Doreah has let it make her strong. But is it the life she would have chosen, if she had been able to choose her life of her own will?
She will never, ever, ever know.
Doreah meets the khaleesi’s eyes again. And speaks in Dothraki now, the language of their freedom. “There is work for women in the cities, khaleesi. I know where I could find it. But you set me free. You are the mother of dragons. Where you go, I will go. I will follow you to the end of my life.”
She sees the khaleesi smile at her then, sudden and bright. Sees – the khaleesi is blushing –
One morning before dawn Doreah wakes up without understanding why. She ought to be sleeping, here in the darkest part of the night. But then by the low light of the dragons’ fire she realises that the khaleesi is gone.
So she gets up, and follows her outside into the dark.
Doreah finds her standing in the tall grass at the edge of the camp. The black dragon leans against her, wings folded neatly; these days it is taller than the khaleesi’s waist. The air smells cold and sweet with grass.
The khaleesi smiles at her. “Doreah,” she says softly, and looks back at the sky. The night is huge around them, fading grey to the dawn.
“Khaleesi,” she replies, and stands quiet beside her.
“I miss him so much,” the khaleesi says suddenly in her own language, voice thick and catching in her throat. “When I wake up – every night I wake up, and he is gone, he is not lying beside me. And then I remember why… Doreah, I miss him so much.”
Doreah swallows hard. For some reason she is on the edge of tears. “He was your husband,” she says carefully. “Everyone could see how much you loved each other.”
The khaleesi nods. “He was my life.”
Doreah reaches out then, cannot help but reach out and take the khaleesi’s hand between her own. “Oh, khaleesi…”
She turns to face Doreah, grips her tight. “He was my life, my whole life, the sun and the moon and the stars. Do you understand what I am saying? I did not know how to be anything, until he loved me, and then it was enough merely to be the one he loved. He was everything to me, everything.” She is quiet for a moment. “It wasn’t fair to either of us. I may love, but I never want to love anyone that way again.”
Startled, Doreah lifts her head to study her face.
The khaleesi shakes her head, half-turned away. “Doreah… do you remember that day in the tent, teaching me about love?”
The memory is burned into her forever. “Of course, khaleesi,” she says easily, instead.
“You were my slave, and I did not know how to ask for anything, then. But I thought we… I thought…” Her voice trails off. “Doreah. Do you love me?” It bursts out of her, fierce and childish, an echo of the girl she’d been.
And like a girl Doreah can only blush, and stammer, and turn away. Silence stretches out red and prickling between them. But she keeps hold of the khaleesi’s hand, the khaleesi has not yet let her go –
“I wanted to make us all free,” the khaleesi says at last. “I wanted us able to choose, like I couldn’t before, like you couldn’t… Oh Doreah, but how can I, when I don’t even know the words for what I want us to be? I don’t even know how to ask you.”
Her voice sounds soft, the voice of a beautiful fragile girl, but there is fire running underneath her words, and Doreah is lit up with it. She thought love would drown her?
The khaleesi is teaching them all how to burn.
Doreah swallows, and finds her courage then, and strength enough to meet her eyes. “I love you, kha – Daenerys.” She pauses, and says it again. “Daernerys Targaryen, daughter of dragons, I have loved you for as long as I have known you. I thought you knew.”
Dany is smiling at her, smiling and crying, in the growing light.
“Maybe we can find the words for this together,” Doreah says, and kisses her mouth. They embrace with a dragon between them, under the light of the rising sun.