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The Handmaids' Tale

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Dany should be happy to hear her handmaids' chatter as they prepare her for bed; after weeks of suffering in the Red Waste, near silent but for Irri's soul-wrenching wails of grief for Rakharo, she should be relieved to see them safe and strong enough to be the girls they are. She wishes she could join in their giggling (the laughter is mostly Doreah's) and even their sniping (Irri's domain), but though she has seen fewer name days than they, she is no carefree child. Her dragons, her people, call her Mother, and her head and her heart ache with the clamor of their expectations for her and her own obligations to them.

"I made a man very happy today, khaleesi," says Doreah, tilting her head to smile coyly at Dany in the mirror as her fingers deftly weave the silver strands of Dany's hair into long braids. "His tongue wagged that Xaro Xhoan Daxos may seek your hand in marriage."

Irri, turning down the bedclothes, pauses her task, bent over the voluminous feather mattress. "Widowed khaleesi not take second husband. She go to dosh khaleen and rule Dothraki. It is known."

Doreah sighs heavily and looks over her shoulder at the other girl. "It is known that a queen may marry or remarry as she likes."

"Xaro asked for my hand this very night," Dany hears herself say flatly, in unison with her voice in her memory, which earlier had quavered with excitement as she told Jorah of Xaro's offer; their luck had changed, she'd told him, the gods had been good to them at last. But Jorah had shown her what she had not seen, about Xaro and--

The squeal Doreah makes through her teeth, bared in a grin, indicates she is giddy enough for the both of them. Her fingers slide out of Dany's hair, the unfinished braids unraveling as they fall over her shoulders, as Doreah scurries round in front of the bench. She drops to the floor at her mistress' feet and squeezes her hands.

"And will you accept him? Will you become the wealthiest woman in Qarth?"

"Khal Drogo would plunder merchant prince of Qarth," Irri hisses. "He would fill Vaes Dothrak with golden peacocks and other treasures. Gold not power. Horse power." Her nostrils flare as she shakes out a pillow to fluff it, slapping it down against the bed as if imagining herself as part of a Dothraki raiding party, sending a swirl of feathers through the darkened chamber. "Xaro Xhoan Daxos too fat to sit horse. Or to ride khaleesi like mighty khal."

"Irri--" Dany rebukes her, half-heartedly, but it is true. Xaro is beautiful in his way, with his smooth ebony skin and his silken tones, but she cannot imagine herself lying beneath him in an impassioned embrace, or even astride him as she had so often made love to Drogo, the sun and stars of love shining upon her face out of the night sky of his dark eyes.

Only, when she tries to conjure up the memory of her husband's eyes, she sees instead a pair of blue ones she's looked into at least a thousand times and thought calm as a cloudless summer sky, but which tonight had revealed depths as hidden and uncertain as the sea.

"It's true Xaro does not look on you with love in his eyes," Doreah concedes. "Yet." She bites her lower lip and giggles, releasing one of Dany's hands to touch her knee. "The khaleesi has the power to make any man fall hopelessly in love with her."

Dany nudges Doreah's hand from her knee, and the girl rocks back on her heels to look up at her as Dany rises from the bench. "It would seem that I have."

She doesn't intend to tell them about what happened here tonight with Jorah, but as she stalks toward the long wall of windows, the corner of her eye catches her handmaids exchanging a look. She spins back to look at them, and before she can stop herself, blurts out, "Have you noticed Ser Jorah looking at me with love in his eyes?"

"Blind woman who ride in cart notice the Andal look at khaleesi with love in his eyes," mutters Irri.

Doreah's lips curl in a sly smile. "Irri thinks Ser Jorah sits a horse almost as well as a Dothraki khal."

"I see you stare at his buttocks."

"Ser Jorah has a very fine arse. But you spoke much of his chest after you saw him doing his wash yesterday."

Irri shrugs, feigning indifference, though Dany notes the hint of color on her swarthy cheeks. "First time I see what under the Andal's iron dress."

"Armor," Dany corrects her, heavily, rubbing her thumb and forefinger across her brow. "It is called armor, and it has saved his life and ours more times than I can count. Ser Jorah is my strong protector and my wise counselor…" She blinks back tears behind her hand, then, when she is certain she has reined in her emotions, she snaps her head upright to show her handmaids her displeasure. "…and you dishonor him with this silly chatter!"

"Yes khaleesi," says Doreah, contrite.

But as Dany resumes her seat on the bench and Doreah quickly binds her hair into braids for sleeping, Irri asks, "How it dishonor Ser Jorah for khaleesi to desire him?"

"Because I do not desire him!" cries Dany, heat crackling up from her neck into her cheeks like wildfire spreading over dry grasslands.

Irri's dark eyes dart sidelong at Doreah, and her lips twitch upward in a smile she's trying to hide. Dany sighs, realizing her defensiveness not only belies her words, but also is unjust to the girls, who only mean well and do not deserve this harsh treatment.

"Sweetling," she says, measuring her tone, "I have recently been married, and carried my husband's child, and my people nearly starved in the desert into which I led them. When have I had time to consider whether I find another man desirable?"

Doreah purses her lips in consideration as she helps Dany to disrobe, but as Dany pads, naked, to the bed, she says, "You have time now, khaleesi."

That is true, Dany acknowledges to herself as she slides between the sheets and Irri and Doreah, on either side of the bed, tug the coverlet up over her. But, lying in the dark, it is not Jorah's chest or buttocks that occupy her thoughts, or anything of desire. For, though her handmaids do not understand it, to limit the depth of feeling he revealed tonight does dishonor him.

Drogo loved her, that she does not doubt, but when he spoke of her conquest of Westeros, it was always in the context of how he would lay waste to her enemies, slaughtering their men, raping their women, enslaving their children, and plundering their cities. He never spoke of what sort of ruler she would make, or, indeed, of her ruling at all. He would have conquered in her name, but his braid would have grown longer, his khalasar larger.

Unlike Jorah…who spoke of her gentle heart not as a woman's weakness, but as the asset by which she would keep, if not win, the Iron Throne. Jorah…who bent the knee to her, who called her blood of his blood.

Jorah…who made her want to weep as he spoke of his belief in her with such wonder and longing in his eyes.

How often has she looked into them and found comfort and strength? Oh gods, she thinks, squeezing her own as she remembers the oasis she'd found in his eyes when her silver mare dropped dead of thirst in the Red Waste. What did Jorah feel, when she told him he was her strength? What had she felt? Had the words poured from some hidden depths of her heart to which she was blinder than the old woman in the cart of whom Irri spoke?

She rolls over, kicking off the coverlet, which is too heavy for the Qartheen night, the sheets damp with her sweat as they tangle around her legs.

"khaleesi?" comes Irri's voice from her sleeping cushions on the floor below the bed. "Are strong protector and wise counselor not qualities queen desire in husband?"

"Along with a muscled chest and good buttocks?" Doreah says with a giggle, followed closely by, "Ow!" as the still night is broken by the unmistakable sound of Irri's palm swatting Doreah's skin.

"Hush, you silly girls," says Dany, smiling into her pillows. But her lips tug downward again as she tells them, "Ser Jorah has not spoken to me of marriage."

In fact he had not said one word, about any of this, to her. He hadn't needed to. And that's what aches the most, she thinks.

Rolling onto her other side, as if to turn away from the thought, Dany peers into the darkness on the side of the bed where her handmaids sleep. "But Irri...I thought you said a khaleesi should not remarry."

"Well…" the handmaid replies, cautiously. "You are queen, too, no? If worthy man come along…Perhaps. But not the merchant prince, who is too fat to sit a horse."