We’re going to die here, Jorah Mormont thinks, not for the first time. It isn’t a coward’s thought—just a realistic one.
They’ve been in the Red Waste for longer than he can remember—days turned to weeks turned to months. Dry, dirty, tedious, increasingly hungry months. He can ignore the parched throat and chapped lips, he’s used to grime, and Jorah can more than cope with boredom, but the hunger is new and combined with the heat, near unbearable.
Still, he doesn’t complain—how can he, when he is still fit?—or at least, more fit than anyone else aside from Rakharo and Kovarro—and for that matter, still alive. Besides, he is a Northman, through and through, despite his exile, despite the distance to his home on Bear Island, and a Northman would die of exposure before ever complaining about the temperature, no matter too hot or too cold.
Focus, he reminds himself (it’s all that keeps him from wandering into exhaustion-induced delirium some days, the mantra to focus, remember your duty), and glances over at his purpose—his reason for being in the Red Waste, his reason for everything, really.
His queen sits astride her silver, never far from Jorah as she leads her people—or what’s left of them. They used to talk at length when they first started their travels with Khal Drogo’s khalasar through the Dothraki Sea, Jorah pointing out the different types of grass, explaining various customs and cultural differences. But there is little to explain about the Red Waste except danger and ways to die and so their conversations dwindle.
Today she is quieter than ever and Jorah is about to ask her if she’s all right, when she slumps in her saddle and starts to fall forward.
“Daenerys!” Jorah yells and he’s dismounted in an instant, catching her before she hits the ground.
The rest of the caravan comes to a stop, with Dany’s handmaids hurrying to help as well.
“Start setting up her tent,” Jorah orders Irri and Jhiqui in Dothraki as he carries the khaleesi over to a lone tree. It’s not much of a tree and offers no shade, but he sets her down and uses a blanket roll to prop her up against the trunk.
She’s still passed out and Jorah kneels beside her, checking her pulse. The way she fell off her horse reminds him eerily of the day Khal Drogo could no longer ride and despite the heat, the thought sends shivers down his spine.
He watches her chest rise and fall with each slow breath, then takes her small hand gently in his own much larger one. You have to wake up, he thinks, but does not presume to say out loud. Your people need you. I need you.
Around them, the Dothraki are setting up camp. Daenerys is still unconscious when her tent is pitched, so Jorah carries her inside, lays her on her sleeping mat, and stations himself again at her side.
“Khaleesi fall off horse like Khal Drogo do,” he hears Irri murmur to Doreah and he feels his heart catch in his throat.
She isn’t the Khal and she is not at death’s door, he wants to say, yet again Jorah remains silent.
Daenerys’ eyes flutter open and she looks up at him in confusion. “Ser Jorah,” she manages, trying to sit up. “What happened?” Then, once she sits up, with a frown, “Why am I in my tent? Why have we stopped and set up camp?”
“You fainted,” Jorah says, “From the heat, and, I would imagine, the hunger. You ought to lie back down.”
“I can’t,” she says, “I have to lead my people. A khal who cannot ride—”
“You are not a khal,” he reminds her, putting a hand on her arm lightly. “You need your strength, my queen, and the khalasar could use a rest as well. You cannot lead your people if you’re dead.”
“I am the blood of the dragon,” Daenerys implores, yet her voice is weary and her shoulders are slumping again.
“Here,” he says quietly, holding out a skin of water, “Drink this.”
She takes the skin and drinks only a small sip, causing Jorah to prompt her, “Khaleesi, you’ll need more than a swallow of water to regain your strength.”
“We have so little water, Jorah,” she says, “I can’t.”
“Your bloodriders and I will survive the day without,” he says, indicating it is those who’ve sworn to defend her life who have given up their ration, “You may not.”
Her violet eyes widen as the seriousness of the situation apparently sinks in. Daenerys says nothing in response, just drinks more water.
She seems to do better after that—she sits up, more alert, talking with her handmaids, who offer the distraction of idle chatter whilst Jorah makes plans with Rakharo and Kovarro. They will stay in this spot a few days, giving Daenerys time to recover and everyone else a chance to rest as well. This deep in the Red Waste, it’s not too much of a risk, but they will still need to be vigilant.
Two hours or so later, Daenerys sends her handmaids away and calls for Jorah.
“Khaleesi?” he asks, kneeling by her side. “How may I serve you?”
“Sit,” she says, motioning to the space beside her sleeping mat, and Jorah is reminded of all the times in the Dothraki Sea when she bade him sit with her. The further in their travels through the Red Waste they get, the more that sitting has become barely remaining upright, a luxury like their conversations.
He does as she asks, crossing his legs as he settles beside her, trying to get comfortable, if such a thing is really possible with no proper chair and half his armor on.
“You look weary, Ser Jorah,” Daenerys observes, and Jorah can’t help the short chuckle that comes from his mouth. “What’s so amusing, Ser?”
Jorah shakes his head. “Nothing—only, you could have very easily died today and your concern is with how I look.”
“You’re my foremost counselor,” she says, “My only counselor, really. I don’t know what I’d—” Dany stops, her eyes fluttering and Jorah reaches out and cups her chin with a callused hand.
“Khaleesi,” he says huskily, his voice strained with concern.
She blinks and looks back at him, her eyes focused again. “I’m all right. It’s only—the heat isn’t helping distract me. The only stories Irri and Jhiqui tell are of the desert.” Daenerys reaches out and takes his hand in hers. “Tell me a story of your home land, Ser Jorah. Of the North, where I’d imagine it’s so much cooler right now.”
He’s surprised by the request, but nods. “As you wish, Khaleesi,” he says. Jorah tells her about Bear Island’s harsh climate—of the ice storms and snowfalls and treacherous terrain—but also of its beauty. “There’s something to be said for waking up and looking outside and finding everything crystallized,” he says, remembering the view from the lord’s bedchambers very clearly and with fondness. “Everything glittering, everything pure white.”
Daenerys, who has been listening raptly, shivers, and he knows he’s accomplished his task—distracted her away from the reality of the desert. Jorah smiles. “Now there’s a reason the land even farther north is called The Land of Always Winter,” he says and launches into a history of the Seven Kingdoms, making sure to emphasize the icy cold and the way the chill gets in one’s bones.
He talks till he’s hoarse, telling her of long winters and freezing battles at sea against the Ironborn, of the matriarchal culture and the warrior women he was raised alongside (“You would like my aunt and cousins very much, I think,” he says, pleased at how interested she is in the way that Bear Island women fight alongside the men.)
It’s in the middle of a story about his Aunt Maege’s oldest daughter, his cousin Dacey, that Jorah looks down, coming out of the fog of memory, and realizes that Daenerys has fallen asleep. There’s a soft smile on her lips that takes away the sting of the reminders of home, and for a moment, Jorah thinks, the desert heat is bearable.