“No fucking way.”
“Agron, I need you,” Renly said impatiently. “Stark won’t budge, the Lannisters have the whole of Casterly Rock behind them, and who knows how many of my bannermen will support Stannis over me. I need your help, brother.”
“You need my swords,” Agron countered. “Close the door.”
Renly slammed the door to Agron’s chambers shut behind him. There was a flagon of Arbor red on a nearby table, and Agron took a large swig. His eldest brother was dead. His youngest brother had his eyes on the throne. And the other one hadn’t been heard from in months. Gods, he needed more fucking wine. Renly snatched the flagon and took a gulp, too.
“Fine, I need your swords. I can raise the nobles, but you are the only man in the city who can raise the lowborn, the hedge knights, the sellswords to fight. Am I a poor brother for relying on that talent? But it’s not just the men I need; I need you, too. I have no bloody idea how to fight a war. You do.”
“I’m not fighting this fucking war,” Agron protested.
The worst thing was that there was some truth to his words. Renly was lord of Storm’s End; he could make his living off the land itself, and be contented with studying only the books of law, as a member of Robert’s council, and the books that he hid on the lower shelves when Stannis visited, which Agron had given him as a lark on his fifteenth birthday, which they both pretended had never really been opened.
Agron’s life was different, of course, and he and Renly were close enough in temperament to be in near-constant contact. Renly knew that Agron had been keeping himself busy in King’s Landing by doing occasional work at a nearby blacksmith (though he did not know, and would not know, that Agron’s primary purpose in doing so was to keep a look out for a fellow Baratheon bastard) and hiring out as a fencing instructor for those families who were not rich enough, or prestigious enough, to engage a knight. And, of course, no instructor worth his pay could hope to do so without studying swordplay and warfare extensively.
Renly was wrong, though, in assuming that Agron would eagerly apply that knowledge to his cause.
Because I want you to live, you selfish fool.
“Because it’s insane. Because Westeros will fall into ruin. Because I don’t think you’ll win, with or without me. Because I don’t want to risk my life so you can admire the way you look in a crown.”
Renly glared at him.
“That’s not all I want, and you know it.”
“It’s what all of you want, isn’t it?”
“Fine. Yes, I want to be king. But there’s going to be a war even without my involvement; Stannis has been plotting one for months, and Stark supports him. If you fight for me, we can at least ensure that, at the end of it, the people of Westeros will have a king who will help them repair what’s left, rather than punish them for asking, or leave them to aid themselves.”
“I will not fight for you,” Agron said simply.
Renly stood there silently. He looked out of place in Agron’s sparse rooms, in his emerald-and-mahogany hunting clothes—though those were stained in Robert’s blood. Cersei had objected to Agron receiving rooms in King’s Landing, so the rooms were as cheap and bare as they could be without actually being dungeons. In fact, Agron rarely inhabited them; he preferred taverns and brothels, personally, and Renly usually visited him there.
Of course, there was a time when there had been no need for avoidance, awkwardness, or distance between them. Things had seemed so much simpler at Storm’s End, even when the rest of the world had abandoned them. Stannis had never liked Agron, but he had never sent him away, either, so Agron took it upon himself to serve the trueborn Baratheon boys; he would be a kind of heroic bastard, he thought, like Ser Jostin Stone, Hand of King Rogaer.
They were all younger and more innocent in those days. Aside from losing the dogs, the war had barely touched them. While Robert played at being king, Renly played at being a wizard, Duro a dragon-tamer, and Agron a soldier. Stannis never played at all.
When did it change? Agron thought absently as he watched Renly’s eyes flicker between hurt and defiance. But it was no use asking. He knew the answer.
He turned from his brother and surveyed the room. There was very little he needed to take with him. Sword, knives, leather armor, a helm and unmarked clothes. And silver, yes, lots of silver. Robert had never begrudged him that, no matter Cersei’s objections—what were a few silver stars, when the throne was busy with golden dragons? It would weigh Agron down, but he dared not change it to gold on unsafe roads. He would sew the silver into the lining of his clothes and saddle once he was free of King’s Landing.
“You would have fought for Duro,” Renly said as Agron pulled on a fresh shirt and began to gather his things.
“Maybe. But if Duro were here to declare, I would not be the man I am, and neither would you, so the argument is moot. Stop drinking my wine.”
“This is Robert’s wine.”
“Stop drinking the wine I stole from Robert. I have no idea how long it’ll be before I find a decent red again.”
He finished packing and slung the bag over his shoulder. Renly was leaning against the wall, looking despondent. It wasn’t a particularly kingly look, and his hair was stuck in his eyelashes the way it always did, especially in the wind, but he would never cut it no matter how many times Agron told him to. Renly said his only vanity was his appearance, which was much better than being vain about one’s money or power. Agron used to tell him it was a good vanity to have, since he had no money or power, to which Renly once protested, “I’m the king’s brother!”
“So am I,” Agron had retorted, hiccupping. “And that pig just vomited on my leg.”
The memory made him thirsty. He snatched the flask away and drained it. It was rich and full, and more expensive than any he would ever have purchased for himself.
“Where are you going?” Renly asked, somewhat wistfully, when he saw that Agron was finished packing.
“Not sure. I’ve had enough of these fucking games you nobles play.”
“You could have been good at them, if…”
“If I hadn’t been born a bastard?”
“If you had put any effort into it. You were always good at protecting me, at least, when I was too young to know what I was doing.”
“You’re still too young to know what you’re doing.”
Agron’s voice was stern, but there was affection in it, and Renly smiled. He clapped Agron on the shoulder, then, after a moment’s hesitation, pulled him into a tight hug. He was a bit shorter than Agron, but nearabouts as broad, and his grip was strong.
“You were always my favorite brother, you know,” he said when he pulled away. “Bizarre as it sounds.”
“You were always the brother I wanted to throttle the least,” Agron said sincerely. “If Robert lives through the night, tell him I’ve gone to split a few skulls; that’ll amuse him. If you see Stannis, tell him that I hate him and I respect him. If you see Duro… tell him I’m sorry and I miss him, but I won’t be joining him for a while, if I can help it.”
Agron was in the doorway when Renly called him back.
“And do you have any advice for me?”
“I know little about politics, but…” He stepped forward and put a hand on Renly’s shoulder, and spoke solemnly. “Make sure you fuck Loras properly before begging his father for Highgarden.”
Renly shoved his hand away. The last time Agron saw his brother, he was laughing.
He bought a horse and set out from King’s Landing. Agron had never been a particularly adept rider, but the black gelding had a loping gait that was actually rather comfortable, and he made good time. When he first departed, the streets were clear and the smallfolk had no knowledge of what had befallen their king, but before the city was entire gone on the horizon, he heard the bells faintly begin to chime. Agron took a deep breath.
My brother is dead.
Agron had never been particularly fond of Robert. A distance of some years had separated them, and in any case Robert had too many ignored bastards of his own to care for a measly half-brother. Agron had always been a bit quieter than Robert, a bit more serious, a bit less boisterous, and that had always kept them apart.
Yet Robert had never been cruel to him, either. He had never ignored him, like Stannis, or cast him out, like Cersei wished he would. At the very least, Robert deserved a moment of solemn reflection, which Agron was happy to grant, though he had not the time to properly mourn. He had two brothers buried now.
Two days later, he finally stopped at an inn. He had avoided human contact on the road, but at this distance from King’s Landing, he judged it safe. It was a small place, and relatively empty.
Agron scanned the place when he entered, looking for Lannister red cloaks, but the only occupants were a rich merchant couple, a half-dozen farmhands, and a knight with a faded blue shield who looked hopelessly drunk. Relaxing, he took a seat and gestured for the barmaid.
He was provided with a tolerable rabbit stew, accompanied by an excellent cider, and left alone. Agron found it rather odd; the stocky girl didn’t even flirt with him, which hearty barmaids tended to do, and none of the farmhands tried to make conversation, though in his experience country-bred boys were a curious bunch. Perhaps the death of a king (and had war been declared yet?) sobered them.
When Agron looked around again, though, he saw that he was being watched—by the merchant and his wife. He glanced down at himself; dressed in black leather, with a sword and knife at his belt, he presented a threatening figure. Did they fear he would rob them? For some reason, the thought amused him, and he raised his tankard in a mocking toast.
To his surprise, this action prompted the merchant to step forward, with a friendly smile on his face.
“Can you use that sword?” he asked pleasantly. Agron’s hand fell to the hilt protectively, and the man fell back a fraction of a step.
“Are you a knight?”
The man nodded in a pleased, speculative kind of way. He gestured towards his wife, and Agron’s gaze fell to her. She had dark red hair and a critical eye. Unlike most well-bred ladies—and she was clearly a well-bred lady—she didn’t drop her gaze, either at first in real modesty, or after a moment, for a show of modesty. Something in her face disturbed him, and he was sure that her husband was consulting him without her permission.
“My wife and I are travelling to Sunspear. It is a long way, and the roads are perilous—more so since the king is dead. Will you travel with us?”
He thinks me a sellsword, Agron realized. He looked down at himself again, and was forced to admit that he looked the part. He was short a few scars to be considered a true mercenary, but he was as large and as threatening to look upon as any. This had not been what he meant when he told Renly he would be smashing skulls.
He looked up at the man again, considering. Robert and Stannis had always looked down on sellswords; they offended the former’s sense of sport and the latter’s sense of honor. Renly, always the most pragmatic of the three, had found them useful, although he had a knack for earning loyalty through kindness, not coin. Still, all of them would feel only contempt for Agron, if he decided to sell his sword.
But Robert was dead, and Duro was dead, and Stannis was in self-imposed siege at Dragonstone, and gods knew where Renly was and how long he would survive. There was no one in all of Westeros left to look down on the sad life that a Baratheon by-blow had made for himself. Agron drained his cider.
“Aye. For a price.”
On Batiatus’s coin, Agron travelled to Oldtown, then Sunspear. There, his employment was supposed to end, but Lucretia insisted that he accompany them across the sea to Lys. It had taken the lady many weeks to accept him, but once he stopped a Dornish madman from lopping off her head, she decided that he was irreplaceable.
Their stay in Lys was brief, though; Volantis was their true goal, and once they reached it, Agron refused to travel further. Batiatus’s business in the previous towns had been dull; talk of abstract units, of antiques, of weapons. In Volantis, his true business was revealed. They were on the docks, about to board a boat to the next city, when Agron stopped.
“I’m not fucking travelling to Slaver’s Bay. There’s a thousand sellswords in this city—find one of them.”
“I have a dragon that says you’re coming with us,” Batiatus said coldly, holding up a gold dragon. Unfortunately for him, Agron had demanded payment at each city they arrived at safely. The sight of a single dragon didn’t stir his heart.
“I’ve a sword that says otherwise,” he said. “And if I remember my history, the dragons were slain by Targaeryn swords. Mine will serve the same purpose.”
“Agron, please, listen to sense,” Lucretia said with a winning smile, laying a hand on her husband’s arm. “We know how much you’ve been paid. Even if you’ve saved every bit of copper, it’s not enough to pay your way back. How will you return to Westeros?”
“The same way I left, I suppose.”
He turned on his heel and strode away down the wide streets, eyes scanning the crowd for pickpockets and false beggars. He wanted to find work, and fast, or else depart Volantis immediately, and for that he would need every coin he could salvage. Agron did not know why, but the sight of the slaves in this city alone made him sick—he could not have born a prolonged stay in Slaver’s Bay, even if Batiatus paid him in solid gold coins the size of cart wheels.
In due course, he found a bar that was just on the right side of respectability. He paid for wine, and sat back to scan the crowd for the more wealthy patrons, who might be in need of his sword. His search was futile; every eligible man who entered already had a slave or freeman to do his bidding. Agron moved on to a brothel, two more taverns, and an inn before admitting to himself that there was no work to be found.
He could always take up some other profession. Blacksmithing, perhaps, but he was not skilled enough to be declared a master or young enough to become an apprentice. And he had not killed so many men in his travels that he was now content to lay down his sword and became a fucking farmhand. There was one other option, of course; he could join a company of sellswords. However, alliances like that tended to be either breeding grounds for discord, or a nauseating company of men who insisted on calling themselves brothers and fighting with honor and dying their facial hair, neither of which would be tolerable to Agron. He had plenty of brothers already, though they seemed to be dying at an unfortunate rate.
The next day, Agron decided to leave Volantis, though he had yet to decide on a destination. Desperately, he returned to one of the taverns he had visited the night before, which had fewer rich patrons and more seedy-looking men—men like him. He had acquired a few new scars in his months with Batiatus. He asked the bartender if he knew of a place that a man could find work, and, after glancing at Agron’s sword, the man shrugged.
“Might be you could go upriver. Between here and Qhor, the khalasars’ve been troubling the smallfolk some.”
“Khalasars,” the bartender repeated. “Dothraki armies, like. Devils on horseback, they are. Most folk probably wouldn’t be able to pay much, but a farmer or two might be willing to part with food and coppers in exchange for keeping their pigs safe.”
Agron cared little enough for pigs, but the promise of battle was exciting. He headed north.
In each city or town he passed through, Agron asked after the Dothraki and the trouble they had been causing. The people were plenty willing to talk; he learned more about their style of battle than he could have hoped. He learned the most about their style of battle, of course, when he entered one.
It was very sudden. He was riding along the wide dirt path, when a horse appeared at the top of a nearby hill. With a whooping cry, he was set upon by a Dothraki warrior armed with a curved sword that meant to lop off his head. Swearing, he brought his sword up just in time to prevent decapitation. His horse shied away from the conflict, allowing him to strike a proper blow of his own, although the warrior managed to deflect it from causing true damage.
At first, he had only one opponent, but soon there were three, then five, as an entire raiding party appeared. Agron had no hope of evading them all, and desperation was just starting to set in when his blade struck true.
It was luck, pure luck, that he managed to kill a man. Only three of the Dothraki had engaged him at once, but those three were quite enough. His horse was cut up and frantic, and a blow to the head sent blood dripping into his own eyes, but Agron continued to fight. He could see well enough to predict oncoming blows, and for half a second he saw an opening. He lunged forward, and his sword sunk into his opponent’s stomach.
For one second, the man made eye contact with Agron as he choked on his own blood. Then he fell from his horse and died.
One of the remaining Dothraki said something in a harsh voice, presumably a curse, and Agron was fighting again, with no time to consider the circumstances. His only way of surviving was to run, but he harbored no illusions of his own skill as a rider. He could barely outrun the average man, let alone people who lived on the back of their mounts.
He had almost (almost) resigned himself to death when a sharp voice barked a command in their tongue, and the Dothraki backed away. More appeared, and they formed a loose circle, with Agron in the center. He turned, trying to keep as many of them in view as possible, as blood dripped down his sword. The men he had killed lay at his horse’s feet.
With a rippling movement, the crowd parted. Agron turned towards the break, clutching his sword-hilt tightly; the blood made it slippery, and if he were to face a ko, he must be ready.
As the figure emerged, his breath caught. This was no ko. This was a khal.
The khal was shorter than the average Dothraki, and young, but far from frail. His hair fell down his back in a wave of black, with a braid in the center, and the chorus of bells that sang as he approached spoke to his victories. He wore a leather vest carved with symbols that Agron did not recognize, and the horsehair pants common among his warriors, though he had eschewed the thick belt. The reason for its absence was obvious; just above his stomach was a long, thin burn scar that he wore with pride.
And… he was stunning. Like all his people, he sat on a horse more gracefully than most people could stand on their own two legs, and there was power in the lean muscle of his arms and legs. His dark eyes were rimmed in khol, and the set of his lips spoke to a fierce demeanor that set Agron’s pulse racing for more than one reason.
The khal looked him up and down.
“Dismount,” he ordered in the Common Tongue, and then in three others.
Agron was so surprised that he remained perfectly still, not even lowering his sword. There was no hint of Westeroi blood in the khal’s features, nor any of the others he could see. Where had this horselord learned his language?
“Khal Nasir has made you an order,” a woman said sharply. She, too, spoke in a language he knew, and though the words were clumsier on her lips, Agron took them quite seriously. Woman or no, the curved blade in her hand looked threatening. He took a tighter grip on his own weapon.
“I take orders only from those who pay me,” he said boldly.
Nasir laughed. It was obvious that few of his warriors understood Agron’s tongue, but they laughed, too. Nasir’s horse, a magnificent bay mare, moved closer until the two riders were side by side. Agron gripped his reins tight and envied Nasir’s languid ease.
With one hand, Nasir stilled his animal. With the other, he drew a slim dirk from his best, the kind made for throwing. It was extremely well-forged, with silver inlay and lapis lazuli set in the handle, and well-cared for, too. Undoubtedly, it would also be well-wielded. The Dothraki were known to be adept in far-ranged weapons.
“You will be paid in blood, or not at all. Does that suit you, Westeroi?”
Agron shrugged and pretended to be completely unfazed by the way Nasir drew the blade lightly over his own collarbone.
“Food and drink would suit me just as well.”
“My khalasar is large and rich; that we have in abundance.”
“Then you have my sword, m’lord. And my allegiance, too.”
Nasir looked at him suspiciously.
“I’ve never seen a brave man surrender so quickly. Are you craven?”
Agron slipped down from his saddle, landing heavier than he would have liked, and knelt on one knee, like a proper knight of Westeros. Though he doubted that any true Westeroi knight had ever cocked his head mockingly and smiled at his lord while doing so.
Nasir looked at him once more, his cunning eyes searching Agron’s face. Then he turned sharply and trotted away.
“Pietros!” he called, barking orders as one would to a faithful dog—affectionately, and without the slightest doubt of being obeyed.
The boy who came forward was even younger than the khal. A truly awe-inspiring range of weapons hung from his belt, though he didn’t look strong or fierce enough to wield any of them. He grabbed Agron’s gelding by the muzzle and began to lead him away.
“What are you doing?” Agron demanded.
“Blood of my blood says horse a gift,” Pietros said with a shrug.
The Dothraki were horse warriors; seizing Agron’s mount as some kind of tribute did not bode well for his future among them.
“That’s my horse,” he protested, trailing after the boy.
“No.” Pietros pointed. “Yours.”
Ah. He was being given a horse. That was by far a more pleasant option.
A small cluster of horses lay where Pietros indicated, but the one he specified was easy to see, as it stood a foot or two in front of the others. It was magnificent—enormous, with strong hooves and powerful shoulders and a shimmering mahogany coat—but Agron’s heart sank even as he admired it. He was a poor enough rider as it was; on that thing, he would look ridiculous. And how in the seven hells was he supposed to repay a gift like that?
“Gratitude, but I have a horse already,” he said weakly. Pietros laughed.
“Free Cities horse. Better ride a goat! He is meat.”
“You eat horse?”
The boy shrugged again.
“The Great Stallion provides—travel, battle, food. Come—we see your horse, then you visit to khal.”
Obviously, Agron was expected to inspect his new mount, though he knew little enough to make a proper show. He stroked the beast’s flank, and glanced in its mouth (although he could have gotten the same information as easily by asking the horse to speak), and pronounced himself satisfied and grateful. Agron took hold of the horse’s reigns, and they set off again in the same direction that Nasir had passed earlier.
As they walked, Agron observed his surroundings. The Dothraki were camped several hundred feet from the road, far enough to prevent accidental discovery. The khalasar was large—at least, according to what he had learned in the free cities. By his quick estimate, there were at least ten thousand warriors, and more civilians were revealed once they passed the first few rows of tents.
It was late in the afternoon, and the camp was just beginning to truly settle in. Children ran about, ignoring their mothers, and fires were being lit. Several people looked at him curiously, and there was a lot of shouting, talking, and generally gossiping. Agron couldn’t understand any of it, and his thoughts turned back to wondering about Nasir’s grasp of his language. It was certainly better than that woman’s, or Pietros’s, though both were more capable in his language than Agron was in theirs.
“You speak the Common Tongue well,” he said to Pietros after a moment. “Do all Dothraki know so many tongues?”
“No; Khal Nasir only. He learns, now teaches.” The boy paused. “I… learn still. Khal Nasir explains in your words.”
The boy seemed embarrassed by his halting speech; almost immediately after, he called out to a friend in a loud, long burst of Dothraki that left no doubt of his competency in his own language. To Agron, the entire thing was incomprehensible, so he was suitably impressed.
Presently, they stopped in front of a large canvas tent. Only a single man stood guard at the entrance—albeit the most formidable man Agron had ever seen. Only the Mountain, Gregor Clegane, would rival him for height, and his hair was braided into hundreds of small plaits, each adorned with a tiny bronze bell.
Pietros greeted him warmly, but the guard refused to smile, or even lift his suspicious gaze from Agron’s face. He said something in his own tongue, curt and threatening, with his hand resting on the hilt of his sword.
“I can guess,” Agron interrupted hastily. Presumably, it involved pain, and a lot of it, if Agron posed a threat to the khal. Pietros translated his words. Barca nodded approvingly and stepped aside to allow them to enter the tent.
There sat Khal Nasir, surrounded by people that Agron took to be his kos. Two of them were women—one sat directly beside him, the other on his right side, slightly below him. It was a commander’s position, and Agron recognized her also as the woman who had reprimanded him for not dismounting quickly enough. There were two others: a short, stocky warrior who looked at Agron with supreme mistrust, and a dark-skinned man whom Agron would have taken for a Summer Islander, though he looked at home in Dothraki clothes and listened to Nasir with perfect understanding.
Pietros greeted his king and sat down beside him, mirroring the unfamiliar woman, whom Agron had originally taken for the khaleesi. She was a bodyguard then, a bloodrider. Interesting. Unlike the stocky man, she kept her attention focused entirely on her khal. When Nasir turned his attention on Agron, she did likewise. She looked at him coolly.
“You offered me allegiance,” Nasir said. “I have yet to accept it. My friends do not trust you. Neither do I, but I am willing to listen. You will tell me who you are, where you are from, and why you have come.”
“Because otherwise you will not leave this tent alive.”
Agron glanced over his shoulder, saw Barca’s shadow lying in the tent flap, and decided that he probably wasn’t bluffing.
“Had you heard of my khalasar before you came to the Dothraki Sea?”
“Well, you shall hear of them now—and, if you survive, you will tell of them to others. Legends ride among you.”
That was rather presumptuous, Agron thought. In truth, he almost laughed at the horselord’s solemn tone, though he managed to keep from smiling. One by one, Nasir began to introduce his companions.
“My bloodriders are my council. In Westeros, it is known that your kings rely on spymasters. I rely on Mira, who has never met a man she could not bed or kill.”
That was the woman who was not khaleesi. She smiled at Nasir’s description of her, but did not say anything.
“You know Pietros already; Pietros has mastered more weapons than you will ever carry. And Barca, who guards my door, who knows ways to kill a man that shocked even me, and has won every battle he commanded. They are blood of my blood, sharing my food, my drink, my tent, my people, and never failing me.”
Agron saluted them, but none of them caught the sarcasm, except perhaps the stocky warrior, who scowled. Nasir ignored him and gestured to the three who sat in front of him.
“And these are my kos, the fiercest warriors in the Dothraki Sea. Most soldiers take a bell from every man they kill; Naevia takes them only if her hand struck the death blow, and if the death blow chopped head from soldiers.”
Her bells were woven into her braids, and so numerous that they draped like beadwork over her tunic. Agron silently resolved not to irritate her, if he ended up staying with the Dothraki.
“She is my khalakka, and will be the first khaleesi to earn the title on her own merit, not her husband’s.” Then Nasir turned to the stocky warrior, who squared his shoulder and lifted his chin. He looked ridiculous, Agron thought. “No battle has begun until Crixus has begun, and no battle ended until Crixus has ended it. It is known. And finally, Oenomaus. Everything you will learn of Oenomaus, you will learn with your own senses, for he is a man of honor, and not false praise or pride.”
Oenomaus smiled and laughed lowly.
“Only you, my khal, can make a lack of praise sound like praise.”
Nasir nodded with a fond expression and faced Agron again.
“Are you suitably impressed?” he asked, with a hint of mockery.
“No. A commander is only as good as the king who commands him. Your pretty little history isn’t finished yet.”
“Speak with respect,” Crixus growled. “Khal—”
Nasir raised a hand to stop him and smiled enigmatically.
“Me? I was born a slave and will die a khal. That is all you need know of Khal Nasir.”
He said something in Dothraki, and his kos and bloodriders stood to leave—although Crixus argued for a brief moment. Pietros halted in front of Agron and held out a hand. Reluctantly, Agron handed over his sword and knife. Pietros waited. Agron feigned innocence for a moment, before surrendering the knife in his boot. He was sure that Pietros wouldn’t recognize the belt knife, but the boy smiled like a fox and waited until Agron handed that over, too.
“Is that all, or do you want my bloody teeth, too?” he grumbled.
“I take them, if they draw blood.”
He left the tent, and Nasir laughed warmly.
“Pietros is young and merciful. Some people think him incompetent because of it, but they learn otherwise. Normally, they would leave you your weapons, but normally one of them would be at my side. I rely on my friends completely, and they do not like to leave me alone.”
“Reassuring, I think. Some of them are willing to accept you into the khalasar, some are not. I asked them to leave us alone so we would not be interrupted, but make no mistake, Westeroi—I do not trust you. My instincts tell me that you will be useful, but should you prove otherwise, you will be removed from my presence.”
“With a kind request?” Agron asked sarcastically. “They all seem such gentle, unassuming people.”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Now tell me… Who are you?”
“My name is Agron.”
“Pietros tells me you have a rich man’s sword—what house do you belong to?”
“None; I am a bastard.” Nasir continued to wait for an answer, so Agron sighed. “My father was a Baratheon, and I was raised alongside the younger Baratheons. My brother Renly gave me this sword.”
“Ah.” The khal looked satisfied. “I know of the Baratheons—they rule your people. Is that why you are here? To kill the Targaryen khaleesi? She has left the Dothraki Sea. You will not find her while travelling in my khalasar.”
Frankly, Agron no longer cared if the girl was alive or dead, and he said as much. Originally, he had approved of Roger’s attempt to do away with her, but now there was only a 50-50 chance that a Baratheon held the Iron Throne, so he no longer cared for the political consequences of her continued existence.
“I don’t give a shit about the Targaeryens, or Westeros, or the House Baratheon, for that matter. I’m not interested in politics.”
“No,” Nasir said. He looked amused. “Men like you never are.”
Agron raised his eyebrows. “What are men like me usually interested in?”
“Blood. Power. Me.”
The khal smiled.
“For one reason or another. I am young, yet my khalasar is young, and my kos and bloodriders are fearsome and loyal. Unlike other khals, I come from nowhere; I was not even raised in a khalasar, though I was born in one. I can speak many tongues, and in general I am more learned than most other khals. As a ruler, I am a mystery. And I am attractive, too. Is it any wonder men are drawn to me?” Nasir paused, then leaned forward. “For instance, you have wanted me ever since I drew my knife. Westeros must be a very strange place… or perhaps you are just a very strange man.”
Agron’s heart was beating unnecessarily fast. Yes, he did want Nasir, but he was unused to his emotions being easily read, or remarked upon. He forced a smile on his face.
“In ten sentences I’ve gone from predictable to strange. There’s no point in asking me questions, m’lord, if you’re going to answer them all yourself.”
Was it his imagination, or did Nasir look disappointed? In any case, he drew back and shrugged. A light clanging of bells followed the motion, and the slowly-fading sun glowed orange against his skin. Agron looked up, surprised at the brightness, and saw that at the center of the tent was a circle of open sky. Curious.
“Fine—I will ask you a question I can’t answer. Why did you come here?”
“To protect anyone with coin from raiding Dothraki,” Agron said promptly, with a grin.
“Why did you leave Westeros, I mean.”
“For work. A man offered me gold to see him and his wife safely to Volantis, so to Volantis I went. He continued on to Slaver’s Bay, and I came here.”
“That is not the reason,” Nasir said impatiently.
“There you are, answering my questions again. It’s the truth.”
“You left your home, your brothers, your friends, everything you have ever known, on behalf of someone you have never met and gold you do not need. Tell me why, or leave.”
There was something hard in his voice that made Agron uncomfortable. He shifted uneasily on the rough ground, and took a deep breath.
“Westeros is torn in war. Four kings claim sovereignty; two of them are my brothers. It would be impossible for me to bend the knee to one of them, but equally impossible to go to the others. I cast my allegiance with myself, and now with you.”
Nasir seemed to accept this response, at least.
“Was there no one in Westeros who could have kept you? You have come a long way merely to escape a brotherly rivalry.”
Agron thought of Duro. His eyes closed, to hide his pain.
“One. But he is dead and buried.”
“Ah,” Nasir said, finally satisfied. “You ran from ghosts. That is a reason I can understand.” He stood, and held out his arm. Agron, standing, grasped his forearm.
“Welcome, Agron of House Baratheon, to the Dothraki.”