Viserys had to admit, the comet was a sight to behold. It cut across the night sky, the color of blood and flame. The color of our house. Small wonder Dany thinks it is a sign of our coming. It had appeared in the night sky on the same night they burned Drogo's body on the pyre. The same night my little sister hatched the first dragons in living memory. The Dothraki, especially the elders, considered it an ill omen, but Dany had been besides herself.
"It appears on the same night as the first living dragons in over 200 years are hatched, Viserys. The very same night. The dragon is the symbol of our house. The colors, red on a black field, those are our colors. Fire and Blood, Viserys. The Gods are sending us a sign, extending us their favor."
There was a time, not so long ago, although it certainly seemed like ages had passed since then, when Viserys would have seized every single word and took them to heart. Every word, every promise, no matter how empty it really was, to keep him going on the path set out for him. The Iron Throne. Home. But a lot had happened since then. The need to feed his ego and his unwillingness to look at the world as it really was, not how he imagined it should be, had almost cost him his head. Empty promises is what got him here in the first place. Having learned that lesson the hard way, it would be a wise course of action to not put too much faith in promises, especially those made by a comet, divine in nature or no. But he could not fault his sister for trying to seek a greater meaning in this so-called omen. It gave her hope, hope that they were destined for greatness, that the Gods or fortune or whatever it was that was looking out for them would see them safely through this ordeal. Hope was in short supply, after all.
He was less enthused when Dany had decided to follow the comet eastward. From the few times he had the opportunity to glance at a map, back in the Free Cities, he knew that there was some kind of desert there. Ser Jorah had confirmed this, but his sister would not hear otherwise. That was not the only reason they intended to strike eastward, however. The Dothraki Sea was closed to them. The first khalasar they would inevitably encounter would swallow them up and either enslave them or kill them outright. Dany's people, as he called them, consisted mostly of women, old men and young boys, with few men of fighting age. The horses they had left were old and sickly. For that reason, the way south, to the lands of the Lhazareen, were closed to them as well. Peaceful they might be, they had little reason to love them. The slaver cities of Astapor, Yunkai and Mereen were a viable option, but ser Jorah informed them that Khal Pono had gone that way with the thousands of captives he took from Drogo's Khalasar. Dany argued that Pono would not hurt her, because he was kind to her in the past, but ser Jorah quickly dispelled that illusion. There was no other way open to them but east. When Dany proclaimed her intent to her people, no one spoke out against it, although Viserys could see the weary resignation on their faces.
The Red Wastes it is then. he thought bitterly. Surely it cannot be that bad?
It was worse.
Even though they rode by night and took shelter from the burning sun by day, it was hell. He could see the exhaustion on the faces around him, the thirst they all suffered. The horses they had with them, old and sickly, were the first to perish, and the khalasar left behind a macabre trail of corpses. But if the horses were old and sickly, so too were her people, and three days into the march, the first man died. He was an old man, toothless. He just fell from his saddle and could not get up. An hour later, he was dead. Two days later, an infant girl died as well.
For the rest of the group, the situation was dire. Food for their mounts was becoming scarce, with only some patches of devilgrass here and there. Even their strongest mounts had weakened immensely, and the watersupply was shrinking rapidly. They send out scouts and outriders to look for pools or wells, but they found nothing. The wine was gone, and the clotted mare's milk soon thereafter. The little food they had brought was gone too, so they filled their bellies with the meat of the fallen horses.
Old men, women, infants, one by one they perished in the harsh environment. The stronger ones survived, but even they were suffering horribly. Dany lost whatever weight she had until she became as lean as a stick, her breasts drying up, cracking and bleeding. Ser Jorah looked gaunt and haunted, and his once formidable stature was somewhat diminished by the lack of food, water and proper sleep, and if Viserys had a mirror, or a pool to watch his reflection in, he knew he would hardly recognize the ghoul that was staring back at him.
And then, there was the sand. Gods above, he never thought he could hate anything more than he hated the Usurper and his lapdogs, what they did to his family, and how they forced him to live a life on the run, in poverty. But even that hatred paled in comparison to his now all-encompassing hatred of sand. It was coarse, rough, irritating, and it got everywhere. Even though he rode a horse most of the time, or sat in his tent taking shelter from the sun for the rest of the day, somehow he could never be free from the blasted substance. His skin was chafed from it getting into his clothes, his boots were filled with it no matter how many times he emptied them, he simply detested the stuff. At one time, while lounging in his tent in the day, he set one of the dragons to try and burn the stuff out of sheer pettiness and desire to exact revenge. The results were somewhat dissappointing, even though the dragonfire did succeed in melting some of it, but it did manage to cheer him up somewhat.
Those three magnificent creatures were the only bright spot in his brief existence, and even moreso for Dany, who also carried the burden of caring for her people. They were still small, frail creatures, no bigger than a cat, and all bones, teeth and wings. They looked so innocent and tiny, and it was hard to believe that they would one day grow up to be the fearsome creatures that had once conquered the known world. It was a good thing that he was there, however, for although Dany loved her children more then life itself, she had no clue how to feed them and take care of them. Apparently, he had not taught her well in her childhood when he taught her everything he knew about dragons, for she had forgotten that they, like humans, like their meat cooked. Small wonder that they spat out ever peace of bloody raw horse meat his sister tried to force-feed them. After all, these were not mindless beasts, but intelligent and majestic creatures.
And marvelous creatures they were. Vhagar, Meraxes and Balerion come again, he heard his sister describe them to her Bloodriders. Named for the gods of old Valyria. And indeed, it did seem like the largest of the three, the black one with the red eyes, was Balerion, come again. It was bigger than his brothers, and had a more vicious temper. He refused to be touched by anyone else than Dany, and every time she was out of sight, he would start to hiss and flew into a rage. Not even Viserys, the Father of Dragons, as Dany had jokingly dubbed him, was allowed to come near. He almost lost a finger trying to pet the creature, and after that, he learned to keep his distance. The green one did not outright snap at him, but otherwise showed little interest in him. The cream-and-gold one, however, seemed to had taken an instant liking to him, preferring his company over that of his brothers' and even his mother. Whenever he was not eating or sleeping, the dragon was perched on his shoulder and would only eat if Viserys gave him the meat. He allowed Dany to pet him and to be near him, but he made his preference for Viserys clear. Ser Jorah and Dany had started to call him Little Viserys, but later she changed it to Viserion. He tried to change it afterward, but it was too late. It appeared that it would only listen to that name. He was a bit embarrassed about it, but there was nothing he could do to change it. Dany decided to give the green dragon the name Rhaegal, after their brother Rhaegar, who perished on the green banks of the Trident, and the black one she named Drogon, after her late husband. Under their care, the dragons prospered.
The same could not be said of their little khalasar, however. The remaining stores of food were getting depleted rapidly, water was almost, and even the devilgrass was becoming scarce, causing the number of their horses to dwindle even more. There seemed to be no end to the desert, and now, even Dany was losing hope. He heard her quietly conferring with ser Jorah, who told her the honest truth, but in the same time managed to lift her spirits a bit. And he was right; forward was the only way. Turning back would make an unlikely survival impossible.
He was so deep in thought that he did not notice Dany coming up to ride beside him, Drogon perched on her shoulder. The black dragon hissed at his smaller brother, who scooted a bit closer to Viserys' head. His hand absentmindedly went up to pet the small dragon. He caught Dany smiling at him and the corners of his mouth lifted somewhat.
"They truly are something, aren't they?" she said staring at Viserion with wonder. "The world seems like such a bleak place indeed, if creatures like them do not inhabit it."
Viserys, not knowing what it is she was getting at, simply nodded. Even though their relationship had improved considerably over the past few weeks, the sheer exhaustion that everyone was feeling was enough to make anyone lose interest in simple small talk. She already carried the weight of the entire khalasar on her shoulder, she had no energy to spare for even the simplest of conversations. The Gods knew Viserys hadn't, but his sister always had was a stronger person than he was. If Viserys railed against the injustice in the world, particularly if the world was unjust to him, his sister would fight to make the world a more just place. He could see that every single day, when he watched how she pushed her people onward by sheer force of will.
From the corner of his eye, he saw her glance back at her khalasar, before turning to him once more.
"Viserys?" she asked in a small, almost timid voice, and almost immediately an image of a younger Dany, cowering before his anger, appeared before his mind's eye, and once again, he was disgusted by himself. That voice belonged to a frightened little girl, not the strong, independent woman his sister had become when he wasn't looking. He looked at her face and to his surprise, he saw that her eyes were watering.
"Do you think I made a mistake?"
The question startled him. Of all the things she could have asked him, that was one he wasn't expecting. If there is one thing that kept them pushing onward through this hell, it was the unshakable belief Dany held that they were on the right path, that their destiny would prevent them from perishing in this forgotten wasteland. To hear her doubt that... Luckily they were well ahead of the main caravan, for if they heard what she just said, they might lose the tiny bit of hope that they still had, the conviction that their khaleesi would see them through this. But when he looked closely at her face, he saw the dark rings under her eyes, how underfed and exhausted she clearly was. It was clear to him that she wasn't really taking care of herself.
"What makes you say that?" he managed to squeeze out of his throat, and he watched as tears started to spill out of her eyes.
"Because I have doomed us all. I steered us into this waste, following a bloody star because I thought it was an omen of my destiny. I have sent us all to our deaths on a whim." And suddenly, it all made sense. She blames herself. Every mishap, every injury, every death, she thinks she is to blame because she led us down the only path that remained open to us. He reached over and took her hand in his, giving it a gentle squeeze.
"Hey, look at me." he said softly, and slowly she turned her head upward to look him in the eyes. The pained look in her violet eyes made his stomach clench painfully. "You did not doom us all. We all knew that it would be hard, but it was the only path open to us, and you know it. You freed every man and woman in this khalasar, and all of them were free to go their own way. No one forced them to follow you into this desert. You have not failed your people, Dany, if anything, you will have saved them. When, not if, we get out of this desert, for it is not endless, they will still be alive because of you. You not only lead them, you inspire them. You keep them going when they would just lay down their head and die. This is a hard path to walk, yes, but it is the only path where survival is still possible, distant as though it may appear to you know." She still seemed downcast, but the tears were no longer falling. "I know you blame yourself for every hardship we have to endure, for every life that was lost, and you should not. Don't dwell on those that have fallen, for it was an inevitability, but focus on those that you are saving. You are carrying a heavy burden, Dany, far heavier then someone of your age should, but you are doing it nonetheless, and you're doing it better then I ever could. But don't carry the weight of the dead."
She nodded, and managed to give him a small, watery smile, and suddenly, he wished that they were no longer riding so he could wrap her up in his arms and shelter her from the world. But they were, so instead, he gave her hand a final squeeze before dropping it. It seemed that his words were well received, as she straitened up, seemingly more energetic then before. Before she trotted off, he called after her. She turned her head inquisitively.
"I want you to know, I still think you are wrong about the comet and that it is utter nonsense. I am not following it, however, but I am following you. I may not believe in the significance of this comet, but if there is one thing in this world I do believe in, it is you."
He was rewarded with the biggest smile he had seen in weeks.
The khalasar saw the newfound confidence with which their khaleesi carried herself, and they, in turn, took heart. And indeed, it seemed like their fortunes were improving. They chanced upon a water spring the next day, and although the water was warm and tasted horribly, everyone drank greedily and filled their water skins to bursting. A day later, one of the scouts Dany had sent forward returned with news they had all been dying to hear: he had found a city, pale as the moon, about an hour away. The night was coming to an end, though, and the sun had already risen in the east. But rather then wait a whole day, they decided to push forward, in hopes of reaching the city before the heat became unbearable. It seemed like the prospect of food, water and shade was enough to convince even the most cautious among them.
Unfortunately, the scout that had discovered the city had a strong horse, able to cross the distance much faster than the entire khalasar could. By the time they caught sight of the city walls, the sun was beating down mercilessly on the group, and all that was pushing them forward was the sight of the city in the distance.
Viserys was suffering like he had never suffered before. Rivers of sweat were making his way down his body, and his clothes were plastered against his back. He reached for his waterskin for the fifth time in ten minutes, but when he placed it on his lips, he found that it was empty. Slowly and with great difficulty, he turned his head towards ser Jorah, who was riding beside him.
"Water" he rasped, and even that small word hurt his throat immensely. But it appeared that ser Jorah had not heard him, and he could not force his throat to produce another sound. So he slowly released the reigns of his horse to tap him on the shoulder, when suddenly, everything went black. He felt himself sliding out of the saddle and hitting the ground with a hard thud. Then, he knew no more.
He was surrounded by inky blackness. In the distance, he could hear voices, he could even faintly make out his name being called, but he was too weak, too frail to even attempt to call back. Instead, he just floated around, for seconds, minutes, hours, days, he could not tell.
If this is the afterlife, I am sorely disappointed. he thought by himself. The Septons always preached of the seven circles of heaven and the seven circles of hell, but this looked nothing like they had described. Lying bastards.
After what felt like forever, he suddenly felt a hard tug behind his navel, like if someone grabbed him from behind and dragged him away. He felt himself falling, faster and faster, until he suddenly hit a solid floor. No longer was he surrounded by blackness, but he found himself lying down on a cold, stone ground. A marble floor, to be precise. He lifted his gaze before scrambling to his feet. He stood in a large room, no, a hall, with heigh ceilings and high, narrow windows. His vision was blurry, however, so he could only make out vague shapes. Suddenly, a small blurry shape stepped out from a larger blurry shape that could only be a column of some sort, and came towards him, growing rapidly. A voice appeared in the air, seemingly out of nowhere, a voice he had not heard in years.
A man appeared in his visage, a long, thin man, with unkempt, dirty silver-gold hair to his waist, a matted and unwashed beard, and yellow fingernails at least nine inches long. On the top of his head was a dragon-emblazed crown.