Valar morghulis, her sweet Missandei said. She once said it before, and Daenerys told her that men die but women survive. How hollow and false those words were, for Missandei’s lovely head rolls along the ground like an overripe watermelon, and her body is collapsed into itself like all dead men’s bodies must. If others screamed when her parts splattered Daenerys doesn’t know, because all she can hear are those words. Valar morghulis. All men must die.
Missandei is dead, and Daenerys is to blame. Of course she is. If she hadn’t led this failure of an attack, her dearest friend in all the world would not be in pieces. Golden eyes, the light against the greys of a barren land that yielded only bitter cold and a barren people that loathed them, othered them…those golden eyes see no more. Daenerys closes her own and reels away, lets herself return to Drogon while that great golden bitch up on Kings Landing’s walls laughs—
(you’re a dragon, olenna tyrell said with her eyes so vivid in the dark. be a dragon)
and Drogon roars his sorrows for the death of Mhysa’s trusted companion, the only one who braids Mhysa’s hair with soft dark hands. Soft hands chained once again, after those chains were broken before. Cersei Lannister slaughtered Missandei after putting her in chains, and the image is so violently wrong that Daenerys wonders if she will be sick. All men must die after all, so what if all men must vomit on the boots of their soldiers as well?
Valar morghulis. High Valyrian, with no accent. Daenerys herself had a Tyroshi accent, from years of trailing after Viserys in the Free Cities. Starving, cold, and half-dead, yet Viserys said they would not die either. They were blood of the dragon, and they would be victorious. And now his ashes are buried somewhere in the Great Grass Sea, rolling waves of green and gold that Daenerys yearns for. The sea, and Meereen, and a stone house with a red door and a lemon tree.
She told Missandei that she would show her that door and that lemon tree, once Daenerys planted a lemon grove in the Keep’s gardens. But the air here is frigid and dirty, and no trees will grow here. Dragons cannot plant trees, and all dragon blooded men must die.
(all men must die, but we are women
women, born of men yes but mostly women, women’s pains and women’s griefs
would she live to grieve?)
Daenerys finds herself atop Drogon, and Kings Landing is not so far that she can’t see the scorpions mounted on the walls. Vile creations of a vile bitch that killed her son. Her sons, her babies she nursed at her breast, dead as if they were trueborn men. Now only Drogon is here, Drogon who saw each of his brothers die and he lets out a scream she cannot hear but feels instead, a scream that shakes her bones until her marrow is frothing with sudden purpose.
All men must die. Not all men choose where they must die. Daenerys, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons, may be born of men and must die a man’s death. But she shall choose, and in a rush of clarity all is sweet silence.
Drogon rises in a burst that knocks over anyone within a 20-meter range. The armies below begin to scatter, and the ballista archers are caught off guard because of course they assumed she would not risk the attack. It matters not if they kill her and her son, for they will die one day, perhaps today. What matters is that the golden bitch is still on the ramparts, as great a fool as her brothers, and her executioner’s sword still drips with Missandei’s blood.
(be a dragon, she said with conviction burning like brimstone, like the doom of valyria where truly all men must have died)
Daenerys opens her mouth to speak, but the air is so violent around her rapid flight that her voice is lost. But Drogon hears his Mhysa speak, as clearly as she heard Missandei.
And in a great sweep of flames Cersei Lannister learns what her hostage’s final words meant.
The city falls within the hour. For all the Golden Company was paid, watching the very walls behind them crumble into ash from dragonfire renders them fearful. Weak. And the Unsullied are led by a man who understands valar morghulis far better than Cersei’s sellswords ever could. Not a single soul is spared, and not a single innocent is set to slaughter beyond Missandei of Naath.
Daenerys turns her attentions to Euron’s fleet, who now no longer has its lead commander. They fall within two hours; Drogon takes a ballista through his right leg and the tip of his left wing, but he rains fire and blood upon them until their burnt entrails feed sharks and seagulls. He even eats a few of the ironborn, and when his teeth rip through their soft flesh the blood gushing from his teeth reminds Daenerys of Missandei’s corpse leaving a thick splatter.
Daenerys survives, somehow, and her victory leaves her cold. She wanted (wants) to die as all men did, like her only true friend did, but now she’s Queen of the Seven Kingdoms just as she always wanted (had wanted?). She walks over the debris into the city, Drogon at her back, and the soldiers within all throw their swords to the ground and bow.
More swords for the Iron Throne. More oaths of loyalty she must sit through and decipher whether they are truly leal. More lies, politicking, deceptions, more…much. So much, and as she leads her armies to the Red Keep she retreats into the blessed silence from before. She does not want to hear what the smallfolk scream at her presence, at her only son, at her soldiers and bloodriders whose skin ranges from gold to ebony. Pasty, these smallfolk are, and their lordlings above them. Pasty and dirty and malnourished and dissimilar from the slaves she freed in the Bay of Dragons but not entirely wrong.
What choice did they have in being here, in having that wretched creature as their queen? All men must die yes, but valar dohaeris: all men must serve. They shall serve as her people, as they must. And she shall serve as queen, as she must.
(we are not men, and we shall survive)
If the Iron Throne cuts her she does not feel it. She doesn’t feel much of anything, looking down on her somewhat loyal advisors and truly trustworthy men. Men who bled and died for her, in the North. Half of her entire khalasar, pulled together from the mighty khalasars of the Great Grass Sea, now only ashes. Bones. Do they now ride eternal in the Night Lands with her departed Drogo?
Her coronation will not be until the remaining lords of her new kingdom come to Kings Landing to make their oaths. Tyrion looks up at her with his green eye and black eye shining with—is it grief for his sister? Relief that Daenerys did not burn down this city? Another emotion she doesn’t care to puzzle out? It matters not.
She gives orders because she must. Yes, bolster the City Watch to make sure there are no riots and crimes in her wake. Yes, take the supplies meant to feed her armies for a long battle and hand it out to the poor. Yes, she shall take part in it (for she must). No, she does not wish to wait for her finery from Dragonstone, what she has will do.
Yes, she will greet Lord Snow and his entourage when they arrive. No, she says in the quiet of her new chambers, she will not greet Jon when he arrives here.
Instead she directs Drogon to go out over Blackwater Bay and feast, in either bodies or creatures. She cares not for the details, only that her son is fed. Then she goes into the pits of Kings Landing to share her bounty. A mother must feed her children, and were these pathetic wraiths not her new children? Grey Worm is a comfort at her side, when she kneels in the dirt and gives a child hard bread and salted meat. The child hesitates at first, but hunger wins Daenerys a loyal subject.
By the time Jon arrives, the smallfolk are fed and content. Tyrion and Varys are quick to remind them of what happened at the Sept of Baelor, and when an unlucky Dothraki is engulfed in a hidden barrel’s wildfire, screaming his defiance to the Seven-That-Are-One for allowing such a cursed substance to exist—
(v a l a r m o r g h u l i s)
the extent of Cersei’s willingness to use Kings Landing’s people as her human shields paints Daenerys in a sweeter light. Not perfect, never perfect, Daenerys is too foreign and stranger and other to have their love yet as they loved Margaery Tyrell. But they are content. And that will serve for now.
What will also serve was Missandei’s attempted friendship with a little girl in their service. All the other little girls in the North hated Missandei for her hair and her skin and her lightbright eyes, but this girl did not. She was friendly. She still is friendly, and Daenerys knows that someone pays her to be.
The girl brings her food straight from the kitchens, because the kitchens cannot be trusted. Daenerys nods, too tired to smile. When the girl leaves, she has an Unsullied feed the bread and apple to a horse. Hours later, the horse is dead, from a soft and silent death. And Daenerys knows that someone pays well for such a sweet poison for their sweet queen.
She wonders if she should let it happen. Death comes for all men, and was she not ready to die when she scorched the walls of her city? And the horse merely went to sleep, never to rise again. Was that not a good death, a better death than she’d ever receive otherwise?
…not yet. Her reign has yet to begin; she cannot take the easy way out of her servitude, not quite yet.
The Northerners bend the knee at Jon’s lead, and she houses them in comfort. She does not want to deal with Sansa Stark and her complaints, not now and not ever. She shall serve as their queen until she dies, but she will not suffer their constant discontent.
Jon finds her sitting in her nightshift on a balcony over Blackwater Bay, legs dangling over the edge. The wind is cold, so different than the thick sea breezes of Meereen or the dusty winds of Vaes Dothrak. Missandei once said that the weather on Naath was balmy and wet, perfect for growing the silkworms that once made their island prosperous.
Now, like Missandei, that prosperity is dead. Must all men die?
Would it be so easy, to fall from this balcony as she did?
(all men must die all men must serve, but would this balcony serve for my dying?)
“Dany,” he says, as if he has the right anymore. Daenerys checks her heart for the overwhelming passionate love she bears for her secret nephew and finds…she closes her eyes. It’s as dark behind her eyelids as the night over the bay, she might as well keep them closed and save herself the effort. She hears him sigh. “Will you not look at me?”
“Come closer then.” It doesn’t matter if he’s at her threshold or at her feet, they feel the same with cold rejection staining her skin. First, he would not kiss her, but that was fine. She did not need to be kissed. But then he would not hold her, but that was fine. She did not need to be held. But then he would not listen to her, and that she could not stand. “Let me see the man, whose father kept a secret for years, but you could not keep for a few days.”
He flinches, and she wonders why this doesn’t fill her with satisfaction. Shouldn’t she let him know that she knows that Sansa knows, and Varys knows? Varys, who looked at her on the throne like she was a mistake? Who has always led her with counsel that led to disaster?
(i serve the realm, he says. all men must serve, and all men must die too, even their sweet queens)
“I know that Varys knows. Varys knows, because someone told him. I did not tell him. No one would have believed Samwell if he told anyone. And Bran would not tell because who would ask him to begin with? So that leaves you, and your sisters who hate me.”
“I had to tell them!” And then he goes off, in a voice so impassioned that it would’ve moved a mountain. But Daenerys is a sea of grass, butterflies above that sea of grass, ashes rising from a pyre in that sea, and she cannot hear Jon when all she can smell is Drogo. Drogo, Missandei, Jorah, Ser Barristan, her leal bloodriders gone in the night, even Viserys. All men must die, indeed.
Jon trails off when he realizes that she’s not listening. She looks at him, and he looks at her, and says, “You are my queen. Please believe that I am loyal to you.”
“Is that all I am to you?” Daenerys does not want to bother with foreplay. She undoes the ties of her shift and exposes her breasts. Jon turns away, sharp like a sword unsheathing in battle, and it’s a relief. A relief, to know and put the question to rest. “Alright then.” Her voice is soft, so soft like the echo of Missandei’s last words breaking over the crests of waves in the bay. “I am your queen. And you will serve me, as I serve the realm.”
Jon objects to her marriage proposal. Then she reminds him that (supposedly) he loves her, and she needs people she trusts (supposedly) by her side. He need not sleep with her again, as she will not partake in that barbaric Westerosi bedding ceremony. Jon agrees, but only then. Daenerys swallows down the sudden urge to tear out her eyes and keen.
She decides to gather evidence against Varys, in the case that she does die, and someone wonder why. She needs more proof than dead horses and friendly little girls, and Jon is so eager to get back in her good graces after their disastrous engagement. So, she tells him and Ser Davos that she fears for her safety in her coming coronation, and they pledge to keep her safe. For Jon that means taking note of the soldiers in the Keep that were never loyal to Cersei at all, were they? And for Ser Davos, that means looking into the eyes of little children and seeing which ones reflect the whims of someone else’s.
By the time the lords have begun amassing in the capital, Tyrion comes to her with Jon and Ser Davos’s worries. “They don’t have the name of who is plotting your death, Your Grace, but there is proof enough that we should postpone—”
“Who told you that Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark?” Daenerys rests her hands on her middle, staring as always into the bay. Her body is tender, but the pain does not register as it once did. Everything is softer now, quieter, as if she is wrapped in wool and Naathi silk.
Tyrion denies it for a moment, then concedes. “Lady Sansa told me, Your Grace.”
“Did you tell anyone else?”
“Only Lord Varys, but…” his voice trails off as finally, finally, his famed intelligence starts up again for the first time since Meereen.
(all men must serve, even halfmen, to their best ability)
Daenerys walks away from the balcony towards her rooms. “It doesn’t matter right now. We can deal with it after the wedding and coronation. But I need someone to taste my wine.”
And what a joint ceremony it is, for it also stands as the fresh start of other lords’ reigns as well. Lady Sansa is there, for Stark and the North, and Edmure Tully at her side for the Riverlands. Yara Greyjoy, for the Iron Islands (she has served, she will receive a boon), Robin Arryn and his protector Yohn Royce for the Vale, and Gendry Baratheon for the Stormlands.
Then there are the new faces. The new Princess of Dorne is Arianne Sand, the bastard daughter of Prince Lewyn from House Martell. Daenerys legitimizes her as a Martell for good measure in case other houses are discontent. Arianne is bold and bright, like a Dothraki woman instead of Westerosi, and Daenerys appreciates that. Baelor Hightower claims the Reach and Highgarden, which Daenerys knows is sticky because of Tyrion’s ill-thought attempt to bribe Ser Bronn of the Blackwater. But Baelor has lived in the Reach all his life, his dead sister was a Tyrell, and she talks with him for some time about his plans to replant the Reach after half of it has gone fallow during the wars.
Then there are the Westerlands to deal with. Jaime Lannister is here, attached to Ser Brienne of Tarth who is attached to Sansa. But his cousin Ser Daven is also here to claim Casterly Rock, and Jaime seems like he’d rather live out the rest of his days with Ser Brienne. Jaime, who looks at her with grief and rage and guilt and (relief?) all those other emotions she doesn’t have time for.
The smallfolk are given free bread from the Reach and Dornish wine and fruits, as those are the only two kingdoms with food to spare. They rejoice, and Daenerys buys cheers of “Queen Daenerys” and “Stormborn” and “Savior of Kings Landing” just like buying slaves at Astaphor. Bread is her coin and she shall serve as a most gentle mother-master.
(mighty breaker of chains tied to the wheel with chains of duty)
She walks down the aisle of the sept arm-in-arm with Jon, with as gentle an expression as she can manage. The golden bitch blew up the great Sept of Baelor, but there are other septs within Kings Landing and the sept she is in is large enough to hold all the important guests and officiants and even a crowd of lucky smallfolk. Her dress is cloth of silver with a three headed dragon embroidered upon her skirts and bodies in rubies and jet. Bells ring in her braids, and with the light streaming in through the windows she knows she is a vision of beauty. The Maiden, Mother and Crone at once. Would Missandei have wept to see her in all her finery?
Jon is handsome as ever, forever dressed in black and Stark grey. He is the one she cloaks in her house’s colors, he is the one who is Consort while she is Regnant. When they pledge their troths, he is the one who bends the knee. All is as it should be, as they begin the coronation.
She presses her lips against his cheek. Never again, can she allow him to rule her heart.
The High Septon anoints her with seven oils on seven stars upon her breast, and she inhales the fragrant scents deeply for that’s all she can feel. Only the scents, for the people’s voices have smudged into a dull roar. Drogon roars, from his perch in the under-construction dragon pit, so perhaps that’s what she hears. Will a flight dislodge the valar morghulis from her ears, so that she can finally bask in victory?
Is this victory?
The crown upon her brow belonged to Good Queen Alysanne, who set an example of how a queen must rule and serve. Jon hooks their arms together. She is Queen eternal now, legitimate in the eyes of her people. Everything she has strived for her entire life. Her everything, in this moment. Her victory.
She steps out of the Sept and looks down below at her new children.
Her victory is nothing special.
(all men must serve and die and serve and die and serve and die and serve)
After the wedding-coronation, there’s the ceremony where only Tyrion drinks her wine. Daenerys dances with whomever asks, but only once. Jon never asks. She does not want him to ask.
She discusses her plans with Tyrion and her lords about the future. The kingdom is shattered by years of fighting and famine, and winter comes with or without the Night King as its herald. Order must be maintained throughout the lands, and the lands must be ordered. Some lords make a face at her decree of instating Dornish-style primogeniture throughout all of Westeros. “Your Grace, this is unprecedented—”
“In High Valyrian, we say valar morghulis, in that all men must die. I’m sure you’ve heard of this before.” Daenerys presses her jeweled bracelet against the fragile skin of her wrist until it aches; she needs the clarity, she cannot lose track of her words to the wind now. “But there’s also valar dohaeris, in that all men must serve. I would have everyone serve in their capacity to heal our kingdom, and I would serve the needs of every one of my people, be they lords or ladies.”
Varys no longer looks at her like she’s a monster. Such a pity he could not wait to betray her. But that’s another emotion she doesn’t have time for right now, not when there is so Much. She told Tyrion she didn’t wish for a bedding ceremony, but suddenly the music changes and people are cheering, and men lift her high in the air. The air in her lungs turns to lead because this cannot happen, she will not be stripped in front of her people, she can’t.
(must she serve even her body?)
Jon breaks through the crowd and carries her to her chambers as any man carries his blushing bride, or so the songs tell. Daenerys is struck by the suddenly closeness, the body heat seeping into the numbness in her hands and feet. Memories of their times on the boat to Winterfell and by the waterfall ignite a spark, a flicker of expectation. Of unease.
Will he, after all? Does she want him to?
He lies her on the bed (their? bed) and stares at her. The unease and expectation churn her organs into slurry, and she can hear her hands shake against the sheets. But will he? “My lord husband.”
Daenerys never cried for Missandei, there was never time for it. But maybe there’s time to cry for this, because even now spread-legged on their bed she is but the Queen. Daenerys, First of Her Name, entirely alone. The agony is exquisite, filling the yawing hollow in her heart like he once filled her with love. At least this pain is hers.
Then something shifts on his face. Jon’s face is always so open, so easy to read, and she’s seen him fight before. Seen him grit his teeth and bear the brunt of the unsavory act of piling bodies on a pyre. His jaw clenches now, in that same way, and there is a finality in his eyes that sends a sudden thrill up her spine. He has chosen a course of path, and she still doesn’t know what she wants.
The kiss is hard, unyielding, a sword through the enemy. It is a bold opening move, followed by the rending of a wedding-coronation dress. One must strip the enemy of its outer defenses if one must storm the keep. The cavalry inside falls, as if meeting a Dothraki horde on an open field. A white flag of surrender, and the keep is breeched. And breeched, and breeched and breeched—
She does not like being on her stomach, where she can only grasp at her pillow and brace. Her sun and stars hurts, with Drogo’s strength crushing her, making her fear death, making her wish for death—
She must serve her husband as all wives must serve while her husband services her, men born of women and women born of men must all serve—
Her skin itches where tears land on her shoulders from above. When it’s finally finished, she can hear music from outside about a bear and a maiden fair with honey all over her hair.
She walks with Arianne Martell in the gardens, comparing the surviving autumn flowers here with Dorne and with Qarth, Astaphor, Meereen. There are some exotic flowers, gifts from merchants and visiting princelings, that Daenerys finds pleasing. Most pleasing is how warm Arianne’s skin is, in the crook of her elbow. There’s no danger in that warmth, not when Drogon makes lazy circles in the skies, and Grey Worm follows a few paces away, and Arianne is so entirely enchanted with being Princess of Dorne that the Iron Throne holds no meaning for her.
“My mother was Prince Lewyn’s paramour, you see. I was raised in King’s Landing until the Sack, and I remember some of the court from before. You’re the image of the late Queen Rhaella.”
Ser Barristan used to speak of her mother, of how devoted she was to duty and how bruises bloomed on her skin. The comparison is well made.
(the bruises on her skin are of her own making; jon never hurts her in that way, she will give him that)
“Do you remember anything else?”
Arianne turns towards a deep orange hibiscus withering on the vine. “I remember my cousin, the Princess Elia. I even met her daughter Princess Rhaenys and held her and played with her cat. I remember Elia the most though. Elia was kind, and gentle with me, and made me laugh. She smelled like water lilies from the Water Gardens in Dorne.” They stop. “She had a son named Aegon. A pale little thing, and fat. I remember him, and Rhaenys, and Elia. I remember that they died. Most of the kingdoms don’t.”
Viserys hated Elia for causing the war. Daenerys knows that he was a foolish man with a foolish man’s perspectives. She’s seen Sansa Stark and the leal loyalty she inspires in near strangers; Lyanna Stark would’ve had no trouble catching Rhaegar’s eye. And what could be said about her brother, who abandoned his wife and children to die so he could fuck a woman-child?
Elia served, as wives serve and mothers serve, and died forgotten. Daenerys squeezes Arianne’s arm. “I remember.”
“Your Master of Whispers doesn’t.” Arianne smiles, and gives Daenerys a scrap of paper perfectly raven-sized. She reads, and sighs. Arianne says, “Dorne knows only one Aegon Targaryen, and we buried his bones in Sunspear. If your lovely husband ever thinks to betray you, Dorne is on your side, Your Grace.”
Daenerys shivers with the first pleasure she’s felt since Missandei died. Someone, someone is loyal. Someone believes her, believes in her. The heady warmth spreads through her entire body until she is buoyant. “I will do everything I must to repay your loyalty, Your Highness.” She recalls Arianne’s Dorthaki-like nature, and how her bloodrider Kovarro (one of her last two bloodriders, valar morghulis) has taken sweetly to that nature. “Of course, that extends to my men.”
Arianne smiles, as saucy as a Red Grace in Meereen. Another marriage, then. Daenerys will delight in this one. They stop walking when they hear footsteps from ahead in the path. “Your Grace.” It’s Sansa Stark and her siblings, Jon looking like he’s about to enter another fight.
(she will not flinch when he clenches his jaw, he does as he must, and that’s fine)
“Lady Stark. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
She is poised, not a viper but an ice stalactite aiming at Daenerys’s throat. “The North has given you the necessary armies and supplies to take your throne. You are now Queen. Now the North expects to be repaid, with your independence.”
Arianne shifts in Daenerys’s arm, and the buoyancy from before is engulfed in a sudden rage that knocks the breath from her lips. High Valyrian with no accent rings like surrender bells in her ears, like waves crashing and buffeting against the bodies in Blackwater Bay. Valar morghulis, valar morghulis, v a l a r m o r g h u l i s, yet there Sansa stands while Missandei doesn’t, Sansa stands in HER gardens in HER kingdom while she’s done NOTHING, and she dares, she DARES! “The necessary armies? I took Kings Landing on my own, for my own, while those Northern armies were dawdling at the Trident. Where were those armies indeed, when Missandei’s head was struck from her shoulders?!”
Ser Brienne steps between them, and Arya Stark has her hand on a dagger. Who were they to THREATEN her in her own KEEP?! Daenerys inhales and she smells enough to paint a picture. Jon’s acrid sweat, Sansa’s lemon perfume, the soil flaking beneath their feet, a promise of snow at tomorrow’s dawn. She swears she can smell their BETRAYAL, their DISHONOR.
“But what can I expect from the Starks? Jon told me that you two swore in front of a weirwood to keep his secrets, yet here I am with assignations from my own Master of Whispers!” Daenerys thrusts the scrap at their faces, and she registers the flush spreading down her limbs. Before, she was naught but smoke and ashes. Now, now she is dragonfire, she is Dragonstone and the DOOM of Valyria. “And now you demand that which you haven’t earned! After I lost over half of my people to save your frozen wasteland! Have you no honor, no shame?!”
Arianne presses closer to Daenerys’s side. She is a viper coiling at her threshold, ready to strike at her enemies. “I know some ways of the North, Your Grace. To break a vow spoken before a weirwood is to be the worst kind of oathbreaker. I wonder what they do to oathbreakers there, for in Dorne the punishment for that is death.”
Above, Drogon roars and the gardens tremble with his rage, with Mhysa’s wrath. All the color leaves Sansa’s face, and Jon goes to his knees. “Please, Dany—”
“Your Grace,” Daenerys doesn’t know who hisses but the sound reminds her of her purpose. A Queen, she is, and a QUEEN she shall be. TRAITORS to her kingdom shall NOT be suffered. “I know the North, and how they hold no love for me. I’ve heard from your own stories, my lord husband, of Lords Umber and Glover’s duplicity, of your betrayals. All of Dorne knows of the Starks’ actions against the Martells, and how your sister seeks to advance you above the firstborn Aegon son of Rhaegar. I know everything I need to know about the North. And you may have what you desire.”
They take a moment to process this. Sansa is the first to recover. “What?”
“Take the North from the Neck and be gone.” Daenerys motions at Arianne and Ser Brienne. “Two witnesses, to make it official. You take your frozen hell and you be gone from my sights until the end of your days.” She smiles, so wide the corners of her lips ache and her lip color changes from rose pink to blush red. “And make no mistake, independent you shall be. No grain nor wood nor any other trade shall come to your ports from my kingdoms, not even from the Bay of Dragons. I have my own people to serve and to feed and to clothe—I have no time to waste on those who have proven themselves to be untrustworthy.”
Sansa gasps, and Daenerys relishes the horror dawning in her eyes. She’s seen Winterfell, of how nothing remains of the glass gardens and the granaries. She’s heard Sansa complain about the state of the food in her loathsome lands. And winter comes for everyone equally, just as death. “You would starve innocent people because of your—your pride!”
Daenerys leans in, so Sansa can see through her eyes to the depths of her resolve. Let her see the desolation there, equally matched by the desolation of her now kingdom. “You have what you’ve came here for. Now starve.”
She assembles the lords together for another proclamation. In honor of her loyal support, Daenerys names Yara Greyjoy Queen of the Stepstones, in the capacity that the ironborn could truly take them back from pirates of the Free Cities. Yara grins with teeth just like her executed uncle, and Daenerys knows there shall be no reaving and raping in her kingdom for some years yet. Yara is Queen and is still loyal; Sansa is Queen and can do as she pleases. Will this make them content?
It’s foolish to think so. Edmure Tully throws a tantrum over his niece’s ignoble departure from the kingdoms and Robin Arryn is little better. Then Daenerys asks them how much food they have prepared to send to the North while still feeding their own subjects. Edmure backs down, and Robin admits he’s hardly thought of his cousin in many moons. Yohn Royce is not so easily cowed. “Your Grace,” he tells her, “this is cruelty.”
“This is serving the realm.” She must serve, all men must serve, and she is born of men and she has nothing left but that. “Queen Sansa shall serve her own in her best capacity, unless she so decides to swear loyalty to the Iron Throne and rejoin the Six Kingdoms.”
The Northern party leaves as soon as they could pack their belongings, and she witnesses from behind a column an argument between Queen Sansa and Ser Brienne. “I am your sworn sword, Your Grace!”
“And your father has written me saying that he only has months left! Go back to Tarth, with your family!” She motions at Ser Brienne’s stomach. “I will not have your child grow up in Winterfell when I can’t assure if there will be food for it!”
Ah. Ser Brienne and her knight. Daven Lannister is the new Warden of the West, so Jaime is free to give up his name to marry the heiress apparent of Tarth. Daenerys supposed she is pleased that they won’t starve. Ser Brienne, at least, has been the soul of courtesy towards her.
“Please, Your Grace…Lady Sansa—”
Sansa takes her hands and assures her with words Daenerys can’t hear. Ser Brienne is so leal and loyal to this woman, this ice goddess, that Daenerys used to be jealous. Now she is relieved it’s no longer her problem.
(that night, the battle is violent on both their parts and she relishes in their pain. let them both die, for she is so tired of serving)
When there is time to breathe between meeting her new lords, Daenerys and Varys take tea together. She rubs her thumb around the rim of her cup, mostly present as they plan her next moves and get a feel for her new kingdom’s fracture points. All the alliances, petty grievances, willingness to betray each other—
(varys, allied with sansa, a grievance against daenerys, so willing to change allegiances like changing robes
to whom does such a man serve, but one?)
all that which she must know. And she knows her death sits before her. And she knows it would do no one well to execute one who serves better than they kill. The question is if he is worth keeping. “Please, Lord Varys, the tea will grow cold.” She sips at her cup. Her new maester is not the notorious Qyburn who could create anything from nothing, but Varys doesn’t have access to his subtler poisons now when there is so much upheaval. Not for now, anyway. An antidote sits cold and bitter underneath her tongue.
As expected, he gracefully declines. Very well then. “Lord Varys, all men must serve. I must serve as Queen, you must serve as Master of Whispers, and all the lords and ladies must serve to protect their smallfolk, as the smallfolk must serve their lords and ladies. Is that not true?”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
Daenerys pinches her thigh until blood vessels break into a lovely storm cloud right there on her skin. “And who do you serve?”
“…the realm, Your Grace.” Ah, he knows that she knows something. But Daenerys is not a fool like Jon, she is willing to understand.
She doesn’t blunt her words, she lets them flow out like lava from Dragonstone, like blood from a torn throat. “You served the realm under my father Aerys, and under Robert Baratheon, and under Cersei’s bastards Joffrey and Tommen. Tell me, how well was the realm served then?” She leans in when he makes his excuses. “I’ve known men like you. The realm you serve is not the Realm, but the realm of your own self-interests. And if it interests you to manipulate the realm to create chaos that serves you, then things happen. Like Aerys learning about Harrenhall, and Eddard Stark losing his head before all of King’s Landing.”
“My brother Viserys taught me about our father’s rule in a rosy light, and then Ser Jorah and Ser Barristan in a true light. Every one of them mentioned you, the Spider, and the webs you weave.” Daenerys smiles, and she knows it’s soulless. “Drink your tea, Lord Varys. The girl you assigned to bring me my meals prepared it herself.”
Silence, as golden as the dawn. He picks up his cup with hands that, to his credit, do not shake. The rim presses against pale lips, and Daenerys flicks her fingers. “Stop. Weave your web and poison my bread, I care not about your interests if they keep my people fed and safe. Jon is my consort now, so you can stop wasting ravens on sedition.” Daenerys leaves Arianne’s message on the table, and his face turns a delightful shade of purple. As if she’s strangling him with these fragile arms. She rakes her forearm against a butter knife, to keep her thoughts in check. “All men must serve. If you will not serve, then die.”
He bows and takes his leave. Daenerys knows he will kill her someday. But not today, and that’s what matters for now.
Months pass, and winter descends with finality.
(they say the north is frozen over. all men must serve but she does not serve them, no longer)
Daenerys brings color and music back into the Red Keep, if only to keep her lords happy. An army of bards, dancers, artisans and merchants from every part of the Six Kingdoms and the places in Essos that respect her rule. She prefers silence, but delicate harp and flute music is nearly as fine, and her solar and chambers are given over to soft arias. For the halls and for other lords, it’s a cacophony of sounds and laughter. A pleasant court, if not entirely merry.
She rules with the help of her council. Ser Baelor leads the effort to plant winter grains to feed the smallfolk remaining after a near decade of war. Gendry has no grasp of politics, but understands the needs of the poor, so he is essential to negotiating work projects with aimless smallfolk. Ser Davos helps when he’s not at holdfast with his wife; Daenerys is understanding when he often chooses his wife. Someone must enjoy their marriage, if only to preserve the institution. She hears rumors of happy blonde-haired children on Tarth, and wonders what she must do to make her own marriage happy.
Arianne herself marries Kovarro, and half of the remaining Dothraki resettle in Dorne, mounting sand steeds to roam the dunes and help keep the fragile post-civil war peace. The other half return with her other bloodrider to Essos, back to the Great Grass Sea. The Unsullied also split in two: Grey Worm and one half at their Mhysa’s side, the other half to Meereen to help eradicate what little remains of the slave trade. Her people there haven risen up, electing their own Queens, and taking their lands back for their own.
(all men must serve, but no longer in chains. That knowledge lets her sleep at night)
Tyrion is her Hand, and Varys feeds her knowledge, and she is still alive. Miraculously, tragically, enduringly alive.
One night, she and Tyrion sip wine before the hearth in her solar. Jon is sparring with the new guards, hopefully tiring himself out before he returns to their chambers. Tyrion says, “I found this, while going through the possessions of the former Queen. It seems there’s a few eggs remaining within the Red Keep, although we have yet to find any others.”
Tyrion holds out a pearlescent white and blue dragon egg. It reminds her of seashells on Naath, of clouds above Vaes Dothrak, of her bathwater laced with lavender and poppy. It reminds her that there once a dynasty of dragonriders here in this hollow keep, and that their legacy goes through both her and Drogon. Such a heavy weight, this legacy, but it’s hers. None shall take it from her, least of all this egg.
This chance for something new.
(a chance for something to live)
She cradles it against her stomach, against the heart that beats within. No one knows of the secret beneath her skin, but she’s felt this way before. This weakness in her joints, this salt and marrow on her tongue. Rhaego did not live to take his first breath, deformed in a mockery of his brothers. She will do everything she must to ensure the first breath of this little one, and all her breaths after.
Daenerys wishes for a little girl who will never know the pains of the mothers before her.
A sudden crash jolts her and Tyrion. Ser Bronn is there, having thrown aside the doors to her solar and he wields a large crossbow. He settles the aim to her pale throat. “Evening, Your Grace. I believe we have some negotiations to make.”
Tyrion stutters, and Daenerys sighs. “You’re not getting Highgarden. That was not your bargain to make.” She eyes the dark space behind him. Did he kill her Unsullied or did he sneak in after causing a distraction?
Bronn grins with rotten teeth. “Bold words coming from—” and then a sword releases the burden of his head from his shoulders. Tyrion throws his chair away in a rush, and Blue Flea cleans his weapon. Ah, a distraction then, as her guard is unhurt. She turns her attentions back to her egg.
“Lord Tyrion, please keep me informed on any more eggs you may find. Perhaps if you are present while the hatchings are fresh from their shells, they may learn to tolerate your touch during flight.” Tyrion smiles, and Daenerys prides herself on reeling back in her advisor. She cannot lose another, she cannot bring her heir into an uncertain world.
Jon finds out when she cannot hide her growing child from their nightly routine. He sinks to his knees and looking in his eyes she can feel his heart break. She flicks her fingers. Why is he sad? Does he not know how this child was conceived? She asks.
“I…I’ve been hurting you, haven’t I?” She shrugs; it didn’t really matter what she felt, this is what was expected of them. She tells him so and watches him curl into a ball on top of her and weep into her breast. He weeps for a long time. “Did you know?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” His voice is like ash, and her eyes fill with tears. Why didn’t she, indeed. “We could’ve stopped this—this farce, I could’ve taken separate rooms—”
“Isn’t this what you wanted?” A strangled noise escapes his lips and she must get a grip, she cannot fall apart from sudden shame when she is still so raw. She blinks away the tears and stares at the hearth. Sometimes she sticks her hands in and admires how her skin glows without burning. If she truly wants to hurt, she has herself for that, and Jon. “I know you. You keep…forcing yourself to do this, so you must want this in some way.”
“No! I don’t want this! I never wanted this!” He shakes her as he screams, and she tilts her head back. If she tilts her head back, she can imagine riding Drogon through the stars until she is the Queen of the Night and untouchable. She can go away, far away where she never learned of this kingdom’s wretched name. To Meereen, to Naath, to a house with a red door and a lemon tree, all the way to the Shadow at the end of the world. To somewhere where she and Jon would’ve been happy, in a different song.
When she touches down on land again, Jon is gone. She cleans herself up, puts on her riding clothes, and goes to her son. Her son, the first babe she held in her arms that lived. He shall have a sister, and perhaps another sibling too if she can hatch the egg. She will give her beloved son a family, and they will fly after the moon together. Drogon yells his joy, and she presses her face against his scales. So warm, so blissfully warm, and unbidden a sob leaves her lips, then two.
Here she is safe, safe enough to collapse against her son and remember Missandei. Remember Jorah. Remember Viserion and Rhaegal. Remember all the faces long past and burned. Even remember herself and Jon happy together.
She shrieks to the night, and Drogon unleashes his flames. The dark chasm swallowing her whole is illuminated by fire, if just for a moment, and she’s struck numb by how it echoes and echoes.
Later, Tyrion and the maester will tell her not to ride Drogon for more than thirty minutes. The babe may not survive it. Daenerys resents them, resents not being able to escape, but she agrees. She must do whatever she must, for the sake of this heir. This child. Alysanne, or perhaps Elaenys, or maybe even Jonquil to appease her lord husband.
When she is so heavy with child that she must retreat to confinement chambers, she seeks out Jon in the training fields. “By the next moon, we shall hold our child in our arms.” He looks at her with so much pain and grief that she wonders if their child will be born dead, just like Rhaego. But her womb jostles with life. “What shall we name them? I like Alysanne and Elaenys and Jonquil for a daughter, but I’m at a loss for a son.” Perhaps if he helps name the child, he’ll learn to love them again.
“…would Edric be fine, for a son?”
“Of course.” He reaches out to cup her cheek, and she prides herself in not flinching. His skin is hot and chapped from wielding a sword. She craves that warmth, but not from him. Not now. “I hope they have your hair.” His hair is safe, his hair cannot grab and breech a holdfast.
“I hope they are entirely like you.” There are tears in his throat; why? What does he mourn? He kisses her forehead, the symbol of a concerned husband and father-to-be, for the sake of those around them. “Please, be well.”
She enters her confinement, and sinks into the deep, blanketing silence.
Daenerys sits by the fire with her Dothraki handmaidens and ladies from all over the kingdoms, Arianne chief among them as she visits from Dorne. They have various bottles of wine and brandy and fermented milk on a low table, and Daenerys watches them imbibe and dare each other to combine drinks together. She rolls her dragon egg in her hands, and lets their laughter and gossip wash over her. Not silence, not golden, but it’s so easy to hear without listening, to be without being. And happy ladies mean happy relations with her kingdoms. They will love her, and be loyal, and serve.
She notices a maid slip in with far too much grace for a common Crownsland maid. A Sorrowful Man, a Faceless Man? Is Varys making his move now, when she cannot fight back? She meets the maid’s eyes and feels ice clench her veins. Those are the eyes of the North, come to seek blood.
The North had sent two ravens, both asking for aid. She had ignored both, and her lords were too busy feeding their own to defy Daenerys and feed their neighbors. From what Varys had said, only a thousand lives linger around ravaged Winterfell and the frozen over White Harbor. The Queen in the North had not been seen for a few weeks, either herself in confinement or perhaps sick or dead. That mattered not to Daenerys, except now her gentle war was yielding violent results.
“At least spare my ladies.” Her ladies whip their heads around in confusion. “They’ve done you no harm, and they will scream.”
The maid opens the door, and Daenerys tells them to return to their own rooms until she has another maid fetch them. They file out, steps slow and suspicious and not as drunk as one would expect. No, they’re her own little birds, and the maid will have precious little time to kill Daenerys now.
The maid pulls off her face like sloughing burnt skin off, and it’s Arya Stark. Her cheeks are gaunt, her skin chapped and anemic, and her hair brittle. Most of all, her eyes see Daenerys, and they hate. Daenerys smiles without feeling her lips move. “Come to swear fealty to the Throne?”
Arya throws a rolled-up message into her lap. It comes from Alys Karstark, Elected Queen of the North, doing exactly that. “You’ve starved us. My sister died because she wouldn’t eat unless the children ate first.” Daenerys nods. That was what she expected (hoped) to happen. “Alys can kneel to whomever she wants. I’ve got a list, and you have blood on your hands.”
Daenerys looks at the egg, then at the low table, and out the window where her son is sleeping. Years ago, she walked into her sun and star’s pyre with a witch screaming through the flames and her stillborn son staining her thighs, and she emerged with three dragon children. She has but one egg now, and her child is alive in her womb. Her child MUST not die. But Arya Stark is here. One of them MUST scream.
One of them MUST die, and fire will serve them WELL.
She hooks her ankle around one of the table’s legs. “Valar morghulis!” She upends the table with all its alcohol into the hearth, and glass explodes outward. Arya yells in shock and pain kisses up and down her side like a lover’s embrace. Drogon wakes, sensing his Mhysa, and Daenerys screams in a voice that rages from the very bottom of her soul, “DRACARYS!”
Her ladies return with guards, Unsullied, Jon and Tyrion and Varys. They find Daenerys in active labor, Drogon curled around his mother. A tiny dragon, shimmering like a mother-of-pearl, nurses from Daenerys. Not a single trace of the mystery maid is to be found.
Alysanne, Princess of Dragonstone, Heiress Apparent to the Iron Throne, is born at dawn. She screams with loud, healthy lungs, and she has ten fingers and ten toes and pale eyes soon to turn violet. Daenerys searches her wrinkled pink skin for scales, a tail, any sign of deformation. But Alysanne is as perfect a babe as she can imagine. And she is soft, and wriggling, and warm against her breast. Already a tiny fist curls around the tail of a tiny dragon—of Elaenyrion.
Bells ring from outside the window, announcing the news to everyone. Free food and wine shall be given to the citizens of Kings Landing in celebration, and Tyrion already has multiple events planned to honor the little princess. The Kingdoms shall be Seven once more when Alys Karstark comes to bend the knee, the Queen has her heiress, and all is well for the future.
Jon kneels by her bed, pressing kisses to their daughter and to her forehead. “You’ve given me a gift I never dared of dreaming for. I love you Dany, I’m so sorry for what I’ve done, I love you so much.”
Daenerys lies on the thick sheets, washed in lavender and poppy and dresses in soft silks. Her babe sleeps in her arms, Jon at her feet, Drogon on the balcony. Soft harp music lilts in from the antechamber, and all is gentle and soft and still.
She is Queen, and Jon her King who says that loves her, and this weight—this, this is her daughter, this is her heiress. Her people are fed and content, and when spring comes flowers shall grow over the graves. They are all content to walk over those graves, of all the people who had to die for her to lie on these sheets with her husband and child. None shall poison her again, none shall betray her, as she serves them so well and will serve until…until—
She has all she’s ever wanted since she was a little girl and Viserys first told her of Westeros. Viserys, who will never see his niece—
Daenerys is the Queen of the Seven-Then-Six-Then-Seven-Again Kingdoms—
She is victorious—
Every cell, every iota of her body overflows with despair.
Is this all there is?
Is this all there will ever be?
(all men must serve, and all men must die)
She turns her face into her pillow and screams.