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Dejah Thoris, Princess of House Mormont

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If people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines then I could write stories just as rotten.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs

And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends. . . . They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men.
- Virginia Woolf

George R.R. Martin and Edgar Rice Burroughs created these worlds and characters.

Chapter One (John Carter)

Only many years later did I recall what happened that night.

Maybe it was the shame, and I took refuge in the forgetting. I had what would have seemed the perfect life. I revel in the joy of battle and I had been named the Warlord of an entire planet, known to its people as Barsoom and to my people as Mars. Now to be sure, a good deal of said planet rejected that title, but its most powerful nations did not. I had married a beautiful princess who adored me. I had won glory, I had friends, and I had every pleasure a society incredibly more advanced than my own could offer: machines that delivered music, food, drink or moving pictures at a spoken command. And still I wasn’t satisfied.

In my dimly-recalled life in Virginia, and even-more-dimly recalled lives before Virginia, I had loved many women. I knew this, even as I forgot their names and their faces. I had enjoyed their company, I had enjoyed their bodies, and I had enjoyed my role as their protector. I had killed uncounted other men in their names, sometimes at their bidding, sometimes against their desperate pleading.

And then I had been gifted with a princess. She had seduced me, I later realized, at the instigation of her grandfather, the ruler of the planet’s most powerful state. He wanted my sword to lead his fleets and armies, and instructed his beautiful granddaughter to gain it by any means necessary. Never had I seen a woman of such perfect form, blessed with such physical grace. I married her, besotted with what I thought to be love and still not fully understanding what sort of bond I had entered.

As a gentleman of Virginia, I had not pressed my physical needs on her until after we had wed. Only then did I discover that I could not do so. For as much as the people of my new home planet resembled those of my birth world, we were not the same.

They were not human.

That my new wife was beautiful could not be denied. Her face, her bosom, her long and smooth legs - all of these were so exquisite as to drive any man wild with desire. Like all noblewomen of her people, she went about barely clothed, enflaming my passion. She was almost as tall as I, perhaps a shade over six feet, and while I had thought true feminine beauty to rest in the petite I could not deny the sheer carnal power of her presence.

Vaguely, I had understood that women of Barsoom did not carry their young in their bodies, like the women of my own race, instead laying eggs that would incubate and hatch in special nurseries. Not until our wedding night did it become clear to me that this also meant that my lovely wife, my beautiful princess, could never enter into true marital congress with me.

She tried to satisfy me with her tongue, her long, blue lizard-like tongue. I allowed her to do so, though the memory still revolts me. She brought her equally beautiful, full-bosomed friend Thuvia into our bedchamber and bade me watch while they pleasured one another with unnatural acts, and then both turned their blue tongues on my manhood. To my eternal shame, I must admit that if I closed my eyes to their ministrations I did find them pleasurable.

Eager to avoid domestic life, I threw myself into my duties, leading the fleets and armies of Helium against its enemies. I had pledged myself to this “woman” and her empire, and I would not break my word. I wrote tales of my adventures, weaving in my love for the princess in a pathetic attempt to convince myself of their truth. My nephew Edgar further embroidered them for publication on Earth, making me into a noble hero who had won the perfect wife.

In public, I declared my love in terms so exaggerated that they sounded ridiculous to me, yet the royal family and the common people both appeared to believe my adoration of “the incomparable” princess to be real. They could not fathom that any man would not adore her. And in fairness, perhaps any man of her own people would indeed have adored her.

I am telepathic, as are the royals of Barsoom, and I carefully shielded my thoughts from my wife and her family. This only increased her distress, as apparently the sharing of thoughts is central to their warped ideas of making love. She began to show open disdain for me, hinting that marriage to one of so little learning was beneath her dignity.

She – a woman - was one of their leading scientists. I fully understand how strange that must seem, but I assure you that it is true. She devoted her time to the pursuit of knowledge instead of keeping home and family like a respectable woman should. She even carried weapons and had fought as a warrior, just like a man. Reluctantly she agreed to put aside her arms, but she would not give up her studies. Continually she met alone with other men she named scientists or court officials, and she laughed at what she deemed my quaint and barbaric ideas of propriety. A woman should never be alone with a man not her husband, nor a man with a woman not his wife.

I must admit, I broke that last vow, with a lovely blonde woman named Phaidor. I could not enter her either, but she pleasured me all the same with her ample bosom. The guilt weighed heavily on my mind, until my princess murdered her even as Phaidor begged forgiveness and mercy. My princess thought me unaware of her crime, yet I could not accuse her without revealing my own shame.

The king, known on Barsoom as the jeddak, detected my unhappiness and sought to bind me more closely to his empire. With their insane science, my princess and her fellow savants found a means to create a hybrid child. First a son, and then a daughter. But these were not my children. These were unholy abominations produced in a laboratory. My princess seemed to have even less interest in them than I.

One night, after I once again declined her offer to pleasure me with that sickening blue tongue, we argued. She called me an unworthy consort for the Princess of Helium, and I declared her unnatural. Angered, I stormed out of our chambers to the hangars where flying craft were stored, and took one into the night. I cared not where I flew, as long as it was far away from my princess.

Eventually I slowed the flyer and landed, then set its automatic directional device to take it far away into what I believed to be uninhabited lands. Hopefully it would never be found.

I stood alone in the desert, and looked up at the nighttime sky. A blue planet beckoned to me. A planet filled with people like me, with women of my people. Women who knew their place and could be loved as a man loves a woman. I raised my arms toward the planet, and in a moment of weakness, wished to be there once again.

Did I actually wish to leave Barsoom? Even now, I’m unsure, but willingly or not, I felt the familiar tug and experienced the bright colors and disorientation that had accompanied my earlier journeys through the ether. And within either the blink of an eye or an eternity, I felt a rush of air and landed on a gritty, dusty surface after a short drop that knocked the wind out of my lungs.

I rolled onto my back and flexed my arms and legs; all appeared to be in good health. I slowly brought myself into a sitting position. All seemed well, and so I stood. Carefully I took short strides, but again I had no troubles. I very easily hefted a rock and threw it a great distance; I remained very strong, but in the moment I did not know why I thought I should have great strength.

Looking above me, I saw blue skies behind a great deal of cloud cover. Blue skies. Blue, normal skies. I had returned to my world. And I would die here, if I didn’t find food and water, and shelter from the morning sun already burning through those clouds.

At the time, I knew little of my past. I had appeared in this desert alone, without clothing, weapons or any accoutrements of any kind. My memories had been left on Barsoom with my harness, sword and pistol. I felt relief, as though a great burden had been lifted from my soul, but as yet I did not know why.

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Chapter Two (Dejah Thoris)

When John Carter disappeared, I felt a mixture of relief that he had gone and anxiety that he might return. We had argued shortly before his departure, yet another in a string of angry confrontations. He had become enraged, and for the first time I feared that he might strike me. With his enormous strength, I could easily be killed by such a blow.

That night, I slept alone in the manner of Barsoom. Except for a pistol carefully concealed beneath my sleeping pad.

I am Dejah Thoris. Princess of Helium, Regent of the Royal Helium Academy of Science, and wife of John Carter. My grandfather Tardos Mors rules Helium, the most powerful state of Barsoom, as its Jeddak. As Warlord of Barsoom, John Carter commanded the combined military forces of Helium and its allies.

At first I did not know that he had left the city; I was merely relieved that he had left my bed. Only in the morning when my old friend Kantos Kan informed me that John Carter had not reported for the daily inspection of the Palace Guard did I suspect that he had returned to his home world. I thanked Kantos Kan, broke the connection on the palace communications network and stepped outside to my private balcony overlooking the vast city of Helium.

I dared not share my inner thoughts with anyone. As far as my family knew, even my sister of the heart Thuvia of Ptarth, my marriage with John Carter was exemplary. Once I had loved John Carter, I had loved him deeply and wished nothing more than to be his wife.

And now? He remained the perfectly formed man I first seen and desired, a beautiful man of strong shoulders, narrow waist and firm muscles. He was a great warrior, skilled with pistol, rifle and sword, and he had fought to free me from captivity among the savage green Tharks. He proclaimed his love for me, yet kept his thoughts closed.

The peoples of Barsoom, known to John Carter as Mars, are telepathic. Royals such as my family are much stronger than the common people and communicate in a mixture of silent thought and spoken word. And while one must defend one’s mind from outsiders, to close off one’s thoughts to another is to emphasize distance. One does not do so with one’s beloved.

John Carter came from a different world, the third planet of our solar system known to us as Jasoom and to its people as Dirt. Intellectually, I knew this. Emotionally, the distance at first rankled, and only troubled me more as time passed. Eventually it hurt me. Without the sharing of thoughts, there can be no true sexual union. But while my own emotions could be held in check – for that is what a princess does – my nation needed him back.

Like a good princess, I waited patiently while my grandfather and my father, Mors Kajak, dispatched our city’s forces to search for John Carter. After several days Kantos Kan arrived at my chambers to report. The Protective Force had searched the streets and slums of Helium and its satellite cities for my husband or his corpse, though Kantos Kan tried to hide the latter objective from me. The Navy sent out its air scouts to patrol the deserts around Helium, and the Diplomatic Corps’ agents strained to find word of his arrival in other cities or abduction by a foreign power.

John Carter’s personal flyer was also missing, and had not been found. He had not gone to the Tharks. No sign of him had been found at all. As we spoke, the palace communications system chimed, summoning me to my grandfather’s conference chamber.

<<Granddaughter,>> the ruler of Helium greeted me. <<You know that our empire faces multiple rivals eager to take our place. Already rumors spread that John Carter is dead.>>

I do not believe that John Carter ever understood how vital he was to the delicate balance of power politics on Barsoom: through his marriage to me, he had ended the succession crisis in Helium. I would one day rule as Jeddara in my own right, with the greatest military mind my planet had ever seen at my side.

Against his own nature, the Warlord of Barsoom had become a force for peace. Helium needed John Carter. My grandfather depended on my husband’s military reputation to maintain the friendship of our allies and the fear of our enemies.

I did not share my misgivings with my father and grandfather or with my mother, Princess Heru. I am skilled at screening my thoughts, to the extent of allowing some to be read while keeping others hidden as though they do not even exist. I feared that John Carter had tired of me and had left on his own to return to his own planet and his own people. And find a woman of his own people.

Despite my reticence, Tardos Mors already suspected that my husband, his Warlord, had fled our planet. And he also believed, likely with some accuracy, that he knew why.

<<You had but one duty to your family,>> Tardos Mors said. <<To keep the Warlord tied to Helium, with your beauty and your skills of seduction. And you have failed.>>

<<It is not her fault,>> my mother, Princess Heru, interceded. <<John Carter is a barbarian. He was never worthy of my daughter. You approved the union for your own purposes.>>

<<My duty is to all of our people,>> Tardos Mors replied. <<And if war result from this disappearance, many of them will die. Dejah Thoris knows her duty.>>

And I did. A princess serves her people, at the sacrifice of her life and, when needed, of her happiness. I placed my hand over my heart, bowed my head and left the presence of the Jeddak a failure. Through my inability to keep my husband at my side, to swallow my pride and become the wife he desired, I might have sent millions to their deaths.

As had been my habit in times of stress, I turned to my sister of the heart, Thuvia of Ptarth.

<<Always you place duty first, Dejah Thoris,>> Thuvia scolded me. <<Even a princess is allowed happiness.>>

<<John Carter made me happy,>> I lied. <<I must return him to my side.>>

<<I am your sister,>> Thuvia said. <<Do not insult me by employing such a weak falsehood.>>

Rather than answer, I drew her into the position of ritual sex. I joined my mind with hers, and for a moment forgot about John Carter.

After two years, the long years of Barsoom, I grew tired of waiting for John Carter to return. I felt the constant reproach of my grandfather, and the fear of our people that war would return at any moment. As the absence of John Carter became clear, unrest turned into insurgency. I once again took up sword and pistol, as John Carter had forbidden, and like other members of the royal family I fought alongside our troops.

With Thuvia at my side, we questioned rebels, using our telepathic skills to determine plans and locations as well as the identities of their leaders. And when we found the leaders, as is the way of Helium I either executed them by my own hand or challenged them to single combat with sword or pistol and slew them in front of their followers. It was what John Carter would have called a “dirty war,” as we sought to suppress those opposed to my family’s rule before they could incite open revolution.

This could not continue. I knew of another way to find John Carter.

And so I stood on the balcony of our palace in Helium, high above my beloved city. I looked down on the glittering city lights, highlighted by passing airships. The moons Cluros and Thuria raced across the open desert toward the horizon. I came from a beautiful planet, filled with noble people. I loved my city and my family. And because of that love, I would abandon all of it to find John Carter.

I turned away from my city to stare up at the tiny blue planet floating overhead. I wished to go there. I wished to go there and find John Carter. John Carter had told me how he came from his planet known as Dirt to our own Barsoom. He had raised his hands to the red planet he saw in the night sky, and been drawn through space and possibly time to appear on its surface.

I now did the same, raising my hands to the night sky as I stared at the glittering blue jewel above, begging for the same interplanetary leap that had brought John Carter to me. I gave no thought to leaving my planet and city, or my family. Once before my husband had fled, and I had journeyed down the River Iss into what I then believed to be the land of the dead in search of him. Once one has taunted death itself, deep space holds few terrors. I would find John Carter no matter what perils must be overcome, and I would return him to Barsoom.

And here is a picture of Dejah Thoris, by Jay Anacleto: 



Chapter Text

Chapter Two (Dejah Thoris)

A wave of . . . something . . . passed through me. I had never felt its like. I could only see bands of intense color as I collapsed. Yet I felt no floor beneath me. I could stand it no longer. Everything became black and then my mind went black as well.

I awoke knowing that time had passed. Years, days, seconds: I could not say. I lay on my back, looking upward. The first thing I saw were the trees, trees unlike any I had ever seen or read of on Barsoom: tall, with heavy branches holding up thousands of small green leaves on each. The green overwhelmed my senses. Small flying animals flitted among the branches of these huge trees, while others apparently incapable of flight skittered swiftly up and down the trunks of the trees.

And it was cold. I seemed unaffected by the temperature, but more than likely I would soon need furs, food and fire. I did not mind being naked, but I very much minded being cold.

Matching the eeriness of the green plant life, through the trees I could see the sky, a bright, azure blue rather than the comforting pink of Barsoom. Puffy white shapes could also be made out above. The colors stunned me and I felt terribly dizzy. I remained on my back and carefully looked upward, trying to acclimate myself to this disturbing new world.

Was this Jasoom? John Carter had spoken of blue skies and great forests of green-leaved trees. The place where I had awoken seemed to hold no special properties: an opening among the trees, covered with brown leaves that I surmised had died and fallen from their branches. A number of plants of Barsoom similarly discard their leaves as part of the cycle of life. I rolled to my side and scratched some leaves aside to lay bare the dirt of Dirt. It was a dark brown, riddled with rotting plant life and tiny, crawling creatures. In this sense it was little different from Barsoom; while my planet is very red when seen from afar its soil is black or brown, at least in the fertile zones. I looked closely at the tiny creatures: they had six legs, like most animals of Barsoom. Perhaps I had not left my home planet? Many regions are little known to us.

But no, the light was unlike any I had ever experienced. Yellowish, and intense. Looking upward again, I found the sun near the eastern horizon. It was much larger than it appeared from Barsoom; Jasoom orbited closer to our common home star. These observations could not have occurred anywhere on my own planet. I had come to a different world. And I had done so alone.

Had I once again acted foolishly? Why had I not thought to bring my sister Thuvia with me, or even the noble Kantos Kan? Either would have gladly forsaken Barsoom to remain by my side and aid me in my quest. And I would not be so alone.

I did not know that I could return to Barsoom. I had no right to condemn my sister and my dear friend to eternal exile on an alien world. Whatever happened here on Dirt, I would have to accomplish by my own efforts.

With my resolve restored, I knew that I could not sprawl on the leaves forever. Carefully I stood. John Carter had proudly explained to me – to me, a leading physicist of Barsoom – the theory of gravity, in what over time I came to understand was a compulsion among the males of Jasoom to explain the world to females, whether the male actually had knowledge of the subject on which he held forth or not.

John Carter believed that his planet had much greater gravity than that of Barsoom, accounting for his superior strength and leaping ability. This was, of course, utterly silly to any mind of even the slightest scientific bent. His body, though beautifully muscled, was proportioned exactly as those of our own Red people of Barsoom. And his touch never destroyed that which he grasped. By his description, he had learned to walk normally very quickly, and I never observed any anomalies in his stride.

On the contrary, such strength must be some side effect of interplanetary teleportation. Therefore, did I also possess this ability? I must know this. I stretched my arms and legs; they seemed normal, but I did indeed seem to have a great deal of energy. I stepped off toward the closest tree, springing as hard as I could, and swiftly flew across the clearing. Prepared for this event, I landed with my feet spread and my knees flexed as I had seen John Carter do.

I could leap like John Carter, though not nearly as powerfully. This planet had much greater gravity than that of Barsoom. I could feel my weight. I walked back across the clearing carefully. The increase in strength and energy more than compensated. I would have to adjust my stride to avoid stumbling forward.

I had become stronger, but how strong? I placed my hands against the large tree trunk, almost larger than my arms could encircle, and shoved it. The tree groaned and shook. I lowered my shoulder and pushed harder until it toppled over with a resounding crash. Many of the small flying creatures fled upwards, giving voice to their anger at the destruction of their homes. I silently begged their forgiveness, but smiled in satisfaction. I had become very strong.

Looking down, I saw that my harness and ornamentation had not made the journey to Jasoom. I now wore nothing. I examined my own body closely, and found it in excellent condition. In fact, its condition was far too good. Though I am more usually a scientist rather than a warrior, I am of Barsoom and have seen more than my share of fighting with sword and dagger. I am skilled with a blade, but even the most skilled swordswoman will suffer wounds. I seemed to have no scars on my now-flawless copper-red skin: the light-colored old cuts along my ribs were gone, as well as the ugly puckered mark under my left breast that had almost ended my life long ago. A still-healing injury to my right foot, inflicted by a zitidar’s misplaced step, now gave no pain no matter how hard I pressed my weight on it. The small tattoo around the areola of my left breast had likewise disappeared.

If this were my body, it had been perfected in transit. More likely, I hypothesized, my actual body lay seemingly lifeless on a balcony in Helium. I hoped the palace staff would give it proper care and that my father Mors Kajak would realize that it must not be burned. I regretted not leaving instructions before reaching out to the blue planet. I am a scientist, and though I had impulsively seduced John Carter upon first meeting him, I am usually a rational thinker both by my nature and my training. I had been a fool.

Yet if my body remained in Helium, were my experiences here real at all? I shoved that thought aside. Later I might wish to present a paper on the metaphysics of interplanetary teleportation to the Royal Academy of Science in Helium. For now, I would treat my presence here as real.

Clearly, John Carter was not to be found by standing in the forest. I would need information. One direction looked as good as another, so I began to walk toward the rising sun. Eventually, I reasoned, I would come upon some sign of civilization. If any existed on this planet.

This forest had far thicker undergrowth than I expected, and I found that I needed my enhanced strength to force my way past the vines and small trees. My perfect new body acquired a number of small scratches, proving that it was not immune to damage or pain. As I ripped apart a particularly stubborn vine, I heard faint sounds of clashing steel. I moved toward them and began to pick up the thoughts of the combatants. There were but two, each broadcasting extremely conflicted emotions.

All people of Barsoom are telepathic to some extent; those of royal lineage, like me, are bred to be much stronger in this regard than are commoners. Allowing such strong and unfiltered thoughts to stream out is a sign not only of extreme rudeness, but of mental illness. Such people are immediately quarantined in isolated facilities and put under medical care.

I needed all of my mental discipline to even approach the two warriors. It is not vain of me to say that their emotional outbursts would have overwhelmed a weaker telepath. I could make little sense of their feelings, and even less of any coherent thoughts. Anger, lust, love, betrayal – all of the most powerful themes came through.

After pushing through plants and vines I reached a place where I could see the fighters through a gap in the undergrowth. They occupied a wide clearing in the forest, an opening with very little undergrowth, only a carpet of dead leaves. They were alone except for two large animals that they had apparently ridden to this place – both of the beasts wore what I recognized as saddles on their backs.

Both fighters wore very full armor, but no head coverings. One was clad in white, the other in bronze-colored armor that had seen a great deal of scuffing that revealed gray steel beneath.

Following polite practice, I attempted to contact each of them telepathically. Neither responded, nor did they even acknowledge my presence. I saw that I could climb from my observation post onto a large rock that jutted into the clearing and watch from there, and this I proceeded to do. I crossed my legs beneath me and watched the warriors battle, yet still they took not notice.

Both had pale white skin and yellow hair; they looked much like the Therns of Barsoom. They fought with long, straight swords. The warrior in white held his sword in his left hand, trailing the other behind him. He was a handsome man, and probably had been beautiful at one time. Age or perhaps stress lines around his eyes and mouth had taken much of that away. A broken shield lay on the ground nearby and I assumed that this had been his.

His opponent, who appeared to be female, fought with sword in one hand and a shield affixed to the other. I am taller than most women of Barsoom and according to John Carter of Jasoom as well, but this warrior was much larger than I. By contrast, she had never been beautiful, and bore a number of scars visible even at a distance.

Neither showed a great deal of maneuver, instead trading blows and attempting to sneak their blade inside the guard of the other. The greater strength of the female warrior – I had decided to label her thus – steadily began to tell, as it also became obvious that the male warrior had but one hand, with a metal facsimile in place of his right hand. A rather brutal strike from the shield to his face brought him to his knees and broke his nose, and the woman continued to rain down blows until his sword snapped into several pieces.

The female warrior stood over him, breathing hard, then cast her shield to the ground to raise her sword over her head with both hands and bring down the killing strike. Tears flowed down her face and she sobbed out a series of words. Her harsh and guttural words, nothing like our own musical tones, reminded me of John Carter’s language known as “English.” In my efforts to retain his love and loyalty I had learned his speech; as he refused to open his mind to others he could communicate complicated concepts only with great difficulty. His halting attempts embarrassed and angered him, and I soon learned not to suggest that he use his telepathic abilities like others of the royal class.

The woman’s powerful emotions made it hard to follow her thoughts, but it seemed that she loved this man yet felt bound by some sort of duty to slay him. I believe she told him that she loved him and wished that she did not have to kill him, or something similar. If she did not kill him, others would die for some reason that I did not understand.

The man said nothing, finally stating that he only cared for a woman named Cersei. He radiated a deep contempt for the woman warrior, fear for his own life, and revulsion at her declaration of love. He also loved another that he could not have; I had the impression that he found this similarity shameful and that this feeling fueled his contempt but I may have read too much into his emotions – I had a difficult time picking out coherent thoughts.

The woman shook her head, dropped the sword and stared at the forest floor, continuing to sob. I could read thoughts of deep, suicidal despair. This man was not the first she had loved in vain. She felt worthless and foolish. She hoped that he would kill her and thereby end her agony.

Did this little scene before me foreshadow my own fate? I had abandoned my city and my family, both of them inexpressibly dear to me, to pursue a man who did not want me and force him to love me. Perhaps I was equally worthless and foolish, but I was not yet ready to end my life. Neither should this woman.

I wanted to call out to her, to stop her from giving up her life so easily. I knew none of their story but could not believe any man worthy of such a sacrifice. But in the stress of the moment I could not recall the English words I would need, nor could I be sure that she would understand them, and she showed no reaction at all to my attempts to contact her by telepathy. I thought of simply running into the clearing to stop her but held back; I feared being cut down by an errant or surprised sword. My lack of valor shamed me.

The man rose gingerly to his feet and picked up her sword. She looked up at him, and he slowly placed its tip at the center of her chest. “Jaime,” she said, apparently the man’s name, and again declared her love. She spoke a few more words that I believe implored him to take her life and save his own. She both feared and embraced her impending death. He stared at her silently, his thoughts continuing to radiate contempt. I understood his words clearly, for the first time.

“I never loved you.”

He thrust the blade between her breasts with a shriek of metal against metal, leaning into the sword to put his weight behind it. It clove through her heavy armor and broke through her back plate. “But I love you,” she breathed again as she sank to her knees and then rolled to her side, the sword still impaling her.

The man stared down at her now still form for a time, and then finally noticed me where I still sat on the rock watching. He stared at me, and began to speak loudly and angrily, gesturing to the dying woman and the sword. The rush of emotion again made it difficult to follow his words, but he seemed to believe me to be either an illusion or some kind of vengeful spirit come to torment him. He believed that he might have been driven mad.

Pointing to me, he clumsily reached to each shoulder with his one good hand to undo what appeared to be clasps holding his chest-protecting armor plate in place. It fell to the ground with a clatter. He stalked across the clearing, still glaring at me, to where their beasts of burden had been tethered to a small plant. Taking up a white cloak that had lain across the saddle of one animal, he wiped away the blood now flowing freely from the wreckage of his nose, and then threw it onto the ground. I was welcome to the cloak, the armor and the sword, all of which apparently had a great deal of symbolic value to him. He climbed clumsily into the saddle and rode away, never looking back.

I decided to learn what I could from this strange little scene before moving on. I rolled the female warrior onto her back and easily extracted the blade from her chest. As her life drained from her I felt the last of her thoughts, a vision of herself – a much softer, idealized version – lying amid a pile of silks and furs and cradling a very small child to her breast, while an equally idealized version of the man who had just slain her stood over her and smiled gently. She wanted this to have been real so badly that I held her hand and wept for this stranger, but the vision grew dimmer. And then she thought no more.

The peoples of Barsoom rarely shed tears. Perhaps I was overcome by the waves of emotion I felt from both of these combatants; while my own people are capable of equally intense passion our telepathic abilities have also taught us to keep it within our own minds. Whatever the reason, I promised myself that should I come across the one-handed man again during my search for John Carter, I would kill him and his lover Cersei as well.

I thought about her vision. She imagined giving live birth or, more correctly, having just given birth that I assumed to be live – she did not picture the actual event. We of Barsoom hatch our young from eggs, and they emerge far more developed than the small one I saw in her thoughts. I had seen offspring of our people that looked similar to that she held in her dream, but only when an egg had been damaged or dissected – they are not viable outside the egg at that stage.

John Carter had told me a little of childbirth among his people, and this vision seemed to match his descriptions. I wanted to learn more: this concept had been a major point of contention in the science of Barsoom for centuries. The women of Barsoom, other than the six-limbed green race, have breasts including the glands necessary to secrete a nutritious fluid when properly stimulated.

Why is this? We do not suckle our young, as the woman seemed about to do in her fantasy. Do they serve only for sex play? Or did we once have more use for them. Not long before my sudden departure, I had approved for publication, in my role as Regent of the Royal Academy of Science, a paper that was sure to ignite planet-wide controversy. It detailed a theory that the four-limbed races – we Red Barsoomians, the yellow Okar people of the northern polar regions, the black-skinned people known as the First Born and the white-skinned Therns and related peoples – are artificially adapted to Barsoom and not actually native to our planet. Would I find evidence for this theory in my sojourn here? I admit that I felt the thrill of inquiry.

I stopped that line of thought. I know that I am obsessed with learning for its own sake, and that I at times lose track of time and my sense of the world around me in my ponderings. I was in a strange place and could well be in danger. I needed to concentrate and gain practical knowledge as quickly as possible.

I next examined her sword. I had never seen such metallurgy; none of Barsoom are capable of forging its like. I could easily balance the very light-weight blade on the tip of one finger. An odd pattern marked the blade, red ripples in its dark-gray metal. The pommel had been shaped to resemble a beast of some sort – perhaps a favored house pet? With my enhanced strength I easily drove the sword cleanly through the largest trees around the clearing, yet its edge remained as keen as ever.

On my home planet we regard swords as interchangeable tools; one might have a favored type, but outside of a few specific contexts the sword itself has little meaning. There are ceremonial uses of swords – one throws a sword at the feet of a leader to signify loyalty, and conversely a leader gives a sword to a follower to connote trust. Yet I felt myself oddly drawn to this sword. I stroked the blade and felt an almost sexual thrill from its warm metal. I hefted it and felt perfect balance in my hand; it could have been made specifically for me. It was not quite perfect: I found the decorations hideous, and I would have preferred a longer hilt to make it easier to wield with two hands. Even so, I wanted this sword. I would keep this sword.

Turning back to the fallen warrior, I studied her yellow hair; it indeed grew out of the skin covering her skull and was not a wig. She was, therefore, not a Thern after all. Stripping the warrior, I found her to be wearing heavy steel plate, of far less advanced metallurgy than her blade. Underneath she wore a quilted tunic of some sort, now soaked in her blood – red blood, as her killer had also shed, like that of Jasoom rather than blue like ours. The tunic probably had been meant to help cushion heavy blows against her armor. Beneath that she wore still more layers of clothing.

She had bled profusely from her wound and died rather quickly. John Carter had said that his heart lay in the center of his chest, and perhaps it was the same for these people. When she lay naked I saw that she was definitely not of Barsoom, with female organs very different from those of our women, differences perhaps necessary for live birth. She had breasts as we do, though much smaller than mine, and no obvious means of extruding her eggs. Otherwise she looked much like a woman of Barsoom, though at the very high end of the spectrum for size and musculature.

Her body and her face in particular bore many scars; she obviously had fought in a great number of battles. So why had she allowed the male warrior to kill her so easily? Solely out of unrequited love? It made no sense, but I am the alien here, and knew that something need not make sense to me for it to fit the logic of this place.

Was this Jasoom? The planet John Carter knew as Dirt? I decided to proceed as though it were. John Carter had said that his people buried their dead in the ground, and so I did the same with this fallen warrior after arranging her many layers of clothing on her as best I could. I found a useful folding digging tool attached to her mount and with my new-found speed and strength I soon had a pit dug.

I surely had left Barsoom: as a princess, I had never had cause to dig holes in the dirt. I found it fulfilling, once I figured out how to plunge the tool into the soil at the proper angle to scoop up dirt without overloading the broad blade. My first few attempts either scraped ineffectively across the surface or dug at too sharp of an angle to turn up any dirt. Soon I had mastered the rhythm and the hole deepened. I could tell that the loads of soil were much heavier than they would have been on Barsoom, even accounting for their much damper nature, but my enhanced strength more than compensated. I reveled in my possibly new body and its abilities.

And then I recalled why I was digging the hole, and sobered. Unsure what scavengers might be about, I made the hole as deep as my head. Recalling John Carter’s obsessive dislike of female nudity, I dressed the woman in her bloody garments as best I could and gently placed her corpse at the bottom of the pit. After filling the hole, I stacked the female’s armor plus that cast aside by her opponent on top of the mound, in case any of her people came looking for her. I kept the blade and the ornate matching scabbard from the female warrior’s back as well as several smaller blades I found strapped to her arm and both legs. None of these were of the same wondrous metal as the sword. I also took her flexible armored gloves, which fit my somewhat large hands very well.

After I buried her body, I turned to the remaining animal tethered in the clearing and calmly chewing leaves. Her mount greatly resembled the creature John Carter had called a “horse.” John Carter loved horses, and often said that they were the only aspect of life on Jasoom/Dirt that he truly missed. That was only half a lie; I do believe that he loved these magnificent animals. They simply were not all that he regretted leaving behind on the planet Dirt.

John Carter had painted and drawn horses many times, showing a very deft hand with a brush that almost equaled his skill with a sword. This creature looked exactly like those in my wayward husband’s art. The saddle and other tack were not exactly as he had drawn; what I found on this horse was more similar to those we place on our thoats of Barsoom with a higher cantle and much wider pommel.

The horse itself was much smaller than a thoat, and of a far calmer nature. Thoats are uniformly stupid and belligerent. As a princess, I had to ride them on ceremonial occasions, and had developed a deep dislike for the beasts. These horses were vastly different creatures.

Upon the horse I found a pair of oddly-shaped saddlebags, containing what appeared to be two round loaves of some sort of bread. Suddenly hungry, I ate them before realizing that these might not be compatible with my physiology. I found a rather thin sleeping fur, what was likely a cooking pot and tools for making fire. She also had some extras of the unusual underclothes she had worn packed with some long thick strips of cloth, several more small blades, a skin bag filled with water and a few other items. I found no firearms, nor any signs that the female warrior had had them. She had a small clay jar of a whitish powder that I later learned was for cleaning one’s teeth and a foul-tasting bar of what turned out to be soap.

John Carter had said that he only truly felt at ease when on horseback, communing with his horse by nearly telepathic means. Reaching out to the horse’s mind, I saw that it was intelligent as far as beasts go, and very receptive to my mind. Immediately it began to respond with simple impulses: it wanted food and rest, and wished its saddle removed so it could roll on the ground. I told it we had to travel first. It did not object.

Without the leather leggings that we wear when riding thoats on Barsoom, I would need some protection for my skin in order to ride the dead woman’s horse. I took a set of the woman’s large and thick undergarments and put them on, covering my ass and my reproductive area. I wrapped one of the long strips of cloth tightly around each of my thighs. I knew that I looked ridiculous to anyone of Barsoom, but I did not fancy the chafing that would come without this safeguard.

I swung into the saddle from the left side, as the horse advised me, and the beast made what its mind revealed was a satisfied sound, what John Carter had called a “nicker.” The horse had leather lines for directing its course, reins I recalled, but it seemed clear that it would go where I asked. I removed the leather contraption covering its head as well as the piece of metal jammed into its mouth. The horse nickered again.

I fixed the sword to the saddle in leather loops that appeared to be intended for that purpose and rode in the direction taken by the one-handed man, Jaime. I hoped to arrive at some sort of road or path soon. The horse sure-footedly picked her way between the trees, and soon enough we reached a rutted dirt track heading north and south through the forest. The horse had no opinion on the choice, and so I turned north. I communed with my mount, finding the horse’s thoughts highly compatible and comforting to me. The stress and confusion of my arrival in an utterly alien environment eased as we continued to plod along and I marveled at the richness of life among the trees.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two (John Carter)

I stood alone in a desert, surrounded by small rolling hills covered in clumps of tough yellowish grass. I could not stay here, but I had no clue where to go. I decided to walk to the south, and marched along for some hours. More yellow-green grass had begun to appear, while the land grew more rugged. But still I saw no sign of civilization.

I detected the thoughts of approaching riders, a large number of men on horseback. The thought of riding a horse excited me, but soon I was surrounded by hundreds of angry riders. Some aimed bows at me, while others held curved swords that looked much like scythes. Oddly, none carried a lance.

The riders were dusky-skinned and black-haired for the most part, wearing loose trousers and leather vests, almost all of them in shades of brown. They carried no banners or other insignia, and few decorations upon their person.

Their thoughts showed them surprised to find a naked, pale-skinned man so far from any village or settlement. I identified their leader and mimed drinking water; as I had expected he did nothing to slake my thirst, only laughed.

The leader was a huge man, who wore trousers but remained bare-chested, showing off rippling muscles. I stand six feet four inches and weigh 240 pounds but this man was much larger than I. He had a black beard shaped into a point, dark tattoos on his face and upper chest, and extremely long hair knotted into a braid. Small silver bells tied into the braid tinkled whenever he moved his head, an odd accompaniment to such a fierce-looking warrior.

He spoke in a language that seemed familiar; at some point in my past, I had spoken one much like it, though I could not name it. The leader told me that if I wanted water, I would need to fight for it. Deciphering his meaning from his thoughts, I nodded my assent. Thankfully, the gesture meant the same among his people.

Two warriors dismounted; one began swinging his curved sword in patterns while the other held his horse. The swordsman would be my opponent. I pointed to the sword and held out my hand; the warriors all laughed. I was to fight unarmed, for the amusement of these men.

My opponent was young and unblooded; killing me would be part of a test of his manhood. He swung wildly. I dodged the sword and punched him in the face; he fell onto his back. I kicked the sword away from him and stood over him, looking to their leader.

“Kill him,” he said. “He’s worthless.”

From his thoughts, I knew that the leader would have us both shot down with arrows should I refuse. And so I took the young man’s sword and killed him. The odd shape of the blade prevented an honorable, quick thrust to his heart and I had to chop the point of the strange sword into his chest as though I were cutting firewood. Somehow his red blood seemed odd to me, as did the killing stroke to the center of his chest.

“Water,” I said, having taken the word from the leader’s mind. “Water and horse.”

“You’ve only begun,” the leader said. “Ruzgar had friends. Family. They’re your enemies now. At least now you have a weapon.”

No one tried to take the blade from my hands. One by one, I fought and killed eight more men. The curved sword was an awkward weapon, but my immense physical strength and great speed compensated for my lack of skill with this strange sword. Once I had killed the eighth man, that apparently exterminated all of Ruzgar’s relations, at least those willing to fight for his memory.

“We finished?” I asked the leader. “You give water and horse?”

“I keep my word,” he said, gesturing to some of his followers. “Water.”

One of the warriors detached a skin from his saddle and threw it at my feet.

“You can keep the blade,” the leader went on, “and anything you want from the men you killed including their horses, weapons and women. I’ll grant you three days to ride far away. If we find you after that, we’ll kill you.”

“If I leave the women?”

“Anything you leave, I divide among my blood riders.”

“The women will live?”

“If that’s my wish.”

“Is it your wish?”

“I’m in a good mood, having seen a good fight. Well, perhaps not a good fight, but an entertaining one. So yes, they live.”

“Tell me where I am.”

He rubbed his beard, pondering.

“That’s fair,” he finally said. He pointed to the south. “Head south. Soon you’ll reach softer lands, farms and pastures. Keep going. A wide road runs to Pentos to the west. Maybe three days to the road, six more to the city.”

“Your name?”

“Drogo. Khal Drogo.”

“If we meet again, I’ll kill you and take your place.”

“You have the right to try,” he laughed. “You killed Dothraki in single combat, so you’re a man of the Dothraki now, but I deny you a place in this khalasar as is my right. I already have one Andal and have no need of another. I should tell you that I am not Ruzgar and should you fight me you’ll find that I’m not so easy to kill. Ride away with your life, man with no name.”

“John Carter,” I said. “John Carter of Virginia.”

As Drogo had advised, I rode south. His thoughts showed him to be an honest man, if a bloodthirsty one, and he had spoken the truth about his determination to kill me as well. Something in the back of my mind urged me to win his friendship instead, as I had won the friendship of another very tall barbarian leader. But I could recall no more, and killing Drogo seemed the easier and safer path.

I had left the women behind, though several had been considered comely. Their copper-colored skin and black hair repelled me, for reasons I did not understand at the time. I wanted a woman, a woman with white skin like mine. A soft woman, one gentle of speech and touch and also firm of breast.

I dressed myself as a Dothraki, in loose-fitting trousers and tunic with a leather vest over it. They chafed against the sunburn I’d suffered on my long, naked walk, but less so than tighter-fitting clothing would have done. I had taken everything of Ruzgar’s, and of his friends and family, that seemed to have value: a full dozen horses, weapons, coins, food, clothing. While I did not need all of these possessions, I well knew that a man always had need of money. I could likely sell these items for at least a trifle. Drogo had given me a handful of coins for the women, promising to treat them well. I did not probe his thoughts to determine what he considered good treatment.

The curved sword, called an arakh, did not suit me. The Dothraki seemed to hold no grudge against me and several men had helped sort out my new possessions, naming various items and advising me on their worth. One of the other Dothraki had traded me a straight blade that I knew was called a longsword for two of the better arakhs. He believed me a fool, but it felt far more natural on my hip than an arakh. Another traded me a good set of boots that fit, with laces almost to my knees, in exchange for three pairs that did not. I saw in their thoughts that few men had feet of my size, and that they considered the three-for-one trade to be fair.

To their credit, the Dothraki had not attempted to cheat me: I carried the full allotment of food, water and belongings of eight fighting men plus those of their women on my new train of horses. I could ride for some days and possibly much longer, but as yet I had no purpose.

While I rode through unfamiliar lands, I marveled at my own lack of astonishment. I had appeared suddenly in a strange place, with no clothing, weapons or any other belongings. And no memory of how I got there, nor of at least the last decade of my life. I knew my name, I knew that I came from Virginia, and I knew that I had fought for the noble cause of the Confederacy.

Yet my situation did not alarm me. Had something similar happened to me during those missing years of my life? Apparently so. I decided that I would not worry myself over such things. Some providence had handed me the opportunity for adventure, and I intended to take it.

Soon I reached softer lands exactly as Drogo had promised, and could eat fruit from the trees though I met no people. I recognized the fruit – peaches, and very fine ones at that – and the landscape seemed very familiar. I caught and killed a lamb on the third day and had fresh meat. For some reason, despite the lack of seasonings, the meat tasted wonderfully familiar and I felt very satisfied as though I had not truly enjoyed a meal for many years.

On my third day in this strange place I crested a ridge to see a stone-paved road running to the east and west. I saw no traffic on it, nor could I detect any thoughts. Having no other goal, I decided to visit this city Drogo had named Pentos.

Now I began to encounter people. Farmers in their fields, travelers on the road. After a few hours I came to a village with a pair of inns; I chose the cleaner of the two and tied my horse outside, while using my telepathy to instruct the other horses to remain nearby. I tied my new sword-belt around my waist and entered the inn’s common room.

“No fucking Dothraki allowed!” someone bellowed as I stepped into the smoky room. It had a large fireplace at one end, with a large blaze crackling despite the warmth of the day outside. It looked just like the hundreds of inns I had seen over a dozen lifetimes; a response that surprised me at the time.

“I’m not Dothraki,” I said, trying to identify the speaker. “I killed some and took their clothes.”

“You kill Dothraki, you’ll find friends here,” said a fat man stepping from behind a counter. His thoughts identified him as the innkeeper. “And you’ll find plenty of enemies out there.”

“I have some already,” I said. “To their credit, they fought fairly, one at a time.”

“Nothing’s to their credit,” the man said. “But you’ll have your first drink on me.”

I ate well and slept well, and in the morning headed out again with my string of horses. I had learned a little from the people in the inn; apparently these lands fell under the rule of the so-called Free City of Pentos, a merchant republic centered on one of this world’s largest cities. Opportunities abounded, they assured me, for a man with a strong sword arm.

As yet, I had no idea what I would do. I knew only a little about myself. I knew that I had been a soldier of fortune for much of my life. I knew that I sought adventure and excitement, the thrill of battle and the company of women. And I knew that while I was telepathic, none of the people I had encountered so far displayed this ability. I decided not to reveal this fact.

At the next tavern, I found the adventure and excitement I’d sought. As before, I left my horses outside and walked in to obtain dinner and a room.

“I’m sorry, friend,” the innkeeper said. “This man has already rented all of my rooms.”

“And who are you?” boomed the voice of the man indicated. He was enormously fat, with yellow hair obviously falsely colored and a forked beard, also colored yellow. He sat alone at a large table spread with food and drink. “Join me!”

“John Carter, of Virginia.”

“Never heard of either. Come, sit, and tell me of John Carter and of Virginia. My name is Illyrio Mopatis, a magister of Pentos.”

And so I ate the grilled lamb and drank the red wine of Illyrio Mopatis, and told him my very short story. He spoke a language that felt familiar, one that I had once spoken though I knew it was not my own tongue. I fell into it rather easily, assisted by telepathy.

Illyrio’s smell and mannerisms repelled me, yet his thoughts showed genuine curiosity and offered friendship. As I had no friends in this world, as far as I knew, I decided to accept his hospitality.

“You are good with a sword?” he asked at the conclusion of my tale.


“Ah,” Illyrio sighed. “So, once, was I. And muscled and beautiful, much like you.”

“What happened?”

“You were supposed to tell me that I still am.”

I simply looked at him. He smiled, showing crooked yellow teeth, and continued.

“Success happened,” he said. “I grew rich, and eventually I grew fat. Once women loved my body, now they simply love my money.”

“At least they still love you.”

“Well, there is that. You have nothing to do?”

“Not yet. I’ve always been a soldier. I suppose I’ll be one again.”

“You seek adventure?”

“I have the impression that it’s always sought me.”

“Come to Pentos with me. I have an adventure you might find worth your while.”

He planned to overthrow a neighboring kingdom and install a pretender on the throne. He didn’t quite know where I might fit in, but thought I might be useful to his plot. And he enjoyed my company. Despite his revolting physical presence, I must admit that I liked Illyrio Mopatis as well. He had once been a fine swordsman, and spoke knowledgeably of my favorite topic.

We arrived in Pentos a few days later. Illyrio had revealed more of his plot, which sounded unlikely to succeed, and told me more of this odd world in which I had appeared. I had glimpses of memory, mostly of battles but some of women I believed had been my wives, but nothing firm. And none of them seemed to match the tales of Illyrio Mopatis. Some in fact were so strange that I believed they had to be the remnants of fever dreams: flying machines, picture machines, a haughty copper-skinned princess. Perhaps this explained my lack of memory; I had been very ill and had been abandoned in the desert to die.

Illyrio detailed most of the servants who had accompanied him to return to his mansion. As he explained, Pentoshi law forbade slavery, so instead the upper classes held their workers under contracts that in practice yielded the same result. I found this a clever substitute for the divinely-ordained institution. Men are not equal, whatever rubbish some philosopher might spout. Some men are simply superior to others by nature. There will always be masters and slaves, and it’s in the slave’s best interest to have a wise master looking out for his interests.

Illyrio’s mansion was enormous, its grounds covering acres of gardens with pools, statuary, a butterfly enclosure and a grassy area where his servants played games for Illyrio’s amusement. His personal servants were uniformly young, female and comely; it embarrassed me that they went about bare-breasted but my friend assured me that this was the way of the Pentoshi elite.

I had expressed my need for female companionship, and Illyrio took me directly to a large, ornate building he described as a “pillow house.”

“Give my friend here whatever he wishes,” Illyrio told the woman apparently in charge of the establishment. “Illyrio Mopatis is paying.”

“And what is it that you want?” she asked me as Illyrio left.

“A woman,” I said. “Any woman. Small in stature if you can, but I don’t care as long as she’s white.”

“All of our girls are busy,” she said. “I’ll have nothing for you for at least an hour. Unless you want the dregs.”

“The dregs?” I asked. She spotted someone behind me and motioned with her hand.

“This one,” she said, indicating a small woman with unnaturally metallic-red hair and very pale skin. She wore an odd dress of sheer white material that left her left breast exposed; its purple-painted nipple pointed to the left. “Ten coppers and probably a poor deal. But she’s all I have, unless you want to wait.”

“She’ll do,” I said. “She’ll do just fine.”

“Illyrio’s paying. I have girls you couldn’t otherwise afford to look at, much less fuck, if you’ll but wait your turn.”

“I said she’ll do.”

I followed the red-haired woman down a small hallway and into a chamber with a bed, two chairs and a small table. I pushed the door closed behind me, shook off my Dothraki vest and pulled the billowing tunic over my head.

“Oh my,” she said. “Just tell me what you . . . what you want.”

“I need a woman,” I said, though it shamed me to admit my lust aloud. “It’s been years since I had a real woman.”

I untied my Dothraki trousers as she pushed her odd gown off her shoulder, baring her bosom. She stepped out of it to stand before me equally nude. She had skin as pale as milk, with several tattoos including a huge dragon encircling her left thigh. Her purple-tipped right breast pointed to the right, matching the left’s deformity. A small roll of fat marked her waist, but in that moment I did not care.

I stepped forward, took the small, strangely angled left breast in my right hand and placed my other behind her neck. She was much shorter than I, and I leaned over to kiss her. She pushed me back.

“Whores don’t, don’t kiss,” she said. “Not that way.”

She placed both hands on my manhood, now very hard and erect, and began to sink to her knees. I realized what she intended, and took her elbow to raise her back to her feet.

“Not yet,” I said, unsure then why the idea repelled me, having forgotten my “princess” and her bizarre blue tongue. “I need to be inside you.”

She sat on the bed, looking up at me.

“Whatever you . . . you want,” she said in a husky voice. “I’m yours.”

She reached for a small jar on the side table, putting some gel-like substance on her fingers. She placed some on my manhood, and then some inside her own woman's place.

“If you just want to . . . want to fuck me,” she said, “I, I, I need to be wet.”

She leaned back onto the bed, and I mounted the bed, and then mounted her. I slid into her as though I had not done so in decades. And I had not, but my body remembered what my mind did not. As I slid back and forth inside her, she moaned softly but did not move; her thoughts showed the moaning to be simple play-acting. I felt my excitement build, and at the last moment I pulled out of her to lay my manhood across her belly where my seed spilled in powerful spurts.

I felt an enormous surge of pleasure roll through my body, relief as though I had been in enormous pain for years. I shouted, and then laughed. My body seemed to float, as though heavy chains had been struck off of me.

Feeling myself harden again, I rolled over and once again entered her.

“Keep fucking me,” she whispered into my ear. “Don’t ever stop . . . ever stop fucking me.”

When I had finished, a male slave awaited me in the entry hall.

“I am to guide you to Illyrio’s mansion,” he said. “If you would follow me.”

I felt no deception in his thoughts, so I did as he bade.

“You enjoyed yourself?” Illyrio greeted me as I entered the main hall. “You seemed like a man with great need.”

“I still am,” I said. “But it’s bearable now. Thank you.”

“It was nothing, my friend. You and I will do great things together.”

“Such as what?”

“First, I suppose that you’ll need employment.”

“I have some cash I took from the Dothraki I killed,” I said. “And their horses, weapons and other belongings to sell.”

“Let me take care of that,” Illyrio said. “My agents will get far better prices than you could.”

He spoke the truth, so I nodded my acceptance.

“You’ve sparred with my guards,” he said. “And beaten them easily. Once I possessed some skill with a blade myself. You’re extraordinary, John Carter. I have some guests I’d like you to meet once they arrive, but until they do, would you consent to train the guards? I’ll pay, of course”

Again I nodded my acceptance. I had nothing better to do, and Illyrio’s plotting at the very least promised to amuse me.

I could not deny my desires, and returned to the pillow house the next day.

“You have coin this time?” asked the stout woman who ran the place. “Illyrio only paid for the once.”

“Not on me,” I admitted. “I can return with it.”

“We don’t give credit,” she said, preparing to send me away. Then she reconsidered. “Wait.”

She turned and pulled back the beaded curtain leading to the first floor’s bed chambers.

“Calye!” she bellowed. “Get your oversized ass out here.”

A few moments later the red-haired woman from the previous day poked her head out of the curtain.

“So?” she asked.

“Your lover here has no coin. You still interested?”

“Sure,” she said, and looked at me. “Come on . . . on back.”

“You know the rules,” the madam said to her.

“I, I know,” Calye said. “I’m good for . . . for it.”

I followed her down the hallway, back to the room where we had met before. She closed the door behind us. I took her into my arms, and bent down to kiss her. She turned her head away from me.

“I told you,” she said. “Whores don’t kiss. You want to, to kiss me, you have to, to buy me.”

“Buy you?”

“From my . . . my owner. And then I’ll be yours. You can fuck me . . . fuck me whenever you want. You can kiss me, you can, you can use me, you can kill me.”

“You’re a slave?”

“All whores are, are slaves. At least here in . . . in Pentos.”

“You mean you have a contract.”

“There’s no . . . no difference. The house owns me. You want to, to kiss me, you have to own me.”

No white woman should be a slave, even a debased creature like Calye.

“This is what you desire?”

“No, I, I, I want to be free. But if I, if I have to be a slave, I’d rather be yours.”

She was not beautiful, nor was she even likeable. But she knew her place and was eager to please me. Later I realized that she was everything my princess was not, and this made her desirable to me. I eagerly pulled the dress off her shoulder.

“Not so rough,” she said. “Not on, not on the fabric, anyway. You rip it, I, I, I pay for it. You can be as rough with . . . rough with me as you want.”

I pulled the dress down more carefully, then pushed her onto the bed as she spread her legs.

“Wait,” she said, dipping her fingers into the small pot of gel. “You’ll rip me in, in half if you go in dry.”

As soon as she was ready, I plunged into her. She dutifully lay still, as a woman should, while I satisfied my need. She remained silent until I once again finished on her soft, white belly. I suddenly recalled raising a glass to “the ice-cold Southern woman,” and I felt that somehow, despite the missing pieces of my memory, reality had righted itself again.

On the next morning, I went to see Illyrio.

“John Carter!” he greeted me, smiling warmly. “What can I do for you?”

“The woman,” I said. “The one I . . . the one who pleasured me after my arrival in Pentos.”

“I must apologize, my friend. You did not deserve that. It’s a fine pillow house, and I paid for their very best. They should not have passed off their cheapest whore. I know the owner well, we’re partners in this and other ventures, and I have other business with him. We’ll have words over this, do not fear.”

“I wish to buy her.”

“Buy her? From the house?”


He rubbed his chin with his hand, and gestured for me to join him as he walked into the gardens of his huge manse.

“My friend, are you sure? You wish her to be your woman?”

“I do.”

He sighed.

“From a Lysene pillow house, there are so many lovelies from which to choose. And you want that one?”

“I do.”

He sighed again.

“As I said, I have business with them anyway. Prince Viserys will arrive soon, and he wants a teacher for his sister. A skilled Lysene whore. You’ll come with me, and when we’ve chosen the teacher, I’ll ask them to include your choice with her. Or a better choice, should you recover your sanity by then.”

“You are gracious,” I said.

“Nonsense. It costs me nothing. I only worry that you think so little of yourself.”

“I will pay you back.”

“I was serious,” Illyrio said. “That whore you desire is of little to no value and they’ll give her to me for the asking. But please, my friend, look at the other choices first. I’ll gladly buy a better woman for you, a gift from me to you.”

“She’s what I deserve.”

“What did you do, that you so wish to punish yourself?”

“I don’t know,” I said, honestly. “Parts of my memory are missing. I only know that I did something deeply shameful. It feels like I somehow ran away from an obligation. What that was, I truly do not know.”

Each morning, I worked with Illyrio’s guard force. They considered themselves slaves, though to remain within Pentoshi law they each had a contract they could neither read nor understand. They were eunuchs, called “Unsullied,” and had been trained from an early age to fight with sword, spear and shield. They preferred the spear.

Though they were black men I found them to be excellent soldiers, obeying orders without question, and their swordsmanship was good but highly formalized. They dutifully performed all the evolutions they had been taught, and did so with great speed, but showed little imagination. Their thoughts registered little imagination as well; they lived to serve.

Illyrio had told me that young swordsmen of Pentos walked the streets in brightly-colored clothes, seeking a challenge. On some afternoons I strapped on my sword and walked about the city to test their metal. I found none of these “bravos” particularly challenging, and after I’d killed a dozen of them word spread and none would challenge me. I grew bored and considered whether I should leave my plush refuge.

While the Pentoshi considered theirs to be one of the world’s great cities, distant shapes of memory told me that I had seen and inhabited some much larger. The high, thick walls of Pentos and the abundant towers within them were all faced with red brick. Priests and priestesses of some fire god preached on seemingly every corner; I paid them little heed.

A prince ruled Pentos in name, but Illyrio and the other magisters formed a council that held real power. Pentos had no army and only a tiny fleet, living at the mercy of a city to the north called Braavos and the Dothraki horselords. Its people showed varied origins, some dusky-skinned but most of them white like me. They wore colorful robes, seemed to enjoy dying their hair and beards all manner of outrageous shades, and spoke a language Illyrio called Bastard Valyrian that I undertook to learn. He and I usually communicated in the Westerosi tongue in which he had first greeted me.

One morning after our training session, I found Illyrio watching us.

“I need to speak with you,” he began, “about security.”

“Just tell me what’s needed.”

“In a few days, some friends will bring a pair of very important visitors. Prince Viserys Targaryen, and his sister Daenerys. Do you know of them?”

“You mentioned the prince before,” I said. “That’s the extent of my knowledge.”

“Viserys is heir to the Iron Throne, rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.”

“And by ‘rightful,’ you mean that he lost it and is in exile. And you intend to put him back there.”

“You’re a clever man,” Illyrio said, not knowing that I had read his thoughts. “You’ll bear watching as well. But yes, that’s my intent, and that of my friends. To do that, we have to keep him alive. And that will be your job.”

“He has bodyguards of his own?”

“None. My men are to be his defense, and I would ask that you organize them for this most important task. They like you and more importantly, they respect you. Will you do this for me?”

“Of course.”

“Will you need more men?”

“Your Unsullied are good fighters,” I allowed. “But they’re child-like, naïve. To protect against assassins, you need men with a suspicious nature. And you need to pay them well else they’ll take someone else’s coin as well as yours.”

“I can bring you such men,” Illyrio said. “How many?”

“Twenty to start,” I said. “Be ready to fetch more, in case these won’t suit you.”

“I’m sure they will.”

“In weighing their fighting skills, I trust your judgement,” I said. “I have certain skills in determining a man’s trustworthiness. Trust me in this.”

“So I shall.”

My doubts eased considerably upon meeting the first man Illyrio presented, a former pit fighter who called himself Strong Belwas. This was not his name, as his thoughts revealed, but I had long ago learned – though I could not recall where – to allow a man his own story as long as he did not seek to deceive.

“You’ve been a soldier?” I asked. “Served as a guard?”


He did not wish to say more, but he knew his business. He was a huge man, with an enormous belly and rolls of fat that concealed thick muscle. Belwas was a eunuch, originally from a city called Meereen, but not Unsullied. Illyrio had bought his contract from a stable of pit fighters. When I tested his metal I found that he had great skill not only with a blade but most other weapons of Essos.

I liked Strong Belwas. With most people he spoke in broken sentences and single words, but once he recognized me as a fellow swordmaster he opened up considerably more. We soon took to regular sparring, and he taught me the subtleties of the arakh while I worked with him on two-sword techniques, something he had previously disdained.

Vaguely, I knew that I had been a pit fighter myself at some point and I did not hold Belwas’ past against him. Strong Belwas had dusky skin, unlike the white inhabitants of Pentos, and had been a slave in other cities. Like me, he was an outsider, and I was glad of his companionship.

Not all of Illyrio’s recruits showed such quality; I turned down about half of them but eventually had my twenty skilled, suspicious fighters. I trained them alongside Illyrio’s Unsullied, and worked out regular rotations to guard the mansion’s entrances, walls and interior. Illyrio provided gaudy uniforms and fine new weapons.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three (Dejah Thoris)

I sensed the riders approach only moments before I could hear the hoofbeats of their mounts, and halted at a spot where the trees grew particularly thick and close to the road. The closeness of the trees and their abundant life felt very heavy on my mind, but in this position I would not be flanked should the encounter prove hostile. Soon I could separate the thoughts of three men, which revealed that they sought the woman warrior I had seen slain earlier in the day. They wished her dead, but feared her fighting skills.

Every person conducts an internal monologue within their thoughts, but intelligent people “speak” to themselves more than do those of lesser intellect. Stupid people – and these men apparently were quite stupid – have little to think about, and this makes them more difficult to track telepathically.

When they came within sight, one of them swiftly nocked an arrow to a bow but then slowly lowered it to point at the ground upon realizing I was not the female they sought and, in his eyes and thoughts, no threat. I had never seen such an ancient weapon outside of historical records and the wall paintings of abandoned cities. Did these people truly not know firearms?

Their apparent leader, a supremely ugly man wearing a yellow cloth over a suit of steel-plate armor, rode forward a few paces and addressed me. His words asked my name and business, but his thoughts dwelt on my breasts and images of forcible mating. He was a disgusting calot – a foul creature of my planet – and I considered killing him on the spot.

I gave him my name, and told him I wished to see his leader. Not recalling a great deal of John Carter’s English, and needing to extract the words from his thoughts, I spoke slowly and haltingly, which irritated him. After the third attempt his thoughts indicated that he understood my words, though they remained poorly spoken. While the language was similar to English, it was not quite the same, and some of the English words I used had no meaning to him.

On Barsoom we communicate many basic parts of speech – pronouns and tenses, for example – by telepathy. Giving voice to the proper words, even in very rough form, took a great deal of concentration. I saw yet another paper for the Royal Academy, but once again I swiftly pushed that thought aside.

The warrior pressed again for my business, slowly moving his horse forward, and he continued to broadcast foul notions. Similar ideas also came from his archer friend and the third man, an older warrior with a bald head and hideous green beard. The intensity of their undisciplined thoughts threatened to overwhelm me, but I was learning more words from them and I used John Carter’s name for my planet.

“I am from Mars. Take me to your leader.”

“What makes you think I’m not the leader here?” the one in yellow demanded, adding what I understood to be a string of epithets reserved for unintelligent females.

I knew from John Carter that his people could not read minds, and I suspected the same of the people of this planet, were it not indeed Jasoom. The man in white armor had not been able to even determine if I were real, while his opponent had ignored the powerful thought impulses I had sent in my vain attempt to dissuade her from suicide at his hands.

Had any of them known anything of telepathy, even of its existence, they would not have broadcast their thoughts and emotions so heedlessly. I decided not to reveal my abilities, though I thought it likely that all three of these men would prove too stupid to comprehend telepathy. Distasteful as I found their minds, reading them made it steadily easier to form sentences in their rough language.

“A leader employs polite address with a stranger.”

“We’ll ain’t you the fancy-speaking noble bitch?” I had succeeded in enraging him. That had not been my intent but I found it difficult to care. The images of forcible mating grew in intensity as he turned to address his fellows.

“Let’s just rape this diaper-wearing Dornish bitch, open her throat and be off.”

I quickly drew my new sword and placed it at his neck before he could turn back toward me.

“You may wish to reconsider.”

The archer started to raise his bow. I looked at him.

“You will drop that weapon now, or I will kill you all.”

He hesitated. The green-bearded one shouted and rode forward.

“That’s the big ugly bitch’s fancy sword. And her horse, too.”

He had recognized the woman warrior’s blade. He thought to kill me and forcibly mate with my corpse. He reached for his sword. The man in yellow urinated in fear but did not move other than to back his horse. The archer raised his bow as I asked my own horse to keep the yellow man between us and the archer. As my sword drank the yellow man’s life an arrow struck him in the ribs. I spun the blade rightward to slash across the belly of the approaching green-bearded man. The wondrous edge cleft through his armor of steel rings as though it were cloth.

I leapt from my horse and bounced from the ground to the archer as another arrow flew through the space I had just occupied. I reached him before he could raise his bow again with its freshly-nocked arrow. He was very fast, but not fast enough. I slashed the weapon in half and put my sword’s point to his throat. Behind me, the bodies of two men slid off their horses and onto the ground.

I grabbed a handful of the archer’s loose clothing and yanked him down from his own mount. He sprawled before me, his eyes very wide. He appeared much younger than the other two, and had scars on his face that appeared to be from a skin condition or perhaps a disease.

“You will take me to your leader now. Or you will die as well.”

His thoughts still lingered on my breasts.

“Those tits” – I took the word from his mind – “will be your last sight if you do not do exactly as I say.”

“Yes. Please don’t kill me. Who are you? What are you?”

“You will be silent.” He obeyed. A coil of rope had been affixed to his saddle, and I used it to tie him securely and then had another thought. I pulled at his leggings.

“Remove these.”


“Remove the clothing from your legs.”

“You . . . you want me?”

He hoped that I wished to mate with him. I considered running him through as he lay on the ground, but refrained so that he would not foul the leggings with his waste as he died. Instead I pulled again at his leggings.

“I want your clothing. You will give this to me or you will die and I will take them anyway.”

“Yes, my lady.”

He pulled on a knot holding a cord around his waist; his leggings loosened when the knot came free. I pulled them off his legs. I sensed embarrassment over the exposure of his sex organ, and in my anger I taunted him.

“You hoped to put that tiny cock into me?” I again took the word from his mind. It was shaped like that of John Carter, but was indeed considerably smaller. And, as I would realize when I knew more of their language, denoted by an exceedingly stupid word.

“I . . . I’m sorry.”

Having removed his leggings, I pulled him upright by the front of his tunic and easily tossed him back atop his horse; he was very thin. I telepathically asked his horse to remain in place until I was ready to leave; the beast seemed willing and I could detect a deep hatred of its rider. The archer whimpered, but did not speak. I took off the dead woman’s underclothing, pulled on the leggings and tied the drawstring; they were tight around my loins and scratchy on my skin, and terribly unattractive. Still, they would protect my legs better than my previous solution. If that afflicted the archer with unwelcome chafing, then perhaps he should not have tried to shoot me with his arrows.

I walked back to where his comrades lay dying, their final thoughts as unpleasant as those they had had in life. The yellow man thought of roughly mating with a pale-skinned, red-haired woman; the green man rapidly imagined a series of foul deeds – murder, forcible mating, setting what appeared to be small homes afire, robbing poor people – that he had committed in his life. I thought to question them, but felt myself becoming physically ill from my contact with their diseased minds.

Instead, I examined the yellow man’s armor and found the clasps that held it in place. It was even more roughly made than that of the female warrior. Underneath he was filthy; in places his underclothing seemed to be actually rotting. As he died he voided his waste, adding even more smells to his already foul odor. I noted that these people released far more, and far damper, waste than the peoples of Barsoom. Yet another paper for the Royal Academy.

Determined to learn more, I sliced open his chest with a single sword-cut down to his waist. I spread his abdominal cavity open with my hands, then wiped them on his yellow cloak. He had ribs much like John Carter or I, but his heart and lungs were smaller than those of a Red Barsoomian and his heart was centered rather than offset. This explained why Jaime’s sword-thrust had been fatal to the female warrior; I still did not know her name. He had but one stomach. His reproductive organ was not as tiny as the archer’s but still far smaller than that of John Carter. I surmised that if not one of John Carter’s people he was closely related, but he was definitely not of Barsoom.

The green-bearded man was not yet dead, and had switched from memories of his own deeds to renewed wishes of inflicting harm upon me. His sword had fallen back into its scabbard and he struggled to draw the blade but had little strength left. I walked over to where he lay and despite his coat of metal rings I easily slid my sword through his heart, now that I knew its location. His vile thoughts receded. I decided to leave the bodies for whatever scavengers might be desperate enough to feast on their foul remains.

I asked their horses to stay in place while I looked through their saddlebags. They had more round loaves of bread and skin bags of water; the green-bearded one had a bag of some reddish, mildly alcoholic drink as well. I ate the loaves and some dried meat I found, and drank the alcohol. The yellow man had some incredibly filthy undergarments that I used to clean my new sword before tossing them atop his corpse.

The green-bearded one had several scrolls made from what appeared to be some sort of animal skin, with characters written on them. These made no sense to me, nor did they resemble the letters of Jasoom that John Carter had shown me. I tossed these aside as well. He did have a flat, gray stone wrapped in a soft cloth along with a small flask of oil. I recognized these as a sharpening set for his sword, and kept them though my new blade seemed not to need sharpening. He also had a dozen round red fruits; I gave one to each of the horses and ate the rest myself while I sifted through their belongings.

Each man also had a small drawstring bag tucked inside their clothing with coins inside; I poured the contents into one bag and kept that. They were round rather than the ovals we use on Barsoom, but their function was clear. The yellow man had a helmet forged in the shape of a snarling animal. If this was the fiercest beast Jasoom had to offer, I was not impressed. I threw the helmet against a tree to test its metal and it readily crumpled. I left it where it lay, but I took the swords of both dead men.

The archer, still terrified, watched me approach.

“Will you kill me now?”

“Perhaps. I will ask you questions. You will answer.”

“Yes,” he said, then added, “my lady.”

“Is this Virgina?”

“What is Virginia?”

“Is this land Virginia?”

“Never heard of no Virginia. These are the River Lands.”

Either this man was quite stupid, which seemed possible, or these were a people of little imagination.

“So there is a river near here?”

“Yes, my lady.”

So much water on this planet that it flowed across the surface.

“Who rules these lands?”

“No one really knows. The land is at war and everything’s confused.”

I am of course rendering his words as I understood them with a great deal of telepathic help. The archer had no education and spoke what I believe was a very rough peasant dialect.

“So there is war in the land?”

“The great war has ended but fighting continues. Many men have separated from their armies and now wander the land killing and looting and raping.”

“Including yourselves.”

“No. We defend the weak. We are a brotherhood.”

“Truly? Your friend spoke of raping,” their word for forcible mating, “and murdering me, and insulted my clothing.”

“We seek vengeance against,” he named two names, apparently powerful families in this land. “My companions were hard men.”

“And now they are dead men.”

“And now they are dead men,” he agreed. “Will I join them?”

“It is of no matter to me whether you live or die. If you are useful to me, I will allow you to live.”

As he spoke, he seemed to recover from his shock and became steadily angrier. He imagined shooting me with arrows while I cried out in pain, he imagined raping me while I both shed tears and begged for more, and he thought of stabbing me during the act with the knife I had neglected to take from him. A foolish and almost deadly oversight.

I now searched him, finding a small bag of copper coins which I added to those I’d taken from his friends. I also took the knife from inside his clothing and studied it. I found it badly made, with a wooden handle nearly falling apart. It struck me that every item I had examined since my arrival on this planet appeared to have been made by hand. I snapped the knife’s blade and cast the pieces deep among the trees. I also took the bundle of arrows from his ornate quiver and snapped them in half.

“Show me your hand.”


“Show me your right hand.”

He held it out tentatively; it remained tightly bound at the wrist to his left. I saw hard calluses on his first and second fingers. I tapped them.

“You pull the bowstring with these?”

He did not answer, but his mind agreed. I braced his hand against the pommel of his saddle, drew the long knife I had taken from the woman’s corpse, reversed it and smashed the knife’s pommel against each finger. He screamed as his bones snapped. He would be unable to draw a bow until they healed.

“Should you attempt to harm me, you will never shoot another arrow.”

“You crazy bitch! You crushed my fingers!”

“I have not yet damaged you permanently. Answer my questions or I will take off your fingers and perhaps your tiny cock as well.”

I had slipped and given a hint that I could read his mind, but he did not notice. His thoughts now altered between pain, fear and hatred. I could accept that.

“Do you know a man named Jaime?”


“His name was Jaime. He had a metal hand. He wore white armor. He slew the woman who owned this horse and sword before me.”

“The Kingslayer. So the big ugly bitch found him after all and he killed her. Good. That was our mission.”

This “king” who had been slain was apparently their equivalent of a jeddak.

“He killed your ruler?”

“Yes, long ago. Now he’s known as a man without honor.”

“I can understand that. The woman was disarmed. Why did he kill her anyway?”

“I don’t know. She was in our camp, badly injured, and cried out his name in her sleep while she healed. We believed that she loved him. Our leader ordered her to kill him, or she would kill the woman warrior’s friends.”

Again, I can only transcribe his words as I understood them – I am certain they were actually of a much baser sort. And mine as I wished to speak them; I am equally certain that my command of the language was and remains imperfect.

“Your leader is a woman?”

“She used to be.”

“What does that mean?”

“She was married to the ruler of the northern lands. The new king had him killed. Then the king’s family had her son and many others murdered during a wedding feast. They killed her as well.”

Apparently this was a well-known crime, offending even this criminal.

“She was dead, but now she lives?”

“Something like that. She seeks vengeance. We help her find it.”

Ras Thavas, one of Barsoom’s greatest scientists though somewhat mentally disturbed, had devised means to revive the dead, provided their bodies had been preserved. Perhaps this technique was known here as well? These people did not seem very scientifically advanced but Barsoom has inhabitants as ignorant and stupid as my captive.

“I wish to meet your leader. You will take me there.”

He suggested that I visit a place inhabited by demons instead.

“You are wearing no pants, and I have a very sharp sword.”

“You’re no better than we.”

“Perhaps. But I have not raped you.”

His twisted mind provided him with far worse threats than I could have imagined, much less voiced. He feared me, and at the same time felt shame for fearing a woman. I thought myself a person of high morals, but perhaps he was right. This place was already changing me.

“Again, tell me of the war in the land.”

“There are rumors of war. To the north and to the south. It is not clear who is left to fight. Many of the great houses have been broken.”

“We will find out.”

He thought of grabbing the leather lines that guided the horses and riding away. I cut them from his mount’s head, since the horse would go where I asked. I removed the saddles and other tack from the horses of the two dead men, and telepathically told the animals to go where they wished. They chose to follow me. I leapt onto my own horse, and started up the road with the three other horses following.

I had come to this planet in search of John Carter, but I knew myself reluctant to actually find him. During the two years since his disappearance I had not missed his rages, his belittlement of me and of my culture, or his refusal to open his thoughts like a civilized person. He had not engaged me in proper sex yet forbidden me to make love to anyone other than Thuvia, and then only when he watched while pleasuring himself.

What did I intend to do when I did find him? Subdue him, restrain him and raise my hands to the red planet in the night sky? Convince him to willingly return with logic and argument? Seduce him and return him to my bed?

I did not know, but I could also have used his knowledge. He had told me much of Jasoom/Dirt, and I wished that I had paid closer attention and asked more questions rather than silently dismissing it. I had found his tales tedious and self-aggrandizing. To find him, were he even on this planet, I would need to learn much more. This was a planet riven by war, and John Carter would make his mark here no less than he had on Barsoom. I merely had to follow the tales of miraculous deeds of battle: where there is war, there will be John Carter. But would he still be the John Carter I had known?

We rode along the road for a time, until the archer’s thoughts indicated that we approached a lookout post. I could detect no one where he thought a guard should be watching, but I turned my horse onto the narrow path that my prisoner’s mind recalled as the route to his brotherhood’s encampment.

He became more and more agitated as we rode deeper into the forest, hoping that his friends would ambush me, but still I detected no one watching for us. Finally, I began to pick up a cluster of people ahead of us, highly excited about some event taking place. They paid little attention to me or my prisoner.

Dismounting, I entered a forest clearing filled with about 200 people of all ages, both men and women. The rush of undisciplined thoughts poured into my mind, threatening to overwhelm my defenses. They thought of food, they resented others for their slightly-less-filthy clothing, they hoped to see someone killed, they wished they were mating.

A wide flat stone served as a speaker’s platform, where a hooded figure stood with an armed man beside her. The figure held one hand to its throat and made hissing noises, which the man translated for the crowd. I took the sword and scabbard from the saddle and held it, still sheathed, in my hands.

I could not easily follow the individual words; the crowd’s ocean of thought made it difficult to pick out separate strands. The hooded figure, who the man on the platform now called the stone-hearted woman, pointed to four people standing below a pair of heavy tree branches, two below each branch. Ropes had been looped over the branches, with nooses tied around the necks of those below, who stood on what appeared to be pieces of wood.

The stone-heart’s translator said that these four had helped an enemy family known as the Lannisters. The two males had been comrades of a woman named Brienne; I realized that this must be the name of the large woman warrior I had seen willingly killed. She had proven herself a friend of Jaime Lannister and run away with him, leaving her friends to die in her place. And so now they would meet their deserved deaths.

The two females apparently ran an inn and had given food and drink to the Lannisters. The woman named Brienne had fought to save them from lawless marauders, making them associates of Brienne in the eyes of the stone-heart. Later, the taller of the two females had tended the wounds of Brienne here in this camp. For this crime, the stone-hearted woman demanded their deaths. The smaller female cried while the larger cursed the stone-hearted one, saying that she and her sister had done nothing wrong.

I could not let this happen. I had no wish to become involved in the affairs of this place, but these young women and their friends were about to be killed. Murdered. I stepped into the clearing and shouted.

“Stop. The woman Brienne did not join the Lannister. He killed her before my eyes.”

The crowd’s thoughts said that my appearance shocked them: a copper-skinned woman wearing only a dirty set of leggings over her loins. My exposed breasts offended some and excited others. The stone-hearted woman pulled back her hood to stare at me. It was an awful sight. The archer had not lied: this woman had obviously been dead. Her flesh was decayed, and she had long scars running down her face. The cause of her death was obvious; her throat had been cut.

She pointed at me and screamed. No one needed her translator; a score of people or more rushed to attack me with their bare hands. Far from every person followed her order, but it was plenty.

They crashed into me like a herd of crazed wild thoats, knocking me to my knees. I bent my head forward instinctively to protect my face and eyes. Fists began hitting me on the arms, back and head. At least five hands roughly grasped my breasts. But like John Carter, while I lived, I would fight.

Several fingers stuffed themselves into my mouth. I bit them off easily and spat them out. Someone screamed. I placed my new sword on the ground between my knees to fight with both hands. With my left hand I pulled men off of me, with my right I delivered the short, sharp punches with folded fingers that we learn in the hand-to-hand combat style of Helium. I looked for the soft areas – throats and groins – but struck whatever target presented itself in my desperate need to escape.

Steadily I reduced the number of enemies and the weight on my back eased. Fewer punches and kicks struck me; as yet, no one had drawn a weapon. I shrugged off the last man sprawled across my shoulders, rose to my feet and kicked him soundly in the face. He stopped moving. Around me fourteen men and one woman sprawled on the ground in various poses. Some moaned; most did not move at all. While I had not thought to kill anyone, neither had I held back my enhanced speed and strength. They had wished to kill me, and several had wished to rape me. I did not grieve for their deaths or their injuries.

Other men now circled me warily. Some drew swords while others picked up rocks and pieces of wood. The creature who led them continued to hiss angrily; the hatred streaming from her mind was almost physically overpowering. She hated me, but more than that, she hated those who had taken her life, and she hated those unworthy souls who still drew breath. Her followers were but tools to carry out her program of murder and hate. When she had taken her vengeance on those who had wronged her, she would kill these followers as well and make them into creatures like her.

I drew my sword and faced my enemies, turning as they moved to encircle me. When they continued to hesitate, their undead leader hissed even more loudly.

“Kill her!” the man standing with her shouted. “The stone-heart commands you. Kill the red bitch!”

This time, ready for my abilities and with weapons in hand, they might succeed. I decided to strike first, bending my legs at the knees and leaping across the clearing to land right before the stone-hearted woman. With my left hand I back-handed her translator, who lost his sword and fell to the ground. Then I plunged my own sword into her heart; it went easily into her rotting flesh up to the hilt.

As I drew it out of her chest, flames burst out all along the blade. She caught fire as well, first her gray, dry flesh and then her hooded clothing. She emitted a high-pitched, piercing squeal, sinking first to her knees and then collapsing downward upon herself. In the flicker of an eye, only a circle of smoking ash remained.

A stocky, bald man in faded red robes pushed his way through the crowd.

“Behold the Red God’s Chosen!” he shouted. “She is Azor Ahai returned! She is the Princess Who Was Promised!”

He began to preach a prophecy that these people seemed to have heard before. He was obviously some kind of priest. Some now looked at me in awe, others in hatred. I did not detect anyone ready to attack me, at least not right away.

Some of these people – the ones who did not wish me dead – wished me to lead them. But even more of them hated me for killing the stone-heart, while others feared me for the same reason. I did not want to lead these people or be their red savior; I wished to be on my way with my sword and my horses, in search of John Carter. These lost and frightened souls had little hope and believed that nothing but death and pain awaited them. They needed a real leader in place of the murderous monster who had risen from the dead.

As for the Red Priest’s ramblings, I knew not what to make of these.

About half of the assembled people went to one knee and looked up expectantly at me; the others milled about uncertainly behind them while muttering angrily. I had a much more difficult time picking out thoughts in such a crowd than I had when dealing with only two or three people at once and the strong emotions of the moment made their thoughts even more tangled.

I did perceive that the kneeling motion was their equivalent of throwing their swords at my feet – those who knelt offered to serve me and asked for my protection. I was under no illusions as to their sudden love for me; they knelt because the Red Priest told them to do so.

It appeared that I had killed the translator; that had not been my intent. Too many people were dying. Suddenly, I remembered the four figures dangling from nearby trees.

“Cut those people down!” I shouted in my best command voice. Several of the kneelers got up and ran to do so.

“Are they alive?” I asked.

Two young men left the bodies and approached me where I stood alone a scant distance from the smoldering ashes of their leader. One youth was quite thin with long hair and a regal bearing, the other large with blue eyes, shaggy black hair and broad shoulders – he could have been John Carter’s forgotten son. Maybe, I mused, he was – I knew that interplanetary teleportation created strange time effects. Both seemed discomfited by the sight of my breasts, but neither evidenced the desires for rape and violence that I had already encountered far too often during my brief time on their planet. I felt somewhat better about the people of this place.

“No, my lady,” said the thin young man, his thoughts grieving. I struggled for the proper words to express sorrow.

“I share your feelings,” I finally said. “Had I been faster, they might have lived.”

“Had we also been faster,” said his larger friend, “they might have lived. We knew what Lady Stone Heart was but we did nothing to stop her. Walking away is never enough in the face of evil.”

Now many began to argue angrily with him, expressing their love for the stone-heart and their hopes to obtain vengeance for her. Others complained of the stone-heart’s murder of the four hanged people. Three of those killed were apparently very young and blameless of any crime; no one seemed to miss the fourth, a rather plain-looking brown-haired man in warrior’s garb.

“Hold!” I cried, holding aloft my still-flaming sword. “Do you wish to fight me again? Then be silent.”

A couple of men fingered their weapons, but none raised them. I wished my sword would stop burning, and so it did. It appeared clean so I sheathed it; I would ponder this phenomenon later.

I walked over to the bodies, the Red Priest by my side. In Helium and other great cities of Barsoom, the Protective Force includes specialists who can gather the final thoughts of the recently dead, which linger for a little less than what this planet deems an “hour” and can sometimes help determine who killed them. Because of this, assassins usually destroy the victim’s brain with an explosive bullet or a blunt object.

I had no training in this procedure; the final thoughts of the dying are clouded with pain and with a vast assortment of memories, some real and some false. The hanged warrior actually thought of the slain Brienne, apparently wishing that he had married her or at least shared his feelings for her. He had died without telling her directly, fearing that they were not returned. The youth, apparently a battlefield servant to Brienne, also thought of her; his last fading musings alternated between despair that he had not served her properly and anger that she had not saved him from this fate.

The two young females showed other signs of violence. Their rough clothing had been torn, and both had blood on their bare legs. The smaller one’s last thoughts had centered on small furry animals that she loved, and a great deal of pain. But the larger one had remembered very clearly that she had been raped in multiple orifices. It had been agonizing, and my knees buckled with the force of her outrage. She pictured the faces of those who had forced themselves on her despite her screams, as well as the stone-heart looking on without a word, implying approval.

There is no equivalent of rape on Barsoom. John Carter had often feared that sexual crimes would be committed against me while I was held captive. I had always known that the implied insult to my husband bothered him at least as much as the hurt inflicted on me, but until this moment I had never understood why the very possibility traumatized him.

Crimes of passion occur on Barsoom, and include murder, but our physiology does not allow for an assault with a sex organ, not in the ways these very young women had been raped – male sex organs repeatedly and forcibly thrust not only into their own sex receptacle but into the orifice used for excretion, amid immense pain and humiliation. They had begged and they had screamed. No one came. That was the worst part. No one came.

I had never encountered anything like this. For some moments, I feared for my sanity. Our religion, in which I no longer believe, does have a concept of Hell, a place of eternal suffering. In my years of pious belief I had never imagined such a thing could exist even in Hell.

“They were raped,” I finally said, my voice unsteady.

“I didn’t know,” the Red Priest said softly.

“You should have.”

I turned back to the crowd.

“Who raped these small women?”

They moved uneasily, but one man made as if to run. A tall, red-haired woman stepped in front of him.

“It was you,” she said. “I know it.”

His thoughts confirmed it.

“Bring him here.”

Several men dragged him forward and threw him at my feet.

“Who helped you?”

He said nothing, but thought of two other men. I looked over the crowd, and saw each one.

“Bring that one, and that one.”

Other men dragged them forward. Several women kicked them as they passed. I picked up the proper word. Girls. They were only girls.

“You raped these girls?”

“No, not me,” one of them gasped. He was very dirty and missing many teeth. “I had nothing to do with it.”

“You took your turn just like we did.”

I did not think long.

“Hang them so that they know they are dying.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Four (Dejah Thoris)

Two of the men remained silent, while the third cried and repeated “no, no, no” as all three were slowly raised into the air from ropes looped over tree branches, the same ropes that had ended the lives of their victims. Their legs began to kick wildly.

“Kill her!” the archer screamed again. Someone had helped him down off the horse and untied him, but he remained bare below the waist. He stood on the speaker’s stone. “The bitch mutilated me! She murdered Lem and Greenbeard! She sliced open their bodies and did . . . things to them! And she stole my pants! She’s a red-eyed demon!”

I began to think that leaving the criminals’ bodies in the middle of the road, with one of them thoroughly dissected, might not have been the best decision. I hoped that the scavengers would help conceal the signs of my anatomical investigations. Meanwhile, the broad-shouldered youth took a few steps to where the archer stood and punched him in the face. I was more pleased than I should have been, but I had already come to greatly dislike this word “bitch.”

“We should hang you too,” the young man told the archer. “I can guess what you three tried to do to a lady you found in the woods on her own.”

“Enough,” I said. “I will speak with you two,” I indicated the two young men, “and the Red Priest. It is time I learned more of this land.”

I followed where they led, sensing no deception from any of the three. Behind us, other men looped the fourth rope around the neck of the archer and began to raise him off the ground as well. They thought to please me. His crimes had taken place solely within his mind, at least as far as I knew. Still, I did not stop them.

Was I any better than the stone-heart, ordering the painful deaths of those who offended my sense of justice? The dark-haired girl would never know she had been avenged; her pain would not be assuaged by the deaths of her rapists. I had ordered men killed, and other men had gladly obeyed. I did not regret their deaths. The stone-heart had ordered the killings of those she believed guilty of unspeakable crimes, and thought it justice. Was I not also a monster?

I am a daughter of Barsoom, and Barsoom is a planet of great violence. John Carter reveled in the wars he fought on behalf of Helium, and in the battles he waged both as a commander and as an individual fighter. He adapted well to Barsoom; his violent nature suited that of his adopted planet.

I believe that he once loved me, or at least I still desire this to have been true, yet I always knew that he tried to wish away the real nature of Dejah Thoris. He continues to believe that the exquisitely beautiful Thern priestess Phaidor threw herself off an airship to atone for her acts of jealousy, willfully overlooking my dagger slipping under her perfect left breast before her plunge into the rocky canyon below. John Carter has seen me kill many foes, and he knows that I am far more likely to die of a sword through my heart than of old age, yet still he treats me as a breakable precious object to be protected.

I am well familiar with death, and with killing. I seemed to be finding it much easier here on Jasoom.

The slender young man led us into a cave that opened into a complex of many tunnels centered around a large central cavern with the bottom part of trees, known as roots, intruding into its walls. We entered one of the smaller caves that had been furnished with wall hangings, a wooden table and chairs. All four of us settled into them and soon a woman brought us food – simple bread and roasted meat – and a mildly alcoholic golden-brown drink. I gave them my name and a brief description of my encounter with Jaime and Brienne. I ate while the Red Priest introduced his companions and explained what I had just seen.

He was smugly self-satisfied to learn that I was indeed a princess. His eyes widened at my name; he was also named Thoris. I did not believe him at first but his thoughts and those of the others confirmed this to be true. He did not believe us to be related, but was sure that this must have some mystical importance. Only much later when I had learned to read their language did I clarify that our names were not exactly the same; I was Thoris and he was Thoros. The coincidence still strikes me as odd.

The stout youth was Gendry, a blacksmith, and the other young man was a noble known as the Lord of the Fallen Star; his actual name was Ned Dayne but I liked the poetry of “Lord of the Fallen Star.” These two young men had apparently just returned to the group, having left over a disagreement with the Stone Heart. They came back when they heard that the dark-haired older girl – her name was Long Jeyne – was to be hanged. As Gendry had said, they were too late to save her.

Almost two years before, a force of warriors set out at the command of the King’s First Minister to hunt down a band of criminals. I have never firmly determined the length of the years here, which seems to shift at times, so the timeline may not be accurate. They apparently were defeated and then the King and First Minister were both murdered by the faction supporting the outlaws as part of what sounded like an overthrow of the government. So now the hunters became the hunted. The Red Priest was second in command of the group (while still serving as a priest), and the Lord of the Fallen Star was battlefield servant to the force’s commander. At least I think that was the explanation. I could not follow Gendry’s reasons for joining but it seemed that he arrived later.

They declared themselves the “Brotherhood” and forsook any lords, instead fighting to defend the “small people” as the Red Priest described them. These were not actually undersized humans, but workers, peasants and the unemployed poor, I determined with a few questions.

“Those looked like small people dangling from ropes outside,” I observed.

“Mistakes have been made.”

I pondered that while the serving woman brought another platter of roasted meat and more of the excellent golden drink, known as “ale.” The food here was much tastier than that of Barsoom. Though I wondered why I saw no men doing such serving work. I was following tangents again. I decided to listen some more and resumed eating.

The Brotherhood continued to fight those who burned and robbed and raped, and as its original soldiers fell in battle they gained new recruits. Some of these were criminals themselves and continued their old ways. I had met and killed some of them already. I detected disgust for the criminal element in all three men, and so I decided to be honest with them.

“The archer did not lie,” I said. “I killed his companions.”

“You?” Ned asked “A woman alone?”

“I am very good at killing people. But I did not mean for the archer to die.”

“You didn’t kill him,” Gendry said. “I suppose that was my doing.”

“You did not order him hanged.”

“Neither did you.”

Gendry and Ned explained that the Brotherhood had become divided in purpose. Some wished to continue their former leader’s goal of helping and protecting the small people. Others rallied to the Stone Heart’s cause, helping her seek vengeance against the families that had murdered her and her family. The men I had killed on the road, along with the archer, had often enforced her will; this apparently is why they had been sent to murder the woman warrior Brienne.

“When you killed the other two,” Gendry said. “You left him alone, with no one to defend him. Plenty of folk wanted to see him swing, mostly for what his friends had done in Stone Heart’s name. Once Lady Stone Heart died, it was only a matter of time for him.”

“Don’t blame yourself for it,” Ned added. “You’ll notice that none of us tried to stop the hanging, either.”

I also noticed that Thoros the priest had nothing to say on the matter; his thoughts revealed shame for having allowed the Stone Heart to so easily take over leadership of the Brotherhood and indecision over whether the archer deserved his fate. A craving for alcohol confused his thoughts; I had encountered this pattern on Barsoom among the most devoted alcoholics. I realized that I had fallen silent and was expected to speak.

“Thank you,” I told Ned Dayne, returning my mind to the subject of the archer though I remained unsure of my feelings. The archer had wished me to feel the same pain and humiliation I had read in the two hanged girls’ final thoughts, thoughts that still evoked barely-suppressed horror within me. Yet I had no right to take his life; he was not a subject of Helium. That others had wished him dead, and had performed the deed, offered little absolution. I would have to consider this further.

“Please continue with your story.”

Thoros resumed his tale. The Brotherhood’s commander was killed fighting a gigantic warrior called The Mountain, and the Red Priest brought him back to life through the power of his god. The commander died several more times before handing off his power of restored life to the Stone Heart and finally dying for good.

Thoros clearly intended this to have an impact, but his tale did not impress me.

“I do not believe in any gods.”

“You’ve already felt their power. They brought you to us.”

“I have met my goddess,” I said. “It did not go well.”

“You have walked with the gods? What blessings did she bestow?”

“She had me placed in a . . . a small space that I could not leave.”

“A cell? A goddess put you in prison?”

“Yes, a prison cell. She was not a very good goddess. She was also quite ugly. So my husband killed her. This pleased me.”

John Carter always claimed that he did not kill Issus, he merely revealed her mortality and then her followers ripped her to pieces. Yet he was responsible for her death, just as I was responsible for the archer’s. I suspect that his dissembling in this matter was due to his reluctance to kill women. I had no similar compunction. I hoped that he retained his.

“There is only one god,” Thoros preached, “and he cannot be killed by a mortal or anyone else.”

“All things die,” I said. “Including those who claim to be gods.”

The Red Priest clearly disagreed, but moved on.

“Despite your lack of belief, the one true god has chosen you as his instrument.”

He proceeded to tell a tale of an ancient hero named Azor Ahai, who wielded a flaming sword and used it to defeat terrible undead creatures from the frozen lands to the north. Just how he accomplished this, the story left unstated.

The sword gained its power when he thrust it between the willing breasts of his beloved. Azor Ahai would be reborn one day “when the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers.” The Red Priest believed I was that hero, brought here for divine purpose. Were my red eyes, unique in this land, not sufficient proof? And my flaming sword? I was an instrument of his red god; I was glad he did not know that I came from a red planet – what would seem, were this Jasoom, a red star in the night sky.

“I do not think the Stone Heart’s breasts were willing,” I said. “And she was not my beloved.”

“By your description of her death,” he countered, “Brienne was willing.”

“She was not the Lannister’s beloved. His cruel words made clear that she was anything but. And I never knew her while she lived.

“Further, I was not born amid smoke and salt,” I had not been born at all, but hatched. “And I have woken no mythical beasts.”

“You can’t take the old prophecies literally,” Thoros said. “They have a deeper meaning than that.”

“I am familiar with this style of argument,” I answered. “You wish the meaning of your holy words to be literal when that suits you, figurative when it does not.”

“You cannot deny that your sword burst into flame,” Thoros argued. “I have also wielded a flaming sword. I make it burn by coating it in a special oil and setting it alight when no one is watching. I know what a false flaming sword looks like. Yours was real.”

“Of course it was real. It surprised me as well. But I serve no god. No true god allows what I have seen in one long day.”

“Be that as it may. You have a destiny to fulfill.”

“That is true. I am here to find my husband, John Carter. I am trying to find his home country, a place known as Virginia.”

None of these men had ever heard of John Carter, or Virginia. The Red Priest asked after my own home country. He thought that it could not be on the Eastern Continent, but might be on the Southern Continent.

“I am from the South.”

“From Dorne?” asked the Lord of the Fallen Star. “Your skin is close in shade to many of our people, but I have never heard your name.”

“No, the Southern Continent.” None of them seemed to know anything of those lands. I was lucky. “My city is called Helium, and I am its princess.”

The Red Priest believed me insane. I could not say that he was wrong.

“How did you get here?”

I could think of no plausible lie. So I used the truth, however implausible.

“I do not know. I suddenly appeared in a clearing in the forest, with no clothing, weapons or anything else. I took the sword from the heart of a woman warrior killed by a man she loved who did not love her, and I stole the archer’s pants. He spoke truly in this regard as well.”

I had told the priest something even more insane, and just as quickly he fully believed me. He had brought the dead to life; my fantastic tale paled in comparison.

“That was the work of the one true god. I have seen this in visions. You arrived exactly where he meant you to arrive. You were meant to find that sword, as Brienne was meant to sacrifice herself by having it thrust between her willing breasts. Her sacrifice gave it the power to ignite and to kill Lady Stone Heart. You are the wielder of the flaming sword, who will save mankind from its most bitter enemy.”

He seemed to know more of the encounter in the forest than should be possible, but I could not recall if I had described exactly how Brienne came to be slain by Jaime. His thoughts said he had recounted the Azor Ahai legend accurately, at least he believed he had, so he had probably not crafted it to match the circumstances of my arrival and Brienne’s death.

Thoros believed me the savior of his world. Ned concentrated on not staring at my breasts. Gendry wondered if he had done the right thing by encouraging the hangings, and hoped that in choosing to support me he had chosen someone less evil than the Stone Heart.

I had no time to save their world. I did not know how to express how imperative it was that I find John Carter. Because John Carter forgets. Red Barsoomians can live for well over 1,000 of our planet’s years, and our minds retain memories for that entire span. John Carter never asked my age, or about my life before we met. I have lived for 441 years and I can remember breaking out of my egg, though it is a hazy memory, and I well remember playing with my father Tardos Mors in the gardens of Helium as a child.

My husband has no idea of his own age, but believes himself to be quite old – he has possibly lived for thousands of years. Ras Thavas, Barsoom’s foremost expert on the mind, believed that John Carter’s Jasoomian brain is not adapted to that long a span of years. When it becomes overloaded with memories, it wipes them clean to protect John Carter from the madness of too many lifetimes crashing into his consciousness.

John Carter feared losing his memories. And so he kept a written journal of his adventures, his friends and his family. I strongly suspected that the transition from Jasoom to Barsoom had begun the steady erasure of his earlier memories: his life in Virginia, which he described so colorfully to me soon after we first met, had become much vaguer in later years even as memories of his adventures with Tars Tarkas and Kantos Kan remained vivid. Had he already started to forget falling in love with me? Is that why he left me? And would his memory loss grow even deeper now that he had teleported between planets once more? Would he remember me at all, and if so, which Dejah Thoris would he remember? The one he had loved, or the one he grew to despise?

I was now very tired. Ned promised to care for my horses, and showed me a small rock chamber deep in the cave complex where he said I could sleep. One of the serving women came along, apparently so that no one would think he and I were mating, and Ned insisted that she find more clothing for me. She said she had no extras, which was not true, and finally went to the kitchens and returned with a shapeless tunic with no sleeves than draped down to my knees. She also brought a large bag made of some unfortunate animal’s stomach and filled with drinking water.

The rock chamber had a wooden door with brackets to either side and a wooden bar to allow someone inside to lock it; Ned thought this would keep me safe from would-be rapists and Stone Heart supporters. The serving woman regretted that it would also keep her and her friends from beating me with sticks while I slept. She planned to gather them and beat another woman they disliked instead.

Ned spared few thoughts for me, other than the continued embarrassment at seeing my breasts. He worried that he had not done enough to save Long Jeyne, and regretted that this made him a failure as a future lord. He felt a great deal of horror, shame and sadness over the rape and murder of the two girls and worked hard to keep from breaking into tears. Adult men in this culture, as in mine, did not let others see them cry.

They left me alone in the chamber. Though I was very tired, leftover adrenalin and the pressure on my mind of so many unbridled thoughts so close by kept me awake for some time. Ned had left me a burning candle and a holder for it, and I looked at my new lodgings. A crack in the rock provided fresh air, and I saw no evidence of large vermin. The sleeping platform consisted of a large sack filled with what appeared to be leaves and a thin cloth that I later learned was called a “blanket.”

When I lay on the sack the leaves poked through it and into my skin. I spread the cloth on top of it, as I did not feel cold, and stared at the rock ceiling of the chamber. Though many people had now fallen asleep, I still had to concentrate to force away their thoughts. Several women had joined the serving woman to discuss the beating they planned for a woman who had mated, or might have mated, with their husbands. A man sharpened his sword and thought about placing his sex organ inside me, imagining that I gasped and cried out, apparently in pleasure. Several men played a gambling game of some sort.

Ned believed it shameful for a man to cry, and it is no different for a princess. Even so, I did. I had done foolish things before, but nothing could compare to this. I had abandoned my family and my city, who love me, to search for a man who did not – and apparently had managed to land on the wrong planet. I felt very lonely, and very sorry for myself. I was alone in a savage world, with no means by which to return home, and no idea if John Carter had even come here, or if he would return to Barsoom with me if he had.

At some point I fell asleep, to endure a series of nightmares – some prompted by my own misery, some the influence of others’ thoughts I absorbed in my sleep. 

I awoke some time later, unsure how I had come to be in this small rock chamber now lit with a very dim gray light coming through a single small crack. I had been trapped in a strange dream, but as I became oriented to my surroundings I realized that I was trapped in a strange reality.

I found a piece of rope under the sack of leaves and used it to make a very primitive shoulder harness for my new sword. I strapped one of Brienne’s larger blades to my thigh using the band she had worn. I put on the dreadful tunic and looped my sword over my shoulder, then unbarred the door and wandered through the caves. The people inside looked at me, but most barely acknowledged my presence. I had become very hungry, and finally found several women standing around a large vat of some kind of boiled grain.

“You want to eat, you have to pay,” said one of them, the serving woman from the previous night. Her spite-filled thoughts regretted having to speak with me at all.

I dug through the small bag of coins and found a small copper one. I handed it to her and she gave me a large wooden bowl of the boiled grain and a wooden spoon.

“Take it outside,” she said. “Don’t need your kind in here.”

She angered me and I considered putting her in her place with a sound slap across the face, the correct answer for a servant speaking impudently to a princess, but I realized that would be unwise in a new and strange environment and decided to eat instead.

I did not like this place. Yet I would need to be familiar with my weapon, my horses, this planet’s gravity and its language before I could set out to find my husband. And I knew nothing of its society and politics, ignorance that could easily prove fatal.

Outside the sun had risen some time before and it was now mid-morning. I found a large rock to sit upon and eat my boiled grain, and watched the people go about their work, play and mostly their general laziness. If these were revolutionaries, the king would remain on his throne until he died a natural death.

I finished my grain and placed the bowl and spoon with others in a large bin I saw near the entrance to the caves. And then I set out to find Gendry, who worked with metal. It only took a few moments to detect his thoughts, and I followed them around the rocky hill with its smattering of large trees to his workshop nestled among the rocks. I hoped he could modify my new sword.

John Carter had written and illustrated a very popular book on Barsoom, titled Swords of Jasoom. He had included a blade very similar to this one, called a “long sword.” He had licensed its manufacture, though it was not as popular as the slightly curved “saber” that he favored. I liked my new sword very much. With its light weight and perfect balance it acted as an extension of my arm. Most swords of Barsoom have a blade of unequal width that can be awkward when making intricate moves; they are purposefully designed to reward expertise and punish novices. I suspected that this blade might be more difficult to handle were it not made of this wonderfully strong, lightweight form of steel unknown to me.

When I was sure I was alone – I scanned carefully using my telepathy – I ordered the sword to flame on again. It did nothing. I thought the command at it, I spoke the command. Nothing happened. Perhaps the Red Priest was right, and the flames were somehow connected to Brienne’s willing death. I did not see how this could be true, but the facts did meet his bizarre claim. Surely there were more facts involved that I did not yet possess; I did not intend to stab anyone in the breast to test this hypothesis.

Gendry’s workshop, known as a “smithy,” included a forge in which he worked with hot metal, a large anvil on which he pounded the softened metal, and a “slack tub,” a large water-filled container built of mortared stones in which the hot metal would be cooled.

Unlike the other people I had so far encountered, Gendry was pleased to see me.

“How do you find your new lodgings, Princess?”

“I am grateful for the place to sleep,” I said, truthfully. “But many of the people seem to wish I was elsewhere.”

He laughed.

“You really are a princess, trained to speak carefully, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Well, I don’t like them much either,” he said, but he smiled to soften his words. “Makes me glad the smithy’s on this side of the hill.”

“Why are they so hostile?”

“They’ve lost a great deal: their homes, close family members, their way of life. Lady Stone Heart promised them vengeance. You took that away when you killed her.”

“She was evil.”

“Oh, I agree,” he said. “I’ll live with the sight of Jeyne and Willow – my friends – dangling on ropes for a very long time. I’m glad you killed her. Not everyone agrees.

“But you came here to ask me something. What can I do for you?”

“It is my sword,” I said. “I would like some changes made to it, to remove these ridiculous jewels and decorations, to extend the grip so that I can easily fight with two hands and wrap it with simple leather.”

“Easy enough. Anything else?”

I would like to replace this absurd golden beast on the pommel with a red orb.”

“Even easier,” he said. “I can make one out of reddish bronze that will look really fine. Put your hands over here.”

He pointed to a flat white rock nearby. I lay my hands on it and he outlined them using a piece of burned wood.

“This’ll help me make the grip fit your hands exactly.”

I hopped atop a large pillar of rock next to his forge and folded my legs under me as I looked down on the bed of hot charcoal on which he worked. I already knew that electricity was unknown here, but did these people have no better fuels?

“You enjoy this,” I said.

He seemed amused by my taking the raised perch, but pleased to talk about his work.

“Very much,” he said. “I was taught by the man who made this sword. This is his mark here. It’s a pleasure to work with it.”

“What is this strange metal?”

“It’s called Valyrian steel. It was forged long ago in a land that has since been destroyed. Some say magic was involved, and some say dragons, but no one knows how to produce such steel today or anything like it. My teacher was one of the very few who could even re-forge Valyrian steel.”

“Are all swords made by . . .  special workers?”


“All special workers are blacksmiths?”

“Blacksmiths work with metal, armorers are blacksmiths who work with weapons and armor. Workers with one specialty – metalwork, weaving cloth, whatever – are craftsmen.”

“It takes a great deal of training to make a sword.”

“It does,” he agreed. “Each one is an individual work of art, or at least it should be. A sword has its own personality, and so a notable sword has a name. Will you rename this sword?”

“No,” I said, “that is not our way. A sword is a tool for killing. One should not make that seem . . .”



“I agree,” Gendry said. “I hate the killing. Yet there’s an art to making weapons that calls to me. So I understand that there’s an art to using them that calls to some as well. It’s hard to balance these feelings.”

John Carter definitely felt that call; he killed with a passion that sometimes struck jealousy into my heart. I knew that made him monstrous in the eyes of some. Actually, it did so in the eyes of many. I killed without feeling anything at all. That made me far worse.

“You are a complicated man, Gendry.” I pronounced it “Gen-Dree,” after the fashion of Helium.

“Gendry. It’s pronounced Gendry.”

“Gendry. Can you also find me a simple . . . sword holder?”

“A scabbard?” he asked “Yes, I can make one without these jewels and filigree. You wish to draw it from your hip or over your shoulder?”

“Over my shoulder.”

“You’re tall enough to wear this on your belt. You know it’s slower to pull over your shoulder and takes two hands.”

“I am aware,” I said. “I am used to carrying . . . another weapon on my hip, one apparently not known in these lands.”

I felt uneasy without the comforting weight of a heavy pistol tied low on my thigh, but these people had no firearms.

“So you’ll stick with what you know?”

“Exactly so.”

He nodded agreement.

“It will take me a day or so to finish the work.”

“Thank you. I will be back.”

I left Gendry to pound his hot metal, and walked back around the hill. Gendry genuinely liked me and wanted to help. That raised my spirits.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three (John Carter)

Early one afternoon, I accompanied Illyrio to purchase my woman as well as a woman to meet his new guests’ needs. At the pillow house, a man I had not seen on my previous visits greeted Illyrio warmly.

“My dear friend,” Illyrio introduced me, “Captain John Carter of Virginia. He has been training my guards.”

“Captain Carter,” the man said, bowing deeply. Like Illyrio, he wore billowing robes and had garishly dyed hair, in this case bright orange, and a small, blue-colored beard. He was not nearly so obese as my friend and patron. I returned the bow with a respectful nod; the title touched something deep in my memories that I could not fully identify.

“This is my friend Altar Rezak,” Illyrio said. “He is my partner in this establishment as well as its mother house in Lys. Altar, we're here to buy two women from the house.”

“Two! I had understood that you needed one skilled whore to teach a virgin the ways of love.”

“My friend John Carter has visited our house, and wishes to take one of the girls as his own.”

“I’m certainly willing to discuss it,” Altar said. “But as you know, a Lys-trained whore is worth a great deal, and hard to come by in Pentos.”

“Perhaps not this time,” Illyrio said.

“Truly? Which girl do you desire, Captain Carter?”

“The red-haired woman named Calye,” I said. “With pale skin and a dragon tattoo. I owe you ten coppers from my last visit.”

I placed the coins on the table next to Altar. He did not take them, instead politely coughing to cover his involuntary laugh.

“Magister Illyrio is correct,” Altar said. “My madam has been using her to clean the sheets and floors. She’s not even useful performing those tasks. We would have put her out on the street as soon as we bought a new house slave.”

“Your price?” I asked.

“She’s yours,” the proprietor said. “No charge. But surely you’d like to see what else we have on offer?”

“No, thank you,” I said. “She’s the one I want.”

“He seeks to punish himself for some great sin,” Illyrio explained. “I’ve tried to convince him otherwise.”

“A friend to my partner is a friend to me,” Altar said. “Let me propose something to you. Try out the girl I’ve selected to teach Illyrio’s guest. You can assure that she is suitable, and perhaps she will change your mind.”

Their thoughts said they considered this a friendly gesture, and so not wishing to insult them, I followed a tall, lithe blonde woman down a different and far cleaner corridor. She walked with a sway to her hips, emphasizing her feminine curves. She led me into a well-appointed room with tapestries on the walls, rugs on the floor and a large, silk-covered bed in its center.

“I’m called Doreah,” she said in a seductive voice as she turned to me. She had smooth skin, in a land where most had blemishes and the marks of disease, and a slight point to her nose. Most men would consider her beautiful, but this sparked a memory that seemed to repel me. “For the next hour, I’m whatever, I’m whoever, you want me to be.”

She wore a sheer white dress much like Calye’s, and now slid it off her shoulder to display both breasts. They were large and perfectly formed, unlike Calye’s, and despite my wishes I felt myself grow hard.

She stepped forward and untied my loose Dothraki-style trousers.

“So you do want me,” she said softly. As Calye had, she began to sink to her knees, and once again I drew her to her feet. I bent forward to kiss her, and she didn’t turn away.

I pulled off my tunic, and gently pushed her toward the bed. She rose to meet me, and I put my hand on her shoulder to press her onto her back.

“Stay still,” I said. “Like a woman should.”

“Let me show you,” she said, “what a real woman can do.”

“No,” I said. “I know what I want.”

“I need to show you,” she said, “or I’ll never get out of this place.”

“You’re here for my needs,” I said. “Be quiet and spread your legs.”

She did not comply, so I forced them apart and entered her. She whimpered, and then whispered harshly through gritted teeth even as I thrust into her.

“You bastard. You fucking bastard. You paid for the finest fuck in Pentos and you’re raping her instead.”

She slapped me and squirmed beneath me. I grew more excited, pinned her hands above her head and continued thrusting into her.

“A whore can’t be raped,” I said. “Not once she’s been paid.”

I pulled out and shrugged my knees forward to place my manhood between her full breasts. I finished there, with much of my seed pulsing onto her neck and face. That sight gave me added satisfaction.

 I released her, rose and put my clothes back on after wiping my manhood with a convenient towel. Doreah lay on her side, red-faced and silently staring at me. In her thoughts she wanted to cry, but she hated me too much to let me see her weakness.

“I’ll tell your owner that you met my needs,” I said. “And are fully satisfactory to teach the princess.”

As I had promised, for I am a man of my word, I told Illyrio that the girl would do. Truthfully, I found her far more pleasing to the eye but otherwise little different from Calye. I seemed to recall that all women were much the same in that regard; beautiful or plain, they exist to provide a man with release. A woman shows compliance by lying back and spreading her legs, and a man relieves his needs there. Anything else is twisted and perverse.

Doreah and Calye arrived at Illyrio’s mansion the next day, escorted by two guards from the pillow house. Illyrio assigned Doreah a small room in the slave quarters, and sent Calye and her small bundle of belongings to mine. I found her there when I returned after dinner, sitting on the edge of my bed with her hands folded inside her knees.

“You . . . you bought me,” she said, rising as I entered the room. “I didn’t think you would.”

She sniffled, genuinely affected.

“You could have had lovely Doreah and her big lovely tits, the perfect face and body. You chose, you chose me instead.”

“Your owner gave you to me,” I said. “You’ll remain here, and take your meals with the kitchen servants. You may go into their yard to exercise, but you may not leave the ground of the mansion nor enter the areas forbidden to kitchen servants.”

“So now I’m your prisoner as well as your slave.”

“You’re here to meet my needs. When I leave this place, you’ll accompany me, and continue to meet my needs.”

“So I’m your, your fuck toy.”

“You asked me to buy you. I did, or at least asked for you as a gift. Take off your shift.”

She complied and lay on the bed, spreading her legs and lying still like a proper woman. I entered her and once again finished on her belly. She did not cry until I was done.

Illyrio greeted me the next morning at breakfast with a broad smile. We sat at a polished stone table in one of the gardens, surrounded by flowers and brightly-colored birds.

“Our guests arrive today,” he said. “And our grand enterprise begins. I have a feeling that you, my friend, have a central role to play.”

“And what role would that be?”

“As I said, it’s only a feeling. If only it were you with the birthright.”

A short while later, a servant arrived to inform us that the prince and princess awaited us in Illyrio’s audience hall. We rose and followed; she was an attractive woman and I appreciated the shape outlined by her sheer clothing, but I knew that Illyrio reserved his female servants for his own needs. He had bought me the woman I desired, and it would be ungracious of me to make use of his other women.

The two Targaryen siblings were thin; the boy perhaps five-foot-eight and the girl substantially smaller. And she was utterly beautiful.

Like her brother, she had long silver-blonde hair. Her face was perfectly formed, with a pair of smoldering purple eyes. She was petite, wearing a gossamer gown that showed a woman’s curves with small pointed breasts. I was immediately smitten.

This was a true princess. Delicate, lovely and gentle. Someone to be protected, someone who knew her place at the side of a man. A man could conquer worlds for a woman like that.

Her brother’s similarly delicate and feminine appearance gave quite the opposite impression. Shrill and arrogant, with nothing to offer beyond his name. I heard him boast and watched him preen, but said nothing. Truly I spent most of the interview watching his sister instead. She said nothing the entire time, demurely looking down for the most part, but her reticence only increased my desire. I felt a surge of resentment against assertive women, though I knew not from whence it came. Doreah was nothing to me; I would assure that she had been disarmed before using her again, but I otherwise found her hatred merely amusing. This feeling lay deeper in my past.

Illyrio went over the outline of his plan. Daenerys would marry Khal Drogo, who desired marriage with the world’s most beautiful woman. Illyrio apparently believed this to be true, though I would not have thought Drogo capable of appreciating the stunning creature I saw before me. Drogo in turn would place his khalasar at the service of Viserys and conquer Westeros in his name.

Daenerys let nothing show in her expression, but in her thoughts the idea of marrying a barbarian khal terrified her. She was a virgin, with little idea of relations between man and wife, and had grown up dreaming of marrying a nobleman and bearing his children. Viserys apparently had discussed marrying her himself, which repelled her as it did me. She did not know which was worse, Drogo or Viserys.

But the Dothraki, Illyrio was explaining, were vital to the Targaryen restoration. Their arrival in Westeros would merely provide the spark for widespread revolution. People made Targaryen banners in secret, Illyrio said, awaiting the day when their true king would return. The common people hated the usurper, a man named Robert, and groaned under his weak and inept rule. Just how Viserys would be a different king than this Robert, Illyrio carefully did not say; none of the tale he wove for the siblings had even a grain of truth and my friend spun it from thin air. From what Illyrio’s thoughts revealed, Robert was a wine-soaked whoremonger with little interest in ruling, but Viserys’ father had been a murderous lunatic with a fondness for setting his subjects aflame. The people had no wish to replace their self-anointed king, despite his many and real flaws. Given the choice, I would have taken the drunkard as well.

Illyrio soon tired of Prince Viserys, and skillfully dismissed him to the bathhouse. The prince, fool that he was in matters great and small, believed it to be his own idea. A female servant appeared to guide the princess to her own bath. Illyrio and I returned to his breakfast table and seated ourselves among the birds and flowers. My bacon had grown cold, but I ate it anyway.

“So, John Carter,” Illyrio began, pouring coffee for me. I felt as though I had been without coffee for years, and drank it greedily “Your assessment of our prince.”

“He’ll never become king without an army behind him,” I said. “And he’ll never remain king, no matter how many armies are behind him.”

“He has the birthright.”

“And that has value,” I conceded. “For a time, at least. But having tasted the overthrow of a mad king, the Westerosi will not hesitate to overthrow another.”

“You think him mad?”

“You don’t?”

“I do,” Illyrio admitted, with some reluctance in his thoughts. “But what other course is there? The girl will never be accepted as queen in her own right.”

“Why do you care?” I asked, my curiosity aroused.

“I have a plan, my friend,” he said, becoming rather animated. “What do you know of the Westerosi?”

“Only what you’ve told me.”

“Well then. They have no true government, only a feudal system. Their king is served by a council of what they call ‘masters,’ each nominally in charge of some function. Like the outward form of a government, but without any structure behind it.”

I nodded for him to continue.

“The key position is the one they name ‘Master of Coin.’ This master oversees all financial affairs in the Seven Kingdoms.”

“And you seek this position to skim money on your own behalf.”

“Oh no, my friend,” he laughed softly. “Well yes, I do, but it is a grander plan than simple corruption. Westeros is an unbelievably rich land, with fertile farms, orchards, vineyards, mines and woodlands. Far better endowed with such natural gifts than is Essos, and yet it is far poorer. The Westerosi know nothing of finance or banking. Few of them can perform even the most simple sort of mathematics. They have no concept of accounting or credit. They are deeply ignorant of all the financial arts, and for the most part, of the value of money.”

“And you would teach these things to them.”

“To an extent. I would bring them banking, and simple accounting, and the use of credit. I would teach them to collect taxes as modern account transfers rather than in coin or, as most of them still do, in kind.”

“And so the crown’s revenues would vastly increase,” I said, “but only some of this increase would make its way to the king’s treasury.”

“Exactly, my friend. He would have so much more money that he wouldn’t miss a little for Illyrio.”

“Nor would he miss a great deal for Illyrio.”

“No,” Illyrio smiled, “I imagine he would not.”

“So the fact that Viserys is an idiot is actually helpful to your scheme.”

“To an extent,” Illyrio repeated, “that is true. But I require a useful idiot. One who is not so hot-headed as to simply ignite fresh rebellions against his rule.”

“That is not Viserys,” I said. “He’s just as likely to get himself killed by insulting the wrong man in a pillow house. Or woman, for that matter.”

“You could conquer Westeros.”

And this first time that I heard the idea, I laughed.

“I’m not the Beggar King,” I said. “I’ve never seen Westeros. I couldn’t find it on a map.”

“Neither can Viserys,” Illyrio said. “And unlike him, you have military skill.”

“Skill with a sword isn’t the same as leading armies.”

“And you have what is called charisma. Men will follow you. I’ve seen it in my own guards, even the emotionless Unsullied.”

And that was true. Somehow I knew that I could, indeed, lead and direct armies. And had done so many times.

“If you were to marry the princess, and Viserys were to have an accident, then you would be in line to rule.”

“I thought you had plans for the princess, to trade her virtue to gain one or more of the Free Cities’ fleets and armies.”

“No,” Illyrio said. “That part I told truly. The plan is to marry her to Khal Drogo. He leads the largest and fiercest of the Dothraki armies. And he has never known defeat.”

“We’ve met.”

“Yes,” Illyrio said. “I know. You fought and killed an entire family of Dothraki warriors, and Drogo named you a man of the Dothraki. Which means that you have to right to challenge him for leadership.”

“So I kill Khal Drogo, marry the princess, conquer Westeros and serve as your happy, useful idiot.”

“More or less. You don’t wish to bed the princess?”

I said nothing.

“Come now, my friend. I saw you look at her. You want her, as do most men. You can’t stand the thought of the brute Drogo putting her on all fours and taking her like a mare, can you? Seems you’re finished with your need for punishment.”

“You are mad.”

“Am I? You believe that Khal Drogo can conquer Westeros?”


“So I surmised. Tell me why.”

“No siegecraft. No balanced arms. No discipline. They’ll win some battles, but they’ll take no cities. They’d be worse than useless against the inevitable insurgency their rape, looting and murder will provoke. All of that assumes that you can actually get them across the sea.”

“So they are only useful as part of an invading army.”

“If that. Was this your plan all along?”

“What plan?”

“That I should be your cat’s paw?”

“I do not know the expression.”

“Your puppet, who will conquer Westeros so that you might loot its treasury.”

“The thought had crossed my mind,” Illyrio said. “But do not think of me as a puppet-master, perhaps instead as a financial advisor. I increase your treasury’s yield, and I keep, say, one coin out of four as my fee.”

“One out of ten.”

“Ah, John Carter,” he smiled. “We have agreed as to what you are. Now we but haggle over your price. Two out of ten.”

“One out of eight,” I countered. “Of the increase, not the current revenue.”


And so without a penny or soldier to my own name, I had agreed to conquer a continent and reign as its king.

“Tell me about these friends of yours,” I said, “who also hope to make me their puppet-king.”

He hesitated; his thoughts showed great reluctance. He owed personal loyalty to his co-conspirator. It appeared there truly was only one “friend.”

“Do they even exist?” I asked. “Or are we on our own?”

“They exist,” he admitted, “but most are paid for their service, such as those who delivered the prince and princess.”

“And just one is an actual participant.”

“Yes,” he said. “You picked that up from so little?”

“I’m experienced in noticing details. This one participant, he’s Westerosi?”

“No,” Illyrio said. “He’s from Lys, originally. We grew up together here in Pentos as poor boys. He stole expensive items from the magisters and the merchants, and I bravely fought the non-existent criminals who stole them and returned the precious objects to their owners. For a fee, of course. We grew rich.”

“There’s more to this story.”

“Yes, there is. Varys, my friend, built a system for obtaining information. He used orphan children to overhear or to steal documents. It was very effective, and made us even richer.”

“Information is power.” I had heard this said, though I knew not where. I accepted that it had its uses, but true power flows from the point of a sword.

“Just so. Eventually his skills came to the notice of King Aerys of Westeros. Deliberately of course; no one could trace Varys’ activities if he did not wish it so. Aerys invited him to Westeros and he has been there ever since.”

“He serves the man who killed his king?”

“Robert killed the crown prince, in battle. Aerys was murdered by one of his own guards.”

“So what does Varys want out of this scheme?”

“He’d tell you that he does it all for the good of the realm. He’s already a rich man, though he spends little of it. He never truly accepted his childhood: sold into slavery by his parents, his balls cut off and then abandoned on the streets.”

“He wishes to save the world?” I asked, trying not to scoff. “Viserys will triple his father’s body count, easily. He’ll be far worse a king than the one in power now.”

“Then it’s a good thing that Viserys will never be king. Varys will want to bring just rule to Westeros.”

“By supporting first a lunatic, then a penniless man he’s never met. I think I should meet this Varys as soon as can be arranged.”

“You seem different,” Calye said as she pulled off her black shift and lay on her back. “Did something happen?”

“I have a purpose now,” I said. “A plan for my life.”

“Does it . . . does it include me?”

“No,” I said, pushing her legs apart and pushing myself inside her. She cried as I finished on her belly.

“It’s not my fault,” she said. “Getting rid of me would be a waste. Just a fucking waste.”

“There’s no place for you, where I’m going.”

“It’s not my fault,” she repeated. “If we had more money, I could prance about in Myrish lace and you’d still want me.”

Perhaps for the first time I truly took in her hooked nose, the death-like pallor of her skin and her oddly-shaped bosom. I recalled the perfect face, the perfect bosom of Daenerys. I refused to show disrespect with a lie, but I tried to cushion my words as best I could.

“You just don’t meet my needs anymore.”

“I do. It’s not my fault. You’ve never wanted to see all that I can do for you. Let me . . . let me show you.”

She slid from the bed to the floor on her knees, taking me into her hands. Despite the slickness from our love-making, she began to ply her tongue along my length. Involuntarily, I responded, the hot juices of my passion striking her in the face. She looked up and smiled.

“I’m your slave. Keep me . . . or kill me. Those are your choices.”

I found a towel and handed it to her. She simply held it.

“Wipe your face.” She complied.

“Which is it?” she asked. “Will you keep me, or kill me? If you’re going to put me on the street, that’s killing me. So have the decency to do it with a blade through my . . . through my heart, like a man.”

“I don’t kill women.”

“Then I’m yours, whether you want me or not. And I know that you . . . that you want me.”

And, may whatever gods exist forgive me, in that moment I did. I pushed her back onto the bed and entered her again. This time I finished inside her, as she cried.

The next morning, I attended Illyrio while Viserys made his usual mewling demands. I had not yet considered how to rid myself of the annoying Beggar King; I could not murder him, of course, and to challenge him with a blade would be the same as murder.

“I’m giving the barbarian my sister,” Viserys began, even before he sat on the perfumed cushions spread before Illyrio. “When do I get my army?”

Illyrio sat upon a small pile of cushions, a spread of coffee and pastries before him. I stood behind him, a sword on my hip and large mug of coffee in my hand, saying nothing.

“Patience, Your Grace, patience. We have not even made a marriage pact as yet.”

“She’s a Targaryen princess. She’s beautiful and she’s untouched. A virgin, a full-grown woman, aged eight-and-ten. For such a prize, he should be on his knees offering me his gratitude.”

“The Dothraki kneel to no one,” Illyrio said. “Not even the last Targaryen. Khal Drogo will be your ally, not your subject.”

“If he fails to kneel, then he’ll know what it is to wake the dragon.”

Involuntarily, I laughed, choking on my coffee.

“You think I jest?” Viserys demanded. “Who are you to question the dragon?”

“One who’s seen war,” I said. “And seen fools.”

“You think me a fool?”

“Of course I do,” I said. “As would any man. As does everyone, from the servant who empties your chamber pot to the Prince of Pentos.”

“I . . . I will strike you down, commoner!”

“With what? Your strong sword arm?”

I should not have so mocked a guest of my friend Illyrio, but I could not help myself. Viserys stormed away before we could see the tears stream down his face. Illyrio sighed.

“You complicate my plot, my friend,” he said. “Now we must move far faster than I had planned, without time to inform my other friend.”

“What needs doing?”

“I think you know exactly what needs doing.”

I spent the afternoon with Belwas, sparring with several different weapons. He was surprisingly nimble given his round shape and I enjoyed testing his metal. Afterwards we sat on one of Illyrio’s terraces, drinking wine and enjoying grilled lamb with fruit and an odd flat bread while we spoke of swordplay and battles fought. Belwas knew much of this continent, having fought in many cities and been celebrated for his prowess.

I left Strong Belwas to return to my chambers, but heard screams as I entered the mansion. A quick telepathic scan showed that they came from Calye, and I followed their sound to find her in Viserys’ chambers along with Illyrio and several servants. Viserys sprawled in an ornate marble bathtub, a kitchen knife stuck in his throat.

“I . . . I brought him wine and found him thus,” she said. She wore the breast-baring costume of Illyrio’s household servants, which looked somewhat ridiculous on her. “Someone had killed him! It’s . . . it’s not my fault.”

That someone was my bed warmer, who had taken over wine delivery duty from another kitchen slave with the express intent to murder Viserys on my behalf. He had demanded sex with her and she had complied, straddling him in the bath and stabbing him with his own cheese-knife in the midst of his passion. His last sight in life had been Calye’s oddly-shaped, death-white breasts.

“Did anyone see someone else enter the prince’s chamber?”

Before the servants could answer Illyrio, a high-pitched scream sounded from the doorway. Daenerys had arrived to find her only remaining family member dead in his bath. Doreah stood behind her, smiling.

“Take her away,” Illyrio told Doreah. “Comfort her as best you can.”

I wished to rush to her side, but Illyrio stopped me with a hand on my arm where no one else could see.

“Everyone out,” he told the crowd. “All but Calye and Carter.”

They fled, shutting the double doors behind them.

“Did Carter tell you to kill the prince?” Illyrio demanded of my woman. “Or was this some misguided attempt to help him on your own?”

“I didn’t kill him,” she said. “It’s not my fault. I . . . I, I told you, I found him this way.”

“I should have you killed and buried in the garden,” Illyrio said. “Instead you’re Carter’s problem. You kill again without his permission, you fuck again without his permission, you shit without his permission, I’ll have you strangled.”

Illyrio waddled out, not nearly as angry as he pretended, and left us alone with the corpse. He’d planted the suggestion with Calye, though he hadn’t expected her to murder Viserys within an hour.

“It’s not my fault,” Calye said. “I did this for you, to show you that I’m, that I’m yours, body and soul.”

“What gossip did you hear?”

“You . . . you and Illyrio plan to get rid of Viserys, then have you marry the princess, challenge and kill the leader of the Dothraki and become, become king of Westeros.”

I had a blade in the back of my waistband. I considered sticking it between her mis-shaped breasts. But I don’t kill women. At least I didn’t then.

“And what do you expect?”

“To remain by your side, as your woman and your, your soldier. Not thrown away after you marry the princess, or locked away in shame. You’ll teach me to fight by day, and you’ll, you’ll fuck me by night.”

“I’ll have a wife.”

“You think you can spray your come all over a princess’ face? Or even pound her night after night like you do to me? She’s a princess. You still . . . you still need me.”

I felt my guts twist at the word “princess,” not knowing why at the time. Calye was not wrong, but I considered that if I married the princess I would also acquire Doreah and any other handmaidens who waited on Daenerys. Doreah’s hatred made the thought of entering her excite me even more. I could use Doreah for my needs and dispose of Calye, and with her the evidence that Viserys had been murdered.

“I can’t parade you around and shame my wife.”

“Then, then don’t. Train me as one of your guards. Women fight in Essos, ask Illyrio if you don’t, you don’t believe me. No one will question that, and you can fuck me whenever you want.”

I almost laughed aloud, even as the thought of a woman taking up the sword sent a pulse of anger through me. Calye was a small woman, as small as Princess Daenerys. She would barely be able to heft a sword, much less use it. Yet in a moment of weakness, I relented. I grabbed her roughly by the back of the neck and pulled her close, looking down into her face.

“If you breathe a word of this, or if you ever fuck another man again, I’ll kill you myself.”

“Show me I’m still yours,” she said. “Fuck me now. Right here, here on the prince’s bed.”

And so I did.

Instead of Calye, it was Viserys quietly buried in Illyrio’s garden. His sister cried, and I wished to comfort her, but Illyrio once again signaled me to remain aloof and leave that task to Doreah.

Four days later, Drogo rode into Illyrio’s courtyard with four other men. Three were Dothraki, and the fourth a white man with thinning brown hair and a battered face. Illyrio and I went to meet them.

Drogo spoke to the white man in Dothraki, telling him to greet us in whatever manner was needed.

“Khal Drogo greets you,” the man said. His thoughts revealed a limited imagination. “He is eager to meet his future bride, and the future king of the Western lands.”

“Extend to him my own greetings,” Illyrio said. “And please inform the khal that the prince has met with an unfortunate accident, which proved fatal.”

The man duly translated, but I noted that Drogo fully understood while keeping a blank face.

“I heard he was killed by a whore,” Drogo told his translator. “An ugly whore at that. Stabbed him in his bath. Do they expect to void our arrangement?”

“Khal Drogo extends his sympathies,” the man said instead. “And hopes that no change needs be made in his pact with you.”

“Not at all,” Illyrio said. “Khal Drogo will marry Princess Daenerys, and uphold her claim to the Seven Kingdoms.”

“And my gold?” Drogo asked in the “Bastard Valyrian” dialect of Pentos.

“All is as it was,” Illyrio said. “Chance has simply removed one difficulty.”

Drogo looked at me and laughed.

“John Carter of Virginia,” he said. “You serve this fat merchant now?”

“I serve no man,” I said.

“This is true,” Illyrio intervened. “John Carter is my guest.”

“Do you still intend to kill me?” the Dothraki asked, still laughing. “And take my place as khal?”

“The sooner the better. Why not now?”

“You have to earn the right to fight me, John Carter.”

“You said I had the right.”

“You defeated a Dothraki, but not one of status.”

“So let me fight one of status, and then I’ll fight you.”

He stroked his beard.

“Acceptable,” he finally said. “A wedding should have a good fight, and at least three deaths. You’ll fight my Andal first. That should be amusing. If you survive, you fight me.”

“This man?”

“Yes. Jorah the Andal, we call him. A knight of Westeros. One of the men who wear iron suits in battle.”

“I have no wish to kill him, only you.”

“You’ll fight under his rules. That means you can yield, and live on in shame. We Dothraki do not yield. When we say to the death, we mean exactly that.”

“Very well. Let me fetch my sword.”

Drogo laughed again.

“You’re eager to die!” he said. “I like that. It will be both a pleasure and a shame to kill you, John Carter of Virginia. But as khal, I must share entertainment with my people. You fight in the morning, at our encampment. No horses, no bows. Sword against arakh. You may wear whatever armor you wish. You’ll fight the Andal before we feast, and if you live, I’ll kill you after we eat. Do not disappoint me.”

He turned his horse and rode out, followed by the Dothraki and the white man I would kill come morning. I decided to force him to yield instead; no man of a superior race should die in the name of an inferior.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five (Dejah Thoris)

I decided to visit my horses and explore the area around the caves. The area immediately around the hill had been cleared and thoroughly trampled into dust by hundreds of feet over hundreds of days. Around that zone lay a belt of thick forest, rarely entered by most of the people judging by their vague underlying fear of the trees. It did contain a large pen bordered by a fence of wooden rails stacked on one another, and my horses wandered within it along with at least one hundred more. They came toward me as soon as they felt my thoughts, happy to see me.

They nuzzled me and I petted them; the contact made me feel much better. The large female horse, what is known as a “mare,” that had once belonged to Brienne led me to a large, rickety wooden building inside the pen that had a number of living trees incorporated into its structure as supports. Inside were saddles and tack, and after some searching I found the saddle and saddlebags that my horse had worn. All seemed intact.

I found a gate in the ramshackle fence, climbed onto my mare and rode her through the woods for a time without a saddle; I enjoyed the contact with my horse and the feel of her beneath me. We came to an empty, open clearing covered in small green plants with spike-like leaves. She wanted to eat them, so I dismounted and let her graze.

I pulled off my hideous coverings and began my set of exercises. I felt my muscles start to relax as I went through the motions, and my mind began to clear. I continued to move my arms and legs, taking up the poses and renewing my mental and physical energy. The exercises of Helium work their magic on this planet as well as Barsoom.

I then lay on my back among the soft green plants, looking up at the blue sky. I found this bizarre coloring disorienting, and knew I had to become acclimated if I were to function here. It was beautiful, in its own way, but strange all the same.

As I lay contemplating the skies, I felt the thoughts of a panicked animal rapidly approaching. Behind it came the thoughts of three men in pursuit. I rose, but the animal did not consider me a threat; it apparently relied on sense of smell and I did not register as an enemy. It was brown in color with a white underside and it had horns on its head; it had been struck in the flank by an arrow that still protruded from its side.

As it sped across the clearing, I made up my mind. I sprang after it, judging the point where I could intercept it, and tackled it as I drew the blade strapped to my thigh. I slashed it across the throat and pinned the animal to the ground as it died. As I rose, the men approached at a slow trot.

“We don’t want no fight,” the first one said, raising his hands. He recognized me from the previous afternoon’s altercation.

“Equal shares?” one of his friends offered. “A quarter each?”

“If you cook it,” I said. “And I want the skin.”

“Deal,” their leader answered. “We never would’ve caught up to it.” He knelt by the animal and drew his own knife, cutting it along the belly as I watched.

“You hunt like that and never seen a deer field-dressed?” he asked, curious.

“No,” I answered. “I really am a princess.”

“So I see. Well, watch and learn.”

All three men described their actions as they removed the deer’s organs and cut up the meat to be carried. They admired my breasts and my ass with what they thought were discreet glances, but had no thoughts of assaulting me. All of them feared me to some extent, having seen me kill many of their number bare-handed, and I apparently looked fearsome with a knife in my hand and a thick smear of deer’s blood across my chest.

Even so, they enjoyed explaining the task to a woman. As I knew nothing of dressing animals of this planet I gladly listened, all the while understanding that had I been expert in this field, the explanation would have continued regardless.

“Here,” the third man said, holding out a rag. “Keep it.”

I cleaned my knife and sheathed it, and wiped the blood off my skin. The man who had given me the rag noted approvingly that I cleaned my weapon first.

As they finished and rose to their feet, the leader looked at me again.

“So, um, you want to hunt again, you’re welcome any time.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I would like that.”

I was not sure of the route back to the camp, but my mare knew so I let her pick the path. I enjoyed the ride through the forest, despite the green life covering everything like an infestation. Perhaps I need not be miserable in this place; Gendry showed the will to be my friend, and if the hunters feared me they did not seek to harm me, either.

I put my mare back into the pen and using the tools I found in the shed I brushed her as she wished. Then I pulled on the hideous tunic and leggings. I did not like wearing clothing, but I knew from the reactions of the hunters and the cooking women that I would find a great deal of unnecessary trouble if I went naked like a civilized person.

Judging by the hunters’ words, they should have finished cooking the deer meat by now. I had become hungry again and looked forward to my share. As I walked down the path leading to the caves, I picked up the thoughts of a woman running toward me. She was frightened, and pursued by six other women, all of whom carried sticks. I could not read her thoughts clearly, but I could read theirs: she had mated with a man desired by one of the women, apparently not for the first time. They intended to harm or kill her.

I recognized her as she approached: the tall woman with reddish-brown hair who had stopped the rapist from fleeing on the previous night. I held out my arm to stop her flight. She halted and bent over slightly, panting from the exertion.

“Wait,” I said. “They will not harm you.”

She tried to answer but was breathing too hard to form words. I could only read fear and anger in her thoughts. I stepped forward as the women pursuing her drew closer.

“Stop,” I said. “You will not harm this woman.”

“It’s none of your business,” one of them said, the same woman who had insulted me over a bowl of boiled grain. “That slut fucked my man, for money.”

From her thoughts I understood “fuck” to mean “have sex with,” and to be a word of great power. “Slut” was one of their insults reserved for women who engaged in sex; this language appeared to have many insults reserved for women.

“He paid her willingly?” I asked.

“That’s not the point.”

“You are married to him?”

“That’s not the point, neither.”

“Then perhaps you are simply not attractive to him.”

She was a stout woman and not, to my eyes, very attractive with small eyes, curly hair of indeterminate yellow-brown-gray color, pale skin and a large nose. Part of me knew that I was simply reacting to an innate prejudice against ugly people, women in particular, an unfair one given that I had done nothing to earn my own beauty beyond being hatched out of a royal egg.

“Get out of my way,” she said, intending to push past me. I grabbed the front of her clothing; she wore many layers and I was able to twist a thick knot of them into my hand. I used it to lift her off her feet. She whimpered.

“You will leave my friend alone,” I said. “If you attempt to harm her again, I will kill you and all of your friends. You know that I am capable. And you now know that I do not care if you live or die.”

I tossed her to the ground, where she landed on her back, and put on my best arrogant-princess attitude.

“Do not test my patience,” I said, as I picked up a flicker of thought from the woman behind me and decided to use the phrase. “Scurry back into your holes before I become angry.”

They ran away, leaving their sticks behind, and I turned to meet my new friend. I did not yet know it, but in that moment, my life changed.

“Hello,” I said. “My name is Dejah Thoris.”

I considered my companion. She broadcast none of the hatred or fear of the other women in the camp, but her thoughts were far from open. She was used to guarding her feelings.

“What is your name?”

“They call me Tansy. It’s a small yellow flower that some consider a weed.”

“Unidentified people call you a weed,” I said, still very much a princess. “That is not what I asked. What is your name?”

“Tanith. But please call me Tansy.”


“No, Tansy. Like this. Tansy.”

I suddenly realized that I had been mangling every name I spoke.

“Tansy. I am Dejah to my friends. I hope you will be one of them. None of the other women seem willing to speak with me.”

Despite her closed mind – I could read the meaning behind her words when she spoke, but little more – I liked this woman. She looked familiar in some way. She was almost as tall as I, with very pale white skin and reddish-brown hair that reminded me of my long-dead sister Kajas. She was slender but with well-made shoulders and arms and long legs, yet seemed very graceful. On Barsoom, she would have been a ritual dancer. She was, under the dirt and the bulky, drab clothing, beautiful.

“You just offered to kill six of them,” she said. “That doesn’t usually lead to friendship.”

“I am very hungry,” I said. “I killed an animal known as a deer and some hunters have cooked part of it. Would you share it with me?”

We walked back to the camp together. Tansy said nothing and I could not think of anything to say, either. I tried to read her thoughts but could pick up little. This also meant that her thoughts did not intrude upon mine. I found it much easier to be in her presence than I did other people of this planet.

I located the hunters by telepathy; they had already roasted the deer and shared out their portions, but had placed my share on a large wooden platter under a white cloth to keep the insects away. They had skinned the deer and prepared its hide; one of the men showed me where it had been stretched on a rack to dry.

“You’ll want some bread and wine with it,” their leader said, eyeing my new friend Tansy. He apparently had mated with her at some point or had wished to; his thoughts were not clear but at least he made no crude comments. He handed me a skin bag and a large loaf of freshly-baked bread. It was very roughly made, with bits of leftover plant sticking out of it and burned places on the bottom, but I appreciated the gesture.

“Take these,” he said. “I hope we’ll see you again.”

I understood from his thoughts that they found it difficult to bring down a deer with their arrows, which apparently did not have a great deal of range or striking power. I thanked him and turned to Tansy.

“Is there a place where we can eat this?”

“Up there,” she pointed to the top of the hill. We climbed and found a large flat rock on the summit, with no one else present. I laid down the platter and pulled off the cloth; the meat smelled wonderful. I sat cross-legged next to the food and beckoned to Tansy to join me. She tentatively sat as well.

I sliced some meat and placed it on her side of the platter, then cut some for myself. I liked the sharp taste and the rich fat within the meat.

“Thank you for joining me,” I said. “I have felt very . . . alone here.”

“You did kill their leader,” she said. “That made you a few friends and many enemies.”

“I could not let her kill those people,” I said. “But I failed. She killed them anyway.”

“Is it true that you killed Lemoncloak and Greenbeard?”

Now I knew why she seemed familiar. This was the woman who had occupied the yellow man’s last thoughts. He remembered her somewhat differently than the reality, with better teeth and fewer blemishes on her skin, fleshier with even larger breasts and bright green eyes rather than the large, deep blue ones that now regarded me carefully. But this was the same woman. My answer could well end our brief friendship.


“They were very experienced fighters.”

A non-committal response, probing for a fuller answer.

“So am I.”

“And you seek out new enemies to fight?”

Her thoughts gave no advice. I simply told the truth.

“No. I do not like to fight, or to kill. Not unless they wish to kill me,” I hesitated, then added, “Or rape me.”

“I thought so. I’m glad you killed them.”

“You knew them?”

“They were customers of mine.”

The word “customers” took some halting explaining. Tansy had been a “whore,” a woman paid to mate – “to have sex” was their phrase – with a few women and many men, including the three I’d met on the road. Tansy did not enjoy it. They apparently did. I decided not to tell her how much the yellow man had enjoyed her.

“Do you still,” she asked, “wish me to be your friend?”

I knew the answer, and it surprised me. While illicit sex does not carry the same stigma on Barsoom that it apparently did with these people - sex and procreation are separate biological functions for us – we have those who sell their bodies for pleasure, and it does carry a great social stain. Curiously, I found that I did not care.

“I am a princess in my own land,” I said, “with a deeply ancient family history. A few days ago I would have instantly said no. I might have even struck you for daring to speak to me.”

“And now?”

“And now I very much want to be your friend, and for you to be mine.”

“Even if I’m still a whore?”

“Are you?”

“Sometimes,” she said. “I have to eat. Even here, I have nothing else with which to pay for my keep.”

“Do you wish to be a whore?”

“By all seven hells, no.”

“Then you will stay with me,” I said, “and will no longer be a whore. I have money, gold and jewels.”

“You took it from the men you killed?”

“They had no need of it. And now it will bring us what we need.”

“What if we run out of gold?”

“Then I will kill some more bad men,” I said. “There seems to be no shortage of them.”

We had finished our food, though I had eaten most of it. We remained on the rock to drink some of the wine, but kept the bread and the rest of the wine for Evening Meal.

“Can you help me find some things?” I asked. “I wish to set this clothing on fire.”

“Of course. You haven’t tried?”

“Yes. No. Not really.”

“Are you shy?” she asked, somewhat amused.

“Perhaps. I am a princess. I am not used to . . .” I struggled for the proper words, and to not offend.

“Dealing with common folk?”

“Yes. I am sorry.”

“Don’t be. We can’t help what we are.”

I appreciated that she wished me to feel better, but still I indulged in self-pity.

“The women here despise me,” I said. “The men fear me.”

“They respect you.”

“Killing a large number of them will do that.”

“You’re making a joke, are you not?”

“I think so.”

“They’ll talk to the gold. What is it you need?”

“Some furs for sleeping,” I said. “A leather harness to wear for battle.”

“You’re expecting to fight battles?”

“There are always battles. And if I must wear something that covers my breasts and loins, can it be less scratchy and ugly?”

“You must,” she said. “Well, you don’t have to, but you’re going to have to kill more people if you don’t.”

“It is not my fault.”

“No, it’s not. But you’re a woman. So it is.”

She paused, drank some wine and looked into my eyes.

“You’re from very far away, aren’t you?”

“Yes. Everything here is strange to me.”

“I feel that way sometimes, and I grew up here.”

“Do you have needs?”

“Food. A warm place to sleep. A friend.”

“I know where to find those things.” 

With Tansy’s help, we secured enough furs to fill the bed frame inside my, now our, small chamber. That created a sleeping platform similar to those of Barsoom. We dragged the sack of dead plants, what she called a “mattress,” outside and left it for whoever wished to claim it.

She traded the skin of the deer I had slain to a woman who worked with leather and promised to make me a fighting harness. I drew the harness for the woman, but Tansy added a short skirt and panels along the sides to cover more of my flesh. I promised to bring nine more deer skins to complete the trade.

From another woman who dealt in clothing she purchased a pair of loose-fitting garments she called a “dress,” one for each of us, and a set of riding leggings for each of us as well. I threw the archer’s leggings and the serving woman’s hideous tunic into a fire as I had promised. A man sold us what Tansy said was a soldier’s tunic, that fell to my knees and had an emblem of an animal known as a wolf, and another man sold us open-topped shoes she called “sandals.”

“You are experienced in many things,” I observed.

“You mean besides fucking?” she said, but she smiled to show that she was not offended. “When you run a brothel, you have to see to everything. You’re still a whore, but also banker, manager, cook, guard, maid, spiritual advisor. But mostly, I can read people. You have to in my business, to survive. If you can’t see ahead of time who’s going to be violent or dangerous, people get hurt.”

“You do not mind speaking of it?”

“Sometimes,” she said. “You don’t seem to judge me so I don’t mind talking to you.”

“I am very judgmental. That is what a princess does. But I like you.”

The words surprised me, even though they came from my mouth. But they were true.

“And I you. Today is a good day.”

Tansy also found a cleaning device known as a “broom,” and we swept the chamber clean including the walls and ceiling. We found more candles, a basin and pitcher for water, and I retrieved the handful of items formerly belonging to Brienne from my saddlebags.

“Do you need help to gather your things?” I asked Tansy.

“You’re looking at them all,” she said, raising her arms and turning in a circle. “Just the clothes on my back.”

I could not easily read her thoughts to find out what deeper meaning lay behind those words, and this was one reason that I liked her. She had a disciplined mind, and I was not assailed by random thoughts when in her presence.

We finished just as darkness fell, and I looked forward to sleeping in actual furs. I pulled the dress over my head and sat on the edge of the bed frame. Tansy remained standing and looked at me.

“Are you expecting me to . . . you know?”

“I do not know,” I said. “Expecting what?”


“You are my friend, not my lover. If we do become lovers it will have nothing to do with payment.”

“I think I knew that,” she said. “I’m just used to everything being an exchange. I haven’t had many friends.”

“I have,” I said. “You do things for them because you want them to be happy or have their needs filled, not because you expect something in return.”

“That will take some getting used to. I saw the one bed and just assumed.”

“Friends in my land, particularly women, often share a bed.”

“They do here as well,” Tansy said, “at least in the upper classes.”

“Then we shall be of the upper class.”

“All right.”

She pulled off her own dress. She was, as I had suspected, beautiful underneath it despite some soft flesh about her lower abdomen.

“Finest tits in Westeros,” she said, smiling as she touched her large, full breasts. I had not yet seen any women of this planet unclothed other than Brienne’s corpse. Tansy’s breasts had perfectly round pinkish-brown areolas, and other than the odd coloring they looked very much like those of a royal woman of Barsoom – one bred for beauty. She glanced at mine. “At least they were.”

She sat next to me.

“Thank you,” she said. “For everything. I was close to the edge.”

“The edge?”

“The edge of living, or seeing a point in living.”

“I also needed a friend. I had become very lonely.”

She lay down. I did as well.

“You’re really warm,” she said. “Are you ill?”

“No, this is my natural temperature.”

“Really? I could learn to like this.”

She rolled over and mumbled before falling hard asleep.

“Tomorrow you’ll tell me why you’re here.” 

Morning came, and with it the hunt for food. Tansy proved much less shy than I, marching up to the women cooking boiled grain and demanding two bowls for us, including pieces of fruit tossed into the grain. She stood over them while they prepared it, and did not pay them. They hurled many insults at her in their thoughts, but said nothing aloud while keeping a frightened watch on me.

“I had to make sure they didn’t spit in it,” she said, handing me a bowl. “Let’s go back to our rock.”

Once again we had the flat rock to ourselves, underneath a clear blue sky with a few puffy white clouds. We have clouds on Barsoom, but they are far less beautiful than these. Rocks covered the top of the hill, with some scraggly plants jutting out from between them but no large trees. One could see the area around the hill, but the view from there did not extend above the tops of the large trees in the forest.

“So, why are you here?”

“To find my husband, John Carter.”

I told her the same story I had given Thoros, Ned and Gendry.

“You’re really a princess?”

“Yes, really. My city is called Helium. It is in Sothoryos. The land is very different from here.”

“No doubt. Do you love John Carter?”

“Why do you ask?”

“That’s more of an answer than ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

“I once loved John Carter. I do not know if I truly wish to restore that love. I am sure that he no longer loves me.”

“Ah. So he left you.”

“That is likely. He has many enemies and could have been taken against his will. But I believe that he went freely.”

“So why do you wish to find him?”

I hesitated, and decided to trust my new friend with the truth.

“He is a skilled military commander. My grandfather, the king of our city, depends on him to lead our fleets and armies. My grandfather fears that our rivals will attack once they know that John Carter will never return. He blames me for John Carter’s departure.”

“Is he right?”

“Possibly,” I allowed. “Sex between us was not satisfying. And perhaps I was dismissive of his foreign ways and lack of learning.”

“And so you take the blame.”

“It was my duty to keep John Carter loyal to Helium. I failed. So I have come here to find him.”

“To redeem yourself in front of your grandfather?”

“Yes, exactly so. First, I must learn more of these lands and become used to my sword and my horses. But I hope to leave soon.”

We had finished our grain and fruit. Tansy stood and looked down over the side of the hill.

“The practice yard is down there,” she said, pointing to an area where a number of men stood about. “Maybe you should beat up a few of them to get ready to see your husband.”

“I will, but first I want to exercise. Will you come?”

“Of course.”

We walked to the horse pen, where I saddled one of my horses so Tansy could ride him, and mounted my mare bareback.

“Can you ride?” I thought to ask. I realized she did not have my enhanced strength, and held my hands down to assist her.

“No problem.” She put her foot in my cupped hands and mounted gracefully. My mare led the way to the clearing we’d found on the previous day. I enjoyed riding with Tansy, who looked very comfortable in the saddle.

“I should have put on those pants we bought,” she said. “Dresses weren’t meant for riding.”

“How do women ride then?”

“The smart ones wear pants. The others ride like this.”

She twisted around to put both legs on the same side of the saddle. It looked terribly uncomfortable, and I said so.

“It is. I need to wear pants.”

“I will kill some more deer,” I said, “and we will ask the leather woman to make you some strong riding leggings.”

We reached the clearing, again finding it empty of people. I took a few moments to regard the plants, which Tansy said were called “grass,” and the trees. This planet was really lovely, once one got used to all of the blue and green and brown. Even so, I missed the sight of red rocks and red plants.

Then I showed her the forms of our exercises. We move slowly through them at first when we perform them on Barsoom, so teaching them is fairly simple. She caught on quickly.

“This is very relaxing.”

“It is meant to clear the mind, as well as strengthen the body.”

“So this is what made you strong?”

“Among other things. I was bred for intelligence, size, speed, strength and beauty.”

That was only partially true; I was bred for those qualities as are all royals. That only accounted for some of my strength and speed.

“Did you kill the deer with your bare hands?”

“With my knife.”

“You jumped on it and stabbed it?”

“Yes. I cut it across the throat. It had already been shot with an arrow.”

“You promised to deliver nine more deerskins for your battle-dress thing.”

“I will have to hunt them. They cannot smell me.”

“But they can smell me.”


“So I need to stay away.”

“I will hunt them early in the morning. It is no trouble.” 

We rode back to the caves and returned the horses to the pen. Tansy showed me more of proper horse care: the importance of cooling down after exercise, of brushing, of picking small rocks out of their hooves. The horses had mentioned none of this; they did not like having their hooves cleaned and I realized that horses lie.

I found brushing the horses very relaxing, and I picked up from their thoughts that their prior masters had done little to care for them. I greatly enjoyed riding, and now understood John Carter’s love for horses.

Having finished with horse care we next visited Gendry, to see if he had finished with my sword.

“This is my friend, Tansy,” I said as he looked up from his work.

“Hello,” he nodded to her. “We’ve met,” he said to me.

I realized that this embarrassed him.

“I am sorry.”

“No,” he said. “It’s fine. It was, um . . .”

“She knows,” Tansy said, and looked at me. “Some men brought Gendry to me for his first time.”

“With you?” I asked.

“You are blunt,” she said, but smiled. “No, with one of my girls.”

I did not understand.

“The girls who worked for me.”

I understood.

“I ran away first,” Gendry said. “It was a shameful moment.”

“Her loss,” Tansy said. “I’m sorry I laughed at you.”

“It’s alright,” he said. “I’ve gotten over it. And I have something for the princess.”

He fetched the sword from behind his forge and laid it on his work table; he had wrapped it in a soft, cured animal skin. He unrolled the wrappings to reveal a beautiful sword. The crossbar was dark gray steel, the grip wrapped in dark leather with a reddish orb at the pommel. I picked it up and tested its balance; it remained perfect. I stepped outside the work area and performed a few two-handed evolutions at slow speed; the new, longer grip was perfect.

“Thank you. This is wonderful. I have gold.”

“No, that’s not necessary. I enjoyed working with a real Valyrian blade. And I have more.”

He walked behind his forge and returned with a scabbard and belt. They matched the dark leather of the grip.

“I had to guess your height, but I think I got it right.”

I put the sword in its scabbard and slipped the belt over my shoulder; it fit perfectly, the grip jutting up exactly where I wanted it.

“And don’t forget this,” he said, handing me a small cloth bag. I hefted it; it rattled heavily.

“The gold and jewels I took off the sword and scabbard. Worth a good bit I’d guess.”

“This should feed us,” I told Tansy, “for a long time.”

“You’re paying for food?” Gendry asked. “I’m sorry. We did nothing to settle you here after tossing you in a cave. There’s no organization with Lady Stone Heart dead. Permanently dead. Whatever you call it.”

“I bought some boiled grain. I killed a deer and some hunters cooked it for us. Tansy made the women give us more boiled grain with fruit and told them that I would kill them and all of their friends if they did not.”

“Would you have?”


“Please don’t,” Gendry said. “Let me bank the forge and we’ll go see Ned and make sure you’re fed and clothed. You’re our guest and should be sharing what we have like a guest.”

“My friend Tansy shares whatever I share.”

“I’ve no problem with that. Let me get to work.”

Gendry took a small tool with a broad, flat head known as a “shovel” and began to cover the glowing coals in the forge with a layer of ash. Tansy took my hand in two of her fingers and pulled me further from the forge.

“Thank you,” she said quietly.

“You are my friend,” I said, equally quietly. “I need someone in this world who I can trust.”

“So do I.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Six (Dejah Thoris)

When Gendry finished banking the forge, we followed him to a flat, dirt-covered area outside the caves he called the practice yard, the same spot Tansy had pointed out from the hilltop. I had hoped to learn more about the fighting styles of this planet, and looked forward to joining in the sword practice.

We found Ned Dayne on the edge of the fighting area, having just finished a round of sword-play. Gendry called him over to join us on a bench made of dead trees.

“Princess,” he greeted me with a bow. “I don’t think I know your friend.”

“Her name is Tansy,” I said. “She is named for a weed. She is my best friend.”

“I’m your only friend,” she whispered, too softly for the others to hear.

The Lord of the Fallen Star actually took her hand and kissed it. The courtesy pleased me.

“How can I help you?”

“We neglected to do anything for the princess beyond a sleeping chamber,” Gendry said. “Food, clothing. Anything. That’s not how a guest should be welcomed.”

“No, it’s not,” Ned agreed. “What we have is yours.”

“And Tansy as well.”

“Of course,” he said. “How long do you plan to stay with us?

“I would like to stay a few more days and become used to this land’s ways,” I said. “Then I must be off to find my husband.”

“You’re certainly welcome for as long as you wish,” Ned said. “Things are really disorganized following Lady Stone Heart’s death, not that she put effort into anything beyond murder.”

“I would like to practice with swords.”

“Of course,” he repeated. “Pick up a practice blade and have at it.”

“I will watch first.”

Ned returned to the yard, facing a large, shirtless man with a large, two-handed sword. Gendry picked up a weapon called a war hammer, though this one had wooden caps on it to limit the damage it caused, and faced another large man, this one wearing a heavily-padded tunic. Their practice consisted of bashing each other with swords that had no edge until one or both of them dropped from exhaustion or repeated blows. Ned had been “castle trained,” as he called it, and used a very formal style. It would see him killed someday; I could anticipate his moves even without reading his mind. Gendry tried to use his greater strength to simply overwhelm his opponent.

After watching, I took up an edgeless sword and joined them. Ned called a smaller man to face me. He was very young and obviously inexperienced. He also wore no shirt or tunic, so I pulled off my new soldier’s tunic to match his bare chest. He cringed.

“Watch the sword, not the tits,” a man sitting on a nearby rock called. “Look at that stance. She knows her business.”

The young man finally lunged wildly; I stepped aside and let him fall to the ground on his own, kicked the sword out of his hand, and placed the tip of mine at his throat.

“I have killed you,” I said. “Send another.”

The man sitting on the rock got up, pulled off his tunic and picked up a practice sword.

“Let’s see what you’ve got,” he said.

I took up the standard opening stance, and awaited his attack. He lunged directly for the center of my chest; I hooked his blade and disarmed him, then tapped him on the center of his chest.

“Dead. Send another.”

“No one is that fast.”

“Send another.”

The large man who had sparred with Ned held up his hand to the Lord of the Fallen Star, and walked across to face me. He was an attractive man, with a muscled chest and shoulders and long, shaggy brown hair. He wished to engage in sex with me; I would not have minded but I knew from my sad sexual history with John Carter that we could not fit together and he would only leave my bed disappointed. My opponent raised his sword and nodded without a word. I fended off several strikes, and when he reached for a broad one-handed swing I spun inside his guard and laid the edge of my blade alongside his neck.

“I have killed you,” I whispered into his ear.

He looked down at my bare breasts pressed against his bare chest.

“It was worth it,” he whispered back. I felt him grow aroused and I spun away.

“She’s too fast for me,” he said in a louder, but strained voice. His discomfort pleased me, though it should not have. “Two against one.”

He gestured to the large man who had fought Gendry, who pulled off his padded tunic to join him. They spread out and tried to attack from two sides; I blocked the man on my left and then attacked the man on the right, beating down his guard and turning back to tap the chest of the man on the left when he thought me distracted. He fell over with a loud, pretended groan of pain while I returned my attention to his comrade, parrying his attack and counter-thrusting to tap him as well. He also fell over, groaning.

I stuck the practice sword in the dirt and held out my hands; they took them and pulled themselves up, each slapping me gently on the shoulder.

“You’ll teach me that,” the attractive man said, not intending it as a question. “I’m Crodell. Been soldiering a long time, never seen anything like you.”

“Natural speed,” his friend said. “Don’t think that can be taught. But there’s a lot of technique there, too.”

“Watch my shoulders, not my breasts,” I said. “Every kill I have made has been in reaction to an attack, not one I initiated.”

They both nodded.

I sparred with a few more pairs, defeating them easily, and also beat three men at once. I believe that I could have done so even without telepathy and my enhanced speed. I tried not to show off, but I did not want to hold back either. I thanked them all for the exercise, put my tunic back on and sat down between Tansy and Ned, with Gendry on the other side of his friend.

“You made that look easy,” Tansy said.

“I am very quick,” I said, “and have had a great deal of training.”

“Do you wear armor when you fight for real?” Gendry asked. “I could make some to fit you, but it would take some time.”

“No, we fight without any clothing at all,” I said. “I kept the leggings for the sake of modesty.”

“That was indeed,” Tansy said, “very modest of you.”

“Thank you,” I said. It took a few more moments before I realized that she intended an ironic jest.

“I do prefer armor on my wrists, like so,” I told Gendry, indicating my forearms. “I do not know its name in your language.”

“Gauntlets,” Gendry said. “I’ll make you a set.”

“We wear heavy armor in battle,” Ned said, “with padding underneath it. Touching an opponent scores points on the practice yard, but it’s not going to harm an enemy in a real battle. To split their armor or inflict an injury by blunt force, the blow has to be very hard. And so we sacrifice style for power.”

“You still would have beaten everyone here,” Gendry added. “Just maybe not as easily.”

Ned nodded agreement.

“Do all women learn to fight in your land?” he asked.

“They do among the nobility,” I said. “Fewer women become soldiers than do men, but it remains a fair number. They are more common in ships’ crews. Is this not true here as well?”

“No,” Ned said. “There are warrior women in the North, but you are only the second such that I have met.”

“The first was Brienne?”


“I am not truly a warrior,” I said. “A princess must learn to fight and help lead her nation’s armies in war. It is expected. We have privileges, and we earn these on the battlefield, sometimes by our death.”

“That’s true among us as well, only not for princesses.”

“If women do not learn to fight,” I asked, “what happens when they are threatened?”

“A knight must protect the defenseless, including women,” the Lord of the Fallen Star explained. Tansy made a snorting sound; I looked at her and she rolled her eyes, a gesture we share on Barsoom. I smiled at her and she smiled back.

“Why do I only see women doing the menial tasks here?” I continued. “They cook, they wash, they serve food.”

“That’s a woman’s place.”

“To do the hard work while you play with swords.”

“But a woman can’t wield a sword.”

“Truly?” I spun the blunt point of the practice sword on my finger tip, a trick John Carter had taught me that neither youth could master. I tossed the sword upward and caught it before it could fall; sword-spinning was much more difficult in this planet’s gravity. “Has any sword touched me yet?”

“You’re not like other women.”

“This is true,” I allowed. “So, the man plays with swords and the woman works. This does not seem right or fair.”

“Among the nobles the men fight and the women do not work,” Ned answered. “Among the other classes everyone works. Someone has to do the work. And women must be protected.”

John Carter had felt this way as well. He always feared for me when I fought, or more likely he feared the shame of having failed to protect me should I be injured or killed. More than once I had stood back so as not to distract him during battle. Once he even asked that I sing inspirational songs while he fought, but even a princess has limits to the public humiliation she will endure. And no one has ever asked Dejah Thoris to sing a second time.

“And who,” Tansy asked, “protects women from their protectors?”

“It’s . . .” Ned started, then stopped. “I don’t know. Real life hasn’t turned out to be the way I was taught it should be.”

“You!” I called to one of the practicing fighters. “Brace the blade with your off hand or he will smash it back into your chest. That is why it has no edge near the cross-guard.” He nodded and acted out the motion. I nodded in turn and he continued, now using both hands. They did not yet fully respect me, but none now questioned my skill with a sword.

“Why,” I asked Ned and Gendry, “are noble women so precious?”

I had wondered about this long before I came to their planet; I would not claim that women are fully equal in my society but John Carter at times acted as though I were made of the delicate glassine crystals from which our artists craft intricate shapes. And while I would not have said that I was good at killing people on Barsoom, I had survived in a very violent culture. And I had killed many people, in the name of Helium.

“They bear the burden of childbirth,” Ned said, “and the raising of children. ‘A woman’s battle is in the birthing bed,’ they say.”

“Do not working women do so also?”

“Yes, but that’s different.”

“Because they’re noble,” Tansy said. “Working families need more workers, but noble families need an heir.”

“That’s true,” Ned said. “That’s the prime duty of young married nobles. ‘An heir and a spare,’ they say.”

“Who are ‘they’?” I asked.

“Not really people,” Gendry said. “Just the . . .  the things everyone knows, or thinks they know.”

“And these rules that are not written control how and when you have sex?”

Neither young man answered. Probing their minds, I found that they thought a great deal about sex, but knew practically nothing about childbirth. I would have to ask Tansy.

“Have you had sex with a woman?”

Both young men turned very red. Tansy burst into laughter.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t do that.”

“No, um, no,” Ned spluttered. “A true knight waits for marriage.”

“You would like to?”



“I will wait to, uh, lay with a woman,” Ned said. “But I would like to marry.”

But not as much as he would like to experience sex. He thought of what I believed was a rather young girl, with dark hair and gray eyes. She swung a narrow-bladed sword.

“You love a woman?”

“I think so,” he said. “A girl, anyway. Her father knew my aunt and I think he loved her, but he killed my uncle. So I don’t know how my family would feel. And the war has destroyed their house.”

“And you, Gendry?” Tansy asked.

“Ned will have his marriage arranged by his family because he’s a lord. I have more choice, but some girls are forbidden to me even as a knight.”

“You are a knight?” This surprised me; from what I had gleaned of Ned’s thoughts and words I had concluded that knights were nobles, not blacksmiths.

“Yes, Lord Beric knighted me. But I was born a bastard so the knighthood doesn’t erase all of that.”

“Who were your parents?”

He started, and I realized I had offended him.

“She does that,” Tansy interjected. “You saw it this morning. There’s no filter on our princess.”

“I am sorry,” I said. “I do not wish to offend.”

“It’s alright,” Gendry said, not really meaning it. “It’s just not something people ask.”

“Polite people, anyway,” Tansy added, but she smiled and rubbed my back to show that she was being playful, then looked at Gendry and leaned across me to put her hand on his brawny forearm. “Don’t be upset. She doesn’t mean anything by it.”

He nodded, partially mollified.

“I don’t really know who my parents were,” Gendry said; his thoughts said he lied. “I grew up in Flea Bottom, in King’s Landing. My mother was a tavern wench, my father a customer I suppose.”

He suspected that his father had been King Robert but had no proof.

“Gendry,” Tansy said softly. “If I can see your father in you, anyone who knew him can.”

“How did you know him?” I asked her, catching myself before I said “the king” aloud.

“He was my customer, too.”

Ned worked to cover his surprise; he had suspected that Tansy had been a whore but did not expect her to say this aloud.

“Are you Gendry’s mother?” I asked her.

“No,” she said, startled by the question; I had forgotten that these people remained children far longer than we of Barsoom, making Tansy too young to have birthed Gendry. “But I would be very proud if I were.”

“My own wasn’t,” Gendry said. “I never really knew her, either. I remember a woman with yellow hair who I’ve always thought of as my mother. She probably worked in the palace, at least people from the palace paid my master to take me on as an apprentice and came to check on me.”

“But you are a knight now,” I said, “yet you cannot marry who you choose?”

“Not having a family isn’t all bad,” he said. “I don’t mean as a child; that was really bad. But now, no one will try to make a marriage alliance using me as a game piece. I do get some choice, but it’s limited.”

“And you have made a choice?”

“Yes, but she’s forbidden to me.”

He pictured a very similar girl to that dreamed of by Ned. Perhaps the same one? It seemed that no one on this planet ever found love with the one they desired. Nor, I recalled, had I managed to do so on Barsoom.

“I hope that can happen for you,” I said. “I married one who was forbidden to me.”

“How did that come about?” Tansy asked.

“He fought for me and won the right. In our lands that carries a great deal of . . .”


“Yes, weight. Not as much weight as I told him it did, but I did not wish for him to stop pursuing my hand. He had no status but was a great fighter and skilled in the command of armies and fleets. Now he leads the combined forces of my city and our allies. Men and women gladly follow him, and die for him. It also helped that my grandfather loves me and wanted my happiness.”

“Did he make you happy?” Tansy asked, already knowing the answer.

“No,” I said. “It does not always make you happy, to get what you want.”

All three of my companions nodded.

“Families here,” Gendry said, “almost always choose to place the game of thrones above their children’s happiness. Noble families, that is. The others just suffer for it.”

“What is the game of thrones?”

Gendry looked to Ned.

“Noble houses seek status, and an opportunity to gain greater status than their neighbors and rivals. They do so through marriage or through obtaining offices.”

“Do they seek to rule?”

“Sometimes,” Ned said. “There’s only been one successful rebellion in the past three hundred years, and that was not long ago, just a few years before my birth. Mostly they struggle for position beneath the king, not for the chance to replace him.”

“This happens in our land as well,” I said. “But it rarely causes as much death and destruction as I have heard of here. Perhaps some nobles die, but not working people in huge numbers.”

“That’s how it was here too, or so I’m told. I think the tension built up for a very long time, and when it was released, the world just caught fire.”

Over the next several days I fell into a routine, hunting in the early morning to redeem my promise of deer skins, exercising with Tansy in the clearing before bathing in a nearby stream, and riding horses together through the forest. Tansy took to the exercises readily, and taught me a trick she called “cartwheels.” She raised her hands into the air, relaxed and fell to one side, hitting the ground with her hands and vaulting on in a circular motion like the wheel of a cart.

“This looks so easy,” I said after the fourth time I had fallen into a heap. “Yet it is not.”

“You have to relax,” Tansy said, moving behind me and putting her hands on my waist. I loved her touch on my bare skin, but dared not reveal this aloud. “Just fall. Relax and fall to the side. Your hands will catch you.”

I needed many attempts before I could cartwheel; usually I bent my legs and fell into a tangle. Finally, I managed to hit the ground and vault on. It felt as though I had accomplished a great feat.

“Did you never play?” Tansy asked. “As a girl?”

“I was never a girl,” I said. “I was a princess.”

“I wished to be a princess,” Tansy said. “When I was a girl.”

“Had I known you when I was a princess,” I said, “I would have wished to be a girl.”

Tansy could also stand on her hands, a feat that turned out to be far more difficult in this planet’s heavier gravity than I had anticipated. Once again, I needed many attempts before I could likewise do so, but I knew that I still lacked Tansy’s grace. She moved fluidly, as though she danced, even in the most mundane actions.

My new friend, my only friend, had been through painful ordeals that she hesitated to share, yet she remained playful. We of Barsoom know the importance of play to maintaining one’s emotional balance. John Carter scorned that facet of our society and it called “childish,” what he considered a terrible insult. As a princess, I had never been particular good at play, and I resolved that I would allow Tansy to teach me.

I did have other skills that translated more easily to this world. The hunters gave me several javelins that they called throwing spears. I sought deer telepathically, climbed a tree to wait for them to pass underneath, and killed them with a javelin thrown from above. So many farms had been abandoned that the deer population had expanded exponentially, and I soon had enough skins to pay for my fighting harness as well as boots and a similar outfit for Tansy. And a great deal of meat. The hunters were pleased.

I also experienced rain: water that fell from the sky. We have rain on Barsoom, but it is exceedingly rare in the region around Helium, where all water has long been carefully conserved and directed for use in agriculture and for personal consumption. We control our weather as we do the atmosphere, and simply allowing water to drip from the clouds is considered highly wasteful. I had seen rain over the vast Toolian Marshes, but never at my own city, and I had never directly experienced its fall.

Here, no one considered it a miracle; it was simply an annoyance to be avoided. People huddled in the caves or in makeshift shelters under the trees. I stood under the falling rain and spread my arms, feeling the droplets smack into my flesh – in this heavier gravity they hit with some force, though not enough to be painful. I pulled off my tunic to better feel the rain, and eventually climbed to the top of the hill to sprawl on my back atop our flat rock while the drops of rain played across my body.

I had never felt anything like this and loved the sensation on my skin. It was a cold rain, but I did not care. Tansy found me there as the rain subsided, amused at my love of rain but concerned that I would make myself ill. She could not explain why cold water falling on my skin would sicken me, but I put my tunic back on and went inside the caves to ease her concern. 

I also visited the practice yard every afternoon. I showed the fighters some of the techniques of Barsoom, and they taught me theirs. Over the days that followed more fighters from the camp came to watch, and some challenged me with their dull swords. I defeated them easily, though it disturbed me that I inflicted a number of broken bones and other injuries. To make things more interesting, and reduce the chance of an accidental death among my sparring partners, I began to fight them in larger groups. I became much more at ease with the sword, though I declined their offers to learn to use the heavy lance with which they fought from horseback or to fight with sword and shield.

I suspected that my reactions had become much faster than on Barsoom, and I asked a number of the men to throw stones at me while I batted them away. I became very adept at this game. I also had the fighters loose blunted arrows at me, and found that I could knock most of them away with a practice sword. Most, but not all. I found that my enhanced abilities did not include a resistance to pain. I would need to avoid arrows.

Many of the men admired my body in their thoughts, but their words generally remained respectful. A few went to private places around the caves and thought about me, or about Tansy and I together, while they stroked their sex organ; since they did not do this around others I came to understand that this was a private act and considered somewhat shameful. I did not wish to intrude, even in the silence of telepathy, yet I remained intensely curious about their sexual practices and learned a great deal. The men often fantasized of placing their sex organs within women, while the women only sometimes fantasized of receiving them. I began to understand that John Carter would never have been able to find sexual satisfaction with me, for I could not receive his sex organ.

Some of the people went to one knee when I approached, a gesture which I found very strange. I let them know that this made me uncomfortable, that a simple nod and greeting would suffice. They usually called me “my princess,” which made me smile – I had once told John Carter that this was a term reserved only for lovers among my people. Since I actually was a princess, the people of Helium had called me that many times every day. If he had ever noticed, he said nothing.

As the men came to respect – and fear – my fighting skills, it became safer for Tansy to walk among them alone. I did not openly threaten anyone, but most understood that I would kill anyone who attempted to harm her. Many of the women and some of the men continued to despise both of us, but no longer dared give voice to their hatred.

Thoros the priest came to the horse pens and rode with me one day in place of Tansy, who did not feel well, calling it a period of the moon. Thoros wanted to talk about his prophecy, and I tried to divert him by asking about his homeland.

“You are from the Eastern Continent?”

“Yes, a city called Myr. I was given to the priesthood as a boy, and eventually sent here to convert the former ruler and the rest of the heathens. I stayed on with the next ruler, whoring, drinking and fighting by his side. And then I ended up here.”

“You convert people to your religion by whoring, drinking and fighting? It must be very popular.”

“No,” he said. “I wasn’t a very good priest. That’s why I was sent away.”

“What is it like there?”

“Essos, as we call the Eastern Continent? Much drier than here. There is desert in the interior and huge stretches of dry grassland. There are sophisticated cities along the coastline, with a much higher level of civilization than this continent, Westeros.”

“Who lives in the interior?”

“Barbarians. They ride horses in huge hordes, fighting one another and sometimes attacking civilized folk. They decide all questions by single combat.”

This sounded very much like the Tharks of Barsoom.

“Are they green-skinned? With tusks?”

“What? No. They have skins of a light brown color but otherwise look like any other men. There are large men with tusks as well as long arms and flat noses on the Southern Continent, but I suppose you know that.”

He doubted my origin story, but not enough to say so out loud. He only cared for my destiny; I really could have come from another planet and he would have only seen that as further proof of his prophecy.

“I had rarely traveled before my arrival here.”

“It is said to be a wild place, Sothoryos, with all manner of deadly creatures from killer fish up to giant apes many times the size of a man.”

“Truly?” I asked. “Giant apes many times the size of a man. Are they white-skinned?”

“That I don’t know. You’ve never heard of them?”

“Oh yes. All of these creatures sound very familiar to one from my land.”

Extremely familiar, as though someone had created this world from a book about Barsoom. We rode on for some time before I resumed my queries.

“You lived in the capital before your exile here?”

“Yes,” Thoros said. “I was boon companion to the king. And then he died, and here I am.”

“It is a great city?”

“Massive. Half a million souls, possibly more. The greatest on this continent. At least a half dozen cities of Essos are greater in size.”

That half-million would make a respectable but small city on Barsoom, far smaller than Helium or even Lesser Helium.

“Is it a center of learning?”

“Not much,” the priest said. “The real center of learning is Oldtown, on the western coast.”

“Oldtown is the oldest town here?”

“Of course.”

“What learning goes on there?”

“It’s home to the Citadel,” Thoros said, “where the maesters train their novices and study all manner of, well, study. The natural world, magic, history, medical arts. Everything.”

“Where else are these things studied?”

“Nowhere,” he said. “At least not in Westeros. There are some scholarly orders in Essos, also.”

“Who can become a maester?”

“Men only,” he said. “They select applicants very carefully, then train them for years. They take vows including celibacy, and their loyalty is only to the Order. Most noble houses have a maester that serves them.”

“But the maester serves his Order first.”

“Just so.”

Curious. So science, or what passed for science, was held as a monopoly by a tiny insular order, following its own agenda, and with influential agents at the elbow of every significant political leader and many insignificant ones as well. Was this Citadel the seat of true power in Westeros? And what was its agenda? I was reminded of the Therns of my home planet.

“Your order also allows only men?”

“No,” he said. “It’s probably evenly divided between priests and priestesses.”

“Celibacy is the lack of sex? It applies to you as well?”

“I told you, I whored with King Robert. I broke several vows to do that, degrading others by paying them to service me, bringing disrepute to our faith, but the act itself isn’t forbidden if it’s done out of love.”

“There many priests and priestesses in Westeros?”

“Few, he said, and stopped his horse to emphasize his words. “Those you’ll meet in Westeros are far more dedicated than I, even fanatic. If they see what I’ve seen, regarding you, they won’t all rely on gentle persuasion.”

This also reminded me of the Therns, though from Thoros’ thoughts he feared that his fellows would try to force me to carry out their prophecy or even sacrifice me to do so. At least, unlike the Therns, they would not attempt to eat me. Other distinct echoes of Barsoom intrigued me as well: the barbarian hordes (brown and riding horses rather than green and riding thoats), the giant apes, the tusked men. I desperately wanted to learn more of these parallels; they would make a fascinating study. Was this some form of convergent evolution? But I had to concentrate on the task before me.

“You plan to leave us?” the priest asked.


“These people depend on you.”

“No,” I said, “they do not. Some fear me, some think me a great fighter. They need a real leader. You have failed to be that leader.”

“That’s not really fair.”

“Of course it is fair. You were second to the dead Lightning Lord. You did not step into his place. You let the Stone Heart push you aside and warp your mission, and used your drunkenness to excuse your weakness.”

“So who should lead them? Ned? He’s all of seven-and-ten.”

“Yes. He is young but of good heart. You will support him.”

“I’ll think about your suggestion.”

“It was not a suggestion.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven (Dejah Thoris)

On a night with clear skies I took the largest fur in our chamber and climbed up to the flat rock on top of the hill to seek out Barsoom. Tansy came along, and we lay on the fur and looked up at the night sky. Like Jasoom, this planet had a single very large moon. But that was where the similarities ended.

None of the constellations were familiar, and this bothered me. I knew we were in the northern hemisphere of this planet, since the Red Priest had spoken of frozen lands to the north. If this were Jasoom, the stars should be similar to those of Barsoom’s northern hemisphere, as both planets circled the same star. Unless, of course, I had also travelled a great span through time and the stars had shifted. I knew from John Carter’s travels and those of the other Jasoomian I had met, Ulysses Paxton, that interplanetary teleportation did odd things to the flow of time that even I did not yet understand. I had presented papers on the mathematical structure of time to the Royal Academy, and could see that this question merited more study. But not now.

As I looked above I saw no familiar stars, and no red planet. I kept a close watch for any obvious planetary movements, and chatted with Tansy as we looked upward. She described the constellations and told a little of the myths behind them; we have these as well for our stars as do John Carter’s people. I asked about stars that moved; she looked for a while and finally pointed out a blue one. Another one, this time green, would rise late at night, she explained and finally a white one as morning neared.

“And the red star?”

“The Red Wanderer,” she said. “It doesn’t appear every night. It disappears for a time, then it’s in the skies every night, then it’s gone again. I don’t know if there’s a pattern to it or not, but the Red Wanderer is part of many songs and stories.”

“What sort of stories?”

“It’s a symbol,” Tansy said. “Sometimes of love or sex, sometimes of war. More often war, I think. Some of the common folk think the Wanderer affects them and makes them fight or fuck, the Blue Wanderer makes them sad, things like that.”

I would rather have come from the planet of sex, but I could not deny that it suited Barsoom to be a symbol of war.

“Has anyone studied the wandering stars as something other than symbols or excuses?”

“Some think they are other worlds, worlds like ours,” she said. “But most learned men believe the world to be flat, which would rule out that theory.”

“The world is not flat.”

“And you know this because . . . ?”

“Have you ever,” I asked, “climbed to a tall height, a hill or tree?”

“A castle tower?”

“Yes. Could you see farther from there than you could from the ground?”

“Of course.”


“Because . . . you’re seeing around the curve of the world!”

“Exactly,” I said. “How do you know so much about the stars?”

“I had a noble’s education as a girl. Lord Whent believed that girls should be educated the same as boys.”

“They usually are not?”

“No, girls are taught to sew and to prepare to be married. Boys are taught to fight but also about history and the natural world.”

This explained why she seemed to speak differently than the other women in the camp, at least when she was with me. At other times she mimicked their rougher speech patterns.

“Girls and women do not study . . . the natural world?” Tansy’s people did not appear to have a word for science.

“That belongs to the maesters,” she said, “a body of men who keep the study all to themselves. They swear an oath to take no wives and take no part in war.”

“No women at all?”

“No women at all.”

“In my lands,” I said, “both women and men study the natural world, but mostly women.”

“I think I’d like your lands much better than these.”

“Thoros the priest spoke of the maesters. They allow no one else to study the natural world?”

“I’ve never heard of them outright stopping anyone,” she said. “Then again, I’ve never heard of anyone else trying to study it.”

My curiosity grew regarding these maesters. Were they deliberately trying to retard science and development?

“You have met maesters?”

“Well, I’ve fucked them, which isn’t exactly the same thing. They’re men like any other: swear one thing, do another.”

“You did this as a whore?”

“I sure wouldn’t fuck one for fun.”

“How did you come to be a whore?”

“You’re direct, I’ll give you that,” she said, but rolled onto her side to look at me and smile before looking up again. “My mother was a whore, but my father was Hoster Tully, the lord of the River Lands. He placed me with his wife’s noble house and the Whents raised me until I was on the verge of womanhood. It’s not unusual for noble children, including bastards, to be sent to live with other families.

“When his older, true-born daughter was to be betrothed at a huge tournament held at the castle where I lived, she pitched a fit and insisted that my father send me away. She would not have the little bastard bitch there on her special day to ruin things. I was sent back to my mother.”

“Pitched a fit?”

“She became very upset, screaming and throwing things. She threatened to tell everyone at the tournament that her father, my father, was a whoremonger.”

“What is a tournament?”

“Knights pretend to fight for the amusement of one another and noble ladies. There’s usually feasting, music and other entertainment as well. It’s a very important social occasion. Even the smallfolk get to watch and be fed. This was a famous tournament, with the King and most of the high lords in attendance. Many things that happened there shaped the next nineteen years.”

“She took you away from the family you had known?” I asked. “That was cruel of her.”

“Yes, she did. I’ve heard that even as a grown woman, she was cruel to her husband’s bastard son as well. Yet her own mother, Lady Minisa, was never anything but kind to me. She had died in childbirth by then, else I like to think she would have stepped in on my behalf.”

“Gendry said he is also a bastard,” I said. “What does that mean?”

“A bastard is a child whose parents were not married, but at least one of them was a noble. They have much lower social standing than a true-born noble child. They don’t carry their father’s name. I’m a noble’s bastard so my full name isn’t Tanith Tully but Tanith Rivers, because I was born in the River Lands. Gendry’s a noble bastard too, so he’s Gendry Waters because he was born in the lands near the sea.”

“And bastards are not liked?”

“Many of the poor people in cities are bastards, and so are peasants. No one cares or even calls them bastards – that’s reserved for a noble’s child. Marriages are rarely even recorded among the smallfolk, and most don’t even carry a family name. But among the noble classes, including even the small landowners, bastards are hated. The stain can carry on for generations.”

Since our reproduction is tightly regulated by our Breeding Councils, there is never any question of parentage on Barsoom, at least among the civilized peoples. A woman without a husband may apply to have an egg fertilized, but the offspring is never considered a lesser person. And even some married couples will apply for genetically superior eggs or sperm rather than attempt to gain approval to use their own. But laws regarding succession and inheritance are apparently very different in Westeros than those of Barsoom, as one would expect given our far greater lifespans. It saddened me that my friends would suffer for such supposed flaws.

“But you and Gendry are such good people.”

“That’s nice of you,” she said, “but it doesn’t matter to many nobles, especially to noble women. They fear that bastard children will take the place of their own offspring and inherit their father’s property. Some fear they will take a father or husband’s love from a true-born child.”

“A bastard child cannot inherit?”

“Not unless the king makes them legitimate. That means they have the same standing as a true-born child and take their father’s name.”

“And a bastard child is not loved?”

“Often not,” she said. “Many fathers simply forget their bastard children.”

“And your father?”

“I don’t think he loved me,” Tansy said. “I think he felt guilty because of me. After I was sent back to my mother, he bought the brothel where she worked and gave it to my mother. I inherited it from her when she died.”


“A house where whores live and work.”

“So your father made you a whore?”

“You could say that, but it was my mother who sold my maidenhood when she saw that I was becoming beautiful. She put me to work; I don’t know that my father wanted that or even cared one way or the other. I was a whore with a good living, thanks to my father, while the brothel existed.”


“A girl loses it the first time she’s penetrated. You know, when you bleed. Some men will pay a great deal to break one.”

I did not know, but I nodded as though I did.

“What happened to the brothel?”

“Soldiers burned it, and the town where it stood. I believe they did it on purpose.”


“The older of my father’s two true-born daughters, the one who hated me so, married the lord of the North, Ned Stark. His soldiers burned the brothel and killed most of my people. They raped me but they let me live, so I’d know what had happened and who’d done it. They said they were only following orders. I believe those were her orders.”

“Soldiers of every land use that excuse.”

“Perhaps,” she said. “But I believe that they meant it. It was in the way they spoke, they acted. They were sending me a message from Catelyn. And that’s why I came here, when I heard about her leading the Brotherhood.”

“I do not understand.”

“I wanted to kill that woman for what she did to me, for what her soldiers did to the whores and cooks and laundry girls and stable boys who worked for me.”

“I am very good at killing people,” I said. “I will help you do this.”

“There’s no need. You already have.”

I had to think about that for a moment. I had killed many men here but only two women, including the one I punched over the heart during the fight when I first arrived. The other fit her story much better though.

“I already killed her? The Stone Heart was your sister?”

“She was my father’s other daughter. You are my sister.”

She rolled over to lay her head on my shoulder.

“Now you have my real story. Soon you’ll tell me yours. Your real story, not the one about some make-believe city in Sothoryos.” 

While I could not easily read Tansy’s thoughts, I was aware that she knew nothing of the importance of sisterhood (and brotherhood) among the peoples of Barsoom. She had spoken from her heart.

Our branch of the human species – for I would come to believe that we are genetically related – reproduces by laying eggs, externally from the body. We do not have the same relationship with our siblings as do Tansy’s people. Our sisters of the egg, as we call them, do not grow up with us and may be hundreds of years older or younger.

Close relationships instead are forged with our sisters of the heart. A sister (or brother) is not simply a friend or lover. We can and do have long standing relationships; the noble Kantos Kan, for example, has been my dear friend for hundreds of years but he is not my brother of the heart, and this is not unusual. We bond with brothers and sisters very rarely. I had bonded with my sister Thuvia during our year-long imprisonment by the evil Therns; thirty-six years before that, my beloved sister Kajas had been brutally murdered. I still grieve.

I was the only person of my species on an entire planet, and desperately lonely. I knew that I ached for Thuvia’s thoughts interlaced with my own, for her calming presence and even her sometimes sharp opinions. Tansy could not link her thoughts with mine, and I could not even read hers without likely causing her pain. We had no shared past, and I had not even confessed my extra-planetary origin.

Yet as I looked up at the stars, and felt Tansy’s head pressed against my chin and her warm body against mine, I knew that I wanted this alien woman to be my sister. I would fight to defend her; I would remain by her side through whatever might occur. And if I had to choose between John Carter and Tansy Rivers, that would be no choice at all.

I now felt more comfortable with my sword and my horses, and when I entered the practice yard one afternoon Ned Dayne awaited with a proposal. We sat on the nearby rocks. I listened while I played with a practice sword, balancing it upright by its pommel on the back of my hand and flipping it into the air to catch it.

“You’re the best fighter any of us have ever seen,” he began, wishing that I would put down the sword. I spun it instead.

“Who do you wish me to fight?” I asked, gleaning his purpose from his thoughts.

“You know that we have very little food stored here.”

“It has seemed adequate,” I said. “Are you saying that I should earn my share?”

“I would not object if you wished to do so, but that wasn’t my point. I was about to ask it as a favor. You see, we do have enough food for our day-to-day needs. But I’ve been looking through the stockpiles since Lady Stark’s death. Apparently she did no planning for the future.”

“The food will run out?”

“Winter is coming,” he said, apparently a phrase of great portent though it seemed rather obvious to me. “And we have a supply for three to four moons turns’ laid in under the hollow hill.”

I did some calculations in my mind. Those “moons” would last for perhaps 90 to 120 days. That seemed tight, but not enough to cause the level of worry I felt from the Lord of the Fallen Star. I knew nothing of this planet’s seasons but their years seemed roughly the same length as those of Dirt, from what I had picked out of their thoughts and conversations.

“So you need to secure perhaps another 30 to 60 days’ supply?”

“No,” he said. “I have heard that this will be a severe winter. We need to be prepared to stay under the hill for at least five years.”

“Five years?” I asked, deeply surprised. “To be spent here?”

“Normally people go to holdfasts prepared by their lords, fortified places with stocks of food and fuel behind secure walls. The people here have no lords, and would be killed if they attempted to enter one of the Lannister castles or holdfasts.”

“I cannot believe that a winter here lasts for years.”

The claim was patently ridiculous. Food would not last for five years on dry Barsoom, even less in this damper climate. I did not think it likely that they possessed some homespun method to preserve biological items of which Helium’s science knew nothing. And even if they could feed themselves, they would mow down massive swathes of the surrounding forests for firewood to keep themselves warm.

Perhaps they could place themselves in some kind of suspended state, in which they did not need food or warmth? Some plants and animals of Barsoom can do this, waiting for water to return to their environment. But were this true, then they would not need such huge supplies of food, a need which implied that the people remained awake and active.

“They don’t in Dorne, my homeland; it gets cooler but we still have harvests. I suppose your land is even farther to the south and you have no problems. But it’s different here. If we don’t secure food for these people, they will starve.”

“What do you propose to do?”

“Intercept a Lannister wagon convoy,” he said, “loaded with grain.”

“Do you know where to find one?”

“They run regularly to the south,” Ned said. “The Lannisters are stripping the River Lands to stock King’s Landing for winter. A farmer came in yesterday with his family, the Lannisters had taken all of his grain. They loaded it in wagons headed south.”

“The convoys are guarded.”


“How many?”

“In this convoy?” he asked. I nodded. “Six to ten wagons, a driver for each, three to four mounted guards.”

Given the size of King’s Landing, as described by Thoros, it would take more than 20,000 such wagon trains to feed the city for five years. Again, this seemed unlikely to me, yet Ned clearly believed this to be true. I returned to the subject.

“You would seem to have enough fighters already.”

“None who can stand up to the Lannister men-at-arms,” he said. “We had them once; most are dead now.”

From what I had seen of the fighters at practice, I knew him to be correct.

“They have confidence in you,” he went on. “They’ll be more willing to fight if they know you’re with us.”

“You are not much of a revolutionary army if you need an outsider to fight for you.”

“I don’t know what we are,” Ned conceded. “Outlaws? Rebels? The lost and forgotten? But I do know that we need more food.”

I thought on that last.

“The wagon drivers fight as well?”

“No,” he said. “They’re farmers forced to serve, and usually highly unwilling.”

“So they would join us?”

“I don’t know. But they probably wouldn’t fight us.”

“I will fight the Lannisters for you.”

“Thank you.”

“There are conditions,” I said. “You must have a plan of attack, and I will approve it. You must gather more information and know precisely where and when this attack will take place. You must have scouting reports on the place of attack and keep it under watch so that we are not ourselves surprised.”

“We haven’t done anything like that since before Lord Beric was killed. The first time.”

“Planning saves lives,” I said. “I will not throw mine away stupidly. Nor should you.”

“I knew that. I simply forgot. Thank you again.”

“I am a true princess, Ned. I was trained to lead, as were you. You cannot afford to forget again.”

“I won’t.”

Even with proper planning, this would be no more than minor banditry, unlikely to improve the outlook for the people living under the hill. I had gone from princess to outlaw in just a few days. Yet I had to earn my keep, and what else did I have to offer? I had killed a few deer and taught some swordplay. Was that enough? I would not allow Tansy to return to whoring, nor do so myself. Assuming that any man would pay for a woman with whom he could not couple.

Tansy did not approve of the idea when I told her.

“You could be hurt. Killed. For nothing.”

“I am very good at killing people.”

“Which won’t stop you from being killed yourself.”

“These people took me in.”

“Because they’re afraid of you,” she said, “so they feed you. They’re not afraid of me, so they fuck me.”

“That will never happen again.”

“It will if something happens to you.”

“It is all I have to repay them,” I said, having become unreasonably stubborn. “I will do as I promised.”

“Then I’m coming with you. I won’t stay here to be fucked again if you don’t come back.”

I assented. Truly, I worried what would happen to her if I left my new sister alone in the camp.

We spent an uneasy night bundled in our box of furs; I knew that Tansy was unhappy with my decision. In the morning, I put on my wolf’s-head tunic and leggings and slung my sword over my shoulder. I walked out to the horse pen with Tansy; we did not speak as we mounted up and rode out to our clearing, nor was anything said during our exercises or bathing.

“Dejah,” Tansy finally said as she prepared to mount her horse. I walked over to her and stood before her.

“Dejah,” she repeated. “I’m afraid. For you. For me if anything happens to you.”

“You will have money. Leave this place and never come back.”

“But I’d be alone. Again.”

“We are sisters now,” I said. “I will never abandon you. Come, let us return.”

She looked at me silently, apparently unsure how to react.

“I have chosen you as my sister, as you have chosen me. Among my people, we do not use the words ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ lightly. It means that we are bonded together, for the remainder of our lives. Was this your intention?”

“No,” she said, confused. “I mean, yes. No and yes. No, I didn’t know it would have such meaning for you. But yes, that’s what I want.”

“Then I will never leave you. When I leave this place, you will come with me.”

She nodded without speaking. I had called my mare over to me and now swung onto her back; if I were to ride long distances, I would need a saddle.

We found the Lord of the Fallen Star sitting alone on a large stone before a fire, frying something in a pan. I took up the stone next to him and folded my legs beneath me. Tansy did the same on the opposite side of him. He shared this “bacon” with us, thin strips of cured meat from an animal known as a pig. I had seen pigs kept in pens in the forest nearby; disgusting creatures of no apparent use beyond consuming the camp’s garbage, which they did with enthusiasm. I had no idea of their true worth. Barsoom has nothing to rival bacon: the taste, the crunch, the oily texture. I do not believe in any gods, but the existence of bacon makes me question this non-belief.

We sat there for some time in companionable silence, eating bacon. It remains one of the favorite moments of my life. We were still sharing bacon when two of the mounted perimeter guards approached with a rider between them. The man had a sack over his head. They told us he had been found wandering the nearby roads calling out for the Brotherhood, claiming he had a message to deliver.

We stood. The Lord of the Fallen Star nodded, and one of the guards removed the sack. The rider shook his head and then slowly pulled from his clothing a piece of the animal skin these people use for written words, careful that it not be mistaken for a weapon. He began to read from it.

The flowery language was difficult to follow, and the rider’s thoughts gave no help at all; he had not written the message and knew nothing of its contents until he unrolled it to read. Without the aid of telepathy, I discovered that I was less prepared to handle this language than I had assumed. Puzzled, I turned to the Lord of the Fallen Star.

“I understand exactly nothing of what this messenger demands. Please explain.”

“He represents a minor leader known as the Mighty Pig.”

“Truly?” I held up my piece of bacon. “The Mighty Pig?”

He looked at me in some confusion. I had read the concept in his thoughts but, confused myself by the messenger’s recitation, I had mistaken the exact wording. I had let slip a serious clue that I could read minds, but I knew better than to draw attention to my error. A princess must be in constant control of herself.

“Those aren’t the exact words,” Ned finally said. “He is known as Strong Boar. Strong means, well, strong.” I nodded. “And a boar is a dangerous and large male pig that lives in the wild. Nobles hunt them for sport, but the very largest and strongest will kill a man easily. One of them even killed the former king. They fight with no regard for their own safety.”

“So he is a powerful warrior. The name is not a jest.”

“That’s correct,” Ned said. “But I like the idea of calling him The Mighty Pig. It will anger him.”

“What else does the message say?”

“He believes that we’re led by a great but elderly warrior known as the Black Fish.”

“Do all of your leaders,” I asked, “choose such strange names?”

“It’s a long story having to do with his house’s symbol. The Black Fish stayed here a short while but was never part of the Brotherhood and left long ago. The Strong Boar challenges the Black Fish to fight him in what we call single combat.”

“We know this as well,” I said. “And what will come of the single combat?”

“In reality nothing. But the side whose champion is killed will lose some of their will to fight, and the winner’s side will grow more eager for battle. It’s a way for a fighter to gain renown as well.”

“The fight is to the death?”

“Yes,” Ned said. “A fighter may yield and become a prisoner, but that only happens when his friends and family will pay money for his release. Both sides know that will not happen here.”

“I understand,” I said. “I will fight the Mighty Pig.”

Tansy looked unhappy, but said nothing.

“You don’t have to,” Ned said. “He’s said to be one of the strongest and fiercest fighters on this continent. At least among those still living.”

“I am likewise strong and fierce. And I feel an obligation. You have no other fighter whose skills approach mine.”

The Lord of the Fallen Star nodded.

“Should I be killed,” I said, “you will care for Tansy as though she were your own sister, with no regard for her birth or her former occupation. You will defend her with your life, as I would.”

He took both of Tansy’s hands in his.

“I swear it, on whatever honor is left to me. Starfall will be your home as long as you wish.”

She nodded; I could tell she tried not to cry. Ned turned back to me.

“We’ll give Crakehall your answer,” Ned said, “but he may refuse to fight a woman.”

“Then we will tell both our fighters and his that he feared to fight a woman, and gain much of the same benefit as though he had actually been defeated.”

“You’ve done this before.”

“Not exactly,” I answered. “But this is not my first rodeo.”

 He looked blankly at me, not recognizing one of John Carter’s favorite phrases.

“It means that yes, I have done similar things.”

We sent the messenger back to his lord, naming me as the Brotherhood’s champion and noting the time, place and weapons of my choice. The messenger wrote down our response but showed personal indifference to the details; he had little interest in the quarrels of his masters. His thoughts revealed that he had been chosen for this duty because he was one of the few in their small force who could read and write. We could both drop dead and he would not care.

Ned’s thoughts turned to guilt as soon as the Brotherhood’s guards took the messenger to release him well away from the camp. He had been impressed by my quickness, but knew that many fighters who impress on the practice yard die easily on the battlefield. It is the same on Barsoom. Many thought the Mighty Pig to be the strongest warrior in Westeros, in terms of raw physical power, and Ned feared that he had led me to my death.

I had no second thoughts; I rarely do in such circumstances. One does not survive as Princess of Helium without learning how to fight. I had indeed faced enemies in single combat, many times. It is standard policy of Helium for our own commanders to challenge rebel leaders, to display the superiority of the ruling family over its rivals. Those convicted of certain crimes against the state or the person of the jeddak have the ancient right to demand trial by combat, and as the lone grandchild of Tardos Mors I was often called upon to represent my family, usually against other women. That had ended when John Carter became my consort and insisted as serving as the jeddak’s champion.

Shortly before I married John Carter, the loathsome Sab Than had taken me captive in hopes of a forced marriage and forced me to fight his former betrothed in the arena of Zodanga. I never told John Carter that I had slain the princess; I had not wished to kill anyone for the twisted pleasure of Sab Than. She had been pampered and spoiled, with little skill in the arena, and no match for me. The princess was lovely, like all royal women of Barsoom, but her life was forfeit the moment she stepped onto the arena’s sands, and she knew it. But she was determined to end my life so I put my sword through her heart as thousands cheered. I knew they would have roared even more loudly had her sword plunged into my breast instead.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four (John Carter)

I dined alone with Illyrio that evening.

“And so the game begins,” he said, quoting some dead philosopher. “You move far faster than I had anticipated.”

“And why not?” I asked. “Much as I enjoy your hospitality, there’s no reason to remain here. I’ll spare the white man, kill Drogo, and marry the princess. And then it’s off to Westeros. I feel extremely confident, as though I’ve found my destiny.”

“I believe you’ll find it slightly more complicated than that,” Illyrio said. “But I admire your energy and your confidence. And I have a gift to aid in your quest. I felt badly for you, my friend. You deserve a finer bed-warmer, but if you’ll not accept one, let me give you this instead.”

He handed across a very fine longsword in its scabbard. I unsheathed it and tested its balance; it weighed next to nothing and felt perfect in my hand. Its blade had an unusual smoky-gray pattern in its steel. I had never seen its like.

“Valyrian steel,” Illyrio said. “The secret of its making was lost long ago. That was my own sword, when I was a bravo. Its name is ‘Steel Flame’.”

His thoughts revealed the blade to be priceless, and his most prized possession.

“Illyrio, I can’t accept this.”

“You can and you will. More than any words, this should show you how deeply I believe in you, and am committed to our shared enterprise.”

“I have no words.”

“’Thank you’ should suffice.”

“Thank you,” I said, and then changed the subject before I my emotions showed. “Tell me about this knight.”

“Jorah Mormont in particular, or Westerosi knights in general?”


“The Mormonts,” Illyrio said, “come from an ice-bound island off the north-west coast of Westeros, about as far into nowhere as one can be. It’s said to breed bears and fierce fighting women. Ser Jorah won a reputation fighting for King Robert against rebels, and on the tournament circuit, and that led to his winning a soft, beautiful wife. One much unlike those of his home, Bear Island.”

“As it should be,” I said. “A man should have reward for his conquests.”

“As you say,” said Illyrio, who harbored strange ideas of women having free will in such matters. “She proved an expensive ornament, and his attempts to afford her led to his exile. He fought as a sellsword, ran into debt, and lost both his wife and his freedom. Drogo bought and freed him to act as translator and to teach him Westerosi ways of battle.”

“So he owes a great deal to Drogo.”

“He does. He’ll fight hard for his master, do not doubt this.”

“Tell me about Westerosi knights. You’ve fought them?”

“Not personally, but I’ve seen them in the arena. Fighting against Belwas, in fact. They prefer to play at war, a game they call jousting. They try to knock one another from their horses, using a lance.”

“I’m familiar with it,” I said, though I could not firmly recall where I had seen the game.

“Afoot,” Illyrio continued, “they’re often at a loss, unsure of themselves. Many wear too much armor and become slow, sometimes fatally so. Mormont has vast experience fighting in Essos and is unlikely to grant you such assistance.”

I thanked Illyrio for the gift and the advice, and went to the practice yard despite the late hour. I practiced with my new sword into the night, marveling at its razor-sharp edge and light weight. While my memories remained suspect, I knew that I held a special weapon.

I returned to my chambers very late, to find Calye nervously awaiting me.

“What . . . what happens to me, tomorrow?”

“I’ll use you before I leave,” I said. “And then you’ll remain here. You’re not to show yourself in public.”

“And if you get killed? I murdered the prince for you. Illyrio will bury me in the garden right next to him. He might . . . he might not even kill me first.”

She was right; my friend would not leave any loose ends that might cause him trouble later. But it was not my problem.

“Tomorrow is not the day I die,” I said. “If I’m wrong about that, you should probably run.”

“With a slave tattoo on my left tit?”

“Don’t show it to anyone.”

“John, I’m . . . I’m scared.”

“I’m not.”

She put her face in her hands and wept, then looked up at me, red-eyed.

“At least . . . at least just this once, let me fuck you. The way I want to. If you never come back, let me remember you, remember all this, that way.”

Even a plain-faced woman’s tears moved me, and against my better judgement I assented to her request. I lay on my back and after she played her tongue over my manhood she mounted me. When she moved my hands to her bosom I did not resist.

“Suck them,” she whispered. “You know you want to.”

And may the God I once followed forgive me, I did. I took each pink nipple into my mouth in turn as she slowly moved herself up and down until she began to shudder. I knew from her thoughts that she had felt female sexual climax; I could not recall having seen this before and found it somewhat disturbing. That did not stop me from expending my seed within her.

When she had finished she lay next to me, and after a few minutes to recover my energies I flipped her onto her back and made love to her in the more normal way of Virginia.

“John, tell me . . . tell me that you love me,” she said as I thrust into her. “Please.”

“I don’t love you.”

“Lie to me,” she whispered. “But say it, John. Please.”

“I don’t lie.”

“Just once. I’m begging. I love you. Say it back to me.”

I kissed her, as much to silence her as from passion, and felt myself grow more excited. In a moment of weakness, I gave in.

“I love you,” I whispered in her ear as I drove deeply into her. She cried, and I kissed her again. I saw no reason to pull out and finished inside her; she did not cry afterwards.

In the morning I took Calye in the proper fashion; she cried when I was done and begged me to ride away with her and forget Illyrio, Drogo and the upcoming fight. Instead I dressed in a set of what Belwas had assured me were stylish fighting leathers and a new pair of heavy knee-high boots I had been breaking in over the last several days. I rode to the Dothraki camp with Strong Belwas. Illyrio followed in his litter, accompanied by Princess Daenerys along with servants including Doreah and a small retinue of guards.

“Any final advice?” I asked Belwas as we dismounted and handed our reins to Dothraki youths.

“Watch for the hook move I showed you,” he said. “And remember that the outside is the killing edge. It only looks like a scythe.”

“I meant for this fight.”

“You know what to do,” Belwas shrugged. “Make him sweat. He can’t last long inside all that iron.”

The Dothraki had taken over an old stone amphitheater for the day’s fights. First a few young Dothraki fought prisoners while the crowd drank heavily and cheered. A young Dothraki who spoke the language of Westeros introduced himself as our guide, and led us to a large stone-walled room under the theater where I could prepare to fight the knight. No one else was present, so I stretched my muscles while Belwas drank some wine he had brought along.

I seemed to recall fighting armored knights, though on a battlefield rather than in an arena. I knew that they could move faster than one would think given the weight of their steel. The weak points would be at the joints, though were Belwas and Illyrio correct about my new sword I suspected that the Valyrian steel blade would shear through even the thickest armor. As yet I had not revealed the full extent of my speed and strength to anyone in my new homeland. I hoped that Jorah Mormont would not die today, but I would not risk my own life for this stranger’s.

Soon enough the youth returned with word that I would fight next. Belwas and I followed him down a long corridor, and he indicated a small space where Belwas could stand and shout instructions. It included a wooden seat, buckets of water and a wooden rack with several white towels neatly hung across it. A young woman stood as we approached. Of middling height, she shared the copper skin and dark hair of the Dothraki.

“This is Irri,” the youth said. “She will tend you.”

“Thank you,” I said, “but I am fine.”

“You will be glad of help when you are tired,” the woman said. “Or for the sewing of wounds. It is known.”

“It is known,” the youth repeated.

She could well be right, so I nodded as I took off my tunic and handed it to Irri. I drew my new longsword and gave the scabbard to Belwas. I decided to fight with just this one sword, given its spectacular edge, though I usually preferred a blade in each hand.

At least a dozen drums began a steady pounding, which I took to be the signal to begin the combat. The crowd rose to its feet and screamed, eager to see blood. My opponent stood in the middle of the arena, in full armor including a helmet. He carried a sword in his right hand and had a shield strapped to his left arm. I approached, then darted forward to strike at his shield, more interested in testing his reactions than in inflicting harm, at least at this stage.

Mormont was fast, and showed no clear style or pattern to his movements. His thoughts concentrated solely on my movements, properly tracking my shoulders rather than the sword. Were I a normal man, he would have been a deadly opponent. But I was not a normal man.

After trading a few flurries with the knight, I stumbled slightly. Very slightly, but I knew that an experienced fighter like Mormont would notice. He aimed a powerful down-stroke at the juncture of my neck and shoulder, but I met it with the flat of my new Valyrian blade, backed by my considerable physical strength. Mormont’s sword broke about six inches above the cross-guard.

He recovered more quickly than I had expected, bringing up his shield to cover his body and his now-useless right arm, the limb either stunned or broken by the force of my parry. As Illyrio had predicted, he carried a smooth shield without a boss, useful perhaps on horseback but not as a weapon in itself.

I kicked the shield in its center, breaking Mormont’s left arm and sending him sprawling onto his back. I flipped open his faceplate with the point of my sword. The crowd cheered wildly, eager to see blood.

“Yield,” I said. “And live.”

“Drogo will kill me.”

“I will kill Drogo,” I said. “Do you doubt it? Live and serve me instead.”

“I yield,” he said, dropping the stub of his sword. I squatted by him and pulled him first to a sitting position, and then to his feet. The crowd remained silent, and I could not blame them. It had not been an honorable fight, nor had either of us shown great skill with our blades. I had used a trick to disarm Mormont and thereby spare his life. I did not regret having done so, but I would have preferred combining that end with a more chivalrous means.

I retrieved my tunic from the young Dothraki woman, Irri, and my scabbard from Belwas. The young Dothraki who had guided us into the arena asked us to join Khal Drogo on his raised stand. We followed him, and I took a seat between Drogo and one of his so-called “blood riders,” his sworn guards and companions. Belwas sat several rows below among the Dothraki warriors and proceeded to help himself to meat and drink.

“You’re stronger than you look, John Carter,” Drogo said. “Keep up that strength. Eat. Drink. It’s the Dothraki way, to entertain an honored foe before killing him.”

“I’m now an honored foe?”

“Of course you are! My people don’t want to see me cut up some slave of the Lamb Men. I show my fitness to rule them by besting a mighty warrior.”

“So by honoring me, you honor yourself?”

“Strong and smart! I like you, John Carter. Now eat. Don’t overdo it with the wine, I want you at your best.”

A man named Qotho sat next to me, advising me on the best pieces of grilled beef and the tastiest sauces in which to dip them.

“You could have been Dothraki, John Carter,” he laughed. “I’ll be sad when you die.”

“I’m not going to die,” I said. “I’m going to be your khal.”

“Their khal, perhaps,” he laughed again, gesturing with a half-gnawed rib at the boisterous crowd. “Not mine. I’ll be dead.”

“I believed this to be single combat,” I said, puzzled.

“I’m bloodrider to Khal Drogo,” he said. “More than a brother, more than a battle companion. We ride with him, we die with him.”


“If the khal should die, we fight to avenge him before we join him in the Night Lands.”

“Just how many of you are there?”

“Only three. But it will not come to that. You will die, not Khal Drogo. I will offer a prayer for you when we burn your corpse, though. I never do that for a true enemy.”

“When I have killed you, I will do the same for you,” I said. “I would rather you live, and ride with me.”

“That’s not the way of the Dothraki,” Qotho said. “A pity you’ll have no chance to learn that.”

Soon enough, Drogo signaled that it was time to prepare. Belwas and I followed the same Dothraki youth to the dressing room, where I stretched. I had taken meat and ale in moderation, and felt ready.

When I entered the arena, Drogo already stood in the middle of the sand-covered fighting area. He held his hands aloft, one in a fist and the other holding an arakh. Once again, I gave my tunic to Irri and scabbard to Belwas.

Like me, Drogo would fight bare-chested. He was a huge man, I now saw as he strode into the area; I had only previously seen him on horseback or seated in the arena. The crowd roared its approval. He had tattoos on his chest and his upper arms, wore no armor of any sort, and fought barefoot.

I walked out to meet him, saying nothing. Equally silent, he advanced on me, and immediately attacked. He had great speed, and was a master of his unusual blade. We traded blows, and he used an unexpected move in which he sharply spun his scythe-like blade to catch and trap my own. It would have twisted my own sword out of my hands if not for my great physical strength.

I have never felt more alive than when facing a skilled opponent with sword in hand, as we dance the ballet of death. I have heard men describe their relations with women as though they feel the same sort of thrill rather than meeting a bodily need, and I have never understood. To wager your life on the strength of your sword-arm . . . creation offers no greater validation of existence.

Few men have given me a challenge like that posed by Khal Drogo. The flashing, spinning arakh was much harder to track than a straight-bladed sword, but finally I slipped my sword inside his guard and drove it away and downward. He responded quickly, but I slashed at his left, outer arm. The Valyrian steel cut off the limb, a result I did not expect, and I followed with a quick thrust into his heart.

I pulled out my sword, stepped back, and Drogo fell forward onto his face. I stood somewhat slouched, breathing hard, watching as Drogo’s three bloodriders silently walked across the sand to stand by his fallen corpse. One by one, each drew a large knife, reached for his long braid and cut it off. They threw the braids onto Drogo’s body, then drew their arakhs and spread out to face me.

Confronted by three experienced and hardened fighters, I saw no need to give them a sporting chance. I dashed to the left to face the bloodrider there, and met his strike with all of my strength, spinning him around and knocking his weapon free from his broken wrists. I stabbed him through the spine and turned quickly to face the other two; it bothered me slightly to stab a man in the back, but neither was it honorable for three of them to attack me at once.

Qotho charged with his arakh, planning to distract me so his comrade could hook my left side. I parried Qotho, turned inside his reach, and gave his friend a deep cut across his belly. The Valyrian steel cut so easily through his flesh that I felt no resistance; I only saw the spray of blood and heard his grunt of pain.

Once again, I entered the dance of death with a prime opponent. Qotho planned to die regardless of our duel’s outcome, and this gave him a certain confidence that I could not shake. A man who truly does not fear for his own life makes for a fearsome opponent, and I came very close to my own death. But eventually the point of my sword found the center of his chest, and my blade entered his valiant heart.

It saddened me to have killed such a fine warrior, a man I would have wished to ride alongside me instead of lie dead in front of me. But I could not dishonor his vows by sparing him, and I raised my blade slowly in front of my face as I stood over his corpse, a gesture of respect understood by the crowd. I would miss Qotho.

The assembled Dothraki stared in silence; at least they didn’t rush onto the sands to rip me apart. I scanned for Illyrio’s thoughts; he was shocked at my victory, having hoped for it but expected to see my death. He recognized my confusion and hoped I would realize that I must mount Drogo’s viewing stand and take the dead khal’s place physically as well as symbolically.

I scanned the crowd as well. I knew that my next actions would determine my future. They also expected me to claim Drogo’s place, and yet respect the fallen khal. And so I did, raising my sword in one hand and a fist in the other.

“Brothers!” I shouted. “For three days we feast in memory of Drogo, who now walks the Night Lands with his blood riders. And then you ride with me, to glory and plunder!”

Some looked away, but most shouted back. A large portion of these men appeared willing to follow me, at least long enough to take my measure. Should I fall short, they would doubtlessly kill me.

Drummers and dancers took to the sands while a crew of slaves removed the bodies of Drogo and his bloodriders. Fighting would resume when the arena had been readied.

I took the place reserved for the khal. None dared sit near me, but I spotted Jorah Mormont standing uneasily on the fringes of the crowd watching me. Both of his arms had been bandaged and put in slings. No doubt he had other injuries hidden underneath his long blue robes. I remained seated on a pile of cushions, much as those Illyrio preferred, and beckoned the knight to approach. He clumsily made to prostrate himself.

“No, Sir Jorah, you fought honorably. Seat yourself, have some wine.”

“It’s ‘Ser’ Jorah.”

“As you will. Drogo called you his Andal. You served him?”

“I did. Mostly as translator and advisor.”

“You fight well for a translator.”

“Once I was a knight. Then a sellsword, when things went poorly. Then the servant of a Dothraki khal, when things went poorer still.”

I knew all of this from Illyrio, but nodded politely.

“A woman was involved?” I likewise knew this from Illyrio’s description, and Mormont’s rueful thoughts.

“Aren’t they always?”

I nodded, and laughed. In his thoughts, she was beautiful, golden-blonde with a full bosom and long legs. And a voice like a screeching crow. It seemed familiar.

“As you may have heard,” I said, “I lost some of my memories in the desert. But something tells me that I’ve lived that story as well. Sit here by me, translate and advise.”

Dothraki girls began to circulate bearing roasted meats and wine. I gestured them to us, while Strong Belwas took a place on my left.

“Who can I trust?” I asked Jorah.

“No one, but you knew that. Drogo’s leading lieutenants, what they call kos, were Pono and Jhaqo. That’s Pono right at the edge of the dais, trying to watch you without being obvious. I don’t see Jhaqo.”

“They’ll follow an outlander?”

“They’ll follow strength.”

I stood.

“Ko Pono!” I called out. “Come join me.”

He approached confidently; I held out my hand and grasped his offered forearm. Belwas moved aside to make room for Mormont and Pono took the place of honor on my right. His thoughts showed him uneasy with me, seeking a sign that I was worthy of his fealty and fearing that I planned his death.

“We honor Khal Drogo,” I told him. “For the traditional three days, followed by my marriage. And ride immediately after.”

He nodded, surprised and pleased that I spoke his tongue, though I apparently did so with an accent.

“To what purpose?”

“It’s time the Dothraki ceased killing one another. We unite the khalasars. Those who fail to join us, die.”

“We stop the killing with more killing?”

“If need be. Do you disagree?”

I knew that he did not, else I would not have asked. It would also fulfill a prophecy, something about which I needed to learn more.

“No, it’s long been needed. And then?”

“We bring the lamb men,” their term for all settled peoples, “under our rule as well. Too long they’ve denied the finest pastures to Dothraki herds.”

“We crush them?”

“No. We need the food, the weapons they produce. We assure that the Dothraki have the lands that we need, no more. We are not lamb men. The lamb men take more than they need, out of greed.”

“There will be battle?”

“And glory.”

“You’re not Dothraki.”

“I am now. I am your khal. Are you my ko?”

“You do not wish a different ko?”

“Ko Pono,” I said, looking him directly in the eye in the Dothraki fashion, “You will find me a simple man in most ways. I seek victory in all things. To reach that victory, I need the best men I can find at my side. Are you not the best man I could find?”

“I am.”

He rose, as did I. He unslung his arakh; knowing what he intended, I did not flinch. He held it out to me.

“I am your ko. I ride with you.”

I took the weapon, spun it as he expected, and handed it back.

“And I am your khal. I ride with you.”

Pono relaxed and we enjoyed our food and drink. We compared the arakh to the longsword, a discussion I would have many times in the years to come. Soon enough Jhaqo appeared, standing nervously before the dais, unsure himself whether he wished to fight me or join me. I rose when I saw him.

“Ko Jhaqo!” I called out loudly. “Come join me. Soon we ride. I would speak with you of this.”

He hesitated, then climbed onto the dais.

“Do I need to kill you?” I asked softly so that no others would hear. “Or are you my ko?”

“Drogo was my khal,” he said, equally softly. “And I his ko.”

“This is a new day,” I said. “Ride with me as my brother, with no bitterness between us.”

He nodded, and unslung his blade. Having seen Pono accepted as my lieutenant, he did not wish to be eclipsed by his rival.

“I am your ko,” he said loudly. “I ride with you.”

“I am your khal,” I said, passing the weapon back to him. “I ride with you.”

Jhaqo settled on my left, and I spoke with both of my senior lieutenants as we ate and drank. I gave each choice portions of meat from my own plate, an ancient tradition signaling a khal’s favor that Jorah whispered to me in his own, very familiar tongue.

“What is the difference,” I asked Jhaqo, “between bloodrider and ko?”

“Under some khals, none at all,” he said. “Our khalasar grew too large, and our khal needed kos who could lead in battle far out of his sight. A bloodrider should be at the side of his khal during battle.”

“You are skilled in leading men, as well as with your own weapons?” 

“So Drogo believed,” Jhaqo said. “So Jhaqo proved.”

We turned to talk of horse-breeding, another favorite topic of mine and one in which Jhaqo was well-versed.

I ate and drank with my kos for what seemed like hours, as Pono and Jhaqo introduced lesser lieutenants, who also swore their loyalty. I had expected that I would have to fight at least some of them, but all of them swore. In their thoughts they did not yet give me their full loyalty, but they at least seemed willing to allow me to prove myself as khal.

After all of the fights had concluded, Illyrio approached with Princess Daenerys on his arm. She made to kneel before me, but I stood, took her hand and raised her to her feet.

“I’m promised to you,” she said in a surprisingly strong voice, the first time I had heard her speak. “I would show you my loyalty.”

“It is for me to earn that loyalty,” I said, taking my own knee but keeping her small hand in my fingers. “And to ask your hand in marriage, not demand it.”

“I will marry you,” she said, reciting what Illyrio had instructed. “I shall be your khaleesi.”

I stood and kissed her delicate hand, as happy as I could ever recall.

“And I shall be your khal,” I said. “You are my princess, and I your chieftain.”

I resumed my place after Daenerys had departed for Illyrio’s mansion, where she would remain until our wedding.

“Once you are wed,” Pono said, “the khalasar must ride for Vaes Dothrak, to present your new khaleesi to the dosh khaleen.”

“It is known,” Jhaqo agreed. “A new khaleesi must meet the old, and gain their approval.”

“How far?” I asked. “To Vaes Dothrak.”

“One hundred days,” Pono said, and looked at Jhaqo, who nodded. “Without stopping for battle.”

“The herds will have grazing?” I asked, picking up the unease in his thoughts.

“It’s springtime,” Jhaqo said. “Grass will sprout in a turn of the moon.”

“Your counsel,” I clarified, “is to wait 30 days before heading east? Will there be trouble with the dosh khaleen?”

“They understand the need to feed the herds,” Jhaqo said. “Yes, that is my counsel.”

I turned to Pono. “You agree?”

“I agree.”

I drank some wine, pondering what to do before we rode east to meet the dosh khaleen, the widows of fallen khals who held great sway among the superstitious Dothraki.

“Giving us 30 days to fight here in the West.”

“If that is your wish,” Pono said. Both of my new generals were surprised, and pleased, by my aggressive stance.

“We will discuss this after Drogo has burned,” I said. “When it is seemly. You will give more counsel then, but rest assured, we ride to battle and glory.”

Both men nodded gravely.

Eventually I retired to the sumptuous tent formerly belonging to Drogo. Mormont, Belwas and the girl Irri accompanied me.

“Enough wine,” I told Irri. “Some clean water.”

She nodded and left, and I turned to my advisor.

“Ser Jorah,” I said. “Why did I not face still more single combat, once Drogo and his blood riders were dead? The kos made their peace far too easily, it seems, agreeing to follow an outlander they should have killed.”

“It’s their prophecy,” the knight said. “The Stallion Who Mounts the World. A great khal who will unite the khalasars and bring all of the world under his rule.”

“And a foreigner who staggered out of the desert fulfills this prophecy?”

“No,” he said. “Drogo’s successor does, as foretold by one of their seers, the old women who live in their holy city of Vaes Dothrak. What they call the dosh khaleen. They thought it would be his son. You killed Drogo first, before he could sire one. When you told Pono of your desire to unite the khalasars, you put yourself on the Stallion’s path.”

“And they believe me to be this Stallion?”

He shrugged. “Who’s to say that you’re not?”

I made to dismiss him with a laugh, but stopped myself. I had appeared without a past, seemingly in a totally foreign land, with no clothing, no weapons – only my name, my most prized possession, and my skill with a sword. Had I been brought here through prophecy? My mind seemed to tell me that I had seen far stranger things made truth.

“So they’re not going to swarm this tent in a few minutes,” I asked instead, “and hack us all to death with their arakhs?”

“That’s not their way,” Mormont said. “They’ll kill you face-to-face, if that’s their wish. But they won’t. You’re their savior.”

“You’re guessing this,” I asked, “or you know this?”

“A little of both,” he admitted. “But I heard the whispers in the arena. They awaited this marriage with the princess, thinking she would be mother to their Stallion, as the old crones said he would be born of a silver mare. They assume your mother to have been fair-skinned, given your own shade.”

“I can’t remember my mother,” I said, a thought that troubled me. “But it would seem fairly certain that she was.”

I had grown tired, from the wine and the fighting as the surge of excitement faded. Along with the tent I also inherited a string of slaves both male and female, some younger warriors in training, and a great many fine horses. I posted the warriors around my tent, as Drogo would have done, after singling out two who harbored murderous thoughts and attaching them to the young men charged with tending my new herd. At a more convenient time, I decided, I would provoke them into challenging me and kill them. I did not yet feel secure enough to execute them outright.

“What did you do,” I asked the girl Irri, “before you served me in the arena?”

“I taught children to ride,” she said.

“You are Dothraki, yet a slave?”

“I was captured as a child, from a different khalasar.”

She seemed as trustworthy as any of the Dothraki. She knew of the prophecy.

“You believe me the Stallion?” I asked.

“You are my khal,” she said. “And the Stallion Who Mounts the World.”

“When I have married the khaleesi,” I said, “you shall serve her, and teach her to ride. You can fight?”

“I am Dothraki,” she said, pulling back her tunic to show the hilt of a knife.

“You can read?”

“No, my khal.”

“Few of them can,” Mormont interjected. “But they do have a written language.”

“Very good,” I said. “I will require one more woman to serve the khaleesi, also Dothraki, to teach her the language including its writing. Do you know such a woman?”

“My friend Jhiqui can do so.”

“She can fight?”

“She is Dothraki.”

The idea of women fighting still troubled me, but I now lived among a wild people and would bring a delicate princess to live with them as well. I could take no chances with her safety, and if that meant allowing women to serve as her final line of defense, then I could learn to tolerate the offense against propriety.

“Then have her join you here tomorrow.”

“We are to be your women?”

“That will not be required of you. I have another, and perhaps one more. They are not Dothraki. You will say nothing of this to the khaleesi, or you will be killed.”

“That is the way of a khal,” she said. “It is known.”

I dismissed Mormont and Irri, telling them to sleep in some of the many compartments that made up the khal’s tent. Belwas had delivered Calye to my new tent, and he kept watch alongside my new Dothraki guards all night. The tent had multiple chambers divided by tapestries; inside that reserved for the khal’s sleep Calye greeted me with an excited kiss.

“John. You’re . . . you’re alive. I was sure I’d never see you again.”

“Did anyone see you enter?”

“I dressed as a Dothraki servant.”

I felt an enormous need for release, as hazy memories told me I always did after killing a man. For a barbarian of supposedly simple ways, Drogo had a tent filled with cushions, silks and tapestries. According to Mormont he also owned a mansion in Pentos nearly as opulent as that of Illyrio. I resolved to simplify things, but first satisfied myself with Calye amid Drogo’s pillows. She did not cry when I had finished with her.

My telepathy warns me of threats while I sleep, but it did not awaken me that night. I had expected to fend off at least one assassin, but none skulked about. I awoke early, as is my habit, and took Calye again. Afterwards she rose and dressed as a Dothraki warrior rather than servant, with billowing trousers and leather vest.

“It’s the . . . the first day of our new lives,” she said. “Don’t worry about me.”

“I wasn’t planning to.”

Irri had awakened and obtained coffee and some hard bread. I indicated Calye.

“This is my bed servant,” I said. “She is a slave like yourself, and you will not take orders from her. Can you find some means to color her hair black?”

My bedwarmer’s electric-red hair stood out like a beacon among the Dothraki. She would need to blend in better, for her own safety and my own privacy.

“You … you told her to serve me?” Calye asked. Not understanding the Dothraki language, she was touched by what she mistakenly took as my solicitousness.

“No,” I said. “I told her that you are my slave, as is she, and in no way her superior. She will help you color your hair black.”

“So I’ll . . . I’ll look like a light-skinned Dothraki?”

“You’ll look like a dead Dothraki,” I said, taking in her strangely pale skin. “But it’s better than becoming a dead whore of Lys.”

She sniffled, believing that I had shown care for her.

“I love you, too,” she whispered. “Wherever you lead, I will follow.”

Feeling generous in the wake of my victories, I said nothing and allowed her the delusion.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight (Dejah Thoris)

On the next morning we rode out to the meeting place, an open field that Ned and Gendry knew well. When we camped in the woods that night Tansy held me tightly under our sleeping fur, but did not voice any more objections. I knew she was frightened, both for me and for her fate should things go wrong, but she had grown much calmer. I suspected that either Gendry or Ned had told her that I needed to feel confident when fighting the Mighty Pig.

As the sun rose on the next day, we approached what Ned called without irony “the field of honor” by way of a narrow trail through heavy forest, and I halted my friends before we came into view of anyone already on the field. I pretended to fuss with the lacings on my boots, but actually wanted a moment to scan the nearby forest with my telepathyAfter hearing about the Lannister and his allies I did not trust this Mighty Pig not to lay an ambush for us, but I only detected four people. Satisfied, I indicated that we could ride on.

We entered the field under the terms laid down by the Lord of the Fallen Star at my direction. My opponent rode forward accompanied by three men and dismounted. I did the same, followed by Ned, Tansy and Gendry.

My friends had explained that such combat usually begins on horseback. As I had been challenged, I had the right to set the terms and I preferred to fight on foot with swords since pistols were not an option. Gendry would serve as my “squire,” and he explained that a young warrior-in-training accompanies a knight to help adjust the armor, supply replacement weapons, tend to the war horse and so on. I had need of little of this, but it pleased him to continue the tradition. The Lord of the Fallen Star would take the role of “herald,” while Tansy would tend to any wounds I suffered. It all followed long-accepted practice and I accepted it as I did not wish to cause my friends distress.

Under a rather unattractive violet-colored cloak Ned had lent me I wore the leather fighting harness and skirt that the leather-working woman had made, with my sword slung over my back and a dagger at each hip. Gendry had made a set of armored gauntlets that covered my forearms, and crafted a bronze image of Barsoom to decorate each; I had told him, truthfully, that the red orb was the symbol of my house. That was the only protection I wore.

I also had a new set of leather riding leggings, very soft and comfortable, and fine deer-skin leather boots as well, laced up to just below my knees. Tansy had pulled my long black hair into what she called a “ponytail” to keep it out of my eyes and tied it with a bright blue ribbon, but otherwise I wore no headgear. I was very pleased with my look, a princess both dangerous and beautiful. I shrugged off the cloak and handed it to Gendry.

Tansy placed her hand alongside my face. “I finally found a sister. Don’t take her away.”

I kissed the palm of her hand.

“Do not worry,” I said. “I will be fine.”

Tansy looked at Gendry. He shrugged his broad shoulders.

“I’m not worried.”

“Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, accepts the challenge of Ser Lyle Crakehall,” the Lord of the Fallen Star announced in a voice surprisingly powerful for his slender build. “Combat shall take place on foot, with swords and daggers the weapons of choice. It shall continue until one combatant yields or is dead. Is this agreed?”

“Is this some sort of jest?” asked one of the men opposing us. “We agreed to extend you rabble the same courtesy as true-born nobles, and this is your response?”

“Silence,” snapped the Mighty Pig, a broad-shouldered and dark-haired man of indeterminate age. He was very large, considerably taller than I and of at least twice my weight, possibly much more. “With the Black Fish gone they can choose whomever they please. If she fights as good as she looks this will be a fine morning.”

While his friends resented my presence, my opponent took me seriously and studied me closely, noting that I seemed relaxed. He suspected that I must be some sort of assassin or pit fighter from a far-away land hired by the Brotherhood. He was wrong, but it was not a bad guess. I continued to be surprised at the similarities between this planet’s Eastern Continent and Barsoom, where many cities likewise allowed pit fighting.

While Crakehall studied me, I did the same. Much like John Carter, he saw combat as a sport; he fought to gain reputation and to burnish his honor. I fought to kill people, while not being killed myself. John Carter had disdained my attitude, in what I now saw as one of the first of the many differences that would sunder our marriage. I had little care for exquisite swordplay or graceful moves; when I wished to show grace, I danced. When I wished to fight, I used every weapon and means at my disposal including my fists, teeth and feet. John Carter had dismissed me as a mere “brawler,” but my attitude had kept me alive while my enemies had died on my sword.

On this day, Lyle Crakehall would join them.

The Mighty Pig gestured to one of the men to hand him his helmet. Pulling it over his head, he ordered his attendants to back away. My friends did so as well.

“Whenever you’re ready, my lovely.”

I drew my sword over my shoulder, reaching back with my left hand to pull the scabbard downward – video heroes always pull one-handed over their shoulder, but it takes both in the real world else the blade will become stuck halfway out. The Mighty Pig started in surprise.

“Oath Keeper,” he said. “That’s Lannister’s family sword.”

“No longer,” I answered, assuming a standard fighting stance.

“A water dancer with big tits and a Valyrian steel blade. You don’t see that combination every day.”

He carried a long and wide sword in his right hand and a large shield on his left arm. I knew that type of sword from John Carter’s book – a “great sword” – and knew that it was meant for piercing or hacking through armor. My opponent’s thoughts showed that he recognized the fighting style of Helium as very similar to one from some city on this planet. I would have much less of an advantage than I had hoped.

I tested his guard with a quick strike, which he parried easily. He was fast, but he already knew that he was in trouble. I struck at him several more times, each blow coming quicker than the last. He tried to strike me with his shield but I leaned into it, only allowing him to push me harmlessly away. I flew several feet backwards, but landed in a crouch on the balls of my feet. I snarled and slowly dragged the fingers of my left hand along the ground, the ritual challenge of a fighting woman of Helium.

Crakehall had never seen such, and it unsettled him even more than the failure of his shield strike, apparently a favorite move of his to exploit his great strength. I twirled the sword and circled for another round of strikes.

“Hold!” the Mighty Pig called, extending his sword and shield to either side of his body. The Lord of the Fallen Star’s thoughts indicated some surprise that my opponent asked for a pause so early in the fight, but it apparently was within his rights. Reluctantly, I backed away.

Tansy gave me some small fruits candied in a sweet, sticky substance and a drink of water. Gendry looked briefly at my sword and nodded; it had not a mark on it. The Mighty Pig pulled off his helmet and stacked his shield on top of it, and proceeded to remove pieces of armor from his legs and his upper arms with the help of two of his friends, both of them apparently squires. He drank a great deal of water; he was already sweating profusely. We do not sweat on Barsoom.

“You're too fast for an armored knight,” he said. “And that blade would cut through steel anyway were you strong enough to put real force behind it.”

“You’re not here to flirt,” said his third friend, who stood with his arms folded and glared at me. “Hurry up and kill the bitch. We have meat and wine awaiting us.”

“This is why I fight and you talk,” the Mighty Pig replied. “I don’t know where in the seven hells they found her, but she’s a professional. She might be faster than Lannister was before the amputation. So shut your mouth and watch a real fight.”

“All I see is the vaunted Ser Lyle Crakehall scared to fight a half-naked foreign bitch.”

The Mighty Pig struck him across the face with the back of his hand and then walked out to face me again without looking back. I did not like his dark-haired friend; his narrow face and pointed nose with dark whiskers under it reminded me of an ulsio, the vermin who live in tunnels under our cities. But I kept my attention focused on my opponent.

“How did you come by Jaime Lannister’s sword?”

“He left it stuck through the heart of a large woman warrior.”

“So he killed the big ugly bitch?”

“Do not call her that. Her name was Brienne. She was foolish in love but she had honor in battle.”

Actually, she was fairly foolish in battle as well, willing the Lannister to slay her, but I did not tell this part to the Mighty Pig.

“As you will, my lady. That was ill-said on my part. And where is Lannister?”

“I do not know. He rode away before I thought to kill him.”

“He never was very good with the ladies. So you stole his sword?”

“He is welcome to try to take it back from me.”

“That would be my task today. Shall we resume?”

This time I held my sword at guard and waited for him to strike, wanting to test his speed without the cumbersome armor and shield. He now fought two-handed, and his thoughts revealed that he hoped to use his longer reach to his advantage. It felt somewhat dishonorable to read his mind during the fight when he could not do the same, yet I had no wish to die this day. And without my enhanced speed and strength as well as my telepathy, he would surely cut me in half with that monstrous sword.

Monitoring the thoughts of an experienced, instinctual fighter like the Mighty Pig only provided a slight advantage. I knew his strategy for the fight, and received some early warning of moves he planned. But most of his sword-work came without thinking, in the way of a true master. I had to rely on my own instincts, honed in hundreds of battles and tens of thousands of practice sessions over a lifespan many times the length of his.

He was tremendously strong; I could not have fought off even a single strike without my own new strength. I lacked his mass, and would have been hard-pressed to defend myself had he chosen to use that advantage rather than rely on his blade speed. But he considered himself a master swordsman, and against another opponent his choice to depend on that skill would probably have been correct.

Our swords clashed for some time before I saw an opening. I darted forward and smashed my sword’s cross-guard into his face. Stunned, he backed up. I chopped down on his blade as hard as I could, given the short radius, and knocked it free from his hands. The blow probably broke both of his wrists. I kicked him in his side, sending him sprawling onto his back with multiple broken ribs.

“That’s not part of the water dance,” he gasped. Blood streamed from his nose, now a broken match for that of his lord and that of his ulsio-faced friend.

I stood over him, slowly twirling my sword. The fight was to the death. But I had already won. I hesitated to take his life.

“Tell my father I died well,” he called to his friends. He looked up at me. “Do it quickly,” he said in a whisper. And do it bare-breasted, he added silently.

A few moments from death and these were his thoughts. I still do not know why, but this amused me and I paused long enough to realize that I did not want my new-found sister to see me kill a helpless man.

“You fought well, Mighty Pig. Go back to your lord and leave this place.”

I stuck my foot under his sword and flipped it up into my hand. It had an ornate basket guard and was decorated with many jewels. My friends had approached and I tossed the Mighty Pig’s huge blade to Gendry, who plucked it out of the air and studied it with fascination.

“I will keep this to remember you. I will leave you your life to remember me. Now go.”

I leapt onto my mare's back straight from the ground, while the Mighty Pig’s friend began to shout insults at me, declaring me a whore just like Tansy. I turned back and pointed my sword directly at his vermin-like face. His nose twitched. It still bled from the Mighty Pig’s blow.

“I take no joy in killing an honorable foe. You, I will enjoy killing. You should leave while you are able.”

We rode away, Gendry and the Lord of the Fallen Star in front, and Tansy and I behind. She reached over to take my hand and squeeze it. 

“I’m glad you weren’t hurt.”

“Thank you,” I said. Slowly, I was learning the courtesies of this place.

“You know, you really can’t keep taking people’s swords,” Gendry leaned back in his saddle to call to me. “It’s not considered polite.”

“I should have searched him for money.”

“That’s even worse. It’s just not done among the high-born.”

“In our lands, when you kill an enemy in single combat, you take his or her possessions including any servants. In some lands nearby you even take his or her name.”

“I have a hard time imagining you as a pig.”

“Thank you, Gendry.”

“The people will want to celebrate this victory,” said the Lord of the Fallen Star. “This will help bring the Brotherhood back together.”

“No,” I answered.


“The Lannister’s men know we are within but one or two days’ ride of here. The ugly man with the pointed nose may be stupid, but the Mighty Pig is not. They will have scouts searching for us. We need to be searching for those scouts and killing them as far from our caves as possible.”

“Thoros said we could hide in the caves,” Ned said.

“Thoros is a fool, caring only for his wine and his god, in that order. You think you can hide the smoke, the trees cut for firewood, the pig yard, the tracks of horses? And the pits filled with . . .”

“Shit?” Tansy supplied.

“Yes, shit. The caves are fine shelter, but they will not hide you from anyone on the ground.”

They would hide them from air scouts, but I had seen no evidence that these people had any form of flight.

“You’re right,” Ned agreed. “I’ll organize search teams and put everyone on alert.”

“Only a small number of search teams. Keep most of your fighters close by. We have had many people leave the camp. I have heard their words.”

Actually, I had read their thoughts, but I still did not want to share knowledge of my ability with my friends.

“They were angry that I killed the Stone Heart, or that I killed the rapists or their friends. Some are even angrier that I wore no clothes and still show too much flesh for their liking. Others think I have sex with Tansy and call us an abomination, or resent my protection of my sister. Soon some of them will be captured and forced to tell our location, or will do so willingly. Either way I have brought you your doom.”

“Our doom came long ago. You freed us from Lady Stone Heart, and you fought for us. I’m glad to know you.”

“And I you.”

I slept well that night, with Tansy curled beside me under our sleeping fur. The next morning as we rode out on the last segment of our journey back to the caves, I told the Lord of the Fallen Star that I would join the scouting expeditions. I wanted to see more of this place. Tansy said she would ride with me.

Many relationships among these people are different than those of Barsoom, some very different, but sisterhood is one that I understood. Thuvia has been my sister for many decades, though we come from different families. I found the same bond growing with Tansy despite her lack of telepathy.

“I’m sorry I was so upset before,” Tansy said as we set out on our scouting mission, just the two of us. “I should have trusted your instincts. You know how to fight.”

“I was bred and trained for it, among other things,” I said. “But that does not mean it is not dangerous. He was a very good fighter and could have killed me.”

“I’ve never seen anyone move so fast as you did in that fight.”

“Have you seen such battles before?”

“Not a formal fight between knights or whatever that was yesterday. There was a battle during Robert’s Rebellion in the town where my mother had her brothel; King Robert hid in the brothel when the fighting started and ran out the front door to join in when his friends arrived. I saw some men killed, but it happened very quickly. That was when I first met the king, but I wasn’t working yet. I just brought him wine.”

“Tansy,” I said, trying to sound very serious. “You have now seen that I am a very experienced fighter. I promise you that I will never take a foolish risk with my life unless you or I are in great danger.”

“You would risk your life for me?”

“Of course I would,” I said, surprised at the question. “You are my sister.”

“No one has ever felt that way about me. Not even my mother. Everything anyone ever did for me had a price attached to it.”

“That was the past.”

We rode for some time, seeing no one. Eventually a lone rider nosed his horse out of the trees and blocked the path ahead of us. He wore a coat of armored rings and had a shield strapped to his back. He pointed his sword at us and started to say something; his thoughts said he would demand our money and horses and then rape us.

I did not let him finish. I pulled out one of the daggers from my harness and threw it; it lodged deeply in his throat. He dropped the sword and made some retching sounds. We rode past and left him slumped in the saddle. I pulled my dagger out of his throat as we passed and began to clean it with a rag I kept tucked in the back of my skirt.

“You’re not going to take his sword?”

“It is not a very good sword. And you can see that he has not eaten in days. That means that he has no money.”

I knew he had no money because that lack had been in his thoughts.

“What about his horse?”

“You are right.”

I rode back to where he continued to bleed and drew the large working knife that I usually kept strapped to my thigh to cut the straps holding his saddle in place. He fell onto the ground, saddle and all. I removed the fittings – the bridle – from the horse’s head and the bit from its mouth. I told it telepathically to go where it would. I saw his sword on the ground, and decided it should not remain there for any new bandit to take up. I dismounted, picked up the sword and drove it deeply into a thick tree.

Then we rode on, turning onto a narrow path that ran through the woods. My mare believed this path would loop around a hill and lead us back to the road to begin our return journey. Horses know directions very well. Shortly afterwards I detected thoughts ahead. I slipped off my horse and motioned to Tansy to follow. I wished to move silently, but kept stepping on small pieces of wood that broke with popping noises that seemed as loud as gunshots. If this planet had gunshots. Still the people ahead gave no sign of noticing me; they were intently focused on something I could not identify.

Coming closer, I saw why they had not reacted. A young man lay on top of a young woman, his hands on the ground on either side of her shoulders while he thrust his reproductive organ into her matching orifice. He grunted each time. She lay back with her knees raised and did not speak or move. Their clothing was strewn about the small clearing and both were naked.

I had telepathically spied on the sex act, but had not observed it myself. It looked awkward, and while I understood that this was what John Carter had desired to do with me, or more correctly to me, I could not see its attraction, particularly for the woman. The woman’s lack of participation implied that she had been forced to receive his sex organ, but rather than the pain and humiliation suffered by Jeyne and Willow her thoughts sleepily considered whether she should wash her underclothing when they returned to their camp and imagined the Lannister thrusting into her instead of this youth. I was not sure what to make of this, but decided that I needed to respond.

I drew my sword and walked up behind the man, prepared to kill this rapist in the act. Tansy placed her hand gently on my sword arm and said, “Wait.” Instead I placed my sword on the man’s shoulder so that he could see its point. He stopped thrusting. I turned to Tansy.

“Is this not rape?”

“No,” she said, “this appears to be willing sex.”

“But she is not enjoying herself.”

“That’s because he’s not very good at it.”

The young man started to stammer.

“Ser . . . Ser Jaime?”

“No,” I said.

“But you have his sword.”

“Wait,” Tansy said again. “I know these two. This is Peck, Jaime Lannister’s squire. And he’s fucking Pretty Pia out here in the woods. She grew up in the same castle I did. What in the seven hells happened to your teeth, girl?”

She shook her head, too terrified to speak. She was pretty, with yellow hair drawn into braids on either side of her head, though her body was fleshier than what we of Barsoom consider beautiful, with large, pale breasts with unusually large, brown areolas. She covered her mouth with her hand, but I had a glimpse of shattered teeth behind her fingers.

“Where is the Lannister?” I demanded sharply.

“I . . .  I don’t know,” the youth said. Like the girl, his skin was very pale, especially his exposed ass which looked ridiculous. I could not see his face. “He rode off weeks ago with the big ugly bitch and hasn’t been seen since.”

That word again. He yelped as I accidentally cut him on the shoulder. It truly was an accident. At least I think it was.

“So, you figured you could get in a quick fuck while your master was gone?” Tansy asked. His thoughts confirmed that this was exactly what he had planned.

“Ser Jaime didn’t care what we did,” Peck said. “Black Walder won’t let us share a tent in camp.”

“What of the Mighty Pig?” I asked.

“Strong Boar Crakehall,” Tansy clarified.

“They brought him into camp this morning,” the squire said. “Strong Boar fought a strange foreign woman who busted him up badly. He said she was a great fighter. Black Walder said the Strong Boar was simply weak.”

“So why,” I asked, “did Black Walder not fight this heroic woman?”

“He said she ran away rather than face him.”

“And you believed him?”

“He’s afraid of her,” Peck said. “That’s obvious. But anyone should be afraid of someone who can do that to Strong Boar. Can I pull out now?”

“No,” I said. “This Black Walder leads you now?”


He pictured the man who had insulted us after the single combat with the Mighty Pig.

“A man with black hair and a pointed face like a small ugly animal?”

“A weasel,” Tansy supplied.


“And he sent you,” I asked, “to find this most powerful woman warrior?”

“No. He wants to head back to River Run as soon as the Strong Boar can be moved.”

“It’s the name of the great castle in this region,” Tansy added. “The home of Hoster Tully.”

So, the weasel-man’s name was Black Walder. I should have killed him after the fight with the Mighty Pig. I would correct that error if I encountered him again, if only for slandering me. Yet we benefitted greatly from his stupidity; he had no scouts looking for our camp. Perhaps, I thought instead, I should leave him alive so he could continue his blundering.

“Where,” I asked, “is the rest of the Lannister’s army?”

“I can’t tell you that.” He thought of their camp, but I could not tell where it might be.

“Don’t make her angry,” Tansy said.

“Please,” the girl, Pia, whispered, keeping her teeth hidden behind her fingers. Her hands were red and worn, in contrast with the rest of her soft, pale body. “Tell her what she wants to know.”

“They were camped between the tits when Ser Jaime left and they stayed there.”

“Do not make breast jokes,” I said. “They make me angry.”

“It’s a pair of hills well north of here that horny men call The Tits,” Tansy explained. “Near a small town called Pennytree.”


“Wishing to have sex,” Tansy said. “That is, even more than they do all the time. So anything sort of round looks like a breast to them.”

“Does the Lannister,” I asked, “have any other soldiers nearby?”

“The Holy Hundred is at Harrenhal.”

“It’s a gigantic castle maybe a few days from here,” Tansy again explained, “mostly ruined. I was raised there; so was Pia. But even mostly ruined leaves a lot of usable castle.”

“Who are these Holy Hundred?”

“That, I don’t know,” Tansy said. “Squeal, squire.”

“There are only eighty-six of them now,” he said. “They’ve taken vows to fight the enemies of the Faith, but the Faith doesn’t seem to want them. They pray a lot and practice their fancy drills on horseback. We don’t know if they can actually fight.”

He had a great deal of contempt for these holy warriors, apparently learned from his master.

“They are the only soldiers at this Harrenal?”

“Yes,” he said. “We took the old garrison of rapists and robbers away with us.”

“Don’t move,” I told him. They had but one horse; I removed its saddle and bridle, and told it to leave. It trotted off through the woods and was soon out of sight. The young man had a very fine sword; I of course kept it. I also took his coins and his clothing, and I kept his exceptional saddle and bridle.

“You can’t leave us like this,” he said.

“I think we just did,” I said. “You may continue fucking.”

We waited until they could not hear us before we started laughing. We could be sure that these two would not admit that they had seen us in the forest.

“I like you, Dejah Thoris,” Tansy said. “Where did you get that attitude?”

“I was shy and retiring before I met you.”

“Can you read my thoughts as well as theirs?”

I stopped walking and put down the saddle. I had not thought that she knew.

“How did you know?”

“You knew who had raped Jeyne and Willow before anyone answered,” she said. “You know the ideas behind names and other words but can’t get them exactly right, like calling Strong Boar the Mighty Pig. Even Ned knew that something odd had happened. Just now you accepted that the Holy Hundred were the only other soldiers nearby, when we expected to hear about other patrols. You can be scatterbrained but you don’t make that sort of mistake when it comes to things that involve fighting.”

“I allowed you to figure out my secret.”

“I share your bed and your meals,” she said. “And I have a curious nature. I’ve a great deal of experience in seeing through others, and that includes noticing when they change the subject. Can you read my thoughts?”

“You hide them well.”

“I was a whore for a long time,” she said. “It’s an acquired skill. But you really can read theirs?”

“Yes, I can read the thoughts of most people here. Do not tell them.”

“Of course not. We’re sisters. Sisters keep each others’ secrets. You can’t read mine at all?”

“Enough to help me understand your speech,” I said, “the concepts the involuntary part of your mind wants me to understand. I could probably discern more with some effort, but you would likely feel the intrusion. It might be painful, and I would never harm you.”

We saw no one else before we met the first sentries outside the cave complex. 

On the next morning, at least a dozen men and three women asked if I would teach them to fight. Slowly, I was gaining acceptance. I figured I only had to kill about twenty more of their enemies before all of them tolerated my presence.

I know myself prone to what the psychologists of Barsoom call “inner considering,” placing overweening importance on how others think of us and then wallowing in regrets and second thoughts over how one might have handled a situation differently. As a princess, I had automatically had the acceptance of others. They had no choice in the matter. And therefore, I had learned to crave actual acceptance; though we of Barsoom can read thoughts, we also learn to shield them, and second- or third-order considerations like motive are among the easiest to mask from others. Deep probing of another’s thoughts is considered extremely rude; in polite company, one takes only what is offered. And a princess must never be rude.

My eagerness to accept Tansy’s offer of sisterhood clearly confirmed my desire. I did not need a sister in this place; while a cultural guide would prove useful in my search for John Carter I would be more effective if I focused on this task and did not become involved with any of this planet’s people or events.

I remained in the meadow after our morning exercises concluded.

“Are you alright?” my new sister asked, concern in her voice.

“My mind is filled with many conflicting thoughts,” I admitted. “I would like to exercise for a while longer to bring some order to them.”

She nodded her head, stepped closer to me and looked into my eyes.

“I love you, Dejah,” she said. “I’m glad you’re safe.”

“I love you, too,” I said, reflexively. And I realized that I meant it.

“I’ve never said that to anyone,” she said, “not unless I expected to be paid for it.”

She hesitated.

“I want you to look into my thoughts and see that I mean it.”

“I do not have to,” I said, “in order to know.”

“Please. It’s important to me. Making someone think they love you, pretending that you love them . . . oldest whore’s trick there is. I want you to know this is no game.”

I did as she asked. With any amount of practice, she could have created a false emotion, but this did not seem to be the case. She started slightly when she felt me enter her thoughts. I touched her gently with my fingertips on the side of her face.

“I love you too, Tansy.”

She nodded, walked away and mounted her horse. I resumed the movements. I knew that John Carter had fallen impulsively in love with me, but it had not been mutual at first. We take our time to fall in love on Barsoom but somehow, I had done so here in a remarkably short time. In Helium I would never have spoken with someone like Tansy, much less come to call her sister – I spent nearly a year imprisoned alongside Thuvia of Ptarth before I thought of her as my sister, and she was a princess like me. But Tansy was becoming a part of me already, and I could not bear to think of parting from her.

I did not belong in this place; that was obvious from a brief glance at my skin or eyes. Yet I desperately wanted to belong. I had never truly belonged in Helium. My privilege kept me apart from the rest of my city. Here I had a chance to earn a place, to actually become part of a group. My royal birth meant nothing to these people; many of them doubted my story and some called me “princess” with intentional irony. If they accepted me, it would be because I deserved to be accepted.

Some would never do so, of course. Possibly most. Compared to the Brotherhood’s overall needs, the food Tansy and I ate and the space we occupied took up very little of their capacity. No one went cold or hungry because of our presence. Even so, I would feel better about leaving these people who had taken me in if I could leave them something in return. I may not pretend to be a paragon of honor like John Carter, but I have my own pride.

My thoughts returned to Ned Dayne’s proposed attack on the grain convoy. The Brotherhood had many non-combatants to feed, far more than in a comparable community of Barsoom: women here did not usually fight, and there were also children and old people. The people of this place, much as John Carter had said of his own world, seemed to grow old and feeble at a much younger age than we of Barsoom.

Seizing a train of wagons would help, but a thought tickled at the edge of my mind. This had bothered me to such an extent that I had sent Tansy back to the caves without me. And then the pieces came together. I leapt atop my mare and headed back to the horse pens, where I found Tansy brushing our horses.

“I have an idea,” I told my sister, as I brushed my mare and put her into the pasture. “It will mean killing people, but it will settle our debts with the Brotherhood and strengthen Ned as their leader. He has been our friend and I wish to help him. And then it will be time to leave.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine (Dejah Thoris)

I sought out the Lord of the Fallen Star. He had just finished sword practice with Gendry. Despite my work with them, they continued to practice in the style of this planet, swinging madly at one another until one or both tired. We walked some distance into the forest while he mopped his face with a cloth; Tansy trailed just behind us, curious as to what I had in mind.

“You wished,” I said, “to bring the Brotherhood back together with a victory.”

“Yes,” he nodded, “and I’d hoped that yours over the Strong Boar would do that.”

“To some of these people, I will never be one of you. They need a victory in which they can take part themselves, so that it is truly theirs.”

“I agree.”

“And you also need a great deal of food,” I said, “for the winter that you claim will last for years.”

“I agree with that as well. Winter truly is coming.”

“So you say,” I said. “I know how to do both of these things at once, and settle my debt with your Brotherhood.”

“You’re our guest,” he said. “There is no debt. Were there any, you more than paid it by fighting Crakehall. Anyone else would lie dead right now.”

And by anyone else, he meant himself, forced to fight Crakehall out of some childish sense of honor. He believed that I had saved his life; I agreed with this assessment.

“You and Gendry have shown me friendship, and you wish to protect these people. I will help you do that, but then I must move on. My sister leaves with me.”

“Very well,” he said. “What do you have in mind?”

I told him about finding Squire Peck and his information about Harrenhal, and how Tansy had been raised there. She could guide us inside.

“Is this so?” he asked Tansy.

“I’m hearing this for the first time, too,” she said. “But I think so. It’s been a long time since I was there.”

“The Holy Hundred number but 86,” I said. “Eighty-six men cannot hope to even watch, let alone hold, such a massive fortification. There will be many unguarded entrances. We will find one, enter, and hunt down the Holy Hundred like ulsios – the vermin who live in tunnels under the cities of my land.”

“Capture a garrisoned castle?”

“We know the strength of its garrison,” I said, “and we have a guide. They will not expect either. And a castle holds a great deal of food, you once explained to me.”

“That’s usually true. It’s probably true at Harrenhal too,” he said. He looked at Tansy. “Can you get us inside, my lady?”

“You know I’m no lady.”

“It’s proper address for the sister of a princess.”

“Very well,” she said, clearly pleased. “And yes, I think so. Have you seen Harrenhal?”

“Only at a distance.”

“It’s even larger than it looks,” she said. “Old King Harren the Black built his castle with a warren of tunnels and passages, and you know how children are. We played in them all. Dejah’s right. There will be many more than 86 men can watch. I can find one that’s not guarded.”

“Do you wish to do this?” he asked Tansy, something I should have done. I had assumed her participation without asking.

“Yes,” she said. “Dejah put her life on the line for the Brotherhood. I feel as though I should do something, too. I’ve really only ever thought about myself.

“I can’t say I like these people. There are some I wouldn’t mind watching starve. But Dejah believes in you, Ned. That you can make something better of them. I trust her judgement.”

“You do?” he asked, looking at me.

“I . . .  It is true, but when did I say that?” I asked Tansy.

“You told me of your ride with Thoros,” she said. “It’s the words between the words that tell the real story.”

“Thank you,” Ned said. “Both of you.”

He paused, and nodded slowly.

“We’d need every wagon, driver and pack horse we can muster. We might be able to find a few more in the castle. And we’d need to sneak all of that past Lannister patrols.”

“I do not know enough about these lands,” I said, “to help with that.”

“But you would come with us to invade the castle?”

“You will need Tansy to find the entrance,” I said. “And I will not be separated from my sister.”

“Good,” he said. “You’re worth a hundred men by yourself in a fight.”

“But I am not Holy.”

“So they will discover.” 

The Lord of the Fallen Star divided the Brotherhood’s fighters into three groups. He selected 45 of the best for the attack on the castle. All but one were men, and all had trained with me in the practice yard. They would have confidence in my fighting abilities, at least, and could be trusted to obey my instructions during battle.

I had doubts about the one woman Ned had named to the fighting group, called Swampy Meg by the others. This name appeared to be a sexual reference of some sort, but I did not understand its meaning. She was physically small and not very strong or skilled with her preferred weapon, a staff of hardened wood. Her ferocity impressed Ned and most of the other men, and the Lord of the Fallen Star feared denying her a place. I feared that she would be killed. Meg’s lover, a healer named Melly, would also accompany us. I had never spoken to her, but the others seemed to respect her skills.

Another group would look after the train of wagons, pack horses and horses known as “mules” that had been cross-bred with a smaller related animal to create a beast of burden that was enormously strong but both stupid and belligerent. The third group of fighters would remain behind to protect the non-combatants. Thoros of Myr would look after the wagon train, and Neral, who led the hunters I had assisted, would see to the camp; Ned’s thoughts revealed a great deal of trust in him.

It pleased me to see Ned’s growing confidence, but I wondered about my sister.

“We are going to kill many people,” I said as we sat alone outside the caves following Ned’s description of his arrangements. “Are you prepared for this?”

“I’ve seen people killed,” she answered. “People I cared about.”

“I know, and I am sorry. But this is different. Instead you will see someone you care about kill others you do not know. It can be a disturbing sight.”

“I’m ready to do my part.”

“That does not include killing. I will not expose you to that, not willingly.”

“Dejah. I am very, very far from an innocent. I’ve not been one since I had 12 years.”

“Tansy. I have killed many people, some here and many more at home. They do not truly die. They stay with you. They . . .” I floundered for the word.

“Haunt you?”

“Exactly. And I would spare you that.”

“I’ll trust your judgement.”

I did not believe her.

“You have never had a sister before?”

She laughed, softly.

“You’re the one who can read thoughts. I’m supposed to be the one who can read people.”

“And I am the one who changes the subject when she is not comfortable.”

“No, I never have,” she admitted. “I can’t say I’ve loved anyone since I was sent away from the Whents.”

“And now you love me.”

“Yes, I do.”

“I am ignorant of much of these lands, and their ways. I am naïve about other things, whether here or at home. Yet some things I do know a great deal about. I would not have you harmed, in your body or your soul.”

“I know that.”

“Then trust me in this. I may do some terrible things in the days to come, so that you do not have to.”

“Sisters should share their burdens.”

“That does not mean they do the same things. Sisters protect each other. Let me protect you from this, free from worry for you.”

“All right. I trust you,” Tansy said, looking up at the sky. “I think it’s harder to say that to someone than I love you.”

“It is. And I trust you.” 

I went over the fight with the Mighty Pig in my mind, and made some adjustments to my exercises and sword practice. I could not be complacent simply because I had won the fight – he had been a very good swordsman, and I had met him exactly where he wanted to meet me, relying on swordplay. My speed and technique had proven superior, but I had been foolish to ignore my own advantages.

Despite his size, I had been the stronger thanks to my mysterious enhancements. He had abandoned his shield strike when his first attempt failed to cause me any injury, and he probably should have tried harder to apply his much larger mass against me. The next time, I might not be so fortunate. Four hundred years of muscle memory would be difficult to un-learn, nor did I wish to do so. Even so, I had to make better use of my new-found physical strength. I had put the Mighty Pig out of action with a powerful kick, not a sword-thrust. It is a common move used by fighting women of Barsoom, and I would need to be mindful of this tactic and use it more often.

And so over the days that followed I slew many trees around our clearing, with kicks high and low and with powerful, level swings of my sword. I felt guilty for taking their lives without need, but rationalized their sacrifice as necessary to my survival. Tansy found my dedication amusing.

“You know you won that fight, right?”

“I did not use all of my strengths,” I said. “The next time I might not be so fortunate.”

“It’s not the trees’ fault.”

I felt the trees’ pain as I smashed them, and it bothered me to do so. Yet I felt that I had no choice.

“I am not angry with them,” I said, initially missing the irony. “I am not truly angry with myself, either, only disappointed. I should have kicked him earlier than I did.”

“With your nice soft doeskin boots?” she asked. “If you’re going to go around kicking the shit out of people, then we need to get you some hobnails.”


“Little pieces of metal, pounded into the sole of a boot to give it strength. Also turns them into a hell of a weapon. The doormen at taverns and brothels wear them to stomp unruly customers.”

“You can find me such things?”

“If no one has any,” Tansy said, “I’m sure Gendry could pound some out for you. Every blacksmith makes nails; it’s a simple little piece of metal.”

By the next morning, I was practicing knocking down trees with my new hobnailed boots. They felt a little odd when I walked; I preferred to wear no shoes at all, but that was a sign of my privilege. The stone and gravel of the vast deserts of Barsoom easily destroy one’s feet, and only those of the upper classes can allow their feet to live naturally, without coverings. 

While I slaughtered defenseless trees, Tansy showed a great deal of energy as well, throwing herself into our preparations for the attack on Harrenhal. The children in the camp had a small play area filled with sand, in which they happily dug holes and built castles. Tansy constructed a similar sand box on a table within the cave complex, and built a model of Harrenhal upon it using blocks of wood for the buildings and walls. With little figures made of sticks she marked all of the likely guard posts, and explained which towers and buildings remained serviceable and which had been long burned out.

Everyone studied the model for hours, and we played out the assault many times by moving the little figures. Ned assigned specific roles to every member of the assault force, and I approved.

I found her model fascinating, and Tansy showed me where she had lived and played as a child. I noted the high walls and concentric rings of defenses; Harrenhal had been built to withstand attack by a ground-based enemy, one without artillery or other high-yield weapons. It had also been built without regard to the third dimension, yet Tansy noted many destroyed or damaged buildings well within its perimeter.

“What happened to Harrenhal?” I asked her.

“Dragons,” she said. “King Harren refused to yield to Aegon the Conqueror, who melted the castle with his great dragon, Balerion the Dread.”

“A dragon?”

“A great winged beast, scaly like a reptile and breathing fire. You don’t have them in your make-believe kingdom?”

“My kingdom is real,” I said. “I am less convinced of these mythical beasts.”

A flying animal, breathing fire hot enough to melt stone? Stone can be melted fairly easily, of course, but at temperatures as hot as those of cutting torches used to shape metal – technology these people clearly did not have. How would a living being contain such heat, much less generate it? What could it possibly use for fuel?

“You don’t believe me.”

“I believe that you are accurately relaying what you have been told. I am less sure that what you were told is itself accurate.”

“You’ll see for yourself,” she said. “Something melted the stones used to build the towers and walls. After they were in place, too – you can see where the dragonfire cut across different pieces of stone.”

My skepticism annoyed her.

“I do not doubt you,” I said, stroking her upper arm. “I merely prefer to see proof before accepting old stories.”

“There’s a long history of dragons in Westeros. That’s how Aegon conquered all seven kingdoms.”


“Yes. The old kings kept their skulls in their throne room.”

“They are used as weapons of war?”

“They were,” she said. “Now they’re dead.”

“All of them?”

“So they say. If Mad King Aerys had had a dragon, surely he would have used it.”

“The king overthrown in the rebellion?”

“That’s him.”

“So they are all dead,” I said. “That is why Thoros said Azor Ahai would waken dragons.”

“I guess so. You planning to wake them up?”

“I did not even know what he meant by dragons.” 

We studied many alternative assault plans, as we still did not know exactly which entrance we would find unguarded. If necessary, I would scale the walls near a gate, slaughter its guards and cut the heavy ropes that held the gate closed. Ned explained how these worked and I grasped the picture in his mind.

Still, we would need more information.

“They will surely have patrols outside the walls,” I told Ned after one session at the sand table. “I will capture a soldier from one and question him.”

“That’s quite risky, and he might not even talk.”

“I am very sneaky,” I said. “And very persuasive.”

Reluctantly, he assented to my plan. I did not tell him that I would use my telepathy both to find an isolated soldier and to question him once he was in my hands.

The wagon train remained a weak point of the plan, but I saw no way to do without it if the raid were to net the supplies Ned said the Brotherhood needed. Otherwise our attack would be a simple act of terrorism, something I knew had value in such a low-intensity conflict, having fought against anti-royal rebels on my family’s behalf. But as far as I could tell the Brotherhood had no political message; while we could gain notoriety by the slaughter of the Holy Hundred, we would do nothing to advance our non-existent cause. For our actions to have purpose, we had to have the food.

As I had tried to tell Tansy, my role in this operation would likely involve my killing a great number of people. And I could not say that the people I killed were any worse than those in whose name I killed them. I had finally understood that John Carter and his comrades fighting for his “Confederacy” on Jasoom/Dirt emphasized their personal honor in order to avoid confronting the evils of their larger cause. I was not John Carter; such absolution did not come so easily to me.

I could have taken Tansy and my horses and ridden away; no one could have stopped me, and likely no one would have even tried. Some would have been glad to see the last of us. I suppose I felt grateful that Ned and Gendry showed me friendship; neither truly believed me to be a princess. They liked me for my own sake. And so in my eagerness to be liked, I would slaughter their enemies. 

We set out for Harrenhal fifteen days later, with the assault group remaining close to the wagon train in case we ran into enemies. The wagons had to travel by road, making them vulnerable, but fortunately Black Walder appeared to have removed the Lannister patrols from this part of the River Lands.

For several days we advanced toward Harrenhal along seldom-used roads, not encountering anyone. On the fourth day, when Ned said we would reach Harrenhal on the following afternoon, I was riding at the front of the column speaking with two of the scouts. Both had been among the deer hunters at the camp and knew these lands well. Tansy had remained with the main column.

I detected three riders approaching; by their thoughts, they were Lannister soldiers scouting for Black Walder Frey but were at the very limit of their assigned area. Two rode side-by-side, with the third a short distance behind. I decided to kill the first two and try to question the third, and told the scouts to remain well behind me.

My mare, excited at the chance to gallop full out, raced around a curve in the narrow track, barely wide enough to allow a wagon to move. That forced the two Lannister riders close together. Brienne had trained this horse well; she shot between the horses of the enemy scouts without hesitation and I cut them down before they could react. The man on the right died with his throat slashed open by my sword held in my right hand; I stabbed his friend in the chest with a dagger I held in my left. He held a lightweight lance in his own left hand, its butt end in a small fitting attached to his stirrup. I left the dagger in his chest and snatched the lance from his dying hand.

The third rider spun his horse away and tried to escape; my attempts to contact the horse failed as panic had taken hold. Feeling energized by the chase, my own larger and stronger horse took after him and we steadily gained ground.

As one of royal breeding, I am fully capable of using either hand, and as we drew near the fleeing scout I raised myself in the stirrups and hefted the lance I still held in my left hand. It was balanced for throwing, but probably too long for anyone of normal strength to toss accurately. When we had closed to within three horse-lengths I threw it at the fleeing rider; it took him in his lower left back, driving at least two hand-lengths’ of the shaft out of his abdomen. He sank out of the saddle and crashed onto the road, snapping the lance. He screamed in pain when he hit the ground. I pulled up next to him and dismounted.

He lay in the road on his side, panting and bleeding heavily. He had reddish-orange hair and a very round face; he looked to be very young despite the fact that his hair was already thinning.

He would die soon.

“Are you the only patrol on this road?” I demanded.

His thoughts told him to refuse to answer but he knew he was dying. He thought of his mother, and of days at home watching the sun set over a castle on a hill.

“I . . . I shouldn’t be here. I’m a singer, not a fighter.”

And he thought that no other patrols were anywhere near, and so no help would be coming. I squatted next to him and touched his face; the skin was very soft and his wispy beard looked as though it had never been shaved. He thought me beautiful, and wished that he could dance with me.

“I am sorry that I killed you,” I said. “You did not belong in the game of thrones.”

“Am I going to die?”


He moaned softly, and sobbed a little. I stood, picked up the lance head lying in the road and shoved it through his heart; the noises stopped. I wiped my sword clean on his cloak, red with the gold image of the animal known as a lion sewn onto it, and checked his corpse for money; he had a great deal more than I expected. I decided to keep his sword, and slung its belt over his saddle. I left the body by the side of the road in case any of the Brotherhood wanted his boots or armor. Then I asked his horse to follow me as I walked my own horse back to retrieve my dagger from his friend’s chest.

The scouts had reached the bodies of the first two Lannister soldiers I had slain and were examining them when I rode up.

“Third one get away?” one asked.

I stared silently at him. He looked away.

“Of course not,” he said, embarrassed. “He say anything before he died?”

“This was the only patrol this far south. The others have been called away and these three should have left already.”

“Then no one will miss them for a few days yet.”

“That is correct,” I said. “Go report this information to Lord Dayne. Have him send two more scouts here. Go now.”

The scout mounted up and rode off as I directed; his fellow rifled through the other dead man’s clothing and stood up to hand a small bag of coins and a wooden bottle to me.

“Thank you,” I said. I kept the money and opened the bottle’s stopper to sniff it.

“Blackberry wine,” the scout said. “I tried some. It’s quite good.”

I drank it down and tossed the bottle into the trees. The scout was right; it was very good. The dark-haired man I had killed with my dagger lay sprawled on his back, the weapon lodged deeply in his chest. I placed my foot on his shoulder and pulled it free, and used his cloak to clean it. He also had a few coins and a stick of dried meat, both of which I kept.

“Take these horses back to Thoros,” I told the remaining scout. “Tell him to add them to the pack train.”

“Yes, Princess,” he said. His thoughts showed him somewhat in awe of what I had done to the Lannisters. 

On the next morning we veered off the road along a narrow, overgrown track. One of the Brotherhood men had lived here in peacetime, and knew of an isolated clearing in the heavy forests south of Harrenhal where the pack train’s animals could graze. We made a camp without fires and ate a meal of cold meat and cheese, and then I sat cross-legged in the darkness with Tansy, Ned, Gendry and Thoros to discuss our final moves.

“I will go in the morning and capture a Holy Hundred soldier. If that yields the information we need, we will attack tomorrow night.”

“I’m coming with you,” Tansy said.

“I would have you remain here.”

“I know how to capture one of them,” she said, “without your twisting his head off.”

“How?” Thoros asked.

“I’m a woman,” Tansy said. “Trust me in this.”

The men did not like it, but I agreed to follow Tansy’s plan and that ended their dissension. My sister and I set out early in the morning as planned and at Tansy’s direction we took up a hidden position in a small cluster of trees along the road between the castle Harrenhal and the small nearby town called Harrentown. Truly, these people had little imagination. Most of Harrentown had been burned by a passing army, but a brothel operated amid the wreckage and a little farm market had been established.

Some people and wagons passed, and once a small group of warriors that we took to be members of the Holy Hundred by their clothing, armor and shields, but there were too many. Finally, a lone Holy Hundred warrior came up the road from the town, on foot and walking his horse. Like the others, he wore dark blue livery with white trim and a stylized animal called a Nittany Lion. His thoughts showed that he was somewhat drunk. We stepped into the road side-by-side, as Tansy had planned.

The man stopped and looked at us suspiciously.

“What do you want?”

“We need your help,” Tansy said in a whining voice I had not heard from her before. “Our horses ran away and we’re lost and scared and . . .  and . . .”

She began to sniffle as though she would soon cry. I stood quietly next to her, looking at my feet and doing my best to appear small and harmless. I knew we were beautiful, at least by the standards of Barsoom and of John Carter’s Dirt. I had been bred for beauty, after all, and Tansy had become stunning after weeks of regular meals, exercise and bathing. Tansy believed that either the knights’ code of honor or the hope of a sexual reward would mean that no man could refuse to help two vulnerable, beautiful women or even question their presence in the middle of an empty forest.

This one did.

“What are you two doing out here stopping travelers?” he demanded. “Do you have more friends in the woods?”

He reached for his sword. I sent a quick, strong command to his horse to rear and the animal obeyed. When the man turned to bring his mount under control, I moved across the interval between us in two quick strides. With my right hand I reached behind my back to where I had moved one of my daggers in its sheath; with my left I clamped down on the wrist of his sword arm. I placed the dagger to his throat.

“We need no assistance,” I said in a soft voice. “Remain calm and do not speak.”

He nodded. Tansy joined us, bringing my sword. I handed her my cloak, his sword and a dagger he wore on his belt. I pushed him into the forest, taking him far enough from the road so that we could not be seen or heard. I told his horse to follow, and telepathically called for our horses to join us.

When we reached a likely spot, Tansy took over holding the dagger and I unwound a length of rope I had wrapped around my waist. I tied him securely to a tree in a standing position, then stood back to observe our prisoner. Tansy joined me.

“You are breaking the laws of gods and men,” he spat.

“The first do not exist, so neither do their laws,” I replied. “And the laws of the second are hard to find in these lands.”

“If you’re going to kill me, just do it and let the Stranger do his will.”

“I have no idea what that means,” I said, “nor do I care. I will ask questions. You will answer them.”

“And if I don’t?”

“She’ll hurt you,” Tansy answered.

“My faith is my armor,” he said. “You bare-breasted bitches cannot hurt me.”

That word again. And we were heavily-covered by the standards of Barsoom. Even the tops of our breasts and the cleavage between them offended his gods.

I asked questions about the Holy Hundred, their defense of Harrenhal and their routine activities. As he’d promised, he answered only with insults. His thoughts told another story, confirming Squire Peck’s information that 86 of them were present with no other troops, though four were currently too sick to serve. With his return all would be present in the castle.

They did not patrol outside the walls. They instead spent a great deal of their time parading their horses across the drill yard inside the castle in intricate patterns. They had regular prayers, and I asked when these occurred. He scoffed.

“Heathen bitch. You know nothing of the Faith?”

“No,” I said. “Nor do I care to. Do you all gather for prayers?”

“If you weren’t damned to the seven hells, you would know that.”

His thoughts said that they prayed in small groups.

“When,” I asked, “do you all gather together?”

“Do you think I’m stupid?”

“Yes. When do you all gather together?”

“Go fuck yourself.”

We of Barsoom can actually do that, but he intended it as an insult. Yet I picked up a sliver of a thought.

“Tell me about ‘Happy Valley.’”

“How do you know about that?”

He was suddenly frightened. He was willing to let us kill him, but this was a grave secret he was determined to protect. And by trying not to think of his secret, he of course thought of it.

“You have sex,” I asked, somewhat bewildered, “with young boys?”

“I knew it!” Tansy interjected.

“Your entire Holy Hundred is made up of men who prefer sex with boys?”

“All men sin,” he said. “We ask the Father to forgive us. We fight to earn his forgiveness.”

“And still you keep buggering children,” Tansy said with some anger.

I knew from the reaction many in the camp had to Tansy and I sharing our sleeping furs that sex between people of the same gender carried a terrible stigma here even though many noble women shared their bed with a friend. Those who did have sex with a partner of the same gender, particularly men, were often killed in hideous ways including burning alive. We have no such barrier on Barsoom; our people find love where they will and I had had female lovers many times.

An even greater revulsion applies to those who have sex with children. There is no real counterpart on Barsoom, as we mature so quickly that sex between adults and children rarely occurs. The scientist in me does not allow me to say “never,” but I could not recall hearing of such a thing. I already knew that sex had a very different emotional meaning for these people because of its intricate ties to reproduction. Yet another paper I would present if I ever returned to Helium. Instead I focused on the inquiry at hand.

“Tell me about Happy Valley,” I repeated.


But of course, he did. His unspoken answer told of a mythical place where men like him could have sex with boys at will without fear of punishment or even harsh words. Large crowds even cheered them in this myth. Their actual Happy Valley was a regular mass sex event, for which they had already brought a number of boys from Harrentown as well as some adult male whores. I explained it to Tansy while he looked on with an open mouth and wide eyes.

“Perverts,” she said, in a hushed voice. “A holy order of perverts holding their perverted holy orgies.”

“Demon-eyed sorceress!” he said, wondering if I were indeed a demon. “How can you know that? But it’s none of your concern. We do the work of the Seven.”

“And fuck little boys,” Tansy interjected. “Can we kill him now?”

“Not yet,” I said. “When is the next Happy Valley?”

“Go to the seven hells.”

“There are no gods,” I said, “therefore there are none of their hells, only those made by Man. Their event is tomorrow night. Twenty of them will be on watch, the rest in the baths. Do you know where those are?”

“Yes,” Tansy said, “and I know how to get into them secretly.”

“Good. We are done with him.”

Tansy made to stab him with the dagger which still lay in her hand. I held her back.

“No,” I said, “you are not a killer. This is my work.”

John Carter would have left him tied where he stood. I am not John Carter.

“I could have left you here to be found by someone passing by,” I told him. “You should not have called me ‘bitch’.”

I rammed the man’s dagger through his heart and into the tree, retrieved the rope and left the holy warrior pinned there to die. Once again, I freed his horse but this time I told it to follow us so that it could join our pack train and so its return to Harrenhal alone would not alarm the Holy Hundred. We kept his sword.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five (John Carter)

The feasting would resume at noon, a propitious moment according to the Dothraki. That left me some hours before my presence would be expected, so I dispatched one of my young household warriors to summon Illyrio, and in the meantime decided to see my new herd of horses.

Ko Jhaqo had been on his way to pay me his respects when he encountered me leaving the tent along with Belwas and Irri, who knew a great deal about horses considering her gender. I fell in step alongside my new ko and we talked of the various breeds kept by the Dothraki.

Most Dothraki warriors, Jhaqo explained, rode small hardy horses little larger than ponies. Each adult warrior was expected to maintain his horse, a remount and a pack animal. Those in leadership positions rode larger horses, so they could easily be seen, and the quality of a leader’s mount reflected his status. Almost all horses ridden to war were geldings, allowing the Dothraki to form tight, knee-to-knee formations that stallions would never tolerate. I nodded with approval; we had done the same in Virginia’s Black Horse Cavalry.

In addition to the horses maintained for war, a khalasar required thousands more as pack animals. Some of these were obtained in raids on settled folk or had been handed over as tribute, while others were bred by the Dothraki. Stolen horses also helped diversify Dothraki breeding, and the men who oversaw the herds – though not of course the herders themselves, who were often slaves – had status equal to the doughtiest warriors.

When we arrived at the khal’s pens, the herders – forewarned of my coming by another young household warrior - had captured a half-dozen animals for my inspection. One in particular caught all of our eyes.

“My khal,” Irri breathed. “It is the silver mare.”

“Of the prophecy?” I asked.

“You know of the prophecy?” Jhaqo asked in turn. “Your prophecy?”

“That I am the Stallion Who Mounts the World?”

“Yes,” he said. “And the silver mare would bear him. Khal Drogo bred this mare himself, and reserved her for his new khaleesi, who would be the silver mare of prophecy.”

“Try her,” I told Irri.

“Truly?” the girl asked. “I am not worthy, my khal.”

“It is known,” Jhaqo said. “A slave is not worthy of such an animal.”

“She will instruct the khaleesi to ride,” I said. “She must know the horse in order to do so.”

“That is different,” he allowed. “Mount the horse, girl.”

Irri slid gracefully up onto the mare, bareback, and took her through her paces while we watched. The girl was a fine rider, I had to silently admit, with skill if not status worthy of her mount.

“You will choose a horse, John Carter?” Jhaqo asked as she dismounted. “And ride?”

I knew without accessing his thoughts that he proposed another test of my fitness to lead the Dothraki. I nodded.

“Bring forth the finest horses of the khal’s string,” Jhaqo told the horse master, an older man named Sajo. Sajo did not know what to make of me and spoke mostly in grunts to avoid committing himself.

“What of this horse?” I asked, indicating a large, night-black gelding. Rarely had I seen such a beautiful animal. It surprised me that he had been gelded and not maintained as a stud.

“Drogo’s horse,” Sajo explained. “He burns with his khal.”

It disappointed me that such a fine animal would be slaughtered simply out of superstition, but I knew better than to speak against tradition. Meanwhile four youths, including the two I had exiled to the horse pens, brought the remaining four horses before us and lined them up. All were fine animals, but a large bay stood out. He likewise was a gelding, with a thick black mane sharply contrasting with his flawless chestnut coat. I gestured to his holder to bring him close; the horse objected and began to drag the boy away. I leapt the split-rail fence and rushed to the horse, calming him with my thoughts and reaching out toward him.

The horse warily stepped towards me, and nuzzled my hand. When he was re-assured, I swung easily onto his bare back. At my urging, he took off and quickly reached a full gallop. We raced along the same course Irri had followed, and returned. I shouted with joy, feeling at one with my mount as I had not since I rode with the Indians in the Southwest. Some glimmer of memory spoke of other red people in my past, but I could not hold on to it.

I hopped off the horse when we reached Sajo, tossing the reins toward one of the herders who flinched away and let them hit the ground. My new horse shied, but I again calmed him and patted his neck.

“What is his name?” I asked Sajo.

“Demon,” he said. “Never ridden. Not even the khal.”

“I am your khal,” I said. “And this is my horse. Remember these things.”

“A demon on a demon,” one of the exiles whispered. I only heard him in his thoughts, but it was enough.

“Repeat that,” I said. “Aloud.”

“You do not command me,” he said.

I strode over and punched him in the face, not holding back my great strength. He flew backward several feet and was dead before he met the manure-covered ground.

“I am your khal,” I said. “And you my khalasar. It is known.”

“It is known,” Irri instantly repeated. The others followed her example.

I rode Demon to see my new mansion, along with Irri on a fine mare I had her choose from the khal’s string for her personal use. Jhaqo returned to his khas, the division he led. I knew the story of my horse-taming prowess would spread, as I intended. So would the story of my killing the insubordinate herder. I sent one of the youths to command Mormont to join me at the mansion.

The mansion indeed came close to Illyrio’s in terms of opulence, and had a staff of over fifty led by a steward named Vyros, a cousin of Illyrio. He bowed as he introduced himself, assessing my abilities to detect his graft. A small and thin man with oily black hair, he had stolen a great deal from Drogo, who had either not noticed or not cared.

“How may I best serve you?” he asked. “And how do you wish to be addressed? My lord? My khal?”

“‘My lord’ will do,” I said. “And your thieving ways will end immediately, or I will kill you.”

“Thieving? My lord, I protest.”

“You charge Drogo for 102 servants, yet there are less than fifty actually on this site. You purchase full allotments of rich foods even when Drogo is hundreds of miles away, and then sell them. Horses. Clothing. Building materials. Need I continue?”

“I . . . my lord, who has told you such lies?”

“You have,” I said. “It is impossible to lie to me.”

“It is known,” Irri added, knowing no such thing.

“You are of Illyrio’s family, and he is my friend. Were you not, I would kill you now. Should you thieve again, your status will not save you. Am I clear?”

“You are clear, my lord.”

“Excellent,” I said. “Has Illyrio arrived?”

“He awaits you in the library.”

“Drogo had a library? I didn’t think he could read.”

“He lacked that achievement, my lord, but it amused him to own a great many books.”

Drogo indeed had an impressive library, with bookshelves stretching from the floor to the raised ceiling, and mobile ladders on rollers to allow access. A swift glance showed their spines to be labelled in many languages, and as best as I could tell they had been organized by size and color rather than subject, author or title. Illyrio awaited at a large marble table in the center, accompanied by a heavyset man dressed as a sailor.

“Illyrio,” I greeted him, gesturing for both to remain seated as I took a chair facing them. Mormont sat on my left while Irri stood immediately behind me and to my right. “And Lord Varys, a pleasure to meet you.”

I had discomfited Varys, but he recovered swiftly. I could not penetrate his thoughts.

“Khal John,” he said, nodding to me. “A pleasure as well. Certainly moreso than Prince Viserys.”

“I understand that you know my advisor, Ser Jorah Mormont.”

“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”

“You haven’t? Early this morning you paid him two hundred gold dragons, and promised a royal pardon that would allow his return to Westeros, all in exchange for his informing you of my movements in the interior and those of Princess Daenerys.”

All three men stared at me, unable to speak. Only Irri retained her wits.

“No one can lie to the Stallion Who Mounts the World,” she said. “It is known.”

“It is known,” I agreed. “And should either of you lie to me again, it will mean your death. A slow, agonizing death by impalement. That is also known.”

“It is known,” Irri repeated. I intended for her to head my princess’ household, but I would have to find a way to keep her nearby to repeat her three words during meetings.

“Now that we are clear on this,” I said, “tell me of the political situation in Westeros. The truth, please, not the rubbish Illyrio spun for Viserys.”

“King Robert heads North,” Varys said, only slightly flustered. “The Hand of the King, Jon Arryn, appears to have been poisoned. He will prevail on his oldest friend, Lord Eddard Stark, to assume the position.”

“Hand?” I prompted.

“The head of what passes for their government,” Illyrio said. “A powerful post under a lackwit king.”

“Robert is no lackwit,” Varys said. “Merely distracted, by wine and women. Much wine and many women, not including his wife.”

He intended this to have deep meaning, but I couldn’t obtain a clear view of his mind and Illyrio had no idea of what his friend spoke.

“Explain,” I said. “He is estranged from his wife?”

“Not in public,” Varys said. “Leading her to seek comfort elsewhere.”

Illyrio made a silent connection, and I followed it.

“The royal children are not royal.”

“That was Jon Arryn’s conclusion,” Varys said. “And then he died.”

“By your hand?”

“No. The time’s not ripe yet.”

“You expect civil war.”

“I do,” Varys said. “I didn’t murder Lord Arryn, but someone did, someone wishing to sow chaos. It would be best if you could place the Princess Daenerys on the Iron Throne before that war becomes general.”

“Don’t be mistaken,” I said. “Princess Daenerys will be my wife, my khaleesi, my queen. She will not rule in Westeros. I will be your sovereign, by right of conquest.

“I am aware that the two of you hoped to serve as puppet-masters and rule through the Targaryen children. And that you believe you have one more pretender in reserve. That’s not how this game is going to be played. You may have roles under my direction, and you may provide counsel. But do not be deluded into thinking that it will be you providing direction to the realm.”

“You have a plan?” Varys asked. “A vision of your own, for the realm?”

“Illyrio hopes to modernize the economy,” I said. “Banking, credit, accounting. I’ve agreed to this, and to institutionalize his corruption. We will go much deeper than that. We will break the feudal system, replacing it with a strong central ruler with a standing army and a true government that extends over both sides of your Narrow Sea.”

“And the people?”

“No longer will they be damned to poverty by birth,” I said, though I knew not when I had witnessed such. “Those born free will have education, and the opportunity for meaningful work. The talented will rise, no matter what their origin. The indolent will sink.”

“Slavery,” Varys said, “has not been legal in Westeros for centuries.”

“Then every man is born free, is he not?” I said. “You may not call it slavery, but the lords own your people all the same. I aim to end that.”

“The nobility will not stand for such.”

“I am quite sure,” I said, “that an arakh hews through a neck just as swiftly, be it peasant or noble.

“Lord Varys,” I went on, “Illyrio tells me that you seek what is best for the realm, for its people. The wheel turns, putting one family on top, then another, crushing the people beneath. I’m not of any of those noble families, and I plan to break the damned wheel, to shatter it into pieces. Your Starks and Lannisters and whoever else can earn their place, if they’re able, but they’ll have none of it for their exalted birth.”

“I trust Illyrio,” Varys said. “And he trusts you. So I’ll assist in this endeavor.”

“And will cease attempting to subvert my advisors.”

“As you say. Have you planned your first move?”

“I’ll continue to speak plainly,” I said. “Your plan to use Viserys and the Dothraki was ridiculous. An exercise in vanity and stupidity. From a master of politics, I would expect better, and that forces me to question your motives. You had to know that this plan would not work. But I’ll save that for another time.

“The Dothraki are impressive individual fighters. And likely they make for excellent light cavalry. I’ll know more of their abilities when I’ve taken them into battle. But they can’t occupy conquered lands, they can’t enforce the will of the king, and they can’t capture fortified places. They’re unlikely to defeat disciplined troops whether on foot or horse. And there simply aren’t enough of them. They are a start on the conquest, no more.”

Illyrio had brought a number of maps, as I had requested, and I rolled out one showing the western coast of Essos, the continent on which we now stood.

“My generals advise waiting thirty days before we head east to Vaes Dothrak, to allow grass to grow along the march route as the dry season ends. Such a massive collection of people and animals consumes a massive quantity of food and fodder. Daenerys must be presented to the dosh khaleen, the old widows of dead khals. There will also be a meeting of khals, what’s called the Khalar Vezhven. Usually they plan their next round of raids. This time, they will acknowledge the Stallion Who Will Mount the World.

“Before we ride to Vaes Dothrak, I mean to undertake and complete a brief campaign, to cement my position as khal and allow me to see them in action. We lack the ability to take cities, and I would rather not simply engage in wanton destruction.”

Mormont stood and leaned over the map, then picked up a stylus and tapped it on a region south of Pentos.

“The Disputed Lands,” he said. “Currently, sellsword companies are fighting a proxy war over them, in the name of Myr and Tyrosh.”

He was eager to show his worth, and unsure whether I would kill him for his attempted treason. I was unsure of his advice.

“After the time needed to ride there,” I said, “we would have, perhaps, ten days to campaign before riding to Vaes Dothrak. Though surely we could stretch that a little longer if necessary, that’s still not enough time to secure the territory. And we have no means to garrison it.”

“We wouldn’t be after the territory, not yet,” he said. “The sellsword companies carry their wealth with them. Some of them carry a great deal.”

“So we overrun one or two of them and take their gold.” I sat back down and thought. It was not a bad idea. “Blood the Dothraki, let them take prisoners and loot the corpses.”

“The Dothraki care nothing for money,” Mormont said. “Battle will be enough reward. And later, the land itself could be valuable to our cause.”

I noted the emphasis on our cause, and nodded to him to continue.

“As you’ve said, we need balanced arms. Infantry and a siege train, perhaps trained heavy cavalry. The lands are a waste now, as anyone foolish enough to farm there ends up raped, murdered or worse. I’ve fought there. The soil is good and there are plentiful rains. They could be prosperous farmland under secure rule. That’s why they’re disputed.”

“Land which could be offered to induce the landless to enlist,” I said. I held a deep confidence, as I steadily began to recall my life in Virginia, in the strength of the yeoman farmer as the backbone of a free society. A free society of white men, under a benevolent and wise ruler. The Confederacy had collapsed because it listened to the voices of weak men. I would not repeat that mistake.

“If I might,” Varys interjected. I nodded. “It’s somewhat traditional for the Dothraki to threaten to sack Myr, and thereby gain tribute. You’ll be riding right past the city gates on your way to the Disputed Lands.”

“More gold,” I said, “and eventually more soldiers bought with that gold.”

“Just so.”

“All right then,” I said, rising and rolling up the maps to take with me. “I have a day-long feast to attend, gentlemen. And I believe that we have the outlines of a plan of campaign. Let me remind you, Lord Varys, of my promise to kill you should you attempt to undermine me again. You did not know me, and so I will let this one instance pass. There will not be another.”

“There will not.”

“On the contrary, you shall now be a conduit of information from Westeros to me. And you shall only transmit to King Robert’s court what information I wish them to possess. Is that perfectly clear?”

“Such was always my intention.”

“No doubt,” I said, fully doubting him. “Illyrio? Any wisdom to impart?”

“When Ser Jorah says that the Dothraki care nothing for money,” my fat friend said, “he means exactly that. They’ll happily toss the gold you gain into the nearest river to see it sparkle. I can arrange for safe transport and storage, until it’s needed.”

“Please do so,” I said. “And steal no more than your agreed portion.”

“It’s simply a fee, my friend.”

“All bankers call their thieving a ‘fee,’ Illyrio. I may have forgotten much of my past, but I haven’t forgotten the perfidy of the money-changers.”

That led to another thought.

“How much gold,” I asked, “are you holding for Drogo?”

“A great deal,” Illyrio admitted. “Perhaps the equivalent of a hundred thousand Pentoshi towers.”

“How many Unsullied does that represent?”

“A thousand,” Illyrio said. “Delivered where you will.”

“Your usual bank can make that transaction,” I asked, “without our having to carry gold across the continent?”

“They can.” Illyrio was unhappy at losing charge of Drogo’s gold.

“Wait until I return from the south,” I said. “And we see how much additional cash we can extort.”

I paused before departing.

“If the Dothraki care nothing for money,” I asked. “Where is the food and drink coming from?”

“Pentos,” Illyrio said. “It’s part of the tribute the city pays for Drogo’s forbearance. That’s how most of the khalasars sustain themselves.”

“I’ve seen individual Dothraki in the markets.”

“They ask the merchant for a gift,” he explained. “Sometimes they give a gift in return.”

“My lord,” Mormont said as we mounted outside. “I beg your forgiveness. It seemed a trifle, something that would not harm you, yet allow me a path home.”

“You made a serious error, Mormont,” I said. “I have great need of you, else you would be a head shorter already. Do not disappoint me again.”

“How did you know?” he asked.

“I’ll let you puzzle over that,” I said. “And let it serve as a reminder that I am not to be trifled with, whatever sound reasons you think you might have.”

“It is known,” Irri chimed in, riding behind us.

We returned our horses to Sajo, and I walked to my tent to leave my roll of maps. Inside another young Dothraki woman waited alongside Calye. She shared Irri’s dark hair and copper skin, and though short was full-breasted and broad-hipped. Irri introduced her as Jhiqui. Calye clearly did not like her, but the woman had dyed my bedwarmer’s hair as I had requested. Somewhere Calye had also found a sword, which she wore slung over her shoulder, along with a black skirt and a close-fitting black leather vest.

“I’m your . . .  your personal guard,” she said. “Me, and Belwas.”

I should have forbidden this foolishness on the spot, but I had no inkling where this urge to become a warrior woman would end. In the years I knew her, Calye never ceased to be a whore, only concerned for her own advantage and willing to betray anyone, even me, to gain it. Knowing that, I still would not have wished her fate on her, but I as yet knew nothing of Dejah Thoris’ murderous henchwoman Beth Cassel.

“You can ride?” I asked her instead.

“No,” she answered, truthfully. “Not a horse, anyway.”

Irri and Jhiqui instantly caught the sexual reference, but said nothing. Perhaps it was best that they understood from the beginning that their khal had needs.

“Irri will teach you,” I said. “And you will obey her.”

“When she’s teaching?” Calye asked. “Or in all things?”

“When she is teaching,” I said, “You will obey Irri. You will obey me in all things.”

“Always, my khal.” She meant it ironically, but I chose not to slap her.

With my tiny household, I walked to the arena for another day of feasting, drinking and fighting. To honor Drogo on his way to the Night Lands, slaves fought one another to the death, chiefly unskilled men and women given weapons and prodded forward with whips. A thin, middle-aged woman awkwardly hacked at a crying fat man with a sword, even as a younger woman shoved a spear through her back. The Dothraki thought the sight hilarious. I was glad that Daenerys was not present to witness the ritual.

I ate and drank with my leading kos, and had the chance to become more familiar with my lesser generals. Drogo had believed in allowing his followers to sort out their own hierarchy, leading to the sort of chaos that ruled much of Dothraki society. The khalasar, said to be the largest of the Dothraki hordes, numbered about 40,000 fighting men, not counting women, children, slaves, the elderly or camp followers. Those swelled the total to well over 100,000 people.

Jhaqo’s khas, as they called the divisions of a khalasar, numbered about half of the total. Pono led another 10,000. The remaining 10,000 were divided among fourteen other minor kos, none leading more than 1,500 riders.

“How,” I asked Pono, “did Drogo command sixteen different khas in battle?”

“What do you mean?” he returned. “He led us, we followed.”

A few more questions gave me a clearer picture. Drogo, like his father before him, employed no strategy or tactics. Since his khalasar was larger than any other, he massed his riders, hefted his arakh and led them in a mass charge that overwhelmed the enemy through sheer weight of numbers. Survivors were either incorporated into his own khalasar, enslaved as Irri and Jhiqui had been, or massacred, all depending on Drogo’s mood at the moment.

“Why should it be any different?” Jhaqo asked. “There are always more of us than there are of them.”

“And when there are more of them?”

“But there are not more of them.”

“Humor your khal,” I said. “If there are more of them?”

“Then we die. Gloriously.”

Drogo had been an idiot. I could not say this aloud at his funeral, but I would have to correct his stupidity were I to mount the world. The greatest general who ever drew breath, Robert E. Lee, organized the exalted Army of Northern Virginia into three corps. Neither Jhaqo nor Pono struck me as a Stonewall or even my old commander Fitzhugh Lee, but I would do the same.

I spent that night in my new mansion. In two days’ time I was to marry Princess Daenerys in a Dothraki wedding. Kono and Jhaqo presented me with a new set of clothing they believed more suitable than that I had taken from Ruzgar and his friends. These were finely made, and my generals’ thoughts showed the gift to be sincere; I was alert to attempts to use my cultural ignorance to expose me to ridicule and undermine my authority.

I tried them on in my chambers, and had just finished carefully putting the tunic and trousers away when Calye entered. Her absurd costume had left her badly sunburned on her face, neck and the center of her bosom.

“John,” she said, taking my hand in both of her small ones. “You need to listen to me.”

“I’m always listening.”

“No, you don’t . . . you don’t listen. And this time, you need to. After you marry the princess, you’ll bed her. You can’t fuck her like she’s a ten-copper whore.”

“You mean like I do with you.”

“That’s exactly what I mean. She’s . . . she’s little and soft and a virgin. You pound her like a cook with a day-old steak and she’ll hate you for her entire life.”

“A woman’s place is under a man and submissive.”

She tossed both hands into the air and made an inarticulate sound.

“You’re going to wreck all of our futures. Just, just listen. You have to kiss her, gently. Kiss her . . . her tits. Lick them, suck them. Gently. And don’t just ram it into her. Use your fingers first, your tongue. Prepare her, get her wet and eager.”

I could tell from her thoughts that saying these things cost Calye a great deal; she was extremely jealous of Daenerys.

“That’s not how it’s done in Virginia,” I said. “A Virginia woman knows her duty.”

“And we’re not . . . we’re not in Virginia, are we? Have you let Doreah teach you a damned thing?”

“Illyrio bought Doreah to teach Daenerys,” I said. “I should get rid of her, she’ll only teach her to act like a whore, not a wife.”

“She’s here . . . she’s here to teach the princess to please you. And you to please the princess.”

Calye despised Doreah, jealous of her beauty and unable to match her quick, insulting wit. Every word praising the blonde whore pained my bedwarmer.

“I know how to make love to a woman.”

“You know how to stick your . . . your cock into a woman,” Calye said. “Dogs know how to fuck better than you do.”

“You enjoyed it.”

“They beat me in that pillow house. The turned me over and fucked me in . . . in, in the ass. That was my specialty. Getting fucked in the ass without showing my face. Do you know what that feels like?”

“So making love to me is better than anal rape.”

“Barely.” She slapped herself on the side of the head. “You have a perfect body! The face of a temple god statue. Women cream themselves just looking at you. You’ve got to put some effort into pleasing the princess.”

“I know how to please a woman.” 

“Show me. Show me right now. Make me come. You never have besides that one time, you know.”

She thought to insult me, but I took comfort in her admission. Somewhere I had heard of this phenomenon, of female sexual excitement, and knew it to be degenerate, a sign of a woman’s moral corruption. A woman should not fall prey to sexual hysteria, but instead keep her poise even while accepting her husband’s seed. As a whore Calye was already morally corrupt, and she was not my wife, but a gentleman should not add to that burden. 

Still, I could not deny the truth in Calye’s rantings. I would have to be gentle with Daenerys, and I needed to practice on Calye first and perhaps Doreah as well. I pulled her into my lap, closed my eyes and kissed her, envisioning Daenerys. Calye broke away.

“Slowly. Don’t ram your tongue into my mouth. Easy, touch mine with yours. Let me feel how much you love me.”

“I don’t love you.”

“That’s not the point. Fuck me like you love me.”

Slowly, she guided me through the process step by step, ending with her on her back as this time I glided slowly in and out of her. I finished inside her, and this time she didn’t cry.

“That was better,” she said. “But I still didn’t come.”

“Good,” I said.

In the morning, I took Calye again in the more normal fashion. She did not cry, but she did stop me before I left the bedchamber.

“John,” she said. “You need . . . you still need to listen.”

“I’m listening,” I said, though I wasn’t fully engaged. “Speak.”

“You know how I hate Doreah,” she said. “And this . . . this comes hard for me to say. You need to summon her tonight, let her show you how to please the princess. How not to hurt her the first time. She’s . . . she’s better at this than I.”

“I know,” I said. “I’ve had her.”

“You mean you raped her. She told me.”

“She was paid,” I said. “She knew what I wanted. She didn’t want to listen.”

“This isn’t . . . it isn’t about what you want,” Calye said. “It’s about the princess. What she doesn’t even know that she wants. You can’t . . . you can’t hurt her. Please, summon Doreah.”

“We’ve had this conversation before.”

“We have,” she admitted. “And you paid no attention. Summon Doreah. Please.”

“I’ll consider it.”

On this third day we burned Drogo’s body when the sun reached noon. His bloodriders and his horse burned with him, all five bodies oriented toward the sacred mountain of the Dothraki far to the east. As I had promised, I silently asked Qotho’s horse god to receive him in the Night Lands.

The feasting and drinking reached an even greater frenzy, with Dothraki men taking their women out in the open, much like animals. It shocked me, while at the same time it did not surprise me. Can one truly expect civilized behavior from a debased race?

Afterwards I dined alone with Illyrio.

“How long,” he asked, “will you be gone?”

“Long enough to be accepted as khal,” I said. “I need to lead them in battle. Clearly successful battle. I need acceptance of my khaleesi, and of my fulfillment of their prophecy.”

“And then?”

“I’ll bring the horde back here to force the submission of Pentos and Myr. We’ll use their resources to build ships and conscript troops. I would prefer to buy all of the Unsullied, but if that’s not possible, we’ll ride to Astapor and have a reasoned discussion with their owners.”

“You said the Dothraki can’t take cities.”

“This is true, but they certainly can blockade them and devastate the surrounding countryside.”

Illyrio sighed.

“That is not the plan,” he said. “The plan is to conquer Westeros.”

“Essos is wealthier,” I said. “Why not take both?”

“You can do this?”

“I don’t know,” I said, truthfully. “From what you’ve told me, and from what I’ve learned from Mormont, Pono and Jhaqo, Essos is no better organized in military terms than Westeros is in financial terms. So I believe that with better methods, yes, I can weld these states together under one rule.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“The best strategy is simple. All of your people need to understand what you’re trying to do. Complicated plans sound wonderful in a story. It doesn’t work that way in reality.”

“You speak as though you know this at first hand.”

“I can’t tell you why,” I said, “but I believe that I do.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten (Dejah Thoris)

We rode back to where the Brotherhood’s fighters awaited us much deeper in the forest. The men gathered around us, grouped into their assigned teams. I described what we had learned, with Tansy clarifying details. I did not specify how I had learned these things, and they assumed that I had tortured the prisoner. I let them believe that; most were not bothered and the others forgot any disquiet when I told them of Happy Valley. They muttered angrily. Those among them who had been reluctant to undertake what was, in truth, an attack of murder and terror now became enthusiastic at the prospect of slaughtering the Holy Hundred.

It struck me that had we not captured the Holy Hundred soldier and forced him to divulge his secrets, we could not have invented a story better suited to giving our fighters justification for our actions. My comrades now seemed much more at ease with their mission, but this new knowledge did not ease my own qualms. I knew that I would have killed these strangers had they instead engaged in quiet prayer and good works for the poor. I shook my head sharply as though that would clear my mind, and focused on the upcoming assault.

Tansy reminded us about the huge drain that emptied the bathhouse of Harrenhal; as a child, she and the castle’s other children had climbed up and down it despite the dangers of a sudden outrush of waste water. It had been included in her model, but some of the men still expressed disbelief at the size of the drain. She explained that the baths of Harrenhal were large enough for one to swim across. And the bathhouse contained seven such pools.

“We will infiltrate through the baths,” I told the fighters. “And we will kill everyone we find within. Spare any children. When that is complete, we move to our objectives as planned.”

“What about the sick?” Tansy asked.

The tower including the solar, known as the Kingspyre, had been assigned to a group of six fighters now clustered to my left. I turned to them, unsure whether they would carry out an order to murder helpless patients.

“We will alter the plan,” I told them. “You six will take my place with the team securing the main gate. I will clear the Kingspyre Tower including the solar.”

“What will you do with the sick?” one asked.

“Do you truly wish to know?” I countered.

“No,” he said quietly, staring downward.

“This change takes me into the center of the castle instead of the walls,” I noted. “Once the fighting begins, there is no need for secrecy. Call out very loudly if you are in trouble and I will come as quickly as I can. Everyone else continue with your mission. Do not abandon your mission unless I specifically order you to do so.”

They all nodded, some disquieted that I had casually chosen to murder the sick, as though killing the healthy were somehow different. We would leave no survivors to tell who had attacked the castle; Ned believed and I agreed that the Lannister would doubt the Brotherhood capable of such a feat and would look to blame other enemies. That might provide some extra time for the wagon train to make its escape.

Preparing for nighttime battle, all of us took handfuls of wood ash we’d brought for the purpose and blackened our exposed skin. Tansy and I did so for each other, as we had a great deal of skin showing. The men stopped their own work to watch. I wore my boots, battle harness, skirt and leggings as I had for the fight with the Mighty Pig and Tansy dressed in similar fashion. She once again tied my hair into a ponytail with a bright blue ribbon. I did the same for her.

I was about to commit an act of terrorism, in the name of people I barely knew. And I had no second thoughts. I knew those would come later, in the darkest part of the night when the moons Cluros and Thuria fall out of view, the hour when the demons come.

We walked quietly through the forest, single file, with Tansy leading the way. She had us kneel under the trees when we reached a stone-lined channel; she whispered that this was the outflow from the baths. The walls of Harrenhal loomed above us; I thought the garrison careless to allow the vegetation to approach so close to the fortifications. I scanned carefully with my telepathy but the closest guards on watch were some distance away. We moved slowly and carefully up the drain and gathered under the cover of an overhang where the drain met the channel.

The end of the drain had been closed off with iron bars, with gaps between them wide enough for a child to slip between but certainly not some of our larger fighting men. Years of flowing water had eroded a great deal of the mortar holding the bars in place. I set my feet and pulled out one of the bars, laying it aside as gently as I could to avoid raising a clatter. We crept into the widened opening; this time I led with Tansy and the Lord of the Fallen Star right behind. Gendry brought up the rear. We had left two men to watch the horses at our camp and two more to watch at the drain entry, giving us forty-one fighting men in addition to we four to confront a garrison now numbering 85.

It was very dark; the night outside gave no light. We followed a dim flicker from the end of the tunnel. The sounds of laughter and music came down from above along with the faint glow. Someone was having a good time.

The drain was tall and wide enough for all of us to comfortably walk upright. It soon narrowed and turned sharply upwards; I motioned for the rest to stay put while Tansy and I climbed up the small tunnel. At its top a wooden barrier closed it off, but other tunnels led off to the sides at steep angles. Tansy pointed into one from which a good deal of light shone.

It led to an overflow, a small rounded opening at floor level sealed off by iron bars to keep an unwary bather from being sucked down the drain. Again, the gaps between them were wide enough for a child but not for an adult. From behind the bars we could see most of the baths. They were filled with naked men, some of them engaged in sex acts with their mouths while others thrust themselves into their partners from behind. This act horrified me when I realized where they were placing their sex organs; we have nothing like this on Barsoom.

As Tansy had described, a single door led into the large stone-walled room; an armed and armored guard stood there by the heavy wooden door which opened outwards. A thin man, the only other person among them still clothed, sat on a tall stool at the far end of the room, playing a stringed instrument and singing.

I tested the bars. I did not think I could pull them free, but it appeared that I could brace myself against the wall of the drain and kick them in. We slid back down the tunnel to where our friends waited.

The men once again gathered around us. I nodded to the Lord of the Fallen Star; it was as we had expected. He gave the men their final instructions.

“Understand, this is simple murder. If you’re not willing to do that, you need to stay here. The princess will break the overflow open for us and then cross the bathhouse to hold the door. The rest of us are going to kill every adult man in that room and then every Holy Hundred warrior in this castle exactly as we planned. There will be no prisoners. We will spare the innocent if they do not get in our way, but if they resist or try to raise an alarm, kill them. Man or woman. Do you understand?”

Everyone nodded, myself included.

“The princess has command during the battle. Her word is absolute. If she should fall, command passes to me, and then to Gendry. Understood?”

Again, everyone nodded. A couple of nearby fighters reached over and gently slapped my shoulders – by coincidence, a sign of respect on Barsoom as well – while the remainder looked at me and muttered “princess.” With killing to be done, I was one of them. I turned to Tansy and Gendry.

“Tansy, stay with Gendry. Gendry, if any harm comes to my sister you will answer to me. You will not like the questions.”

“As you say, Princess.”

I climbed back up the drain, followed by the Lord of the Fallen Star and a line of Brotherhood fighters. As I had planned, I braced myself at the top of the passage. I looked at Ned; he nodded. The man behind him, the large fighter named Crodell, thought, nice ass. I shook my head in resignation and kicked the middle iron bar, the tallest of the five blocking the overflow drain. The sound echoed in the tunnel. The bar bent but did not fall. Inside the bathhouse, several men looked around for the source of the noise. My foot hurt, and I realized that I must have a strengthened skeleton to go with my enhanced muscles else my foot would have broken. I kicked the bar again and it came free of the top of the opening but not the bottom. I grabbed it with both hands and wrestled it back and forth until it came loose in my hands. After wriggling through the opening, I stood.

One naked man had come to check on the commotion. I swung the iron bar directly into his face; he fell into a heap on the floor and began to twitch. An uproar started in several of the baths. With both hands I threw the bar at one man trying to climb out of a bath. It struck him across the chest and he collapsed into the water. He did not rise to the surface.

I drew my sword and strode firmly toward the door; I dared not run lest I slip and fall on the wet stones paving the floor. I passed two men standing in the baths with their backs turned to me, each obliviously ramming himself into a small boy. I paused to take off their heads with a pair of two-handed swings of my sword and continued on. The guard at the door came to meet me, lowering the faceguard of his helmet and drawing his sword.

My sword met his and the force of the collision drove him backwards. He slipped on the wet floor and dropped his blade while trying to regain his balance. I placed my left hand on his faceguard and slammed his helmet once, twice, three times into the stone wall.

He stopped moving and I let him fall.

I looked back, to see the Lord of the Fallen Star standing in the waist-deep water of the first bath, methodically cutting down its occupants as they tried to climb out. But he was alone. Crodell was stuck in the drain opening. I pondered whether I should return to clear the pathway or guard the door as planned. Before I had to choose, Crodell disappeared and more slender members of the Brotherhood began to pull themselves through the gap and into the bathhouse. Despite the screams, the music had not stopped.

Peering around the doorframe, I saw no one in the hallway outside the bathhouse. I pushed the door closed and leaned against it. Soon enough someone started to press on the door, then many others. I held it closed while fists hammered on the other side and the pressure grew. But then it slackened, and soon no one was trying to open it any longer.

When I opened the door, several bodies piled against it fell into the hallway. I saw red blood everywhere: on the floor, staining the baths, even on the walls and ceiling. The color struck me as very odd, one of those inappropriate thoughts that comes to one during stressful moments. Prostrate naked bodies lay on the stone paths between the baths and floated in the pink-stained waters. Tansy stood in a corner with Gendry in front of her cradling his war hammer; he apparently had used it to remove a second bar from the drain cover.

As I joined Ned, Crodell dragged the musician over to where the Lord of the Fallen Star and I stood.

“Look what I found. Tom o’ Sevens playing for the buggerers.”

“You know I was spying on them,” the musician told Ned. “I was always with the Brotherhood.” The Lord looked to me. The musician’s thoughts were clear: he was with whoever paid him.

“Kill him,” I said. He spotted my sister and screamed her name.

“Tansy! You’re with them! Tell them I am too! Don’t let this red-eyed bitch murder me.”

She walked over to join us, Gendry right behind and keeping a close watch on her. She spat in the singer’s face when she drew near.

“I trusted you, you son of a bitch,” she said. “And then you left. A week later the wolves came and killed my people: the peaches, the serving wenches, the boy who cleaned the stables. They were looking for me. By name. My father’s name. How did they know who I was and where to find me, Tom?”

From Tom’s thoughts, I understood the “peaches” to be the whores working at her brothel, called the Peach.

“Everyone knew about Sweet Tansy and the Peach. They didn’t need no help from me.”

He wore a long scarf about his neck. I used it to pull his face close to mine; Crodell kept hold of him and moved with him.

“I will know if you lie,” I said. “Did you betray my sister to the Starks?”

“Everyone knew!” he repeated, terrified at the sight of my red eyes. “They was offering gold and would’ve found out anyways.”

He spoke the truth. He had told the soldiers – from a house known as Bolton, in the service of the Starks – where to find Tansy.

“Do you wish him dead?” I asked Tansy.

“Kill him.”

“On his knees,” I told Crodell. He shifted his hands to the singer’s shoulders, forced him down and stepped away. The singer thought to escape.

“If you run, it will be worse,” I said. “Remain still and you will feel nothing.”

He leapt to his feet, but Crodell grabbed him and slung him back down. The singer fell to one knee.

“Back up,” I told Crodell, and when he was clear I took off Tom the singer’s head. Tansy’s expression never changed. I could not spare time now to tend to her, but took a moment to touch the side of her face. She looked at me and nodded slightly.

“Gendry, remain with my sister,” I said, and looked at Crodell. “Let us go.”

I gestured to Ned and we headed for the doorway, where our fighters were already assembling into their groups. About half of the fighters followed me to the right; the remainder followed Ned to the left. As we ran down the corridor, six Holy Hundred warriors charged forward to meet us; the screams from the bathhouse had been heard by a sentry who had alerted these men, the garrison’s ready reserve.

The first man held his shield much too high. Remembering my practice, I kicked the shield, knocking him down, and stabbed him between his eyes as his shield skittered away. I caught the next warrior’s sword on the down-stroke and flung it to the side, then opened his throat on the back-swing. His comrade to his right thought that provided an opening and wildly lunged forward with his sword aimed at my left breast; I blocked his weak thrust with the gauntlet on my left forearm and rammed my sword-point into the base of his throat, smashing the armored gorget, supposedly offering him protection, into his larynx. He collapsed to the floor and gasped for air.

The two warriors behind them locked their shields together; I knocked down the man on my right with a strong kick to his shield. He fell, exposing his friend’s left armpit, and I went to one knee to jam my sword into the weak armor there and through his heart and lungs. I pulled it free and smashed its pommel into the face of the man on the ground.

The last man dropped his shield to make a two-handed overhand swing; I caught it on my sword and forced him back against the wall. Face-to-face, I pinned his sword and both his hands above his head with the sword in my right hand and drew his dagger with my left. I stared through his helmet’s eye-slits into his very young, never-shaven face; he thought my eyes a gateway to hell. I punched the dagger through his armor plate and buried it deep in his belly. His brown eyes grew very wide and he dropped his sword.

“You, um, need any help there, princess?” one of the Brotherhood men asked.

“No,” I said, then remembered my courtesies. “Thank you. All of you gather around me.”

I walked to where the gasping man lay slowly dying, and put my sword through his armor and into his heart. I gave the same treatment to the man I’d hit in the face; he was not moving but still had some activity in his mind. Then I turned to the fighters. My fighters.

For thousands of years, Helium’s royal family has earned the right of leadership. We cannot lead soldiers until we have served as soldiers. I began as a junior gunner on Battleship Number 34, cleaning already-spotless hatches and adjusting perfectly-calibrated targeting scopes. I have led boarding parties onto the blood-slick decks of Zodangan warships and crossed swords with merciless First Born pirates. I knew my role now.

“You all know your missions. You have trained. You have practiced. Trust your brothers. It is time to fight.”

In that moment they loved me without reservation. Each of them would die for me. On this night I only asked that they kill.

We fanned out from the bathhouse into the darkness, each group following its pre-assigned route. I made up one group by myself so that I could attend to the sick in the Kingspyre tower.

As I stalked across a bridge from the Kingspyre’s neighboring tower, a Holy warrior burst out of the doorway ahead of me. His eyes went wide and his thoughts expressed shock. I read in them how terrible I appeared as I loomed out of the night with my skin blackened and wearing dark leather. Blood dripped from my sword, my black ponytail bobbed in time with my steps, and I had a hard, determined look that frightened even me. My red eyes, which I had always considered my best feature, reflected the torchlight and put him in mind of demons.

I reached him as he fumbled for his sword and cut him down with a single, two-handed stroke across his chest. He fell to the stone floor of the bridge and began the work of dying. I had not broken my stride.

I took the steps up to the solar two at a time. A guard stood before its entrance; he raised his sword over his head to strike at me and I took both arms off at the elbows, again with a single stroke. I was filled with a single-minded ferocity and surprised once more by my strength. He stared mutely at the stumps while I stabbed my sword’s point into his throat.

The door had been closed and barred. I kicked it in, and it gave easily, coming off its hinges to crash onto the floor. My foot still hurt. Inside four men lay in the beds that the wealthier of these people use for sleep, while three women in long gray dresses and odd-looking head coverings huddled in a corner. I used some of the bedding to wipe my sword somewhat clean, and sheathed it. This was dagger work.

A fourth woman, this one dressed in more colorful fashion with her gray-streaked brown hair uncovered, burst into the solar from a back room as I started cutting the throats of the sick men.

“Stop this at once!” she shouted. “You cannot do this!”

“Be silent,” I said as I killed the third man. She stepped in to block my path to the fourth.

“I will not let you do this,” she said in her very high-pitched, almost screeching voice.

“It is not for you to say,” I said, and pushed her aside. She fell onto one of the beds, but got up and ran to the gaping doorway. The last man struggled to a sitting position, and looked up at me as I drew my blade across his throat. The thin woman leaned into the hallway and began shouting.

“Ser Bonifer! Help us! Murder! A red-eyed demon is murdering us!”

I walked to the doorway and grabbed her roughly by the arm. I pushed her against the wall.

“You must be silent,” I told her again.

“No! Murder! Murder! Ser Bonifer! Help us!”

I pinned her against the wall, my left forearm across the top of her chest right below her throat. I placed the point of my dagger over her heart. She was very thin with small, unusually low breasts and I could see the clear outline of her ribs and collarbones on the part of her body not covered by her clothing. A small spot of blood began to stain the white stripe across her dress where my dagger pricked her skin.

“I will not tell you again.”

Her face was oddly uneven, as though one side were slightly higher than the other. I looked into her eyes. They were bluish-gray and very wide. Her thoughts broadcast only terror. She screamed incoherently. She kept screaming until she began to cough and a small trickle of blood flowed out of the corner of her mouth. Her eyes seemed to become a deeper blue. Her face became less severe, and her hair now appeared reddish-brown rather than the wood-brown-and gray I had seen before.

“You killed me,” she said softly, a bewildered tone in her now-familiar voice. Tansy’s voice, from Tansy’s face.

I pulled my dagger out of her chest; I had not been aware that I had pressed it through her heart. She slowly slumped to a sitting position leaning against the wall and raised both hands to the wound, as though she could hold it closed. Blood ran between her fingers and down her chest to pool beneath her still form; her hair now appeared brown with gray once again and her face took on its original warped shape. Her last thoughts dwelt on a lover she had betrayed in her youth; I shut them out as I ripped away the top of her dress to clean my dagger, only realizing that exposing her breasts would shame her after I had already done so. I strode back down the steps, sheathing my dagger and drawing my sword again. Despite the odd apparition my mind felt clear, with only a cold determination. Fueled by Tansy’s rage over the singer’s betrayal, I had rarely felt more ready to kill.

A Holy warrior, fully armored except for his helmet, ran upwards to meet me. I kicked him in the chest and sent him sprawling back down the steps; he fell onto his back on a landing. His sword clattered down the stairs. He had close-cropped yellow hair and he seemed very young, though I have a hard time judging the ages of people here.

“Please. Mercy.”


“Father receive me . . .”

I tried to stab him through the heart, but he crawled awkwardly backwards in a vain attempt to escape and my sword went into his belly. I twisted it, causing the metal of his armor to screech as it bent, pulled the blade free and left him moaning in pain and self-pity.

“Perhaps your gods will take you to Happy Valley.”

When I exited the tower back onto the bridge, an archer stood at its parapet with nocked arrow, preparing to loose it at someone below. He did not see me and I stepped to him quickly; he wore no armor but instead a thick quilted tunic. I shifted my sword to my left hand, grabbed the back of his tunic and threw him over the edge. He screamed as he fell. Very soon the screaming stopped.

At the other end of the bridge, a second archer heard the scream and turned toward me. He already had nocked an arrow, and he raised his bow and loosed as I ran toward him. It flew off into the night, far wide of me. I reached him before he could nock another and he dropped the bow, turning to run into the tower. I chased him down the stairs into the cellar where he disappeared into the darkness. Pulling a torch out of the sconce at the bottom of the stairs, I moved carefully forward and found him on his knees at the end of a corridor lined with what appeared to be empty prison cells.

“Please don’t kill me.”

I killed him. 

I encountered no one else as I left the tower and met the Lord of the Fallen Star in the castle’s courtyard. Gendry and Tansy stood with him. Gendry reached for my sword; I handed it over and he inspected it, making sure his new grip and crossbar had withstood heavy use, and then began to clean it with a rag. Still unsettled by my vision of Tansy in the solar, I reached for my sister, pulling her into my arms.

“You are well?” I asked softly into her hair.

“I’m getting there,” she murmured back. “You were right. It was disturbing to see you kill someone.”

“You wish that I had not?”

“I asked you to do it,” she said, “and I meant it.”

I released her and stroked the side of her face.

“The sick are accounted for?” Ned asked, breaking my reverie.

“Yes,” I said. “Also six fighters outside the baths, a warrior on the bridge, another at the door of the solar, a third on the stairs, two archers on the bridge and one woman who interfered.”

“Regrettable,” he said, “but necessary.”

“The castle is secure?”

“We’ve cleared the walls and the barracks,” he said. “A few survivors went into hiding and we’re hunting them down now.”

“Their leader?”

“Killed in the baths. We have no way of identifying anyone else. We likely killed some of the male whores as well.”

He turned to Tansy. “I’m sorry,” he said, his first acknowledgement of her previous life.

“Occupational hazard,” she said. “And no need to apologize. That’s no longer my life’s work.”

Ned looked at her strangely. His startled thoughts revealed that she had stopped using the rough peasant speech of her whore persona.

“Prisoners?” I prompted.

“Not many,” he said. “The Holy Hundred didn’t have camp followers. There’s a cook who’s been here forever – Lady Tansy vouched for him. Three Silent Sisters, who of course have nothing to say. And an old blacksmith.”

The women who had watched me slaughter the sick and murder their screeching friend were of a nursing order sworn to silence. My sin would remain my own. I knew I would carry it for a very long time.

“And our men?” I remembered to ask.

“A few injured, none killed. Your information was correct. The Holy Hundred did not fight well.”

“I noticed this also.”

“There may be some survivors,” Ned said, “holding out in the tunnels below the castle. Can you help our men search them?”

I nodded. Tansy made to follow; I stopped her with my hand on her chest.

“An ulsio is never more dangerous,” I told her, “than when it is cornered with no hope.”

“It’s the same for rats,” she said. “I know those tunnels. You can use my help.”

Crodell and another Brotherhood fighter went with us; I made Tansy stay directly behind me and Crodell brought up the rear. I told the men that I had exceptional hearing and could detect people breathing if there were no other sounds about.

And while I could not actually hear people breathing, I could hear them thinking, and there were two people underneath the Harrenhal kitchens. A wide stair led downward from the back of the large cooking area; we set off down the stairs with the Brotherhood men carrying torches while I kept my sword in my hand. Both had been with me outside the bathhouse and remained somewhat stunned by what they had seen; they gladly allowed me to go ahead of them.

“Where does this lead?” I asked Tansy.

“The warehouse,” she said. “It’s for long-term storage of what they call dry goods – grain, flour, that sort of thing.”

As we drew closer, I could garner more details from the simple and child-like thoughts of the two people in this “warehouse.” They were not trying to hide; they apparently slept on the warehouse floor and seemed puzzled that no one had yet asked for supplies for an expected feast.

We entered the large, torch-lit underground chamber and found it filled with wooden racks holding sacks, barrels and boxes. A short, round and very dirty man dressed in what appeared to be a discarded flour sack shuffled toward us, pointed at my breasts and shouted, “Tits!”

A second man, taller and thinner but likewise dirty and wearing a sack with holes cut in it for his neck and arms, stood behind him and pointed at Tansy.

“Tits!” he cried.

He moved alongside his friend and the two of them stiffly swung their arms back and forth, alternately pointing at me and at my sister and shouting, “Tits! Tits! Tits!”

“Should we kill them, Princess?” Crodell asked.

“No kill Harpo!” the shorter man sniveled. “Kill Tom, let Harpo live.”

“Kill Harpo!” his friend argued. “Tom work. Harpo lazy. Kill him dead.”

“By the gods,” Tansy said, “they’re idiots.”

“That is not a kind thing to say,” I scolded gently. “They did not ask to be this way.”

“No patronize Harpo!” the fat man said. “Harpo speak for self.”

“Calm yourself,” I said. “We will not kill you, if you work for us. If you do not work, you will die.”

“Work!” they both said together.

“Take these sacks of grain to the castle courtyard and load them on the wagons there. Do not stop until all of them are in the courtyard and on the wagons. Courtyard. Wagons.”

I turned to Crodell.

“Keep watch on them,” I said. “If they do anything other than carry grain, kill them.”

“Yes, Princess.”

The three of us now continued on our tour, with Tansy pointing the way. I found one Holy Hundred fighter cowering in a dark corner; I held his torch while our remaining fighter dispatched the terrified holy warrior.

After several more hours of walking, I was satisfied that the Holy Hundred had been exterminated. We returned to the courtyard to find that Ned had already sent word to Thoros to bring the wagons and pack animals inside the castle; for now, my part was done.

Leaving the Lord of the Fallen Star and our Brotherhood companion, we returned to the kitchens. The old cook was overjoyed to see Tansy and despite the late hour laid out for us a wonderful spread of roasted meats, fresh bread and steamed vegetables. I had never had such delicious food and ate a great deal of it, with both wine and the wonderful golden-brown drink known as “ale.” I carefully avoiding considering why the cook had so many wonderful foods already prepared.

Afterwards we sought out Tansy’s childhood chambers for some sleep. As we walked through the stone-lined corridors, I detected a strange thought pattern. It was not human, but it was telepathic, and it probed for human thoughts.

The unknown creature was not as strong a telepath as I, allowing me to monitor its probes for a time while shielding myself from detection. It sought a human to enslave, that it could force into servitude. Apparently I had killed its former servant, the mousy-haired screaming woman, and it desired a replacement. It detected Tansy and selected her as its prey, advancing toward us up the corridor. I drew my sword.

“Dejah, what is it?”

“Some sort of monster. It is not human. It can also read thoughts. I have never encountered its like.”

“What does it want?”

“To enslave you. I will protect you.”

I motioned for my sister to remain behind me as I cautiously rounded what I believed to be the last corner between ourselves and the monster.

I saw the beast. It was very small, perhaps half again the length of my forearm, and extremely ugly. A round head held two pointed ears, while a long fur-covered tail whisked back and forth. It was covered in orange fur, highlighted by yellow stripes.

Serve me, its thoughts broadcast at me.

Die, I responded.

It turned and ran in an odd loping gait. I gave chase. I pounded down the corridor with Tansy coming after me.

“Dejah!” she shouted. “It’s just a kitty! It’s innocent!”

It ran into a chamber; I could see gray outlines of a bed, table and chairs in the flickering light of the torches in the corridor. It had hidden under the bed.

You’ll never catch me, its thoughts taunted. The other female will serve me.

I grabbed the bed and flipped it over.

Die, I repeated.

The monster leapt to the open window. It arched its back and emitted a horrible hissing noise, showing me its small but sharp teeth. If I came close, it intended to leap for my throat.

Choose your death, I broadcast at it. Out the window or be cut into pieces.

I am cute, it answered. Everybody likes me.

Not I, I thought at it. I desire your painful death.

Tansy had arrived at the doorway.

“Dejah,” she said, breathing hard from the run, “it’s just someone’s pet.”

“It is a monster. It seeks to enslave you with its mind-control powers. It will shit in a box and force you to clean it. And it wishes you to bring it fish.”

It leapt out the window. Its thoughts cursed me until it reached the ground. I put away my sword and looked out the window in search of its broken corpse. Somehow the monster had landed safely on the stone pavement far below and now rose to its feet and began to lick its paws.

“It was just a cat, Dejah. They’re harmless. I wonder why it jumped like that?”

“I do not know,” I lied. “But I do not like cats.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven (Dejah Thoris)

We encountered no further monsters as I followed Tansy to her childhood chambers. They had since been used again, most recently by some now-deceased holy warrior. He had left behind a holy book and some holy objects; we tossed them all into the holy fire we built in a stone fireplace.

This would be my first night on this planet in an actual bed chamber; I found it somewhat austere but comfortable. The bed had a large rectangular mattress filled with the large, fluffy hairs of birds, known as “feathers.” It was very soft and felt very soothing under my tired body. I curled myself up next to Tansy and slept very soundly; my physical exhaustion overcame my racing thoughts, something I have rarely enjoyed at the moment of sleep.

Tansy still slept when I awoke; I left her and went to the castle courtyard where a great deal of activity was already taking place. Thoros had moved the wagon train and pack animals inside the big gates. While his men – and the two addled individuals we had found under the castle – carried sacks and barrels of food out of the castle depths to load them in the wagons and arrange them on the backs of horses, the Lord of the Fallen Star supervised the collection and stripping of the dead. Their heads were removed for mounting along the walls and the corpses stacked in the courtyard for the Lannister to find.

“There’s a dead woman, too,” one of the Brotherhood fighters said. “Looks to be noble. What about her?”

“Like the others,” I said. “Take her head, strip her and add her to the pile.”

The Lord of the Fallen Star looked at me. I nodded, and then looked away. He said nothing more, and I did not wish to know what he thought.

Weapons and armor taken from the dead went into additional wagons found in the castle, along with some of the castle’s enormous stores of food and other supplies. The Holy Hundred had included their own rather large supply train, which now would serve the Brotherhood. No drivers or other workers could be found; perhaps the Holy warriors had driven their own wagons. A string of over one hundred matching gray horses would be taken back to the caves as well, each bearing a load of food. Harrenhal had a reputation as a haunted place – one occupied by the spirits of the dead in the beliefs of these people – and we hoped that the horrific sight of the mounted heads and stacked bodies would demoralize the Lannister’s men.

Ned shook his head as he watched the two warehouse workers become tangled and begin cursing one another.

“Do not harm them if it can be avoided,” I said. “They are not capable of making their own way in this world.”

“Who is?” he countered. “But I understand. We’ll give them a place and put them to work. If we send them away they’ll surely die.”

“Thank you,” I said. “They are innocents. Annoying, but incapable of evil.”

“Or good, either. But we won’t make their infirmity worse.”

We do not have such people on Barsoom. I knew, in theory, that they could be hatched. But the Breeding Council’s inspectors check every egg carefully, and those with imperfect embryos are destroyed well before hatching. It is a harsh standard, and in the past provoked some heated controversies. I assume that imperfect hatchlings are likewise destroyed; I had never thought to investigate and few others seem inclined to ask such questions, either. What was the moral choice in this matter? I did not know.

While I pondered this, I watched one of the fighters tear down the dark blue banners with white “Nittany Lion” symbols that flapped from the castle’s towers. He threw them down to another fighter who shoved them into a fire burning in a large metal container at the edge of the courtyard.

I had no doubt now. This planet had definitely changed me. Dejah Thoris of Helium had been a hard woman when necessary; Dejah Thoris of Jasoom was simply a hard woman. Or had this place simply brought out my true nature? Had John Carter been right to flee my presence?

I loved Tansy, with fierce intensity. I felt friendship for Ned and Gendry. But everyone else I had encountered on this planet could have been one of the disposable cleaning cloths we use on Barsoom after eliminating waste, for all that I cared whether they lived or died. I had killed men who attempted to surrender, and murdered a terrified woman for screaming. I knew that I would see Tansy’s eyes in her eyes for a very long time.

I needed to leave this place before it changed me even further. It was time to begin my search.

“I will not be separated from my sister.”

I have never liked hearing my own words thrown back at me. Having finished bathing and drying myself, I sat on the edge of the bed and continued cleaning the wood ash from my harness.

“This is something,” I said, “that I have to do alone.”

“Very heroic of you,” she said. “What did you see last night?”

“What does that mean?”

“Something happened to you,” she said. “While you were alone, killing the holy warriors in the solar. What did they say to you?”

“Nothing I have not heard before.”

“Then what did you see?”

I thought to lie, but could not imagine anything believable.

“I saw you,” I said. “In the woman I killed. I did not truly mean to, but my dagger went into her heart. She asked me why I had killed her. She had your face, your voice.”

“I’m right here,” my sister said. “And I’m safe. You did what had to be done.”

“It did not have to be done,” I said. “I slaughtered people about whom I knew nothing.”

“We knew plenty. They were a cult of child rapists.”

“I am not a good person, Tansy. I was ready to slaughter them before I knew that, and I would have done so had we never learned of their crimes and thought them a band of gentle healers and scholars. You deserve a sister worthy of you. Allow me to leave alone.”

“Dejah,” Tansy sat next to me on the bed, wrapping her arms around me and pulling me close. “I would rather die with you than live alone. My life was a little piece of hell before I met you. I’ll gladly die before I go back to it. If you’re going to leave without me, then please just run that burning sword through my heart first. It would be a kindness.

“We’re sisters now. And that means we stay together. No matter what happens.”

“We are sisters,” I repeated. “And so I would not take you into danger.”

“You truly do not understand this place,” Tansy answered, letting go of me. “I’ve told you before. These men fear you. They fuck me. You won’t be out of sight before three or four of our brothers-in-arms are pushing me onto my back and shoving their cocks into me. They saw what you did to Tom o’Sevens, how you cut other men into pieces, so then it’s a blade across the throat for Sweet Tansy to make sure she won’t tell the killer princess.”

Her face reddened and she spoke even more quickly, with a husky, emotional tone underlying her words.

“You seem to think that all men and all women are equals, just because you’re stronger, tougher and smarter than any man. It’s not that way for the rest of us. There’s a saying we have, for a really good reason. ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’”

She slowed a little, and leaned back from her intense, forward posture.

“You might take me into danger, it’s true. But as sure as all seven hells, you would leave me in danger if I stayed behind. Do I have to beg you to protect me?”

I dropped my leathers and returned her embrace. I felt deeply ashamed; hot tears ran down my face.

“I am truly sorry,” I said. “I was thoughtless and cruel. I would never wish to make you feel that you had to beg your sister for anything. I love you.”

“Then take me with you.”

“Always. I will never leave you.”

I had experienced the thoughts of the girls Jeyne and Willow as they died, as they thought of the horrible pain and humiliation of their rapes. The violation, as someone else took their body and made their own will meaningless. Treated them as an object, not a human. It had shocked me then, and recalling their memories still made my hands physically shake. I could not imagine that happening to Tansy. And yet, I could. By her words, it was clear to me that it had happened to my sister at least once. To someone I loved. Unbidden, my mind replaced Jeyne with Tansy in those vivid, horrific images, and I began to weep uncontrollably.

“Dejah,” Tansy said, now concerned. She stroked my face. “You didn’t know. It’s all right. Truly. Calm down. What is so terrible?”

“Jeyne,” I sobbed. “Willow. I saw the rapes in their minds. The thought of that being you. My sister.”

“Dejah. I’m fine. As long as I’m with you, I’m fine.”

I looked at her, staring into her wide blue eyes to be sure she understood the depth of my conviction.

“No one will hurt you,” I said, my voice raspy from the sobbing. “I will kill anyone who even thinks to harm you.”

“You’re scaring me.”

“This is who I am.” 

Well-rested, I toured the castle as Tansy showed me where the dragon had supposedly melted walls and towers with its fiery breath. As she had said, the damage had clearly come after the stones had been put into place. I did not know of any weapon of Barsoom that could cause such damage; a cutting torch could do so but the operator would have to stand directly in front of the stone, making it useless in battle. I had read papers proposing directed-energy beam weapons that might have had similar results.

My eyes, and apparently those of many from this land as well, found Harrenhal a depressing place. We saw the remnants of a pit used to torture animals that had been dug into the side of the courtyard fairly recently. But the impression went beyond that. The dark gray stone used in its construction seemed to absorb light and sound. In addition to the melting, many of its buildings had simply collapsed from obvious lack of maintenance. And it was gigantic; I estimated that it could comfortably house 20,000 people, and would require a garrison of at least 4,000 soldiers to properly man its walls, fighting positions and gates.

All of that seemed to imply that this had once been a much richer and more heavily populated land.

“Did you have a happy childhood?” I suddenly asked Tansy as we sat the roof of the Kingspyre tower and looked out far over the surrounding countryside, seeing the ruins of Harrentown, a large lake with an island in the middle, some farms and forests. It was a beautiful view, despite the odd shades of green. I did not see many signs of habitation. Few people apparently came up here, but someone had repaired the wooden ladder leading to its hatch within the last century, and the surface seemed solid enough to hold us.

“That’s an odd question.”

“You have not been happy for a very long time.”

“And you wondered if I ever had been?”


She thought for a moment.

“I was happy here,” she finally said. “I know it seems a dreary old pile of rock. And it is. But I had friends, I was loved, I had no real cares.

“You can’t return to childhood. Once you leave the garden, the gate shuts behind you forever. I left it too early, but that’s true for most people in these lands.”

“It is with us as well,” I said. “I am sorry that you had to leave the garden.”

“The time always comes. At least this time when I leave, I won’t be alone.”

“I was foolish. I will never leave you alone.”

“I know.” 

We rode out with the last of the Brotherhood on the second morning after the attack. The two addled fools from the warehouse, the cook and blacksmith, the three oddly-dressed nurses and a dozen boys rescued from the baths all left with the Brotherhood; Harrenhal would be home only to the dead until someone found the corpses we left to mark our passing. My passing.

The wagon train veered off onto a stream bed leading into the woods a short distance down the road leading out of Harrenhal. The going was very tough, with men having to dismount and push the wagons across many obstacles, but that hard effort meant that no hoof- or wheel-prints would remain to give away their route.

Tansy and I dismounted to watch the work and speak with Ned and Gendry, who were directing men repairing the short roadway between the gates and the stream so no evidence of the wagons’ passage would be left.

“I cannot thank you enough,” Ned said. “Many people will live through the winter because of you.”

“Many people died here because of me.”

“I am grateful nonetheless.”

He took my hand and raised it to kiss it, but I pulled him close in an embrace instead.

“Formalities end when you shed blood together,” I said. “Be well.”

Tansy allowed him to kiss her hand, while I embraced Gendry as well. He blushed when he felt my breasts press against his chest. Tansy embraced him and, seeing his face redden when her breasts rested on his arm, kissed him.

“You’ll find that girl you want to kiss,” she said. “And she’ll be very lucky.”

We mounted up and rode away from Harrenhal. This road was wider than any I’d yet seen on this planet, deeply rutted by wagon traffic and obviously rarely if ever maintained. The sun shone brightly and many of the small flying creatures Tansy told me were called “birds” sang happy songs, all in seeming mockery of the carnage we left in our wake.

Not long after setting out we came to what Tansy said was called the Kingsroad, the most important thoroughfare in the land. Fittingly, it was likewise a deeply rutted dirt track. With war to the north and war to the south, either direction seemed an equal choice to seek John Carter.

“Where does the road lead?”

“To the north, it crosses the River Road. To the west that leads to River Run, the seat of my father. To the east it goes to a land known as The Vale.”

“The Vale?”

“A poetic term for valley.”

“I suppose there is a great valley there?”

“Yes,” she said. “How did you know?”

“What lies beyond that crossroads?”

“Eventually the road reaches a land known as the North.”


“You come from a city called Helium.”

“I concede your point,” I said. “What is to the south?”

“The land becomes much richer farmland, and actual people live there. It eventually reaches the capital, a very large city called King’s Landing.”

“Do you wish to go to River Run?”

“There’s nothing for me there.”

“Are they not your family?” I asked. “You could be made legitimate.”

“That’s unlikely. But even were I not a bastard, I’ve been a whore. Once that line’s been crossed, you can never go back. A whore can never be a lady. Besides, you’re my family now. The Tullys never were; the Whents were for a time but no one seems to know what happened to them. I assume the Lannisters murdered them so they could give the castle to their followers.”

“Then we will go south. Who rules in King’s Landing?”

“Queen Cersei, First of Her Name.”

“We shall pay her a visit, and ask of John Carter.”

I now doubted that I had come to Dirt, at least not in the present time. John Carter had described steam-powered railroads, and Ulysses Paxton had confirmed that these had been greatly improved since John Carter left their planet and that flying machines as well as combustion-powered wheeled vehicles had begun to appear. Our own observations of Jasoom confirmed networks of paved roads and railroads crossing every continent. Surely this realm’s greatest thoroughfare would at least have been paved in that case, and supplemented by steel rails. I saw no sign that either had ever existed here.

I had landed among barbarians, and I fit right in. 

For the main thoroughfare of the realm, the Kingsroad also lacked both traffic and amenities. Much of that could be attributed to the recent warfare, which apparently had started after some action by Tansy’s hateful older half-sister, the now dead-for-good Stone Heart. But even counting the burned-out buildings that formerly housed taverns, inns, stables and similar businesses there did not seem to be enough of an infrastructure here to have supported much commerce during times of peace. Trade dies when money rests in the hands of only a few. As long as those few have more than others, much more than others, they rarely care what happens to working people.

In Westeros, those greedy, selfish few were the high nobles and the religious elite. On Barsoom many of the wealthy (or more accurately, many of their well-paid apologists) claimed the mantle of “job creators” who would uplift the masses, if only they could control even more of the land’s wealth. Though according to Tansy most of the rich in Westeros did not attempt to cloak their vile greed and disdain with claims of serving the greater good, and simply took what they wanted because they could.

We had taken vast amounts of gold from the coffers of the Holy Hundred, because we could, and Ned had insisted that Tansy and I take several fat sacks of coins. We’d also fitted ourselves with cloaks, tunics and other items from the clothing we found in Harrenhal. We had plenty of money, we actually looked somewhat respectable, and so we stayed in inns whenever possible.

The first we entered had roasted a sheep. We took an empty table at the very back next to a pleasantly crackling fire and I asked for a platter of sheep meat, which I learned is called “mutton” for some reason, and a pitcher of ale. Tansy had some mutton as well. Dark, rich reddish meat with a musky taste; I savored every bite. There were also roasted potatoes, another gift of the non-existent gods. While I ate my mutton, a man sat across the table from me, next to Tansy.

“Sweet Tansy, are you working here now? Will this do?”

He lay a silver coin on the table, and began running his hand up and down her thigh. I did not need to read his limited mind to grasp his meaning. I wiped the mutton grease off my face with the cloth provided.

“You will take your hand off my sister,” I said, “take your coin, and leave.”

He was a somewhat fat man, with brownish hair that only covered the back part of his skull and a brownish beard tied into a point. The contempt I felt for that beard shamed me, but only for a moment.

“Oh, and what about you?” he sneered. “You work with Tansy here, Redeye? I wouldn’t mind you two doubling up on me.”

He laid a second silver coin on the table. I reached across the table and grabbed his beard-braid to pull his face close to mine. I held the knife I’d been using to cut the mutton in front of his eyes. Juice dripped slowly down the blade. It made me hungry. I hoped I would not get his blood on the knife, as I had not finished using it on the mutton.

“I will not repeat this again,” I said. “Take your hand off my sister. Do not reach for your knife. Take your coins. Leave.”

“I’d rather stay here and do some business with my girl.”

“Have you ever raped anyone?”

“What?” My question flustered him. “Sure. Be glad I’m offering you coin.”

His thoughts said otherwise; he was loathsome but no rapist. Therefore he would live.

I cut his beard off with the knife. He fell back onto the bench and, his face having turned bright red, jumped to his feet and reached for his own blade. I punched that supremely punchable face, trying not to kill him; his red nose broke and he collapsed onto his back. I held the platter of mutton and pitcher of ale in place as his feet struck the bottom of the table, but he spilled my drink and Tansy’s. The innkeep rushed over.

“What’s happening here?”

“He drank too much,” I said. “Please bring us more ale and mutton. And a clean knife. He is paying.” I handed the innkeep the two silver coins, and tossed the ridiculous little beard into the fire.

“Is he dead?” Tansy asked. “I always hated him.”

“Not yet. Are you going to finish that?” 

We could not always secure a bed in an inn and spent a number of nights huddled under trees. There were scavengers about called wolves; less fearsome than most creatures of Barsoom but deadly enough if a pack found us while we slept. Fortunately my people’s telepathic senses never truly sleep, and have evolved to alert us of the approach of enemies including the fierce predators of Barsoom. I awoke several times each night to drive away wolves who wished to attack our horses. It was not difficult; they instinctively feared me. They were wise to do so.

After one night of camping under the strange stars, we bathed in a small stream running through the woods. It was a beautiful little enclosed valley, and I was watching the flying animals – birds – with fascination and wondering why we did not have more of these on Barsoom, given our much lighter gravity. Another paper was taking shape in my mind.

When I looked down, there was a thin stream of red blood in the water. Tansy was bleeding. I became very upset.

“Are you hurt? Are you ill?”

“It’s nothing,” she said. “Just my moon blood.”

“Your what? What can stop it?”

“Nothing,” she said, her voice surprisingly calm. “It’s a natural part of a woman’s life, Dejah. A woman of this world, anyway.”

She looked at me.

“I deserve the truth now.”

“I will give it,” I said. “First tell me that you will recover.”

“Yes, like I said. It’s natural. A woman carries eggs, and once every cycle of the moon your body flushes them clean, including blood. That only happens in healthy women. If you’re too lean, like I probably am now, you don’t always have moon blood and probably can’t become with child. I have moon blood far less often than most women because I’ve taken so much moon tea over my life. Plus it lessens as you age, and at one-and-thirty I may be approaching that stage.”

“Moon tea? Become with child? This has to do with live birth?”

“Dejah. Just how ignorant are you?”

“Deeply,” I said. “I am only an egg. I just fell out of the sky one moon cycle ago.”

“I believe that. Let me get dressed and I’ll explain. And then you’ll explain. You’ll explain everything.”

We walked back to our little campsite, and Tansy told me how women of this world carry their eggs within their bodies, and the men inject sperm into them during sex, which may or may not quicken the egg. As I understood her – and it was difficult to follow for one totally unaware of the process – every woman has a cycle that matches the orbit of this planet’s moon; she is most fertile during the middle of the cycle, and at the end of the cycle if she has not quickened her egg is expelled along with blood. Women place rags in their underclothes – the rags I had found in Brienne’s saddlebags – to absorb this flow.

That gives a woman little control over child-bearing, other than refusing to have sex. And I had already seen how difficult that was for women here: men wanted, and expected, sex constantly. Rape, which clearly had little to do with sex and everything to do with domination, seemed common.

And women also wanted sex, they simply did not demand it as boorishly as many of the men. Actually, they had no means to demand it, and usually could only satisfy the demands of men. The women had no power over the most basic biological function of their lives.

“This is horrible.” I was truly shocked. “How can you live like this?”

“We want children. We want them desperately.”

They must receive some sort of hormonal reward for carrying a child. I wished to study this process in depth; it would answer so many questions about the origins of the four-limbed races of Barsoom. And it was so radically, bizarrely different from our own form of childbirth. We females have full control over our ovulation. When we wish to produce an egg, we do. It then incubates in a hatchery, receiving a nutrient bath that allows it to grow. When ready, the child breaks free and emerges.

I recalled Brienne’s imagery of a newborn child.

“How large do you become when bearing a child?”

“About so,” she said, holding her arms wide in front of her.

“Is it painful? How long does it last? And how does the child emerge?”

“Apparently not when you carry them,” she said, “though it’s damned inconvenient. It lasts nine moon cycles, usually. The child comes out the same way it went in. That part is very painful, and many women die in the process.”

“Apparently? You have no children yourself?”

She looked away, and I sensed pain.

“I am sorry, I do not wish to cause you distress.”

“Like I said, we want children. It’s part of our being, and I wanted them too. But part of being a whore is to avoid carrying a child. To do that, we drink a concoction called moon tea. I drank it regularly, and I made it for the girls who worked for me. That always made my nickname a little bitter: the tansy flower is an important part of moon tea.

“Anyway, if you take too much moon tea over time, it interferes with your ability to carry a child. Many women miscarry. That means their child dies inside them.  I’ve never even reached that stage. I sometimes think I’m at peace with that but obviously I’m not.

“We were the only two women on the Brotherhood’s expedition, which rescued twelve small children. No one asked us to even look at them. Did that strike you as odd?”

“No,” I said. “Should it have?”

“Women here are seen as nurturing. We bear the young and care for them. None of those men saw us that way.”

“They know me,” I said, “and for the most part fear me, as an emotionless killing machine. There is some truth to this opinion. But I thought the nurses we captured cared for the children we found.”

“That’s not the point. I know those men want me for sex. Some of them have had me. But none of them saw me as a mother. As a complete woman.”

She sighed.

“I think I’ve always known that you don’t understand these things. That’s why you don’t judge me, and I love you for it.”

“I wish I could do something for you.”

“You can,” she said. “Stop avoiding telling me your real story. Right now.”

By now we had struck our camp, tacked up our horses and mounted them. As our horses walked southward, I pondered my story. I knew that telling Tansy everything might cost me my sister, but I owed her the truth. Anxiety held me in its nerve-jangling grip as I spoke, and I felt light-headed, on the verge of panic.

“I am Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, daughter of Prince Mors Kajak and Princess Heru, grand-daughter of King Tardos Mors. I am the estranged wife of John Carter, who commands my city’s military forces and those of our allies.”

“All right.”

“Helium is a real place, but it is not in Sothoryos.”

“All right.”

“All this,” I gestured around us at the empty pastures on either side of the road and the forests beyond, “is part of a planet, with a name I do not know. The Eastern Continent, the Southern Continent and Westeros all lie on an immense ball of rock that hurtles through an empty void. We call such a ball of rock a planet.”

I used John Carter’s word, planet, as I did not know if these people had such a term in their language.

“There are many planets in the universe.” Again, I used John Carter’s term. “What we call the vast expanse out beyond a planet’s shell of air. An unknown number, at least to us. Every star in the night sky is a sun just like that one, plus many more too far away to be seen, and most of them are circled by planets. As I said, I do not know the name of the planet on which we stand now. But Helium lies on a different planet, a planet that we call Barsoom and John Carter’s people called Mars.

“Our people are very similar to yours, but not exactly the same. We lay eggs outside our bodies, for one thing. And we do not feel the same passion for children. I suspect that we live much longer lives than you do. Our blood is blue, not red like yours.”

“Do they all look like you?”

“My copper-colored skin is common to all of our people, and almost all have black hair. Some have black eyes rather than red; I have never seen blue eyes like yours among our people. There are other peoples on my planet with black skin or yellow skin and a very few with white skin, but we are the most common type.”

I did not wish to hide facts from my sister, but did not think it a good time to describe the six-limbed green people of Barsoom.

“As I have stated, I was bred for size, strength and beauty. As a princess, I am larger, more intelligent and more beautiful than most women, but less receptive to the emotions of others.”

I did not know their word for empathy, or if they had one, only that I had very little of it.

“I do not think that last is a common failing of royalty among my people, but is a shortcoming unique to me. I have become a much harder woman since my arrival here, and this frightens me.”

Tansy looked at me but said nothing. She had seen me execute the singer Tom and knew what I had done in the castle’s solar. She understood that I did not simply indulge in self-pity.

“Our society is violent, at least as violent and war-like as this one. I believe it to be much older than yours, for we are capable of making many more devices than your people. We have machines that fly, pictures that move, and weapons of terrible destructive power. We have a great deal more knowledge of the natural world, and are much wealthier.

“It is also possible that I am insane. You may run away now if you wish.”

“And how,” she asked instead, “did you come here?”

“I raised my hands to a blue planet in the night sky, where I believed that John Carter had gone, and wished to be there. That is how John Carter said he came to Barsoom.”

“He is not from your world.”

“No. He called his home planet Dirt. It is very similar to this planet. It may be this planet, but I have come to doubt this.”

“So you came here by magic.”

“I do not believe in magic,” I said, “but I cannot deny that I disappeared from my home, and arrived in the forest.”


“Yes, but we are often naked on Barsoom. I prefer to be unclothed.”

“I’ve noticed. The rest of your story is true?”

“Mostly,” I said. “I do not recall lying but I might have. John Carter believed that we of Barsoom do not lie, but only because in his complete lack of honesty he did not recognize . . .”

“Dejah. Stay with the point.”

“Yes. I came to seek my husband, John Carter, to assuage the anger of my grandfather, the king of our city. I was not always so good at killing people, but a princess of my people is trained to fight. I am somehow stronger and faster than I was on Barsoom. I have no explanation for this. Do you still wish to be my sister?”

I had come to the decisive moment. Her answer came quickly, though it seemed as though eons passed.

“That’s not subject to change.”

I exhaled.

“I am glad. I have come to love my sister.”

“And she loves you.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve (Dejah Thoris)

Relieved to learn that my alien origin – and failure to disclose it – had not cost me my sister’s love, I rode alongside her feeling that I might float out of my saddle at any moment. Suddenly very thirsty, I took a long pull from the water bottle I had looted in Harrenhal. The countryside and the road remained empty, until I sometime later detected three people watching the road from a campsite among the trees. They had built a platform in a large tree from which they could shoot passing strangers with arrows, but when the youth on watch determined that we were women who could be raped he summoned his two older companions and the three of them stepped into the road to block our passing.

The two men had apparently been farmers forced to join one of the many armies fighting in the recent wars; the younger man stood in awe of their fabricated tales of adventure. They had murdered a number of people who passed by their ambush site and robbed them of money or useful items. They raped any women among their victims, and looked forward to doing the same to us. Afterwards the youth threw the bodies and any carts or wagons into a deep ditch a short distance off the side of the road. They sold any horses they captured.

And now they saw easy prey simply ride right up to them. The youth continued to think about their past exploits; one of the men marveled that each of them had a woman to rape while the other tried to figure out how he could dominate his companion by making him hold us in place while he had his turn with each of us first. They disgusted me and I knew that I would kill them without regret. I slid off my horse and drew my sword.

“Now you just drop that pretty sword, pretty girl, and it’ll all be over before you know it,” said the man who believed himself their leader. He stood a short distance in front of his companions, with a broad smile that showed several rotting teeth. He had not washed in a very long time, and wore ragged clothes. I stalked toward him and slashed him across his protruding belly; he screamed, dropped his sword and fell to his knees.

The second man, taller and thinner, with sparse and dirty hair the color of chicken grease, raised his sword unsteadily; I knocked it aside, sending it flying out of his hand, and ran him through. He looked blankly at me, and I placed my foot on his belly to push him away and free my sword. The youth dropped his own sword – he had no knowledge of how to use it – and raised his hands.

“I didn’t have nothing to do with it,” he said in a squeaky voice. “They made me do it.”

“You enjoyed it. They let you rape the women after they were done.”

“Only ’cause they made me,” he said, his voice shaky. “They said I had to, else I wasn’t no man.”

“You lie. You may kneel and I will cut off your head, and you will die without pain. Or I will stab you in the belly and you will die very slowly, like your friend.”

The first man had stopped screaming and now whimpered, asking for his mother. People of Barsoom do not ask for a parent as we die; that relationship is not as fundamental to our being. Such begging as does occur is usually for the intervention of the goddess Issus, and is considered a cowardly and humiliating act. An honorable man or woman of my planet dies silently and proudly.

“Do you have to kill me?” the youth asked. He had no beard, and red marks covered his dirty face.


“I won’t do it never again. I promise.”

“I have no wish to speak with you. Kneel and die. Stand and die. I am indifferent to your choice. But this is the moment of your death, and I your killer.”

He began to weep, hoping to elicit pity from me, but did not kneel. As I had promised, I had no pity. I jammed my sword into his belly, twisted it and pulled it free. He fell onto his back and continued to cry.

“It hurts,” he howled. “It hurts.”

“So does rape,” I told him. “Soon it will be over, so be silent, lie still and enjoy it. I believe you told that to the women you raped and killed. You thought it amusing then. Is it no longer so?”

I tore his tunic from his body and used it to clean my sword as I walked back to my horse.

“Are you alright?” Tansy asked.

“I should ask you. I am sorry that you witnessed that.”

“We are what we are,” she said. “Let’s not try to hide it from each other.”

“Thank you.”

“You probably shouldn’t leave their swords for the next fuckers to pick up and use.”

“You are right.”

I sheathed my sword and walked back to the dead body and the two dying robber-rapists. I picked up each sword by its hilt, with the tip resting on the road, and pressed down on the blade with my foot. They were all cheaply made and bent easily. I searched the bodies for money; the dead man had none but the dying adult had a few coins, which I kept.

“Bitch!” the dying youth screamed as I checked him for belongings. He had nothing of interest other than what appeared to be a toy soldier tucked into his leggings. I dropped it next to him. “They made me do it! You’ll go to hell when you die!”

I ignored him, mounted up, and we continued our southward ride. 

We camped in the forest that night, well back from the road where our horses would not be visible. I considered what might have happened to Tansy without me; I had dispatched the three bandits with little trouble, but they would surely have raped and murdered my sister had I not been present.

Tansy’s outburst, and my memories of Jeyne and Willow, had obviously affected me deeply. I could have simply killed the younger rapist, or even let him go with a stern warning to repent lest I return to kill him. Without medical care which I knew that these people could not deliver, the two I had left with belly wounds would die slowly and in a great deal of agony. I had been intentionally cruel, and yet I found that I did not regret my actions. Had I not killed them, they would have raped the next female travelers they captured, and then murdered them. It had not been my intention to become some sword-swinging avenger of women, but at least on this occasion I did not mind having played the role.

The weather remained very fine, and I enjoyed the ride. We passed a few farmers moving wagonloads of produce, straw or manure for short distances along the road, but no one making a multi-day journey. They did not seem eager to engage in conversation with strangers, and one farmer and his son abandoned their cart to hide from us among the reeds of a small swamp.

Two days after I killed the bandit-rapists, I detected a larger group blocking the road. As we drew closer, I could make out twelve thought patterns. They intended to stop travelers and exact “taxes” in the form of horses and any valuables they might have. All were on foot, and as we drew near I saw that none had weapons other than pieces of wood.

I considered dismounting and killing them, but decided that this would be excessive and might disturb my sister. She had not objected to my killing armed men, but I suspected that she had not fully approved of my execution of the youngest would-be rapist even though she had said nothing about it. Or perhaps I had simply projected my own misgivings upon her.

I asked my horse to halt a short distance from the tax collectors, and Tansy pulled up beside me.

“More rapists?” she asked.

“I cannot tell,” I said. “They will demand our horses and money, and beat us with sticks if we do not deliver them.”

“Beat us to death, you mean.”

“It is likely.”

“Can you kill them all?”

“Easily. Do you wish me to?”

“If you have to.”

“They have no training,” I said. “We can ride past without killing all of them.”

“Let’s do that, then.”

“Ride directly behind me. Do not let any space open between your horse and mine. The spare horses will flank you on either side to keep any attackers away from you.”

I explained the formation to the horses; they understood and thought it an exciting game. I suspect they understood at some level that humans could die, but they pretended otherwise. That is the way of horses.

We moved forward, picking up the pace until we were at full gallop when we reached the people blocking the road. Only one stood his ground, flailing about with his stick, and I applied the flat of my sword to his head as I passed him. He fell and the spare horse on that side easily leapt over his unconscious body. The remainder scattered, some continuing to run away long after we had passed. 

Not every experience on our ride southward involved killing people. We rode through mostly empty countryside, the skies clear of rain and the air sweet and cool, a sharp and pleasant contrast to the hot, dusty winds of Barsoom.

Every day, I rode a different horse and learned to commune with each of my tiny herd. I found the connection both stimulating and soothing; while we can make telepathic contact with most of the higher animals of Barsoom, they are usually hostile. Even those we keep as pets are often unpleasant creatures, in their attitude much like the little monster Tansy had named a “cat,” though not as noxious in appearance.

Despite having killed a great number of people, I felt myself become more at ease in this strange world. My sister had seen me kill and had learned of my alien origins, yet she loved me still. That lightened my heart – the metaphorical center of emotion on both Barsoom and this nameless planet – even as I worried that I rode on a foolish quest and had dragged Tansy along with me. I sought one man among millions, with little to aid this search beyond my senses. And I had no reason to believe he might wish to be found; more than likely, he would react to my presence with hostility. I could easily be as deluded as the last woman to wield my sword, and be headed toward the same fate.

As we drew closer to King’s Landing we encountered more commercial traffic on the road and fewer bandits. Twice we passed small patrols of Lannister soldiers; they simply looked for would-be robbers and greeted us politely, each time warning that two women travelling alone needed to be very careful. I was glad that I did not have to kill them.

I expected that we would find nicer lodgings closer to the city. A small inn stood alone, with a stable and small fenced yard. All of the buildings were of stone and well made; we appeared to be the only visitors.

We dismounted and left all four horses standing in front of the inn; I asked them to remain in place and they as usual agreed. I scanned the inn and found no guests present, only an adult man who seemed to be the owner and a very worried woman I took to be his wife. One more set of thoughts could have been a child, or a child-like adult; they seemed somewhat disturbed to me.

The innkeeper greeted us at the door, his wife standing behind him. He was a tall man, steeply stoop-shouldered with curly gray hair. She was smaller, slender and much younger than he, with yellow hair, small breasts and an extremely nervous demeanor that made it very unpleasant to receive her thoughts.

Inviting us in, the innkeeper declared himself very pleased to see us. After exchanging pleasantries Tansy and I went back outside to take care of the horses, brushing all four, cleaning their hooves and giving them buckets of the grain known as “oats” to eat. The inn had a very well-kept and well-supplied stable, but oddly, no other horses were present. After we returned our host bade us to sit at a large table in the otherwise empty common room while he prepared Evening Meal and regaled us with tales of his life.

He had been the top-rated chef in King’s Landing, he said, working at a well-known establishment called the Black Destrier. I looked at Tansy. Never heard of it, she thought very hard so that I could understand, or him. Or anybody rating chefs, either. I nodded to show that I had received her thoughts.

Prior to that, he had been captain of one of the King’s warships and had won many battles against pirates. He also painted many fine pictures and wrote popular adventure tales. This seemed unlikely; I did not believe these people knew about printing, let alone publishing. I supposed they had to have some way of spreading their stories – Tansy, Ned and Gendry had all made reference to adventure tales, though I knew that Gendry could not read.

I did not know what to make of our host. His thoughts said that he thoroughly believed these claimed achievements to be true, but with the feverish edge that usually denotes a delusional mind. Telepathy does not, exactly, allow one to tell truth from lies though that is often the practical outcome. What it does reveal is whether the subject believes something to be true. If they are mistaken, or deluded, that will not be immediately obvious. Barsoom has mentally ill people, but they are not common. Here, they seemed to thrive and to exist in abundance.

Whatever the truth of the innkeeper’s boasts, the food was indeed quite good: small round pieces of pig meat he called “medallions” in a very fine wine-based sauce, served over a boiled grain he called “rice.” The innkeeper joined us with a glass of wine – an actual glass rather than the goblets or mugs that seemed common here – and continued to tell us of his accomplishments while his wife hovered nervously behind him, continuously rubbing one hand over the other. She thought us unable to resist his charms, and that we would soon join him in sex games of some sort. I could not determine what this entailed without deeper probing, and did not care enough to try. He did have excellent wine, much smoother than the thick and viscous liquid that often went by that name.

After we finished our meal, the innkeeper wanted to show us his art: still-life paintings of ships mixed with odd paintings and charcoal drawings of horses that looked like people. They had eyes and sometimes breasts and hands like people, but their lower half was always that of a horse. They stood on two legs, with the painting’s focus usually on the part known as the “ass.”

The ship drawings fascinated me; such vessels once plied the seas of Barsoom but my planet’s oceans had been dry for tens of thousands of years. John Carter had told me that ships were among the most beautiful things on his planet, and I saw that reflected in these paintings despite the innkeeper’s middling skill with a brush. They had sails to catch the wind, and some were powered by large wooden sticks as well. Cutting through the water, throwing up a spray of foam, I could see hints of the beauty John Carter had described. I hoped that we would see real ships soon.

Next, the innkeeper wanted us to read his adventure stories. Tansy took a scroll but I pleaded my inability to read; literacy was rare in these lands and Tansy sent me a bitter thought wishing she had thought to say the same. She read through the first part of the story and made some non-committal sounds, and then noted our extreme tiredness.

“I’m afraid my eyes are just too sore tonight,” she said. “I’d like to read this in the morning though.”

“I’m eager to hear what you think,” he said. “I’ve been told it’s the best story ever written.”

I wondered who might have told him this, as few people of these lands were capable of reading, but he accepted that we needed sleep and his wife showed us to our room. She seemed relieved when we accepted a single room with but one bed, assuming that we preferred sex with one another and therefore would not be attracted to her husband. She need not have worried on that score.

The bed had a thick cover known as a “comforter,” and a very soft mattress underneath. The innkeeper’s wife brought us a tub and many containers of hot water, and we enjoyed a bath before curling up under the comforter, unclothed as was our usual habit.

“How bad was his story?” I whispered in Tansy’s ear.

“Worse,” she whispered back. “Story you might recognize. A man’s flying machine falls out of the sky. He wakes up in a strange world, finds he’s been turned into a horse-man, runs around swinging a sword and fighting an evil wizard. Even though his hands have been turned into hooves. And he has sex with horse-women, and fox-women, and deer-women. I didn’t read far enough to tell if there were any goat-women.”

“I do not have a horse’s ass.”

“Remember that the next time you’re upset that you landed on this planet. It could have been worse.” 

I slept well, until late into the night when my telepathic sense altered me that someone had entered our room. The figure radiated a great deal of anger, anxiety and jealousy. It moved over to our bed, where I lay curled up behind Tansy’s back, my right arm around her mid-section. The figure held a knife in one hand, and planned to kill us as we slept. I watched through my eyelashes as the killer bent over to peel back the comforter and stab Tansy in the chest, long hair dropping over the figure’s shoulder to dangle next to the bed.

Before the stabbing could commence, I grabbed the hair in my right hand and pulled it sharply downward. The intruder’s head smacked into the bed’s wooden sideboard with a loud thumping sound and his or her body slumped to the floor.

I leapt out of bed, wearing nothing, and grabbed the intruder by the head, ready to smash it into the floor. Before I could do so, I saw that it was the innkeeper’s nervous wife and that she had fallen on her knife, the handle of which now protruded from the center of her own chest. Her dead eyes stared at me, as vacant as they had been in life.

As I confronted this scene, I picked up my horse’s thoughts. Someone was trying to tie her in her stall, and she resisted. I dropped the corpse, awakened Tansy and told her to gather our belongings. Then I crawled out of the window onto the roof, still naked but now carrying my sword. It was a short drop to a small yard between the inn and its stable.

No one was about, and I hurriedly entered the stable to find my mare tied tightly in her stall with lines leading to a bridle and hobbles on her front and back feet as well. With my horse so secured and unable to move or kick, a man in a strange costume stood directly behind her atop a small piece of furniture known as a “stool.” It was the innkeeper, and his thoughts showed him thoroughly involved in a bizarre fantasy scenario.

“What are you doing to my horse?” I demanded.

“She wanted me,” he answered, his voice muffled by the costume’s headpiece.


“She needed a stallion.”

He stepped down off the stool and out of the stall, and now I could see the costume. He wore a large covering over his head, shaped like the head of a black horse. Close-fitting black robes covered the rest of his body, open in front to display his engorged sex organ.

“You could use a stallion, too. You really need to put on the doe suit, but that can’t be helped now. Turn around and I’ll give you what you need.”

I still had my sword in my hand, and I did not think about what I did next. With a quick twist of my wrist, I sliced off most of his sex organ. It flopped to the ground and he screamed in pain, covering the gushing wound with both of his hands as he sank to his knees and then onto his side. Blood pooled underneath him.

Tansy arrived just as he sank to the ground, out of breath with her arms wrapped around our possessions. She dropped them on some straw not yet fouled by horse waste, and handed my leggings to me.

“What in the hells happened here?”

“He . . .” I could not think of how to describe what I had seen. “He was trying to rape my horse. Then he wanted me to wear some sort of sex costume, and turn around so he could stick his sex organ into my ass.”

“He what?”

“He wanted to put his sex organ into my ass.”

“Before that.”

“He was trying to put his sex organ into my horse’s ass. So I cut it off.”

“You cut it off?”

“Yes, there it is on the ground.” It had grown much smaller, and now looked like the strange boneless creatures called “slugs” that could be seen on this planet’s plants early in the morning.

She now looked more closely at the innkeeper.

“What in the hells is he wearing?”

“He believes himself to be a horse-man creature known as The Black Destrier, a warrior prince of his people. His herd. Whatever one would call it. He claimed that my horse desired sex with him; he appears to have believed that to be true.”

“He’s a fucking lunatic.”


“So he dressed up as a horse-person?”

“You can see for yourself,” I said. “He must have worked very hard on the costume.”

“He’ll bleed to death.”

“Should we treat his wound?”

Tansy sighed heavily.

“Stay here.”

She ran into the inn, and returned a few moments later carefully holding a large, broad-bladed knife for cutting meat known as a “cleaver” that she had heated in the kitchen fire, some rags and a jug of water.

“Roll him over.”

We turned him onto his back and pulled away his robes to reveal the ugly wound. I held his arms away from it and Tansy swiftly cleaned the area with the rags and water before she pressed the hot metal to the damaged area. The horse-man screamed before he lost consciousness, and I smelled burning meat.

“Is he alive?” she asked.

“Yes, but he has fallen into a dream state. Lovely horse-women surround him. Some of them look like us. None resemble his wife.”

She shook her head.

“There was a bed in the back of the kitchen, hadn’t been used in a while. Put him there and let’s get away from this place.”

I hefted the innkeeper and placed him as Tansy instructed. I did not know if he would live or die, though the loss of blood had been extreme. Would he be able to urinate now that Tansy had cauterized the area? I had not thought to provide a channel.

“They were going to rob and kill us?” Tansy asked as I exited the inn.

“Rob us, possibly. Kill us, definitely. At least the wife wished to kill us. The man believes an evil wizard has injured him. He seems to think we are also horse-people.”

“You left the horse-head on him?”

“I did not think to remove it.”

“No matter. Let’s ride.”

“I did not mean to cut off his sex organ. He advanced on me and I was disgusted. It was a very ugly organ, narrow and bent to one side. Perhaps all male sex organs of your planet are ugly, I have not thought to study them. My sword moved before I thought about it.”

“No second guesses, Dejah. They committed crimes, they suffered for it. It’s not up to you to sort out their level of guilt.”

“They were not able to defend themselves,” I said. “The innkeeper was not responsible for his actions.”

“That crazy blonde didn’t look at you and see a warrior. She saw two women, and in this world, Dejah, that means two victims. Don’t you go turning inward with your guilty thoughts – she died with her own knife in her heart. She didn’t mean for us to ever see the morning. You said it yourself, the crazy innkeeper wanted to stick his cock up your ass. You protected us – and your horse. End of story.”

I did my best to follow her advice. I had to soothe my mare’s fear and re-assure her that the bad man had gone away – horses do not like to contemplate death – before we could mount up. We rode out before we had to explain the bodies to anyone else who came along. As we rounded the inn, a door opened and a small voice called out, “Mama? Where are you? Where is Papa?”

Tansy grabbed my mare’s bridle and pulled us into the night. 

I smelled King’s Landing before I saw the city walls. An incredible reek of shit emanated from the city, along with a heavy pall of smoke. Somehow, shit smells worse on this planet than on Barsoom. The death rate from disease in such a place must have been astronomical, but Tansy explained that war had devastated the countryside and many people had fled to the city to escape the violence. That in turn had resulted in an overcrowded city, one suffering from unemployment, crime and a lack of food as well as poor sanitation.

“You have lived in King’s Landing yourself?”

“I must have been eight-and-ten. I was beautiful, I could dance, and I’d grown these,” she touched her breasts, “and I’d been working for my mother for about four years at that point. She sold me to a brothel in the big city.”

“Your mother sold you? I thought slavery was not allowed in Westeros.”

It was legal in Helium and widely practiced; my family owned a great many slaves and they had tended me since I first emerged from my egg. I had rarely given it much thought; when I had, I had wished that the institution did not exist but I had done nothing to abolish it. My sister Thuvia had been enslaved and once she had been freed and restored to her former status, I had forgotten the travails of the slave class. As Helium’s lone princess and lead science advisor to my grandfather I had, potentially, a great deal of influence. Yet at best I had spoken out at royal councils to curb its excesses; I had never thought to challenge its fundamental existence.

John Carter had considered slavery part of the social order imposed on mankind, whether of Barsoom or Jasoom, by the god in which he professes not to believe. He had fought in his nation’s civil war for the faction which wished to not merely retain slavery but extend it to parts of their nation where it was not allowed. John Carter disdained the dark-skinned people of Dirt, considering them lesser beings who benefitted from their enslavement by his own light-skinned race. On Barsoom both the dark-skinned First Born and white-skinned Therns hold such racist beliefs, considering my own red-skinned people fit only to be eaten.

John Carter had forged a friendship with the Thark chieftain Tars Tarkas, but out of hearing of his friend referred to the green-skinned Tharks with what I came to understand were vile racist words that I will not repeat here. I did not like the Tharks either, but I felt that I had good reason: they had captured me, tortured me, and planned to eat me. I had never minded killing Tharks in battle, but had declined to join the secret hunts John Carter organized to seek out and exterminate small bands of green-skinned people.

“Slavery’s not legal,” Tansy answered, not noticing my distraction. Or perhaps she had simply become used to my habits. “There are ways around that. In my case, and that of many whores in the bigger King’s Landing brothels, there was a legal contract. I was obliged to work for a woman named Chataya. I couldn’t leave without paying a penalty that equaled what I would make for the remainder of the contract, which made it damned near impossible to quit since it automatically extended every year. My contract was never sold, but it could have been, and I would have had no say in the matter.”

I had assumed this planet to be as primitive in all of its social constructs as it had shown itself in its technology. And while the treatment of prostitutes horrified me, the scientist within me had to take note of the sophisticated legal arrangement that had been used to tie Tansy to her employer. These people were not backward in every respect; when committing evil they could be very advanced.

“A man named Littlefinger,” Tansy continued to ignore my wandering mind, “who owned brothels in King’s Landing and in some of the Free Cities offered Chataya a great deal of money for me. He was a constant customer despite owning his own houses where he could fuck for free, but he paid Chataya huge sums to reserve me, which meant a lot of money for me too.”

“You were his favorite?”

“Sort of. And this is where it gets pretty sickening. Catelyn Tully, the Stone Heart, was my sister. I look a great deal like her, before, you know, she died and rotted. Littlefinger had been fostered with the Tullys, and became obsessed with her when they grew a little older. Deeply obsessed.”

“Did you know him as a child?”

“Not really. I went with the Whents to River Run, the Tully seat, a few times and played with the noble children there. Catelyn kept her siblings away from the little bastard, and Littlefinger did whatever she said. So, I knew who he was, but not much more than that. I don’t think he remembered me from our childhood, and I didn’t remind him lest it make him even more obsessed.”

“He would pretend you were your sister?”

On Barsoom we are very familiar with the concept of role-playing during sex. John Carter had found the idea perverse and obscene, as he did most of our sexual practices.

“Exactly. He made me dress like her, and then beg him to fuck me, and tell him how much I hated my betrothed and my husband and preferred his tiny cock to theirs.”

“That sounds . . .”



“It was, but it was pretty mild compared to some of the things a whore gets asked to do. Our friend back at the inn probably paid someone to dress up like a horse and take it up the ass. And there are powerful men who enjoy abuse, and will pay well to have a beautiful woman insult them, smack them on the ass with a rolled-up story book, piss on them, treat them as a child or a prisoner. One rich orange-skinned buffoon with a cock shaped like a little mushroom once paid me to piss on a bed because one of his rivals, a far better man than he, had slept in it.”

“Your beauty made you successful?”

“This is where I teach you more of our world. When you say that, I’m supposed to deny that I think I’m beautiful.”

“Even though you are, and believe yourself so.”

“Right. It’s called false modesty, and it’s a big part of good manners. Men can make themselves out to be more than they are. In fact, they almost always do. But women must make themselves less.”

Did this society give any advantages to its women?

“When everyone can read thoughts,” I said, “there is no false modesty.”

“I can see that. But to answer the question, not really. A beautiful whore is intimidating. The most successful are just pretty enough to be attractive, but you always want a potential customer thinking, ‘I could fuck her,’ not ‘she’s out of my league.’ It certainly helped me when I was a courtesan, sort of a higher class of prostitute reserved for the very rich and powerful.”

“Do you miss it?”

“For an exotic beauty from the stars, you are insightful.”

“I am learning more about you every day.”

“I suppose you are. And yes, sometimes it did make me feel powerful. I like being desired. I’d guess that you do, too.”

“Sometimes. When I choose to be.”

“Yes, when you choose. And that’s the thing. I didn’t get to choose. I had a little leeway to refuse a client, but not always. And once you’re in the room, what are you going to do?

“I miss the money and the power – I even fucked the king, who asked for me by name more than once – but I don’t miss the life. I’d rather be riding around with you.”

“I am glad to hear that,” I said. “How did you escape?”

“The same way it happens in the storybooks. My mother died, she left me her brothel and all her savings. I used her money and what I’d saved myself to buy out my contract, then went back to Stoney Sept to take over the brothel.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Six (John Carter)

When I retired to my chambers, I found both Calye and Doreah awaiting me, sitting well apart and each endeavoring not to acknowledge the other’s existence. I considered beating them, as is a slave-owner’s right, but decided to heed my bed-warmer’s advice instead. Preparing to make love to my princess could not hurt, I reasoned, and I could be avoiding future problems. And it would probably be wise to relieve some of my tension with one or both of them before my first night with Daenerys.

“Tomorrow, I’ll marry the princess,” I said, cutting to the point. “Is she prepared?”

“She thinks you handsome and honorable,” Doreah said. “She has no idea what’s about to happen to her.”

Doreah disliked Daenerys and had considered teaching my princess to act as a depraved whore but Doreah feared, probably correctly, that I would kill her for such an affront. Doreah hated me and truly believed that I would hurt Daenerys badly, both physically and emotionally, and wished to spare the girl that pain. It pains me to admit that her firm belief in that likelihood shook me.

“Then how do we avoid that?” I asked. “This is your specialty.”

“It is,” Doreah nodded. “If only you’ll pay attention.”

“Show me,” I said. “Either yourself, or guide me using Calye.”

Not wishing to take my manhood inside her again, she told Calye to strip. Feeling the revulsion in her thoughts excited me far more than the anticipation in Calye’s.

“No,” I said. “Show me yourself.”

She urged me to allow Daenerys to straddle me, as it would keep my weight off her. I could admire her lovely body and kiss her more easily. The whore showed me a secret woman’s place, that evoked ecstasy when stroked.

“She has to be wet,” Doreah said. “You have to attend to her needs first. It’s terribly painful otherwise.”

“That’s why,” I realized, “you use the gel.”

“Yes,” she said. “A woman must, when her lover doesn’t excite her.”

She intended to insult me, but I cared nothing for her sexual pleasure. Daenerys was a different matter, however. While it is improper for a woman to take joy from the act of procreation, neither did I wish my princess to feel pain.

“Use your tongue,” Doreah said. “Right where I showed you.”

“I shall not,” I said. “A gentleman does not participate in such depravity.”

“Then what do you want to do about it? Have me come in and fluff her?”

“Fluff her?”

“Get her ready,” Calye said, still naked and seated next to the bed. “With her tongue, she’ll get the princess wet for you.”

“That is perverse,” I said, even as I grew hard from the image created in my mind, of Doreah kissing Daenerys. I pushed Doreah onto her back, and entered her. This time she did not slap me but instead stared at the ceiling and fantasized multiple ways in which I might die. I finished inside her; she didn’t cry, but Calye did.

I could tell no difference between the just-ended funeral feast and the just-begun wedding feast; the Dothraki gorged themselves on roasted meats, guzzled barrels of wine and ale, and openly engaged in fights and in intercourse with equal lack of shame.

When the sun reached its peak, Illyrio presented Daenerys. She wore a sheer white dress than showed her womanly curves, and we stood together and recited the traditional vows. I declared her to be the moon of my life, and she named me her sun and stars. I felt as though I had done this before, but I knew that I had never been so happy as I was in that moment.

Afterwards we sat on the raised dais while our followers and friends presented wedding gifts. Illyrio gave my princess a set of three dragon’s eggs, claiming them to be real though fossilized. This intrigued me, and he certainly believed his own tale, but it saddened me that my friend had fallen for such an obvious fraud. I hoped that he had not paid too much for them, though they were attractive baubles and appeared to be extremely well-made when I examined one. I recalled hearing of gigantic ancient creatures known as “dinosaurs” that had been exterminated in a cataclysmic world-wide flood. Perhaps these were the animals Illyrio called “dragons,” and these eggs actual artifacts. But I doubted it.

Mormont gave me a fine leather-bound multi-volume history of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, which I truly appreciated. I would have to learn more of my new realm, and I instructed my steward Vyros, who simpered behind the dais, to make sure these would be included in the saddlebags of my pack horse when the khalasar rode away.

Other gifts included horses and weapons, all of them of exquisite quality. I looked forward to testing my skills with archery; somehow this seemed a weapon I had not used in a very long time, but I knew I had once been quite good with a bow. My new khaleesi received gifts of weapons as well; I saw with approval that she had been taught Dothraki custom and passed them to me.

Frightened by the strange customs of the Dothraki, the noise and the joyful sex and violence, Daenerys said little but managed to avoid outwardly cringing and giving offense. We shared meat and wine from the same platters and cups, and passed choice portions to our core followers: my kos, Mormont and Illyrio.

Several khals of lesser hordes also appeared to offer gifts. Chief among them was a man named Moro, who Mormont told me led one of the largest khalasars. I made a point of thanking him and sharing grilled lamb with him off my platter. I brought up no future plans, only talking of swordplay and horses. Should the opportunity arise later, I would attempt to incorporate his khalasar into my own. He appeared experienced and capable and I would prefer that he serve as my ko. Or he could die on my sword if he preferred.

“I have a gift for you as well,” I told my bride as the sun began to set. I had sent Irri to fetch the silver mare, and she rode it to the foot of the dais and dismounted with a smooth flourish. I stood, extended my arm for my princess and escorted her to its side.

“Do you know horses, my love?” I asked, appending the endearment without forethought. She did not object.

“Very little,” she said in her soft, musical voice. “I believe I rode as a small child, but have little memory of those times.”

“This silver mare,” I said, “is one of the finest animals I have ever seen. She is as good-natured as she is lovely, much like the princess who will ride her. And this is Irri, who is now your slave and will head your personal household. She is a teacher of riding with skills equal to your new mount, and has earned my trust.”

Irri smiled when I indicated her, not understanding our speech, and knelt before my princess.

“It will be my honor to serve you,” she said in Dothraki. I translated for Daenerys. 

“Please rise,” Daenerys said. “I am pleased to meet you as well.”

Again, I translated. Irri seemed as happy with my new princess as I. Only later would Doreah corrupt her and turn that once-loyal heart against us.

With the ceremonies complete, I rode to my mansion on Demon, with Daenerys beside me on her new silver mare. The Dothraki formed a long corridor to see us off, for once quieting their clamor. My new wife remained quiet on the ride, and when I helped her down from her mare. She took my arm and we entered my home.

Doreah awaited us in the entry way, having sent away all the other servants as I had directed her.

“What . . . what should I call you?” Daenerys asked now that we were finally alone. Or close to alone, with only Doreah accompanying her. Her voice tinkled in my ears like soft music.

“‘My chieftain’,” I instantly replied, though I did not know from whence the phrase came. “And you are my princess.”

“Do I please you, my chieftain?”

“More than I can say,” I said. “May I kiss you?”

“I think I’d like that.”

Gently, as Doreah had shown me and Calye had screeched at me, I tilted her head upward with one finger and put my lips against hers. Her thoughts showed her deeply nervous over what was to come; would it hurt her? Would she please me?

“The Dothraki say that all important events must take place under the open sky,” I said. “My servants have prepared a soft bed in the central garden, open to the sky but safe from any eyes but ours. Shall we go there?”

“Yes, my chieftain.”

I became aroused at those words, but recalled Doreah’s cautions. I held out my arm and Daenerys took it, and we headed for the central garden, with Doreah following a few paces behind.

When we reached the bed, Daenerys gasped with pleasure. My servants had placed fragrant night-blooming white flowers close to its edges. A bright night sky arced overhead. Doreah stepped forward and unfastened Daenerys’ dress, starting at the back. Soon my princess stood before me, perfectly nude, and perfect.

Again, I kissed her, and then removed my own clothing.

“Would you like Doreah to remain?” I asked. “She explained what’s to come?”

“She . . . she did. You wouldn’t mind if she helped?”

“It’s painful, the first time,” I said. “I would ease that for you, if at all possible.”

“Then please, let her stay.”

Doreah eased Daenerys onto the bed and kissed her, by their thoughts not for the first time. I found the sight of two beautiful women embracing both highly improper and highly arousing. The slave then knelt before my queen; I did not wish to see this and so I knelt as well, but on the edge of the bed close to Daenerys to that her body blocked my view of Doreah. I kissed my bride, and as Doreah had instructed I carefully caressed her perfect, small and firm bosom.

Soon Doreah rose from her knees.

“Gently, my khal,” she said.

I put my hand behind my new wife’s back and slid her onto the bed, crossing my leg over hers to enter her. I kissed her again and pushed myself inside her. She gasped, and I found it difficult to press harder without hurting her. And then the resistance eased.

“Slowly,” Doreah whispered in my ear, her hand on my back. “Gently. Glide inside her. Feel how much you love her.”

I finished inside her, feeling pleasure from the release as I never had with a woman. Daenerys gasped again and dug her fingernails into my back. When I had exhausted my seed, I pulled out and lay next to my wife.

“You may go,” I told Doreah. “Return at first light.”

In the morning, I saw that Daenerys had bled, the sign that she had been pure when I satisfied my rights as her husband. Unwilling to subject my dear wife to further pain so soon after losing her virginity, I took Doreah while Daenerys slept next to us. I finished between Doreah’s ample breasts while I reveled in the whore’s furious thoughts and gazed at my lovely bride. My princess did not awaken.

I left Doreah and Daenerys in the garden bed, dressed and met over breakfast with Jhaqo, Pono, Mormont and a younger ko named Aggo. Jhaqo and Pono had named him as the most capable of the lesser kos.

“My brothers,” I said, following Dothraki usage, “we ride tomorrow.”

“To battle?” Jhaqo asked.

“To find it, anyway,” I said. “We ride to Myr, and demand tribute. Then on to the Disputed Lands. There we will find the armed companies who fight for pay, defeat them, and force them to our will or destroy them. We will do so for only a short period, then we ride for Vaes Dothrak when the grass has greened.”

None of my kos seemed surprised. I noted that all of them, for all their barbarian ways, seemed familiar with the meal before them, the eating utensils and the cups of coffee. Drogo’s khalasar had been less traditionally Dothraki than he had pretended.

“Force them to our will?” Aggo asked. “What is our will?”

“You are aware that I am the Stallion Who Mounts the World.”

“It is known,” Irri said, standing behind me. All four men repeated the words.

“The Dothraki are great warriors,” I said. “And my khalasar will be proven the greatest of them. Horse-warriors can do many things, but we will need men on foot to take cities, and then to garrison them in my name. I would not see Dothraki on foot unless it come to a dire emergency.”

“I have fought in sieges,” Pono said. “It is no fit place for a horseman.”

“It is known,” I agreed. Irri repeated it. “I want the Dothraki to fight as they do best. Let the crawlers who will come to serve me,” I used a disparaging Dothraki term for foot soldiers, “do as they do best.”

“We have no crawlers,” Aggo said. “You aim to gain additional men, who are not Dothraki.”

“I do,” I said. “We have a destiny, my brothers, and it is to conquer the world. Not only the Dothraki. It will be a glorious adventure, and by its end we will have fought as brothers alongside many other men, both men we have known and battled for many years, and men we have yet to meet, defeat and bring into our herd.”

“You are my khal,” Aggo said. “And I agree that it is an exciting vision. But we have never fought with the Lamb Men, only against them.”

“We’ll need to practice this,” I said. “Even as we learn to wield an arakh, to ride to war whether alone or among our brothers. It is practice that makes a warrior, is it not?”

“It is known,” Aggo agreed. Irri again took up her chant, and the men followed.

“For this first campaign,” I said, “Pono’s khas will form what’s called the vanguard. You will lead us forward, your men will provide outriders so that no surprises await us. Find the enemy, bring me prisoners when I need to question them, and be sure that no enemy scouts get past your outriders, or live to tell of it should they do so. You can do this?”

“I can do this,” Pono agreed.

“There is to be no looting, no taking of slaves. That comes later. When we ride to battle, we remain alert.”

“I understand,” he said. “That is as it should be.”

“Jhaqo, your khas is the main body. You ride behind Pono, no closer than one hour’s ride, no more than four hours’ ride. Do not be so close that your men will become confused with Pono’s should he be attacked, nor so far away that you cannot ride to his aid. Your khas is the striking power of the khalasar, kept in tight formation for the greatest impact.”

Jhaqo nodded.

“Aggo, all the minor kos will report to you,” I said. “Those who do not wish to do so are welcome to challenge me and set their own rules when they become khal. You will provide men to defend the camp followers, the women, children and old, and most importantly the herds. You will be sure that at all times a strong rear guard trails the khalasars, including outriders who assure that we are not followed.”

“I can do this, my khal,” Aggo said, pleased with his promotion.

“It is the most complicated task,” I cautioned. “All Dothraki must know that their women and most of all their horses are safe when they ride into battle. A man should worry only for his own sword. And I do not wish to be surprised by a crafty enemy. The rear flank is the most vulnerable.”

“It is known,” Irri added.

“In battle,” I went on, “we will also operate with three khas. Jhaqo in the center, Pono on the right and Aggo on the left. Aggo, you will also have to detail men to defend our herds and women. Later we will use our crawlers for this task.”

All three nodded.

“Eventually I will choose blood riders,” I said, “when I have seen my khalasar in battle. In addition, each of you will choose two hundred of your very best fighters and send them to me. Choose well, for I will soon know if they are not the best and you will answer to me for their failings. They will accompany me in battle, to strike with force at a place and moment of my choosing. I do not intend to allow all of the glory and joy of battle to go to my kos. I am your khal, and I fight alongside my khalasar.

“I want each of you to be ready to move separately, on my orders. At times, I may wish Jhaqo to remain in place while Pono and Aggo advance around either flank. At others, Jhaqo may retreat to lure an enemy forward, or strike first to disrupt him.”

They looked confused.

“The old ways are no longer enough,” I said. “To conquer the world, we must add guile to our strength. I will teach you these methods, we will practice them, and you will see them bring us victory. Just as a single warrior must maneuver, so must a khalasar. You have seen the man who has but one tactic, a forward rush?”

“I have seen him die,” Jhaqo said. “No matter his size or strength.”

“So it is with a khalasar,” I said, “or an army. As you know, I lost many memories in the desert. I know that I have been a soldier for many years, and a commander of armies. These are the methods of victory, taught to me by a great general of my old homeland of Virginia.”

I drank more coffee, and looked at each of them.

“One last instruction. Each of you will be responsible for seeing that your men and horses are properly fed and watered. I will not lose strength before we reach the battlefield. Every Dothraki is vital to our destiny. Men die in battle; it is known and it is inevitable. I will not see a proud warrior felled by disease or hunger. Do not disappoint me in this.”

They had no idea how to accomplish this, though they silently acknowledged its wisdom.

“We will obtain slaves,” I said, “skilled in numbers and writing, to assist. Jorah the Andal will direct their work.”

“Men die,” Pono said. “It has always been so.”

“It is known,” I agreed. “And I would give them all a warrior’s death. No warrior should shit his life away in sickness, no warhorse should die of the colic or the hoof disease.”

“The Lamb Men die the same way,” Jhaqo said. “Perhaps even more of them than of us.”

“It is known,” I said again. “I will show you how to lessen this both among us and among the Lamb Men who come to follow me. It is my destiny to make the Dothraki strong. This we shall do.”

Once again, Irri reminded them that this was known. All present agreed.

I returned to my tent with Jorah, Belwas and Calye. Irri would prepare Daenerys for the ride to come, and I directed her to select however many slaves from the mansion’s staff that she needed to keep my princess comfortable. Or as comfortable as a Dothraki khaleesi could expect to be on campaign.

I had my household warriors strike Drogo’s sumptuous tent and send it and its luxurious furnishings to my mansion for storage. I would use a smaller tent, though still bigger than the usual Dothraki shelter, while on campaign. It would have to house me, my princess and her household along with Belwas, Mormont and Calye. My maps and a large conference table would complete the furnishings.

Drogo had kept at least two dozen slaves to handle his tent and his baggage, and I found that several of them had also managed the march routes and food supplies of the khalasar, relieving some of my worries. I assigned them to Mormont, who would act as my army’s chief of staff. Drogo had also apparently taken a chef with him on campaign, as well as the one assigned to his mansion. I sent the man back to my palace; I did not doubt his culinary skills but he would not be needed. One of his assistants could easily prepare the simple foods I preferred on campaign.

My initial impressions of Drogo had been misleading. I had taken him for a rough-hewn barbarian, but exposure to the pleasures of Pentos had apparently made him somewhat effete. He had been a great swordsman nonetheless, and I felt pleased to have killed him rather than dying in the arena myself.

Illyrio Mopatis arrived in his litter shortly before noon, bringing more maps and some final words of advice.

“The magisters of Pentos are eager to see you leave,” he said. “They fear, correctly, that you mean to overthrow them.”

“Were I more sure of my commanders and men,” I said, “I would take the city now, simply by rushing the open gates. When I’m confident in the Dothraki and have trustworthy infantry to garrison the city with suitable commanders for them then we’ll dismiss the prince and the council. Be ready with choices for the civilian government here and in Myr. Hopefully less corrupt than yourself.”

“Everyone is less corrupt than myself,” he smiled. “I have some candidates in mind. If you can show immediate benefits to your rule, your path shall be greatly eased.”

“We’ll start by conscripting all of the bravos,” I said. “And we’ll let shipbuilding contracts right away. That should put some cash in the right hands, and improve security in the streets. We’ll enroll volunteers as soon as I have officers to train them, and they’ll need weapons, clothing and such. I’m afraid we’ll be taxing your friends to pay for all this.”

“My friend,” Illyrio said, “you speak with the master of tax evasion. I’ll see that your taxes are paid.”

“But not by you.”

“It’s only fair,” he said. “Yet I promise you that my businesses in Pentos will pay like any other. But my management percentage applies there as well.”

“I suppose that’s fair,” I agreed. “Just make sure that the army and fleet are funded.”

“The moment you militarize Pentos,” Illyrio cautioned, “you’ll be at war with Braavos.”

“It has to come eventually,” I said. “More reason to wait until the Dothraki are ready before we take Pentos.”

He nodded.

“I’ll continue to collect interesting people for you, my friend. How will I reach you, should there be a change in circumstances here or in Westeros?”

I should have anticipated that need myself.

“I’ll leave a small number of Dothraki at my new mansion,” I said. “With orders to carry messages. I’ll send word to them with our location and direction.”

“The messages won’t be secured,” he pointed out.

“True enough,” I said. “You’ll have to write carefully.”

Before leaving, Illyrio donated ten of his Unsullied and ten of the guards I had trained to serve as my own bodyguards. After some thought I detailed them to guard my mansion, rather than insult my Dothraki by surrounding myself with foreign soldiers. I kept only one man, an Unsullied eunuch bearing the name Orange Cat. The Unsullied changed names within their company every day to random combinations of a color and a type of vermin but I ordered him to keep the one under which I had first encountered him. In his thoughts he kept changing his name, but at least he answered to Orange Cat. I knew him to be quite intelligent and he had been the most talkative of the guards, though that still made him nearly silent. I thought that I might need his advice and knowledge should we have an opportunity to acquire more of these excellent slave-soldiers. As the only man among the Unsullied who could ride a horse, I had had little choice but to select him.

My princess would of course accompany me, and her safety was paramount. Strong Belwas would serve as her personal bodyguard, with Irri, Jhiqui and Doreah as her handmaids. I chose ten of my household warriors to also protect her; eventually I would name blood riders for Daenerys, probably from among their number.

We spent the night in my tent, and I wished to have Daenerys again. Her thoughts showed her eager to please me, and frightened that she had not, but she had been left very sore by her first night of marital passion. I left her to sleep in her own section of the tent, with her handmaidens about her. I took Calye to relieve my needs, cautioning her to remain utterly silent. She was pathetically grateful, having imagined that her time as my whore was done, and did not cry when I finished on her belly.

I rose with the dawn, to find Pono awaiting with reports of road conditions. Eager to prove his acceptance of my new methods and aggressive plans, he had dispatched his first outriders just before midnight, scouting the roads south. They found no armed bands within several hours’ ride, only the usual farm and merchant traffic. A city the size of Pentos depended on a constant stream of provisions from the surrounding countryside, and the roads carried food and fodder even through the night hours.

Knowing of Calye’s jealousy of Daenerys and hatred for Doreah, I had her ride with the baggage train until Irri could teach her better horsemanship. With Mormont, Orange Cat and a half-dozen of my household warriors, I rode along the entire length of the khalasar. As I expected, the Dothraki moved with a form of semi-organized chaos, the camp followers intermingled with the warriors. That would have to change.

The weather remained clear, and for the next six days the khalasar moved southward. I made love to my princess on each night, yet the need to proceed gently did not fully satisfy my needs. To relieve the pressure, on the third night I rode into open ground with Calye on the back of my horse and took her under the stars. She cried again, only partly due to the painful stones digging into her bare back.

Each afternoon I halted the procession and brought the khalasar into battle formation, and by the third time they reacted with reasonable speed. The horde was large enough that the riders on either end of the formation could not see their khal at the center. We would use flags and dispatch riders to transmit my will to the far flanks. I took them through some simple maneuvers including flanking moves, false retreats and their favorite, the massed charge.

They also showed me their archery skills, and I tried my hand with the bow as well. I found that my muscles remembered what my mind did not and soon I was placing arrows in the center of the targets the Dothraki had erected. The bows had surprising power for their size, but the archers told me that while the arrows would penetrate chain mail, providing they had a heavy steel head, they would only rarely break through steel plate.

I noticed that relatively few of the Dothraki carried lances, with fewer than half armed with bows and most with only their arakh. Mormont had no idea why; Jhaqo explained that since Dothraki provided their own weapons, not all wished to carry more than an arakh.

“It takes many gifts, to obtain an arakh,” he said, drawing his own over his back. I noted that this blade looked more like a scimitar than the sickle-like weapon Drogo had wielded in our single combat. I had seen both types carried by Dothraki in our camp, and been gifted with both.

“Drogo liked the moon blade,” Jhaqo said, referring to the sickle-sword. “And many of the young warriors copied him. Drogo had a slave to carry his moon blade, and did not worry that it will not fit in a scabbard. I and many others, though we have slaves of our own, do not wish them near us during battle.

“And I prefer the horse-arakh.” He held it up to glitter in the sun. “It reminds me of the old ways, of my grandfather and before, when Dothraki never left the Great Grass Sea. Those days are long gone, but this remains a superior weapon to the moon blade. It is deadly from horseback, doubly so against men on the ground. It is known.”

“So warriors with a moon blade,” I made the connection, “can’t carry lance or bow, as their hands are full.”

“One hand, anyway,” Jhaqo said, sheathing his weapon. “When they can only obtain one blade, they chose the moon blade to honor Drogo. I imagine that some will choose a straight sword of the Lamb Men now that they’ve seen you kill Drogo with it.”

“A man should carry the weapon with which he fights best,” I said, holding up my sword Steel Flame. “Moon blade, horse-arakh or long sword.”

“It is known,” Jhaqo agreed. “I am your ko, and I own many blades: moon blades, horse-arakhs and swords of the Lamb Men both long and short and thick and wide. Not all have such choices; the youngest men have only one weapon.”

“I would like all of our warriors to be able to use lance, bow and arakh at will,” I said. “Were their khal to gift them all with weapons, this would be seemly?”

“Many khals do so,” Jhaqo said. “Drogo said his khalasar was too large to allow him to do this.”

I noted Jhaqo’s phrasing, and recalled Illyrio’s accounting of Drogo’s gold, along with the mansion, the tapestries and the two elite chefs. Jhaqo was likewise aware that Drogo had had the ability to arm his khalasar had he so chosen.

“Where do Dothraki obtain their weapons?” I asked. “I have seen few smiths among us.”

“They are honored free men,” Jhaqo said, “with warrior status. But they are kept busy making shoes for 100,000 horses. The cities gift us with weapons.”

“Jorah the Andal!” I called to my chief of staff, riding with my khaleesi and Irri some distance behind us. “Join us!”

I had noted Mormont paying close attention to my new wife, whose beauty fascinated him. He imagined laughable scenarios in which they could be together, despite the thirty years or more between them – he might, just barely, have been her grandfather. A man’s thoughts are his own, and so long as he did not act on them, he would not have to die for them. At any rate, he promptly spurred his horse and pulled up alongside me.

“My khal?” he asked. “How might I serve?”

“You know much of swords,” I began. He nodded. “A horse-arakh such as Jhaqo wields, of good quality, what would be its cost?”

Jhaqo held up the blade for Mormont’s appraisal.

“One gold dragon, one hundred silver stags,” he finally said. A dragon equaled 210 stags. “Perhaps half the cost of a trained, steady war-horse.”

“A Pentoshi tower equals a dragon?”

“Correct, my khal.”

“I would obtain new horse-arakhs for those who do not wield them,” I said. “It appears that we have enough gold in Illyrio’s vaults.”

I turned to Jhaqo, who had not been surprised at my mention of Drogo’s hoard.

“Which minor ko would know much of weapons, and resent Aggo’s promotion? I would send him to Pentos to inspect the new weapons and assure me of their quality.”

My senior ko thought for a moment.

“I would send no ko,” he finally said. “I would humbly suggest, my khal, Vorsakko the smith. He has grown too old to swing a hammer, and Drogo removed him as chief smith shortly before . . . your battle.”

“He is trustworthy?”

“I believe so,” Jhaqo said. “He has great resentment for Drogo, and no doubt welcomed your victory.”

I turned to Mormont.

“Summon Vorsakko to the command tent tonight,” I said. “If I approve of him, he shall return to Pentos with a message for Illyrio to begin discreetly acquiring weapons – horse-arakhs and lance-heads. He’ll remain at the mansion to approve the purchases.”

“Discreetly?” Mormont asked. “It’s no secret that Pentos arms the khalasars.”

“Should I buy 30,000 blades,” I searched for a metaphor, as skyrockets were unknown here, “the price will reach the clouds.”

Mormont nodded, impressed by my thinking. I looked back at Jhaqo.

“Who provides bows and lance-shafts?”

“The women make them,” he said. “Some are extremely skilled. They also fletch the arrows.”

“The quality is sufficient?”

“I have always found it so.”

I would increase the combat effectiveness of my men, and help bind them to me more tightly through the gift of weapons. Drogo had always had this ability, but looked more to his own comfort. Unlike my predecessor, I was not content with merely preparing the way for the Stallion Who Mounts the World.

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen (Dejah Thoris)

Even as we neared the city and could see its walls, the road remained a muddy track. It was wider, but still unpaved. No one had even tried to fill the deep ruts caused by wagon traffic: when the grooves made the track impassable, wagon drivers simply steered around them, creating an ever-wider morass. Fortunately, the ground was fairly dry as we approached; it surely could not be crossed during rain.

Once we came within sight of the city, I began to pick up the thoughts of the people within: thousands, then tens of thousands of unfiltered, undampened thoughts. I had to ask Tansy to stop while I adjusted to the waves of mundane existence beating into my brain.

“Will you be able,” she asked, “to enter the city?”

“I believe so,” I said. “I must block out the thoughts I do not wish to receive in order to be able to function, yet at the same time I cannot block them all out. We will be in great danger if I cannot read any thoughts.”

“People here survive without reading thoughts all the time.”

“You have people here who cannot see?”


“And they survive?”

“Not well,” she said, “usually, but they do.”

“Because they have long experience, yes? Often their entire lives?”

“And you’d be like someone who just got both of her eyeballs poked out and staggers around disoriented and in distress.”

“A disturbing image,” I said, “but essentially correct.”

We rode around the perimeter of the city, finally coming to a tavern featuring a large outdoor space with tables overlooking a wide river, where a family with many working children served fish. I ate several different kinds of grilled seafood, and enjoyed them all very much, along with what was called white wine. While I ate, I focused on building up my defenses against the pressing wave of loose thoughts coming out of King’s Landing.

After the fourth fish, I let my body relax and looked out over the river while sipping wine from a metal goblet. The wine was called “white,” but looked greenish-yellow to me. It was astringent, and I enjoyed the contrast of its taste to that of the fish.

I knew how to prepare my mind for what lay ahead; it was little different than the mental defenses we royal learn to repel hostile telepathic probes. It is not simple to keep up one’s screens while receiving the thoughts one wishes to read, but it has been the subject of thousands of years of study and practice. After a short time, I pronounced myself ready.

“You just wanted to finish your wine.”

“That is true,” I said, “but I would have done so without an excuse.”

King’s Landing had been built on the slopes of a large hill or a small mountain, with a complex of red buildings at its summit that Tansy said was the fortified royal palace. The walls were large, but simply-designed – fortifications not designed to repel cannon, firearms or airships looked very strange to my eye. They had been badly damaged at some point in the recent past and only partially repaired. Scaffolding had been erected at several points but no workers were present.

A great number of wagons and people on foot and on horseback gathered in front of the city gates to pass within. Guards wearing gold cloaks stood to the side and waved them past. One of them looked up as we passed; his thoughts pondered asking us to stop to be searched so that he could more easily look at our breasts, but he decided that the effort would be too great for the expected reward. I felt somewhat insulted.

Inside the gates, the smell and the crowds grew even greater. Tansy said we needed to find a stable for the horses; places offering stalls for rent lined the inside of the city walls to either side of the gate. We stopped at several stables before we found one where I was satisfied by the owner’s thoughts. The regularly-cleaned buildings offered good shelter for my horses, and the animals within told me that they had received adequate care.

The owner helped us stable them himself. He was a friendly man named Carl, who looked to be somewhat older than most people, with gray hairs around the fringe of a bald head.

“And what,” Carl asked me, “is this horse named?”

I had never given my horses names. That is not our way with thoats, and it never occurred to me to do any different here.

“Brown Horse.”

“And that one?”

“Gray Horse.”

“And those?”

“Other Brown Horse and White Horse.”

It saddened him to see such a pretty young woman with such a simple mind. Carl helped us brush down the horses and then invited us to eat with him. It had not been long since we had enjoyed our grilled fish, but I found myself hungry again.

He had only a little food, and I gave him a gold piece to buy more from a tavern nearby. I told him to bring back as much as he could buy with the gold. Tansy warned him that I would become upset if the meal included eggs. Carl returned with two serving girls from the tavern; between them they had several platters of roasted birds called geese plus vegetables, bread and pitchers of ale. The women went back to the tavern for a second load.

I liked the geese: the meat was dark and very rich, with crispy golden skin. As I ate one goose and then another Tansy asked him about his stable and the conditions in the city. I found I needed an extra cloth to wipe away all of the fat that ran out of the goose.

“By the gods,” Carl said. “Does she always eat that much?”

“Sometimes more,” Tansy assured him. “What’s new in King’s Landing?”

“That depends. What do you know?”

“That Cersei Lannister became queen,” Tansy said, “which must mean that her sons are dead. And we’ve heard rumors of war.”

“Many more than her sons died,” Carl told her. “A tremendous explosion of green flame destroyed the Sept of Baelor with most of the capital’s leading lights within. The High Sparrow, the Young Queen, Lord Tyrell, the Hand of the King, the Grand Maester. Many more. The Young King was so stricken with grief that he threw himself out of a window, or so they say. At least it’s known for sure that he went out the window and died.”

“What of the Lannister?” I asked.

“She means,” Tansy explained, “the Kingslayer.”

“He’s off leading the royal army,” Carl said, “conquering the Riverlands again. Why he didn’t become king, no one knows. There’s talk in the palace that the queen crowned herself even without his knowledge.”

“You know people,” Tansy asked, “in the palace?”

“Of course. I was in charge of the stable attached to the Tower of the Hand. Then young Chadworth was murdered and I sort of lost all reason to live. A while later I realized I needed purpose again and opened this place.”

“Who was Chadworth?”

“My grandson,” Carl said, wiping at tears in the corners of his eyes. “My beloved, only grandson. He had reached 10 years when the Starks killed him.”

I kept encountering victims of this Stark family. Bad enough that the boy was named Chadworth, but then to be murdered made for a woeful story. I continued to eat the delicious geese, and listened to their conversation.

“What happened?” Tansy asked.

“After King Robert died, Lord Stark was accused of treason against the new king. I don’t know the truth of that or not, but Lannister soldiers came to arrest him. Chadworth spotted the Hand’s spoiled young daughter, Arya Stark, escaping through the stables. When he accosted her, she stabbed him with a little sword right in the belly so deep that the point came out of his back. Then she stood over him and yelled, ‘Needle is mine. You can’t have Needle. So I stuck you with the pointy end!’

“I ran to him but it was too late. It took him three days to die; belly wounds are like that. My daughter, my sweet and lovely Montessa, threw herself off the city walls in her grief. I tried to drink myself to death, then starve myself to death, but finally I came back to life.”

I resolved that I would kill this Arya Stark, slayer of Chadworth, should I happen to meet her.

“Is there word,” Tansy continued, “of any armies threatening the city?”

“Some say the Tyrells and Dorne seek vengeance for the great explosion.”

“Two powerful families who hold sway to the south-west of here,” Tansy explained to me. “Mostly known for fighting one another if I recall correctly.”

“You do,” Carl confirmed. “They’ve also lost many of their leaders. It would surely be a long while before they could make war on the Queen.”

“So there is peace in the South?”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Carl said. “But the great war has come to a close, at least for now.”

We thanked the friendly stabler for his information, and went into the city. 

We walked about the city for a while; I found it dreary and I deeply disliked the smell. As I moved through the crowds it became easier to filter their thoughts, and soon I could pick out individual minds without too much interference.

“None of this impresses you,” Tansy asked, “does it?”

“My home city is several times the size of King’s Landing,” I answered. “And enormously cleaner.”

Thanks to the labor of tens of thousands of city-owned slaves, I thought to myself, and felt ashamed. I had no cause to feel my society superior to theirs, not when it allowed one person to own another.

Tansy took me to the site of the massive temple that had once dominated the city, and we looked at the crater where the great explosion had taken place. I had wanted to see what could have wreaked such devastation. A blast of that size usually implies nuclear fission, but I found no signs of the tremendous heat that arises when atoms are split. There had been fire, and thousands of people nearby had died, but I found none of the glass-like residue that nuclear events leave behind.

I thought the explosion must have resulted from some form of fuel-air explosive but I had seen no signs that these people understood distillation or had petroleum-based fuels: their lamps burned oils derived from plant and animal sources. The blast of green fire implied that someone had deployed a technology unavailable to this culture. This mystery might be somehow connected to my presence here.

“So we’re here,” Tansy said. “What were you planning to do?”

“To determine whether the Queen or anyone else in government knows of John Carter.”

“And we’ll just walk up to the Red Keep, bang on the door and ask to see her?”

“I am a princess.”

“Who is often thought mad.”

“Well, yes,” I admitted. “Do you have another idea?”

“I do. We can go see Chataya, my old madam.”

Chataya ran a very expensive and exclusive brothel; Tansy had worked there until she bought out her contract. Chataya recruited the most beautiful and accomplished women, and allowed only the richest and most powerful patrons into her establishment. Important government officials would come there to dine with beautiful women, watch them dance while removing their clothing, and then engage them in sexual intercourse. Tansy suggested that I could read their minds from nearby. Or even meet them in Chataya’s large common room so I could ply them with alcohol and leading questions.

“Maybe it’s best if you sit still and look pretty, and let me ask the leading questions,” she said. “Men like to talk about themselves. And they really like to talk about how powerful they are, and how many secrets they know. If John Carter has appeared here and had an impact on the battlefield, someone who knows will come to Chataya’s.”

“We flirt on my planet,” I objected.

“Probably by stabbing each other.”

This was not true, but many noble women refused to make love with a man they could best at swordplay. Usually they determined this with blunted practice swords. Usually. So perhaps it was partially true.

I followed Tansy to the brothel, which probably should have been termed a “pleasure palace.” A huge walled garden surrounded the yellow-brick-fronted building of four stories. On this warm and sunny day, the large windows had been opened and it gave an open and airy appearance. All of it appeared well-maintained. Despite my prejudices, I was impressed.

The uniformed doormen let us in without question, assuming us to be applicants and judging us attractive enough to pass on to the owner. Inside the walls, the gardens were lovely, filled with flowering plants along paths of crushed gravel. Inside the building, statuary and tapestries decorated the walls while a quartet of musicians played soft background music. I could see such a place on Barsoom, except for the type of entertainment offered.

Chataya turned out to be an older woman with very dark skin. She came from a land known as the Summer Isles, far to the south. She greeted Tansy warmly and listened attentively to her proposal.

“I’m not sure I like the idea of you questioning my clientele,” she said. “You know we bank on discretion here. They come here to get away from their positions, not be quizzed about them.

“But I can do better. I can get you into the palace. To the queen herself.”

That would settle any questions. But what would we have to do for the queen? Chataya’s thoughts showed some fondness for Tansy mixed with bitterness over my sister having left her employment, and guilt at making this suggestion to her.

“She’ll pay well for a pretty pair like you two,” Chataya said. “It’s just a short job, you stay in the palace a few days and return. All very discreet.”

“We’d have freedom,” Tansy asked, “to roam in the palace?”

“I doubt you’d be invited to meetings of the Small Council,” Chataya said. “But you wouldn’t be prisoners, either. You would be considered handmaidens to the queen by day and bed maids by night.”

“Let me talk to my friend.” Tansy pulled me into a small side room with a very ornate couch. “We’re doing this.”

“Tansy,” I said. “I would not ask you to work as a whore again.”

“We get our answers and we leave. No whoring necessary. The queen will find other playmates. We’re not going to get a better opportunity.”

“I have been many things,” I said, “but never a whore.”

“And you’re not one now. We’re courtesans.”


“Much higher paid,” she said, “with much higher status.”

“Are we not too beautiful?”

“Not for this job,” she said. “We’re just what the queen ordered.”

“I do not like this plan,” I said. “I do not trust Chataya. She resents you for leaving this place, and intends something unpleasant for us.”

“Dejah. I know how to play this game. Let me help you.”

I remained uneasy, but did not insist on leaving. Soon we bathed in scented water while maids thoroughly washed our hair and shaved Tansy's legs; people of Barsoom do not grow hair there. One of the maids asked if I would like the hair over my ovipositor “waxed”; I pulled from her thoughts what this meant and shuddered. I did not think it wise to show the differences between my anatomy and theirs. I also feared the pain. I knew women of this place to be far more sensitive there than I; I could not fathom how anyone could stand such a procedure without screaming. Tansy declined as well.

Chataya’s daughter, a very kind young woman named Alayaya, dressed us in ankle-length robes of a very thin, translucent material. She also gave us tiny leggings she called “panties,” that covered our genital areas and very little else. These would have been appropriate on Barsoom, but I had not seen their like here. She said other clothing would be provided in the palace. Alayaya had no negative thoughts toward us and remembered Tansy fondly, but I remained uneasy. I attempted to glean more from Chataya’s mind, but she had left the building and I could not locate her.

We had planned to remain in Chataya’s brothel for several days before going to meet the queen, but Alayaya informed us the following morning that Queen Cersei wanted new playmates immediately. We cleaned our teeth and freshened our breath, put on our whore costumes with cloaks over them, and walked to the palace, known as the Red Keep. We entered through a side gate as Alayaya had instructed and waited with a bored functionary until a guard wearing white armor very similar to that of the Lannister came to collect us.

We followed the guard through many hallways and up flights of stairs, encountering no one along the way. They use back passages to bring whores into the palace, Tansy communicated silently. We finally came to a richly-appointed bed chamber.

A serving woman met us and stood by while the guard left. She was short and slender, with short black hair that had mostly turned gray, and decidedly unfriendly. She told us to remove our cloaks but otherwise said nothing. Her thoughts radiated immense jealousy; she wished that the queen would desire her as she feared Cersei would want us. We now wore only the sheer robes and tiny gold “panties.” The guard came back a few moments later with a beautiful yellow-haired woman; he looked us over closely before stepping out and closing the door.

The queen, Tansy informed me, but I already knew that. Cersei’s mind showed that she had no intention of putting off her pleasure – she wanted us immediately.

“Let me see Chataya’s latest gifts,” she said, walking over to us. She put her hand under my chin and then ran it down the front of my body, pausing to fondle each breast through the gauzy fabric of my robes. She did the same to Tansy.

“Oh, you will do. You will do very well. Refresh yourselves if you like.”

She indicated a small table that had been set with small plates of fruit and glasses of a golden wine. I was disappointed to note that she had no bacon. There were no knives present, either, only an odd eating utensil made of gold, with a rounded oval bowl on its end with three sharp spikes. I picked one up and looked at it.

Don’t eat anything, Tansy commanded. Your table manners will give us away.

“It’s called a spork, dear,” the queen said. “It comes from the Summer Isles. I can trust no one outside of my sworn guards with a blade in my presence. That includes even a fruit knife. Anyone I bring here could be an assassin of the Faceless Men.”

I looked at her.

“But not you, dear,” she said. “The Faceless Men can change their faces, but not their bodies. They have no one like you two. And Chataya has vouched for you.”

I wondered at Cersei’s confident foolishness. On Barsoom many orders of assassins employ beautiful women for their foul deeds, as well as fat men, ugly women and beautiful men. I did not doubt that the same applied here. Probing her mind, I found that Cersei found us both very desirable. I reminded her of a former lover named Taena who had left her. She found my coppery skin exotic; it reminded her of women from Dorne, Ned Dayne’s home, who were said to be highly sexual. Tansy put her in mind of someone named Sansa, a younger woman Cersei had longed to sexually dominate. Imagining Taena and Sansa submissively at her sexual command excited Cersei.

Cersei looked at the serving woman.

“Dorcas, you may go.”

She glided away and out a door that had not been visible. Her thoughts indicated that she immediately threw herself on a cot in a small room there and fell asleep.

Cersei removed a pair of daggers affixed to the sides of her tunic, and placed them on the table next to the plates. Then she thought better of that and walked over to a desk, placing them in a locking drawer. She came back to the table, picked up a glass of wine and drank deeply.

“Come here and undress me, both of you.”

We undid the laces that held her tight black leather tunic in place and slowly pulled it off of her. She was wearing another tunic underneath, of some lightweight white cloth. Her breasts strained against it; they were much larger even than mine or Tansy’s, yet high and pert like those of a woman of Barsoom. It was as though this planet’s gravity had had no effect on them. They were truly magnificent. We pulled the tunic up over her head.

“Kiss me.”

Tansy kissed her first, and I followed. Cersei used her tongue expertly, and I returned it. She breathed heavily.

“You may drop your robes now.”

We let them fall. Each of us took her by one hand and the three of us walked to the very high bed. It had a footstool next to it to help one climb. She did so and sat, turning to us. We pulled off her skirt and her leggings.

Cersei was indeed beautiful, with finely-formed legs which she crossed to expose what she thought of as her “great ass.” Sensing her approval, I paused to admire her. I failed to see what made this ass “great,” but she had exercised relentlessly to firm and shape said ass, and she liked having her body admired. I ran my hand gently across the self-declared great ass and down the outside of her thigh. She shivered.

The shape of the ass is not considered fundamental to a woman’s beauty on Barsoom, though one that is oversized is considered a sign of indolence. Judging from the reaction of men and some women on this planet my own was considered attractive; months of horseback riding had firmed it to the consistency of iron. Perhaps because we do not bear live young, and therefore wide hips for birthing are not necessary in a mate, we do not appreciate the female ass? But we do not nurse our young, yet we appreciate the breast; I myself appreciated breasts a great deal. I saw a potential paper in this conundrum. Strong thought impulses from Tansy interrupted those musings before they interfered with my performance.

Every customer wants to think he or she is the one exception, the one the whore actually wants, Tansy sent. Making them believe that is the whore’s art.

Tansy and I climbed onto the bed and lay alongside the queen. Cersei kissed each of us again. She ran her fingers across our breasts, lightly, giving extra attention to the nipples. She then motioned for us to kiss each other while she watched. Tansy cupped my left breast in her hand and kissed me. She was my sister, not my lover, and I had never kissed her, not in a serious way. I now learned that Tansy knew how to kiss; I closed my eyes in actual pleasure, momentarily forgetting where we were. Her tongue rasped along my lips and met mine; I extended my tongue and wrapped it around hers.

She expressed shock but stopped herself from breaking away; we of Barsoom can extend our tongues when aroused but apparently the people of this planet lack this most useful ability. Once she relaxed, she liked it very much. So did I.

“Kiss her tits,” whispered Cersei, now highly aroused.

Following Tansy’s silent instructions, I rose to my knees. She knelt before me and took my breasts in her hands. Her touch thrilled me. She leaned forward and took my right nipple in her mouth, rolling her tongue over it. I gasped and involuntarily arched my back to look up at the canopy over the bed. I put my hands on her shoulders as she moved to my left breast, outlining the areola with her tongue and then sucking on the nipple itself.

I did not want her to stop, but Cersei called softly to us.

“Switch,” she said, breathing heavily.

I needed a moment to breathe as well. Tansy smiled at me, placed her hands behind her neck and pulled her shoulders back slightly to present her breasts. She had never looked so desirable to me. Cersei’s thoughts indicated that she liked to see a slow building of passion. I kissed Tansy’s lips softly, not using my tongue, and then the side of her face and her neck, moving downward. All the while I kept track of Cersei’s interest. She enjoyed watching me, thinking of this Sansa person in Tansy’s place, whimpering, and herself in mine. She considered ordering me to strike Tansy, but fortunately changed her mind before she spoke.

I reached Tansy’s left breast and settled my thighs onto my calves to place it directly before me. Making love to a woman’s breast is an art form on Barsoom, one I had mastered long ago. I did not know if these breasts were constructed in the same manner as ours, but that certainly looked to be the case.

Tansy had exquisitely beautiful breasts; despite their odd pale color, I had rarely seen such even among women like me who were bred for beauty. I circled her areola with my extended tongue, carefully dropping my hair into Cersei’s line of vision. This frustrated the queen, so I withdrew my tongue, pulled my hair back behind my ear and concentrated on the nipple, nipping it lightly with my teeth and teasing it with my tongue.

Cersei grew ever more aroused, and apparently so did Tansy. I could not penetrate the screen around her thoughts without using more force, but her body stiffened. Her nipples grew even larger and more erect and her areolas took on a sheen and now appeared swollen. She grabbed a handful of my hair and twisted it, giving a sharp intake of breath. I placed my left hand on her right flank, feeling a pulse run through her. She moaned softly, then leaned down and bit me on the shoulder.

I released her breast and stretched back upward to face her. I kissed her again.

“Enough,” Cersei said. “You’re here to pleasure me.”

Kiss her, Tansy said silently. I need to recover from what you just did.

I turned my attention to Cersei, kissing her lips softly at first, but she grabbed the back of my head and returned it with a very hard kiss of her own, roughly thrusting her tongue into my mouth. Her thoughts revealed that she had become highly excited.

Tansy lay next to Cersei and took turns with me, kissing the queen, and then the two of us began to work our way down her body. Cersei’s skin was white and nearly flawless, and sweet to the taste. She had bathed in some aromatic liquid. Unlike either of us, she had no hair under her arms. We kissed her shoulders, moving down to her unbelievable breasts. I kissed the nipple, then took it into my mouth and teased it with my tongue. Tansy did the same on her left breast. Cersei gasped.

Tansy continued downward, while I kissed, licked and sucked Cersei’s breasts, kissed her lips again, and leaned over her to allow her to touch and kiss my breasts. I had no idea what to do with a Jasoomian woman’s sex organ; Tansy indicated that she would take care of Cersei. Cersei had no hair there either and I was intensely curious to study her, but Tansy had been firm that we could allow no signs of my inexperience to give us away. I read Cersei’s mind and gave her what she wanted, on her large pink nipples and on her lips. In this the women of Jasoom or whatever planet on which I found myself were no different than those of my home world. I had done this many times before; my skills with my tongue exceed my skills with my sword.

As I wrapped my tongue around hers, Cersei’s entire body began to shudder and her mind went completely blank: for several seconds, it had no thoughts at all. She arched her back and her left leg began to make rapid kicking motions. Then she slowly began to think again, mostly patterns of bright exploding colors. I had never experienced this sort of thing; even second-hand it was exhilarating and my own breaths quickened as well. I would have to ask Tansy about this phenomenon later; perhaps there was another paper in this.

I released Cersei’s tongue and she breathed heavily. A short while later she lost control of her mind and body again, and then a third and a fourth time. We continued until I read in Cersei’s thoughts that she was tiring and had had enough. I stroked the top of Tansy’s head to indicate that we were done.

At Tansy’s silent command, I curled up next to Cersei on her right, and lay my head on her shoulder. Tansy did the same on her left. The queen lay back, feeling contented at the warmth of our bodies pressed against hers, and idly ran her fingers through our hair.

Cersei had enjoyed us; I tried not to shiver in revulsion when she thought how we had given her the best sex of her life, better than she had experienced with her brother Jaime.

This is what a queen deserves, she thought. It’s a shame that I’ll have to tell the Kettleblacks to kill these two when I tire of them, but I can’t have anyone spreading tales. It’s not worth the risk, even for a reward like this.

I clamped my hand over the queen’s mouth and held her down. I looked at Tansy.

“She means to have us killed,” I said. “With a black kettle.”

“So kill her.” She looked at Cersei. “It’s nothing personal, your grace. But you really do deserve it.”

“I want to question her first.”

“Hurry then,” Tansy said. “Our time will be up soon and that guard will want a look.”

“Where is John Carter?” I asked the queen.

She had never heard the name, but refused to answer a question from a whore. She remained silent, though I would not have let her speak had she tried.

“Who is this land’s greatest warrior?”

She thought of a gigantic monster risen from the dead, her brother Jaime, the Mighty Pig, who it turned out she despised, a beautiful young man who kissed another man, an old man who killed enemies with a spoon, and the buffoon standing guard outside her door. She had heard rumors of a leader known as the Stallion building an empire in a land far away, but had not cared to learn any details other than that he had arisen from a barbarian people known as the Dothraki. She considered no one remotely like John Carter.

“Who is your most powerful enemy?”

She actually laughed internally at that one. She believed all of her enemies to be dead, but slowly she began to reveal a repressed terror of another queen, one younger and more beautiful and served by terrible flying creatures. She was somehow connected to this Stallion but that did not seem to involve John Carter as far as Cersei knew; I could not be sure if this last vision were real or a nightmare vision.

“I am finished with her,” I said.

“Then finish her,” Tansy said. “We’ve got to be going.”

“We are unarmed, and unclothed, in the most closely-guarded room on this continent. I do not know that we can escape.”

“We surely can’t escape if she has us killed,” Tansy said. “Kill her now.”

I thought about simply suffocating the queen, but changed my mind. Cersei had given me an idea.

“Get me the spork.”

Tansy dashed to the table and brought back the golden eating tool. I inserted it into the deep valley between the queen’s breasts. I was still amazed at how they pointed directly upwards, as though something had been implanted inside them. Tansy held down her left arm; I had her right pinned beneath my hip. She struggled, but could not break free. I looked my sister in the eye.

“I am sorry for bringing you here,” I said. “I am sorry for making you act as a whore again. You would have been better off not becoming my sister.”

“Don’t be silly. I told you weeks ago. You’re the first person I’ve ever really loved. I’d rather die as your sister than live without having known you.”

By the seven gods and all the demons, thought Cersei, don’t make me listen to this tripe. Just kill me now.

I looked down at our captive queen.

“There are no gods, your grace. But I shall do as you say.”

Her eyes bulged – unlike most of her subjects, she was not stupid, and immediately realized that I had read her silent thoughts. She had not until that moment thought that I would actually kill her. John Carter would have tied her up and left her hidden in her dressing room; I was about to put a spork in her heart.

Who are you?

“A Princess of Helium,” I answered out loud, and then in my own language, “yi valonqar e Elium.”

The valonqar! She recognized my title! How did she know even a single word of my language? But my arm had already started to shove the golden spork through her breastbone. She let out a scream smothered by the hand I still held over her mouth; her back arched once again and she strained to break her arms loose. She relaxed as she died, and I straddled her to hold her face in my hands, desperately hoping to pick up any clue from her final thoughts.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen (Dejah Thoris)

“Dejah! The guard!”

I had allowed myself to become distracted. The guard who had brought us here, now wearing his helmet, had entered the room at the muffled scream and fast approached. I leapt atop him, wrapping my bare legs around his torso to pin his sword arm to his side. We careened around the room while he flailed at me with his free hand and I tried to jam the blood-covered spork through the eye-slit of his helmet. He crashed into the wall in an effort to shake me off; it knocked the breath out of my lungs but still I held on.

Finally, the spork poked into his eye and he began to bellow loudly. I kept twisting the spork and when it gained purchase in his eye socket, I punched it home into his brain with the side of my fist. He immediately collapsed limply to the floor.

I untangled myself from the guard’s body, and told Tansy to close the door. There were no thoughts detectable in the hallway outside. The queen’s serving woman still slept, though how she did not wake from the racket we had made I could not guess. I told Tansy to find some clothes for us while I tended to the bodies. Had I suffocated Cersei, there would have been no scream and I could have thrown her out the window to make it appear that she had committed suicide like her son. Sometimes I act before I fully think things through. A scientist should know better.

After stripping the guard, I strewed his armor and clothing between the door and the bed as though he had taken them off himself in his eagerness to make love to his queen. I placed his body on the bed alongside that of the queen, turning them to face one another, and replaced the spork in his eye. He had been a tall and muscular man, with a great deal of curly black hair all over this body. His very pale face bordered on ugly, with a smashed nose and many small black pimples.

I placed Cersei’s hand on the spork, and stuck the man’s dagger into the bloody hole over her heart with his dead hand wrapped around its handle. I yanked the silks out from underneath the bed’s thick pad to make it look like a struggle had occurred. The little scenario I’d created would only fool the stupid, but it might confuse others. And there were many stupid people in the queen’s service.

The valonqar. Cersei’s last thoughts concerned the unfairness of her life, how she had never received her due from her father, her brother/lover, her children or the people of her realm who had never loved her. She regretted the deaths of the three children fathered by her brother, and that she had seen so little of her eldest, fathered by her husband the king, before she secretly sent him away to clear the path to the throne for her other children. Her first son instead became a blacksmith. She felt especially humiliated to have been killed by some foreign whore. She imagined a number of other people stabbing her, well-dressed men and women including a very short man, a very old woman and her brother the Kingslayer; apparently all would have been preferable as the instrument of her death. She remembered a seer predicting her death at the hands of a valonqar.

Tansy had found two apparently new outfits identical to that the queen had worn, with leggings, a short leather skirt over them, and a leather tunic. They were garishly decorated with the Lannister family lion, but that was not to be helped. I had seen other women clad in similar garb that I now understood to have been imitating Cersei, so hopefully anyone who saw us would not realize that we wore the original. Cersei had been a tall woman so the clothing fit for the most part; though neither of us was small-breasted it sagged over the chest on both of us, leaving the golden lion somewhat wrinkled. Tansy had also found two more daggers of the same extraordinary steel from which my sword had been forged, in addition to the two the queen had worn. I broke open the desk to retrieve those blades; I also scooped a handful of gold coins into a pair of pockets on the sides of my new outfit. We each slipped a pair of the daggers into the loops on our new tunics apparently meant for them.

Tansy began tapping the walls of the bedchamber, searching for a secret passage. I joined her. We found what seemed to be a door behind a garish tapestry showing the Lannister lion trampling the animal symbols of the other houses. We could not make the door open, so I kicked it in and hoped the tapestry would hide the damage for at least a little while.

I turned to scoop up our cloaks, our sandals and our whore costumes, and looked up to see Dorcas, Cersei’s servant, emerge from her small chamber. I strode quickly to her, pushed her against the wall and clapped my hand over her mouth. Her gray eyes grew large and she tried to scream, but I did not allow her to squirm free of my hand. She had untied the laces of her plain gray dress in order to sleep, and I drew one of Cersei’s daggers, using its blade to push her clothing aside before I stabbed her in the center of her chest. I held her mouth closed as she tried to scream again and then died.

I carefully carried her body to Cersei’s bed and lay it across the end strangely known as the “foot.” I pulled her dress down around her waist and pulled off her underclothes, adding them to the pile of clothing on the floor. She was very pale under her clothing and not particularly attractive in face or form. But perhaps someone would believe that Cersei had killed Dorcas in a fit of jealous rage before turning on her lover.

Tansy pulled at my arm, urging me to leave.

“That won’t do,” she said. “Take the body with us and dump it somewhere else.”

I pulled Dorcas’ dress back up over her chest to prevent her blood from leaking onto my new leather clothing, and hefted her body over my shoulder.

“I had to kill her,” I whispered. “I did not wish to.”

“She would have screamed,” Tansy said. “It’s a shame that she died but you had no other choice. Better her than us. Now let’s go.”

Tansy pulled me into the dark corridor, and we arranged the tapestry to cover the shattered door as best we could. 

We moved down the dark passage as quickly as we dared. Dorcas was not heavy, but I did not like carrying a dead woman. I noticed a small chamber with a shaft leading deep below; Tansy said it probably had once held a lift called a “dumb waiter” that allowed servants to bring food and other items up from below. It was filled with dust and had no rope, indicating that it had not been used in many years. I pushed Dorcas into the opening and let her drop into the depths; I did not hear her body hit the bottom of the shaft until it had dropped a great distance.

We pressed on, walking up and down stairs and taking so many turns that we became thoroughly lost. Many observation portals dotted the walls of the passage. We looked through them but eventually became bored of staring at empty rooms, servants cleaning floors, and guards sleeping instead of guarding. Were I writing an adventure tale I suppose I would say that we overheard the Lannister generals making their plans, but we saw and heard absolutely nothing of any interest.

One portal looked out into a busy corridor that seemed to include public traffic: there were workmen, laundry women, fruit sellers and others among the soldiers and court officials passing back and forth. When it became empty we slipped out of the secret door and headed toward the bright daylight visible down the wide passage. Soon we passed a bored guard who waved us out of the castle gates. We were back in the city.

Did we get away? Tansy thought intensely.

I tried to scan the crowds to see if we had been followed, but could not tell for sure amid the mass of moving, shoving people.

“I cannot tell,” I answered aloud. “I need a place where we can remain without moving for a short time.”

Tansy led me into a tavern, a busy place filled with working people and street prostitutes – not upper-class courtesans such as ourselves. Despite our beauty and our exotic clothing, no one paid any attention to us; unusual-looking people apparently came and went at all times. We found a small empty table in the back corner, and squeezed ourselves onto the bench behind it, from where we could look out over the wide room and no one could come up behind us.

A serving woman brought us wooden tankards of ale; I sipped mine and concentrated on the people within and immediately without the tavern.

“Well?” Tansy finally asked.

“I believe we are alone.” I looked about. “Other than all of these people.”

“I knew what you meant,” she said. “What did you learn? Back there.”

“Nothing about John Carter. She had never heard of anyone like him. But I may have just killed Gendry’s mother.”

“Cer . . . she was Gendry’s mother?” Tansy caught herself before speaking the queen’s name aloud.

“Possibly. Perhaps likely. She thought of giving her son away to be raised as a bastard. Yet she still went to see him, at a distance, and imagined a young blacksmith who looked very much like Gendry.”

“Why would she give him away?”

“I do not know. The thoughts of the dying are not always clear, and they sometimes confuse fact with fantasy. At some point she definitely saw Gendry. Whether she believed him her son, or fantasized of it, I cannot say.”

“She could do worse for a son. Actually, she did. Much worse.”

“Should we tell him?”

“What are the chances of our ever seeing him again?”

“Very low,” I admitted. On Barsoom, our communications network assures that friends never leave our lives unless we wish it. “And perhaps it is best that he not know.”

“As you said, it could be fantasy. Hell, I fantasized it myself when you asked if I were his mother.”

“As did I.”

“Truly? Why?”

“He looks very much like a young John Carter. Enough to be his son. He is attractive, intelligent and of good character.”

I do not know why I lied to my sister. Gendry did not simply resemble John Carter. He looked very much like the son I shared with John Carter, formally named Carter Thoris and known as Carthoris. He had been a troubled young man, disturbed by his parents’ obvious lack of affection for one another and his own mixed-race origin. Rather than comfort my son, I had simply ignored him. While this is the way of the royal class of Barsoom, my actions or lack of them still filled me with shame. I had never told Tansy that I had children.

“So,” Tansy broke into my depressive thoughts, “John Carter is the spitting image of Robert Baratheon. How curious.”

“I thought Robert was foolish and fat.”

“And drunk,” she agreed. “Absolutely. Yet he was quite a man before all that.”

“You enjoyed him.”

“I would have done him for fun, yes,” she said. “I took his money all the same.”

She smiled slightly, and shook her head.

“What else did you learn?”

“She recognized my title,” I said. “Somewhere, she had heard my language.”

“You’re not the only person from Barstool to visit Westeros?”

“Barsoom. I do not know what it means.”

“It’s a vast land with millions of people in it,” Tansy said. “Visitors from the skies could come, live out their lives and die, and no one would ever hear of it more than ten miles away.”

“So this might have happened many times?”

“I have no idea,” Tansy said. “Is it worth worrying over?”

“Likely not. But I am curious.”

“You’re always curious. Did you learn anything else?”

“She was a bitter and unhappy woman,” I said, “upset that a copper-skinned Dothraki whore killed her and not someone more worthy. But nothing else of use, at least I do not think so.”

“She was more upset over who killed her than she was at being killed?”

“People have odd thoughts at the moment of death,” I said. “It is the mind’s way of lessening the shock of the moment.”

I held up my hand to stop her from replying, for a man approached our table. He was of middle age, with thinning hair and well-made clothing. He leaned over the table and looked at us each in turn. His thoughts said he hoped we were prostitutes. I pulled out one of Cersei’s daggers and placed its point against his slightly protruding belly, where no one else in the tavern could see.

“I believe,” I said, “that you have come to the wrong table.”

“I believe,” he answered, “that you’re right. A pleasant evening to you both.”

“What did he want?” Tansy asked as he walked away.

“Our breasts wrapped about his sex organ.”

“He’s not that lucky. Not even . . . that woman . . . deserved us.”

We finished our drinks and paid with one of Cersei’s golden coins; I told the barmaid to keep the change and forget from where it came; she smiled and her thoughts said that she would do so.

I had acted as a whore. It seemed that I should somehow feel degraded, but to show those feelings would insult my sister, and I would not do that. I had my answers regarding John Carter’s presence in the South of this land, but I had paid for them. I had learned that even the incomparable Dejah Thoris has a price.

This was not, I realized, the first time I had done so. My grandfather had used me, my beauty and my sexual skills, to seduce John Carter and bind him to Helium’s service. Was that trade of my body for profit any different from what Tansy had done for coins? I had been John Carter’s whore. “Once that line’s been crossed,” my sister had said, “you can never go back.”

We returned to Chataya’s brothel as night fell, wearing our cloaks to cover our newly-obtained clothing. As soon as we had changed into simple dresses Chataya herself hustled us into the private dining room where we had met before.

“I’m so glad you two are safe,” she said. “Have you heard the news?”

“No,” said Tansy. I had a preview but remained silent.

“Queen Cersei, First of Her Name, is dead. Some lovers’ quarrel with her Queensguard, Ser Osmund Kettleblack. He’s dead too. People are saying they started arguing in the middle of sex and ended up killing each other.”

She seemed puzzled that Cersei was having sex with this Kettleblack person instead of us. She assumed that we must have been turned away from the queen.

“What,” I asked, “is a Queensguard?”

“Seven of the best knights from all of the kingdoms,” Chataya said. “The best fighters and the most honorable. At least they used to be honorable, but they are great fighters still. They protect the ruler, and swear off of sex. They’re good customers, usually; a man who’s sworn off sex will pay a great deal to make sure no one knows he’s still having sex.”

“And this story of a fight during sex,” I went on. “The people believe this?”

“You truly aren’t from around here,” she said. “You saw the big smoking hole in the ground?”

I nodded.

“No one doubts anything anymore, no matter how strange it sounds.”

And no one could have missed the shattered secret door for long. Someone in the palace did not want it known that Cersei had been murdered.

“Who rules now?”

“No one knows,” Chataya said. “There will be anarchy soon. I’ve called in all my guards and told my girls to stay here at night. We’re closed for business until things get sorted out. What will you two do?”

I realized why she had seemed so surprised to see us again: she knew that Cersei had her whores killed after she tired of them. She had expected us to service the queen a few times and then disappear forever. No wonder she was happy to see us when we arrived in King’s Landing. Cersei paid her well to provide new playthings, and to stay quiet when they never returned. Chataya could make some additional money and assuage her anger at my sister for breaking her contract, all at the same time. And no one in King’s Landing would ask inconvenient questions about our disappearance.

I wondered if I should kill her. I wondered if I should tell Tansy. Chataya was Tansy’s friend, or at least Tansy said she thought so. And the dark-skinned woman had been willing to let her be killed, and apparently had wanted her to die. But would Tansy believe me, and forgive me for killing her friend? I was confused.

I felt my emotions drain away. I recognized this as the state I enter when I prepare to kill someone. I willed it away. We would leave King’s Landing and never see Chataya again.

“We will leave in the morning,” I told Chataya. “Thank you again for all of your kindness.”

Chataya sent some fine roasted meat from a bird called “pheasant” to the private dining room, along with wine and grilled mushrooms. I enjoyed them very much. From the room’s open interior window we could see a stage one floor below us where musicians played and women danced in a sinuous, writhing motion much like the dances we perform in Helium.

“The dance is from Lys,” Tansy said, noting my fascination. “It’s a city across the Narrow Sea, noted for its courtesans, its dancers and its poisons.”

“You can dance as they do?”

“I can.”

“Teach me.”

“I’m not sure where we’d find someone to play the shahnai,” she said, referring to the wind instrument a bald man played on the edge of the stage. “Or the tabla drums.”

It saddened me that we would leave before I could dance.

“Show me now.”

Invisible to all but the dancers on stage, who watched the men below rather than us, we mimicked their movements from the room on the upper floor. It struck me as odd to dance with my sister only a few scant hours after killing three people, but I did not stop. As always when I danced, I felt my thoughts quiet as I concentrated on moving my body in the rhythm of the music. It did not sound like the music of Helium, but it had a similar beat, and I closed my eyes and felt as though I were home.

“I didn’t know it could be beautiful,” Tansy said softly as she watched me. “When you do it for men, for pay, it just seems . . . another way to fuck for money.”

“Just like sex,” I said, “it is more beautiful when done for love.”

I felt as though I had said something deep and profound. Tansy nodded, but said nothing.

Afterwards we returned to our room for the night. Dancing left Tansy red-faced and happy. She said nothing of our sexual encounter, and lay next to me unclothed as though nothing unusual had happened. I lay on my back looking at the ceiling, where I could just make out some sort of intricate design, and wondered what would happen if I kissed her. Or if I killed Chataya. Or if I did both. As was her habit, Tansy fell hard asleep and flung an arm and a leg across me. Comforted by this ritual, I eventually fell asleep myself without seeking a new encounter.

Later I awoke and left Tansy in bed, donning a cloak over my nude body and walking through the brothel to quietly cross the garden to the privy. The room had a chamber pot in a small closet that one could use rather than making the late-night walk, but its use embarrassed me. While we of Barsoom eliminate far less often than the people of this planet, the need does arise. As I returned, Chataya met me in the doorway.

“You could make a lot of money for me if you stayed,” she said. “That tanned skin, those long legs, those big high tits with those dark nipples and that sweet ass. And that haughtiness! I’d pay you well. You’d only work when you wanted to. Your etiquette needs improvement; you eat like a starving boy of four-and-ten. But I could teach you that.”

She meant it. She thought I was a whore, and an expensive one. And perhaps now I was, though I had not been paid for pleasuring Cersei. I paused as though I were considering her offer. I telepathically scanned the household. No one else was awake except the two guards at the front door, and they were outside. Their thoughts involved some upcoming horse race that excited them; they were absorbed in quiet discussion of gambling odds and they could not hear us.

“I know you sold us to Cersei,” I said softly. “You knew she would have us killed.”

And then I punched her in the chest, very hard, right over her heart. She gasped and fell back against the door frame.

“It was only business,” Chataya said through gritted teeth. “Not personal.”

She lied. She had wanted Tansy to die, and did not care whether that led to my death as well. I punched her again, and this time she died. I went back upstairs, crawled under the fur with Tansy, and pulled her close. No second thoughts kept me from sleep this time.

I awoke hoping there would be bacon for First Meal. Tansy was already up and came into our room as I was putting on my own leggings. We had burned Cersei’s clothing in the fireplace the night before; the smell of scorched leather still hung about the room.

She placed a large cup known as a “mug” on the table next to the bed; she already held one herself. I picked it up and sniffed carefully; a wonderful aroma arose from the black liquid within.

“It’s called coffee,” Tansy said. “It’s from the Summer Isles. I think you’ll like it.”

I sipped carefully. In that moment, my life changed yet again. It had a bitter taste, yet I felt compelled to drink more of it. Tansy waited until I had finished all of this superb “coffee.”

“Chataya died last night,” she said.


“It appears to be a seizure of the heart.”

“She was old, was she not?”

“Old enough, yes,” Tansy said. “But. Do you remember a woman named Camille from the Brotherhood’s camp? Black hair, very pale skin, unpleasant attitude?”


“She died in that big fight when you first arrived. You punched her right over her heart and it stopped beating from the shock. She looked a lot like Chataya does now.”

“Why would I kill Chataya?”

“Because,” Tansy said, “you figured out that she sold us to Cersei, and knew we would be killed in the palace. Or under it. So you killed Chataya before she could sell us out again.”

I sat quietly, not knowing what to say, and ran my hands over the now-empty coffee mug. Tansy dropped to her knees in front of me, gently took the mug from me and placed it on the table, then took my hands in hers.

“Dejah. We’re sisters. That means that we trust each other. You should have told me.”

“I was afraid that you would not believe me,” I said. “Chataya was your friend long before you knew me.”

“She was a business associate,” Tansy said. “She owned my contract. She never forgave me for buying it out, for leaving this place. You are my sister. Nothing you could ever do would change that. And I knew what Chataya was, and I suspected that we had been sold as soon as you said that Cersei planned to have us killed.”

She paused.

“That wasn’t the first time Chataya sold me, and put me in danger. I should have known better.”

She lifted my hands and kissed each of them on the palm, then placed them on the center of her chest, over her heart, with her own hands on top of them.

“I know you were trying to protect me,” she said. “But we keep each others’ secrets.”

“I will remember. My sister. You are not upset that I killed Chataya?”

“Sweet Dejah,” she said. “You can’t stab your way out of every problem.”

“It has worked so far.”

Chataya’s daughter, Alayaya, believed that her mother had died of a heart ailment, as did the rest of the staff. No one thought to look closely to see if she had unusual bruises. The ways of the Summer Isles called for an elaborate funeral with a parade; the mourners would dress in colorful clothing and there would be music, singing and dancing along the route of the procession before the body was burned amid a great celebration.

That was how Alayaya described it to Tansy and I, but with the city in such fear of violence she had decided to forgo the funeral parade. Chataya would be burned in the garden of her brothel.

A very subdued audience gathered: prostitutes, kitchen workers, guards. Many wept openly. I stood next to Tansy and felt the waves of sorrow wash over the small crowd as Alayaya applied a torch to the kindling stacked under her mother’s richly-wrapped corpse. I felt her sorrow; she missed her mother deeply even though her mother had made her a whore. Chataya had told her daughter that this was the way of the Summer Isles and had no shame attached, but Alayaya had grown up here, in King’s Landing, and absorbed a different set of social mores.

The others missed her as well, unaware that she had been murdered. Unaware that her killer stood a scant distance from her pyre, pretending to be sorrowful.

We met with Alayaya a short time later to let her know that we would leave this city early the following morning.

“I’m very sorry,” she said. “My mother handled the accounts, but as far as I can tell the queen never paid for you two. I show payments from the queen for other girls, all of them new girls who Mother recruited just for Queen Cersei. I suppose I could try to bill the palace but you didn’t actually finish the job, did you?”

“No,” Tansy said. “We waited in an anteroom and suddenly chaos broke out all around. No one paid any attention to us, so we took clothes from a laundress’ basket and we left.”

“That was wise,” Alayaya said. “I’m glad you’re safe, but I can’t pay you.”

She was highly embarrassed, and would have given over the money had Tansy insisted.

“I think the Maiden’s telling me to give up the life,” Tansy said. “It was a mistake to try to get back into it.”

Tansy looked at me, and I understood what she wanted. I carefully scanned Alayaya’s thoughts; she had not known that her mother sent us to be killed. That pleased me; I did not want to kill Alayaya, but had she been a knowing participant in Chataya’s murderous scheme I would have gladly snapped her long and lovely neck. Even the thought of someone threatening my sister’s life caused the anger to build within me. I shook my head slightly and saw that Tansy noticed.

“And you?” Alayaya asked me. “You’re astonishingly beautiful. My mother hoped you would join us here.”

“I follow where my sister leads,” I said. “I will give up the life as well. Perhaps I will take up the sword.”

Alayaya laughed politely at what she thought a weak jest.

“You’re always welcome here,” she said. “My mother would have wanted that.”

I believe that I kept my face still as she said that. I did not feel guilt for slaying Chataya – she had meant to murder me and worse, murder my sister. I realized that I indeed now valued Tansy’s life over my own.

“Thank you,” Tansy said. “But I think it’s time we made our own way.”

“There are few ways open to women of Westeros, even those as beautiful as you and your sister.”

“Still,” Tansy said, “we will try.”

Alayaya embraced us both, and we left her pleasure palace, now wearing simple blue dresses she had given us. It was time to depart this huge city of the terrible smells and worse inhabitants. I had killed in personal combat and in battle on Barsoom, but I had never murdered anyone until I arrived on this planet. And now I had done it thrice more, including stabbing a blameless serving woman to prevent her from screaming and then dumping her body. Her family, if any, would never know her fate. I had also killed a member of the elite Queensguard for performing his duty. I had been a whore, giving sexual pleasure in exchange for money, even though I had not been paid. I had learned that John Carter was not to be found here or at least had not come to the attention of the ruling house. And I had learned that I must trust my sister, no matter how frightening the potential repercussions.

I was not the woman John Carter had once believed me to be. “The incomparable Dejah Thoris” was a myth. She always had been and I knew that, yet I at least believed her to be good. Now I had to doubt that, and consider all the other ramifications of that myth. John Carter had loved a fantasy, but I had never objected. Likewise, I had once believed John Carter a paragon of honor and esteemed that quality above all others. Later I learned that he was not what I had imagined; nor, I now realized, was I. I had given honor no thought at all since my arrival – I spared the Mighty Pig because he amused me, not because he had earned my respect. Just why had I reached my hands toward the blue orb of Jasoom, and then ended up here instead?

Perhaps we all end in the hell we deserve.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen (Dejah Thoris)

I would have preferred to remain in King’s Landing for a few more days to investigate the great explosion of green fire, but we needed to leave before someone connected the trail of dead bodies to me. John Carter was not here, and I had assassinated a crowned head of state with a spork. It would not do to linger at the scene of the crime.

We gathered our things, including a spork, and walked to the stable to collect our horses, my weapons and most of our gold. All was safely where we had left it in the stable-owner’s large iron safe. Carl the stable owner had taken excellent care of our animals, and I was glad to give him a little extra gold – even without any whoring profits beyond what I had stolen from Cersei’s writing desk, we still had plenty from our share of the Harrenhal loot.

Leaving King’s Landing itself proved more troublesome. A long line had built up behind the Dragon’s Gate from which we wished to depart, as soldiers wearing red cloaks had replaced those in gold we had seen on our arrival. They inspected everyone closely, and also checked the contents of all carts and wagons. We walked our horses slowly forward, and a soldier stepped in front of me, peering at me closely.

“Copper skin. Dark hair. We have some questions for you.”

“Hold,” came an impossibly loud, echoing voice. “She’s a friend of my family. I’ll handle this.”

The Mighty Pig pushed his way through the crowd. He looked ill, and both of his wrists were heavily bound in protective casts. The soldier backed away.

“We are old friends,” he said quietly so only Tansy and I could hear. I would not have guessed he was capable of such. “One of you take each of my arms, smile, and we walk straight through the gate. Understand?”

I detected no treachery in his thoughts. I nodded to Tansy, and she did as he said. I watched and copied her, looping my hand behind his elbow and onto his forearm. He led us and our horses past the line, talking non-stop about non-existent friends and relations until we were clear of the gate and its guards. Then he stopped.

“I owed you a life,” he said. “I hope we’re even now.”

“You do not know that it would have been my life lost.”

“No, I don’t,” he admitted. “Think of it as keeping the lives of my men off your conscience if you prefer.”


“That’s not clear?”

“No,” I said, “I am sorry. It is I who is not clear. Why did we need help leaving the city?”

“I rode in last night with Jaime Lannister. This morning he issued orders to bring anyone matching your description to him for questioning; I knew it had to be you. I think he’s seized power and possibly the crown from his sister. I don’t know why he wants you, I assume it’s because of the sword, and I don’t want to know why. I know that I serve a family of monsters, but I swore an oath. Don’t ask me to break it any more than I have already. And don’t go back up the Kingsroad. The rest of Lannister’s army is headed south.”

“Thank you.” I kissed his cheek. Tansy kissed the other. We mounted up and rode away.

Following the Mighty Pig’s suggestion, we cut across from the Kingsroad down a wagon track to reach another road heading northeast to a town called Rosby. No one pursued us, and we rode through farmland untouched by war. Tansy explained more of what had happened in King’s Landing, and made me show her my tongue. I learned that what we of Barsoom consider to be “sex,” the people here refer to as “extended foreplay.”

“There’s nothing wrong with foreplay,” Tansy said. “I like it a lot, when I’m fucking for fun. I demand it, truth be told. But it’s only the introduction, not the main event.”

I described what I had read in Cersei’s mind as Tansy applied her tongue to Cersei’s sex receptacle and I had mine on her breasts.

“It’s called an orgasm,” she said. “It’s not spoken of often. I’d guess most men don’t know it exists; at least not many even try to give one. Some of the Faith say it happens when a woman is possessed by a demon. Others believe it’s necessary for a woman to become with child, to match the same reaction from a man. So they claim that a woman cannot get with child by way of rape, which is a damned convenient way to blame a woman for her own rape.”

“How is that?”

“If you are with child by a rapist,” she said, “that means that you had an orgasm. And if you had an orgasm that means you enjoyed it. And if you enjoyed it . . .”

“No rape.”


We rode in quiet for a time and I considered that. I was very glad not to have been born a woman of this planet. Except that I envied the glorious gift of orgasm that we of Barsoom could not, as far as I was aware, receive.

“Orgasm is not always received?”

“Depends on the woman,” Tansy said, “and it depends on her lover. Some have it often, some never at all. And the lover needs some skill and a will to give it. Unless she gives it to herself.”

“You can receive orgasm from yourself?”

“With your fingers.”

“You do not need a lover?”

“No,” she said, “but it’s usually better that way. I’m pretty sure no one has one every time.”

“You have received orgasm?”

“What do you think happened when we were with Cersei?” she asked with a wide smile. “When she told you to kiss my breasts?”

“From me?”

“Yes, from you,” she said. “And that magic tongue. It’s pretty rare to get one just off your breasts.”

“I have many skills.”

“I’ve underestimated you.”

Even though I was not my sister’s lover, the fact that I had given her orgasm, and done so in a unique way, made me very proud of myself.

“Do you often receive orgasm?”

“Only during sex for fun. Never when I was working. Not from a client, anyway. I’ve play-acted them I don’t know how many times.”

She began to moan, writhing back and forth and then throwing her head back. She shuddered and panted, “oh gods, oh gods, insert name here, oh gods.” Then she finally screamed.

“That is not how you received orgasm in the palace.”

“No,” she said, “but it’s what the client expects. You’re playing a role. I needed to show Cersei that I was excited by you, but not more excited than I was by her.

“It’s also a thing with me, and a lot of whores. My own pleasure is mine, not the client’s. You try to hold onto something no one can pay for; some whores won’t kiss, that’s one example. I don’t want to mix how you made me feel for real with how I pretended to feel with her.”

“So you liked it?”

“From you?” she asked. “Oh gods yes. I had to bite you to keep from crying out. You don’t have orgasms?”

“Not like that,” I said. “We have pleasure but not nearly as intense. My reaction when you kissed my breasts was as intense a pleasure as I have known.”

“I’m so sorry. I could tell you liked it and I’m glad you did, but a woman of our people could have had much more. I wish you could have gone over the edge.”

“And receive orgasm?” I clarified. “So do I.”

“You used that tongue on John Carter?”

“Yes,” I said. “He hesitated and said it was not proper, but enjoyed having it wrapped around his sex organ.”

“No doubt. Did he come?”


“As you like saying, ‘receive orgasm’.”

I did like saying it. I would have preferred receiving it.

“I suppose he did receive orgasm,” I said. “His seed came flowing in powerful spurts, his skin turned as red as mine and he panted uncontrollably.”

“So that would be yes. You didn’t get the same pictures from his mind as you did from Cersei?”

“I cannot read John Carter’s thoughts.”

“Ah,” Tansy nodded. “I’m sure he did though. He never tried to make you come?”

“To help me receive orgasm?”


“No,” I said, recalling John Carter’s views on sex with some anger. “He said that a woman should lie still and receive the man’s seed, to relieve the pressures on his body. Speaking of sex made him nervous and shy, but his sex organ would not fit inside me, either, which frustrated him greatly. Would I have enjoyed that?”

“If you had the same parts that we do,” she said, “I’m sure that you would have. If not, probably not. You can’t help what you are, Dejah. You were the normal one on your planet.”

I considered this; she was of course correct. I had fallen in love with an alien, and all that that entailed. Was there not more to love than inserting a sex organ? That was certainly the case on Barsoom.

“So you’re the most beautiful woman of three worlds,” Tansy continued, “and you have that gift of a tongue. Why isn’t he the one searching for you?”

I could tell she was being playful, but that question had bothered me deeply. Did John Carter even remember me? Had he found someone else, someone who could receive his sex organ, and to whom he could give orgasm? Had he realized my true, murderous nature?

“You’re fading away again,” she said. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

“It troubles me. But I have found my sister, and should appreciate what I have.”

“And if you do find John Carter?”

“Whatever happens,” I said, “we remain sisters. As you have said, that is not subject to change. You will leave this planet with me. If that is not possible or is not your wish, then I will stay with you. Either way, we remain together.”

“And if John Carter objects?”

“Then I will know that he no longer wishes to be with me,” I said. “That is likely, and as I no longer wish to be with him, it is also irrelevant. More importantly, it will mean that he no longer intends to honor his oaths to my grandfather.

“Whatever happens,” I repeated, “I will not be separated from my sister.” 

On this road there were plenty of inns, and for our first night’s stay we selected a fine-looking establishment built of red brick. It sat on the fringe of a tiny village of roughly-made shacks. I saw no evidence of wartime damage, nor did I see armed men walking about.

The common room held only a handful of people, who ignored us as we took a table. The innkeeper, a stout and friendly woman, said she had roast chickens; I ate three of them and a large loaf of fresh bread, plus a jug of what she called white wine though once again it looked yellowish-green to me. All of the food was very good.

“Three chickens,” she said slowly as she gathered our platters. “Three. I don’t suppose you’ll want any pie.”

“What is pie?” I asked. The woman looked at Tansy.

“My friend is from far away,” she said. “They must not have pie there. What have you got?”

“Apple pie,” the innkeeper said, “fresh-baked. I suppose I should bring her the whole pie and not bother with slicing it?”

“That’s probably wise.”


“Yes, please,” Tansy said.

The innkeeper returned with a round pastry, about an arm’s length across and perhaps half a finger deep. I stuck my finger into it, and tasted. It was warm, and inside it had a sweet fruit filling. She handed me a wooden spoon, and a pitcher of a white liquid.

“What is this?” I asked.


“What is milk?” I asked again.

“You know, from cows.” I scanned her thoughts; this was the nutritive fluid secreted by cattle to feed their young. The concept disgusted me.

“Thank you,” Tansy interjected before I could comment. “It all smells wonderful.”

The innkeeper waited while I tasted my first spoonful of pie. It was glorious, a mixture of sweetness and fruit taste and crust. Truly we have nothing to match it on Barsoom.

“Try it with milk,” the innkeeper said.

Despite my disgust, I drank some of the tepid white liquid. It matched the pie perfectly.

“Thank you,” I said. “I have never tasted anything so glorious.”

“I’ll have more in the morning.”

“It will be difficult to sleep tonight,” I said, “as I await more magnificent pie.”

She smiled and walked away, thinking me strange but courteous. I had meant every word.

We returned to our room on the top floor of the three-story inn and prepared for sleep. I found myself watching Tansy remove her travelling clothes – tight leather riding leggings and a plain black tunic – with more interest than usual. I had seen her naked hundreds of times, but now I could not escape memories of her presenting her breasts to me in front of Cersei. I wanted my tongue on her pinkish-brown nipples again, and hers on mine.

She saw me watching, and smiled. She picked up a wooden chair and pulled it over to where I sat on the edge of the room’s lone bed, and sat facing me.

“You’re thinking of what we did in Cersei’s bedchamber.”

“Do you also read thoughts?”

“Sometimes,” she said. “When they’re really obvious.”

“It is a difficult memory to escape.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed me,” she said. “Truly, I am. But you need to trust me in this, as I trust you.”

I nodded acceptance.

“I’ve had female lovers,” she said. “So have you, I’m guessing from the way you handled Cersei’s tits.”

“Yes,” I confirmed. “Many times.”

“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, Dejah, and I was one of King Robert’s picked courtesans. And you know how much I love you. And the things I can teach you to do with that tongue . . . of course I want to have sex with you all night and into tomorrow.”

“But?” I asked.

“You’re catching on,” she said. “If we do become lovers, I don’t want it to have grown out of our performance for Cersei. That was vile. Degrading. Humiliating. Anything between us needs to be real, and beautiful.”

“I understand.”

“Someday we probably will,” she said. “Seven hells, someday we definitely will. But not until Cersei’s in the past, and it comes about naturally.”

“You are very wise.”

“It comes from having been very stupid,” Tansy said. “Thank you for trusting me.”

“We will still sleep curled together?”

“Of course. You’re the perfect bed warmer.”

We continued to enjoy warm beds as we rode through peaceful countryside, encountering no military patrols, Lannister or otherwise. We stayed every night under a real roof, sleeping in a real bed. An abundance of food surrounded us, including many kinds of pie. Each morning we still got up and performed our exercises, and I practiced with my sword. One can never have too much practice. Tansy also taught me more of the Eastern ways of dance.

Steadily I felt myself relax, as I allowed myself to enjoy Tansy’s company and see these lands as they must have looked before war tore them apart. These people could have been happy, if not for the insanity of their leaders. I realized that this statement often held true on Barsoom as well.

And perhaps I could be happy here as well. It would be a very long time before the colors of this world felt natural to me, along with the weight of the air – I could feel its difference with every breath. But for the moment, riding through peaceful countryside with my sister and my horses, I felt more at ease than I had in a very long time. 

Eventually we reached another town, this one called Duskendale. Duskendale was a port town, and for the first time I saw the ocean. I knew that this planet – I no longer bothered to think of it as Jasoom or Dirt, or even to entertain that possibility – had large oceans of salt water. Barsoom had also had these in its distant past.

I heard booming sounds coming from the ocean, that Tansy called “surf.” She explained these were waves crashing into the “beach,” the sand that fringed the water.

“Do you want to see?” she asked.

I was not sure that I did, but my sister turned onto a sandy side track that headed toward the sound and I had no choice but to follow. The small trees and thick undergrowth eventually gave way to sand dunes similar to those of my home planet, but whitish-brown instead of the familiar red. Thick grass-like plants came up to my knees as we dismounted and walked to the edge of what turned out to be a small hill overlooking a deserted beach.

To our left I could see the town of Duskendale and its small harbor. It had three wharves, two of them with ships tied alongside. A small fort was visible at the opposite side of the town. The town had no large buildings like those of King’s Landing, but several had multiple stories.

Looking out over the ocean, I found it hard to breathe. The salty air felt so different, but the vastness of the blue-green-gray water made my vision waver and my knees weaken. This is a larger planet than Barsoom, with correspondingly broader horizons. I felt somewhat dizzy, and as I looked down it appeared that my feet were now far away. These were strange and unpleasant feelings, but I was determined to conquer them for the very idea of a water-filled ocean fascinated me. I could not study what I could not bear to approach.

When I could not stand the sight any longer – probably a short time – we rode down the track into the town and immediately spotted a large inn with four stories called the Seven Swords. A pretty young woman with twin braids in her hair greeted us in place of her father, the innkeeper; according to her thoughts he lay unconscious on the floor in a back room, too drunk to move. She assigned us a room on the top floor. The smells of salt and dead sea creatures on the air made me much sleepier than usual, and the innkeeper’s daughter sent a servant to our room with a platter of cold grilled chicken and fresh bread. After eating we retired early; I fell hard asleep before the sun went down.

Troubled by a dream, I awoke to full darkness. I had seen Tansy on her knees before me on a field of ice and snow, her hands entwined behind her neck as she had done in Cersei’s bedchamber. Naked to the waist, she begged me to plunge my sword between her breasts. In the waking world, she lay sprawled atop the furs next to me, perfectly safe with the moonlight bright on her pale bare skin, wondering how I had come to so deeply love a woman of an alien race.

I could not return to sleep. I watched Tansy sleep for a few more moments, then decided to look at the ocean by night and quietly put on my harness and leggings, with a dark green cloak we had found in Harrenhal over them. I went nowhere without my sword.

I walked back to the hill. The ocean under the light of a nearly-full moon was a beautiful sight, and I found myself much calmer looking at it without the wide horizon or the vibrant daytime colors. I stood for some time taking it in, my restless thoughts calmed by the cool salt breeze and the crashing rhythm of the waves. But then others’ thoughts disturbed this soothing picture.

I looked down at the harbor, and saw by the moonlight that a number of large ships had entered and stopped there. Smaller boats plied between these ships and the beach, landing men there or picking them up. The men leaving the boats were charging into the town and dragging people away. The small number of soldiers in the town retreated into the little fortress on the opposite side of the harbor and barred its gates, leaving the townspeople to their fate. By the scattered thoughts I could receive at this distance, it seemed the raiders mostly sought young women.


I ran back toward the inn. Amidst the pain and fear it was hard to pick up individual thoughts, but the scattered impressions I could get from my sister showed that she had been roughly awakened and taken from our room. Rather than rape her on the spot, the intruders had reserved my beautiful sister for their pirate king to abuse.

As I pounded down a narrow street, three men wearing red cloaks turned into it, heading in my direction. I flung back my cloak to clear my sword.

“Well now,” one of them said, “this is a pretty little bitch. I want her.”

I drew my sword. They pulled out blades of their own. I knocked aside the first man’s sword and cut him across the throat. Even as I killed him, I shoved the man on the right into a nearby wall with my shoulder. As the first man fell he cleared an opening to the chest of the man on the left, and I ran him through the heart before he could raise his own blade. Without turning back to what was now the last man I smashed my elbow into his throat, crushing his windpipe. I had no time to finish him, and left him slowly dying as I ran on.

As I blew through the doors of the inn, I realized that Tansy was not there. A man had shoved the innkeeper’s friendly daughter onto a table where he energetically tried to rape her. As she squirmed and struggled, I shattered an ale pitcher on the side of his head. He fell and I kicked him under the chin, snarling as I did so and snapping his neck. Another man had been watching the rape attempt, mocking his comrade’s inability to stick it in, and now made to run into the inn’s kitchen. I chased him, grabbing him by his ponytail and slinging him onto a table. He was rather fat, bearded and pathetic. He had a wide but short sword in his belt; I yanked it out and rammed it through his round belly up to the hilt, pinning him to the table’s thick wood. He wept.

I turned to the innkeeper’s daughter. Her drunken father was once again nowhere to be seen, by my eyes or by my telepathy, and I did not care to waste time finding him. “Run and hide,” I told her. “Anywhere you can.” She nodded, her eyes wide.

I ran toward the harbor, encountering more red-clad pirates. I killed two who tried to stop me, but otherwise ignored them. I had to get to the boats before they took Tansy away.

I was too late. Even as I ran, pirates dragged her aboard a ship in the harbor; I could sense her terror. I stood in water up to my knees and glared at the ship, as though I could will it to run ashore where I could vent my rage on its crew. I screamed in frustration at the night and at the moon.

I had promised my sister. I had looked into her eyes in Harrenhal and I had promised that this would never happen to her. And now she huddled on the ship right in front of me, waiting for the pirates to force her to the deck and ram their sex organs into her before they murdered her. I could feel her dread, her helplessness. And I could do nothing to save her.

First Born pirates had taken me captive on Barsoom, intending to eat me – until John Carter destroyed their foul religion, they had consumed people of other races, who they considered lesser beings fit only to serve them as a source of slaves or meat. I had been just as terrified as Tansy, just as sure that no one could save me. John Carter had freed me before I became someone’s dinner. Now Tansy depended on me to do the same. And I had already failed her.

Stalking angrily down the beach, I looked out at the ships in the harbor. Tansy tried desperately to reach me with her mind and I could follow her thoughts; her hands had been tied and she had been roped to a string of other frightened women. Somehow, I had to get out there. I had no idea how to swim through water, but I considered attempting it anyway.

Ahead of me, ten men were tying up a pair of women and loading objects into a boat pulled up on the sand. Their thoughts said they were headed for the same ship I wished to reach. I still carried my sword and ran through the waves lapping at my ankles; they were drunk, laughing and talking loudly and they never heard me coming.

The killing coldness had come over me. I did not think, I only reacted: they had my sister and I had no mercy. The first four died in a single motion, as I swept my blade left to kill two men and opened the throats of two more on the backswing. I vaulted over the boat and landed between two more men, chopping them down with short strokes into the sides of their necks. One man stood in the water staring at me; I stabbed him in the chest as he continued to stare. He silently toppled forward into the water, face-down.

Turning back, I met two men trying to pull ungainly broad but short blades from loops in their belts rather than proper scabbards. I pushed the first one down on top of the other, then ran them both through with the same stroke. The last one made to run away; I chased him down and stabbed him between his shoulders. He made a few gasping sounds and died as I ripped the tunic from his falling body to clean my sword.

I returned to the boat and cut the two women free.

“Go to a safe place,” I said. “Run.”

They ran. But I now realized that I had no idea how to make this boat I had captured go across the water to the ship. In my killing frenzy I had slaughtered everyone who could operate the vessel.

I continued down the beach, and soon spotted a boat coming to the shore. A single man had hopped into the water and begun to stride to the sand, leaving the boat adrift. I walked up to him; I very much wanted to kill him but he represented my last chance at a ride to the ship. I determined that he was not one of the pirates; his thoughts wondered at how a knight such as himself had returned to his old ways of sneaking ashore on dark beaches.

“You are a knight, yes?”

“Not a very noble one,” he answered me, “but yes.”

He was an older man, having lost most of his hair. Despite his words he took his knightly honor very seriously and wondered how he might help me even as he feared my obvious rage.

“I think otherwise.” I opened my cloak. “I am a woman. I have breasts.”

“And very fine ones they are,” he agreed. “But what does that have to do with me?”

“A knight must help a woman in need,” I said, repeating Ned Dayne’s rather childish description of knightly duties. “And I have a great need. Those raiders have taken my sister to that ship right there. I need you to take me there in your little boat, so that I may kill them and bring my sister back.”

“Kill which ones?”

“All of them.”

He looked at my sword; I had not yet wiped it down with the last dead pirate’s tunic and blood still ran down the fullers.

“I just escaped from there,” he said.

I read in his thoughts that this was true, and that he bore great anger toward the people on the ship for his capture and captivity.

“Then my killing them will please you,” I said. “I am very good at killing people.”

“Helping angry women kill people isn’t exactly what’s meant by the code of chivalry.”

He believed me suicidal.

“If I wished to kill myself,” I told him, “I would not need your help.”

He looked at me for a moment, realizing that he had not spoken that thought aloud. Then he nodded.

“This is a stupid idea,” he said. “And it’s not even the first time I’ve taken an insane red woman off to kill someone.”

“You will not regret this.”

“Oh, I’ll regret it, I regret it already, Lady . . .  who are you, anyway?”

“Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium. It is a complicated explanation.”

“Ser Davos Seaworth. They call me the Onion Knight. Also a complicated explanation.”

He waded back into the water and retrieved the boat, then motioned for me to sit in one end. I wiped my sword somewhat clean, sheathed it and complied. He climbed in and took up a pair of large wooden stick-like instruments he called “oars.” With his back to me, he rowed us toward the ship.

We actually have boats on dry Barsoom, and I had ridden them in our canals and down the River Iss. This was far different; the rolling motion soon had me regretting the platter of cold chicken I had eaten for Evening Meal. Soon after that it had joined the assorted garbage and scum floating on the harbor waters.

“These are terrible seas,” I moaned.

“Seas? Princess, we’re in a harbor. A perfectly calm harbor. These aren’t waves at all.”

There are gods, and they have sent me to hell for my lack of belief.

“I am nearing,” I said, “death by vomit.”

He tried to distract me. I sprawled across a pile of canvas in the front of the boat, staring up at the night sky to avoid seeing the moving water.

“What are you going to do,” he asked, “aboard Sweet Cersei?”

“Sweet Cersei?”

“The ship is named for Queen Cersei.”

“That,” I observed, “is an extraordinarily stupid name for a warship.”

The dead queen was having her revenge. She had reached from beyond death to afflict her killer with the uncontrollable urge to vomit. Ser Davos continued his efforts to take my mind off my sickness.

“What happened to your sister?”

“She and I took a room at an inn in this town,” I said. “I walked to the beach to see the sea by moonlight. While I was gone, the pirates took my sister. They dragged her onto a boat and then onto the ship named for Cersei. Like most women of these lands, she has been raped before. I do not know the details, only that it harmed her deeply. I promised that she would never be harmed again. Never be raped. I will not break that promise.”

I paused. My voice had become raspy with emotion.

“I will board that ship and I will kill every one of them.”

Davos Seaworth turned to look at me.

“You mean that.”

“Every word, every breath, every thought,” I said. “What do the queen’s men want with my sister?”

“They used to be the queen’s men. Now they’re just common pirates. If your sister is anywhere near as lovely as you, I think you know what they want. If not, they’ll likely kill her. And even if they do keep her, they’ll likely kill her after.”

I seethed with rage. I worked through my mental exercises to turn it into cold focus.

“How did they come to be pirates?”

“When things were looking poorly for Queen Cersei,” Ser Davos explained, “the commander of her navy, a man named Aurane Waters, took the fleet’s new ships and fled. He and the queen had been lovers. His other lover, who was also the queen’s other lover, fled with him – a vicious woman named Lady Taena Merryweather.

“If you could manage to kill them both, I’d consider my service more than amply rewarded.”

I remembered Cersei thinking of Taena, who she believed looked like me. She was likewise beautiful in Davos Seaworth’s memory, but much angrier than she had been in Cersei’s.

“I will do what I can,” I said. “Why were you a prisoner?”

“I was on a mission for my king, Stannis. I was shipwrecked and they picked me up. When they realized who I was, they put me in irons. I had unlocked the shackles and when most of the crew left the ship to raid this town, I stole this boat and fled. And now, idiot that I am, I’m rowing back to Sweet Cersei.”

As he rowed, he explained the layout of the ship, where armed men would most likely be found, and where the captain usually took prisoners. Sweet Cersei was a type of warship called a “dromond,” powered by both sails and oars, and the very largest in the royal fleet though a bigger ship had been destroyed before completion. I had been very fortunate to find such a guide. My words had reached him; he very much hoped that I would succeed and gave me the best advice he knew.

He pulled the boat up alongside the front end of the ship, where a large metal-clad wooden point protruded from the hull. Ser Davos explained that this was used to ram other warships. He pointed at the deck of the ship far above.

“You’ll have to go up through the hawsehole,” he said.

“The what?”

“This thick line,” he said, “that’s what we call a rope, leads below the water to an anchor, a heavy piece of iron holding the ship in place. It leads up into the ship to a compartment behind that opening there. That opening’s called the hawsehole because . . . never mind. Sailors sneaking back aboard ship climb through that hole because there’s never anyone on duty in the hawser locker. See the hole next to it?”


“That’s the head,” he said. “Don’t climb through there.”

“Why not?”

“That’s where the crew, they, I’m sorry my lady,” the Onion Knight said. “That’s where the sailors shit.”

“I shall be careful.”

“When you kill Aurane Waters,” Ser Davos said, “be sure to give him my regards.”

“I shall do so.”

“The gods go with you.”

“There are no gods,” I said. “There is only retribution.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen (Dejah Thoris)

I took off my boots and cloak, as Davos recommended, and climbed up the heavy rope hand-over-hand; it is easy with enhanced strength. I made sure not to look down, for I did not wish to resume vomiting. The Onion Knight watched from below, amazed at my climbing skills and admiring the shape of my ass but wondering if he had lost his mind.

As I looked upward, I saw that someone had decorated the front end of the ship with a golden statue of Cersei, holding a spear and wearing ringed armor. The sculptor had given her breasts even larger than those she had borne in life, sufficient to part the oncoming waters all on their own, but had accurately captured her sneering expression.

The hawsehole was narrow but I wriggled through. The little room called a locker was dark and as the Onion Knight had said, was unoccupied but filled with thick coiled ropes. While the ship did not roll as badly as had the little boat, it still rolled and I felt queasy. But I would not leave this place without my sister. I felt no alert thoughts behind the door of the little room in which I crouched, but there was someone on guard directly above me. I waited a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, then opened the little door and peeked into a low-ceilinged corridor.

It led only a short distance to a wide deck with benches on either side. Nearly-naked men slept on and under the benches, many of them chained to round iron fittings in the floor. A bored guard stood over them with his back to me; another stood at the opposite end of the deck. They wore red cloaks but no armor, and carried clubs in their hands but no other weapons.

These sleeping men must be the rowers the Onion Knight had described. As I looked more closely, I saw that the deck had large openings leading down to lower ranks of benches and sleeping rowers. Moonlight shone through matching openings in the deck above. I scanned for more guards and found two more pairs below.

Following the thoughts of the guard closest to me, I saw that he wished to relieve himself. Sure enough, he called out to the other guard that he was “visiting the head.” When he passed my dark corner I followed him into a tiny compartment. I stepped closely behind him, placed my hand over his mouth and stabbed him with my dagger under his ribs, working the blade back and forth. I held his mouth closed while he died, and left him sitting on the shelf in the compartment.

I put on his red cloak and his helmet; he was a young man and I am taller than most women, so we were about the same size. I walked back out and stood in his place; I would have to do something soon. The ship’s rolling and the smell of blood on my hands and dagger made me start retching again. I dropped to one knee to throw up and the other guard stalked across the deck.

“What in the bloody hells is wrong with you,” he shouted, “you gods-damned lubber?”

When he got close enough, I stabbed him in his large and round belly and twisted the blade. He threw his hands over the ugly wound, bent over and started sobbing. I took off the helmet and cloak and silenced him with my dagger. He fell to the deck.

“They’ll kill us all for that,” said one of the nearby rowers, now awake.

I wiped the dagger on the cloak, put it away and drew my sword.

“Not if you kill them first.”

I raced down the center of the deck, reaching across to either side as I ran to shatter the chains holding the rowers in place, using my sword’s splendid edge. When I reached the “aft” end, as I recalled Ser Davos’ descriptions, I dropped through the opening to the deck below. The guard there had heard the commotion and wondered how he should react. I grabbed him by the throat before he decided and smashed his head against the nearby wall – what Ser Davos had called a “bulkhead” – breaking his skull. His comrade at the opposite end of the deck fled. I again ran down the deck, cutting the rowers free.

Climbing back to the deck above, I ran aft toward Tansy’s thoughts. She was in a large compartment at the very back of the ship with seven other women. The thoughts inside revealed two guards, the Lord of the Waters and his henchwoman Taena. The captives had been lined up on their knees, and the first had been stripped of her thin tunic. As I approached the compartment Aurane Waters rejected her as “too poor to ransom, too ugly to fuck.” The lovely Lady Taena, laughing, stabbed her in the chest. She clasped her hands over her heart, pitched forward onto the deck and died. I had to hurry, before Taena did the same to Tansy.

A red-cloaked guard stood outside the door; he drew his sword but I kicked him in the chest. My legs had been very strong even before I landed on this planet; with my enhanced strength and an enormous surge of rage-induced adrenalin my bare foot struck the guard’s breastplate hard enough to cave in his chest, turning his heart to pulp and sending his corpse crashing through the door and into the room beyond. I pulled out my dagger and stepped through shattered remnants of the door. The sheer physical force of my anger surprised me later, but I spared no thought for it at the time. The guard had had the misfortune to bar my path to my sister.

Taena Merryweather stood immediately inside, facing the prisoners with her back turned towards me. She had just started to react to the noise when I clapped my hand around her shoulders and pulled her back firmly against my body. This close, she smelled of a pleasant flower scent. She wore a tight-fitting red tunic and really did resemble me, at least in body type; she was of the same height and proportions, with black hair that she wore just past her shoulders as I did, but olive-toned skin rather than my own copper-red. The point of my dagger now protruding from the center of her shapely chest was another difference.

She looked down at the dagger, softly said “Oh,” and dropped her knife. “Davos Seaworth sends his regards,” I whispered into her ear before I let her dying body fall to the deck. She should not have threatened my sister’s life.

Two armed and armored men stood behind the remaining prisoners, but they were not watching for an intruder. A tall man with long and well-styled silver-gold hair, who I recognized from the thoughts of Davos Seaworth as the Lord of the Waters, inspected the women. He had just ripped open the clothing of the woman next to Tansy and was about to pronounce judgement on her.

I strode across the compartment and stabbed the first guard in the eye with my dagger. I had been trying to stab him in the throat, but the rolling of the ship made it difficult to kill with any accuracy. The second guard stood in front of a wide bank of open windows that looked out over the harbor. I left my dagger in the first guard’s eye and grabbed the second by his sword arm as he tried to draw his blade. Then I slung him out of the window. He yelled incoherently until he hit the water, where the weight of his armor quickly pulled him under.

That left Lord Waters. He was tall and well-muscled, dressed in a billowy silk blouse, red to match that of his lover, with tight red leggings, black boots and a black sash around his waist. No wonder Cersei and Taena had become obsessed with him; he was quite beautiful. He had backed against the opposite wall. I drew my sword, as angry shouts and the clashing of metal could now be heard outside. The rowers were fighting the soldiers stationed aboard the ship, troops known as “marines.” The rebelling slaves were physically weak and untrained in arms, and they would not last much longer.

“Aurane Waters?” I asked. I did not wait for a reply, and repeated, “Davos Seaworth sends his regards.”

I tried to finish those dramatic words by running him though the heart, but the ship lurched and I stuck him in the upper right arm instead.

“Ow! That hurt, wench!”

I gave up on the drama and resorted to a two-handed stroke aimed at his neck in order to remove his head. This time I slashed him across his perfect face, taking off only the top half of his head. Blood and brain flew across the compartment and spattered the prisoners. He slumped to the floor next to his lover, the nude body of the pale, fat woman she had murdered and the ravaged corpse of the guard I had kicked through the door.

A small set of stairs led to the main deck, where a group of marines milled about and forced back any rowers trying to climb up from below. The rowers were dying quickly; I did not have much time. I cut the women free, telling them to run. Tansy threw herself on me.

“I thought you must be dead,” she said, her voice breaking. “I was so frightened.”

She clasped me tightly and cried. I stroked her hair and kissed her forehead.

“No matter what happens,” I said, “I will always, always come for you. I will not be separated from my sister.”

I glanced at Lady Taena, now sprawled on her back with her with her arms and legs spread-eagled and her dark eyes staring sightlessly upward. The tight-fitting red tunic left her well-toned abdomen bare up to her lower ribs, with a short matching red skirt below, high-topped black boots and a black sash around her waist. I deeply wished to strip her and take the outfit for myself; it would surely fit me and I would look beautiful and deadly in it. But a wide bloodstain and a dagger-inflicted rip ruined the front of the garment, with matching ones no doubt marring the back. I should have snapped her delicate neck instead; I again regretted killing before thinking. Reluctantly I left her where she lay, retrieved my sister and my dagger and rushed up the stairs and into the open.

“Grab the back of my harness and stay right behind me,” I told Tansy. She nodded quickly; her thoughts said she was unhurt. My joy at having her returned to me felt physically painful. “We have to fight our way back to the front end of the ship. A friend waits there.”

The marines had not seen us yet. I noticed a war machine on the deck above and behind us, a device for hurling large arrows. Apparently the crew had been prepared for battle, for a large wooden basket next to the machine had been filled with long, iron arrows. I climbed another tiny set of stairs to the ship’s topmost deck with Tansy right behind me.

We hunt with javelins on Barsoom; throwing them is a skill required of noble women. I had never liked the idea of killing animals for sport – as John Carter liked to say, hunting will become a sport when they give the prey a gun. But I had always been very good at throwing the javelin. I hefted one of the arrows; it was about the same length as a hunting javelin but heavier. With my enhanced strength this presented no obstacle and would probably make the missile fly truer and with more force.

The first marine I hit with an arrow slowly spun fully around and then toppled into the lower decks below. A man beside him looked up to see where the missile had originated; he took the next one through the chest. I continued to fling the deadly arrows at the marines. Some ran away and the braver ones rushed to attack me.

I had but one arrow left when the first marine reached me; I used it to stab him in the chest and then hurled it at the second marine. At such a close range it fully penetrated his body and killed the man behind him as well. There were only two men left standing and I now drew my sword and charged them, yelling wildly. The first received a two-handed cut across his chest and the second an upward cut under his jaw that split his skull.

And now the main deck stood empty. I led Tansy to the front of the ship, what Ser Davos called the “bow,” and saw him still below in his little boat.

“Can you climb down there?” I asked her.

“Dejah,” she said, “we can’t leave the other prisoners.”

“I came here for my sister.”

“They deserve the same chance I have.”

I made a horse-like sound of frustration. And I wished to vomit again.

“Can you swim?” I asked instead.

“I’m a Riverlands girl.”

“So jump.”

She did.

I looked back down the deck. Bodies sprawled in grotesque positions, many of them skewered by the heavy iron arrows. Elsewhere rowers and marines lay as they had fallen, choking the life out of one another. I marched towards the captain’s cabin; I could hear sounds of struggle from below but this time no one stood in my way.

I heard sounds coming from the outside of the ship, and cautiously peeked over the edge. A boat had pulled alongside the ship and the men within called for the crew to lower a cargo net. I could not allow them to pursue Davos Seaworth’s little boat, so I looked about the deck. Another war machine stood mounted nearby, though this one had no iron arrows. I put my shoulder to its side and pushed until it broke free of the deck. It was very heavy, even for one of enhanced strength. I dragged it to the edge of the deck and balanced it on the railing above the boat below. When I thought I had it aligned, I shoved the broken war machine over the edge.

The machine crashed through the bottom of the boat. The men within began to yell. Some of them screamed instead; the device had apparently crushed someone when it landed. The boat quickly filled with water and sank, while the men flailed in the sea. Their thoughts indicated that most of them could not swim; my thoughts indicated that I did not care. Perhaps they should have chosen a different career.

When I reached the captain’s cabin the women were no longer there, other than the well-dressed corpse of Lady Taena and the three other bodies. For a moment I was glad that I had killed Taena; she had threatened my sister’s life. But how different were we, really? We looked alike, we had both made love to Cersei, and I had even wished to take on her clothing – a psychologist on Barsoom would not have missed the import of that symbolism. She had committed murder, but had I not also put a blade through the heart of an innocent, unattractive woman? Once in Harrenhal, and again the unfortunate Dorcas?

If I could not take Taena’s outfit, perhaps I could relieve her of her boots. I picked up her foot and placed my own against it; her feet were much smaller than mine. I let her leg drop as I stopped and retched again, now only capable of dry heaving. I scanned for the thoughts of the remaining female prisoners but could only locate one for sure; she had joined a group of rowers struggling to reach the main deck and was energetically beating a sailor with a piece of wood. I knew that I would never find them all. Their best chance was for the crew to give up their fight with the rowers.

Outside the cabin, a tall dark-haired man in a well-made red cloak and armor called for me to stop; his thoughts labelled him a ship’s officer. I cut his legs out from under him and pointed my sword at his throat he lay on the deck.

“What is happening below?” I asked.

He said nothing, but his thoughts revealed that the rowers had freed their comrades on the lowest deck and in the darkness were still resisting the marines. Many were dead and without their captain the crew was considering abandoning the ship.

“You are in charge here?” I asked again.

Again, he said nothing, but he was second to Aurane Waters.

“The Lord of the Waters is dead,” I told him. “I took his head. Most of his head. You command this vessel now. And you will do as I say.”

“And if I refuse?”

“I will kill you,” I said, without emotion. “It is of no importance to me. But you may do me a small service, and in exchange you might live.”

A pair of sailors rushed up to us. I showed them my bloody sword. They ran in the opposite direction.

“Your crew will not save you,” I said.

“No, I suppose not.”

I took his weapons and threw them out of the rear window of the captain’s cabin. Taking the officer by the collar, I dragged him up the small staircase and up another to a deck that overlooked the lower middle part of the ship. I leaned him against a railing.

“Tell your crew to leave this ship.”

“I swore an oath,” he said, “to defend the ship.”

“You swore an oath to some king or queen before that, did you not? You are a pirate now, without honor.”

“Fair enough.”

He leaned over the rail, cupped his hands in front of his mouth and began to bellow in a voice far louder than I expected, “Abandon ship! All hands, abandon ship!”

Now the deck became crowded with sailors, milling about in panic and wondering how to get aboard the ship’s boats. Some of these were secured to the deck and along its edges. Others were still on the beach, and three or four were tied to the sides of the ship. Some of the panicked sailors did not wait, but jumped into the water below. Most, I picked up from their thoughts, also could not swim.

A narrow beam connected this raised part of the ship to the similar raised part at the other end; I saw now that it was used to help lift the larger boats stowed on deck. But it also gave a route to my destination, so I wiped my sword on the officer's tunic, sheathed it and climbed up onto the beam.

“I’ll bleed to death here.”

“Not if your crew saves you,” I said. “I hope you were a good officer.”

“You promised that I would live,” he said, ignoring my comment.

“I said that you might live. Perhaps you will.”

I walked carefully down the beam, only slightly wider than my foot. As the ship rolled from side to side, I again wanted to vomit. When I reached a mast I had to carefully edge my way around it and resume my perilous journey. Below me I felt that the rowers had emerged from below and now fought the crew for possession of the boats. A few of both sides looked up at me but no one interfered. The ship’s steady roll made the walk difficult, but eventually I made it to the raised section at the front of the ship. The “fore castle,” Davos Seaworth would have said.

A large lamp hung on a hook at the very front end, fueled by some kind of burning oil – I had not seen these people use liquid fuels for anything other than lighting. I looked at its flame and had an idea. I took it down and returned to the hawser locker where I had first entered the ship. As I recalled, the thick ropes stored there were heavily coated in black tar. If this tar was anything like the similar plant-based substances of Barsoom the ropes would be highly flammable. I threw the lantern at the pile of coiled rope hard enough to shatter the lamp. The tar was indeed highly flammable.

Since I now could not exit through the hawse-hole, I returned to the deck and looked down. I wanted to retch but held it in. I saw Davos and Tansy below in the little boat. I clambered down the side of the ship to the anchor rope and began to climb down it. As I did, its tar coating caught fire.

I yelped when the fire reached my hands, and involuntarily let go of the rope. I plunged into very cold water that pressed the air out of my lungs.

I could not breathe. I had to reach the surface. I kept stroking my arms and kicking my legs but there was nothing around me but water. I knew I would sink to the bottom of the sea and die. I felt a strong hand grab my upper arm. I was being dragged to my death and could do nothing to stop it.

Soon after, someone was pounding on my chest and breathing into my mouth. I coughed up an enormous amount of water. I was lying in the bottom of Davos Seaworth’s little boat, with Tansy straddling me and pressing on my chest. Her transparent wet shift clung tightly to her body, and I realized that she must have been the one to dive into the water and pull me out. I have lived for 441 of Barsoom’s long years and have never seen anyone or anything quite so beautiful. I was filled with love for my sister, and with sea water.

“She’s breathing,” I heard her say.

“Good,” someone replied. “She’s going to want to puke soon.”

“Too late.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s not my boat.”

Behind us, Sweet Cersei’s bow exploded into flames which then raced down the ship and up its masts.

“Paint locker,” the male voice explained. “They store paint next to the hawser locker. The princess couldn’t have set her fire in a deadlier location.”

Tansy and Davos pulled me out of the boat after the Onion Knight ran it aground on the beach, each placing one of my arms over their shoulders and then wrapping an arm around my waist. I could not give much help and at times my feet simply slid along the sand. With frequent stops and much cursing they dragged me back to the inn, which somehow was still operating as though slave raids were a regular occurrence. Maybe they were. Someone had removed the repulsively fat pirate pinned to the table in the common room; I spotted a fresh bloodstain and a hole where his sword had been stuck into the wood.

Inside our room, Tansy pulled off my harness, rubbed me with a soft cloth known as a “towel” and poured me into the bed, curling around me to lend me her warmth. Ser Davos tried not to watch, but I picked up flickers from his mind revealing that he peeked a little. He retrieved the daggers I wore on my harness, stuck them in the top of the large wooden table in the middle of the room, and fell asleep in a chair with the weapons in easy reach.

In the morning, Sweet Cersei had rolled onto her side. The harbor was not deep enough to cover the ship and part of her still-burning hull poked above the waters; other burnt ships had joined her on the shallow bottom. The rest of the pirate fleet had left, but not before putting all of the ships in the harbor to the torch.

The inn’s common room had been thoroughly wrecked by the raiders, but the inn’s cook had gone back to work as though nothing unusual had happened. The three of us took some bacon and bread to eat outside in a small garden. I had a very weak appetite after all of the stress put on my digestion on the previous night, but my sword and daggers needed cleaning. I also needed to buy a new scabbard and sheathes in Duskendale; the blood and salt water had ruined those I had worn aboard the ship.

We could see the smoking wreck from the garden, and I gazed at the missed opportunity. I could think of no way to remove the golden statue of Cersei without using several boats and many workers. Perhaps I could stand in Ser Davos’ little boat and use an axe to chop off her golden head? I regretted leaving the ship without taking any valuables.

“What are you thinking about?” Tansy asked. “You keep staring at the ship.”

“I wonder if I could cut off part of Cersei’s golden statue,” I said. “It must be worth a great deal.”

“And just how,” my sister asked, “would you spend a golden boob?”

She raised a reasonable point; I could make no answer.

“The figurehead’s not pure gold,” Ser Davos said. “At best it’s just gold leaf.”

“Gold leaf?” I asked.

“Thin plates of gold,” he said, holding two fingers almost together. I noticed for the first time that only one of his hands had complete fingers. “They’re hammered still thinner until they’re flexible like cloth, then pressed over a wooden form.”

“I did not have the chance to check the bodies of those I killed to take their money,” I said. “Pirates should have had a great deal, should they not?”

“You rob the dead?” Davos asked.

“It is the way of my lands.”

I looked at my sister.

“I brought back the only thing on that ship that mattered.”

“Tansy tells me you killed Aurane Waters,” Davos said. “Thank you.”

“I gave him your regards,” I said. “I killed Taena as well, and whispered the same into her ear as she died.”

“I didn’t mean that you actually had to mention my name,” Davos said, “but thank you again.”

“She wore a beautiful outfit,” I said. “I wanted to take it but it had been ruined by my dagger.”

“You’re nothing like her,” said the Onion Knight. “It’s better you not look like her.”

He was likely correct, but I have always been vain about my appearance. A princess must look the part at all times. I had rarely done so here, often covering my body with ugly rags rather than showing the perfect form that confirmed my royal breeding. Since no one on this planet could recognize that, showing my body meant receiving unwelcome thoughts of sexual fantasies but none of the respect I would have garnered on Barsoom.

I finished my food and laid my weapons, a small flask of oil and several clean cloths on the small stone table so I could begin to clean them properly.

“It was a messy fight,” I said as I worked on a dagger, formerly Cersei’s dagger, “with the ship’s deck rolling wildly.”

“Princess,” Davos said, “that wasn’t a rolling deck. Ships are never any calmer than what you saw last night.”

“Then I am not boarding another ship,” I said. “What about you? What will you do now?”

“I must rejoin my king,” he said. “I failed in the mission I’d undertaken, but he needs me all the same. He’s somewhere in the North, so I’m thinking I’ll find a way to Maidenpool and take ship there for the North.”

“Where is Maidenpool?” I asked.

“North of here,” he said, “a few days’ ride. It’s a small port but I should be able to find a ship unless the pirates have been there, too.”

“We also head north,” I said as I laid down the dagger and picked up my sword. As always, I felt a small thrill from its touch. “I must find my husband.”

“He’s in the north?”

“I do not know,” I said. “He is a great warrior and where there is war, there I will find him. He is attracted to war.” More than he was attracted to me, I added silently.

“There’s plenty of war in the North,” he said. “You could take ship with me.”

“I have seen enough of ships, Davos Seaworth.”

“I don’t blame you. And you, Tansy?”

“I’ll go where my sister goes,” Tansy said. “What if she falls into a bathtub?”

“You don’t look alike,” Davis said, “but the way you saved each other last night . . . aye, you’re sisters. When you went under, Princess, Tansy dove right in after you. I thought I’d not see either of you again.”

I reached over and squeezed my sister’s hand. I had expected to die in the water.

“Is Maidenpool,” I asked, “on the road to the North?”

“Yes, or at least it can be.”

“Then you will ride with us,” I said. “I have an extra horse.”

“Are the horses . . .” Tansy feared to complete her question.

“Yes,” I said. “The raiders never came close to them. Our belongings left with them are likewise secure.”

Davos Seaworth wondered how I knew that with such surety, but said nothing aloud.

“Again, I thank you,” he said instead. “That is a great help to me.”

“You would not,” I asked, “rather go home?”

“Of course I would,” he said. “But my duty is to my king.”

“He has earned this devotion?”

“He is just,” Davos answered. “A just man in an unjust world. That’s a rare thing and not to be scorned.”

“Is he a good man?”

“That . . .  is more difficult to say,” he said slowly. “I suppose it depends on your definition of ‘good’.”

“So he is not.”

“Stannis raised me from nothing,” the Onion Knight said. “I’m not like to forget that.”

“I understand,” I said. “Just men – and women – are rare in our lands as well.”

“When do we leave?” he asked.

“I also wish to leave this place,” I said, laying down my clean sword. “But I need rest after my almost-fatal encounters with drowning and vomit.”

We stayed in the inn two more nights, and during this time I never let Tansy out of my sight. She swam in the ocean, while I enjoyed feeling the sun on my bare flesh; Tansy could not stand the direct sunlight without suffering radiation damage to her skin but we of Barsoom do not experience the painful condition she called “sunburn.” Ser Davos humored us as best he could, but remained impatient to rejoin his king. He finally relented and spent some time attempting to catch fish from the surf, using a long pole and a thick string connected to a metal hook.

I did learn to approach the ocean during daylight, and on our last day I even walked barefoot out into the surf up to my knees. I could learn to enjoy this, I decided, but it would take a good deal more acclimation. The water bothered me less than did the broad horizon.

Davos worried that sharing our room might be improper; I told him to tell anyone who asked that he was our father. He accepted this, though in the event no one questioned his presence. He slept on our floor and accompanied us to the shore, patiently answering my questions about the ocean, its creatures and the ships that sailed upon it.

“You have never seen the ocean?” Ser Davos asked as I watched Tansy swim in the surf. The Onion Knight sat next to me in a reversed position, with his back to the sea and facing the sand dunes, as my sister was naked and it would be improper to gaze upon her flesh, despite his great desire to gaze upon my sister’s wet, bare flesh. I maintained a watch with my eyes and my mind for the deadly sea creatures called “sharks” but located only friendly and surprisingly intelligent beings Ser Davos named “dolphins.”

“How did you get here from Sothoryos,” he asked me, “without crossing the sea?”

“I do not know,” I said, mostly truthfully. “I wished to be near my husband, and I appeared in a forest clearing in the River Lands.”


“I do not believe in gods, or magic.”

“Can you explain your arrival then?”

“No,” I said. “It bothers me to admit this.”

“I’ve lived far longer than you,” he said, unaware that the opposite was true, “and seen many things I can’t explain. That it seems no one can explain.”

“I will grant you this,” I allowed, “but that simply means that one needs more information.”

They had no word exactly matching data, nor any real grasp of analysis. As best as I could glean from my encounters so far, they looked at evidence and made guesses, often invoking their gods.

“You believe that any event,” he asked, somewhat surprised to be discussing philosophy with a woman, “can be understood by Man?”

“Yes, with enough study and information.”

“There’s nothing reserved for the gods to know?”

“No,” I answered, “since there are no gods, there is no knowledge reserved to them. All knowledge is open to Man, if we can but understand it.”

He nodded.

“Sound logic, Princess. Can’t say I agree, but I follow the path well enough.”

Tansy came running up from the surf, beautiful as the sunlight hit the drops of water on her bare skin. She had become very fit since the first time I saw her remove her clothing. Before my marriage to John Carter, I had had little preference between male and female lovers. Even before leaving Barsoom I had noticed myself becoming much more attracted to women, even those of the clearly related but different species found on this planet. I considered turning around to join Davos in staring at the dunes.

“Enjoy yourself?” I asked Tansy as she rubbed herself with a towel.

“Wonderful,” she said. “Winter’s coming and it’ll be years before anyone can do that again. But we’re not here for the waters, are we? Are you ready to ride?”

“I am,” I said. “Ser Davos?”

“Been waiting to hear that for days.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven (John Carter)

I thoroughly enjoyed the ride to Myr, taking time to hunt with bow and javelin alongside small groups of Dothraki leaders - a time-honored tradition among my new people and one vital to forging a bond between a khal and his kos. I also trained with the 600 men I had levied from the khalasar, working with swordplay and with formation riding.

I found enough weapons among the khal’s personal possessions and the blacksmiths’ inventory to make sure each of them had a horse-arakh, lance and bow. While the Dothraki had a reputation as fierce warriors, I had already realized that this was not exactly true. As individual fighters they were splendid, afoot or on horseback. They had great instincts for scouting, screening and disruption - all the tasks of light cavalry. As battle cavalry, they lacked the armor and weapons to truly make an impact in a charge. Nor could they be easily trained and equipped for that role.

Neither Drogo, nor Illyrio and Varys, had had any clue of this deficiency. Fortunately, it appeared that few of our potential enemies realized this, either. We needed to rely on intimidation wherever possible and avoid open battles where that deadly reputation might be punctured. Once we’d acquired trained and steady infantry, and perhaps heavy cavalry, I could retain the Dothraki on the duties best suited to them. Until then, when forced to fight we would deploy speed and shock to cover our weaknesses.

Amateurs talk about tactics, veterans study logistics. By default, the Dothraki had a primitive system of camp followers bringing up wagons of food and fodder, and smiths shoeing horses and repairing or making weapons. Only the cities could supply the literate men I needed to manage my army’s sustenance. I had starved while part of the Army of Northern Virginia, feeling lucky when I ate parched corn and seared horseflesh.

The Confederacy stood for a noble cause, the freedom of men to hold the property they had earned by righteous toil, and her sons had defended that freedom with honor. Yet her armies had been badly served, staffed by the cowardly and the inept while her finest men fought in the front lines of combat. We faced a well-supplied enemy yet despite our country’s riches our men wore rags, carried inferior weapons, often went barefoot, and worst of all wasted away from the lack of food. I’d not allow that to happen to my new forces.

The 600 men provided for my personal guard would be the core of the new Dothraki army that would replace the horde. I named them my Companions and ordered my kos to select another 300 young warriors newly accepted into manhood to train alongside them. These youths would serve my Companions, learn from them and most importantly learn from me. When they grew into full adulthood, they would give me a cadre of seasoned officers firmly loyal to their khal.

Somewhere, I would need to find an equally skilled and loyal cadre of staff officers.

We continued southward. I rode alone with my thoughts, some short distance ahead of my wife and her handmaids, and behind a troop of my Dothraki Companions. Doreah pulled her horse alongside mine; she had become a respectable rider for a woman, though not nearly as skilled as Irri.

“You’re neglecting your wife,” she said. Her lack of proper respect annoyed me, but with no one close enough to hear I allowed it to pass. She was a slave, but at least we were of the same race.

“I thought you disliked Daenerys.”

“I do,” she said. “She’s difficult, ignorant and spoiled. When you ignore her, she takes it out on me.”

My khaleesi had shown her annoyance with sound slaps. Daenerys could see us speaking, else I would have slapped Doreah myself for her insolence.

“That’s what you’re there for,” I said instead. “I’ve acted as her husband nearly every night.”

“I’m not talking about fucking her,” she said. “She’s back there right now sniffling away tears at the way you ignore her.”

“I fuck you and Calye,” I answered. “I make love to Daenerys.”

“No one here even speaks her language,” Doreah said, ignoring my response. “Just you, me and Mormont. And he can’t talk to her without staring at her pert little tits so hard that even she notices.”

“So what are you saying?”

“Talk to her,” my lovely slave said. “Include her. Do something with her besides just fucking her.”

“So you don’t have to.”

“Of course so I don’t have to,” she shook her head. “Do you really want her outlook on life, and on you, to come from talking to me?”

“I will consider it.”

And I did consider what to do to make my princess happy, and to punish her slave’s impertinence. And to head off my chief of staff’s improper thoughts about my wife. Perhaps I could solve those latter two problems at once.

“Tonight, I will attend to my khaleesi without your assistance,” I told Doreah. “You will attend to Ser Jorah’s needs.”

She hated me in that instant with a white-hot intensity that I would have felt without the aid of telepathy.

“You are my slave,” I reminded her. “And this is my will.”

She stared straight ahead, saying nothing.

“The proper response is, ‘As you wish, my khal’.”

“As you wish, my khal,” she choked out. “May I go now?”

I nodded. I would, in time, come to regret not killing Doreah. But that moment lay in the future. In my naivete I did not yet understand the true depravity to which a woman can sink, nor did I understand that the protections of chivalry cannot extend to women who murder. I had not yet encountered Doreah’s future patron and perverted lover, Dejah Thoris.

Illyrio’s maps turned out to be incorrect; over the years I would find few accurate maps of my new world. While my Dothraki warriors appeared fully capable of matching the 35 miles per day that J.E.B. Stuart had expected of the Army of Northern Virginia’s cavalry, a sizeable train followed in our wake. These included women, children, slaves and herds, almost all of them shuffling along on foot, and the handful of actual services the Dothraki maintained like the blacksmiths and healers.

There were no elderly or crippled Dothraki; Pono told me that these were “sent to the Night Lands” as humanely as possible when they could no longer keep up the pace. Even so, these impediments slowed our pace to no better than 20 miles a day and it took 18 days before Pono’s outriders reported that they could see Myr. I rode forward to join them and saw a city almost as large as Pentos, ringed by thick walls of well-dressed gray stone. As yet the guards seemed unaware of our approach, as heavy wagon traffic moved in and out of the open city gates.

Low hills ringed the city’s landward side, with suburbs beginning on their lower slope and extending up to the walls. The rulers had allowed wooden structures to be built right up to the moat at the foot of the fortifications, which would allow any attacker to approach very close to the city while remaining under cover. No one had assaulted Myr for many years.

I observed the scene quietly for a few moments. As I had instructed, Pono had kept his men behind the hills and out of sight of the walls. I waited until Jhaqo and Aggo had joined us, along with Mormont and Orange Cat.

“Orange Cat,” I said, curious as to the Unsullied’s thoughts on strategy. “How would you capture this city?”

“They are not alert,” he said. “Spread the Dothraki behind the hills, in a broad arc. At your signal, they will cut all communications. Send men with wagons into the city, men who are not Dothraki. They will have an accident inside the gateway so that it cannot be closed. Before the broken wagon can be cleared, a force of Dothraki will ride quickly into the opening and secure the gate.”

I was impressed, as was Pono. Jhaqo and Aggo did not understand Orange Cat’s tongue, known as Bastard Valyrian. Pono described the Unsullied’s advice to them.

“Okay,” I said. “Excellent suggestions.”

“Okay, my khal?” Mormont asked.

“And expression of my homeland, Virginia,” I said. “It shows approval, or that all is in order, or acceptance of something that’s said, or that a person is healthy or in good spirits.”

“A useful word,” he nodded. “Okay.”

The Common Speech of Westeros closely followed the English I had spoken in Virginia, but without “okay” it seemed a strange and foreign tongue.

“So it is,” I said, and turned to Orange Cat. “I didn’t know that the Unsullied studied strategy.”

“This one can read, Khal John,” Orange Cat explained. Had he not been Unsullied, I would have suspected him of saying so with pride. “Master Illyrio allows all who serve to read from his books. Few others can do so.”

“Illyrio owns books on strategy?”

“This one does not know, Khal John. Master Illyrio has many books telling of ancient battles and wars.”

Most of Illyrio’s collection consisted of pornography and erotica, according to Orange Cat’s thoughts. Neither had been of much interest to a eunuch.

“There will be no battle today,” I said. “We will threaten the Myrmen and force them to pay us gold. That will bring us more weapons, and more crawlers.”

“We take crawlers from the city?” Jhaqo asked. “As part of the tribute?”

I had not given consideration to such a demand, but now that Jhaqo voiced it, I found it a good idea.

“Yes,” I said. “Orange Cat, how many Unsullied are found in Myr?”

“This one does not know, Khal John.”

“At a guess?”

“Pentos had perhaps seven hundred,” he said. “Myr appears somewhat smaller.”

I knew from my work with Illyrio’s Unsullied that they could train new recruits, and many owners used them for this purpose.

“We’ll take all of their Unsullied,” I said, with Mormont repeating my words in Dothraki. “Or as many as we can get them to admit they have without tying us down hunting them. And their bravos, which should make them happy. And some sons of leading merchants to serve as hostages, and whatever petty criminals they wish to donate.”

“They will need weapons, my khal,” Aggo said. “We have few extra arms.”

“Then the Myrish,” I said, “will supply those as well.”

“The Myrish are known for crossbows,” Orange Cat suddenly blurted out. “Fine crossbows, and the men who wield them.”

“They defend their walls with them?”

“This one does not know,” Orange Cat admitted. “They are hired for war by others, both in these lands and in Westeros.”

“So the Myrish hire others to do their fighting,” I said, sussing out this irony, “while hiring out their own fighting men to fight elsewhere?”

“It’s more profitable,” Mormont explained. “Their own men can make money all or most of the time, while they only pay for troops when they need them.”

“Then we will see if we can hire some crossbowmen,” I decided. “We’ll likely need to offer them a gift in return.”

“Their lives,” Jhaqo said, “should be enough.”

“I like that idea,” I said. “They may not see it that way. We’ll offer protection. We’ll declare at Vaes Dothrak that any khal that wars on Myr wars on our khalasar. Is that in accord with tradition?”

“But all khals are to be brought under your whip,” Aggo said. “They are speaking with the only khal.”

“Exactly,” I said. “But the Myrish don’t know that yet.”

“Khals have offered protection to the lamb men before,” Pono said. “There is nothing unseemly here. It is . . . okay.”

“How will the crawlers keep pace?” Jhaqo asked. “And how will we feed them in the Great Grass Sea?”

He posed an excellent set of questions. We could easily see our foot soldiers waste away before they fought a single battle. As yet, I had no commander either trustworthy or skilled enough for independent command.

“They’re no slower than the herds and slaves who follow the khalasar,” I said. “Let them march with them, and they can guard them once they are trained. Ser Jorah?”

“I fear,” he said, “that many would die on the march to Vaes Dothrak, who could be welded into soldiers instead.”

I didn’t doubt that, but neither did I see how I could leave them without their deserting or being overrun by some as yet unknown enemy.

“Orange Cat,” I turned to the dour Unsullied. “You will command the Unsullied we collect. They will train the new men in arms, marching and formation combat. You can do this?”

“This one can do this,” he affirmed. “Unsullied trained in command and in teaching others. Not all speak this language as well as this one.”

I could not personally oversee all of the needed training. I would need to write a manual of arms, and have it copied. I didn’t know if these lands knew the printing press.

“And when we return?” Pono asked, knowing the answer already.

“When we return from the Great Grass Sea, all of the Free Cities will bow before the Stallion Who Mounts the World.”

We retreated a few hundred yards behind the hill, where I described what I wanted. The khalasar would deploy behind the hills, out of sight of the walls of Myr, and slowly advance in a crescent formation to stand outside of arrow range. I would have preferred to have my riders appear at once, dramatically silhouetted on the crests, but they could not be hidden from view and still appear in a timely fashion.

“We seek to intimidate,” I said. “And bend the Myrmen to our will.”

“Drogo did this as well,” Pono said. “We would ride past at speed, screaming and waving weapons.”

“That can be effective,” I said. “But today I wish for the khalasar to advance slowly and silently. I wish for the Myrmen to have time to count our riders, to see our strength, and to fear it. A fast ride allows them to tell themselves we are fewer than they fear. I want them to see their fears and know them.

“Do not molest any merchants or farmers entering or exiting the city. I need them to imagine what we might do and to fear it. Fear of the unknown is greater than that of the known.”

“It is known,” Pono said, and the others followed. I should have brought Irri with me.

As the sun already approached the sea behind Myr, I ordered the khalasar to pull back and form an encampment several miles outside the city. I was pleased to see them establish pickets and erect temporary fencing to hold the herds of horses and cattle, all without my orders. It would take more time before they fully adopted my sanitary instructions, and some continued to eliminate their waste in random places as the urge struck them, just as their Horse God bade them.

While I found Doreah’s insolence bordering on the unacceptable, I could not deny the truth behind her sarcastic observations. I had made it a habit to take Calye for a ride at sundown so that I could take her under the first darkness and thus ease the urgency of my manly needs when I made love to Daenerys later at night.

“You will remain with the household slaves,” I told Calye when I found her ineptly trying to tack up her horse. “I will ride with my princess this evening.”

Tears began to fall down her face.

“You’re going to . . . to fuck her twice instead of each of us once.”

“She is khaleesi,” I said, “and beautiful. You are neither.”

“I haven’t . . . haven’t asked you for anything,” she sobbed. “Just don’t set me aside. Don’t forget what I . . . what I did for you. You wouldn’t be here without me.”

She seemed to not understand that I had the right to kill her without penalty or even explanation. But I would not deliberately kill a woman, and so I forgave Calye. In a moment of weakness, I even brushed away her tears.

“I’ll still have need of you,” I said, and then kissed her. “But not tonight.”

That evening, I dined alone with my khaleesi. Doreah’s threat to turn her against me echoed in my mind. My household slaves prepared a table under the open sky, with roasted duck, the flat bread of the Dothraki, and wine in rough wooden cups. It was far better fare than I had known while riding with Fitz Lee, but I knew it unsuitable for a princess.

“My apologies, my princess,” I said after seating her. “One has limited choices for dining, while on campaign.”

“We were in exile my entire life, my chieftain. My brother told me about the wonderful feasts we’d enjoy when he had his crown, but we ate what could be spared for the Beggar King.”

“You went hungry?”

“No,” she said. “We were never truly beggars. Always some supporter of our family made sure we had food, clothing, shelter. But no more than that.”

“You’ll be queen of Westeros,” I said. “And Essos as well. For now, though, khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea will have to suffice.”

“I know it’s my birthright,” she said. “And that it won’t become reality overnight.”

She was terribly lonely, her thoughts showed, but feared to tell me this. Doreah had been right. Even that silent admission pained me.

“I’ve done wrong by you, my princess,” I said. “I’ve left you alone with no companions at all.”

“I have Doreah,” she said. “She’s taught me a great deal. And I have Irri and Jhiqui, but I can only speak a few words to them.”

“When we leave Myr,” I said, “you will ride alongside me. You’ll be by my side as I conquer both these lands and Westeros in your name, and you will be by my side as I rule them.”

“The throne is mine by birth,” she said, in a surprisingly forthright tone though she did not wish to anger me. “I’m the last dragon.”

“Birth will not return the throne to you, my love,” I said as gently as I could. “We’ll have to take it by force.”

“Illyrio said the people are waiting for us, that they make banners in secret. Viserys told me.”

“I was there,” I said. “Illyrio made it all up from thin air. It’s not enough to claim birthright. We have to offer them something better than what they have now.”

She stared at her duck for a moment, then looked up at me.

“I’m just a girl,” she said. “I know nothing of these things. Only what my brother told me, and now you tell me that these are all lies. And I see you with your Dothraki, leading them, and remember him begging, leading no one . . . he lied, didn’t he?”

“I’m afraid so, my princess.”

“What will you do with me?” she asked, rather timidly. “Are you just going to use me, like you do Calye?”

“What do you know about Calye?”

“That you . . . do the things to her that a man does to a woman. Even though you have a wife.”

“Doreah told you this?”

“Yes. Did she lie?”

Had Doreah been present in that moment, I might have slain her. I remained calm and held my princess’ delicate little hand. She did not draw away, as I had feared.

“No,” I said. “That’s the way of men, of men who rule at least. Men of power. We have far greater needs than ordinary men. You’re my princess, my khaleesi, and I wouldn’t ask you to meet my base needs. You deserve better than that.”

“Viserys said I had to please Drogo. Do I not please you?”

“You do please me,” I said. “More than I can say in words. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen and you’re my khaleesi, the woman who will bear my heirs and rule alongside me.”

“I know that men have needs,” Daenerys said. “Doreah told me what she did before she came to me. How married men, powerful men, came to her for release, and spared their wives that task.

“I’m not afraid of that task,” she said, meeting my gaze with her unusual violet eyes. “I’ll be your queen, your partner, your whore. I’ll be every woman you’ve ever wanted or needed. Let me be that woman. Let me into your life, John Carter.”

I had never been so aroused. I stood, uneasily, and held out my hand.

“Come with me,” I said, my voice unsteady. “Let’s take an evening ride.”

Hand-in-hand, we walked to the horse pens, where Demon and her silver mare stood already saddled. I told the boy tending the horses to untack the silver, boosted Daenerys onto Demon and then mounted behind her.

Night was falling as we rode out into the empty pasturelands surrounding the khalasar’s encampment. I took no guards and exchanged recognition with one of the Dothraki pickets who allowed us to ride on unescorted without objection, fully understanding our purpose and approving. He had already waved several couples past on the same mission.

We stopped atop a low hill; the brilliance of the stars above almost caused me to fall from the saddle. It felt as though the two of us were the only people in this world.

“Doreah said . . .” Daenerys began, then stopped, embarrassed.

“Go on,” I encouraged her, resting my hand atop her thigh. She pressed her backside against me, and my manhood responded.

“She said the Dothraki make love in the saddle, sometimes,” she said. “And that you’re more Dothraki than the Dothraki.”

“The first of those is true,” I said. “I doubt the second is, not yet, anyway.”

“You would like it to be?”

“More Dothraki than the Dothraki?” I laughed. “I don’t think so. I admire many of their ways, I can’t deny. The simplicity of their lives, their honesty. Their rejection of money or the lust for possessions. No chains of gold bind them; they are truly free men.”

“Doreah says they’re violent,” Deanerys said. “That they rape, they keep slaves, they burn, plunder and murder.”

“You shouldn’t listen to Doreah,” I said. “She was given to you, to teach you the ways of love. Not the ways of the world at large.”

“She’s the only one I can talk to,” Daenerys said. “I can tell she doesn’t like me, and she treats me like a silly child. Sometimes she makes me so angry that I slap her. But she’s taught me a great deal. Will you let me show you?”

Not waiting for an answer, she pulled her Dothraki tunic over her head and slipped out of her loose trousers. I hadn’t recognized their utility in this regard. She turned around and stuffed them into one of Demon’s saddlebags. Now facing me, she placed her hand alongside my face.

“Kiss me,” she said, softly. I did, carefully, as Calye and Doreah had shown me. She pulled my tunic over my head, and then helped me out of my own trousers. She tucked them into the saddlebag as well.

This time I kissed her without waiting for her to ask, gently, and then kissed the side of her face and her neck. She arched her back, presenting her firm and perfect bosom, and I kissed each nipple as well. It felt forbidden, yet she was my wife and she enjoyed it. Was the slut Doreah right after all, that there’s no sin in mutual pleasure? I kissed her pink nipples again, then took one in my mouth. My wife gasped; had my mouth not been full of breast I would have gasped as well.

With my hands on her waist, I lowered her onto my erect manhood, then eased her up and down. It felt wrong, to take such pleasure in the marital act, yet I could not help myself. I shouted when I felt release, my seed pulsing into her with a strength I had rarely felt. She settled into my lap without pulling away, my manhood still deep inside her, and kissed me.

“It can be like this every time,” she said, and kissed me again. “Don’t be afraid of pleasure.”

Her thoughts showed those words to be Doreah’s, who had fully prepared my perfect wife for this encounter, but in the moment I did not care.

In the morning, I awoke with the dawn as usual but this time went to the small pen where my household’s horses were kept. I roused Calye and led her to the middle of the herd; I could control the horses telepathically and prevent them from trampling us and keep them between us and any watching eyes. There for the first time I took her Dothraki fashion, accessing her woman’s place from behind. I finished inside her as she leaned against her horse and cried.

“Are you better today?” I asked Mormont as we saddled up to ride to the gates of Myr.

“I’m not sure what you mean, my lord,” he said, completely sure what I meant. “I slept well. I hope you did as well.”

He envied me for my marriage to Daenerys and knew that I had sent him Doreah – I had not forbidden her to tell him that I had done so, and she had spitefully informed him of her orders. Rather than please him, my gift had humiliated him, as he had been unable to perform his manly duties until Doreah pretended to be Daenerys and he called her “khaleesi.” He now believed that he required my wife’s forgiveness.

As much as I valued Mormont’s advice and assistance, his ridiculous infatuation with my wife could only lead to disaster. The thought of Daenerys returning his feelings was truly laughable; he had to be forty years older than my khaleesi and I knew from her thoughts that his attentions discomfited her, on the rare occasions when she thought of him at all. I feared, rather, that he would do or say something so embarrassingly stupid that I would be forced to kill or exile him. I had to separate them, yet I didn’t want to lose my only white confidant.

As we had discussed the previous day, the khalasar spread out in a sickle-shaped formation to approach Myr. I rode at the center with Mormont, Pono and Orange Cat. When we neared bowshot, I held up my fist and my riders halted. Our command group sat our horses in a large patch of beaten grass; some herd had swept over it in the recent past. We waited without movement until a single soldier appeared from a sally port in the main gate. He wore a partial helmet, chainmail and armored greaves, and carried a white flag which I assumed meant a desire to parley.

“Who are you?” he shouted when he came within earshot. I held up my empty hands, and motioned for him to come closer. Hesitantly, he complied.

“You may call me Khal John,” I said when he had come within normal speaking distance. “I defeated Khal Drogo in ritual combat and now lead this khalasar. I’ve come to accept tribute from Myr, and to allow you to assist my people with food and drink.”

“I’m just a soldier,” the man said. “A watchman, really, truth be told. Please don’t kill me. I’ve only come to learn your name and your demands. The magisters will send someone to negotiate.”

“See that they do,” I said. “They have one hour. Make sure that they understand that we Dothraki are not skilled in telling time by the hour and may become restless before then. Food and water will ease our unrest.”

He nodded and turned back to the city. When he had gone, I looked to Pono.

“They’ll try to ply our men with strong drink,” I told him. “See that no one becomes drunk before I give permission. Food and water only.”

Soon we saw activity outside the gate, as the Myrish built large fires and brought out large racks so they could spit and roast the sheep and goats that also appeared. Apparently, they meant to satisfy at least part of our demands.

Eventually a small procession made its way out of the gate, with slaves bearing a litter with a man dressed in colorful silks sitting atop it. I hopped down from Demon when his slaves halted. He did not stir.

“It’s disrespectful to remain seated,” I said, keeping my voice casual. “Stand and greet me like a man. Or I can have my Dothraki remove you from that litter.”

Carefully he climbed down and stood facing me. He was short, balding and rather fat, and dressed in silks of blinding colors, mostly hues of blue and silver. At least he was white.

“I have the pleasure to be Horo Stassen,” he said. “Magister of Myr.”

“John Carter,” I said. “Khal of all you see.”

He nodded.

“You are not Dothraki.”

“No. We both know why we’re here. Shall we dispense with the verbal battle?”

“Very well,” he said. “I take it you can read and count? Former soldier of some sort?”

“You take it correctly.”

“The Dothraki usually want food and drink. As you can see, we’re already at work on those. Drogo demanded gold, 100,000 per visit. Will that suffice?”

“I’ll accept that amount of gold,” I said. “And food and fodder for my khalasar. And two hundred of your Unsullied.”

“My Unsullied?”

“Your personal guards or those of other merchants. No younger than 20 years, no older than 30, all fully healthy. You will transfer their whips to me.”

“You’ll leave the city in chaos!” he said, his voice rising until it broke on the last word. “Who’ll protect the merchants from the bravos?”

“That’s a valid point,” I allowed. “How many bravos are there in Myr?”

“I have no idea,” he said. “Two thousand?”

“Excellent,” I said. “Proclaim that all of them must join my army or die.”

“We can but try,” he said, trying to hide his relief. “Anything else?”

“My associates tell me that Myr trains crossbowmen for hire,” I said, “while hiring mercenaries in turn to defend yourselves.”

“That’s true,” he said. “I’m afraid I can’t simply give them to you.”

“I wouldn’t ask for such,” I said, “as we both know they’d simply desert if not paid.”

He’d counted on them doing exactly that, and so had no problem adding them to the demanded tribute.

“So they would,” he agreed. “You wish to hire a company?”

“How many do you have?”

“Within the city?” He was unsure of the answer. “I believe there are five available companies, each of 200 men.”

“Excellent,” I repeated. “Assuming that’s correct, you may deduct 25,000 from your tribute and pay it to the companies for a year’s service under my command.”

“I would prefer 50,000.”

“We both know the price, Horo Stassen. Do not mistake my affable manner for softness. However, we also require additional weapons. You may deduct one and a half gold pieces for each acceptable horse-arakh you provide.”

“Horse-arakh? I know nothing of weapons.”

I motioned to Pono to join us and asked him to carefully show Horo Stassen his horse-arakh.

“Might I have a sample?” the Myrman asked. Pono sheathed his weapon and handed it to the magister.

“I have another,” he said.

Horo Stassen knew enough of armaments to hope he could turn a profit on this deal. As long as he delivered my weapons at the price I desired, I didn’t care how he accomplished it.

“I’ll be making further purchases in Myr,” I said. “I will require an honest agent. I would appreciate your suggestions for such a person, before we depart.”

“Of course.” He saw himself making still more coin from our association.

“Any petty criminals you wish to donate,” I added, “of sound mind and body, we’ll take off your hands as well.”

“As far as the bravos are concerned,” he said, “what if they refuse to leave?”

“Then my Dothraki will assist you in hunting them down, street by street. I would imagine the mere threat of opening your gates to my khalasar will gain a great deal of cooperation. I understand that you won’t be able to drive them all out. A serious effort is all that I ask.”

“I would ask one condition of you,” Horo said. “A simple request.”

“You may ask.”

“When you take the prisoners and the bravos,” he said, “you truly take them. We don’t want them returning to Myr without warning. Kill them if you must, but don’t send them back.”

“That’s reasonable,” I said. “They will be forbidden from returning to Myr while in my service or before five years have elapsed, whichever is longer.”

“Agreed,” the magister nodded. “One more thing. Drogo made his demands no more often than once per year.”

“That’s acceptable,” I said, “for the next year. After that, we’ll settle on a long-term agreement, trading tribute for protection, one that profits us both. As well as Myr.”

He caught my meaning.

“You are a strange man, John Carter. 

“I’m unlike anyone you’ve ever met, Horo Stassen.”

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen (Dejah Thoris)

Duskendale included several shops devoted to arms, armor and other accoutrements of war. Apparently, a large battle had been fought nearby and some of the more enterprising townspeople had scavenged the field for weaponry and other gear. I supposed they would soon restock their shelves from the wreck of Sweet Cersei, and someone would peel off the gold leaf covering Cersei’s wooden breasts.

I bought a new scabbard in a large shop filled with armaments, along with sheaths for my daggers. Tansy had placed my salt-water-soaked leather battle harness in a tub of fresh water as soon as we returned to the inn from the pirate ship, and it remained soft and pliable.

“You do not wear a sword,” I said to Ser Davos as I slipped mine into its new scabbard. “Do you need one?”

“Not really,” he said. “I’m right handy with a knife or dagger but fairly useless with a full-sized blade. You might as well save your money.”

“I thought that a knight had to carry a sword.”

“It’s tradition, but not strictly enforced.”

“You will be more respected with a sword,” I said, relying on what I had pulled from his thoughts and those of the shopkeeper. “I will buy a sword for you and teach you to use it.”

The shopkeeper laughed. Annoyed, I turned to face him.

“You have seen the sunken pirate ship?” I asked. “And the bodies of its crew floating in the harbor?”

He nodded, still smiling at Ser Davos being schooled by a woman.

“I did that. Alone.”

“It’s true,” the Onion Knight said.

The shopkeeper shrugged, remembering that I had proposed buying a sword from him.

“I don’t doubt you,” he said. “Neighbor says his daughter was saved by a screaming, sword-swinging woman who killed ten pirates before her eyes. Was only amused by a knight who couldn’t use a sword. No offense meant.”

I did not recall screaming, but I often do so when the excitement of combat is upon me. I also snarl on occasion.

“I was caught in a battle frenzy,” I said, “and killed them without thinking. They had taken my sister,” I nodded to Tansy, who was looking at a large table covered with boots and shoes, “and I had a great need to get to that ship. Ser Davos arrived just in time and took me there in his little boat.”

“Well, if it keeps the pirates away, I’m damned grateful.”

“Show your good wishes by showing me a good longsword at a good price.”

“Ignore the kitchenware I keep out here,” the shopkeeper said. “I’ll be right back.”

“You don’t have to do this, princess,” Ser Davos said quietly while we awaited the shopkeeper. I watched Tansy try on some knee-high boots; she could not hear us.

“She is the most precious thing in this world to me,” I said. “And I would have lost her without you. A little gold is a small thing next to that.”

I started slightly. A life on Barsoom means an accommodation with death – we expect that those we love will die in our sight, or we in theirs. I had experienced this, many times, yet now I saw that losing Tansy would have torn my soul in ways I had not experienced since the murder of my beloved sister Kajas. In subtle ways, I was becoming more of this planet than I was of Barsoom.

The shopkeeper returned before Ser Davos could reply to my observation, bearing a polished wooden case. He opened it to reveal a very fine longsword.

“Castle-forged steel,” he said. “Next-best thing to that Valyrian blade of yours. 

I took it from the case’s velvet lining and hefted it. It had good balance; though it was slightly shorter than my sword it was heavier. Ser Davos was shorter than I so that would be a good thing. The sword had fine filigree along its blade and just one fuller, and not too many of the garish decorations with which these people loved to overload their hilts, pommels and guards. A simple steel knob covered the pommel, yet it somehow seemed elegant on this blade. A plain black scabbard chased in silver completed the set.

“A lord’s blade, it is,” the shopkeeper said. “Don’t know his name, some northerner threw it in a stream rather than give it to the Lannisters on his capture. I fished it out when we was . . . checking the bodies.”

He seemed somewhat ashamed to have robbed the dead, but it is a standard practice on my planet.

I laid it across my arm and gestured for Davos to take it. He lifted it clumsily, feeling very awkward. Yet I could see that the length was correct, and he was very strong for an older man. The sword looked like that of an experienced knight, as best as I could tell in this strange world, and that alone could save him trouble in the future.

“We will take it,” I said. “How much?”

“Twenty dragons.”

He hoped for 10, but was willing to accept five. Still annoyed by his earlier laughter, I dug five of the gold coins called “dragons” out of my small leather sack and laid them on the table next to the sword case.

“Five,” I said, “including two wooden training swords.”

“It’s worth at least twice that.”

“There are many other shops in this town,” I said. “And the blade cost you nothing. It is all profit to you.”

He sighed.


Tansy had chosen a fine pair of high leather boots for herself, and a matching pair for me. My boots had not recovered from their dunking in the ocean as well as my harness. I paid for the boots, a little more than the minimum the shopkeeper would accept as I felt slightly guilty, plus a silver coin to have hobnails driven into the soles of my pair, and we returned to the inn where the innkeeper’s daughter awaited. She motioned us into the kitchen.

“Soldiers was here, looking for you,” she said. “Two women, they said. Copper-skinned beauty with a red-bladed sword and her buxom red-haired lover. Said you killed Queen Cersei.”

“I did.”

“Someone needed to,” the young woman said. “They’ll forget her soon as the next king’s on the throne. You ever get back here, you stay as long as you like.”

“Thank you.”

“That would have been me pinned to that table if it wasn’t for you.”

She threw her arms around my neck. I returned her embrace.

“We must ride,” I said.

“I know,” she nodded. “I moved all your things to the stable. Check your saddlebags and make sure I got everything.”

We mounted up and rode north; everything had indeed been packed including our gold, and she had added food including a fresh apple pie. I hoped I could return and see the ocean again. 

No patrols complicated our exit from Duskendale; the innkeeper’s daughter had certainly believed that we were sought, but apparently the local lord made no greater effort to carry out his orders to find us than he had to defend his people from the pirates.

Even so, we camped under trees on our first night out rather than risk being caught at an inn, and we shared the apple pie. On the next day, we continued our ride under very fine weather, while Ser Davos explained how he had come to serve a beggar king rather than the current ruler in King’s Landing.

“You told the innkeep,” he said, “that you killed Queen Cersei.”

“I stabbed her through the heart.”

“I hope you had good reason.”

“Half of the people in these lands have good reason,” I said. “Possibly more. As for my reason, she wished to harm my sister. I killed her first. As I would anyone who threatens harm to my sister.”

Ser Davos did not seem shocked that I had assassinated a crowned head of state, nor did he judge me for it. He accepted that I had had good reason to think Tansy in danger. I felt my judgement of the Onion Knight confirmed.

“The Lannisters,” he said, “are not like to forget nor forgive.”

“You have met the Lannister?” I asked.

“Which one?”

“Jaime of the Golden Hand.”

“No,” he said. “Not all knights are equal; I was never summoned to court. King Stannis called me to Dragonstone, his seat, when it became clear he would need to fight for his just rights.”

“As king?”

“Right,” he confirmed. “With Robert’s sons actually Lannister bastards, that made Stannis the heir to the throne.”

“But the Lannisters held the capital and claimed to rule?”

“Through Joffrey, yes.”

“Son of Jaime and Cersei?” I clarified. “Brother and sister?”


These people rated incest as a terrible crime and considered those born of incest abominations. We of Barsoom likewise have strictures against love-making between close family members, though the very notion of fertilizing an egg with a relative’s sperm is absurd. The genetic problems are well known, and no sane breeding official would ever allow it to occur – and without state approval, the egg will never find a working incubation chamber.

“If I understand correctly,” I continued, “Robert was not the son or even close relative of a king. He took the throne as the result of rebellion.”

“A distant relation, but yes, it was rebellion what made him king,” Davos said. “I gained my knighthood for service to Stannis during Robert’s Rebellion.”

“You were a great fighter?”

“Hardly.” He shook his head. “I delivered a shipload of food, including onions, to Stannis whilst his castle lay under siege. And thereby became the Onion Knight.”

“No less a brave act. But when Robert became king, he took the throne by . . .” I floundered for the word.


“No. By illegal means. Improper means.”



“The side who does it,” Davos said, “calls it ‘right of conquest’.”

“Might makes right?”


“So it is in our lands,” I said. “Yet if Robert was not king by law, then neither is his brother.”

“And neither was Joffrey.”

“Two wrongs thus making a right?”

“The land must have a king,” Davos said. “Stannis has the strongest claim, and will make the best ruler.”

“You are loyal to your king.”

“I am.”

“I hope he justifies your trust.”

“As do I, princess. As do I.”

I enjoyed speaking with Ser Davos, who knew a great deal more of this land’s politics than he let on. Tansy remained very quiet throughout our ride, which troubled me. I knew the symptoms; a traumatic event does not leave one’s mind easily. Sometimes the threat alone is enough to disorder one’s thoughts; Tansy had not been raped on the pirate ship, but she had felt the terror of its approach. Among our people, we can share our deepest terrors and find comfort with our friends and loved ones; I did not know how to express this verbally. I wished that I could open my mind to my sister, sharing her pain and thereby lessening it. Though Davos Seaworth was a good man, he remained completely oblivious to Tansy’s suffering.

“Do you wish to tell me what is wrong?” I asked my sister as we lay together late at night.

“Not yet.”

“I could not leave Ser Davos,” I said. “I would have lost you were it not for him.”

“I know. That’s no problem. He’s a good man, and I owe him my life.”

She said no more, and I finally fell into an uneasy sleep. Even sisters have friction in their relationship, I knew by experience, but I believed this to be something more than that.

Since we seemed to have escaped Duskendale unnoticed, we stopped at a small inn for our second night. It had only three guest rooms, so we took one with Ser Davos insisting on sleeping on the floor. After a nice meal of roasted fish, I took him outside for sword practice. Tansy sat and watched quietly.

I have never encountered an adult male warrior so inept with a blade. Accountants, cooks, artists of this world – I do not expect them to know how to wield a sword. But I expected more from a knight who had been to war.

I looked at him holding his wooden practice sword, reached out and slapped him on the wrist with my open hand. He dropped the blade.

“You have been in battle, yes?”


“You have killed people?”



“Whatever came to hand – knife, marlin spike, deadeye.”

“As you say,” I said. “You have never fought with a sword?”

He wondered how I knew the nautical terms he had used.

“Pay attention,” I said. “These lessons will keep you alive.”

“Not really, no. I’ve carried one, but I put it aside to pick up something else more useful when it came to fighting.”

“First we will work on holding a sword as though you know how to use it.”

“I’m afraid I’m hopeless.”

“I would rather you be hopeless than dead.”

After some time, he finally held the sword with confidence. The sun had reached the horizon. Davos Seaworth remained completely ineffective with his new sword. I have never had the patience to be an effective teacher of any subject. Still, I hoped these lessons might help him survive in this violent land. 

Three days later we reached the town known as Maidenpool. Unlike Duskendale, it had seen the ravages of war. Many repairs had been made to its buildings, though, and a large garrison kept watch on the walls and the gates.

An armed guard stopped us as we approached the gate leading southward. He was alone, but I could detect three more men within the guardhouse behind the open wooden gates. No other traffic attempted to enter the town with us, and the guard hoped to alleviate his boredom by harassing us. Davos dismounted and stepped over to the side of my horse.

“I’ll take care of this, princess,” he said quietly. “Give me some money. Not too much.”

He placed his hand on my saddle as though he were steadying my horse while we spoke, and I slipped a small leather sack of silver and copper coins into his palm. The guard did not see. I turned to look at Tansy and gestured with my eyes for her to remain behind me. She nodded slightly to show her understanding.

I followed his thoughts and those of the guard; Davos told a story of how he travelled with his two adult daughters, all the while clinking the coins in the small sack, knowing the story to be meaningless. The guard understood the story to be meaningless, and after what he considered a decent interval to allow his fellows in the guardhouse to believe an inspection had been made, called out “Clear!” and closed his hand over the money.

We rode silently through the gate.

“You have done this before,” I said.

“Countless times,” Ser Davos replied. “Maybe even with that same guard.”

We dismounted and walked our horses through the streets to a stable Davos knew; the owner’s thoughts confirmed his trustworthiness but only because Davos vouched for us. He would have robbed us otherwise. With our horses stabled we walked to the harbor, with Davos leading the way. I fell in step beside my sister and took her hand.

“Are you well?” I asked her.


“You are troubled by what happened on the ship?”


“I have offended you?”


“We will see Ser Davos aboard a ship,” I said, “and then you will tell me of this.”

She said nothing.

“Sisters share one another’s secrets. Do not close me out.”

“All right.”

Ser Davos sought a ship headed to a place called White Harbor; the third one he approached was headed there and willing to take him aboard in exchange for gold. I gave him a sack of coins, much more than the shipmaster wished.

“Princess, I cannot accept this.”

“I told you,” I said. “I would have lost everything that matters had you and your little boat not appeared at that very moment. I took the gold from bad men. Let it help a good man.”

We hugged him at the gangplank. Tansy had paid little attention to Ser Davos during our ride, though he had not noticed. Now she gripped him tightly, her eyes filling with unshed tears.

“Thank you,” she said into his ear.

“If I’d been blessed with daughters, I’d have wanted them to be just like you two, and sisters to one another. May the gods keep you safe.”

I did not remind him that there are no gods. 

“We have no space,” said the man at the door.

“We have gold.”

“Then we have space.”

He threw no one out to make room for us; he actually did have several empty tables. I showed him a gold coin, and asked for two roasted chickens, a bowl of roasted potatoes and another of mushrooms, and a pitcher of ale. And whatever Tansy planned to eat.

She only poked her chicken with her knife, and mostly stared at the table.

“What troubles you, sister?”

She said nothing, taking a small sip of her ale.

“Your silence distresses me.”

She finally looked at me and nodded.

“I was almost raped,” she said. “Killed. They took me and did what they wanted. Again.”

“Your past is over,” I said. “I will never allow anyone to harm you.”

“I know that you mean that, and I know that you love me. I just felt so helpless when those men pulled me out of bed and tied my hands. You weren’t there, and I was a thing for them to use.”

“I have been taken as well,” I said. “I know how this feels.”

Involuntarily, I rubbed my wrists. The perfection of my body in coming to this planet had taken away the layers of scar tissue that had built up there, but in my mind, I still felt where the ropes, chains or shackles had rubbed my flesh raw. Multiple times. Usually my arms had been pulled above my head to better display my breasts. I flexed my fingers, again wishing to kill those who had humiliated me.

“What happened?”

“Usually John Carter freed me,” I said, “and killed those who bound me."

"Usually? It happened more than once?"

"Yes. At times I have felt that I only exist so that John Carter will have someone to rescue. More than once, an evil person saw capturing me as a means to attract or harm John Carter, or to force my grandfather to do something. I felt like a panthan piece in a Jetan game, with no will of my own or purpose other than to serve as a beautiful prize for someone else's victory."

"You resent that."

"I do,” I said, becoming somewhat angry. “I do, very much. You know what it is to be a beautiful woman. To be an object, not a person.”

“I certainly wasn’t a person on that ship.”

“Not to those men,” I said. “But you are the most important person on this world to me. On any world.”

The words shot out of my mouth before I could consider them, but for once I did not wish that I could retrieve them before they were heard.

“As you are for me,” Tansy said softly, then returned to her normal speech. “You were ranting about more than you and I.”

“Yes,” I said. “I am tired of playing the prize in John Carter’s games. My mother, Princess Heru, played the same role for a man named Gullivar Jones, from the same planet as John Carter. And though I knew better, I fell into the same pattern.”

“Your father was from John Carter’s world?”

“No,” I said. “Gullivar Jones was an arrogant buffoon, ultimately unable to rescue my mother or to satisfy her sexual needs. She rebuffed him, and married my father Mors Kajak, an accomplished warrior, poet and lawgiver.” Tansy’s people had no equivalent of judges or jurists. “My mother said he returned to his planet and was never seen again. Or perhaps she killed him. She did not wish to speak of him, and I am unsure of his fate.”

I paused, considering something that had escaped me at the time.

“She might have warned me of the sexual inadequacies of the men of Jasoom,” I said, “the planet John Carter knew as Dirt.”

“And now,” Tansy said, not diverted by my story, “I play the same role for you.”

“A beautiful woman is not a prize to be won,” I repeated. “I do not see you as such, and I do not wish that ever to happen to you again. But as I told you on the ship, I will always come for you. I know it does little to ease the fear. But it is all that I can do.

“I feel little pride in what happened on that ship, and no sense of victory, only relief that I reached you in time and shame that I was not there to kill your captors at the moment they burst into our room. I wish that you could be safe without me, but as you have explained, that is not the place of women in this world. I cannot change your world. But if I can keep it from harming my sister, then I will do so.”

“Dejah, you must have killed fifty men single-handed to free me. Maybe more."

“Fifty-nine men and one woman on the ship, ten in a smaller boat I sank, seventeen men on the shore. And however many more drowned in the wreck of the ship. I hope it was a great many. I was very angry.”

“You never hesitated,” she said. “You showed no fear at all.”

“I felt none,” I said. “I thought only of you. But my thoughts are almost always totally focused during battle. It is nothing admirable; my lack of feeling disturbs me.

“It was not that way when I was captured. I felt helpless and alone, subject to another’s will. I was captured by pirates from another race of people, who prey on those of my race – they eat us. Others of my own race took me and treated me as a lovely thing, an object to be bartered.

“I know that my feelings are not always the same as yours. Yet I am sure that I do understand this one. You are my sister and I love you with an intensity I never experienced on my own world. We are together, and our adventure continues. That is the part that matters.”

"I know you’ll always protect me,” she said. “I’m still shaken. I just feel empty."

“You did not see me fight in Harrenhal. I warned you that it would be disturbing to see me kill people. It is not the way it is told in the adventure stories.”

“It’s not that,” Tansy said. “I’ve come to terms with that. A little, anyway; I saw you kill Tom, remember, and the soldier in the woods. And the bandits. And that woman and her guard. When the bloody remains of that soldier blew through the door, I knew that you’d come for me. I felt only relief, and joy.”

“So what troubles you?”

She sighed.

“I’d learned to accept, or at least pretend to accept, a woman’s place. Then I started to believe it could be different, that no man would ever use me again. And then it happened again.”

“Tansy, I am so sorry. That was the longest I have been apart from you since we became sisters. It was my fault, not yours. I will not let it happen again.”

“You can’t just kill everyone who threatens me.”

“Watch me,” I said. “I am very good at killing people.”

She brightened slightly, and at least began to eat. While many of Tansy's feelings escaped my understanding, I did know this experience all too well. Captivity doesn't end when the hero strikes off your chains. I was enjoying my food – it really was very good – when a short woman stopped behind Tansy and said, “Sansa?”

Enough people were staring already. I told her to be seated. She straddled the bench next to Tansy.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was surprised. I thought you were my sister.”

I already knew that.

“Who are you?”

“No One.”

And that is exactly what her thoughts said. No One. She had remarkable mental discipline. I had not encountered its like on this planet. The smell of the roasted chicken had made her extremely hungry; her thoughts did reveal that she had not eaten in two days. I waved a silver coin at the innkeeper, and asked him to bring No One a chicken, and another for me plus more ale.

“Does your sister,” Tansy asked, “look like me?”

“I have no sister.”

“We won’t hurt you. Really.”

“You’re much older than my sister,” No One said. “Actually you look more like my mother.”

“And where,” Tansy asked, “is your mother?”

“She’s dead. She was murdered.”

“What was her name?”

“Not here,” No One said. “You should finish and we should leave here. Leave Maidenpool.”

And so we did. Tansy clearly wanted to take the girl with us – she was young, not just a short woman – and so I mounted her on my horse and rode one of the others without a saddle.

When we reached an empty stretch of the road, the girl started talking. Tansy and I rode on either side of her.

“The Lannisters are looking for you two,” she said. “A black-haired woman with reddish-brown skin and her red-haired lover.”

“She is my sister,” I said. “We are not lovers.”

“I’m trying to help you,” No One said. “Is it true that you killed Cersei?”

Her mind remained difficult to read, but she was not very large. I decided that I could always kill her if necessary.

“Yes,” I admitted. “I stabbed her in the heart with a spork.”

I reached over to hunt through my saddlebag and pulled out the spork I had taken from Chataya’s establishment. I held it up for her to see.

“You killed her with that?” the girl asked.

“With one like it,” I said. “I am very good at killing people.”

“So am I.”

We rode quietly for a time.

“Are you an assassin too?” the girl now asked.

“No,” I said. “I am a princess who knows how to fight. The queen wanted to harm Tansy. So I killed her.”

“Are you sorry?”


“Good,” she said. “I’m glad you killed her. She was on my list.”

This was not the first time I had heard something like that. Though it bothered me that I had killed so often without remorse, at least I was spreading happiness by killing bad people.

“So what’s your name,” Tansy asked, “and who was your mother?”

The girl stared straight ahead, thinking. She reached a decision and squared her shoulders.

“I am Arya Stark, of House Stark. My mother was Catelyn Tully Stark. Now who are you?”

“I am Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium,” I said. “And this is my sister, Tansy.”

“Is that a real place?”

“I think so,” I said. “I also might be mad. Some days I am not sure.”

“I think she’s jesting when she says things like that,” Tansy added. “But she really is a princess from a land in Sothoryos.”

“But she’s not your sister.”

“She is my sister of choice,” Tansy said, “and that makes her far dearer to me than a sister of chance.”

Arya Stark thought for a few moments.

“Just so.”

After we halted for the night in a grove of trees well-hidden from the road, and brushed the horses down, we resumed our conversation around a small fire.

“What have you heard,” Arya asked us, “about me and about my family?”

“I have heard that a stable boy tried to prevent you from leaving King’s Landing,” I said. “So you stuck the beloved Chadworth with the pointy end of your little sword so deeply that it emerged from his back.”

She sat instantly upright and reached for her sword.

“Where did you hear that?”

“From the beloved Chadworth’s grandfather,” I said. “It destroyed his life. The boy’s mother killed herself in grief. I promised to kill the slayer of Chadworth for what she did.”

She edged away, and her fingers stroked the hilt of her little sword.

“Dejah . . .” Tansy warned.

“Do not worry, my sister,” I said. “I will not harm Arya Stark. I have also killed an innocent and learned to regret it.”

I looked at Arya Stark.

“You do regret it?”

“Of course I do!” she screeched. “I was scared and didn’t know what I was doing! But he should never have died because of it. I never want to kill an innocent person, not ever again. It wasn’t my place to give him the gift.”

I wanted to ask more about this gift of death, but Tansy understood my desire and re-directed Arya Stark.

“Are you the only Stark left?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Arya said. “I know my father is dead, I saw Illyn Payne take his head. And I know my mother and brother were killed at the Red Wedding.”

I hoped that she did not know about her mother’s life after her death. And who killed her permanently.

“I’ve heard that two of my brothers, my younger brothers, were killed by the Iron Born,” she went on, “and that my sister disappeared. The only one left would be my brother who’s at The Wall, and sailors in Maidenpool said he’s been murdered, too. I don’t believe that. I want to go find him.”

I started to ask about this Wall, but Tansy put her hand on my arm to quiet me.

“I know about your brother Robb, the Young Wolf,” she said. “Which brother was at the Wall?”

She told me silently that she already knew, and was testing the girl.

“Jon,” Arya said. “Jon Snow.”

“Snow is a bastard’s name.”

“So what?” Arya asked, growing belligerent. “He’s my brother and that’s all that matters. I don’t care if he’s a bastard. That’s a stupid idea anyway. I hate it. No one should be treated that way because of what their parents did or didn’t do! It wasn’t his fault!”

Arya was crying now, though I suspected she did so to gain sympathy. Tansy took hold of her hand. Arya leaned away but did not pull back her hand.

“You love your brother Jon,” Tansy said.

“Of course I do!” Arya answered. “My mother should never have treated him that way. It was hurtful and wrong.”

“I have to tell you something, Arya,” Tansy said. “It’s not an accident that you thought I looked like your sister and your mother.”

“What do you mean?”

“My father was Hoster Tully.”

“Hoster Tully had two daughters,” Arya said, “and they’re both dead.”

“Two true-born daughters, yes.”

“You’re my grandfather’s bastard?”

“Yes,” Tansy said. “I was sent away because your mother wanted no bastards around her.”

“I know,” Arya said. “I mean, I know how my mother treated my brother Jon. So you and I are family?”

“I don’t want to be a Tully,” Tansy said, “or to play the game of thrones. Dejah is my only family. But I hope you and I can be friends.”

“Me, too.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen (Dejah Thoris)

On the next night we once again picked our way deep into a small forest, in case our appearance in Maidenpool had been noted. Arya slept cuddled next to Tansy, making sure to remain on the opposite side of my sister from me. I was very tired and for once I was not the first to awake the next morning, and found that my sister and Arya had already made a small fire. I ate some cheese and bread we had taken from the tavern and felt somewhat better for it.

We followed the road northward, and I continued to ride in the style Tansy called “bareback,” as I had from Duskendale to Maidenpool since Ser Davos could not ride without a saddle. Tansy now brightened considerably; she made eye contact again, her shoulders no longer slumped forward to hide her breasts, and she smiled. I knew she would never forget the terror of her brief captivity – I knew this first-hand – but she took joy in living again.

I did not wish to intrude on her growing relationship with her niece, and in truth had little to say to a girl of this planet without giving away my strange origin. We are only “girls” for a very brief span on Barsoom, and those few years are given over to education and training for the adult responsibilities which come to us by our fifth year after hatching. As a princess I had been allowed greater freedom in my hatchling years and had spent more time playing in the gardens and with pets than the children of the working classes would have been allowed.

As with Tansy, Arya’s thoughts did not intrude upon mine and I enjoyed the relative quiet. Her defenses were more formidable than my sister’s, despite her youth, but I remained confident that I could penetrate them if I found it necessary. She clearly found a mother figure in Tansy, appearing just when she desperately needed one, and I did not believe her a threat to my sister. She seemed more and more to be exactly what she appeared: a lost and lonely girl, who had been taught to murder people.

I usually rode behind them, lost in my own thoughts. Seeing Tansy’s spirits revive had taken a great burden from my mind. I did not understand Arya, or children in general. Childhood on Barsoom is considered mostly an annoyance; I now began to see that it is a great gift, to be treasured and protected. I could tell that Tansy mourned Arya’s early loss of innocence, so much like her own.

Parents and children have a bond on Barsoom, but I began to understand that this connection was much more important here. My own mother Princess Heru loved me very much, as did my father, Mors Kajak. But I knew from an early age that this was most unusual and had much to do with my role as Princess of Helium. While still in the egg I had been selected for my high intelligence, and they groomed me for a future leadership position in the family. That made it imperative to strengthen the bonds between us. On this planet they break family bonds for reasons of state; on Barsoom, we create them for that same purpose.

John Carter considered himself a “gentleman of Virginia” and as such left many questions unasked. Knowing that the answers would trouble him, I never volunteered them. John Carter’s mind could not be read, by me or by anyone else, but I had married him and to know some things I did not need telepathy. I know that John Carter believed that he loved me, at least he had in our first years of marriage, but I also knew that he loved an idealized version of me. I am under no illusions that I saw him through clear eyes, either.

John Carter was my fifth husband. All four previous marriages were contracted for reasons of state. I suppose I did grow to love two of my husbands, but both died in battle. The others also died in battle, but I did not mind those losses so much.

Our son Carthoris and daughter Tara were the products of years of experiments and testing, to see if the seed of Jasoom could quicken an egg of Barsoom. I was proud of them both, as they were selected for the ruling class. But both John Carter and I had a distant relationship with our children, even by the standards of Barsoomian royalty. I was always aware that they existed because my grandfather believed, incorrectly as it turned out, that this would help bind John Carter to the service of Helium. I had had other sons and daughters become part of the royal family. All had died, through accidents, battle or murder.

Our culture asks little of a child’s parents; in our cities professional caretakers undertook the nurturing and teaching that I knew the adults of this planet provided for their offspring. Yet even by our lax standards, I had never been a very good mother. My interests lay elsewhere. I knew that John Carter did not understand even the basic underpinnings of the science that allowed our genes to be melded and I suspected that he did not believe Carthoris and Tara to truly be his children. He certainly treated them accordingly, but I was in no position to cast blame.

I never knew most of my offspring. Our biology allows us to quickly expand our population, and when war looms all females are expected to contribute eggs, even a princess. They are quickened with sperm assigned by our Breeding Councils, who in peacetime regulate the population – with lifespans of a thousand years or more, we could easily overpopulate our cities without some form of control. These eggs are force-incubated to produce warriors, who enter training at a much earlier age than those who are hatched in the usual way. The identity of these children, and their parents, is no secret. But I had never sought them out, nor had any of them ever attempted to contact me.

Once again, things were different here. I had given little thought to Carthoris or Tara since my arrival. This was not the same mother-child bond as that I was witnessing arise between Tansy and Arya. 

I awoke on the third morning sore from the hard ground, which usually did not bother me. For the first time since my arrival I did not feel energetic enough to undertake my morning exercises. The last of our food had run out the previous day, and so I took the hunting javelin I had carried since Harrenhal and walked into the forest to seek an edible animal. I soon found an abandoned farm, and detected two deer eating the remnants of vegetables in the overgrown garden. I crept to the top of the farmhouse, but when I threw my javelin I missed both deer and they bounded into the trees. Knowing the ways of farmers on all planets, I pulled up the floorboards of the small house and found a sack of potatoes; a few had a fungus-like growth on them so I threw those away and carried the rest back to my sister and her niece.

I napped while the potatoes roasted in the fire Arya had built, and after eating several I became less sore and had a little more energy.

“Why do you recite a list of names,” I asked her, “before you sleep?”

“They’re people who hurt my family, people I’m going to kill. You killed Cersei, so she’s off the list now.”

“Is it usual for children of these lands to murder those who anger them?”

“Probably not,” Arya admitted. “But I’m not like other girls.”

Tansy approached with a bucket of water and Arya placed one finger before her lips, signaling for silence. As I did not wish to upset my sister still more, knowing her already unhappy with me, I followed Arya’s request as we rode northward. I tried to stay close and pay attention as Arya told of her childhood home and her departure from Westeros.

She spoke quickly and, as I could not probe her mind without possibly alerting her to my abilities, I had a difficult time following her story. Apparently, her father had been a close friend of the king, and had been called to King’s Landing to serve as First Minister – he was the same First Minister who had originally sent out the men who became the Brotherhood. He left his castle in the North with his daughters, leaving behind his wife and his sons. This did not seem very wise to me, but I knew that I had missed some of the details of the story.

Arya had not liked King’s Landing, spending her time running about in the streets when not practicing at swords with the teacher her father hired for her. She was away from the palace when the Lannisters moved against her father, and escaped them. She saw her father executed, then went North with recruits for a special police force known as the Night’s Watch.

Lannister soldiers killed many of the recruits, trying to find a bastard of King Robert. She helped hide the boy, who had become her friend. I thought about my friend Gendry, and pondered how the old king must have fathered many bastards. Then I recalled Tansy’s fond memories of King Robert, and understood that it would not have been very difficult for him to do so. I hoped that Arya’s bastard friend had escaped. Arya apparently had been captured by the Brotherhood at one point, and later wandered across the River Lands with a warrior known as the Hound. She eventually left him when he became injured, and took ship for the Eastern Continent.

She missed her family home, Winterfell. She had heard rumors that it had been attacked and burned, and many of its people killed. That only made her more eager to return, seek out survivors, and re-establish Stark rule there if indeed none of her family lived.

“Would it be possible,” she asked Tansy, “for you to come to Winterfell?”

“There’s war in the north,” Tansy said. “We were headed there anyway so Dejah could search for her husband, John Carter.”

“No, not pass through,” Arya said. “Stay there. If I’m the last Stark, I’d like to have family with me. You could be a lady, Tansy, and I would protect you.”

“You’re very sweet, Arya. But that cannot be.”

“Why not?” the girl asked. “I don’t care about bastard birth. My brother Robb was King in the North, and if I’m the last Stark that makes me Queen in the North. And that means I can make you Lady Tully.”

“Arya. It can’t happen.”

“Why not?”

Tansy looked back at me. I could offer no guidance.


“I’ve been a whore, Arya. I spent most of my life, until I met Dejah, trading my body for money. I can never be Lady Tully.”

“You owned the Peach!” Arya blurted out. “I spent the night there. I remember you now. You were. . .”

Her voice tailed off as she realized the effect of her words. Tansy was stricken. I thought to aid my sister and closed up to Arya’s opposite side.

“I have been a whore as well,” I said.

“Once doesn’t count,” Tansy said, “and you killed the client before she paid you.”

“She?” Arya looked shocked.

“Queen Cersei,” I explained.

“The queen paid you for sex?” Arya asked. “And you killed her?”

“As Tansy said, I killed her before she paid us.”

“Us?” Arya could barely breathe. “Both of you had sex with Cersei? Together?”

“Dejah will tell you the rest when you’re older,” Tansy said. “Won’t you, Dejah?”

“Yes,” I agreed. “When you are older.”

“Tansy,” Arya said, “Dejah wasn’t born as your sister but you made her your sister because you chose her and you love her. Isn’t that right?”

“Yes,” Tansy agreed, “it is.”

“So I love you and I choose you to be my aunt. And that’s the part that matters.”

Tansy looked away. I knew that tears ran down her face. 

We passed through devastated farmlands and burned-out villages. I continued to have poor results from hunting, but we still had plenty of money. My skin tone and red eyes made me far too easy to recognize, so Tansy and Arya would approach what few intact farmhouses we encountered to attempt to buy food, after I scanned them to be sure no dangers awaited within. They were not always successful. I found myself growing hungrier with each day that passed.

After crossing the sea to the Eastern Continent, Arya had fallen in with a training school for a cult of assassins known as the Faceless Men. We have these on Barsoom as well. They recruit the lost and forgotten, teaching them how to blend into any social setting. And then kill. John Carter had once infiltrated such a cult, and the temple of death Arya described to Tansy sounded very familiar: Yet another similarity between the ways of the Eastern Continent and those of Barsoom.

Even I could see that Arya had lost much of her childhood. Tansy wanted so desperately to give it back to her. I wondered if she realized how much of her self she’d recovered in caring for Arya.

“Was there a boy you liked?” Tansy asked her,

“That was my sister’s game,” Arya said. “I never had time for boys.”

“None at all?”

“I don’t want to talk about that.”

“It’s a rule,” Tansy said, smiling. “When women are alone, they’re only allowed to talk about men.”

“That’s not a real rule.”

Arya prattled on instead about her pet, apparently a very large beast called a dire wolf. Now this sounded like a proper predator that would be at home on Barsoom. Arya’s dire wolf was loose somewhere in these forests, and she hoped it would come to her.

“I drove her away,” she said. “I didn’t want Cersei to have her killed.”

“Why would the queen,” Tansy asked, “want to kill your pet?”

“She protected me from her horrid son Joffrey, and scratched him. The queen wanted her dead so I drove her off. Cersei made my father kill my sister’s dire wolf instead.”

I felt better about having killed Cersei, and worse about having helped her receive orgasm.

Tansy worked hard to get Arya to speak of things other than fighting and killing, but even seemingly benign topics like favorite pets somehow twisted back to talk of murder and death. The people here think very differently than we do, but even I could see how damaged this girl had been by the deaths she had witnessed, the deaths she had dealt, and her training to become a dealer of death. 

I waited outside the small village while Tansy and Arya haggled for food. Five rudely-built buildings clustered around a muddy open area. Their livestock had long been taken by marauding armies, but like farmers on all planets, these people had learned to hide some of their food and animals. We were all tired from a long ride, including the horses. When armed men approached on horseback, I rode into the village common and told my sister and her niece to hurry.

“Wait,” Arya said. “We’re almost done.”

The farm woman continued to argue about the price of her pair of chickens.

“Here,” I said, tossing the woman a silver piece. I knew this was far more than the chickens were worth. She considered me stupid, but smiled to my face. She had but one tooth.

“Let us be gone,” I said.

The chickens still lived; they were tied by their feet. Arya took the chickens from the woman and one slipped out of its bindings. It began to race around the farmyard while Arya chased it.

“Leave it,” I said. “We have to go now.”

We rode out of the village as the armored men rode in. They saw us and pursued. We pounded down the road and turned onto a pathway into a thick forest. I sent our fourth horse, the one without a rider, ahead to pick out the trail. I could see through its eyes. Even so, the armored riders gained on us. Our horses were simply too tired, and theirs evidently were not. At a fork in the trail, I rolled off my mare’s back and drew my sword in the same motion.

“Go,” I said. “Go now. I will fight them.”

“No!” Arya shouted. “I’ll fight with you.”

“Tansy,” I said. “Take her and go.”

They rode up the left fork, which led up a hill. The two of them stopped at its top and Arya struggled to return but Tansy clasped her reins firmly and I told the horse to obey Tansy rather than his rider. Then the men were upon me and I turned my attention to them.

The dirt trail was wide at this point. One of the riders, wearing elaborately-decorated armor, moved in front of the others and drew his sword. He planned to ride me down.

“Wait!” one of his fellows shouted. “It’s a woman. We can have some fun.”

“I’m newly married,” the rider laughed, “With two new serving maids to boot! I’m getting plenty of cunt at home.”

He dug his spurs into his horse’s sides. I tried to contact the horse, but it was caught in a battle frenzy. I gave it a stern command to stop, focusing my thoughts. It stopped, spilling its rider. He got up, embarrassed, and collected his sword. His helmet had fallen off and he left it on the ground.  His men dismounted and ran to join him, swords drawn.

I drew my own sword. There were four additional warriors, spread in a wide semi-circle, two on either side of the leader. He seemed very young and unsure what to do next.

“Back away,” he told his men, “and let me take her.”

“Lord Dickon,” the oldest man said, “your father ordered us to keep you from danger.”

“She’s no danger.”

I twirled my sword slowly, watching all of them. This Dickon was very confident. He had never killed an enemy in battle, his thoughts revealed, and he longed to please his father by doing so. He recognized me as the “crazed red bitch” said to have killed Cersei. Bringing in the corpse of such a notorious assassin slung across his saddle would finally bring the approval of his lord father.

He charged. I stepped to the side, clear of his flailing blade, and buried my sword in the top of his skull as he passed. It sank in deeply, and I kicked his rapidly-dying body aside to free the blade.

His comrades came in at once. All wore that odd ringed armor although none wore a helmet; all but one carried a sword but only two had a shield. The man on the far right had an axe instead of a sword. I picked out the most confident, the man at the left center of the four, knocking his blade aside and slashing his throat open on the backswing. He fell to his knees, spouting blood. The man to the center-right closed, and I met his strike and spun to my left to avoid the warrior on the far right. I saw an opening under the arm of the second fighter and stabbed my sword in deeply. He gasped, and I pulled my blade free.

As the second man died, I turned back to the warrior on my left. He came with his blade high and I slashed him across the belly, the splendid steel of my sword cutting through the rings of his armor as though they were cloth. He dropped his sword as his digestive organs spilled out of the now-gaping cut, but I was already turning to face the last man. He backed away slowly.

“You do not have to die here,” I told him. “Mount your horse and ride away.”

“Lord Tarly will find me and hang me. I let his only son die. He won’t forgive that.”

“You know that I will kill you.”

“I know,” he said. “Make it quick.”

He charged, staking his life on a powerful swing of his axe that he hoped I could not block. I ducked under his weapon, dropped to one knee and ran him through.

All five were down, four of them dead. The man with the horrible belly wound had fallen to his knees, trying to push his organs back into his abdomen. I ended his pain with a stab to the heart.

“Dejah! You’re incredible!”

Arya clung to me like a sorak, the small creatures of Barsoom that some keep as pets.

“You killed five armed and armored men in less than two minutes. How did you do that? Will you teach me?”

Tansy had joined us on horseback, standing behind the smiling Arya. She shook her head.

“Help me collect their money, food and swords,” I said. “The people in that village know that these men rode after us, and we do not need to leave any more signposts for the Lannister’s men. We will hide the bodies among the trees. Then we must be on our way.”

I cleaned my sword on a lacy white cloth I found inside the young lord’s bejeweled breastplate, and tucked the cloth in the back of my skirt. I then took the folding digging tool, called a shovel, from my horse’s saddle and walked into the forest a short distance, carrying the fallen soldier’s axe as well to deal with tree roots. I came to an open area without too many trees and began digging.

It took me longer than I had estimated, and left me tired. But I had a deep pit dug, and we tossed all of the bodies into it along with their saddles and other identifying items that we did not take for ourselves. We covered them with dirt, and then covered the area with dead leaves and branches. I told their horses to run far away, in different directions. Hopefully, Dickon Tarly and his men had disappeared forever. 

Arya could not stop talking about the fight in the woods. She had a new hero, and I was not comfortable in this role. I tried to divert her.

“The soldiers called their leader Dickon, the son of Lord Tarly,” I said. “What do you know about him?”

“His father is, well, was, Lord Randyll Tarly. A great battle commander, they say. His lord supports the Lannisters, at least the last I heard. They change sides all the time.”

“The game of thrones.”

“The game of thrones,” she agreed. “Dickon was his heir, and had just married the daughter of Lord Mooton, who rules Maidenpool. All I heard called him a spoiled brat, but his father’s favorite. His father sent his older brother to the Wall to clear the way for him to inherit their lands.”

“You mentioned this Wall before.”

“How can you know so much and so little, all at the same time?”

“I am a princess. Humor me.”

“In the very north of the North,” she said, “is a huge Wall built of ice, maybe built with magic. The Night’s Watch patrols the Wall and keeps the wildlings on the other side.”


“People who live in the frozen forest on the other side of the Wall, with no rules or order. The old tales say there are far worse things up there too: giant ice spiders, ice dragons, and the walking dead.”

“And the Night’s Watch fights them?”

“Sometimes they fight the wildlings,” Ayra said. “No one’s seen a White Walker for thousands of years. The tales say they’ll return with the long winter.”

I had come across this notion before that their civilization had lasted for thousands of years; I did not think this likely. They claimed ages for stone buildings that simply could not have stood in this weather for that long – assuming, of course, that their years matched those of Jasoom - and the claim also posited a remarkably stagnant civilization. I could craft a fine paper out of this.

“I escaped King’s Landing with some recruits for the Night’s Watch,” Arya continued. “Bastards, orphans, rapers and such. All of the kingdoms send their unwanted to the Wall.”

“So a father sending his own son is a cruel act?”


She likely believed that I asked about Dickon Tarly's brother, but my regard for this Stark family remained low following this news. How could Lord Stark have sent his son to this Wall, bastard or not? Was it just to please his awful harridan wife, as she had hounded her father into exiling Tansy years before?

John Carter told me once that those who talk the most about honor usually have the least. If he had still been alive, I might not have killed Eddard Stark, but I would not have liked him. 

Around the middle of our fourth day on the road we reached a town known as Saltpans, where people dried sea water to harvest its salt. Or at least they had at some point in the past; when we arrived, it appeared that most of them were dead. A few buildings remained intact, but most had been burned. The small fortress appeared untouched, and a lookout peered nervously over the walls at us as we approached.

“No closer!” he yelled when we were still some distance away. “I have a crossbow and I’m not afraid to use it.”

He was terrified of having to use it, for he had no idea how to wind it.

I rode up to the gate anyway, my sister and Arya behind me.

“You fear two women and a girl,” I said. “Small wonder you let this town burn while you hid behind your walls.”

“Go away.”

The handful of people outside the little fortress hid in the ruins of their homes.

“Let us leave,” I said, softly so that only Tansy and Arya heard. “These people have lost everything and have nothing for us.”

As we turned, I called up to the watcher on the wall.

“You are an evil and cowardly little man,” I said. “Should I hear of you abandoning your people again, I will return and kill all of you and your knight as well.”

“Go to hell.”

I considered smashing the gate of the little fortress, or setting it on fire. The attitude of the small garrison angered me. But I did not have time to set right all the wrongs of this place, nor was it my place to do so. We rode away from Saltpans; I fervently hoped that something terrible would happen to its garrison. 

Three days after we left Saltpans, we reached the inn Arya identified as that once owned by Jeyne and Willow and their family. It apparently still operated, for I could detect two people within and smoke rose from its brick chimney.

“We stopped here on the way from Winterfell to King’s Landing,” Arya explained. “Later I came here when I travelled with the Hound, and I killed Polliver here and took back Needle.”

As always, when Arya spoke, someone died. I could not tell if she spoke the truth, nor did the names mean anything to me. As we walked through the door into the common room I began to ask, but a very fat young man shouted out before I could speak.

“Arry!” he cried. “Is it you?”

“Yes, Hot Pie,” she said, smiling. “I’m back.”

“But you’re already here!”

“What does that mean?”

“Look! You’re right over there!”

A young woman sitting alone at one of the tables turned to us and stood. She resembled Arya, but with a somewhat rounder face and blue rather than gray eyes.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Arya of House Stark. Who are you?”

“Arya of House Stark,” our Arya said, drawing her little sword. “I know who you are.”

The new Arya pulled out a dagger almost as long as Arya’s sword.

“Not in here, please,” begged Hot Pie. They ignored him as Arya leapt across the tables to attack Arya. No other customers occupied the room, and Hot Pie ran through an open door. Both girls sparred with deadly intent, but neither could gain an advantage.

“You have to stop them,” Tansy said. “Please do something.”

I could think of nothing to gain their attention. I finally tilted one of the long, heavy tables onto its side and threw it against a wall, causing a loud crashing noise.

The girls broke apart and faced us. Neither had been seriously injured beyond a few shallow scrapes. I pushed Tansy behind me.

“Do not trust either of them,” I told her, “no matter what they say.”

“I know my own blood.”

“You do not,” I said. “And you are in great danger.”

She tried to struggle past me, but I wrapped my left arm around her waist and held her tightly to my side.

“One of them is an assassin here to kill the other,” I said. “And possibly you as well.”

“Don’t keep me from . . . her.”

“She is not your daughter,” I did not need to read her thoughts to know the word she had swallowed unspoken. “I cannot say that she is even Arya Stark.”

The girls continued to eye one another, but watched me as well. The old Arya knew me to be dangerous; the other likely mimicked her attitude.

“She attacked me,” said the new Arya. “You saw it. What lies has she told you?”

“Lying bitch,” answered the old Arya. “I thought I’d killed you in Braavos.”

“You know her?” Tansy asked in a high-pitched, terrified voice.

“She’s one of the Faceless Men,” the first Arya said. “I knew they’d want me dead for leaving them. I should never have joined up with you. She’ll try to kill you, too.”

“I don’t know who you are, but that’s not Arya Stark,” said the other. “She’s using you.”

“She’ll kill Tansy, Dejah,” the old Arya said. “Kill us both if you have to but don’t let her hurt your sister.”

I had seen this dilemma dramatized in very bad video plays, but with physically identical characters who could screen their thoughts. So could these two, but not as well as a native of Barsoom. The girl on the left gasped and raised her hand to her temple as I broke through into her mind. She feared that I had long wished her dead and now had an excuse to kill her. That proved nothing. The one on the right simply stared back at me as I tore through her defenses. She did not care if I killed her, as long as I killed them both.

“You would give your life to kill Arya Stark?” I asked.

“What?” she asked, with a surprised look. “I am Arya Stark.”

“Who is Tansy to you?”

“I have no idea,” the girl said. “She looks like my mother and my sister.”

“That is correct,” I said, and turned to the other girl. “You have failed.”

“I’m glad to die as long as she dies as well. Protect Tansy. Don’t let this bitch live.”

I kept my left arm tightly wrapped around Tansy and reached for my dagger with my right hand. The Arya on the left stiffened, her eyes wide, but said nothing. I threw the dagger backhanded into the chest of the Arya on the right as I pulled it out of its sheath. She stared at it for a moment, and then crumpled silently to the floor. Her thoughts showed regret at her failure; she was not Arya Stark. She would indeed have murdered Tansy and me as well, along with Hot Pie.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen (Dejah Thoris)

The real Arya stood still and closed her eyes.

“Kill me too,” she said. “You have to be sure.”

“There is no need for excessive drama,” I said as moved to I retrieve my dagger from the corpse of the other Arya. “My sister would be even angrier with me, were I to kill her niece for no reason.”

The killer-girl had changed to become a grown woman with medium-length black hair, a snub nose and, though slender and short like Arya, a woman’s body with light brown skin, small rounded breasts and narrow hips. The dagger had struck her very high in the chest and she still lived. I knelt by her so that my sister and Arya could not see that I removed the blade, shoved it into her heart and then twisted it. Her last, deeply disturbing thoughts thanked me for bringing her the gift of death.

“Who is this?” I asked.

“They called her the Waif,” Arya said, her voice muffled against Tansy’s breasts as my sister wrapped her in her arms. “I never knew her true name. I thought I knew her true face, but it looks like I didn’t. She trained at the House of Black and White with me, to be a Faceless Man.”

“You are sure,” I asked, “that this is the same person?”

“The voice was the same,” Arya said. “And the hatred.”

“She could change her entire body?”

“Not totally,” Arya said, “you can’t gain or lose weight or height. But as long as the new form is close to the same size, yes.”

“You can do this as well?”

“No,” she said. “I wasn’t as advanced. I can wear another face, one of skin, but I can’t change my own face or my body.”

“And do they train you in tactics as well?”


“How to plan an attack.”

“Not really,” Arya said. “You’re supposed to figure it out yourself, with the aid of the Many-Faced God.”

“This Waif drew attention to herself,” I said. “That is not the wisest approach.”

“It’s complicated,” Arya said. “She was also sending a message.”

“If you were dead, the message would not matter.”

“It doesn’t always make sense.”

“You could have killed Arya,” Tansy interrupted, her voice on the edge of breaking. She continued to hold the girl tightly and seemed highly emotional.

“Yes,” I said, choosing to tell her the truth. I strongly believed that I had made the right choice, but I had not been completely sure.

“You would have killed my niece,” she repeated, “to be sure you killed the Waif.”

“Yes,” I repeated. “This Waif would have killed you, had I failed to kill her.”

“And that’s the only part you cared about.”

She spoke the truth; I had not wished to kill Arya Stark but I would have gladly killed them both to protect Tansy’s life.

“I will never apologize for protecting my sister,” I said. “Never.”

I had become irritated.

“Tansy, please calm down,” Arya said. “I’m unhurt, and it’s because of Dejah.”

“Wait here,” I said, ready to be separated from both of them. “I will dispose of this Waif.”

Arya took Tansy’s arm and led her to a table. I scanned to see if anyone watched, and finding no one observing, took the Waif’s corpse by the collar of its tunic and dragged it outside, where I first smelled and then saw a large pen filled with pigs that lay well behind the inn among some trees. I stripped her of her clothing and tossed her lifeless body into the pen; the pigs immediately began to feed. The Waif had no belongings on her person other than the dagger, which I threw deep among the trees. I entered the inn through the kitchen door, knowing that Hot Pie still hid in the innkeeper’s quarters. I stuffed the Waif’s clothing into the large stove where a fire burned, and went to join my sister and Arya in the common room.

In her emotional state I could read Arya’s thoughts more easily than usual and I knew that she had been trying to calm Tansy’s anger toward me, and had partially succeeded. A spread of food had been laid on the table and I sat down to eat; this Hot Pie person produced excellent bread and for once I was glad to see no bacon. Eventually he came out of hiding and sat beside me, facing my sister and Arya.

“She looked just like you,” he said without preamble. “She said she was you. I didn’t know.”

Arya looked at me while Hot Pie had his eyes on the table, and held one finger alongside her nose. I understood its meaning from her thoughts, though she was recovering her mental discipline, and nodded.

“She was a Faceless Man,” Arya said. “She probably thought I was dead and wanted to take my place at Winterfell. So she found someone who looked like me and took her place.”

I wondered how Hot Pie, whose thoughts showed him to be far less stupid than he pretended, could have mistaken this stranger for his dear friend. Only later did I realize that this society had no photographs and very few mirrors. Physical appearance simply held less importance to them. The girl said she was Arya Stark and had most of the proper features, and Hot Pie did not question her claim any further. She would have fooled most people, simply through a loose resemblance and confident claim of identity.

“She’d stayed here for days,” the baker answered Arya. “She was waiting for someone. I guess she was waiting for you.”

“What did she say?”

“She knew stuff about you,” Hot Pie said, “enough to seem like you. I thought she was you.”

I had finished my food; I remained hungry.

“Could I have more, please?” I asked.

“Really?” the baker seemed surprised. “More? I, um, have to roast more chickens. I have two killed and plucked. But I have more bread ready now.”

“Please roast the chickens,” I said. “I would like more of your bread. It is very good.”

He returned to the kitchen. Tansy continued to glare at me.

“Stop it,” Arya snapped at her. “Dejah fought for us, for you and me, against five trained soldiers. She doesn’t have to prove anything. The Waif was better than me. I knew she would come after me and I never warned you. She would have killed us both.

“Dejah is your sister and you need to remember that. Always. Never forget your sister.”

She began to cry. I could tell that she did so for effect, but I did not expose her.

“I was horrid to my sister,” Arya said. “And now she’s gone. Don’t be horrid to yours.”

“I’m sorry,” Tansy finally spoke. “I’ve never been more frightened than I was for you.”

“We’re still together,” Arya said, “because of Dejah.”

“I’m sorry,” Tansy said to me in a flat voice. “You did what you thought was best.”

I noticed that she did not agree that I had done the right thing by choosing one Arya and killing her, but I nodded and thanked her as Hot Pie returned with hot bread.

“Thank you,” I told him, eager to change the subject. “How is the Brotherhood?”

“I don’t know no Brotherhood.”

He certainly did, and had visited their caves two days prior, bearing fresh bread.

“My sister and I lived with them,” I said. “I fought for them.”

“You!” he said, now impressed. “You’re the princess?”

“I am.”

“They said you was beautiful,” Hot Pie said. “And they said you fought like a demon from the seventh hell.”

I noticed Tansy’s fingers shaking where she spread them on the table, while her other hand stroked Arya’s hair.

“It’s true, then?” he continued. “You killed Strong Boar?”

“I defeated the Mighty Pig,” I said, “but I left him alive. He survived and we met him in King’s Landing.”

“You’re a hero in these parts,” Hot Pie said. “I wish I could do something special for you.”

“Do you bake pies as well?”

“It’s what I do best.”

“I adore pie.”

He thought for a moment.

“Please stay the night,” he said. “I’ll have cherry pie by tonight.”

Tansy remained withdrawn, so I decided we could stay the night. I remained tired and looked forward to sleeping in a real bed

I did not understand my sister’s anger. I had tried to stay out of the way as best as I could, so that she could enjoy her time with Arya, and she had seemed to do so. I had made the right choice by killing this Waif person; that I did not doubt. She was murderously intense and I did not doubt that she would have killed Tansy once she knew her as a relative of Arya, and the hapless Hot Pie simply for having been Arya’s friend. She had already recognized Tansy as fitting the description of Arya’s mother and sister.

Again, I grew frustrated. I would not have these problems on Barsoom, where I could simply open my mind to my sister and she would understand my feelings and my good intentions. And I would know her frustrations, and could attempt to correct my behavior if I had caused offense.

The cherry pie was indeed wonderful, and I kissed Hot Pie on his cheek, turning his skin as red as mine. That night Arya lay between Tansy and me on our room’s wide, soft bed. Tansy kept her arm around Arya and I felt very lonely on my side.

We set out the next morning, leaving Hot Pie alone in the inn. I wondered how he managed to stay alive, given his lack of awareness regarding anything beyond baked goods, but reasoned that the Brotherhood must be keeping watch over him. He made the most wonderful pies, but certainly did not need to be on his own without supervision. That thought also applied to much of the Brotherhood, but I hoped Ned Dayne had improved things since our departure. I wondered if we should visit them, but had the impression that Arya would be distressed to return to the scene of her captivity.

Tansy remained unhappy with me, in turn upsetting Arya who made an effort to include me in their conversations. Two days after I had fed the Waif’s remains to the hungry pigs, Arya again asked if I would teach her some sword exercises. This time, I agreed. Tansy disapproved and scowled at both of us, but said nothing.

I still had the wooden practice swords I had used with Ser Davos, but first I made Arya show me her quickness. She had a great deal of natural ability that had been honed with additional training. I tossed a wooden sword to her and she assumed a position very similar to the initial stance of Helium. I remembered that the Mighty Pig had recognized and named it.

“You have been taught the water dance,” I said.


“Show me.”

She performed very formal evolutions, apparently believing that doing so rapidly would confuse an opponent. Knowing the pattern, I waited for her to strike, stepped aside and plucked the sword out of her hand.

“How did you do that?”

“It is a pattern. Even the water dance is itself a pattern.”

“Of course it is,” she said, sounding annoyed. “That’s why they call it the water dance.”

“Look,” I said. “See what is really there. And you will see the pattern.”

“That’s the same thing Syrio said.”

Syrio must have been her instructor, but I could not read her thoughts without concentration, and I seemed to have a hard time mustering that focus.

“Then you should have listened,” I said. “Heard what he really said. You are not the only one looking, not the only one seeing. Others can see patterns, and they will use that knowledge to kill you.”

I sparred with her a short while. Arya attempted to add flying leaps and cartwheels to the water dance, bouncing off the ground and hopping on one foot.

“What is this?” I asked. “Part of the water dance?”

“It’s a style from Yi-Ti,” she said. “Fighters called ninjas use it.”

“You were taught this?”

“I developed it myself,” she said, extremely proud of her innovations.

“You have seen an actual ninja?”

“I saw one in a mummer’s show,” she said. “In Braavos.”

I had no answer for this. Her supposed fighting style was childish and ridiculous, better suited to the play of hatchlings than the battlefield. I did not know that I had the patience to teach her, but that did not matter as I found myself becoming winded.

“That is enough for now. Let us ride.”

I had no reason to doubt that Arya had attended a school for assassins. Such schools exist on Barsoom, but they do not teach swordsmanship or acrobatics - those are not necessary skills for an assassin. An assassin kills by stealth, with poison or hidden blade.

As we continued northward, I continued to find it hard to concentrate. My sister’s anger had obviously distressed me deeply. I could not let it affect me so, as both Tansy and her niece depended on my fighting skills to protect them in this lawless land even if neither wished to acknowledge this reality. And I certainly could not allow Arya to use her “ninja fighting skills” against an actual armed opponent.

My lapse bothered me. I had let Arya use a sword, a wooden one but a blade nonetheless, before teaching her the basic exercises. I corrected that oversight on the following morning, pretending as though I had intended to do so after working with swords. I do not think either Tansy or Arya noticed my confusion, but it concerned me. My sister needed me. I had to regain my composure.

We drew closer to the castle known as The Twins, and Arya became increasingly agitated despite the calming effect of the morning exercises. Her mother and her brother had been killed there in the so-called Red Wedding, and she longed to avenge herself against the Frey family who controlled the castle.

As she described them, I wondered what made them such a force for evil. I did not doubt their malicious conduct, but the Mighty Pig had had naught but disdain for the Freys and even the Lannister’s squire had scorned them. The Freys had been the object of their cruel jokes, and Crakehall had shown open contempt for Black Walder Frey when we met for single combat. How had such a bumbling pack of fools managed to conduct a well-organized plot without giving away their intentions?

The Lannisters. The Freys had not suddenly attained adequacy through the intervention of non-existent gods or magic – the Lannisters had planned the operation for them.

“The Freys do the bidding of the Lannisters?” I asked Arya.

“I don’t know. What does that matter?”

“I have met Freys,” I said. “They are far too stupid to create such a complex plan on their own.”

“The Lannisters didn’t make them kill my family,” Arya argued. “Didn’t make them hate us.”

“Why did they hate your family?”

I had heard some of this story from Thoros of Myr when he explained how Catelyn Stark had died the first time, but the details had confused me.

“I wasn’t there so I only know what I heard,” Arya said. “I had just reached the castle when the killing started, and The Hound dragged me away before I could die bravely and stupidly.”

I nodded my understanding.

“So my brother Robb, the King in the North, needed to bring his army across the Green Fork.”

I knew the Green Fork to be the name of the river flowing southward, to our left on the other side of some forest.

“The Frey castle, called the Twins, controls the only bridge over the river. My brother agreed to marry one of the Frey daughters if they would let his army cross. Though that sounds more like something my mother would arrange. When my brother married someone else, Lord Frey took vengeance by murdering him at a wedding feast for my uncle, my mother’s brother.”

Such treachery is not unknown on Barsoom, but difficult to accomplish in a society of telepaths.

“They trusted the Freys?” I asked, somewhat surprised. I would never willingly turn my back on the one Frey I had met.

“They had guest right!”

“Guest right?”

“It’s sacred tradition,” Arya explained. “When you take some bread and salt from your host, he’s obligated to protect you, not to murder you.”

“Why is it worse to murder someone after eating their bread rather than before?”

“Because you gave your word,” Arya said. “They broke their word.”

“As did your brother.”

“Well, yes. He never should have given it, and then never should have broken it. That doesn’t mean he should have died for it.”

I thought about this for a few moments. On Barsoom, Robb Stark would have forfeited his crown for breaking a betrothal in this manner, and been cast out by his people. Had he any honor, he would have then killed himself. I would not have murdered someone for such an affront. I would have challenged them properly and slain them with sword or pistol.

I wondered why King Robb did not have his engineers build a bridge of their own, or at least build boats. I realized that the armies of these lands had no engineers, or very much organization, and were not properly “armies” at all but more like armed mobs.

“They killed many at this wedding.”

“Yes,” Arya said. “Not just the Freys, but the Boltons betrayed Robb too. They killed Robb and our mother, and many others. Some might be prisoners; I just don’t know. But I’m sure Robb and Mother were killed. And Grey Wind, his dire wolf.”

I remembered hearing of the Boltons. Their soldiers had murdered Tansy’s sex workers and burned her brothel. I did not mention this to Arya.

“The Boltons are a Northern house.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “I should have killed Roose Bolton when I had the chance. I was his cup-bearer.”

That confused me; by my understanding, the Starks ranked higher than the Boltons. But she seemed to believe it to be true.

“I want to kill them all,” Arya said, in a calm and reasoned voice. I wondered if I sounded so nonchalant about dealing death to strangers. “All at once. Winter will come for House Frey.”

“I wish you’d let this go,” Tansy finally spoke up. “I worry about you.”

Arya turned quickly to face Tansy, and this time I caught her thoughts; she almost reminded Tansy that she was not, in fact, Arya’s mother, but stopped herself before the words were spoken and could not be taken back.

“I can change faces,” Arya said instead. “I learned how among the Faceless Men. I’ll take Walder Frey’s place, summon all of his male relatives for a grand feast, and then poison them all in a special toast to the family’s greatness. I’ll let the women go unharmed.”

I have lived for 441 of Barsoom’s long years and this was, quite possibly, the stupidest plot of which I had ever heard. Had I encountered it in an adventure story, I would have ordered the authors imprisoned for defrauding their audience and possibly had them executed.

Tansy appeared to agree with my assessment.

“You’ll pretend to be Lord Walder and arrange the feast,” she said, “including finding, what, buckets full of poison? That the Freys just leave lying around because they’re evil. And then send out ravens to summon all the Freys home, wait for them to arrive, then poison them? Only the men, because no women will drink the wine. And none of the servants will taste the wine first. And you’ll do all this while staying in character?”

“First, I’ll use my ninja fighting skills to kill Walder’s sons and bake them into a pie, take the place of a serving girl and present them to Lord Walder before I kill him. Then comes the feast of death.”

“So you’d murder an innocent servant,” Tansy said, “just for the dramatic effect?”

Arya did not answer. I wondered if this child was delusional, or if wild fantasy was somehow a product of the extended childhood of these people. I could only read scattered thoughts from her most of the time; they did not appear insane though I suspected that she could easily become a pathological killer. She seemed to regret killing people even less than I did.

“You mentioned before that you can make yourself look like another person,” I asked. “But you are not as skilled as the murderous Waif.”

“Their face, anyway,” she said. “We learn to peel the skin of their face off the dead and affix them over our own.”

“Would it not just look like a dead face?”

“We’re not supposed to speak of it.”

“You left them, did you not?”

“You’re right,” Arya allowed, “I did. We were taught to say nothing of what went on inside the House of Black and White. There’s a bottle of special oil that preserves the skin, another oil that helps your muscles move the face lining your own, and a magic spell to work as well.”

I assumed that this “magic spell” served to help concentrate the mind and make involuntary muscles move semi-voluntarily.

“What about the rest of your body?” I asked. “The Waif changed hers to hide her woman’s curves, but you said you did not learn these methods.”

“They taught us costuming techniques,” Arya said, “just like in a theater. Padding, elevated shoes, that sort of thing.”

“I do not like this plan,” I said. “My sister likes it less.”

Tansy nodded, still unhappy with me but even less pleased with Arya’s idiotic scheme. 

We rode on, and now both Tansy and Arya seemed upset. Finally we approached the castle. The Twins consisted of two matching fortresses on either end of a stone bridge crossing a wide river. A smaller fortress stood at the mid-point of the bridge. The Frey family apparently profited by charging tolls of passing merchants; had Robb Stark shown even a little patience he could have blockaded the road leading to the Twins and starved them of income. His foolishness had ruined many lives besides his own. His younger sister appeared to share his impulsiveness.

“If you don’t like my plan, do you have another?” Arya asked me. “Can you break into the Twins and help me kill Lord Walder?”

I still believed her plan to be stupid, but knew I could not dismiss it out of hand without simply reinforcing her determination. I looked intently at the castle. Men with weapons Arya identified as crossbows patrolled the gates and walls. These threw a bolt that would pierce a knight’s armor; they would do far worse to my exposed flesh. I had been fortunate so far to avoid the dangers of arrows and bolts, but I clearly could not storm this fortress by myself.

So far I had made little effort to use my scientific knowledge. I knew how to make the complex chemical crystals used in our firearms including the cannon on our flying warships. It is a very powerful explosive – in his willful ignorance John Carter had believed it had to be powered by radium – but it is still a nitrogen-carbon formula. It requires a sophisticated industrial base for its manufacture; these people did not even use steam power and lacked the social fabric to industrialize.

I knew a simpler formula that could produce explosives of much less power using easily-obtained carbon, sulfur and the potassium salts these people used to preserve food. Or by reducing the nitrates out of animal urine; I believed that could be done here as on Barsoom. The chemistry of life was nearly identical else I could not have eaten their food. But while I call these simple, they still would require more labor and resources than I was likely to find without a great deal of help; these were certainly not items I could obtain in secret and mix in some hidden laboratory. I would not be able to deploy Barsoomian super science to destroy the Frey stronghold. My sword remained my weapon of choice.

“Dejah?” Tansy asked. “Are you with us?”

“Yes,” I said. “I cannot kill them all with my sword before they kill us.”

“You two can wait here,” Arya said. “I’ll go in to kill Lord Walder, and then come back. It won’t take long.”

“Arya,” Tansy tried to soothe her. “You can’t devote your life to bloody vengeance.”

“They killed my mother. My brother. Your sister. Your nephew. I don’t have to kill the entire family, just Lord Walder. I’ll go in there and take the place of a servant, kill Lord Walder, and come back out. You two can wait for me out here.”

“It’s not a matter of whether you can,” Tansy said. “It’s whether you should. Killing someone else kills a part of you, too.”

“It doesn’t hurt Dejah.”

“Tansy is right,” I said. “I am not the woman I was.”

“Are you alright?” Tansy asked, looking at me closely for the first time in several days.

“I am very tired,” I said. “And very hungry.”

Tansy placed her hand on my forehead.

“I thought she’d been sulking again,” Tansy said, “but she’s burning with fever. Arya, we have to take care of Dejah.”

I had not been sulking. At least I did not think so.

“It won’t take long,” Arya protested. “I promise.”

“Which is more important? Dejah or vengeance?”

“Dejah,” Arya said. “She’s your sister. Family comes first.”

“That’s the right answer. Dejah protects us, and now it’s our turn. She needs us. We go north, to your father’s lands. Who will be loyal still?”

“I don’t know,” Arya said. “So much has changed there. But Howland Reed was his best friend. He rules the swamp lands just north of here.”

“Then we’ll take Dejah to the swamp lord,” Tansy said. “And you’ll be home, or at least on your way there.” 

When we came upon a tavern outside a small village, we did not avoid it. We all wanted to bathe, and I needed food. A great quantity of food. I argued that they should buy food and bring it to me, so that I was not recognized. But my mind was hazy and they ignored me. This far to the north, Tansy and Arya claimed, there would be no more Lannister patrols and the Freys would stay away as feared the men of the swamp lord. I wanted food and sleep so badly that I agreed.

We were wrong. They had been waiting in the village, and in my hunger and exhaustion I had not scanned for hostile thoughts beyond the tavern itself. Men wearing gray cloaks with blue castle decorations poured through the door of the tavern. I pushed Tansy’s head down.

“Get under the table,” I said.

She pulled Arya with her, and I saw the girl struggle in her grasp.

“They call me Black Walder Frey,” the soldiers’ leader said. “I have a writ from King Jaime for the arrest of two whores. The charge is the murder of his royal sister, Queen Cersei, First of Her Name.”

I stood, pulled back my hood and dropped my cloak onto the table. I drew my sword and stepped in front of the armed intruders.

“I killed Cersei,” I said. “Alone.”

“Good on you, girl!” one of the men at the opposite end of the room shouted.

“You! You’re the Queenslayer?” Black Walder had recognized me from the fight with the Mighty Pig. “Jaime Lannister wants his sword back. Surrender now, you and your perverted lover too.”

“That will not happen.”

He had not drawn his sword, so I shoved him backward into the mass of his men behind him. I cut down the first two men still on their feet before they could react, and then it became a real fight.

There were six men still standing, plus the knight on the floor. One more remained outside holding their horses. They could only attack me two at a time, because of the press of tables and benches, and even then they easily became tangled together. I killed one man with a powerful upward stroke that opened his chest and throat and removed the bottom part of his face. The man next to him hesitated and I cut him across the throat.

I pressed forward against the next two men. One of the men behind them tried to climb onto a table to jump on top of me, and I stabbed him in the groin. He dropped his sword and fell backwards holding the wound with both hands. The other man behind those I had engaged chose not to repeat the maneuver.

The fight had not lasted long, but already I tired. My sword felt heavy in my hands for the first time since I had pulled it out of Brienne’s broken heart. One of the remaining Frey fighters pushed the others back to give himself more room. I met his stroke and forced his sword backwards hard enough to drive it into the wooden table next to him. It stuck there. While he struggled to pull it loose, I ran him through.

Two Freys were left on their feet but I picked up the thoughts of another man entering through the tavern’s lone window. I had no time. I cut the legs out from under one of my foes and he fell; my boot crushed his throat and he gagged. He would die soon. The second man, seeing his own life soon to end, put up a furious defense but could not match my speed even in my reduced state. He met my strike and I pressed his sword back toward his face. As his eyes grew large I felt the thoughts of Black Walder; he was up off the floor and had his dagger out to stab me in the back.

I twisted but felt so tired. The dagger took me in the upper part of my left shoulder instead of the center of my back. My shoulder burned with the pain, yet I had no feeling in my left arm. I struck Black Walder in the face with my right elbow on the back-swing and stabbed the last Frey soldier through his heart. All of them were down, but I was moving very slowly now.

Black Walder lay on the floor looking up at me. Blue droplets fell on the gray tunic covering his armor, matching the blue castle sewn there; something in the back of my mind screamed that this was a very bad thing. He raised his hands and said, “I yield,” managing to cover his ulsio’s face with a sneer as he did so. His thoughts said he did not mean it, so I stabbed him through the heart, twisted the blade and snarled. He voided his waste and died. I had been wrong when I first met Black Walder; I did not enjoy killing him.

“Arya! No!”

I glanced backward and saw that Arya Stark had scampered out from under the table to confront the Frey soldier who had climbed through the window. She leapt from table to table, pretending to be a ninja and waving her little sword, but the Frey soldier was not amused and punched her in the face, dazing her and knocking her against the back wall of the tavern. I rushed to help her but it seemed as though the air had become very thick. She tried to drop her little sword from one hand to the other, but it fell onto a table where the soldier picked it up and ran her through, pinning her to the wooden wall.

Tansy jumped on the soldier, smashing his head into the edge of a table. They collapsed on the floor. I put my sword on the table and pulled Tansy off him with my remaining good arm. She leapt over to Arya. The soldier was groggy but alive, so I lifted my foot and brought my hob-nailed boot sharply down on his head. His skull shattered and he died. I staggered back to my sister and the girl. Arya had slid into a sitting position against the wall, leaving a wide streak of blood on its dirty surface. I joined Tansy on my knees next to Arya.

Arya looked down at the sword hilt still sticking out of her chest, her eyes wide. I now could clearly read her thoughts; she had thought herself invulnerable.

“He . . .  he stuck me with . . . with the pointy end.”

“You fought well,” I lied.

“I had your back, Dejah.”

“I know.”

Tansy cradled the girl’s face in her hands and looked at me. I shook my head. She was dying, and now spoke very slowly and with great effort.

“Mama,” Arya said to Tansy. “It hurts.”

“I know, sweetling,” Tansy said, now crying freely. “Mama’s here, and she loves you.”

Arya tried to speak again, but her gray eyes became cloudy. She relaxed and now stared sightlessly at a point somewhere above my sister’s shoulder.

“What did she say?”

“I wish you’d really been my Mama,” I choked out. “I love you, Tansy.”

“I wish that, too,” Tansy said, her voice breaking. “I love you, sweet Arya.”

Tansy turned to me, and her speech became harsh.

“She wanted to fight just like you do. Those soldiers came here looking for you. She died trying to defend you. If you hadn’t been here, she’d still be alive and I’d have . . . I’d have . . .”

“I am sorry, Tansy.”

“Are you? Now you have what you wanted. She’s out of the way and you have me all to yourself.”

Stricken, I slumped forward, catching myself with my right hand. A pain far worse than that inflicted by Black Walder’s dagger seemed to crush my chest. I knew that my sister had been unhappy with me, but the depth of her anger struck me like a physical slap and caught me by surprise.

“Dejah! You’re hurt!”

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty (Dejah Thoris)

I remember very little of what followed the death of Arya Stark. I know that the men who had watched the fight now ran out the door, and that Tansy argued with the tavern-keeper who did not want to help her. I recall lying face-down on one of the rough wooden tables, staring at an ale pitcher right in front of my nose. I would have liked some. Tansy boiled wine, poured it over the wound and sewed the deep cut closed while I screamed. I believe that I screamed a great deal. I think I heard her talking with a male voice about whether they should pull the dagger out or not. Somehow, she bandaged my shoulder and got me onto a horse, and put Arya’s body, wrapped in a cloth she found somewhere, across another horse.

We rode for a long time. I think we veered off the road to hide among the trees at least once. I was not quite unconscious, but it felt like a dream. A very long, painful and unpleasant dream. Finally, we stopped. Some short men gently helped me off the horse and carried me into a large wooden building, using a stout cloth they held tight. They lay me in a bed and people came and went, some of them poking and prodding me, others forcing me to swallow things.

My first clear recollection was of a tall, slender young woman with brown hair pulled into two long braids, wearing a green tunic and sitting next to my bed. I had never seen her before, but I immediately knew that my life had changed once again. She was beautiful; having found myself unexpectedly alive, I likely would have found anyone beautiful in that moment. A younger woman in an identical tunic with similar braids sat next to her, reading from a book. The bed frame had been filled with furs, in the style of Barsoom.

“Do you know who you are?” the beautiful woman asked.

“I think so.”

“Close enough. I’ll go tell them.”

The two women rose quietly, and the elder one patted me gently on the upper arm. A third woman, this one with dark red hair who I had not spotted before, also rose from a chair in the corner; she had been napping but smiled at me and gently touched my knee as the three of them left.

The two brown-haired women soon returned with an older, broad-shouldered woman along with a short man and Tansy. Tansy sat on the edge of the bed and took both of my hands in hers. She had been crying.

“I’m so sorry for what I said,” she looked into my eyes, her voice rough. “I was frightened and angry and I just lashed out. You will always be my sister.”

Sometimes it is best not to remember.

“I killed Black Walder and the rest of his Frey men,” I said. “Someone stabbed me in the back. Arya Stark died. I screamed. That is the last I remember.”

“I was so worried. You barely moved by the end.”

The short man dragged a foot across the floor.

“I’m sorry,” Tansy said. “This is Maege (she pronounced it Mah-Eezh, like a name of Helium) Mormont, a military commander and one of the great lords of the North, her daughters Lyra and Jorelle, and Howland Reed. He rules this place, and he tended your wound and your fever.”

“Thank you,” I told Howland Reed. “Will I recover?”

“You were already growing very ill before you were stabbed,” Lord Reed said. “Your fever was terrible, but seems to have broken. Your wound should heal with rest.”

I looked at Maege Mormont, who smiled back.

“I did not know,” I said, “that women here went to war.”

“They do on my island,” she said. “But I don’t know that I’ve ever met a killer princess.”

She seemed to approve, but it made me feel uneasy.

“Please do not call me that,” I said, as gently as I could. “I am very good at killing people, but I do not like it. The killing.”

She took the seat next to the bed that her daughter had occupied when I awoke. The swamp lord bowed and left the room along with the younger Mormonts.

“Second thoughts?” Maege asked.

I understood the concept in her mind.

“No,” I said. “I have no feelings at all in battle, and that disturbs me. And I only regret some of the killing. One of the killings.”

“That’s all it takes.”

Tansy climbed into the bed and put her head on my uninjured shoulder. I could tell she had done this before. Maege Mormont made to leave as well. I reached out for her hand.

“Please come back soon,” I said. “I would enjoy speaking with you.”

Her thoughts indicated surprise, but she promised to return and meant it. I liked what I found in her mind: she and her daughters had taken turns with Tansy watching over me, and she was genuinely concerned. For a stranger. She feared I would think they had been standing guard.

“You killed Black Walder?” she asked.

“Yes. I broke his pointed weasel nose and then stabbed him in the heart.”

“Thank you.”

She left without explaining. I could not yet focus well enough to probe her mind for more. Meanwhile Tansy raised herself on one elbow and stroked my hair.

“I thought,” she said, “I’d lost my sister.”

“I think you almost did. Micro-organisms are ever the bane of invaders from Mars.”

“You’re not right in the head yet, are you? I was talking about Arya.”

“I am sad that she died.”

“I was cruel to you,” Tansy said. “I was only angry that she’d died. I didn’t mean what I said.”

“I only remember that my sister protected me. I remember you carrying me, and sewing my wound.”

“You’re far heavier than you look. I couldn’t have done it alone. The innkeep ran away but I had help from the man who cheered you for killing Cersei. He boiled the wine, found the needle and thread, and helped me carry you and get you onto the horse. I never got his name.”

“You brought me here.”

“You couldn’t ride alone,” Tansy said, “so I rode behind you and held you in place. I headed into the swamps and Lord Reed’s men found us and guided us here.”

“Where is here?”

“A wooden castle called Greywater Watch. It somehow floats on a swamp. It’s north of the Twins, on the way to the North itself. The people are called crannogmen, and they’re decidedly odd but they’ve been very friendly. We didn’t just find them by chance; they were already looking for us. Somehow Lord Reed knew who we were, and knew that we needed help.”

“They healed me here?”

“Lord Reed treated you,” Tansy said, “and the Mormonts all helped.”

“And you never left me.”

“Well, sometimes, but Lyra was always here if I wasn’t. She’s a very good woman.”

She paused.

“Dejah, I think they know.”

“Know what?”

“About you,” she said. “Who you are. What you are. That you can read their thoughts. You spoke in your sleep, and you lost a lot of blue blood.”

“Are you worried?”

“I think we can trust them. I think we have to trust them. They could have done whatever they wanted and I couldn’t have stopped them, but they’ve been nothing but kind. And I really like the Mormont sisters.”

“I will trust your judgment,” I said. “Thank you for protecting me.”

“You’re my sister and I love you. I’m sorry I forgot that.” 

Maege Mormont came often to visit, and I did enjoy speaking with her. She told me about her eldest daughter, named Dacey, who had fought alongside Arya Stark’s brother as one of his personal guard.

“You remind me of her,” Maege said. “Tall, fierce and dark-haired. But still a woman.”

“What happened to her?”

“She was murdered at the Twins by Black Walder’s father, during the Red Wedding. You’ve heard about the Red Wedding?”

I nodded.

“I was glad to hear,” she said, “that you’d killed Black Walder.”

“Does that make you suffer less?” I did not mean to be sarcastic, and she did not take it that way.

“No.” She sighed. “They call me the She-Bear, and I carry a bear’s worth of rage and hatred for what they did. Those feelings are burning me away inside.”

I picked out the image of a huge, ferocious animal from her mind. It was also the symbol of her house; she wore it on her clothing.

“And I worry that I feel so little.”

“Maybe I envy you that,” she said. “I’m not sure. Dacey was full of feeling, full of life. She was the best of me. I think you were like that before all the killing, weren’t you?”

“I think so too. I had killed before, many times, but never in these numbers and never with this coldness of heart.”

“She had killed too, in battle, and maybe she was spared the hardening that would have come after. I’ll never know. But I miss her terribly.”

“I have no daughters,” I said, which was not true but I did not know how to explain the difference in relationships, “and have struggled to understand Tansy’s loss. She grieves for Arya Stark as the daughter she never had.”

“You don’t bear children the same as we do, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve seen you naked,” Maege said. “You’re not like other women.”

“No, I am not. We have children but the process is very different and the bonds that result are not as . . . intense.”

“I can’t really explain, then. It feels like they’re part of you, but even more important. I’ve heard it called the perfect love and I think that’s true. You give them love and you expect nothing in return. And you don’t even think to expect anything in return.

“I have other daughters who I love fiercely, you’ve met two of them, but Dacey was my first. She made me a better woman.

“I’ve spent a good deal of time with your sister while you were sleeping. I think she’s better now, and appreciates what she does have.”

“Thank you.”

The Lord of Greywater Watch came to visit regularly and check on my healing. He told me that I needed to rest, so I stayed in bed and rested. An adventure hero would want to get up and begin more adventures before her wounds could heal. I stayed in bed. There was bacon, too, but no pie.

He lingered one day, taking the seat next to my bed. He had brought a large two-handled pitcher filled with a thick liquid food called soup, tasty with pieces of meat and vegetables. I put aside the bowl he offered and drank it down straight from the pitcher. His eyes were green, a darker green than those of Cersei.

“I had never seen you,” he said, “before you arrived here.”

An odd way to open a conversation.

“And I had never seen you.”

“I have visions,” he explained, “that we call the greensight. It’s not always reliable, and often it must be interpreted. I had seen your friend who you call sister, and knew her as Hoster Tully’s daughter.”

“Do you see me now?”

“Yes,” he said. “Your arrival in our world changed many things. You’ve killed people who would not have died, at least not yet, or helped bring about their deaths. You’ve saved others who should have died, or at least changed the manner of their deaths.”

“What do you mean,” I asked, as innocently as possible, “my arrival in your world?”

“We’re alone here,” he said. “I will keep your secrets. I know you can read thoughts; you spoke in your fevered sleep, answering questions that had not been asked. You are not from this world. That wound went deep, but caused more harm than it should have. You’re not constructed exactly the same as we are.”

He stated it as fact, not a question. I simply nodded. Black Walder’s blade would have come close to my heart, offset to the left rather than centered as in this branch of humanity, had it gone deeper.

“Beyond that,” Howland Reed said, “you were gravely ill. That fever would have killed most women. Even so, you were very hot and had to be cooled. I bathed you with wet cloths. I had to undress you for that. I know your body isn’t like that of other women. Don’t worry, Lady Mormont, her daughters or my wife was always present.”

Since we are often unclothed on Barsoom, I could not very well object. And I was highly grateful to this small, curious man for my continued life.

"And then there was your wound. I had to replace the stitches your sister placed there and clean it to prevent infection."

"Thank you."

"Your blood is blue."

Small wonder the innkeeper ran away.

“What,” I asked, “do you see of me now?”

“You have a terrible destiny.”

“So I have been told.”

“By whom?”

“A Red Priest named Thoros called me Azor Ahai,” I said, “and told me that I must place my sword between the breasts of my beloved. I will allow this entire world to perish rather than harm my sister.”

“Tanith Tully is tied to your destiny, but I cannot see whether it is she who makes that sacrifice. I think it likely.”

“There will be no stabbing of breasts.”

“My greensight shows you fighting,” Lord Reed said, “and shows you running your sword through the heart of a willing red-haired woman. That doesn’t mean it will happen, only that it is likely.”

“I understand. Who does your god want me to fight? And should I fight this person or creature?”

I liked this man’s gentle, evenly flowing thoughts and trusted his judgement. Though I did not yet know if I would follow his advice.

“Someone,” he said, “or maybe something, we call the Night’s King. I believe that a good and gentle young man named Jon Snow will be killed and rise in this new and terrible form. At one time I believed he had a great destiny, though he believed himself an unwanted bastard. Some believed him to be the son of a prince, and heir to the Seven Kingdoms. Others thought he would become Azor Ahai. I once shared this latter view, but have come to believe otherwise. He will die, rise and bring an end to this world if he is not stopped.”

“Do the dead often rise in your land?”

“No,” he said. “It has begun to the North. Creatures we call the Others or White Walkers can raise the dead and make them their slaves. Those risen have no will or power of speech. You’ve seen the dead rise?”

“A woman they called Stone Heart,” I said. “She could speak, but not well, and had a will of her own. She hated all living things. I killed her with my sword, and the blade caught fire. That is when Thoros called me Azor Ahai.”

“She was once Catelyn Stark.”

“Sister to Tansy and mother to Arya. I know. She had become evil.”

“She was my friend,” Lord Reed said, “and I loved her deeply, but I believe that to be true as well. So it is with Jon Snow. The Night’s King will lead the armies of the dead and give them direction. It will be up to the reborn Azor Ahai to stop him. The hero who saved the world once must do so again.”

“I am not a hero. I am a princess who kills people. A combination of privilege and murder. That is not heroic.”

“But it is necessary. The strands are coming together. Your sister Tansy and the Mormonts are part of this story. And you know you likewise came here for a purpose.”

“To find John Carter.”

“That was your purpose. How has your search progressed?”

“Not well,” I said. “I do not believe this is his world. But I believe someone from my world has been here. The queen recognized my title when I spoke it in my own language as I killed her.”

“Mayhap you didn’t come here by accident, or for the reason you believed.”

“I will think on this.”

He left me to my thoughts. I did not believe in gods. We are hatched, we make our own path, and then we die. Once I believed differently, and then the goddess Issus tried to kill me. Yet it could not be argued: I raised my hands to Jasoom, and then I appeared on this planet as if by magic. I had read once that a sufficiently advanced technology cannot be distinguished from magic. But who would deploy such advanced science simply to send me to this strange place to stab people with a sword? Could not my unseen manipulators simply incinerate those they wished dead? Or teleport them into the airless depths of space? Why did they need me?

And what about the changes to me? Not only had my body been transformed into a killing machine, with enhanced strength, speed and toughness. So had my mind. Before I transited space, I was a kind and gentle person. I know this in my heart. The people of Helium loved Dejah Thoris and I loved them back. I cared for lost animals, I sought out the poor and wretched to give them aid. I gave love and it came back to me a thousand-fold.

Or so I preferred to believe. I had summarily executed rebels against my grandfather’s rule. Yet in so doing I carried out the laws of Helium that had stood for one hundred thousand years.

Now I killed people without regret. And not just the screaming woman in Harrenhal. I had been fully aware of my actions when I murdered Dorcas the serving girl and stuffed her corpse down an abandoned service shaft. I did not hesitate to stab Cersei Lannister with a spork between her gravity-defying breasts – presented with unusual tableware, I turned it into a weapon. I killed the archer on the bridge and his comrade in the cellar in utter indifference. I slaughtered the sick Holy Hundred warriors. I killed Black Walder as he lay helpless. I stabbed Taena Merryweather in the back and thought only to steal her clothing. I killed Dickon Tarly who only wanted to please his cold father. I killed the murderous Waif, unsure if she might not be the real Arya. And the list went on. One could argue each individual case, that they had tried to kill me or someone else, or that they were very bad people. That did not remove the fact that I had ended their lives.

And there was more. I ordered men hanged, and strangers leapt to do my bidding. I cried for Brienne’s lost dreams when I first arrived on this planet. Yet I had never cried for the death of little Arya, who wanted to be just like me, who my sister thought of as the daughter she had never and could never have. Had I hardened so much by then? Was all of this simply preparation to meet the Night’s King, to drain any compassion out of me so that I would not hesitate to kill this Jon Snow?

I fell asleep still pondering these questions, and awoke in darkness to find Tansy curled up with me, her leg thrown across my body. I loved my new-found sister; at least one good thing had come of my stay on this planet. And was that simply a prelude to sacrificing her?

I had breasts as well. I would sacrifice myself before I harmed Tansy. I kissed the top of her head, and fell back into sleep.

In the morning there was bacon. 

Maege’s daughters sometimes brought my food and checked my wound, and several days after Howland Reed’s discussion of my destiny the older of the two young women came with the usual cleaning cloths and bowl of hot water. Lyra Mormont smiled as she changed the bandage over my shoulder.

“Lord Reed says you’re much better,” she said. “How do you feel?”

“I think my mind is finally clear of the fever, and I am very hungry.”

“Now that’s a shock,” she said. “Would you like to finally leave this room?”

Tansy, sleeping alongside me, stirred and looked up.

“Go with Lyra,” she said. “You need the exercise.”

She rose and helped Lyra bring me first to a sitting position on the edge of the bed, and then to my feet. After only a few moments I pulled my arms back from their shoulders and stood on my own.

“Try a few steps,” Tansy said.

I wobbled across the room, but did not fall.

“There’s a whole roasted sheep in the castle’s great hall,” Lyra said with a sly smile. “Fresh bread. Boiled lobsters.”

“Lobsters?” I asked.

“A shellfish,” Tansy explained. “Very tasty but sailors won’t eat them. Around here they probably have the freshwater kind. They’re edible; that means you’ll like them.”

“You will come too?”

“Of course,” Tansy said. “But we should probably wear clothes. And we need to bathe you first.”

I saw in Lyra’s thoughts that she meant for me to walk to the great hall and thought it would be good for me to do so, but she was not joking about lobsters. She believed them to be very good to eat.

I stood still while Tansy and Lyra cleaned me; I felt rather helpless but enjoyed their touch and that of the warm water. Lyra had brought clean dresses for us to wear, undecorated and brown, what she called “homespun.” She helped me pull mine over my head and checked its fit over my chest.

“This isn’t Bear Island,” she said. “We can’t have men seeing the side of a breast and going mad with lust.”

“Why not?”

She pondered my question, tempted to pull off her own similar dress.

“So as not to cause difficulties for our host, Lord Reed.”

“I can accept that.” I smiled. I liked Lyra very much.

“Bear Island is your home?” I asked.

“Yes, well to the north of here, amid ice-filled seas and wind-swept waves.”

“The Mormonts rule there?”

“From Mormont Keep,” she said, “our wooden fortress of solitude. The men fish, the women fight. Actually, everyone fights, when the Iron Born or the wildlings come raiding.”

“Do you miss your home?”

“Not as much as I miss my other sisters.”

After she adjusted my dress, I walked slowly down a long corridor to the great hall with Lyra and Tansy on either side of me, but I did not fall. I was tired when I reached the large open room filled with tables and benches; I took a seat across from Tansy while Lyra went to fetch some food for us.

“I’m glad to see you so much better,” Tansy said. “You had me worried.”

“What about you?” I asked, since Lyra was still in the kitchens. “I know it hurt you deeply to lose your niece.”

I had not liked Arya Stark, and were I honest with myself, I knew that I would not miss her company. I felt relief that she was no longer present, and guilt over feeling such when my sister clearly remained in deep emotional pain. I knew that I had done my best to save her, but I wondered if I could have done more to dispel her belief in her supposed “ninja fighting skills.” The ridiculous leaping and bouncing had inevitably led to her death once she faced an actual enemy.

“I’ll never get over it,” Tansy said, simply and directly. “I’m starting to learn to live with that. Maege and her daughters have been very kind. Actually everyone here has been.”

“I should have . . .”

“Hush,” Tansy cut me off. “I almost lost you, too.”

“I did not mean to sulk. I was glad that you found your niece. I only became unhappy when you seemed angry with me.”

“I wasn’t truly angry with you,” Tansy said. “I was angry with everyone and everything. I felt so empty after the pirates took me, so worthless, and suddenly finding Arya seemed like a miracle meant to fill that hole in my heart.”

“You have done a great deal of thinking.”

“A lot of talking,” she said, “with Lady Maege for the most part. Lyra as well.”

“They brought my sister back.”

“She never really left you. I’m sorry for the way I treated you.”

Lyra returned before I could answer, followed by three short women bearing large platters of food. Rather than the armored fish I had expected, a lobster turned out to be an insect about twice the size of my hand, with four legs along each side and two large claws. It had eyes on the end of stalks, but Lyra told me not to eat them.

She sat beside me, opposite Tansy, and showed me how to crack open a lobster and dip its white flesh into the little pot of melted butter she placed in front of me. It amused her that I could shatter the lobster’s shell with my fingers. She was right; I liked the flavor and texture very much. It felt like it melted on my tongue. We have nothing like this on Barsoom; our insects look much like lobsters though some are much larger and their flesh tastes like shit. I have eaten them nonetheless when stranded in the deserts that cover most of our planet.

I looked around the hall. A few soldiers ate in one corner, and servants filled another table. All seemed satisfied in their work, and both tables talked about preparations for a coming wave of colder weather. The hall itself had wooden walls, decorated with heavy tapestries showing scenes of nature – all of them swamps. We have swamps on Barsoom, thick and filled with deadly plants and creatures. These looked little different, except for the oppressive green everywhere instead of the comforting red of our planet’s plant life.

The dampness in the air helped feed that feeling of oppression. Even the wooden table seemed to have a thin film of water on it. The air felt very heavy, and a pervasive smell of rot underlay the pleasant aroma of roasted meat. The daughter of a very dry and, if truth be told, dying planet, I felt very uncomfortable in this place. Yet the people here evoked completely different emotions. For the first time since arriving on this planet, I felt very safe.

“She does this,” Tansy was telling Lyra. “Dejah has a very active conversation going on in her own head, and sometimes she ducks out of the real world to give it her full attention.”

“I am sorry,” I said. “Did you speak to me?”

“I asked if you liked the lobsters,” Lyra said. “Not that I needed to ask.”

The remains of at least six destroyed lobsters overflowed the wooden platter in front of me and littered the table as well. I noticed that I had not yet sampled the roast mutton, the bread or the other dishes. I looked around for a place to discard the lobster carapaces.

“You can just push them aside,” Lyra said. “We can clean up when you’re done.”

“We? Not the servants?”

“They work hard enough as it is,” she said. “Mormonts clean up their own messes.”

I pondered that thought. It had not been our way in Helium, where a small army of servants tended to every whim of a princess. I would not repay the kindness I had received here with pettiness.

“I will learn the Mormont way.”

Lyra looked across to Tansy.

“You were right. I like her.”

“You have made a friend,” I said to Tansy.

“I suppose I have,” my sister said. “Bonded over cooling your fever. I haven’t had many friends.”

“I have,” Lyra said. “But there’s room for more.” 

I slept away the rest of the day, this time a deeper, restoring sleep. In the morning Lyra’s younger sister Jorelle, known as Jory, woke us for First Meal. She was not quite as tall as her sister, but had the same dark-brown hair, blue eyes instead of Lyra’s brown and somewhat plainer features than Lyra’s exquisite beauty though still very pretty. I knew myself prejudiced toward attractive people, an arrogance common among royals, yet I had already come to like the Mormont sisters and hoped they would become my friends.

The red-haired woman I had seen before now stood in the doorway, saying nothing.

“You guard Jory,” I said to her.

“I do,” she said, in a surprisingly high-pitched voice. “And you as well, at least until you can take care of yourself. My name’s Trisha. I’m sworn sword to House Mormont.”

“I am Dejah Thoris,” I said. “Princess of Helium. But you may call me Dejah.”

“Lord Reed says you need to walk now,” Jory said. “Lyra said I should tempt you with bacon.”

“Bacon is tempting,” I agreed. “Is there coffee?”

“No coffee this far north,” she said. “I’ve never tasted it. Is it delicious?”

“It has a wonderful scent,” I answered as I pulled myself into a sitting position. Tansy hovered over me but did not help. “But an awful taste. Like pieces of burned wood that have been ground up and boiled.”

“Why drink it then?”

“It is a stimulant.”

“A stimulant,” she repeated. “You mean it’s a drug?”

“I suppose so. I have shown you my weakness.”

She laughed.

“From what I hear, there’s no weakness about you at all. Can you stand on your own?”

I did without trouble. Jory handed me another clean brown dress, and I pulled it over my head without help.

Tansy and Jory flanked me, with Trisha hovering directly behind me, but this time I only stumbled once on my way to the great hall and Trisha quickly righted me. I helped collect the food and bring it to a table for us – bacon, biscuits, butter and ale.

“So,” Jory began, sitting next to Trisha across from Tansy and I. “You two are so different. How did you come to be sisters?”

“Our mother carried us as twins,” I said. I had heard of twins, but not yet seen any, and the concept fascinated me. “It was a difficult birth.”

“No, really,” Jory answered. She was very earnest. “I’ve always had sisters. Been surrounded by sisters.”

We had told many people that we were sisters. Some accepted this, some did not. But no one had ever asked about it.

“We separately fell in with a band of outlaws,” I said.

“Freedom fighters,” Tansy corrected.

“I saw no fighting for freedom,” I said. “But some pigs were stolen.”

“An outlaw princess?”

“Yes,” I said. “I stole no pigs. I did eat several, and defeated one in single combat. I stopped a crowd of angry women who wished to beat Tansy with sticks. We became friends. And then sisters.”

I hesitated, then plunged ahead.

“You both know,” I said, “that I can read the thoughts of others.” It was evident in their surface thoughts; neither woman seemed overly alarmed.

“Yes,” Jory said, “but Mother was adamant that we were to tell no one. Lyra was there too when we figured it out.”

“Thank you. Among my people, we learn from an early age to keep our thoughts to ourselves. People here usually do not do so; they have no reason to even consider restraining them. To someone like me it is like hundreds of people are shouting all at once. It has taken me a great deal of effort to learn not to hear that shouting.

“Tansy is one of the few people I have met who does keep her thoughts to herself. I was comfortable in her presence, when others still made me uneasy and anxious. I was lonely and very far from home, the only person like me in all of Westeros. Tansy wanted to be my friend when I desperately needed one.”

“Why did you join the outlaws?” Jory pressed on.

“They were the first people I met when I came to these lands. I knew no one else, and they let me stay with them. I think they were afraid I would kill them if they did not.”

“That’s exactly why they took you in,” Tansy said. “You killed their leader.”

“She wanted to murder innocent people,” I said. “I did not want to be involved but I could not allow that.”

“Why were you there, Lady Tanith?” Jory asked.

“It’s a complicated story,” my sister said, “but the short version is that I wanted to kill their leader. She had murdered people I cared about and I’d stopped caring about anything.”

“You are no killer,” I said. “I am glad that you did not kill anyone.”

“Lady Maege says you’re a great fighter,” Trisha spoke up. “And that you killed Black Walder Frey.”

“His father,” Jory added, “murdered my sister Dacey.”

“I do not like killing people,” I said, “but some people need killing. Black Walder was one of those.”

“I don’t know,” Jory said, “if I could have done that.” I saw Trisha silently mouth, “I could have.” She deeply approved of my killing the Frey soldiers.

“You do not wish to be a warrior?” I asked Jory.

“Dacey and Lyra are the fighters,” Jory said. “It’s not for me. Alysane loves being a mother, but I don’t think that’s for me either. I think my youngest sister, Lyanna, would be most at home as Queen of the North.”

She had fought briefly in several battles, always with Trisha alongside her. The idea of having to do so again terrified Jory. She feared death, and loathed the idea of killing someone else, but she did not want to disappoint her mother or shame her family.

“What do you love?” I asked.

“Horses. Dogs. All of Bear Island.”

“I love horses as well.”

“I know,” Jory smiled now. “I’ve been taking care of your horses. That large chestnut mare is a wonderful mount.”

“She is my favorite,” I said, “but please do not tell her so.”

“I think she knows. What’s her name?”

“I do not know. We do not name our mounts in my land.”

“But they have so much personality, it seems like they should.”

I pondered this; she spoke good sense but I found it hard to overcome a lifetime of habit.

“You have exercised them?”

“Every day, with Trisha,” Jory said. “There’s not any real open ground to let them run, but we ride each of them along the swamp paths as best we can.”

“I hope we can ride together soon.”

“I’d like that,” Jory said. “Do you ride, Lady Tanith?”

“I’ve told you before, just Tansy. I rode with Dejah to King’s Landing and back, but I started as a girl and loved horses ever since.”

“I think that’s the first thing that you two have in common,” Jory said. “You’re so different but still, you’re sisters. 

“Is it not that way,” I asked, “with your sisters as well?” 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight (John Carter)

Sorting out affairs in front of Myr took far longer than I had hoped. The Myrish ended up providing six companies of crossbowmen, just under 1,500 troops including their advanced trainees. We also hired a small company of mercenaries present in the city and known as the Black Stripes, just over 400 men. We took slightly more than 3,000 recruits with us, almost all of them former bravos, and 313 Unsullied.

The Black Stripes came with their own commander, a veteran named Lodovico, the bastard son of a Myr magister; he had founded the company and been its only commander. The crossbowmen formed a brigade under command of their senior captain, a Myrman named Syrello Ormaar. For the moment I left both in their positions.

I had hoped to find a small, victorious battle into which I could lead my Dothraki, but I did not want to earn the enmity of the dosh khaleen for no reason. I had added over 5,000 men to our ranks, about a third of them elite infantry. There would be no time to do more; we needed to march for Vaes Dothrak immediately.

I met once more with Horo Stassen, this time in my tent over wine. He knew of Illyrio and had purchased some cheeses from my friend, but they were not personally acquainted.

“I will tell you honestly, John Carter,” he said, actually intending to speak the truth. This surprised me: most men use the word to preface a lie. “I am not deeply concerned as to who rules Myr, Pentos or lands to the east. I care only for security to allow trade. Chaos is bad for business.”

“You’ve had a great deal of chaos.”

“The wars, you mean?” he asked. I nodded. “That’s quite true. I’d rather do business in Tyrosh than pay taxes to fight her.”

“What is your business, Horo Stassen?”

“Slave training,” he said. “I buy them young, and educate them for specialties. Tutors for the most part. Musicians. Chefs and pastry cooks. I can’t complete with Slaver’s Bay for bulk labor: field hands or dock workers, simple brutes who answer to the whip. Nor can I match the bedslaves of Lys. Educated slaves have to accept their status. It’s a long process with profit shown only a decade or more later.”

“Where do you get your young slaves?”

“I pay a premium for promising children of field hands and house slaves. And sometimes they come from Slaver’s Bay.”

“Slaver’s Bay?”

“A string of cities well to the east,” he said, “collection centers for both new captures and slave breeding. I’m surprised your Dothraki haven’t told you of it, most of the captures are sold by Dothraki raiders.”

“They’re white, or colored? The slaves, I mean.”

“White?” he asked. “I don’t understand.”

“Pale-skinned, like you or I.”

“You mean of Andal stock? A good number of them. You can buy Rhoynar, Ghiscari or Dothraki slaves as well. Few have any preference.”

“That’s true in the upper classes as well? They’re also racially mixed?”

“Well, yes,” he said, genuinely puzzled. “It’s no greater a difference than height or hair color. Some have an aesthetic preference for a slave of one stock or another, but like any trader I have all types. Would any be of interest to you?”

He found my interest in racial divisions to be odd and somewhat disturbing.

“Scribes?” I asked.

“Yes. You need some?”

“I do.”

He hesitated.

“I would do further business with you, John Carter,” he finally said. “And thus I will tell you not to buy slaves for your needs. You have no experience with controlling the educated slave, nor do your Dothraki. They’ll run or die, more likely both, leaving you with nothing.”

He poured more wine for us both while I considered his words. I would have to ask Illyrio to find free recruits who could do my needed staff work for a fair wage.

“I had expected you to be selling rather than buying,” Horo Stassen continued. “You surely will have many captives you’ll wish to put on the block.”

I had not considered this. Armies of these lands made much of their profit through selling prisoners into slavery, as had those of earlier times on my own world. What did I intend for those taken by my own army?

“Your Pentoshi friends can’t deal in slaves,” he went on. “It’s forbidden by their law. You’ll need an agent. While it’s not my current specialty, I can make the arrangements.”

“Let me consider this,” I finally said. The noble Confederacy had been built on slavery, after all, but the enslaved were the members of a debased race, born into their condition and fortunate for the care of their masters. Horo Stassen proposed enslaving those who had been free, many of whom would be of the white race.

After he had left, I remained alone in my command tent to study my maps one final time before we set out. I found the geography strange and unnatural. Somehow, I had known almost immediately upon my arrival that this world was not my own, but it had many similarities. Plants, animals, food, people, language - all had been familiar.

Perhaps I had indeed come here to fulfill a prophecy, and my own destiny. But could I countenance selling members of a superior race into bondage to their inferiors?

During our days in front of Myr, I made sure to reserve at least one hour in the afternoon for my khaleesi. In such a crowded region we couldn’t ride under the stars to make love, and so we did so in my tent. Unsure that we could re-create that wondrous moonlit ride and unwilling that my princess suffer pain, I again summoned Doreah to prepare Daenerys to receive my manhood.

I still remained uneasy with the entire concept, that of one woman sexually pleasuring another. I vaguely seemed to recall having seen this and enjoyed watching, and indeed the thrill I felt in Daenerys’ thoughts as Doreah attended to her both excited and pleased me. While I found Doreah an unpleasant woman of sharp tongue and bitter disposition, her beauty an ironic contrast to the awfulness within, I could not deny that her sexual skills met her previous owner’s boasting. And I could not deny that her ministrations had made the entire experience easier for Daenerys.

“You need an heir,” my princess said after one particularly torrid session, as she nestled against my shoulder and Doreah slept alongside us. I had finished inside our slave, and though Daenerys had enjoyed herself to the point of feminine hysteria, she wasn’t satisfied with the outcome. “I want to give you a son.”

“That’s my greatest desire,” I said. “A blending of you and me.”

“I know you have needs,” she said. “But until I bear your child, you should give me your seed. All of it. I enjoy sharing pleasure with Doreah, and I even wouldn’t mind sharing it with Calye. She seems so lonely, and she was your first follower. Just give me your seed. Don’t waste any of it in either of them.”

She had never asked me to set Calye aside, nor did she do so now. I didn’t know how my former bedwarmer would react; I didn’t want to find her having cut her own throat.

My wife’s desire aroused me yet again. I gently pressed her onto her back, kissed each pink nipple and entered her again, careful not to press my full weight upon her. And this time I gave her all of my seed.

I still awakened Calye at dawn each morning and took her Dothraki-fashion amidst the horses. A khal has needs that cannot be denied, and has plentiful seed to bring a new heir into the world. Whatever I pumped into Calye would be generated again by the time Daenerys awoke.

I rode at the head of my khalasar. As I had promised my princess, this time Daenerys rode at my side between Ko Pono and Orange Cat. Before us stretched open pastureland and no sign of enemies. Irri, Strong Belwas and Calye rode behind us with Mormont; both Belwas and I had worked with Calye every day and she at least now knew how to hold her sword.

These lands fell under Myr’s rule, and following our agreement the Myrish magisters had sent out riders to instruct the locals to provide food and fodder for my khalasar. As long as the supplies appeared, I forbade my Dothraki to loot and plunder; so far, my orders had been obeyed.

I marveled at the richness of the land: orchards, fields, meadows and pastures. Slaves tended massive plantations, reminding me of Virginia at first glance. These lands, Mormont told me, supported the great city of Myr with grain and other foodstuffs; further south, they grew cash crops including the cotton that would be spun into apparently world-renowned Myrish lace. Despite Myr’s teeming population - estimated by Mormont at 300,000 to 500,000 - its hinterland generated grain surpluses that were stored and then sold across the so-called Narrow Sea to Westeros during winter seasons.

The comparison to Virginia ended after closer inspection: many if not most of the slaves were white, far more than I had expected after my talk with Horo Stassen. While I considered slavery part of the natural order, this was so because of its racial nature. It’s simply the place of the lesser races to be guided by their betters, and in exchange to serve them with their labor.

This situation presented me with a moral dilemma. My new realm would need the agricultural produce of this lush region, but the current system involved a labor arrangement that I found abhorrent. I did not see an easy way to replace these slaves with people of a lesser race more suited to that station.

Given the choice, I would have to abolish slavery in the Myrish lands, at least for those of the white race, and set up the current slave population as small free-holding yeoman farmers. Such people had been the backbone of Southern society, the finest civilization my world has ever known, and had fought valiantly in the ranks of the Army of Northern Virginia and indeed all of the Confederacy’s armies.

That would cause a great deal of economic and social disruption, and make the magisters and their supporters into unrelenting enemies. I supposed I would have to have them killed, though as they seemed to add little value to the world around them that should be a small loss. Perhaps I would warn Horo Stassen to divest himself of his slaves before my return.

“Orange Cat,” Pono called across to my other companion, interrupting my musings. “Why such a strange name?”

“Each day Unsullied take a new name,” the eunuch answered in his high-pitched voice. “Chosen from a jar. Always a color and the name of some type of vermin, to remind Unsullied that we are the lowest of the low.”

He considered cats to be vermin? I’d always liked them. When we settled down to rule, I would want at least one cat of my own.

“You are a slave?” Pono asked the Unsullied.

“All Unsullied are slaves.”

“What were you,” Pono continued, “before becoming a slave?”

“A child,” Orange Cat said. “This one has little memory of the time before training.”

“You have a Dothraki look.”

“This one may have been Dothraki,” Orange Cat said. “Many Unsullied begin as Dothraki.”

“Dothraki are not slaves,” Pono said. “But free men. The freest of all men.”

He thought for a few moments, unsettled by the Unsullied.

“Khal John,” he finally said, “it is unseemly to ask Dothraki to fight alongside slaves. It is not okay.”

He felt this deeply; I could not brush away his disquiet or simply order him to accept things as they stood.

“I can’t send them away,” I said. “We need them to train our crawlers. And they’re the finest infantry of Essos. We want them on our side.”

“You can free them,” Daenerys said, the first words I had heard her speak in front of other men. She spoke Bastard Valyrian, as did Orange Cat and Pono. Perhaps some of the Dothraki women did as well. I would have to ask Irri. “It’s within your power. And they will love you for it.”

“Free them,” I mused aloud. “Orange Cat, what would you do if freed?”

“This one does not wish to be freed,” he said. “No Unsullied are free. Unsullied are made to fight for their masters.”

“You could still fight for me,” I said. “But by your choice, not because I hold your whip.”

“The khaleesi seeks to assist this one,” he said. “This one understands and is grateful. But it is no kindness, Khaleesi. This one knows only service. It is . . .”

“Comforting?” I supplied the word from his thoughts.

“Yes, comforting, to know one’s place every day. It is the only way that this one has ever known.”

“A soldier knows his place every day,” I said. “But he fights for what he believes, not because he is forced.”

I recalled the young conscripts sent to the Army of Northern Virginia in the war’s last days. Too young to shave, so young that some carried a favorite bedtime stuffed toy in their pack. Too young to have any system of belief beyond following a brightly-colored flag and a stirring drumbeat. But not too young to die, shitting their lives away from dysentery or crying for their mothers as a gut wound slowly took them.

“The crawlers do not fight for belief,” Pono pointed out, as though he were the one who could read thoughts rather than I. “They also are forced. They are nearly slaves.”

“It’s that way the world over,” Mormont said from behind us. “Men of Westeros fight because it’s their lord’s will. Men who fight by choice, for coin, are scorned for it.”

“The crossbowmen of Myr don’t trouble you?” I asked Pono. “Or the Black Stripes?”

“They fight by choice,” he said. “A poor choice, to fight for gold they can’t eat or fuck. But still, a choice. They are not slaves.”

To pay all of the soldiers I believed we would need, we would need a great deal of coin. And as Horo Stassen had said, that quantity of coin was best raised through the sale of captives into slavery. Pono did not object to such sales, nor would the other Dothraki: they had done so for centuries, and often sold other Dothraki though they termed these transactions “gifts.”

“Very well,” I said. “We’ll enroll the Unsullied and the new recruits as regular paid soldiers. They’ll swear an oath to follow me, obey the commands of my officers, and remain loyal unto death.”

“Unsullied will not understand,” Orange Cat objected.

“Will they do so?” I asked.

“They will follow your command,” he said. “But in their hearts, they will remain your slave.”

“That,” I asked, Pono, “will satisfy the Dothraki?”

He thought for a moment.

“What is in a man’s heart,” he finally said, “is between that man and whatever god he follows.”

He looked across to Orange Cat.

“You will fight for Khal John, once you are free?”

“This one will serve Khal John.”

“You’ll take a new name? Your old Dothraki name?”

“This one does not remember this one’s child name,” Orange Cat said. “This one will remain Orange Cat.”

“There’s nothing,” Pono persisted, “that will change?”

“A dog,” Orange Cat said. “This one wishes to have a dog. Young Unsullied are given a young dog, at the time when they are cut. For one year, Unsullied care for the dog. At the end of the year, Unsullied strangle the dog, or they are killed.”

He paused, and looked away from Pono.

“This one misses his dog.”

“You said, ‘his dog’,” Pono noted. “When Khal John has freed you, I will gift to you a dog, freely given from one free man to another.”

I directed Mormont to begin enrolling the Unsullied as enlisted soldiers, but he wrote slowly and painfully, and we had no literate assistants to assign him other than Doreah. While she was fluent and literate in both Bastard Valyrian and Westerosi, I did not believe it a wise idea to assign her to work with Mormont. I had acquired her for her woman’s parts, not her mind. Even so, until I could find someone better suited to the job I tasked her with copying Unsullied contracts and keeping notes of staff meetings, as Mormont’s hand was simply too slow and I wished to hear his advice. In fairness, I must say that she wrote accurately and in a beautiful hand.

Two days after leaving Myr, Pono’s outriders reported an armed force marching southward. After listening to several of them, I formed a notion of the unknown army’s location and identity. A mercenary company about 2,000 strong, all mounted and most of them armored; Lodovico of the Black Stripes identified them as the Latecomers.

We had an opportunity to place ourselves across their path, and I ordered Pono to do so immediately with his khas. I would discuss surrender terms at that point; should these be rejected then Jhaqo would strike them in their right flank.

“We could strike without warning,” Jhaqo said. “And slaughter them as they march.”

“Were things otherwise,” I said, “I would agree. These men who fight for pay include experienced soldiers and leaders. I wish to add them to our own army.”

I looked at Lodovico. In early middle age, he had come late to soldiering after failing at politics. I did not yet fully trust him, but he had as yet given no cause for complaint, either.

“How good are they?” I asked.

“Not very,” he said. “At least that’s their reputation. They’re funded by a group of Tyroshi merchants, as a business venture. The rumor is that they cut costs on weapons, armor and quality of their recruits and officers. I don’t know that first-hand; I’ve never encountered them.”

“Your suggestion?”

“A show of force,” he said. “They’re not out here for glory, and there’s no profit in being overrun by a horde of Dothraki. Take their surrender, add them to our army, either as a company or broken up among us.”

“Break them up,” Jhaqo said after Pono had translated. “They cannot be trusted together.”

I nodded.

“Ko Aggo,” I said. “Ride hard and block the road behind them. When he is in place, Ko Jhaqo, show yourself on their right flank. Ko Pono, block the road ahead. Lodovico, with me. Unsullied, Black Stripes and Myrmen cover the trains.”

All nodded and rode off to their assignments. I ordered two hundred of my Companions to protect their khaleesi, and rode alongside Pono to join his khas in blocking the road. My own khas of 700 Companions occupied the actual roadway, with Pono’s men on either side of them.

Their outriders approached about an hour later, and quickly rode back to the main body. I sat my horse with Pono, Lodovico and a ko of the Companions named Rakharo to await their leader. He rode up flanked by two other armored men, both younger than he. A red-faced and somewhat overweight and balding white man, he did not seem to recognize his peril.

“You savages are blocking the road,” he said. “Get the fuck out of our way.”

“You’re most observant,” I said. “But we won’t be moving.”

“What the fuck do you want?”

“Your men, your horses, your weapons. Any of your officers I find useful. You, I don’t need.”

“Are you looking for a fight?”

I saw the Dothraki on Pono’s left raise signal flags, indicating that Jhaqo had reached his position.

“My Dothraki would like one,” I said. “I’d rather have your men. But if you want them killed, that can be arranged.”

“My men will run through yours like steel through butter,” he said, seeming even angrier. “And I’ll be sure to kill you first.”

“You have, what, two thousand men? I have forty thousand Dothraki. You might kill a few of them, that’s true. They understand that, it’s their way. But they’ll kill all of yours. That’s also their way.”

“I won’t surrender without a fight.”

“Then fight me,” I said. “You’ll have your fight, and your men will live to serve me. Everyone wins.”

He drew his sword and spurred his horse straight at me, while Demon leapt to meet him. I drew Steel Flame and took off his sword-arm as he passed. He remained in the saddle, blood running down the side of his body and his horse.

“You should have surrendered,” I said. I ran him through, and snatched his cloak to clean my blade before he fell to the ground.

“You’re his lieutenants?” I asked the two remaining horsemen. Both nodded. “Have all of your men dismount and stack their arms and armor.”

I assigned the former Latecomers to Orange Cat, who spread them throughout his new recruits under the eye of his Unsullied. As I expected, Lodovico soon approached me with his own ideas on use of this new manpower. I invited him to join me at breakfast, where my princess sat at table with Orange Cat.

“My queen,” Lodovico bowed, and kissed my wife’s hand. “It is truly a pleasure to become acquainted.”

“I’m not queen yet, my lord,” she said. “For any aid you provide toward that end, I will remain eternally grateful.”

“It would be my honor,” the mercenary captain said.

“Lodovico,” I said. “I’m a plain-spoken man, as you’ve seen. Tell me your wishes, plainly.”

He nodded, and sipped his coffee.

“As you say,” he said. “It’s my hope to incorporate at least some of the former Latecomers into the Black Stripes. The more promising younger men, those with good horses and armor who haven’t taken on all the bad habits of their unfortunate late commander.”

“How many?”

“Perhaps two hundred? I’d prefer not to dilute the essence of my own company with too many of them.”

“I’d prefer,” I said. “To form a single heavy cavalry brigade, of perhaps fifteen hundred to two thousand men, incorporating your former Black Stripes with the new recruits.”

“Former Black Stripes?”

“Surely you’ve seen that free companies no longer have a place in the new order I’m bringing to Essos.”

He had indeed wondered about the future of his trade, but had invested both a great deal of personal wealth and his own self-regard in his company.

“I would make it well worth your while,” I said. “In both monetary terms, and those of personal achievement. Your officers as well.”

“You don’t seem to have a great deal of coin.”

“You ride with forty thousand Dothraki,” I said. “Do you doubt their ability to collect loot?”

“No,” he said. “Nor do I doubt their ability to eradicate my company, should you so order.”

“That would be wasteful,” I said. “I hope it will not be necessary.”

“Your terms?”

“For the men? Fair pay, a five-year enlistment, fully subject to my officers and my laws. Officers will be selected by me, and also receive regular pay over a five-year term. Both classes will be paid at a higher rate than currently.”

“You can afford this?”

“The Dothraki despise money. The Unsullied reject it. We should be well able to afford them.”

“And for myself?”

“We’ll negotiate a purchase of your ownership interests in the Black Stripes. And then you’ll enjoy the same arrangement as other officers, at a higher rate of pay of course given your higher status.”

He leaned back, sipping coffee and considering.

“There will be further rewards?”

“As in lands and titles?” I confirmed what I already knew from his thoughts.

“Just so.”

“Of course,” I said. “Serve me well and you’ll find me generous to my friends. That’s the only promise of such I offer. Serve poorly, and you’ll find yourself carrying a lance in the ranks. Or worse.”

Actually, if he proved himself incompetent, I would likely have to kill him rather than leave him to become a focus of discontent. So far, his thoughts had seemed to indicate that he well knew his trade.

Jhaqo had been correct, and I took a risk by allowing all of the former mercenaries to serve together in the same unit. I would need to confirm every officer appointment myself, after an extensive interview assisted by telepathy, and keep watch on the ranks for disloyal thoughts.

Orange Cat’s Unsullied had taken to their new role as drill instructors with more determination than I had expected or desired. I watched as they force-marched the former bravos, criminals and Latecomers at a quick-march pace, beating those who fell out without permission. Spotting me, Orange Cat and his second, Green Roach, trotted over to me on foot to report.

“Green Roach,” I greeted the dark-skinned and rather fat Unsullied. I had insisted that all of the Unsullied retain the same name every day. “Orange Cat has told you of your new status as free men?”

“This one has been told,” he confirmed. “This one has signed papers as you wish.”

“And that’s your own wish?” I asked; his thoughts gave no hint.

“Your wish is this one’s wish,” Green Roach said. His thoughts showed no preference between slave or free status.

“Very well,” I said. “It is also my wish that our new recruits remain alive to become soldiers.”

“These ones are soft,” Orange Cat said. “They must be hardened. Some Unsullied as well. Then they will work with weapons.”

“Your thoughts, Green Roach?”

“This one agrees with this one’s commander.”

“Green Roach,” I said. “I am your commander. I must have full information. If you believe differently, I must hear it.”

“This one does not believe differently.”

His thoughts confirmed his words.

“Thank you,” I said. “Should you ever believe differently, on any issue, it is your duty to inform Orange Cat of this. Do you understand?”

“This one understands.”

“Orange Cat,” I turned to the taller Unsullied. “How long until weapons training? An estimate if you’re not sure.”

“Perhaps ten days. Some will be lost before then. Those that remain, will be better for it.”

I had heard from comrades who attended West Point that in order to make an efficient soldier, the recruit must first be broken down and then built up. I could not seem to recall just what I had done before leaving my small plantation to enroll in the Black Horse Cavalry, but I understood the principle well enough. But I shared Jorah Mormont’s concern that we not waste lives without purpose.

“Please try to keep all of them alive,” I said. “If any prove incapable, Jorah the Andal will find other tasks for them. They cannot perform these tasks if they’re dead.”

“It will be as you say,” both men said in unison.

At dawn the next morning, I found Cayle already awake and dressed for our “sword practice.” Each day after I had made love to her I did actually instruct her in sword technique, which remained weak though she had shown some improvement. But this morning she stopped me before we headed to the corral.

“John,” she said, placing a hand on my arm. “We’re . . . we’re out of moon tea.”

“Moon tea?”

“It’s not my fault.”

“What is it? This moon tea.”

“We drink it, Doreah and I, to prevent . . . prevent a child forming after we fuck you. So your seed won’t take hold. All . . . all whores drink it. She brought a jar of it from Pentos, the mixture that she brews with boiling water. It’s used up now.”

“Then find some more.”

“I can’t,” she said. “It’s not my fault. I’m not even . . . even sure what’s in it, just that it comes from Westeros. Some sort of dried flowers and herbs.”

“Doreah has none?”

“She gave it to . . . to me. I love you but I don’t want a baby, John. You . . . you don’t want one, either.”

She did want my child, desperately so, calculating that I wouldn’t abandon the mother of my own son or even daughter. She imagined herself as my wife, as my queen, but wisely said nothing aloud. She had considered lying to me and attempting to become with child, but feared that Doreah would expose her out of spite. She was probably right about Doreah, but at least my angry yet lovely slave had prevented any unwanted pregnancies.

“I still need release,” I said. “It’s my right, as your khal and as your owner.”

“I . . . I can still please you. With my tongue or . . . or with my ass.”

“I will not be doing that,” I said, repulsed by the very thought. In my Confederate service, I had executed soldiers for performing this act upon one another.

“Then . . . then let me suck you off. I . . . I love you. Let me show you.”

She took my hand and led me to the center of the herd. She had never wondered why they so conveniently screened us from the sight of others, nor made any move to trample us. Finding a tuft of grass not fouled by waste, she knelt before me and pulled down my Dothraki trousers. She played her tongue along my manhood, and I must admit that I found it pleasurable. When I grew close to finishing, she took me in her mouth to swallow my seed, but I told her “no.” My seed sprayed across her face as she looked up at me and smiled.

Leaving Calye to clean herself, I returned to my tent and my khaleesi. She had risen and had the household slaves prepare the breakfast table. I had expected Syrello Ormaar of the Myrish crossbowmen to join us to discuss expanding his brigade and forming units of pikemen, but she had sent him away with her apologies.

“My chieftain,” she said. “At my request, Irri brought a Dothraki healing woman to see me this morning.”

“You are unwell?” I asked, growing alarmed.

“I am very well,” she said. “Both of us are very well.”

I detected her meaning in her thoughts; otherwise I would have had not a clue.

“My princess,” I said, “you carry our child?”

“The healing woman believes that I do,” she said. “Does it not please you?”

I stepped to her side of the breakfast table and knelt beside her.

“More than words can say, my princess.”

And I was deeply pleased, though in the back of my mind something made me feel as though such news had not always been welcome to me. Now I would have an heir to my empire. Our empire.

However, I would have to cease making love to my princess, so as not to harm our child. I would have even greater need for Calye and Doreah. Soon after breakfast, I sent Dothraki dispatch riders to Illyrio and to Horo Stassen with instructions to obtain more of this “moon tea” with all possible speed.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One (Dejah Thoris)

I felt stronger with each passing day. Jory took us riding along swamp trails; Lord Reed set his warriors to watching over us. Had I not been able to track their thoughts, I do not know that I would have seen any of them. They had mastered the arts of camouflage, though despite a lifetime in the swamps they detested burying themselves in the cold water and muck.

“You have seen the swamp men guarding us?” I asked Jory one morning as we saddled our horses. Trisha saddled a horse as well.

“Sometimes,” Jory said. “I take it they’re always there?”

“Yes. Lord Reed is careful of his guests’ safety. And very interested in how they spend their time.”

“Can anyone sneak up on you?”

I looked at Trisha, whose back was turned to us.

“You can trust her,” Jory said. “She helped watch over you. I trust her with my life.”

Trisha turned back to us. She was almost as tall as I, a pretty woman with straight dark red hair and the small spots known as “freckles” across her face and the visible part of her neck and upper chest. She smiled.

“You can, princess,” she said, in her voice suited more to a girl than a woman, what Tansy would later call “bubbly.” “Lady Mormont’s orders.”

Her thoughts said she respected me as a fighting woman like herself. I nodded to her and smiled, then looked back at Jory.

“Not if I concentrate,” I said, “but it takes a great deal of concentration to search for hidden people only by their thoughts. And I am sometimes easily distracted.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

“I am extremely focused in battle,” I said, catching her sarcasm as I swung into the saddle. “That is a greater reason for my success than strength or speed. When I am not fighting, my mind becomes filled with many other thoughts.”

“Mine too,” Jory smiled. “Except on horseback. Then it’s like I don’t have any thoughts of my own.”

We rode down the swamp trails through hanging vines, our horses’ hooves cracking through the frozen puddles that dotted the way. When we drew alongside a hidden swamp warrior, I called to my companions to stop.

“You can ride with us if you would prefer,” I said, knowing how the man suffered in the freezing water.

“Our lord won’t permit it, milady,” he said. “He’ll be angry enough that you spotted me.”

“Thank you for watching over us,” I said, and we rode on. As Jory had said, we could not bring the horses to anything more than a trot, but I relished getting back on my horse again.

“Did you train your mare yourself?” Jory asked.

“She trained me,” I said. “I had seen pictures of horses, drawn by my husband, but knew little about them. I first learned about horse care and riding from her thoughts. Sometimes she lies.”

“Like what?”

“She would have me believe she should only eat carrots, never wear a saddle and never have her hooves picked out. Tansy taught me how to actually care for horses.”

“Do horses think the way people do?” Jory asked. “Are they smart?”

“That is complicated,” I said. “They are intelligent in their own way. They know a great deal about the things that matter to them, and think about these things more emotionally than we do. They do not think about things that do not matter to them, which is very different than people. They know that there are stars in the night sky, for one example, but they do not care.”

“Do they read thoughts?” Tansy had caught up and rode behind us alongside Trisha. “Sometimes they seem to just, you know, know.”

“Not the way a telepath does,” I said, “a thought-reader like me. They can feel the emotions of people and if they know the person well can feel the outlines of what the person wishes of them.”

“What about dogs?” Jory wondered.

“I do not know. I have had little experience with dogs. The foul being known as ‘cat’ can read and send thoughts, and attempts to enslave humans.”

“I think she just hates cats,” Tansy told Jory. “Some people do, you know.”

“I do not like cats,” I said. “You should be wary of them as well.” 

After I had been on my feet for several days, Lyra took me to the castle’s practice yard and handed me a wooden sword. She had changed her hair to a single heavy braid, and given me a soldier’s tunic to wear with an emblem of a swamp reptile on it. I would have preferred to practice without it, but remembered her admonition to remain modest out of respect for Lord Reed.

“On your guard,” she said.

I slid to my left and parried Lyra’s attack; nothing seemed out of place. I shifted the wooden sword into my left hand and struck at her, feeling no pain from her parry. Eager to test my limits, I quickly spun inside her guard and tapped her left breast with the wooden sword.

“I have killed you,” I said. The words bothered me even as I spoke them; I had quickly come to like Lyra very much and disliked even pretending to bring about her death.

“I never saw it coming.”

“The spin move hides the blade.”

“I don’t think I can spin fast enough,” she said, “to try that without getting skewered.”

“It is not for everyone.”

“How do you counter it?”

I showed her, and worked with her every day on improving her stance and blade movement. She had been trained by men to fight like a man, and taken to the lessons well. But women are not men; they are stronger in the upper body and we in the lower. The differences are subtle, but a woman should use her advantages and not fight exactly the same way as a man.

With my enhanced strength I could now fight like a man, but all of my experience lay in the female style and I had retained it in all of my battles since arriving here. I could probably overpower most if not all of my opponents, but I could not be sure of this where I was very confident that none could match the speed of my foot- or blade-work. It is always an advantage to show your enemy moves that he or she does not expect; in Westeros few women fight and those that do, like Lyra or Brienne, fight in the same way as a man and count on their unusual size to make up for the difference in physical strength.

I taught Lyra some standard moves of Barsoom that would maximize her strengths and compensate for weaknesses, and we also practiced the style of fighting as a pair, something I had missed since leaving my home. She proved very adept and eager to learn, and as she almost exactly matched my height and size we made a formidable team. We could not employ the full paired style, as Lyra could not read my thoughts, but since she knew that I could read hers she practiced alerting me of her intentions. That allowed us to make use of at least some of the paired tactics, and I knew that we could be very effective fighting together.

Trisha often joined us, and sometimes she and I worked alone. The red-haired soldier preferred to hone her individual fighting skills, to better protect Jory. She feared that Jory would try to fight alongside her, as did I. And so I worked with Trisha almost as often as I did with Lyra, and saw her speed and discipline improve markedly. She had apparently depended on what she called her “wild She-Bear’s rage” in battle. While she would willingly die to defend her charge, I liked Trisha and did not wish for this to happen.

“You are not happy here,” I observed to her as we sat alone at the edge of the training yard, cleaning our weapons. “You wished to fight.”

“I was six-and-ten when I came to the House Guard,” she said. “Ten years ago. I pledged my life to the Mormonts, and they’ve been worthy lords. When we heard Lady Dacey had been killed, and I wasn’t there . . .”

“You know that I am a princess,” I said. She nodded. “I have known many soldiers and known this guilt in them and in myself. I will not tell you that it is nothing, only that it will fade in time.”

“I’m not sure I want it to,” she said. “I failed one Mormont daughter. I won’t fail again.”

“You did not fail,” I said. “Your duty brought you here. We do not get to choose where duty leads us.”

She stared at her already-shining sword and rubbed it harder, not believing or looking at me.

“Listen to me,” I said, using the command voice I had rarely deployed since leaving Barsoom. Her head snapped up and her dark blue eyes met my red ones. “You know that I read thoughts. And I am telling you that no one, not Maege Mormont, not her daughters, blames you for what happened to Dacey Mormont. That foolish lie exists solely within your own mind.”

“Yes ma’am,” she said, reflexively. And then she smiled.

Rains fell heavily for many days afterwards; the very idea of water falling out of the sky still fascinated me, but Lord Reed cautioned me to stay out away from the rain lest my fever return. Seeing my disappointment, Tansy led me to the castle’s bathhouse, a wooden structure adjacent to the main hall divided into separate areas for men and women. Since we could not train outside or ride, I looked forward to feeling warm water on my skin. Lord Reed had instructed that I could only bathe with wet cloths until my wound had healed sufficiently, and I felt very dirty.

Lyra had just entered the bathhouse when we arrived, and she helped Tansy fill a large basin that could comfortably accommodate all three of us. They then helped me into the water, though I felt fully capable of handling myself even on the wet wooden floors. I water felt wonderful on my skin, the first time I had enjoyed such since we had left Duskendale.

“Your body . . . it’s perfect.” Lyra seemed amazed. I felt unexpected pleasure at the thought of Lyra Mormont admiring my breasts, but soon realized that she did not refer to my appearance.

“She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known,” Tansy said, thinking to agree.

“No,” Lyra said. “I mean, yes, Dejah, you’re lovely. But outside of the wound Lord Reed treated, you have no scars at all. To have so obviously fought in many battles and emerge untouched . . . it’s uncanny.”

She rose part of the way clear of the bath water to show her own torso. She was extremely fit and extremely pale, with large full breasts that I very much wished to touch. One by one, she pointed to scars from assorted fights, mostly slashes but two ugly puncture wounds, and described how she had acquired them. I understood this to be a bonding ritual between soldiers; we behave similarly on Barsoom.

“The worst,” she said, indicating the center of her chest, “should be right here. A wildling spearwife’s bone spear-point. It caught in my chainmail and the point snapped off. It left an ugly bruise and it hurt like all the hells, but it faded in time.”

I scanned the bathhouse with my telepathy; no one could hear us.

“Speak of this to no one,” I said; both of my friends nodded. “I am not sure that I have even told Tansy all of this. I am not from a faraway land. I am from a completely different world. One of those you can see in the night sky, impossibly far from here.”

“Lord Reed said something of this,” Lyra said. “When you were babbling as though you were mad. Mostly you made strange whistling sounds instead of actual words.”

“Those are the words of my language,” I said. “I do not know how I came to this world, only that I appeared here in the forest, with no clothing, weapons or belongings. My body had been made far faster and stronger than it had been. And all of its scars,” I indicated several places, “had disappeared, as well as a decorative tattoo on my left breast.”

“I knew you were made stronger,” Tansy said. “I suppose I thought you’d always looked like that.”

“I did look like this,” I said. “I once suffered injuries that marred the beauty of my face and breasts, but at John Carter’s insistence a highly skilled healer removed them and restored my beauty. My people have far greater knowledge in this area than yours.

“He did not remove other, less visible scars. Yet upon my arrival those marks of old injuries, and only those caused by injuries, had disappeared. Very small shadows where injuries had been repaired in the past, before my arrival here, likewise are no longer visible. This mark on my leg has been there since I hatched, and yet it remains.”

“Hatched?” Lyra asked.

“The women of my people lay eggs,” I said. “We do not carry our young inside our bodies. This is why I have no navel marking, either.

“I did bear scars of fighting on my home world, which we call Barsoom. I have been fortunate to have suffered no serious wounds here, until Black Walder stabbed me in the back.”

“So,” Lyra smiled, settling back into the water, “you’re not invulnerable.”

“I am very good at killing people,” I said. “But I am under no illusion that I myself cannot be killed.”

Each day that I exercised, I felt stronger than the last. Soon I sparred against both Lyra and Trisha together. Their skills improved by the day, but so did mine. I felt ready to fight and had a strange sensation that I would soon do so with a great deal at stake.

I did not look forward to entering combat again, but like Trisha, Lyra had apparently felt somewhat ashamed of hiding at Greywater Watch while other members of her family fought and died. She hoped that I would remain with House Mormont, and the thought tempted me greatly. I enjoyed her company very much and when Jory offered to braid my hair into a single heavy rope like Lyra’s, I gladly accepted. It had grown much longer since my arrival on this planet, and seemed to grow much faster than it had on Barsoom. Jory cut off the ends which had become rather tattered, using a sharp blade called a razor.

“Do you enjoy fighting?” I asked Lyra one day after we finished our swordplay. She mopped her face with a cloth, but we of Barsoom do not sweat.

“I enjoy my time out here with you,” she said. “Or do you ask about actual combat?”

“The latter.”

She sat on a sawed-off piece of a dead tree and thought about her answer for a moment. I sat next to her, while Trisha returned to the keep in search of dry clothes; in my enthusiasm, I had hurled her into a dirty puddle. She had almost called me a rude name, but caught herself before the words were uttered.

“Yes and no,” Lyra said. “I don’t like the terror. The killing, the fear of being killed, having to see people you’ve known for your entire life bleeding theirs out into the mud and the shit. It’s awful.

“But it’s not right to say that I hate it, either. Or at least it’s not honest. I suppose I like having fought, as opposed to fighting. The feeling that I’ve fulfilled my role as a Mormont woman. That I defended our people, that I fulfilled my oaths, my family’s oaths. That part is very satisfying.

“And you?”

I took a place beside her on the dead tree.

“Like you,” I said, “I was raised to fight. And for some of the same reasons. We have vast privileges, the royal family, and sometimes we pay for them with our deaths. On my home world, I fought and I killed, with swords and with more powerful weapons unknown here.”

Something that should have been obvious before now became clear.

“You know that I can read others’ thoughts.”

She nodded.

“And that’s why you can’t be beaten,” she said.

“It helps greatly,” I allowed, “I will not deny it. But a good fighter, like yourself, makes decisions instinctively. They come so fast that your opponent’s thoughts give you their plan for the fight beforehand, but much less help when swords actually cross.

“We can screen our thoughts from others like us. And at no time is that more important than during battle. You cannot give your foe any warning of what you intend.”


“On my home world, I usually could not feel an enemy’s thoughts while she died.”

“And here you’ve felt them all die.”

She wanted to say something comforting, but knew that no platitude could help. Instead she laced her fingers through mine and sat quietly beside me, holding my hand.

I liked Lyra Mormont very much.

After Mid-Day Meal I usually rested, following Lord Reed’s instructions, with Tansy looking after me. She sat upright in our bed and read to me while I enjoyed the heat of the nearby fire, driving away the chill damp that pervaded all of Greywater Watch. I could not read the letters of this place, and Tansy went through several volumes of adventure stories. Many of them had rather cold-blooded outcomes, by my estimation; if these were the stories on which Arya Stark had been raised, her murderous outlook on the world now made far more sense.

It did not escape me that in some ways I had regressed into a child-like state, thanks to my injury and the mental confusion that had accompanied my fever, and had taken the place of Arya in Tansy’s life. And that I had wanted to take that place. I had been jealous of the girl, though at the time I had not wished to admit this to myself. Tansy had not been entirely wrong to be unhappy with my attitude.

That awareness tempered my enjoyment of my sister’s attention. Even so, I lay beside her and listened to her melodious voice tell of an extremely tall knight who wandered the countryside committing deeds of bravery. I noticed that in these stories, great height seemed to symbolize great fighting skills; in practice, I have seen that an unusually tall warrior is actually much more vulnerable to attack. This tall warrior was accompanied by a lesser warrior with the incongruous name of “Egg,” who eventually became the “king,” what these people called a jeddak. On Barsoom, such a label is used for a deeply naïve person, but I knew that “Egg” lacked the same meaning among people who did not hatch from eggs.

The tall knight fell in love with a tall, beautiful young woman named Tanselle who painted puppets, but she left him rather than see him killed in a trial by combat against a man who had beaten her. The knight later searched for Tanselle but never found her.

“Are you Tanselle?”

“It’s just a story,” my sister smiled. “The characters in a story aren’t based on real people. Well, sometimes they are, usually awful people who die in some horrible or ridiculous fashion. But I’m named for my mother’s grandmother Tanith, not for the Tanselle from the story.”

Tansy was beautiful enough to be the heroine of an adventure story, but not nearly old enough to be the Tanselle of the story, had she been real. Tansy stroked my hair as she read, and I felt very safe alongside her. Perhaps I could find some reason to remain at Greywater Watch with my sister and the Mormonts; I certainly had no deep desire to leave this place and find my wandering husband. Perhaps my husband would perish in a great fire, like the wandering knight in Tansy’s story. I did not think that I would mind this outcome for John Carter, but I was sad that the wandering knight never found the lovely Tanselle.

In her beautiful voice, Tansy then sang a song about a woman named Jenny who had loved a prince with the same name as the wandering knight; her love died in the same fire as the knight. I thought it rather careless storytelling to use the same name for two important characters in the same story, but Tansy assured me that the story was true. She had learned the song from the musician named Tom, whose head I had cut off, but I did not regret killing him as his death had pleased Tansy.

“Does she see ghosts?” I asked. “Or are they in her mind?”

“That’s for you to ponder, sweetling. That’s the art behind the song.”

“What do you think?”

“Memories are like ghosts,” she said. “They haunt you. Sometimes you wish they’d go away, and yet you cling to them, all at the same time.”

Kajas. She was a ghost; the memory pained me, would pain me for the thousand years of my lifespan, yet I would never wish it to leave me.

“I understand,” I said. “Do you have ghosts as well?”

“I do,” she said, kissing my forehead. “I surely do.”

Over the days that followed, Lyra, Trisha and I worked together every morning after going through the daily exercises with Tansy and Jory. I felt fully healed; I could use my left arm with no twinges or weakness. I enjoyed the time with Lyra, and knew that Tansy often visited Maege or tended the horses with Jory while we practiced. She would never recover from Arya’s death; no one ever truly does so. But Maege had been a mother to five women of this society and knew better than I how to address such deep and personal pain without the aid of telepathy. I felt a small degree of guilt for passing this task to Maege and allowing Tansy to tend to my emotional needs, but my sister did not seem to blame me for doing so and at least outwardly Tansy began to seem more like herself.

I had started to become restless when Lord Reed invited my sister and I to dine with him, his wife, the Mormonts and Lord Galbart Glover. I had not yet met Lord Glover, a large, brown-haired and friendly man who apparently had also been injured and treated by Howland Reed. We exchanged apologies for our simple clothing while servants brought out an opening course.

Tansy, having been a courtesan, knew proper table etiquette and kept watch over me with silent instructions. I thought that I maneuvered through the preliminary small talk and the soup quite well, the odd habit of eating soup with a spoon instead of drinking it directly from the bowl notwithstanding. It felt very comfortable acting in concert with my sister again. This was not, she explained, a true formal dinner as we wore the simple brown dresses Lyra had gifted us and the Mormonts wore their green family tunics and tight black leggings. I enjoyed the food, even the meat of the amphibian creatures known as “frogs” that repelled Tansy and the Mormonts. Since I found all edible animals here to be odd, I could not understand what made frogs stranger than lobsters, chickens or sheep. I had eaten far more disgusting creatures on my home world.

I had been seated between Lord Reed, who occupied a raised chair at the end of the long table, and Lord Glover, with Tansy across from me and Maege to her left. Lord Glover found me beautiful and seemed very interested in learning of my exploits in battle.

“Is it proper to ask you about the war?” I asked him in turn, during the break between courses. “I am very curious to learn of my husband.”

“No problem at all,” he said. “You are married?”

“Yes, my husband is named John Carter and commands the military forces of my city. I fear he is somewhere in Westeros, perhaps without his memory. He is a highly skilled commander and fearsome warrior, but suffered a brain injury and sometimes forgets his identity for a time.”

I was quite proud of that lie.

“You believe he may have participated in the fighting?”

“Fighting attracts him. If he is here, I am sure he would have ended up somehow involved in the war.”

“I’ve never heard the name,” Lord Glover said, “I’m sorry. What else would mark him?”

“He is a large man, tall and broad-shouldered with black hair and very pale skin. He is an exceptional swordsman, unusually fast and strong, unwilling to lie or to kill without need, but very deadly in combat.”

“Unwilling to lie. That would make it unlikely he fought for the Lannisters.”

“I am quite serious.”

“So am I,” Galbart Glover said. “All armies commit crimes against the common folk when soldiers get out of hand, as I’m sure you know.” He paused to see that I nodded. “The Lannisters order them as a matter of policy.”

“You are correct. He would not have participated in such, even without his memory.”

“No one such as you describe fought with us.” I looked at him with what I thought was a quizzical expression. “With King Robb of the North,” he clarified. “I’m sure I would have heard. King Robb collected the fiercest warriors for his personal guard.”

His voice faltered.

“I’m sorry, Lady Mormont,” he said to Maege, who was listening.

“Dacey was one of the king’s companions,” she explained. “There’s no need to walk on eggshells, Lord Glover. But thank you for the courtesy.”

I did not appreciate the egg-related metaphor, but gave no sign of my displeasure.

“If not with Robb or the Lannisters,” I asked instead, “might he have fought elsewhere?”

“Possibly with Stannis,” Lord Glover said. “The remnants of his army are in the North. Or the Tyrells, in the Reach.”

“The Reach?”

“Well to the southwest of here.”

“The enemies of Dorne,” I recalled.

“Correct, Princess,” he said. “Stannis holds fiercely to what he considers his code of honor; the Tyrells waver with the wind. There are also the Boltons in the North, but they may be worse than the Lannisters.”

“They murdered my sister’s friends.”

“That fails to surprise me,” he said. “I’m sorry for your loss, Lady Tansy.”

“Thank you,” she said. She did not mention that she actually blamed Catelyn Stark.

“You fought with King Robb?” I changed the subject.

“I did, until just before the Red Wedding. The king sent me north along with Lady Mormont and her daughters as a guard of honor for Ned Stark’s bones. I’d been wounded by a lance to the thigh and nearly drowned besides, so it was more of a command to rest and recover.”

“Dacey refused to leave Robb’s side,” Maege added. “Part of me wishes she’d come with us, part wishes I’d stayed.”

Lyra massaged her hand, while I detected deep grief from Galbart Glover. He made no outward sign, but he had held deep feelings for Dacey Mormont. I had refused Arya Stark’s request that I help kill this Frey family, but now I also wished all of them dead.

“My apologies,” Maege said, “I don’t wish to bring gloom to your table, Lord Reed.”

The servants were laying out the main course, a roasted meat that Lady Reed called “lizard-lion,” apparently a large swamp lizard. It was very tasty.

“You are going to the North?” I asked Lord Glover.

“I think that is a good introduction to the subject I wish to discuss,” Lord Reed interjected before Galbart Glover could answer. “I suspect that both Lord Glover and Lady Mormont will approve. I hope the Princess will aid us. I ask a tremendous favor.”

“I owe you my life,” I said. “I will help you however I can.”

“Thank you,” he said. “What I ask is no small thing. We march to war.”

Lord Reed explained that Sansa Stark, Arya’s sister, had gathered an army of Northern loyalists and allied with another army of knights from the land known as the Vale. They had defeated the troops of House Bolton and recaptured Winterfell. She now called on Howland Reed to gather his troops, drive the Bolton garrison out of a key fortress that controlled the road to the North, and join her at Winterfell.

“We will answer her call,” he said. “Lords Mormont and Glover have their own mission to complete, and I believe this will aid in yours as well, Princess.”

“You think John Carter can be found in the North?”

“I do not. You have a destiny to fulfill. It lies to the North.”

“We shall see,” I said. “What do you wish me to do?”

“I don’t know as yet. If you would ride with the Mormonts and be ready when we meet the enemy, that would be most appreciated.”

“I shall do so.”

“Thank you,” he said. “Lords Mormont and Glover have the bones of my friend, Ned Stark, to return to Winterfell. That carries enormous meaning for us, princess, to have the bones of our family interred in their ancestral home.”

“I understand. It does with us as well.”

This was only partially true; we do honor the remains of those who died in victorious combat. We leave the defeated for the scavengers. And John Carter had only recently ended the horrific suicidal sacrifice of many who had reached 1,000 years, only to be eaten by the depraved followers of the false goddess Issus. I did not think these tales would meet Tansy’s definition of pleasant dinner conversation.

“We also have the bones of Arya Stark,” Lord Reed continued, “which will be important to her sister. And her aunt.”

Tansy grasped my hand tightly across the table, but kept the expression on her face neutral.

“Normally only the Lords of Winterfell are buried in the crypts,” Lord Reed said, “but that is a choice for Lady Stark to make. We burned the body while you slept, as is our custom.”

“There are also our own children.” Lord Reed’s wife, Lady Jyana, spoke for the first time since our arrival at Greywater Watch.

“They are dead?” I asked, immediately regretting my words.

“No,” their father said. “Not yet, anyway. They went north to aid young Brandon Stark, following their own destiny. I regret allowing this, and would have them back.”

“I will help you,” I said impulsively.

“I have seen this,” he answered. “Thank you.”

Howland Reed then explained that we would march through the swamps, laying out his intentions for march routes, march order and provisioning – the usual arrangements for war. They seemed very similar to those I had helped prepare for Helium’s forces, though the reliance on animal transport made things much slower and gave less margin for error. I would get to ride with Jory and Lyra, which pleased me, though I resolved that I would find some reason to keep Jory with Tansy and away from any fighting. I knew without asking that Trisha would help me.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two (Dejah Thoris)

Lord Reed had already called for his followers to join us at Greywater Watch, but still it took many days for his troops to gather. I continued to practice at swords and ride my horses, and when the swamp lord indicated that the time had come, I was ready to depart.

The swamp people had cleaned our clothing, even the blue and red bloodstains on my leather battle harness, and provided us with new cloaks and leggings more suitable to Northern weather and the simple brown dresses their women favored, though sized large enough to fit us. My sister and I wore loose gray riding leggings and loose grayish-green tunics with a picture of a swamp lizard embroidered on the front, the symbol of House Reed. The tunic billowed at the sleeves and extended to just below my ass; it cinched at the waist with a black rope-like belt. I did not like covering my body to such an extent, but at least the loose fit felt less restrictive than other clothing of these lands.

Most of our little army marched on foot or paddled in wide, very-shallow-draft boats. I rode my mare, with Tansy, Jory and Lyra on my other horses – the Mormonts had arrived by ship and had no horses of their own, though Lord Reed had provided a very fine mount for Maege and a much less fine one for Trisha. A guide led us across small pieces of solid ground but also had us wade through shallow watery swamp, explaining that deep bogs could swallow an entire horse and rider without much warning. This sounded extreme, but the man believed what he told me and had apparently seen it happen himself.

The weather had turned colder during our stay at Greywater Watch, and a thin layer of ice covered the swamp each morning. The Mormonts lent Tansy and me fur-lined cloaks to help repel the growing cold of the dusk and dawn hours, but I felt comfortable without mine. At night we camped on tiny bits of more or less dry ground, laying down waterproof sheets to keep the water pressed out of the soil by our weight from soaking us. For security reasons Lord Reed forbade fires at night and I continued to serve as bedwarmer for my sister, Lyra, Jory and occasionally her protector Trisha, and enjoyed the feel of their flesh against mine. On Barsoom we sleep in this fashion in the nursery; both men and women continue to enjoy this arrangement and I suppose it comforts us to pile together once again as adults. I slept deeply and well despite the pervasive dampness.

The crannogmen seemed to enjoy the march, while most of the men and women from the North looked to be quite miserable. Lord Reed’s soldiers brought us hot food and helped find dry campsites at each halting place; I knew these to be the sort of courtesies extended to noble women of these lands and did not mind accepting them. Their lord had told them that I had unusual powers of perception and great fighting skills, and they gladly helped me with the mundane details of swamp survival.

We made progress despite the harsh terrain and deteriorating weather, and after several days Lord Reed called a halt to confer with his commanders, summoning me to join them. He explained that we approached a decaying fortress known as Moat Cailin, though it had not had an actual moat - a ditch filled with water - for at least a century. He considered this a very formidable obstacle, but his greensight had told him that I held the key to its capture. What that key might be, I could offer no clue.

As Lord Reed described Moat Cailin, I came to understand that much of its strength rested on its reputation. Perhaps in the deep past it had been a formidable fortress, but now it consisted of three decaying stone towers from which archers and crossbowmen could loose projectiles at anyone coming up the elevated roadway from the south. Maege and Lord Glover had camped there while marching south with Robb Stark’s army, and confirmed that it had few intact walls or other fortifications.

I could think of several ways to attack the towers. We could set fire to the heavy wooden doors Maege described, or I could climb the tower at night and wreak havoc on the garrison from above. I would need to see this place to gain a better idea of what could be done, but I felt confident that we could capture such an old and decrepit location.

Early the next morning Lord Reed led a small group of us through the bogs amid the rising daylight; I could detect a few swamp warriors around us but no Bolton scouts. We reached the edge of the trees and crouched behind the large exposed root of one of the swamp trees, a root known as a “bole.”

A stone tower stood in front of us, leaning bizarrely toward the right. Lord Reed explained that it was known as the Drunkard’s Tower. From its fighting positions, even a small garrison armed with bows or crossbows could devastate any force trying to make their way up the causeway leading north.

I concentrated and found that it had a garrison; I counted 42 men within including two lookouts at its crest. Both had crossbows. Two more guards stood at the single, heavy door leading within the tower, and a fifth at a large window above them, with its heavy wooden shutters open.

Looking at the tower, I estimated that perhaps half of the garrison could aim their weapons at the causeway at once. I had little experience with their primitive weaponry, but understood that the archer whose pants I had stolen on first arriving here had been considered exceptionally skilled. He could probably loose an aimed shaft in six of what these people termed “seconds,” or ten per “minute.” That would equal perhaps 200 shafts per minute, or maybe 400 over the time it would take to rush the tower with our armored foot soldiers. Not all of the archers would be as expert.

Many of those arrows would miss their target while others would be deflected by shields or armor. My first impression had been correct: Moat Cailin depended on an outdated reputation. A determined attacker could certainly capture this place, were she willing to accept losses. Still, that meant that men and some women would die. Possibly including Lyra Mormont, or me. I did not wish for this to happen if I could avoid it.

Lyra crouched next to me behind the bole.

“You have been inside that tower?” I whispered.

“Yes. When we marched south.”

“It is in good condition?”

“Terrible,” she said. “Interior doors won’t close because the tower’s sagged. Takes four or five men to close and open the outer ones. Supports are collapsing and someone’s shored them up with added wood. There’s widespread rot in the floors and wooden support beams. Stones fall off of the top. That’s true for all three towers.”

We ducked back out of sight and I considered what I had learned. An idea formed, and I waved to Lord Reed to show that I wanted to discuss our plans. We retreated some distance back into the swamp, to a long-collapsed stone fortification where we could speak without giving away our position. I sat on a fallen pillar along with Lyra Mormont, Lord Reed and several soldiers from all three houses.

“There are 42 men within, most of them asleep,” I said. “Five guards on duty: two at the door, one right above, two on top of the tower.”

“What do you suggest?” Lord Reed asked.

I thought for a moment, and saw that one of the Mormont fighters, a man named Marsden, carried a war hammer.

“Might I use your hammer?” I asked him. He looked surprised, but handed it over. I stood and chose one of the fallen stones on the opposite side of the fallen wall, so that fragments would not strike my friends. I struck it with as powerful an overhead swing as I could muster; it shattered into several pieces.

The hammer did not seem damaged. I resumed my seat.

“May I use this against the tower?”

“Whatever you wish, Princess,” Marsden said. “I have a sword as well.”

“You plan to attack the tower itself?” Lord Reed asked.

“Yes,” I said. “There must be only a few keystones keeping the tower from collapse. I will slither through the mud to the tower, rise up and smash those stones. The angle is so steep that it does not appear that they can shoot at me from the tower.”

“They can pour out and attack you as soon as they feel the hammer blows,” Lyra pointed out.

“We will need help from the swamp bowmen,” I said. “They will need to suppress the Boltons trying to exit the tower.”

“That can be arranged,” Lord Reed said. “Would you not rather wait for nightfall?”

I thought on that suggestion.

“They do not know that we have arrived,” I said. “That leaves a full day for them to notice us. Let us attack now.” 

A short time later, Lyra had applied mud to my entire body, and stuck a few swamp plants into my harness. I felt very dirty, but I enjoyed her touch; as had happened at Harrenhal, the soldiers for their part enjoyed watching us. I gathered a number of extra daggers for throwing from the nearby fighters, plus a second war hammer in case the first broke under the strain. I reluctantly left my sword with Lyra.

Slowly, I slithered forward through the mud, keeping close watch on the thoughts of the guards on watch. When they looked away, I crawled forward a short distance. That slowed my advance, but eventually I had reached the low wall in front of the tower. I stretched my arms and legs, then waved to the waiting lords to signal my readiness.

The swamp warriors advanced out from their hidden positions, each bowman accompanied by another fighter, often a Mormont or Glover soldier, bearing a shield. When they started loosing arrows at the guards, I hefted both hammers, vaulted over the wall and raced to the tower’s overhang. I slipped twice on the damp ground, but did not fall. No one within saw me.

As Lyra had said, the tower had not seen repairs for years, perhaps decades. The sun rarely shone underneath the leaning structure, and the building stones were covered with small plant life and very wet. Much of the mortar had crumbled away over the years, and many of the stones had deep cracks within them.

I chose what seemed to be the central stone, rubbed my hands, and crashed the hammer into it with a level swing backed by as much power as I could muster. And that was quite a lot; the once-smooth stone immediately turned into fragments. The tower began to groan and lean over toward me; I prepared to strike it again but the structure had clearly begun to fall. For reasons I did not understand I snatched up the second hammer before I leapt out of the way and scrambled back over the broken wall. Again, no one within the tower saw me. I pressed my body tightly to the wet ground, inadvertently taking some mud into my mouth. I spat it out.

The tower’s garrison had other things on their mind than looking for me. A few tried to run out the door, only to be shot down by the swamp fighters’ arrows. Most succumbed to panic and ran about screaming, shouting and arguing. They went down with the tower, which fell across the road with a terrible crashing noise. I felt a powerful pulse race through the ground as the structure collapsed, then rose to admire the destruction I had wrought.

A massive cloud of dust shrouded the remains of the tower, which now thoroughly blocked the causeway leading north. No one had survived uninjured; several swamp fighters began to sort through the wreckage and finish off the wounded.

Lyra joined me, handing over my sword. I gratefully took it and slung the belt over my shoulder. I returned the war hammers and daggers to their owners, several of whom slapped me on the shoulder. Marsden gave me an animal skin filled with water, and I rinsed the muck out of my mouth.

“Impressive,” Lyra said.

“I only struck it once,” I said. “I do not think it would have lasted for much longer in any event.”

“I’m still impressed. Remind me not to anger you.”

“You could never do so.”

“You’d be surprised,” she said. “Let’s have a look at the other towers.”

The wreckage of the Drunkard’s Tower lay within range of the Bolton troops in the large structure known as the Gatehouse Tower, and now bolts and arrows began to land on the stones. Lyra and I climbed atop the small wall behind which I had sheltered, but advanced no further.

Panic had taken over the Gatehouse garrison, which numbered over 100 men. They continued to rain their projectiles on the corpses of their comrades and the ruins they had defended, and I could detect furious arguments under way within their fortification. Some held that the Drunkard’s Tower had collapsed of its own accord and they had nothing to fear; others claimed that they were faced with some new weapon and should withdraw immediately.

I knew that we needed to attack them, somehow, as quickly as possible before they calmed themselves. Yet I could not think of any means that would not result in my being shot full of arrows. I explained my thinking to Lyra.

“We have shields,” she said.

“The crossbow bolts will go through . . .” I heard my voice trail off as I lost that thought, my eyes fixed on the heavy wooden door that had once protected the Drunkard’s Tower.

“But they will not go through that,” I finished.

The rain of arrows had ceased, so I cautiously moved forward to pick up the door and bring it back behind the wall. It had thick bolts that I could grasp to hold it in place, and though heavy, I could heft it over my head. Lord Reed joined us as I shifted its weight to find the most comfortable angle.

“I will cross to the Gatehouse Tower under cover of this door,” I told him. “Advance your archers behind me as you feel best, but do not risk their lives without need. I will smash in the door to the tower and we will storm it before the Boltons have regained their wits.”

“I’m coming with you,” Lyra said, taking a spare shield and a heavy axe from a Mormont soldier. He slipped his own shield off his back and rose to follow.

“I would like that,” I told Lyra. “Stay under the door, you will not need that.”

“I will if they come out of the tower to shoot at us from ground level.”

I should have foreseen that problem myself. I nodded, and looked at the soldier.

“Jarack, princess,” he introduced himself. “Figure you’ll need cover from both sides.”

“That is very true,” I said. “Thank you.”

The three of us set out across open ground, very wet with some patches of deep mud. Arrows and bolts struck the top of the door, most of them bouncing off due to the angle but a few sticking. None came close to striking us.

I could not run while carrying our protective cover, but found a long-striding pace I could manage. Eventually a pair of enemy archers came out of our target’s heavy door and loosed arrows at us; I stopped so that my companions could cover us with their shields but both arrows went well wide of us. Their second shots were little better.

We reached the heavy doors to the tower just as the archers scrambled back inside and slammed them shut. Someone pulled open a small armored window in the door and pointed a crossbow out; I rested our cover on the ground, grabbed the crossbow’s stirrup and yanked it forward as hard as I could. The crossbow’s wielder crashed into the inside of the doors and fell to the floor badly injured.

I kicked the door repeatedly with my hobnailed boots; it shuddered and its hinges began to weaken. Lyra offered me the battle axe, but I would have needed both hands to wield it. Jarack tried to give the door a blow with the axe, but did not have enough room for a full swing. I could not move our protective cover as someone had started dropping rocks and other objects on us so I dared not put it down. The armored slot in the tower door opened again and this time someone tried to look out at us; Lyra jammed her sword into the opening and the observer screamed.

I detected five more crossbowmen awaiting us while the tower’s commander gathered ten men with swords to meet us. Two injured men slumped against the inside of the doors. When the tower doors seemed ready to give, I told Jarack to move aside and smashed our own door into them, knocking the tower doors off their hinges and crushing the injured men underneath. I shoved our door away and pulled Lyra to the floor, throwing myself over her as five crossbow bolts whirred over us. Jarack waved to the Reed warriors while Lyra and I leapt to our feet. I let out a lengthy and very satisfying scream as we charged into the tower’s wide lower room. And then we were along the Boltons. The crossbowmen ran up the stairs, leaving their comrades to face us.

Lyra and I fought as we had trained, in the paired style of Helium. I took the lead and Lyra covered my flanks. The Boltons hesitated, and I slashed the first man across the throat while Lyra stabbed his neighbor in his unarmored chest. The next man I faced raised his sword, but I knocked it down before he could strike and Lyra stuck her blade into his exposed face, then disarmed the man to her right with an unexpected back-swing that sent his blade tumbling out of his hands. I ran him through with my sword in my right hand while my left foot crushed the instep of the man to my own left. When he bent over in pain, I grabbed the back of his head and smashed it into my upraised left knee, snapping his neck and leaving me with a painful bruise.

In a few breaths we had killed seven of the ten swordsmen attempting to stop us. Two of them turned and ran, while their commander remained to face us alone.

“Yield,” Lyra said.

“Fuck you, bitch.” He charged with a wild swing. I side-stepped his attack and ran him through just as the first swamp warriors surged through the shattered door.

“You should not have called my friend ‘bitch’,” I told him as he died. Reed fighters surged past us.

“Watch for ambushes,” I shouted to the crannogmen. “They have crossbowmen waiting.”

I pulled my sword free of the Bolton commander’s chest and flexed my arms, sore from carrying the heavy door through a muddy morass. Lyra reached over and gently slapped my face with a bloody hand. She said nothing, but smiled.

“That is not your blood?” I asked, prepared to become upset.

“No, I’m fine. You?”

“I am tired from lifting that door, but also unhurt.”

“How’s your shoulder?”

“It seems solid. I believe that I have fully recovered.”

We decided that we deserved a drink of wine, but could find none. We waited until Jarack reported the tower cleared, then climbed to the watch-posts on its roof. From there we could see the last occupied fortification, known as the Children’s Tower.

“You have a plan to take that one?” Lyra asked as we leaned out of the gaps in the wall surrounding the top of the tower, openings known as “crenellations.” “What are they thinking?”

I concentrated, moving from one man’s thoughts to another.

“There are thirty of them, some from House Frey and some from Bolton. They do not like one another. They are not sure that this tower has fallen. Some wish to surrender, some wish to force us to starve them out. They are very angry with one another.”

“Angry enough to fight?”

“I believe so.”

She called to a pair of swamp warriors atop the tower with us.

“Can you find a large banner? As large as you can, and bring it up here.”

They nodded and hurried down the stairs into the tower.

“Is there anything you can do to agitate them further?”

“No. I can understand their thoughts, but can only project thoughts to another telepath, one who can also read them.”

“Can we do the door thing again?”

“I do not think I could carry it that distance without some rest first.”

The two fighters returned with a very large banner displaying a swamp lizard trying to bite its own tail, the same emblem I had worn on my tunic. It was swamp gray-green, which meant that it blended with the coating of tiny plants that made the tower a similar shade of green. We slung the banner off the edge of the tower and weighted it in place with loose stones I pulled out of the rampart.

“Do they see it?”

I scanned the other tower.

“No. The lookouts atop the tower have commenced fighting one another. No one is watching us.”

“Care to pay them a visit?”

“Let us go.”

We climbed down the tower’s stairs and then walked across the open ground between the two towers. Lyra had retrieved her shield, in case someone noticed us. A few swamp fighters began slowly sneaking forward as well, using every tussock and stone to hide their advance. But no one saw us, and soon we had arrived at the tower’s door, yet another heavy wooden barrier reinforced with iron bands and large bolts like those on the other towers.

I pounded on the door. The slot opened and someone looked out; Lyra once again stabbed the watcher in the eye. I wondered how we would smash our way through, and pushed gently on the door to test its strength. It swung open with some scraping and creaking; it had not been barred.

Directly in front of us, a man in Frey clothing wrestled one wearing a pink overcoat with a corpse on it that I believed to be the Bolton insignia. They grasped each other tightly, each with a dagger in one hand, and I ran them both through. The men died while still trying to stab one another.

I put my foot on the back of the Frey man and shoved the two combatants forward to clear my sword. No one else seemed to notice us; all of the men remained locked in their own dances of death. I stood in the doorway to block their escape, while this time Lyra went outside to wave the swamp warriors forward. When our allies arrived they began shooting down the Freys and Boltons with arrows, turning their battle into a scene of mutual death within moments. The Reed soldiers then swept through the tower, killing several more men and capturing the garrison’s commander, a short, fat and very dirty man named Nage.

Lyra and I cleaned our swords and awaited our sisters; I had picked up Jory’s approaching thoughts along with Tansy and Trisha. They brought wine, and the five of us climbed to the top of the tower to share it. Despite her youth Jory had been on battlefields before and stepped over the dead without showing very much reaction.

“Lord Glover said the two of you are mad,” she reported as we marched up the stairs. “Something about charging the Gatehouse Tower with only a door as a shield?”

“It was a very thick door,” I said. “I held it over our heads. Lyra and Jarack had shields in case someone shot at us from ground level.”

“And you chopped down the Drunkard’s Tower?”

“It was close to collapse already.”

“And stormed this one, the Children’s Tower, you two alone?”

“They were already fighting themselves. I killed two of them but the rest never noticed us.”

“They sing songs about heroes who did less.” Jory smiled, unsure herself if she were jesting.

“You’ve had a busy afternoon,” Tansy said as we each climbed atop one of the upright segments of the fortified wall atop the tower, known as a “merlon.” “And you smell bad.” She handed me a skin bag filled with wine, and a cloth to wipe some of the mud off my face.

“Lord Reed said no one had ever captured this place,” Trisha said, “coming from the south.”

“I find that hard to believe,” I said, pointing to the fallen stones of the Drunkard’s Tower. “The towers could not support one another and had no linking fortifications between them. Not for many years, at least. No sentries outside the towers, no patrols. The commander here was extremely careless.”

“I’ll trust your judgement on matters military,” Tansy said. “But the legend exists nonetheless. Now it includes you.”

I had agreed to help in the assault out of friendship and gratitude; I had not intended to become a minor legend. I had succeeded thanks to my training and experience, along with my enhanced strength and a healthy portion of good fortune, but I still did not consider myself a warrior.

John Carter, on the other hand, had far more skills than I, an instinctive talent for battlefield decision-making along with extensive experience, and at least on Barsoom had even greater strength than what I had been granted here. I had captured a garrisoned castle, assassinated a crowned ruler, sunk a pirate ship and now conquered an unconquerable fortress.

No tales of even greater exploits by some mysterious outlander had come my way. Neither Queen Cersei nor Galbart Glover had heard of anyone like John Carter. While some other armed factions remained to be investigated, the probability of finding him in their ranks seemed remote. 

Marsden, whose hammer I had borrowed, came up the tower stairs searching for me. He bade me join the Lords Reed, Glover and Mormont in questioning Nage, the commander of the Bolton garrison. Trisha followed me. We found Nage secured in a small room within the Children’s Tower apparently used as an office, only two levels below the roof.

“Apologies for taking you from the other girls,” Maege said, smiling. “Our prisoner is not very talkative.”

“What do you wish to know?”

“Whatever he does.”

“That,” I said, “is a large request.”

“Chiefly, what does he know of the situation in the North, and the Bolton plans.”

“Whether the Bolton army approaches?”


“Leave me with him.”

The lords and their accompanying soldiers filed out; I asked Trisha to remain with me with Marsden and Jarack outside the door. Trisha’s male comrades did not know of my telepathy, but I knew that they could be trusted to remain silent should they discover my ability. I took the chair behind the office’s desk and propped my boots on its surface. Mud dripped onto the papers scattered about. Wishing to look nonchalant, I picked up a document and pretended to read it, casting it aside when the prisoner’s thoughts showed that I held it upside-down.

“I won’t talk,” the prisoner said when we were alone. He was tied firmly to a wooden chair, placed to face the desk. Trisha stood directly behind him. “Anything you two bitches do to me, Ramsay will do worse.”

“That is likely,” I agreed. “Therefore I will not bother to torture you.”

He was slightly relieved; he feared me though he could not understand why I was coated in stinking swamp mud.

“Ramsay Bolton has been defeated in the North and retreats southward. You were ordered to hold this place until he arrived, gathering supplies, and then join the remnants of his defeated army on a march to the south in an attempt to reach the Lannister army. You do not know how many men survived but based on no actual evidence believe the number to be small. You have collected no additional supplies and your troops were on the point of mutiny over their lack of pay.”

“You learned none of that from me.”

“I learned all of that from you. I can read others’ thoughts. I cannot extract information if you do not think of it but you helpfully made a list in your mind of those things you would not tell my friends.”

“You lie.”

“I do not lie. And my mother was a princess, not a demon.”

“You . . . get out of my head.”

“I am afraid that I cannot do that. Do you have any other useful information?”


“You appear to tell the truth. The Bolton family did not trust you with their plans.”

“I stood by Lord Roose through all the campaigns in the South.”

“And then his son murdered him? Why do you stand by him?” I probed for the obvious answer. “Because he will tear off your skin if you do not.”


“You are not the first to so name me. It rarely ends well for those who do.”

I could tell that the lords and their guards waited outside the office door. I asked Trisha to call for them to enter and repeated what I had learned.

“He wishes to murder me. Please have him executed immediately, or I will feel it necessary to throw him out the window. He should not have called me ‘bitch’.”

“Take his head,” Lord Reed told Trisha. “Burn his body like the others.”

Jarack and Marsden dragged Nage away; he said nothing more. Trisha followed, slowly turning the axe she’d taken from Marsden.

“How did you manage that without torture?” Lord Glover asked.

“I have many skills.”

“That became obvious,” he said, “when you cut down one tower and captured two others, single-handed.”

“That is not fully correct,” I said. “Lyra Mormont and the soldier Jarack were with me.”

We camped at Moat Cailin for two more days, while the soldiers built large fires to burn the dead and dragged the wreckage of the Drunkard’s Tower away from the Kingsroad. Howland Reed hoped to meet Ramsay Bolton’s advance while still amid the swamps, where his men would have the advantage of familiarity of terrain, and so was in no hurry to move on.

I took over a chamber on the top level of the Gatehouse Tower, along with Tansy, Lyra and Jory. We probably should have helped with the work, but instead we rested, ate and drank and took long baths in a large metal tub someone had left in the room. My escapade with the door had left me somewhat sore, so I had a small excuse for shirking. Before leaving Barsoom it would never have occurred to me to even consider that I might participate in physical labor, let alone feel guilt for failing to do so.

When we finally set out, our little army marched directly up the Kingsroad, with a cloud of scouts covering all four flanks. The road leading north from the swamp lands remained a rutted track, but at least the ground had hardened from the frost and we did not have to deal with mud.

Now that we had reached a real road, we could ride more easily and I spent a good deal of time alongside Jory Mormont. She taught me about the lands through which we passed: their animals, trees and plants. Very few people lived here, and according to Jory, this remained true throughout the North, though the population would not be as sparse everywhere.

As Jory chattered, I watched Tansy and Lyra riding side-by-side ahead of us. I had realized that in place of reading thoughts, these people often relied on reading what they called “body language.” That seemed far less effective, and prone to misinterpretation. As far as I could tell with my limited experience, Tansy appeared at ease with Lyra, laughing as Lyra told a story accompanied by broad hand gestures.

“She’s so much better now,” Jory said, following my eyes.

“Am I that obvious?”

“Yes,” she said, “but I don’t blame you. She didn’t laugh like that when she first brought you to Greywater Watch.”

Seeing Tansy’s happiness lightened my own spirits. For once, I did not feel the depressing weight of my actions, nor feel myself a lonely outcast. Tansy was not an outlier – other women of this world accepted me, even knowing me to be an alien who had cut a swath of murder and mayhem across Westeros.

“I owe the Mormont family a great deal.”

“No, you don’t,” Jory answered. “That’s just what friends do.”

“Things are so much easier when thoughts are open to others.”

“I’d imagine there are just as many added problems.”

I thought about that for a moment.

“I suppose that there are,” I said. “It is easy to prefer what you know.”

“Or despise it. I like Bear Island. My cousin Jorah couldn’t wait to escape, or so I’m told.”

“It is like these lands?”

“They’re all part of the North,” she explained. “The trees look much like these, but the heavy winds off the ice make them grow far more slowly and often in twisted shapes. The seas can be huge – big gray waves pounding against the rocks. It’s beautiful.”

“You wish to return.”

“I do. I can spend whole days just looking at the trees, finding birds’ nests in the rocks. Like that one,” she said, pointing to a collection of small pieces of wood and dead leaves jammed into a tree.

“They give birth there?”

“Not exactly,” she said. “They lay eggs there and then protect them until they hatch and then until they can fly on their own.”

“They defend their young?”


Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Three (Dejah Thoris)

We had left the swamps behind us, but still had no contact with Ramsay Bolton’s army. We encountered no travelers, but on the fifth day after leaving Moat Cailin a Reed warrior named Sabas rode up and asked me to join the scouts at the front of our little column. He was of middle age, short like all of the crannogmen, and a veteran of the constant skirmishes with the Freys along the southern edges of the swamp. His thoughts showed great respect for me, for having killed Black Walder.

I nodded to Lyra and she rode with me; we dismounted where Sabas indicated and followed him to where one of his fellows lay at the top of a grass-covered hill, dropping to the ground and wriggling forward to the crest.

“Lord Reed says you have your own sort of greensight,” Sabas whispered. “What do you see, Princess?”

I looked out at the ground below. The road passed through a wider open area than it had during our march, and there a tiny army had arrayed itself to block passage from the south. They spanned the open area between the forests on either side, with about 500 men in three ranks. I scanned carefully for any other enemies.

“It is an ambush,” I said just as softly. “There are men in the woods to both sides.”

“We spotted them,” he said. “Perhaps 200 on each side?”

“I agree. They have bows and arrows. Did you encounter scouts?”

“Not that I’d call scouts. Pickets, more like, too close to the main body for us to take any prisoner. Can you tell what’s behind them?”

I concentrated again. I found no reserves behind the small enemy army and only a few horses at the very edge of my range. I picked out a few individuals and sorted through their thoughts. They expected us, but had no accurate count of our forces. They were all hungry, and apparently had eaten most of their horses in the recent past – more than one man was angry at having had to march on foot.

I sought their commander, but could not find him. I did find that the men in the woods had been ordered to remain hidden until their comrades on the road became engaged with the approaching Reed forces, then attack them from the flanks. They had been ordered to send out no scouts, so as not to give away their ambush.

“They have only what I believe to be their command group’s horses,” I said, “and no reserves. They stake all on their ambush. Let us tell your lord.”

The Lords Reed, Mormont and Glover awaited us. I knelt and drew the enemy alignment in the dirt, Sabas nodding his agreement and adding some comments on the nature of the forests and condition of the ground.

“They have no mounted troops,” I said. “And no reserve.”

“What do you suggest?” Lord Reed asked.

“What my city’s army would call a ‘double envelopment.’ We divide our forces and strike from either flank, taking their hidden forces from behind. Our best-armored troops advance straight up the road to hold their attention.”

“Bold and dangerous,” Lord Glover mused. “Dividing our force in the face of the enemy is generally frowned upon.”

“Fortune favors the bold,” I quoted John Carter, in turn quoting some famed warrior of Dirt.

Lord Reed pondered; his thoughts showed him unwilling to risk his men needlessly but realizing that a quick victory would actually lessen the bloodletting.

“You’re confident?” he asked me.

“You saw her at Moat Cailin,” Galbart Glover said.

“I will lead the Northern fighters up the road,” I said, drawing in the dirt with my finger. “We will halt out of range and insult them. I will challenge their lord to single combat, which he will refuse but that will provide additional time. Split your swamp fighters to attack both of the hidden groups from the rear. We will kill them all.”

Howland Reed looked to the other lords.

“It’s your command,” Lord Glover said. “But King Robb would have liked this plan.”

“I trust the Princess,” Maege added. “After Moat Cailin, the men will follow her anywhere. The women, too.”

The swamp lord nodded.

“Let’s make it so.” 

Jory and Trisha helped me dress. I put on Jory’s coat of ringed armor and the underlying padded tunic known as a “gambeson”; they fit me and must have been very uncomfortable on her smaller frame. The armor fell to a point between my knees and waist; the padding only went to a point slightly lower than my ass. I also took her shield but not her helmet. I hoped that I would not need the protection, but taking it from Jory assured that Maege would keep her with Tansy and the horses well behind our troops, and this eased my mind. I also wore the garment Jory called a “surcoat,” which covered the armor and had a picture of a bear on it. Trisha’s thoughts showed her eager to fight, and I nodded to her silent question.

Lord Reed had assigned me all of the Mormont and Glover warriors, the better-armored Reed soldiers, and stragglers from other Northern houses who had gathered at Greywater Watch after parting from Robb Stark’s army. In all I had about 500 men and perhaps 30 women, all of the latter from House Mormont except one from a house known as Umber. All were experienced fighters, and when I asked them to form a shield wall they did so quickly and expertly.

I placed Maege behind our ranks, to keep them ordered. Galbart Glover would lead the left wing through the forest and Howland Reed the right. Lord Glover had briefly objected that his place was in front of his men, but allowed that not all of us could lead from the front and someone needed to direct the flanking movements. His thoughts said that he had hoped to impress me with his valor.

I stood in front, with Trisha and Lyra; Tansy and Jory remained with a guard of swamp fighters with our small number of horses and our baggage train. And then we marched down the road. Lords Glover and Reed with their men had already set out, and I kept track of their thoughts though both soon moved to the very edge of my range.

“Stay with me,” I told my companions. “The soldiers need to see us before the battle. We will fall behind the line before it makes contact, so the soldiers can still hear us. Do not become tied up in individual fighting; we will go wherever we are needed.”

“I’ve done this before,” Lyra said, smiling.

“I know. I only confirm that we have the same plan.”

“Sticking with you seems a pretty good plan.”

“We will attempt to meet with them,” I said. “You will speak for us. Attempt to annoy them, and challenge their leader to single combat with me. If they demand two champions, Lyra and I will fight.”

“I’m not afraid to fight,” Trisha said. “Any of those bastards.”

“I know that,” I said. “Lyra and I have worked together a great deal more than you and I. You are my friend, and I would have you stay alive.”

She remained unhappy, but could not deny that she lacked Lyra’s skill with the sword, and had not practiced as intensely with me in paired combat.

“I will teach you both the triple style,” I said. “After this campaign is complete.”

We soon spotted the waiting Bolton army. I called our troops to a halt well beyond the range of enemy arrows, and ordered them to fall into their three ranks for battle. Our line did not quite reach the forest on either side. I would have preferred a thicker line, but did not wish us to be easily flanked in case something went wrong with our battle plan.

We walked out toward the enemy, Trisha and I on either side of Lyra, who would speak for us. I left my sword in its scabbard and Jory’s shield slung over my back. Two knights walked out from the enemy lines to meet us; as they drew closer, I saw that they wore a black horse’s head on an orange background as the symbol on their surcoats. They each carried a helmet and wore ringed armor like ours, but no other protection. We halted and let them approach; I did not want to rush this meeting so that Lord Reed had enough time to launch his attack before we had to fight.

“Three Mormont bitches,” one of the knights said. They looked almost identical to me; definitely brothers and possibly twins, which fascinated me – we have no twins on Barsoom. “Part of the She-Bear’s gigantic litter. Which ones are you?”

“Lyra Mormont,” Lyra said. “You’ve heard of my sister Dacey and my cousin Beth Cassel.”

“I’ve heard they’re dead.”

“You heard wrong. Apparently, you’ve been told many lies, ser, and forgotten your courtesies.”

I had not expected Lyra to name me as her dead sister - she had no idea of that concept’s importance in my culture, or my growing desire to become her sister - but I understood that she wished to undermine the brothers’ confidence in their leader.

“Ser Roger Ryswell,” the first knight said. “My brother, Ser Rickard.”

“You serve Roose Bolton?”

“Roose is dead. We follow Ramsay.”

Their thoughts showed uneasiness about following Ramsay Bolton, but they feared they would be killed out of hand by the other Northerners for their treason. That was certainly my companions’ desire.

“And why is he not here to speak for himself?”

“Because he sent us in his place.”

“We’re all of the North,” Lyra said. “Surely we need not shed Northern blood today. Join us.”

“It’s gone too far for that,” the knight said. “You chose to follow the Starks. We chose the new order.”

“You chose poorly.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps not.”

“You wish to march south,” I finally spoke. “We will not allow this.”

“Dornish whore,” his brother now spoke as well. “You’re no Mormont. Nor is the red-head; the little Cassel bitch with the sweet tits and tight cunt was a dirty blonde. Ramsay broke her in good and gave us all a taste before he did for her, so get your lies straight. And we’ll go where we please. Bend the knee to Lord Ramsay, and he’ll spare you. After he takes his pleasure.”

“That will not happen,” I said. “So fight us. Paired combat. Two brothers, two sisters. The army of the losers will submit to the winners.”

“How chivalrous. You know neither side will submit.”

“I do. But it will assure me of the chance to kill you personally.”

He laughed. But he had threatened Lyra with rape. He would die today.

“Go tell the men,” he told his brother. “The two of us will kill all three of these bitches.”

The other Ryswell walked toward his own army, shouting to them that we would now hold a duel. Lyra did the same for our troops. From Lord Reed’s thoughts, I knew that he was moments from launching his attack, while Galbart Glover on the left flank only awaited Lord Reed’s signal.

“It’s nothing personal,” Roger Ryswell said, sneering as he slowly drew his sword.

“It is for me,” I answered, drawing my own sword. “You should not have called me ‘bitch’.”

“Valyrian steel,” he said, lifting his helmet. “You know how to use it?”

“No,” I said, stepping forward and raising my left knee sharply into his unarmored genitals, which are far more vulnerable to such attack than those of a man of Barsoom. He fell to his knees with a howl and I brought the pommel of my sword down on the top of his uncovered head, stunning him. I placed my sword’s point in the hollow at the base of his throat and jammed it home. John Carter would have taken him prisoner; that option did not occur to me until he was already dead.

“Roger!” the other Ryswell shouted, charging at us with his sword drawn as I pulled my blade free of his twin’s corpse. Trisha parried his strike and stabbed him in the chest before he could return his blade into ready position; his momentum pressed her sword through his body.

“Just like you taught me,” she said as she placed her booted foot on Rickard Ryswell’s abdomen and kicked his dying body free of her sword. “Parry and counter-strike.”

Before I could answer, men came crashing out of the woods, running in panic with arrows flying after them. I signaled to our troops to advance, grabbing Trisha by the back of her ringed armor’s collar to stop her from rushing into the oncoming arrows.

“Not yet,” I shouted into her ear over the rising roar of excited men. “You will have your chance.”

Our line ran over Ramsay Bolton’s fleeing men, killing those who had survived the swamp warriors’ arrows. My companions and I fell behind our third rank. When our shield wall reached the enemy their line – mostly Ryswell soldiers, I now understood – had already begun to crumble under attack on both its flanks.

I shouted to our troops to keep their formation, and we steadily cut down the disordered enemy. Many now tried to surrender, but our own fighters, bitterly angry over what they saw as treason, cut them down or speared them where they knelt. Had I spared the Ryswell, our men would have killed him anyway. Our troops tried to run forward individually, but Maege kept the lines in order while Lyra and I rushed about shouting for discipline. Only when I was sure that Lord Reed’s and Lord Glover’s men had closed completely around the Bolton army did I release the first rank for a general pursuit, but I kept the second and third ranks in line. Lyra remained with me while Trisha joined the hunt.

Within a short time the battle had ended. Ramsay Bolton himself and a few followers escaped on their handful of horses. The Northerners took no prisoners.

With my sister, the Mormonts and Lords Reed and Glover I sat at a fire built by the swamp fighters, while they collected the dead and burned them. We had lost less than twenty men, mostly Reed fighters cut down by unlucky arrows, and counted over a thousand dead Bolton and Ryswell soldiers.

“I won’t doubt you again, Princess,” Lord Glover said as I took my place nestled next to Tansy. “Not even King Robb had that sort of mind for battle.”

“Was he trained for it?” I asked.

“As far as I know, no more than any other highborn warrior.”

“We study war in my lands – the outcome of old battles, how they were fought, how the armies maneuvered, and most importantly how to keep them supplied. My husband commands our forces, but as a princess I had to learn of these things.”

“King Robb spoke of old battles when giving his orders,” Lord Glover said, “and seemed inspired by their lessons.”

“That is our way as well. The past does not repeat itself, but one can learn from similar situations.”

He thought wistfully of how Robb might have survived had he married me instead of a fairly insipid merchant’s daughter, then realized that I was probably ten years older than his king – an estimate that was only short by about 750 of their years. He had been loyal to King Robb, but genuinely liked him as well.

“What is next?” I asked Lord Reed.

“Dispose of the bodies, collect the spoils, and then camp a little north of here tonight.”

“And Ramsay Bolton?”

“I’ve already sent scouts to seek him,” Howland Reed said. “He likes to attack unprepared enemy camps, so we will be extra watchful as well.” 

Two days later, we descended into a small tree-filled valley that the swamp lord called a “glen.” Snow had begun falling on the previous day. I detected thoughts ahead: the remnants of Ramsay Bolton’s army, less than fifty men, waited in the trees for us. I told the swamp lord to halt our column.

We dismounted and left some of the men holding the horses, while the rest of us spread out and entered the forest on either side of the road. Tansy remained with Maege and Jory among the horse-holders, while Lyra and I joined the Mormont fighters. Trisha made to join us as well, but I gestured for her to remain with Jory and Tansy. She nodded and drew her sword. We vastly outnumbered those who would ambush us, and I hoped we could finish them.

As I crept through the trees, my foot struck something under the snow. I reached down to feel for it and picked it up. It was simply a rock, ovoid-shaped and about the size of a just-laid thoat egg. I still had it in my hand when I spotted a small group of people in a clearing ahead.

In the center of them stood a man whose thoughts identified him as Ramsay Snow. As telepaths know, one usually obtains a stranger’s name in their first thoughts because Barsoomian etiquette calls for them to send it if for some reason they are unable to speak. Otherwise, few people ever think of their own name. And even the strongest telepath can only read what is in the thoughts of another – if they don’t think about it, there is nothing to read. But it is difficult for an untrained mind to avoid thinking of pink zitidars.

Ramsay Snow thought of how his real name had become Ramsay Bolton, the head of House Bolton now that he had killed his father. He continued to speak of himself in the third person in his rambling internal monologue, sometimes as Ramsay Snow and sometimes as Ramsay Bolton. He would destroy all of his enemies, including those about to be ambushed on the road now. He told the four young women around him that he would capture our leaders and take his vengeance on them, flaying the skin from their flesh as he had a young boy of the Stark family. He hoped to capture women in particular to torture; the anticipation aroused him. He waved a small knife to emphasize his words and thoughts.

He was quite insane.

Each of the young women stared adoringly at him, drinking in every word. Their thoughts revealed three hoping to be chosen to receive orgasm; the fourth hoped that she and one of the others would be chosen to pleasure Ramsay Snow together. Each was easily as insane as her master, and three of them each held the leash of a large, angry and very hungry dog.

All five of them stared as Lyra and I stepped into the clearing. Ramsay Snow considered which of us he would rather rape. I wanted to draw my sword, but still had the rock in my hand. I almost dropped it, but instead hefted it and considered throwing it at him before using my sword. He noticed my indecision.

“I’ll wager,” he taunted, “that you throw like a girl.”

That decided me. I hurled the rock at Ramsay Snow as hard as I could, rolling it off my fingers to make it spin. I aimed for his face, but it struck him at the base of his throat. He dropped his little skinning knife and his arms began to flail wildly about as he fell to his knees. He grasped at his throat, where the rock had become lodged, and tried to pull it free as blood spurted from the wound. Then he fell forward into the snow. His body continued to jerk spasmodically, but I could tell he was already dying.

I do throw like a girl. A fast and deadly girl.

His friends dropped the leashes of their dogs, which charged at us making their “bark” sounds and sending out great clouds of spittle as they ran through the snow. All of the women carried bows, but their thoughts indicated that the strings had become wet, rendering them useless. And so they came running behind the dogs, wildly yelling and waving swords.

I moved closer to Lyra and drew my sword. I tried to contact the dogs telepathically, but they were consumed with battle frenzy. Fortunately, I wore the heavy gloves I had taken from Brienne, leather with thick padding over them and an outer layer of very well-made “mail” armor with small and very flexible links.

The dogs had opened a lead over the women, and when the first one reached us, I rammed my armored right hand into its open mouth and sharply snapped its lower jaw downward, breaking it. The dog whimpered and fell to the ground as I slashed the second dog, coming in from my left, across its forelegs, taking off its left leg and damaging its right. As it howled, I spun right and sank my sword deeply into the flank of the dog charging at Lyra.

Lyra kept her blade in ready position and the first of Ramsay’s women to reach us simply ran onto her sword. She was rather fat with a plump face, and large breasts squeezed into a tight black corset with their pale, soft flesh spilling over the top. She dropped her sword and fell onto her back, her battle cry instantly silenced.

The next woman, thin with long brown hair and also dressed in a black corset, swung her sword awkwardly at Lyra, who stepped backward to easily dodge the blow. Lyra blocked the back-swing with a hard parry that knocked the sword out of the woman’s hands. She stared open-mouthed with her hands dangling slackly at her sides as Lyra hesitated to kill an unarmed woman.

“No,” the woman whispered. “Please, no.”

“Kill her!” I shouted. “Kill her now!”

Snapping back to full awareness, Lyra rammed her sword into the center of the thin woman’s chest, pushed it through her body up to its hilt and then pulled it free. The woman made a soft mewling sound and stood for a moment before she collapsed and died.

The other two women rushed at me, but did not try to coordinate their movements. Both were dressed like their friends. I backhanded the one to my left with my armored gauntlet across her face, sending her sprawling. The other took a wild swing at my head; I ducked under it and then rose with a two-handed swing of my own. She had brown hair, similar to Lyra’s though cut shorter, and a round red-cheeked face that reminded me of the small woodland creature known as a “chipmunk,” now contorted with rage.

I mistook her black corset for a breastplate and swung hard into her left armpit to shatter her armor; instead my sword cut through the flesh of her shoulder and neck to take off both her arm and her head. The head rolled away; the arm dropped to the ground while the body collapsed to its knees and then fell forward.

I stepped over the fresh corpse to where the surviving woman lay on her back, holding her broken nose and groaning. With my foot I shoved her sword away from her hand.

“What in the seven hells was that?” Lyra asked, cleaning her sword with the cloak she had ripped from the fat woman’s corpse. She walked over to stand beside me and look down at the woman lying on her back in the snow.

“The man is named Ramsay Snow,” I said. “Or sometimes Ramsay Bolton. He thought of himself under both names. He was quite insane, and wanted to rape us and then peel our skin from our flesh. Or perhaps in the opposite order; he was undecided. He apparently had done such things before, and these women helped him.”

I looked at Lyra.

“You cannot hesitate in battle,” I said. “Otherwise it could be you with a sword through your heart. I could not bear for that to happen.”

My voice broke on the last words.

“I . . . I know,” she said, startled to realize my deep feeling for her. “I don’t know what I was thinking. She would have stabbed me in the back the moment I looked away.”

Before I could reply with some foolish declaration of love, the woman on the ground let out a loud moan and moved her hands away from her bleeding nose. She was tall with long silvery-yellow hair, broad shoulders, wide hips and small breasts. She had probably been pretty before I ruined her face.

“Who in the hells are you?” Lyra asked her.

“We’re Ramsay’s Bitches,” she said, her voice muffled by her injury. “We help him skin the weak and if we’re good, we get to fuck him.”

I probed her thoughts. She had a weak grasp of reality, hating me for killing Ramsay Snow yet hoping to receive orgasm from him soon.

“She’s mad?” Lyra asked, looking at me.

“Absolutely,” I said. “She is eager to kill us.”

“She probably should have learned to use that sword before trying to kill people with it.”

“You killed Ramsay, you bitch,” the woman said to me, then turned to Lyra. “And you, you bitch, you killed Myranda. She was unarmed! What did she ever do to you? I’m going to kill you until you’re both dead. Slowly, like he’d want it. Deliciously, with your skin peeling off just a little at a time. I’ll start with your tits. He’d like that. But I won’t kill you right away, so you can each see me peel the other bitch and hear your lover scream.”

Like her friends, she wore a black corset tied tightly with leather laces; it looked extremely uncomfortable. I placed the tip of my sword on the exposed flesh between the laces at the center of her chest, as Howland Reed emerged from the trees.

“Not the heart,” he said. “Take her head. We can’t have her rising, and we don’t have the dry wood to burn all the bodies. Take all the heads, and make sure they’re well-separated from their bodies.”

“You know about these women?”

“I’ve heard stories,” he said. “They’re said to be as murderously insane as Ramsay Snow.”

“He’s Lord Ramsay Bolton,” the woman on the ground screeched, “and he is your liege lord!”

“He looks like just another bloody corpse to me,” Lyra said. “Please shut her up.”

“As you wish.”

“Bitch!” she screamed, but I did not give her time to say any more. I pulled her head off the ground by her hair’s long, heavy braid and sliced through her neck, then used the braid to sling the head deep into the nearby trees. I kicked the head of the chipmunk-woman I had already beheaded away from her body, and saw Lyra removing the head from the fat woman’s corpse and giving it an underhanded toss into the branches of a tree. She did the same for the thin woman named Myranda.

“Perhaps it would be best not to mention this to Lord Glover,” Howland Reed said, gesturing to the chipmunk-woman’s headless corpse. “I believe this woman was a Glover relative.”

Lord Reed left us, but the dogs I had injured remained nearby, whimpering. They did not try to attack or flee as I approached; they expected to die. I did not know if they could rise, but took off their heads and threw them away just to be sure, while Lyra did the same to the one I had stabbed in the heart.

Next, I walked across the clearing and removed the head of Ramsay Snow. Taking it by its long and greasy hair, I tossed it gently in front of me and kicked it as hard as I could, as in the ball games we sometimes play on Barsoom. It sailed over the trees and out of sight. I found this strangely satisfying. If he became an undead creature, he would be severely limited in his capacity for further evil.

I checked all of the corpses for money; the women had none but I took a large sack of gold coins from Ramsay Snow’s corpse. I shared them with Lyra.

We rejoined Howland Reed in a large clearing where his soldiers had met and killed the rest of Ramsay Snow’s men. They were removing the heads from the corpses and dropping them through a hole in the ice covering a nearby pond.

“Does taking their heads prevent their rising?” I asked.

“I truly do not know,” he said. “But reason tells me that it should at least make them less capable evil beings if they can’t tell where they’re going or who they’re attacking.”

“Reason tells me,” Lyra said, “that the dead are supposed to stay dead.”

“That’s a fair point,” Lord Reed conceded. “But without fire, I don’t have a better idea. Do you?”

“Slice off their hands and feet?” Lyra offered.

“Not a bad plan.” He nodded and walked away, calling out new instructions to his men.

“You have seen the dead rise?” I asked Lyra.

“No. But it happens in the old tales of the North. If Lord Reed says it can happen, we should take it absolutely seriously.”

I hoped cutting off the heads and hands would be enough, that the heads would not be able to reunite with their bodies, crawling about on small spidery legs like the Kaldanes of Barsoom. 

That night we stopped in a large forest clearing and camped under the trees; Maege had an impressive tent but I slept under the stars beneath a large fur with Tansy, Lyra and Jory all clustered around me, happy for my excessive warmth. I felt very comfortable with them near, and stared up at the very clear, cold sky long after they had all fallen asleep.

I had come to like the Mormont sisters very much; I knew that I would fight to defend Jory as fiercely as I would Tansy. And I had felt completely at ease with Lyra when we fought at Moat Cailin, against the Ryswells and when facing Ramsay’s Bitches, a feeling I had but rarely known on Barsoom, and treasured when I had. I had also fallen in love with her, but I dared not speak this aloud.

I remained an alien in this world: my body, my thoughts, my ways all remained inherently different from those of these people. But something within me had changed yet again, and this time it did not leave me with a feeling of self-loathing.

Nowhere in the beautiful black skies did I see a red planet move. Would I ever return to Barsoom? Even if I could see Barsoom, could I teleport back? I felt Jory snuggle more closely against my flank, and I put my arm around her shoulders. Did I want to return?

I did not like many things about this place, other than its food. I found many of its animals repulsive, like the inherently evil creature known as “cat,” though I loved horses. I missed the open, dry plains and red rock and sand. I missed the sweet tones of our speech, and the closeness engendered by telepathy. I missed the powerful rhythms of our music.

Oddly, I did not miss my privileges – either those of my station, or those conferred by Barsoom’s superior technology. I supposed I might feel differently were I to be injured or fall ill again with some hurt beyond the skill of Howland Reed to heal.

I had teleported through interstellar space to find John Carter, who neither loved nor even liked me. Instead I had found people I loved, who accepted me as I was. My cravings for acceptance, for belonging, had been answered. Now I rode toward a climactic battle with a powerful evil being, in which I might well die, and could only think of their safety. I would fight for them, and I would defend them, and I would sacrifice none of them.

I drifted into dream-free sleep. The sun had not yet risen when Trisha awakened me to take her place on watch.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine (John Carter)

Eventually the lush farmlands of western Essos gave way to pasturelands, then open rangeland, and finally to uninhabited grasslands. The Dothraki considered this “Great Grass Sea” to be their true home, though Jhaqo told me that the old legends said they had come from even further to the east.

My khaleesi rode her beloved silver mare, despite her pregnancy - the Dothraki expected this of their women, who did not enter confinement like a proper lady of Virginia. Jhiqui told her that Dothraki women also expected to continue love-making while carrying a child, but I drew a sharp line there. After some tearful argument, I conceded that Daenerys could participate alongside Doreah, but not to the point of hysteria, and told her that I would finish inside our slave or between Doreah’s breasts rather than inside my wife.

To provide my horses and men with food and fodder, not to mention our huge train of non-combatants, I had to spread our advance over a broad front to allow our outriders to forage. The Dothraki brought in prodigious amounts of game, using lines of horsemen to drive their prey into ever-tightening circles, yet they also consumed vast amounts. The Great Grass Sea was not entirely uninhabited, and the poor souls attempting to farm this harsh land gave up their supplies as well.

During those raids, Dothraki outriders also committed outrages against women. This had been a death-penalty offense in the Army of Northern Virginia, but my Dothraki horde was not subject to military discipline. It was their way, and I had learned a lifetime ago that an officer should never give an order that he knows will not be obeyed. Perhaps later, when the Dothraki formed only part of my forces, I could instill a more rigid code among them. For now, I decided, the civilians they encountered would continue to suffer. My khaleesi would soon upset my measured approach.

At least my efforts to create a more balanced army appeared to be bearing fruit. The Myrish crossbowmen had begun to train additional recruits taken from the bravos and the former Latecomers, and Orange Cat was now drilling units of pikemen who could operate alongside the crossbowmen - the heavy crossbow took all of its wielder’s attention and strength, and additional men with shields and pikes were required to protect them from enemy cavalry. Why the Myrish companies had not included pikemen of their own, I did not understand. Myr had provided 800 pikes before our departure, and Orange Cat could have used twice as many. Syrello, the crossbow commander, had less than 200 spare weapons with which to arm additional recruits.

We had combined riders from the Latecomers and the Black Stripes to form a heavy cavalry brigade of 1,000 men. Most of the officers came from the Black Stripes. Each man had a full set of good armor, a large powerful destrier and a second remount, plus a riding horse. Almost all of the other Latecomers now marched on foot and wielded pikes under Orange Cat’s command. A few had refused all attempts to find a useful place for them and I had put them to death, impaling the ringleaders. For the remainder, I wielded the headsman’s axe myself.

I had to balance the need for training with our need to arrive at Vaes Dothrak. The Dothraki liked to think of themselves as unencumbered riders of the plains, but in truth their khalasars had always been slowed by the huge train of cattle, slaves and camp followers strung out in their wake. I called a halt to each day’s march with at least two hours of daylight left to allow Orange Cat to train his men. Each khas worked on formation riding during this time, or with weapons, and I trained my Companions in light cavalry tactics and in formed charges. I hoped to acquire some lightweight armor for them, perhaps the boiled leather that Mormont told me mercenaries of these lands favored. Eventually I planned to convert the Companions from a tribal organization to a regiment along military lines.

Hard training improved the military potential of the Dothraki, while enforcing a form of discipline. They enjoyed playing at war, instinctively recognizing the old saw that you fight like you train. But they also practiced at my command, and doing so every day reinforced my authority as their absolute leader.

Every few days I called off the march, to allow the camp followers to rest and recover and to allow large-scale maneuvers of all my warriors together with the crossbowmen, pikemen and heavy cavalry. After watching Lodovico’s men charge in formation, I directed him to replace all of his stallions - perhaps a third of his mounts - with geldings from the huge Dothraki surplus. I wanted the armored men to be able to charge knee-to-knee, something stallions will not tolerate.

“It’s the way of knights in Westeros,” Mormont explained. Almost all of those who rode stallions had come from the western continent. “A stallion’s better suited for war. He already wants to fight.”

“That’s not enough,” I said. “I want men and horses who both want to fight, and know how to obey. If I have to choose, I’ll take the latter.”

Among my household, Belwas worked with Calye on handling her sword, and taught Irri, Jhiqui and Doreah to defend themselves with their knives. Doreah carried a stiletto in her sleeve and another strapped to her thigh; apparently this was common among Lysene prostitutes. I decided that I could trust her with a weapon, as she had shown no inclination to use it on Daenerys or even on me and I wished for my princess’ handmaids to form her final line of defense. I would come to regret this decision.

Mormont found two dozen experienced clerks and paymasters among the mercenary companies, who could be transferred to the army staff without harming operations now that those companies had been consolidated into two brigades. The bravos also yielded almost the same number of young men who had worked in counting houses or merchant firms and eagerly traded the Unsullied’s brutal training regime for pen and ledger.

I had realized that Mormont neither read nor wrote particularly well, yet only Doreah among my household was truly at ease with the written word and I did not trust her. Despite the added staff manpower, I continued to task Doreah with copying out contracts each evening after camp had been made, figuring that such work would occupy her mind and give her less opportunity to turn my beloved princess against me. Her full bosom and exposed legs distracted the young clerks, so she had to perform her work in my tent. Her overly female form distracted me as well, but I had the right to take her when I pleased, and once the new supplies of moon tea arrived I did so fairly often. She had ceased to struggle, and now simply lay still and wished for me to finish quickly. I found this much less exciting, but continued to make use of her.

My dispatch of my lovely blonde slave to Mormont’s bed had not quenched his ardor for my beautiful young wife; as her breasts swelled and skin glowed in the early stages of pregnancy, he only became more attracted to her. So did I, but I dared not risk our child’s safe development and so I quenched my own ardor in Calye and Doreah.

Twenty days into the Great Grass Sea, our outriders clashed with scouts from another khalasar making a parallel course to our south. I told Pono that I wanted to find a hilltop with a gentle rise leading to the south, and one of his riders quickly reported such a feature. I ordered the khalasar to move there at its best speed, and arrayed my forces for battle.

Orange Cat would command the combined crossbow and pike phalanx, which I placed at the center. Lodovico’s heavy cavalry went directly behind them, along with my Companions. Pono’s khas went on the right, Aggo’s on the left, and Jhaqo’s in reserve out of sight behind the hill. The baggage train, herds and slaves were placed even further back, with a heavy screen from Jhaqo’s khas around them.

As I expected, the opposing khalasar rode toward us in a mob-like formation. They halted about 500 yards away and a group of four men rode out. The morning clouds had burned away, leaving a fine day under blue skies. A perfect day for battle.

“Their khal,” Jhaqo said. “And his bloodriders.”

“You know him?”

“Ahesso. His khalasar is about the size of my khas, perhaps less.”

“His reputation?”

“Brutal and stupid.” Jhaqo paused, then continued. “Drogo liked him.”

I thought for a moment, and decided.

“I will ride to meet them,” I said. “And challenge this Ahesso to single combat. After I kill him and his bloodriders, I’ll return here and we’ll meet their charge. After we break it, your khas will finish them.”

I allowed Ahesso and his companions to approach to a point closer to our lines than his before riding out to meet him.

“The Stallion strengthen your arm,” my khaleesi said, in passable Dothraki. I turned back to smile; Jhiqui had taught her the traditional blessing of a Dothraki woman for her man riding to battle. I would have to reward my slave-tutor. Mormont sat his horse uneasily, knowing that he would die as well were I to fall, as would my khaleesi - she could not be allowed to give birth to a dead man’s heir. Doreah knew that she would suffer much worse, yet hoped for my death all the same. She fingered her stiletto and decided that she would kill herself and, to my surprise, Daenerys before either of them could be raped. Perhaps she had better sense than I had believed. Daenerys’ thoughts showed only slight anxiety; Calye’s a great deal.

“Rakharo,” I said. “Ride with me. Belwas, remain close to the khaleesi.”

As Jhaqo had said, Ahesso proved to be unusually stupid. He was physically huge, much larger than I, and wielded a massive arakh to match his size. His mount matched the man, one of the largest horses I have ever seen.

I stopped Demon a few feet from Ahesso and his men, but had no chance to speak to them.

“No talk,” the big man said. “Fight.”

He kicked his horse into a trot, but it could make no more speed. I left Steel Flame in her scabbard and instead drew a dagger, throwing it at the big man. As I had expected, he could not dodge without falling from his horse and the blade took him in the center of his forehead. With my strength behind the throw, it punched through his thick skull and into his tiny brain. He slid off his gigantic horse to settle amid the grass, already dead.

I now drew Steel Flame, expecting to fight the bloodriders, but they turned their horses and raced back to the khalasar. None had borne deep love for Ahesso, but they did intend to attack us. I waved to Rakharo and we turned back for our own force.

“Are they not required to fight me?” I asked Jhaqo when I reached our command group.

“Yes,” he said. “They should have fought where their khal died, but they can retrieve some honor if you are killed in the coming battle.”

“I don’t plan to be,” I said. “They’re whipping themselves into a frenzy, and then they’ll charge straight up the hill. Be ready.”

“They come,” Rakharo said. And so they did, in a ragged mass aimed directly for the center of my formation. I could see Orange Cat standing in the midst of his phalanx, one hand raised. When the enemy came within range, he dropped it; the pikemen knelt and pushed their weapons forward while the first crossbow bolts whirred toward the charging horsemen.

Most of the Myrmen got off four bolts before the Dothraki hit the levelled pikes. Stiffened by the Unsullied, the pikemen held their ground and the attackers milled about before them while more steel bolts slammed into their unprotected flesh. A few of the Dothraki tried to return the fire with their bows, but they managed to loose few arrows and strike with even fewer.

“The crawlers can fight,” Jhaqo said, impressed. “Much better than I expected.”

“In a moment, we’ll counter charge with Lodovico’s brigade and my Companions,” I said. “Wait until the enemy recoils, then you may begin the pursuit.”

“They’re already finished,” Mormont said. “You don’t have to join in.”

“I do,” I said. “The khalasar must see their khal in battle.”

“It is known,” my khaleesi added.

“It is known,” my command staff repeated in unison.

“Signal the heavy horse,” I told one of my Dothraki Companions, who waved the large orange banner he carried. Lodovico’s trumpets sounded, telling the foot soldiers to open lanes as we had drilled for endless afternoons. I led one column of Companions down the right-most alley and Rakharo led the other down the alley to my left. Three more alleys accommodated the armored heavy cavalry.

Demon simply rode down the first enemy horseman we reached, sending the animal and rider crashing to the earth while Steel Flame slashed through the arm and chest of the man to my right. The fallen rider, pinned under his horse, struggled to free himself for perhaps three seconds before my own horse’s hoof caved in his skull.

I reveled in the fight, as I had not since arriving in this world. Vague memories said that I had done this before, and I fell into a steady rhythm, using telepathy to identify those seeking to strike me and my own skill to strike them first. Blood soon coated both my sword and my right arm, and before I knew it Demon and I broke into the open on the opposite side of the enemy mass.

I rallied about two hundred of my Companions and plunged back into the fight, but the enemy had broken and now fled the field as best they could. I saw our own Dothraki on either flank begin the pursuit, with Jhaqo’s riders appearing behind them. The battle was over, the enemy finished.

By the time I returned to my khaleesi’s side, the pursuit had passed out of sight. The tall grass hid the corpses, but I knew that they dotted the hillside in their thousands. We had surely lost some men; I did not expect many of the enemy to survive.

From one perspective, the slaughter of Ahesso’s khalasar represented a waste of good manpower. I very likely could have overwhelmed them with a show of strength, though their stupid khal would not doubt have had to die, and then incorporated them into my own ranks.

But before today I had yet to bloody my sword in open battle alongside my khalasar; I had only killed Drogo and his bloodriders in the arena, and two enemy leaders in frankly one-sided single combats. I could not truly be considered khal until I had fought alongside my men. And now I had.

I told Rakharo to send riders with orders that all wealth - coin and other valuables - be gathered and brought to my headquarters. The enemy’s cattle and horses would be added to our own herds. Prisoners would be roped together and brought before me for disposition. I did not mention the enemy’s women, knowing that my Dothraki would pleasure themselves upon them.

The Dothraki celebrated late into the night, pleased with their victory, and pleased with their khal. They had seen me fight, and most importantly, they had seen my methods bring them a crushing victory. I toured the night-fires, sharing drink and meat with my warriors. I was offered many women - some willing, some not - but declined. When I returned to my own campsite, I found my khaleesi waiting for me.

“My chieftain,” she said. “Were I not with child, I would see you rewarded for your victory.”

“My princess, your smile is reward enough.”

She spoke for the benefit of those who overheard; later Doreah would service me while my wife looked on.

“Rakharo,” I nodded to the ko of my Companions. “You fought well today, and led well. How many did we lose?”

“Thirty-one dead, my khal,” he said. “Forty wounded who will recover. Six wounded who will be helped to the Night Lands with the dawn.”

Though our fight had been brief, it had been intense, and I had feared steeper casualties. My Companions had suffered for their total lack of protection; when we returned to civilized lands we would definitely issue boiled leather and perhaps some lightweight chain mail.

“You and I will select replacements from those prisoners we choose to add to the khalasar,” I told Rakharo. “Our losses in horses?”

“Sixty-four,” he said. “Sajo has sent new horses already, from those taken as booty.”

“Very good,” I said, and looked at my wife’s handmaidens. “Irri, I was pleased to hear my khaleesi speak to my officers in Dothraki today. Please help Jhiqui select a new horse for herself from the khal’s share of booty.”

“With pleasure, my khal.”

“Ser Jorah,” I addressed my chief of staff. “When I wake, I’ll expect casualty lists, a prisoner count, and a count of horses, cattle, food, weapons and valuables taken. An estimate of the enemy dead as well, it needn’t be exact.

As my khaleesi showed no objection to my use of Calye, and my Dothraki respected a khal’s virility, I continued to take her each morning. Now that we rode through tall grass reaching the withers of most horses or even higher, we rode a short distance away from the camp while my household slaves prepared breakfast. The Dothraki did not mind making love in open view, but I retained my sense of propriety.

After we had dismounted, I turned Calye to face her horse and lifted her skirt, as I had greeted each sunrise since we entered the Great Grass Sea. She resisted, turned about and placed her pale hand alongside my face.

“John,” she said, her voice sounding rough. “You never . . . never look me in the eye anymore. Never show any . . . any love.”

While Daenerys had been excited to see me fight, Calye had been terrified. She did love me, in her own way, and didn’t want to watch my death. And she knew that were I to be killed, the Dothraki would likely rape her and cut her throat. Her terror had eased, but she remained highly emotional.

“I don’t love you,” I said, determined to be honest. “I’ve never loved you. You know that.”

“But I . . . I love you.”

“You’re too short,” I said, “to make love standing up.”

“You’re strong enough to hold me.”

Once again, I gave in to my sex slave, holding her by the waist and moving her as she wrapped her legs about my thighs and arms about my shoulders and kissed me. She threw her head back as she reached female climax and howled. I set her on the ground after I had finished inside her; this time she did not cry but smiled broadly instead.

“One more thing,” she said, with more confidence than I expected. “I want to be more than just . . . than just your release. I can do more for you. The next time we . . . we fight, I want to ride with you and Belwas.”

“As a Dothraki warrior?”

“I can use a sword,” she said. “And I can . . . I can ride.”

Her swordsmanship, and horsemanship, had improved, though neither was very good. I allowed male warriors of less skill to fight, but I believed her likely to be killed were she to encounter a veteran enemy. She most definitely would have died in the previous day’s melee.

“You stay with alongside Belwas,” I said. “I’m not ready to replace you just yet.”

I would look back on this moment years later, as I looked down at her still, chalk-white corpse after Beth Cassel had taken her life. Had I said “no” to Calye on that fine morning, that murderous harlot’s sword would never have found my first follower’s heart. Calye was not the first, nor the last, woman close to me to lose her life because I had failed in my duty to firmly control her impulsive acts.

Our prisoner count totaled just over 1,500 men of fighting age, some two thousand children and almost ten thousand women. We had killed close to eight thousand enemy warriors at a loss of two hundred of our own; my Dothraki had slain all of the elderly and infirm in the enemy camp as well. I found the practice dishonorable, but chose not to challenge such long-standing tradition. Truth be told, I was relieved not to be responsible for their care.

Teams of slaves combed the high grass to collect the weapons and valuables of those slain on the battlefield. They brought in several thousand good arakhs, which I ordered issued to those of my men who still carried Drogo’s favored moon-blades. Bows and lances also found new owners. We left the corpses of men and horses to rot under the hot sun, in the Dothraki way.

Tradition now allowed me to dispose of the prisoners as I would. I could sell them into slavery, which was the usual outcome of such battles according to my kos though rarely on such a large scale. Or I could incorporate them into our own khalasar. I decided on the latter, adding about 1,300 men to our ranks though I spread them across each khas including my Companions. The remainder of the fighting men chose to be put to death rather than fight for me, a wish I granted them. One bloodrider had survived to be captured, and following the Dothraki way I ordered him impaled.

I then allowed my men to choose additional wives from the captured women, with those who had fought with notable valor in the just-concluded battle given first choice. Those who remained unselected would join the ranks of our slaves. The children were given to couples who wished them, again spread throughout the khalasar. It surprised me that so many wished to adopt children, and all of the young ones found new families.

“My chieftain,” Daenerys approached me after I had finished disposing of the prisoners. “Doreah says the women were raped after their capture.”

“I don’t know that for a fact,” I said. “And you shouldn’t listen to Doreah, as I’ve told you.”

“But is it true?”

“I suspect that it is,” I said, knowing it to be true for certain. “It’s their way. The victorious warriors and the defeated women all expect it.”

“So if we were defeated,” she said, “I would be raped? And it would be acceptable, because it’s the Dothraki way?”

“Of course not,” I said. “I will die to defend your honor, as will Belwas and even your handmaids. Or at least two of them. I promise you, you will never