Once, when she lay beside Jon Snow in her great wooden bed, naked as her nameday, head pillowed on his chest, she had asked him what life was like after death. He had gone very still, the hand that was settled into her hair tightening. “Nothing,” he had said, “there was nothing at all.” That was all he had said, and then he turned away from her and pretended to sleep.
They had never discussed it again.
And then she had taken the Iron Throne, with dragons and ashes, and fire and blood, and offered him a place beside her. In exchange he had put a dagger through her heart. The thought of Rhaegar, dead on the Trident, a single name on his lips, had flashed across her mind. Daenerys thought of Drogon, as the blackness and cold closed in.
Daenerys’ eyes open to smoke blotting out the stars high above the Great Grass Sea.
She stares, disbelieving. This must be a dream caused by her stress and wounds. Then she feels the heat of the flames and hears the crackle of the logs. Even the earth is smoking beneath her, but when she forces herself up she can see the shape of the pyre and the bones of the witch. Then she knows what this is. She had survived. Her guards must have arrested Jon, taken her to a maester or healer loyal to her. Long ago she had given up her life with the Dothraki, her husband and son dead, forced to flee into the Red Waste for her people to survive. No longer was she the girl that had been sold to Khal Drogo, who had loved him.
Around her the logs explode as the fire touches their hearts and the smoke reaches forty feet into the sky. And then she sees them, and her heart stops. Drogon comes first. He is tiny, so tiny that she can hardly believe this is the same great dragon who won her three wars and burnt a city to the ground. Daenerys stretches out a hand to touch his face, fingers trembling as they stroke his soft scales. Against the heat of her skin he trills, before he scrambles up her arm to drape himself across her shoulders. His claws are sharp against her skin, but the pain is nothing against the swelling of gratitude in her chest.
Rhaegal and Viserion are next, their slender necks visible first as they slink from the rubble of Drogo’s pyre. Tears well in her eyes, she can feel herself crying but the tears are seared away by the heat before they fall. Her children crawl into her arms, and she picks them up, one by one, turning them over to see the places where the bolts had struck now unharmed. Her breasts are heavy with milk for the son she burned, and again her children suckle at them as though she was their trueborn mother.
Jon Snow had once told her that he did not know his purpose when he woke. He had thought he should have been left dead, and abandoned his post on the Night’s Watch. It had not been until his sister convinced him to help take back their childhood home that he had roused from his state. Daenerys has no such concerns. She has no illusions that the masters would not rise in the Bay of Dragons once they heard of her death. Her plans for freeing the slaves of Essos and removing the ability of a monarch to so completely control Westeros are gone.
All she has done has been torn away, victories and mistakes alike, but now she has a second chance. She will not waste this gift. Whatever gods or magic have returned her to her people will not have acted in vain.
Cradling her children against her chest, bathing in the happiness that encompasses her, Daenerys settles herself in the firestorm. Her silver hair crisps away and her clothes turn to ash. She cared nothing for them.
When she had arrived in Astapor and commanded her Unsullied to free the slaves they had risen in revolt against their masters. It had been the same in Meereen and Yunkai. When given the chance the people of Essos fought for their freedom. In Westeros, Cersei Lannister blew up their Sept and killed their High Septon, and then they cowered against her gates out of their own bigotry.
They did not deserve her mercy, were not worth her children falling from the sky shrieking or Missandei dying in chains. She had offered them kindness and protection, and they had given her hatred and distrust. Because of her gender. Because her people were not Westerosi. Because cowering in fear was safer than standing up to become something better.
When at last the fire dies and she can no longer block out the world, she stands. And, oh, the taste is sweet to see her people. Ser Jorah, who died to protect her, looks at her as if for the first time. His gaze sweeps over her children, and he falls to his knees. Aggo and Rakharo and Jhogo come up behind him, and Dany cannot stop the smile at the sight of them alive before her. Jhogo lays his arakh at her feet. “Blood of my blood.” He pushes his face into the earth. Rakharo and Aggo echo him, and then come her handmaidens, dead and alive again, and the others.
Drogon hisses, pale smoke venting from his mouth and nostrils. His siblings lift their long necks to join their voices to his. Again the night comes alive with the music of her children for the first time in hundreds of years. Her khalasar is small, but they are the first of her people, and the weight of her responsibilities settle over her shoulders.
It is then that she knows what she will do.
Atop Drogon over Kings Landing, with the bells ringing in her ears, she had realized for the first time why Aegon the Conqueror had chosen ‘Fire and Blood’ for their house words. Why Aegon V had struggled so to reform the Seven Kingdoms that he had sought to birth dragons. Why Tyrion had turned on her when she sought to better the world. Why her dreams of a better world had caused her death.
But again she is Daenerys.
Again she is a mother.