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Strangers Again

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Oberyn returned, some time later, with a little bundle of food; a waterskin; and a red powder in a small, corked jar. The Unsullied who accompanied him left a wagon twelve meters from the dragons and retreated again, but he ducked under Viserion’s neck and joined Dany under the curve of her neck, against the heat of her scales.

While Dany examined the dragon’s blood, he unwrapped the food. The bundle contained salt fish, hard tack, pine nuts, and honey. She snatched up the honey and gently tipped a bit of the dragon’s blood into the jar. The old books only had consistency and coloration for a guide, so she did the best she could. Once the honey reached the right color she rubbed her hand over Viserion’s cream scales for warning, and then gently applied the substance to the dragon’s wound. The cream dragon rumbled, and rubbed her muzzle hard against her leg, but did not offer any protest.

Afterward, she wiped her hands on the cloth and looked over what Oberyn had brought. It must be late in the day by now, but Dany was not hungry. She took a handful of the pine nuts, and drank deep from the waterskin. When she offered it to Oberyn he wet a cloth with the water and reached out to her face. He ran the cloth down her cheek and when it pulled back it was covered in soot and ash. 

She lifted a hand up to the other side of her face as he worked, and it too came away black. “I didn’t realize-” Dany looked up at the dragons. Where Drogon’s black scales touched Viserion’s side the cream scales were ashy. And although their scales were darker and it was less visible, Rhaegal’s stripes were hidden beneath the same ash. She wiped away tears that had started streaming down her face.

“You should go see a maester. Or whatever passes for one in Astapor.” Oberyn said as he cleaned her, turning the cloth to the other side to continue.

The Graces, Dany would imagine. She shook her head, upsetting his hands. “I can’t leave them. I can’t. I can’t lose them again.” It was only then that she realized her voice was rising with each word. Dany lowered her voice to almost a whisper. “I shouldn’t have let her come.”

“You said that a riderless dragon is more at risk.” Oberyn soothed. “If they had attacked you while Drogon remained in the city he would have gone to you. You did the best you could.”

“I should have known better. I should have done better!” Dany insisted. “I knew. I’ve seen-” She rubbed her eye, spreading ash again, but said nothing more. Already she had said too much.

“Whatever you have dreamed, it has not come to pass.” He let Dany take the cloth and clean her eye, and although she suspected she had only succeeded in smearing it more he remained solemn. 

“It has.” Dany looked up at him. His eyes watched her carefully. Unreasonable anger bubbled up within her. “You don’t believe me. You think I’m mad.”

“I did not say that.” 

“But you think it.”

“You are my queen,” Oberyn repeated, Dany stiffening at the words. “It does not matter if I believe you or not. Your commands are mine to fulfill, not question.” He smiled then, the flickering of a grin across his face. “And I do not know if I believe you or not. You have not told me anything yet.”

Oberyn was the closest kin that Dany had in this world. He was bonded with one of her children, and he had slept in her bed. And beyond the blood of Naerys he was also her brother by marriage. Before she could think better of it, she said, “You know I walked into Khal Drogo’s pyre.”

“Yes. I have heard the story from a dozen mouths.” Every one of the little khalasar that had seen it had been eager to spread the word. Often it earned them a warm meal and a night as the center of attention at the table. “You walked into the fire, and emerged from the ashes with dragons.”

“I walked into the fire. And I rose from it twice.” Dany could not tell from his expression what he thought of her tale. “The first time as a Khaleesi with three newborn dragons, and the second time reborn into the world.” She looked away from his face. “In that first life you had died as Tyrion’s champion in a trial by combat, because your opponent was Gregor Clegane.” Dany had to stop so she didn’t stumble over her words. She took a steadying breath. “In that world, Viserion died in the North, and Rhaegal died above Dragonstone.” 

Dany searched for something to tell him. Something Viserys would not have known from his time in the Seven Kingdoms and something that rumor could not tell her. It struck her a moment later. Something a Targaryen should not know. “In Dorne there are few cities, but even the smallest will be partially underground. When Nymeria crossed the Narrow Sea she brought more than ships with her. She brought irrigation. And when Dorne went to war, Ellaria hid your four youngest girls in the qanat beneath Hellholt. Where they had hidden when Rhaenys came to Dorne.”

Oberyn stilled. It was the Dornish’s greatest secret, and Ellaria had only told Daenerys because it would be (had been) the queen’s responsibility to fetch the girls if their mother died. Oberyn’s grandmother’s brother had wed a girl of Blackmont, and his second cousin Manfrey was a grandchild of that union. Manfrey was dead, but he had a grandson of an age to wed Elia Sand, and Dany had been asked to legitimize Elia and make the marriage. 

“Tell me.” Oberyn said.

“Tell you what?” Dany asked, doubtful.

“Everything.”

And so she did. 

~oOo~

In truth, the battle was short lived.

Long before dawn Kinvara mounted her horse and joined the party following Sansa to the woods north of Winterfell. It consisted of Sansa and her sworn shield, Melisandre and Kinvara, and a handful of guards. All were mounted, and they had enough food to carry them to the Wall if Stannis should lose this battle. Stannis had charged Sansa with reaching his daughter and crowning her. Personally, Kinvara thought that Shireen would do better to hide in Braavos, but she had not bothered to share her opinion.

Stannis rode in front of his three thousand Stormlords on a squire’s warhorse. His own had been a magnificent black, the swiftest horse in the camp, and taken by Ser Davos as Shireen’s mount. At the front of his men he dismounted, and drew his sword. On the other end of the field, the Bolton cavalry was prepared for a charge. Ignoring them, the Stag Lord turned to his men.

Against the backdrop of Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton’s dark bay courser galloped back and forth. Hidden by the trees, Kinvara watched as his restlessness grew like water in a pot over a fire. The bastard boy she had seen in her fires was not a strategist. At last his father summoned him to his side. 

With Ramsay secured, Roose gave brief orders to his men. A handful of archers charged Stannis’ men. Several fell to arrows, but they rode on. Less than a stone’s throw away, they shot arrows into the infantry. One man took an arrow, but the remainder were blocked by shields. No sooner had they fired than the Bolton men drove their horses off, back toward their army.

This repeated several times. Some Bolton men fell, and some Stormlords. Yet Stannis’ army did not break ranks. Rather than taking the bait of the riders, they held firm. At any moment their shields could fail, they could take an arrow to the head, or the horses might charge into them rather than merely firing arrows. Still they held rank. These men were battle hardened. Many had joined Stannis rather than Renly originally, and all had fought with him at the Blackwater. The disloyal or the cowards among them had fled back to their homes, accepting the king’s peace. Those that remained stood firm.

On the other side of the battlefield, as their men died, Ramsay and Roose exchanged words, and then Ramsay reined his horse around and put his heels to her. He returned to the horsemen, and shouted over the field. Ramsay led the Bolton horse in their charge. First a mild trot, quickly speeding up until they were in full flight. Stannis’ men braced themselves behind their shields.

There were some 1,500 riders. A number of them fell to Stannis’ archers in the rear of the army. His front lines kept their positions, and formed a wall with their shields overlapping. For all the enthusiasm of their riders, horses were intelligent creatures. Seeing no way through what appeared to them to be a solid wall, they balked. Some of them turned to run along the wall and were cut down by archery. Others skid to a stop, and their riders frantically tried to rein them in before they could be cut down. 

Taking heavy losses, Ramsay pulled back. He reformed the lines, and drove forward again. His results were repeated. The third time most of the horses and men had fallen. Anger rising, he withdrew out of range of their arrows. From the infantry, horns sounded. Ramsay paid them no mind. They charged again, and this time the rear of Stannis army withdrew. The Stormlords were perhaps a hundred yards from the treeline.

They made it before the horses were upon them. At a full charge, the calvary followed. The sounds of steel upon steel came from the trees, and although the battle could not be seen it was obvious it was occuring. Across the field, Roose took renewed interest in the battle. The horns stopped, and the infantry stood alert. After some time, a single horse emerged from the trees, dragging its dead rider in one stirrup. 

Mood dark, Roose rallied his men and began to march. A battle still raged inside the forest, but nothing was visible. His infantry moved in, and disappeared into the greenery. Their advance only added to the sounds on the battlefield. Screaming and shouting and the clash of sword upon shield, the din seeming to great for the men that had been on the field. After some time, the noise of war began to die down. 

Men emerged from the forest. Some on foot, others on horse. Bolton men. Their banners were gone, but they wore Bolton armor and the horses they rode had flayed men on their blankets. The horsemen regrouped once more, and rode toward the castle. The gates were opened unto them, and once they had vanished inside Kinvara's party waited, breathless, to see if they would be fleeing north or if trickery had won what force could not.