"Robb, no! We're not supposed to go far, Father said..." Jon closed his mouth quickly at the look his brother shot him, dark and warning. He sighed, knowing he really had no choice. If he stayed behind and something happened to Robb, he would surely bear the blame of it. He'd have to justify why he allowed the heir to Winterfell, little Lord Robb Stark, run off into the wilderness while on the Starks' official visit to White Harbor.
They should have been back at the Manderly estate, preparing for the great feast that evening that Lord Manderly was holding in honor of Lord Eddard Stark and family's visit to White Harbor, to inspect the port, meet with traders, and discuss future opportunities with some of the Essosi merchants who did limited business in the North.
It had been an exciting time, Jon thought, as he had never been to White Harbor. He was barely ten, just a year younger than Robb, who had already visited a few years before. As the Bastard of Winterfell, Jon rarely attended these types of formal family travels, but of late his lord father was gracious in allowing his attendance with his trueborn son and heir. He supposed Lord Manderly was a bit more liberal in his views, being a man of sea travel and having the influence of the flamboyant Essosi merchants who made their way through the port.
He had been allowed to even dine with the Lord, at the end of the table, but still. The look on Lady Catelyn's face had amused him, sour and upset that a lord would allow her husband's bastard to dine at his table. He'd spent the evening with Lord Manderly's granddaughters Wylla and Wynafryd. Wynafryd had green hair, which shocked Catelyn's sensibilities, but Jon thought it was fascinating. Like a real mermaid, the sigil of the Manderly house. He was quite enjoying himself and would be only slightly sad to return to Winterfell, but if it meant they would get back to the training they had been lacking in of late, he was glad for it.
It was the boring meetings and stuffy pretentious formalities that had Robb escaping from the port, sneaking off to the forest with his direwolf Grey Wind-- they were going to go hunting and Jon ended up following, his direwolf Ghost training quietly behind him. He sensed Ghost's apprehension-- they were connected in a way he didn't think the others shared-- at the prospect of going deep into teh forest, but he went anyway. He really didn't want Robb to shame him either, his brother being his only friend in this world but also his tormentor, especially when Theon got around him.
He followed as best he could, but Robb had a good head start and Grey Wind was barking, taking off even farther ahead of his master. Ghost kept pausing, wanting to turn back, but Jon couldn't leave Robb out here alone. What would Father say to that? Especially Lady Catelyn. He was lucky that he was raised in the same keep as his father's trueborn children, even luckier he received the same lessons from the castle's master-at-arms and Maester. He was even a better swordsman and archer than Robb, but he could never show it. He wished one day he would be able to, wished one day someone would recognize him as a good fighter. He was scrappy-- had to be when Robb and Theon decided they wanted to fight with fists instead of their training blades.
They called him the Bastard of Winterfell, but he also heard some of the servants refer to him as the White Wolf. He was the darkest of the Stark children, hair raven black and eyes as gray as the storm skies. He took most after their father and tended to wear darker clothing, easier to blend into the background, but it was his snow white wolf with red eyes who was his shadow, as soundless as he could be, never barking, whining, or howling. The same as the bastard had to be.
"Robb!" he shouted, pushing through some thick brush. He no longer heard the steps, the crunching in the dried leaves and branches. He turned a few times, having lost his direction. his heart began to pound in earnest, worried not only for the heir to Winterfell but for himself. He glanced at Ghost, the wolf peering up at him, red eyes unblinking, an expression of I told you on his face. He sighed, reaching for his wolf. "You'll get us home, but first we have to find Robb. Father is going to kill me."
Ghost bounded ahead, spurred by the urgency to find Robb and then they could go home. He felt the connection to the wolf in his mind, a peculiar thing. He'd asked his other siblings-- they each had a direwolf to call their own-- if they shared similar connections, but none of them really knew what he was talking about. Little Arya said she had dreams, Sansa ignored him, and Robb said yeah, sometimes he thought he could feel where Grey Wind was, but when Jon prompted him for further explanation-- did he actually see what Grey Wind could see or feel what Grey Wind felt? He had awoken one morning and thought he could taste blood in his mouth after Ghost had killed a deer in the forest. Tiny Bran, just a toddler, said he slept like a wolf. He wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean.
They made their way through, the sky darkening, and Jon grew more concerned. "Robb!" he yelled, pushing around another thicket of trees, suddenly lurching forward, his ankle snagging on a hidden tree root, before stumbling down a sloping hill to a rocky beach, closing his eyes and lifting his arms over his face as he tumbled through the rocks. He landed with a hard thud, wincing at the scrap on his forehead, blood trickling into his eyes. "Fuck," he muttered, looking around, blinking as the blood blurred the vision in his right eye.
He didn't have time to scream for Robb, his mind suddenly flashing, eyes rolling back as he felt the squeezing on his inside, the tearing at his limbs, and taste of human flesh in his mouth, tearing and trying to break free. Four men, all of them foul and hideous, with missing teeth and torn dirty clothes of the Essosi sailors, tried to pin him to the beach, screaming about how he'd fetch a good price for that fat Magister's menagerie!
Ghost was in trouble. Ghost needed him. He had to get to him.
Ghost was his only family in that moment. The only living creature who actually sought him out, depended on him, needed him, and he had to get to him.
People wanted him, they were hurting him, he tried to fight back, but they were slamming things into him, clubs or something, maybe even their boots. There were too many, he couldn't get to them, he was weak...he was losing...no...no....
"No!" he screamed, bellowing out as his connection to his wolf severed, blood roaring through his ears as he returned to his body, crouching on the rocks, almost sick to his stomach at the sensations. He screamed for Robb, Grey Wind, someone, and took off in the direction he knew he'd find Ghost. He had only his sword, barely a sharp thing, but it was something. He whipped it from the scabbard and swung at the first man he saw.
There were four of them, each one worse off than the last. They had piercings in their face and ears, some had colored tattoos up their arms and faces. Pirates. Slavers. He had heard stories from Ned, saying that some people thought it was acceptable to take humans and sell them as if they were cattle, priced by the head and those people had nothing, no rights and no lives, living only to serve another.
"The gods do not forgive slavery and neither do I, any man in the North who is caught with a slave or engaging in the practice will be summarily exiled, all lands and titles lost.", Ned told him once during their lessons. He was explaining the situation of the former Lord of Bear Island, who sold to gain money to pay for his wife's outrageous living styles and debts. Jon heard the story, knew it was a sad affair, although he'd never been to Bear Island, had never met the man. He knew the man's father had stepped down to become a Night's Watchman, was the Lord Commander there now.
Slavers did not venture into the North as easily as they did in the south, but these ones had stumbled onto the shores, and they were trying to take his direwolf with them. They were going to kill him. Jon would die, he'd die before someone took Ghost, his only true family. He swung out again, managing to graze the exposed arm of one of the men who was holding the corner of the sack, which Ghost was currently half bound up in. "Fucking cunt!" he roared. "Little bastard got me!"
Do not call me a bastard.
Something overcame him, he could no longer see. It was all red and black and angry flames. He was not sure where his sword was, or where his fists were either. He was using both. He was swinging out, knuckles scraping on the sailors' heavy boiled leather and straggly furs. Something snagged, maybe someone's earring and he heard screams but he couldn't tell if they were his or theirs.
He came off the ground, feet lifting, and swung some more, hearing another call him a bastard. "I'm not!" he yelled, even if it was true. He was a bastard.
Another with a gravelly voice spoke in a different language he didn't recognize what they were saying; he was absolutely shit with languages, Maeater Luwin always said. He knew that they didn't all speak Common Tongue in Essos, if that's where these men were from. They had to be, no Westerosi would think to do what they were doing on the Northern shores. I hope my lord father looks for me, he briefly wondered.
The biggest one, with the deepest voice, shouted. "This one is a fighter! Got some meat on those young muscles, I'd say he's good for the pits."
"Pretty face and curls, he could go to Lys, be a bed warmer."
"Fuck that, the pits give more money the brothels."
"And the dog?"
The leader hit the one on the back of the head with the palm of his hand, rolling his eyes at his subordinate's insolence. "That ain't a dog you Summer Island shit, that's a direwolf. Like I said, Maester Mopatis loves his foreign animals. He's going to the menagerie. Get them both."
"Sword's got a wolf on it. It's good steel."
"Leave the fucking thing behind, they'll think he drowned himself or something."
It was hard to tell what else they were saying. He was too busy screaming and kicking and flailing about attempting to break free, but the two who didn't speak the Common Tongue, the ones with the heavy foreign tongues spoke again, were holding him tight. He felt one of them jerk on his hair, which had come undone, tilting his neck up. The leader, the tall big one, leaned forward, grinning and showing missing teeth between two giant gold false ones. There was an ugly red scar on his face. "You are going to make me some good money where we're going."
"Fuck you," he spit, blood in his mouth.
They all laughed. "Yeah, he's going to Meereen," teh leader laughed.
Where was Meereen? He had never heard of it. His stomach flipped, bile lurching in his throat. They were going to kidnap him. He struggled. "You could make money off me," he said.
"That's the point."
"No, here." Words flew from his mouth before he could think. "I'm the bastard son of Eddard Stark, Lord Paramount of the North, Lord of Winterfell...Warden of the North. He'll pay for me." Gods I hope he'd pay for me. He'd pay ransom for Robb.
The other one, a bit shorter, with greasy bright red hair and a tattoo on his face, looked nervous. "You want to steal away a lord's son?"
"Bastard son," the tall one spat. He laughed. "They actually believe that bastards are less than the ones between married husbands and wives. Fucking Westerosi." He took out a dagger from his belt. It was shiny silver with emeralds on the hilt. The tip of the blade, curved steel, glinting the pale sunlight from between the clouds, touched at the bottom of his chin, forcing him to look up further.
He held his breath, unsure what the slaver intended now. Set him free? Kill him? If you kill me, kill Ghost too, because he will murder you all. He prayed for Robb to appear. Or their father, or someone. He closed his eyes when the knife skimmed over his left eye, grazing above his eyebrow and the top of his cheekbone. It was so sudden, so light, he barely felt it, but the sting spread through his face a moment later, the blood welling up at the mark. He exhaled hard, chest still rising and falling from his exertions trying to fend them off and save Ghost.
The heavy furs he wore weighed him down and he wished he hadn't worn the cloak; maybe he would have been able to move freer. The leader grinned again. "You're coming with us boy. I don't give a fuck if your father is the king of this fucking world. You're gonna' be a fighter, I can always tell. Gonna' make me some money. You and that little wolf of yours."
He lunged, but received a kick in the ribs, choking on the breath catching in his throat. "Ghost," he whispered, closing his eyes, trying to seek him out. He wondered where Robb had run off to, fucking Robb.
They lifted him up, arms pinned and he struggled, screaming for Ghost, for Robb, for anyone, but they just laughed and carried him off. He couldn't see, a hood pulled down over his face, and his senses overstimulated, trying to figure out where they were dragging him. If they had to get him to a ship, surely someone would notice?
No, they wouldn't. He'd been to the port yesterday to tour it with Father and Robb. There were so many ships, colorful sails and designs and mastheads. They came and went like the wind that took them North, going to all the ports along the eastern shore and around the south, through the Stepstones to the West and the Sunset Sea or going east again, to the northern shores of Essos, Ib and Braavos, or down south to the other Free Cities. He'd even heard tell of some that made the grueling journey as far east as the mysterious Shadowlands city of Assh'ai.
He had not heard of this Meereen. He wondered what the pits were they referred to, he shuddered at the thought of them forcing him to become a bedslave. fuck that, I'll kill myself before I do that. He would never father bastards. It was his only vow he'd made thus far in life.
They were going to sell Ghost to some Magister. To be a sideshow in some rich man's home. Ghost was a direwolf, he belonged in the North, he was a wild animal, he was not meant to be penned up, to be someone's pet. He hated it when people referred to them as that; the direwolves were their companions, their equals. They answered to no one but the gods.
He closed his eyes tight, trying not to inhale the filthy smell of the black hood, unable to see anyway, his shoulders aching from the prolonged position pinned behind him, and he gasped in shock as his head struck something hard, jostling as the smell of saltwater and the sound of the waves began to wash over him. Maybe they'll just drown me. No, this man would get his money's worth, he suspected. He wondered where Robb was, prayed to the old gods surrounding them that they protected him and Grey Wind from whoever these men were, from whatever fate lay before him.
They were putting him into a boat, he realized, probably a dinghy, to take him to the greater vessel somewhere off the coast. He wished he could feel Ghost, but the connection was weak and thready. At least it was there. At least he was still alive. He tried to find him, but he couldn't, could only hope the thud of something beside him, pressing against him was his wolf. I'll get us out of here. Somehow.
As he was wondering how best to approach the situation, running through the drills that Ser Cassel taught them for fighting, assessing their opponents, he felt pain explode behind his eyes and then everything went black.
"Move it boy!"
The sun was the hottest thing he had ever experienced. Hotter even than the fires in the great hall at Winterfell, the flames that had once licked at his hand, burning one of his fingers when he was a stupid little boy not paying attention as he tended to the coals. He could barely see, sweat and dried dirt and blood caking his face and falling into his vision. He kept his eyes slit shut most of the time, open just enough to try to find his way, but it really didn't matter.
They'd just drag you along anyway, hands bound to the person in front, trudging along, his boots worn almost completely through in the soles, covered in sand and dust, his feet blistered and bruised, so numb from the trek he sometimes wondered if they'd just fallen off and he imagined them there. He was exhausted all the time, there was no sleeping. Even when they stopped-- hardly-- it was the sounds of people screaming as they were beaten, raped, and tormented. The sound of the whips cracked through the air, the worst was when they finally met their target, someone's back or face.
He had seen things in Winterfell that most shouldn't have to witness; he'd seen his first execution of a Night's Watch deserter when he was only six years of age. He'd seen people lose their limbs to frostbite, fire, careless acts. Heads crashed in by wild horses and falling off ramparts. Arrow wounds, sword wounds, and the like. It was a tough, hard existence in the North and Ned Stark made sure his bastard son was there for it all, just like Robb, so they would know the world where they lived. Become as hard and immobile as the rest of the Northerners.
This was far worse.
The ship had been bad enough, tossed about in the bowels of it, covered in filth and grime, constantly damp from the leak in the cells where they kept him. He had Ghost for his company, thank the gods, and each time they stopped in port he wondered if that was it. If they'd just decide to kill him and his wolf and be done with it. If maybe City Watch in Kings Landing would come aboard or the knights of Dunskendale when they stopped there. If that was where they stopped.
It had been months of it, months of wondering, and sickness and he barely had any food. He got used to the horrible, gnawing feeling in his stomach and the ache in his bones. Sometimes they dragged him out and showed him off to the crew and others who joined the ship, throwing him a dull sword and making him fight for his supper. Ghost was weak, his front leg injured from the initial attack, and he could barely fight as well. He tried to go into his wolf's mind, to reassure him, but all he felt was pain and the same lost feeling when he closed his eyes and journeyed into Ghost.
He whispered to the wolf not to do anything, as much as hew anted to save him and escape, he had to survive, because that was what they had to do. As hard as it was, as painful, they needed to live. Trying to fight out of it would only end in death.
Ghost was still alive, the one they planned tos ell him too apparently in this Meereen. He was tied up to one of the wagons, his mouth bound in cord to keep from biting, and Jon was never out of sight of him. It was like they knew that something would happen if they were separate. He was picking up some of the words they spoke, the strange language that sounded like it should have been prettier. He didn't meet many others who spoke the Common Tongue, and he'd learned to keep his mouth shut.
Speaking did no good.
He gazed at the body of a young man who had tried to speak, tried to ask for water, but had received a whip to the face, slashing it open and dropping him dead. He tried to figure out just what exactly these people planned to do with them and where they were going from here. They had disembarked in a location he believed to be Pentos. He had seen it on some maps in the library during Robb's lessons. On the Narrow Sea.
Except instead of being in Pentos, they had begun to walk, marching through the desert, gathering from villages along the way. The slavers were building up their merchandise, he ascertained. They were trying to find young men like him, ones who could mold into fighters. He had had to fight a lot. He had put on more muscle, despite the lack of nutrition, if only because of the walking and the fighting. He'd had to learn how to make them happy in the fights, to entertain.
It sickened him. He'd never killed another man before, but he had to do it. Father said that one day he would need to kill a man, to take the life, as keeping the peace and doling justice was their responsibility. He always said you looked a man in the eye when you took his life, it was the only respect you could give in those last moments.
There were lots of things father said to him. A man is only brave when he is scared. That one he'd taken to heart. It was his mantra. He was scared all the time. He had to be. Scared that the scraps of food were his last, were Ghost's last. S cared the injuries he sustained would fester and he'd die in a pile of shit and piss. Scared that each time they whipped him for some perceived insult would be the last feeling he felt before he died.
Scared he'd never see home again.
He stared up at the sky at night, wondering if they were looking for him. If Robb had ever been found. If Father was sending out search parties. They couldn't imagine he was placed on a ship, he wondered. He wasn't sure if the Old Gods were there, in this strange land, but if they were, he prayed that they were listening to him.
They had raided a village that morning, were walking through the heat. He had picked up enough of the language to realize that they were stopping, apparently there was something called Dothraki nearby. He had heard the word before, but couldn’t remember from where. Whoever these Dothraki were, they were fierce enough to frighten the captors.
He’d said goodbye to the leader of the group that had stolen him away from the North when they passed him over to a new group that took him with the others in Pentos. They were heading south, from what he gathered, watching the sun carefully, grateful that Ned taught them about star and moon navigation. It was entirely strange, without his furs, his skin peeling and cracked from the heat, shiny red face and his hair feeling like he had a hooded cape on his head.
He remained standing in the line with the rest of the others, keeping an eye on Ghost, who was silently growling at the men walking by him. There was a palpable fear in them. They were grabbing weapons. He had always been good at observing, you had to be as a bastard, to stick to the shadows and survey the people around you. He was always better at it than Robb, could tell what people were thinking and feeling almost before they could. Hide his emotions and mask his face into anything they needed.
The mask had been up the entire time, from the moment that hood came over his face on the stony shore outside of White Harbor.
A brief feeling of hope alighted in his stomach, at the thought that the slavers feared these Dothraki, and he wondered if perhaps this was his chance. He turned his head, hearing the sound before they did, his lips turning slightly upward.
There were horses approaching. Thousands of them, if he gathered correctly, moving quickly in the line towards the wagon, tugging on the ropes that bound him to the others, ducking down when the cloud of shadows and sand began to gather around. The slavers began screaming, shouting commands and trying to round them up, but everyone began to panic, trying to get away, to break free in the chaos.
It would do no good, he thought, keeping low, his eyes on Ghost. Not yet, he warned his wolf, who had bristled at the tension in the air. He had to get to Ghost, to grab him and hurry off. The wolf was exhausted, the heat was not for him, but he had withstood it this long. We’ll be free soon.
His eyes widened, stunned, as the horses approached, his mouth falling open. It was a sight to behold, something he had never dreamed of seeing. Men, wearing leathers and their hair braided, some as long as to their shoulders, riding horses with and without saddles, wielding massive curved blades, and others standing on the horses, firing arrows faster than the others could draw their swords or daggers.
An arrow hit a little too close to him and he lunged for it, tugging it free of the ground, the blade still sharp, cracked from firing into the earth, but he could still get it. He bit his lower lip, fighting with the adrenaline coursing through him, the focus to get the ropes free. The Dothraki screamed, rounding their horses around as they swept and slashed, taking out the slavers. They were not here to save them, he was sure, ignoring the screams of the people as the Dothraki killed the ones they wanted and grabbed for the women and some of the men. They knocked at the wagons and grabbed the horses.
They were pillaging, he realized, hissing in success when the ropes around his wrist broke free. Some of the slaves had metal chains binding them, either by their ankles, wrists, or in some cases their necks. He didn’t have a metal collar, they preferred to bind him with ropes or chains on his wrists, but he was roped that day. The gods are helping me..
If there were such things as gods anymore in this hellish existence.
He unwound the ropes, yelling for Ghost, the wolf dancing in place, struggling to get loose, to either join the fight or flee to him. He darted through the chaos, snatching up a fallen metal blade, not realizing it was the curved ones that these Dothraki wielded. He spun around, slashing out as someone grabbed for him, one of the slavers, trying to kill him with a dagger between his ribs.
“Fuck you,” he roared, recognizing it as one who had taken pleasure in raping the women. He swung the strange blade, heavy in his hand, heavier than any sword he had carried, and was stunned when it connected with the slaver’s chest, slicing cleanly through. His eyes widened, stomach clenching at the gory mess that the man had become, but his mind went black, single-focused.
The Dothraki continued to scream in their language, harsh guttural sounds, and he grabbed another fallen blade, slicing through Ghost’s bindings, freeing him from the wagon and the muzzle. He spun his head around, once Ghost lunged by him, falling backwards into the sand, the wolf flying up to tear the throat out of another who had been tasked with keeping the wolf bound up.
“Good boy,” he muttered, taking the weird sickle blade and slashing out again, trying to get out of the mess of people that had surrounded him. He didn’t think it was wise to use the Dothraki weapon to kill a Dothraki and right now they weren’t going after him. It was almost like they couldn’t even see him. They were busy raiding the supplies and the people, taking down the slavers and the others who were trying to go after them.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw a horse fall, taken out by one of the slavers’ blades, and a young Dothraki about his age get pinned beneath the dead beast. He saw Ghost feasting on one of the dead horses, needing the sustenance. He knew Ghost would be okay and ran for the young Dothraki, grabbing his hands and hauling him up, not saying anything, but frowning at the strange look the young man gave him, before he heard a sound and a shadow fell over them.
It was one of the nastiest of the slavers, a dagger in his hand, lifting to slash down to take out the Dothraki, but Jon moved faster, slipping easily under the aloft arm and using the sickle blade, slicing through the man’s middle and knocking him down, enough to grab the dagger, spin around onto his back and slice his neck, blood pouring over his hands.
It was warm, that was his first thought. Fresh from the source, like deer when they killed them in the North.
I didn’t look him in the eyes, was his second thought.
Good riddance was the third. Men like that didn’t deserve respect when their life ended.
Jon fell to his feet, covered in blood, chest rising and falling, each exhale a relief. He lifted his face to the sun, the heat washing over him, but a breeze on his dirty, matted hair. Freedom.
The Dothraki circled around him, Ghost at his side growling, and hackles raised. He gripped the blade, eyes shifting from horse to horse, warrior to warrior. They were formidable. They were terrifying. Eyes painted black and some with paint streaked along their arms and bare chests. Gold belts and medallions and some had bells in their braided hair. They screamed and shouted in their language, some laughing and pointing to him with their blades.
The young Dothraki spoke to another, who broke through the group. He was their leader, Jon realized, sitting atop a massive black horse, bells and ribbons wrapped in the horse’s mane and saddle. He stared up at him, not backing down, refusing to show weakness. If this was how he died, he’d at least go out with a weapon in his hand and Ghost at his side.
Kill me if you must, he thought.
The man was gigantic, heavily muscled chest and arms, leather gauntlets and straps wrapped up to his elbows. He looked as though he were born on a horse. What struck Jon was his hair. It was braided and knotted from the top of his head almost to the seat of the saddle. Not everyone had their braids and hair that long. He wondered if it was a sign of power.
He frowned up at him, wondering what the other Dothraki was saying. The older one spoke again and nodded to someone. He glanced at a young warrior who approached and slid off his horse. “You are from the West,” the warrior said, his accent thick but understandable.
Relief flowed through him at hearing his language. “Yes,” he answered. Best to keep it short, hes supposed.
“Yes,” he said. He touched Ghost’s head, wishing the wolf to sit, which he did. He hesitated and then nodded. “He will not hurt you…if you hurt me…he will kill you.”
The man translated for the others, who all laughed. The Dothraki smiled, hands on his hips. He nodded to the blade. “You fight.”
He scowled, gritting his teeth. “No more.”
They all exchanged more words. The man nodded to him again. “You stand before Khal Bharbo, the fiercest and greatest of the khals. You saved his son, our future khal, Drogo.” He nodded to the younger Dothraki man, who appeared several years older than he was. The one, Drogo, glared at him, but said nothing.
Jon wanted to snap at him, tell him that he should be grateful he saved his life, but he kept his mouth shut. He was irritated that they were prolonging this. Just kill him or let him go. He needed to get back home. He looked at the other man. “I’m Jon.”
“Jon,” he tested. He laughed and the big one, the leader, Bharbo, said something. The man nodded. He shook his head and gestured to the wolf. “You are Verro now. Wolf. You have protection of Khal Bharbo, for saving his son’s life. You will come with us.”
“I need to get to Westeros.”
“No,” Bharbo said, voice clear. He tugged on the reins of the horse, shaking his head again. He said something again to the translator, who replied back to him. Bharbo smirked. “Dothraki. Verro. Zasqa Ver.”
What does that mean?
Another Dothraki approached and provided him with a horse. He stared at it, frowning, and the translator glared at him again. “You ride, or you die, you are in protection of Bharbo’s khalasar now.” He chuckled. “White Wolf. Zasqa Ver.”
He had no idea where he was. He was tired, hungry, and injured. So was Ghost. He was a fool if he thought he could just turn around and walk back the miles they’d gone from Pentos. Or wherever they were. He had no money. No name…nothing to trade. He gripped his wolf’s fur, closing his eyes, translating his thoughts to the beast, who returned back with his own.
We will go home. Soon. I promise.
He took the reins of the horse and watched them; they were all staring at him, waiting. He sensed these people would kill him not for talking back, but for being unable to mount a horse properly. He held the blade in his hand and in one sweeping move, he lifted onto the horse, straddling it and muscles screaming in protest. They all chuckled, but were pleased with his form, it seemed. He looked at Ghost who was limping and stopped the horse, dismounting.
They stared at him as he lifted the wolf, carefully placing him atop the horse, Ghost not happy with the position, but recognizing he had to rest. He lifted onto the horse again and adjusted the blade’s handle in a loop, where it was within reach if he had to wield it again. It was strange. It was heavy, but he felt more comfortable with it than he did the sword. He looked around at them and waited, the translator smiling briefly before they set off.
He gazed at the carnage, the burning wagons and the dead men and women. He heard screaming still, many still taken by the Dothraki, but he could say nothing. He had to wait. He had to be careful and watch and wait. He felt the eyes of them on him, studying him, and he let the horse take the lead, feeling Ghost’s heart under his palm. It was the two of them and they had to get back to the North, to Winterfell.
To what though? To being a bastard?
The Dothraki shouted around him, the translator approaching, nodding to the weapon. “You wield an arakh well, for an Andal.”
“I am not an Andal.” They were the others, the ones from the South. He stared ahead, shoulders slumping with exhaustion, the ebb of the rushing emotions from the fight, from always being on edge for the past months. He didn’t even know when he last slept or ate. He took something the man offered him, unsure what it was, but believing he was supposed to eat it. He split it in half and offered some to Ghost, who nibbled before taking it and swallowing whole.
The translator frowned. “What are you then, White Wolf?”
I guess that is what I am. Jon, the White Wolf, the Bastard of Winterfell. Jon Snow.
They would not know what snow was, he thought, the horse plodding in the sand and dirt. He looked sideways. “I am one of the First Men,” he said, quiet. The First Men of Westeros, the founders of the North. The true North. He was as far from the North as he could be though. On the other side of the world even.
The translator chuckled. “You are Verro now.”
“Ver means wolf?” he deduced.
My name is Jon Snow, he thought, and I am going to go home. Home to Winterfell, home to the North, but for now…he glanced over at the Dothraki his age, the one named Drogo, who was continuing to shoot him dark looks. No doubt embarrassed he had to be saved by the White Wolf, he figured. He glanced at Ghost, who was peering up with red eyes. “We’ll be home soon,” he vowed.
But for now, he would have to be Verro.
Just another mask to survive.
Many Years Later…
They had burned Viserys’s body, until there was nothing left but ashy, crumbling bones and a golden crown. She buried them, despite Jorah’s protests that she shouldn’t, that he could do it, but she had to, because he was her brother and as vile and horrible he had been to her, he was still her blood.
And I am the last Targaryen.
There was no one but her now, no one but her and her child, she thought, cupping her hand over the slight swell over her stomach. She closed her eyes, her little Rhaego inside of her, growing strong. The Stallion that Mounts the World. Her stomach churned, still roiling from the loss of her brother, the fear at what lay before her, and the mounting pressure on her shoulders as she came to terms with what had truly happened.
Viserys was dead, I am the true Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
The whole reason she was here, in this grassy sea, with people she still feared but who had become her people, had become her family, was because of Viserys. Because he sold her like a horse to Khal Drogo for his 40,000 men, but with no ships to carry them over the poisonous waters to Westeros, was good was it? Of course Viserys never thought that far ahead, never thought beyond his goal of taking back what the Usurper stole from their family, from him.
“He was a good brother,” she murmured, for a short time. He cared for her when she was small, after they’d had to flee Braavos, shielded her as best he could from the violence of the assassins killing the Darry family and wrenching her from what little happy life she’d had to the reality of what lay before her. Running, never settling, starving, never full. The light went out when he sold their mother’s crown. That was when Viserys lost whatever heart he might have had, whatever love he may still have had in his heart for his little sister, and she became nothing more than a pawn for him to get back the Iron Throne.
She twisted her mother’s ring on her finger, the last piece of the Targaryen monarchy, save her. She looked at it, the pearl in the dragon’s mouth, and closed her eyes, seeking strength she knew lay within her. The strength that kept her standing after those vicious, horrifying first weeks with the Dothraki. The strength that she tapped into so she could take back what little control she might have had with Drogo, to keep her from getting hurt. The strength that she had to have so she could be the khaleesi they needed her to be and she knew she was. She was going to be a mother. She was going to be the queen.
“Khaleesi,” a soft voice called for her.
The call from Jorah tore her attention from staring off at the molten sun in the sky, gazing out at nothing as she sat with her thoughts. She remained on the large rock, her knees drawn to her chest as best as could be, with her slight belly in the way now. She smiled over at him, grateful for his presence here in these moments. “Jorah,” she greeted. She turned her palm upwards, gesturing to the rock beside her. “Come sit with me.”
“It is not safe for you to be here alone,” he chastised.
“I’m fine.” The khalasar was around her. Drogo’s khalasar. Her khalasar. She looked over shoulder, the people moving about, gathering and working. Even when not on the move there was always something to do. She wanted to go back into the markets, to see the spices, perfumes, seeds, and silks of the Free Cities. Something to take her mind from the fact that she was the last Targaryen. She had so much to do now, so much to think about, but she needed a moment. Just a moment to be a woman looking at pretty scarves. Not that she’d been allowed to do that before.
Jorah helped her up to her feet, offering her his waterskin. “You need to drink, it is hot today.”
“When is it not?” she replied, taking the skin with a smile. She sipped carefully, gazing back out at the tents behind her, some of them more structured like real houses. She frowned, watching sand and dirt churn up in the distance. Her hand lifted, pointing. “What’s happening there?”
Jorah tensed beside her. “Another khalasar approaches.”
“Will there be trouble?”
“No weapons in Vaes Dothrak.”
She remembered, sighing at Viserys’s foolish decision to maintain his dagger. “Yes of course.” But no weapons doesn’t mean there won’t be trouble. She stepped over some of the rocks at the base of the boulder where she’d been sitting, walking back to the path that led to the tent she shared with Drogo. “Let’s return. Perhaps we could go back to the markets?”
“If you feel up to it, yes.”
They approached the tents, but Jorah stopped her as some of the horses ran by, their saddles and manes tied with white scraps of fabric. She frowned, noting that many of the horses were black. That was odd, she figured, wondering whose khalasar this happened to be. She’d heard of some of the other khals, not as great as Drogo, and knew that they would fight and slaughter each other in the sea once they were out of Vaes Dothrak, each one fighting to be the strongest.
The Dothraki only follow strength.
Jorah gripped at her arm suddenly, when Drogo emerged from the tent, waiting it seemed as the horses slowed, parting to allow their khal through the street. “We need to go,” he said. He tugged urgently. “You need to get to safety.”
“This is Khal Verro’s khalasar, I don’t know how this is going to go.”
“Who is Khal Verro?” she wondered. It was a name she had not heard. Her eyes widened, seeing why the other Dothraki began to shift, watching nervously. Her mouth fell open. “Oh my.”
Walking forward was the biggest wolf she had ever seen. It stood so tall that it’s head came to the tops of some of the women and even a few of the men. It dwarfed children, immediately pulled back by their mothers as the wolf walked by. It was snow white, its fur shaggy, shaved down in some areas, likely for the heat. It wasn’t the size of it though, or the incredible blinding color of its fur that caught Dany’s attention, but the beast’s eyes.
They were blood-red, unblinking, and had latched onto hers.
She ignored Jorah’s hand, stepping forward, transfixed. It was a beautiful animal. Magic, she thought, reaching her hand, unable to think beyond wondering what the fur felt like or the black nose that sniffed at her, the red eyes still focused on hers. A peculiar prickling at the base of her neck made her think the wolf was trying to read her mind. It was so human.
Drogo reached for her, saying something about not touching it, but she didn’t listen, she wanted to scratch the wolf’s ears all of a sudden. Wanted to nuzzle into its fur and pet its head, which were absolutely insane thoughts, as this was not a dog, but a wolf.
The voice that spoke her husband’s name was quiet. She looked over, surprised again, staring at the speaker. The rider of the black horse was not Dothraki. He had dark springy curls that were bound in a braid, knotted and tied down to his shoulders. Despite the sun and the heat, he wore a loose black tunic, the sleeves cut off at the elbows and black gauntlets from his wrists to his forearms. His skin was not dark like Drogo’s or the other Dothraki, but still tanned from the sun. It was his eyes though that drew her attention.
They were dark, practically black. He stared at her, beside Drogo, and she tensed when a flicker of anger crossed it. She had been used to watching Viserys for any trace that his mood would change. It was a self-preservation skill she prided herself on having. She saw the creases in the corners of his eyes, the way his nostrils flared, and his lips set in a tight line.
Before she knew it, Jorah had grabbed for her arm, the new khal flying off his horse and the wolf at his side, advancing on Drogo. He spoke Dothraki, shouting at her husband. “Did you kidnap her? Steal her away from her family?”
Drogo shouted back. “She’s my wife! Her brother gave her to me, she’s with child, with the Stallion that Mounts the World!” He seemed eager to show her off and she stepped forward, frowning at the new khal, who was still angry, black eyes glaring at Drogo.
They shouted at each other some more, so fast she couldn’t follow, even though her Dothraki had gotten considerably better. She nudged Jorah. “What are they saying?” she whispered.
Jorah tensed beside her. “He’s accusing Drogo of stealing you, says to return to you to your family. Drogo is saying that the khalasar is your family. You’re his wife and Verro has no reason to be upset with him.”
“Verro?” Ver meant wolf. She supposed it made sense. She glanced at the white wolf again, who was still looking at her. Watching her every move.
They continued to fight, until whatever Drogo told him seemed to satisfy him. He glanced at her, nodding slightly. She frowned, walking towards him. “My name is Daenerys,” she said, using Dothraki, although she suspected maybe he also spoke Valyrian, if he was from the Free Cities. Or maybe even Common Tongue. She cocked her head, lifting her chin. “Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen.”
Verro smiled; it was so brief she almost missed it. Most probably would. He looked over to Jorah, staring at him for a moment before his eyes narrowed. He said nothing, scowling at Jorah, who stood protectively behind her. He clicked his tongue and the wolf went to his side as he jumped back up onto the horse. He kept his eyes on hers for a moment longer, before his heels went into the sides of the horse and he took off, the wolf galloping after him, the rest of his khalasar following.
Her curiosity peaked, she didn’t listen to Drogo when he summoned her into the tent, turning to face Jorah, who was hiding his face from her. “Who was that?” she demanded. She had to know. The strange khal with his own khalasar and a massive white wolf. How have I never heard of him before?
“I have never seen him in person, only heard.”
“Tell me.” She arched an eyebrow, hands going to her hips. “Do not make me order you Jorah.”
That had a small smile on his face. He took a deep breath and released it slowly. “That was Khal Verro they call him, although I do not know his true name. He is from Westeros. He was raised with Drogo, if you believe the stories. Separated after Bharbo died, formed his own khalasar.” He paused and took a deep breath. “He’s from Westeros.”
Westeros. “He is dark,” she murmured, thinking of those eyes and the black of his hair. She peered to Jorah again. “His wolf is enormous.”
“Some say it is a direwolf, but those are only found in the far North of Westeros. It is impossible for him to be here.” He paused. “You would have a lot in common with him.”
Her brow furrowed. “Because we’re both from Westeros?”
Jorah smiled. “Because his khalasar does not enslave, rape, or pillage.”
“That was why he was upset with Drogo. He worried you had been enslaved. Were forced to be his khaleesi. He does not come to Vaes Dothrak often, from what I’ve heard.” Jorah frowned briefly. “The direwolf is the sigil of House Stark.”
Her nose wrinkled. “Usurper’s dogs.”
“Lord Eddard Stark was the one who saved my life, khaleesi. He exiled me when he could have had my head.”
She was grateful for Lord Stark for that much, she supposed, but not for what had happened before. He was Robert Baratheon’s best friend, he was part of the rebellion that caused her family’s downfall. She could never forgive that. She gazed down the street where the intriguing Verro had disappeared. “I wonder what his real name is,” she whispered, almost to herself.
“If we are lucky we will not see him again. If we do beyond Vaes Dothrak, you know what would have to happen.”
Yes. The khals would fight each other and she glanced towards the tent where Drogo waited. She took a deep breath, slowly releasing it. She wanted to know more, she wasn’t sure why. There was something in his eyes she recognized. Something not even Jorah could know. She couldn’t put a name to it or fully describe it, but there was an emptiness inside of them she understood. The red eyes of the wolf staring into her remained in her mind, even throughout the night.
She turned from Jorah, not voicing her hope. She hoped she’d see him again. “We will go to the Western Market tomorrow,” she announced. “I should like to see some of the wares again.”
“Of course khaleesi.”
Jorah didn’t need to know that she hoped she’d see this mysterious Western khal again.