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Chapter Thirty-six 

Daenerys

The Horse Gate of Vaes Dothrak was made of two gigantic bronze stallions, rearing, their hooves meeting a hundred feet above the roadway to form a pointed arch.

Dany could not have said why the city needed a gate when it had no walls . . . and no buildings that she could see. Yet there it stood, immense and beautiful, the great horses framing the distant purple mountain beyond. The bronze stallions threw long shadows across the waving grasses as Khal Drogo led the khalasar under their hooves and down the godsway, his bloodriders beside him.

Dany followed on her silver, escorted by Ser Jorah Mormont and her brother Viserys, mounted once more. After the day in the grass when she had left him to walk back to the khalasar, the Dothraki had laughingly called him Khal Rhae Mhar, the Sorefoot King. Khal Drogo had offered him a place in a cart the next day, and Viserys had accepted. In his stubborn ignorance, he had not even known he was being mocked; the carts were for eunuchs, cripples, women giving birth, the very young and the very old. That won him yet another name: Khal Rhaggat, the Cart King. Her brother had thought it was the khal’s way of apologizing for the wrong Dany had done him. She had begged Ser Jorah not to tell him the truth, lest he be shamed. The knight had replied that the king could well do with a bit of shame . . . yet he had done as she bid. It had taken much pleading, and all the pillow tricks Doreah had taught her, before Dany had been able to make Drogo relent and allow Viserys to rejoin them at the head of the column.

“Where is the city?” she asked as they passed beneath the bronze arch. There were no buildings to be seen, no people, only the grass and the road, lined with ancient monuments from all the lands the Dothraki had sacked over the centuries.

“Ahead,” Ser Jorah answered. “Under the mountain. ”

Beyond the horse gate, plundered gods and stolen heroes loomed to either side of them. The forgotten deities of dead cities brandished their broken thunderbolts at the sky as Dany rode her silver past their feet. Stone kings looked down on her from their thrones, their faces chipped and stained, even their names lost in the mists of time. Lithe young maidens danced on marble plinths, draped only in flowers, or poured air from shattered jars. Monsters stood in the grass beside the road; black iron dragons with jewels for eyes, roaring griffins, manticores with their barbed tails poised to strike, and other beasts she could not name. Some of the statues were so lovely they took her breath away, others so misshapen and terrible that Dany could scarcely bear to look at them. Those, Ser Jorah said, had likely come from the Shadow Lands beyond Asshai.

“So many,” she said as her silver stepped slowly onward, “and from so many lands. ”

Viserys was less impressed. “The trash of dead cities,” he sneered. He was careful to speak in the Common Tongue, which few Dothraki could understand, yet even so Dany found herself glancing back at the men of her khas, to make certain he had not been overheard. He went on blithely. “All these savages know how to do is steal the things better men have built . . . and kill. ” He laughed. “They do know how to kill. Otherwise I’d have no use for them at all. ”

“They are my people now,” Dany said. “You should not call them savages, brother. ”

“The dragon speaks as he likes,” Viserys said . . . in the Common Tongue. He glanced over his shoulder at Aggo and Rakharo, riding behind them, and favored them with a mocking smile. “See, the savages lack the wit to understand the speech of civilized men. ” A moss-eaten stone monolith loomed over the road, fifty feet tall. Viserys gazed at it with boredom in his eyes. “How long must we linger amidst these ruins before Drogo gives me my army? I grow tired of waiting. ”

“The princess must be presented to the dosh khaleen . . . ”

“The crones, yes,” her brother interrupted, “and there’s to be some mummer’s show of a prophecy for the whelp in her belly, you told me. What is that to me? I’m tired of eating horsemeat and I’m sick of the stink of these savages. ” He sniffed at the wide, floppy sleeve of his tunic, where it was his custom to keep a sachet. It could not have helped much. The tunic was filthy. All the silk and heavy wools that Viserys had worn out of Pentos were stained by hard travel and rotted from sweat.

Ser Jorah Mormont said, “The Western Market will have food more to your taste, Your Grace. The traders from the Free Cities come there to sell their wares. The khal will honor his promise in his own time. ”

“He had better,” Viserys said grimly. “I was promised a crown, and I mean to have it. The dragon is not mocked. ” Spying an obscene likeness of a woman with six breasts and a ferret’s head, he rode off to inspect it more closely.

Dany was relieved, yet no less anxious. “I pray that my sun-and-stars will not keep him waiting too long,” she told Ser Jorah when her brother was out of earshot.

The knight looked after Viserys doubtfully. “Your brother should have bided his time in Pentos. There is no place for him in a khalasar. Illyrio tried to warn him. ”

“He will go as soon as he has his ten thousand. My lord husband promised a golden crown. ”

Ser Jorah grunted. “Yes, Khaleesi, but . . . the Dothraki look on these things differently than we do in the west. I have told him as much, as Illyrio told him, but your brother does not listen. The horselords are no traders. Viserys thinks he sold you, and now he wants his price. Yet Khal Drogo would say he had you as a gift. He will give Viserys a gift in return, yes . . . in his own time. You do not demand a gift, not of a khal. You do not demand anything of a khal. ”

“It is not right to make him wait. ” Dany did not know why she was defending her brother, yet she was. “Viserys says he could sweep the Seven Kingdoms with ten thousand Dothraki screamers. ”

Ser Jorah snorted. “Viserys could not sweep a stable with ten thousand brooms. ”

Dany could not pretend to surprise at the disdain in his tone. “What . . . what if it were not Viserys?” she asked. “If it were someone else who led them? Someone stronger? Could the Dothraki truly conquer the Seven Kingdoms?”

Ser Jorah’s face grew thoughtful as their horses trod together down the godsway. “When I first went into exile, I looked at the Dothraki and saw half-naked barbarians, as wild as their horses. If you had asked me then, Princess, I should have told you that a thousand good knights would have no trouble putting to flight a hundred times as many Dothraki. ”

“But if I asked you now?”

“Now,” the knight said, “I am less certain. They are better riders than any knight, utterly fearless, and their bows outrange ours. In the Seven Kingdoms, most archers fight on foot, from behind a shieldwall or a barricade of sharpened stakes. The Dothraki fire from horseback, charging or retreating, it makes no matter, they are full as deadly . . . and there are so many of them, my lady. Your lord husband alone counts forty thousand mounted warriors in his khalasar. ”

“Is that truly so many?”

“Your brother Rhaegar brought as many men to the Trident,” Ser Jorah admitted, “but of that number, no more than a tenth were knights. The rest were archers, freeriders, and foot soldiers armed with spears and pikes. When Rhaegar fell, many threw down their weapons and fled the field. How long do you imagine such a rabble would stand against the charge of forty thousand screamers howling for blood? How well would boiled leather jerkins and mailed shirts protect them when the arrows fall like rain?”

“Not long,” she said, “not well. ”

He nodded. “Mind you, Princess, if the lords of the Seven Kingdoms have the wit the gods gave a goose, it will never come to that. The riders have no taste for siegecraft. I doubt they could take even the weakest castle in the Seven Kingdoms, but if Robert Baratheon were fool enough to give them battle . . . ”

“Is he?” Dany asked. “A fool, I mean?”

Ser Jorah considered that for a moment. “Robert should have been born Dothraki,” he said at last. “Your khal would tell you that only a coward hides behind stone walls instead of facing his enemy with a blade in hand. The Usurper would agree. He is a strong man, brave . . . and rash enough to meet a Dothraki horde in the open field. But the men around him, well, their pipers play a different tune. His brother Stannis, Lord Tywin Lannister, Eddard Stark . . . ” He spat.

“You hate this Lord Stark,” Dany said.

“He took from me all I loved, for the sake of a few lice-ridden poachers and his precious honor,” Ser Jorah said bitterly. From his tone, she could tell the loss still pained him. He changed the subject quickly. “There,” he announced, pointing. “Vaes Dothrak. The city of the horselords. ”

Khal Drogo and his bloodriders led them through the great bazaar of the Western Market, down the broad ways beyond. Dany followed close on her silver, staring at the strangeness about her. Vaes Dothrak was at once the largest city and the smallest that she had ever known. She thought it must be ten times as large as Pentos, a vastness without walls or limits, its broad windswept streets paved in grass and mud and carpeted with wildflowers. In the Free Cities of the west, towers and manses and hovels and bridges and shops and halls all crowded in on one another, but Vaes Dothrak sprawled languorously, baking in the warm sun, ancient, arrogant, and empty.

Even the buildings were so queer to her eyes. She saw carved stone pavilions, manses of woven grass as large as castles, rickety wooden towers, stepped pyramids faced with marble, log halls open to the sky. In place of walls, some palaces were surrounded by thorny hedges. “None of them are alike,” she said.

“Your brother had part of the truth,” Ser Jorah admitted. “The Dothraki do not build. A thousand years ago, to make a house, they would dig a hole in the earth and cover it with a woven grass roof. The buildings you see were made by slaves brought here from lands they’ve plundered, and they built each after the fashion of their own peoples. ”

Most of the halls, even the largest, seemed deserted. “Where are the people who live here?” Dany asked. The bazaar had been full of running children and men shouting, but elsewhere she had seen only a few eunuchs going about their business.

“Only the crones of the dosh khaleen dwell permanently in the sacred city, them and their slaves and servants,” Ser Jorah replied, “yet Vaes Dothrak is large enough to house every man of every khalasar, should all the khals return to the Mother at once. The crones have prophesied that one day that will come to pass, and so Vaes Dothrak must be ready to embrace all its children. ”

Khal Drogo finally called a halt near the Eastern Market where the caravans from Yi Ti and Asshai and the Shadow Lands came to trade, with the Mother of Mountains looming overhead. Dany smiled as she recalled Magister Illyrio’s slave girl and her talk of a palace with two hundred rooms and doors of solid silver. The “palace” was a cavernous wooden feasting hall, its rough-hewn timbered walls rising forty feet, its roof sewn silk, a vast billowing tent that could be raised to keep out the rare rains, or lowered to admit the endless sky. Around the hall were broad grassy horse yards fenced with high hedges, firepits, and hundreds of round earthen houses that bulged from the ground like miniature hills, covered with grass.

A small army of slaves had gone ahead to prepare for Khal Drogo’s arrival. As each rider swung down from his saddle, he unbelted his arakh and handed it to a waiting slave, and any other weapons he carried as well. Even Khal Drogo himself was not exempt. Ser Jorah had explained that it was forbidden to carry a blade in Vaes Dothrak, or to shed a free man’s blood. Even warring khalasars put aside their feuds and shared meat and mead together when they were in sight of the Mother of Mountains. In this place, the crones of the dosh khaleen had decreed, all Dothraki were one blood, one khalasar, one herd.

Cohollo came to Dany as Irri and Jhiqui were helping her down off her silver. He was the oldest of Drogo’s three bloodriders, a squat bald man with a crooked nose and a mouth full of broken teeth, shattered by a mace twenty years before when he saved the young khalakka from sellswords who hoped to sell him to his father’s enemies. His life had been bound to Drogo’s the day her lord husband was born.

Every khal had his bloodriders. At first Dany had thought of them as a kind of Dothraki Kingsguard, sworn to protect their lord, but it went further than that. Jhiqui had taught her that a bloodrider was more than a guard; they were the khal’s brothers, his shadows, his fiercest friends. “Blood of my blood,” Drogo called them, and so it was; they shared a single life. The ancient traditions of the horselords demanded that when the khal died, his bloodriders died with him, to ride at his side in the night lands. If the khal died at the hands of some enemy, they lived only long enough to avenge him, and then followed him joyfully into the grave. In some khalasars, Jhiqui said, the bloodriders shared the khal’s wine, his tent, and even his wives, though never his horses. A man’s mount was his own.

Daenerys was glad that Khal Drogo did not hold to those ancient ways. She should not have liked being shared. And while old Cohollo treated her kindly enough, the others frightened her; Haggo, huge and silent, often glowered as if he had forgotten who she was, and Qotho had cruel eyes and quick hands that liked to hurt. He left bruises on Doreah’s soft white skin whenever he touched her, and sometimes made Irri sob in the night. Even his horses seemed to fear him.

Yet they were bound to Drogo for life and death, so Daenerys had no choice but to accept them. And sometimes she found herself wishing her father had been protected by such men. In the songs, the white knights of the Kingsguard were ever noble, valiant, and true, and yet King Aerys had been murdered by one of them, the handsome boy they now called the Kingslayer, and a second, Ser Barristan the Bold, had gone over to the Usurper. She wondered if all men were as false in the Seven Kingdoms. When her son sat the Iron Throne, she would see that he had bloodriders of his own to protect him against treachery in his Kingsguard.

“Khaleesi,” Cohollo said to her, in Dothraki. “Drogo, who is blood of my blood, commands me to tell you that he must ascend the Mother of Mountains this night, to sacrifice to the gods for his safe return. ”

Only men were allowed to set foot on the Mother, Dany knew. The khal’s bloodriders would go with him, and return at dawn. “Tell my sun-and-stars that I dream of him, and wait anxious for his return,” she replied, thankful. Dany tired more easily as the child grew within her; in truth, a night of rest would be most welcome. Her pregnancy only seemed to have inflamed Drogo’s desire for her, and of late his embraces left her exhausted.

Doreah led her to the hollow hill that had been prepared for her and her khal. It was cool and dim within, like a tent made of earth. “Jhiqui, a bath, please,” she commanded, to wash the dust of travel from her skin and soak her weary bones. It was pleasant to know that they would linger here for a while, that she would not need to climb back on her silver on the morrow.

The water was scalding hot, as she liked it. “I will give my brother his gifts tonight,” she decided as Jhiqui was washing her hair. “He should look a king in the sacred city. Doreah, run and find him and invite him to sup with me. ” Viserys was nicer to the Lysene girl than to her Dothraki handmaids, perhaps because Magister Illyrio had let him bed her back in Pentos. “Irri, go to the bazaar and buy fruit and meat. Anything but horseflesh. ”

“Horse is best,” Irri said. “Horse makes a man strong. ”

“Viserys hates horsemeat. ”

“As you say, Khaleesi. ”

She brought back a haunch of goat and a basket of fruits and vegetables. Jhiqui roasted the meat with sweetgrass and firepods, basting it with honey as it cooked, and there were melons and pomegranates and plums and some queer eastern fruit Dany did not know. While her handmaids prepared the meal, Dany laid out the clothing she’d had made to her brother’s measure: a tunic and leggings of crisp white linen, leather sandals that laced up to the knee, a bronze medallion belt, a leather vest painted with fire-breathing dragons. The Dothraki would respect him more if he looked less a beggar, she hoped, and perhaps he would forgive her for shaming him that day in the grass. He was still her king, after all, and her brother. They were both blood of the dragon.

She was arranging the last of his gifts—a sandsilk cloak, green as grass, with a pale grey border that would bring out the silver in his hair—when Viserys arrived, dragging Doreah by the arm. Her eye was red where he’d hit her. “How dare you send this whore to give me commands,” he said. He shoved the handmaid roughly to the carpet.

The anger took Dany utterly by surprise. “I only wanted . . . Doreah, what did you say?”

“Khaleesi, pardons, forgive me. I went to him, as you bid, and told him you commanded him to join you for supper. ”

“No one commands the dragon,” Viserys snarled. “I am your king! I should have sent you back her head!”

The Lysene girl quailed, but Dany calmed her with a touch. “Don’t be afraid, he won’t hurt you. Sweet brother, please, forgive her, the girl misspoke herself, I told her to ask you to sup with me, if it pleases Your Grace. ” She took him by the hand and drew him across the room. “Look. These are for you. ”

Viserys frowned suspiciously. “What is all this?”

“New raiment. I had it made for you. ” Dany smiled shyly.

He looked at her and sneered. “Dothraki rags. Do you presume to dress me now?”

“Please . . . you’ll be cooler and more comfortable, and I thought . . . maybe if you dressed like them, the Dothraki . . . ” Dany did not know how to say it without waking his dragon.

“Next you’ll want to braid my hair. ”

“I’d never . . . ” Why was he always so cruel? She had only wanted to help. “You have no right to a braid, you have won no victories yet. ”

It was the wrong thing to say. Fury shone from his lilac eyes, yet he dared not strike her, not with her handmaids watching and the warriors of her khas outside. Viserys picked up the cloak and sniffed at it. “This stinks of manure. Perhaps I shall use it as a horse blanket. ”

“I had Doreah sew it specially for you,” she told him, wounded. “These are garments fit for a khal. ”

“I am the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, not some grass-stained savage with bells in his hair,” Viserys spat back at her. He grabbed her arm. “You forget yourself, slut. Do you think that big belly will protect you if you wake the dragon?”

His fingers dug into her arm painfully and for an instant Dany felt like a child again, quailing in the face of his rage. She reached out with her other hand and grabbed the first thing she touched, the belt she’d hoped to give him, a heavy chain of ornate bronze medallions. She swung it with all her strength.

It caught him full in the face. Viserys let go of her. Blood ran down his cheek where the edge of one of the medallions had sliced it open. “You are the one who forgets himself,” Dany said to him. “Didn’t you learn anything that day in the grass? Leave me now, before I summon my khas to drag you out. And pray that Khal Drogo does not hear of this, or he will cut open your belly and feed you your own entrails. ”

Viserys scrambled back to his feet. “When I come into my kingdom, you will rue this day, slut. ” He walked off, holding his torn face, leaving her gifts behind him.

Drops of his blood had spattered the beautiful sandsilk cloak. Dany clutched the soft cloth to her cheek and sat cross-legged on her sleeping mats.

“Your supper is ready, Khaleesi,” Jhiqui announced.

“I’m not hungry,” Dany said sadly. She was suddenly very tired. “Share the food among yourselves, and send some to Ser Jorah, if you would. ” After a moment she added, “Please, bring me one of the dragon’s eggs. ”

Irri fetched the egg with the deep green shell, bronze flecks shining amid its scales as she turned it in her small hands. Dany curled up on her side, pulling the sandsilk cloak across her and cradling the egg in the hollow between her swollen belly and small, tender breasts. She liked to hold them. They were so beautiful, and sometimes just being close to them made her feel stronger, braver, as if somehow she were drawing strength from the stone dragons locked inside.

She was lying there, holding the egg, when she felt the child move within her . . . as if he were reaching out, brother to brother, blood to blood. “You are the dragon,” Dany whispered to him, “the true dragon. I know it. I know it. ” And she smiled, and went to sleep dreaming of home.

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