Similar to my last ASoIaF fic, this is an expansion of a brief paragraph that managed to captivate my interest in few words. This time, it's Doreah's death from A Clash of Kings. I've been struggling with this one for the best part of a fortnight, so I hope it's up to standard. Enjoy!
The gods would show them no mercy here, Daenerys knew. They had not done so thus far. Death followed death, every league they crossed brought them only suffering and the silent promise of more. They travelled without maps; the only sign they had to follow was the comet, and even that now seemed more of an omen of ill luck, hanging in the sky not like a banner but a mortal wound, blood-red and chilling. But it was all she had, so she followed it blindly, hoping against hope that something better would reveal itself tomorrow. What else could she do?
Dany paused at the head of her tiny khalasar, taking stock. The sun was almost up, skeins of pale blue threading through the sky at the horizon, but did they dare to stop this time? Every time they did there were more who could not seem to summon the strength to rise come nightfall. Yet it was madness to ride by day, at the mercy of the relentless, breathtaking heat, heat that was as dangerous alone as hunger, as fire.
She looked briefly to Ser Jorah, weary and drawn, but resolute. She looked to Irri and Jhiqui, her handmaids, her friends, both nervously surveying a gaunt, trembling Doreah. The Lysene woman raised listless blue eyes to meet Dany's, and it was clear, even in the half-light, that the night's journey had exhausted her more than the others. Quickly giving the signal to stop and set up camp, she dismounted and approached the three girls.
"Is something wrong?" she asked, dread already beginning to coil like a snake in her stomach. Jhiqui had a gentle hand on Doreah's brow, biting her lip with downcast eyes.
"She is sick, Khaleesi," Irri murmured gravely as Jhiqui helped Doreah to dismount, keeping an arm around her shoulders.
"No…" Doreah breathed. "My head just hurts a little, from the heat. Please, Khaleesi, don't worry about me."
"She burns," Jhiqui cut in fearfully. Dany felt the older girl's forehead herself. Indeed, she felt unnaturally hot, but out here it was difficult to tell. She hoped that Doreah was right, that they were all mistaken.
"I will be fine," Doreah protested desperately, though she sounded uncertain herself. Daenerys nodded placatingly, though within she was as frightened as the rest of them. Be their strength.
"Rest for now," she instructed her softly, gesturing the three of them towards the camp. Thoughts crowded her head. True, what ailed Doreah may have been no more than what afflicted the rest of them: hunger, thirst, heat – but if she truly were ill… They scarcely had the supplies to sustain the healthy amongst them, and no medicine. What would she do if it spread? What if the girl died, what if –
"Khaleesi?" She startled, but calmed almost immediately as she recognised the voice. She turned with a slight smile, and the knight sank down beside her on the parched, dusty ground, and she couldn't help but note the difficulty with which he moved, the pain that flashed for a moment in his dark eyes.
"How does your wound fare, ser?" Jorah paused, looking away from her a moment.
"Better, I believe, my queen." She didn't even have to look him in the eye to know he was lying, but her earlier attempts to press the matter had been fruitless; Jorah remained adamant that it would heal in time, and wouldn't even let her look.
"You ought to come and rest," he said, effectively changing the subject. Dany gave a terse nod, still lost in her own thoughts. They could not afford another death. The price had been paid, and paid. She could not stand to see another of her people perish out here.
"Something troubles you, Khaleesi." It was not a question, but she nodded anyway.
"Doreah," she murmured. "She's becoming sick. A fever. Irri and Jhiqui are with her, and she says she will be well by nightfall, but…" She broke off there. Jorah was nodding grimly.
"They say sickness breeds more readily in the heat," he explained.
"What can we do, ser? We have no medicine, no healers…" Just cracked red earth, forbidding and barren, as far as the eye could see. Just the infinite sprawling desert, holding them captive until none remained.
It was Jorah's hand on her arm that brought her back to the present.
"You will not help her by worrying, my queen," he said gently. "Rest. Gather your strength." She nodded, smiling a little as she met his eyes.
"You will do the same, my friend?" He inclined his head by way of reply and left her. After a moment more, she followed.
By dusk, Doreah's health had deteriorated alarmingly; she was shivering in spite of the lingering heat, eyes glassy-bright with fever.
"Are you fit to ride?" Daenerys asked softly.
"Yes, Khaleesi," she replied, but did not look her in the eye. Dany watched her closely as they rode, forever tense lest she should fall from her saddle. She did slide down once, but only to retch behind a high clump of dry brush. Dany dismounted also, and found the girl on her hands and knees, painfully choking up bile and what little water she had managed to drink that night. She knelt by her side, tenderly brushing lank, brittle hair away from her face – a pang went through her as she remembered how beautiful her hair had once been before all this – and murmuring words of comfort.
"F-forgive me," she managed to rasp out, sobbing brokenly.
"Hush now, there is nothing to forgive," Dany replied soothingly, rubbing her back. The bones in her spine stood out alarmingly beneath her taut, ashen skin. When she withdrew her hand from Doreah's hair, there were thick strands of it tangled around her fingers.
The going was slow after that, her people losing heart as well as strength in the face of this new hardship. The nights were long, solemn and near-silent, the days providing precious little respite.
They lasted out two more days, miraculously. Then came the night once more, and Doreah's strength had waned to a point where she could no longer mount her horse. Even with Jhogo to lift her into the saddle, it was a matter of moments before she fell, not even lucid enough to hold the reins.
Daenerys knew what was coming next, but she refused to acknowledge it. Not Doreah, not her, please! Haven't you taken enough from me already?
"Khaleesi." Jhogo's voice was dark. "Girl can no longer ride. Is best to leave, now."
"No." The fierceness in her tone took the bloodrider by surprise, but he did not back down. Neither would she.
"There is nothing more to do." Again, his words were solemn, tinged with regret, but that made them no easier for Dany to hear.
"She could be bound to the saddle, if she could withstand it," Jorah put in gravely. It made sense; they had no cart, and Doreah didn't have a hope of riding unaided, but the thought of her bound up like a carcass made Dany ill.
"No," she repeated. "We stay here." There was a rippling murmur up and down their dwindling ranks, an uneasy sound.
"My queen," Jorah murmured, coming closer. "I understand what you are trying to do, but every moment we remain here is a moment we cannot afford to waste. She is beyond help, Khaleesi." She silenced him with a look, and when she spoke, her voice had an edge like newly-honed steel.
"I will not abandon her," she all but hissed. I will not lose another. I will not. I will not.
But the sight of Doreah, silent and unmoving on her sleeping mat, beneath the meagre shelter of a makeshift tent, was enough to almost shatter her resolve. There was a look in those glazed blue eyes, the same distant look she had seen in Drogo's as the corruption from his wound infested his body. She knew it for what it was, recognised it with a sick jolt. Yet she kept her smile calming and easy as she knelt to take hold of a frail, burning hand. Doreah's fingers flexed in response, the movement barely there, but it was something, a spark of like, and Dany clung to it.
"Khaleesi," her voice was faint, breeze through long grass. "They left. Irri. Jhiqui. They won't come back, will they?" For a moment she looked tearful, but she took a deep breath and controlled herself. "You should join them. Sleep. You need your strength…" Her words trailed off in a sharp gasp as a spasm wracked her wasted body.
"Shh, now. You are the one who needs to rest. I will stay."
Her head tossed listlessly, fretfully, eyelids fluttering as she struggled to focus. "No… no, Khaleesi, go. I would never… forgive myself if you suffered this." She reached up a hand little stronger than an infant's to push her away. Dany took it, held it, kissed the knuckles tenderly.
"No." You showed me how to make Khal Drogo love me. You are the reason I was so happy. You deserve all of my gratitude. "You shall not be alone tonight, my friend."
And so she remained, even when weakness gave way to delirium. Doreah thrashed and cried out, moaning fitfully in an unfamiliar tongue, turning her head fearfully away from the waterskin Dany held.
"Hush, hush…" she soothed, stroking back what remained of her once-lovely golden hair. Irri had so often teased her for it, every nickname seeming a bitter mockery now. Shaking those thoughts away, she held the neck of the waterskin to Doreah's blistered lips once more, coaxing her like a child.
"You must drink if you want to get well," she murmured, the lie tasting bitter as poison on her tongue in spite of its sweet intentions.
All through the long night Doreah lingered in agony, weeping when she had the strength, lying still when she did not. Daenerys spoke often, using stories and songs to fill the interminable silence. In between, she prayed, begging for mercy that she knew all too well would not be granted to them.
A few minutes before dawn, Doreah's eyes opened. They were clear and lucid for the first time in days, but Dany knew better than to be relieved. They'd come too far for that.
"Khaleesi?" Her voice was less than a whisper, and she couldn't manage to lift her head.
"How do you feel?" Dany asked, trying to keep the grim certainty out of her tone. Let me be wrong. Let me be wrong about this.
A sheen of sweat gilded the older girl's brow, throat and shoulders. It seemed an effort to keep her eyes open, an effort to keep breathing.
"Tired." That single word, haltingly spoken, felt like an arrow had pierced her chest. She reined in her tears, taking Doreah's hand.
"Then sleep, sweetling." Doreah smiled at that, a pure, sweet smile, and her eyes slipped closed. The breath left her chest in a quiet, steady sigh. She did not take another.
Daenerys did not weep. She simply leaned in and kissed Doreah's brow, a simple, silent farewell. Her skin was still hot to the touch.
This was the price that needed to be paid, she knew. A price that it seemed she would pay for the rest of her days, in one way or another. It was hers to pay, no matter what, and she would deal with the consequences herself.
There was so little wood, but between them they managed to scrape enough together for a pyre. Daenerys lit it herself, and sat in the dust before it until the flames had died down to embers, until the embers were nothing but ashes. She stared unblinking into the fire until her eyes burned and watered and tears poured down her cheeks. Or maybe she was merely crying. She no longer knew.
When it was done, she dried her eyes, and gathered what little she had left; people, hope, strength. She stood as tall as she could, facing the horizon and an uncertain future with every ounce of resolve that remained to her. More would die, that much was certain, but they would not stop. For every life lost they would continue with renewed determination.
It was the only way she could think of to ensure that none of it had been in vain.
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