The pale, red stone of the Red Keep had grown familiar to Daenerys in the years since she had returned to Westeros. Targaryen banners and dragon skulls lined the throne room once more, and the livery of the soldiers and Gold Cloaks bore the three headed dragon of her house. The rebuilding had not been easy, and it had not been without pain. She had wept when the skull of her beloved Viserion, which had been boiled until the flesh had sloughed away from the black bones, had returned to the keep to join its brethren.
Men whispered that she had never wept for the women she had left widows, or the children who had died screaming beneath the breath of her sole remaining dragon. She had raved at such whispers, then she had despaired, and finally, with the help of her beloved, she had learned to move forward.
The worst of the ruin and destruction had been put right, and the debt to the lenders would be long in paying, but King’s Landing and the realm had returned to a semblance of normalcy. Rebels had been dealt with, far less harshly than Daenerys might have secretly wished, but at the moment, at least, no tinderfires of revolt appeared to be sprouting.
The day had been a long one. Serious crimes required the royal imprimatur before an execution could be carried out; another suggestion she’d implemented against her own instincts, and for the sake of expediency such trials were generally lumped together. She’d also dealt with several thorny petitions from numerous lords, and lastly, a delegation from Qarth had arrived not only to congratulate her on seemingly righting the Westerosi ship, but also … she suspected … to determine whether there was any lingering enmity as to her time spent in the self-proclaimed greatest city that has ever been, or ever will be. She would admit that the notion of returning with Drogon to burn Qarth to the ground as vengeance for the wrongs done upon her and her people had been a wondered that, in years past, had crossed her mind.
But she reminded herself, she had left such desires behind.
When she saw the people of Qarth, she felt an unfamiliar tremor within her. It took her a moment to recognize the sensation: regret. It was not until well into the revelries of dinner that she identified its source. For the first time, she regretted not giving Doreah and Xaro Xhoan Daxos a clean death. The realization shocked her to the core.
Maybe Jon was right about that, too.
In public, her husband was styled Aegon VI, but in her thoughts, and in private conversation, she and all who were close to him referred to him as Jon. Still a simple man in many respects, he preferred it.
The Qartheen delegation had lingered at dinner, and Daenerys briefly mentioned to Jon how amusing it would be to order the ladies of the court to mimic the female delegates’ preferred mode of dress, namely exposing one breast to the world, but he had shot her an exasperated look and she’d promptly squashed the notion.
Two knights of the Kingsguard stalked behind them as they climbed the steps of the royal tower to their bedchamber. Ostensibly for security, a concept which had proven to be a rather morbid joke during the War of the Five Kings, but mostly for privacy, Jon had decreed that no one else reside in that particular spire of the Red Keep. When they reached the door, he reached out to push it open.
Daenerys realized her heart was pounding in her chest.
I’m a widow and very … very … far removed from being a maiden. It is ridiculous that I still flutter so at entering my bedroom with my husband.
Nevertheless, her hands trembled as Jon pushed the door open, thanked the Kingsguard for their service, and instructed them to retire to the base of the tower. She often thought if they followed his instructions, but if they didn’t, she certainly hoped that they knew how to keep their mouths shut.
They entered the bedchamber, which was warm and comfortingly large, but at Jon’s insistence not extravagantly opulent, and Daenerys moved towards one of the large, thick wooden dressers set against the wall. While she did so, Jon barred the door, top and bottom, with thick oak braces.
No one is getting through that without a battering ram.
She removed the thin circlet from her head and placed it on a small wooden stand that rested next to an identical stand upon which the far more imperiously regal crown of Aegon the Conqueror sat. Jon had informed her that she could have or wear any crown she wanted, but he had come to the fullness of adulthood in war and would wear no jewelry upon his brow. Eventually she tired of being the only one bearing the weight of royal expectations and hired a goldsmith to build a far lighter circlet of white gold. Jon had smiled at her when he’d seen the newer, less ostentatious version, and she found herself wishing that she’d made the decision years earlier.
In truth, Jon had little interest in ruling. Well, that wasn’t quite right … he had little interest in being a ruler, but great interest in helping the realm be ruled properly. He was quite content to let her problem every proclamation and announce every decision, so long as they were the right ones. In short, he was perfectly happy with her ruling the Seven Kingdoms, so long as he ruled her conscience … and ruled her. Her, most of all.
The lessons they had learned in life had been nothing but hard ones, and while he undoubtedly preferred that they fly away on Drogon and discover a quiet life in a primitive corner of the world, he had overcome his distrust of Targaryens … including himself … and they had made King’s Landing their home.
Daenerys briefly stared out the balcony at the city below. For years she had dreamed of the view, now it often left her sickened and ashamed. The worst of the damage had been rebuilt, but if you knew where to look, the scars of the war, of the battles, of the fire she had brought, were all plainly visible. She and her king would be rebuilding the Seven Kingdoms their entire lives.
She pulled the drape closed and turned to discover Jon standing before her with a thick, close-fitting necklace in his hands.
No … truth. At all times truth.
It wasn’t a necklace, it was a collar made of segmented joints of Valyrian steel. The color was a lustrous, deep black with red highlights, and the width was perhaps an inch and a half. Wide enough to be noticeable, but not wide enough to be uncomfortable. It was one of a number of Valyrian steel trinkets Jon had sought out, mostly for her advantage … or her detriment, depending on your viewpoint. She’d eyed the collar’s locking mechanism in a mirror carefully a few times, and, of course, she’d felt Jon manipulate its workings when it was around her neck, but she’d never learned the secret of how to unclasp it once fastened. Sometimes she thought if she really wished to learn.
It was not every night that that he pulled the collar from its hiding place, but it happened often enough that it seldom came as a surprise. On days when she heard petitions or held court over a matter of life and death to her subjects, as she had that morning, she expected it to make an appearance.
Jon held the collar up and his eyes were questioning as he extended it towards her. Implacable, cold, dark eyes … at first glance Jon’s eyes didn’t appear to be Targaryen eyes at all. She knew better. She’d seen them catch fire and felt her very soul burn beneath their judging gaze.
She didn’t hesitate as she held her hair away from her head and extended her neck. The collar locked tight around the pale skin of her throat with the barest metal snick and she was his to do with as he pleased. At least for that night. She could have said no, of course. Jon had never forced her, not even once, despite everything she had done. It was her choice.
The choice to make amends.
She would make amends, and she would do so by day seated upon the Iron Throne and wearing a crown, and by night behind a barred door with a collar locked snug and fast about her neck. She had to make things right, and this was the way, or at least it was the way she wanted. Or Jon wanted. Or they both wanted.
She had, from time to time, refused Jon’s offer of the collar. Sometimes the reason was prosaic, such as a moonblood arriving at an odd time … on such occasions her beloved had recognized the truth of her protests and graciously waited until her indisposition had subsided. Other times the reason was simply pride, or anger, or willful stubbornness.
Her king had never raised a hand or attempted to cow her when she refused, he’d simply left her in their bedroom alone with her thoughts until the sun had risen and set on another day. Only once had she dared to turn away from the collar two evenings in a row, and Jon had never seemed so distant from her, so alien, so cold as he had the morning after her second straight refusal. Time and his patience was soothing the rough edges of her soul, but fire and blood still called out to her, and the collar and all it meant helped to tame the worst of her impulses.
Above them, Drogon stirred on an eyrie they’d built for him out of a garret that previously had comprised the top of the royal tower and made his presence known via a faint roar. She thought sometimes how linked she and Drogon were, and whether he felt what she felt. She doubted it, or on some nights he would have been uncontrollable.
She tilted her chin upwards and felt with her fingers the constricting metal locked tight around her neck. The first few times she’d worn it, the sensation had irritated her beyond all measure. She was the blood of the dragon, after all, and such as she had not been born to be locked in fetters. She was the breaker of chains, not the wearer of them. Of course, she’d earned other titles, as well. Stormborn, Queen of the Andals, and the First Men … and …
The Mad Queen
One of the first things Jon had done after she had ascended the throne was convince her, through every manner at his disposal, to not do as other tyrants might have done and problem a decree that derogatory names and jests at her expense would result in the loss of one’s tongue. Instead, the complainants were brought before a servant of the crown to air their grievances and be heard. The suggestion would be calmly offered that the future of Westeros need not be a reflection of its past, and then depending on the harm they had suffered at the hands of the Crown … at her hands … they would be offered recompense. Not all, particularly those who still mourned their dead, cared to listen … but some did. Maybe even most. Most importantly, she and Jon were committed to their acts bearing out the truth of their words. King’s Landing might have been taken with fire and blood, but it would not be ruled by them.
She lowered her hand from the collar and looked at him questioningly. “Everything?” she asked.
His answer as to which of her garments she was to remove was what she expected. “Everything.”
It was the first word he’d uttered to her since they’d said their goodbyes to the Qarthian delegation after dinner.
He didn’t sound angry, and she breathed a little easier.
Maybe he thinks I did well today.
Daenerys carefully unwound the plaits of her braid, then brushed the thick, gleaming strands until the hair flowed to the small of her back like a burnished, silver-gold waterfall. After she’d finished, she put down the hairbrush and reached for the lacing of her gown. She’d learned, after several misadventures, to request outfits that could be easily removed without handmaidens.
That was not the only adjustment to her lifestyle she’d been forced to make. The twice-a-month embarrassment of having a Volantene pleasure-slave she’d purchased, and then freed, shave the hair from every inch of skin below her neck was particularly irksome, but at least that idiosyncrasy could, if it became the subject of gossip, be giggled away as the exotic custom of a foreign-raised ruler. Jon had graciously offered to shave her body himself, with a Valyrian steel razor he’d acquired specifically for the task, but she’d pointed out how often he nicked his face and politely demurred. He had understood.
In contrast, if any of their servants had the slightest inkling of what happened behind the locked and barred door of the royal bedroom, ugly rumors would have spread across the known world within a matter of weeks.
She peeked at Jon in the mirror as he removed his embroidered coat and simple shirt. The stubble on his face and his normal untamed dark hair gave his features a rugged, aggressive cast, and she had to actively withstand the urge to go to him and embrace him. Gluttony and sloth might have brought low many a king, not the last of which would be Robert Baratheon, but Jon still trained with sword and shield more days each week than he did not. Muscles rippled in his arms and shoulders as he pulled a large chest from beneath the bed, lifted it, and then set it on a table in the corner of the room. Using a bronze key hung from a cord around his neck, he unlocked the chest, then propped open the lid. Daenerys bit her lower lip as the striations of Jon’s abdomen flexed and twisted with the movement.
Jon caught her reflected gaze and a scowl darkened his features.
“Now,” he snapped as though she were one of his recruits and he was still Lord Commander. There was no need to bother pretending it wasn’t a command. They were alone, and she’d accepted the collar for the night.
She removed her rings and a thick necklace bearing gems of opal and ruby and set them in velvet lined boxes arranged near the stand upon which her crowns sat. That task finished, she removed her robe, her undergown of damask, and finally her smallclothes. Last of all, she peeled away the finely woven hose that hugged her legs. As she removed each item of clothing, she folded them neatly and set them on a table near the roaring hearth. Never in her life had she taken servants for granted, but she’d learned … or more accurately, been taught by Jon, that simple favors such as nobles leaving clothing in neat piles, as opposed to scattered about, would lead to appreciative talk of her benevolent grace and kindness.
Though the relatives of the people she’d roasted alive would likely remain unconvinced.
Jon continued with his own preparations as she undressed. He removed a circular, thick rug perhaps four feet in diameter and laid it on the polished red stone floor, just in front of the fire burning in their hearth. It was close enough to the flames that she would be kept warm, but not so close that Jon wouldn’t have room to position himself in front of her. He then laid a much larger rug of identical material across the blankets of their bed, and finally he had knelt near each of the thick wooden legs of the bedframe and adjusted something with his hands. Though the angle of her view denied him a glimpse of his activities, she could guess what he was doing.
With quivering, nervous grace, and excepting the collar, as naked as she had been on her name-day, she walked to the hearth, stood upon the rug Jon had been kind enough to lay out for her, and knelt. When her knees were comfortably, but widely, spaced upon the fur, she interlaced her fingers behind her head, raised her elbows aloft, and calmly settled in to wait. The fire twisted and danced in front of her, her breasts, raised by the position of her arms, moved in and out with each breath, and the dew of her arousal began to sparkle within the shaven cleft of her sex.
Jon had never forced her to kneel in this manner on stone. Her king could be stern in dealing both pleasure and pain, but he had never been intentionally cruel. Never. She knew that he loved her far too much to intentionally cause her real pain. She returned that love, but she also knew that she could not make the same claim. The unending guilt she felt for the grief and anguish she’d caused him, and so many others, was part of the reason why she was eager to kneel now, clad only in whatever royal titles might cling to her nude body.
She did not shift her gaze from the fire as Jon, still bare-chested, stepped in front of her. The thick brass buckle of his belt was utilitarian and unadorned and his plain black trousers, while woven of fine cloth, had no decoration. He eschewed most of the heraldry of her house … of their house … but he scarcely needed it. The resolve in his voice, the steely gleam in his eye, and the curved scars upon his chest and back all bore witness to the fact that raw fire lived within him.
Maybe Jon is right, and that the song of ice and fire belongs to us both, but only fire comes easily to me. He is master of both ice and fire … and of me.
She desperately wanted to reach for him, to embrace him, to feel the bare skin of her chest against her own, but she knew better. Many lessons, applied over many nights, had taught her that pleasure would be faster in coming, and all the sweeter, if she obeyed the simple rules that he explained to her.
And one of the first, and perhaps most simple, of the rules she learned was that she was to kneel, in that spot and in that position, without speaking and without looking away from the hearth, until he told her otherwise. The authority she wielded over the lives of her people, he wielded over her.
Thus, she knelt silently and stared straight ahead … though she did avert her eyes slightly in order to catch a glimpse of the impressive sight, even partially concealed by the black wool of the trousers, of Jon’s already erect manhood. She did not begrudge him his pleasure. In actuality, the sight excited her, as the growing wetness between her legs could clearly attest.
Jon dragged a footstool in front of her and sat upon it. Her knees had begun to ache, but it was a calming, almost satisfying pain. She shifted her weight back slightly onto her feet and more tightly laced her fingers together behind her head. A solitary bead of sweat dripped from her face to spatter upon a breast. A giggle almost escaped from her throat, but thanks to any gods who might have been listening, she caught it in time.
“Eyes on me,” he said.
Daenerys kept her hands clasped behind her head, but in response to his granting of permission she gratefully tilted her gaze upwards until she met Jon’s eyes. Her core melted as he looked down upon her, all benevolence and lust and subjugator and protector and steward and overlord all rolled into one man. She’d be long dead if not for him, sword driven through her by one of her own men, or captured to be the plaything of a lord unafraid of a riderless dragon, or by her own hand, perhaps.
Her lips parted and despite her best efforts a soft whimper emerged as Jon reached down between her legs and gently stroked the glistening petals of her sex. Her body had no secrets from him, not anymore. Truth, before all else, was what he demanded of her and expected from himself. Truth in all things.
Jon’s hand softly, so as not to overexcite her, continued its ministrations as he spoke. “Those two men today, those poachers, you wanted to execute them, didn’t you?” he asked.
Truth. Only truth … besides, he at all times knows when I lie. At all times.
“Yes,” she said in a soft, quavering voice. “But not because they were poachers, but because the forest warden who tried to stop them lost an arm to one of their arrows.”
Jon’s fingers quickened their pace between her legs, and it was all she could do to hold her pose against the rising pleasure.
“Without my suggesting anything, instead you allowed them the option to serve as men of the New Watch and see to the resettling of the Gift, and the restoration of the lands near the Wall.”
To her surprise, Jon sounded genuinely surprised that she’d decided, without his input, to give the men the chance to serve in the successor of the no-longer-needed Night’s Watch. The New Watch’s main tasks at the moment consisted of the grim task of rebuilding what war had destroyed, but the poachers had leapt at the option to avoid death. It also helped that the New Watch, in an effort to encourage recruitment, was more liberal in some respects than the Night’s Watch had been. It probably helped even more that winter was finally beginning to relent, and that the maesters predicted a summer that would last for at least a decade.