Aemon Targaryen is six years older now than when he lost his dragon and his world, but a thousand years wiser. His back is criss-crossed with whipping scars, his knees aching in a way he can’t always predict, and his hair is white now, rather than the pale silvery blonde of his youth.
The Red Keep rises eternal above the buzz of King’s Landing, precisely as he remembers save for Vayeles’ absence in the skies above, wheeling and keening to welcome him home.
Will Jocelyn’s hair still be black as night and soft as silk between his fingers? Will Rhaenys still have plump cheeks and mischief in her smile? Will Father still be cautious, will Mother still be fierce? And Baelon, and Alyssa, and Daella, and all the rest down to little Gael, will they be as he remembers them? Six years is nothing, but it is a lifetime, too.
Rhaenys is twenty-two now. If she has her way, and she always does, she and Corlys are likely wed now. His little princess might well be a mother. Gods preserve him, there is so much he may have missed!
Petruchio claps him on the back, an encouragement and a warning alike. “Come, my friend,” he says, smiling so the sun catches on the emerald set into his eye tooth, “your castle awaits.”
She and Mother and Grandmother are the only ones who have never truly given up hope, and this is her last chance. If this is a ruse, if this is some horrible person’s idea of a jape, then she will let that last flicker in her heart die, but… But it might be true. It could be. They haven’t had anything but an occasional rumour for six years now, no real proof to support their hope, but this!
The boy who came for her and Mother had been flushed and flustered and panicked, and Rhaenys feels much the same. Her heart is throbbing in her throat as she hurls herself out the doors and down the steps, to the gates, where she can see one man - enormously tall, and dressed in sumptuous green-and-gold silks of curious design, like an Essosi Tyrell - and another.
Papa’s hair is gone all to white, and he’s leaning on a cane. Beyond that, he seems only tired, and Rhaenys wails like a girl of Aemma’s age as she throws herself into his waiting arms.
“My darling girl,” he says, voice thick with tears and wear but still him. “Oh, my sweet child, my girl, my own heart, how glad I am to see you.”
Rhaenys cannot speak. How can she do anything at all but cling to him, and try not to drown in her own tears? She has spent the past six years refusing to cry for her father, because to do so seemed to be an admittance of his death. She could not give Baelon and Alyssa that pleasure, and so it seems all the pent-up rage and grief and fear is coming out now, onto Father’s simple red tunic.
Mother hits them so hard they stagger and fall. They land on the worn-smooth cobbles inside the castle gates and lay there, laughing and weeping and, once Rhaenys manages to extricate herself and get to her feet, kissing.
She used roll her eyes when Mama and Father kissed. She never thought she’d be glad to see it.
King Jaehaerys rises from the throne when Rhaenys and Jocelyn run in, Aemon trailing them by their hands.
Aemon cannot but weep at the sight of his father’s face. He seems as unchanged as the throne, and yet also irreversibly different. Slighter, more stooped, softer in the face, somehow. For a terrible moment, Aemon is afraid that the grief written into the lines around Father’s eyes are for Mother, but she is waiting at the foot of the throne, and together they cross the floor to Aemon.
“My dearest boy,” Father says, and draws him close. Aemon holds on as tight to his father as Rhaenys had to him, and does not try to hide how he weeps when Mother strokes her thin fingers over his hair. “Oh, my boy, my boy, how we have missed you, how we all have missed you-”
Mother takes him then, and then there is sweet little Gael, two years Rhaenys’ senior and still innocent as a child, and there is Alyssa, kissing him on the corner of the mouth as though still trying to chase him away from Jocelyn, and Baelon smiling in that particular bittersweet, cheated way of his.
And Jocelyn, and Rhaenys. How he has missed this, missed them, and he cannot but turn his head to kiss first Jocelyn’s temple and then Rhaenys’, for having them under his arms is like having his heart restored to his chest for the first time since Vayeles died on the reef beyond Tarth.
The girl with the dark hair and smiling eyes can only be Daella’s daughter, the pearl of Rodrick Arryn’s world, and the plump young man on her arm must be Baelon and Alyssa’s eldest boy, because he has Alyssa’s pink face and Baelon’s appalling, tufty beard.
There is another boy of Baelon’s, clean-shaven and sharp in the same hungry way as Alyssa, standing with salt-weathered Corlys and…
Corlys and two children. Two children with Rhaenys’ smiling eyes.
“Oh, my sweet girl,” he says to Rhaenys, leaning into the fierce embrace Jocelyn locks suddenly around his waist. “How wonderfully you have done without me.”
Baelon and Alyssa and that sharp-faced second boy of theirs lurk in the shadows, and Aemon ignores them as Jocelyn coaxes him to a chair and Rhaenys brings forth her beautiful children so that he can meet them. Not even Alyssa’s greed and Baelon’s bitterness can ruin this most joyous of days.
“Tell me, cousin,” Daemon says, and Aemma scowls. He is to be her goodbrother, and she wishes more than anything that she could have another. “What changes now, with the return of our uncle?”
“Little for you, cousin,” Aemma says, not looking away from her ledgers. Well, they are Lord Darklyn’s ledgers, as master of coin, but he has a tendency to forget to carry his ones in the smaller accounts, and so Aemma has made a habit of looking over them since she came to court, with Rhaenys’ permission.
It should be with Grandfather’s permission, but he allows Rhaenys the run of things so long as she does not run wild.
“But much for you, Aemma,” Daemon says, sitting louche and predatory in the seat opposite her. She would call for Viserys, who is in the next alcove of the library, but he has yet to grow enough spine to stand up to Daemon. “Rhaenys is no longer the greatest power in the realm save for Grandfather and his septon, little falcon, and that leaves you much further from the might you have wielded this past year, doesn’t it?”
Does Daemon think to claim power through Uncle Aemon, somehow? What a fool. Rhaenys has always warned her to be careful of him, as has Mama, and she has been very careful. He has never been quite so blatant before, though, and she is glad that she will have this moment to recall, if ever Viserys attempts to convince her to be kinder to his brother.
“You’ve never understood how the realm works, have you Daemon?” she says, cold as winter in the Eyrie. “You’ve always been more a Maegor than an Aenys, and just as stupid.”
Daemon’s handsome, hard-cut face floods brilliant red, and he rises to loom over her. He’d have better luck with Viserys, truthfully, because Viserys is not only shorter than Aemma by two inches but also in possession of a habit of cowering from Daemon.
Aemma has never cowered from anyone in her life. She is not about to start now.
“Direct proximity to the throne does not guarantee control,” she warns Daemon, who she knows has been spreading rumours about a betrothal between himself and Rhaenys’ Laena. False rumours, of course, since Aemma knows that Rhaenys doesn’t like Daemon, even if Corlys does, and since she knows that Rhaenys has been making discreet enquiries of Winterfell, to sooth the hurt caused by the seizure of the New Gift. “Do not think you will be able to take advantage of this upheaval, cousin. We will stand against you every step of the way.”
“What a terrible obstacle you and Rhaenys will present from the Eyrie and Driftmark,” he sneers. “However will I manage, with the two of you nagging me from afar?”
Aemma gathers up her ledgers - Lord Darklyn’s ledgers - and rises, smiling as sweetly as she knows how.
“Who says we will be leaving court?” she asks. “Uncle Aemon will surely not wish to be parted from Rhaenys so soon after his return, and Rhaenys will not wish to be parted from me. No, I think we will be here for quite some time yet, cousin. ”
She collects Viserys on her way past, accepts the kiss he presses to her cheek with a smile, and does not rush her departure at all. She must reach Rhaenys’ rooms without any sign of her fear being sighted by Daemon’s little birds, and she has not yet figured out all their hiding places.
“They will be at war with one another within the year,” Alysanne sighs, leaning back into Jaehaerys’ hands as easy as breathing while he rubs away her headache. “How are we to stop them?”
“I am supposedly the Conciliator,” he says, pressing his thumbs to the base of her skull and smiling a little at the way she hisses, but presses back just as hard. She has ever been a study in contradictions, his Aly. “But I cannot yet see the path that we must take in this, Aly. We must trust in Aemon, though, I know that much.”
“And this cheesemonger to whom we owe his life?” she asks. “Must we also trust in him? He has already mentioned half a dozen time that he has children much of an age with the twins, and has told Jocelyn twenty times that he is a master of figures, who can make coin appear from thin air.”
“Lord Darklyn is a perfectly serviceable master of coin, now that Aemma is correcting his ledgers,” Jaehaerys promises. “But we must offer him something, Aly - he saved Aemon. He brought home our boy. We cannot ignore that.”
She takes his hands, brings them over her shoulders, and kisses his knuckles one by one.
“I do not trust any of this, save for Rhaenys,” she says. “Rhaenys, and you.”
Jocelyn guides him to lay his head on her breast afterwards, and she is still wearing the same perfume - no sweet Highgarden roses for his storm-blown blossom, but something sharp and airy, like the breezes off Shipbreaker Bay.
Her hair is still all coal-black, save for wings of silver-grey at her temples. It is still like satin against his skin when, hours later, she guides him onto his back and guides him home, inside her.
“There has never been any but you for me,” she breathes against his mouth, and his heart feels so full, safe in the promise that she had no other while he was missing, just as he could not tolerate the thought of having another woman despite Petruchio’s offers of whores of every shape and style and manner.
This time, in the aftermath, he guides her to lay against his chest, her ear over his racing heart and her hand tangled together with his.
“Baelon was not pleased to see me home,” he says, as much to the stars shimmering beyond their window as to his wife. “And Alyssa even less so.”
“Did you know,” Jocelyn says, confiding in the thick blankets of their bed as much as in him, “that Baelon attempted to convince my brother to name him heir ahead of our daughter?”
He has not been home long enough to have heard all the gossip and the history that he has missed, but he is already dreading it. He and Baelon were close, once.