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Summerhall

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Brynden was in the Raven’s tower when the party from Sunspear was set to arrive.  Normally everyone awaited the arrival of Prince Daeron and race to greet his party. But he had been very late, and many had been allowed to walk the grounds. The old Maester said Brynden could ring the big bell, but only if he kept an eye on the horizon for Prince Daeron's banner. Brynden knew that better than his sister’s face. A black field and a three headed dragon, Big and gold with green eyes. The Maester would have never ever let him ring it ordinarily. The big bell was for emergencies like a fire or a terrible storm. Many Years ago, it was used to warn of Dornish raiders, and earlier than that Dornish Kings who fought the Storm king not for glory nor treasure, but the water in the wells around Diamond Lake.  And the few times when they had earned it by conquest, the bell was used to warn of Storm King’s and their many banners, when they took it back.

There were no Dornish now, but the little Dornish princes and their mother and her knights.  They were coming for supper, not for a battle. Nothing more dangerous than spring wine and honey cakes. Nothing ever happened in Summerhall. Not even a fire. So, the old bell sat solemn and silent.  As the Raven’s used it as their salon.  Squawking and nesting among the ropes and scaffolds speaking of fine ravenly matters.  As if nothing could happen to them. It was so big and the copper so green it must sound terrible and mighty.  Nearly every bird in The Marches would fly away in a panic.  Never conceiving that such a thing as the center of their world could fall apart. Brynden so wanted to hear that bell, what else could he do but ring it.
From his window sill in the raven’s tower, he looked down on Daemon sitting in the courtyard below, sleeping underneath the Dragon Fountain under the western Gazebo. Daemon always looked pretty, even sleeping. 


Brynden felt very powerful, sitting on the windowsill, as if he was a bird. Like one of the ravens in the tower. He was a small page of eight years, but he felt like a shadow in the darkness. If he wanted to, he could be a monster. He could fling a clump of birds’ droppings on someone’s head and no one would know it was him.  Maybe even Daemon’s.  Even if Daemon was taller and stronger, he did not have eyes in the back of his head.  He would fade into the shadow like a nightmare.

Not that Brynden would. It would not be nice, and they’d have to change their clothes and wash. Daemon could thrash him if they fought, being 11 and a great tall lad who practiced fighting every day. More likely Daemon would not thrash him, as Daemon would not beat his little brother.  That would be unchivalrous.  Such a Naughty messy jape would be something the Penrose boys might try or Little Prince Baelor might do if some fellow double dared him. Brynden quietly watched the setting sun thinking about how truly wicked he could be, if he was wicked. Everyone could be wicked. Today Daemon rested easily as Brynden spared him.

The pages and servants were lazing in the heat of the Marches, as they had worked like beasts all day. It was the hottest part of day, and even though they were young, energetic and loyal servants, they were dead on their feet, sleepy and stupefied. The servants outside taking long breaks to wipe the sweat from their eyes, the ones inside miscounting and misspeaking. So, Ser Manwoody said they might rest until it was time to prepare dinner.  Even he was resting in the courtyard, half sleeping wiping his neck with cold water.  It was why they needed the bell. The party from Kings landing had arrived predawn. The ladies took prayers at the septry as the servants prepared the castle for the prince. They barely broke their fast with hot water and stale bread trenchers. The servants had been unpacking the furniture and the linens and stabling the horses.  Aegor Rivers was at least useful for that. Brynden was spending all morning helping the servants sweep and scrub the Prince’s Chambers, even in such a small castle they would not expect a page to sweep and scrub all by himself.  It was beneath a gentleman to engage in such work, why shouldn’t it be so for a page.  But if the Ser Manwoody bid him do that… he would. It wouldn’t break his neck, as old King Aegon said, when he made his son do something unpleasant for him.   No sense causing a trouble for something minor. It was not Kingslanding and he did not want to get scolded by a stranger. 

Brynden was the smallest of them and had borrowed the feather broom to dust the old shelves where the clothes were kept.  Big Beran the largest gardener lifted him up over his head to crawl atop the big chests to get all the corners free of dust and spiders. He fluffed the cushions until they were no longer dusty and helped the maids when they couldn’t untangle the bed clothes.  And aired and beat the carpets… though they were cleaner then the soft pillows.  He unpacked the lady’s precious clothes with his own two hands, so no one could steal anything.  The maids who lived at the castle marveled at the lady’s clothes and jewels. A girl might be tempted to take a ribbon or a pin. 

Brynden was not a boy of pranks and gambols.  He had never even been whupped for stealing a pie or being cruel to a cat or staying up past his bed time. or even slapped by his mother on the hand.  He took especial pride in his obedience and godliness. It had paid off for now he was a cupbearer to Princess Mariyah at Summerhall, for she had made note of him among all the other page boys.  Maybe he would become a cup bearer to the princess.  Or the queen when the time came, though not for many years.  If he was a good enough page and she did not tire of him.  He did like that he had come up on his own, without the king’s help.

It was hard for a little boy to be a Page.  He had been one since he was six years old.  Even though he was young he was called clever.  You could not play or do as you would. Pages must obey and work and do as they are bid, and if they are to do the tasks of servants they could not complain. It would not break his neck. It would not do them ill to work harder, even though they were not paid. But Page were not mere servants.  A page was trained to be a gentleman, through and through his mother told him before he moved to the Red Keep from her home in Kingslanding. A page must learn obedience, humility and courtesy.  Brynden though very small and young, and because he was quick silent and obedient, would serve in the chambers of the Hand of the King.

On days when Daemon was at the Maester’s for his book learning, Brynden would even serve the throne room sometimes.  He would hold his boots or gloves and stand very still.  Though he was too ugly and small, and the Queen must despair his appearance.  No one ever despaired over the appearance of Daemon…  even Baelor who should be jealous.  Because Daemon was the prettiest brother anyone ever had and even Little Prince Baelor owned that. Prince Baelor should be jealous too.  Because his hair was brown and curly and some said he was not pretty as a true Targaryen. Baelor said Brynden was a snoop and that he didn’t care what people said about him…  even if he did.

But if Little Baelor could be gracious, so could Brynden. Brynden could never stay mad at Daemon.  Just like he wouldn’t throw bird droppings on his head when he was sleeping.  Daemon was too warm and charming and friendly, and he tried so hard. Daemon was his big brother. Brynden couldn’t explain it, but when Daemon Waters would frown, the world would darken.

Daemon did not care so desperately to be obedient and not be scolded.  Even though he was the best of the pages.  The King had made him the head page.  He served him wine, he led the other pages in what they did.  And he could put the big dragon table cloth on the High table where the king had his dinner.  He would follow the king around if he needed paper or a book.  And would also serve the King’s squire and the Hand of the king in such things too.  And do urgent matters on his pony in the city.  And even read the message that the King gave the Maester to send by Raven. Daemon was far more than just a cupbearer to a lady of court. Daemon learned all he could of courtesy. He wanted to be a brave knight and the most puissant and famous knights had to be squires.  The best way to find a Knight to be his Master was to be a page.  And all he did was to be a great knight. Maybe Even like their uncle Ser Aemon, the Dragon knight, who was head of the King’s guard and the King’s army.   Daemon’s head was full of chivalrous tales and songs. But there were times when his spirits were up, Brynden wondered if Daemon knew the difference between real life and a song. When he was Brynden’s age, he broke his finger trying to save a cat from the top of a tree and he fell.  He dropped on top of the cat and it died.  Just because he was knightly and goodhearted did not mean he wasn’t a trouble maker. Getting into jams no foolish or craven boy would even imagine. He found new ways to cause trouble. But you couldn’t stay mad at him.  Not forever.

Just that noon, Daemon had filched them cold ginger beer and cheese from a scullion girl of nine, who thought the page pretty. He took it from her as she ran away all giggles. And he gave Brynden the dragon’s share, because he was too scrawny and needed to grow strong. Brynden could not admit he was so hot and so hungry.  But Daemon knew. Daemon would always do such nice things for people, usually without asking. He held the parasol for Queen Naerys, so she might pray in the gods wood and not freckle her ivory skin.  And he would go before the sun rose to get his mother’s favorite vegetables in the Hawkers Square in the city and nice things to eat from the kitchen when she was too melancholy and indisposed to leave her bed.   For he loved his mother and did not want her shamed by her spiritual weakness.  And He would sneak into play with Little Prince Baelor and his little brothers, when he was supposed to be at prayers, and give them sweet cakes. 


Baelor and Daemon were best friends and they saw each other almost every day.  They were thick as two thieves.  They were both tall strong pretty boys, and both 11, though that might change.  Brynden should have been insulted, but he explained You could not be best friends with your brother, unless you were a goon.   You had to be nice to your brother, for it said so in the Seven-Pointed star…  but a friend was earned. The two boys would talk about all the serious business 11-year olds were involved in, that boys of Brynden’s age were too little to understand at 8. They would talk of girls they didn’t like, and about who had bought a new horse, and who had gotten married and which servant was being naughty.  Daemon would bring news from all over the castle. Baelor let him read his books and play with his toys.  For a Prince needs be generous. But Daemon was gracious and when his mother bought him a toy he would let Baelor see it first.  In fact, sharing it was better than having one of his own. He only had his mother to play with, for she had never had another child. Baelor had little brothers and pages and friends to play with him. Even Brynden's mother had three children, though they were just girls, Brynden was not inclined to think about since he became a page.

Baelor had been trained with the pages in courtesy too.  He had served wine to the King and the Hand and did favors for ladies. and helped the squires and at the smaller castles even served as a page when there were too few. So they saw him every day in those days. And Baelor and Daemon would fight each other in the practice yard after their fighting and riding lessons.  Daemon unlike other boys, never let Baelor win a sword fight. which the Dornish Prince was very sensitive about. Many of the boys made mock of Baelor behind his back, and let him win every fight to earn a good name.  Baelor knew they were fakers and frauds.   Baelor could not admit that he was angry at that, or hurt to be so alone. He was a prince and it was beneath his dignity. It was hard to understand people. Baelor was a strong and handsome lad who worked twice as hard to be only just as strong as Daemon.  And his parents were proud.  But Baelor was a nervous person. And made too much of what others thought of him.  Even he, the little Prince. While Daemon had no surfeit of confidence and everything came easy. 

As Baelor had his twelfth nameday.  (On the eve of Smith’s mass) He was now old enough to become a squire.  It was not necessary as a King might make him a Knight at anytime.  But Baelor being twelve was too young to fight in wars.  Too young to run a castle, and even too young to woo and wed a maiden fair.  There were no monsters to slay in Summerhall so there was no risk of even a nice young lad being a great knight until he had grown into a man. Nothing happened in Summerhall. The Fair maids the songs talked about were older then he was now.  None of them had ever met a fair maid. All he knew were girls: some only little babies, some gangly some chubby, and all awkward mean things, not fair at all.  Only noisy bothersome girls who pat his curls and cooing as he passed. And Melanie Yronwood who gave him a kiss on the cheek and everyone saw and then she called him a fancy fool. A little boy who was a knight was a silly idea.  A knight would marry unless he were to wed his sword.  And then go North to the Wall to become a brother in black, Sworn to the Nights Watch, or become a Kingsguard devoted to the king, like their Uncle Aemon.   And Most said twelve was too young to know yourself.  Baelor might marry a beautiful princess as his father did.  Or marry a strange foreigner and end a war as his Mother did. But Baelor could spend that time learning as a squire.  His knight had been chosen.  And after this journey he would no longer be a little boy free to live as he would, but a squire learning to be a knight.  Treated like everyone else.
Brynden wondered if he would ever have a friend as good as Baelor.


As Brynden whiled the sunset away, as a breeze finally set on the land. Tomorrow it might be cooler. The ravens talked to each other.  They owned the tower and squawked overhead.  Beneath was where the maester slept and put up curtains to keep out birds droppings giving the hot room shade and a red color. As it was open and large rookery where Maester M would chase each raven for an hour to send it away. The Maesters sent messages by raven and messager.  Brynden pet the wing of The winterfell raven who looked at him.  It had to twist his head back and forth for his eyes were small and twisted to the sides.   It was a large bird that was born in the North of the lands where it always snowed.  It was big and strong because it had flown nearly across all seven kingdoms. Brynden merely watched them and did not give them treats or stroke their black feathers. He shouldn’t cosset the ravens, they were not pets, but the bird tried to perch on his hand.  Brynden knew this was wrong.  A bird must perch on your arm. Lest it scratch your hands which were too small. He scolded the beast. A raven could eat a little boys fingers in one snap of his black beak… He was a large and heavy bird. Brynden had nothing to give the bird to eat but a trencher that would break a bird’s bill and a crumb of white cheese.  The Bird stared at him and then flew away.  They still looked at him even though he had no food.  And he couldn’t tell them what to do. Animals would do whatever they wanted.   Animals only followed their senses. Following sensations and whims.  Only men had duty.

Then with a loud gallop and singing and spirit, the Dornish arrived.

The ravens cried out. And some flew away. As if the world ended.

Prince Daeron was not Dornish. That was the confusing part. He was the real Prince. He was pale and blond and fussy and a bit wonderful. He was the beloved Crown Prince.  There was not a man in Westeros who did not know him as a wise and kind prince, though he did not strike fear in the hearts of his enemy. But Daeron heralded the Dornish side of the family. Two Dornish boys raced their mounts ahead of the royal party.  Baelor was ahead on his black horse, with Maekar on a red mule.

“I’ll knock your fool head off.” Baby Maekar screamed riding the mule and cracking a whip over his head. 

Brynden rang the bell rope hard and long ten times.  He was only supposed to ring it once…. Maybe more if there was a fire.  But he was excited and he never got to ring the bell… he had never heard the bell rung.  Maester Mandon wouldn’t let him ring the bell again. And anyone who wasn’t deaf would have heard Baelor laughing at his littlest brother.  Or the mules or the Dornish and their big loud horses.

As Baelor arrived first.  He was brown as leather now and had a piece of grass in his hair.  Baby Maekar was brown too.  Maekar’s hair as blond as white now he had been in the sun for many days, and his freckles blooming freckles. Pink with exertion and sunburn.
“You are such a whiny babe.  Why don’t you squeal to mother?” Baelor did a victory pace, urging the mare to prance a bit to the side to rub his victory in his face, as Maekar’s mule arrived. And stopped rudely trying to dig her heels in and throw Maekar off. Maekar threw down the whip and let out a frustrated cry “OoooooooH” Maekar’s mule was screaming alongside his master, just as stubborn and angry.

The boys looked up at him “oi…. Bryn. Get your pale hyde out here you scoundrel” He shouted to the tower.  Bryn ran all the way down. He ruffled Brynden’s hood from atop his horse.

“Hellooooo, elloNuncle. Where be you?” He shouted again into his hands

Daemon’s pensive sleepy mood righted itself as he half tackled Baelor as he got off his horse.  Daemon was a hugger.  The two of them burst out in excited conversation.  Brynden could barely make out. Daemon ruffled him and helped him down.
“Hullo Nuncle.”
“Hullo Nef”
Bryn smiled.

Prince Baelor was not the Prince yet, exactly.  Any son of a king would, for his life, have such an honor.  He was called the Little Prince.  For the son of the crown Prince was often too little to be considered a leader.  He might only be a page or a squire or even a baby. Prince Daeron II of Dragonstone, was only prince for so many years, people thought he would be a grey beard before he was king.  (It had happened before with King Viserys who died after a year, a man in his fifties.) Baelor Nymerous Martell Targaryen was the eldest son of Lady Mariyah Nymerous Martell, Princess of Dorne. And most importantly the Lady Brynden was to serve at Summerhall.  She came from the South in Dorne, Where women of the blood rule before the men.  And so Baelor was doubly royal. He would have been a Prince in Dorne as well. And ruled down there over everyone there. Even if he wasn’t a Targaryen.  He like his mother was born a Prince. He, Like his father was in line to rule from the Iron Throne.

Still It did not change the fact Baelor had grass in his hair.  And he came in chattering happily.  Sunspear always made him so lively.  They would await the royal cousin’s insane tales of the rest of his large family, The House Martell and their colorful banners.  He called Daemon his Nuncle, affectionately, though it was in poor taste.  Brynden had not been at the birth of that joke. He called Brynden, Bryn. Which to Bryn’s ears was as great as being called Lord and Ser. That such a nice lad was their friend made him happy, even if he had only been just a page.

If Daemon was loveable because he pouted , Baelor was beloved because he made you feel well, and was generous with his attention.  He missed Baelor even after a short time.

Maekar was a baby no more, but he was the Baby of the family… but for Sheira Seastar and she was common born.  (None of the children were supposed to talk to her. Or talk about her.) So Maekar was the baby evermore, though they might all grow to be blind old greybeards.  He was all sulks and sweetness and unbridled insensible courage.  He raced a mule against a pureblood sand steed.

“If I had been a horse I would have… I would have beat you Baelor.  You are always cheating.”

“I’m the biggest and Eldest.” Baelor said.

“You didn’t do anything for it.” Maekar said “You’re being a cheat.”
Baelor sighed, almost empathetic. He pinned Maekar’s flailing arms and gave him a hug and a shove. “When you have a horse we’ll race for real.  But last time you were on the sand steed mum spanked your bum for spoiling the colts.”
“I didn’t spoil the colts.  I was just giving them a look from the fence. Its not my fault they smelt apples in my pocket. They were hungry.”

Maekar loved the sight of the horses so much he would go down to the fields and give them apples and carrots.  And gave the old grey palfrey colic with a honey cream cake.  But he was not allowed near the yearlings colts, being trained to the saddle.  Breaking a horse was dangerous and could kill a little boy. Even if they did not kill you, young horses were foolish and took a long time to learn how to wear a bridle and how to wear a saddle.  And how to be ridden.  Just as long as a little boy learned to ride a horse, but in reverse.

“You know what Grandfather says.  You can teach a colt a trick in ten minutes that it will take a year to unlearn.  You aren’t allowed to play with the colts when the men are training them. You shouldn’t be down in the fields alone.  Mother doesn’t want any little boys down there.  Even me. ” Baelor said.  Even though Daemon was the elder, Baelor was the prince and so was responsible one. Baelor lectured the littlest one “If you would stop sneaking and playing with the colts.  Maybe mum would let you ride Roan Falcon and then we could have a real race. But instead-“

Maekar wasn’t very good at listening.  He was a baby. He wanted to be big and strong like his brother and have his own horse.  But did not realize it took practice and long legs to do it. Maekar was still very young nearly three years younger than Brynden. He was still not worthy company.  So even Brynden had a higher status in their society. “Its not fair.”

Baelor pat his brother. “Well fine don’t listen to me. But you’ll see I’m right.”

At this the royal party caught up.  They saw the black banner of the Targaryen.  And the orange banner of the house Martell. A spear piercing the sun.

On a blue black palfrey, was the Prince.  And on a Roan racer, with mottled spotted coat, was the Princess. He was wearing a chaperon headscarf to guard himself from the sun, looking absurd as he was so pale in such an outlandish style.  But he had not even had any sunburn. Mariyah, was riding at his side, instead of in the wheelhouse with the ladies.  A Dornish Princess was not only a lady but a leader of her men, and could not be hidden from them. She was dressed in a Veil and headscarf too. And since the ladies rode their horse astride, they had to wear strange drawers under their skirts, not that a gentleman should look..  Her garb was immodest by court standard.  She had no sleeves on her gowns. Dornish women wore corsets so they might ride in comfort. If it was for a long journey, a mans drawers instead of skirts and boots. Her corset was a bit too tight. Either none of her corsets were large enough or she laced it too tight to try to hide her plumpness. So a bit of the shape of her belly stuck out from underneath. She was a round earthy woman, dark and had a wide nose, and a full mouth with plum like lips.  She had heavy black hair with golden rope braided in.  So rich and beautiful a woman she was.  She could always wear fine metal jewelry, though no jewels were often seen, but a piece of glass or a crystal.

“By Baelrion’s wing, That is a horseman Mary…  He almost kept pace with the palfreys. On that old mule.”  Prince Daeron laughed.  “it won't be long before Maekar might outpace even Baelor.”

“Not me.  Bunny is faster then any horse in the Keep.” 
“I’m just saying Baelor You should practice with the Master of horse to keep ahead. You don’t wish your little brother to beat you next time.” The Prince was proud his two sons were good fighters and riders.  Two brothers had a mostly friendly rivalry. It was no great matter to the king.  But their mother was more serious.

The Princess was beside the Prince, straightening her reins.

“I heard a horsewhip.  Maekar.” Princess Mariyah said sternly.

“It was.” Maekar looked to her hands and not her face and rubbed his face, sheepishly lying. As obvious as anything.
“Did you whip that poor mule?” The lady said sternly.
“Noooooo Mum.” He was scandalized.  “I just cracked the whip. So she would try to catch up.  Hinny likes to run. She does.”
“Aye you.  I’ll crack it by you, you little savage.”  His mother threatened “If I catch you beating that poor mule I will give you double with that little whip.  A true horseman needs no whip.  A man that beats his horse is a craven and no man, and should not have one.”  She said “Is what my father always said,” 

“I wouldn’t hurt even a mule.  They carried us all the way here.”  Maekar pet the mule who didn’t like that and had no use for the boy.
She tried not to give a smile. Many people would beat their animals.  But Mariyah was very gentle with the horses.  And ever patient.  And though she talked rough for a lady, she would never beat an dumb animal.  But her sons were forever worried about a free hand she might apply to their bottom.  She had no compunction not to threaten them in public, even if it was a Prince. The whole of court was embarrassed for her, but secretly wished they had the lack of manners, to be upfront and cross with a Princeling when he acted a fool.

“Brynden did you see anything?”
“What did you see?” Maekar frowned at him.
“May hap the horses,  were hungry… And sped up when they saw the castle.” Brynden shrugged.

“Baelor, Maekar before you run off, Manwoody can talk to the Master of horse to see the horses are well.  Make sure Seahawk and Black rabbit are on other ends of the stable.  Or they will bite each other. Make sure the mules are brushed they are in need of it.”  She said “And that they have enough water.  They’ll water the outriders first.  They were tired already.  Then our horses, then the knights.  They’ve only been travelling since dawn.”

“Of course my lady.” Manwoody said, looking to the prince
“I’ll leave you to it my dear.”  THe Prince gave his amused and nearly ethereal lack of interference.  He let his wife speak his words when he would.  It should have made him seem that his wife was the man.  But it gave the impression this was beyond his concern.  Both of them had been born to rule.
Mariyah dismounted and helped Maekar off his mule.
“We’ll work on your riding with the Knights here.  But you’ll not race the mules.  They are stubborn and dangerous.” She said. “And not nearly fast enough.” She pet her son.  She might have given her youngest a winking acknowledgment.  “Your pony will be jealous.  You’ll be riding him again, to practice. The Master might let you ride Ochre… he was once a warhorse. But he is too old to cause trouble.  And he will teach you how to ride.  And you won’t go worrying the big colts.”
“I’d never….” Maekar said “I would be gentle.  I would not shout or squeal.  Even if their tail went in my mouth. Or he stepped on me.”
“You’d better not.  Only the men have experience to break colts. My father always said Colts can learn tricks in ten minutes that it will take a year to unlearn.” Mariyah said aloud.
Baleor smirked at Daemon and Brynden as he mouthed his mother’s words to make mock.  Baelor had absorbed every lesson on horses from Both his Grandfather and his mother.  “So do little princes learn tricks. Don’t be sassy Baelor.” She did not even look up and she knew what he was doing. She had a magic witch power.  How did mothers always know you meant mischief?
“Yes mother.” He nodded his head.
She looked to Brynden. She gave him a warm smile.
“Brynden Rivers.” She took his hand, in a friendly matter to greet him “I am glad you are here early.  Has the Queen treated you well?”

“Yes, My Lady. I rode in the wheelhouse as a companion to the women.”  Brynden said
“How grand” She nodded “A carriage ride from the city all across the storm lands.  You must be so excited to finally be free to move.”
Brynden walked in stride with his Lady. “We have all the beds made and your luggage unpacked my lady.” Brynden said “So you might where a pretty dress to dinner.” He said perhaps trying a gallantry.  Though it was more than a fact.  For all the Maids said she had splendid dresses.
“Excellent work. Next time you might travel in our party.  One day you should come with us to Dorne. It is far different then the North.”

“I am not Northerner.”

“Oh. In your mind In true, everything North of the Red mountains is North.”

“He’d explode in the heat.  He’s too sickly to go out in the sun.”  Maekar said.

“Brynden might you tell the steward we are here.  You might take my gloves.” She always asked.  She had tried to refine her speech like Daeron’s, but he had been trained from birth to speak elegantly.  She said the word might a thousand times a day, when she did not say something too crude or naughty. You could not ask your servants obsequiously lest they have room to disobey you but remain courteous and respectful.  There was an art to royal condescension, that only the royals had to maintain. Brynden could never make it sound natural either.  She talked too plainly like a man.  Merely ordering her people to do what she would have them do.  While the courtly refined speech of court, made Daemon seem oddly disconnect and effeminate.   Brynden was a reasonable person. He would not mind if the Princess had a familiar way, more like his mother would.  She was still a high born and elegant lady and he was proud to serve her at table and in her solar. She was a Princess, born a princess. The other Princesses weren’t real anymore or had only just been princesses since the king came to power.

He took her gloves and whip and such. They were pretty things.  Ladies gloves that went up to her elbows, with gold cloth and mustard leather. 
“You might get us Small beer before we dress for dinner.  We have not broken our fast since dawn.”
“Of course My Lady.” Brynden bowed.

She smiled at him then.  Gave him a pet to his arm.

“It has only been a moons turn, Brynden.  Baelor acts like we’ve been to Muscovy.” She smirked “After you are done, please help Rhaegal to his bed so he might rest before dinner.  He will have trouble….  I must greet my lady, queen.” The Princess reminded.

“yes your highness.”

Queen Naerys had been at prayer. And she arrived at the ring of the bell.  Princess Daena had put down her lace to greet the Dornish party. They had been resting next to the fountain where Daemon was.

The Princesses were all different. Mariyah, Plump and smooth skinned and bold of face, with her brown skin showing in large pieces.  Her wild dark hair in its gilded braid.  While Queen Naerys was covered up, her sleeves past the wrist, though lacey and elegant. Her neck covered.  Queen Naerys was stately ageless and ivory.  Her hair white.  She was 49 and no great beauty.  The Princess made her respects. 
“Your Grace.” Mariyah bowed
“Princess Mariyah.” Naerys bowed. “Welcome.  It is good to see you get here before dark, my daughter.”
“The horses were glad to see the wells but we pressed on.”

“You must be starved.  You must tell us of Moran, our new son.  Shall we meet soon.  After you’ve changed…”

Princess Daena, interrupted her royal cousin.  Though she was only truly Lady Daena, now as she was cousin, not sister-wife to a King. They called her Daena Defiant and despite her age, was the most beautiful woman at court. She kissed Mariyah’s cheek and pulled her in for a confidence as if they were teenage girls.  Though less noisy then the children they had no use for the Princes and began chatting about nothing themselves.  It had only been a few weeks.

Maryiah and Daena were dear friends, both Princess, both bold and girlish, and both whose sons become friends.

The Prince Daeron addressed him. They had their treasured items In a wagon, drawn by the heat hearty mules. And also guest gifts from Dorne.  For the Dornish held the custom of Guest Rites, and gave guests a gift when a visit had come to an end. Though Brynden might get to look at them early. 

“Brynden while you are helping Rhaegal in, would you help me with the books?” 
Prince Daeron always had a book nearby. Even traversing the Red Sands of Dorne.  He moved them easily.  He was stronger than he looked.  Or perhaps just an adult.  He was no great warrior.  A bit of a round belly and his face was a bit fuller.  He was no great beauty either, like Naerys without much shape to his face. Not much of a chin or cheek either. He smelled like books. He had not been so red as the other men. He was a sensible careful man and had covered his face from the sun in a riding habit. A dragon did not sweat.  Perhaps Maekar should wear one too.
THe King was excited and merry over these books as a little boy over honeycakes “These are precious antiques.  Some say from the Heroes age.  Accounts from the Reach of what they called the double winter.  You must remember Agriculture was much different at that time.  To THEM A double winter. A winter that lasted one year…  Only one… and by most standards half a winter… but still it has incredible accounts of the agricultural practices of the Reach at the time and a supposed evidence of a winter wheat. Whither it was a wheat they ate at winter or a crop that can be grown in winter we don’t know.  The maesters don’….  “
Brynden made and attempt to hold them.  But timidly Daeron held the books over Bryn’s head almost forgetting Brynden was so short.

“Actually I will hold these.  You might bring in my other books.  These were entrusted to me by Lord Florent and I will see them treated as treasures. Boys can be a little …  rough.” He said “I will hold onto them Brynden. I’ll help you.” He fingered them “There could be very important knowledge of…” He trailed off.

“What is agriculture, your grace.” Brynden said bamboozled by all such great and courtly talk.

“It is farming. And growing plants….”  Aerys said from his seat on the cart. Potter who had been driving the wagon helped the boy down. No one had noted him there. His mule, a black one covered in books now walking behind the cart.  Aerys gave the black creature a pet.

“Oh.  Such a book.”  Brynden tried to sound interested.  It seemed a serious grownup book for maesters and kings.  Maybe he wouldn’t understand. 

He and Potter grabbed the arms full of books. They’d take some time to unload.  Aerys didn’t even pretend to be helpful. Only holding the book he was holding.

“That was clever.  Thank you Lord Aerys.” Brynden tried to encourage him to move with a sarcastic look.
The middle son of Daeron, Aerys, didn’t care to ride his mule anymore on that trip. He wanted to ride in the wagon “I’m so tired. We’ve been on the road for a hundred million years.  We stopped for water…  My legs were tired.”  He said “I was reading this book.” He said “I didn't want to put it down to hold onto a mule.”
The mule knickered at them as Brynden held all the books.
“What book do you have there?” Brynden wondered if it would be more exciting than whatever Prince Daeron was talking about.
“Century of Blood.  It has a war.  And a king killing himself and plague and a famine and Dothraki screamers.” He sniffled.  It was a cheap pamphlet on smeared wood pulp paper.

His father rolled his eyes. 

“Help your brother get dressed for dinner, Aerys.” He said “Your mother expects you to be presentable.”

“Aye. Papa.”

“Its yes Father.” Daeron corrected.


At the back of Daeron's horse and wagon was Aemon on a sorrel palfrey, his war horse in the train with his servants. "Aemon.  Naerys smile lit up the world.

“I have come to attend THe Prince.  And retrieve Baelor for his duties.  He will be a fine Squire.”

“You’ve come from the Marches to see your Squire.”

Aemon sighed “You’ve caught me Ryssi. His Grace wanted to see the back of me.” He said. “And Daeron has come to Summerhall it seemed the time. Daeron has always been a diplomat in the family. So could cut me lose before Old Jon sent me to the wall like the dog I am. Blablabal.”

“Did you fight?” Naerys asked.

“Its not your concern.  My Queen.”he shook his head, “He has four other Kingsgaurd at his disposal there.  As his heirs are both here.”  He said “The young Toyne can handle if I haven’t dispatched all of his rivals. There should be a few I missed” He said ‘If he doesn’t faint in the presence of Divine Majesty.’ It was Brother who supported his ascension far ahead more sober and talented men.” He said
“You were not much older when you were at war.”
“Fah.  So I should know. A Boy of 19 too young for the Kingsguard.  His mustache is still wet from being shaved for the first time.”

“Well at least he can grow a mustache.”  She teased him.

“A young man should not be given such power.  It will break him.” Aemon said.  “I’d be happy to take the lad under my wind and prepare him when the time was right.  He never listens.

“He is a nice young man.” Naerys said “He always treats the ladies well, and never spits.”

Aemon sighed

“Aemon.  You must sit at high table.  At least for tonight.” Queen Naerys said
“Why do you think we snatched him from his duty?” Daeron chuckled.  “He needs a rest.”
“He might take his rest at our dinner.  When was the last time you had dinner?” Naerys said.

“I’ve eaten a dinner or two in my time sister”

“Eat Dinner with us.”
“I will do as you say sister.  You know I can’t say no to you.”

 “You must sit by me brother.  Its been one moon since I have seen you.  A year since you dined with me.

“I saw you last week in the solar.”
“I meant from the same table.” She said “Making sure that I don’t eat poisoned food is not the same.”

“You should be more grateful Ryssi.”

“The only reason you were there is some old Hand threatened to poison the king.  And the taster was in a panic because he thought he ate henbane. It was only a sour carrot.”

“in fairness the finest taster in the land would not know what a lethal poison taste like.” Aemon said

“Ridiculous man heaving and puffing in cowardice.  The fear alone half killed him.  The King poured him some wine so he would not faint.”

“To see Brother do any of his favorites a favor was priceless.” “'I say Aemon is he well or ill. Will he die?'” He made his impression f the king, and was unfairly shrill. Naerys laughed.
That didn’t seem funny to Bryn.

“But you must fete Carven too.  And I heard he likes beef.” He said “It would be the honor of his life to dine with the Queen at high table.  He even has the cloak for it.” He said in perhaps in a gentle ribbing tone.

 

“We’ll have a banquet.” Naerys grabbed her brother’s arm “Fifty dishes.  A dozen pages.  Peacocks and Dragon Livers and Swan and –“

He playfully moaned in pain.

“I will be dressing for dinner.  If you would excuse me, Sister.” Aemon grinned and kissed her hand.

****

Maryiah and Daena smirked so knowing.  Even Daemon pursed his lips.

Baelor tried to look away.
“Stop staring. Brynden.”
The two old people were so strange.  And every time they talked the world went silent.  It was like they would burst in flames. 

****

Aerys read his book as he walked and let Bryn do things as he kept reading

“Don’t read and walk.  You’ll trip over your own feet or walk into the wall” the King scolded him

“But I was too the Siege of Vaes Toloro which the Dothraki call ‘the city of bones’.  I want to see how they die”

Baelor was tired of his brother’s strop “You stop sassing your father.  Help your brother.” Baelor said and  might have given his arm a slap.
“I’m not sassy.” He said “You are just my brother not my father.” And Aerys did slap his arm.

“I’ll tell him you aren’t minding your manners.”  Baelor shoved at him.  Aerys was a bit lazy and definitely sassy. Aerys cowed and continued at a slugs pace. He could be a very naughty boy.

“I’m tired of the road.  I just want to sleep in a soft bed. And read history.” Aerys kicked his feet.  He was in no mood to do anything.

“You’ll do so after we have dinner.  Then to prayers… and then to bed.”
“I can do my prayers in my bed.  The gods will know.”

Aerys and Baelor and Maekar went to their solar eager to see their things already unpacked or just look to see if the castle had changed.  Brynden had to escort Rhaegal, hold his hand.

Rhaegal might not be changed at all. Rhaegal was sitting on the cart silently.

He was mad.  Even from before he could talk they knew.  There was only a short time they did not know he was mad.  And while Maekar was making baby babbles and playing with his toys and chatting with other babies, Rhaegal was still and calm and staring at a window.  It was hard to describe.  He did not speak insanities or bite like a dog.  Which was how most mad people should be. He would not meet your eye. Such a queer thing to be upset over.  But it was off-putting.  He would sit silently for hours and hours only stirring when frightened, which was far too often.  He would sing himself to sleep, rocking himself like a baby or shaking his fist in a fidget.  When truly frightened he would repeat the sounds he heard that frightened him over and over.

Muttering softly to himself to keep his peace of mind.  Or shaking frenetically blandly happy.

“Do you know me cousin?”

“Bloodraven.”  He said, Rhaegal touched his spot on his face.  It made him…  well maybe it helped his memory.

“Yes that is me.” Brynden smiled “You recognize me from the castle.”  There were times Rhaegal did not even recognize his father.  Rhaegal was very nervous and overwhelmed, being forced to travel was frightening. So many strangers and people.  His head was in a million pieces.  And knights with their heavy boots and thick clanging armor frightened him most of all.  He did not like the sounds and would shut himself off from the world if he heard them.

“Clingclang cling clang.”  He repeated the noises he heard holding his head

“We are taking you inside.  So you don’t have to hear the knights.” Brynden said
“Once he calms down.  He has been doing well.” Baelor said “Mother said he learned a lot at the asylum. He can take a bath by himself and he even sat at high table once we moved the candles away from him. He doesn’t like to bright lights shining in his eyes.” 

Baelor was very protective of everyone, but he was like a dog around Rhaegal, whom everyone mocked because he was mad.  And was always too afraid to speak up and would always have trouble.  Brynden knew he must be more patient, even more patient then a man with a horse. A horse could not speak or think.  And Brynden might not love Rhaegal with a fierceness of his mother or Baelor, but Rhaegal trusted him. So Brynden tried to be a good friend and boon companion.

It was rare that Rhaegal recognized him.  Even though they saw each other almost every day.  Maybe he was getting better.  The day had been long and they were all tired.

He was eased, but still too frightened to talk.  He would feel such fear of the knights and their armor and their killing weapons he would half sleep, staring listlessly for some time…  until he could speak again.

He’d only eat a little bread and maybe stew soft and bland. The inclusions of dainties on his plate upset him and the flavors too sharp.  Though he did like honey fingers.  And might eat many of those.

A soft clean shirt of linen. And his wool pants.  And a heavier then it should be wool jacket.  Brynden sighed.

“Its easier.  He won’t let us put on the silks.  He hates them against his skin.  Too strange and slippery.” He said “he will rip them off and have a tantrum.”

Brynden couldn’t imagine Rhaegal in a tantrum, he barely talked above a whisper.

Aerys never helped if his mother wasn’t watching and Maekar was too little to understand.  But Brynden was a page and must be courteous to one who was helpless and mad.  He led Rhaegal by the hand to the solar. To the place Rhaegal had visited almost ten times already.  And Rhaegal almost with unseeing eyes padded behind him like a dog, who couldn’t say what he saw or enjoyed.  In a Pleasure Palace of luxury only Rhaegal was content. Everyone else seeking more.

*******
Aerys slicked back his long blond hair with a comb of bone all the princes shared. Baelor washed his hands in a mix of aqua vitae and perfume and water.  He took a dirty old cloth and rubbed it on his face and his neck and under his arms. Being clean he put on his banquet clothes they had brought.  Not their very best which were at Dragonstone.  Baelor in his red linen chemise with a doublet too and the other boys in both fine shirts in silk over their linens, though nothing on the outside, though their mother might make them wear one of their coats for a special occasion. They had five sets of smallclothes a piece and four coats and two pairs of pants and a doublet for banquets. To change their linens and their underclothes twice a day. Though now because they were in the country they only had to do it once a day. But it was hot and they were supposed to look their best, and their clothes must be clean and white. They had clean clothes and fresh linens every day in the heat. Though he couldn’t imagine the servants having the same.

Maekar went back to his own business, only wearing small clothes laying with his arms and legs in every direction  “Aerys you You have to change your underthings and rub yourself.  You don’t want to be stinking for the feast.  Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Baelor scolded them.

Baelor almost dressed them. Even though his little brothers should know better.  Because Brynden only had two hands and Rhaegal needed more help and he had trouble with tying knots and taking off his shirt.  Baelor knew how to dress people just as good as any page in the keep.  He’d rather do things on his own quickly then wait to do them properly. Baelor grabbed the brush away from Aerys and brushed his hair for him.

“I am sooo tired.” Aerys fell on the bed with his arms spread wide.

“In Dorne we just bathe in barrel water every day.  Why can’t we just do that?” Maekar said running around in his small clothes. “Then we brush each other’s hair.”

“All that washing will make you sick.”  Brynden helped Aerys tie his underthings behind his back. It was astonishing. He didn’t say anything and only their rigor kept them alive.  Brynden had a bath two months ago when he fainted in the kitchen.  A build-up of bad blood and humors.  He was too pale to bleed, as his skin was white. He had in the hot water for one hour in soothing herbs and milk.  And the Maester placed salve on his back which toughened his skin.  He felt like a soup.  It was supposed to be good for people of his affliction. And it was a very expensive thing.  As But his skin grew no darker nor did his hair turn from white to blond.  His hair was still white. He did not mind even having an ugly spot, if he was not so pale.  He could ride horses with the gentleman and enjoy the Dornish sun. Brynden didn’t like to think about his looks, but he knew he hated to be pale. Maekar or Daeron or Daemon would only turn a little pink and never faint like he did.

And he helped Rhaegal dress and Rhaegal went limp knowing not to fight back.

Even dressing was more complicated for royal people.  This mad scramble to put on clothes was always chaotic in the Prince’s chambers as Baelor yelled at them to put their clothes on nicely.  Even though she had ears like a night bat. Mariyah let them yell and squawl. But if she came into the room she would give them a promise if they did not behave they each would be spanked raw on the behind and even the Mother would not save them.  It was one of the few times a day they could be useless. And act like little scuffling wild boys.  Though they had a reputation in the capital for being loud and wild.

The Crown Prince was a grownup and elegant man.  A true gentleman raised with every tradition. He had one man to help him take off his shirts and and another to put on his coat. He was named Potter, who was the son of a servant of the palace, whose father was a servant in the palace. He was the fifth of his family to do so, since the Red Keep was built. Prince Daeron did not need a dresser like Rhaegal did, but it was expected.  He could tie knots and take off his boots even, which even Daemon could not do every time.  Imagine a servant to help with dressing.

The king needed to be more fancy and elegant than anyone else in the kingdom.  Brynden had seen the king dress on Fathermass.  He needed pages to dress him in linen. Not just a chemise to protect his silk or fur coat,  but folded loincloth, instead of ordinary small clothes.  and from head to heel twice a day. And help him put up his stockings.  His stockings were so well made he did not need garters, like a poor man, but he wore them with steel buckles in the shape of a dragon.   Then when small clothes were on they would garb him in his shirt and doublet and coat.  And if he were to be seen at court, a silk gown to cover the layers, which were luxurious and worth a small fortune.  He would wear this when he sat the iron throne.  And if it were to rain or it was cold, a fine cloak. The king might wear five layers.  Or in armor if there was a war.  Which was meant for his squire to put on.   And some six people would have to watch.  Even if he did not have his small clothes on yet. Brynden and Daemon might watch that one day too.  Daemon was allowed to hold King’s boots.  Only grownup servants were allowed help the king put on his expensive coats and gowns. Only men of great reputation who the Kingsguard said were men of honor, could touch the king. 

It was worse for ladies for the Queen had a dozen ladies.  She would have to wear a loin cloth, small clothes, a kirtle, a corset if she had a full womans figure to preserve her comfort, in the dornish fashion, a dress, a gown and a coat.  Then all of her jewelry and finery her husband wished her to wear.  Then even if she would step outside the window, a Cloak or mantle (or both) and a wifely cover for her braided hair. Hers was a gorget or a veil of pure white linen or silk. If the kings clothes were luxurious the Queen’s robes were ungodly.  The simplest linen made for funerals and outdoor lessons nearly half a gold dragon and would last a good woman three years and five years with patches.  While the black court satin and silk robes for weddings and holidays and masques were almost more then a small house in the Riverlands. Nearly two years pay for her scullion.  There could be no mention of jewels as they were heirlooms and the gifts from her ancestors.  And would be passed down…  which were beyond value to the Targaryen family. And most gifts of the king were considered merely new Heirlooms.

AND on top of that, on special days the court would watch the king and queen dress and undress. Twice a day.  Baelor didn’t even like having his hair combed.  He could not imagine nervous Baelor fixing his stockings or showing his backside. To the room of servants and noble people.

Baelor knew he was being ill mannered. He was a Prince and Prince's had many servants, if they were mighty. It was their job to dress the Prince.  And the Princes job to be dressed.

“Help me with my coat, Brynden.” He said trying to sound princely.  It still felt lazy.  Aerys sat with his legs swinging listlessly. God the boy was in a strop.

Brynden straightened it. Folding and tucking it into his sash over and over until it gathered neatly in elegant pleats,

“Thank you.” Baelor said softly.

Baelor wasn’t really an ugly boy. He was tall and handsome.  But he was so dark and his hair brown. He wore soft orange coat today that made his tan seem darker.  And his Dark Purple eyes. Even queerer.   Like beautiful velvet jewels. All the rest their eyes seemed black.  But they were not wearing Dornish colors.  All the rest of them were white blond. Though some of them had silver hair and some almost white like Brynden’s own. Though his was thin and straight.
Except for Rhaegal who had streaked black hair streaked with silver like a grandfather. and eyes so deep a bright purple like a lavender’s flower, and so large.  Baelor looked most like Rhaegal.  And Aerys looked like Maekar.  Baelor favored his Dornish mother and Aerys his Targaryen grandfather and greatgrandfather. Not the living god with perfect cheekbones and lilac eyes, the plainer one with big ears and a heavy black brow with intense intelligent Dayneish eyes.  Rhaegal was the step between, Rhaegal was naturally well built and pretty as a maiden, but had no courtesy or manners. He would only wear wool and linen he was never turned out well. Looking like a rumpled man at arms, or a servant. And he did not like to change his small clothes.  So Brynden wrangled him in place as the other boys chattered and ran around naked.

Then he marshalled the other boys and told them to stop being idiots.  And helped them wash, getting them clothes.  Though Maekar just took waterbowl and upturned it on his head, to wash and wet himself all over.  It was not very fancy at court.  But this was the country.  The little boy was washing the Dornish way, to hot to do anything proper.

He made sure that while he had helped Rhaegal that their ears and faces and nails and hands were immaculate and their silks clean and stylish.  And not as if they had swept in off the Marches.  The Dornish were handsome sort, and couldn’t be considered inferior. 

They came out to see the Princess.  Brynden shouldn’t be so interested in ladies clothes, especially underthings.  But he knew he liked her pretty, silky clothes.  If a king was mighty, his lady and his princess would get to wear beautiful things. He thought they were fine color. This one was silvery blue white.  And that her sleeves were tied into place with lots of drapes, like a curtain, Half way in between long sleeves of ordinary dresses and no sleeves of Dornish dresses.

Her hair was netted in a silvery hair net over her black curls.  The head piece were fancy old coins from another land. And two cloudy white crystals over her Brows.

She was dressed like a beautiful princess.  Even more then the Queen who dressed in plainer dresses.  And did not wear a lot of jewels.
The helpless boys held up their hands to show their mother they had cleaned them.  They had done their best.

“You don’t look like wildlings now.  You turn out well.” Because she might always be thinking about her horses.  But they looked nice. The same as all the other gentleman.  And at least Rhaegal was clean.

“Can I take your arm mother and escort you into the hall?” Baelor said.

“Of course.” She was pleased.  Baelor did try to be princely, she had hope for him.
Baelor led the Princess to the Hall. He was followed. Aerys who would be tallest soon and Maekar who was frightened to be left behind, even though Rhaegal should go next.  Rhaegal ignored it and held his mothers hand.  If Maekar was going to break formation. He looked up at his mother and Rhaegal touched her hair probably to check it was well.

****
Daemon was racing about talking with some of the kitchen servants.
“Brynden will you deliver the beer.  The kitchen had made nettle tea and small beer for the royals.”
There was pitchers of small beer. A ginger beer, brewed in the sun with honey and sugar ginger and ginseng.  It was very good cold. That was wholesome for children. And nettle tea water with a sprig of nettle flowers in it, good for the elderly. In two pitchers on a tray of flowers to make them pretty.  As well as flat bread and red grapes.  In case the children were too hungry to wait for dinner. They would fuss waiting for the food to arrive.  Dinner was the last meal and finest meal of the day. And required preparation. Some of the ladies might only eat then, so they would not gorge themselves unlady like at the public meal, and drink much water.  Plain water was dull, but the heat required a boost of such tonics to their health after riding and suffering in the heat.

“Just watch over them and make sure to collect the crockery after.  Dinner should be ready in a half an hour.”

Brynden walked out with the drinks. And poured his lady a glass of ginger beer.  And waited for others to ask.  Though other people in the atria were allowed to drink their fill.  A cool refreshment on such a sultry evening. Ladies had their fans and their body servants waving fans. Knights pulled at their collars. The grey robed septons were half soaked in sweat.

The occasion was incredibly plain.  For it was too soon to have a great feast and the servants had worked too hard setting up the castle.  It was best to have an ordinary meal. Only two kinds of meat and salats and vegetables plain and bread and honey fingers for desert. They had mutton instead of goat. And Capons for high table.

Prince Daeron was in yellow Dornish silks while not traditional, was very costly, and he had opened his coat.  A bit more colorful… as his gown was a more somber color to compliment his costly doublet and shirt.  His squire Penrose had carried his Dornish gown away to be brushed. As he was not at court this was acceptable though uncommon. Dragons did not sweat. Daena was wearing an immodest purple dornish gown without Sleeves and Queen Naerys had her hair uncovered. Brynden was shocked.  The Queen never was without a gorget or veil. With long silver curls Twisted about her face.  Naerys always covered her hair in court. But the evening was too hot.  He never knew Naerys had such pretty grey hair. Thick and lovely and it took many years off her face.  She even looked a bit like Rhaegal though with lines about the eyes. Her hair was so pretty and grey. A plain woman has fewer wrinkles it was said.


He had never seen Aemon in anything other then Kingsgard armor and a jupon over it…  though it was some elegantly embroidered by the Queen and her ladies.  He was covered by a white and black coat with dragons in both white and black.  Though it was light. It made him look, perhaps… a little younger, and bits of lacy kirtle stuck out covering his neck.  It was too hot for finery, unless you were Baelor and it was obvious that your mother hated and despaired you.  But he had not turned up his cuffs.  And wore a heavy glove. Just the one though.  It was very mysterious.

“Put your coat away Baelor.  It is nearly 100 in the hall.  With the candles more.” Daena said.
“You might open your coat if it gets hot. You’ll do.” Mariyah said “Don’t faint now.” She would be leaning up to kiss him soon.

“What a beautiful head dress.” Daena smiled.

“A fancy my cousin Vaith got me.  Its Mereenese.” Mariyah smiled. “You’ve gone native.  Such a lovely gown. My mother would love your clothier. Such a bold purple does not come cheap.”
“It’s not official.  Something the dress maker made to resemble your fine Dornish garb. Am I wearing it well?  Dornish women show their bosom and elbows”

“They usually wear knickers. You couldn’t wear anything poorly my lady.” She smirked.

“But do I look dornish?” She joked.  THe pale blond woman could never look anything but a Targaryen.

“You have such pretty pink hands Daena. No one would take you as a Dornish woman. Even the nails are pink. And shining.”

“We should get Ryssi a dornish dress.” Daena said “You always look so faint.” They were teasing her.

At points Naerys could seem naïve, but she could be teasing them “I could never show my skin so.  Forgive me Princess, but I would be afraid to spoil my complexion in the hot sun.” Naerys said. “You could get used to anything. In my day it was scandal for a woman to show her elbows. Some would not turn up their cuffs in the heat. And faint.  When the Summer died and it would be so hot..” 

“If you freckle like Daeron it is best.” Mariyah said “It is an ill thing to watch a dragon burn.” 
“Dark women are made to enjoy the sun.” Daeron said “you always look so well after visiting Dorne.”
  I guess it is true.” Naerys said “It could be the company.” She said “The people of Dorne love their princess. And your little brother is known for his generosity.”

“Don’t be absurd.  Dragons are the most amusing company.”  She sassed a bit. “

“Your son Rhaegal here at table.”

“Yes my Queen.”

“He is feeling well?” Naerys asked Mariyah she asked.  He had not been to the table in many years.

“As long as not much is expected of him.” She said “He says he wants to eat some chicken. With the beautiful queen. Otherwise I would not have asked him”

He couldn’t be all insane if he could make gallantries. He might whisper odd things to people

Rhaegal was joining the meal. Normally Rhaegal at in his solar with a servant or if his mood was black his mother or brother.”


“Rhaegal it is well to see you.” Naerys smiled. “Do you recognize your grandmother?”  Naerys knelt to look on him.

Rhaegal said nothing.  He gave a small ghost of a smile. She bowed

“Greetings Rhaegal.”

At this Daena bent down to get in the boys face “Can’t you greet your Auntie Daena?  I’ll bet you remember me.  I gave you the little purple ball for your nameday and-”

This made him a little upset.  But he shook his head. Not out of ignorance but all the chattering was too much to handle.
“Get out of his face.  You are frightening him.” Aemon said.

“I’m his grandfather’s sister.  He can’t greet me.  You can call me Auntie Daena if you-”
“Leave the boy be Daena.  Not all of us are beholden to your bold charm, cousin. “ Aemon said. “cant you see he is a shy boy?”

“Good day Rhaegal.” The Knight gave the little princeling a bow. 

He blinked owlishly. But took in breath and continued living, despite his fear. Rhaegal did not know what to make of a knight, let alone one in ordinary clothes.  It was so strange.

“In my day children were seen and not heard. Rhaegal is an old soul.” Aemon allowed the silence.  He was a kind man and would not mock a boy for being mad.  If he were kind, even a mad man could learn courtesies.  Especially if he was a prince.  It was better than a sane thinking scoundrel.

Not that any of them would speak to their elders unless addressed.  Then only a brief “good day” or “Thank you your grace.” From the Court ladies.  The Lords and Princes would not speak to a child, it would be embarrassing.   They were only children. Queen Naerys might say a quick greeting and ask after their health and attitude and allow her grandchildren and grandnieces to greet her. But not tempt them to speak and waste the time of the adults.
The princess Mariyah was from Dorne and would make idle chatter with the children for an hour, even small folk. She and her children had a bolder way about them. Having not been born with the same courtesy.  But Dornish manners were more open.  It lead to some difficulties.  Maekar would lose himself and chatter and squeal when he saw the sweets at the table, even though he was five, even pointing sometimes, to the despairing of his mother.   Baelor was insecure at this clash of matters.  And Aerys and Rhaegal could not be bothered.

The Dornish would chat with the servants. Greet their betters with “Aye” and “Hullo.”  Sometimes they compounded that mistake, by giving a hug or a hearty shoulder shake.  Daemon would make many friends in Dorne.  And Daena too as she was one to grasp a friend by the hand and talk them to death when she was in high spirits.
And Daemon and Baelor would always talk when Princess Daena wasn't looking.  Even though Daemon was supposed to be serving wine.

At all this. Brynden left the royals to enter the solar to chat.  There was ale and wine.

It would be dinner soon. And Brynden and Daemon would work very hard all the rest of the evening.

 

 

Chapter Text

Aegor Rivers was in the kitchen dooryard worrying a cloth around the black pot he was given.
Aegor furrowed his brow.  Brynden had known Aegor for two and a half days and they had not found occasion to talk more then a few moments.  None of them pleasant.
“Why do you dawdle so?” Brynden asked him.

“That harpy in the kitchen gave me this dirty old pot to scrub.” Aegor toed the object.  The boy would rather kick it into the lake.

“Finish it later.  We have to help with dinner.” Brynden said.

“No. Its’ impossible” Aegor tossed his cloth down.  Brynden frustrated took up the cloth and began scrubbing where he would not.  He did not like to see a poor job done.
“I’m not a servant. I should not have to scrub.”  He finally gave the pot a kick.

What a thing to say! to call Brynden a servant.  Brynden despite knowing some things, was too mad and young to know it. “Am I a servant then to you?”

“Well.  You… I will not do this anymore. What next embroider cushion and make sugar pies?” He hissed. “They make mock of me.  I won’t have it.  I have my pride.” The little boy was full of anger.
“Your hands are too dirty to make a pie.  Unless it’s a rat pie for the pigs.”  Brynden did not know if that made sense, he did not know what he said entirely.  but he saw Aegor’s eyes flash in anger.
Brynden finished the matter in but two minutes. Aegor had dawdled or was too stupid to be a pot wash.  A babe could do that, in his sleep.
“there I’m finished it…  You have no idea what end is up.”  Brynden wagged his finger and the dirty rag.

Aegor just stood watching either stupefied with his foolishness or stubborn with pride.
“Go wash your hands.  It is time for –“
“Aegor ! Brynden!” Daemon called out “Hullo?”


“Aegor you are not a baby.  Go into the kitchen and be useful.” Brynden said.

“I’m not your servant either.” He put his eye ball right in Brynden’s face.  “You little rat.” He repeated the phrase.  And put his finger between his eyes.

“Then don’t. The Others take you, ya bastard fool.”  Brynden threw the cloth at Aegor’s foot.  He should have spit. He was not scared of him. He was big and dumb as an aurochs.  And no one could hear him curse out there in the dooryard, no one but Aegor.  But Aegor said worse.

At this Daemon came into the room to find Brynden on his tiptoes in Aegor’s face

“Brynden. Aegor,”
He held them apart.
“He started it.  He called me a pig pie.”
That was not true.  Brynden had not done that, he didn’t remember what he said, but Aegor was always wrong.

 “I Did NOT.”
“You did to you blooming bastard you.”

Daemon sighed “I don’t care who started it.” He grabbed them by the arms “You shall come when you are bid. If you do not come to the kitchen when I call, I’ll have Gurna throw your supper to the dogs for being lazy.”

Brynden wasn’t lazy.  Aegor wasn’t doing any work or anyone any good.

Daemon was mostly confused, why the two would quarrel, when they did not know each other. “What is the matter with you two?”

“He’s barking at me like a dog.  When he’s no more then a little rat.” Aegor said.

“Not everyone is cut out to be a page.” Brynden said. “He can’t do anything right.”

“I won’t tolerate your smart mouth.  You-“

“All right, lads.  Stop it.”

Daemon took a breath himself.
“He was just telling you to help with dinner.   He might have not…  said it in the best way.  Brynden is a bit severe.”

“I am not wrong, though.” Brynden pouted.
”Brynden.” Daemon said his name plaintively shooing him away. Brynden felt like Aegor had to be wrong.  And so let his pout and crossed arms do his talking.

Aegor was not more friendly “Aegor…” Daemon brushed the other tall boy’s arm.  “Is there something wrong?”

“I…”  Aegor’s anger broke up quickly.  He seemed so sad “I hate it here.”

Then why don’t you go back to where you come from.  Me and Daemon can handle it.  And don’t need you.  You are just a stranger. Brynden thought.

“I don’t want to… This was a mistake.  Everyone hates me here.  They make me do women’s work.”  Aegor looked sad not angry. “At home I don’t have to eat with the servants.  I have a place at the high table next to my mother when we have feasts.”

“Well this isn’t a feast.” Daemon said “So you don’t have to worry. Its just a dinner for 107 people.”

Aegor looked upset for some reason. “107 people.”  He yelped.

“If you don’t like it, you can go home to Stone Henge.  You are a free man.  And if you write to your mum she will come for you.” Daemon looked him in the eye “Even if you don't stay,  I am that the Prince will invite you to dinner before you go home.” He said “The Prince would not have asked you to come to be his page unless he wanted to talk to you.  You are not a slave. He would not make you stay where you are miserable.  Prince Daeron has a very soft heart.”

“Its just…  I thought it would be different.” Aegor said “I know I never worked as no … I mean as A page before.  Why would the Prince ask me to come just to mock me?”

“Aegor, we were excited to meet you. But this is a working castle. We all have our place and our job. Until then its already dinner time.  Can you please help us pages tonight?  We need help. There is only Brynden and I to help the servants. He is nervous too and is taking it out on you.”

“I want to be helpful but I do have pride.”

“Being a page is not supposed to be fun and frolics. There isn’t a thing I wouldn’t do.  And Prince Daeron made his son do the work of a page too. To prove he was humble and obedient.” He said “Baelor used to pour beer for the men.  And so did Ser Aemon when he was a little boy.  Aemon was a page for the Third Aegon. And did all kinds of things like we are doing.  Serving in the smithy,  cutting hay and serving in the great hall.  He tells the stories to Baelor… and all the fun he had being the King’s page. And he was the same age as the Prince so they became friends too.  And you are Aerys’s age.  And Brynden watches over Rhaegal.  At the Red Keep all the princes have to prove themselves.” He said “Its not like they only pick bad things for you.  I have to spin wool and churn butter with the scullion girls. And Brynden has too. Only he’s too little to get to the top shelf. He’s not moaning.”

“Hey.” Brynden did not wish Daemon to talk over his head.

“Maybe he’s moaning a little.”  Aegor said

Daemon tried to explain.  “Your people had pages at your castle? Your uncle and your grandfather must have had at least one page boy, they own a whole castle. Didn’t they let you make friends with him?”

“We Bracken don’t open our doors to unwanted guests.  My mother doesn’t entertain strangers…. Its mostly just a few people… We don’t have a hundred and seven for dinner.”

“But you have a whole castle how- even at a feast?”

Daemon might not understand not every castle had thousands living in it. Brynden had not seen much of castles. But Raventree hall was only 200 people in the castle.  Many more in the Village, and still the whole of it would fit in the Maidenvault. Maybe Stone Hedge was not a glorious castle as Aegor spoke of.


Aegor didn’t want to talk about the castle anymore.  He clammed up “Look… I… I’ll try.  But Brynden can’t tell me what to do.”

“Even if its what you were bid already?” Brynden hissed.

Daemon looked at Brynden, with a disappointed face, “Don’t be so grumpy Brynden.  You put a bad light on things.  Aegor is just nervous.”
“Well I don’t want to scrub pots and be treated like a slave.” Aegor nodded firmly.

“Nonsense” Daemon exclaimed. “A slave can slag off on his duties, and still get a supper.  And Master Gurna said if we were lazy she would feed us nothing but brown soap.” Daemon chuckled.

“That is torture.  She won’t even…”  Brynden was as humorless as possible. “Don’t listen to Daemon.”

“Aye and sawdust for pudding.” Daemon laughed.

“You are a liar Daemon.”

“Brynden knows everything.  He is a lot smarter then he looks.” Daemon teased and tried to pull off Bryn’s hood.  Bryn tried not to make a squeal like an angry pig and pulled it down so Daemon couldn’t pull it off his head “Because I don’t want to wait all day for you to get it right.” Brynden said.

Aegor looked at them as if they were crazed.  He was not used to spending his time with boys his own age.

Brynden waved his hand  “Well just start simply, You can pass out trenchers and pour the wine without spilling it.  And smile.” Brynden rolled his eyes.
“Even Brynden can smile.” Daemon poked Brynden’s face. He said “It was a miracle. It was Sevensmass two years past.” Then he poked his belly.

Brynden laughed when he was tickled. He didn’t even know how angry he was until he was not any longer.

“Well that is not so bad.” Aegor warmed a bit.

“Truth is,” Daemon confided in Aegor and pat his back “someone will need something.  Just give them what they want. It won’t break your neck.  Like a napkin or a knife.  And the servants will carry out the heavy things. A lot of them are grown folks.” He said “And if you see the servants are too slow tell them you will tell the cook and they will be in trouble. And if you see them stealing food tell someone.  Or just tell me. I’ll tell the one in charge. Many of the servants can be bone lazy if they aren’t being watched.”

Brynden did not have much knowledge of Aegor but already he was wearing on him. Aegor was a very difficult person to talk with, getting angry quick as a fire, and not speaking as normal men do.  He just seemed like he was a fiery changeable temper.  And Brynden was not.  He wanted to tell him to stop being the way he was.

 “If you aren’t ready yet, you can watch Brynden and me serve the tables.” He said. “If you are scared.”
“I can… I mean…. I don’t need your help.  I am clever enough to pour wine.” Aegor was looking useless and hopeless.  Brynden felt a pang of pity as the boy was stammering nervously.  

Brynden soon changed his feelings too. Maybe he was quick to anger as well.

Why was Brynden so cross with him? Baelor had patience for everyone and Daemon was always smiling.  He just didn’t like Aegor interfering.  But he was just dumb not lazy. That would be like being angry at a dog for not knowing what was going on.

“It took me years to learn everything.  I been a page since I was six.” Brynden said.

He looked worried. “Well I started late.  What if I mess up? And they don’t want me around anymore.”

Brynden himself worried he would not do his duty and he’d be found lacking.  Maybe Aegor was more honest about it. Maybe Aegor wasn’t just dumb either. 

 “You two hate yourselves.  Insecure. Glummest chaps I ever met” Daemon muttered. “I swear it is a shock to the conscience we share blood.” Daemon went ahead.

****
They came through the wooden doors, of the hall.  Open each as wide as a wall. Doors of black iron wood one foot thick.
They looked out into the great hall as it filled with men.

Summerhall was a feast hall of the First Men.  Before the Targaryens, before the Andals came, when giants and children and their ilk were still around, when life was miserable and short.  Where all the men slept together, wintered together in terrible storms and sang songs.  Men came together for miles and miles hoping winter would end before they starved and died in the cold and snow. The hall was long and broad. With great benches that were used to both eat, but also sleep on and to keep their items safe… but in those days men would share all they had in the world in the spirit of brotherhood.  In those days there were no solars or palaces.  Nothing of the great cities had been built.  Even Valyria was but shepherds and the Ghiscari were only learning to build tombs of mud bricks instead of stone.  Everyone lived in one room all winter long.

The Hall where Summerhall had its name.  It had been given a dozen names Dragon’s Hall.  Daeronfort, Lakepoint, Storm’s Point, Valleyview. But it would always retreat for its oldest name, the name its builders gave it. Summerhall, for it was what they wished most of all. Today it was only filled in Summer, being too rude and drafty to live in comfortably in the current times. And by winter the Castellan would ship its produce and stores to Blackhaven. The people would leave for the bigger cities in Dorne or in the Stormlands. The hall would close its door and the Castellan and his family would remain all winter alone, except to lay in supplies and hire builders to repair the damages of the storm, to make sure it was sound for the next Spring. It could be filled again. It could sleep and house five hundred people, from the lords in their solar to every servant and their horses and cows and dogs.  It had been so old it only had a pit for fire where the small folk roast camel and cough smoke all winter in the cold.  The King Daeron called the Young Dragon found the old ruined place on a trek across the marches to Dorne, when he watered his people.  It was shelter from the sun. The only improvements added by the ambitious young King Daeron the First ,were two chimneys that drew the smoke to the skies. It was the Hand of the King that suggested to build its stables.  Which could hold (10000) horses in stalls and paddocks.  Nearly double the among of men.  It was a better launching off point then Mistwood or Blackhaven.  For future invasions.

In the engravings on the wall.  It was not as old as the Long Night, but who could know, but close enough so that the people marked the moons of winter and drew stars on the wall, and other symbols no one knew, to mark the passage of time, when storms blocked access to the outside world.  Long ago, before even history began, winters might last between the solstices. And winter might only be few moons turn. But things began to change.  A winter came that lasted a generation.  Since then all men marked the passage of time, to prevent such a terrible fate from nearly killing all men.  It was marked with perfect accuracy.  With graffiti of the time, of the Greenseers, who were like Maesters and Septons today. It was nothing beautiful. There were very few people who had seen these marks. Only the Targaryens and the servants who lived there.  Daeron would show them to the children and explain their meaning.  That some messages were so important that the old boys cut them into the stone. None of them knew what their runes said. Not even the oldest maester did, and they had to make a guess.
 Underneath the arch was the crowd of diners. They didn’t look above their heads.

“There are a hundred people.” Aegor pulled back, perhaps the big lad quailing.  There were so many people… all of them strange to him.  He did not know if he should hold his hands behind his back like Daemon.

Daemon addressed them, as if they were troops in an army “There are 18 at high table.  You’ll learn the hierarchy soon.  The Princess has 50 guards.  And the Kings guard has brought 36 men at arms.  Each of them is only allowed the 12, You must serve the High table before the knights.  At high table are the Royal Family, our Septon and the queens Septa, and the Prince’s guests and his personal maester. Under high table come the knights and men at arms. And the Dornish come first as they are Sers.  But most of them don’t have their servants and men at arms, are eating in the yard. Then the Men-at arms of the Kingsguard. The castle Guards. The ladies hand maids, the maesters, the junior septons, grooms and master of craft who run the Prince’s castle, after them the chambermaids, gardeners, builders and stablehands. They will sit on the benches. On the ends of the hall the footmen, scullion maids, laundry and needle women, their children.  I’ll have to write it out if there are children.” He said ‘The children get fed last, but there is just a way… It gets a little complicated.” 

Then outside are the servants to the knights, the Dornish men at arms, the Knight’s squires, the knight’s servants, the hedge knights and sell swords, (The men at arms aren’t allowed to have their servants sit at hall above the kings servants.) and the…  girls.” Daemon whispered that.

“Which girls?” Aegor asked.

“There are always… girls there.  They call them the followers of the camp.  Sometimes they come and go. And then their children too.  He said “We don’t really count.  We just make sure there is enough stew and hope there isn’t a fight.” He says “The Sers have their keeping, but Daeron wants to be thought of as a generous host. So the Knights will be more loyal. They come all the way from Dorne to guard the Princess.”

Then the beggars.  They’ll come to the back after the Prince is done eating.”

“Do all the beggars get to eat?” Aegor said

“Usually.  Its been so hot.  And there is not much shelter, there may be the fewer of them.”

The Prince and the Queen can be served at once.  The rest is done by the hierarchy of the guests. I will write it down for you Aegor.  There are many who must be fed.  But it is good test of humility. Us pages are in the hall just as oft we are in the smith or the practice yard. We are always finding ourselves helping in the kitchens.”

Daemon drew the cupboard open and pulled the beautiful table cloth.  A gift of Princess Mariyah to her husband’s family on their wedding.  It must have taken a year of winter and every woman in Sunspear to embroider.  Covered in golden leaves and flowers.  Only the head page could bring it out from the locked cupboard.  And he asked Brynden to unfold it.  It was a treasure of its own, with small cloth of gold thread.  The two of them garmented the fine table as Aegor watched.  He did not know from needlework, being a boy, but it truly was a pretty thing. Brynden laid elegant napkins between the chairs, so the guests could wash their hands.  Brynden and Daemon tucked towels over their shoulders and their arm, in case there was need of more then a common napkin.  And they had bowls of water for hand washing, which would be done again.

Daemon paused,“Now Aegor we are to wash your hands.”
“Oh my god.  I will die before this is done. Must you say wash your hands again? All of this boring nonsense…. Who cares?”
He stood him up. Brynden bowed and held out the bowl.

“Now let the man rinse his hands in the bowl and rub them.  Then let him wipe your arm.”  Daemon showed Aegor.  “Though they should have washed before. Some will wish to wash in public as well. To prove they are high quality. A good knight is clean and godly.” He said “You will look a goon if you do not have good manners.”

It was strange.  But Aegor complied.  Washing his hands and pawing Brynden clean. Brynden didn’t have the chance to look at him as he was traveling with some men and Brynden was in the wheel house with the ladies seeing to them.  Aegor was big and black haired, and even only ten had little hairs under his nose that made his clean face look dusty.  His hair was not curly and neat but stuck to his head with sweat.  And a nose that was snub like a button. This big handsome lad had Targaryen eyes.  Though not so.  His eyes were deep and warm with a wine colored warmth and if you did not know he was Targaryen you might confused them for another color.  As Maekar’s eyes looked blue.  Whatever purple Aegor’s eyes were they were not red and rheumy as his own.

Brynden felt nervous.  Wouldn’t it be so that the Princess might want a handsome page with big purple eyes instead of ugly little red ones?  Aegor was ten.  Brynden only eight. Aegor didn’t know anything, but that could change. Aegor would fit in with the Targaryens as he had a noble, handsome face and mien, of a high quality person.  Brynden was certain that Aegor would be taking his place in no time and who knows where he would be!  Would he be living on the streets with no supper and wandering around the streets of Fleabottom, or the Dornish marches without a drink of water or even stale bread?
 
There was a dark jealous place in Brynden’s heart. He was tempted not to tell Aegor anything and offer to do his work for him… Until he was so useless he could go back where he came from.  Not every little boy could be a good page.  And Aegor was some fancy lord who lived far away.  He talked of his mother and his castle every moment he could.  Daemon and Brynden had their keep in the Red Keep.  And never lived anywhere else but Kingslanding.

Brynden would move to Fishmongers square and live where his sisters and Mother lived in their two floored house.  Sharing the single bed with his two sisters.  Their family would be done in Court and the whole world he now knew. Implications were dire as his mother and Aerys might say.  But he might have bread and they would have a place to winter. For Mother owned her house and the house next to it.  And Mother had coin in usury and a bag of silver she hid with lock and key, and they had servants to keep most bandits away.  And she had friends all over Fleabottom to make sure none of the gangs did her harm.

And Daemon …  he didn’t even ever think him living anywhere else but the Red Keep.  Where would Daemon go?

It only lasted a moment.  Baelor and Daemon were friends.  But they were…  it was different. Aegor could get nasty.  But only when he was scared.

Brynden looked at him “I must treat him kinder.  And if he learns to be a page maybe he can lift me places I don’t reach.  And if Daemon becomes a squire, I will have a friend. Or someone to work with me at least.  And he will have to listen to what I say, because I have been a page longer.”

Aegor looked down

“What got up your nose?” Aegor asked.

“Don’t push me so.” He said mildly.  “You are bigger than a house.”

“Sorry.”  He said. “I didn’t mean to shout none.” Aegor murmured an apology to the corner behind Bryn’s head.

“I’m littler.  You’ve no chivalry.” Brynden smirked, a comment without much heat.

“I do you little rat.” He said with a smile and no heat.  He was a changeable cuss. He said “I can help some.  Will I get in trouble if I make a mistake?”

“Yes.  But they’ll be too busy tonight.  They probably won’t know until tomorrow,”  Brynden tried. 

Maybe he could confide in Aegor later.  Brynden had made silly mistakes when he first became a page, a little fool he was back then so long ago with he was six.  ‘They will yell at you.  But Gurna has never hit a little boy.  She has sons and she don’t beat them. And they have pudding for brains. And as Princess Mariyah talks of wailing the hyde off, I think she only spanked Baelor when he were ten.”  He said “And that was a hundred years ago.”
“I don’t want to be whupped.”

“If you spill a dish then they’ll clean it up and Beran broke a dish, he just has to work in the garden.  You cant drop the dishes.”

“I don’t want to drop no dishes.  I promise I won’t. I don't want to do nothing that will get me spanked. ”

Maybe they would get on.

****

Daemon was at the Prince’s side.  He was put in charge of carving the roast lamb.  And he could also carve the chickens.  Brynden was only to put dishes of beans and mashed turnips and carrots, with long Essosi spoons.  And carry white bread as well as the trenchers.  All the pieces were the same size.  Brynden was around long enough to know that was impressive. He also delivered the choicest of meat to those by rank.  As innately as if he had written it down.  From the Queen and Prince, down to the youngest Penrose who never the less was served before Maekar.  He knew the rank and file of everyone in the room, and probably all of the tables except the Dornish knights.
Daemon never got it wrong, he knew everyone. On his first night Brynden was allowed to serve the high table, he had brought Lady Elaena bread before Septa Rhaena and the two women laughed at him. Even switching their bread.  Brynden never made such a mistake again.  But he looked for his big brother to correct him. They could have conversation with their eye brows.

“Aegor.  It is not nice.  The queen’s ladies are ladies. Like real ladies.  Not girls.  And so you have to just make sure you give the right order. They get very jealous.”

It was not Aegor’s fault this was awkward as he placed vegetables between the Maester who served at the castle and the Maester visiting Prince Daeron to do research on agriculture.  Not knowing who should break bread first. He hoped Maesters were clever enough to know who should eat first. They were Maesters why shouldn’t they?”

Until Agriculture maester wiped gravy on the tablecloth.

He rushed in with a gold napkin.

“Excuse me your honor… Maester.” Brynden didn’t know the man’s name.  He wanted to wash the spot right away.  But the Maester took it with gusto and blew his nose. What a goon.

“I am Maester Clemelle. Thanks for that… I needed it.” He tossed it as a rag on the floor.

The table was too small and they practically rubbed elbows.  And as some ladies had no sleeves in Dornish styled garb, it was awkward. Saintly lads begged apology of their partners.  And older Dornish women reached across the laps flinging their bare flabby arms across people’s noses. Against the usual setting in Kingslanding Aemon and Daeron were seated together, while his wife was sitting across the table.  Half a hundred times he looked up to speak to his wife to find his uncle.

“My darling, you dressed your hair so lovely tonight.” He said “Is that from Cousin Vaith?’

Aemon smirked “Why thank you nephew.  I do my best.” The tables chuckled.

Daeron laughed “It is a blessing that the renovations will include a bigger table.  The House Targaryen will be more secure in the future…  but not from spilled gravy.”

“With such incredible rustic fare it is a wonder you do not have more guests show themselves.  Our compliments to the cook your Grace.”  The Maester Clemelle said.  “Your table is the envy of every castle in the Stormlands.”

“She is a woman, you know, and the daughter of my Grandfather’s chef at the Red Keep.” He said. “She learned cooking of her mother who was one of the cooks.  He had no sons.  And the lads were so fearful of her bold temper, that I knew she would be the fine chef, and get my kitchens in order. She will not make an appearance in honor of her reputation.“

“Marvelous.” He said. What an unusual thing to have a woman in charge of all those men. She must be the woman.”

“What better than a woman to cook?  My Grandmother was as fierce as a general when she was baking.” Maester Clemelle said.

“Does she have a husband.  Such a bold woman must not be easy to wed.”

“Bold women never have the lack of admirers.” The Queen said

“But a woman so bold she tells men what to do.  She cannot have a normal man as a husband.”

“A husband who works as her assistant, to roast and spice. They have two sons which she is training to cook as well. They are better behaved then my Kingsguard. Who else will I have to serve as Chef when she retires? It was a family tradition.”

“Your majesty is fair-minded to give a bonny lass to prove extraordinary of her sex. Soon all of Westeros shall come to taste the food of the Woman Chef.” Aemon said.

Daeron was at the bleeding edge of new thoughts.  It was said that his wife’s hand was in all his actions, so a fondness for bold unnatural women might show itself.  Maester Clemelle, being young, thought it novel.  Some of the elders were confused. A septon or two were forced to protest the break with tradition, whether they cared or not.  But then most were tuning out of the conversation and thought only of the taste of what they ate.  And soon no one cared to talk about it.

 “It is well enough, Prince.  We don’t come to Summerhall to dine on Hippogriff and unicorn.  To see the family all together makes my heart sing.”  He said “To see all the Targaryens under the sun. Gives us hope for the next generation.”

“Yes but I could see less of uncle’s hair.” Prince Daeron smiled.
“You should hope you have any hair when you are 50, nephew.” He joked “But I will hold Princess Mariyah looks lovely tonight. We take advantage of Dorne’s great beauty when we have too much in our own kingdom.  Tonight here, I swear by my troth, There are no more beautiful ladies in all of the West, from the Salty Shore to the Wall.

“Ser Aemon, you are so conveniently right.” Mariyah grinned.  Ser Aemon always gave every women rare extravagant compliments, whether brown as a nut or sallow as a maggot, thin as a rake or as pudgy as a sack of oranges. As it was almost always tinged with a playful insincerity. Beauty meant very little to him. 

“The views of Summerhall make up for the tedium of these occasions.” He said “For all the beauty of Westeros is under one roof.” Everyone know with a sly wink that Aemon did not mean the scenery of the lake, but how lovely ladies were.
”It must be easie for plain women to conduct themselves tonight.” Daena pretended to whisper to Naerys and Mariyah. “While we are at supper, they might take over the world.”

The crowd was amused by the wild former Princess. 

As quick as a flash Aemon had put his mutton on his sister’s plate.  Brynden was askance as that should be only what little children did.  But The Lamb was mint and well spiced and Aemon did not like the look of flesh.  The Queen looked at her brother. It was a strange reminder, that even Queens were once little children with no sense to behave. Like baby Maekar.

Baelor was silent and he was pouring ginger beer for his brother.
“There you go brother.” He smiled to Maekar.

“Baelor we have the pages to serve drinks.” Mariyah said

“Oh well I was tired of waiting.” Baelor said.

“It is not right that an older brother should serve the baby brother.  Consider…”

“Consider what?  Its too crowded here we will wait an hour.” Baelor spoke curtly.

“Prince Baelor, It is ill manners to contradict a lady.”  Aemon said.

“And your mother.” Prince Daeron said.

Baelor might be a little thoughtless, normally ignored, but this was at table. He must act like a perfect gentleman “I am sorry my lady mother.”

“Brynden, Will you serve Maekar?” Mariyah said “Baelor is impatient.”

“Aegor will My lady. Might Aegor serve.  He is new.”  He did not want to contradict the lady either.  Everyone would be mad at him.

“Very well Aegor Rivers.” She inclined her head.
“My lady…  I mean my princess.”

Aegor came and poured the boys ginger beer, she gave him a mild smile.  “It has been many years since I saw you. I think you were a babe at arms.” He poured her some wine.  “My sons are very thirsty.” Aegor put all his concentration.

“I-“  Aegor said nothing. And faded out of sight.

Baelor said “I don’t mind pouring a drink mother.  It will not break my neck.”

“You don’t see the King polishing Ser Aemon’s boots.  Or Queen Naerys putting on Daena’s hair pins.  It is all done for a purpose.”

“It was more fun when I was with Daemon and Bryn in the kitchens.  There are only-“

“Old people here.” Aemon smiled.
Baelor was astounded at Ser Aemon’s witch like reading of his mind “Nooo.”

“I did not like to hold my tongue around old men when I was a squire either. Nothing but a lot of fancy blather. I don’t know how I didn’t choke.”

Mariyah tsked “It is not your place.  You are a squire now.  Squires serve knights And Pages serve the squire. When they are squires they will eat at the table and they will have other little page boys to serve them. So they can learn to be squires too.”

“Yes. I don’t want to do nothing.” Baelor torn between people thinking he was lazy and being bored, to being a proper prince.

“Baelor, I know it seems strange, but you aren’t doing nothing. You’ll learn by listening.” Daeron said.
Brynden shared a look with the Little Prince who looked lost at sea.  A lot of sitting and waiting for everyone else to talk. If he was with his friends, they might work, but they could talk about anything.  All father had done is talk about food and dresses and ladies and nonsense.  And people very far away and dead people.  Baelor didn’t know any of these foreigners.

Baelor looked at him just as confused as Brynden.  Only he had to sit still and not look very very very bored.  Brynden could go somewhere else.

The knight heard the sizzle of meat, as another roast goat was brought to tables below the salt. It was a loud delicious noise.  The fat crackled and the meat dripped with broth.  Aemon’s already pale Targaryen face, became white and drawn. Even his lips seemed to turn white.  He wiped his face with a silken square. It was perfumed with tobacco and lavender oil.

“Are you well Nuncle?”  The Prince asked him.

“Your highness. I ask your permission to take a comfort break,”  Either he needed to go outside to take a piss or he was going to vomit.  And the Prince always had footman holding chamberpots. So it must be the heat.

“Of course Uncle take your leave as you may.  We shall miss your conversation. You might return if we are still here.  The servants inform me there will be a banquet of sweets in the atrium.”

“My impertinent remarks should not be the highlight of the table.  Lady Daena, My Sister.”
He pet his sisters hand. Queen Naerys was the only one not shocked, but gave him a sympathetic look. “I understand brother.”

Daemon looked to Aegor.
“Is he ill?” Aegor whispered.

“He hates feasts.  Its too close in here.  And it smells of meat.  He hates strong smells of meat.” Brynden said.  “He’ll not sit for an entire meal.” He said “He serves at his brother’s side during feasts, even the Holidays. and He only drinks water, from a skin, he keeps in his belt. Even when the king stays up all night feasting.  Won’t eat a crumb.

“That is queer.  It’s a fine feast.” Aegor would want to eat all his meat and stuff himself and have a gay time.  Not run out in the middle of the meal.

“There is nothing queer. He is a holy man and he eats no flesh and drinks no wine.  In an oath to the gods to be pure of body.  And he is wed to the sword. To only serve his brother the king.  He is the perfect knight.” Daemon said “I want to be a great knight like him.”

“And miss supper then?”  Aegor said. ‘I’d rather have a roast.”

As he left more talked about Ser Aemon who was loved by the small folk and every Targaryen.  He was everyone’s favorite uncle.  From the page boys who served beer, to the old princesses survived four kings, to the young blades making a name for themselves, to the old Lords who remembered the days as they should be, to the Crown Prince himself.  And there was no one at table who was more beloved.  Even the queen who was a difficult woman to please, had no closer friend in the world than her big brother. It was right he be beloved of everyone,  as he had fought for Westeros for lo his whole life, so he had also given so many of them aid in need.  Kind words of council, selfless favors, precious boons that he need not do, a shoulder to weep, and fiery words of passionate encouragement. He was the chaste confidant of maids. He helped Lady Mullendore who had worried about her paramore Ser Grandin losing his heart to another woman, but in less then a few words made Grandin seem the worstest dog in the Seven Kingdoms, and the Lady ended the affair herself.  He was the last refuge to worried young men who had gone too far. Ser Beren was not 17 when in a panic he called Ser Aemon for a debt of gambling,  The Knight railed against him and gave him a slap and told the boy he might go to hell if he were wicked,  then paid 12 gold dragons as if it was nothing, even promised not to tell his sickly mother if he had “seen the Light.”  The Septons gazed at him with a wink as they talked of men of virtue and bravery in their fine speeches in the sept.  Daemon wished to have that respect.  He would have followed him closely if there was not work to do.

But perhaps to a stranger even a saint seemed queer. Aegor didn’t know what to make of anything.

King Daeron spoke to his young son directly, as man to man. “You will learn much of your uncle.  He has served four kings. There is no man who knows more about the Kingsguard. A gentil perfect knight.”
“It is scary though.  To be a squire to such a great man,” Baelor said.
“All endeavors of import must be met with a little fear.  Fear will keep you on the edge of the blade. He will teach you not only battle but how to conduct yourself as a Prince.” He said “He taught me to be the man I was. Everyone needs much help to become a man.”
“Should not a man rely on himself?”
“Yes but no man is ever truly alone. He must put himself aside for the greater good.  And sometimes that is trusting in those worthy, even if you look weak.”
“I hope I will do well.  And become worthy of my knighthood soon.”

“I hope not for many years yet.”  His father touched his hand, with a far off smile.

Baelor then realized, everyone looking at what he said. And his father was giving him support, knowing the boy might be nervous. Suddenly Baelor was nervous and could not speak if you threatened to kill him. His father understood. And some laughed.  And Baelor could not know why, he could not know these were all things boys felt when they did not yet know what it was to be a man.

He looked up to Brynden who was only worried about napkins and spilling some wine.

***
“We will need some napkins.”

***
Aegor was sitting under a table.
Brynden had never seen such a strange boy as Aegor Rivers.

“Are you taking…  Aegor you can’t be here!”
“I was hiding.”

Aegor was nervous and weak “Its so many people.  Is it always like this?”  The gruff big lad didn’t seem so bold.  His temper was up and down like a bouncing ball.  Angry and cruel one moment, meek as a sept mouse the next. Like nothing was secure or settled.  At any moment everything was wild.

“Sometimes there are a lot of people.” Brynden said “And more.  They aren’t dangerous.”

Aegor looked overwhelmed and scared. “This is too much.” Aegor had lost the battle, losing all nerve.  He was a changeable boy. Very different from Brynden who was calm, but others said was just mildly grumpy. Daemon said he had no sensitivity of soul.  That may be but he wasn’t crying like no baby.

“Did you murder someone?” Brynden joked.

“I dropped the basket.” Aegor looked nervous.
“You dropped a basket?” Brynden asked.

“I dropped the bread and they all looked at me.  I was gonna pick up the bread.  But they said it was dirty and I was an idiot. I didn’t want to get a spanking.  I didn’t mean to… the bread was hot and I hurt my finger and it… it fell.  I know the woman saw me and she hates me.”

“Well Only Gurna hates you then.” Brynden tried to put such foolish thoughts in perspective  “If she saw and did not scream at you, she didn’t notice.  Only if you break a dish. She has to feed the lords and the ladies and the servants….  I’m sure you didn’t break it.  Just find some more bread in the kitchen.”

Aegor tried to look at him in good humor, “I’m not used to being under the salt.”

“You are under the salt and the butter and the jam.”  Brynden chuckled.
That was the first time he made Aegor laugh.  He did have a fine laugh.

“You had yourself a scare.  Will you help out?  Get more bread.”

“I’ll get more bread.” Aegor said “Don’t tell anyone I was scared. Or I’ll punch your eye out, you little rat.”

Daemon tied back his hair with a thong. Even he was getting frustrated. It was too hot.  “Brynden get Aegor to hand out and pass the bread amoung knights, And clean spoons.  We are running low on napkins.”

He grabbed many spoons to pass out “You act like I ate the napkins.”  Brynden said.  “We don’t have more.  Should I peel them off the floor? They wipe their nose with them.”

“Well help me with the spoons then.” Daemon passed out many spoons before Gurna called his name. 

Gurna looked him over.
“Hey come here.”  She stopped him on the passthrough.  She looked him over and got him a step stool.

“Come here Brynden,  You should learn how to carve a hen.  There were extras and Lord Caron was given one.  Too large and rude for the table.” It was a nice chicken, but it had a little black burnt skin on the edge.

All thoughts of Aegor and Aemon vanished.  He tried to do it as the cook explained it to him.  But he did it so slowly…  and the beast looked as if it burst.  He was occupied in learning.  Daemon did it so well, and each slice was the same.  Bryn’s service was charmless.  She took the plate and dumped it into gravy.

“Well we can’t get it right the first time.”  She instantly grabbed the second chicken, this one was missing a wing. She cut it down again. She did it slow so he could see.
“Along these lines. To split the breast in two… and the leg, and the wings.  Like this. ” She had it ready for Daemon to deliver to Ser Caron.  She had done it in a few moments.

She had a few more capons some too large, most the size of a pullet.

“Practice on these for the stew.” She said “You’ll cut milady’s chicken if him up there is going to be a squire.” She pointed at Daemon, “You give that to her and she will think the chicken half alive. Cut off the legs first.”

“Yes Master Gurna.”

He was cutting up the chickens, for Stew.  As the servants were lolly gagging about.  Brynden was too short to go in the kitchens.  He was shoved about by the big lads who were too busy not to trample him.  It was well, little boys had no place in the kitchen.  Once on a Seven day,  Daemon and Brynden went down to the castle kitchens of the Red Keep when no one was around.  Brynden could fit his entire body into a stewpot.  Daemon laughed himself till he pissed. Brynden popping out yelling

“Brynden Rivers Stew milord?” He tossed Brynden cabbages and apples and stewed him with a big spoon.  But it was pretend.  They thought it was grand, but Baelor said they were goons, for he had not seen the birth of the joke. As some jokes are only funny for two people.

The servants were often lazy.  And if they were not told to do things, they would do nothing.  Instead of use their sense. Sniping bits off the plate and taking too long to make sure the plate was hot.  Brynden was a page and not supposed to be there.  And these were the regular servants.  He thought if you were devoted full time to being a servant, you would be a better servant.
He could cut the chickens so they didn’t look explosive… and slices were becoming the same size.

It was elegant, an honor to carve meat for the royals.  He had seen Daemon do it many times.  But he had to learn not only to do it without cutting his thumb, but with a disaffected air.  Though the chicken was delicious and it made him hungry.  Instead he plated the greasy meat.

Probably all of them were hungry. Aegor was gnawing on a trencher he had from the table.  He probably did not have a good breakfast either.

“The best part of the chicken is the oyster.  And that will go to the King.  Or to the royals that ask.  But only two oysters per chicken. They might give it to a friend, or a lady.  Under the table.”
 
“We all know lady Naerys gave her Oyster to Ser Aemon, under the table.” Some of the kitchen women laughed.

“Minna.”  Gurna was laughing loudly. “Don’t be a cat…” They noticed Brynden there “THe little boy is here.”

Brynden piped “No I saw. He gave her his lamb chop… I saw.”

The two women stifled their giggles, “Yes will he is an odd fellow.” Master Gurna said “There is always gossip about that.  But he is a good man.”

Brynden finally cut the wings off properly “Yes,  And the dark bits go to the Maesters?” Brynden asked.

“Yes unless they ask.  Some like white and some like dark.  I made game birds for Baelor’s birthday.  Roast chicken and mushroom gravy. The little man almost finished the capon by himself. The little lad sent me a missive, the maester read me.  and sent by a bottle of Red wine from his uncle the Prince o’ Dorne.  Not no old plonk neither.  The kind the Martells drink at their feasts. We’ve been saving it for a special day.”

“It is well to know what things taste of.  It will pay better with the spicing.  Its hard to cook with peppers if you’ve never eaten them. My ribs is better then you can find in the Pass. That’s what old granny said taught me Dornish dishes.”

She was a saucy woman, and spicy,  just like the food she cooked, but with confidence not common in servants. As if she was as good as a man.

“Could you eat a whole Capon Aegor?” She smiled

“I could eat one with feathers.” Aegor said incredulously.  The woman laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “I like a lad with a good appetite.”

“Do they eat chicken everyday?” Aegor asked,

“If its not harvest or winter aye.” Brynden said  “Queen Naerys likes it. But there are also fasts where we might eat fish and vegetables. A honorable man cannot eat capons and dornish red as his people starve. ”

“That should have nothing to do with him in the Capitol.  Or here in the Stormlands.  We are halfway to Dorne.” Aegor didn’t understand, he would eat a chicken and lobster and the best wine every day if he could. Brynden thought he was too close to his plate.  As if someone would snatch it from him. He was very insecure about his eating, for a young lord who grew up in a great castle.
  
“The Banquet is starting in the atria. I’ve made custard for the Prince and there are cakes.  This lot like my honey cakes.  You boys might clear the trenchers.” She said “The beggars have come out back.”

***
It was decided at random and against the custom, but Daeron was not disappointed at the appointment of his female chef.  But she could not come out to the hall to accept compliments to the meal lest they think she had vanity of her sex. Her husband might not like his wife on display.  And the King had a reputation of whisking every woman he took a fancy to his bed.  Though she was 40 and not beautiful. Some Husbands could think their wife the only lady in the world and the world was a better place of it.

She was a good cook.  Though she was used to the capital where she could use the best of ingredients, the freshest fish and pork, the most dainty spices. She now must work to feed a hundred people every night on a budget with the produce of the land.  And was doing very well, even with modest ingredients.  Though she did luck out as the Dornish princess had no shortage of gifts of rare spices, and the citruses that Dorne was known for.

Daeron lead the royals to the fine banquet of custard with orange and plum sauce.  And a pile of round honey cakes. And this was everyday fare.

The Queen had not expected such.  It was said while she was a slender woman, loved nothing better than sweets.  She loved the chaste dainty pleasures of the kitchen. And could be won over with a well baked sweet. Lady Blackwood would bake her secret apple pie that was of legendary status and did more to make them friends then a thousand conversations.

“I will not brag, but I can make more out of honey and barley then Master Hiram of Highgarden can make out of chocolate, currents and gold.  I hope the Queen will not be disappointed."
She was exaggerating her modesty.  She hoped the Queen would love her and call her a genius of the sweet course.  Gurna loved to make sweet things, and the Queen loved to eat them. It was truly a match.  And in Winter if she was let go of Summerhall she might be a taster to the Queen or work along side the chief of the palace kitchens.  It would be an honor and Summerhall was not the most prestigious of halls in the land. But the Prince had given her a chance, when most would never let her in a position of power.  She would not let him down.

She had traveled to Dorne and learned Dornish cooking with the Chef of Wyl hall so she could make those dishes she had no knowledge of. She had bought every vegetable under the sun, from dragon fruit to quince.

As Baelor went to the Banquet he stopped Daemon “Bryn, Could you make sure that they have enough beer?  Last time there was almost not enough.”
“What?”  He said carrying some tumblers and glasses.

“The Beer.  There should be some left to give to the beggars.  To sup with.  It is hot.”
“Yes Yes Baelor.”

Brynden ran to the dooryard arms full of dishes to scrub, handed them to the servants.

Daemon was already handing out trenchers out the back door.

Brynden spoke to Gurna. “Is there beer for the beggars.”

“We don’t have enough to last the night for the hall. I just made those trenchers three days ago. You had one”

Brynden slunked away.  He went outside into the fresh air.  He wanted a drink now.  And he was dry. The kitchen was so hot.  And the cook was sweaty and their kerchiefs soaked through. Brynden took off his hood now the sun was down.

Daemon with his beatific smile and tender words gave a little heart.  Though Brynden thought a good beer and roof over their heads would serve them better. There might always be beggars.

It had been so hot.  And they looked so weary.  The woman’s lips where broken and dry. So dry that Brynden wanted a drink.  She propped herself against the well.  So exhausted.  It took moments to see she was carrying a baby tied to her body, for she'd covered its face from the sun. Some have come to Summerhall on foot from the lake or even further.  Some begged in the sept for alms for their orphans only a few yards away. Or were too ill and crippled to walk anywhere.  There were none young or healthy.  Only the widow who held a bright red babe and two little orphans.  And old grey beards pulling themselves on missing limbs and staves with old bandages. They gnawed at trencher. So dry and so hot.

They were dirty and their bodies stunk of the heat.  Daemon could almost ignore the smell.  He was kind to everyone in a bland way, trying his best to appear cheerful and relaxed.  Brynden was not naturally a happy person.  He rarely smiled and was always off put by this part of the evening.

He and his brothers were safe in doors underneath the halls of their master the Prince.  These strangers had no one but the gods to save them.

“Gurna.”
“Lad I said no. They don’t need to be getting drunk.” Gurna said. “Its been a long day.”

Brynden was a bit frustrated.  It was not fair.  Prince Baelor could get beer for everyone but he, Brynden Rivers, had to just be brushed aside.  If he said that there was a fire, he’d get a clout in the ear for throwing sand on it.

Maybe Daemon could sweet talk someone out of it.  But no one listened to Brynden.  He’d probably tell Baelor they all enjoyed the beer, which would be a fib. But no one would get him in trouble for it.

It was queer to look at all of them, shambling to draw water in the well.

Aegor looked down. He went out right into the door yard and quickly drew a bucket for them. Some of them looked to tired to eat let alone draw a bucket.
“Here you are father.  They’ll be enough to drink. ” He passed out dippers full. Some were too tired to lift the bucket. Aegor had an angry uncomfortable look on his face. Aegor was just lazy when it didn’t count.  Heaving the bucket to pour them water so they could sup, with beggars bowls and their dirty fingers and the dipper.

They had naught but a hard loaf of black bread, with the leavings of Baelor’s mushroom gravy and the knights spilled wine or a bit of mashed cabbage.

***

Baelor was spooning a bit of custard, not really hungry.

“Is everything done?” Baelor asked the boy

“Yes they said it was the best beer they ever had.” Brynden said “Excuse –“

“You’re lying, Bryn.”

Brynden shrugged “They would not give me any beer.  But we gave them some water.” Brynden was more honest.
“We have some kegs from the trip. My uncle Maron mislikes beer.”

“Master Gurna said that there is only enough for the knights.  And knights like beer,”

“But maybe you can give the knight’s wine.  Or put water in the wine.  Or water in the beer.  It is such a hot day.  You’ll die if you don’t drink enough. I thought it would be a nice treat.”

Baelor was the kind to ruin his honey cakes and cold Arbor gold with his worries. He didn’t even feel like eating in the first place.

Daeron noticed his sour mood.

“Still worried about the larders Baelor?  You think more of storehouses then any little boy I know.” Daeron said
“I shouldn’t worry about the affairs of pages.” Baelor said. “But I thought… I dunno.  Everybody always needs my help and I can’t…”

“We should call you Baelor Beerdrinker.” His father teased him.

Gurna was looking from the back of the kitchen.  TO see what everyone thought of the meal.

The Prince subtley crossed to the back of the room, so she would not have to enter the room and make a showing of herself “Gurna my compliments to you good woman.  It has been a fine meal.”

“I thank you your highness.” She bowed “I’ll get out of your way.”

“See to it you open another keg of beer.  So that the knights might enjoy their leisure.  We don’t want to be stingy. There are many months ahead for prudence.  Open up a keg.”
The Knights gave cheer.

She did and poured a drink of beer for the king.  Who had to put down his wine.
Prince Daeron was a good man, and understood what Baelor was going through. He also knew that generosity must be tempered by wisdom.  Baelor was still learning to be both generous and wise.  A prince must let his people work for him.
 “Join us Uncle.” He handed a cup to Aemon “And to all the small folk who have generously seen our welcome. And drink a toast.”

“To the Stormlands.” The Prince raised his glass.
The Dornish shouted a rather large cheer, fueled by the dark ale. They liked to try new things.

Aemon took up a cup of beer.  And Baelor was given one too.  The boy had only had ginger beer and watered claret, he’d never had a proper beer.

“You should be master of the larder.”

“Drink to my son as well.  To Prince Baelor.”

“Prince Baelor!”

“But only to my son.  We only brought seven kegs of beer on this trip.”  She said “it goes through you too quick.”  The Queen in a fit of whimsy kept her wine in hand.  “To the Stormlands. Theirs is the Fury. And the best Hosts in Westeros.” She toasted as well.

The toasts continued.  Though Mariyah stood through them all. For the Beauty of Lady Mariyah.  For their king. For Ser Aemon. But most of it amounted to there was lots of beer and all were happy. The probably would have cheered Eternal Winter and the Coming of the Stranger.
***
Brynden collected cups from the atria, as the nobles finished their beer toast of the king.
“She would not raise a beer.  Just like it.” Some young drunk punk muttered “Dornish cow.”

“They are false. When she and her brother would kill us in our beds.  Feh.  She can lift another glass of redmule piss into her fat gob…” They began to whisper and hiss like nasty old serpents.

Brynden covered his ears at the swearing.

They noted him snooping “What do you want?  Gimmee another. On your way you little shite.”

THe drunk fool half threw a cup at the poor petty page.

“You should not say bad things about my lady.” He muttered under his breath, when he was out of cup flinging range. He should be as Ser Aemon and give those rude fellows a slap.  If he were a knight and not a little boy.  Daemon would have told them.  He might tell Daemon if those men hadn’t known it was him. Then they might be rude to him.
He almost ran into the other man. A beggar man who was fumbling around the dooryard. Pressing his cane against everything.

“Aye the Prince. Seven Blessings.  God save you…” he gave a bow.

“I’m not a prince.” He said “I’m Brynden Rivers.”

“Yeah the Prince he be a Little Dornish feller.” He said “Comes up yeah high.”  He pawed the air.  The man’s eyes couldn’t see.

“Are you a riverlander?”  He asked. He recognized the lilt and twirl of his accent.
“Aye.  I live in the cave.” He said “Cast off by Tully some 10 year ago. Didn’t think I’d make it back to the Trident. Just me and Red… He caught us a fine lizard to break our fast.  He much don’t like bread.”
The dog gave him a nervous yip
“There is nothing for him to eat” Brynden said.

“I much don’t like Lizard.” He gummed on the bread “The Dornish have good tuck…Sometimes twice a day” Which meant the food was delicious.  “They’ll skin you for insulting their women.  I don’t make no habit o’ that... never gave a lady no trouble. Don’t talk to em. They doan talk to an ole man like me.”

He didn’t understand every word he used.  But the food at Summerhall was good.  And Beggars couldn’t choose.

“I like dogs.” Brynden said.

“You can pet him if he doesn’t bark.  He’s slow to warm up.”
Brynden knew this dog was half wild but in a moment he could pet him. Brynden didn’t want to scare the dog.

“He looks like my dog.” He said “Little with curly hair.”

“You’ve got a pup?”
“My dog is white though and doesn’t have tangled fur.” He said “You have to brush him… or they get fleas in them”

“I couldn’t well tell you what color his pup is.” He was a blind old man.
“He’s grey.  And black.” He said “Or he’s dirty.”

“I can’t make out no colors. Red’s suits him some.  Grown used to it.”

Brynden looked at him.
“I can get him a bone from the kitchen.  They are making gravy.”

“How kind of you.  I doan know what he’d do with a bone.  It would been so long you honor.”
He got the dog a long ugly chewed on goat rib. The dog wagged his tail.
“Here you go pup.”  Brynden let the little dog tug on the bone.  Bryn’s dog liked to play this game too.  Even though it was against the rules of the kennel as it made dogs learn to bite.  THe old man found a place to sit.

“I remember, last time I was here.  Me eyes were better. Little brown feller,  the dornish.  He was here last year.” He said “Red likes him.  He is discriminating dog.  Takes a while for him to be kindly unless you are a true gentleman”
“Baelor’s going to be a squire.” Brynden said.

“Good lad good lad.  A nice man?”

“Yes our uncle.” He said.  “My brother is going to squire.  But he doesn’t have a knight to call master yet.”  He threw the bone and the dog fetched it back. 

“Squire.  Squire.  Does time fly.  I were squire to Ser Tully.  Long before you…”
Brynden grabbed a rag “Here. Lean down.”
THe man had beer in his moustache.
“Pardon your honor.”
He wiped off the mans hoary mustache. He couldn’t see the crust of beer.

“You are too kindly.  If Red sees yer.  He’ll give you a kiss.” THe man laughed showing his four good teeth.  “Dog always stinks worse in the wet.  Its too hot.”

If he were king he would give all the beggars beer.  It’s not like he would give them filet of beef of caviar or gold.  It was so hot today. He would be a good prince and he would say “Drink at King Rivers pleasure.”

“You better be running inside now.  Thanks for the sup.”

***
“Wash your hands.  Dogs are dirty beasts.  Its time to drink.” Gurna said.

Aegor had a horn of the beer.  And Daemon was halfway through his.

“Here have some.” Daemon gave him a half horn.
Brynden had only had claret from a dornish knight and a little gingerbeer.  But he’d never had this stuff.
“Put heart into you son.” Gurna said. “It’s a bit strong for a lad.”

It was so bitter and salty.  He made a face as Baelor did.  It was far fowler then he expected.  He didn’t want to finish it.
“Does madam want an infusion of black tea and table sugar?”  Daemon mocked him

“Its awful.” He said
“Its hot. Drink.  You’ll die if you don’t. That is what the maesters say.”  Daemon said.

He did not want to finish.  Water was fine.  Aegor asked if he could finish his.  Daemon had another horn.

That Gurna had made them pies. Out of pastry coffins filled with chicken and mushrooms.  And on top there was a chicken oyster for each of them.  The goat was gone but for a few scraps.  The bones made gravy and broth. Each black and spicy like bacon.  And carrots and potatoes roasted black.  That was what she liked.  So the sweetness of the carrots mixed with the heat of the lordly spices.  A simple dish that tasted wonderful.  That was what the cook made for herself.

“You can’t feed this to the lordlings.  If you burn an onion it gets sweet.”

There was also a whole loaf of the good white bread, they tore in three.  They did not even wait to cut it.  Each of them had a great heel of bread for themselves. They were empty in the middle, they demolished most of the food.  Aegor still licked his fingers.

“It is the best bread.  Not all black.”

“Don’t you know baby dragons are grown on diets of white sugar bread and spiced meats?”  She smiled at the hungry boys.  She smiled and wiped the tables clean.  She surveyed her kitchen, making sure the kitchen boys had swept up crumbs and ash into the pile.  She was an impertinent woman.  TO call them the pages, baby dragons.  Brynden laughed.  Daemon drank his beer and Aegor alone could be stung.  But it would do no good to anger a woman who brought you white bread.

“You shouldn’t say-” 

But Master Gurna paid a child no mind, as mothers, they had a tendency to forget who a little boy was.  They saw all little boys as their boys after a time. She was idly mixing a few eggs in a bowl
“You are called Aegon after the king?” She asked

“I’m Aegor.” He said “Aegooorrrrrre.” He said “Aegor Rivers. Of stonehenge. Only grandson Son of Lord Symonel Bracken”

“Well it is.  I won’t forget your name then. Aegor.”

“You better not. “ He said “You are a cheeky woman!” He said. “What is that?” He pointed at the dish with his finger… like a hynd.  Gentleman did not point.
“The lord allows me a few eggs to make small cakes to improve my technique.  A knight hones his sword, a lady her spoon.”

She showed him.

“Stark Custard. They make it that ways north with snow, from in the banks of the river.  Eggs and cream and maple sugar . I used honey…  It is not firm enough.  I learned it from a cook from there. Instead of cooking it you mix it with ice and salt.  It turns back into ice.  Though I think we’d need much ice.  It might only be a fancy for the banquet.”

It looked a little like snow. It was cold.

She let them have spoons.
“It is powerful rich.” Brynden said and after another bite he was full.

“That is brilliant.”  Daemon said “it tastes like cream.”

“It is cream.”

“You can’t taste the egg.”
“I was thinking of using some sugar to make this in the Queen’s next banquet.  Or maybe something ordinary like vanity cakes.”

“Oh no make this.  Its good. If you add mint. So its not sweet.”

“Oooh or jam.” Brynden said.
“I might do both it is a banquet.  They can’t get enough of it down here in the heat.”

“I love strawberry jam.” Daemon said

“Or bog berry.” Aegor said.

“What pray tell is that.” Gurna asked.

“You don’t have them here in Dorne.  Its like current but cheap. The crannogmen grow them or find them.  They are called cranberries.”
“Current jam. It already has the sugar.” She smiled “it would be a rare treat.”
“They taste just as good. They have them dried in the Neck all winter.” He said “You can have it in jam,  And in mince.” He said “A lot of things.”

She smiled “I know what little boys to see if I am practicing fancies for her majesty.  You’ll be my tasters then.”
Aegor nodded. “Don’t you have all the other boys who want to eat your cakes?”
“Me lads is big and don’t like cakes as much as Dornish gals.  Them cooks too.  I swear.  If they kept their minds on their work…  eh. Spend all their free time bathing in the lake, and running with fast gals.”

They sat in the kitchen eating their food.

The beer and food made him so sleepy.  The beds were so far away.  He was nodding off at the table.   He put his elbows on it, after he emptied his pie.  When he woke Daemon had another glass of water.

“Hello sleepy.” Daemon teased him.

“You wore yourself out.  Little rat.”  Aegor said looking at his toes hanging over the bench.  He was tired too.  “All that talking.  And you are the one sleeping on the job.” Aegor needled him.

“I was just closing my eyes.” Brynden said. “Me head is heavy.”  He should not have his elbows on the table,  nor sleeping during his duty.

“What time does milady retire?” Aegor rubbed his eyes.

“11 or so.”

“That is half the hour of the wolf.” Aegor said.  “It not…even…”

Brynden had a splitting yawn.
“its cooler in the night.  And they have mass at nine.” Daemon said.

“Can we see the solar? Where the prince lives.” Aegor asked

“It can wait in the morning.” Brynden groaned “Some of the knights might want lamps to get back to the barracks.  It is so Dark.”

“Im not leaving the castle to break my neck. If they are too drunk to carry candle and torch they are too drunk. Be better to sleep where they land.” Daemon said sipping his water.

“Drunk knights are fools.   They might give you a penny.” Brynden said. That was how Baelor and Daemon and Brynden got to try wine last year.  Though mixed with water.  The Dornish thought it so funny they never drank such. And laughed when they spit it out. Then they gave them each pennies so they would be good and not tell their mothers. They showed it to the steward. It was a strange night

“might take you off and give you a buggering" Aegor warned.

“That is not a nice thing to say.
“They really gave you a whole penny?”
“Yuh.  Drunks are silly.”

“I wouldn't leave a castle at night to brave the moors for a dirty old penny. My mother gives me seven pennies on feast days, for good luck.”

It was a princes sum. But it was so.  Daena had the best of all things for her Daemon. When Baelor bought a coat, Daemon had two.  When Baelor got a poppet that looked like him, so did Daemon.  When Baelor got a play pony from his Hightower third cousin, Daemon got a spotty garron, fluffy and fuzzy. Daemon forgot the beast existed and left it in Kingslanding.

Daemon said “I once got a penny for giving a note to Lady Ena Moore, from Quentyn Ball.  It was a love note.  He was scared to get caught.  So I dropped it under her door.”

“That’s pimpery.” Brynden said shocked.

“Was it true love? Did she love him back?” Aegor said

“She slapped him.  And her brother challenged him. He should have gave it to a plain girl instead.”

“Pages have no pay.  We get our clothes and a place to sleep.  We even only have two to a cell. You can get a penny or something if… If you tend the stables or something hard. Or go into Town.”
“oh.  I can do that.”

“You are a Bracken of course you know horses.” Brynden said. “You’ve got a horse on your belly.”  He pointed at his clothes.

“I could get a penny of my mum if I wanted one.  TO buy candy and tarts. But she says that stuff is for babies.”

“I’d rather be a baby then not have a tart.” Daemon muttered.

Such idle lazy chatter continued long as the boys waited to hear from their charges.  Not hearing anything for some time, they might be dismissed for the evening and sent to bed.

They snuck into the gazebo, enjoying the cool night air. Daeron was sitting next to the Dragon Fountain, on his lovely Valyrian bench perusing a book.  As Princess Mariyah snoozed on his shoulder or read what he was reading.  It was hard to tell from behind. They sat up as the servants came into the room. Baelor was nodding to sleep. The boys had been taken in by their nursemaids. Hours earlier Maekar was in the middle of the banquet snoring with a custard spoon in his hand.
“My lord we were eating dinner.  And we were wondering if you needed anything else.”

“No of course. Enjoy your dinner. We’ll not need you.” Prince Daeron said. “I believe we should retire early.” Daeron said his lap still warm with wife.

“I can stay up for mass.”  Baelor said. “It wouldn’t be fitting to go to sleep before…” Baelor had caught someone’s yawn.
“Of course.” Daeron cut him off. “That is serious.”

“Its almost time for Mass.” Baelor said.  “I can do it.  I’m not a baby.”
“You shouldn’t sleep when the Septon speaks Baelor.  It is a slight to the gods.” The Prince said.

“I’ll be sleeping in the Sept.” Princess said

“You can because you are an awful woman, no one expects better of you.”  Daeron brushed back some of her bangs and gave his lady a fond look.  She gave a growl.

“Grandmother will be disappointed I did not give the gods their prayer.”
Queen Naerys yawned and daintly refused to open her mouth but still covered it.

“A princess is prepared for disappointment” the Queen stood.  “It can’t be healthy to stay up in the night air. We will take our prayers here.  If the Septon is ready.”
“Septa Rhaenys might serve you. Your grace.” Daemon said.

“Very well dear. Lead the prayer.  We will be asleep before we are done.”

“It is always so with prayers.” Daeron said.
“Don’t be Sassy, Daeron.” The Queen glared at her son “I know you are not diligent in prayer. Get on your knees Daeron.”
“Yes Mother.” The Prince too sleepy to forget he was a man grown. She even called him his name. A sulky lad forced to prayers when all he wanted was to sleep. When people were sleepy they became who they were.

The ladies confessor and the royals got to their knees.
Daemon soggy with beer and sleep rushed a bit. Knelt next to Daena.

“Aegor do you love the gods?”
“With all my heart lady.” Aegor said
“Come beside Daemon.”

Aegor nodded, and he knelt next to Daemon.  He did know most of the prayers and if it was what the staff did. The royals would get to their knees. The staff would bow their heads and clasp their hands, but not stand.  It was more then the simple prayer.  Usually the queen liked to do a full cycle and count off all her prayer beads.  The 7 prayers to the 7 gods seven times.  She did this a few times a day. Every time she did this one soul was saved from hell.

”We don’t do our prayers before bed.” Aegor looked to the queen.
“Well you must.  What would it be said that the Prince did not pray to the Seven every night? What would be said of the Queen who was his mother?” The Queen said “Godliness is paramount in a prince.”

She looked over to Brynden. It was not his place to join in the prayers to the New Gods.  But she would have been glad to take him in.  Probably weeping tears of joy.  Brynden merely stood and lowered his head as if bowing.  But he said nothing and sat down.

On an ordinary day Brynden would hear the prayers in the evening, ringing from the tower as crows and bats sang harmoniously with the bells of Baelor.  And he’d drift off to sleep curling into his blanket.  His dog would trample the ground and sleep next to his feet to keep warm and also at the same time keeping his feet warm.  When the world was dark and cool and the castle slept, lighted rooms opened up their secrets,  a few things were prepared for, and people laughed low with each other in private conversations. Or hissed words no one was meant to hear.
One does not know what a palace is when you are born in a palace.  It is only your home, and you know what your home is.  And in time the people who live there.

But there were always changes when you went on a grand adventure. His dog was at home in Kingslanding.  His mother said she would watch him.  So even the dog was in a new place. In the two small houses on Fishmongers square.  Just as he, he would not recognize the place.  Would he sleep well?

But these were interesting days.  He had memorized the evening prayers by rote.  The septa half-sang them into the air, as the royals words covered his mind  “Gentle mother Font of Mercy….”

In a few blinks, He woke up when the air was grey with morning.  On his bed roll by the wall of the great hall. Aegor in a lump by his side. 

Daemon shaking his arm “Come now sleepy.  Its time for work.  The breakfast will be soon.”

Chapter Text

Daemon woke up Brynden and Aegor from their palette next to the wall in the great hall.  By the pre-dawn light they had to wash in the kitchen yard. With the well water instead of perfume.  Daemon combed his hair a long time. His mother had bought him a toilet of gentleman’s tools, all made of white wood. It had a shaving razor with a dragon on it (though Daemon had no beard), A tooth pick and a mirror (though he had no shelf to put it on or servant to hold it. )

Brynden put on his heavy clothes which felt hotter in the sun.  He always wore a hooded tunic with a split loose back, called a kjortel,* very common in the Riverlands for its usefulness, though the pointed hood was not in fashion. And people would pull on it if they wanted to make him fret and squeal. But the hood mostly kept his weary eyes shielded.  He might wear a hat over that, in winter.  Or a straw hat for outdoor work like picking berries or plums.  The robe was loose and pale grey in color and made of cotton instead of wool grey or brown, so it was not miserable.  And if he went bare-chested like some servants did he would burn his skin.

Daemon made sure again Brynden washed his hands well. He made sure they washed their hands before and after meal, after their chores.  A knight was clean and proper. Daemon would rinse his hands in any pot available.  And was given the honor to ask permission to wash his hands in the ladies solar, one of the few boys or men who could, since his mother was a lady and the Queen used him. Brynden wanted to be like him. Even letting Daemon brush his hair, on the days Daemon remembered.  Even though no one would see it under the hood.  And he tied it with a thong.

They arrived in the kitchen at dawn.  There was a bubbling pot of pottage: barley, cabbage and something he could not define after hours of bubbling over the fire, with a bit of bacon in it whose steaming smell made Brynden weak.  Weak pottage might be fine in rainy weather but disgusting in Summer, but probably it was a humble dinner for the septons and Ser Aemon. The air was hot already.

There was still bread uneaten, but nothing fresh baked today and this was brought from the road and would need soaking in small beer or toasting on the hearth.  But there were other things to eat. The whole village had almost eaten a whole wheel of white cheese, there were piles of apples and plums. Daemon grabbed him a plum and even toasted some bread for them.

The toaster was buried in the hearth and required a special touch, so you didn’t burn your bread or your finger.  The butter stuck to the black bread toast better.  But it was not for high born folks.  It was too rough.  The Maesters said Delicate highborn people could not stomach coarse food. He thought it was a load of toss.  Daemon could eat everything, and he was very knightly and fine, and both his parents were royals. He was blood of the dragon on both sides. Black bread had a crunch and sometimes seeds and flecks of bran.  White bread was crispy and hot butter melted it.  Black bread was better for breakfast, and white for every other meal. Perhaps like a man.  Part earth and part heaven. Both high born and low born.  There was nothing to spread on it today, only enough butter for dinner and for the highborn. There was not even plum jam for that was a Winter food and long had the stores been spent. Making preserves in the heat would be a waste of time as growing season could be one whole year in Westeros, unless winter were on its way. Then they would need enough to last all the way through… and usually it would be gone it a year or two.*  

They pulled white eggs from the fire ashes and peeled their shells.  Aegor’s egg was runny and he liked it.  And Daemon’s was green and hard, and he liked that. The biggest difference between those of low birth and those born high is the royals would eat custard and omelets on tiny dishes for breakfast.  Though at dinner a simple dish of savory egg and cheese custard with bacon and onion would not be uncommon at the table. But most the servants were looking for something quick before being about their work.  Sometimes standing as they ate at the hearth, toasting bread with the few free toasters and wiping ashes off the eggs. He held the rest of his bread, in the loose fabric of his kjortel, twisted up into a pouch and tucked into his belt. This was why he always wore one.  It was useful to have a pocket any size he wanted.  That way he could work longer or play if he was hungry and not run back to the kitchen. And he could give bread to birds he saw so he could watch them, and try to pet them, because they were hard to catch. Birds hated men touching them.

Aegor was dressed much like Brynden, he put a cooked egg in his pouch. His green Kjortel was wool and probably stinking… and he had a badge of the Bracken stallion over his heart. Daemon dressed differently. He wore a fine light shirt and had a jerkin made of leather, instead of a doublet or jacket. Even though he was still growing.  Most people did not let their children wear a fine coat of leather until they were done growing. The pockets on his jerkin were now so tiny he could barely fit his hand in. Even the Prince’s wore doublets, but they would change their clothes a few times a day to keep clean

The servants had the privilege to go to the sept and attend the mass with Septon Mullendore and Septa Rhaenya, before dawn.  But most gave a quick prayer at the tree that might have been a heart tree.  The godly sort might take evening mass in the chapel and all would be there for Sevensday mass. Daemon said a quick prayer to the mother. And then set to their labor. 

Aegor wanted to see the Solar.  This was just the chance. Pages would have the opportunity to go into the royal solars.  They were of good families and were trusted not to damage or dirty the items in the solar… and would not steal.  It would be a shock as only poor people stole in desperation to feed themselves or because of their low character.  A wealthy son of a noble would not be so low in character, for he would not need to steal trinkets from his master. Even Brynden, whose family was not of great wealth, and whose mother had no husband, would never be so desperate and risk his honor and reputation. He had never heard of a highborn stealing from the solar.  Only scullion maids and footman.

“Daemon will take the ladies food to break their fast.  And Brynden will take food to the Princess. And the princes. Aegor will help.  The cart is broken.”

Gurna explained the rules of Breakfast and Aegor died a little. He had no interest in bread and handwashing.

“Most days the Princess breaks her fast in the solar with her children.  She stays up ‘til half the wolf is out the door.  And Princess Daena.  You know has woke up with the sun lo since she was a wee girl, so she can have time to read.  And Her majesty goes to the Sept for Mass.  The pottage is made.  There is not much butter left, you’ll help me with that tonight. Before moonrise prayers”

“Yes Master Gurna.” Brynden said.  “I can help.”
“All the boys and girls are helping.  We won’t get yellow butter.  This butter is getting paler every day.  White Butter means Autumn will be soon." She said, “Cooks knows these things before the Maesters.”

“If Brynden and Daemon are not around you’ll have to know the way the ladies like it.  Princess Daena eats like a bird. Black bread and cheese or butter or both if she is cross.  You’ll bring her the toaster. Whether the bread is fresh or not, she likes toast, And fruit.  Though in winter she likes jam.” She said “And two knives.  One for bread and one for butter.” She handed him the blunted knives.

The Lady Princess always have them a big breakfast, half the time the king comes in, the Prince, their guests.  They are picky about what kinds of food they are served.  Won’t eat eggs for dinner, just leave it on the plate, unless there is famine or fast. I don’t know the why.  Eggs are delicious.”
She had a special goblet sweating and warm.

“This is Spiced wine for Princess Mariyah.  And a spoon of honey. Though she prefers Northern Maple syrup if there is any. And you can get that in winter.” She wiped of the warm goblet. “Like you a taste?  So, you know it tastes right.”

Aegor took a sniff, then a big gulp.  Brynden had fallen for it too. The “spiced wine” had a good scent. They were thinking that the wine was mixed with vanilla or cinnamon or ginger. Not coffee which were gritty ashes steeped in spring wine or in hot water. She could have the drink without wine or honey. As Maesters said it was a tonic for low spirits in the morning. And there were those in the Free Cities who swore by it. Aegor had to wipe his tongue.
“Don’t be taking off the plates.  The lady is kindly and has her own sons, and will hate to see any child go hungry, she may make you an offer to share if she does not eat her full portion.  You do not accept.  As if I don’t feed you until you pop.  You could learn a little self control.”

“Yes Master.”  He said.  Aegor did like to eat and looked forlorn.  As if he wasn’t sure when his next meal would be.

They only had three solars.  One solar for the Prince but the largest so had a suite for his four little sons.  One for the queen and the ladies who attended her, and Septa Rhaenya who slept in a straw pallet on the floor, like a pet cat.  The principle among them was The Princess Daena, who was the unmarried daughter of king Aegon, third of his name. (The Goodly uncle of the King, who reigned some 25 years ago, who was called Aegon Unlucky, or Dragon’s bane) The not so maiden aunt of the family.  But she had never had a husband, even though she had her son, Daemon. They were quite crowded.  But they were well appointed with fine cushions and benches.  They were all glad to have the honor to come to the summer palace for such a visit and get out of the city.

The smallest Solar was for the Castellan and his five children, his mother and his maiden aunt Kara Manwoody and Widow Janissa Sand.  Who normally slept there.  And had the loveliest views of the fountains.  It was a great honor.  The Prince once suggested that in winter they might change rooms.  And The Castellan, if he had another son, could stay in the Prince’s solar all winter long. But Manwoody was a proud man.  It was an honor to serve the Prince and he’d not betray him by sleeping in his bed. In the winter they did move the beds in the Ladies solar, so they might have a little more room during the fierce storms, for the women to do their chores. But the prince’s room and his bed were always ready for the Prince to visit.  Even in the coldest winter storm they were merely servitors of his Highness and the King.

The Penrose had the cottage near the lake.  And were having a grand time playing crofters. It was a very simple two room cottage.  For the seven Penrose children, Lord Penrose their servants, milady’s maid and milord’s favorite knight.  And the boys might even be allowed to sleep under the stars if the weather was good, like the small folk.  Elaena was an independent woman and her husband while not minding the perks of being the husband of a princess, did not mind a little space from everything.  The views of the lake were breathtaking and there was an area with a gazebo and fish fountain where ladies might bathe without all and sundry looking upon them in their small clothes.  If the Penroses were not there, it was the most private and isolated place in Summerhall and like a private garden of paradise.

Life at Summerhall was lived out of doors.  In the waters of the lake.  In the long colonnades around the pool the Prince had built to hold colored fishes. In the Gazebo, besides the elegant Egg Fountain that the King had bought his son in Tyrosh, or the Dragon Fountain which had been a gift to the King that he didn’t like, so he gave it to Summerhall.  The immense wealth of having such fountains in this dry hot part of the world was a testament to power. 

There was a horse stable unlike any in the Stormlands.  Where Knights were listless and languorous in the heat.  In some summer days it was impossible to put on armor for a man grown would faint and could die of thirst and brain fever. Even their horses had to be cared for. Heat Hearty mules and Dornish sand steeds frolicked as mighty destriers and shaggy garrons blinked sleepily in the paddock.  Even the war horses might try to play in mud for the sake of it. Sometimes you might see a horse tuck under his legs in a shady spot.  It was strange to see in the day.  A horse needed little sleep. And they had adapted to the Dornish clime to stay up in the night when the air was cool.

Not even kitchen servants would remain in their kitchen.  Harvesting windfall peaches and plums.  Fishing in the lake for trout and sunfish.  And now churning butter.  There were many cows and more goats and all of them were producing more milk then ordinary.  And they had near run out of barrels for butter churning.  Even the cellar was too hot and close. So they did the churning outside in the dooryard. Three girls of no more then Maekar’s age were always at it. One at a regular churn and two rolling a barrel of cream. There was plenty of buttermilk, which was healthy for boys. And if they helped they each might get a glass and sometimes honey cakes the nobles did not eat.

And the high born ladies aided in spinning wool from goats, for a few hours a day.  Even Prince Mariyah, with typical “modesty” bragging how Dornish women spun wool finer then any women in the world, for goats could be softer.  Though normally a lady or queen might be engaged in other pursuits, embroidery, weaving, music and dance, they did not mind helping out, for it was a ladies duty.  You could gossip and spin, and it might still be a marvelous afternoon in a gay company. And lady Daena was there to amuse them.  Queen Naerys was always a bit severe and the hours seemed to drag with her religious talk. Her hands would cramp in the drop spindle, and she would step away as the other women continued their work. She was not a housely or domestic woman… but she was a Queen.  Daena was the one everyone liked the best.  But with all the ladies involved they might have enough wool to spin for autumn weaving and knitting, for they would need coats and socks and clothes for everyone in the hall during the winter.

Everyone was busy and happy and relaxed with the ease of the sun on their back. Even labor seemed easy and methodical, requiring no more than a surrendering to the rhythm of breath and weather.  Not like the labors of the mind royals must engage in.  And it was all to easy to give up, there were plenty of servants to take over.  None of the labors were important.  And most endeavor was abandoned. Whole afternoons were given way to watching clouds or reading poetry.  Of learning to play a flute and having your efforts mocked by all and sundry.  To braid a whip or carve a dragon from soapstone because it would be fun.  And idle simple pleasures, subtly lacking to a race of men who had all they desired of luxury.

But even though there was still temptation to bend the rules. Little boys would build forts of mud brick and willow bows; getting all messy ruining their clothes and having violent spats with each other (their mothers never could imagine because it was craven to squeal on each other). Moody teens would do white magic spells in stone circles to find the name of their true love or to make their rivals shit themselves, though witchcraft was against the Faith of the seven.  You might go for a walk in the garden with a bonny partner with romance, not marriage on your mind. There was a temptation to go to the lake to take in the views of water and sky, which were so pleasing compared to the squalor of Kingslanding and then think you could complain about all the people you pretended to like back home to intimate friends, as you skipped rocks.  The temptation for boys to run off to play when they should be at their school books.  For young proper ladies to have their skirts lose and their hair unbound as they capered like boys across pleasantly sculpted paths. People would fall asleep on the grass as innocent as new borns, when they should watch their backs.

Summerhall was a palace of peace and tranquility, a place to escape cares.

It was not a place where one spent much time indoors.
***

They carried their trays of food quietly down the hall with Aegor behind. The Princess first.

Brynden rang the doorbell outside the solar.  Aegor held a bowl of oranges while Brynden managed two trays in his smaller arms.

It was the largest room and appointed so rich and elegantly with fine tapestries showing pretty patterns in the shapes of flowers, instead of flowers or gardens. The room was awash in bold purple and orange and dark green and red.  And Sheer curtains canopied the royal bed.  And the great windows, with great wood screens to keep out insects, and were like doors to the atria.  It was exceedingly elegant, except for one detail.  On the great wall across from the window/door, was the worst painting in the world.

“Is that Nymeria?”  Aegor looked up at it funny.  Maybe it looked more real looking sideways. Or upside down.
“A wedding present from the Prince to his Princess on the occasion of their wedding” Daemon said. 

“they haven't painted over it?”  Aegor said “They can’t afford a new painting?”

 When he had not met Princess Mariyah, Prince Daeron wished to build her luxurious suites as a wedding present, at both the Red Keep and at Summerhall, so they would be more comfortable and have space.  It was a surprise as most of the Targaryens only thought of Summerhall as a country lodge or a crude stop over. Not a palace.  He doubled the size of the solar and recessed it in the fashion of the Tyroshi thousand courts, so he and his wife might have privacy in their connubial bed. He had taken white stone to build an atrium, a multileveled courtyard, before the fountain pool, which connected to the hall. Off the suite there was a small privet hedge, so they might have privacy outside and inside, with a pair of benches and a chair.  The prince had hired a man to draw Dornish things on the wall to show her respect. Patterns of silks he saw in the black markets of the capitol, figures from books.  It was very tasteful, and he consulted many ladies.   He enjoyed it.

With a great deal of pride he enthusiastically commissioned an ambitious portrait of Queen Nymeria, beautiful and Powerful, come to life in paint. She was the Dornish princess’s famous ancestor. Prince Daeron had a lot of input on the painting, he told the man to cover it in a cloth so he could pull it away to reveal the painting, for a sense of drama. Only he had not seen it himself before revealing it.  He pulled the cloth away with a flourish, expecting the girl’s delight.  Instead she looked at him shocked, then laughing left the room, so she would not hurt the man’s feelings. 
Nymeria was like a woman, but her anatomy was twisted. She didn’t have much clothes and her arm was shorter then her bosom.  And her face was a confused snarl. And there were warriors and merlings in odd proportions. It was an ugly mural.  *

And the lad who painted it gave back the 15 stags the prince had given him.  For despite his talk he was an amateur painter, the youngest of all the carpenters, over estimating his ability. The lad was a fine journeyman cabinet maker.  The lad himself terrified the King thought that he did insult to a lady, both the living Mariyah and the dead Nymeria. The prince wanted to fire all the builders in a fit of pique. He merely sent the lad back to Blackhaven, never to work at Summerhall again. The lad ran away terrified. To this very day was in Blackhaven town, bragging of his narrow escape of death. The carpenter made his wagons and tables in fear, for he had run afoul the Mighty House Targaryen.

So, what was supposed to be a thoughtful gift, was quite silly.  Still the thought was honorable. He discovered that Mariyah was a merry girl and full of good spirit. He had been so worried the girl would hate being married to him and never be happy.  As she was from a foreign land, and woman’s lot in life is to endure suffering for her husband.  As the Seven-pointed star said.  It was not his fault she was of heartier stuff and found delight in the darkest places. He admired her ability to find joy in life, and to be graceful in terrible circumstances.  Whatever her bold nature, he never felt more a true man then indulging her whims, like the Bravest Knight in all the land.  He had denied her only twice in their entire marriage.

Mariyah herself worried about her marriage as a girl. She had worried that the Targaryen prince was too arrogant and bold.  But she could not credit him for boldness when he did not have the boy beaten.  Even though he had just about stolen 15 silver from him. She liked that he was not as she expected. A gentle sort of dragon, who never would do cruelty, but in preventing calamity.  That took a great deal of character. And she thought he would hate her for she was a woman.  Dragonfolk hated women and did them such obscene cruelties that the Dornish only gossiped about.  Aegon the Conqueror married many when he got bored of one, as he was an Essosi savage. They trapped their wives in the castle behind stone walls as if they were hostages, murdered their mothers and did whatever they may.  And took their crowns from them.  Rhaenyra and Rhaenys and even Daena who the Daughter of a King, was supplanted by a brother, an uncle and a Cousin. How could such people say they loved women? And they married brother to sister to keep their dowries.  She worried perhaps Daeron had a mistress or some silver-haired cousin he would rather marry and hasten her to her grave the second she bred a baby.  But they both were each other’s first and would be only.
Daeron did love women, and while a little ignorant of such things, poisoned by the Targaryen pride, he saw them as people and he heeded her counsel. Though he was in eminence to her politically, he trusted her as an intimate. As she unlike other ladies had been born to rule as well as he, and yet was not threatened by the fact that she could wield his power, instead of shrinking like a wilted flower.  It was his power. No one resented Aemon for leading the kings armies, or Master of Coin talk endlessly about accounting with the kings money.  Why should a Princess bred to rule, not speak commandfully and rule the King’s family?

It was such a happy day marrying that she thought it almost unlucky to paint over the abomination. And so, she told him to keep it as it was.

What is there too do when a fine prince has enough money but no taste.  Love was a strange thing.

The suite was recessed at the bottom of five stairs.  The princes had three beds.  Baelor slept alone, and his bed even had the words Baelor in the most stylish paint.

 They were all fine feather beds.  And there were three for three princes.  But now there were four princes.  The family didn’t really mind for it was a fine room and largest solar in the castle.  Airy and elegant and beautiful.  It was their pleasure palace, a hideaway from the cares of the world, and they could not expect royal treatment 100 leagues away from both Dorne and Kingslanding. That was what made this place different. They were more gracious then the guests. Later the Prince preferred his sons shared a suite rather then have chambers, it meant the boys could not sneak out for mischief in privacy without their brothers squealing on them in revenge.  It disciplined them on such a wide expanse of ground.

Brynden had been called into the chambers late at night.  He knew that three beds were more then enough. That Baelor was always hosting a brother in his bed for a chat, or if a boy had dreamt of monsters or Nymeria’s missing arm.  And Rhaegal was left alone if he made water in the bed.  And even in a place like Summerhall the servants and hand maids would share the task.  So, on two days a week the bedding was being cleaned. And he had to sleep on the bench or floor anyway.

The breakfast was laid out. The royals sleepily ate eggs mixed with cream and green onions and leftover ham, and a glass of cool buttermilk and toasted white bread. And oranges of Dorne, a parting guest gift from Prince Moran.  And mock unicorn sausage. A cross between venison and pork. and garlic and green herb and a splash of Rhoynish citrus. For unicorn was supposed to taste of orange flowers. The dish was a staple of the royal kitchens.  The King’s favorite breakfast. Already their meals were fine and rich, and better then any of the others in the castle. And it was even as fine as what the King would have on his plate.


“It will be good to have fresh bread again.  I will want some from tomorrow onwards.” Mariyah said. “Papa likes fresh bread.”

“As you wish My Princess.  We live to serve.”  Fresh bread would be easier then some of the dainties the King had them prepare.  But they were in the Marches and not everything would be smooth.  The Prince liked the jolt of his luxurious routine. Unless there was only black bread toast to eat. That was too much.

At this the Prince made himself revealed from his dressing table.  He was dressed in riding gear.  His squire Robin Penrose and his servant Potter close behind. 
“Mary, I have to be going. I can’t believe all this. I’ve got to go.”
Princess Mariyah looked up from her platter.“GO?”
“I will be breaking my fast now.  He said, “Some matter needs my attention in Blackhaven.”  He said
He motioned to his servers that he was going to sit and eat breakfast then and there.
“Oh It must not be serious?” Mariyah worried.
“I will be back tomorrow.” He said, “I think it will be well, Mary.” He started to grab some eggs.

“Papa.  You can’t go down there on the first day.  My Father said the first day of a journey will be as it is on the last day. He’ll call you out to visit every day as if you are a raven that can be summoned here and there-”

The Prince cut her off, he gestured the others. “Go on lads take something to eat.  There is always more. We will not have time for breaking fast in the hall.  Or morning prayers.” He said as a sly aside.  As he did his best to take his prayers in his solar and not join his mother every day at dawn in the septry. “Brynden will get more if you wish something else.”  He lifted Rhaegal to his knee and picked at his plate.  “Daemon call the kitchen to have some bread and cheese packed. In case we are held on the road.  Though I doubt if Dondarion won't kill us a fatted calf in honor of the occasion. We must be prepared for the worst.”

Robin Penrose a lusty fat lad of 17. With short blond hair and a rumpole nose, was not asked again.  He was always a big eater. He grabbed a plum and ate it in one bite. And Brynden was not sure that he spit out the stone.  “His highness is too kind.  I will see Seahawk gets an apple too.  He is probably used to the exercise by now. He’s been traveling every day since Maiden’s mass.”  He said.

“I pushed him hard last night to get here.  Mayhap I’ll take the bay. Or a hunter.  That white one. He’s a little faster.”

“Snowy.” Mariyah said, as she knew all the names and tempers of the beasts.
“They’d be faster.” The Prince said. “It’s only 3 leagues… So, a courser might serve to get us back quicker.”
“I was taking him, Snowy.”  Robin said. “He’s a fine horse, good for riding off the trail” The lad said “Seahawk still looks pert.  He’s a good old soul.  And if he tires Lord Dondarion might lend you one of his horses, for the trip back.” The boy made an impertinent suggestion.
The Prince glared at his squire.  The lad was too bold.  As the prince owned all the horses he should not have to compete to ride the one he wished.
But Daeron was very patient and subtle.
“My young Penrose can ride the Butterfly.” He said. “She’s good for a smooth ride. She’s my ladies favorite palfrey” He said. “Oh yes.  She is easier then most of our horses.  Though she does get on in years. You can’t push her to speed.”

The squire realized that he had contradicted the king.  The lad had ridden the white horse before when his king was on his favorite black palfrey. He was just a silly boy who wanted to ride a pretty horse and look his best as he approached the town.  All the squires would be envious, and the giggling girls would wave at him as the Prince passed. Butterfly was 14 and her grey hair was stringy and had yellow teeth. Though she was not young she was still strong, and no where near death. The Princess had saved her from a glue pot man, and broken her to the saddle again. It was an honor to ride any horse of the small stable.  He would not make any more suggestions.  Lest he have to ride a Dornish mule.  Daeron was a patient man but his revenge was always subtle.

“Baelor, you might lead the table without me. Or you can ask Aemon.” Daeron laughed at that.   Aemon hated feasts since his days at war and ate in the kitchens where he could see his food. He ate no flesh and only a bit of fish and his sister made him eat extra, because he would pick at his food and leave early.

He looked over the table “Is there any fresh bread?”

“It is toasted.” The Queen said.

“I cannot wait, Black bread Toast.” The Prince said with a bland but unprincely sarcasm. He was not having a good morning. He felt this warranted extra butter. On both sides of the bread. A small act of defiance to the gods, and proof he, a Prince of the Valyrian blood, was still in charge of his life. “Lord Dondarion has a reputation of being a noble and clever man.  Let’s watch him be noble and clever and we can give the town the once over.  Unlike Ser Mertyn, Lord Dondarion has children the same age, though daughters. We might invite them later to take in the waters. In a few days when we are settled.”

“I have not met Lady Dondarion. Please give her my regards.  It would be nice to have a few new faces.”

“Brynden Rivers.”
He gave a bow to the Prince.

“AND Aegor Rivers, welcome.  Forgive me if I break my fast while we talk. But I must hurry…”  The prince always seemed to hurry, from here to there, up and down the hall.  On his famous black palfrey, even just sitting reading. His voice was very slow and cool, perhaps affected.  Refined if he was in a good mood, sarcastic if he was cross.  Never loud or rough. As people became angrier and rougher, he was always smooth. “I was pleased to see you take your duties last night.  You listen and are not over proud as some lads of less quality birth are.  It proves to me your blood will out.”

“Blood of the dragon, my lord.”

“Your Grandfather and Mother have not been to court since you were small, not partaking in society. I know little about you” The Prince continued “You are ten years and it is said you are handsome and big.  And of that they did not lie.”

“Thank you, my prince.”
“In Honesty Aegor, you were a babe when all of the unpleasantness happened.  I was not much older than Robin is now.  I did not know Lady Barba, and I was not acquainted with Lord Bracken Personally. But as your Aunt Bethany is an intimate and dear friend of my father, I believed it was time we saw each other.”

“I guess.” Aegor said looking at the back corner of the room.

“You have not been given access to join court or the society there.  So, since you are of a good age, I believe I would like to take you on as a page. At least while we are here at Summerhall taking in the waters.”

“I guess.”

“I would ask you to stay.  Serve with Brynden to help my lady and the children.  You are all of an age.  You will learn much of Daemon and Brynden.  Heed their counsel. We were lucky that Daemon came on the trip, on his Nameday no less. And Brynden while he has not served long, is a fine lad. We have our own way of doing things. Though with the change to the Summerhall, there is always chaos. The construction. Builders, guests camping in the lowland, servants. It will only be crazed in autumn when the servants must prepare to winter proof the hall, collect the last harvest and hay. Have your parents ever let you help with the harvest?  Or rode out to watch the small folk at their labor? Take in borders from other castles?  And the like?”

“No, your highness.”

“A castle in Autumn is a miracle of modern living. We work together as one.  If my sons must scrump apples and my knights cut hay, we all do our part.  People must live in the village throughout both winter and summer, though we only support our Castle through Summer years.  I would not eat all the food and leave the small folk unprepared. And many a great hall has been bankrupted by a king on his gyrations across the land.  As his men feast every day and cause trouble among the people. But I love the land.  And you will come to love it as well.”

Aegor a little overwhelmed by the prince, speaking of such serious things to him.  He had never spoken with a prince.   He looked to Brynden.  Then asked an important question of this most important man, “Will there be an autumn this year, my lord?”

There was a bit of a pause. “That is why I am to Blackhaven.  To collect information and consult with the Grandmaester. We might have an autumn during our stay. Its an autumn fast come and a surprise.  I know not what this portends.”
“well winter sir.” Aegor said.

The three pages looked to each other.
“Yes.” He nodded “Yes Aegor…  winter.”

“Potter.  Please get my gloves. Some ointment for my skin.  This day will be hot, and I would like to press on to get there before it is too oppressive.”
“Yes sire.” The servant had some prepared, in a small pot, already. The prince took it and wiped some on his face.
“A tip for you I learned of Brynden Rivers’ maester.  If you put on ointment now, you won’t be burned.  But no one believes me.” Potter took the pot of ointment away.

Aegor had not imagined a prince so ordinary and would talk to him so gently.  Complaining about ointment and complaining of black bread just as Aegor himself did just last night.  He did not think a prince would call his lady Mary and would use her name.  That was something only young people did.  It was almost too intimate.

 Brynden had learned that it was only because they were not in mixed company. It was an only family thing.  But Brynden would understand. And he was discrete. But Aegor would learn.  There was a warm and kind side to a King.  That no one would see but his servants and his wife.  A mighty man only had the appearance of infallibility.

The Prince was the busiest man in the world. He would get up and was forced to skip mass: sneaking a breakfast so his mother would not hound him, then work through dinner. He’d spend moonrise hour with beeswax candles, so he could read.   And that was the ordinary. On a few occasions that the King would fire the hand, Daeron would have to sit his father's throne to listen to petitioners, until the King had chosen another among his favorites.
But the King had new favorites and servants and friends every day, changed like new gowns.  Even when he made friends with a lady, he would be seen with her only in night time.  Brynden didn’t bother to learn the lady’s names.  Except That Wenda Frey who owed him a copper star in a brainless wager about a hawk. No one had seen her in a hundred years.

Even when the King sat the Iron Throne himself he had Daeron sit close, on the stool where once the Queen sat. The Hand of the King standing to advise his majesty, whoever it was.

But Daeron did not have much time for his intimates.  And the wags of court said he had little time for friends.  And as for lady friends, he told those overgrown lads bluntly over strong wine.  He had no more energy for a mistress, with a Dornish wife to please. And two ordinary women were not so /much/ as one Dornish woman. He was lucky he could walk away alive the next day.  And there was such a laughter that people repeated it.  The Queen Naerys said it was a naughty thing to say about his wife and children.  And worse for Mariyah to laugh in spite herself. A ready laugh was a weakness in a virtuous noblewoman. What woman laughed when a man said such things about her?

Daemon did not understand, thinking that ladies needed flowers and written love poems which must be bothersome and what he meant by too much.  But Daemon was curiously naïve of the ways of love, considering who his mother was.


Daeron would work and work. Until he would work himself too hard and not sleep and take to drink too much.  And the Queen would have to convince him to take a small journey to Dorne or Summerhall. He was an active man. And while lounging all day was fine for some he liked to travel.  He had a better horse then most and the air cleared his head.

He ate his son’s breakfast from his plate. Rhaegal wasn't hungry anyway

Rhaegal turned around.
Daemon clapped. “Rhaegal.” Daemon said his name in a sing song voice “I have found you a sweetmeat.”  Daemon said. “Every time I visit him I get him a candy, or sweet meat or a present.  And that way he will remember me and my name.  He’s mad so his memory is weak.  He can’t remember it.”
Or Rhaegal had found a way to get Daemon to get him treats, without even lifting his head. Right now, Rhaegal looked at Daemon’s shoes.

“Its cousin Daemon.  I got you a present.” He said. Daemon handed him a treat.

He took the sweetmeat.  Not liking molasses gave it to Baelor, who did and Baelor put it in his pocket.  Rhaegal as a bird flown off his perch, then returned to his seat as his father ate his breakfast.  All of this in view of Daemon, for Rhaegal had no interest in impressing anyone but his big brother Baelor. Other people might not really exist.
“Oi Nuncle…  Thanks.”  Baelor chuckled at Daemon’s attempt to deal with Rhaegal.

“is he dangerous?” Aegor said “the people say he is a mad man.” Aegor might have stood behind Brynden.
“No he is a gentle soul.  He would not hurt a fly.” Daemon said. “He won’t attack you.”
Daemon was frustrated by such a strange lad.  He did not like minding Rhaegal and would leave it to Brynden. And Rhaegal didn’t like him no matter how many nice things he did. Most thought well of Daemon and said he was a fine lad.  But Rhaegal did not say anything.  Even if Daemon bought him such nice things. Daemon was too well bred to admit this was beginning to anger him.  What would people say? If he the best of all the pages and such a good lad were mean to a poor mad goon who did not even say Good day…

“Well. Good day.  Rhaegal.  You don’t know me. I’m Aegor Rivers of Stone Hedge.”  He bowed.
Rhaegal looked at him quietly, but intently, but said nothing.
“Well then.”  Aegor said “If he’s mute…”
“He’s not a mute.” Baelor corrected Aegor “He is just quiet. He might give you another name. He might give you a pet name.” Baelor said “He’s not mean, He just has bad memory.”
Rhaegal didn’t say anything.
He ate toast of Baelor’s platter. Baelor gave him a pet and let him rest his head on his shoulder, as one pet a cat.
“He is getting a little better.  I’m sure he’ll remember your name next time.  The travel gets to him.  He prefers peace and quiet.” Baelor said “Brynden minds him when we are at the Maesters.  So, he does not get into trouble.”

“Hullo, Aegor. I’m Maekar.” Half-rising from his chair, Maekar draped off the arm hanging from it like a squirrel, arms akimbo.
“A prince does not hullo, Maekar, or point.” Mariyah sighed.

Brynden knew Baelor bid him Hullo a thousand times but not when his mother was around.
“Are you Brynden’s brother, Aegor?” he said, “You are both the Rivers.”
Aegor looked strangely at the question. The little boy might not know what bastards were. He looked to the Princess.  He looked to Brynden.

 “Maekar.  The pages are very busy.” The Prince said “You must not trouble them with questions. Its breakfast.”

“I can keep a secret.”

“Maekar please.” Mariyah said, “Eat your eggs.”

“Your Secret brothers Like Daemon.” Maekar said “Brynden’s mummy only has girls. I won’t tell the secret.  Baelor told me not to.”

The Prince had enough of Maekar’s noisome jabbering. “Maekar. You might not speak at the table when there are guests unless you are addressed.  And you might always sit. Down. In. your. chair….” The Prince said sternly.
Maekar was a bit startled at the steel in Prince Daeron’s voice.  It was not louder or more cruel but it was completely serious.  He was not one who shouted to make his point clear.

Prince Daeron did not wish to embarrass them.  He knew the question was shaming.  Maekar was too little to know the facts of life in the wide and wicked world.  And it would shame Aegor and Brynden to speak of their bastardry.

“Can I ask them to play later Mama?” Maekar said a little bit cowed.  He could behave once he was submissive.
“Of course.  But it is breakfast now.” She tried hard not to let him be silly.  He was her baby. And Maekar meant no ill.

“A far more lovely conversation worthy of a prince. You might ask them.  Then eat your eggs.” The Prince said.  “That is the sort of fitting conversation I expect at this table.”  He said. “My ears burn with such wild talk.”
“Can you play later? My brothers and I will ride ponies before dinner. Can you come? After you clean the tables.”

“if” Brynden tried to answer.

Maekar interrupted him “I saw you clean the tables.  Because Baelor….Baelor had to clean the tables when he was a page.  And had pour wine and say please and thank you with courtesy.  I can almost pour a glass.  I didn’t.  I was practicing.” He had a glass of water. That was too full and would spill the second he moved it.  Better he spills a glass then never pour one. It was only a little water.
“That is fine Maekar.”  Aegor said. “You will probably be a fine cupbearer.  Perhaps you can pour wine for your mother when you master the art. And when you are big you can give wine to the king.”

Brynden and Daemon shared a glare at Aegor. As that was their job, Aegor was being a little shortsighted encouraging Maekar.

“I can handle the task, Aegor.  Maekar need not trouble himself.” He said “He is the son of the Prince. And- “
Maekar handed Aegor his glass of water. And it spilled onto the floor.
“Oh no. It’s too much.” Maekar looked upset and overwhelmed. 

Brynden took a cloth to wipe it up. “its only water.  You’ll need to learn or spill those fancy wines your mother likes to drink.”

Maekar in his innocence looked to Brynden “I’m sorry Brynden…. I did not mean to wet the floor.”

“You can pour my buttermilk.”  Baelor said “But if you spill it on my new coat I will thrash you.”
The jar was heavy for his little hands.  And he slowly occupied himself.
“Maybe tomorrow we can go bathing too.” Maekar said looking at the mess as Brynden scrubbed the table.

Baelor chewed on his sausage, between bites he spoke.

“Well Today we must show Aegor everything. I’m so excited.  We can show Aegor the new renovations and see if the new fruit trees have grown in the gardens since last year.  AND Then we can have chicken for dinner.  AND then we must ride the ponies.  I hope they are not too hot.”  He said, “There is too much to do today.”
Baelor said while trying not to bite his tongue and eat and talk, in the hope that they could get through breakfast faster
“Don’t bite your tongue Baelor.  Have some milk before you choke.” Mariyah scolded him.  Too fast, too slow, there was no way a little Prince could eat his meal without his Mother pointing out his bad manners.

Aerys was reading his pamphlet.

“Don’t read while you eat darling.  You’ll spill your food.”

“But this is the Part with the unsullied. They are going to die.  There are only 3000 to defend the city of Qohor!  Its good.” Aerys said.


Mariyah looked down “I think it is violent trash. It will give your little brother a nightmare and think there are Dothraki come to kill him.”

“He can’t read it anyway.  He’s stupid.”

“I am not stupid.  You are a stupid.”

Brynden had not been on the trip from Sunspear, but some war had erupted between the younger brothers. But Aerys was easy to aggravate. Maekar and he normally got on well.

“Well he doesn’t know better.” He said “He can’t read his prayers. He just copies the Septa.”

“You can’t call people stupid Aerys.” Baelor said “Its rude.” Baelor wagged his sausage at his brother. “You did not know everything when you were born either.” He said “Don’t be ignorant Aerys. And stop bothering Maekar.”

“You were going to say stupid.” Aerys teased Baelor.

“I wouldn’t… I am not rude”

“Ignorant means stupid.”  Maekar said.
“Everyone knows that…  only you don’t” Aerys said “You are too little to know anything serious.”

“Boys your father must go on a trip. Should he remember you acting naughty or like my nice boys?”

All the boys spoke at once in different protests.  It was much different then dinner, where all the boys quietly awaited their meals.

“I think we have become loud as a Dothraki horde.” The Prince sighed. “My little wild sons.  Always up to mischief.” He said, “such rough talk will stain my lily like Valyrian ears.”

He was not scolding them, but merely making a jape. 

But the boys stopped their shouting and rough talk

“Sorry Father.”
He gave Maekar a kiss on his head and put his arm around Aerys.  TO give them a fond goodbye, but then he tricked them into hugging each other and pressed the boys together. He was a subtle man.

“Be kind to each other.  You are brothers.”
Maekar and Aerys were tricked by there father.  But they also wished to obey him.  He was their father and they wished to make him happy.  Aerys gave Maekar a demonstrative over dramatic kiss.  Maekar pretended to vomit.
“If the Dothraki heard the Targaryens were after them they would get down on all fours and surrender.”

@

There was a parallel room, with no suite.  This was the Queens Solar.  On the same wall in the opposite chamber was the picture of tragic Elenei. This was done by a master Painter. Elenei was the first queen of the storm lands. Bride of Duran Godsgrief.  She was the daughter of the God of Sea and Goddess of Wind. She cast aside her maidenhead for him and gave up her immortality. And on their wedding, the gods united in a terrible Storm.  They destroyed Storm’s End.   The painting was sad. Windswept while so pretty, she had no clothes on, shielding her naked body and modesty, from the wroth of the Storm. Every brushstroke expressing a realistic agony and vulnerability. The storm was so terrible and cruel an embodiment of her grief and loss.The falling stones of the first tower of Storms end was like the end of the world. 

The queen was a godly woman. Brynden wondered why she was not embarrassed by the naked Goddess.  Maybe it was a goddess. She liked the painting and called it fine. And as ugly as Nymeria was, Elenei was beautiful.

“Might I present Naerys of the house Rogarre-Targaryen, Consort to the King of the Seven Kingdoms, Lady of Maven Point, and Mistress Golddrake Keep. Bearer of Dark Sister, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.”  Daemon announced her. “Your majesty might I present the new page.”

“Aegor Rivers, my lady.”

She nodded lightly.

She washed her hands prettily as they approached: she used a silver bowl, filled with aqua vitae and aloe in the most elegant dry bath. She did not even bathe in water so elegant was she. The Targaryen queen, white slender frail and impressively stiff.

Her apartments were in silvers blues and whites.  As the Weirwood Solar, which she had claimed as the Queen’s Solar at the red keep.  This room was white washed and lemon scented pine and bright as a snowy day. Minimal and clean and pure. It had no Myrish Carpets to collect dust, but reed matts, fresh and green.

They had a tray of bread and fruit by the kitchen girls.   Even the vanity cakes and honey fingers that were the trend. Dainty foods for the delicate constitution of high born ladies. But the Queen had her breakfast tasted and prepared in the Kitchen.  For it was safer to prevent a poisoning.  Daena was paranoid of it.  And only had pages bring her food.  Not eating at dinner. As if she was a queen or some potentate someone might poison. Though Ser Aemon did not think so, Naerys allowed it.  The queen was especial fond of Daena for she had once been Daena’s handmaiden, when Daena was a young Princess.  They were blood cousins, as The Hand Viserys (also the King) and The King Aegon the Dragons bane were closer than even brothers should be.  So, they were as sisters all 50 years of their life.  And now it was the reverse.  For Daena was the de facto head of the handmaidens, as a maiden aunt would be… though a princess and not anything like a maiden.

Lady Elaena Penrose who was Daena's sister, was with her children in the cottage.  Lady Elaena was even more paranoid. She always brought the same three servants, only trusting them, even though they were over worked doing everything. Even hiring her own cook for the trip. For Elaena had been the littlest Princess when Aegon the Dragon’s bane ruled….  Before she had married any of the lords she married.  Though with three husbands those men should worry more about her.  She had caught a poisoner, a serving maid who had poisoned her wine. Elaena became a legend among the servants when she forced the woman drink the wine. The woman did so, even knowing it was poisoned, so she would not hang or be tortured and knew her conspirators would be found out.  Elaena sat the woman down and watched her die, though it took one half of an hour.  She did not look away even once though the woman died horrifically.  “I must not look away and be strong for my family” The girl said. Even Targaryen women were vengeful and fierce.

Daena cut her bread into strips and then her cheese into strips and counted out seventeen pairs of berries. And left a few unsorted blue berries on the left side of her plate. *

“Aegor it is a pleasure.”
She had played with her food in a childish and rude way.  And from side to side ate each tiny strip. No one could explain why, least of all herself.  But she said she couldn't be mad for mad men would not eat unsorted berries. Daena’s mother had not told her not to play with her food.

Daena was always pretty. Even for a woman beyond the age of it.  She had many suitors.  She even would have been the Queen.  But her brother, Baelor the Blessed would not marry his sister.  For the Faith forbid it.  He had become a Septon when his brother Daeron called Young Dragon, was supposed to be King.  And even so it was not lawful to marry a sister.  Though Targaryens had bent that law too. To prevent his temptation Baelor the Blessed locked her in a beautiful garden cloister, called the Maidenvault, which stood to this day.  Though it was not but a jail to all who saw it.  There were those who said dark secrets were hidden about it.  And in protecting his sister’s purity, three babies were born all in the same year. Perhaps that stress of being imprisoned would make a woman severe and glum.  But she never showed that.  She always was cheerful and gay and witty as a monkey.

“Daemon, I heard that Prince Maron has sent his sister oranges from Sunspear.  As guest right gifts. They are sweet.  It is said plums become sweet in Autumn.  It must be so for oranges too.  Perfect for wine and jam.”
“Don’t think there is an orange wine, mum”

“You will get us some, won’t you Daemon? As we are ladies.  And Oranges as the Dornish food of love shall promote beautiful complexion and the growth of healthy sons.”
“Really?” Daemon asked.

“Well you can tell them that.” She straightened his shirt collar and gave him a squeeze. She also fixed a strand of his hair, behind his ear.

Aegor was also amazed by this room “It reminds me of The Eyrie in Weirwood and whitewashed pine.”

“My son has made us a lovely chamber.  Even in the country.  Though there are four of us here and my ladies might have to share.  And Daena is half on the bench.”
“They gave me the best cushions.  The smallfolk share five to a bed. Even in an inn.” Daena said “There is so little time for sleep at Summerhall.  Too much to do.”
“And Brynden sleeps with his sisters when at home in Kingslanding.” Daemon said

“Brynden sleeps with a dog.” She threw back.  “If it becomes too much you might sleep in our solar.”

“He may not.”  Naerys said.  “He is too large a lad to share a bed with his mother. Next you will have the Dornish squires share our dressing chamber.”

“It would be more fun than Rhaenya. Or Aemon"

“Daena. You have a wicked mind." She said “Aemon is not on duty in the night and sleeps in the sword tower. Don’t be ridiculous Daena. You are a cat this morning.”

“If Daemon is sleeping on a potato sack getting fleas from the servants, I’d want to know.”
“Mother everyone else is sleeping in the hall. That is what the great hall is for.  Sleeping and eating.”

 “Here, have some bread.”

“We had a chicken pie.  It was delicious.”  He said. “Master Gurna let us taste some custard she was making for a banquet.”

 “But let me share my breakfast.” Daena tried to hand him some cheese.

“Eat your food first.  I’m no dustbin to burn your food.”

Daena said “It is not right, you should sleep in your own chamber.”
“I don’t have my own chamber.  I only sleep in yours.” Daemon said.
“its my chamber.  I’ll keep my son in there. You could get fleas in the great hall. Or sleeping in a cabinet like Brynden with those wild men.  You are too young.” She said, “There are Dornishmen and strangers nobody knows.”

“They are all of Princess’s bravest knights.  I like the Dornish. They are funny.”

“But I don’t know any of them.  I just want you safe.  Anyone could snatch you up and kidnap you.”

Why would anyone snatch Daemon?  He was only a page. Perhaps if he was carrying seven pennies and wore a linen coat they might rob him. But they would need him to be of import to kidnap him. It was more that Daena was always very close to her son. Her fingers grasping the shirt on his back as he tried to pull away.

“Mum stop making me a lily in front of my brothers.  I have to go.”

***

Brynden was returned to the dooryard to help make butter as Daemon and Aegor were helping the craftsmen fix some chairs.  He could see through the hedge into the privacy from this angle.

The Prince was on his way off to Blackhaven and the lady, Princess Mariyah Martell still in her negligee though it was 9th hour. He never noted before how long her undressed hair was, without the gold or lace.  She embraced her husband.  Potter held a hamper from the kitchens, turning away to give his lord a private farewell with his wife.  Though if there was a huricano it would not protect them. It would be a terrible day for an outdoor sup.
“I hate leaving you alone.  This was our journey.” Daeron said holding her close.

“Daena is here.  And the Pages.”  She smiled “I worry about you getting enough rest. You are supposed to be taking in the waters, napping in the gardens and not having to bother with your father’s foolishness.”

“It has nothing to do with father.  It’s a- “

“Well he should do something.  This could be an Autumn. Whence Autumn comes winter.”


“It will ease me to have knowledge of what comes. I am a child of Autumn. It is where I shine.  You were born in the Summer before.” He said “Then it is imperative we enjoy this Summer while it’s here.  We are in the place for it.”

He looked over at the view of the lake.

“I will relax.  You don’t worry.  Father said he would not have need of me. It will do me better then all his trinkets and baubles.”  He said, “It’s rare he grants my wishes for peace.” He said. “He is busy with planning for Daenerys’s debut in Volantis…  and that will be expensive enough, without getting me another gift.”
“He always is extravagant.” Mariyah sounded critical already.

He laughed “Well he gave us a castle for our wedding.  I think extravagant is putting it lightly.” He said, “Without him this place wouldn’t exist.”  He stroked her hair and face “And you will be here without the servants to help with the boys.”
“Daeron. There are these servants of this castle and the village, cooks, builders, gardeners, butchers’ bakers and fakirs.” She said “You are a Targaryen. A thousand men will die to serve your every whim.  Thinking a woman will be bored in her own entire castle.”

“But servants and pages are not the same thing as their father.” The Prince said
“IF it is too much to bear. I like the woods witch of song will trade one of them to the Children of the Forest for a mule.” She said.

The king paused.  “Maekar… no Aerys…” He pretended to pick.
“Though if we trade for Baelor we might get a donkey. Kings blood has power.”
“We will have to decide quickly Which ones we hate the least” The King said
“Goodbye Papa.” She kissed his mouth. Brynden felt nauseous.
“I will be home tomorrow my sweet.”

@

“Is it really your name day? Daemon?” Brynden said as the two were in the smith stoking the fires, as the journeyman made nails. They were too little to play with anvils and hammers and white-hot iron.

“Aye enough. If Maidensmass was yesterday.” Daemon scratched his neck

“No, it was two days ago.” Brynden could not believe it.  Daemon could be careless about details.

“Ooooh.” Daemon shrugged “Yesterday was my nameday then. I was born on a Maidenstide but on the Sevensday and named by the week. Most years it doesn’t get all jumbled up.”

That was a short time.  Highborn women would spend months in confinement if they were pregnant. As women came out of their pregnancy sick they would not wish to be among society, so they would wait for days or even weeks, to name their children in the sept. And sickly babes would die soon after birth. Some would name their babies immediately, so they would go to heaven.  Some would not wish to grieve the parents and pretend the baby had not lived.  Daemon was given permission to be anointed in a proper Sept, though not the Great Sept of Baelor it had not been finished. It was the small chapel in the Palace. Brynden was named a moonsturn after he was born, by night.  But he was not anointed in the sevens light. He was never Baptized in the Grace of heaven.   He was of the old gods.  Those who followed the old faith did not name their babies at all until it was certain they would live. His was no special day but the 18 of the 9th moon, also in the Autumn year.

“I could have stayed with the old people at court. If I wanted an affair.” Daemon said wiping splinters off his hands. “But it would be better to spend my name day on an adventure, then get toys and eat a bunch of greasy food.”

“But even I didn't wish you a good nameday.” Brynden said.  He had a pang of guilt.  He should remember the day.  Someone other then his mother or the Prince who was all-knowing and all-seeing, should wish him a happy nameday.  To have it go unremarked seemed unlucky.

“Don’t worry about it, Brynden” He said.  “I half forgot it.”

“Well I wish you it now.  Happy Nameday Daemon.” He gave a brief almost perfunctory hug.  Brynden didn’t like hugging.  Daemon half strangled him as Brynden never hugged anyone and Daemon almost wanted to make up for him…  almost wanted to tease and mock him because he was bigger and stronger.  That was a risk of hugging a brother.  Hugging was a chore.

 “You are Twelve, now. Just like Baelor.” Brynden said “almost a man”

“Thank you, Brynden.”

The king would not have forgotten Daemon’s nameday. Even the Prince remembered it.  The King had remembrances for his son, His daughter, his sister-wife, his brother-knight, his cousins, his friends, his lady friends, his grandsons, even Rhaegal who was too scared to attend court.  Brynden had been to many of these feasts, even as a guest sometimes. At these occasions where the court gave those grandsons presents. Even small folk might bring dainties to present, and merchants would make for them goods, silken clothes and embroideries, and trinkets and play things. The king might give out eggs or beer to the beggars of Fleabottom and have a feast too, but just for the nobles in the Small hall of the red keep. And when an heir was born he might hand out shiny new copper coins to the smallfolk, with the King’s face on them.  There was always an excuse for a happy occasion in King Aegon’s mind.

They were not gifts as only loved ones could give those. The king would always give them a gift though.  Presents were better, as the King was not a thoughtful man and might give something that caused more pain then pleasure.  Or have no earthly use.

Brynden knew from some early time in his memory that the King would never feast him in the Small Hall.  Or throw a parade for him.  But he did get a gift.  The King could not make a show of it. If the king treated Daemon as he did Brynden, he might have a wish also, anything he could think of.  A dragon egg, a pony, a servant to do some debasement…  maybe an army to fight the Others… Brynden didn’t care.  It was nice to think about having your heart’s desire.  But yearly Brynden tried to ignore it.  He thanked the king for his kindness, for he never forgot.  But would say patly he would not want anything more then to serve his grace.  And the King was not a man who would submit.  Brynden knew the King was a proud man.  But Brynden was proud too, perhaps drawing pride from the same strength.  They were both proud people.  And it made him very thoughtful of that. The King, almost defeated, would still tempt Brynden with suggestions of a thousand things any little boy might desire.  Brynden might even find those things in his mother’s house later whether he wished them or not.  A poppet or some trinket. A knife of steel.  A little bit of molasses candy.  Sweetmeats of Braavos.  But favors sat between them uncollected.  Brynden did not want to be a favorite of the King.  And preferred their relationship cool and simple.


A very early memory of his when he was three or four.  The King and Brynden’s mother and Mya and Gwyniss were in the King’s chambers with some of the other children. The Prince and Princess Mariyah and his children…  Daena and her son.  There might have been a blue cake.  Perhaps it had been a supper to celebrate the day.  He did not remember any of that. They used to play all together when they were all small. Brynden said he wished for a rubber ball like Aerys's which bounced because he had only a leather ball.

The King told Lord Aerys to give his toy. Aerys cried at the injustice and would not hand it over. His father criticized and said that he was the older and should give the baby his wish on his name day. Aerys did not budge. His mother pleaded, he was told he would get another ball.  But the five-year-old was firm and resolute as Duran Godsgrief of Storms End. He would not have given over his rubber ball if he had to fight the kings guard to the death one on one.  The King unconcerned of any law of man wretched the ball free, right from his little hand and handed it to Brynden.  And in front of everyone in the world Aerys wiped his snotty nose and called him a bastard.

Brynden did not want a ball that bad.

He couldn’t even look at the ball.  He kept it on a high shelf and pretended he did not have it. The two times he did bring it out he played with Aerys. Aerys being ignorant shoved Brynden and frankly told him he didn't want to play with a bastard and he had a toy dog anyway which was better then a ball.  Aerys was proud too.
The princeling doubled down on the outrage the word invoked. Knowing it made Brynden cry and the court gasp in shock. Brynden not even liking Aerys more than anyone else, was torn. That half a stranger would hate him so.  He could not even return the ball.  It was not the ball he was angry about.  He could not know everything about being a bastard, but it had been something terrible.
Then one day Aerys gave him a kiss and said they would be forever friends.  It was just a ball and he would not be mean to him.  Aerys had a quick tongue and said things he did not mean.  He did not know what the word meant.  And probably the Prince had told him. Brynden did not know, only that the King was being cruel. Aerys who was so clever to know every word, did not know what such a word meant.  Such shame and pain it caused. 

Brynden himself only knew by turns.  The knowledge of his bastardry wasn’t that sudden. Slowly stuttering to life as fathers brought their children to court and were proud of them and named them freely to everyone.  This is my child.  Brynden might not see his father for a moonsturn.  And the Prince would lead the little Dornish Princes about the court and share with them all the things that they didn’t know.  And when he had something to tell them, he’d kneel just so, so they could see his face and hear his words of wisdom. The King did not kneel for anyone. He towered over Brynden and always looked as if he had something to say, as if he wanted to apologize.  But it would fade in a few moments.   Brynden, when he was very young and first made a page was usually confused. If he was expected to polish his boots or fetch him rye brandy, would he also hear his father speak words of kindness or censure?  He might rather had the king yell at him for making a mistake, then nothing, and plaintive stares across the room. The King did not have many words for him.  Not new words, just the same old words, which became harder and harder to say. How was an ugly boy as him not to make any mistakes if his father did not tell him what he did wrong.

He played a game with himself too often and just lived in the world as if he was an orphan boy with a widow mother, and his father was not moving in the background of his life.  It was a secret game.  And he’d not talk to any about it.  Not the Dornish Princes who did not care a fig for bastardry, not Daemon who was a bastard…  not his father. And it was a game that brought him comfort.

That fight with Aerys was probably the fiercest fight Brynden had ever fought in his life and long strides had been taken to make peace between him and Aerys. That was before Brynden was a page and his mother was still first mistress.

It was not long after when Melissa Blackwood left court leaving all her finery.  She was put out for a younger woman.  And yet even though the king had a younger woman, The King was angry at her first. He had not asked her to leave the court. He let her have dresses and trinkets and jewels, he even let her stay in her old room and not made her move to servants’ quarters in the Holdfast. He did not give her leave to go from him.  He had thought that she could stay and send the children to Raventree or a Motherhouse, so she might enjoy the pleasures of court and take care of him. He knew no law of man.  He could have a hundred children and it was not her affair.  She left quietly, but still left, and he cut her off for a while. She even had to sell the jewels the king gave her, living in the common part of Kingslanding, far away from the palace, where they sold the fish, which was only just north of Fleabottom.  They could see the slums from their back garden of their second house.  And Melissa Blackwood would not talk about it to anyone, of all her royal and noble friends.  She had never talked of it to her children either.

 Aerys was very kind to him and sent him clothes and books. And notes just when Brynden learned to read.  They were the only ones who could read back then. But it might be guilt or Lady Mariyah or Lady Daena pretending to be Aerys…  Aerys didn’t seem like the type.  Mothers did not wish to see any children go hungry.  And they were both friends of his mother.

***
Aerys was not reading. He finished his pamphlet sneaking looks at it in the moonlight stealing a beeswax candle from his father, hiding under his bed dangerously. The book devoured in two days. The boy was grubbing in the dirt.  He was looking at some trees.  Aerys and Baelor had watched them replant orange trees from Dorne, for many days last year.  They had never seen such things and the gardeners let the little princes watch them if they promised to behave. They wanted to see if there were oranges yet.  And pick them to eat, or at least windfalls.  Like with apples.*

The Servants gave them a wide birth.  A grizzled gardener laughed.*

“Ain’t no oranges yet, milord. And new oranges are bitter.  They’ll not be good oranges till winter.  The trees will sleep.”

“How can they sleep for many years?” Aerys said “Winter is so long.”

“Magic, little one.” He chuckled and rubbed his head

“Winter better make the oranges taste good.  It will be years.” Aerys flopped in the dirt sitting on his bum, dejected. He would have cried but he was not a baby, his lip quivered.

“are there any….” Baelor asked.
“No Baelor there are not.” Aerys looked at him moping.  He had been so good, waiting for 12 moons for the oranges to bloom.  It was a disappointment.

“Not even one orange. We wouldn’t have to eat it. I just want to see the tree is still alive.” Baelor was the elder and had to mask his disappointment while Aerys was in a full sulk.
“The oranges will come one day little princes. It’s not easy. These lands are not as Dorne is. Even so, Prince Doran’s grove is two hundred years old all the way from Slavers Bay. So many of them are dying and being born. If you plant an orange seed, it take 15-20 years to grow oranges.” He says, “It terms of trees, these are only little children and don’t know how to behave.”

Maekar was too little to even remember the oranges and was bothering a worm he found on the tree. Thinking about horses. He was too little to have a memory of anything.

Brynden was not impressed by little flowers on an orange tree.  And Aegor didn’t know what he was looking at.

“There will never be any.”  Aerys said trailing fingers in dust therapeutically.

“You can ask your uncle to get you oranges.” Brynden suggested impertinently, mayhaps. Aerys didn’t need to throw a tantrum. Everyone and their dog knew that Dorne was where such things grew.  And made much of the Guest Gift Prince Moran made to his sister.  He had offered Guest right to his Sisters for many weeks. It was the talk of the court.  Everyone in court wished to have oranges before they went rotten.

“We might not see uncle until next Winter.  The Stormlands have hurricanos… And floods.  And even in Dorne the sand might storm.” Aerys looked up “Winter is Terrible.” He flopped on the ground, making himself filthy. “I will be 12 when winter ends. And have to squire in some manky old castle. And I will not have nice things to eat.”

“You can’t know the seasons.  Even the Maesters have been wrong.” Daemon said perturbed that the boy was so depressed for such a petty reason.

“I just have a feeling.” Aerys said. 

A two-year winter would be scary. Brynden had been so little when winter last happened.  And All Baelor could remember was cold storms and terrible news and there was worse then famine.  For even in Famine there may be food in the Reach or the North, that could be shipped from far away.  Or the seas would be clear to buy barley from Pentos.  The seas were so rough in Winter.  Only bold pirates would smuggle and make their fortunes selling wheat to only the wealthiest.  Even the palace would lose out on its luxuries.  Except for the King and his mistresses.  Who could ask a king not to drink the finest wine or eat pork and beef and swan for his dinner. Who would tell him his mistress could not have pearl necklaces and satin slippers and such? The Prince at Dragonstone only had an ox at Sevensmass feast, who was too old to work the fields, not even one bred for beef.  A big jar of beet pickles or cherry jam might cost a silver stag. A chicken might go for a handful of silver, even a mangy cockerel. It was not the worst. There were Winters that kings ate horses and dogs and black gruel ground by mortar and pestle, for storms had shattered rivers and mills.  Who could imagine the terror of the Long Night?  There were many lean years in Dorne during the war,  and so the Princess was heartier then most.  And glad to have the protection of wide castle walls.
A two-year winter would be longer then any they had lived through.

“We shall not bathe in the winter.  Everyone will smell like a horse!” Aerys said.

“not even in the river…  There is no sea bathing either.” Daemon said “There will be no tourneys either.” Even his imagination could not turn around the situation.

“I heard one year they had to eat dead horses… because there was a famine.”  Maekar said.

There were all sinking into a seasonal depression of spirits, thinking about the far off days.

“I am bored.” Aegor said “its dull….”

Baelor seeing the day going into a disaster “Buck up.  No need to mope. There are other things to do for fun.”  He tried to inspire them to pull themselves from the dust.

 “Come and see.” Baelor waved his hand “I have something to show you.”

“What, milord?” Aegor asked.

“Last year.  We saw everything. And I’ll share it with you all if you promise not to tell.”

“The what.”

Baelor bid them follow him.

“Come after me…
***
He was leading them through the orchard, to the other end of the colonnades.

Baelor only began to speak once they were on their way, luring them to follow him so they could hear.  “Everyone knows that Father is rebuilding Summerhall.  More chairs and nicer solars. SO, all his guests don’t have to camp on the grounds.  And places so the servants can work inside during the winter.  And fire places for the solars.”

“And more napkins to match the table?” Brynden asked.

“But he has a surprise project.  He said to keep it secret and would not even tell me.  Even if I asked him a hundred times.  But Father wants to have a big feast and a tourney.  And invite everyone in all seven kingdoms.  But it’s here and it’s almost done.  You can see it too.  Just don’t get caught.”

He motioned them over

“What is it?” Daemon said.

The boys all tried to be quiet.  Running in secret and hiding behind trees. It was a covert mission and they felt like Black brothers or Wildlings raiding good people in shadowy robes of black to cloak their subterfuge.  They were almost caught by laundry women carrying a quilt. The women seemed so much scarier when they were worked up. Brynden didn’t know why he thought they would get him.

There was a shed or something like one.  Not a proper building. Scaffolds covered in paper, so no one could see.  They saw men’s outlines, their shadows as they spoke low words in pigeon Valyrian and curse words.  It was low rough language of commoners, whether foreign or not.

Baelor motioned them over. The men had left the paper shed.

Inside of the shed with paper walls there was a bunch of delights.  Large paper maps of the Land.  And Drawings of all kinds of things.  One was a map of the gardens…  But it was not for pleasure for they had not drawn in flowers.  And one of a new solar.  Store rooms with pilasters that made a grand statement around the pool. And expansion onto the kitchen so the people could have a workroom.

“It’s a drawing of the building.” Aegor said. “I think its pretty.”

“Its not of Anything Aegor.” Baelor said

“But it will be.  And even so.  It’s nice and clean.” Aegor said.  He was always strange.

The center of the room was a big black head, As big as a pumpkin.  They all forgot everything else.

The head was sideways on a heavy trestle to hold it from the ground.  And there were knives and blades, in a velvet pouch next to the head. Each that carved a different line. The head had each hair carved to catch the light.  And was incredible.  Brynden had seen the statue of Baelor above the sept.  And it must be even larger then that. Definitely with finer details. It even eyelashes, eyebrows and a bit of skin around the man’s eyeball. Nothing was lacking in his mind.

He looked himself.  Then he touched the stone.  It was greasy and black.  But it was very hard.  Harder than stone. It was not marble or obsidian which the smallfolk call dragonglass. He had never seen a stone like this. *

“It is almost like Dragonstone.  Where the stone is fused.”  Baelor said.  “Only….  Not as fine. It’s all murky and greasy. Not shining”

“Like the Seastone Chair…”  Aerys said “it was stone like this.”

“This is only carved with Valyrian steel tools.  They were re-forged in Qohor.  I think.  My Valyrian is very bad.”  Baelor said.  “Steel knives kept breaking.”

“Stone cutters use picks and hammers and chisel.” Aerys uselessly corrected.

“Who’s the statue of, Baelor?” Daemon asked
“I don’t know…” Baelor said trying to be conservative. “There are a few clues.  But they could be misleading.”

In truth it could be many men.  Or any man. It was just handsome.

“Aegon the Conqueror.” Aegor said “He’s got his iron crown.”

“It could be Daeron The Young Dragon. He wore Aegon’s crown.” Baelor equivocated
“But Daeron didn’t ride a dragon.  And Daeron was a boy.  This is a man.”

“Well…”
“It could be anyone.  Its just a handsome man, any Valyrian maybe… But his skin… it could be a Summer islander for all we know, because the stone makes his skin black.  They are black too…  Those clues don’t mean anything.” Aerys said.
“I’ll bet its Aegon.” Aegor said confident.

“The craftsman is going to stick it on the top, of that body of black marble, where those old tarps are.” He said 
“Why not carve it out of one piece?” Daemon asked, dimly, without much thought.

“His face had to be perfect.  Everyone will look at the Statues face.” Baelor said, a bit less wrong. But still not right.

“Ohhhhh” Daemon understood.

It would be hard to carve a whole statue in one piece and have it turn out perfect.  But Brynden did not say anything.

“It’s a secret.  Father doesn’t want anyone to see the secret.” He said, “Everyone will be so surprised, at his gathering.”  Baelor said

“Will we get in trouble?” Brynden asked. He did not want to know a dangerous secret.  The men who kept the secret wisdom of a king were always at risk.
They heard a noise approaching.

They scattered into the fruit orchard and panicked. Aegor tore through some of the paper.

Six dusty little boys hiding in a ditch poking their heads free.  They panted and hid.  And then checked to see they had not left Maekar behind.  Because they were too scared to be chivalrous.

“I’m sticky.  I don’t like this game.” Daemon said.  He had fallen in some sap.  His linen shirt had a greasy spot on it after falling.

“Hush Daemon.”

“You hush.”  He wiped his hands on Baelor. “My mum will be cross.”

“Do you see anything Baelor? Are we caught?” Brynden asked frenetically

Their little quarrels alerted them to a presence.

A large builder with a big red scar and a hammer heavier than Maekar’s whole body.

“Hey you. Stand and…”

They all ran.  Brynden didn’t know why he screamed as he probably wouldn’t be killed.

The big man grabbed Aerys, who was clumsy.  He could lift him by the shirt collar like he was a stray pup.

“You little stripling.  You are not supposed to be here.” He tried not shake up the lad. “The Prince has forbidden visitors and intruders of these grounds.  He sent me to handle those that snuck through, with my hammer if need be.”

Aerys squirmed “Turn me loose.”

“Now you lot stay away.  It is too dangerous.  Builders and prentices only….  Milord.”  He added briefly.  And loosened his grip.  He had been so shocked to see them.  He honestly didn’t mean to frighten the little lords.

The boys looked at all 6 foot of him.

“We were just playing.”

“Are we in trouble?” Brynden said

The man sighed.  The Prince had chosen him to scare off intruders with rough language, and he did it too well “Just stay away from the builders.”  He said, “They could drop a rock on your bloody head.”
Brynden couldn’t believe the curse.

It was then the Kingsguard all laughed from their horses in the corner of Brynden’s eye. They were mounted and had watched the whole scene.  Though they had not made themselves known.  They had been watching over them, so they were never in real danger, laughed among themselves. 

Two returned to their conversation.

Aemon brought his mount close.

“Your Majesty is everything all right?”

“We were just playing.” Baelor tried not to sound scared.

“Well it can be dangerous.  A man building here fell from the ladder and died.  And one lost his leg to gangrene.  Building is serious labor for men not little boys.”  Aemon said.

The boys cared more about getting in trouble with their Mother, rather than their own hard heads, being smashed with a rock.

Aemon smiled. “To think when Maekar was not yet born I saw such drawings. Even the Sept of Baelor has not the audacity of scale.” He said.

“So, it’s not a secret?” Baelor asked

“Well not to the builders or the Prince or the king or the Kingsguard.  The Kingsguard holds many secrets of the king. You see we must check for any danger to the King and his family.  Even those of accidents.  And such construction can cause mishaps.  If a stone were to fall on a king’s foot and cripple him.  Or if a princess fell into a pit.  What a poor way to go.  It is best that safety be maintained.”

Three hundred people had died building the Red Keep, in King Maegor’s day. Most of them after it had been built.  All Prince Daeron had to keep his secrets was Gerow with his big black hammer.

“Little lads how would a builder build it without looking at it?” The Big man said. “By smell?”

“I guess I did not think.” Baelor said

A few of the builders were looking in. A few were from different parts.  And one was Essosi, with a slippery accent.

 

“The little princes.  And the little King to be.”  He said.  The builders had almost stopped their work. They were as curious about Targaryens as the Targaryens had been about the drawings and statues.  “Your honor. Ever serving.” He gave too deep a bow for what was fit.  But he was foreign, so he could not know better.

“As you were, serrah.” Baelor nodded “We were just… playing and we saw all this.  Its…  I don’t know what it is.” Baelor tried to sound grown up.

 “Your father thinks himself Brandon the Builder, not Aegon the Conqueror.” The Kingsguard said

“its splendid though.” Ser Kingsguard said “No King has built such things since King Maegor.  And he was there when King Viserys finished Baelor’s sept.

“Baelor was not much on…  infrastructure.  He had vaster concerns on his mind.” Aemon tried to hide the fact he poked fun at his famous cousin… the first Baelor. Called Baelor the Blessed, the Septon King.  Aemon had served on his Kingsguard too.” Aemon nodded” As a Young man your father was inspired to continue his Grandfather’s ambition.  With his own style.”

“Oh.”  The boys looked at each other.  They were secretly proud of their father for doing such wonderful things.  The statue would be wonderful

“It’s a very expensive hobby.” Aemon said. “To build a palace in the middle of a lake in the Marches.”

“Maybe the Prince should have took up after his father, for women wine and song.” One man said

“Nothing costs more then the love of a beautiful woman.” The Tyroshi laughed at his own joke. “If King Aegon had one wife instead of nine, we’d have enough for Ten of Aegon here, made of gold.”

 “Good man.  There are little children present.” Aemon said
“Forgive me ser…  I don’t know what they call such women in Westeros.” The man said.

“You have a care, and you meet Daemon Waters, Aegor Rivers and their brother Brynden Rivers.”  Baelor said. In a sharp tone that should have communicated no more needed to be said. But this was an idiot after all.

A few of the builders tried to sidle away.
“The King’s little princes…  It is good for a king to be around sons and grandsons.  A son is more precious than gold.  Your little honor. And to have along life to see a grandson is a blessing.”

Brynden laughed. “No disrespect.” Brynden was shocked at the man.  Most were too shameful to address them and talk with them forever about indelicate things.

“You should…”

/“They are only natural sons.  Please please.  Just hold your tongue.  If they tell their mothers, how would it be. To lose your tongue to mock Westerosi ladies”/

“I don’t care what a woman says, a smart woman would not have a man’s son unless she were a wife in his house.”

“Yes, but the Princess she is Dornish.  And they care about such things.”

“How can anything be meant.  I carve stone in the sun and they ride play ponies and shit on golden stools and even their dogs eat meat and sugar for every meal.  They are little princes. Their father is a king.  Like they have anything to fear from me.”

Daemon glowered “Don’t speak to my brothers with insolence you Tyroshi.  You won’t carve any more stone for the prince.  To blaspheme about the king.”

Baelor was a little shocked. 

The men looked as if a dog had spoken.  Most of them just left the roo,

Daemon said to the man.  “Valyrīha iksos issa muñnykeā ēngos.” His face was turning bright red up to his ears.

Brynden did not know what Daemon had said, but the effect was real

“Aye.  Your Honor.”

“You do not know what you speak of.  I should tell my father.  And you’ll be banished and and-”

“Your little honor.  Please. Please. Forgive this ignorant dog.” He actually fell to his knees

“You don’t know of anything.” Daemon repeated.

Don’t even… Its not worth it.

Baelor did he say he was going to kill him.

“Well the man was saying nonsense.  I don’t know. He just called Daemon the little prince. And all of you the little princes.  And me the King to be.  Because in his land the Kings are savage and they have more then one wife.”
“Well you aren’t a little prince.  You are just Daemon.” Aegor said.

“That some man thinks you are good enough to be a prince.  That is splendid.” Aerys shrugged, not realizing the way it sounded.  Maybe Baelor and his brothers were confused a little still.

“He …  He made fun of my mother.”

“He said nothing about lady daena…  Only that all beautiful women-“ Baelor said

“Do you speak Valyrian Baelor…”

“Only hearing.  And only a little.” Baelor said meekly.

“He made fun of me. And he does not know me.” He said “I don’t like that they talk about us.” Daemon was actually getting angry.  It was not often he had bad to say about anyone.  Especially some foreigner who was not even smart in his own land.
****
Aemon for once was not content to let the matter slide.  
“Easy Daemon.”
He drew his horse closer.
“It is best you do not engage in matters beyond your ken, ser.  The Princess Daena’s son is very young and knows nothing of the wide and wicked world.” Aemon looked down “The King holds fondness for Daemon Waters.  Men cannot help their weak feelings.  But I don’t think it would be wise for you to accidentally besmirch a ladies honor.  That is an offense of death.  A Kingsguard has been willing to die for less.”

“I did not know.  I-“ The man could not shut his mouth “I just think I would be lucky to have so many beautiful children, and grandchildren.  Your King is mighty and powerful.   if I were as your Majesty is.”

“You won’t gain that age if you go do insult to our women.” Daemon shouted over his shoulder in Valyrian. He was not going to stand around and be insulted. 
****

He punched the paper.  They all wanted to do that…  but only Aegor had by accident.  And the others let Daemon because it my make him feel better.

He burst through the paper, head first.

Aemon decided to walk the boy’s home so the rude and vulgar workmen would not bother the princes. He unhorsed and let the mighty beast walk behind them.  Mulciver. A large demoniac horse…  so fierce it must be part unicorn somewhere.  With its bright eyes. Knowing boys have a fascination with beasts, perhaps grooming a genuine war horse would take their minds off the fight.  He asked Daemon to hold the reigns.  Aegor snatched them away. Daemon did not have a passion for horses. Aegor looked like he had a sevensmass cake.

“It is well you see these things.  Your father has always wanted to build great works.  Like the Ancients of the world. Your father would come to the Sept of Baelor when he was a boy.  And because of the lack of a buttress that took many years.  With todays technology, we could have built it in ten years. It was not finished until little Baelor was born.” He said “Two whole generations.

“Always snooping around.  He was there more then the builders asking after this and that.  A king with only a little knowledge is as dangerous as a fool.”

He pat Baelor on the shoulder “Yes you were one of the first children anointed in the sacred waters on it’s opening.  I think your mother waited an extra week to have your Nameday on Smith’s Eve instead of 5th Moon. Everyone in the Kingdom rejoiced.” He said “What could you have been but Baelor?” he said “For the Dornish people went to war with Aegon…  and there was already a Daemon of your generation.  Your mother said you would grow into it. But she would create all sorts of odd ideas. Your father liked the name Rhaegar a fine name, but she made a new one for him out of her head.  And Aerys was but Anders and Viserys combined.  She preferred the name Arya but he was born a Son.”

“Did he and his friends get in trouble with the builders to?”

“He had no playmates.  He had no brothers.  Only his Maesters and his septon.  For Daenerys was 14 years younger.  He might have played with stone cutters and kitchen boys, if he were one for playing. But they all thought him a lily and he could not condescend with people so low. He thought they were all equal, and they would make mock. He liked to keep to himself.” He said “Not like you wild Dothraki.”

That was very sad.  TO be a prince was a splendid thing but to have no one to play with would be terrible.  Even Brynden who didn’t like to play all the time would miss spending time with people.  Or talking about books and writing messages to Aerys.  Or running about the castle with Daemon exploring.  Or having Baelor protect him.  Or watching Maekar do silly things.  Even Aegor was better then having not a single friend. Aegor at least was really careful.

**** 

If you stay here by the orange trees.  I will show you something.

The Kingsguard seemed to enforce that restriction.  But they watched the sight.

The builders had built a great many bridges… called scaffolds high into the air.  It was so impressive.  They had never seen such things in Kingslanding.  No wonder Prince Daeron went down to watch the builders every day when they built the sept.  That was only an old sept.

They lifted up the head carefully with ropes and pulleys.  They had to make sure not to crack it, or drop it or overshoot or undershoot their goal.

And it finally landed on top.

And they hammered Aegon’s face so he would fit.



THe great blackstone and black marble statue of Aegon was soon standing high above everything.

And the statue of the black dragon, underneath him, was vast, smaller then a real dragon and more snake like, but Aegon was taller then a man… so it went well.  The tail was long like a snakes.

THe Dragon’s long tail swirled around the pool in the center, built a long time ago. As Aegon bid him to silence with his raised outstretched hand, like a man reigning in a spirited horse, and not a god on Earth who was taming a fierce dragon.

“Look Maekar…  That is Aegon.  He was the first king.  He came from home. Dragonstone. He conquered all of the Six Kingdoms.  And then he built Westeros.  And united every king under the dragon banner.  So everyone would stop the Thousands of wars between the kingdoms.  From the iron Islands to the Casterly Rock.  From the Farmlands in the Reach.  To the Snowy North, to all the Stormlands and all the Seas. Thousands of kings and lords bowed to him and Baelrion. He broke and melted all of their swords and built from dragon fire the Iron Throne. And he began the greatest Kingdom on earth.  As he is here. And then one day mother married father.  And we are his children.  We’ll be King of all Seven Kingdoms.”

He did not even say. I will be King.  Or Father will be King then I will be king.  He felt a spirit of comradery and warmth with those sharing his sight, he called of them and him, we.  Daemon was touched somehow. But that made sense.  In a weird queer way that could have been a mistake, his mistake made sense.

They all shared the blood of old Valyria and of the Kings that had come before them.  But even kings were not so all powerful and perfect.  There was something more they all carried inside of them. All of them were so different.  In looks and character…  Though from the Riverland or the crownlands or Dorne.  If they were princes or baseborn.  They were the blood of the dragon. Even this man who had conquered the West, was but a man who had the blood of the dragon.  Brynden’s heart stirred with pride.

“I hope that this is why I am a proud man.  Even if I am only proud enough to do no sin.  I am still his get.  Even so.”

That they all had the blood of the conqueror in them. It gave them heart.

Brynden could never forget such a sight. Should he live a hundred years and be nothing but an old man.

“Now little princes don’t want to break their fingers and toes should keep away from the building.”

The boys applauded the builders.

It was such a glorious and exciting day.

***
It was then time for dinner.  THe Princes went to ride and Brynden went to the kitchens.  All was as it was. 

Baelor was seated in the biggest chair next to his grandmother.  She was proud of him.  And so Baelor asked everyone about their day.  And also made light chatter.  And made sure there was wine for everyone and that the guests all had good meat of goat and chicken. Aemon and the Kingsguard watched over everyone.

He was nervous to be allowed to sit with the adults.  But they told him stories and they made conversation about Dorne and his trip there.  They even laughed when he was trying to be witty, instead of at his awkwardness.  He raised a toast to their guest and to the King.  But it was with Claret, for he was too young.  And he hoped that the Prince would return. And everyone thought it was a toast. So he knew he could recover after a few breaths worrying that he had made a mistake.
But he noted that most people weren’t paying attention.

THey could not tell their mother of the wonderful surprise. They had promised the builders not to tell on them.  So all their secrets were safe.

“There is a statue on the horizon.  It came up over night, by the fish pool.  Do you boys know anything about it?” Lady Mariyah all but winked at him.  Aemon probably had to say something.

Lady Mariyah was teasing them.
“It must be the wind.”

“They are all just as excited as Prince Daeron is.” Daena whispered to Mariyah later.  She did not mean for anyone else to hear.
****

And there was dinner and they all went to evening Prayers with the septons.  It was strange without the Prince there. Brynden waited outside the septry with a lamp and looked at the moon.  He had many moon hours walking around the place.  He was a pale boy.  He would nap in the sun hours when he had his leisure.  So in between dinner and dawn, when their might be 12 hours of night or even more in winter… he would walk the palace. And after Mass, the party would have torches and lamps to guide them back to the solar.

The royals took abolutions and Daemon and Aegor took their blessing with water and such.  Brynden didn’t know what. Kneeling before the Septon and accepting his blessing. He did not know much of the ritual.  Only that it was the same.  He didn’t like the septs.  They were big and bright with crystals, that hurt his eyes and head.

He chased a mouse.  It lived in a tree’s roots, Brynden could hear it underground. A little desert mouse. 

He followed close behind it.  It heard him following and it ran like an arrow. He hoped he did not scare it. Rats had more sense.  A mouse could only run and not run.

He found the hole that was the door to the mouse house. He laid a piece of breadcrumb in the path of the mouse hole.  It was too stupid and wild to know what bread was.  Men were fearsome as real dragons.

“I am only a little dragon…  and a boy.  You come out mouse.”  He tried to whisper.

Whispering did not work so he closed his eyes.

THe mouse stuck out his nose.

“This is for your bravery.”  Mice did not like to be touched anymore then birds.  He had to sit a long time.  Almost thirty seconds.  Staring at the mouse he got dizzy.  He blinked his eyes and the mouse blinked its eyes

“Its good to eat.”

THe mouse who did not know what bread was, put the bread in his mouth and carried it away.

But the mouse somehow… knew Brynden was there.  There was a fear in its eyes.  He felt something in his head go…  SHAAAARP and PAIIIN

Brynden grabbed his ears and turned away.  He was feeling as if his head would burst and his heart would stop.

He staggered away a few steps… Where the mouse would not smell or see him.  He lay on the ground.

There was something he couldn’t explain. And there was a pain.  When he felt fear and scared in the animals.  It did not matter if it was a tiny mouse or big horse or a raven.  He knew they knew Brynden was trying to pet them and they did not like it.

Then they made his head hurt. Even a mouse could hurt him.  He just wanted them to stay still.  He just wanted to see and pet them.
It was strange.  At first, he thought that all people were nice to animals.  But he had seen people kick a dog.  Or used a whip on the horse.  Why didn’t the animal hurt that person who was mean to them? Why could they hurt Brynden?  Who just wanted to pet them and give them a bit of bread?

Brynden realized big people were all too grand to feel the pain of something little.  Something who did not want what was happening to it. They barely felt pain when they were mean or rude to other men.  Why would they feel what a mouse felt?

But if an animal did not want to be pet they could hurt Brynden, so much worse then they knew.  They could make Brynden cry.

That was an entirely unreasonable response. 

And once he knew that, and if he stared harder and cleared his mind. Sometimes… not everyday but sometimes, it did not hurt anymore.

Once the pain was gone, things changed.  It was very strange.  And he could get the mouse to stay.  He could pet the mouse. 

He could make the mouse feel relaxed again.  He could maybe…  maybe tell the mouse to eat the bread. Whether bread was something it wanted to eat or not.  He could make a mouse run up to him.  Or run up to the sept wall and back.  Or spin around on two legs and do a dance. And stay still as Brynden touched him.  But that would…  it would be wrong.

He could ask the mouse where its hole was, even though Mice did not speak like men.  He could pet the mouse all he cared too, making it stay in one place. Make it stay in his hand.  Make it follow him.  Make him know where the mouse was even though Brynden could not see or hear him. And when he was bored. Leave it.  It was only a mouse.
Mice were not grand.  They would only run and not run.  Other creatures…  they had something more.

And he did not know why.  But that was how it was.
He did not want to chase a mouse, sat on the ground and rubbed his ears.  Lots of things hurt his ears.

The Royals returned to their solars and Brynden led the way. Daemon kissed his mothers cheek and the three boys went to the great hall to find their cots. 

 

Chapter Text

Brynden almost slept through moonrise for the third night in a row.  But he was finally getting used to life in the hall.

There were a few candles of fat, as the small folk could not afford beeswax, and it was late

Daemon was half dead and would not even wake if Brynden kicked him. In fact, Brynden may have stepped on him and he only grumbled. Aegor was playing with his knife, carving out a bear out of a plug of wood.  Other people were chatting in the hall,  A woman was making a basket. A man replaced his boot laces and women sat knitting a winters cap. It may be the only chance to visit properly.  But there was not much in the way of people in the village, so most of the small folk made their living and had their keeping in the hall.  In a city, there could be a moonlight visit, but you would need lamp candle or torch. It was safer in the hall at night. Though not without any danger as most decent people slept through the night, scoundrels could get up to mischief.

Brynden got out of the great hall to explore the castle. He walked through the opening in the stone wall next to the heavy wooden doors.  He could make glossy silvery edges of the markings in the carvings.  He walked out to the Atria.  Brynden liked the first part of the night when it was dark. His pale skin didn’t hurt and the soft air felt good.  He took off his hood.

There were those who said his eyes would be weak, being he was albino. But it was not so. Mayhap he was different even among the afflicted wretches. But he could see the redness of the sky and the shadows of ravens. Without the brightness in the air, his eyes were keen.

He went back up to the raven’s tower.
He came to see the Maester out to send Ravens before Sevensday would begin at midnight. Then the day of rest would last from sun up to sun down.
He poked his head out.

“My little lad. Its past moonrise.  You should be abed. About the hall at least.” The Maester Mandon said, his thick Stormlander accent and bluster came into play.

“I wanted to go for a walk. Its too dark to leave the castle.” Brynden said

“The Children of the Forest might snatch you by night and eat your bones. You have not even a candle to guide your steps.”

“Not a murderer or a bugger?” Brynden said “I don’t like silly tales, if there is a true tale.”

“Lord Rivers, Ever A light in the gloom as always.” The Maester laughed “Come inside for a chat?”

“I don’t want to be a bother Maester.”

“Well I have matters to attend.  But you can come in and watch. I can give you more ointment.”

“is it dear?” Brynden joked.
“Same price as last time your steward paid it.”
“I don’t know how much that is. That one time the Qathi bathed me in blood it cost seven dragons.”

“I hope it was a lot of blood.”  He said as dry and sharp as anything “I am a maester not a swindler. You only pay if it cures you.”  He said scandalized.  He sort of hated that Brynden thought that maesters were all swindlers and charlatans. He did not.  But he did think a great deal of them were on the level of those Essosi magicians.  To the old man, Magic was for savages and heathens. Maesters were better than that.

“I have something to look forward to paying for then.”

Maester Mandon hated taking money.  Even for just the ingredients for some potation.  Even if it went to the Citadel for its operation.
This was not Brynden’s real maester…but he liked him better.  What was a real maester?  There was one for all the higher servants and the little pages and squires in the red keep.  A middling one for middling people.  This was the Maester of Summerhall, who was Prince Daeron’s friend from his childhood days, now mostly retired from long studying. He just did healing of scrapes bruises and brain fever.  Compared to his old life at Oldtown citadel it was a life of leisure.  Brynden did not know he was once more famous than any midwife in all of the Seven Kingdoms and had written many scrolls and books. What Brynden did know was that he treated him with dignity… Like he was like any other boy. He did not think of trying every kind of thing on him, like Brynden was a recipe for a cake.  And not worth anything because he were no mans son and not worth much money.  He conceded that Brynden’s skin was just as Brynden’s skin was.  And he was not going to tell a king what he wanted to hear. He was not going to bloom blond hair and peaches and cream skin one day.  And be fair and lovely as a Targaryen should be. And that soothed Brynden more than all the aloe and sea lion whiskers and lionlizard bollocks that every Maester had tried to make him eat or bathe in or stick up his nose.

He was not a baby to think magic would work to cure his illness, if it did not cure real problems, like Winter and war.

He had a buildup of bad humors, which his blood and bile could not rinse from him. And at least he used no knife or leech.  Which made him dizzy and weak as a kitten. He had white skin, he could not have the blood to spare.  If you used your eyes it was clear dark People had more blood then pale bluebloods.  A sick man with Dark skin would turn more pale and white.  If Brynden had all his blood drained out, he might turn into a dry old piece of wood.  It would be too easy, being pale already.*

Brynden was offered a straightbacked chair, the Maesters finest piece of furniture. The Tower was lit up.  The Maester even took out a brighter wax candle so he could see and write the messages quickly.  The room was small and the light was bright,white and cozy.  And a few ravens were startled by the change in brightness.
What they must think as the fire lit the room? That the moon had entered their home and only men could control it.

He was placing identical messages on the legs of ravens.  The Maesters copied more messages then they sent.

“What does the message say?”

“It’s the prince’s eyes who will see this.”  He said and pocketed the Ravens message.  “You can ask him.”

“Can I make a guess?”

“Be you a maester since last we chatted? Earned your chain in the arts.”

“No Maester.” Brynden said.
“Well then I can’t show you.” He said “It is dull enough.”

Brynden liked a mystery but…  maybe he didn’t like a mystery.

Brynden held out his arm and gave a whistle to call the raven to him. The Raven landed properly on his arm.  Brynden was trying to show the Maester he had learned how to walk a raven.  Before the Maester saw him try to feed ravens out of his mouth, and they left their claws on his skin.

“Very good Brynden.  If you were not so small I would say you almost mastered the raven’s call.”  He held up Brynden’s arm with a slight curve, unnoticeable to Brynden  “You have the sound right, but you must try to show your strength.  Birds fly together in a great group in chaos.  And they will only listen the strongest and most powerful bird. Don’t let him scratch you.  And if he does scratch you you must not show weakness. A raven must always stay on the fat of your arm.”  He said “Just like that.  Just like a hawk.  They’re claws will mar even a man’s flesh.  Never on the hand or the finger like in the pretty paintings.  Even a sparrow will leave a scrape.  They all have claws.” He said.

The Raven walked to the mans arm. “Most Maesters get the chain in Ravens last.  As all Maesters must be a friend to them.”

“Could I get a chain without going to Oldtown Citadel? I can feed them.” Brynden said.

“That is no chain lad. A link.” The maester held up his heavy chain with silver and bronze and red gold charms “That’s barely a ring. This is a chain. Mayhap if you go to Olodtown you will get a few links yourself for your mothers honor”

Brynden was not sure about all that other stuff there. He did not know much about it.

“Well, to know ravenry, You must do more then feed them. You must know all the routes the birds fly.  And their habits, when they are ready to mate.  When they are angry.  And even above caring for birds, you must be mature and serious enough to promise to keep your confidence.  Even old maesters may not be ready for such responsibility.  Maester must keep secrets.”
“Like the potions.  So that poor people don’t make them on their own in their cook pots”

“You are a suspicious venal lad.” He said “What about mysterious illnesses like your albinism… or plague?”

“A witch will give you lilly water blessed by crystal light if you are sick.  Even a septon can cure you with a blessing.” Brynden was being sassy now.  He knew that some maesters were clever and some stupid… especially about healing.  But he doubted that everything could be cured by the septons neither.

“Will this one fly to the North?  It must take a hundred years.” He pet the Winterfell raven.  Then the maester put a message on its foot.

“Brynden they don’t all fly…” Maester Mandon said.  Then tried to think of a way to describe it to the boy. “He’s to Nightsong or Mayhap Highgarden.  This one never takes his rest in Blackhaven.  He has enemies in there…  Ravens never forget a slight.  There was a cat that bit him there.  They are as smart as little boys.”

THe Maester tried to teach him of Ravenry, even though Brynden wasn’t a maester. “Highgarden will send one to Oldtown.  They were born here. They have never been North of the Tumbleton… unless a maester gave them oyster up by Bitterbridge or some such.” He said “You still have much to learn of ravenry.”

“But he’s from Winterfell.”

“Who told you that?”  He said.  “If you look at those words I wrote on the wall, they are worthless in a place as small as this. Except to make it look like an official Maesters office. The perches aren’t helpful. I recognize the birds by sight.  ” He looked at the big one “Their eggs might be Northern.  But They were all hatched in Dorne.  They are as Dornish as curry goat stew.” He said “More Dornish than me.”

 “They know the North.  They want to go there.  But it takes so long.” He said

“A bird could not know a place its never been.  He said “Do you know of Muscovy or Qarth?” He said “Do you yearn to stand in Asshai and stand among the corpses of heathens.”

“They can feel North.  They want that.” He said “Ravens don’t know things like men. They only do what is in their senses.”

The Maester looked at Brynden again.  Perhaps puzzled. Brynden couldn’t explain what he knew.  It was confusing.

“In truth, there are some that agree with you.  The old Northern Maesters of superstitious times say that some…  well some training ravens run away to fly where their eggs were laid.  Not where they were hatched. But it can’t be true.  They are not as wise as men, let alone wiser. “

“I was born in Riverrun.  I might pass by, but my family’s seat is Raventree.  I know there is a difference. I don’t even know if I would go to Riverrun if I was asked.” He said “Its something I don’t want.  If you want it, you can feel it.”

“Because men speak and tell you of both places. They communicate.  Ravens cannot.”

“He’s of Winterfell.”

“He is not going to Winterfell.  He only is strong enough to go to the Reach.” Dismissing the boys insistence  “And that is dangerous enough. Many people will kill a raven if they hear bad news.” He said “And Dorne and The Reach rarely exchange pleasant news with each other.  Many birds might be shot down… or have their skulls battered or necks broke, because a lord has bad tidings of their enemy.”

“Dark Wings, Dark Words.” It was a saying of Raventree,  as ubiquitous as “A Lannister pays his debts” “What is dead may never die.”  The words of a house rarely corresponded to what others thought of them.

Though now it seemed ravens dealing with men was their apocalypse.  To be going on a flight to some old castle in an ordinary errand, only to find Tyrell there to pierce you with an arrow, or Yronwoods to snap your neck. Men must be as frightening as dragons to small things. At least you knew a dragon would kill you. If Brynden were a raven. He would find a tree and run away forever.  Probably a Weirwood with heavy limbs…  for they were unlucky for men to harm and never died. Ravens were the only beasts who would live in a Weirwood.

“Yes well try to be a Maester when you are at war between Dorne and the Stormlands.  They’ll ring a Maesters neck too.”

“That is mean.” Brynden said “They should get to know how awful they are first.”

The Maester laughed and rubbed his cheek “Is the ointment working.  It seems your skin has no change in texture.” He rubbed the skin on Brynden’s ear.

“Then I won’t use it.” Brynden said “You can take it back for half the price.”

“I would try it some more.  Perhaps put some on your neck where it sticks out of your shirt. Still you need to have something to block the harshness of this Dornish sun.  It might help.  Fair people need ointment in this sun.  You aren’t half a Dorne let alone-.”

“Maekar burns all the time.” He said “He’s Dornish.”

“He is half Dornish…  and he is also fair” He said “There are fair Dornish. The Stony Dornish who descend from the Andal adventurers.  And The Rhoynish have brown hair and olive skin, sallow with hints of the blue blood.  Pale though they can withstand hotter clime.”
He gave him the pot, refilled with a white butter like mixture.

“The Prince listens to me.  And he never burns.  You have to be more careful then he.  Dragons are half immune to things ordinary men would die of. Pox, ague, flux, colds of the head nose and chest.  I think you are stronger then you think.”


He went back to the Hall, the Maester handed him back a candle stub. Most of it in fact.

“You take this bit of candle.  If you walk the night light it so people may see you.  You can see me at moonrise and not torment my waking days with woe.”
He nodded.  “Even If you only cross the pond or the atria.  You will save me a trip if you fall in a pit.”
“Thank you for the candle maester. I don’t mean to be no trouble.”

“Get you to bed child.”  He said
THe old man smirked And the Ravens flew out the top, off to the Reach. 

***

Brynden was walking as he heard the guard at the top of the tower rouse.
“Stand and Deliver.State you business.”

“Good ser It is I Robin.  Let us in.”

Robin shouted up

“Your majesty.  Forgive us.”
“It is well.  I wish to sneak into bed before my mother is roused. Its closer to dawn then dark.”

The prince came in through the porticullis of stone and wood.  He and Robin and Potter on his mule.  The two other men Ser Carven the Kingsguard and his men at arms, shuffled to their corner of the stable complex.

Potter funereal and quiet waved him “Rivers come you down.  A penny for a clever lad who helps us stow our equipment. The horses need water and feed.”
He was suspicious on Potter. He’d never give anyone a penny.  So they must be tired.  And he did not feel a lick guilty that his brothers were not there.

He could not wipe down all the horses.  He was too short. Just their fronts and their legs were the aches were worst.  He filled their buckets with a bit of oat and barley for a treat.  And then pitched the straw from their trough and replaced it with green hay.  And he could almost lift the saddle if he dragged it on the floor.  But that was tutted. So he left the saddle. Robin grabbed two saddles, One in each hand.

“There we are Rivers.  You see that.  That is power.” Robin laughed holding up his muscular arm.  “You can’t not go to bed till you punch me in the stomach.”

“I don’t want to drown in beer and pigeon pie.”  Brynden said . But he had too.  Robin made all the little boys punch him in his big fat belly. It was a stupid. Either he would pretend the boy had done nought to him, or fall over dying.  It was a weak jape.

Brynden walked down to the hall overwhelmed by his activity.  He even passed the Prince on his way to the solar.  Without calling Brynden she had for her husband a bowl of cool water and a clean white shirt.  They did not need potter, or Brynden.  He stood by the wall and peered into the edge were he had found that place on the privete hedge.  Someone would have to tell the Prince they could see him. This was the second time he had.
*****
Daeron looked over them, the boys, who were all exhausted.  Growing boys needed their sleep. He had to change to clean clothes for the Sevenday… or sit all day feeling dirty.

Their mother sat with them when ill or to wish them a good night or anything required of her.  She had not grown up with a nanny but a mother. But a proper well bred father wouldn’t look so into a realm he wouldn’t fit.  So hovering perhaps. He wished he could be open and warm with his children and not think about it as Mariyah did.  She was a good mother.  She was unlike other woman he knew but she was a good mother.  She had treated her boys like horses, to curb them but never break their spirit and never ever relent as free and energetic as they were.

She was sitting and watching them sleep waiting for her husband to return.

He came down.

“Father you are home.” Baelor said half awake. He was so tired.  His eyes were invisible.  The Prince was worn to the bone. Baelor cared over every little thing.
“Welcome home.”  She embraced him “I will go turn down the bed my dear.  You must not stay up a second longer.  Big day tomorrow.”  She said.  “Boys don’t bother your Papa.  Say good night.”

“Turn down the bed my love…”  He pat her shoulder.  “I will be fine. I’ll sit up with the boys for a bit.”
“Very well.”  She said


“Boys, It was a wonder.” He repeated. “I wanted to tell you first.”

Aerys rubbed his sleepy face.

He sat on the bed as the boys overheard. Maekar crawled into his lap.  Even Rhaegal watched him. His jaw slack as he listened with intent.

“Come here boys. I will tell you the story of the Unicorn.”

We were along the road.  And Lord Dondarion asked if he might show me a vista not oft used, that with a bit of harsh grassy terrain, might take a league or more off the trip.  Where he was thinking of building road, as it was flat and clean. This route lay on a land that was once a muddy swamp, but now was dry.

We could clear it down during haying. But it was in the ancient territories of the old castle, that the Amaris used to own as part of the Greenlake Lands. By laws as the Lord of Summerhall I must have my say.  When the snows melt and the the valley flooded and drained into the lake, this place came alive with all sorts of creatures in the Spring. Where there might be some duck or crane to shoot.

Amoung salt and dried mud we took the mounts, discussing such things for a while going back and forth on what would be wisest.

And it was passing dinner, when we saw a long stretch of the lake. Riding into the red sunset.

There among the mud.  So hot even the fiercest beast was low. Even the flies and lizards lazy.  We were silent and our horses crawled through the hot air as if it was mud.  Soon the lake would be there and the horses could get a drink and we could wash our faces.

In that heat the air shimmering like silver.  And then I blinked my eyes and there It stood.

It was like we had walked into a dream.

“It was a unicorn.”

The boys gasped.

“It was a bit different then the foot then it was drawn, and it was not white as a white horse is never white, but neither was it grey of hair. It was not even how we imagine the shaggy northern unicorn.  It was so strange a creature

It saw us men. It Turned and looked carefully. It like a doe or a cow had eyes on either side of its face. It gave us a careful black square eye.  As if it was catching us were we did not belong.

I urged my horse to get a better look.”

And in a flash slipped over the rise of the hill.

I half thought I saw something in my dreams and boredom.

I know not what herbage or stream it foraged for its living.  If it ate and supped as other animals do.  I do not know if it came down from the moon herself as in the legend.

I was not thinking to grab my bow or rope or anything like you would.  I was thinking how old and majestic it was.

It was from another day and another time.

“My mind returned to the stories my nanny told me before they sent her away.  Of the children of the forest rode them. Right on their sleek back with no saddle. And how they trampled their foes into the mud.  The giants rode mammoths as one. The first men could not bewitch the beasts of the field. Men only rode shaggy ponies of the north, half wild and small and large dogs and walrus to pull sledges.   A terrible storm of beauty against the brutal and fierce first men who built Summerhall.  Who built our nation.” He said

“It was gone quickly.  I, in stupefied state, quickly followed after it, away from the path.  My hunter was spritely and it could slowly cross the brush and grass and mud.

We spent an hour looking for it again. We arrived at the lake with no more land to search.  I know not where it went. Then it was time to come home.”

“Will we see it?” Aerys asked breathlessly.

“Well I will see we look for it. You’ll have to keep your eyes open.”  He said with that sarcasm.

The boys were fading into a dreamless hot sleep curled up in the one bed. Aerys and Rhaegal sloppily draped and had to be arranged so they didn’t fall out of bed.

Maekar was tucked away.  His blanket over his nose watching his father.

“Were they pretty like horses are pretty father?”  Maekar asked… almost as a shock.  He was still holding onto consciousness as all the other princes were snoring.

He pet his youngest “Well I’d say prettier. That the beautiful horses your mother has in her paddock Bunny and Falcon and Seahawk… even they seemed shabby and small.”

“Shabby? Even Bunny?”
“Bunny looks like a little Donkey compared to that Unicorn.”

“is that so?” Maekar asked incredulous.
“but still it was not as big as a legend.”

“don’t tell her.” He whispered to Maekar “Mother loves her pets. She might want to ride a unicorn. Then what will we do.”

Maekar’s ears were huge.
“We’ll go find the unicorn again Maekar.  And it will be said, no one in all westeros for 20 years has seen a unicorn since Prince Maekar did.  And you will be famous.”
“I will?”

“Of course.”

“Not the others?”

“The others will be there.  No one in the whole world wants to see one more.  I’ll bet.  Maekar who saw a unicorn.”  He whispered into his hair

“I have an idea.  Lets trick you mother. Now just pull the covers up.  Mother will think you are asleep, but you won’t be. And I’ll see you in the morning.” He smiled at Maekar

“Ooh.  Very well.” Maekar said nodding far too gravely in conspiracy with his father

“There is Maekar fast asleep.” The Prince announced to no one.He heard a muffled laugh

It was so not even a moment longer.
“Goodnight boys.”

Chapter Text

Brynden was wondering if such a story of the Unicorn was but a story for Maekar. Aegor was skeptical. While Lord Dondarion and his men weren’t there to have their testimony, there was Robin Penrose. Brynden caught him in the Kitchens, with a heel of black bread and a chicken wing. Brynden was afraid he might choke for talking and eating. Unless he could swallow bones.
Robin laughed. “I saw it too. It was a big old beast. The king was so excited. I think he means to hunt unicorn for dinner.” He said washing it down with milk from the pan. The Kitchen would be mad at him for disrupting the milk pans. Which even beloved Daemon did in secret, for he would get an earful. The cream would be thinner if you drank the milk before the time was right. Without thick cream, there might not be any butter out of that milk pan tomorrow.
Brynden took advantage had the tubby squire pour him skimmed milk, making like he was too weak and small to lift the pan. “There you go. Drink that up little man. You can be as fat as me.”
A Ser Penrose didn’t know how to make butter and would drink milk when he wanted milk. Robin was not one for fancy words, but he was a chivalrous lad. He poured him all he cared for. And Brynden split a glass with Aegor. The three of them must have drunk the whole pan before going back to the great hall to sleep. Robin Penrose exhausted, too tired to go to his bed or see his mum, sleeping between them.
****
Brynden had most of the Sevensday to himself. It was slow for one who did not worship the seven. Nothing prevented him from his labor, exactly. But he wanted to rest and have time of his own. He might do a favor for someone who could not work, churn butter or take up candles to the solar and light people’s fires.

The most devout would not light a fire or tend to their beasts or even go to their place of work. The Princess had the horses fed the night before and given an apple. Though she had a magnificent paddock for her precious horses, they could feed from the clover and grass there. But none of the stablehands were of the Old Faith. They would not clean the stables nor help riders. Even the horses and mules rested, in their stall or their paddock.

The kitchen was the only place alive. For a few would work to see the preparations of the cook so all would have bread and apples and such simple things. And for nobles there might be a pie, cooked the day before. No one but the servants knew how much Prince Daeron loved his Sevensday pie. Even in Aegon’s court that was bursting with luxury, he loved it more than any other food. Even those rich Essosi dainties. It might be chicken, or even tripe. Or a combination. Sometimes it was pigeon or quail. The Queen Naerys might just as well fast, for she was the Godliest woman.
If they should come to serve or see him on sevensday he would bid them to take a piece and would have given them cause to seat him at his private table. But the Pages would wait until the family was done eating first. For it is not mete a prince sit with pages of lower birth than he. It was a rare occasion that Gurna would not scold them for eating the Prince’s food. He was a generous man, even to children.
They broke fast at the endless hour of ten, after worshipping since dawn.

Brynden would sometimes go down towards the sept. But he had not the constitution for a mass four times a moon. That would kill him dead in a year. He had only been to mass thrice all the way through. One Fathersmass, his mother made him and his sisters, wear their best clothes and go sit through the whole mass. The crystal light made him pink and for some reason only then he got an itch on his butt. He had never had such an itch before or since. His mother told him that everyone was staring and if he was wicked she promised she would slap him, if he did not stop scratching. If he was ever did come to the sept, to see what happened, He liked the backrow where he could sneak away. Rarely unless there was something exciting, there was no reason for him to be in a sept. Brynden did not let his brother or any of his little friends know… it was a little white lie. It was frustrating. Many times the other boys would ask him what he thought. Those times the Princes or Daemon would ask him “Did you remember such and such that happened at mass? Did you hear what Septon So and So said? Do you think that the Septon was right?” he would lie and say he had fallen asleep in the back row. But he never told the Princes for they were Godsfearing. And Daemon would scold him and say Brynden would be thought a bad boy for sleeping at Mass. Daemon hated mass worse than Brynden… but he hated to be thought of as ungodly more. He would kneel and be seen by everyone praying like a good trueborn prince.

There was too much: Everyone would mill in slowly to find their seats. Then the Septon would say the forty-nine prayers and all the faithful take libations from the crystal and silver cup blessed by the Septon earlier, from the Prince and the Royals down to the common folk. Periodically refilled with blessed water. Then the Recitation of The Faithful. Then the many doxologies to each of the gods. Children would bring forth the seven holy statues and the people would sing to them. Then the same old call and response, then hearing his long speech on virtue or sin, depending on the mood of his audience. There were children who had their first name day, being bathed in blessed waters and anointed in the name of the seven. Today there were two babies Renee and Balon. Their god parents and parents beaming with pride. The babies fussed a little.
After which couples would be wed (there were none today) and the reading of the list of those to be married in a month so there could be objections to the match. It was an unequal match or if a girl was not a virgin as promised or a man had a wife already or the couple be blood cousins…. Such things were common enough. People had the manners not to bring them up in public, but might talk to the Septon later. And if you were wealthy and gave the Septon a little bribe, you might get married whenever you want and not wait a month. And if you had a crown, it was said you had enough gold to marry whoever you wanted whoever they were. The Targaryens had broken every rule of marriage except marrying a horse.
And after the happy announcements there was the terrible news. All the people that were scheduled to hang in Blackhaven next month at the Horse fair. In case people wanted to travel to Blackhaven to see it done, like his victims or his mother or anyone else who wanted to go to a hanging. It was Jahaerys’s Law that all men condemned to hang must be given a week to prepare themselves for their death if they desired, if they wished to prove themselves innocent. Which was a sort of mercy to them too but sometimes they might have to stay in prison for weeks until there was a public gathering. Septas and noblewomen would collect bread and beer for prisoners like this. Lady Dondarion had good reputation and fed them all hot soup and bread and even a portion of wine before they died. Even though they were sinful people, they had to eat and sleep. Lady Dondarion was a reflection of her clever and responsible husband.
There was a list of the funerals that the Septon had given, so all in the sept would know who had died in the village. (A septon could not wait for a body that long in the late hot summer, unlike with a wedding) Six people had died and some children. Only one of the children had not been named and died in the cradle, but it was called by his father’s name, so everyone could grieve with the poor parents. It was their third baby but still they wept. The poor father blinked back tears as his wife was wordless and stoneface. Brynden could not forget such faces.
It was a common day for Squires to be Knighted after a long fast and sleepless vigil, so the assembly would remain to watch that. It was the day were Septons ordained, lord ennobled, and announcements of war and peace made. Anything of social import with the blessings of the gods. Then they all took blessing at the altar with old incantations in Andalosi and other languages no one spoke. *
In Kingslanding, the Prince, King and Queen walked on foot to Baelor’s Sept (or maybe if a man was ill they might move by litter) remained in their private cell their knees padded by cushions, high above the masses who knelt in the presence of the Seven. Each part of the service dedicated to a different god and altar and a different doxology. There was an altar for each god… and not an icon carried by the altar child. They rotated in seven directions as the High Septon droned blessings. But the service was indistinguishable from the one in Summerhall… except there were porphyry and jade cups and there were more than three because the crowd was large. The ceremony continued as it had for a millennium before the Targaryens reigned, when Valyrians were still wearing black silk robes eating grapes. (Brynden didn’t study history with the Princes, and only had vague images of What Valyrians were other than forever eating grapes and marrying horses and riding dragons.) What those dragon folks must think of them spending so much time in a Sept. The Valyrians had no religion but themselves. Not even that of nature.
In Summerhall, it was not so very elaborate. The royals had their own bench and seats set up by rank. With an empty place for his grace the King as all Septs had in these strange times. They would sit and sit and sit and sit, and then after sitting maybe sit some more. It was interminable boring. And if you were a page near the front you had to be perfect. You could not swing tired legs even though they hung. You could not scratch an itchy back. You could not hum. You could not sneeze without all looking at you. And if you were a prince, you must be as still and serene as the Gods themselves, or maybe their statues. To interrupt the Septon was a sort of blasphemy.
Rhaegal was worse behaved. I mean worse if you were royal. The mad boy would hum, and he would shake his fist when he heard music. He liked the music. Brynden could tell. But his shaking and humming was distracting. And many people thought he was a little monster. But he was a mad boy. Maybe he wanted to sing to the gods too. People were so foolish.
Though some considered the labor of the mind not the same as labor of the body, AND that a king’s responsibilities severe and burdens heavy, that was not good enough for Queen Naerys. The King and Prince, the mightiest men in the land, might have to sneak away from the Queen on some affair of state. For she said it was unholy to work on the rest day. But she could tell the little princes how to behave.
The princes would not study but neither were they at leisure to play. The stablehands would not take them to their horses or pet their dogs. They could not take out their playthings, or make noise, or even read anything but their prayer books. They could walk to the Sept through the city and back, on their own feet. But no enjoyment or activity was on that day. They must be perfect gentleman all day long.
On a holiday it might be different. As there might be processionals or trips or a feast, but only after the setting of the sun. But even so feasts at the Great Keep were solemn and serious occasions. They must be perfectly behaved. He hoped in Summerhall it would be a little different. He pitied those of the True Faith.
The most serious offense that had marred Baelor’s stainless reputation, and one year later it had still been in his memory.
There was a processional on Fathersmass. A singularly dull holiday, which was in honor of fathers, elder brothers and kings. Even little sisters would pay respect to their elder sisters. The order and justice in all things. * It was no one’s favorite festival. Other Feasts had truly enjoyable gambols and frivolity. Sevensmass was more cheerful and fun. Mothers Solstice was more spiritual, Strangers Solstice had candy and ghosts, and Smithsmass had a great Inversion Party in the streets where in Valyrian fashion servant and masters feasted together. No one yearned for Fathersmass but a day for the people to admire the court in its majesty.
Baelor had received his horse Black Rabbit, his Bunny. He was excited to ride in the processional, because he was big enough to ride a horse. He might wave to all the people. He was less insecure about being in such a grand parade, for he felt more princely from afar. No one could see lapses in manners. Thinking it splendid that all those people came to see him and his family. And he had a magnificent horse. He was very impatient. For the Royal procession while gay and exciting for the viewers, was tedious and slow for anyone involved. The horses trotting along slowly. The men that carried the ladies’ litters held up manfully and must hold the litter at every crossroad in all the roads of Kingslanding. The whole thing was not very fun at all. Baelor, a little boy on a spirited horse came out of line and kicked up her heels. He even took delight as the King and Crown Prince moved with elegance, He had his Bunny, his Black Rabbit. The young mare had a more playful gait. Half unbroken yet and only 2 years old. The horse got up on two legs while turning down the street of silk.
Queen Naerys while coming to the corner tutting the boy. She told Baelor he must behave, or he would be sent back.
She was so stern and frightening it would have been easy to obey. He tried to do no more mischief.
But Baelor tired from riding stumbled as he dismounted. His legs were pins and needles. The queen had to help him up. And Bunny nudged them, panicked and stepped on his toe.
“Stupid Fucking horse.” He wailed and hit the horse.
The queen gasped in shock, and he was carried off by one of the servants to see if he was injured. He was fine
But the Queen was Half in tears. For the little hellion had blasphemed on the Fathersmass.
The second that no one in the crowd, could see Princess Mariyah stomred over to scold her son. In full compliance with every rumor of Dornish savagery took him behind a pennant. Without listening to a word he said, bent him over pulled up his coat and spanked him, Hard. Right on his fat bottom, five times.
“For shame. You have blasphemed in front of your grandmother.” A most unqueenly moment. Targaryens would not lay hands on a royal person. Even a naughty little boy and even his mother. And even on his bottom
Baelor was shamed before the whole family. But that was intense. No one even spoke of it for half an hour. But at the high table it was all anyone could speak of.
Brynden had barely seen it. She slapped her son’s bottom as if she was a fishmonger’s wife silencing an ill-bred brat crying for candy in the market. Daeron was shocked and said while her heart was in the right place, her temper was most inappropriate for a holy occasion, he might have even said so in public. It gave the King no end of humor, that his good daughter could be as savage as that.
But Dornish mothers had a quick hand and were always slapping their wicked children. There had been laws passed in the land to allow fathers to beat their children with no penalty. Why was slapping her child for blasphemy so shocking when it was in the laws of the land? And men might beat their wives seven times. If it were a woman was it so different? Should not a woman slap her husband?
Baelor never let a curse pass his lips again. And he apologized his Grandmother for such foul language. The queen as shocked as she was, was forced to accept, out of godliness. It was not true Blasphemy which claimed falsehoods about the gods., but foul talk. The Father saw his foulness punished by true shame. The boy did have a horse step on him. And if he never ever did such a wicked thing again, the Mother could have mercy. No, she should have Mercy. She was forced to forgive him. The Queen would not admit she thought her grandson a little crude from then on and paid especial attention to his courtesy. As if he might curse and spit and not resemble his well-bred father in any way at all. But for all her criticism of Baelor, she did not even censure Mariyah. Perhaps she had more sympathy for the Dornish custom.
The greater damage was done to his pride for being beaten and made mock of. His little brothers should have learned to be more courteous. But Aerys was notorious shouting to others “Baelor Barebum! Baelor Barebum.” Laughing lustily. Only Maekar thought it funny. But the youngest prince thought saying the word peepee was the height of wit. Prince Daeron scolded Aerys and offered him the same treatment by his own hand, but it would be weightless. A respectable gentleman would not slap a prince of Targaryen blood. Aerys knew not to tempt his mother and was not wicked for nearly three days. Baelor had made a mistake and no one should mention it again.
Aerys would still say it when he was angry with Baelor and, were it not unlawful, the little prince would throttle his little brother by the neck and feel no guilt of hell. Kinslaying held no disgust. Aerys and Maekar were very immature. Brynden did not think the word peepee was THAT funny anymore.
It must be very shameful to have the whole world see your mum spank you. And he was not a small boy either but 10 years.
Daemon thought for any lady to be violent was strange, but he would not defame a Princess, and would not say anymore. But Brynden knew his lady only did what his own mother would have done for being naughty and ruining the whole event. And as strict as she was, she was loving. For her sons were princes and must be trained in a more severe manner. And many little boys and girls might have a slap of their mother, their hand or their face. Not Brynden for he did no wrong. But other little boys and girls. And many mothers lose their heads. It was the whole of the situation that no one considered. That a Princess might spank her son like any other mother in the world. Everyone had their opinion. No one had the right answer.
***
Brynden went to see the horses. Maekar had a view of them from the atria. But they slept under the tree. Maekar sat like a sponge, squeezed of all water and dead.
“Mummy when is it over?”
“When the sun goes down it will be time for dinner. And the cook will have made tarts for good little princes. Be patient my love.
The Princess herself was restless. Who took her horses for a ride every other day. And when not at her duties, would help the king with his bureaucratic work or order the staff to do this or that. And any spare second she had would spend on her embroidery. Normally it would not bother her, but Baelor’s fine Jupon was nearly done, except for hiding the stray threads. She could only lift it to look at it. Even though it might be done in a half an hour after two months of laboring at it. Only Queen Naerys might not feel restless, bored and idle. Everyone else felt they were burning daylight hours.
They had their prayer books on the side… or in front of them Or in Maekar’s case on the floor. He was so bored he could not lift his head to pick it up.
Anyone with a handful of coppers could buy a prayer book on pamphlet paper, but it was smudged and had no pictures of the events. Most could not read anyway unless a Maester taught them their letters… or their mother did. At the sept there were paintings and stained-glass windows. And mummers would do passion plays and mute shows.
Also, the book makers made wonderful pictures. Aerys showed him. Some of the old people in the past had such books made, they were called Psalters. They were in the library today as those people were dead. There was Garth the Godfearing, King of Highgarden which was covered in beautiful pure gold. With handsome knights and beautiful ladies. The Andals made it for the king who converted from the worship of the old gods and the Weirwoods, though it took generations to work. It was given to The Targaryens by the Tyrells. And Ser Riam Redwyne’s who’s psalter had marvelous animals from across the sea. And Lord Lannister who gave a Psalter to the Lord Haramund Hoare of the Iron Born on his wedding, so he would give up worship of the Drowned God, (it had not worked out, but the book was still there.) *
And many and most from before the Targaryens time.
Each of the boys had their own private books for prayer. A psalter which also had the seven-pointed star. They were very beautiful. Brynden could not imagine how much money they cost to be tucked into a pocket and lost. Or stuffed on a shelf when they were all dead. And always the same book and prayers. It must be splendid to spend so much on one book even though it was just the same text. It was why the King and the Prince Collected them.
All the princes had a psalter made for them by the best bookmakers in all of Westeros. Even Maekar who was not old enough to read, and Rhaegal who would probably never read.
Baelor’s psalter was the whole seven-pointed star, and it had horses and knights and Dornishman. Each page was finely painted in all colors on thick vellum of sheep, even green which came from rare berries. * Some pages even had shining gold leaf. It had illustrations of the events in the story of Hugor Hill. Though it was modern times. Knights and Septons and Maesters. And many little Dornish touches, in the architecture and the person of each of the principle saints. On the last page there was a picture of the seven heavens. You could spend a moonsturn looking at all the angels and saints and holy spirits. Baelor had to let his brothers borrow it to look at the pictures. Princes must be generous. Baelor was very curious that Brynden wanted to see it. Baelor was a smart boy, but He was silly sometimes. He thought that those who worshiped the old gods would piss on books of Holy writing and try to desecrate them. The Septons said so. Brynden wouldn’t desecrate a book. It would be mean thing. He heard some kings burned naughty books. But that seemed mean too. Books were not real and very hard for men to make. And the picture of heaven was very pretty. Brynden had not seen its equal even in the palace. The Seventh Heaven was the place where good men who followed the Seven would end when they died. And Brynden having never died would not oppose such thinking. He was only an ugly boy of eight.
Aerys had a slightly smaller psalter, for he was second born. It was more generic in painting as it was just the book of hours. Not as pretty as Baelor’s. It had fancy portraits of each of the seven gods. Done in the same beautiful colors. The last page had a picture of the stranger in Hell. Covered in wizards and witches and Weirwoods and merlings and man-eating dragons and all forms of evil. In the pages the book maker had made terrible pictures of all sorts of nasty things hidden among the words. Of corpses and skeletons and evil monsters and wicked creatures. It might be suited for him. Aerys was a spooky child and wanted to learn about Dark Magic. Perhaps his Grandmother wanted to put the fear of Gods into him by showing him terrible things. But that made him rebellious. He was bored by holy knights and virtuous maidens. But if he saw something scary he would peak under the cover and squeal and feel terribly excited. Then he would show it to his baby brothers who would cry. Brynden wouldn’t cry at something so silly. Aerys said it was cursed and had convinced his little brother he’d die for looking at the picture of Hell. Brynden said Aerys was a silly goon, but Maekar was not sure. * The little prince would not look at the last page. Even when offered the princely price of a whole cream cake instead of half a creamcake.
Maekar had only a part of his Psalter done. The chapter of the warrior limmed in only black ink. He was the youngest and least of the princes. But they might draw him all the rest of the chapters once he was big enough to read. He did labor over it. All the big words. Its drawings were very nice too. Of great, Warriors like Florian the Fool. And Brandon the Bloody Blade but also true men like Riam Redwyne, Loreon Lannister, and then also Heathen lords like Wild Wolf Stark. There were large portraits of Aegon the Conqueror and Princess Nymeria. Maekar was very excited saying he was a child of both. And when the rest of his psalter was made he would know how to read the difficult words. He would read better then Aerys could. He would read better than anyone but the King himself. Daemon said it was splendid and he wished his psalter was so fine. But it was just plain with blue flowers on the edge, like it was for a girl. It might have belonged to the princess Daena as the color was lovelier than the inside.
Even Rhaegal had a book made before they knew he was mad. It was black too. It was a different illuminator.
The man who knew no letters and so Many words were misspelled. It was Copied by a man who didn’t know of what he wrote. There were kittens on the book’s cover as Rhaegal liked animals.
Some of the illustrations were very queer. As the actors in the scenes were part man and part animal. *There were animals dressed as knights and septas and ladies. And their favorite page was a picture of a magnificent court. A dragon who was king with each of the lords who were animals. Like a Stark Wolf, and Lannister Lion and Bear and a Bee and a Fish, and a Florent fox. The Dragon was surrounded by seven white noble looking dogs who must be Kingsguard to the Dragon. It was a game to match the sigil with the house. The court was incomplete. And there was no house that was not an animal… like a Bridge for the Freys. There was no noble Iron island, but their sigil was a squid, that was an ugly and unwholesome fish. Daemon pointed that the Horse might be of Dorne and not Bracken, because Brackens were not a great house, but banners of Tully. But he would not say that to Aegor, for his Mother was the Lady Bracken. There were crows at the wall. They were silly crows who put their helms on backwards, and held spears in their mouth, and their eyes were crooked.
They could look at the pictures in the psalter and practice their letters. And sometimes there was music but only songs without words. Or songs about the glory of gods.
Often on that day Daemon would sit with the ladies, to visit the Queen herself as her guest and not her servant. But at least for dinner the Queen would dine with her son Daeron and his children, in the Solar. In the Red Keep she would visit with her grandchildren on every Sevensday to break their fast. And he with all his charm and guile had convinced them he might go visit with Baelor and the little princes, instead. But they could not play, and might only talk quietly about nice things, like the gods and mathematics, and philosophy. Nice boys and girls did not gossip about strangers. And if Daemon could not gossip he should just shut his mouth with iron nails.

So, Daemon and Baelor were chatting very quietly in a corner pretending not to make silly conversation, whispering and poking each other. Baelor was laying on his belly while Daemon was lying on his back. They would straighten up when a Grandmother or Auntie or Uncle would bid them too.

Aerys was in a state of torment and temptation himself. The pamphlet about the Dothraki was tantalizing there next to a prayer book. And if his mother caught him reading a book she would not think of it. He might slip the book between his prayer book and read. And He had a story book he had not read that the Castellan’s children had shared. But it had demons and monsters. Not at all holy, even if it did have a knight in it. It was about the First men in Stormlands. And story books were not allowed on Sevensday.
Aerys was tempted.
His mother caught him
“Brynden take this book away. It is Sevensday. You might like it. It is about History.”
Brynden opened the cover “The Dothraki.”
“I live with the Dothraki.” Mariyah gave Aerys firm look.
“If you read it… I won’t tell you but… You can tell me what you think of the end… Its terrible.” Aerys whispered. “I love it so.”
If Aerys thought it terrible it would be exciting. He had all the gruesome books in the world. He got pamphlets from the men at arms. About torture and war and evil magicians who were undone. It was almost like a good story. As evil doers were killed… so, it could not be ALL evil.
Brynden read some as Maekar kicked the air and Aerys fell asleep. He was transported by images of the sun blasted plains of Essos, with its green and bloody conflict. Of the Qaathi. And the Empire of Sarnor. And the Remnants of the Freehold dying at the boot heel of the Dothraki Horselords. It was terribly exciting. It had illuminations of the people and their custom of dress and images of violence.
****
Over by the Egg Fountain… Daeron had found a shady corner to read his book.
The Queen returned to sit on her bench “What is this? I go to drink some water and you work on the Gods day Daeron.” She said. She took the book out of his hands. “I will put this book away.”
“I’ll lose my place.” Daeron said.
“You’ll have to remember when you left off. Perhaps after dinner.”
“I will not have to mother.” Daeron snatched his book back “Mother I am a grown man. And I am not working. I can read to help in my labors When I am working tomorrow.”
“How is that not work then?” She said, “You must put aside your labor.”

“It is a book of the Nature of the natural world. Which the Gods made. Of the stars and the passage of the seasons, which are the Heavens above. Not some murderous pornography. Something Aerys would sneak under his covers.”
“Nature is all well and good. This my son is a day where you think about the spiritual life. Your eternal life. And the souls of your people.”
“This is a serious matter. This is about winter. You do realize the importance of my labor?”
“Winter is always come again.” The Queen said.
“That is not even what this is about. If you would remain informed of the events of the day you know our people depend on us in serious times.”

“That is why you might encourage your people to put their lives into the hands of the Gods and turn from their sin. And leave the old religion and the false faiths of foreign gods.”
“I would first see them fed and clothed and at peace. For if a godly man cannot serve them better than their old gods, they have no cause to join me. Those who come to the Gods themselves are loyal and ennobled. They’ll not have time to do that if they starve some winter. I save their lives so that they might learn to save their souls. Making a human connection with them, as I am a man, I can show them the way.”

“You know your impertinence almost sounds reasonable…” She said “You have a kind heart. But if you will not think about the future look to your own house.”
“Look to my own house?” He asked.
“Baelor is a very spirited young boy full of vigor, who might be lead astray by wickedness. He’s more Dornish than his- “
“Mother, you cannot mean that Dornish aren’t Godly.”
“I am not saying Dornish are ungodly. But he is very rough around his edges. He is not a well-behaved boy.”
“Baelor is honest, and he has a warm heart, and he is not over proud. Which I will take.” He said, “And I will correct anything to come.”
“Baelor is the least of your problems. And your son Aerys reads books of blood magic and shadow binding in your own library.”
“They are story books. He knows no more blood magic then you do. It is illegal and dangerous. And if he were discovered he’ll be killed for witchcraft.” He said, “those books warn of the evil of witchcraft.”
“why do you let him read such things?”
“He is a very curious child. If you tell him he can’t have something it will be all he wants. He has the interests of a fly and will ignore it when something more exciting comes along. When he wanted to be the leader of the Faith Militant… When He wanted to be an Ironborn raider…. When he wanted to join the Nightswatch and had the nightmare.” He said, “How many of our ancestors ‘trucked with the forces of demons.’ And we all didn’t die”
“How many have died and gone mad?”
“Aenys son of Aegon. He sought an immortality potion and would have been tried for a witch in our times…*”
“He died trying to be immortal.”
“Visenya, the queen of Aegon. She was a midwife who used remedies of magicians and even the cutting of flesh to heal her patients of their ills. *And even saved her sister Rhaenys from hemorrhaging in her childbed. Saving mother and child. If the maester did that he would lose his chain.”
“She was the one who killed Aenys.”
“Why would she save her sister and baby in the womb and then kill him when he was a man?”
“I know not why Visenya did anything, I wasn’t alive when-
“Well you know everything….” Daeron grumbled. “We will never see eye to eye on this matter.”
“I only wish for you to find peace Daeron.” She said “You are a godly man and I wish… I wish for you to raise your family in godliness as well.”
“You are a good woman to worry about my soul.” Daeron had to defend. He had to or lose his grip. He held her hand.
“But its that Little Brynden is not anointed.”
“Mother, we have talked about this.” She said “I know father agrees with me. I know you swore to the Merciful Mother in her heaven, you would not talk about it again.”
“I promised I would not mention it to him. I am talking about it with you. You are a godly man. You understand…”
“I understand I would keep out of the matter. We all promised we would not fight about Brynden. It caused”
“I was- “
“You made Uncle Aemon cry. I have seen that man take an arrow for his king. And not flinch. You drove him to tears.”
“You’ll not bring it up. Again. Not when everyone is trying to take in the waters and have a relaxing time.”
Naerys began to cry. Though it could not be all real perhaps exaggerated to prove her intellectual points. Not like Aemon crying. When had Aemon cried?
“If I think of that poor child, who risks his life, for all Lady Blackwood means well, his father is not seeing to his very survival and salvation. TO end in the Forsaken lands, between hell and heaven, where they will never return to the gods.”
“Mother are you really crying?”
They both knew she wasn’t.
“And it is known to all men of sense. That heathens are disposed to sin then normal folk. To risk him being taken by demons and other worse sorts of Heathens and doubly so for he is bastard born. Born of adultery.
“He’s eight years.”
“He will not be a boy forever. He may be drawn to sinful acts when he is a man grown moth to a candle. But its hellfire Daeron. Hellfire.”
She pouted
“To think of my dear friend Lady Blackwood suffering Forsaken because she was born a heathen. It is not too late for Brynden.” She said “Oh the days I have spent with my dear friend, Lady Blackwood. The hours I have counseled her to repent her sin and to reject the Heathen trees. To think I will not be with her in Heaven brings me great regret. Her repentance was only halfway, when she left court and do penance, giving up her jewels and finery, to do good works for the poor. For she knew it was sinful to lay with a married man and betray her father’s wish for marriage, she repented. She is a good-hearted woman to me, who knows what is right. She did not come to the Seven. I could not convince her after all these years.”
“Mother her people are Blackwoods. They are a stubborn people. They have never even excepted a knighthood in 2700 years. They still blame the Brackens for wars 5000 years ago. You aren’t going to convince her to abandon her family. She’s too much like Father. Too stubborn.” *
“A man might do a thousand good works but if he does not do it in the name of the seven. It is for his vanity.”

“Leave Brynden to be an innocent boy. And Missy Blackwood to her works in charity. And put pressure on your husband’s friends to give up their luxurious ways. Which vex me and shame us.”
“I don’t even-
“Really, you will bother everyone about Brynden, but he doesn’t have 20 children. He hasn’t spent dragons on dice and cyvasse. He didn’t try to commit an explosion upon Dorne and burn down the Mistwood forest. He wasn’t caught with a woman’s- “
“Those are beyond my help.”
“No. Its that you don’t like them because his friends are irritating.” He said, “Should irritating people not be allowed into heaven?”
“Your father will never in all his days come to Gods…. He is forever damned.”
“You’re given up.”
“Everything he does reflects on me and you and us and puts a block in our future. If I was not there to clean up after him… he would be dead.” He said “You’ve left me to care for him for some time now. As if he was the child and I his father. Its obscene.”
“None of us are children.”
“I can’t give up on my Father. He is my… He is my father.”
“if this means I must humble him from time to time, and kick his arse I will.”
The queen gasped and covered her ears
He covered his own mouth
“ For shame to curse on Sevensday. I wish I was a Dornishwoman and you were a child. I would strike you like a brat.” She took up her skirts… She walked off towards the lake. “To speak to your own mother. When the gods can hear you.”
“Mother I am sorry to use such rude and filthy talk.” He blushed “Will you not sit down and discuss it… and I might-“
“You might not.” She barked at him “Oh I thought that it came from Mariyah, or perhaps these Dornish Knights and their strange ways” She said “But Mariyah has kept you godly and even a Dornishman would not say foul language to his mother. Baelor is truly your son.” Now she was not pretending to cry, but restraining herself not to say rude language. “And when your son speaks to you like a hellion, you’ll feel sorry how you said such words to your mother.”
Naerys drawn to the edges of her anger, stormed off with dainty steps towards the farthest part of the garden.
***
Prince Daeron went into the chambers grabbed a plum and literally bit the top off of it and spit the stem out. As he slammed half the thing in his mouth filling his cheeks to bursting to suppress every impulse to tell his mother such things. But he was a gentleman and one should never contradict a lady. His mother was very sensitive, for her life was cruel compared to most. And many things upset her.
“My dear… are you and your is everything well.” Mariyah asked
He grunted into the fruit.
She sat beside him. He had the calm to swallow
“I feel a little better. I think I am a little… I just had to let such frustrations out. Eating gives me a chance to think….”
“Think about wha, my lord.”
“About how right I am. About how I can prove she is being wrong.”
“You are shaking Papa. Whatever it is it can’t be healthful.” She wiped his mouth.
“Targaryens like being angry. Its easy.” He said “It gives me energy.” His voice was strained. “I did not wish to become over heated. But it happens. I will not be so ill mannered.” He wiped plum juice off his chin. “My mother…” He held in words to make sure he did not scream.
“Yes I heard her. She can be passionate. I don’t think any would like to believe Gentle Naerys is as other Queens are.” She smirked “She has such correct action in public, I would think it would come out somewhere. But she has her portion of Dragon’s blood.”
“My mother has much to vex her.”
“She should not take it out on you.”
“Is it about your father?”
Daeron rolled his eyes. He would not like Mariyah to always say her opinions on his father. Mariyah had made her opinions clear.
“It always about your father. She does not have the wisdom to know it.” She said “It is always about him. Do you-”
“We were having an argument about Heathens. That has nothing to do with Father. He’s only lay with two or three of them.”
Mariyah knew she must be careful. Daeron saw his relations with his father as stormy complicated and ornate. Mariyah knew her feelings were simple. She did not like King Aegon, never would. But she had not been raised by him. He had not given her life. And only out of love for her husband did she not release her hate for the man every chance she got. Daeron could not drive himself away from his father. For a good man can not see one who is pure wicked. If there was any hope that Aegon could be a better man Daeron would see him and hold him up.
“She takes the Gods as her husband, Father Warrior and Smith, because she has none.”
“There are few things me and my father agree about. I will not bring war to the North and to The Iron Islands and doom half my realm, because we worship different gods. For goodness is etched in every heart. And it is a mans choice if he will succumb to sin. It is the truth in every hearth home in family in the Seven Kingdoms.
“you are very worked up.” Mariyah said “Come now, papa. Sit down.”

Daeron took in a deep breath “The worst part is, I can’t even… I mean I feel guilty after. She is in the wrong and I feel guilty, because I lost control.” He said “I should be the reasonable one. And yet I get so angry at nonsense. She has no idea what she is talking about.” He said “I just want to make her see and… urh….”
He said
“Why did I yell at her? I am a gentleman. I am well-bred, enough. I am a Targaryen… but I lose control.” He said “She is a good woman. I shouldn’t be so cruel to her.” He said “I shouldn’t yell at her for being a silly little woman... I should be wise enough to show her the right way of thinking.”

“You cannot be in such control all the time. She will think what she will think. You take good care of her. You take good care of all of us.”
“I am not a good son. I cannot do as she begs of me. The Gods have not given her an easy life.” He said “For I have been troubled by the hatred my parents have for each other, is worse upon them. For they will never escape it.” He said “Can I not make their lives easier by at least giving her little comforts and giving into her whims?”
“These are not whims. You can’t be a good son by giving your parents everything they wish. Anymore then we can let our children have whatever they desire. You are a good son because you love your mother more then any man in the world. Maybe the Gods have interceded, they gave her a good son to help her through her troubles.”

“She asks so little.” He still worried “I just feel guilty I cannot give her what she asks for something that is not in my power.””

“I understand your pain.” She said “Its just you are wrong. If any man on this earth could make her happy, she would have been happy. You cannot change her life, and you cannot change her heart. Her happiness comes within her own heart.”
“I could-“
“If I knew I made my children as sad and weary as your parents made you I would slit my throat. I would never ask Baelor to hate anyone you loved. And I hope… that I would not make him feel this way.”
“She doesn’t say… She doesn’t… You’re wrong about her.”
“The Way of the Faith that brings the gods happiness is when their children return to them out of love. Not out of force. How many wars have been fought in the name of the Seven. How many people were killed?”
She grabbed his shoulder “How many innocent children have been blamed for that which they had nothing to do with, being born heathen or bastard or unclean. How much misery will the Gods be unleashed upon our world and still be the gods.”

“Above all the Seven is The Mother. Whom life springs as all Water comes from the River. The Mother loves their child all hours of the day.” She said “Even if they should quarrel.” She said “Just as your mother loves you more than anything in the world.” She said
He said “It is so.” The Prince held her hands.
“I know in my heart Brynden will become a knight, brave and true. He will give up his heathen ways. Such corruption is unnatural to him, But he must surrender himself to the power of the Gods.” She said “Or it will be for nothing. It will be as putting armor on a mule.”
“Not all men become knights.” He said “And none of Blackwood blood. Yet.” He said
“Brynden will be fine. For the Gods are mysterious. And even a Heathen may pay a part in their divine plan for us all. Missy Blackwood is a good lady and when she dies…” She looked at her prince plaintively “the Gods must forgive some Heathens here and there. There are more of them then us. That the gods would forsake a good mother and a friend as her is a terrible thought.” Mariyah eased him. With her simple comfortable healing faith. So at odds with what he had been reared on.
“With all my learning and might, I do not know what the gods hold in store for any of us.” He said. “My Mothers faith has always been clear and true. I cannot love the gods as she does.”
“There are cats in heaven. Do you think the Gods would leave Missy outside the door? To look in on us.”
“Unless the Septons are true.”
“When we are dead, we will rescue her then. Our shades will find all those lost and tormented and be their champion. What heaven would their be if your fellow man were tormented in pain. Like the beggars denied their bread at feast. For when men pray, and say the forty nine, sometimes a soul is wrest from the hands of the devil. For the Love of the Gods will beat the evil of men.”
“Good. Then I will pray with you my lady.” He said. “Perhaps, without my knowledge, save my own soul.”

And against his custom, the King did not think of what he was missing and what he would prefer to do, or of hell or of misery that life offered. But prayed and wished well for the world. And in a few moment he found a great relaxation and peace.
****