Chapter 1: Chapter One
My nightmare started with a slippery, uneven road, drenched with the fallen autumn rain, and a tired driver.
My girlfriend, Martina, sat in the passenger seat next to me, glancing out the window with resigned wistfulness.
“Why is it raining?” she asked, sighing. “It’s the middle of summer and we’re in Italy, not England!”
“Hey!” I exclaimed, in mock offense, also in Italian.
“Sorry, love,” she laughed, a teasing tilt to her voice.
God, I loved that laugh.
I remember turning to her, a smile on my face, meeting her sea green eyes, which shone with amusement. She had that small, slight grin on her face that accentuated the cheek dimples perfectly. My eyes were off the road for less than two seconds, but it was enough.
A car horn blared. A woman screamed, though her voice seemed far, far away. Was it Martina? It didn’t sound like her. Then there was the awful noise of tyres screeching on tarmac. I tried to turn the wheel but a half-second later a mighty crash sounded, and I was jerked forward violently. Pain shot through me and a suffocating darkness descended. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move and, worst of all, I couldn’t see Martina.
Suddenly, there was a flash of blinding light. Then another, and another, until it felt like I was in a strobe lighting effects show. It seemed to go on for hours until, finally, it stopped, and I was steeped in darkness again.
And then I died.
I was drowsy when I came to, and there was a painful thumping in my head. A nauseous, sick feeling was pooled at my gut. I felt weird and uncomfortable; my body seemed different, smaller than it should be. Something was dreadfully wrong, and I opened my eyes warily.
My eyes stung slightly as the light filtered through, but my vision quickly cleared. I was lying on a bed, the silken sheets soft beneath me. An old-style brazier sat in the far corner, next to a wooden door, a small fire blazing merrily in it. There was a criss-cross of garish pink and blue rugs spread across the floor, while the walls were a patchwork of mismatched grey stones, reminiscent of a thirteenth century castle. It was relatively bare, only containing the bed I was lying on, a dresser and a wooden sword that was lent against the far wall.
I was not alone.
There was a man at my bedside, sifting through a large bag. He was heavy-set, with large jowls that fell around his thick neck, but his eyes were an intelligent bright green. He wore a long gown-like garment and a heavy chain with a number of totems hung about his neck. Eventually he found what he was searching for, bringing out a small, clear pot, full to the brim with a blueish substance. The man stared at it for several moments, his face alight with concentration.
At this point I was terrified. Where was I, where was Martina, and, most importantly, who the fuck was this guy? For all I knew this guy had kidnapped me from the scene of the car crash and was about to start carrying out gruesome medical experiments on me.
“Uh… ah… H-H-” I tried to yell for help, but all that came out was a string of incoherent grunts and noises.
The man glanced around, his eyes widening in excitement.
“Lord Aenys!” The man exclaimed. “You’re awake! What do you remember, my lord?"
Aenys? What the fuck was this? The man was clearly insane.
“My lord?” he asked.
No more words would come, so I just shook my head.
“You seem to be having trouble talking, which isn’t too uncommon after a nasty fall,” he said, tapping his lip in thought. Then he frowned, worry coming over his face. “Or perhaps remembering? Can you tell me where you are, my lord?”
I shook my head again.
“This is bad,” the man murmured to himself, though I could just about hear him. “What about your name, my lord? Could you tell me that?”
“N-No.” I finally managed to sound out a whole word, though the voice that came out did not sound like my own.
“Oh, dear,” he sighed in reply. “I must inform Lord Elston at once. Rest for now, my lord. With luck this will only be temporary.”
The fat man turned to leave.
“W-Wait…” I croaked out.
The man stopped and asked, “Yes, my lord?”
“W-What do… you… think m-my… name… is?”
“You are Aenys Storm, my lord,” he said, speaking slowly. “The bastard son of King Aegon Targaryen, Fourth of His Name.”
Predictably, I blacked out again.
I dreamt a long while after that. I will not bore you with the details, but needless to say they contained much death, a lot of blood and a couple of dragons. A more fascinating and disturbing nightmare I had not had.
After that I saw snapshots of a childhood that was not my own. First, I was swimming in a calm ocean, as slow waves of a deep royal blue swept around me; then I was running through a hall of stone, as angry shouts chased after me; after that I was facing a boy who looked around ten years old, a deep anger coursing through me, with a wooden sword in my hand; finally the scene changed and I was sitting at the top of a tall stone tower, so high I felt as though I could touch the clouds themselves, with striking blue seas stretched out below me to my right and rolling green hills, wide lakes and shadowed vales to my left.
Memories that were not mine flooded into me. My mind was an absolute mess of conflicting memories, emotions, thoughts and half a hundred other things. It was confusing, and it was painful. In the end I came out with just two overwhelming thoughts in my brain: I was in Westeros, the setting of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, over a hundred years before the event of the book and the show, and my name was Aenys Storm, a bastard of Aegon the Unworthy.
There were several distressing things about that fact that immediately came to me. First of all, Aegon IV- I mean fucking really? Of all the Targaryen kings reigns I had to end up in that twat’s reign? And as his own son, no less? I mean I barely knew anything about this period! Secondly, I’m pretty sure there was never an Aenys Storm in George Martin’s world. I knew there was Bittersteel, Bloodraven (holy shit I didn’t want to meet him), that Seastar girl and of course Daemon Blackfyre himself. There were a couple of others if I recalled correctly but no Aenys Storm.
But more importantly I was questioning how in the hell this happened. Was this a dream? Was I dreaming within a dream? I just couldn’t understand how this was possible. I wanted to get back to earth. I wanted to be with Martina. I wanted to go home, not be transported to some quasi fantasy-medieval world where I was likely to be murdered or die of the plague.
This internal battle, more of a meltdown really, went on for a quite a while but eventually I became more accustomed in my brain with this new person or personality or whatever; at least enough to accept just a little more information. It was 183 years after Aegon’s Conquest and I was currently eleven years old. Apparently in this different timeline my/Aenys’s mother, a Tarth of Evenfall Hall, had visited King’s Landing for some tourney or feast and there Aegon Cunt Targaryen had impregnated her with little old me. Barba Bracken, King Aegon’s mistress at the time, had made sure we weren’t welcome at court, so my pregnant mother had been sent away. My mother had then died giving birth to me (fucking medieval medicine) and I’d been raised at Evenfall Hall ever since by my uncle, Lord Elston Tarth. According to this new wash of memories I hadn’t even meet any of my father’s family, including Aegon himself. Lord Elston disliked even leaving the island of Tarth, so Aenys had had a pretty sheltered upbringing, which had made him rather morose, even a little angry. That sounded far too much like Bittersteel for my liking and if this little journey turned out to be permanent, I decided, I would put a stop to any of those feelings.
Of course, at that point I still didn’t really believe I was actually in Westeros. Alas but I still had so much more to come.
When I next awoke it was dark and I was alone. To my dismay I was still in the same room where the weird old man had called me Aenys, rather than in my apartment in Rome or an Italian hospital. It seemed like this was actually real.
My head still hurt but other than that I felt okay so I sat up slowly. Someone had left me a jug of water at my bedside and I realized my throat was as dry as the Sahara Desert. I reached for it greedily but froze when I saw my own reflection in the still water. All thoughts of thirst vanished from my mind as I gazed on a face that was not mine.
I certainly looked like a Targaryen. I was pale, even paler than I had been as a pasty-faced Brit, with rather beautiful looking silver blonde hair. My new face was beautiful too, even with a lingering of baby fat still around my face. My nose was straight, my lips full and red. It was my eyes that were most striking, however. They shone back at me through the water, violet and indigo clashing together brightly in a mesmerising combination, shining bright like an amethyst. Even as I child I looked elegant.
With a sigh I put the water back on my bedside table and made to stand up. Unfortunately, when I tried that I fell down on my arse rather painfully. It seemed I had to get used to my new body so I spent the next hour or two walking up and down the small room until I could do it without falling over, then jogging, then running, until finally I felt relaxed in this new body.
Then I sat down on the bed and cried. The crushing unfairness of it all bore down on me and I cried and cried, thinking of Martina, my sister and my nieces and nephews, and of earth. Wonderful, clean, safe earth. I must say this went on for longer than I’d like to admit.
Finally, as the first glimmers of light began to shine through the single window in the room, I calmed myself down enough to really think. I was in Westeros, with the Blackfyre rebellion on the horizon. In less than fifteen years, in fact. I had to be ready for it. As a ‘Great Bastard’ I’d inevitably be drawn into it by both sides, as another child of King Aegon would undoubtedly give legitimacy to which ever side I chose. I suppose I’d go with Daeron seeing as he wins, but perhaps there was a way I could avoid the whole war all together?
My musings were interrupted when the door opened. It was the man from before.
“Maester Arnolf,” I said, the name coming to me.
“Lord Aenys!” Maester Arnolf smiled, hesitantly. “You… remember me then?”
“I do,” I confirmed. “I’m not quite sure what came over me earlier. I do apologise most profusely, Maester.”
The man blinked in surprise. My memories told me that Aenys was not the politest of children. He was rather quiet and when he did talk at all it was usually something haughty or rude, even to Maester Arnolf who was a rather kindly man, my memories told me. The Aenys of the past eleven years only really cared for one thing: swordplay. Which was something I knew would be necessary but was also dreading with a passion.
“I… I see,” the old Maester licked his lips anxiously. “What wonderful news your memories have returned. Lord Elston will be most pleased.”
“I’m sure.” I smiled at him but that only seemed to unnerve him. Shit, I shouldn’t change too much, or they’ll be on to me. I morphed my expression into one a little more solemn. “Now, I was hoping to head to the library before breaking fast so…”
“The library?” The man looked nonplussed. Then he seemed to shake himself out of it. “I’m afraid I must examine you first, Lord Aenys. Your memories may have returned but I have not yet deemed you fit to be up and about.”
I sighed. “Fine,” I said.
The man looked over the back of my head, where apparently there was a thick scar from where I’d fallen down the stairs. He seemed amazed at how quickly it had scarred over and seemed on the verge of giving me some weird looking brown shit to spread over the wound, but I put a stop to that by telling him I felt perfectly fine and that it was his fine work up until now that had saved me. I was not having any of that medieval quack medicine- didn’t they used drill holes into people’s heads? I couldn’t be sure that was true of Westeros too, but I mean come on!
“Very well,” Maester Arnolf finally said. “You seem as hale and hearty as ever. You may go to the… library… but no training yard for a week, hear me? And I’ll tell Ser Alyn to keep an eye out, too.”
“Aye, Maester,” I murmured, trying to put on a show of disappointment, even as the relief ran through my veins.
“Alright, go on then. And be careful on the stairs!”
I nodded my thanks once more and rushed out of the room, my mind telling me the way to where I wanted to go. I wanted to get to the library and find a book that related to recent history because I needed to know if there were any other major changes. There could be fifteen other bastards for all I knew. Aenys’s memories showed only canon knowledge but I needed to double check. If the library held no answers, I’d have to ask Maester Arnolf.
I walked through tall, white marbled hallways. Large, open windows let the morning sunlight in, illuminating the wide, beautiful arches that ran along the hall, the patchwork medieval tapestries that adorned the wall and the gold furnishings that ornamented it all. Servants hurried out of my path as I walked as fast as I could along two hallways similar to the first one and then up a steep, winding staircase that led me to the top of Maester Arnolf’s tower. I passed the door to his quarters and went in the next door.
On the other side was a small, round room, crammed with several bookcases, ancient looking scrolls and old, peeling leather-bound books stacked on top of them. At a guess I’d say there were about seventy tomes there, all in all.
Well then, I’d better get started.
Ser Donnel Tarth found me there several hours later.
I sat reading by lamplight on a small wooden stool in the corner. A half-eaten breakfast on a tray that a servant had brought me lay on the table next to me as I poured over A treatise on the early reign of Aegon the Fourth by Archmaester Aiekin, a rather dry read if I was honest, but also the most contemporary work in the whole libary. As I was just getting to Aegon’s rulings on the ‘Teats’ conflict between the Blackwoods and the Brackens, Lord Elston’s eldest son and heir came striding through the door I had left open and marched up to me.
He was a tall man, with broad shoulders, but his pinched face and constantly sour expression gave him the appearance of a squeezed lemon, I thought idly. The young knight was dressed fully in House Tarth colours, a mess of blues and pinks that clashed horribly, despite the rich silks he wore.
“Aenys,” he said, stiffly.
“Cousin, it’s good to see you.” I greeted him with a smile. He frowned, and I cursed myself for being too friendly once more.
“Father would like to see you. Come.” He turned abruptly and stalked off.
I sighed, my memories telling me the uptight bastard was always like this; he seemed to think I was House Tarth’s ‘shame’. Twat. Though of course it didn’t help that Aenys, even at age eleven, had beaten him down in the training yard more than once, something he was constantly bitter over.
I still saw no choice but to follow him.
He led me to the great hall, a large cavernous room, glorious in its marble opulence. Statues lined the hall between various wall-hangings, suits of armour and ancient-looking weapons, from longswords to spiked maces. I gulped at the sight of them; medieval warfare had just gotten a little more real. The room looked as though it was intended to fit several hundred, though only four men were there.
Lord Elston sat on a high-backed chair, almost a throne I thought idly, slouched back. He was a thin, nervous man short, salt-and-pepper hair. His small, slanting green eyes blinked constantly and as I gazed on his twitchy face, I felt a pang of sympathy for the man. He was a weak-natured lord who should never really of become the head of his house and had done his best. Aenys’s memories showed that Lord Elston could be a kind man and had done his best for the reserved bastard son of his beloved sister.
Around him stood Maester Arnolf, the steward Larys Tarth and the master-at-arms Ser Alyn Tudbury. Larys, a shrivelled old man who was Elston’s uncle and therefore Aenys’s great-uncle, looked like a twig next to the barrel-chested Ser Alyn. Balding and middle-aged, the grizzled knight still looked fearsome in his plate armour, scabbarded sword resting at his hip.
Ser Donnel and I stopped before them. Lord Elston leaned forwards, a smile, or perhaps a grimace, pulling slightly at his red lips.
“Aenys, my boy,” the lord began, “I can’t tell you how relieved I am to see you up and about! We were all ever so worried.”
“Thank you, my lord,” I said, smiling.
It seemed I just couldn’t act like a moody child. Oh well.
The Lord of Evenfall Hall started, as did the men around him. It seemed in the past Aenys would have responded to a comment like that, especially one where he was addressed as ‘my boy’ with a simple grunt or, if he was feeling particularly testy, a ‘piss off’, which had gotten him several lashes from Ser Alyn more than once.
“Excellent, excellent.” Lord Elston’s eyes darted left and right. “So, you are feeling fine? Not even an ache of the head?”
“None, my lord,” I replied. “A testament of Maester Arnolf’s care, I am sure.”
“Of course!” Lord Elston smiled. He leaned over to pat the fat maester on the back. “None finer than Maester Arnolf, here.”
“You flatter me, my lord.”
“Nonsense, nonsense,” Lord Elston said with good cheer.
There was a slight pause where Lord Elston seemed unsure of what to say and I just stared back at him. After a few moments, Lord Elston looked around at his counsellors for help. Finally, Ser Alyn stepped forward.
“Fall or no fall I expect you back at the yard as soon as Maester Arnolf deems you fit,” Ser Alyn said, his stern demeanour a stark contrast to Lord Elston’s merriment. “And in the mean time you can continue your duties as his lordship’s squire, as well as a few other duties. I’ll put you to work cleaning the armour in the armoury, then you can help out the grooms in the stables. One injury doesn’t mean you can shirk your duties.”
I grimaced, trying to ignore Ser Donnel’s smirk next to me.
“I had hoped to spend some more time in the library tomorrow, Ser,” I said with gritted teeth.
“Since when have you ever enjoyed spending time in the damn library?” Ser Donnel snorted contemptuously.
“Peace, son, peace.” Lord Elston laughed nervously.
“Ser Donnel is not completely wrong, however, my lord,” Larys put in. “Why this sudden interest, young Aenys?”
I frowned, picking my words carefully.
“I had a… revelation… of a sort while bedridden,” I said. “Nothing particularly life changing, mind, my lord, but I did almost die, and it made me realise how much I have wasted opportunities, and how much knowledge is out there, I guess.” I shrugged. “It just made me want to read a book. I imagine it’s only temporary.”
“How commendable!” Lord Elston grinned, as his son shot me an incredulous look. “Yes, yes. Ser Alyn do make sure you give my nephew time to visit the library tomorrow. An interest in books is to be encouraged, don’t you think, Arnolf?”
“I do, my lord.” The maester bowed his head.
“As long as this new… interest does not interfere with his swordsmanship tutelage, I foresee no issues,” Ser Alyn grumbled, eyeing me up suspiciously.
I thought of the upcoming war on the horizon that I probably wouldn’t be able to stop and how essential learning to fight was to ensure my own survival. I looked Ser Alyn dead in the eye.
“I assure you, Ser, nothing comes before my martial training. In fact, I shall work at it even harder than I did before.”
He nodded, satisfied.
After some inane chitchat with my uncle at the others I was finally dismissed and allowed to go on my way. I spent the rest of the day working through several more books, before beginning my ‘duties’ (basically child slavery) again. I polished Lord Elston’s disused armour (he was hardly a military man), as well as making sure his various ornate swords, scabbards, daggers and shields were in perfect condition.
Eventually, after doing more manual labour than I had ever done in my previous life, I crawled back to my room, collapsed into bed and cried myself to sleep.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two
Breakfast with the Tarth family was an awkward affair.
I sat munching happily on bread coated with jam (not quite earth standard- the bread tasted a little like cardboard and the jam was pretty thick and gloopy- but not too bad either), while the assembled family regarded me still with wary looks, even a week after I had woken up here.
Before ‘The Change’ Aenys had always eaten in the kitchens by himself, except for formal feasts where he was expected to show up, shunning all Lord Elston’s invitations to do the contrary. I had done this for the first few days, thankful for the chance to spend as little time in other people’s company as possible so that I wouldn’t mess up and ask for a pack of twiglets or some shit. However, I had come to realise that being with other people, talking with them and generally being outgoing as I had been in my old life, was the only way for me to cope with this new world I found myself in. If that shocked people because Aenys was usually a moody cunt then so be it, because I found that it was something I had to do. Let them think it was the fall or some other shit, I didn’t care. When I was alone the memories of a life now lost to me came back in vivid, painful detail, as I remembered my loved ones and my home. My real home. The nights were the worst of all, for I was alone with my thoughts, and I had never had such sleepless nights before. Turning this Aenys into a friendly person, chatting with knights and servants alike, as well as becoming more productive and a bit of a workaholic was the only way for me to go on after being torn from my home; it was pretty much the only thing stopping me from having a nervous breakdown at this point.
I wiped my mouth of jam and smiled at the boy next to me. Jeremy Tarth was Lord Elston’s younger son, just a year Aenys’s junior. He was a small boy, but with a sharp mind and a cheerful demeanour who I had quickly grown to like in the last week. Before ‘The Change’ Jeremy had been pretty terrified of his quiet cousin who turned into a bit of a monster with a training sword in his hand, but he was starting to actually believe the change in me and we were starting to work through Maester Arnolf’s library together as he was about the only other person on this damn island who regularly read books.
“Library after this?” I asked. “We can finish that one about Corlys the Sea Snake.”
He frowned at me.
“Don’t you remember?” he said with a raised eyebrow. “You’re cleared to return to the yard now. Ser Alyn will expect us both there as soon as we finish breaking fast.”
“Ah, yes…” I attempted a smile. “Finally, I get to beat you into the ground once more,” I said.
People might start to accept my more friendly disposition but Aenys was so obsessed with learning to fight that serious questions would be raised should I show reluctance to engage in the training. Besides, I needed to learn to fight for my own good.
“Actually, I think you’ll find I’ve improved markedly-”
“In a week?” Jeremy’s younger sister Tia interrupted with an unladylike snort. “Please, brother, we both know you’d need another decade’s training to match cousin Aenys. I still remember tending to the bruises he gave you after you spilt that pitcher of wine all over him.”
Tia Tarth was by far my favourite of Lord Elston’s daughters. She was as fiery as my niece had been back on earth, a bundle of energetic childhood innocence and playfulness, with a rebellious streak to boot. She had also readily accepted Aenys’s personality change and was already treating me like an older brother. Her elder sister, Alysanne, was a soft and sweet girl but she had grown morose since her mother’s death in childbirth just under a year ago and I had little contact with her, save for meals. The eldest daughter, Jeyne, ignored me and so I ignored her.
“Shut up, Tia!” Jeremy said, stung. “What in the hells do you know about swordplay?”
“More than you, probably.” Tia stuck out her tongue.
I laughed, Tia joining me a moment later. Jeremy glared at us but there as little heat in his gaze.
“Would you lot shut your mouths?” Ser Donnel growled, looking down his nose at us.
“Oh, calm down Donnie,” I smiled at him, using the pet name I had taking to calling him in the last week. “A little merriment now and again surely wouldn’t kill you. It might even get rid of that stick up your arse.”
Ser Donnel reddened as Tia and Jeremy snickered.
“Why you little cunt-”
“Now, now children.” Lord Elston smiled genially from the head of the table. “Let’s settle down, shall we?”
“I wholeheartedly agree, father,” Jeyne said sweetly. “Such coarse language is hardly appropriate for the table.”
Tia rolled her eyes at me and I had to hide my laughs behind my hand.
“Apologies, uncle,” I said.
Tia, Jeremy and even Donnel muttered similar sentiments. Lord Elston beamed back at us, happy for any kind of agreement.
Just as we began to return quietly to our food, Maester Arnolf entered with a raven’s message clutched in his hand. I regarded the plump man closely as he approached Lord Tarth. He was an intriguing character, this Maester of Evenfall Hall. He was a Northman originally, a third or fourth son of a house of landed knights sworn to the Manderlys of White Harbour, which would have made him a rare sight in the Citadel. Arnolf had been happy to give me extra lessons over the past week, covering more histories and lore of Westeros and beyond that I had been unaware of (it had been a while since I’d read A World of Ice and Fire), as well as starting to teach me the basics of the Valyrian tongue at my behest, for he was one of the few maesters who had forged a Valyrian steel link. Maester Arnolf was a font of knowledge, that was for sure.
The maester was not the only man from whom I had sought new knowledge. I had also approached Larys Tarth for some of the basics of medieval economics and household management. I had been a diplomat in the British government based at the British embassy in Rome back on earth and had studied Politics and Economics at LSE, so this was an area I had a little more experience in. Larys had been taken aback but had explained his duties in great detail and I now had a better grasp of feudal economics and where I could exploit the system for my own gain.
Far too soon Ser Alyn entered from a side door and glared expectantly at me and Jeremy.
“With your permission, my lord,” he began, “I shall take Jeremy and Aenys for their morning’s training.”
“Of course, Ser Alyn.” Lord Elston waved a hand.
With a sigh Jeremy got up from the table and followed Ser Alyn and I did the same after a moment, my hands suddenly sweaty.
Well, here goes nothing.
Fighting was pretty fun. Fucking frightening, especially at first, but fun nonetheless.
With a grin, I disarmed Jeremy once more, using the riposte Ser Alyn had just taught us, and sent the Tarth boy stumbling to the ground and falling in a heap on the floor. He cursed me, but I helped him to his feet and clapped him on the back with good cheer, and soon he was smiling with me.
I had been afraid Aenys’s muscle memory would not agree with me and that I’d forget all that Aenys had learned in the yard, and in truth the first few spars with Jeremy and the guardsmen Ser Alyn had roped into helping train us had not gone well. In fact, I’d lost all of them, but Ser Alyn had put it down to my recent injury and I had slowly gotten used to sword fighting and was now, after nearly four hours of hard work, as confident as pre-change Aenys had been.
“A good spar,” Ser Alyn commented. “Good to see you using that move already, Aenys. Jeremy you’re not using your shield enough. It’s there to protect you so keep the bloody thing up.”
“Yes, Ser,” we both mumbled.
“Sorry?” Ser Alyn growled.
“Yes, Ser Alyn!” we both shouted, me adding a slight smirk and a salute with the wooden sword in my hand.
His eyes narrowed at me and I knew I had made a mistake.
“Cocky little bastard all of a sudden, aren’t you, boy?”
Before ‘The Change’ Aenys probably would have attacked him on the spot for calling him that and I could see by the way Ser Alyn tensed and reached for the sword at his hip that that was what the master-at-arms expected to happen. But I was not pre-change Aenys.
Jeremy glanced between us, his anxious face looking rather similar to his father’s.
“Well,” Ser Alyn finally broke the silence, “come on, then! Jeremy, I want you back on the posts. Aenys, you’re to spar against Aleck and Vemond. At the same time. Go.”
I gulped. Even pre-change Aenys had never duelled with more than one opponent. And these were experienced men-at-arms, not a green squire like me.
I took a defensive stance as the two men stepped towards me, wooden practice swords at the ready. We stared at each other for several moments, Ser Alyn and a host of guards, household knights and castle servants already gathering to see the spectacle.
Suddenly I made the first move, rushing forwards quickly while swinging my sword at Vemond to ward him off before bringing my sword round to thrust at Aleck. Aleck caught the attack on his buckler, sending a jolting shudder up my right arm, and then I was forced to step back nimbly, just avoiding the savage slash Vemond had sent my way.
We circled each other for half a minute. I was panting hard but kept a close eye on my two opponents, making sure both were in my field of view. I wasn’t about to be flanked by the second man as I focused on the first.
And then Aleck rushed in, sword first, Vemond close behind. I dodged past Aleck, sending him stumbling toward the edge of the training area and met Vemond sword on sword. The clash of the two wooden swords meeting sounded throughout the yard and I held him there for a moment before the other man’s greater strength began to tell and my arms started to shake. We were so close I could feel the man-at-arms’ hot breath on my face and see the dirt and grime upon Vemond’s cheeks. Unexpectedly I stepped away, causing Vemond to fall forwards slightly. I lashed with a thrust to his throat which Vemond just barely managed to duck, leaving his whole right side open.
Before I could press the attack, I sensed a presence at my shoulder and I danced away to the left with as much speed as possible. I was proven right when Aleck’s sword hissed through the air where I had just been.
Growling the two advanced on me as one, more cautiously this time. As the two approached I hiked up my shield, readying for the coming onslaught.
I blocked Vemond’s first thrust with my shield and batted away Aleck’s with my sword. Unfortunately, this left my middle open which Vemond took advantage of by punching his shield out and into my gut. I winced at the pain and retreated a few steps while taking Vemond’s follow-up sword slice on my shield.
And then the two were on me, slashing and hacking. I did my best to block the hammering blows on my shield or sword, but a few found their way past my defences and I knew I’d have bruises tomorrow.
And then a thrust of Aleck’s caught me on the wrist and I dropped my sword. Before long I was face down in the dirt, every inch of my body consumed by pain, with Vemond’s sword at my throat.
“Vemond and Aleck’s victory!” Ser Alyn announced. He sounded triumphant.
I must admit a part of me, perhaps the Aenys part, was bitterly angry at the unfair contest and the pleasure in the master-at-arms’ tone. I didn’t know whether he was just amusing himself or if this was some twisted test. Did he expect me to run off in a huff or attack him in a rage? I was tempted but, in the end, common sense prevailed. I needed to learn how to fight, in fact it was pretty much essential to anything I wanted to do in this fucked-up new world. Besides, I wouldn’t give the grumpy git the satisfaction.
“Alright, twats,” I breathed, staggering to my feet, and turning to face Aleck and Vemond, “who’s for another round?”
The small sailboat shifted slightly with the rolling waves.
I gazed around me, awed by the beautiful, flowing ocean. Seagulls and a host of other birds swooped overhead, and I could just make out the bright scales of fish under the deep depths. Several hundred yards away the shoreline of Tarth loomed, a series of golden beaches and high, rocky mountains glinting in the sunlight. The sea breeze blew back my silver hair, as the midday sun beat down on me, it’s warmth welcome.
The isle of Tarth truly did earn its moniker as the Sapphire Isle, I thought.
“Oi, Storm, stop admiring the bloody view and help Jeremy tighten up the mainsail,” Ser Alyn called from the rudder.
“Aye, Ser Alyn!” I replied with good cheer.
It was five days after my first appearance in the training yard and Ser Alyn had decided to take myself and Jeremy out on the sea, probably at the behest of Lord Elston if I had to guess, for Ser Alyn hardly seemed pleased with the prospect. Despite the man’s constant harshness (I don’t think I’d seen him smile once) I was beginning to really appreciate the gruff man-at-arms, for his martial knowledge was extraordinary.
I knelt down to help my cousin with the thick rope that connected to the mainsail. Jeremy was a huge sailing enthusiast and seemed to come alive upon the waves. He rushed about the little boat, tightening ropes, adjusting sails and doing pretty much anything Ser Alyn asked of him.
“Enjoying yourself, cousin?” I asked as we both stood back up and leant against the side of the boat.
“Very much so,” he replied with a grin. He regarded me shrewdly. “What about you? You’re usually rather bored while on the sea.”
Yes, as with most things pre-change Aenys had disdained these sailing times, but I had half grown up on my parents’ boat back in Kent and I rather enjoyed sailing. I did not live and breath it as Jeremy seemed to, but I liked it well enough and a part of me saw an opportunity here. With Jeremy’s help and a couple of modern tricks I might be able to do another Sea Snake. Then again, there was a shit ton that could go wrong there, and I couldn’t be sure it would have huge benefits. It was something to think about, maybe as a plan B, but right now there were probably better avenues open to me.
“Yes, I suppose I’m coming to appreciate sailing.” I shrugged, turning to smirk at him. “Not quite like you do, water-freak.”
“Bugger off,” he retorted, rolling his eyes.
Jeremy finally seemed to have finally become completely comfortable with my new personality. Frankly, it was strange how quickly the two of us had relaxed into this brother-like relationship, full of inside jokes and playful teasing, especially considering that to him we’d known and not particularly liked each other for our entire lives.
The three of us settled into silence as the boat crept slowly around the shoreline. After a short time, I glanced at the stoic figure of Ser Alyn couched over the rudder.
“So, tell us, Ser Alyn,” I said with a charming smile, “have you a story or two for us? A war story, preferably. Those are always such fun.”
Ser Alyn regarded me coolly, while Jeremy looked at me as though I was mad.
“I am not a damn bard to spin tales and sing songs for your amusement, bastard,” the man-at-arms responded dismissively, a glare etched onto his face.
“Oh, c’mon, my good ser.” I grinned lazily, stretching back. “We have good company, a fine sea breeze and a warm, summer sun. All that’s missing is a story or two. And perhaps a bottle of wine.”
Ser Alyn raised an eyebrow at that. “I hope that doesn’t mean you have been sneaking wine from the kitchens, Storm,” he said, “for that would of course require punishment.”
I gulped, glancing down at the man’s strong right fist, already clenching at the knight’s side. “Of course not, Ser Alyn! Why, how could you even think such a thing? I was only thinking of your poor, parched throat.”
“I’m sure,” the older man grunted.
“Please, Ser Alyn,” Jeremy ventured hesitantly to my surprise. “What about the story of your knighting? Father says you earned your spurs during the Young Dragon’s conquest of Dorne.”
“Ah, now that’s got to be a good story,” I enthused. “Did you slay a Dornish knight?”
“Or capture a Dornish lord?” Jeremy asked, eyes wide with excitement.
“Were you at the Oakenfist’s side as he smashed his way past the Planky Town and sailed up the Greenblood?” I continued the game, sensing Ser Alyn’s growing annoyance.
“Did you ride with Lord Lyonel Tyrell’s mighty host?” Jeremy questioned.
“Or were you at the battle of the Bone-”
“Oh, fine I’ll tell you if you both promise to shut up afterwards,” Ser Alyn sighed in exasperation.
Jeremy and I both cheered our victory under Ser Alyn’s unyielding gaze.
“It’s hardly the tale of noble chivalry you were both hoping for.” Ser Alyn scratched his head, adjusting the rudder beside him slightly. “I was squiring for Ser Benedar Buckler back then. I must have been… seven-and-ten, I think. We were a part of King Daeron’s initial relief force under Lord Baratheon after Lord Tyrell’s murder. We were camped near Wyl one night when Ser Benedar and half a dozen other knights, including a host of squires and men-at-arms, were sent to investigate a village a mile or two away. Supposed to look for food, we were.”
The wind had died down as Ser Alyn spoke and the boat began to loll listlessly atop the sea. Jeremy and I took little notice, however, the both of us focused on Ser Alyn’s story.
“When we got there, we found the place deserted. We searched the place high and low but anything of use had been taken or burned. So, Ser Gawen Caron, he was our leader, ordered us to form up and move out. We were tired by then, aye, and thirsty and hungry, too. We started to move out of the village in loose formation. And then those Dornish jackals appeared.” Ser Alyn’s face darkened, and he spat over the side of the boat. “They came upon us suddenly from out of the shadows, riding great Dornish steeds. I saw Ser Gawen lose his head first, then Ser Benedar was cut down right in front of me. Men, my friends, were dying all around me and I couldn’t even see the faces of the bastards that attacked us. And do you know what I did?”
Jeremy and I both shook our heads, a little dazed at the sudden turn our little trip had taken. Even the sun appeared to have sensed the mood and hidden behind the white clouds, casting us in darkness.
“I ran.” The master-at-arms laughed hollowly. “We all did. We ran on and on as the riders continued to sweep in on us. One after another we were cut down as we ran, until I alone was left. I don’t know whether they meant to leave me alive or if they lost sight of me in the dark but for some reason I was unmolested. I ran and ran until my legs ached and I collapsed. Some outriders Lord Baratheon had sent out in search of us found me there the next morning. Lord Baratheon insisted I had done some great heroics as I was the lone survivor and he knighted me then and there. So, there you go, little lords,” Ser Alyn said bitterly, “the great tale of my knighthood. I’m sure it was all you hoped for.”
“At least you survived,” I said dumbly.
“Aye, bastard, that I did,” admitted the old knight. “And I killed my fair share of Dornishmen after that, tis true. I was with Daeron’s main host when he was cut down in that vile treachery a year and a half later. Less than a mile away from that so-called peace meeting, I was. I’ll tell you this, boys. If there is but one thing you learn from me, let it be this advice.”
Ser Alyn pinned us with a gaze so fierce I was rooted to the spot, holding my breath.
“Never, ever trust a Dornishman.”
That night I sat at the new writing desk Lord Elston had installed in my chambers at my request and made a plan. Well, more of a loose collection of general goals than a proper plan, but still. It’s better than nothing, right?
The plan was six-fold.
Number one on the list was to ingratiate myself with both sides of the coming conflict, as well as powerful lords in general. Sounds obvious but the necessary things always do. Hopefully if I did this, I wouldn’t be murdered by Bloodraven or Bittersteel or any of the other fanatical followers of Daemon or Daeron, not if I was friends with their liege. This was a goal really just designed for one thing: my continued survival.
The next goal was also just to ensure my own survival (which, let’s be honest, really had to come first or everything else was fucking pointless). I needed to train hard and learn fast. Martial pursuits were necessary for obvious reasons, but you never know when the odd piece of lore knowledge might come in handy too.
Goal number three was something a little more out of my own control. Broadly, it was to downplay Daemon’s own ambition, and that of the lords and knights around him. If I could somehow make him content in his own lands or convince him to forge his own little kingdom or sellsword company in Essos, I might be able to avoid the clusterfuck of the Blackfyre rebellion all together. Of course, with people like Bittersteel and Lord Gormon Peake beside him, I knew this one might be a longshot.
The one after that I knew would also be difficult. One of the main causes of the rebellion itself was the poor handling of the integration of Dorne into the realm just twenty-five years or so after Daeron the Young Dragon’s death under a banner of peace. Men like Bittersteel absolutely hated the Dornish and Daeron’s marriage to a Martell and his more general embrace of Dornishmen at his court had sent lords into Daemon’s arms in droves. I needed to do my best to downplay the hatred of the Dornish many Westerosi felt and possibly try to convince Daeron to take it a little more gradually. Another longshot, I know.
The next helped with both my survival and ability to change the canon future. I wanted to create a core group of my own supporters who owed the loyalty to me only. This would give me more power to change things but would also give me a group to rely on in case everything went to shit.
Lastly, and related to the above point, I needed to get rich and accumulate power. That would help with pretty much every other point, but I wasn’t yet sure how to go about it. Most SI’s I had read back on earth somehow utilised some sort of industrial revolution, but I had no idea how to do that. I mean how the hell did you make a fucking printing press? Like who knows how to that in the twenty-first century? I might be able to work out a few things: the compass, better ship designs, perhaps a few others but really not much else and it would take quite a bit of trial and error. What I did know more about was how to reform the actual system of feudal government to make it fairer, but also richer for us on the top- a better tax system, a more effective centralised government- that was what I was trained for. But I could only implement those things by first getting into power. My best shot for that was probably the small council. How eager Daeron would be to put his bastard half-brother on the small council I was not sure, but as long as I showed some usefulness, as Bloodraven had, I was hopeful.
So, it seemed I had a long journey ahead of me.
With a sigh I blew out the candle on my desk and crawled into bed, resigning myself to another sleepless night haunted by the ghosts of a fading past.
Chapter 3: Chapter Three
Life at Evenfall Hall quickly settled into a routine.
The mornings were often spent toiling in the training yard, honing my burgeoning combat skills under Ser Alyn’s baleful gaze. He now had me regularly facing off against multiple opponents with a sword and had started me off with the basics of archery and blunt weapons, such the axe or mace. I was also learning how to joust but frankly I wasn’t putting much effort into that, only taking in the knowledge I would need to lead a decent Calvary charge with a lance; I didn’t see tourneys as being a large part of my future.
After a quick lunch it was off to Maester Arnolf’s tower for standard lessons along with Jeremy and his three sisters. This just covered the bare educational necessities; some Westerosi history, numbers, letters and the like. I didn’t usually learn too much from these lessons other than how to write with a quill (which is surprisingly hard, by the way) but they were usually over rather quickly and I would often stay on afterwards and take an extra lesson or two from the old maester or work on a project with him. The man was all too eager to tell me anything I wished to know, and I’d found that the combination of an adult’s maturity and a child’s growing brain really helped with the overwhelming amount of knowledge I received during these times.
By far the most boring part of my day was seeing to my duties as Lord Elston’s official squire, which Ser Alyn insisted on though I doubt the Lord of Evenfall Hall really cared one way or the other. Scrubbing the man’s disused arms and armour, taking care of his various horses, occasionally serving him as cupbearer when he worked alone in his solar or at council meetings were just a few of my responsibilities. To be fair, the council meetings were helpful in that I discovered the power struggle going on between Ser Alyn and my cousin and heir to Tarth, Ser Donnel. The two were constantly trying to impose their opinions and policies on Lord Elston during these meetings, Ser Alyn often backed up by Maester Arnolf and Ser Joss Runneth, the captain of the guard, and Ser Donnel by Larys Tarth, while my uncle served as a glorified mediator.
“We need more guards,” rumbled Ser Alyn one overcast afternoon, as I topped up Lord Elston’s goblet of wine. “And ships.”
Ser Joss nodded his agreement. “My boys are hard pressed with patrolling land and sea both, my lord. We have fewer than a hundred and fifty active guards currently and less than ten serviceable longships and just the one war galley. It’s not enough to protect a whole island, Lord Tarth.”
Lord Elston frowned, while his eldest son laughed.
“Protect us from what, Ser Joss?” Ser Donnel smirked. “Is a host of snarks and grumkins poised to descend upon us? Or an invasion of giants, perhaps?”
“I’m not sure about snarks and grumkins and giants, ser,” Ser Alyn replied, visibly trying to quell his anger. “But there are other threats to this island. The Dornish to the south, for one. It is not so long ago the kingdoms warred with those honourless shits, after all.”
Ser Donnel laughed once more, his mocking tones ringing through the wide council chambers. “Ah, of course Prince Maron’s cunning plan of attack starts with the island of Tarth. What a great strategic blow that would be to His Grace, King Aegon!”
“It is not just the Dornish, Ser Donnel,” Maester Arnolf interceded. “There has been a marked rise in crime recently, and sea raiders and pirates still regularly prey upon this island’s shores. We must combat this.”
“We don’t have the coin,” Larys Tarth groused. “Particularly for the ships.”
“Then we must find the damn coin!” Ser Alyn grumbled, loudly. “We must.”
“While your passion for House Tarth is commendable, Ser Alyn,” the heir to Evenfall Hall smiled condescendingly, “your use of ‘we’ is a little presumptuous, no? This island is ruled by House Tarth, not House Tudbury.”
“Why you pampered little-”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” Lord Elston stepped in with held up hands. “Come now, we’re all friends here. Let’s keep it civil, shall we?”
Ser Donnel glared across the table at the master-at-arms.
Ser Alyn growled low in his throat, gazing right back.
Entertaining, to say the least.
My spare evenings and any rare free day Lord Elston and Ser Alyn would grant me were split between leisure activities and my secret projects.
The ‘leisure’ activities usually meant going out sailing with Jeremy. If the weather was poor, or Ser Alyn forbade us from going out on the water, usually because pirates had been spotted nearby, me and my cousin would hole ourselves up in the library, slowly making our way through Evenfall Hall’s collection. Sometimes little Tia would drag us out and demand we play with her, but mostly she was prevented from doing so by her stern governess, Septa Tyana. No doubt the old cow thought my bastard’s nature would corrupt her.
“Why must you encourage her in such unwomanly pursuits?” Septa Tyana once asked me, after she caught me and Jeremy teaching Tia how to shoot a bow.
“Just a bit of fun, Septa,” I said, laughing.
“Tia does not need to learn archery or swordsmanship or a man’s way of horse-riding. They are unbecoming of a noble lady of such an ancient house,” she responded, eyeing me with narrowed eyes. “She must learn needlework, basic household management and other such lady’s qualities in preparation of a life wedded to a noble lord and of raising his children. None of that involves bows and arrows now, does it, boy?”
“No, Septa Tyana,” I said dutifully. I looked up at her innocently. “It’s my bastards’ nature, Septa, it must be. I can’t help myself!”
The tall, imperious woman regarded me closely, looking for the trick.
“Oh, the pain of it, Septa!” I cried dramatically. “It must be the gods’ punishment for the circumstances of my birth.” I raised my head to the heavens as if impeaching the gods to send me salvation. “I just can’t seem to help myself! It is my vile bastard impulses, no doubt. Despicable, revolting impulses!”
“Yes…” she said slowly, still unsure.
I stepped closer to her and lowered my voice to a whisper. “I have urges, Septa. Horrible urges, yes! Can you help satisfy my urges, Septa?”
Jeremy, behind me, could not contain his mirth any longer, doubling over with great racking laughs.
The old Septa finally caught the joke then and moved forward angrily to smack me around the head. “You horrible, insufferable, cruel little bastard!” she yelled as she delivered another stinging blow.
I laughed, wriggling away from her.
Ah, Septa Tyana.
My secret projects, which I also worked on late into many a night, basically involved writing down anything that I remembered, and thought would be helpful to implement to Westeros from Earth. I now had notes on tax improvements, ship-building techniques (I still needed to figure out whether shipwrights on this planet had figured out the frame-first method yet or whether they were stuck on the old shell method) and I had also mapped out a loose design of a carrack, but unfortunately I couldn’t quite remember the more detailed parts of the design. Back on earth boats had been a hobby to please my dad, not a full-on obsession. I’d have to employ a bit of trial and error when it came to actually build them, though thankfully that wouldn’t be for many years to come.
My main project, however, was the compass. I hadn’t been sure magnetization would work the same way in Westeros, what with the whole supernatural element to the place, but with a bit of iron stolen from the castle forge and a pelt of bear fur I was on my way. After a week of failed attempts and a bit of trial and error (it’s been a long time since year eight science, okay) I had a working compass, if a bit rough. Then, using a wind rose, needle and specially made box- the smith, Dalton, had looked at me strangely but had made me the box to my specifications, though he’d probably informed Lord Elston of my odd request- I had a compass similar to an early dry compass, perfect for a naval voyage. I couldn’t find any glass to cover it, not without raising more suspicions, but it still worked. I was not yet ready to reveal it to the wider world, not until I’d gotten all the use out of it I could (doing another Sea Snake was becoming more attractive by the minute) so I hid it, along with all my modern notes, under a loose stone slab beneath my bed.
I was thinking of making an astrolabe next… but I couldn’t exactly remember how. Yep, better put a pin in that.
And so weeks passed and I… sort of grew comfortable in this life. Don’t get me wrong, I still wished I was on earth, still dreamed of those I’d left behind and was still prone to bouts of crying whenever alone, but as I threw myself into work and spent more time with the people I liked in this place (pretty much just Jeremy and Tia) it wasn’t too bad, I suppose.
Others too seemed to grow more comfortable around me. Knights, servants and the like who had responded to my suddenly more charming nature with dubiousness and wariness were now more friendly and helpful. I’d like to think I had been rather charming in my previous life and this came in handy with winning the various people around Evenfall Hall over. Likely they were probably just glad that I wasn’t a moody little spoiled brat anymore. Obviously, there were notable exemptions to my new-found popularity.
Like really, fuck Donnel. And Ser Alyn. But mostly Donnel.
It was because of this that I decided to it was time I tried to convince Lord Elston to test out my planned tax changes. Now I couldn’t just approach him and ask him to start overhauling the tax system because even Elston Tarth is not naïve enough to listen to an eleven-year-old when it comes to complicated economic policies.
I’d have to go through Maester Arnolf.
I’d grown closer with the northern measter in recent weeks and other than Jeremy and Tia I was not closer to anyone on this island. After the initial shock Maester Arnolf had responded to my new-found diligence and thirst for knowledge with enthusiasm and he was always a sympathetic ear, even back before The Change when Aenys was a bitter little brat. Now hopefully he’d be a helpful and safe sounding board for my ideas. If I approached it carefully.
The opportunity came one afternoon a month and a half since The Change when we were sat in his chambers. He was scratching away with a quill on yellow parchment as I sat across from him, twiddling my thumbs and trying to think of the best way to broach the subject.
“How much control does my uncle have over money and things?”
Maester Arnolf looked up, frowning. His hand was still frozen over the parchment, the quill digging into the material and making the ink pool.
“What do you mean, Aenys?”
“Like taxes and stuff,” I said, trying to sound childlike, which I had gotten better at since The Change. “Does my… my father control it all or Lord Baratheon or does Uncle Elston get to decide what to tax and how much?”
“You know, it may be better to approach your great-uncle Larys about such things…”
“I’m sure he’s busy,” I said dismissively. “Besides, you’re here.”
“Why, thank you, Aenys,” the maester said wryly. “You’re too kind.”
“No problem.” I grinned.
“Well…” Maester Arnolf began, finally setting the quill aside, “it used to be that the king had little control over such things, only demanding a certain percentage of the agricultural and trade revenue of the lords paramount. That was before the Old King, of course.”
“King Jaehaerys the Conciliator!” I gushed.
“That’s right,” he said with a smile. “King Jaehaerys centralised much of Westeros’ sovereignty. Can you tell me what sovereignty means?”
“Where a country or state’s power lies,” I recited, remembering A-Level politics.
“Well done.” He nodded. “This gave him greater power, demanding more tax and creating the first unified code of law. He did this to better pay for his roads, it is believed, but it has become more than that and has consequences to this day. It is with these increased powers that the Young Dragon paid for his war, that Baelor the Blessed used to build his mighty sept.”
“So, the crown has total power?”
“Not quite, no. While law and justice are largely unified, there are some economic aspects in which lords, and particularly lords paramount, may modify the existing taxes.” Maester Arnolf paused to scratch his nose idly before continuing. “A city charter, for example, gives lords such as Lord Norbert Mooton of Maidenpool and Lady Aglantine Darklyn of Duskendale much control over customs and even import taxes, in some cases. Recently even lords without such charters are more likely to impose their own taxes within their domains, although they are usually modifications to existing, royally-mandated taxes.”
“Why more recently?” I asked. I was pretty sure I knew why but I wanted to hear it from him.
“Well, House Targaryen hardly has dragons anymore to enforce direct control over such small things,” he chuckled. “And some more enterprising lords have taken advantage of this since Aegon the Dragonbane’s regency. Even more recently, well…” the man coughed uncomfortably, glancing at me.
“Let me guess,” I sighed, “my father can’t be bothered to impose royal law and just lets everyone do what they want?”
“Now, now.” Maester Arnolf held up his hands nervously. “King Aegon is not just your father but our king. Show him respect, Aenys.”
“Yes, Maester Arnolf,” I muttered, internally rolling my eyes.
“And you’re not quite correct, either,” he said, shifting back in his seat. “King Aegon has raised taxes and created several new ones, in fact. He just…”
“… doesn’t care whether the lords tax the smallfolk even more on the side as long as he gets his money.” I finished for him.
This time Maester Arnolf did not scold me for my cynical words about Aegon the Cunt.
“What this means in practice is that, although since the Old King the Iron Throne is supposed to have large control over taxes, levies and tolls, the lords paramount and lesser lords actually have much power over such things in their domain,” he said instead.
“I see,” I nodded. “So, while it is not always strictly within accordance with the king’s laws, many lords do it anyway?”
“As blunt and perceptive as ever, Aenys,” Maester Arnolf smirked. “And you have, I believe, struck right to the heart of it in this matter.”
“What about my uncle?” I asked, curiously. “Does he do such things?”
“I’m not sure it is my place to divulge…”
“Oh, come on, Maester,” I said, incredulous. “I’m in half the bloody council meetings. Anyway, we both know I could much up to my uncle right now and he’d tell me anything I wanted to know.”
The older man tilted his head, likely knowing that, again, he couldn’t argue with me on that one.
“Very well,” he sighed. “No, Lord Tarth has not done much in that field, Aenys. He follows the king’s commands loyally, as we all should, as well as his liege lord’s.”
“His liege lord’s?” I latched on to that slip of the tongue. “So, Lord Baratheon’s shirked the law on the taxes front, eh?”
Maester Arnolf threw his hands up into the air in exasperation. “Have I ever told you that you’re too clever for your own good?”
I grinned wickedly. “All the time, Maester Arnolf. All the time.”
“Yes, Lord Baratheon did place a tax on sheep’s wool a few years back without the crown’s express permission, as well as a few other minor levies.” Maester Arnolf confirmed.
That made sense. Much like medieval England, the Stormlands had a shit ton of sheep and a there was a thriving wool industry. The Lord of Storm’s End clearly wanted a piece of that action, without having to give it all up to the crown.
“And those are still in effect?” I asked.
“They are,” Maester Arnolf said, glancing at me warily.
I frowned, thinking for a few moments. As I thought, Maester Arnolf rambled on.
“Lord Baratheon is hardly the only lord paramount to take such measures,” he defended the Lord of the Stormlands. “The Reach has flourished under young Leo Longthorn’s leadership and House Tully has had a run of enterprising lords since the Dance that have greatly improved upon their crop and tax yields. Both made use of their own economic policies. Even the Wardens of the-”
I interrupted him.
“Do you happen to have a list of all the current levies and taxes in effect on Tarth, mandated from both Storm’s End and King’s Landing?”
“I do.” Maester Arnolf slowly stood up and ambled over to a bookshelf in the far corner of the room. “Though I’m not sure how many of them are effectively enforced currently.”
Maester Arnolf studied the tomes on the shelf, before picking out a large, leather-bound book. He lifted it with difficulty and dropped it heavily on the desk in front of me, sending dust up into the air.
“Right,” I said, licking my lips, “shall we get to work?”
Maester Arnolf raised an eyebrow.
It was worse than I expected.
As I walked towards Lord Elston’s chambers, Maester Arnolf and Larys Tarth beside me, my mind was a buzz with what we had found. The amount of useless taxes was phenomenal; I mean there was seriously a tax on some types of foreign hats, a relic levy left over from some xenophobic Storm King. It wasn’t enforced, but still. What was worse was the amount of ineffective and bad taxes, usually mandated from the crown, that were enforced, and which stunted growth. Heavy taxes on the pottery merchants meant that parts of that trade were increasingly moving to Essos or the Riverlands. A particularly large housing and moving tax was forcing families to stay and live where they were born, meaning large families were living and dying in overcrowded cottages and sheds as well as essentially halting the house building trade. There was even a tax similar to the disastrous English poll tax of 1377, started by Aegon Dragonbane’s regent Lord Unwin Peake, in effect that had caused riots and banditry across the kingdoms since its inception. Hell, many of the taxes mandated in the Stormlands directly conflicted with those set up by the crown, causing many lords to ignore both. What was more, there were many lucrative areas that were not taxed at all. There were several large fishing villages on the island and on Lord Elston’s holdings on the mainland who directly did business with foreign merchants or officials from King’s Landing or Weeping Town, meaning Lord Elston did not receive any taxes on their goods. People who didn’t harvest enough groups to satisfy demand in a year just seemed to be let off, rather than taxing them so that they would be incentivised to improve their yield next year, or conversely fund money into them to incentivise growth; usually you pick one, but this place does neither. Honestly, Westeros’ tax efficiency was an absolute mess.
As we walked, I glanced at Maester Arnolf’s determined gait beside me with relief. I had been worried he wouldn’t go for my plans, but with a few subtle hints and suggestions I had gotten him on board and he’d ended up really getting into it and coming up with his own ideas. It really did end up as a joint project.
What was even better was that after a long explanation he had convinced Larys Tarth, the steward, to back us up. I was now confident that with two of his most trusted counsellors with me, Lord Elston wouldn’t say no.
When we arrived the guard at Lord Elston’s door shifted uncomfortably.
“I’m afraid Lord Tarth isn’t seeing visitors, Lord Aenys, Lord Larys, maester,” the man said, not meeting our eyes. “It shouldn’t be too long. It usually isn’t.”
“I assure you this is most urgent,” Maester Arnolf said with a frown. “Would you ask him for us now?”
“That’s impossible, maester,” the guard insisted.
“I don’t see why-”
And then the door opened and a girl, maybe fourteen or fifteen, slipped out. When she saw us, she blushed furiously and skipped past us, head down and staring at the floor. All four of us watched as she disappeared at the end of the hall.
“Right,” the guard coughed. “I’ll see if Lord Tarth will receive you now.”
As the guard went into the room, Maester Arnolf, Larys and I waited in painful silence. Inwardly I was laughing furiously, but my outward expression was one of horrified confusion. When I glanced at Maester Arnolf he was sweating like a stuck pig and there was a distinct pink tinge to his cheeks. Larys was smirking.
After a minute, the guard came back out and held the door open for us.
“Lord Tarth will see you now.”
The three of us entered to find Lord Elston sat behind his desk, hastily dressed in a loose tunic and unlaced breeches. The poor man looked tired out, but hopefully that would make him even more pliable to my ideas.
“My, my what a surprise!” Lord Elston gushed with his usual enthusiasm, though without his usual vigour. “To what do I owe the pleasure young Aenys, gentlemen?”
“We have some ideas, my lord,” Larys said. “Regarding taxes.”
“To be clear they are mostly Aenys’s ideas, though Larys and I both put in our own,” Maester Arnolf said.
“Regarding taxes, you say?” Lord Elston blinked.
“Yes, uncle,” I said, stepping forward. “I noticed some… inconsistencies when Maester Arnolf taught me some basic economics. Would you be willing to hear our solutions?”
“Of course, my boy, of course!”
I started with the easiest sell: getting rid of the useless taxes, such as the poll tax or moving tax. Lord Elston seemed surprised that many of these even existed and he seemed amenable to my suggestions. He even seemed alright with lowering of pottery taxes and other such levies. It wasn’t until I got to adding taxes that he started to object.
“While I greatly admire your enterprising spirit, my boy,” he said, blinking rapidly, “I am hesitant to deviate too much from my king and my liege lord’s commands…”
“Other Stormlords have no such qualms, my lord,” Maester Arnolf said. “The Swanns of Stonehelm have imposed a host of tolls within their domains and Lord Errol has completely overhauled Lord Baratheon’s original wool tax- and that’s just the ones that are common knowledge. No actions have been taken against them.”
“And it would do wonders for Tarth, uncle,” I said. “Tax the fishing industry, tax the sales of tools until their quality increase, tax until people learn to grow enough crops, though not enough that it would leave them in poverty. That helps no one. Lower taxes on pottery, on silks, on ore, for it is just squashing those industries. Remove the moving tax. Remove the poll tax. Use a more centralised system of tax collectors, rather than trusting random sheriffs and landed knights to do the job honestly for you. I assure you productivity and efficiency will improve. We can get you a more detailed plan by early next week, though that will take a while to read.”
Lord Elston glanced between the three of us. It was clear he didn’t know what we were really talking about but eventually he nodded.
“I… I suppose we could try it…”
“Excellent,” I smiled, taking that for acquiescence. “We do have one further suggestion. Well, I suppose two, but one really breeds into t’other.”
“And that is?” Lord Elston asked, looking overwhelmed.
Larys and Maester Arnolf also regarded me with surprise for I had not told them of this plan. I wasn’t sure they would approve and this way I presented it to Lord Elston as if I already had their approval for the rather ambitious and revolutionary plan.
“Private ownership of land.”
Now, this was something I’d worked on since The Change. I new I was in a feudal society and I wasn’t looking to single-handedly introduce capitalism. No, that was a far more gradual process that had already started. All I wanted was something different to what was going on now, which seemed to be a weird mix of feudalism and communism. Farmers were often told by lords what to grow and did not own the land they farmed, which severely limited the profits they could make from it.
“A clear, legal deed to a piece of land will make the person who owns it more inclined to develop it if they can expect a return on their investment.” I explained. “If land is held by you, by that I mean the lord of the area, nobody is going to risk developing it or striving to make as much as possible to get as much gold as possible. As long as you fairly tax the sale of the goods, you and the people win. You’d lose control, uncle, but gain wealth and prosperity.”
I was definitely stretching the truth to the point of optimism, but I was nothing if not a salesman.
“Would that not drive smallfolk off the land they rented if they cannot afford to buy it?” asked Larys.
“Yes.” I said simply. “Which brings me to point two. A new town. Well, hopefully it will be a city eventually but a town to start with.”
“A… new town?” Lord Elston choked.
“Yes, on the eastern side of the island.” I confirmed. “With luck our tax improvements should help with the costs, but more importantly Tarth is the perfect place for a commercial port, uncle. Merchants and other ships can stop off here while traversing the narrow sea. That way they don’t have to risk Shipbreaker Bay and may not even have to enter Blackwater Bay if you buy goods from the mainland and sell them here for a profit. Ship captains will welcome the shorter journeys, no doubt. The displaced farmers can work in taverns and shops and warehouses, on the building of the town or join the guard here. Ser Alyn and Ser Joss were looking for new men, no?”
The three stared at me. Finally, Maester Arnolf spoke up.
“They may greatly displease the Mootons, Darklyns, Graftons and even the king himself for taking ship traffic away from their cities.”
“Not to mention the Whiteheads of Weeping Town,” Larys interjected. “This new town could steal much of the Stormlands’ trade, which they have been in control of for hundreds of years.”
“Mayhaps,” I shrugged, “but frankly I don’t think my father will care and for now it will only be a seaside town. It would take years and a lot more growth to challenge Duskendale, Maidenpool or Gulltown. And House Whitehead? They’re just a bunch of glorified landed knights, everyone knows that. Besides, it would greatly improve the House of Tarth’s standing.”
Lord Elston glanced up at that. What ever else the man might be, he was proud of his house and there was a streak of ambition beneath that twitching exterior.
“Hmm…” Lord Elston said. “I shall have to think about this. You say you’ll get me notes by next week?”
“At the latest.”
He nodded, and I knew I had him, as long as I contained enough technically impressive jargon in my report.
When we left Lord Elston’s chambers Larys sped off immediately but Maester Arnolf stopped and regarded me closely for a minute.
“Cleverly done, Aenys,” was all he said before marching off towards his tower.
I couldn’t tell if he was impressed or disappointed.
A month later preparations had been made. Lord Elston had signed on to the tax changes, and was already enforcing them, and had also agreed to my land ownership-city plan. He had not yet signed the law but was talking to the appropriate people about starting construction of the port in a suitable spot soon, while he’d already sent clerks and officials out into the countryside to see how this private ownership of land scheme would work out in practice.
It had been a busy month for me, holed up in dusty rooms with Maester Arnolf and Larys so I took the opportunity one sunny morning to join Jeremy in a swim down by one of the beautiful sandy beaches near to Evenfall Hall and the large village that surrounded it.
For other an hour we padded through the sea, splashing and laughing. It was nice to truly feel like a child once more, I supposed, and there was something quite refreshing about childhood innocence such as this, especially with what was likely to come.
The mood was spoiled a little when I noticed several cages hanging from the cliffs above us. Stooped, broken figures appeared to be laid out in them, yellowed skin contrasting with the rusty iron of the swinging cages. Fingerless hands stretched out from between the bars, while crows gathered around the cages, occasionally diving in for a peck.
“Pirates, I’d imagine,” Jeremy grimaced when he caught me looking. “A horrible to die, though I suppose they deserved it.”
“Yes…” I said distractedly.
“Ser Alyn’s been on a right tear recently,” Jeremy said, pushing himself backwards in the water. “Remember those thieves we saw hung in the village square?”
“I do,” I said, swallowing, still staring at the eyeless corpses.
It was a jolting reminder of the world I now inhabited.
When we tracked back to Evenfall Hall, hair wet and legs tired, we were greeted by Ser Alyn’s grim face at the gate.
“Ser Alyn!” I called merrily. “What a fine welcoming party you are. To what do we owe the pleasure, ser?”
“A ship docked at port while the two of you were gone.”
I raised an eyebrow. Evenfall Hall’s docks were hardly a thriving port, but it wasn’t unusual for several ships a day to stop off here.
“And I’m guessing there was something special about this ship…”
“Your brother was on board.” Ser Alyn flicked his tongue casually. “He’s in with Lord Elston now. Wants to see you.”
“And which brother might that be?”
Ser Alyn looked around himself and took his sweet time replying. I watched him with bated breath and growing annoyance. Finally, he glanced where I stood tense with anticipation, amusement written across his face, and answered me.
“Why, the one with the sword.”
Chapter 4: Chapter Four
I was not prepared for this. I was not fucking prepared for this! Why was he bloody here? I hadn’t expected to meet any of the main players for at least two or three years. I hadn’t wanted to meet any of them. Well sort of in a morbid curiosity sort of way, but not really. Oh god, this was going to be an utter clusterfuck.
I followed Ser Alyn in a bit of a daze, barely noticing when Jeremy slipped away back to his room, wishing me a quick good luck before he vanished from sight.
Ser Alyn led me to Lord Elston’s solar. Once we were outside the room, he indicated his head at the door with a smirk.
“All yours, bastard.”
With that the aged knight spun around, his heavy woollen cloak whipping into the air as he turned and strode away.
While Ser Alyn disappeared behind a corner, I stared transfixed at the door in front of me. I had realised this could be a very important meeting and might set the tone for much of my time here. I couldn’t fuck it up. I just had to go in there and be myself. Or Aenys. Whatever, that line was well and truly blurred at this point.
I took a deep breath to calm myself. Well, here goes nothing.
I knocked on the door.
“Come in!” Lord Elston’s voice.
I opened the door.
I saw Lord Elston first, sat behind his desk, a simpering smile on his face. I could only see the back of the person who sat opposite. I caught a glimpse of long, silver-gold locks that fell to the shoulders, before the person turned around.
My first thought was that this guy does not look like the thirteen-year-old I know him to be. I could tell he was fucking tall even when sitting; he dwarfed Lord Elston opposite him by at least a head. The next thing that popped out to me were his violet eyes, bright and dark and happy all at the same time, they seemed to dance in their sockets. He blinked back at me and the beauty was momentarily covered by the shield of his eyelashes; naturally long and elegant, they appeared soft compared to the rest of his well-structured features. High cheek bones, a chiselled jaw and a straight, roman nose made him look both beautiful and strong at the same time. I noticed he was smiling at me, warm and welcoming, and I returned the gesture hesitantly. The boy, or man, stood up.
“Brother,” Daemon Blackfyre said. He looked me up and down, smile still on his face. “You look much like our uncle did.”
“Uncle?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“The Dragonknight,” he clarified.
“Oh.” I suppose that was a compliment, I mean Prince Aemon the Dragonknight was supposed to have been a complete badass. “Thanks, I guess?”
He laughed. “Forgive me, brother. I have hardly introduced myself. I’m your half-brother, Daemon-”
“Blackfyre,” I finished for him, glancing at the ruby-encrusted hilt at his hip.
“Or Waters, if you prefer,” he replied good-naturedly. “I haven’t really gotten used to the Blackfyre name, if truth be told. Not as much as I have the sword, anyhow.”
“Well, surely it’s better than Waters?” I said, approaching a little closer. “As bastard names go, I feel I got rather lucky.”
“Storm is a fine name, I’ll grant you. Very fierce,” Daemon acknowledged with a full laugh. He stepped closer to me and put his arms on my shoulders. He looked as though he almost expected me to shake him off and seemed relieved when I didn’t. “You look like Uncle Aemon in the face, but you have our father’s eyes.”
Great. A comparison to Aegon the Cunt. That’s just what I wanted to hear.
“You knew our uncle well, then, before his death?” I asked, trying to shift the conversation away from the current king.
“Aye,” Daemon sighed heavily, allowing his arms to fall to his sides, “I remember him well. A great man. He taught me the basics of the sword, you know. Well, him and Ser Quentyn Ball.”
“I wish I could have met him,” I said honestly.
“I wish you could have, too.” Daemon smiled sadly.
I looked behind him to where my uncle sat, regarding us giddily.
“Would you give myself and my brother some time to talk, uncle?” I asked him, a sweet smile on my face.
“What?” Lord Elston blinked. “Oh, of course, of course!” He scrambled from his chair and inched his way toward the door. “I’m sure the two of you have much to talk about, my boy. I shall leave you in peace.”
He exited the room back-first, still staring at us as he backstepped out of the door. When he’d finally left, and the door was closed, Daemon turned to me with no small amount of amusement on his face.
“Did you just send your lord uncle away from his own solar?”
“Lord Tarth has always been… accommodating to others’ needs,” I replied diplomatically.
He raised an eyebrow and looked me in the eye. I could only meet his gaze for a second before I let go the laughs I’d been holding, Daemon soon joining me.
“He’s a kind man,” I said once I’d calmed down a little, “But not a particularly strong one.”
“I know the type,” Daemon responded, a little darkly.
I gestured to a table and chair set in the corner.
“Shall we sit?”
“Lets,” Daemon smiled.
“So…” I said a little awkwardly once we were sat down.
“I imagine you are wondering why I am here?” Daemon said with a smirk.
“The thought had crossed my mind.”
“There’s to be a wedding at Stonehelm,” Daemon said. “Lord Gawen’s son and heir is to marry some Footly maiden.”
“And you’re to officiate the wedding?” I asked, impishly. “I hadn’t realised you’d taken the vows of a Septon.”
He laughed. “No, I only plan to compete in the tourney.”
“Tarth is a long way from Stonehelm,” I pointed out.
“Not so far,” he said. “It’s on the way. Sort of. Besides, I wanted to meet you. You’re the only brother I’ve not meet yet- in fact, nobody’s met you. You’re a bit of a mystery in the family, and in court for that matter. There are a great many who are curious of you. The elusive last bastard of the king.”
“Perhaps I prefer being a mystery,” I said.
“Perhaps you do.”
“So,” I said with a questioning smile, “are three brothers not enough for you?”
“Four,” Daemon corrected, “if you count Balerion, though I suppose nobody does. I’ve only meet him once and I could only see his mother in him.”
He scrunched up his nose. “Aegor’s stuck in the Riverlands, father can hardly stand to look at a Bracken since that awful business with Lady Bethany. Brynden’s around more but he is also still just a kid, and a quiet one at that. And Daeron’s…”
“Much older.” I suggested.
“Sure. Too old.” He nodded, though I wasn’t sure that was what he was going to say. “Oh, and Baelor’s alright sometimes, but Daeron usually keeps him far away from me.” He shrugged.
“But surely there are many others in King’s Landing?” I asked. “Knights and squires and the like.”
“True,” he conceded. “I have a great many friends, some of whom you’ll met later. But they’re not family and you are, so I came to visit you.”
“And I’m glad of it, truly,” I said. “Tarth’s beautiful, but… well, it can be a bit quiet. I’ve only really got Jeremy, my cousin, and sometimes his sister, when we can sneak her away from Septa Tyana.”
“Little rebel, is she?” Daemon asked, amused.
“Oh, aye.” I laughed a little. “I reckon she’d be more comfortable with a larger blade than a quilting needle.”
“She reminds me of our sister, Daenerys,” Daemon said, a smaller, softer smile on his face. “She’s always been a right terror to her governess and Septas. You’d love her.”
“I’m sure I would,” I responded, watching his face carefully.
“She likes singing the best, though,” he said, a little wistfully. “You should hear her voice, Aenys. When she starts to sing, Daenerys sounds like the Maiden herself.”
Christ, he’s already in love with her.
“I look forward to hearing her,” I replied, carefully.
Daemon seemed to shake himself out of the trance he was in. “You know,” he began, leaning forwards in his seat slightly, “if it’s so quiet here, you should come back with me to King’s Landing.”
I gulped, having feared he might broach this subject. “I don’t know… I’m Lord Elston’s squire, I can’t just leave my lord.”
“You could be my second squire,” Daemon offered immediately. “Or squire for one of the Kingsguard. I know Ser Warryn Lychester is looking for a new squire and there are plenty who could take on a second. If you request it Lord Elston doesn’t seem the type to refuse.”
“No,” I allowed. “But there are… other considerations.”
“Well, I’d have to leave Jeremy and Tia,” I said. “And I’ve heard tales of the capitol. Not particularly pleasant ones, at that.”
“Aye, it can be a nasty place, King’s Landing,” Daemon said with a grimace. “People say one thing and mean another. This faction or that faction do all in their power to influence the king in any number of ways. And you’re hardly going to be looked well on by some because of your bastard status. And that’s not even mentioning the smell.”
“You’re hardly selling it right now, mate.”
“But,” he stressed, holding up a hand, “it’s also where you can meet people, can learn and make a name for yourself. Ser Quentyn is the best master-at-arms in the kingdoms, he’s in line for a place in the Kingsguard when one opens. I’m sure your Ser Alyn is capable enough, but if you want to be the best, you have to learn from the best. Besides, I fear our father does not have long. Surely you’d like to meet him before he passes?”
I couldn’t exactly tell him that I didn’t give a shit about meeting Aegon the Cunt, or that I wanted to stay to see out my tax changes and the other plans I had for Tarth. I wanted to keep my economical prodigal knowledge on the down low until I could turn it to my advantage and seek out a place high up in Daeron’s court.
“You make a tempting case, brother,” I said instead. “I shall think on it. But then again, I wouldn’t want to be robbed of the mystique surrounding me, now would I?”
He laughed. “Fair enough, I suppose I can’t argue with that.”
“Now,” I said, clapping him on the shoulder, “shall we head down to the yard? I want to see what all the fuss is about with you and that sword.”
He laughed again and tapped the hilt at his side. “And I suppose you’d like to have a handle of this one too, eh?”
“Maybe just a little go,” I said smiling, as we both stood up from our chairs. Inwardly, excitement had flared up inside me at the prospect of handling an actual Valyrian steel sword, and Blackfyre no less.
“Come on, then,” Daemon said, putting an arm around my shoulders and leading me towards the door.
Looking at the confident smile on Daemon’s face and knowing the guy’s reputation, I suddenly regretted suggesting we go to the yard.
I let out a cry as I hit the ground once more, pain flooding through me and dirt filling my mouth. I spat out the dirt and rolled over on to my back, blinking up at the sun above me. Daemon appeared above me, face smiling and hand outstretched.
“I hate you,” I wheezed up at him.
He grinned and said, “I get that a lot in the yard.”
I groaned as he pulled me to my feet.
“You lasted… slightly longer that time, Storm,” Ser Alyn commented from where he stood at the edge of the training yard.
“Why thank you, Ser Alyn,” I said. “Any more detailed pointers for me to improve on next time?”
“Don’t fall to the ground,” he said dryly. “Makes you easier to kill.”
“I shall keep it in mind, good ser,” I saluted him.
“Your master-at-arms is a hard man,” Daemon observed quietly.
“Ah, he’s fun and loveable when you get to know him,” I said, taking a swig of water from a cup a servant had handed to me.
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Daemon snorted, as we walked over to the gaggle of knights and squires who had watched our spar.
There were a few household knights and their squires who resided in Evenfall Hall there, but most were companions of Daemon’s who were travelling with him to the Stonehelm tourney.
I hadn’t heard of any of them when introduced to the group. I mean Aegor, Fireball and Gormon Peake were really the only followers of Daemon’s that I remembered, and it had been a while since I’d read A World of Ice and Fire or any of the Dunk and Egg tales, so one of these guys might’ve been mentioned in those.
Ser Aubrey Ambrose was the oldest, despite being barely seventeen to my eye, and acted a little like Daemon’s guardian. He was a tall man, with broad shoulders, arms thick as tree trunks and a wide neck. A large nose framed a round, jovial face. He was loud too, with a booming voice that echoed through Evenfall Hall’s halls whenever he spoke.
“A fine fight,” he rumbled now, clapping both of us on the back. “Do not lose heart, Aenys. You did better than most do against Ser Daemon, and at your age that’s quite a feat.”
“Still not good enough,” I said with a grimace, taking another sip of water.
“Give it time,” Daemon commented calmly.
“Give it time?” snorted Ser Gilbert Cockshaw, a young man two or three years older than Daemon. He was short and stout with unruly, dark blonde hair that fell across his eyes and stubble that covered his cheeks. “I don’t remember you being so patient a couple of years ago, Daemon.”
“I have always been a paragon of patience,” Daemon insisted, looking affronted.
“I believe Ser Quentyn would disagree,” said Ser Gareth Banefort, heir to Banefort. He was of a height with Ser Aubrey, but he was thinner and more sinewy than the older knight, and had a sharp, pointed face pockmarked with red spots. “Many a time do I remember Fireball despairing at your impatience to learn the sword.”
“Yes, yes, I think we’ve heard enough,” Daemon said with rolled eyes. He took off his training braces and tossed them to his squire, Edmund Crane.
“Well,” I said, gripping my blunted training sword, “seeing as I’m having little luck with Daemon, do any of you others fancy a spar? Unless you’re scared, of course.”
“Ha!” laughed Ser Aubrey. “I like you, kid. Which makes the pain I’m about to cause you a slight shame.”
“We shall see, Ant knight,” I said, moving towards the centre of the yard.
“Ant knight, is it?” Ser Aubrey grinned, thumping the coat of arms emblazoned on his chest. “Alright then, boy. Bryen! Bryen, dammit, bring me my gear!”
Ser Aubrey’s squire, Bryen Flowers, the bastard son of Lord Tarly, moved forwards with a training sword, bracers and a buckler.
Once he’d armed himself, Ser Aubrey turned to me with a feral grin.
I swallowed around a dry throat.
A fun, painful and tiring afternoon followed. I lost all but one spar against the knight of House Ambrose (and even on that one I got lucky) and all the matches against Daemon ended in a heavy defeat for me. Ser Gareth, too, turned out to be too much for me. However, I was evenly matched against Bryen Flowers and Ser Gilbert, winning and losing spars in turn against those two, and I won all my spars against Daemon’s squire, Edmund Crane.
Once we had all exhausted ourselves, I took Daemon down to one of the beaches on Tarth’s shoreline. He produced a bottle of wine and we sat in silence trading sips of the fine Arbor red and gazing upon the waves washing up on the sands of Tarth. It was the first alcohol I had had since The Change and my eleven-year-old body quickly began to feel the effects.
“How long do you plan to be in Tarth?” I asked him, laying back on the soft sand.
“I’m afraid we leave tomorrow,” Daemon confided. “The wedding’s only next week and we can’t delay any further. I’m sorry.”
“S’alright.” I shrugged. “But I’m afraid I can’t go with you to King’s Landing. Not tomorrow, at least.”
“I thought you might say that.” Daemon nodded slowly. “But there’s no rush and the offer is always open. Come any time.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, blinking a little to clear the light-headedness affecting my brain.
“That’s all I ask,” he responded, his voice quiet.
We descended into silence for a few more moments, before Daemon suddenly sat up straighter.
“I’d almost forgotten,” he said, reaching down to draw the sword at his waist. “I promised you a go on Blackfyre, didn’t I?”
I gazed at the shimmering Valyrian steel with reverence and took the blade from Daemon’s grasp carefully. The handle was a little large for my hand, but the grip was made from comfortable leather and I stood up, a little shakily because of the drink, to give the sword a few testing swings. Blackfyre felt so much lighter than any other sword I had handled in Westeros up until now, despite it also being far larger. By the way the blade zipped through the air with terrific speed, I could tell the sword was as deadly as the legends told.
“A fine blade,” I almost whispered.
“There’s no finer steel than Valyrian steel,” Daemon agreed.
“Aye,” I said, “I should get myself one of these babies.”
Daemon laughed. “Well, Dark Sister is free at the moment. Perhaps you should try to claim her?”
Huh. That was a thought. Brynden was like an eight-year-old or something right now, he probably wouldn’t get Dark Sister for another decade. Presumably Daeron gave it to him in canon for his support, so if I got closer to Daeron maybe I could snatch the sword up. Dark Sister would be a fucking massive help in my goals and in just keeping me alive. If I had my own Valyrian steel blade then only others with similar weapons would be much of a match for me on the battlefield.
“It’s a thought,” I told him, numbly.
With reluctance, I passed the sword back to Daemon. As he sheathed it, I sat down heavily next to him.
Daemon took another sip of wine.
As I looked at him, I had a startling realization. I liked him. Daemon Blackfyre was charming and smart, strong and gallant, and he was quick to treat me/Aenys as a true brother. It was easy to see why he was already a draw for so many young knights. And with me knowing what I knew was going to happen, it raised the question of whether I was happy to just let history take it’s course.
Shit had just gotten a whole lot harder.
Chapter 5: Chapter Five
How’s Tarth without me? Hope you’re keeping busy, and training hard. I want to have to at least put some effort into our sparing next time I see you.
I promised to tell you of the Stonehelm tourney result, so here: I lost in the final tilt to Ser Ulrick Dayne. As I fell my leg got caught in the bloody stirrup (don’t laugh!) and I got dragged around half the damn tourney grounds, my arms and legs waving all about me, until Ser Aubrey calmed the beast down. Gilbert and Gareth wouldn’t stop snickering about it all the journey home, the buggering shits. You’re laughing, aren’t you?
Anyway, I’m back in King’s Landing now. Ser Quentyn- though everyone calls him Fireball (I think I told you about him??)- has me running drills all day, even though I’m knighted. He says I can’t get complacent. I suppose he’s right, but it’s still annoying.
I told mother and Daenerys about our meeting and Daenerys seemed interested in writing to you, so perhaps expect a letter soon. I haven’t had a chance to tell Daeron, he and his family are in Dragonstone for some reason. I heard talk of a falling out with the king, but I don’t know.
When I told father about our meeting, he seemed pleased you acquitted yourself well in the training yard and reiterated the invitation to come to King’s Landing. It’s still fine if you don’t want to come, though. Father will likely forget about the offer in a week or two anyway.
Hope you’ll well and all that. Write me soon.
“Work is progressing well, m’lord,” the master builder told Lord Elston, and by extension our entire group, though we could see the result for ourselves laid out in front of us.
Stone foundations and small buildings already completed jutted out from the cleared ground before us. An army of canvas tents had been set up on the edge of the new town’s grid set up for the hundreds of men toiling about in building the town and their families, as well as the beginnings of farmers who had chosen to immigrate to this new town. Wooden jutties arced out from the shore into the ocean, clearly the beginnings of the town’s docks.
“We’re lucky with it being the start of summer,” the man continued. “We couldn’t let the mixes dry in winter, or the structures would crack sooner rather than later. The better weather allows us to get the foundations of all the buildings going quickly.”
“Excellent, my good man,” Lord Elston enthused, turning around to beam at our party which consisted of Larys, myself, Ser Donnel, Jeremy, Ser Alyn and a slew of guards.
Ser Alyn seemed less impressed.
“And you’re clear on your instructions?” he asked. “Once you’ve built enough houses to accommodate this first load of settlers, you’re to focus on the docks, the market and warehouses to store goods.”
Ser Donnel blinked in surprise. “Even before building our residence? Why, where are we going to stay while visiting here?”
“A summer home is hardly a priority, Ser Donnel,” Ser Alyn reprimanded the young heir sternly. “You can stay at the inn, if it’s built, or commandeer a commoner’s home. I doubt you’d have any qualms over that.”
“Making sure the port is profitable from the first is more important,” Larys agreed.
Ser Donnel turned to regard Larys, who usually supported him, with a betrayed and gobsmacked expression. I struggled to stifle a smirk.
“I think, my son, Larys and Ser Alyn have the right of it this once,” Lord Elston told Ser Donnel apologetically.
Ser Donnel scoffed but didn’t argue further and Lord Elston turned back to the master builder who had watched the conversation with a blank face.
“Well, I must say I am rather impressed with your progress, Master Tom,” Lord Elston said, smiling.
Master Tom inclined his head but kept silent.
“How much longer until we can expect the port serviceable?” I asked.
Master Tom glanced at Lord Elston, as if unsure he should be answering to a child, but Lord Elston responded with nothing but a genial smile. Master Tom turned back to me.
“It should be ready to start receiving ships and trading in about four or five months,” he said. “By the start of the new year it should be a proper commercial port, though I wouldn’t expect for all the requested buildings to be built within that time. I’d say that would take three years at the least.”
“Three years for the amount of money my father has poured into this bloody venture?” Ser Donnel grumbled.
While it was true that Lord Elston had put a lot of money into this town (and had initially had to take a few loans to cover the cost of materials), he had plenty left over from my tax changes which had really started to flow into his coffers in earnest recently, as well as the first revenues from the private land ownership scheme which had come into effect in the last month. And only less than half a year of construction work until a serviceable port was pretty good going, and then hopefully even more gold would go Lord Elston’s way.
“Three years is actually good progress,” Ser Alyn said. “Adequate work, Master Tom. Lord Tarth has surely chosen his master builder well.”
And thank fuck for Master Tom being competent, for he was already under contract for a number of years to accommodate the expected growth on the horizon.
Again, Master Tom inclined his head, but said nothing.
After thanking the man profusely several times, Lord Elston led us down the dirt track that lead through the planned town. Unfortunately, much of the road from Evenfall Hall was the same muddy mess, and after the start of the town was completed, I’d make it a point to get Lord Elston to send some of the builders to widen and pave the road.
We dismounted by the foundations of what was to be the customs house.
While the others stretched their legs and muttered complaints to each other about the long journey, I wandered to the water’s edge where there was already a low stone wall being built. As I looked out on the ocean and the surrounding lands, I decided that Lord Elston’s men had picked a good spot. The town was situated on a slight incline on an unusually flat area. The waters surrounding it were protected by two jutting inlets, making it almost cove-like but still wide enough as to allow plenty of sea traffic. Once the harbour was built, it would be easily defensible from the sea.
“What are you gawking at?” Jeremy asked me, suddenly standing at my shoulder.
“Just thinking that they picked a good location,” I said, gesturing around me. “Easily defensible, picturesque, easy to access from the sea.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” Jeremy shrugged, giving the place a cursory glance before focusing on me. “Aren’t you tired from the ride? They’ve set us up chairs and refreshments by what’s going to be the inn.”
“Yeah, alright,” I said. “Let’s go.”
I took one last look at the cove, nodding to myself. This was going to be one hell of a town.
Tarth is pretty much how you left it. I’m afraid a one-night stay was not long enough for you to irrevocably change the whole island. Even your brilliance has limits.
Worry not, I am training hard. Be prepared for our next spar, brother.
Please, please tell me there is already a song of your Stonehelm exploits. The Ballad of the Flailing Dragon perhaps? Or The Horse Who Tamed a Dragon? I would spend good coin to hear it. Almost as good as being there to see it for myself. Almost.
(And yes, I did laugh. For quite a while, actually.)
Tell Daenerys I would be pleased to hear from another family member. She is welcome to write, and I expect her letter soon.
Tell father that while part of me would like to make the journey to the capitol, I have my duties here. Lord Tarth is working on a new port and his eldest daughter is to marry the young Lord of Grandview soon and I am expected to be there. Perhaps a trip early next year, if Lord Elston approves? We shall see.
Thank you for writing, brother, and I hope to hear from you again soon.
“Now,” Maester Arnolf began, bringing forth a small drawstring bag from under the folds of his maester’s overalls, “I have some coins here…”
“Oh, Maester Arnolf, that isn’t necessary,” I replied with a smile. “I gladly give you the pleasure of my precious time and delightful company for free. There’s no need to pay.”
“Hilarious,” the old maester remarked dryly. “But they’re not payment for you. They’re the officially minted coins of each of the nine Free Cities.”
Maester Arnolf emptied the bag onto the desk in front of me and, sure enough, nine glinting metal coins fell out, each one a different shape, size and colour.
“I want you to tell me which coin belongs to which city.”
I nodded, looking closely at each little metal piece. I pointed to a bright coin with the figure of a naked woman dancing on it.
“That’s got to be Lys,” I said. “They like naked people there, don’t they?”
Maester Arnolf huffed a laugh. “Your reasoning may be flawed, but the correct answer, yes.”
Next, I thumbed a thick coin with a skull staring back at me on one side, and a golden crown emblazoned on the other side.
“Good guess,” he replied.
I stuck my tongue out at him and returned my attention to the other coins. I guessed the coins of Qohor- a goat’s head on a triangular coin- and Tyrosh- a tall tower or lighthouse on the smallest coin there- correctly, before drawing a blank on an oval-shaped silver coin with the front of a ship forging across it.
“Braavos?” I guessed, knowing the Braavosi merchant ships were famous across the known world.
“Myr.” Maester Arnolf said, sternly. He pointed to the likeness on a helmeted man on a large round coin. “That’s Braavos. Now, come on. Last three.”
I picked up a square coin with what looked like mazes etched onto the face.
“Lorath.” I said with confidence.
Maester Arnolf nodded in affirmation.
Hmm, only Pentos and Norvos left.
I glanced at the largest and thickest coin there, displaying three bells, with a small dagger above them.
“Norvos?” I took a stab, for I knew perhaps the least about that city.
“Another lucky guess,” the maester grumbled.
I grinned and looked at the final coin there, made of a dark metal and which looked to be of a building or tower.
“So that’s Pentos.”
“That’s Pentos,” Maester Arnolf agreed, gathering the coins up into his little bag once more.
As I watched the odd Braavosi coin disappear into the bag, a thought came to me.
“What do you know about the Iron Bank, maester?”
Maester Arnolf did not look surprised at my request, having gotten used to my eccentricities at this point. Instead, he considered the question for a few moments.
“Not a lot, I’m afraid,” he replied eventually. “The Iron Bank is notoriously secretive about their dealings and practices.”
“You must know something,” I said.
The man sighed and said, “The Iron Bank of Braavos is the richest and most powerful of all the banks of Essos, and the most dangerous, too. When the princes, Archons and kings that borrow from and store their money there default on their debts or are foolish enough not to adhere to their agreements with the Iron Bank, the Iron Bank supports other claimants and rivals, who are sure to honour the previous debt along with paying back the money the bank loaned them in claiming their new power, lest they suffer the same fate as their predecessors.”
“Do you know what a standard contract with them looks like?” I asked. “Their interest rates? Anything like that?”
“I do not,” Maester Arnolf admitted. Wearily, the large man clambered out of his chair and tottered over to one of the hulking bookshelves that lined his chambers’ walls. He studied one of the shelves carefully. “I’m sure I have it here somewhere… aha!”
He picked out a thin book with a black cover and walked over to place it in front of me.
“The Origins of the Iron Bank and Braavos. Written about thirty years ago by Archmaester Matthar,” he said. “It’s the most detailed work the Citadel has on the bank.”
I nodded, picking it up.
I thanked the maester and left, heading back to my own rooms for a little bit before dinner.
The reason for my interest in the bank was because I was putting together plans for an eventual national bank. Now that was only something I could do if I ever became Master of Coin or Hand of the King or something, but it was also something that could really help the Iron Throne become less dependent on foreign money lenders in times of trouble, as well as bring in separate business, if done correctly.
I was also working on my ship plans. I’d found out through some questioning of a couple of drunk sailors when we visited the new incomplete town on the eastern coast that Westeros did not have the frame-first method and were still stuck on the old shell method. I did, however, suspect that both Braavos and the Summer Isles had discovered it, what with their sleek merchant ships that could be built in a day in Braavos and the Summer Islanders’ swan ships. So, I’d be the first in Westeros to use the method, making it extremely commercially viable, but with others already using it the discovery would not be considered too outlandish or suspicious. Perfect.
There also appeared to be a type of what was called a carrack already in this world but when I got some designs of them off Maester Arnolf, I discovered that they really didn’t hold up to the ones back on earth. They were caravel built but were too slow and big and only used two sails, when carracks should really have three or more. I reckoned I could improve them by adding more sails and cleaning up the design of the wooden shell itself.
As well as all that, I’d convinced Lord Elston to send some prospectors into the largely unexplored mountains at Tarth’s centre at a bit of a whim of mine. There were several iron mines in operation to the north of the island and I was hopeful that some of the other mountains contained even more profitable ores. I wasn’t exactly hoping for the gold mines of the west, and they might not find anything, but there was a good chance of finding something, I thought.
Of course, how well these grand plans would work out and whether any of them would blow up in my face was yet to be seen.
To Aenys Storm, natural son of King Aegon Targaryen, Fourth of His Name, and Lady Leyla Tarth,
Was that the right address for you? I’m not sure but Septa Elia says that’s how you should be addressed. I hope I wasn’t rude. Sorry if I was.
I’m your half-sister Daenerys. Daemon said you were fine with me writing to you, and I hope he wasn’t just teasing. He does that sometimes. But you sound interesting and nothing interesting ever happens here so writing to you sounded fun.
Septa Elia says I should tell you about my needlework or the noble ladies at court and how beautiful they are but I’m not going to because I don’t want to.
But Daemon says we should try to convince you to come to King’s Landing, so I’ll tell you a bit about it and the court.
Father’s not usually around, and he’s really fat, but he always gives me new toys and dresses so he’s okay. Daeron’s nice but he’s in Dragonstone most of the time and he’s really too old to be my brother, I think. Septa Elia says I shouldn’t say that but it’s true. Baelor’s nicer, he’s more a brother than Daeron, really. Aerys is quiet but nice. Rhaegel is kind but odd. Maekar’s tiny. Mya and Gwenys are nice but their little brother Brynden is too interested in books. Errr, reading! Fighting’s much more interesting, don’t you think? Daemon says you’re a good fighter. Oh, I forgot Aegor and Shiera, but one’s a baby and the other one is never here.
As for the court: Lord Hightower smells, Lord Crakehall is funny, Lady Gaunt always looks annoyed (mostly at Daemon for some reason) and Lord Costayne once pissed himself at a feast. Baelor said he drank too much, Daemon said he was frightened when Ser Quentyn threatened him after Lord Costayne tried to bed his sister.
I think that’s all there is at court that’s interesting.
Please write back.
Princess Daenerys Targaryen, daughter of King Aegon Targaryen, Fourth of His Name, and Queen Naerys Targaryen.
Lord Elston’s smile was wide as he led Jeyne to where Septon Robin stood with her intended. His merriment could not compare to the joy of the daughter on his arm, however. Jeyne practically glowed with happiness, the radiant smile on her face matching the glinting happiness that shone in her eyes. A flowing gown of ivory silk fell around her, the long trail carried by her sisters, Alysanne and Tia. They themselves were dressed in bright gowns the colour of faded azure blue. I winked at Tia as she passed me and mouthed, “Very pretty.”
I received a roll of the eyes in response.
The groom, Lord Aldwyn Grandison, looked nervous and fidgety, though he watched his bride with a lustful hunger only a fourteen-year-old boy could muster. He was a small, mousy boy who looked even younger than he was. As I looked at the thin, sallow-cheeked lord and his tall, proud wife-to-be I could hazard a guess who would rule in this particular marriage. Though, I conceded as I switched my gaze to the imposing middle-aged woman to the side of the groom, Jeyne might well have a rival there. Lady Rowena, the groom’s mother and regent, looked a competitor I would not want to go up against.
After the small procession reached the marriage altar, the singing and the prayers began. Septon Robin led us through no less than a dozen pious hymns, all of which I mumbled my way through. My lips moved but no real sound came out. I still thought the whole Faith of the Seven was ridiculous, frankly. I hadn’t been much for religion even back on earth and while my change had made me believe more in the spiritual and the supernatural, I doubted it was the Faith of the Seven that brought me to Westeros.
Once the final hymn was mercifully over with, the real ceremony began. Lord Elston, as the father of the bride, was first, unclasping the Tarth cloak around his daughter’s shoulders carefully before slowly removing it and stepping away to stand next to Ser Donnel and Jeremy in the front row, his part done. Next the little Lord of Grandview reached up to fasten his own house’s cloak around Jeyne. The Grandison’s sleeping black lion on a yellow field looked odd draped around my cousin’s shoulders, I thought, being so used to her in the blues and pinks of House Tarth.
“With this kiss I pledge my love,” Jeyne announced, seeming to address the scores of guests stood in Evenfall Hall’s sept rather than her new husband, “and take you for my lord and husband.”
“With this kiss I pledge my love and take you for my lady and wife,” the boy-lord responded, his voice high and reedy.
Jeyne bent her head to meet Lord Aldwyn’s lips in a chaste kiss.
“Here in the sights of gods and men,” Septon Robin said, “I do solemnly proclaim Aldwyn of House Grandison and Jeyne of House Tarth to be man and wife, one flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever, and cursed be those who wish to part them.”
The happy couple turned to the crowd and we all clapped them. Jeyne beamed back at us, her face flushed with pleasure. Lord Aldwyn stared at her chest.
Thanks to Lord Elston’s generosity I was sat at one of the higher tables at the wedding feast. Lady Rowena Grandison had not wanted a bastard at the high table on the dais, where the Tarths and Grandisons were sat, but Lord Elston had placed me on one of the surrounding tables. By rights, as a bastard ward, I should really have been placed with the squires and hedge knights out in the courtyard, and if I were a regular lordly bastard I don’t think even Lord Elston would’ve dared to seat me this high, but I was the king’s son and that gave me a few privileges other bastards were not afforded.
Five minutes after I’d sat down, I wished I had been placed out in the courtyard.
On the table with me were Lord and Lady Musgood, a stern couple of about forty who steadfastly ignored me, Lord Andrey Estermont and his young family, and Lord Ronald Mertyns and his younger brother, Ser Abelar. While the Musgoods appeared only interested in murmuring to each other in tight-lipped tones, the others studied me with interest. Lord Estermont’s three young children gaped at my silver hair and purple eyes openly, while their father and Lord Mertyns sneaked glances at me between large gulps of ale, wine, mead and any other alcohol their could get their hands on. Only Ser Abelar deigned to actually talk to me.
“I saw your brother at Stonehelm not too long ago,” he told me politely. “A fine jouster. Especially for one so young.”
“Though I heard he fell on his backside in the final tilt,” I said with a smirk.
Ser Abelar laughed. “Yes, he did.”
“Oh, how I wish I had been there,” I said wistfully. “What a glorious sight.”
“In his defence, that destrier he rode was a true beast,” Ser Abelar said with a smile. “And he was magnificent in his other matches. When Ser Arnor Cole got up from being knocked from his horse, sword in hand, Daemon took him apart with four strokes. I can see why the king gave him the sword.”
“A fine warrior indeed,” I agreed.
“And yourself?” Ser Abelar asked. “How do you fare in the yard so far, lad?”
“Quite well, if I do say do myself.” I answered. “When Daemon visited Tarth, I lost each spar, but they were close, and I fared better with his accompanying knights.”
“Beating grown knights? That is impressive,” Ser Abelar said.
“For a bastard,” Lord Urel Musgood muttered to his wife.
“I’m sorry, my lord?” Ser Abelar turned to the older man, his eyes narrowed.
“Ser Abelar?” Lord Musgood raised an eyebrow.
“I didn’t quite catch your comment, Lord Urel.”
“Brother…” Lord Mertyns cautioned, leaning forward and glancing apologetically at Lord Musgood.
“No, I’m sure we’d all like to hear what Lord Urel has to say,” Ser Abelar said with a dangerous smile at Lord Musgood.
“Ser Abelar, this really isn’t necessary,” I said.
As much as Lord Musgood was obviously a cunt, I didn’t want to make any enemies.
“I need not explain myself.” Lord Musgood sniffed. He regarded me sourly. “Particularly not to a whore’s bastard spawn.”
Actually, on second thought, fuck being polite.
“One might be confused, my lord,” I told him, noticing that many on the surrounding tables were listening in, “on which one of us was the child. You would think that a lord of a house as old and storied as House Musgood, and a grown man besides, would have learnt his common courtesies by now.”
“How dare you.” Lord Musgood’s face had gone red and his lips were quivering in anger. Beside him, Lady Musgood looked horrified.
“And speaking whispered insults of a boy a quarter your age behind his back would seem rather… what’s the word I’m looking for, Ser Abelar?” I asked the knight beside me.
“Craven, I believe, young Aenys.”
Lord Musgood began to rise from his chair.
“Then again,” I continued with a flinty smile, “I suppose I should have expected such craven words from a man who spends more time gambling away his house’s fortune than riding in the lists or lifting a sword.”
Lord Urel Musgood’s debts to the Iron Bank of Braavos were well known, as was his less than martial nature, and it was rumoured his gambling addiction had played a large role in those debts. Apparently, he’d even begun selling off Musgood heirlooms and his wife’s jewellery to pay the bankers. My jibe had the intended result.
“Apologise, bastard,” the man threatened. “Apologise now.”
“If you shall withdraw your discourteous words about my mother, then I shall of course apologise,” I replied.
Lord Musgood’s face twisted in disgust. “Never.”
I shrugged at him.
“Come, wife,” Lord Musgood said, taking the arm of his shocked wife, and turning to leave, “I find the company in this hall a little coarse.”
As the two walked towards the double doors, the entire hall’s eyes on them, I could not resist a further snide remark.
“Do keep your husband away from the dice games in the courtyard, Lady Musgood,” I called. “Or I fear for that lovely necklace about your neck. I doubt it would look half so good on a Braavosi banker’s mistress.”
Lord and Lady Musgood paused and in that pause Ser Abelar was the first to laugh. The lords Estermont and Mertyns were next, then big Lord Bar Emmon on the next table and Larys and Ser Alyn, until most of the hall was chortling at Lord Musgood’s expense. Lord and Lady Musgood resumed their stiff exit, the hall continuing to ring with loud laughter.
Once they were gone and the laughter had died down somewhat, Lord Mertyns turned to me with an amused grin on his young face.
“It seems your tongue is a sharp one, young Aenys,” he said.
“Not as sharp as my sword,” I quipped.
“A statement I plan to test in the yard tomorrow,” Ser Abelar interjected.
“Urel’s always been a prickly one,” Lord Estermont said, stroking his dark beard. “But, really, whoever decided to seat you on this table with him is a damned fool.”
I frowned. “What is it you mean by that, my lord?”
“You don’t know?” Lord Estermont blinked in surprise. “Why, he was betrothed to your late mother until… well.”
“Until me,” I finished for him, Lord Musgood’s touchy behaviour suddenly making sense.
That was interesting information, but it still didn’t condone the man’s conduct, I decided, as Ser Abelar offered me a cup of watered-down wine. Whatever the humiliation he had suffered when his betrothed got pregnant with another man’s baby, he shouldn’t be going around taking it out on young boys. The fact I wasn’t actually a young boy was besides the point.
“May I propose a toast?” Lord Mertyns said to the table. “To sharp tongues and sharper swords.”
“Sharp tongues and sharper swords,” I echoed along with Lord Estermont and Ser Abelar.
It’s good to hear from you. As I told Daemon, it’s nice to speak to other members from my (our) father’s side of the family. And call me Aenys- I really couldn’t care less about titles. I hope you’re okay with just Daenerys. And if your septa gets pissy, then who cares, right?
Your descriptions of our large family, and the court, are no doubt completely accurate and I look forward to any further thoughts you have on the subject. I want to hear all about the family and King’s Landing in general. I am far from anything interesting here, so I wouldn’t mind hearing all the gossip of the capitol in your next letter.
I’m afraid I might disappoint you with my next admission: I do enjoy a good book, just like young Brynden. I do, however, prefer swordplay and Daemon is right that for my age I acquit myself well. Not good enough to defeat him in the yard when he visited, but still.
As for Lord Costayne, perhaps Daemon and Baelor are both right?
You have my thanks for writing to me. Please write back, and I hope we meet in person soon.
When 184 AC dawned, I realised I had been in Westeros for nigh on ten months. Much had changed in that time, but many things remained the same as they had done in the first weeks after The Change. I still sailed with Jeremy, still faced off against multiple guardsmen in the yard and I still had to attend council meetings.
Sometimes they were entertaining, sometimes useful, sometimes boring. It all depended on the meeting, and it was after one of the useful/boring council meetings that I received some rather fateful news.
“By all accounts London is prospering and growing well, my lord,” Maester Arnolf reported in that council meeting, sending me a glare as he said the name of the new town on the eastern coast of the island. Lord Elston had given me the honour of naming it when the town officially opened, and I just couldn’t resist having some fun. “Most houses are now complete and as more sailors dock, the market stalls and shops and inns along the wharf do a booming business. Our coffers are already feeling the effects. Ship traffic is also continuing to increase each day as the word gets out, while Master Tom and his builders have just finished the new Sheriff’s Residence and are now working on more warehouses for the merchants and houses for the townspeople. The new residence lies empty until such time as you pick a new sheriff to preside over the town in your name.”
“Do we have any clear candidates for that yet?” Lord Elston asked.
“Not yet, my lord,” the maester replied. “The town is still in it’s infancy, but it shouldn’t be too long until a few town leaders make themselves known. It will likely be a merchant who has set up business on the docks or perhaps one of the new mine captains.”
The new mine captains were men brought in from the Vale or the westerlands that oversaw Lord Elston’s new mines. Yep, they’d found something. At first, they’d only discovered a bit more iron but then they’d struck gold… not literally, unfortunately. But they had found several silver veins in some places, which were going to make Lord Elston even richer. Not only that, but it would provide jobs for ex-farmers who were still being driven off the land their families had worked for centuries by my land ownership scheme and couldn’t- or wouldn’t- find jobs in London.
“And how fares our Ser Alyn?” Lord Elston inquired of the maester.
“He sends word that he has encountered little issues in the keeping of the peace, my lord,” Maester Arnolf answered with a slight smile. “The townsfolk and visiting sailors have been well behaved, for the most part. Only the odd bar fight or two, I believe.”
Ser Alyn had been sent to London over a month ago with a squadron of guards to police the burgeoning town, until such time as a proper city guard was set up. Ser Donnel was also away, acting as his sister’s escort to her new home of Grandview so that Jeyne wasn’t completely without friends in her first few moons as Lady Grandison. With them both gone, the council meetings only consisted of Lord Elston, Maester Arnolf, Larys and Ser Joss, with me and my jug of wine in the corner. It made the meetings quieter, but also more productive somewhat. Sending them both away was therefore a canny move and it made me wonder whether Lord Elston was smarter than he seemed.
“And how do our new mines fare?” the Lord of Tarth asked the council next.
“Only two of the silver mines are operational currently,” Larys answered. “We do not yet have enough labourers to open more but it shouldn’t be too long. London is not only gaining residents from the farms of Tarth, but also several boatloads of immigrants have recently arrived from Essos, my lord.”
“Immigrants, you say?” Lord Elston blinked rapidly a few times.
“Pentoshi settlements in the Flatlands have recently been raided and burned by a Dothraki khal by the name of Maggo, after the magisters of the city reneged on their promises,” Maester Arnolf explained. “Many have been displaced due to the horse lord’s wroth, some have gone to Braavos, some to Myr or Tyrosh and others set sail for Westeros.”
“We believe they were travelling to King’s Landing originally, but then heard of London and figured a new seaport was as good as any to settle down,” Larys said.
“Ser Alyn writes they are currently staying on the ships they sailed in and he is awaiting your instruction,” Maester Arnolf told the lord. “We could surely use more citizens, for London and the mines both, but it may also create friction between the immigrants and the Westerosi residents already living in London.”
“How many Pentoshi are we talking about?” Lord Elston asked nervously.
“Less than two hundred,” the maester replied.
“Though for all we know more are on the way,” Ser Joss said.
“I think…” Lord Elston began uncertainly. “We should allow them entry… and put them to good use. They sounds… prudent?” he finished, seemingly asking his advisors rather than ordering them.
“As you command, my lord,” Maester Arnolf bowed his head.
“Now, if that’s all, gentlemen?”
The three counsellors nodded and rose from their chairs as Lord Elston got up and exited through the large double doors behind him. I made to follow him, but Maester Arnolf called me back.
“A letter arrived by raven from King’s Landing just before the council,” he told me, as he rifled through the stacks of parchment on the table in front of him. “Ah, here we go,” he said as he pulled out a small raven’s scroll.
Once he’d handed the note to me, the maester left the room in the wake of Larys and Ser Joss.
I frowned down at the little scroll as I broke the plain seal. Surely it was too early for the most recent of my letters to Daemon and Daenerys to reach for them and for them to write back? Warily I began to read the short message.
I fear it is time, or near enough. Father is at the Stranger’s door.
If you want to meet him, if you have anything to say to him, for good or ill, then this is your last chance.
Come to King’s Landing, brother.
King’s Landing somehow seemed to effuse both sprawling magnificence and a stinking filthiness.
On the one hand, I could spy the vast, intimidating remains of the Dragon Pit on Rhaenys's hill, only matched by the recently built Great Sept of Baelor atop Visenya’s hill, resplendent in its grandeur. The two were dwarfed by the solid stone construction of the Red Keep, a mess of round red turrets atop high towers, hulking bronze gates of iron almost as thick as the bulwark of stone walls that surrounded them, and a mass of small inner yards, vaulted halls and covered bridges. And those were just the things I could see.
However, as easy as it was to focus on the more elegant and eye-catching features of the massive city, I couldn’t help but notice the slums beneath them. Tiny, cramped dwellings and tall, crumbling tower blocks were separated by narrow streets, criss-crossed by small alleyways. The makeshift buildings of the rambling shantytown seemed to lean over the streets beneath them, almost touching the house opposite. I could only imagine the stench of shit and filth coming from the place. All in all, Flea Bottom seemed a delightful place.
Beneath me, the ship I was travelling on forged serenely through the green seas of the King’s Landing harbour. I felt a presence at my shoulder and turned to see Ser Arryk Blueblood, my escort along with a half dozen Tarth men-at-arms, behind me.
“Enjoying the view, lad?” the knight asked, rubbing his sizeable belly absentmindedly. As I looked at him, I wondered once again how he had been put in charge of my safety and whether Lord Elston actually wanted me dead. The man was large, with meaty hands that looked unfit to hold a sword, and a purpled face that betrayed the man’s fondness for drinking. His flinty eyes shone out from a wrinkled face, while his constant smiling might have been endearing if it weren’t for how few teeth he had left. Honestly, he appeared and acted more like a merry old innkeeper than a bodyguard. “It seems a magnificent place, nay?”
Fucking hell, people use ‘nay’ in this bloody world?
“Have you been to King’s Landing before?” I asked him, politely.
“No, I never have, to my shame,” the ser replied. “This is my first time.”
How was that even possible? Weren’t like all the grand tourneys held in King’s Landing?
“Do we know how long it will take to dock?” I asked him, trying to put the reservations I had about the knight to the back of my mind.
“Captain says it usually talks an hour, maybe more,” Ser Arryk responded, scratching his unkempt beard.
“Best settle in for a long wait, then,” I sighed.
“Right you are, lad.”
The man wandered off to where a few of the Tarth men-at-arms were engaged in a dice game, while I remained leaning against the side of the ship, thinking on why I had decided to come to this cesspit of a city.
I suppose I was curious, in a morbid sort of a way, in what Aegon the Unworthy was like. I mean, his lusts and callousness caused so much unnecessary pain and strife, and I kind off wanted to meet him. Put a face on the monster, I suppose. I also couldn’t deny the Aenys within me crying out to meet the father he had wanted to meet his entire life.
There were more practical reasons for my decision, too. Being there for the legitimization, in whatever capacity, could well be useful, and it would also be prudent to meet and befriend people like Shiera, Bloodraven and Baelor while they were young, rather than just bounding onto the scene when they were all adults and expecting to immediately change things. How exactly I was going to make all of these people like me, I was not sure, but I reckoned I could do it. Probably. Hey, I’d pulled it off with Daemon, hadn’t I?
London and Tarth’s new mining operations, along with my economic changes, were also up and running, so there was little danger of that all going to shit without my presence. That had been a worry when Daemon first invited me to King’s Landing, but now seemed less of an issue.
A slightly more optimistic reason for my visit was my unrealistic hope that Aegon the Cunt would give me Dark Sister, which I was unlikely to be given in Daeron’s tenure. If I could wrangle a Valyrian Steel blade, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with facing the shitstorm to come. Again, I wasn’t sure how I could get that to happen, other than just presenting myself as a good fighter and a friend of Daemon’s. I’d drop a few hints and hopefully Aegon’s hatred for Daeron would do the rest. If Aegon wanted to add another fuck you to Daeron along with the legitimization, then I’m pretty much the perfect avenue for him. Aegor wouldn’t be there (or that was the impression I got from Daemon’s letters) and Bloodraven at this point was like three or four years younger than me, and a bookworm as well, according to Daenerys’ letter, so if Aegon wanted to give away the second Targaryen V-blade I was his best and only option.
Now, I didn’t want to piss off Daeron but I actually thought that this could play in his favour in the long-term. It might well detract from Daemon’s claim’s legitimacy if Aegon gave the other V-blade to another of his bastards. It would certainly make Aegon giving Daemon Blackfyre less special and meaningful. Then again, it could also embarrass Daeron further, having his father publically give away both family swords to his bastard half-brothers. And Blackfyre did have more symbolic importance, what with it being the sword of Targaryen kings. It all depended on how the story was spun, I supposed.
Besides, it was highly unlikely this would even come to fruition; I was probably just getting ahead of myself.
I was not important enough to garner a welcoming party, apparently.
Our group had to forge through the mass of people teeming at the docks to the River Gate, where we entered the city proper. A bored goldcloak led us along Muddy Way for about ten minutes, past Fishmonger's Square, before taking a right at the Hook, a curved road that led us up a steep incline. The Hook emptied us out right at the gates of the Red Keep, which seemed even more daunting up close. I could see the flashing of steel through the murder holes that ran along the face of the high red-tinted walls, and I suddenly appreciated the intimidating bastion of power that Aegon the Conqueror and Maegor the Cruel had forged. It seemed hard to imagine a lord visiting the castle and not feeling a slight shiver of fear when passing under that wide barbican, or when gazing upon the seven massive drum-towers that rose up above the castle like stone giants.
Unless they were a Lannister, I suppose. Going to Casterly Rock at one point was certainly on my list of things to do. The Eyrie, too. And Winterfell and Oldtown and Highgarden and the Wall… ok, there were a lot of places to go. Maybe I could do some kind of tour or progress in the future? It was an idea.
Our goldcloak escort left us at the iron gates, while we were waved inside by two men-at-arms in the red and black livery of House Targaryen once Ser Arryk had announced me and showed them Lord Elston’s seal.
The Red Keep courtyard was strangely silent and rather empty. I had expected it to be a chaotic mess, with servants and courtiers hastily preparing for Aegon’s funeral, and then Daeron’s coronation after that. I had expected for a number of lords to have already arrived, wanting to ingratiate themselves with Daeron in his early reign, too. Surely word had gotten out by now? Then again, Lord Elston hadn’t heard anything before Daemon’s letter to me.
We crossed the large courtyard with long strides, under the curious eyes of the watching Targaryen men-at-arms and a group of sullen eyed grooms. All stood as silent as ghosts.
It was rather eerie.
“Ah, the Tarth bastard I presume.”
I glanced up. At the top of a set of steps leading up to the top of the Red Keep’s walls stood a short, stout man, dressed in armour. At a guess, I’d say the man was around thirty. He had a full ginger beard that covered his cheeks, and long red hair which trailed to the small of his back, both contrasting sharply with the dark armour and black clothes he was clad in. There was only one hint of colour in what the man wore; a red and yellow fireball that blazed fiercely across his chest.
It was obvious to me who the man was.
“Ser Quentyn,” I greeted, making his eyebrow twitch in surprise.
“Daemon mentioned me, then?” the knight asked coolly.
“That he did, ser,” I confirmed. “And no doubt me, too?”
“Perhaps,” the man replied with a disdainful sniff. He continued to glare at me.
I fought the urge to look away from the knight’s stare, feeling uncomfortable and intimidated, but knowing that I shouldn’t show any fear. It was tough but I managed it, and finally Fireball let out a barking laugh. He approached me in quick strides, descending the steps two at a time. He clapped me on the back when he reached me, a broad smile on his freckled face.
“Oh, you’re a tough one, aren’t you, boyo?” He grinned, amusement dancing in his wild blue eyes, his accent sounding vaguely welsh for some reason. Despite his apparent merriment I got the impression that it would take little for Ser Quentyn’s joy to turn to anger. Hence the nickname ‘Fireball’, I guess.
“I’m not quite sure what you mean,” I replied, still a little dazed from his sudden change of emotions.
“Not many can hold my gaze like that, let me tell you, Aenys,” Fireball said. He spat on the ground in disgust. “Cravens, the lot of them. But you… oh, I can’t wait to see you in the yard. Daemon tells me you’re almost a match for him.”
“That’s not quite true,” I admitted. “I seem to remember I lost each spar. But Ser Aubrey did tell me I did better than most.”
“Aye, Daemon’s a tough little bugger,” Fireball nodded, his lips twisting into a smirk of pride. “Took to my instruction better than any little prince or lordling that I’ve had the displeasure to teach the art of swordplay, I’ll tell you.”
“The perfect student then, ser.”
“Are you fucking joking?” Ser Quentyn rumbled. “The little bastard was on my back for years. ‘Teach me the counter riposte, Ser Fireball’, he would say, ‘show me how to block the flail, Ser Fireball’. Fucking annoying was what he was.”
“On his habit of inflicting annoyance in others, we can agree, ser,” I responded, smiling. “He pissed me off every time he put me in the dirt back on Tarth.”
“Ha!” Ser Quentyn laughed, clapping me on the back once more and making me lurch forwards. “I can imagine.”
Ser Quentyn let his hand drop to his side, and the smile was suddenly gone from his face.
“Here to see the king then?” He asked, his face now a sober mask.
Among other things, I thought to myself.
“Yes,” I said sadly, instead. “It appears it may be my last chance.”
Ser Quentyn Ball nodded grimly, before inclining his head to the entrance to Maegor’s Holdfast, several hundred yards away, past the network of barracks, dungeons, granaries, kennels, yards and stables that were contained within the walls of the Red Keep. Maegor’s Holdfast, really the heart of the Red Keep, could be a castle itself, I thought as I gazed at it’s thick walls and dry moat lined with sharp iron spikes the size of trees.
“Follow me.” Ser Quentyn said. “My men will see to your entourage.”
I nodded at Ser Arryk before falling into step with the Red Keep’s master-at-arms.
“You’ve come just in time,” he told me as we walked. “Grand Maester Aethelmure says His Grace may be gone by dawn.”
Inside I felt happiness and relief that such a shit would soon be gone from the world. But there was also more than a hint of sorrow, or perhaps anger, at hearing this that definitely wasn’t down to me. An uncomfortable pit pooled in my stomach at the thought that the real Aenys was still inside my body somewhere, lurking and waiting. I shook my head silently to myself and put such thoughts to the back of my mind as best as I could.
“It may be unpleasant to see your father for the first time in such circumstances,” Ser Quentyn continued on, unaware of my inner turmoil. “He… is not at his best right now, Aenys.”
“He is dying.”
“It is not just that…” the knight grimaced, hesitating. “His manner of death is… well fucking disgusting. But remember this- your father was not always like this.”
“I well remember, ser.”
We continued the rest of the way in silence. If I had not been so focused on the meeting that was about to take place, I would have admired the grand hallways and expensive furnishings far more than I did. However, I did notice that as we got closer to wherever it was, we were headed- I assumed Aegon the Cunt’s chambers, though where those were, I did not know- I saw more and more people. Targaryen men-at-arms moved little as we passed their postings, other than to salute Ser Quentyn, but others were far more noticeable in their reactions to our, or really my, presence. As we entered a long corridor leading towards a large wooden door, presumably our final destination, the richly dressed courtiers who appeared to be waiting outside the door gaped as I walked past, whispering to each other behind their hands. I kept my eyes firmly on the ground, uncomfortable with such attention, while Ser Quentyn ignored them and forged through the mass of courtiers quickly with purposeful strides. I hurried to keep up.
The door was guarded by a knight of the Kingsguard, and I gazed with fascination and the man’s flowing white cloak and luminous armour. The knight’s face was hidden by a large silver helm, though I caught a pair of light blue eyes in the darkness. It was my first time seeing a member of this ancient order in the flesh and a part of me wanted to stop and question the man, partly because of curiosity, partly to put off the imminent meeting, but I forced myself to follow Ser Quentyn through the door that the Kingsguard had opened for us.
The room beyond was large and grandiose. Red velvet curtains hung from gold furnished windows, while wooden tables, shined so clean that they gleamed in the light, and plush chairs filled the expanse of the room. I could see two more Kingsguard knights lining the walls, both standing like stone statues, but it was not they that drew my attention.
Sitting on a circle of expensive sofas were a group of silver-haired men, women and children, all of which turned around to stare at me as I entered the room.
“Well, boyo,” Fireball whispered in my ear quietly, a maniacal grin on his face, “Meet the family!”
Okay, short chapter but this was really just to get back into the swing of writing and this seemed a decent place to leave off.
Also, I don’t mean to be a dick but I would like to point out that I do this in my spare time and for free so please don’t PM asking whether I’m dead or when the next chapter is, thanks.
I scowled at Ser Quentyn, but the only response I received was a push in the back. I stumbled forwards towards the crowd of faces in front of me.
Struggling to keep the red off my face, I mustered my courage and took a hesitant step forward. I glanced around at the faces in front of me and did a quick count in my head- about ten or eleven people, all told.
I felt as though there was a wriggling fish in my mouth, preventing me from saying anything. My palms were becoming sweaty, while the nervousness pooled at the pit of my stomach continued to grow. To my immense relief, the one face I recognized from the assembled gathering saved me.
“Aenys,” Daemon breathed with relief, walking from out amongst the group and towards me. “You came.”
He held out his hand and we clasped forearms firmly.
“A little hard to say no to your letter.” I smiled slightly.
“As I intended, then.” Daemon laughed, lightly.
“Bastard,” I said to him, jokingly.
“Well, I’m glad you’re here.”
Suddenly there was a girl, maybe ten or eleven years old, at Daemon’s hip. She had straight silver-gold hair, and bright eyes the colour of deep violet. Her pale face was drawn into a smile, showing off her slightly crooked teeth. The girl regarded me with undisguised and unapologetic fascination, before her smile widened even further.
“Aenys, Daemon’s told me so much about you! I can’t wait to show you the Red Keep,” she gushed, looking as though she was fighting the urge to rush forwards and hug me. “There so much you have to see! I simply must show you the gardens, oh they are just so pretty, you’ll love them. Have you seen the Iron Throne yet? I suppose not. I think it’s ugly, but Septa Elia told me it was grand and that-”
A sharp voice cut through the girl’s ramblings like a sword thrust.
I looked behind Daemon and Daenerys to see another of the group had stepped forwards, though this was a man, not a child. He seemed to be of an average height and his silver hair was cut so short it was almost a buzzcut. His thin face was strained and tired, while his purple-blue eyes were small and beady. Exquisite black velvet hung from his small frame, while a gold medallion displaying the Targaryen three-headed dragon was draped around his neck.
“Don’t talk his head off.”
“Sorry, Daeron,” Daenerys replied, taking a few steps backwards. Her expression was now the picture of surliness, but I sent her a quick wink which soon had her giggling. It did not seem to please the future king, however.
“Aenys Storm.” Daeron approached me guardedly, Daemon hurriedly making way for him. “My brother.”
“Prince Daeron,” I responded clearly, bowing at the hip.
“There’s no need for that,” my much older brother said, his voice quiet. “It has taken too long for this meeting to take place, I think.”
“I would agree, Your Grace.”
“But you look fine and healthy.” Daeron smiled lightly. “Your lord uncle treats you well?”
“He does, Your Grace.” I said. “Lord Elston has given me a fine education and all that I need.”
I noticed he did not protest my addressing him by his title like he had my bow. It was small but an obvious way to remind me of my place.
“Excellent.” Daeron turned and beckoned to a dark woman with long black hair just behind him. “My wife, Mariah, formerly of House Martell.”
The woman smiled at me. She was small and plump, with murky hazel eyes. Princess Mariah’s flowing gown was the burning orange colour of House Martell, but it had strips of Targaryen black and red hanging about her middle.
She held out her soft hand and I kissed it softly.
“Princess,” I murmured.
“We’ve all been very curious about you, Aenys Storm.” Princess Mariah smiled.
“Then I hope I will assuage some of your curiosity in this trip, Princess,” I returned. “Then again, some prefer a mystery.”
“True,” the Princess replied. “And your mystery was enhanced when young Daemon came back with tales of a boy who looked like the Dragonknight and fought like him too.”
For fuck’s sake, Daemon. No bloody pressure.
“And our children, Baelor, Aerys, Rhaegel and Maekar,” Daeron said, bringing them forth. “Greet your uncle, boys.”
“Uncle Aenys,” the oldest boy greeted me first, grinning.
I could see why he was grinning for Prince Baelor Targaryen, soon to be the Breakspear, was both taller and older than me, yet had to greet me as an uncle. He was a good-looking lad, with a strong jaw, dark eyes and straight white teeth. His brown hair had a subtle streak of gold in it, yet he still looked more a Martell than a Targaryen.
“Prince Baelor.” I returned the smile.
“I look forward to seeing you in the yard,” Baelor said, his smile turning into a smirk.
Well, that should be fun.
“Uncle,” muttered the next boy, Aerys. He was smaller than his elder brother but carried the Valyrian features of his Targaryen forefathers.
“Prince Aerys.” I smiled kindly at him, but he kept his eyes firmly on the ground. “Daenerys tells me you like books. Perhaps I could join you in the library soon, if you would be willing. I’m sure the Red Keep has more books on offer than Evenfall Hall.”
Aerys looked up at that and shrugged. “Perhaps,” he said.
The youngest boy was next. Maekar Targaryen was small and he seemed to be trying his hardest to be as dignified as possible. He looked to be about eight, but he wore the face of someone much older, I thought, yet there was still a core of youthful energy and innonce underneath that solemn exterior, I reckoned.
Being under Baelor and the others’ shadows has not taken it’s toll quite yet, I noted internally.
“Storm,” was all he said, nodding at me. His voice was as serious as his expression.
“Prince Maekar,” I said, regarding the boy with slight amusement.
“U-Uncle Aenys.” A soft voice murmured and from out behind Baelor came who I supposed had to be Rhaegel.
Rhaegel was actually quite tall for his age, which I knew to be about ten, but he was also dreadfully thin. Built like a whippet, his expensive robes fell around him exposing his sharp bones and knobbly knees and elbows. He had large, round eyes the colour of pale orchid, while his long silver curls covered his head like a blanket, hiding his ears, eyebrows and neck from view.
“I brought you a gift,” the boy said in a dreamy voice and I looked down to see he was holding something out to me. A small red flower was enclosed in his delicate-looking outstretched fingers.
I looked up and around me, a little confused. Daeron’s lips were pursed as he gazed at his third son, though he made no move to intervene in Rhaegel’s strange behaviour. Daemon looked to be biting back a mocking laugh, while next to him Daenerys elbowed him in warning and regarded Rhaegel with pity. It was Baelor’s look that drew my attention most, however, for he was not looking at his brother but at me. He was staring hard at me, as if daring me to spurn poor Rhaegel. I got the feeling that if I humiliated or upset Rhaegel in some way, I could lose the chance of Baelor’s friendship forever.
“Thankyou for your kind gift,” I said seriously, softly taking the flower from the younger boy. “Is it from the Red Keep gardens Daenerys was just telling me of?”
“No,” Rhaegel said with a smile, as Baelor relaxed slightly behind him. “I picked it this morning. From the godswood.”
“I will make sure to visit the godswood, too, then.”
Carefully, I reached up to tuck the little flower behind my ear so that it nestled amongst my silver locks.
“How do I look?” I asked Rhaegel.
The boy giggled in a high-pitched tone. “Silly! The red clashes with your hair.”
I put on an expression of faux annoyance. “And to think I had put so much effort into my outfit,” I grumbled, obviously joking for all could see my worn and stained travel clothes.
The boy giggled again, though this time he was joined in his laughter by Daenerys, Daemon and Baelor. Princess Mariah, too, smiled.
“Is it my turn now, finally?” A woman groused, pushing her way to the front of the group.
Daeron frowned. “Cousin…”
“Oh, do be quiet, Daeron,” the woman said, waving a dismissive hand. “I remember you as a squalling little brat, do not presume to reprimand me now that you are on the eve of your crown.”
Daeron sighed but said no more. The woman snorted and turned back to me, eyeing me up and down critically. I did the same to her, though I hoped I was more subtle than she.
The woman was stunningly beautiful. The small wrinkles about her mouth and eyes betrayed the fact that her glory days were behind her, but she was still striking. Her silver mane was a bushy mane, but it only seemed to add to her beauty, framing a heart-shaped, rosy face. Full, red lips, sparkling Targaryen eyes and a small nose filled her face, finished off with a prominent jaw.
Eventually, she nodded grimly.
“You’re Aegon’s seed alright,” she said. “Let us hope you inherited no more than his eyes.”
“Mother…” Daemon said, blushing.
“What?” Daena Targaryen snapped. “It’s what we’re all thinking.”
“Yes, thinking being the operative word there, sister,” said another woman, also pushing herself to the front of the group.
This woman had less lines on her face and wore her hair short so that it barely covered her ears. She had a softer, paler face and lilac eyes. Her lips were thinner, too, yet it suited her face perfectly. In some ways, she was just as beautiful as her older sister.
Daena rolled her eyes. “Honestly, I can barely open my mouth with you people.”
“Calm yourself, Daena,” the other woman said, inclining her head towards me. “You’ve not yet even introduced yourself to our new kin.”
“Right.” Daena looked at me. “Daena Taragaryen, eldest daughter of King Aegon Targaryen and Queen Daenaera Velaryon, formerly the wife of King Baelor Targaryen, and mother to Daemon over there. A pleasure.”
I smiled uncertainly.
“Nice to meet you.”
“And I’m her sister, Elaena,” the younger woman said with a smile. “I’m the smart one. She’s the impulsive one.”
“And the more beautiful one,” Daena interjected, flashing a smile at her sister.
Before Elaena could retort, Daeron stepped between the two sisters.
“Perhaps you could continue this later,” he said. “I rather think our young guest is a little overwhelmed.”
“Oh, very well.” Daena rolled her eyes. She winked at me. “We’ll talk later.”
Daeron looked over his shoulder.
“Rhaena, could you take the children to their apartments? We’re a little… crowded in here, I think.”
“Of course, Your Grace,” said the woman.
She was also silver-haired but was dressed in the garments of a Septa. She had a rounder, more feminine body and a plump face. I mentally placed her as the third daughter of Aegon Dragonbane. Septa Rhaena smiled at me softly, before beginning to gather the children.
“Ser Quentyn will escort you, and take Ser Roland, too.” Daeron instructed her. “He’s just outside the door.”
“But Daeron,” protested Daenerys, “I want to talk more with Aenys! And what if something happens to father…”
“Then you will be sent for,” Daeron replied, softly. “And you may speak with Aenys later.”
“Fine…” Daenerys said, sending a wistful look my way.
Reluctantly she joined Baelor, Aerys, Rhaegal and Maekar in being led off by Rhaena, but trouble occurred when the Targaryen Septa also beckoned to Daemon.
“I’m staying here,” my half-brother said stubbornly. “With father. I want to be here when he passes.”
“Daemon…” the former princess began.
“I’m a knight, not a child.” Daemon said, angrily. “I can’t be ordered what to do!”
“You can be by me,” Daeron warned, sternly. “I am your older brother, the heir to the Seven Kingdoms, and soon I shall be your king.”
Daemon glared at Daeron, hand curling to a fist at his side.
“Daemon,” Daena spoke suddenly, striding forwards, “go with Aunt Rhaena. Now.”
Daemon seemed to relax but made no move toward the door where the other children were watching.
“If he takes another turn, we will send for you,” Daena said. She glanced back at Daeron. “Won’t we?”
Daeron was silent for a few moments, before he finally nodded his head.
Daemon glanced between his mother and older half-brother, before letting out a growl. He whipped around, barged past Fireball, and stormed out of the room.
“Don’t worry, Your Grace,” Ser Quentyn said to Daeron. “I’ll calm the lad down.”
Daeron nodded tiredly as Ser Quentyn exited followed by Rhaena and his sons and sister.
“You must reign in your son.” Daeron addressed Daena once the door had clanged shut. “He creates far too many incidents.”
“He’s emotional,” Daena retorted. “As any lad is when their father is on his deathbed. Your father, too.”
“I’m well aware of that, cousin.”
“Besides,” Daena continued breezily, “there was no harm done.”
“No?” Daeron raised an eyebrow. “Think how that looked to the lords and ladies outside.”
“A bunch of bumbling buffoons,” Daena said dismissively. “Why care what they think?”
“They are to be my subjects,” Daeron said, rubbing either side of his eyes tiredly. “Please… just speak with your bastard.”
Daena’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
“Very well, I shall speak to my bastard.” She spat. “If you’ll excuse me, Your Grace.”
Daeron made no move to stop her as she exited. Elaena regarded Daeron coolly, before turning to me.
“It was wonderful to meet you Aenys,” she said with a flinty smile. “Perhaps you could come by my chamber on the morrow and meet my bastrads? Jon and Jeyne would so very much like to meet you.”
I glanced at Daeron, but his blank face gave nothing away.
“It would be a pleasure,” I said, smiling hesitantly.
“Excellent.” Elaena said. “Mariah, dear, I’ll send a girl over with those fabrics I promised you this evening. Good day, all.”
And with that, the youngest child of King Aegon Dragonbane, turned smartly and followed the others in departing the room.
There was an awkward silence once she’d left. I shifted uncomfortably, while Daeron stared at the closed door Elaena had left from and Princess Mariah sat back down on one of the plush couches, goblet of wine in hand.
“That boy needs to learn patience,” Daeron muttered after a few long seconds of quiet. “He was not ready for his spurs. A boy of twelve, honestly.”
“That was not your decision, though, was it, dear?” Princess Mariah asked sweetly.
“No, but it is not too late, and I am soon to be king.” Daeron had apparently forgotten I was still in the room. “Perhaps I should make him spend more time with Septon Erner, or Grand Maester Aethelmure and his acolytes?”
“Forcing him to do such will only make his disobedience worse,” Princess Mariah tittered. “Besides, time with the Grand Maester is hardly likely to improve anyone’s disposition.”
Daeron seemed to shake his head to himself, before turning to me and regarding me with a look I did not know the meaning of.
“Apologies, brother,” Daeron said. “Doubtless, this has not been a perfect first impression.”
“Er, Your Grace…”
Daeron waved a hand and said, “It matters not. Tell me, are you as good a fighter as Daemon says?”
“I am no Dragonknight, Your Grace,” I replied immediately. “Though I was assured by Ser Aubrey that I did better against Daemon than most.”
“Yes, Daemon is… something somewhat special with the sword.” Daeron smiled thinly.
“He is,” I responded neutrally.
“So, you’ve come to see yo-our father?”
“I have, Prince Daeron.” I said. “I… I’ve been told that h-he is dying?”
“Yes.” Daeron confirmed. “He does not have long.” He turned to indicate a door in the far corner of the room, guarded by another Kingsguard. “He’s in there, or what’s left of him.”
I glanced at the door nervously. “May I?”
“You may,” Daeron said, taking a few steps towards me to put his hand on my shoulder. He regarded me with a kind smile. “But I warn you, he may not be all that you imagined.”
“I understand,” I replied, gazing back into his eyes. “I’m prepared for this, Your Grace.”
“Very well,” Daeron said. “Mariah and I shall await you out here.”
With small, tentative footsteps I approached the unassuming door, the white knight next to it still and silent. With my hand on the gold-plated handle, I glanced back to receive an encouraging smile from Mariah and a solemn nod from Daeron. Taking a deep breath, I opened the door.
The smell hit me first. It was an awful, repugnant odour that seemed to climb through my nostrils to flood my airways. It made me feel sick and the back of my throat itched. Trying to ignore this as best I could, I glanced about the room.
It was a large bedroom with an empty four-poster bed dominating the centre of the room. The bed had red drawings laced with gold that matched the gold encrusted braziers along the walls. A large table full of fresh meats and savoury treats, as well as at least five jugs of different drinks, was pushed against the wall by the door. The room was clearly illuminated by the large, open window-ways that lead to a balcony which overlooked Blackwater Bay, letting the warm sunlight stream in.
To the right of the room, facing the balcony, was a plump couch. Sprayed out on the couch was King Aegon Targaryen, the Unworthy. As I got closer, I looked on the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms in increasing horror. The man’s middle was a mass of fat just barely covered by the stretched robes in which he was clad. Stout legs and heavy arms protruded from this massive torso to hang limply over the edge of the couch. He seemed too obese to even move, and I noticed flesh worms crawling in his rotting lower legs. The couch beneath and around him was covered in dark stains I assumed to be the main cause of the hideous odour: my supposed father’s own faeces.
Even his silver hair, the defining feature of House Targaryen, and which must have been so glorious on him, was matted and falling out in some places. I had the urge to vomit but I fought it down and continued to approach cautiously.
“And you are?”
I looked around, only then realising there were other people in the room. The man that had spoken was an older man with a thin, wispy beard. His long white hair trailed down his back like a withered old snake. He wore a black cloak over the grey robes of a maester. The maester’s chain around his neck was long and I counted at least a dozen links in it, marking him as a man of great learning. Two young men also in maester’s robes stood behind him, though their sparser chains suggested they were acolytes.
“Aenys Storm,” I said quietly, wondering if I was somehow disturbing the fat lump/king on the couch just a few feet away.
“Ah,” the man said, raising an eyebrow. “I see.”
“Are you the Grand Maester?”
“Hmm?” The man blinked. “Oh, yes, Aethelmure’s the name. So, finally turned up just before the old man pops his clogs, eh?”
“What?” I asked him, confused and shocked.
Grand Maester Aethelmure pointed a gnarled finger at me. “You heard me, boy.”
I glanced over his shoulder, but the acolytes’ blank faces told me this was the old maester’s normal behaviour.
“Well,” Grand Maester Aethelmure continued casually, “you’re cutting it pretty close, boy. There’s nothing I can do for the king other than give him milk of the poppy for the pain.”
“Honestly, why even come?” Aethelmure asked me, accusingly.
“To say goodbye…”
“Say goodbye? More like say hello, you’ve never met the bloody man!” Aethelmure shook his head in exasperation. “What even is he to you, hmm? All he ever did for you was spill his seed inside your mother’s-”
“Grand Maester,” one of the acolytes finally cut in, “perhaps we should leave the boy alone with his father.”
“Fine, fine, I know when I’m not wanted,” the old maester said angrily, beginning to move towards the door. “All I do for these people and this is my thanks…”
I lost the rest of his grumblings as he exited room, his two young acolytes slipping out in his wake.
So, it seemed the current Grand Maester was of the ‘get off my lawn, you darn kids’ variety. Brilliant.
“So, you’re Aenys.”
My head whipped around to where the voice came from- the couch. Slowly, I walked around the edge of the couch to stare Aegon the Cunt full in his pudgy face. Aegon’s eyes were open and staring right back at me and with some discomfort I noticed his eyes really were my eyes.
“Yes,” I said, slowly. “Your son.”
“Yes, I know.” Aegon chuckled and I was surprised how clear and strong his voice still was. “My long-lost Tarth bastard.”
I know not what to say so I simply stood there, staring at him.
“I remember your mother, a little bit at least,” Aegon leered, seemingly taking little notice of me. “Didn’t have much in the way of tits and arse, but she had the prettiest little face.”
I could slowly feel my teeth clenching and hands balling into fists. Aegon grinned when he glanced down and noticed.
“Don’t like that, eh? Good, I wouldn’t expect you to.” Aegon shifted slightly, groaning in pain as he did so. “At least you’ve got balls,” he continued once he’d recovered from the movement, “more than I can say for some of my… progeny.”
There was a few beats of silence as Aegon looked me up and down.
“Daemon tells me you acquit yourself well in the yard.”
Jesus, Daemon Blackfyre was the biggest fucking gossip ever, wasn’t he?
“I’ll be one of the best knights in the kingdoms in a few years,” I said confidently, knowing that I had to bullshit a little bit if I wanted my Dark Sister plan to pay off. “Just like Daemon.”
“Aye.” Aegon grinned savagely. “Something tells me you’re right. I was just like that in my day, you know.”
As Aegon began coughing ferociously, I thought about Aegon’s last statement. While he was meant to have been an able warrior in his day, I was pretty sure he never got to ‘great’ levels or higher like his brother. Best not to mention that to him, though.
“I do not doubt it, Your Grace,” I said, as Aegon’s coughing fit continued.
“Father,” Aegon finally choked out, looking up at me with something like desperation. “Call me father. I command it.”
“Alright… father.” I said. The word tasted bitter on my tongue.
Aegon seemed pleased with it, however.
“Get me some more wine. I have a thirst.”
I nodded hesitantly and walked unsteadily over to the table. I picked up a jug of cool red wine and brought it over to Aegon, but I was then unsure of what to do with it.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Aegon groused, opening his mouth.
Biting my bottom lip, I cautiously reached out with the jug until the edge rested against his open mouth. Then I slowly tipped it so that the fresh wine trickled into Aegon’s open mouth. The king swallowed it all down hungrily, while I watched with a mild disgust that I hoped was not displayed on my face. After he’d seemed to have his fill, I lifted the jug away and placed it on a small end table next to the couch.
“Ahh… that’s good stuff.” Aegon said, a dribble of spilt wine running from the corner of his mouth and down his multiple chins. “From old Butterwell’s private stash. The fat goat is always so eager to please,” he chuckled, cruelly.
“They say he has the best wines north of the Arbor,” I said diplomatically, repeating something Ser Arryk had mentioned on the journey here.
“Yes, much better than that barbarian swill they make in D-Dorne.” He seemed to have trouble even saying the word Dorne. After a moment of silence, Aegon’s piercing eyes suddenly narrowed in his chubby face. “Met that Dornish whore, did you?”
“Er… who?” I asked, my voice rather high pitched.
“My son’s wife,” Aegon spat.
“Princess Mariah?” I blinked. “Yes, just outside. She, um, seemed…”
“Grasping, yes.” Aegon nodded fiercely, apparently not even hearing me. “Up jumped whore. That weak fool should never have conceded to the Martells. They were, are, our enemies!”
He’s talking about Baelor the Blessed, I realised.
“Aenys.” Aegon fixed his eyes on me. “How would you have dealt with the Dornish, eh? After Dae’s death?”
Dae? Guess he was close to Daeron the Young Dragon. Well, they were cousins, I suppose. And he did name a son after him.
“I…” I struggled for an answer. What did Aegon want to hear? “Well, I’d have killed the hostages for a start.”
Aegon closed his eyes and nodded.
“Then, er, I’d have assembled thousands more swords and horses and ships than King Daeron had even done. I’d sweep through that hostile desert like a storm, killing anything that did not yield.”
Definitely not what I would’ve done.
“I would leave nothing but desolate wasteland behind me and the broken corpses of those foolish enough to resist me,” I said, getting into a bit of a roll. “Until finally they submitted, or there was no one left.”
“Yes…” Aegon breathed, a mixture of delight and bloodlust written across his face. “You’ve the blood of the dragon, Aenys. I can feel it.”
Well, that worked. All I needed to do was promote a bit of regional genocide. Simple.
“I almost did, you know,” Aegon said. “I assembled a fleet, a grand fleet, yes. It would have swept aside those pathetic Dornishmen, but the gods decided otherwise. A storm scattered it. Black magic, perhaps.”
Aegon lent over the side of the couch with great effort and spat on the floor, making me jump away from him.
“And the dragons! You should have seen the dragons, my son,” Aegon said, now wide-eyed. “Seven of them. But the pyromancers, they lied. Yes, they lied!”
Aegon quietened for a moment and all I could hear was his heavy, laboured breathing.
“Daemon,” Aegon finally said. “A loyal boy, don’t you think?”
“He’s a great fighter,” I said. “And he’ll be a great man, I’ve no doubt of that, father.”
“Yes, yes a great fighter. And handsome, too… just like I was,” Aegon said with some pride. “Oh, but he is almost the Warrior himself with the sword.”
“That must be why you gave him Blackfyre, father,” I pushed, sensing my chance.
“Yes, the sword,” Aegon said. “He deserves the sword. Daeron’s no fighter. With Daemon it’ll at least get some use, eh? Daeron’s more like to use it to open letters.”
Aegon chuckled meanly to himself.
“Well, he’s got Dark Sister for that now, anyway,” I said, innocently.
Aegon looked at me and grunted.
Seed hopefully planted.
“Daeron…” Aegon croaked. “I suppose he’s already sitting on my throne, planning his triumphant coronation.”
“He is just outside the door, father,” I corrected him. “He is dutiful.”
“Dutiful…” Aegon snorted. “He’s just…”
And then Aegon’s eyes seemed to widen as if realising something and his mouth twisted into a sly grin. With dread, I realised the idea that had suddenly come to him. I watched with horror as he turned to me, a cruel glint in his eye.
“Aenys, it’s been good talking to you,” my father said. “Could you step outside and fetch Aethelmure and my son? And send for Daemon and Lord Hightower? I have an announcement… no, a decree.”
I could try to talk him out of it. I could subtly warn Daeron, to see if he could covertly somehow stop it. I could even grab a pillow off the bed and smother the cunt to death.
Instead I followed my father’s order and walked to open the door, though it felt as if I was opening more than one door.
The eternal question: how many different ways can I come up with to describe purple eyes?
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight
Aegon had managed to convene a rather large group in a relatively short space of time. Grand Maester Aethelmure sat by the king’s bedside, a long scroll in his left hand and an inked quill poised in his right. Behind him stood Lord Jon Hightower, a short, portly man, with a wispy moustache, the Hand’s chain gleaming around his neck. Prince Daeron, Princess Mariah and Lord Desmond Costayne, the Master of Laws, also huddled around Aegon’s couch, while I stood next to Daemon at the back of the group, feeling out of place. The figure of Ser Eomer Follard, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, stood in the far corner, as impassive as all members of that order seemed to be.
“I… I hereby declare…” Aegon began.
Daeron shifted nervously in front of me. How much could he guess of what was to happen?
For that matter, how much could I guess? Would it go strictly as canon and be a simple legitimization? Or had my short conversation with Aegon the Cunt switched something in his brain, perhaps to go even more radical?
Fuck, I hoped not.
“… that from this day forth,” Aegon continued, “all natural children born of my seed, including, but not limited to, Daemon Waters, Aenys Storm, Shiera Waters and Mya, Gwenys and Brynden Rivers…”
Aegon had to pause for breath here and I smiled despite the seriousness of the situation at the ridiculous amounts of bastards this idiot had produced. And he’d barely named half of them!
“… shall be considered full members of House Targaryen.”
Grand Maester Aethelmure’s hand paused in its writing. Beside me, Daemon gasped and his face split into a grin. I could see Daeron’s shoulders tense in front of me and his wife quickly reached down to take his hand within hers, while Lord Hightower seemed to lean forward in anticipation. Lord Costayne’s face was a picture of astonishment.
I watched it all with grim forbearance. It felt like I was watching the replay of a car crash. The second that thought popped into my head, the bottom fell out of my stomach.
Don’t think about the crash, don’t think about Martina, or earth, or…
“From this day until their last day, they are legitimized members of House Targaryen,” Aegon finished, the triumph clear in his tone, eyes latched on Daeron the entire time.
“Your Grace…” Daeron stepped forwards, desperation in his voice. “Father…”
“Silence!” Aegon snapped, venom lacing his tone and spittle flying from his lips. “Silence from all, I command it, but especially from you, my son. My spineless son.”
Daeron lapsed into stony silence.
Aegon chuckled and said, “By the Old Gods and the New, I declare this.”
“And this is your will, Your Grace?” Lord Hightower asked, simpering.
“Then if you’d just affix your seal, Your Grace,” the Grand Maester said in a business-like tone. He held up the scroll, then looked behind him. “Costayne,” he snapped, “make yourself useful and give me a hand.”
Startled, Lord Costayne moved forwards. He accepted the scroll from Grand Maester Aethelmure, freeing the older man’s hands. Aethelmure reached into the satchel around his waist and brought out a small wooden seal stamped with the three-headed dragon of House Targaryen, and a small box containing what I assumed to be waxing seal.
With the help of Aethelmure, the dying king placed the seal into the wax and then stamped the bottom of the scroll, still held up by Lord Costayne.
“It is done,” Aethelmure pronounced. He snatched the scroll from Lord Costayne’s stiff fingers and waved it in the air, letting the wax dry.
“C-Copy it,” Aegon commanded. “Send a copy to the Citadel and to Dragonstone. Have them catalogue it. I wouldn’t want the proclamation to go missing.”
Daeron’s hands tightened into fists in front of me at the insinuation Aegon was making.
Aethelmure sent a quick look Daeron’s way, before bowing deeply. “As you wish, esteemed king.”
I think he was taking the piss, but Aegon hardly seemed to notice.
“Can you believe it?” Daemon whispered in my ear. “We’re Targaryens now! Well, without the name, I suppose, but still. It’s all I’ve ever dreamed of.”
“It’s, er, certainly unexpected,” I murmured back.
I supposed it could have gone worse; the proclamation seemed to have mostly gone as canon had, though I couldn’t be sure as Martin had never gone into detail with this period. Perhaps in the original timeline, Aegon had called fewer people in. Perhaps his words had been slightly different- had Aegon specified his bastards now being members of House Targaryen in OTL, as he had now, or just simply legitimized them? Unfortunately, I doubted I would ever know.
“Aren’t you excited?”
“Of course,” I said, forcing a smile.
He smiled back. I turned my attention back to Aegon and was surprised to find Daeron was knelt next to his father, muttering furiously.
I caught only a few of the words, painting a muddied picture.
“Brash… consequences… since… mother… Ser Morgil… your son…”
Aegon grunted back.
“Not… never… weak… far better… I only wish…”
Daeron made to reply, his face flushed, but Aegon cut him off, no longer attempting to be quiet.
“Enough! I have spoken,” Aegon growled. His sweaty face was a mixture of cruelty and satisfaction.
“Yes,” Daeron returned coolly, stepping back, “it seems you have, father.”
A stewing silence settled as the two stared at each other. Beside me, Daemon hoped from foot to foot in excitement, while in front of me Princess Mariah gazed at her husband with a worried expression. Lord Hightower seemed almost hungry as he glanced between father and son, while Lord Costayne looked completely out of his depth and Grand Maester Aethelmure glanced around in vague interest.
Aegon’s voice broke the uneasy silence.
“Your Grace?” Ser Eomer moved forwards with an easy grace. As he came into view, I caught sight of a long, bony face and muddy brown eyes. Thinning, straw-coloured hair fell in strands to just above his bushy eyebrows.
The king ignored him for the time being, however, and instead turned his head until his eyes were fixed on me.
“Aenys,” he breathed. “You’ve proved yourself true blood of the dragon, yes. A fine warrior, and you shall be a fine knight. You require a reward, no?”
“Er…” I replied uncertainly, aware of Daeron’s smouldering gaze.
Aegon looked back at Daeron.
“Dark Sister requires a new master, eh?”
Holy shit, my plan had actually worked. But glancing at Daeron’s slowly reddening face, I wished it hadn’t.
I tried to ignore Daemon thumping me on the back in excitement.
“Must you give away both our ancestral blades, Your Grace?” Daeron said through gritted teeth.
“And who else would use them? You?” Aegon chortled cruelly.
“I would sooner be torn apart by grumkins and snarks before letting a Dornishman wield the blade of Daemon the RoguePrince, of Visenya, sister to the Conqueror, and so many mighty Targaryens.”
“My son, your grandson, is no Dornishman,” Daeron responded, angrily. Beside him, Princess Mariah looked down, her face flushed.
“He certainly looks like one,” Aegon shot back, petulantly.
“By the Gods,” Daeron began, but Aegon cut across him.
“Silence! Dark Sister is mine to do with as I wish,” Aegon snarled. “You are not yet the king, do not forget that.”
“As you wish, Your Grace.” Daeron muttered, withdrawing into taciturn silence.
Aegon smirked in triumph.
“Fetch the sword.” He said, addressing Ser Eomer. “Make sure it gets to my son. To Aenys.”
“As you command, Your Grace.”
Ser Eomer swept out of the room.
In the silence that followed I noticed that Lord Hightower and Lord Costayne were shooting me looks and I realised I was expected to do something.
A little unsure of the proper etiquette in this extremely weird situation, I moved forward and awkwardly got on one knee before Aegon the Cunt.
“Thankyou, father,” I told him. “I shall train hard and endeavour to use this most generous gift to good use in protecting House Targaryen in the future.”
The last bit was my hasty, and less than subtle, attempt to try and tell Daeron I was no threat to him. His fierce gaze did not relent, however.
“I’ve no doubt you’ll put it to good use.” Aegon grinned viciously, patting my head with fat fingers. I tried not to flinch at his touch.
Aegon withdrew his hand. I stood up and back peddled slowly to my earlier position, eyes lowered.
“I…” Aegon began, before being sent into another vicious coughing fit. When it had subsided, he groaned in apparent pain.
“Your Grace.” Aethelmure stepped forward. “Perhaps it is time for more Milk of the Poppy?”
Aegon nodded weakly.
“Right,” Aethelmure turned on the rest of us, looking years younger. “Willem, fetch the necessary resources. Andros, here take the declaration. You know what the king ordered. The rest of you,” he eyed us imperiously, “get out.”
The Grand Maester apparently had no qualms about ordering around two of the most powerful lords in the kingdoms and the soon to be king.
As we all shuffled out, I was struck by one thought.
Well, it could’ve gone worse.
As I faced Daeron’s unhappy face, I decided that, actually, it had gone as badly as it possibly could have.
I’d been ‘asked’ to follow Daeron to his solar after we’d all left Aegon the Cunt’s room, though I of course had little choice in it.
So, I’d mumbled to Daemon that I’d see him later, inclined my head respectfully to the lords and followed by older brother to his solar a few corridors away, ignoring the stares of various courtiers.
“Tell me,” Daeron asked me now, “how it is that immediately following your first meeting with our illustrious father, he decides to issue a proclamation legitimizing all his natural children?”
Inwardly, I was asking myself the same thing. Why had it happened like that? Why had Aegon only legitimized his bastards after speaking to me? I was obviously not there in canon, yet the canon proclamation can’t have been much different from my one, other than my getting Dark Sister. Perhaps my machinations to ingratiate myself with Aegon and get hold of Dark Sister had just caused the idea to enter Aegon’s head quicker. I had no way of really knowing.
Now for operation Damage Control.
“I-I swear, Prince Daeron, I had no idea what he had planned,” I said, amplifying my real nerves to play the part of a scared twelve-year-old. “His Grace simply questioned me over my martial training.”
Daeron watched me closely as I continued.
“I told him what he wanted to know, but in truth he did most of the speaking. He… he spoke of Daemon, a little, and Daenerys.” I swallowed, knowing my next words were a gamble. “He also mentioned Dorne and…”
“My wife?” Daeron asked, smile brittle.
“Princess Mariah may have been mentioned.”
“And me too, I’d imagine.”
“You were, Prince Daeron.”
I was trying to play on the dislike between father and son. Let Daeron believe it was Aegon’s spiteful and hateful nature that had caused the legitimization decree, not any poisonous words I may have dripped in the king’s ear. I was but an innocent bystander.
Daeron seemed to snort in bitter amusement at my answer. He glanced away from me, his eyes distant.
“I suspected some parting gesture, but this…” Daeron sighed and focused his eyes on me once more. “You could have hardly influenced His Grace so much in five minutes as to cause this. No, he would have done this without your meeting, I have no doubt.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“This has been an eventful day for you, I am sure,” Daeron continued primly. “You must be tired. A guard outside will show you to your guest chambers.”
I bowed at the dismissal. “Of course, Your Grace,” I intoned.
I left a relieved man- or boy, I was still struggling with my internal identity- but I also knew Daeron was now suspicious of my loyalties and motives. He had seen how close I was with Daemon, and my actions with Aegon had only heightened his qualms. Dark Sister, too, was another mark against me. Daeron likely now thought of me as a threat; he may have thought that before I arrived, but probably not to the extent he did now. It seemed now I had to act even more carefully around my half-brother.
I rubbed my hand wearily on my face and through my hair as I followed the guard through yet more sandstone corridors. This was getting fucking complicated.
Ser Eomer Follard awaited me in my chambers.
The imposing figure of the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard standing next to my bed made me swallow nervously, but I still stole a quick glance around the room to assess my room.
It was bigger than my room back on Tarth, with a large bed covered with what looked to be Myrish silks, a set of table and chairs, and two bulky wardrobes. I didn’t have enough clothes to fill even a half of one of those things, but I was pleased with my quarters, nonetheless.
No balcony, but you can’t have everything.
“Ser Eomer,” I said, turning my attention to the tall knight before me. I noticed the scabbarded Dark Sister in his hands and my heart leapt.
“Storm,” he returned.
“You can call me Aenys, Lord Commander.”
“Storm,” he repeated.
“Here,” he said, thrusting the sword at me. “It is yours now. Use it wisely.”
He fixed me with a stern gaze, and I found myself nodding earnestly back at him as I took the blade within my hands.
“I will, Ser Eomer.”
“Good.” He nodded, apparently satisfied. “I have my duties.”
He strode from the room. A bit of an odd bloke, really.
Ser Eomer was swept from my mind as I considered the Valyrian steel sword balanced in my hands. Carefully, I grasped the slender black leather handle. With a deep breath I unsheathed the blade, letting it’s scabbard fall to the flow, and was greeted with shimmering, mesmerising Valyrian steel. It seemed to almost shine in the dark room, and I grinned as I tested the sword’s weight. It was lighter than even Blackfyre, I thought, and far more beautiful, though Daemon would likely disagree. It’s golden hilt was cut into the image of dancing flames and a solitary ruby, large and glimmering and stunning, was fixed into the handle just above the blade itself. I was scared to even touch the blade, for it looked sharper than anything I had ever seen or will ever see, and that combined with its weight made it a dangerous weapon indeed. This was a sword of skill and speed.
And it was mine.
This beautiful, dangerous blade, that had belonged to Queen Visenya, to her son Maegor the Cruel, to Daemon the Rouge Prince and Aemon the Dragonknight, was mine.
I thought of all the great battles and duels this sword had fought in, the lives it had taken of men great and small, and of the sheer power it denoted. It made me feel like I could do anything, like I could fight the entire world wielding this blade.
I stopped those thoughts before I could get too carried away- it was just a sword, lets be honest- but holding Dark Sister in my hand did appear to unlock some deep ruthless desire within me. I did not know whether it was a desire for glory or power or blood or something else. Nor did I know whether this feeling was normal.
But I did know that some sick part of me that I hated loved that feeling.
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine
“Er… Storm… Heart? Heartstorm!”
“That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Maybe some sort of play on Dark Sister, then?”
“I’m not a dragon or a Valyrian god.”
“Work with me here, Aenys.”
I regarded Daemon’s pouting face sourly.
“Oh, come on, we’re Targaryens now!”
I looked at him sharply, before glancing around us to make sure there were no prying ears. Thankfully, the small minor armoury just off the main training yard of the Red Keep we were in was otherwise empty.
“We are technical members of the house, but Daeron would never allow us to call ourselves Targaryens,” I corrected him.
He rolled his eyes. “I’m not stupid, Aenys. Besides, I’ve grown rather fond of the name Blackfyre.” He fingered the hilt at his hip fondly.
“Then don’t say it.”
“We’re alone, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“The walls have ears in this bloody place,” I responded stubbornly.
“Oh, that’s just a superstitious proverb someone made up,” Daemon said, waving his hand dismissively. “Trust me, I grew up here. There’s a lot of scheming,” he said, his face twisting into distaste at the idea of scheming, “but the walls don’t actually have ears. That’s ridiculous!”
The image of Varys skulking around the secret tunnels that twisted their way through the Red Keep entered my mind, but I could hardly alleviate these thoughts to Daemon. I settled on pursing my lips, which only caused my brother laughter.
“Come on,” he said genially, putting arm around my shoulders, “let’s head to the training yard. You can try out that fancy new sword of yours and let off a little stress while you’re at it, eh? And perhaps the others have some better name ideas for you.”
It sounded like a decent idea, so I let the young knight guide me out of the door and out into the Red Keep’s primary training yard.
It was the day after my arrival in King’s Landing and my eventful meeting with Aegon the Cunt. News of the legitimisation had already spread through the court- it had apparently been announced before all in the throne room, though I did not witness that- and all morning I’d faced piercing stares and hushed whispers everywhere I went. Particular attention had been paid to Dark Sister hanging at my side.
It was annoying and I hated it.
The training yard was pretty sparse all things considered; a few clusters of nobles and knights sparring and riding in the lists and one squadron of men-at-arms drilling in the far corner. I supposed most of the nobles thought it poor taste to practice warfare when the king was still on his deathbed, but Daemon didn’t seem to care, and I certainly didn’t.
We headed over to a large group of young knights and squires. Some I recognized from Daemon’s visit to Tarth; ever laughing and barrel-chested Ser Aubrey Ambrose; Ser Gilbert Cockshaw, the three feathers of his house adorned proudly on his chest; sallow Ser Gareth Banefort, his eyes as dark as the night sky; yet others were a mystery to me.
I was introduced to Ser Mathis Crakehall, the son of the Master of Whisperers, and already known far and wide as ‘Redtusk’, and a few others; twins Hosteen and Justin Rosby, Ser Mern of Blue Hollow, a young hedge knight, and the youngest son of the Lord of Castamere, Ser Robb Reyne. All were skilled warriors who had made a name for themselves in the lists, or were on their way to doing so.
We spent a few hours there sparring, and though I was outmatched in many of the matches against much older and more talented knights, it was not a bad way to spend a morning. The highlight was certainly my spar with Daemon using our Valyrian steel swords (the only time I got to use Dark Sister- all other matches used blunted training weaponry only). Although Daemon still won, I felt I had given him a closer match than our spars on Tarth all those months ago.
Ser Quentyn, the Fireball, joined us during a particularly heated spar between Ser Aubrey and Ser Mathis.
“Ser Fireball!” greeted Daemon happily. “Come to see the finest young swords in the kingdoms?”
Ser Quentyn snorted. “Finest swords in the kingdoms my arse, boyo. You’ve yet to prove yourselves.”
In the background, Ser Aubrey and Redtusk continued to trade furious blows.
“Robb won the tourney at Sarsfield, and Aubrey at Honeyholt, ser,” Ser Gareth pointed out, bristling.
“A few tourney triumphs don’t prove anything,” Fireball returned, darkly, his voice carrying over the sound of Aubrey and Mathis’ grunts and the clash of sword and shield meeting.
Ser Gareth was silenced by Fireball’s tone, but Daemon was apparently braver in the face of the Red Keep’s master-at-arms.
“Most of us are the products of your tutelage, ser,” he said. He regarded the older knight innocently. “Surely this means we are the best knights we can be, as your instruction would result in nothing less, no?”
With a cry of pain and anguish from Ser Aubrey, the spar between him and Redtusk ended with the young Crakehall taking the victory. Everyone ignored this in favour of watching Daemon verbally spar with Fireball (though by the bemused expressions on many of the watching faces, I presumed this was a regular occurrence).
“Trying to be smart with me, Blackfyre?” Fireball asked, his eyes glinting.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, ser.”
That caused Ser Quentyn to huff out a reluctant laugh, Daemon somehow managing to make the man drop his stern visage, and the older knight soon joined the group, dishing out reluctant praise and severe instruction akin to good old Ser Alyn.
As I looked around at the cheerful young group of knights and lordlings, I realised Daemon just had that type of magnetic personality. No wonder so many lords had followed him in rebelling against a dynasty that had ruled over most of Westeros for near two hundred years.
That gave me the unsettling thought that perhaps this whole ‘stopping the Blackfyre Rebellion’ plan was going to be even harder than I had thought. I could see in the way these young, impressionable knights looked to Daemon even now that if he asked them to rise in rebellion with him next week, they’d probably follow him. If Daemon just had that natural draw for men to follow, and with the Blackfyre incident having already happened, there might now be an inevitable pressure for Daemon to push for the throne whatever I did, and he would have the support to make a real go of it. Especially with men like Aegor around him. And what could I do against all that?
My best chance was probably trying to improve Daemon’s relationship with Daeron’s side of the family, and curbing the influence of men like Aegor, so that Daemon simply did not want to rebel. But, thanks to Aegon the Cunt, that looked like a grim and difficult task. Daeron had already formed suspicions of Daemon, while Daemon was resentful of Daeron. I doubted Daeron would listen to me if I told him he should reach out to Daemon more or to take the Dornish integration slower, especially after Dark Sister and Daeron’s recent questions for me. And Daemon would just laugh me off if I approached him in a similar way.
The fact was that the Rebellion had more than just one cause and even if I somehow neutralised one, the war would likely still happen, just in an altered state, perhaps.
No matter what my actions or options were, I couldn’t help but feel that the fuse had been lit, that the collision course had been set, and that the question was not if but when it all blew up.
But I would still try, for what else could I do?
That afternoon brought rumours of the king’s condition worsening further, though, I thought in bemusement, it was hard to see how my father’s condition could be any worse than what I had witnessed the day before. Servants gossiped that Aegon was losing his wits, and his incoherent words were that of a madman, while lords noted to each other that Daeron had not visited the king’s chambers all day. I took notice of the whisperings but knew better than to take each as fact.
With nothing much else to do, and still mulling over plans in my head, I spent that afternoon exploring the warren of corridors in the Red Keep, but I made sure to stay away from the royal quarters and the Great Hall for I knew they would be hubs of activity and I preferred to stay away from prying eyes.
Official announcement of the king’s state had apparently been made shortly after Daemon had written to me, or so Ser Aubrey told me. That meant most lords and ladies of the crownlands had arrived before me and were already here, but now the great lords of the realm from further afar started to stream in to pay their respects to their ailing king and prepare for the coronation of the new one.
Lord Tyrell arrived in the early evening, bringing with him a score of bannermen and a retinue larger than the entire household at Evenfall Hall. Daeron received him, and I knew Daemon and his followers were planning to be there, so I assumed that was where most lords, ladies, knights and courtiers of the Red Keep would be for the foreseeable future. I saw no reason to be there myself. I was hardly going to be introduced to the Warden of the South and his most important bannermen. It was therefore a perfect time to visit the godswood.
The godswood of the Red Keep was far larger than the one at Evenfall Hall, but I thought it lacked personality. Tall trees of elm, alder and black cottonwood rose like giants from the ground, and were impressive enough, I conceded, but I disliked the short, well-kept grass and sparse flowers. The godswood at Evenfall Hall was overgrown with long grass, wild weeds and half a hundred different types of flower; it was more natural, I thought, and far more beautiful.
As I walked towards the great oak heart tree that dominated the centre of the godswood, the trilling of the birds and the rustling of the leaves as my only company, I pondered my next move.
Despite my earlier pessimism I was still committed to doing all I could to stop the rebellion. But before I tried to go messing with the great politics of the real (more than I already had), I needed a more secure power base and I needed more influence, particularly with Daeron’s side of the family.
And so, I resolved that my next goal would be to improve my Targaryen relations. Daenerys seemed pretty amiable, but I was unsure how much influence she wielded over the crown prince, nor did I know how much he cared for her. She was close to Daemon, after all. Baelor was probably the more important person to befriend, and he seemed nice enough. However, I could tell already from comments made that morning by Daemon’s knights that there were two groups, or factions, of young knights and squires at the Red Keep, with one following Daemon, and the other Baelor. It seemed crazy to me that there were two distinct, opposing sides already, and in truth I was curious as to how that came to be in the first place and resolved to do some digging on the subject, but that was the way it was and my rapport with Daemon’s group was likely to hinder any attempt I made to befriend Baelor and his group, as well as jeopardise my existing relationship with Daemon and his knights. Any approach I made would have to be subtle and private.
So how, exactly, could I befriend Baelor?
The answer came to me in the next moment as I stepped out of the trees and into the heart tree’s clearing. It was if some supernatural force, perhaps the twathead who had sent me here and started this nightmare in the first place, had taken pity on my pathetic struggles and decided to present me with a gift for their own amusement.
There in the clearing, standing before the heart tree was Rhaegel Targaryen. Next to him was Septa Rhaena, the former Targaryen princess who I had seen the previous day, but not spoken to. A Kingsguard knight stood behind the young prince and glanced back at my entry, his unfamiliar eyes narrowing at my sudden presence.
I held my hands up in innocence to the knight and made my presence known to Rhaegel.
“My prince,” I called, softly.
Rhaegel turned slowly and regarded me with wide eyes. He gazed at me for a few moments, showing no recognition or emotion. I squirmed uncomfortably but then the Targaryen boy blinked and favoured me with a dreamy smile.
“Uncle Aenys,” he said. “Are you enjoying the godswood?”
“Very much so,” I replied, carefully.
I began to walk closer but was stopped when the Kingsguard knight guarding Rhaegel stepped in front of me, blocking my path.
“Please let my uncle through, Ser Warryn,” Rhaegel asked the knight. “I do not think he means me harm.”
Interesting that he phrased it as a request, not a command, I thought.
Ser Warryn Lychester, known to Westeros as ‘The Talon Knight’, gave me one last glare before letting me pass.
“You are here rather than welcoming Lord Tyrell,” Rhaegel said, as if trying to figure out a particularly tough puzzle.
“I thought the godswood would be more interesting,” I replied, giving the young prince a smile that was not returned. “And you, my prince? Why are you not there to welcome Lord Leo?”
“My father tries to limit my public attendance at official functions as much as possible,” Rhaegel said idly. The young prince bent down and picked up a fallen leaf, twirling it in his fingers. “I fear he sees me as an embarrassment.”
I shifted uncomfortably, though Rhaegel appeared carefree, his eyes still holding that far-away look.
“Now, Prince Rhaegel, that is hardly fair to your father,” Septa Rhaena spoke up, her soft voice chiding. “He just fears such events would… overwhelm you.”
“Perhaps,” the prince replied, his voice so small I could barely hear the word. “Besides,” he continued in a slightly louder voice, “I would not wish to be anywhere but here. A magical place, don’t you think, uncle?”
“Yes, it is very… pretty.”
“Daenerys once told me fairies and elves live here, though they hide from our view,” Rhaegel told me eagerly. He peered at the trees and bushes around him as he spoke, apparently looking for these mystical creatures.
His face was alight with childlike wonder, so different from the world-weary melancholy he had displayed just a moment earlier, and both of these were different than the gentle meekness he had shown when I had first meet him. How many more moods and personalities did this mad boy have?
“She may well be right, my prince,” I said. “The princess strikes me as one whose words should be heeded.”
“Look behind you, ser!” Rhaegel said suddenly, pointing behind me, his face panicked.
I spun on my heel, expecting to see a hooded assassin or perhaps a faceless knight in full plate, but all I saw were more trees.
I glanced to my right and saw Septa Rhaena laughing behind her raised palm, while Ser Warryn, who still watched me like a hawk, had a faint smirk across his face now.
“Do you not see it, ser?” Rhaegel asked me. “The ferocious Shadowcat before us? You must protect me, as is your duty!”
Oh. He wants me to fight a pretend Shadowcat.
Well okay then.
I snatched up a broken off branch from the ground underneath the heart tree and brandished it in front of me like a sword. I felt a bit stupid, wielding a non-existent blade at a non-existent foe, but if it helped me in my goal of befriending Rhaegel, it was a small price to pay.
“Get behind me, Your Grace!” I called to the prince, who giggled wildly and danced behind me. I turned my attention to the ‘Shadowcat’. “Come no nearer, foul beast! Be away with you, or else feel the sting of my blade!”
I then engaged in a series of frenzied lunges, swings, dodges, ducks, rolls and an assortment of other moves in my fight with the imaginary Shadowcat. I was soon sweating and breathing heavily, but I continued for near ten minutes. By the end of the fight my left arm was hanging useless at my side, the Shadowcat having managed to move under my defence and bite a large chunk out of it- I’d sold that with an appropriate howl of pain- but finally I managed a death blow against the creature, sticking my ‘sword’ deep into the Shadowcat’s stomach.
“Your Grace,” I panted, kneeling at Rhaegel’s feet and clutching my left arm tightly, “it is over.”
Rhaegel giggled with childlike glee and clapped, Septa Rhaena was laughing and even Ser Warryn seemed amused by my efforts.
“Well fought, ser,” Rhaegel commended me, raising his chin up imperiously and taking the role of a proud lord or king. “I am in your debt.”
“I did only my solemn duty to my liege.”
“As much fun as this has been, Prince Rhaegel,” Septa Rhaena interjected, “we must prepare for the dinner with your family and Lord Tyrell tonight.”
Rhaegel sighed and his face seemed to close off slightly, but he nodded resignedly.
“Goodbye, uncle.” He turned away to leave, but then glanced back at me hesitantly. I could see something different in him then. Something vulnerable. “Perhaps… perhaps we could do this again?”
I smiled at him kindly. “It would be my pleasure, my prince.”
“My name is Rhaegel, Aenys.”
I tried to hide my triumph. “Very well, Rhaegel. Until next time.”
The prince nodded, turned and walked from the heart tree’s clearing, followed by Septa Rhaena and Ser Warryn, leaving me in their wake.
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten
I could feel the sweat trickling down the back of my neck. Nerves wriggled like snakes in my stomach.
I forced a smile onto my face.
The intimidating gaze of two Targaryen princesses on me was causing me to be more scared than when I’d faced that sack of shit, Aegon the Unworthy. Or when I’d duelled Daemon in the training yard.
Daena Targaryen was brash and beautiful, and her stare was more open and fiercer. But it was Elaena Targaryen’s eyes on me that had me sweating. The younger sister might seem more approachable but there was something probing in her questions and her eyes held a cunning that her older sister lacked.
She could be a valuable ally at court, I thought. But like most valuable allies, she could also be a dangerous enemy.
“Is the island of Tarth truly as beautiful as the singers would have us believe, Aenys?” Jeyne Waters, a smiling girl of nine who held all the classic Targaryen features, asked me.
I was suddenly reminded that this was supposed to be a light-hearted dinner with the Targaryen sisters and their children, not some courtly chess match.
I turned to the small girl, my smile becoming less forced. “It is, Jeyne. Glorious mountains to rival the Mountains of the Moon, splendid green meadows and sandy beaches, all surrounded by an ocean which sparkles the colour of a sapphire.”
Jeyne seemed taken by my description, her eyes wide. She turned to Elaena.
“Oh, please, mother, can’t we visit?” Jeyne pleaded. “It sounds absolutely beautiful!”
“Now, now, dear,” Elaena patted her arm, “I’m sure you’ll get to see Tarth one day, but not now. What with the king in his current… state, we must stay in King’s Landing.”
“Very well,” her daughter replied, hanging her head in disappointment.
“Gwenys told me that all of Tarth’s people are descended from Ser Galladon of Morne,” Jon Waters, Jeyne’s twin brother, said. He seemed completely convinced of this.
His mother and aunt, however, laughed.
“Oh, Jon,” Daena grinned, “that is an old wives tale.”
“You shouldn’t let Gwenys talk you into such nonsense.” Daemon agreed from where he was sat next to his mother, taking a break from shovelling roasted pork into his mouth. “I doubt Ser Galladon even existed, let alone spread his seed so mu-”
Elaena coughed to silence him, likely not wanting her nine-year-old children to hear Daemon’s thoughts on Ser Galladon’s seed-spreading. Daemon gave his aunt an apologetic look.
Jon seemed a little upset, no doubt feeling he was being mocked, so I tried to take his question more seriously.
“While that particular tale may be exaggerated,” I said carefully, Daemon and Daena both snorting at my diplomacy, “the Perfect Knight may well have been as legendary as the stories say. I have visited the ruins of his castle myself.”
“You have visited Morne?” Jon asked, eagerly, previous dismay forgotten.
“I have.” I nodded. “The foundations of the castle are still strong. It must have once been a mighty fortification.”
I did not mention that the ruins of Morne were little more than a few dusty columns and a lump of rocks. Nor did I tell the boy that the ruins now served as Lord Elston’s base of mining operations on the eastern side of the island. Best to keep those little titbits to myself.
“I’m going to be just as famous a knight as Ser Galladon one day!” Jon vowed, raising his hand as if he held an imaginary sword. “Ser Jon the Fearless!”
“Ser Jon Farts-A-Lot more like,” Jeyne giggled, causing Jon to turn red and the others around the table to laugh.
“Shut up, stupid!”
“I’m not stupid, you are, stupid!”
Before Jon could reply with what was likely another creative insult, Elaena stepped in, her voice firm.
“That is enough,” she told her young children. “Is this how you behave before company?”
“Sorry, mother,” they grumbled.
Elaena held their gaze for a few more moments, before she seemed to deem their apology acceptable.
“How have you been finding King’s Landing, Aenys?” Daena asked me.
“It’s certainly different,” I said, with a slight grimace.
“Yes,” Elaena smiled, “I sometimes forget how strange this city can seem to those first visiting. For myself, having lived here my entire life, it is all I know.”
“Not that we saw much of the city in our younger days, sister,” Daena remarked darkly.
Elaena glanced warily at her sister and tilted her head. “Yes, for a time we may have been in seclusion-”
“Captivity,” her older sister growled. Daemon reached out to take his mother’s hand. I looked away.
“A long time ago now, Daena,” I heard Elaena say.
“Time cannot wash away our imprisonment, Elaena.” Daena returned. “We were there for a decade, locked up like cattle!”
“And it is in the past,” Elaena said, calm in the face of her sister’s anger. “Baelor is dead and we are entertaining kin. I expect to have to reprimand my children, not you.”
“Apologies, dear sister, Aenys,” Daena said after a moment. “My emotions got the better of me.”
There was an awkward silence for several seconds. Jon and Jeyne fiddling loudly with their cutlery was the only sound that could be heard. I was left shocked at the sheer vehemence Daena still displayed, nearly fifteen years after being released from the Maidenvault. God, that woman could hold a grudge, even against a dead man.
“So, Aenys,” Elaena began after a long stretch of silence, “Did your lord uncle not think to send a guardian with you? He must trust you a lot, to give you such autonomy in the capital.”
“Well… there’s Ser Arryk.” I pointed out. “He’s the leader of the guards my uncle sent with me.”
Daena glanced around. “And where is this Ser Arryk now?”
Probably exploring the many inns and brothels in this stinking shitheap of a city, I thought.
“In fact,” Elaena raised an eyebrow shrewdly, “I don’t remember seeing this Ser Arryk when you arrived, either.”
“To be fair, that was because Fireball…” I started to say, but was talked over.
“Was he at the yard this morning?” Daena asked her son.
Daemon frowned. “No, I don’t think so. None of Aenys’ guards were.”
Daena and Elaena both turned to me, steel in their eyes. I sighed.
“What was Lord Tarth thinking, sending these imbeciles to guard his nephew?” Daena frowned. “To guard the son of the king.”
“Perhaps we should…” Elaena began but I rushed to stop that thought in its infancy.
“Honestly, it’s fine!” I said with a relaxed smile. “As much as I appreciate your concern, in truth I like to wander without such… protection. Besides, I hardly think I’m in any danger. Is not the Red Keep one of the safest castles in the kingdoms?”
Of course, I knew my words to be a complete lie, as did the Targaryen women in front of me if their incredulous expressions at my words were anything to go by. But, really, I needed to be able to explore the Red Keep without Ser Arryk Blueblood or one of his men breathing down my neck. Currently, I was getting a veritable goldmine of information from talking to servants or eavesdropping on conversations between lords, knights and servants discussing the nobility they tended to. I was also trying to access the tunnel network in the Red Keep and, though I hadn’t managed to find an entrance, I figured it was only a matter of time.
Anyway, I doubted I had pissed off anyone enough yet for them to actively try and kill me or something. Well, maybe the Dark Sister thing might of, but I doubted it. Besides, any competent assassin wouldn’t be stopped by Ser Arryk Blueblood and any of the aging, balding, over-weight guardsmen he commanded.
“Come on, mother,” Daemon defended me, “Aenys isn’t in any danger!”
Oh, the naivety of Daemon Blackfyre.
“It’s not like I go around with a squadron of guards,” Daemon pointed out.
No, but you did have a dedicated group of young knights who followed you basically everywhere like a bunch of lost puppies. I could tell Daemon’s mother and aunt were thinking the same thing.
“Besides, he’s with me and the lads most of the time anyway,” Daemon continued. “And who’s going to attack us?”
That was finally a decent argument, and thankfully Daena and Elaena dropped the topic there, though I doubted indefinitely.
Unfortunately, the next topic was no less uncomfortable for me.
“There has been interesting news coming from your little island of late,” Elaena said, her voice innocent.
I raised an eyebrow. “And what news would that be?”
“Why, this new town of course!” Daena exclaimed. “What’s its name again?”
“How odd,” Daena observed.
“What is the origin of that exactly?” Daemon asked, bemusement written across his face.
“It doesn’t have one,” I answered.
“Who named it?” Elaena was looking at me closely.
“I did,” I admitted. “I guess I just liked the sound of it.”
“Its as fine a name as any,” Daemon assured me.
“Let us drink to the town of London and its future,” Daena said with a dazzling smile, picking up her wine glass.
The others around the table joined the toast, though Jon and Jeyne toasted with water not wine. I smiled at them.
“I will pass your good wishes on to my uncle,” I said. “I’m certain he will appreciate them.”
“It seems strange, though,” Elaena said, running the slender fingers of her left hand lightly up and down her chair’s armrest, “that Lord Tarth would suddenly begin this enterprise, and perhaps one or two others as well if reports are to believed, when he has not shown such… intrepidness before.”
Fuck me. How much did she know? How much did she suspect? And how much should I tell her?
I took a bite of roast potato to give me a moment to think. Frankly, I doubted she thought I had anything to do with the changes on Tarth, but it must have seemed odd to her (and others) that Lord Elston had turned from a quiet/lazy lord to a more radical and perhaps ambitious one. Mayhaps, she did have some spies in Evenfall Hall who could have reported to her at least some of my actions but I had trouble believing her influence spread that far. More likely, she had noticed the changes on Tarth and was probing me for possible information on some new power dynamic change; perhaps Lord Elston had a new advisor, or Ser Donnel had taken over much of House Tarth’s operations. All of that would be important information for those who played the Game of Thrones.
So, here was the all-important question: how much did I want Elaena Targaryen and the others at this dinner, and by extension the rest of the world (because word always gets out in this fucking city), to know? I wanted at least some of my actions to be known. I mean what I had done was fucking impressive. I wanted to be known as someone clever, and useful. But I also didn’t want to cause suspicions amongst those who would find it hard to believe a twelve-year-old could overhaul an entire island’s economic policy and help build a city. That would garner far too much attention for my liking.
So, once again I would have to walk a fine line.
“In truth, it was a team effort,” I told the table. “Maester Arnolf is an extremely smart man. He’s good at the overall planning, the idea stage really, while my great-uncle Larys, Evenfall Hall’s steward, is great at the small details. The rest of my uncle’s advisors play their parts too.”
“You seem to know an awful lot about it,” Elaena remarked.
I nodded. “Well, it was my idea to build a new port town to capitalise on Tarth’s advantageous position.”
“Ah, so that is why you were given the honour of naming it,” Daena said.
“Yes. I can’t take too much credit, of course.” I told them. “Maester Arnolf, Larys and others did much of the finer work. I simply helped here and there.”
“I see,” Elaena said. “And the rumours of Tarth’s new tax variations?”
“Are true,” I confirmed. “That came about through a discussion I had with Maester Arnolf. I was curious about laws and different lords’ autonomy from the crown. When we looked over the full list of taxes, levies and the like we found the situation… unsatisfactory. I had a few ideas, as did the good Maester and the new policy evolved from there.”
“Now that is interesting,” Elaena said with flashing eyes.
“Really?” Daemon’s face was scrunched up in disgust. “It sounds dreadfully boring. I don’t know how you can stand that stuff, Aenys.”
“It’s interesting,” I said. “And a chance to learn new things should never be refused.”
“Unless it’s learning a technique of the sword or lance, I don’t see the point,” Daemon said, causing his mother to frown.
“Books and learning have their own power,” I said with a shrug.
“Wise words.” Elaena smiled at me.
I inclined my head to her as Daemon shrugged in indifference.
“Jon, how went your lessons with Ser Gwayne today?” Elaena asked her son, thankfully diverting the subject away from House Tarth.
“I won my spar against Maekar!” Jon told her, excited.
“Well done, Jon,” Elaena said, a smile gracing her face.
Jeyne was less impressed.
“Maekar is three years younger than us!” She pointed out with a snort.
“Jeyne,” Elaena said as a warning, before Jon could retort. She turned to her son once more. “Was Aerys there?”
Jon shook his head. “Just me, Maekar and Brynden, mother.”
Bloodraven was allowed to train with the royal children? I could understand Jon, I mean Elaena was a highly respected woman and the twins’ father was the Oakenfist (on a side note I really wished I could have been transferred to Westeros when either he or the Sea Snake were alive and kicking; those Velaryon guys were fucking bad ass). But Bloodraven? That was interesting. Somehow, I doubted Daemon had been afforded the same courtesy. At the tightening of Daena’s expression when Jon’s training had been brought up, I reckoned my hunch was correct and Daena was still bitter over it.
“What is Daeron thinking, allowing that boy out of his sword lessons?” Daena shook her head. “Should, Seven save us, anything happen to Baelor, Aerys would become king. He must learn martial pursuits as well as maesterly ones. I can understand with Rhaegel, he is surely beyond hope-”
“Daena,” Elaena said warningly, only to be ignored.
“-but Aerys should learn the art of warfare.”
“He prefers the library,” Elaena said neutrally. “As has already been said, that has its own uses.”
“I do not mean that his efforts in that field should be stopped,” Daena said. “But he can learn one while continuing the other. As the Blackwood boy does.”
“I think that’s enough, sister.”
“Ser Quentyn stepped in on our lessons today,” Jon said hesitatingly into the silence. “He showed us a new feint technique. I can’t wait to try it out on Viserys when he returns.”
I blinked. Who?
Elaena smiled at him, though it did not reach her eyes.
“When will Viserys return, mother?” Jeyne asked, her eyes wide and imploring.
“I…” Elaena looked at her lap. “I don’t know, sweetling. He is with his father’s family at Plummfield for the time being.”
Of course, Viserys Plumm! Elaena’s trueborn son by Lord Ossifer Plumm, her now dead husband. Little Viserys was now the head of House Plumm, though some whispered he was actually the son of- you guessed it- Aegon the Cunt, thus making him my possible half-brother. Whether that was true, I had no idea.
What I did know was that it was clear Elaena was not pleased with his being fostered by the Plumm side of the family.
It was surprising how much useful information I could gleam from one dinner.
Daena took Elaena’s hand. “I’m sure your brother will return for the coronation of the new king. Most of the lords of the realm will be there,” she assured Jeyne.
“We can only hope,” Elaena said sadly.
Everyone seemed to frown at their plates, caught up in the sadness of a mother missing her son. A heavy silence had descended on the table.
Ah, you’ve got to love a fun family dinner with House Targaryen, haven’t you?
“Cyngen!” I hailed the grizzled kennelmaster of the Red Keep, as I walked through the main courtyard. “How goes it?”
“Well enough, lad,” the keeper of the king’s hounds replied, scratching his bald head. “My boys took most of the pack out with the lords Hightower, Tarly and Vyrwel.”
I frowned. “The Hand is out hunting while the king lies on his deathbed?”
Cyngen shrugged. “No’ for me to judge the high and mighty, lad. Jus’ do as they tell me.”
“Of course,” I responded. “How’s Bertha?”
Bertha was Cyngen’s favourite hound, but the bitch was sick with a fever and it wasn’t looking good.
“She gets worse by the hour.” Cyngen grimaced.
“Aye, well I shoul’ get back t’her,” Cyngen said.
“Of course. I shall add Bertha to my prayers,” I lied.
Cyngen strode away with a nod and I smiled at his retreating back.
The lords and ladies of Westeros really needed to learn to be nice to their servants.
The various grooms, maids, stable boys, cooks, cellarers, washerwomen, scullions and so on could provide a wealth of information, some valuable, some not, as long as you were nice to them. These were the people that cleaned the rooms of the nobles, that served them at feasts and knew every inch of the castle in which they served often better than its lord. There was no telling what secrets they could discover or what conversation they might overhear.
It was why I had been more than cordial to the servants at Evenfall Hall, and I had repeated this practice in the few days I had spent residing in the Red Keep. I had befriended Cyngen by stealing food from the kitchens and slipping it to his dogs. As I had intended, Cyngen caught me and, while he forbade me giving more food to the dogs, he was also impressed with my care at the beasts. Our conversation spiralled from there. As well as Cyngen, I had had several conversations with the maid who cleaned my rooms, Joella, who while hesitant at first, was beginning to open up more. I had managed to find my way to the kitchens early on and charmed a talkative cook by the name of Adella (who’s pigeon pie was to die for). A stable boy named Garr was also easy to talk up after I let him hold Dark Sister. These were the servants who were proving particularly amiable to my questions, but I had a talking relationship with just shy of a dozen Red Keep servants by this point.
Pretty good for about four days’ worth of work.
From these various contacts I had pieced together a pretty good picture of the goings on of House Targaryen’s various members.
Adella had heard from one of the scullions, who’d heard it from a groom, who’d heard it from his sister, who was fucking one of the Grand Maester’s acolytes, that Aegon the Cunt was still hanging on by the skin of his teeth. Not that I’d needed to be told that. I’d had a second visit with the dying king just yesterday, when he’d confused me for Daeron (the Young Dragon, not the Prince of Dragonstone) halfway through, then spent the rest of the meeting railing against the Dornish.
Daeron had spent the last few days greeting the various arriving lords or holed up in his solar with his closest allies. His wife, the Princess Mariah, seemed to spend the majority of her time with her children, mostly Rhaegel and Aerys if Joella was to be believed. From what I had gleamed, the princess had few allies at the Red Keep; the king apparently didn’t allow any other Dornish in his court.
From talking to Rhaegel (I’d met him in the godswood three days running now) I had learned Prince Baelor seemingly split his time between attending official functions, mostly greeting arriving lords with his father at the moment, and training with the knights and squires who had gathered around him- though he used a private training yard at the back of the castle, rather than the main public one Daemon used. It would be hard to reach him while he was doing either of these.
Frankly, it was hard to reach any of Daeron’s children, he kept them so well guarded. I seemed to have found a chink in the armour in Rhaegel’s visits to the godswood, but everywhere else they seemed to be protected by a whole squadron of guards and several knights; even when I tried to approach Aerys in the library, I’d been stopped by a Kingsguard knight. To be honest I suspected that Daeron was keeping me, as well as Daemon, as far away from his children as possible. My chambers were in the opposite direction to the royal apartments, I was placed far away at every function I was invited to, etc. He probably knew about my meetings with Rhaegel through Ser Warryn but was allowing them to continue for now. Why? I had no idea. Maybe he was just happy Rhaegel had a friend.
Jon and Jeyne, as well as Bloodraven and his sisters, meanwhile, took their lessons with Daeron’s children, in both martial and scholarly classes. This was a courtesy that had never been afforded to Daemon, he told me, or Aegor in his few visits to the court. It seemed the rumours were true that Melissa Blackwood had even managed to befriend Daeron in her time as Aegon the Cunt’s mistress. I had learned from Daemon that Melissa was in the castle and was a regular visitor to Daeron’s solar and that she was one of the few friends Princess Mariah had. Melissa Blackwood seemed adept at getting people on her side, and I added her to the list of people I really had to talk to.
Yeah, that was an idea. Seemed I’d have to work on the Blackwood contingent next. But it would be hard to get access to Melissa, and I doubted Bloodraven was approachable, even at this age…
Most of my information gathering had been focused on House Targaryen, but I had also learned a lot more about the various lords and courtiers in the Red Keep. Most of it was useless; Lord Florian Celtigar had a fondness for milk of the poppy; Lord Vernan Sunglass, the Master of Ships, was outwardly as pious as they came, visiting the Sept every day, and yet had a host of mistresses and bastards across King’s Landing; Ser Merrick Rosby, Commander of the City Watch, was known to visit the chambers of Lady Myrielle Edgerton.
But some was useful.
Garr had overheard Lord Hightower complaining to his squire over the incompetence of Lord Beric Crakehall in his position of Master of Whisperers. “He prefers brawling to spying,” he apparently moaned. This meant I had little to fear from Lord Beric, and my small-scale machinations among the Red Keep’s servants would not be discovered, not by him at least.
What was even more interesting was what Joella told me about Elaena. Apparently, when Viserys Plumm was five, about three or so years ago, Ser Vorian Plumm, Viserys’ uncle and regent at Plummfield, had requested to King Aegon that Viserys be conferred to his guardianship so that the boy could learn the lands he was to rule. Aegon, to Elaena’s shock and anger, had acquiesced and she had only seen her youngest son a few times in three years. Elaena had never forgiven Aegon and, more interestingly, Daeron- who she accused of failing to back her up to his father- for the incident.
Just another layer to add to the Targaryen family drama.
Step one in the ‘getting close to the Blackwoods’ was probably the most insane thing I had attempted thus far in Westeros.
I needed the Blackwood sisters, Mya and Gwenys, my half-sisters, to like me for my plan to befriend Brynden and Melissa to work, and some more time spent with Daenerys would also not go amiss (Daeron had been keeping her away from me too, for the most part). So, I was going to break them out of their lessons and take them to have some actual fun.
I mean, why not, right?
I had gained an unusual amount of experience in breaking girls away from their lessons in my time spent at Evenfall Hall. I couldn’t count the number of times myself and Jeremy helped Tia escape from her bitch of a Septa.
I now attempted to put those hard-earned skills to use.
The young girls of the royal family and their attending ladies took their religious teachings in one of the lower levels of Maegor's Holdfast. They did so every day, just after the breaking of fast.
The plan was simple… ish.
I reckoned it would be particularly hard to break the girls out actually during their tutoring and praying, so my daring plan would unfold while they were having their breakfast. The girls usually broke their fast together, with just one Septa overseeing them; a fearsome old woman by the name of Ysilla. Thanks to Adella, I knew Ysilla favoured a glass of Arbor Gold during breakfast, however, while the girls were only allowed water. It would be a simple matter to slip some sleeping potion (which I’d managed to get my hands on by telling one of the Grand Maester’s acolytates that I had trouble sleeping) into the glass intended for the Septa while I was chatting to some of the cooks in the morning- I was now a regular in the kitchens and all the cooks and scullions there treated me with fondness. With the Septa out for the count, there’d be no one around to catch me spiriting the girls away.
Of course, that was of no use to me unless I managed to avoid the guards that were sure to be stationed by the door. Thankfully, I’d finally found some tunnels. I’d been messing around in an abandoned chamber underground Maegor’s Holdfast proper one night when I’d knocked over a crooked old bookcase to reveal a small hole in the wall, not even big enough for a man to fit through… but it had been big enough for a twelve-year-old boy to fit through. After crawling around aimlessly for several hours with only the darkness and rats for company, I’d ended up being dumped outside the very gates of the Red Keep.
I had sat there, covered in grime and rat shit, and laughed.
The next day and night had been spent exploring the tunnels I’d discovered. From what I had gathered the network I had stumbled on only covered about a quarter of the Red Keep. There were certainly more tunnels out there but the one I had found was sufficient for my needs, for there was an entrance right inside the ladies’ dining hall. There was also an entrance right at the foot of the castle, a beautiful little spot right beside the sea. That was where I was planning to take the girls for a fun day out.
So, the plan one more time: knock out Septa, use tunnels to bypass guards, lead girls through the tunnels to a spot by the beach, become hero in girls’ eyes, and live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, I had not exactly thought through everything.
“Where in the Seven Hells did you come from?” Henrietta Hightower screeched as I stumbled unceremoniously out from behind a tapestry. I recognized the tawny-haired girl from court as the Hand of the King’s niece.
“Um…” I began, faced with the stares of more than a half dozen young girls. I recognised them all, but had only spoken to two, Daenerys and Jeyne, before.
They were all standing behind a long dinner table, gathered around the sleeping figure of an old woman that had to be Septa Ysilla.
“Aenys!” Daenerys called in delight. “Thank the gods you’re here, something’s wrong with the Septa.”
“She won’t wake up!” Henrietta Hightower exclaimed in panic.
“She’s probably dead,” another girl, Urmelda Donniger I believe, said casually. The Hightower girl wailed.
“Urmelda!” Jeyne hissed at the pretty Vale girl but received only a shrug in return.
“I think she’s breathing,” Daenerys said uncertainly, leaning down to gaze at the Septa’s wrinkled face.
“Everybody calm down,” said a girl with hair the colour of the night sky and eyes a deep purple. Mya or Gwenys Rivers, then.
“This panic is not helping matters,” the girl continued sternly, eyeing Henrietta Hightower. “Let us get the guards and then you,” she paused to turn her furious eyes on me, “can explain why, exactly, you popped out of the wall.”
“Mya’s right,” Daenerys said briskly. “Gwenys, go and call the guards.”
A silver-haired girl, who must be Mya’s younger sister Gwenys, moved towards the door. Before she could reach it, however, I spoke up tentatively, the bravado with reach I had began this mission entirely gone.
“Er, you may not want to do that. I mean you might, but, er, once I explain… I mean… um…”
For fuck’s sake, I was supposed to be good at talking. Too good, in the eyes of some of my ex-girlfriends.
Gwenys paused, her hand inches away from the door handle.
“What are you talking about, Aenys?” Daenerys asked me, visibly confused.
“Well, I thought you might like a day off from lessons,” I told Daenerys. “So I…”
“Knocked out our Septa?” Mya asked in horror.
“It’s just a mild sleeping potion!” I added hastily. “She’ll be awake by noon, fit as a fiddle.”
“Fit as a…” Jeyne repeated, puzzled, and too late I realised I had used an earth phrase. Thankfully, Mya Rivers had more on her mind than my odd wording.
“You reckless idiot!” Mya growled. “She is an old woman, she could have died!”
“I’m sure she’s perfectly…” I tried to explain myself. Goddammit, I was supposed to be getting Mya to like me!
“Did you tailor the dose to a woman of her age and size, Storm?” Mya asked, raising an eyebrow. “And what if we’d already called the guards by the time you came falling out of the wall and they took you for an assassin and you ended up with a crossbow bolt in the heart? And even if you had succeeded in whisking us away from our duties- what, I wonder, would you say to the Prince of Dragonstone when he discovers you kidnapped his sister? What then, hmm?”
I may not have thought this through after all.
Mya sighed in disgust. “Gwenys, get the guards,” she said, tiredly.
“Wait a moment,” Daenerys said, her face thoughtful.
“Dany- I mean, Princess, you can’t seriously be considering going along with this foolish plan.” Mya pleaded with her, sending me a vicious glare.
“It could be fun,” Jeyne said, sending me a smile.
“And we could skip lessons, Mya!” Gwenys said excitedly.
“Our lessons are important!” Henrietta Hightower shrieked, but was ignored.
“The old bat is out until noon,” Urmelda Donniger put in, eyes twinkling.
“I’m sure a strong squire like Aenys would not allow us to come to any harm,” said the last girl in the room, demurely. Her name was Zia Fell, sister to Lord Oswald of Felwood. Zia looked a little older than the other girls and was fair-haired and buxom. She sent me a wink when I looked her way.
“It is dangerous without any protection,” Mya insisted.
“You’re not in charge of us,” Gwenys muttered sullenly.
“You worry too much, Mya,” Jeyne said, halting Mya’s retort. “We can trust Aenys.”
“He hasn’t even been here a week!”
“He’s our brother!” Gwenys argued, and I felt a little heartened by the passion in the girl’s voice.
“So is Aegor,” replied Mya, darkly.
Her arguments were in vain, however, for a grin was slowly spreading across Daenerys’ face. The Targaryen princess looked me right in the eye.
“What did you have in mind?”
I smiled, despite myself.
“I was thinking the beach, Princess.”
Daenerys’ grin widened even further, and behind her the other girls exchanged excited looks; all but the Hightower girl and Mya.
“How are we even going to get there?” Mya asked me, frowning. “There are guards right outside the door!”
I smiled, my confidence having returned with Daenerys and the majority of her ladies’ support.
“Why, the way I came in, of course.”
“Oh, this is so exciting!” Daenerys gushed as we shuffled along the dark, dank passageway. “What an adventure!”
I heard a grumble from behind me that was no doubt Mya at the very back of the group, but I ignored it and continued to lead the girls ever onwards, ever downwards.
“Ow!” squealed a voice that sounded like Henrietta. “Zia, you stepped on my foot!”
“What? No, I didn’t!”
“I am not lying!”
“It could’ve been a rat,” Urmelda said helpfully.
Henrietta practically howled in distress.
“Girls,” snapped Mya, “behave yourselves.”
The ladies-in-waiting subsided. Whatever reservations Mya Rivers might have about me, I was grateful she was here to corral the girls. I was too busy concentrating on which turns to take to worry about misbehaving adolescent girls.
“How did you find these tunnels, Aenys?” Gwenys asked me, breathlessly.
“Yes, particularly after less than a week in the castle, when most of us have lived in the Red Keep for our entire lives,” said Mya in a clipped tone.
“I was just messing around in an abandoned room in the lower levels of Maegor’s Holdfast when I chanced upon it,” I explained, my voice echoing in the long passageway. “I spent almost an entire night exploring as much of the tunnels as I could.”
“How fortuitous!” Zia exclaimed, simpering.
“Yes,” agreed Mya wryly, “how fortuitous.”
I ignored the suspicion in her voice and forged on.
“Why have I seen so little of you in the past days, Aenys?” Daenerys, who was directly behind me, asked me as we walked.
“I was led to believe Prince Daeron had you busy with the incoming lords,” I said neutrally.
“Well a little bit, but I still have time for you and Daemon.” I could hear the pout in her voice. She continued, “But I’ve barely seen either of you! Daeron said you were busy in the yard.”
I frowned. Me and Daemon had spent quite a bit of time in the training yard, but hardly enough to stop us from spending time with Daenerys. Perhaps there was a reasonable explanation, but it seemed that Daeron was going to dishonest lengths to stop me and Daemon from getting closer with the legitimate royals.
“We have been,” I told her. I lowered my voice so that the other girls could not hear. “And I’m sure we will see each other more in the coming days. Besides, why do you think I went to all this trouble? To spend time with Henrietta Hightower?”
Soon we came to a T-junction that I did not remember. I frowned, blinking. The tunnel should curve to the left here. But it didn’t.
“Why have we stopped?” asked Urmelda.
“We’re lost, aren’t we?” Mya questioned me with a mocking tone.
“Gods, we’re lost!” Henrietta wailed. “We’re lost in some dark dungeon with a bastard!”
“Shut up, Henrietta,” Gwenys snapped.
“No, no we’re not lost!” I said, with as much joviality as I could muster. “It’s left, definitely left.”
We took the left turn, now travelling more hesitantly. The girls had lost faith in their leader. I took a right next, again an unfamiliar turn, but then thankfully, after a hundred yards of careful walking, the tunnel began to curve steadily to the left.
“Nearly there!” I called behind my shoulder, trying to hide the relief from my voice.
We walked for another minute in silence, and then I saw it; a light at the end of the tunnel. The girls broke out into a collection of giggles and murmurings of anticipation at the sight.
Soon we were close enough to see cliffs and the walls of King’s Landing rising up above us to our left and hear the crashing of the waves to our right. I shoved aside a rusted iron grate that had long since falling from its brackets, and then we were out of the tunnel. I heard gasps behind me as the girls took in the beauty of the spot I had found.
A small stretch of sandy beach spread out before us, sat peacefully between two rocky outcrops that rose high enough to meet where the walls of King’s Landing stood, meaning the beach was impossible to reach unless you used the tunnel or came by sea. The sea itself was a lovely shade of turquoise; right now, it was calm and still, the sunlight reflecting off it. The light breeze blew back the silver hair from my face and left a salty sea smell in the air.
“Oh, Aenys its wonderful!” Daenerys cooed.
“I thought you would like it.” I smiled at her, turning on the charm.
She grinned and took off towards the sea, quickly followed by Jeyne, Gwenys, Zia and a hesitant Henrietta. Urmelda wandered off to the side, before lying down in the sand and seemingly beginning to sunbath. Mya walked forward to stand by me.
“Not a bad spot,” she observed, a little grudgingly.
“Thank you,” I replied. “The sea truly seems beaut-”
“I hope you know you’re playing with fire here.” Mya cut me off.
I turned my head to face her.
“Aye, I know.”
“Daeron won’t like this.”
“If the guards think to check on us…”
“They may,” I said. “But I don’t think they will.”
“We take our lessons at the exact same time nearly every day,” Mya pointed out, as she watched the girls splash water at each other in the shallows.
“It’s the first day of the guards’ new rotation. The men outside the door where Septa Ysilla now sleeps won’t have guarded you girls for several moons, perhaps even never.” I explained. “As long as we can return before the Septa wakes up, you can explain that she fell asleep and so you saw a chance to skip lessons and stayed in the room, having fun.”
“How do you know it’s the first day of the new rotation?”
“I have my ways,” I said with a cheeky grin. “I’ll need some luck, of course, but who doesn’t?”
She did not smile back.
“They may have been told when we go to our lessons,” she responded. “They may be bursting into our rooms even now.”
“True,” I said. “I will deal with that, should it happen.”
My plan for that was by no means perfect. I would deliver the girls into the princess’ private chamber, apart two doors down from the small dining hall in which Septa Ysilla now was, and then using the tunnels to place myself hallway across the castle, thus giving myself an alibi. Of course, how the girls would have teleported from one room to another without the guards seeing could not be explained; nor could I guarantee that none of the girls would fess up.
“Well, you’ve really thought of everything, haven’t you?” Mya asked, with both scorn and a hint of real admiration. “And why, exactly, are you doing this?”
“Why, to give Daenerys and her ladies a fun day!”
“Really,” Mya said, blandly. “How selfless.”
“Why else would I do this? What could I possibly gain?” I asked, innocently.
Mya gazed at where Daenerys, Zia, Henrietta and Jeyne were laughing in the ocean, then turned back to me and looked me square in the eyes.
“I have absolutely no idea.”
I gave her a small smile.
“And you know that most of the girls probably won’t keep quiet about this little adventure?” Mya raised an eyebrow. “Henrietta will no doubt tell her uncle and Zia can’t keep a secret to save her life.”
And you’ll no doubt tell your mother, I thought inwardly.
“Probably,” I said instead, my smile unabated. In truth, as long as they kept quiet for at least a day, I wasn’t too worried; Daeron couldn’t arrest me when the girls were clearly happy and healthy. Besides, the increased suspicion Daeron, or Lord Hightower, might regard me with after this day was worth it if I rose in the estimations of Daenerys and the Blackwood girls- Gwenys because I had given her an out with her lessons, Mya because I’d showcased to her my intelligence (hopefully).
“Its your game, Aenys Storm,” she said with a sigh as she set off towards the girls in the sea. “Jeyne! Stop pushing Henrietta!”
I watched her departing back for a few seconds. It seemed Mya was wise to my tricks. Was this sharpness of mind a product of growing up in King’s Landing, or had someone taught her this? Something to mull over later.
I walked over to where Urmelda lay spread eagled in the sand.
“Enjoying the sun, lady?” I asked, sitting down beside her.
“Gods, call me Urmelda,” the young Vale lady replied. “I’m not my mother. And thank the Seven for that.”
I huffed out a laugh. “As you wish, Urmelda. You don’t want to go in the sea?”
“And ruin this dress?”
“Fair enough,” I said with a grin.
As she lay in the sun with her eyes closed, I examined Urmelda Donniger more closely. Angular features framed a pale face; her lips were ruby red, her eyes a sea-green that matched perfectly with the ocean before us. Her body was small, and a little fragile, almost like a doll. Pretty, I would call her. Perhaps one day even beautiful. One day she would be the most beautiful of all Daenerys’ ladies, I thought.
Well, except the ones with the Blood of Old Valyria. But no normal girls could compete with the silver hair and purple eyes of House Targaryen.
So, really, just prettier than Zia and Henrietta.
Urmelda sat up and shielded her eyes from the sun with her hand. She looked down at the princess and her fellow ladies-in-waiting.
“She really is a bitch, isn’t she?”
I blinked, not expecting this language from a highborn lady.
“Who?” I asked, dumbly.
“Well she does seem a little difficult…”
“It’s because of her mother,” Urmelda said wisely.
“A Florent,” Urmelda told me, as if this was akin to being a cannibal. “Though at least she didn’t inherit the ears. Her brothers certainly did!”
She laughed, apparently picturing the faces of Henrietta’s brothers. I smiled, enjoying the conversation.
“What about Zia?” I asked. “No awful Florent mother for her?”
“No, thank the Seven,” Urmelda said. “I think her mother was some Payne woman. She’s dead now.”
“But she’s fun, is Zia,” Urmelda continued breezily. “Though completely insufferable around Prince Baelor.”
“Ah,” I said knowingly. “Wants to marry him, does she?”
“Along with every other noble girl in the realm,” she said with a sniff. “Including Henrietta, of course.”
“But not you?” I asked her, curious.
“I’m a Donniger,” she responded with a shrug. “The future king can do better than the likes of me.”
That was a surprising show of reason and clarity from a girl who could only be ten or younger, I thought.
“You’re beautiful,” I said gallantly.
“I thank you, but beauty doesn’t matter in such things.”
“No.” I sighed. “It doesn’t. Only in such things that resulted in my birth.”
“True,” she said with a laugh.
We smiled at each other, then turned to watch the other girls play in the sea, the sun blazing above us. It was a welcome moment of peace in a chaotic time, I reflected.
And, I added to myself cheerily, things can only get worse from here.
And they certainly will.