King’s Landing, 182 AC
Most bastards would not have presumed themselves important enough to pair off with the heir to the Prince of Dragonstone for a training exercise. Even fewer would have suggested it themselves with the air of someone doing someone else a favour, and, even among those brave enough to do so, there were all but none who would have dared cause him injury.
For better and for worse, Daemon Waters was not like other boys. Despite his bastardy, he was every inch Princess Daena’s son, her drive, haughtiness and pride made all the fiercer for being crammed into his twelve-year-old frame. Baelor had never known him well—Grandfather made a point of rarely calling Father to the Red Keep—but he’d always had the impression that Daemon thought himself a prince in truth as well as in his mother’s estimation.
Nonetheless, said boy was unusually quiet as the two of them stood together in one of the shadowy corners of the training yard. His violet eyes, as perfectly Valyrian as one might imagine the Conqueror’s, were fixed on Baelor’s nose and his attempts to staunch the blood as it trickled down his philtrum and onto his upper lip.
“Are you all right?” he asked. His voice was careful, neutral; it was quite unlike his usual self-assurance.
Baelor swiped below his nose. Some more red came away.
“An impressive hit,” said Baelor. He brought up his sword. “Ready to go again?”
Daemon frowned. “It still doesn’t look right. It could be broken.”
Baelor laughed. Wouldn’t the other squires just love it if you could mar my oh-so Dornish face? Even Ser Ball, who was currently distracted by correcting some other boy’s hopeless stance in time for tomorrow’s mêlée, might have looked the other way; Fireball was Daemon’s primary instructor, after all, and snow was a more common sight in King’s Landing than the sons of Daeron.
“A very impressive hit, then.” He flicked his sword back in Daemon’s direction. “Ready?”
“I’m not going to fight an injured opponent.”
His expression was as offended as a septa’s after having been asked how many men she’d had. I’m the one with a mouth full of blood, but of course, you’re the wronged one here.
“I’m not so fragile.”
There had been too much talk spreading through the halls of the Red Keep and beyond on the physical capabilities of his father’s branch of the family for Baelor to avoid hearing it: slanderous talk of a soft-bellied man—the Dragonknight’s get, yet-braver fools claimed—with too-Dornish sons, by their very blood craven and duplicitous. No, though his nose stung, there was no option but to finish the training session: anything else would just be firewood for the gossips.
“Should you not still see the maester?”
Baelor swiped at him; it was a warning rather than a feint, giving him plenty of time to backstep out of reach.
“Trying to save your own nose?”
Daemon’s eyes narrowed; he stalked back out into the sunlight and readied himself. Baelor smiled thinly and followed him, briefly entertaining the thought of smashing his nose in during the second bout to even the score. He decided against it almost immediately. Pettiness had never been one of his faults. And even if the result had been a broken nose, it was a delight to have someone competent his own age to fight against after months sequestered on Dragonstone.
It was only after the training session was truly over and done—though Fireball had Daemon remain behind for further instruction—that Baelor went to find Grand Maester Alford. He was informed, in the sort of scolding tone only someone who’d delivered him into the world could use with a prince, that he indeed had a broken nose. The compress he was instructed to keep on it overnight had been itchy, but the lurid story Alford had relayed to him while he’d mixed the ingredients together—according to him, he had a sister who hadn’t bothered to take care of an injured nose and now had a hole in her face where it had once been—had flashed through his mind each time he’d thought to take it off.
Father, who had never been one for martial activities anyway, had despaired at him upon learning about what had happened. He’d even been hesitant to let him attend the tourney, considering that some of the court would be in attendance, but had relented when little Maekar’s disappointment was leveraged against him. Maekar had asked Baelor to recount every detail of the martial tournaments at the capital when he returned, a far easier request than Aerys’ insistence that the Red Keep’s library be scoured for a surviving copy of Barth’s Unnatural History and that it be copied for him to read back on Dragonstone, or Rhaegel’s dreamy desire for a dragon egg.
And so it was that the two of them sat together in the royal section of the stands along with Princess Daenerys, awaiting the beginning of the squires’ tourney.
The pain in Baelor’s nose was now more a dull ache, while the pleasant weather and Daenerys’ presence had lifted his spirits exponentially. The rest of King’s Landing must have been fetid, but it was hard to imagine here; servants had been hard at work during the night, bringing flowers and perfumes to protect the lords and ladies from any stench that managed to drift its way uphill. And, oddly enough, it did seem as though the entire court had turned out; some had even brought with them exotic fans to show off from across the Narrow Sea, much to the envy of their peers sweating around them.
Daenerys was sweet and soft-spoken as ever, if alarmed when she’d seen what had happened to his face; it had taken some time to fully reassure her that he wasn’t about to keel over. She’d been placed in the shaded area of the royal stands to protect her pale skin from the sun and when he’d seen her sitting there, half-shadow, Baelor had recalled the occasion a few years ago when Mother had gifted her with a fine piece of red Dornish silk, as scarlet as the Targaryen dragon and Martell sun. She’d demonstrated for her the way it was worn around the head and shoulders back in Sunspear; no dragon should fear sunburn, she’d laughed, before helping the little princess drape it around herself. Daenerys had seemed well pleased at the time, though he’d not seen her wear it since. Grandfather’s doing, no doubt. He has ever hated Dorne.
It was as the thought of Grandfather crossed his mind that the king’s herald came forth and hailed his arrival. Baelor’s heart sank.
I hoped he’d still be sleeping off last night’s feast.
He tried to school his face into blank politeness, just as Father and Mother did every time they had to interact with the King. Grandfather sank into the seat of honour, barely glancing at the suddenly silent Daenerys and himself, and outright ignoring Father’s polite greeting. At least not bothering to acknowledge our presence means he’s not likely to notice my nose. He demanded that his cupbearer bring him wine, and had already started leering at one of Lord Butterwell’s daughters by the time the tourney was to begin, trying to coax her onto his lap—or worse, the Queen’s seat—when the squires made their entrance onto the field.
Without meaning to do so, Baelor’s eyes settled on Daemon as the combatants came forward to bow before their King. It was easy to pick him out from among the rest in his Targaryen-black armour. Princess Daena had a hand in its creation, no doubt. His back was straight and his posture that of someone assured in their victory. He was near the front of the pack, and so Baelor, from his vantage point, could see how his eyes steadily moved across the stands, taking in the crowd. He looked away before Daemon’s gaze could catch onto his own.
Grandfather was waxing rhapsodic through his wine-haze about the squires’ future duty towards the crown and the realm, and Baelor found his attention drifting away. Why is it always those who don’t know the meaning of words that counsel others to follow them whole-heartedly? He only realised the tournament begun when the squires moved away, the first two jousters vaulting onto their horses and walking them over to the tilts. A few wore their sweethearts’ tokens. Daemon had no such token, though he destroyed every boy who rode against him nonetheless. So much for the power of a woman’s favour. With every tilt, Baelor grew more and more frustrated.
He’s not invincible, but none of them bother to find his weaknesses, let alone exploit them. If I rode against him, I could unseat him. I would unseat him.
Then was the mêlée, and there he found his frustrations turning into a reluctant admiration. He tried to pay attention to the spectacle as a whole, for Maekar’s sake if not his own, but still he often found his gaze being dragged back to Daemon’s black form. There were some slips, here and there, but he made each movement look beautiful and powerful all at once while the other combatants struggled to keep up; he might have been the Warrior cutting through a mob of smallfolk.
As Baelor found himself glancing back at him once again, Daemon slashed at one squire with his blunted sword, then swivelled and slammed it viciously into the face of another who had tried to sneak up behind him. The squire shrieked as red began pouring down his face. Daemon paused—an abrupt thing, compared with the fluid dance of destruction that he’d been weaving across the field—and his head turned towards the royal section of the viewing stands. Grandfather hummed approvingly, but it was Baelor, with the half-guilty sensation of someone caught staring at a pretty girl, who felt unseen eyes meeting his own. Somehow, even with the helm hiding his face, he could feel it when Daemon smiled at him.
The moment lasted until another squire thought to take his chance. Daemon smacked him away and moved back into the fray, not stopping until he alone was left standing amid a field of groaning bodies. The stands erupted into cheers as Daemon removed his helm, and as he did, silver-haired and beautiful, he looked every inch a scion of House Targaryen.
This was an unbalanced fight. The feeling sat poorly in his stomach as the King declared Daemon Waters the winner, all the admiration and pride he’d never bothered directing towards his own grandsons clear on his face. None here even came close to Daemon's level of skill; none had anything to counter the years of training he’d received from the best masters-at-arms in the land. The King, surprisingly energised now, declared that the victor’s grand prize would be presented to him in the Grand Hall, before the entire court, and that he was to travel back to the Red Keep with the rest of the royal family. The latter would no doubt have been a great honour to someone who hadn’t received the luxuries of royalty his entire life already, but Daemon already seemed pleased enough with winning for winning’s sake.
Together did not entirely mean together, of course; Grandfather would hardly have fit in a litter with anyone else, though he’d pulled Lord Butterwell’s daughter into his own even so. Poor girl. Thankfully, the litters were covered, so only she was witness to whatever horrors lay under his finery. Everyone was privy to the noises coming from the litter, however, and as Baelor peeked out in front, he saw that the litter-carriers were doing best they could as their burden shook and writhed in their hands. Their faces were determinedly neutral, though on occasion one would cast envious glances back at the other litters coming in procession behind them.
They deserve more gold than they’re getting. As does she.
Baelor leant back and pulled aside the curtain to his left out of curiosity: both Father and Daenerys’ curtains were still closed over. He then pulled open the right, only to see that Daemon had left his fully open. Can’t let the people forget who won, I suppose. He looked curiously pensive, even troubled, though the expression melted into his usual overconfidence when he turned his head to meet Baelor’s gaze.
“I told you that your nose was broken,” he said.
“You did. Congratulations on your win.”
“There was nothing to it. Really, I don’t mean to sound arrogant,” he said, sounding arrogant, “But half of them didn’t even know what they were doing.”
Half of them haven’t had private lessons with Ser Quentyn Ball their entire life.
“Is that so?”
“Really, I had a harder time against you yesterday than I did during the entire mêlée.” Baelor hadn’t expected praise. He paused, trying to think of a response, but Daemon didn’t wait for one. “You know, you’re really nothing like your namesake.”
It was clear from his tone that this was meant as a compliment of the highest order.
“My namesake was a king of the realm,” said Baelor.
“Your namesake was so afraid of the gods he locked princesses of the blood in a tower when he could have had them. He would rather have seen them rot than live a full and happy life, and for that, he was called The Blessed.” If Baelor thought he’d seen glimpses of Princess Daena in her bastard son before, now he could hear her loud and clear in the anger bubbling through his words. “Can you imagine such a thing? A pious fool.”
It felt wrong to agree with him out loud, and he was conscious of his father, not a few feet away. “Do you not fear the gods, then?” he asked instead.
Daemon scoffed. “You should learn to take a compliment.”
He turned his head back to the view over the city, their conversation clearly done. Baelor let his own curtain fall, and for the rest of the journey back, there was nothing but muffled shrieks and laughter, and the distant sounds of the city beneath them. Still, when they reached the Red Keep and they descended from their litters, Baelor found himself catching hold of Daemon’s sleeve.
“Don’t think you’ll win all your battles without a fight.”
Daemon’s head had whipped around the moment he’d felt Baelor’s touch, and now those violet eyes sparked with interest. “And why wouldn't I?”
“I’ll be there next time.”
Truthfully, he had no idea if he’d be there or not, considering how little Grandfather cared for his presence, but he’d be damned if he’d ever again sit idly in the stands and watch Daemon Waters walk over the competition like dragonfire against a field of wheat.
Daemon laughed, a tension Baelor hadn’t even realised he’d been carrying in his shoulders fading.
“Well, I welcome the challenge, cousin,” said Daemon, that brash confidence of his fully returned. “Now what say you we get to the Great Hall? I’m half-starved; the sooner I receive Uncle’s accolades and we can eat, the better.”
Every morsel Baelor ate that night would taste of nothing but ashes and bitterness, but since the dragon dreams, like the look of old Valyria, had never been one of his inheritances, he just grinned, clapped Daemon on the shoulder, and heartily agreed, hurrying them along the corridors of the Red Keep towards the court, and towards where the King sat waiting, Blackfyre on his lap and twisted intentions in his heart.