The Red Keep smelled particularly strongly of shit today, Tyrion Lannister decided. Of course, all of King’s Landing was prone to smelling awful but that day the breeze had shifted in just the right direction so that Aegon’s Hill received the brunt of the stench from the city below.
“What a marvelous day to be born.” He muttered to himself as he waddled down the long corridors of the Red Keep. The constant thump of his attendant Jyck’s boots followed shortly behind his own footfalls.
He daresay that he’d done a far better job managing the sewerage at Casterly Rock than whoever had done so for King’s Landing. Still it wasn’t a job he’d hastily take up again.
Despite the far more pleasant fragrance of Casterly Rock the lack of his father’s overbearing presence and constant disapproval made the Red Keep look positively homey in comparison.
A few ladies of the court passed Tyrion as he walked, they stared at him for a moment before one whispered something in the other’s ear, causing them both to break out in shrill, tittering giggles. Tyrion leered at them and gave them a saucy smirk. Their laughter died instantly and the pair rushed off, horrified, to their own business. Well, at least my face is good for driving off unwanted company he thought wryly.
There were at least a few likeable individuals in the Red Keep, his brother Jaime was one of the few family members Tyrion could enjoy the company of, and Robert Baratheon was fun to drink with if nothing else. Although far more pleasurable company could always be found in the city itself.
It was however a very different type of person that Tyrion was looking for, and if he guessed correctly it shouldn’t be too hard to find him.
The training yard of the Red Keep was raucously noisy. Despite the early hour knights and men at arms were already busy battering away at each other in sparring, whilst squires, pages and a host of servants kept a steady supply of training swords, armour and water flowing for those practicing.
The bright morning sun assaulted Tyrion as he entered the yard he squinted against it and a nagging throbbing at the back of his head reminded him that he may have indulged a little too much in his cups last night.
He drew several stares from the less busy on the field and in short order the master-at-arms, Aron Santagar, walked over to Tyrion.
“My Lord.” The Dornishman greeted with a flourishing bow. “Will you be doing us the honour of taking to the training field today?” He asked with a fiendish smile. “I know there are several here today who’d be keen to match their steel against a Lord of Lannister.”
Keen to beat The Imp around the field more like.
“I’m afraid I must decline Sir, busy as I am I must deprive them of the small challenge of facing me in combat.” Tyrion answered with a lopsided smile. He could see Santagar struggling not to laugh at him. The knight solved his dilemma but giving a curt nod and moving to shout at some squires for dropping a breastplate.
A glint of silver out of the corner of his eye drew Tyrion’s attention to the person he was looking for.
Jaehaerys Targaryen sat in the corner of the yard, staring glumly at the knightly training, a hint of longing in his eyes. With his silver hair and melancholic nature even Tyrion was struck by the resemblance between the boy and Rhaegar, something that caused King Robert no end of annoyance.
Ilyn Payne loomed over the boy from behind, casting him in partial shadow. The King’s Justice too looked out over the field but he lacked the childish longing of his charge. His inscrutable stare gave no hint as to what he truly thought of the men training. It was very likely his opinion wasn’t high, Sir Ilyn was supposedly quite the knight in his younger years.
Tyrion sauntered over to the boy, who seemed too engrossed in his own thoughts to notice Tyrion’s approach. Sir Ilyn was far more perceptive swinging his head so that his pale eyes bore into Tyrion before he got halfway across the field.
A few months ago the boy managed to convince one of his old guards to allow him a turn swinging around a training sword. The King caught word of this and said guardsman quickly found himself replaced by Sir Ilyn, who was immune to any cajolery a child could muster.
Payne made no noise to alert Jaehaerys even when Tyrion was within spitting distance. The dwarf cleared his throat to gain the boy’s attention.
The boy blinked and turned to look at Tyrion. “Oh, hello Tyrion.” He greeted, the cloud around him dispersing slightly.
“Good Morning Jae. Sir Ilyn.” Tyrion replied, nodding in turn at the boy and the knight, who simply continued to stare at him.
“Are you here to wish me a happy nameday then?” The boy inquired, he didn’t sound particularly thrilled at the idea.
“Well, it’s hardly every day a young man turns eight, is it?” Tyrion smiled at the boy, but they both knew the cheeriness in it was largely forced. “Has anyone else given you their well wishes?”
“A few people.” He shrugged “Lord Varys gave me some candied peaches, and Grand Uncle Aemon sent down some books.” He commented offhandedly. “I hate reading.” Jaehaerys muttered, glancing down to a piece of paper sitting on his lap.
Tyrion followed his gaze. “Bad news?”
Jaehaerys looked conflicted but eventually shook his head. “My uncle Eddard sent it. He says he’s trying to talk to the King, to gain permission for me stay at Winterfell with him.” He confessed, hopefully.
“Well, let’s hope that he’s successful then.” Tyrion knew that any requests made by Stark would almost certainly be rejected. His heart was in the right place but in the grand scheme of things Jaehaerys was too valuable and too dangerous a hostage for Baratheon to let him out of his sight. “As it so happens though Jae, I have a gift for you too.”
“What is it?” the boy peered around Tyrion to look if he was holding anything behind his back.
“Ah, it’s nothing so simple as that. Come, I’ll have to show it to you.” He offered a hand to Jaehaerys, helping to pull him to his feet. “Oh, and Jyck. No need to follow me, I’ll not be needing anything from you for today.” He told his attendant.
“M-My Lord. I’m not sure I should-“ Jyck stammered
“Oh, no need to worry I’m sure that even inexperienced as I am that between Sir Ilyn and myself we can handle any attack from an unarmed child.” He japed, Sir Ilyn gave a raspy laugh. Truthfully Tyrion would like to dismiss Sir Ilyn too, but he’d likely get further trying to dismiss the walls of the castle.
“If you’re certain My Lord.” Jyck’s concerned gaze flicked from Jaehaerys to Tyrion and back again.
“I am quite sure, and you need not worry. If anyone asks I’ll tell them what a good job you’re doing.” He smiled. Jyck still seemed uneasy but he bowed his head in acknowledgement before leaving. “Right then, let’s get going.” Tyrion clapped his hands together
Jaehaerys opened his mouth, but seemed to think better of whatever he was going to say.
“Go on then. What is it that’s got you worried?”
“This isn’t something that’s going to displease His Grace is it?” Tyrion felt a pang of sympathy, this boy had grown up in a Viper’s Nest and it wasn’t unexpected that he looked upon any kind gesture with skepticism.
“No, I promise it’ll be alright. Besides, I’m certain Sir Ilyn will keep it a secret as well.” Ilyn glared at Tyrion but it hardly bothered the dwarf, he was in his father’s pocket, Tyrion hardly had to worry about his favour.
Pacified for the time being Jaehaerys followed Tyrion back into the Red Keep. It took a series of sharp bends through semi hidden doors but eventually they arrived at a spiraling staircase leading into the inky blackness in the bowels of the Red Keep.
“Sir Ilyn would you mind grabbing that torch for me?” Silently Ilyn obeyed, lifting a torch from its bracket on the wall and leaning down to pass it to Tyrion.
“Tyrion, what’s down there?” Jae asked, edging cautiously onto the stairway.
“Getting scared Jae?” Tyrion teased.
“No!” The boy protested shaking his head violently, sending his silver locks whipping back and forth as his face reddened.
“Right then, you’ll have no problem waiting.” Tyrion answered as he started down the stairs, taking them slowly on his stubby legs. Tripping in the dark would be a terribly embarrassing way to die.
The flickering torchlight painted the three as giants upon the stone walls as they descended further and further into the darkness, hollowly echoing steps the only sound breaking through the silence.
The stairwell bottomed out into another hallway, at the end off which stood a wooden door banded with iron glinting faintly in the light. Tyrion grasped the handle and grunted softly as he pushed the stiff door open on its reluctant hinges.
The room within was not quite so dark as the hallway outside, soft and vague light filtered in from high above, just enough to see by if one was to truly try. Of course the torch Tyrion held dispelled the need to rely on such inconstant illumination.
Jaehaerys gasped from beside Tyrion, and Sir Ilyn made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a hum. Looming out of the darkness were monstrous ebon skulls. Even with their fire burned out and flesh long rotted away the skulls of the Targaryen dragons held a presence and menace that demanded attention.
“What is this?” Jaehaery breathed softly, stepping slowly towards one of the enormous skulls.
“The skulls of the dragons owned by the Targaryens before the Dance. I was quite surprised to find them intact myself, I’d half expected them to have been smashed to pieces during the rebellion, yet here they stand.” Tyrion gestured widely, causing the smooth black skulls to shine in the shifting torchlight. The bone almost looked like black glass, but a hundred times stronger.
Jaehaerys walked slowly up to one of the largest skulls, almost reverently placing his hand upon it, staring in open awe. A sadness on his face making him look so much older and younger all at once.
“That is Vhagar. The dragon of Visenya Targaryen, sister wife of Aegon the conqueror.” Tyrion explained as Jaehaerys stroked his hand down a tooth the size of a knife.
Jaehaerys turned his head slowly to gaze at Balerion’s skull where it sat beside Vhagar’s. “Aegon.”
He whipped around to look at Tyrion, his eyes reddening “Why did you…?” he trailed off, turning to look back at the skull.
“I once dreamed of dragons.” Tyrion confessed stepping forward. “What boy doesn’t? Especially the ugly, twisted ones. From atop a dragon none would be able to look down on me, or dare insult me.” He shrugged. “Even when I learned that they are all gone the history of it still fascinated me, so I sought them out. The history may mean something more to you, I figured you’d prefer seeing it first hand to reading of it in a book.” The boy was hardly a scholar after all.
“They’re all dead.” Jaehaerys murmured.
“A sad truth, but the memory of them lives on.”
Jaehaerys nodded and stared up into the empty eyes of Vhagar. Although it was something he didn’t often practice Tyrion could be respectful when needed. So for once he kept his mouth shut as he stood beside the boy in the cold darkness.