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The Son

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High Tide was put to the torch as well. All the treasures the Sea Snake had brought back from the east were consumed by fire, his servants cut down as they tried to flee the flames. The Velaryon fleet lost almost a third of its strength. Thousands died. Yet none of these losses were felt so deeply as that of Jacaerys Velaryon, Prince of Dragonstone and heir to the Iron Throne. (Fire & Blood)

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Lord Corlys stood as still as a statue amidst the burned rubbles of High Tide, surrounded by what little was left of his beloved castle, the castle he had built and then filled with the treasures he brought home from his renowned and celebrated nine voyages around the world on the Sea Snake. He stood like the ancient effigy of a ruined and broken god, wrecked and worn-out almost beyond recognition, yet still so unyielding in his fierce pride, and so unnerving in his silent contemplation of what he had lost, and of everything else he could still lose.

For a moment, when he first set eyes on Lord Corlys in what had once been the great hall of High Tide, where the ancient Driftwood Throne had been situated since the day Corlys Velaryon relocated it from the dark, dismal and grim Castle Driftmark, Addam was convinced that the old man could not possibly be breathing at all, and his lifeless body was just waiting for the right time to topple to the ground like the Driftwood Throne itself.

His head, thought Addam. I must catch him before his head hit the ground. But then Lord Corlys’ eyes found Addam’s face, and the ghost of a smile passed through his lips. He walked stiffly and slowly towards his grandson who was actually his son, this ruined and broken man who was mourning the death of another grandson who was not actually his grandson, who was not actually related to him by blood at all.

It was … complicated … to say the least. Truth be told, to call the situation complicated and out of the ordinary was an understatement. Then again, nothing in Corlys Velaryon’s life had ever been simple, let alone ordinary. The simple and the ordinary would have bored him to death quickly enough, would have caused him to itch and yearn for his next grand adventure, Marilda of Hull had told her two sons about their father. He was always reaching for the extraordinary and the near impossible, trying with all his might to grasp the most unreachable stars in the night sky.

Alyn had not been fond of their mother’s description of their father, nor would he have been pleased with Addam’s current observation about Lord Corlys looking like a ruined and broken god. “He’s just a man, like any other man, and an old man at that. You and Mother are both much too inclined to view him as larger-than-life, like a magnificent figure from songs and stories,” Alyn had remarked often enough.

Their mother had taken exception to that remark, telling Alyn that her observations and conclusions about Corlys Velaryon were not always positive and complimentary, and if Alyn could not see the thorns among the roses and could not hear the sting in her words, then perhaps he was the one who thought of Lord Corlys as a larger-than-life figure, as someone worth emulating, besting and ultimately surpassing. Alyn had passionately denied this, in a manner that was considered by both his mother and his older brother to be too defensive to be entirely convincing.   

While Addam was still thinking about his mother and his younger brother, his father had finally reached his side. Lord Corlys embraced Addam wholeheartedly, without any of the reservation or hesitation that the young man had half-feared and almost expected. “You are safe. You are alive. Thank the gods for that,” he kept saying, over and over again, with relief written all over his face.

Addam could not meet the old man’s eyes as he said, “Prince Jacaerys … I couldn’t …”

He finished the sentence in his head, I couldn’t save him, Father. Even with my dragon, I couldn’t save your future king, the precious repository of all your hopes and your dreams, of all your ambitions and your aspirations. Now there is only Prince Joffrey left, and he is not much more than a boy. 

Did Lord Corlys ever suspect? Did he ever doubt, Addam had always wondered? Did the whispers and rumors about the true paternity of the three princes who carried his name – the Velaryon name – ever affect his views of them at all?

“They are his stepladders to the top, to the very top. He cannot afford to doubt. He cannot afford to suspect. Doubts and suspicions are luxuries that your father cannot afford to indulge in, if he wishes to pluck the highest and the brightest star in the night sky,” Marilda of Hull had also remarked to her sons.

“Just like he could not afford for his lady wife the great princess to even suspect our existence, let alone our true paternity, while she was still alive,” Alyn had expressed this sentiment to Addam later, not without some trace of bitterness in his voice.  

The grandfather who was actually his father was running his fingers down Addam’s cheeks, as if he needed incontrovertible evidence to convince himself that Addam was truly flesh and blood, that Addam was not a ghost haunting him from beyond the grave, like so many other ghosts from his colorful past.  

“It was not your fault. It was not your fault that Jace died. You must never blame yourself. Never! Remember that,” Lord Corlys interjected, as Addam tentatively began to voice his regret about the prince’s death.  

The question Addam dared not ask his father was this: If the gods had offered you a deal before the battle, Father, a deal to save your grandson who was not actually your grandson, in exchange for the life of your grandson who was actually your son, would you have taken that deal? Prince Jacaerys’ life, spared by the gods, in exchange for mine. Prince Jacaerys and his dragon Vermax, returning safely from battle, while Seasmoke and I plunged to our deaths, to be swallowed by the merciless sea.

His brother would have had no trouble asking that question out loud, Addam suspected. Alyn would not have feared their father’s answer, and would not have hesitated to challenge the old man directly. Alyn would have relished the opportunity, most likely.  

He was not his brother, however. He was who he was, and he could not be anything other than what he was. His courage, while not lacking in the least, did not always lie in the same direction as his brother’s. And some words, Addam had always believed, were best left unspoken, and certain questions were better left unasked and unanswered. What some people called his glib tongue had masked this belief to all but a few. His mother knew, and his brother too, of course, but not his father, in all likelihood.

“Jace would have made a great king,” said Lord Corlys, oblivious to the battle silently raging inside Addam’s mind. “Poor sweet Luke was sometimes too hesitant, too unsure of himself, and Joff … well, Joff is often too rash and too impulsive. Jace, though … Jace is wise beyond his years. Jace is everything a great king should be.”

WasJace was, corrected Addam, silently. Lord Corlys had used the correct tense when he was talking about Prince Lucerys, but it was as if Prince Jacaerys’ death had not yet truly entered his consciousness.

The old man shuddered and wept, when he finally realized his mistake, of his own accord, without a word being said by his son. Addam held his father in a fierce embrace, as Lord Corlys continued to weep. Those tears could not solely be for the death of his ambition, surely? Prince Joffrey was still alive after all. Lord Corlys’ dream was not yet dead and buried for eternity. Those tears – or at least some of them – were shed for Prince Jacaerys himself, thought Addam.   

And if there was a genuine affection for the grandsons who were not really his grandsons, separate and distinct from what they represented to Corlys Velaryon – namely, his stepladders to the top – then perhaps there could also be a genuine affection for his grandsons who were actually his sons, separate and distinct from what they represented to him, namely, true Velaryons of his own blood.

His brother would have scolded him for being mawkish and overly-sentimental, for ascribing qualities to their father that the old man might not actually possess, qualities that Addam wanted – nay, needed – to believe that he truly possessed. Alyn would have warned Addam against this out of his fierce love for his older brother, and for the very best of reasons: to spare his brother future disappointment and disillusionment about their father.  

And yet, if a man could not have at the very least a small measure of faith in his own father, then what kind of man would he become, Addam wondered? What kind of father would he be, when it was his turn to father an offspring?