A tale of Summerhall and the night of Rhaegar Targaryen's birth.
Summerhall was hewn from white stone and marble, gold leaf embossing its pillars. Daeron II's love of Dorne, its marches, and the desert beyond shone through it much as the sunrise did, lighting its towers and domes in colors like flames cupped in pale hands, all shadows, warmth, and wild, unstable red-orange.
It was beautiful. It always had been. It always would be.
In their chamber, Jenny, once of Oldstones, spoke in her soft, strange lilt.
"In Old Valyria, there was a man who was a dragon. This man could never have been a king or a leader of men. He was loved by those who knew him, and he had all a man could want besides a crown."
"He sounds a lucky man," said Duncan.
"He was." She pushed his hair behind his ear and propped her elbow against the pillow. "From a young age, he dreamed of flight, more than anything else. He would go to heights and spread his wings, but had fear in his heart that overwhelmed this desire. As he grew older, this fear grew dark in his heart. In his last days, he grew angry and despaired of never fulfilling his truest desire.
"Men's hearts can turn to evil when they find themselves there, Duncan. But he was not only a man; he was a dragon as well. There was magic in him. In his hour of darkness, he reached within himself and drew upon that magic."
"He had magic?" Duncan prompted her. "Could he not use it to fly?"
"He could always fly, my sweet. All dragons can." She smiled, and rested close to him. "The magic brought forth a woman who was not a woman. He told her of his trial, of the fear that held him back. She asked him about his loved ones.
"'My wife has passed away,' the man who was a dragon said. 'I carry her spirit with me.'
"'I see,' the woman said. 'And your children?'
"'They live. They have children of their own. They are happy.'
"'And your family?'
"'My brother lives. He craves power and strength more than anything else in the world.'
"'And you? What do you crave?'
"'Freedom,' the man said."
"Freedom from what?" Duncan asked.
Jenny curled a lock of his hair around her finger. "Freedom from the earth. What we want can make us feel chained to those things keeping us from it.
"'Your chains are within you,' the woman told the man. 'There is nothing I can do to free you in this life.'
"'And in the next?' the man asked.
"'All dragons will fly, in this life or the next,' she said. 'That is my gift to you, ser. You will find peace. Look upon the sunset and the stars this evening. You will find your answers there.'"
Duncan desperately wished to kiss her, but the truer desire then was to hear her spin her words. He watched her draw on the magic within her - there was no better description for the way she told stories and consoled the helpless and despairing - and held onto one of her hands. Her hand was cool, and her grip was reassuring.
"Oh, my Duncan. You remind me of this man. He believed the woman, and sat upon the cliff he had dreamed of plunging down before he rose in flight. The sun set before him, gentle and warm, and night fell upon him all in velvet. He did not sleep, instead looking upon the stars as the woman had told him.
"The stars above him were the same as they had ever been, and the sky was clear on that night. He looked for the constellations, counting out the stars. As he finished speaking to the last, he was startled by the appearance of a falling star.
"It streaked across the sky before him, and in it he saw every color he had known and some he hadn't. The star gave him hope; if the bodies above can watch our history, predict and influence our lives, and choose to fly, then how could a dragon not learn the courage to fly?
"The star was an omen of the man's death. But it was not the dragon's death, nor the death of his magic. The body might have passed, but he remained, a spirit in flight, the colors of the star gracing his wings.
"He was the first of the dragonflies. And ever since his death, all dragons have become dragonflies when they found themselves free from the earth." She leaned in close to him. He watched her, unmoving, entranced. "There are princes among them. But my prince will not join them soon. No, he will not."
She kissed him eagerly, then, and he pulled her close. She withdrew, her face all flushed, and kissed both of his cheeks.
"You don't need to reassure me," Duncan promised her, softly. "I made my choice. I chose you. I don't regret it."
"I needed you to know. I don't know where the story came from, Duncan." Jenny rarely did, he'd taken note of that. "Daeron flies, now. He's free."
He couldn't think of Daeron, even now. "Jenny," he murmured, and pressed a harsh kiss to her mouth. She surrendered for just a moment, then wound her fingers in his hair and pulled as though reining back a horse. He pulled back, laughing. "We'll return to the Red Keep sooner than later, my sweetling. Once Rhaella has birthed her son, there will be the poor of King's Landing to occupy our time."
"And stories," she insisted. "I must be able to tell them stories."
"Always," he assured her. "We will always have stories."
"Then tell me a story." She kissed him again, drawing back as he leaned into her to push her onto her back. She batted his face affectionately at his efforts. "Tell me a story, Duncan."
He considered that, then laid back, hands folded on his chest. "There was a sword," he began. "A sword that could speak. It was dark as the night if the stars went out, red as a smithy's forge, and shone like the sun on Dornish sand. It was a sword that was feared, because it was known to do great and terrible things."
She curled up beside him as he went on. "The man who first wielded it knew no magic. He loved the sword and wielded the sword, and on his deathbed he was prepared to be buried with the sword. But the sword spoke to the man during his dying breaths.
"'I guide the hands of good men,' the sword said, 'and I will make great men even greater. But terrible men will wreak more terror with me in hand. Choose the next to wield me wisely, my lord.'
"The man was wise, and chose as such. The sword spoke to each man who held it, whether great or terrible, but none were so terrible as one man who came by the sword through a fool's contrary nature, and he nearly brought a kingdom to its knees by his wicked ambitions."
There was a knock at the chamber door. Duncan glanced up, tearing his gaze away from Jenny's, and got out of the bed, reaching for breeches and the lot before he answered the door. "Yes - " He stopped, surprised, at looking up into the face of the man in front of him. Few made him feel quite as small as his once-title stated, except for his namesake. "Lord Commander."
"I hope I didn't wake you," Ser Duncan said, clearly somewhat uncomfortable.
"It's fine, Ser Duncan," Jenny called from behind him. "You're quite welcome!"
"Ah, well," Duncan started, "no, we were awake. Is something wrong?"
"No." Ser Duncan seemed to reconsider that, but said nothing of it. "I wanted to speak to you in the yard before we breakfasted."
"Go, do it," Jenny suggested.
Duncan winced, apparently visibly, because Ser Duncan vaguely smiled. "Give me a moment, I'll meet you there," he said to the Lord Commander, who nodded, and he shut the door to turn back to his wife. "When did it get to be this hour of the morning?"
She gave him a sly look. "You're the one who woke me to spend time."
"Yes, well," he said mildly, a bit flustered, "there is that." He began to dress appropriately. "Are you sure you don't want the company? I'm sure Ser Duncan can wait."
"He doesn't tend to waste his time, does he?"
"Well - " Duncan paused as she slipped out of the bed, naked as the day she was born, and pulled on smallclothes. "Where are you going?"
"Oh, nowhere." She pulled on a slip. "You have that look about you, my prince. I'm removing a temptation."
He sighed heavily. "My lady of Oldstones, sometimes you drive me mad." He fought off a smile at her laugh. "I'll be back soon."
"If you like," she said easily, and climbed over the side of the bed to snatch up one of his books. He did smile, at that, and left to speak to the Lord Commander.
Duncan found the Lord Commander near the gate, the morning light dappling on his white cloak; Ser Duncan met him halfway, and greeted him with a bow. "My prince. Come with me, please."
"What, you mean I'm not meant to groom horses and polish armor? His Grace speaks so highly of your tutelage," Duncan teased him.
It earned a smile from Ser Duncan. "No," he said, "I think I've trained enough dragons in my time."
Duncan returned the smile and nodded, following him into the castle proper. "Well, ser, I am no dragon. I'm a dragonfly."
Ser Duncan's tone went sober. "You don't have to listen to them."
"I have to embrace what I am now," he explained. Their path wound through the halls as he spoke. "I am a king's son, and a prince in name only. I abdicated the throne that was once mine by rights. I deserve and accept the derision sent my way. I wear it with pride. Some things are worth that."
"Yes," Ser Duncan said mildly. "I imagine they are."
"You have my interest, ser. I can't imagine where we're going, and I know this castle too well." Duncan didn't ask him outright; it would be apparent soon enough. "Is this a secret?"
The pause before the knight opened his mouth was enough to answer the question. "Not a secret," he said, "but not a discussion for all ears."
"Hmm. As you will."
They walked in silence, then Duncan understood as they reached a stairwell that approached the second floor of guest chambers. "My father's books, I think," he said, with a faint smile. "No one would expect them here, and the servants are too busy with all of the new arrivals. I always wondered where they were. He trusts no one with them. Besides you, I imagine."
"I'm not one for books," Ser Duncan said dryly.
"You know where they are," Duncan pointed out.
"Someone has to carry them."
Duncan tried not to laugh, but stifled it as the Lord Commander opened the next door to their left. Inside there were piles of books; he had not seen the books before, nor known their number, but their existence was no surprise. "He collects books on dragons," he said to Ser Duncan. "Well-known fact. Is this what we're here to discuss?"
Ser Duncan looked grim. "Look closer. He's brought even more books, from across the Narrow Sea. And new... items."
Duncan had never heard the Lord Commander sound so uncertain. The man had been a hedge knight and stationed at court, had seen the best and worst of Westeros, and one would assume varied experiences like those wouldn't breed easy doubt. "Items. You mean eggs?"
The brief hesitation told volumes. Duncan smiled broadly and spoke before he could deny it. "Good. He finds it a comfort. I'm glad he's found something to do in the midst of all this chaos."
"My prince," Ser Duncan started, firmly.
"Yes," Duncan agreed, intent to hear him.
There was a pause as Ser Duncan gathered his thoughts. "These books, the eggs. His Grace will go to all lengths to hatch himself a dragon."
"And all the best for it," Duncan said in puzzlement. "What's your concern?"
He looked strained. Duncan had never known him as anything but patient and measured. "The means, my prince. Even the septon is uncertain. What he's brought together, now…"
"The books? The lore?" he prompted. "What, ser, what troubles you about it?"
Ser Duncan was silent for a moment, while Duncan waited with some concern. "He'll show you," he said. "I'm sure of it. Speak honestly to him. Speak well."
Duncan looked around at the books, then simply nodded. It would become clear soon. "Thank you, Lord Commander."
Ser Duncan swept a bow. "Thank you, my prince."
Duncan left the Lord Commander behind, presumably to instruct the Kingsguard and return to his official duty, and returned to the royal residences, past the Kingsguard stationed by Jaehaerys and Shaera's residence without more than a nod of acknowledgment. Jenny lay beyond.
He opened the door. She lay asleep, resting on her side, all lovely and sprawled. He shut the door behind himself and sat on the edge of the bed, a smile on his face.
The bed shifted and he immediately turned to see Jenny jerking unnaturally, arms over her head and shielding her face, her voice choked in her throat. He climbed over in an instant to pull her into his arms and kiss her face. "Jenny, Jenny, please, it's just a dream."
"I, I - " She could barely manage the simplest word. "I, oh - " She clutched at him, her fingernails in his skin, and he held fast.
"What are you seeing?"
He had never found a way to distinguish her far vision from her dreams, at least not at the time it happened. (Too often it would come true.) She didn't know either, not today, and shook her head wildly, only then starting to relax and go limp in his arms. "They won't," she said finally, in the somber silence. "You won't. It - " She broke off. "I can't say."
Duncan took that in. "Tell me," he pressed her gently.
Jenny withdrew from him and laid down on her side, silent and still. He laid down beside her, staying close, an arm around her, but the distance between them seemed as though it could be a day's ride or more.
Breakfast would bring them both away from dreams, visions, and stories. He waited an hour to carefully remind her, and they dressed in silence.
Full daylight would bring her back to him. He had to be certain of that.
The royal family gathered to eat when the sun was bright in the halls.
Duncan missed Daeron sorely. He loved his brother and his sisters as dearly as one should love siblings; he had just loved (and did still love) Daeron as much as one could love a brother. The table was full, but he still felt as though a spot stood empty.
He focused on Jenny beside him, her demeanor still cool but not so distant. He hoped the vision would fade from her eyes so she could join him again, soon. He loved his family. He needed her.
"Is Rhaella feeling well?" the queen prompted Aerys. "I hoped that she would join us."
"She's chosen to take her breakfast in the residence so she can lie down," Aerys said, dismissive in the way he was with all things, in a way Duncan had never been able to understand. "I find it a pity too. The child might arrive faster if she would move."
"Aerys," Shaera interrupted him, only slightly chiding.
Before Aerys could speak, Jenny did. "He's right. Of course, she would find it all very uncomfortable. She's close enough and has had a long ride to Summerhall. It should be enough. The child will come soon."
Aerys set a cool gaze on Jenny, then turned to the others as though she hadn't spoken. "The boy," he said. "It will be a boy."
Duncan considered interrupting the future king, then exhaled. He was freed from this traitorous desire when the king spoke. "No doubt. Our line has had borne enough men to fill a tourney in the past four generations."
"Your uncle alone counted for ten, Father," Jaehaerys said dryly.
"Yes," the king said, the corner of his mouth turning up dryly. "A fearsome man."
None looked around at Ser Duncan, but they didn't have to. The Lord Commander had to know. Duncan pitied him. Being Prince of Dragonflies, surrendering a crown for a woman, was no true shame compared to both commons and nobles thinking of him only as the hedge knight all but killed a man who might have been a great king.
Not for the first time, he wondered if their shared name was cursed to bring folly and shame along with the opportunity to serve great causes and greater men.
Jenny's hand crept into his, and he came back to himself. Jaehaerys had of course taken the opportunity to speak to the king, as though they stood alone, as he always did. Duncan was not jealous. There was no point in jealousy. He had his prize, one he had earned and would not have fallen as lightly into his hands. He squeezed Jenny's hand.
The king cut Jaehaerys's declarations off with a gesture. "Yes, Jaehaerys. Matters of state can wait." He ignored his son's surprise at this, and pressed on with what Duncan knew, with the flash in his father's eyes, had to be the topic the Lord Commander had warned him would arise. "Today a fourth generation of Targaryens begins, a new era in our dynasty, and the occasion has to be marked."
Aerys's undertone cut through the brief silence. "I wondered if there would be - "
"Aerys," Shaera said firmly.
Aerys straightened in his seat, all rigid, and spoke openly. "Our son will be a king. His birth should be marked."
"His birth will be marked." The king looked at his grandson, gaze close on him. "You'll be with your wife and child, or at her childbed. The others, I expect to join me."
"Your Grace," Jenny spoke up, voice gentle. Duncan tensed immediately.
The king turned to her. "Lady Jenny," he greeted her. "Is something the matter?"
Duncan held her hand tightly, but she sent him a reassuring but brief glance before answering the king. "I want to help Princess Rhaella deliver her child. I've done it before... but not for princesses, of course."
"Are we supposed to believe you?" Aerys interrupted, sharp gaze on Jenny.
Duncan dropped Jenny's hand and pushed forward on the arms of his chair, but the king spoke before he could be too foolish. "I believe her."
Both Aerys and Duncan sat back; Duncan caught a glance of Shaera's expression of clear relief and felt the slightest bit of guilt. "Father," he said, and took Jenny's hand under the table as surreptitiously as possible. "Where will we join you? Please, tell us."
"Yes," Jaehaerys agreed, sitting forward intently. "What can we do to help?"
The king smiled broadly. "I see it on all of your faces. Shaera, you especially. You know me too well, nearly as well as your mother does." Shaera's embarrassed laugh rang out, and Duncan smiled, too. "All of you may well know or suspect what we're going to do here, what we'll achieve very soon."
Duncan found himself swept up in the excitement. "We're here with you, Father."
Jaehaerys sent him a smile, a truer one than he ever had sent his way since the birth of Aerys, and Duncan felt a long anxiety relax, just some. The king turned to the queen, all ceremony done, and the family moved to excited discussion of both the child and the king's project.
He glanced casually to Jenny, who sat quiet and still, her pale eyes and face in focused calm. It cooled his excitement. "Jenny," he said softly.
"Milk, please, my prince," was all she said, and he shifted to fetch it for her, feeling inexplicably chided.
This had to pass. This was history at hand. She would understand, soon.
Jenny read with ease, one of the few things that marked her as anything near a lady to many of the courtiers and even Duncan's family. He had, of course, had to teach her some things, but her willingness and even eagerness to find a way to learn even more than she knew marked her own sort of noble nature.
He had made a point of not bringing many books with them on this trip, hoping that they would both feel comfortable enough interacting with the rest of the family in this brief respite from court life. It hadn't been as easy as he'd hoped.
She delicately turned a page as he glanced at her, and she broke the silence between them. "I spoke to Shaera after we'd seen to Rhaella. She said she and Jaehaerys wanted to see you."
"Is it about our father's plans?" Duncan couldn't imagine anything else Jaehaerys would want of him.
"She didn't say."
He reached over to her, put his hand over hers and gently lowered the book. She met his gaze with wary concern. "My sweet," he said, quietly. "Will you tell me what you saw?"
"It was a dream, my prince."
"One that startles you even now?"
She nodded, and took his hand, examining it with apparent curiosity. "It was a dream. I know dreams from visions."
He could hardly stand it, and pushed the book from her hands. "What was the dream?" he pressed her.
"It means nothing - "
He lashed out, frustrated, afraid. "You fear it! You're upset. That means something to me. You're my wife, by the gods, I'll know your mind if only so I can ease it."
"I dreamed you wouldn't listen," she said, at last. "I dreamed great doom would befall us and you wouldn't listen. But it was a dream."
"I will always listen," he promised, loosely holding onto her hands. "Know that."
"I know." She still didn't meet his gaze exactly. "It means nothing, as I said."
"Don't let it trouble you." He kissed her brow, his mind at ease at least. "Read. I'll attend to my brother's wishes, as ever."
"Jaehaerys loves you well. He doesn't command you," she reminded him gently.
"He may not mean to." It wasn't important. "Enjoy the quiet. Take time for yourself before you check on the princess again. I'll see you soon."
Jenny nodded and tilted her face to his, expecting a kiss, which Duncan happily bestowed. He left her there, finally relaxed, and moved to attend to his family.
As Duncan passed the royal residence, a guard rapped on the door and Shaera immediately opened it. "Duncan! Wait! Jaehaerys wants to go see the books, Father told us to go look, come with us!" He slowed, and waited for the two of them to emerge, Jaehaerys leaving first and flustered while Shaera ushered him out.
"I wondered if you might be with Aerys," Duncan said to his brother, comfortably falling into step with them.
"To get him back in line? No, I know you didn't mean that," Jaehaerys said immediately, at the expression Duncan felt cross his own face, "but it's true. He's with Rhaella now, however briefly. He's anxious to have a child, to have a son. He's not himself."
Were Duncan a fool he might have noted that no, Aerys seemed very much himself, but Shaera touched his arm. "You wouldn't understand," she said, gently.
He exhaled. "Yes, I suppose I wouldn't," he allowed.
Jaehaerys glanced at him curiously. "Are you and Jenny… never going to try?"
"We believe that what happens is what's meant to happen." Duncan shrugged. "We aren't actively avoiding children. The gods appear to prefer to bless your branch of the family tree overall."
Shaera sighed audibly, and Duncan opened his mouth to reassure her, far too late. "Duncan, sweet brother, you are blessed in your own ways - "
"Yes, Shaera, I know - "
"In some ways we envy you. Your life is simpler. Jaehaerys - "
"Please," Jaehaerys cut in, reaching for Shaera's hand. "We needn't talk about it."
"Knowing we'll be king and queen," Shaera pressed on, "we must work on ourselves to be the best we can, especially in times like these for the Seven Kingdoms. We study, we talk to Father and Mother, we do all we can. Jaehaerys hardly sleeps for the stress, Duncan. I think you might have loved life as Prince of Dragonstone, but it weighs on you, and then, the crown..."
"Shaera," Jaehaerys persisted, and sent an apologetic look to Duncan, who smiled through the brief regret. "It's true. It weighs on us. But it is an honor, one you would have worn well."
"I know where you stand now, Jaehaerys. It wasn't so long ago I stood there as well." Apparently they needed reminding. That was surprising. "What did Father say about the books?"
Jaehaerys seemed grateful for the change in topic and tone. "He said we were all reading anyway - at least, you and Jenny must have been - and we might well turn our minds towards the problem at hand. We've eggs to hatch."
"Anything in particular?" Duncan pressed. "There must be something new, he's always had eggs. There must be a plan."
Jaehaerys waved that off. "If Father has a plan, he'll let us know. We're to find as much information as we can, to draw some sort of consensus on what might work."
"But," Duncan began before he could help himself, and crushed his doubts down. "Yes. It may take us days, you know. All of those books."
Shaera laughed. "Between the three of us I think we might have it sorted."
"Not a small library's worth," Duncan said, "unless you're feeling particularly voracious today."
"I'll find a voracious appetite on the king's orders," Jaehaerys said wryly.
"A library's worth?" Shaera asked, leaning past Jaehaerys to look to Duncan.
"Ah," Duncan said, "it shouldn't be a problem." One benefit of spending as much time as he did with Jenny was the natural adoption of social graces, such as that of her ease in sidestepping all sorts of small-scale trouble simply by ignoring its existence. "I read more than both of you combined, I might do it myself."
"If only our lives were so quiet," Jaehaerys teased him, and Duncan smiled again, walking ahead.
The Lord Commander had hinted strongly to too many things in their brief encounter. Duncan could likely hold nothing against the man in his life, at least for very long, but that didn't change the facts. Either Ser Duncan had put his worries on a prince's head for the sake of needless caution, or Duncan himself needed to look more deeply into things in order to discover what troubled the man so much.
These thoughts kept his mind from wholly devouring the books, though they were a fascinating literary menagerie, all different languages with translations and notes in the margins. The answer that all three of them found was fire. Dragons were born from fire.
Shaera closed a book and sighed heavily. "Only fire. That's what it says. Fire and blood, in the old days. But it's been tried, time and time again, in different ways, at different times. There may be no dragons to mark our grandchild's birth."
"What means of fire?" Duncan asked them.
He got blank stares. "You read the books as well," Jaehaerys said.
"You've read yours. What means of fire have been used?"
"Flames of any heat have not yet woken a dragon," Shaera said slowly.
Duncan sat back against the wall. "Lava in the mountains of the Summer Isles once woke a dragon's egg."
"We haven't any lava," Jaehaerys said, clearly aggravated. "Father must have hopes if he's brought us together to come to some kind of - "
"He has a plan. He… wants us to draw the same conclusion? To support him." Duncan faltered. Did the king doubt himself so much? "Do you think?" he turned the question on his brother and sister.
Shaera looked tired. "We haven't drawn a conclusion, Duncan."
"Sister," Jaehaerys said instantly, and took her hand to kiss it. "Go, join Rhaella. I won't have you worrying over all of it at once."
"Thank you." She moved to kiss her husband on the mouth and rose. "My wise brothers. Do your best without me."
"Of course," Duncan said, smiling. "Send Rhaella my best - and gather Jenny if you want, she may still be in our chamber."
Shaera swept away with a smile in return, and with her went the easy air. "You know more than you're saying," Jaehaerys said the instant her footsteps faded from hearing.
"Yes." Duncan closed the book in his hands. "I know there's a plan in place. He must doubt himself. That's the only reason."
Jaehaerys considered that. "Why would the king doubt himself?"
"I would prefer a king that would doubt himself and ask for help than one who would not," Duncan said, "but perhaps that's why I should not have been king."
There was a brief silence as Jaehaerys nodded, shortly, and looked thoughtful. "Has Ser Duncan spoken to you? You are his favorite."
"I may be," Duncan allowed. "What of it?"
"He knows our father well. Does he know?"
"He's told me nothing." That was true enough; Ser Duncan had only shown him things and been extremely vague about what might come. "We should speak to Father."
"We should." Jaehaerys sat up straight, but before he stood he spoke again. "There was a raven from Rhaelle. Did Father say?"
Duncan stayed where he was. "No."
Jaehaerys shrugged with one shoulder. "She's well. Happy. She makes men weep with a harp, she says, which could well be true. She always did work hard on lessons."
"Yes," Duncan said, intent on the book in his hands. "I'm glad to hear it."
He stretched, and stood. "Shall we go? Aerys may never forgive me if we fail to hatch dragons on the eve of his son's birth."
Duncan scoffed, good-naturedly enough, and went to stand. "He might forgive you, if he received a dragon of his own eventually."
Jaehaerys smiled. "There should be one for each of us. Unless Father takes three."
Duncan laughed, setting the book aside to sling an arm around the future king of Westeros. "Mother won't let him, 'be fair, Aegon,' a gentle whack to the skull, all of that."
"Oh, seven hells, will Mother get one?"
They both laughed like madmen until their ribs ached at the idea, then Duncan nudged his brother as the amusement subsided. "Tell Shaera she needn't worry about me. I've a wife of my own."
"You need a sister and a wife to share the burden of worry. I've both." Jaehaerys snorted. They went down a flight of stairs, and Duncan stopped short as a white cloak became visible. Jaehaerys stopped short behind him. "Ser Duncan."
"My princes." Ser Duncan swept a bow. "I've been instructed by the king to gather you. Where is your royal sister?"
"With Princess Rhaella," Jaehaerys said, quickly, eager to move the topic along. "Yes, take us to Father. Thank you, Ser Duncan."
The Lord Commander looked Duncan's way one moment too long. Now he knew for certain. There was a plan, and Ser Duncan feared it.
Prince of Dragonflies or not, Duncan still bore the name Targaryen. He would not fear dragons or fire until reason showed him he must.
Few enough members of the court had come along with them from King's Landing, only the closest and most politically expedient. The courtiers had given them a wide berth - this was, after all, a time for family to share the joy of welcoming a new child - but that time appeared to be coming to an end.
Jaehaerys and Duncan were made to make courtesies and greet friends among the gathered nobles as they went to see their father, a minor inconvenience but a jarring one, when one had spent the last hour discussing books in a quiet room with his brother. Duncan sent the Lord Commander an inquiring look, but received no easy answer, and simply followed the man to their king.
"Duncan, Jaehaerys, come," the king called to them.
There were men in the hall, men who were not courtiers, nor servants, not of any type that Duncan had run across in his lifetime as a prince. He and Jaehaerys both stopped short to watch them; two pushed a heavy cart, two more spoke in hushed voices, and another stood some feet away from the king, paging through a thick book in silence.
Duncan shook off the confusion first. "Father?"
"Your king commands you," the king said dryly, and Jaehaerys finished his approach, leaning to see into the cart as it passed. Duncan hurried to look as well; before he could do more than react, the king raised his hand. "Tell me what you found in your research."
"Fire is not always enough," Jaehaerys said, now looking sideways at the men who wore singed robes.
"Fire is not enough anymore," Duncan corrected, and tore his gaze away from the pots in the sand-filled cart long enough to glance briefly the Lord Commander's way. He turned to meet his father's gaze. "The books have always said magic is a part of the process, but we have no magic, and the books are vague on what magic we would need even if we had it - "
"Fire is not enough. Magic may not be necessary," the king interrupted him. Duncan went silent. "This may be the way."
"Wildfire is temperamental," Jaehaerys spoke up.
This earned him a firm look from the king. "We'll be measured. Careful."
"It may do it," Duncan admitted. The king looked to him, discerning. He held to it. "I think it may, Your Grace."
The king nodded. "Ser Duncan, see when the steward will have everything prepared. There's time."
"Yes, Your Grace," Ser Duncan answered, and gave a short bow.
"Duncan... speak to those friends you have here. Those who love us best. Bring them to witness this. Jaehaerys... stay with me." The king paused for a moment, as his sons stood still and uncertain. "Speak openly. I stand here as your father."
Duncan smiled wryly. "Our father is the king, Your Grace."
"You've spoken openly to me before, both of you. At an incredible volume, no less. I know you're capable."
"I think we should leave the court out of it," Jaehaerys said then. Duncan turned to him in shock. "This may work. It may not."
"If it works, they'll never doubt our family," Duncan insisted, appalled. "Father can rule - you can rule, as you please, be good and kind and just without the games and schemes of those who hold us back. I know - "
"Duncan, you have no say in this," Jaehaerys interrupted him.
Duncan stood there, dumb, then spoke when he couldn't question that his brother had truly said that. "You aren't king," he said coldly, and looked up at his father. "What do you think, Your Grace?"
"I think you're right." The king focused his gaze on Jaehaerys. "What troubles you?"
Jaehaerys stood firm. "If this fails, if fire and blood come to Summerhall to no purpose, if people die, my king, we will be painted as fools. Mad fools."
Duncan had only been so angry once in his life - when Jenny was at stake. "We dreamed of this, Jaehaerys! As children, as men. You said minutes ago - "
"That was before this!" He gestured sharply at the cart. "Before - Father, your brother is dead because of delusions like this. You have always been reasonable, I believe there must be another way, one that doesn't risk - Father, please - my grandchild will be born tonight, my son and daughter deserve an occasion marked with joy and family - "
The king shook his head, barely contained anger clear on his face, and Jaehaerys fell silent. "You're frightened. I'll let your words pass."
"Thank you, Your Grace." Jaehaerys measured his words. "I ask that these men take every precaution they know of. Dragons at the cost of the kingdom are ill-bought."
"They will." The king looked to Duncan. "Go do as I asked. Join us when you're finished."
Duncan withdrew silently from the confrontation, drawing a slow breath as he approached the doors to the hall.
He pushed through, stepped forward, and wore an easy smile. He thought of Jenny.
It was a relief to finish diplomacy and social niceties among the courtiers, even if the next task at hand was once again reading through harrowing accounts of those had tried what they were about to attempt and failed, or who had succeeded in a time when such things seemed much easier.
It seemed much more real, now, and that much more dangerous for it.
Rhaella likely would have much preferred books and courtiers to what she was doing, of course. At least, Duncan assumed she might have. Though the result seemed worthwhile, childbirth still seemed unpleasant enough to him.
"What of magic, Father?" Jaehaerys asked, not looking up from his book. "We have no magic."
"We are Targaryens," the king said firmly. "We are the blood of old Valyria. Magic flows in our veins."
The pyromancers were hard at work. Duncan opted to pause his reading to watch them transfer the wildfire from pots to a large cauldron. They glanced up nervously as the doors to the hall opened, but went hurriedly back to work as Ser Duncan strode in.
"Ser Duncan," the king greeted him. "Is it done?"
The Lord Commander's face was unreadable. "It is, Your Grace."
"I see that you disapprove."
Duncan shot Jaehaerys a look, but his brother's face was dropped pointedly into the pages of his book.
"I don't disapprove, Your Grace."
"You do," the king said, standing, "and I would have you be honest with me, as you have been in the past."
Ser Duncan stood firm. "The septon will return once your work's done, my king."
There was a pause before the king spoke again. "Ser, you know how important this is to me."
"I do." The Lord Commander met the king's gaze directly, even as he stood on the raised dais. They wore the same smile, that of shared travels and history, and Duncan envied them, not for the first time.
"Do you believe we might hatch dragons today?" the king prompted him.
"I know no more than you do, my king," Ser Duncan returned.
"I didn't ask what you knew, I asked what you believed."
"I believe you're doing all you can to hatch dragons, and hope all turns out well."
"All will be well," the king said, and turned to him suddenly. He gave a start and blushed for it. "Do you believe, Duncan? What does Jenny think?"
Jaehaerys made a barely audible sound of discontent at Jenny's name, and Duncan shot him a look before answering their father. "She..." What did she think? "She hasn't said, Father."
The king considered that, surprised. "A pity. I like to know her thoughts. She has a sense about things."
"That she does," Duncan agreed.
There was a firm knock on the door of the hall, and Ser Duncan went to open it. "My lady," he said.
"Duncan," Jenny called, and his head shot up. "My king, my prince – I was sent to let you know that the child should soon be born."
Jaehaerys smiled broadly. "Thank you, Jenny."
Jenny dropped into a curtsey. "I'll return to our chamber when the child comes, Duncan. Come to me when your dragons are hatched."
"Lady Jenny," the king interrupted.
Duncan froze, and, to his surprise, so did Jenny. "Yes, Your Grace?" she asked carefully.
"What do you think of our efforts tonight?"
Jenny looked like a statue in that moment, still and pale again, then spoke in her easy, direct way. "I think no history has been made by weak wills or stomachs," she said, "not that I know as much of history as Your Grace does. But whatever is done, I beg that my Duncan return to me."
"Jenny - " Her name burst from Duncan's mouth before he could stop himself.
"No. It follows. Your mother has said the same to me." The king nodded to Jenny. "He will return to you. We've taken precautions. Do you believe we will be successful?"
"If I tell you I do not, will you not take the risk?"
There was silence in the hall. The king smiled, then. "I take your meaning. Lady Jenny, you may join us once the child is born. Let Shaera know she should join us as well. Ser Duncan, speak to the steward. Let him know we'll celebrate with the court after the dragons are born. This is for our family. Thank you."
"Your Grace," they both murmured, and left together, the Lord Commander ushering Jenny forward.
Duncan released the breath he'd been holding.
Some great part of him wanted to run after Jenny, to comfort her and to be with her, in case of the worst. His heart soared in spite of all reason, though; he felt like Jenny must have with her visions. He felt sheer certainty. He felt that something great would come from the flames.
It felt too real to deny. He wasn't sure he could.
He stayed where he was, and read fervently, gathering the books once they'd learned as much as they could in the time. Only so much preparation could be made. They had to place their faith in the Seven to be given what their family had long since earned.
Duncan had never seen his father the King look happier than standing hand in hand with his Queen, his family gathered around him.
The king looked to the pyromancers around the cauldron, and smiled openly.
"Let's begin," he said.
Duncan looked to Jaehaerys as the pyromancers scrambled to light the cauldron. He wished, prayed to the Seven, that the child would be born and Jenny would come to him. He didn't fear – he hadn't feared until now.
He was not craven enough to run and hide behind his wife's skirts. But Jenny knew things. Jenny did not believe. Should he have…
At first, there was a scent that was raw against his nose, first acidic, then burnt, and the cauldron exploded upward in flame, sending the pyromancers fleeing back to the doors of the hall. The king moved forward, and Duncan moved, too, both entranced and ready to throw his father back from the flames.
They had to see, they had to see if it was working -
The pyromancers were shouting, and Jaehaerys pulled at Duncan's clothes, trying to pull him back. He ignored it and moved forward. He could see the eggs. He could almost see them moving. If he could reach them…
The hall was all flames. He should have been frightened.
His sleeve caught fire.
"Father, they're - "
A boy lay on his back in the courtyard of the fallen castle.
"May I tell you a story, my prince?" the pale woman asked him.
The boy nodded.
She smiled, and lifted her hand to allow a hovering dragonfly to land.
She spoke in a soft lilt.
"There was once a woman who loved a man whose heart was made of fire and blood."