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Chapter 95

Daenerys XII

A few hours before the feast, Aemon visited her looking anxious. He said that Lord Lannister was going to explain his reasons for killing King Aerys II. The thought repelled her. She began to protest and although he listened to her words, he was firm.

"Lord Lannister has borne the shame of being called Kingslayer and Oathbreaker long enough. I assure you, he does not deserve those titles and I am confident that you will agree by evening's end."

She had her doubts, but acquiesced and began preparing for the feast. She was greatly annoyed to see the Kingslayer sitting just on Aemon's other side. The king himself was all who stood between her and Lord Lannister. She thought she was doing an admirable job of ignoring him as she engaged with Aemon, telling him about the trip to the orphanage in Flea Bottom.

Her heart had broken to see the children look so sad and lost. Those looks had briefly melted away with her appearance. Their eyes had alit with excitement and they had gawped as she sat down on the stone step. The children had all crowded in around her, but one little girl had climbed into her lap.

"Are you the Mother?" she had asked.

"I am a mother," Daenerys had replied.

"The Mother?"

Dany had glanced over at Margaery in confusion.

"She speaks of the Seven. We worship Seven figures as gods: The Father, the Mother, the Warrior, the Smith, the Maid, the Crone, and the Stranger."

"I am not that Mother," Daenerys had clarified with a smile.

"But you have children?"

"Yes, my dragons. I consider myself their mother."

Questions had then flown thick and fast about her and her dragons. She had answered each one as best as she could, having to dodge a few that were unintentionally personal. While listening to her speak, another girl had braided parts of her hair.

Just as soon as they spotted her, the children had all but abandoned Daenerys to flock in Missandei's direction. It seemed the other woman had similar adoration. Many of the girls had reached out to touch Missandei's voluminous curls and giggled, having never seen aught like it before. As Margaery had suggested, she and Missandei were soon sitting together, telling the children stories about Essos.

That moment in time was the happiest and most carefree Daenerys had ever felt in her life. There were no whispers about unseen enemies, no one to present a face and go through the motions of ceremony. It was all laughter and fun. Daenerys had walked away feeling lighter than air, though with a newfound determination to learn sewing so that she could be of more use to the children. She could not help but see the holes in their clothes.

Now, she felt like she was back on Captain Lucia's ship, swaying to and fro. However, it was not the waves that rocked her, but the very truth of who her father was. She remembered a cold sinking dread as the Kingslayer spilled it forth.

He did it quite plainly and simply. There were no grandiose gestures. Gone was the haughty arrogance. He was grim as he spoke into the breathless hall. She thought he looked tired for a fleeting instant, and then it was gone and he took his seat once more.

Liar, she wanted to say. The words were on the tip of her tongue, but she had no breath or will to voice it. His words carried a ring of truth. She remembered her mounting horror as Ser Barristan related her father's crimes against Lord Rickard Stark, Brandon Stark, and the others that had set off the rebellion in the first place. Burning a man alive in an unfair trial seemed but one small step to laying waste to a whole city. It chilled her to the bone that she was supposed to call the man who ordered this horror father.

Never, Daenerys thought, he may be my blood, but I need not think of him as a father. I have no father.

Going from airy jubilation to saddening horror in a single afternoon was disconcerting. Aemon tried to speak with her after Lord Lannister's announcement, but she heard nothing that he was saying as she stared into her plate, stirring her food around absentmindedly. Her thoughts were on the children. Those children were not alive when the king had given that order, but there were other children who had since grown who wouldn't be alive if the order had been carried out. And further, Aemon had made it clear that the wildfire that had been stored there was still a danger. It gladdened her heart to know that it was being removed, but there was a growing pit in her stomach. She decided to excuse herself from the feast early.

Aemon gave her an understanding smile and reached out to gently squeeze her hand. "Feel better," he whispered.

She nodded and tried to return the smile, but it lacked sincerity. Sleep did not come easily and she was jolted awake in the early morning hours as she watched every single one of the smiling orphans she had just met drown in flames. She was reminded of her vision in the House of Ashes where she saw her dragons razing King's Landing to the ground. That had not inspired so much fear in her then. How could it? She commanded them. But this new knowledge did. She didn't think she would be able to look at her dragons the same way.

I am being ridiculous, she scolded herself. They have only ever harmed those who would do them harm. I am their mother. I will raise them right. I have to. With two of her bloodriders, she found her way to the godswood. It was dark and a mist concealed the ground. She stepped carefully, but then she heard the rustling of the bushes and the snapping of twigs. The torchlight her bloodriders carried fell onto the dragons. They peered up at her curiously, but as soon as she made to sit, they hurried over to her and nuzzled her, burying their heads in her hands so she could pet them.

"My children," she whispered. "You will obey me, won't you? You will not hurt an innocent, will you?" A low rumble generated in their throats like a cat's purr and it soothed her. Rhaegal was, for the time being, still kept with Aemon, though he was quickly becoming too large and ungainly.

Learning about the wildfire was somehow the second time she had been rocked in two days. After her tea with Margaery, they had encountered the Healer David. Her eyes connected with his as they passed and a feeling of recognition mixed with dread stole over her. But how did she know him? The uncanny notion plagued her the whole day as she racked her brain.

She had only just been falling asleep when it came to her in a flash of inspiration. The healer had made an appearance in the House of the Undying; he was in the vision with Magister Illyrio Mopatis, only it was not just a vision. In the weeks leading up to her marriage to Khal Drogo, she remembered walking through the palace flanked by a pair of guards. She passed the magister and the then-unknown healer. Both of them had glanced at her but then paid her no mind. In the vision, though, their eyes had lingered and the magister had even risen to his feet to greet her. It had disturbed her to see a memory of her past come to life and then change. She had been perturbed even then by the healer's piercing eyes.

How did he come to be here? When she asked, Margaery had told her. Lord Jaime employed him in his services and he helped heal the commonfolk. Was that all there was to it? Was crossing paths with him pure happenstance? How could it be anything else? Daenerys thought, but the unease she felt upon seeing him made her think otherwise.

He had been polite enough and his eyes didn't linger, not like in the vision. He passed her like he would pass anyone else walking the streets of the city. She would have to find time to speak with him, but she didn't know when.

Daenerys stayed out in the godswood until the rosy tendrils of dawn broke through the night sky. Her dragons had curled up around her, both of them pillowing their heads in her lap as she absentmindedly stroked the scales on their necks. She only stirred when they did. They gave her one last considering look before turning and leaping into the sky to start their hunt for the day. She watched them go with a trace of a smile, but the spell was broken. The bitter truth of the previous night stole the smile from her face. With a heavy sigh, she returned to her quarters.

She had no energy for the day. Under normal circumstances, she would be talking and giggling with her chambermaids, but she sat quietly as they did her hair. Missandei looked like she wanted to ask of her troubles, but seemed to think better of it, for which Daenerys was grateful; she didn't think she could adequately give voice to her thoughts and fears.

Just before lunch, there was a knock on the door. Under normal circumstances, one of her ladies would answer, but she longed for a distraction. She opened the door to find Aemon, smiling and with a bouquet of flowers in his hands.

"For you, Daenerys."

She smiled, "They're beautiful!" She was not especially familiar with flowers and could only name the orchid, but it was made up of purple, blue, and white flowers. "Thank you," she said and then handed them off to Missandei to find a vase for them.

"I promised you that I would take you to see something of our ancestors' history. Are you still interested?"

"Of course," she replied and linked her arm through his. As always, their guards fell in step behind them. She noticed one of them was a grizzled man with a scar on his face. She was not one to suffer from even a small amount of exposure to fire, but she recognized a burn when she saw one. Her thoughts ran to the wildfire again and her brief moment of happiness was punctured.

"How are you feeling?" Aemon asked upon seeing her downtrodden face.

She was quiet for a moment, then whispered, "Growing up, Viserys told me our father was a great man. That the Usurper was just jealous. That he just wanted power and invoked a rebellion for his own selfish needs. I wonder now what else he didn't know."

"Not all Targaryens are bad, Dany," Aemon said in a low voice.

Daenerys gave a shaky sigh. "Perhaps, but it seems the bad far outweighs the good."

"Don't say that. There is not a single house that has perfectly behaved members. Before King Aegon I, the Starks were the kings of winter. My uncle disapproved of us learning about them, but many of them were butchers of a sort, with little room for mercy or pity in their hearts. The Starks are known for honor now because my uncle lived and breathed honor when he was fostering in the Eyrie; he didn't learn it from my grandfather. Like it or not, it does not change the fact that your father—my grandfather—attempted to orchestrate the destruction of the city. But we can't ignore it or hide it. We must acknowledge it and vow to be better."

She was quiet as they walked. "Can we be better? There may no longer be wildfire, but we have brought dragons back into the world. They have the ability to level a city if they so choose." The vision of Drogon and Rhaellon laying waste to King's Landing rose once more to her mind.

Aemon squeezed her hand in comfort. "King Aegon and his sisters had dragons. They never laid waste to any cities. Balerion melted Harrenhal and they destroyed armies, but only ever at the king's command. If we take a firm hand with our dragons, we can ensure they never do the same."

Daenerys chuckled. "You speak with wisdom and calm beyond your years at the prospect."

Aemon raised his eyebrows and a smile played on his lips. "I dare say, hold your compliments. I may yet still be the fool. Our dragons will outlive us and it will be our children and grandchildren who will command them. There could be another Balerion in a hundred years. The idea is awe-inspiring and terrifying all at once."

"My brother said Balerion was the largest dragon in the world," Daenerys said. "I think he said he was big as a mountain."

"I think we could use a reference to know for sure, don't you?" Aemon asked with an amused grin. He steered her around the corner and they stopped at the top of the staircase that led down into darkness. Daenerys gave him a quizzical look as they started towards it. A small corridor of torches bracketed the wall and Aemon lifted one up. "Shall we?" A kingsguard took another torch, but the one with the burn shied away from the fire.

Aemon led her under the Keep. Without the warmth of the sun, the muggy air turned cool and damp. Daenerys was reminded of the House of the Undying, yet again, and she felt her breath quicken, but she struggled through her fear and followed.

The room opened up and the flickering fire fell onto a large skull with a height that reached her knees. She cocked her head in curiosity and bent down to study it. There were broad ridges across its snout that reminded her of the scales on Drogon and Rhaellon's noses and the skull ended in much the same point. The row of sharp teeth left no doubt. "Dragon," she whispered.

Once she stood and began looking around, more large shapes loomed out of the darkness. The skull near the entrance, although large compared to other animals, was the smallest by far. Some belonged to dragons as long as she was tall. She ran her hand along the bone, surprised by its smoothness.

"Do you know all of the dragons here?" she asked.

There was enough light in the room for Aemon to look sheepish. "Uhh … no. I have been unable to delve much into our family history. I know many of their names, but not which skull is which. There's only one skull I know here." He led her through, each skull seemingly larger than the last. "This … this is Balerion."

Daenerys gasped. The skull was so large Balerion could have swallowed their entire party whole. The very tip of his snout towered over her and she had to stand up on tiptoe to rub it like she rubbed Drogon's. It was the length of a skiff and she wondered if the weight of the skull itself could sink a galleon.

"Ser Barristan may have mentioned, but back during the reign of King Aerys II, the skulls were on display in the throne room. I briefly considered bringing them back out of the dark, but I was concerned by what message that might convey. Now that we have living dragons, I think it's best that they remain here in the dark."

"That is probably for the best," Daenerys murmured, but a mournful feeling stole over her to think that the dragons the bones belonged to lacked company. "Would I be able to visit?"

"Certainly," Aemon said.

Daenerys smiled and traced a ridge on the bone. I will learn all of your names and be able to place you, she thought.

She finally stepped away back toward Aemon. Her excitement of the dragons had faded and she grabbed her arms and rubbed them to keep them warm.

"Ready to return to the sun?"

"Please."

Daenerys smiled as soon as she saw the sun at the end of the tunnel. At the bottom of the stairs, she reached out to stop Aemon and turned him toward her. "Thank you. Viserys convinced me that the Usurper would have destroyed the skulls. I assumed they were gone. I am glad that you were able to show them to me."

"Of course! They are fascinating, are they not?" He flashed her a grin.

"They are! So large and beautiful. I hope one day our dragons see those sizes."

"They will be grand," he replied and she noticed a distance coming to his eyes as he was clearly thinking about it.

She giggled. "I'm not done. I thank you for everything. I have always wanted a home and a family. I thought that dream lost when Viserys died. But you have shown me you are truly the dragon I hoped you were and it has nothing to do with Rhaegal's hatching. That only proved your heritage, but you are so much more than our blood as I hope I am." She laced her fingers with his. "We dragons must stick together; I accept your proposal of marriage."

Aemon's face lit up in delight. He pulled her closer and she met his lips in a kiss. It took a moment, but then she relaxed and wrapped her arms around his neck. When they stopped, she buried her head in his shoulder. Drogo did not kiss, merely fucked. She thought their intimacy was love, but that had proven to be a shallow facade upon losing Rhaego. She and Aemon had not even lain together and yet she felt more love wrapped in his arms at that moment than she had ever felt in her life.

He gently ran a hand through her hair as they hugged. "Thank you," he whispered.