The So-Sad Song
She was not a little girl anymore, Rhaegar thought, and it was a curious first thought to be had towards a stranger. And she is a stranger. Rhaegar does not know her name, he does not know her age, he does not know where she hails from, he does not know where she has resided, or those she calls family, or-… He does not know much of most about the person before him.
Yet, for a stranger, he also contrarily knows too much. He knows what she looks like when she laughs, and he knows how her nose curls when she finds something objectionable, and he knows she likes peaches and cherries, fruits she could gnaw down to the pit and nibble a bit more. He knows how hoary her hair is at sunset, and what she looks like swathed in blood, and the shade of lilac underneath of her eyes bruises when she is tired.
Rhaegar knows, and still, afresh, he does not.
A foreigner and a mistress, a dream within a dream, something fashioned from want and need and something sticky like plum juice, he knows how it dribbles down her chin on first bite, staining lips mauve.
That's is how he feels as the girl with a strip of fire at her temple comes to a stand.
For Rhaegar has lived a life, a whole two and twenty seasons, a life of smiles and snickering, sorrow and sobs, songs and sonnets, and still, all of it seemed… chasing. As if every waking moment had led him right here, right now, to this remarkable moment.
There is no light without a singular ignition.
Rhaegar felt that too, a burst of something convivial settling in his chest, a spark of light turned fire.
She heaves and hefts herself up, groaning on a sigh, dusting herself off as if she were merely shaking off the throws of slumber and not the cold embrace of death, and all Rhaegar could do was stand there, motionless.
She does not look at him in the beginning, too caught up with searching her surroundings, and it was a first for Rhaegar, a throbbing flash of being unseen. As crowned Prince, coupled with a touch of pride that title brings from birth, it prickled against his skin like an ivy rash.
"Sorry about the impromptu drop in. Got caught up in a storm and fell, by the looks of it, without much dignity. Tell me, where am I? Green hills…. Forests… Old castle… England? Wales? Scotland? Somewhere in Europe by the looks of those crenulations on the castle-"
She lastly, finally, looked to him, as if he were a Valyrian painting, those canvases of looping and splashed colours, and she was trying to find the shapes in the paint, his outline, his form. He understands the moment she sees him as he saw her because there it is.
The nose curl.
"I know you…"
Her eyes were different, older and haunted, but still terribly strange and bright and intimately familiar, and Rhaegar ultimately found his voice.
"As I know you. The girl who is deathless."
She winced at that, the nose curls deepened, she does not like that name, she never has and never will, and Rhaegar knows this too well, like he knows many things he should not know for a stranger he only ever saw in his dreams, but it was the spur that was needed.
For how could it be only him with this heavy weight in his chest, only him with this lifetime of dreams, only him… Only him.
"And you're the boy with the so-sad song. You played the harp in your lap, and I would sing, and we used to play hide and seek in the-"
They speak together, like they share their impossible dreams, impossible memories, impossible moments that were only ever theirs, and finally, finally, she smiles, all teeth, lopsided, stitched with the stuffing of longing and something wistful.
"I don't very often meet people from my dreams. You've gotten…"
She stalled on her word, and Rhaegar, light as air, cocked a brow and laughed and joked for what felt like the first time in millennia, or, perhaps, since the last time he dreamt of this impossible girl.
Her responding laugh was worth more than words could portray, as her head slants, and something teasing gleams in her eye.
"I was going to say fat. You've gotten a little soft around your middle."
She knows him, she must, for he glances down before he can stop himself, and the chuckle that bounces in the air flushes his cheeks warm.
"And still as gullible."
This moment hurts, Rhaegar thought. A peculiar sort of good-grief. They are not children anymore, years have passed for both of them, and this is not a dream, a realm of hazy softness and safety, and it shows on the plains of their skin, in the keen angles they have, the jagged cuts they have of living here and there, in the shadows of their gazes, an affectionate, chaste sort of maturity now lingering between them.
Nevertheless, here she was. She grew up with him, was a mud streaked, chaotic cackling girl with him, where they raced and pranced and danced, he sang with her, and slept on grass hills with her, climbed the broken pillars of the Dragonpit with her, in dreams where they were not themselves only but each other's too.
It is, much like the girl herself, impossible to separate the two, to look at the woman before him now and not see that same gap-toothed child with skinned knees and a horrible habit of mischief.
A youth spent between the lashes of a slumbering eye.
Rhaegar was moving before he ever truly knew he was moving. He walked, one boot step over another boot step, until he was there, before her, the girl with a dragon at her back unnervingly watching, so close he thought, perhaps, he might feel her breath on his chest, not his face, she was still so tiny and slight, ridiculous for one of such big character.
Her hand raised, so did his own, they hesitate, slow, indecision, and then-
They touch, hand to hand, palm to palm, and her flesh was warm, and scarred, not as pale as his own, but Sunkissed with scattered freckles and-
She laughed a desperate sort of sound.
"You have a callus on your thumb from the harp. You never had that in my dreams. You didn't imagine it, or I didn't, or… You truly are real, aren't you? I'm not dreaming again, am I?"
Rhaegar does not know what this is, what his dreams had been, prediction or prophecy or something other, but they were his, and they happened, and this was happening too, a dream that had spilled over, and… All his, all hers, all theirs, not stolen when one or both awoke.
"I do not believe either of us are currently slumbering, no. How did you get here?"
How are you real, is what he truly wishes to ask, but he does not. He cannot find it in himself to question it, not much more than he is, to poke the gods further than needed, to have it snatched from him in the sick irony the old fables so heavily warned children of.
However, Rhaegar must have said something that kindled the fire inside her, for she was a girl who always had a fire inside, sometimes low and soft, other times scorching and blistering, because her hand was snatched back, and she was retreating, skirting to her dragon, to the ruined patch of river lilies, snatching up some leather-
A satchel from the dirt. She rambled as she dipped inside, and Rhaegar found himself smiling, thoughts rushing, a sea never at calm, even as a child, she had always been in relentless movement, a dragonfly buzzing.
It was… Nice, yes, something a little like nice, to see this had not changed.
"I found it. A name. Many names. Perhaps that is why I was dreaming of you, somehow… Trying to tell myself the way. I don't know. But… Here, look!"
She pulled free a folded piece of parchment, mindlessly dropping the satchel back to the ground, her dragon, that huge beast, grumbling low as it bounced off its clawed foot, evidently not doing any damage to a paw of that size but annoying the scaled creature.
"Sorry Lilennys… Here it is. A little soggy from the storm, but no worse for wear."
She slipped the parchment open, unfurling its curls and corners, as she made her way back to him in a loping gate, graceful, almost as if she were dancing across the grass.
And then she shoved the parchment right into his face, finger creeping around the sodden side to point out a sprawled name in an ocean of names etched in greens, and blacks, and something red Rhaegar could not see before he was diverted to the tapping finger.
"Haraella Targaryen… Targaryen?"
Rhaegar read, and read once more to make sure, and the parchment gave way to an impish face, dotted with jolly little dimples.
The name drifts along his mind like sea-salt spray from a lapping tide.
He had not known her name, they never gave names in the dreams, it seemed… Unimportant, insignificant, he had not… How… When…
"Yes, yes, it's a strange name. You're not the first to say so, and I doubt you will be the last. But that's me. Haraella Targaryen, and this is my family tree. And look!"
Her finger drifted upwards, circling parchment, to the line just above her own.
"Jenny of Oldstones and Duncan Targaryen. That's my mother and father. Jenny's dead, that's why her name is written in black, but look at Duncan. It's green. He's alive… Somewhere. I came to find him. I came to give him this."
Her hand drifted to her thin throat, fingers twirling in chain, and there, from beneath her strange tunic came a necklace, little silver dragonfly glinting in the low light.
Rhaegar remembered that necklace, faintly, softly, the way it shimmered at his good aunt's chest when it quaked in laughter from a joke whispered in her ear from nuncle Duncan.
Jenny of Oldstones had died with that necklace.
How had he not seen it before?
Had he not, in his songs, called her his Jenny?
Had nuncle Duncan not cried at his Jenny's song?
Did he not see the fire inside, or the silver of her hair, or-
They are funny little things, are they not? A place where extraordinary things seem ordinary, and names have no baring, and two children could play for years without ever truly caring what the other was dubbed.
They had been dreams of a child, and now, dreams that spilled to waking moments, where extraordinary things were not so common, and names had baring, and lost children thought dead in tragedies could come flying home.
She was real.
"I think my mother would have wanted him to have it. So I came looking for him."
Rhaegar's voice croaked.
She blinks at him, confused, the impossible girl he now had a name for. He does not blame her, he too feels befuddled, as if the ground beneath his feet was not so solid as it had been that very morn, as if the world was larger than thought, and dreams could be real.
"Yes, there's a Rhaegar here too, and no, I don't know why his name is etched in red. Perhaps-"
He shook his head.
"No… I… My name is Rhaegar Targaryen. That name there, on your parchment, is my own, and that of Duncan is my nuncle."
The sound of lone cricket shouting for its brethren.
A terribly sad sound.
Her nose does not curl this time, and Rhaegar missed the wrinkle, the sweet coil of chaos, but her nostrils flared, a shaky intake of hard-won breath, disbelief perhaps, desire possibly, something short and shocking that he too feels shooting in his limbs.
"You're Rhaegar? And Viserys? Rhaella? Aerys?"
Rhaegar smiled softly.
"My brother, your cousin, my mother, your aunt, and my father, your uncle. They are here, behind me, in the castle as we speak."
The parchment crumpled in her abruptly stiff grip.
"They're here? I… I found them?"
His head slanted, as her world had clearly tilted at his response.
"Did you not expect to?"
She winced, pained, scolding.
"Things don't normally go to my plan."
Rhaegar knew this as much as she knew it herself. To her, things did not come effortless, they came fast and hard and brutal, and only when she had paid a heavy price.
Yet had she not died to get here?
Had he not found her lifeless in a heap of river lilies?
Had her own life not delivered her to this one remarkable moment?
Perhaps it was time that things came softly, came leisurely, came with tenderness and kindness and soft, warm hands with calluses on thumbs. Perhaps, here, right now, it started with him, it started with her, and it started with them.
One last time, Rhaegar's hand lifted, drifting in the space between them, fingers splayed, open, warm, gentle.
"He is here too. I am confident he would be happy to meet you. I can take you to see him if you wish?"
She appeared lost, the most lost he had, conceivably, ever seen her be and, at last, he understood.
This was her dreams too.
This was her spilling moment too.
This was where she could see things could be changed, softer, kinder, where death did not need to be endured for happiness. Where men in strange periwinkle robes did not pull strings, and noseless beasts did not snatch and steal for the sake of snatching and stealing.
Haraella took a step back.
"Perhaps I should come back later, I'm covered in mud and maybe I should change before introductions are made, and I think Lilennys is hungry and-"
She is like a hunting hound in that moment, trained to chase the badgers and foxes, but only that, only ever searching, unsure what to do or say if she ever got what she so desperately pursued.
Possibly Rhaegar loved her a little then, or possibly a lot, it was hard to untangle this thorny knot in his chest, squirming as it was, alive in its own way, but he does understand want and wanting, and never having, tolls.
Rhaegar does not say anything.
He does not have to.
They both know the apologies are just that, excuses, and both of them have a million to give. Instead, he kept his hand free, gentle, welcoming.
Silence anew, another cricket merging into the song, no longer alone but a symphony of two.
They must have found each other hidden in the bladed grass against the odds.
Her shoulders squared, she took back the step she stole away, her own hand lifted, fitting, fingers lacing.
"And that sounds… Good. Really good. Yes, I think I would like that."
He felt her thumb glide to his own, stroke along the callus she did not know existed, and he too found his fingers wandering, caressing along a scar across her knuckles, bumpy, edgy, two flawed hands made achingly real, the scars and thickened skin their own bladed grass.
Haraella should be dead thrice over.
Rhaegar should be wed, or at the very least, not having charged out this castle at the first sign of a dragon flying in the air like a man possessed.
Yet here they stood.
Here they were.
Two crickets in the grass singing their own song on the whims of a youthful dream.
And as they made their way to the keep, as Haraella's dragon settled in the bed of river lilies and rested, hand in hand, Rhaegar was not only Prince Rhaegar, trying to balance backbiting lords and mounting courtly strains, but again the boy with too many books in his arms, who had never picked up a weapon, who thought the world could be made better by an ode and hope, and kindly smiles. Haraella was not only Haraella, but the little girl who bit a peach too hard and lost her front tooth because she was too young to realize things could bite back, that prices had to be paid for sweet things, that war was such a terrible affair, that men lied and children died, and sometimes sacrifice was the only way.
She was the little girl with skinned knees and grass stained toes, and a lopsided smile.
He was the little boy with beliefs of chivalry and fables, where good could win.
There was something beautiful in that, Rhaegar thought.
Extraordinary and beautiful, like the singing of crickets, or a child's dream.
Next Chapter: On the anniversary of his wife's death, Duncan Targaryen gets the surprise of a lifetime…
A.N: This chapter is a little shorter than usual, only by a couple of hundred words, but I really wanted to keep the Duncan/Haraella meeting/reunion for her P.O.V. It's her moment, her meeting, what she has been searching for, and obviously going to be a very emotional, and it just seems right to tell it from her perspective.
Once again, thank you all for the absolutely delightful reviews, follows and favourites. Over the last few weeks I found myself re-reading them and smiling like a lunatic, lol. I hope this made you guys as equally cheerful. As always, if you have a moment or two, don't forget to drop a review, and I hope you all stay safe, stay happy, and until next time, stay beautiful! ~AlwaysEatTheRude21