CHAPTER 1: INTO THE UNKNOWN
The house with the red door
Darkness swam in my mind. I felt weightless; utterly at ease. My body felt strangely smaller, like I was wearing somebody else's skin, and it was too tight —
As soon as I registered that, alarm building, I opened my eyes. And then came the stone tossed into the still pond. Memories crashed into me, memories of things I've never done, memories of things I haven't even seen. Head swimming with nausea and strain, something dimly glowing at the back of my mind, the last remnants of that strange ease I'd felt earlier were eroded in totality.
Blinking my eyes furiously, I turned to take in where I was, hoping that what my newfound memories (and boy were there a lotta those) were telling me were abjectly wrong.
As an old man, on his death bed, weathered in appearance but bearing vestiges of former good looks, and a girl, no older than than five, (your sister! My mind helpfully supplied) gazed back at me with immense concern, one thing at least remaining constant between the place I now realised, with a sinking feeling, that I was stuck in, and my former world.
I never get good things.
We were in a luxuriously appointed room, no surprise at that, to the new part of me, at least; the old man (Ser Willem fricking Darry!) had managed to to make off with most of the treasury of Dragonstone when we'd escaped the Usurper's fleet bearing down on us. He lay in a white feather bed, with plumped up pillows and silk sheets. A longsword adorned with gold filigree on its scabbard and hilt, sheathed, lay against the bed's side. Perhaps the only thing detracting from the room's generally tasteful decor was Willem himself.
Sunken eyes and face, the scars of scores of battles littered liberally across his body. The newest wound not even scarred yet, winking at me with its ghastly appearance on his left side. Plus the teensy, tiny detail of him being at death's door.
He was saying something. Damn it, better stop zoning out.
"Your Grace, your Grace! Are you well? Daenerys, shake your brother, we don't have much time, we must act quickly, and the boy needs to be ready —"
He collapsed into a fit of coughing at the extended effort. Part of me was weeping to see this man, this good, loyal man, who'd sacrificed everything to save me and my sister, and had never asked for anything in return. He'd taken care of us for six years; and was now finally at the end of his rope.
"Ser, I'm fine. Forget about me, your — your wounds, they are of a grievous nature. I can't bear — bear to lose you as well!" I didn't even have to fake it, I could feel tears prickling at my eyes even as I spoke.
He looked at me through the haze of pain, with great effort. As his sharp eyes attested, his body was lost to him, but his mind was still lucid. Still keen.
"Your Grace, if my time has come, it has come. No man can delay the inevitable. Now, pay heed to my words. I must warn you, I do not know if you have noticed, but the servants of this manse have been greedily eying me ever since we arrived here, and noted an old man with two young children. Weak as I am, succumbing to this wound, this is their moment. They will move swiftly once I leave my mortal coil. They may try to kill you and loot this property. You must be ready, you must defend your sister, and if necessary, run. There is no shame in it, you are only a boy. Promise me —" the poor man broke into another fit of coughing, the spittle staining the ivory-white pillow scarlet.
My tears began flowing freely, the memory of how this happened rising to the forefront of my mind. Willem Darry had been advanced in age, yet still strong of body and mind. Stabbed ignobly in the side, as he was seeking news of Westeros in a Braavosi marketplace, the assailant swiftly lost in the throng of sweaty bodies and huge crowds milling about.
How bloody convenient that it just so happened to be our protector to get stabbed, and not even robbed, in a crowd of hundreds? Ser Willem had confirmed that the man who stabbed him looked Westerosi. I drew my own conclusions from thereon.
When Willem arrived home he'd been bleeding profusely already, and his face was white from blood loss. We'd hastily bundled him up here, and the servants did what they could for the wound, which was probably nothing at all. Bastards must have been thrilled that we were finally losing the only thing which stood between them and the manse.
Dany pressed up against my side, weeping silently.
Words spilled out unbidden.
"Don't worry, Ser, please do not worry. We will make do. Do not think of us as you rise to meet the Seven, I beg of you. You have done everything and more for our family in your earthly days, I make no claims, none, on your thoughts in your final moments."
The man had suffered enough, the least I could do was ease his passing as much as I was able. Maybe he'd think of happier times, in Westeros, with his family and friends.
With surprising strength, he grabbed my wrist from where I knelt at his bedside.
"Your Grace, I am your humble servant. It has been my honour to serve you and your House. I must disobey your last command to me, much as it pains me. It shames me to say this, for I do not take the place of your royal parents, and never could, but I look upon you and Princess Daenerys as the children I never had. All I wish for is for you to be happy, healthy, and — and safe. How can I not think of you as I rise to meet the Father? There are none worthier of my thoughts. Hurry now, children, rise, you must flee this place, go — go!"
The last word came out as a shout, and it took the last of his energy. He slumped back into the bed, and breathed once, then twice, erratically. He shook in a deathly paroxysm, and was still.
Daenerys finally lost the battle with her emotions, loudly howling her grief to the heavens. She shrieked, and jumped on top of his body, "No! No! Nonononono, Vissy, do something, do something, please, Ser Willem, Ser Willem, wake up, wake up, please wake up, you promised — promised me you'd give me that red doll we saw in the eastern markets, no you can't be gone, stop pretending, you're alive, I know it, I know it —"
I gently pulled her off the body and she went kicking and screaming. "Vissy, let me go, we have to wake up Ser Willy, he's just sleeping, he has to be sleeping, it was only a small cut —"
My own sorrow nearly overwhelming me, I somehow managed to speak through my choked up throat, "Daenerys," and that got her attention, because I almost never called her anything but Dany. "He's gone. He's gone, sweet sister. Crying won't bring him back. We must prepare ourselves. The servants, remember the servants? They're coming to rob us, and they might even kill us! I know, I know dearly the pain you are in, because I feel it too. We must be strong, though, Dany. We simply must. We'll die, otherwise."
Daenerys threw herself on me, sobbing. I lifted her into my arms, and just held on for dear life (I barely realised it at the time, but I was already more Viserys than I had been when I arrived in this new world). I rubbed circles in the small of her back, and hid my own tears in her lustrous silver-gold hair, where they got wiped off cleanly. "There, Dany, there. Get it all out. We can't afford to cry for long. I am so sorry, so very sorry to ask this of you, but can you be strong for me? Please, Dany? Be strong for me? For mother? For our House? For all our kin slain in Westeros? For Ser Willem?"
Violet eyes, red with tears and stress, looked into my pale lilac. Mutely, she nodded, slowly. Silently, I rose, with her still in my arms.
"Who are you, sister?"
She sniffled. "Dany."
"No, Daenerys. That is what I call you, it is not who you are. I ask again, who are you?"
"I'm — I'm Daenerys Targaryen, I'm your sister!"
"Who are you, Daenerys Targaryen, sister to Viserys Targaryen?"
I raised my right hand high up and made a flapping motion. She needed the motivation. I was already pushing her far enough.
She wrinkled her eyebrows. "A dragon? A dragon! Yes, I'm a dragon!"
I laughed. This one was always smart on the uptake, and strong, strong, even through losing the only father figure she ever had. "Correct. You are the blood of the dragon, and you are Princess Daenerys Targaryen. You hail from Westeros, from the greatest dynasty ever to walk that land. Before that, our ancestors came from Essos, where they built the greatest civilization known to men, and all the known world looked on in fear and envy. You are my sister, and you are a royal scion of House Targaryen. You are stronger than you know, Dany."
She looked at me, and though I could see she was still heartbroken at the loss of Ser Willem, she seemed calmer, more sure of herself. Or bottling it up for later. I'd take what I could get for now. Good, at least I was still decent at pep talks.
"Now, Dany, get under the bed. Quick as you can. No matter what you hear, you won't come out until I call for you. Your word, Dany. We can't lose this manse, and the monies within, and I can't fight if I have to worry about you."
"Aren't — aren't we supposed to run? Vissy, you can't fight! What if they take you like they took Ser Willy! I can't lose you Vissy, please! Come under the bed with me, we'll both hide there."
I chuckled. The mind of a five year old. Ready to believe that hiding under the bed would solve all our problems. Even after witnessing death, she still had so much innocence. I'd die before letting anyone so much as touch her. My hands tightened as I strode over to the side of the bed and picked up the object I'd been shooting side-glances at ever since Ser Willem had mentioned our treacherous servants.
Pulling the blade free from the scabbard, with Darry imagery all over it, plows and men pushing them, I felt another wave of my own grief hit me like a ton of bricks. Even in death, Ser Willem was still helping us. Still protecting us. I leaned down and pressed a kiss to his cold brow.
You were Viserys's true father in spirit, you helped him and his sister when no one would. I cannot ever hope to repay you, for the debt we owe you is priceless, I said silently in my head.
Turning back to face Dany, who was still waiting for my reply, I said, "Dany, I can't afford to argue about this. We don't have much time. The servants will come up to check on whether Ser Willem has passed, soon. You need to hide —"
Her adorable face scrunched up in defiance.
"I won't hide without you, so there! You can't make me, I won't, I won't, I won't —"
The sheer desperation in my voice, my face, my eyes, made her falter.
Her face fell, and tears came into her eyes again. She hiccuped, "What if — if I lose — lose you? What if you die — die like Ser Willy? I'll be all alone."
I looked into her eyes with a quiet resolve. "Dany, I promise you. No matter what it takes, no matter what I must do, no matter what I have to pay, you'll never lose me. Always and forever. I swear this to you, on mine honour as King."
She looked at my face, searching. She nodded, shakily. "I trust you, Vissy. You're my big brother." Her cannonballing into me immediately after should not have shocked me as much as it did. I clung to her fiercely, and returned the hug.
She slipped free after a moment, and went under the bed, her movements betraying extreme reluctance still. She pulled her legs in, and as I stuck my head underneath, I saw she'd scooted all over to the far side, almost directly under the headrest of the bed. All the better.
"Dany? You won't come out for anyone but me. Anyone, is that understood? Now stay quiet as a mouse."
"Yes, Vissy." She still looked a tad petulant, but as long as she stayed under, she'd be fine. With some luck. Okay, a lot of luck. What else was new?
We couldn't lose the mansion with the red door. We simply couldn't. I refused to let thieves and treacherous servants take my house and money without a fight. We'd likely die on the streets anyway, if we lost our only refuge. Canon Viserys Targaryen had taken care of himself and his sister for so very long, and in the end, the hardships and humiliations drove him mad.
I didn't hold it against him, I don't think anyone could have maintained sanity after what the poor boy went through. Targaryen madness was a myth and rumour, invented to explain away the mad Targaryens to highlight the incest we practised and conveniently forgetting that Aerion Brightflame, a poster boy for Targaryen madness, had no incestuous blood for two generations before him. He was actually more Dornish than Valyrian, racially at least. He wasn't even the only example, but I digressed.
Canon Viserys had managed to survive with a veritable host of assassins after him and his sister, managing to shield his sister for a long time, so much so that it was only later in life that she realised what her brother went through; walking penniless apart from a few heirlooms like my mother's crown. Two children alone in Essos. A death sentence, and clearly visible as Valyrian in origin.
With our physical profiles and ages, it was a wonder nobody sold us into slavery, or took our heads for a reward, to give them to the fat Baratheon Usurper sitting on the throne my family forged.
No, I could not do that. I would not do that. Better die than face such a fate.
I doubted my ability to survive as long as Viserys had, while simultaneously protecting his sister from the worst of it. I had my suspicions about why Viserys had not fought back against the thieves about to steal his home. The loss of Willem was agonising to me. Exceedingly so. Considering it was a mere echo of what Viserys would have felt, mixed as I was with his consciousness, it was no wonder the boy didn't put up a fight. They likely kicked him out on his ass, and threw Dany after him, and him unable to even offer a token protest.
The mere mental imagery awoke something inside me. Something dark, which hungered for blood. Rage. It filled me.
I hefted Willem's sword. It was a bit heavy for me, but Willem had tried his best to teach Viserys in the time he had had with him. I had limited sword skills. Nothing against even a squire trained by a knight day in and day out, but against untrained thugs and servants? With the right environment, I could hold out. Maybe even win.
Did Braavos even care about the rule of law for its citizens? We owned a not insignificant manse, bought with the last of the Dragonstone monies. We'd registered with Willem paying a not petty fee, on the scrolls of Braavos's citizens, which documented their registries. Yet, in another timeline, we'd been chased out, and not one of the famed Free democratic City of Braavos had stepped in to correct it. Nobody. No one had cared to enforce the law, and save two children without family or friends.
Was it because we were the last Targaryens? One final grudge against the last true heirs of Old Valyria?
I didn't know. What I did know, was that nobody in all the world cared one whit for us. Whether we lived. Whether we died. Whether we suffered.
The last man I'd feel confident saying was on our side, unequivocally, without thought of self-benefit, laid dead as a door nail beside me. We could trust no one. None would show us mercy. This cruel, cruel world understood only one thing. Strength. And we had none of it. We were inconsequential. If I ever wanted to rise high in this world, I could not afford to be merciful. None would be shown to me. To Dany.
I took up position just to the side of the door to the room, in the direction it would open. I reckoned that any person coming in would have to meet my blade first. As long as they didn't bull rush me, I had a chance. I could take them down, one by one. Hopefully.
I called out one final time to my sister. "Daenerys, remember your word. No matter what you hear, no matter what you see, you won't come out. Wait for my voice. Only mine."
Her reply came swiftly, in tremulous tones. "Yes, Viserys."
I smiled grimly. She'd understood how serious the situation was if she was calling me by my full name. Part of me filled with sadness that it was so, another was simply glad she understood the gravity now, and could react accordingly if things went south.
Time to set this shitty circus in motion. I opened the door, slowly, and stuck my head out to see if anyone was in the landing outside. We were in the master bedroom, and therefore on the topmost bedroom. The servant quarters was down below, on the ground floor. Seeing nobody around, I stuck my head out, and screamed at the top of my lungs.
"He's — He's dead! Sir Willem is dead! Somebody! We need help! Your King commands you! Get up here if you know what's good for you, you good-for-nothing sacks of dung! Up! In the name of King Viserys Targaryen, the Third of His Name! Up, dogs!"
I shut the door with a smirk and slid down its length to rest on the floor for a second. For a moment there, I'd been sorely tempted to curse them foully and stoke their temper, which might give me a chance to catch them while they're enraged and not thinking straight, but decided to hold off since the likelihood they'd smell a rat was too high. Best to stick to a slightly more aggressive variant of Viserys's usual behaviour, which could be attributed to being in mourning. This would keep them unawares still, and with any luck, let me maintain the element of surprise.
I'd have waited to call them here, but that in and of itself would raise hairs on the back of their necks, considering they knew exactly how bad Willem's situation was when they carted him up here, and how long he'd reasonably have left. Therefore, it was best to preempt them and do this on my own terms.
Ever since I'd woken up here, there was a faint light glowing at the back of my mind, steadily gaining in strength. That itch you can't quite scratch. As I made my final preparations, it seemed to pulse in rhythm with my thoughts. A shining red and black sphere, shot through with veins of brilliant green, the entire thing growing in clarity, to the point that I could feel afterimages layered over my vision.
I could tell that if I reached into the back of my mind, broke the sphere, something would change. Something Viserys hadn't had the last time. Whatever it was, it felt wholly natural, like it was part of my own blood. Not much to go on, but I could tell that if I didn't break it soon, it'd burst by itself, expelling its red, black and green contents. Something told me that wouldn't be pretty.
It wouldn't be long now. I rose to my feet, and adjusted Ser Willem's sword to my rudimentary preferred stance. I took up position in the spot I'd marked out a scant few minutes prior. Now was the moment of truth.
I felt a strange detachment. I'd done all I humanly could in the short time we had available. Now, it wasn't in my hands anymore. I'd pray to a god for help since they were real here, however, considering they were all evil eldritch abominations of different denominations unfriendly to humans, it wouldn't do to waste my breath.
We either won here, or we'd fall, and the last heirs of the Dragonlords and the glory of their memory would be consigned to the abyss.
Beggar or King. I couldn't be both.
AN: Heavily inspired by A Twelve Step Program to Omnipotence by Bakkughan, and Return of Valyria by Jaenera Targaryen.