Jon Targaryen dreamt of ice and wolves, and a winter storm that stretched on for eternity.
He stood at the edge of a cliff, one foot planted firmly in the white snow, the other hovering over an endless pit, black and void and beckoning him with seductive fingers.
His heart stuttered in his chest, and try as he might, he could not move his feet, could not step back from the madness onto the safety of the earth. Jon considered yelling for help, but when he looked up, all he could see were hundreds of wolves. For miles and miles, they dotted the landscape, a myriad of colours yet all silent. All watching.
The air was still and he could taste droplets of snowflakes hanging in the mist, biting his skin and rubbing it raw. He glanced up - anywhere but the abyss before him - and saw the rolling of black clouds inching closer and closer to him, arching out forever, dark with promise, dark with secrets. Wind whistled around him, through him, licking his skin and slicing his cheeks with bitter cold.
"Don't be afraid," a voice whispered in his ear, gentle and soothing. "You are home here."
His head whipped this way and that, trying to find the source of the sound, trying to find -
He snapped back to void, fear slamming into his chest like a war hammer. It was coming from there, he was sure of it! The velvet blackness seemed to swirl under his hovering foot, twirling around his ankle and reaching for him, reaching...
He recoiled, his body spasming, only to dislodge his other foot and tumble down, down, down into the darkness. Silence enthralled him in an embrace and he could no longer see the grey skies, or the army of wolves. He floated, bodiless in the dark, and so very, very alone.
Not like this! his mind cried as his lips refused to scream for help. His tongue felt heavy in his mouth and his eyes watered at his body's betrayal.
I don't want to be alone! I don't want to be forgotten!
A lone wolf cry pierced through the void.
"You're never alone," the voice whispered in the abyss, lighting a warmth in his chest that spread to the very tips of his fingers.
"You're home, with me."
Jon rolled out of bed and fell to the floor with a heavy thump.
Groaning, he ran a hand over his face, violently rubbing at his eyes to erase the dreams. Visions of white snow and howling wolves and black, black, black, invaded his thoughts and he let out a frustrated sigh as he dragged himself to his feet. Pain pierced through his head, rattling his ears and igniting stars behind his closed eyelids. With another irritated groan, he reached blindly for the goblet of white liquid at his bedside, draining it in one swallow. It burned his throat, and he winced slightly before breathing out in relief as the waves of pain ceded like the tide.
Every night, for moons now, Jon had these dreams.
And every morning, Jon would wake up with a raging headache not even his worst hangover could compete with.
He'd once considered the idea that, perhaps, they weren't dreams but visions, such as the Targaryens once had. Visions that found it necessary to pound their way into his skull and sear themselves against the back of his eyelids. It seemed a reasonable explanation. Rhaegar was said to have had prophetic dreams in his youth, though Jon loathed the idea of sharing this with his father.
But he'd made the mistake of once mentioning it to Aegon, who had shrieked with laughter before calling him a witch and pestering him to dream a vision of Barra the kitchen maid in his bed. That had gone on for weeks, and by the end, Jon had learnt his lesson.
"They're just stupid dreams. They're just stupid dreams," he muttered to himself repeatedly as he dressed and left his room. Saying it aloud seemed to help.
Finally, he entered the Queen's Ballroom, where his brother and sister sat conversing over half eaten plates of toast and eggs, places notably absent by their side. There was no sign of the King and Queen, but that was hardly unusual. King Rhaegar often broke his fast alone in his solar, and Queen Elia was either tending to duties or resting, as per the Maester's orders. They rarely all ate together.
The hall was his favourite in Maegor's Holdfast, clad in beaten silver mirrors and richly carved wood. Candles were scattered around the room, dimly dancing in the breeze from the open high-arched windows that sat along the south wall. His steps echoed across the white marble floors as he approached the table; a long decadent slab of grey stone, carved with dragon heads, Valyrian runes and scribbles from the time Aegon held a butter knife in his six-year-old palm and decided to redecorate.
Jon passed by the mirrors of the northern wall and spared a glance at his reflection. He did not consider himself a vain man, but his mouth twisted at the dark circles under his eyes, a patchwork of blues and purples framing twin orbs of silver. His dark brown hair stuck up in tufts around his head, and he ran a quick hand through the wild strands in an effort to resemble half the prince he was supposed to be. There was nothing for the hollowness in his cheeks, and he winced at how pale his skin had become.
"Are you done primping yourself up, Jon? I'm flattered you want to look your best for me, but I'm afraid I'm a betrothed man."
Aegon's airy voice drifted in his ears, and Jon could see his brother's amused face over his shoulder in the mirror. A smatter of jam spotted the corners of the Crown Prince's mouth, the edges quirked up in an insufferable grin plastered on a face Jon would rather walk on coals than admit he'd missed. From his brilliantly-violet eyes the colour of the sky at sunset, to the silver-white threads of his fine hair, to the casual confidence in his shoulders of a man who knew he held the world in his hand: Aegon was every bit the proud heir to their dynasty.
It had been about six moons since Aegon and Rhaenys had moved to Dragonstone to tend to their duties as its Prince and Princess, whilst Jon had remained in King's Landing to help their father, and three nights since their return to the capital in anticipation for a tourney in honour of their wedding. Though he'd never tell them, Jon had missed his brother and sister fiercely while they were away, and it was this thought that spread a smile on his lips as he turned away from the mirror to join them at the table.
"You caught me, brother," Jon replied with false shame laced in his words, "And here I was counting on seducing you." He took a seat opposite Aegon as the other barked with laughter.
Breakfast was brimming with choice, from the small towers of buttered toast and soft hills of pies and bacon to the baskets of glistening fruit, painting the table with countless colours. Jon felt his stomach lurch like a ship on angry waves and instead opted to grab one of the Dornish apples, his appetite little from his restless night.
A clatter of cutlery from his left drew his attention and he looked over to see Rhaenys, their eldest sibling, smirking with mirth. "After my crown, are you?" she asked with mock anger. "I always knew you wanted to be Queen, Jon."
"Guilty. And I've been jealous of your pretty dresses."
She grinned at him, her dark lips spreading to reveal a row of white teeth. Where Aegon shone as brightly as the sun, Rhaenys glistened like jewels in the night. She was wrapped in gold silks that kissed her bronze skin like a lover, her delicate features aquiline and soft. Her obsidian eyes were lit with humour, and he knew she hid a sharp tongue behind her gracious smile. She tossed her oiled hair over her shoulder and Jon watched the flames of the torches dance on the black ringlets like mad men in a ritual.
The three of them were as different as the elements, yet they were bound by the same blood that coursed through their veins. The blood of Old Valyria, the blood of dragons.
Not that he felt particularly reptilian that morning. His grin faded as he bit into the apple, letting the sweet juices rest on his tongue briefly before swallowing with some difficulty, his stomach still churning unpleasantly.
He felt a hand resting on his arm, and he looked up into his sister's knowing gaze.
"You aren't sleeping properly," she said accusingly, a furrow in her brow. "You've lost weight since we left."
Jon shifted under her intrusive stare, unused to such attention, his mind sifting through excuses. He didn't particularly feel like discussing his nightmares, not when they'd finally been reunited after the most difficult half-year he'd known. He opened his mouth to laugh her concern off when Aegon, as always, beat him to it.
"Quit being a mother hen," his silver brother intruded with a snort, "He's fine, aren't you, Jon?" At his half-sibling's nod, he rubbed his hands with enthusiasm. "Brilliant! Then if you aren't feeling too fragile, perhaps a spar is in order? I've been dying for a decent fight for moons!" He sighed melodramatically, as his sister rolled her eyes at him.
Jon hardly needed a moment to consider before he chucked his half-eaten apple aside and leapt to his feet. "I'll show you just how fragile I'm feeling. Shall we?" he said with a grin.
Aegon blew Rhaenys a quick kiss goodbye before the pair raced to the training yard.
The clanging of steel sang a sweet song that echoed in his bones as Jon danced to its light rhythm.
He twirled away from Aegon's slices on the balls of his feet, swinging back in retaliation in a graceful arc that whistled in the air.
It was here, in the training yard amongst the sweat and dirt and curses that Jon felt the most free. It was in the lightness of his steps and the laughter on his lips, and more than once, he almost believed he was soaring. Above the clouds, as delicate as a feather, the kiss of steel as cold as the breeze on his cheeks, just out of reach of the claws of the palace.
It was, perhaps, the most at home he could ever feel at the Red Keep.
Trickles of sweat raced down his face as Aegon continued his onslaught, the searing sun burning into his skin and radiating a blazing heat that carved into his bones. His chest began to stretch in pain but he refused to relent, meeting every single one of his brother's strokes with his own, harder and faster. It was only when Aegon had ducked under one of his strikes that he faltered, and was rewarded with a sharp sting across his lower back that had him on his knees and gasping for breath.
"Bending the knee for me already?" Aegon jested, his words punctuated by heavy panting as he stood over Jon, a smirk slapped on his face. "I'm not King yet, but I appreciate your enthus-"
The rest of his words were swallowed by dirt as his face slammed against the sandy floor. Jon had kicked his legs out from under him, and he felt great satisfaction at watching the Crown Prince splutter indignantly, his silvery hair smattered with red dust like flecks of paint.
Jon let out a hearty laugh. "Well met, brother. It's been a while since I've had to work that hard," he said as he dragged himself to his feet.
Aegon narrowed his eyes at Jon's offered hand, before grabbing it to yank himself up. "Fragile, indeed," he snorted. "How is your back? I doubt Rhaenys would be pleased if she heard I brutalized our little brother so soon."
Jon reached out and winced when his fingers brushed against his spine. It wasn't the worst hit he'd received, but he was expecting a lovely splatter of bruising in the morning. "I'll live and I'm hardly your little brother," he replied with good humour, as the two princes sauntered over to the weapons depot to hand their swords over to squires for cleaning. "How's your face? I doubt Rhaenys would appreciate it if I ruined your looks, since it really is all you've got going for you."
His brother threw back his head in laughter in response.
They had just entered the Holdfast and were about to separate to their respective rooms when they saw Rhaenys walking briskly down the hall towards them, her skirts flying behind her like wings.
"You see that, Jon," Aegon nudged him on the shoulder as they watched her approach. "So in love with me that one is, couldn't wait for me to bathe first before being all over me. Find yourself a woman like that." He flashed him a grin before turning to his betrothed.
Rhaenys was finally upon them, and glanced in distaste at their dirt-streaked clothes. Aegon leaned in for a kiss, and she held up a hand to stop him, her nose wrinkled in disgust as a waft of their pungent stench drifted in her nose.
"Do not touch me until you have bathed twice. This is a new dress, I'm not having you stain it. I'm here to give you a message," she ordered in a clear voice, ignoring his wounded look. She straightened her shoulders and her dark eyes burned into each of theirs, her face twisted in a grimace. "I thought it best if I were the one to inform you that the King and Queen have arranged for us all to dine together tonight. Viserys and Margaery will be joining us as well. Dress appropriately."
She sighed at her brothers' horrified expressions, and waited for their outbursts.
"I don't want to eat together! Vis puts me off my dinner and I don't want to see him-" Aegon began sullenly, but one look from his sister cut him off.
"This isn't about you, for once," she snapped, her voice hardened with steel. It was the tone of their mother and Jon muffled a chuckle at how quickly Aegon's teeth clanked shut, the look of an admonished child gracing his face. "It's one dinner, Egg. We may not like it, but Mother is insisting we are on our best behavior, and I intend not to disappoint her." Her words left no room for argument, but Jon's thoughts were already far away.
"Who is this about? Is there to be an announcement?" he asked his sister, worry heavy on his tongue as dread settled in his heart. At Rhaenys' look of pity, it turned to lead, and the euphoria of sparring with his brother again burned into ashes in his mouth. He was no longer flying, but sinking deeper and deeper into melting stone, his breaths constricting as his lungs struggled for air.
Aegon noticed the sudden change in mood, and glanced between his two siblings. "Oh come now, it could be anything!" he insisted, hesitation in his voice. "Maybe Margaery's cunt has stopped shriveling up every time Viserys is in the room and we'll have a new hellspawn hatching in a few moons."
Jon howled with laughter as Rhaenys smacked her betrothed on the chest in indignation.
He was back in the Queen's Ballroom that evening, but instead of open windows and fresh breezes, the curtains were drawn and the room was stifled by countless torches greedily inhaling the air in the room so he could barely breathe. The dark wooden panels he admired so much seemed black in the golden light, the mirrors mockingly reflecting the sombre faces tenfold. His fine doublet felt itchy and he resisted the urge to adjust it, keeping his hands frozen by his sides.
There was nowhere to look, so he simply stared at his plate in sullen silence.
He sat opposite Viserys and Margaery. Rhaenys was beside him, straight backed and prodding her food gently, and next to her, Aegon, seated on the King's right, and as rigid and still as Jon thought him capable. The King and Queen, as per protocol, sat on opposite ends of the table, the distance that engulfed them as endless as worlds apart.
The silence was heavy and thick as dark poison, and Jon would occasionally glance up to observe his family's reactions.
Viserys lounged in his chair as he always would, sipping wine and looking around the room with a mild distaste that was forever carved into his features. Jon briefly wondered if he'd been raised with horseshit in his crib to always look like that. His wife, Margaery, sat in perfect grace by his side, the very image of a dignified princess as she daintily bit into a boiled carrot. But Jon could see the edges of her mouth tipped ever so slightly into a frown, and the set of her shoulders screamed discomfort. He almost pitied her. He would not wish this life on anyone, but ambition was a double edged sword, and the Tyrells loved to grasp it with both hands.
The seat beside her was noticeably empty, once belonging to his aunt Daenerys. His mouth twisted at that. Dany had been unbelievably lucky when Elia had broken her betrothal to Viserys and handed her to Quentyn Martell as a sign of good faith between the Crown and Dorne, and Viserys to the Tyrells as a reward for their loyalty. Jon winced at the memories of the King and Queen's rows echoing through the palace, but even Rhaegar had relented when Jon Connington had applauded Elia for her decision.
Dorne had not recovered from the slight of Rhaegar's transgressions with the daughter of House Stark, despite their own princess crowned as Queen not even a full moon after the Rebellion. Elia had been disgraced, and Sunspear demanded compensation. Giving them Rhaegar's sister had quelled much of the fires that still burned two decades later, and Jon knew Daenerys' letters laced with happiness had Rhaegar gritting his teeth and relinquishing to his royal wife.
Jon was pleased that his aunt had found adventure and love, but part of him resented her - resented all of them - for leaving him behind.
Aegon had left him six years ago to squire at Sunspear under the brazen eye of Oberyn Martell. He'd returned not two years later, full of bawdy jokes and stories filled with women and exploits that Jon could hardly have dreamt of experiencing. Rhaenys had kept him company in that time, and he'd grown to appreciate her quiet, graceful presence - but it was only a matter of time before she, too, would be burdened by duties as the Crown Princess, residing at Dragonstone and far too busy to devote attention to the spare brother.
The spare. His mouth twisted at that, and he gripped his fork harder for it.
"Aegon." His father's voice rang deep and clear around the hall, and from the corner of his eye, he saw his brother grit his teeth in response.
"Yes, Your Grace?"
"You've been here for three days now," the King continued. "There are matters you must attend to regarding the tourney and the wedding. I thought some time away at Dragonstone would cool your head, but it seems you are just as averse to your duties as ever."
A clanging sound marked the end of the King's remark, and Jon heard Rhaenys suck in a breath as his head whipped around to its source.
Aegon had thrown his knife and fork back on his plate, and sat back to level a glare at their father, his eyes raging black and purple, the promise of summer storms. "Rather rich coming from you," he snapped, "Rumour has it you haven't attended court in two weeks. Find a new prophecy to ruin someone's life over, Your Grace?" The last two words were growled with deep contempt.
"Aegon!" Rhaenys hissed, reaching out to grab his arm. He shook her off.
The King returned his furious stare with a cool look, a dispassionate expression in his eyes that made Jon shudder. It was worse, he thought, than seeing him angry. There was a hollowness to Rhaegar, an abyss that threatened to swallow one whole if they gazed at it enough. It made him seem almost inhuman.
Their father opened his mouth to retort, but it was the Queen's voice that was heard.
"Enough, Aegon," Elia said softly, but with iron. "Control yourself."
The reaction was instantaneous. Aegon's shoulders, rigid with fury, immediately slumped and he hung his head, asking for forgiveness. Rhaenys relaxed as well, and Jon heaved a quiet sigh that a disaster had been averted. There was one every time.
They resumed eating with less enthusiasm, a remarkable feat given the lack of its abundance beforehand, but by the time Jon found enough energy to lift the fork to his mouth, the King was calling his attention.
He felt everyone's eyes swivel to bore into him, and he resisted the urge to shrink. "Yes, Your Grace?"
Rhaegar simply watched him for a few moments, and Jon squirmed in his seat under his intrusive stare. He hated it when his father looked at him, there was always a trace of sadness - and yes, bitterness - that lined his exquisite features. Jon knew what, or who, he saw, and it sent a shot of pain through his body like a lightning bolt every time.
"This tourney isn't just for Aegon and Rhaenys," Rhaegar finally said, "You've seen twenty namedays now, and I need not remind you of your duty as a Targaryen prince. Since there is none for you to marry at home, I expect to find a bride for you amongst the Houses that have received the honour of our invitation." He sat back and waited, almost expecting a rebellion.
His heart stuttered in his chest, and Jon struggled to take deep breaths to calm his flickering nerves.
Marriage. A wife. A family. Duty, do your duty. There is nothing for you but to do your duty.
He felt his hands begin to shake with...fear? Rage? He was not sure. One quick glance around the room told him everyone was staring at him, with green and purple and black eyes, with pity and challenge and even malicious glee from Viserys. It tore at him, and he wanted to scream.
He'd been a fool to think Rhaegar would let him out of his sight. He'd gone on this long without being shackled to a betrothal he did not want, and he'd childishly believed that maybe - just maybe! - Rhaegar may have granted his one wish to travel the Kingdoms and find his own honour. Perhaps establish a name that was not burdened by the blood of thousands and the death of a Rebellion. It was a hope that helped him rise from his bed each morning and trudge through the day, trapped in this gilded red prison where he was a prince, but no better than a bastard. Forced to suffer through the barbs and the glares. The boy whose birth tore the world apart.
But that hope, that delicate bird that fluttered so gently over his heart, had been crushed and butchered and buried in grey stone.
A betrothal meant a marriage before the year was out.
A marriage meant a wife, and children, and a duty.
A duty meant never leaving the Red Keep again.
Hysteria bubbled in his chest, and he hardly heard Aegon protesting for his cause as the world began spinning around him. Just as he thought he might throw up, a sudden sharp pain slammed into his legs, and he doubled over gasping.
"Jon!" Rhaenys exclaimed next to him, a hand resting lightly on his back. He gritted his teeth and grasped his knees, feeling the throbbing fade away as quickly as it had come.
"I'm...I'm fine," he managed to splutter, the haze of pain receding enough for him to notice everyone's shock. Heat enflamed his cheeks, and he avoided their eyes as he swayed to his feet. He felt tears begin to blur his vision. No, no, he could not cry here. Not in front of his father. He could not be seen as so weak.
"May I be excused?" he asked Rhaegar, desperately. It was considered rude to stand while the King remained seated, but at that moment, Jon could not give less of a damn for propriety.
At Rhaegar's nod, Jon whirled on his feet and bolted to the door, ignoring his brother's calls behind him. He ran past Arthur and Jaime at the door, avoiding their questioning looks as his feet pounded the marble floors towards his bedroom.
Once safely inside, he locked the doors and sank to the floor, struggling to control his breathing.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! he thought angrily. He'll never listen to you now! I cannot be such an emotional wreck every time I see him!
His shoulders shuddered as he hunched over himself, allowing waves of pity to wash over him, cool against his skin.
In a beat, he recalled the lashing pain on his knees, disappearing as quickly as it had appeared. With a frown, he removed his boots and rolled his breeches higher to see if he'd accidentally scraped anything, though he could not recall any bruises when he'd bathed earlier.
The skin was smooth and untouched. He prodded it gingerly, but nothing happened.
Just a freak moment, he thought absently, as he climbed to his feet and threw himself on the bed, fully clothed.
A flicker of a heartbeat later, he was asleep.