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The Brown Seed

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   “Land, riches, and a knighthood,” the town crier called out all over the Driftmark. “To any man or woman with Blood of the Dragon, who can tame a dragon to serve our great queen.”

  Many men appeared before the dragons for such rewards and honors. Several of those men were soon burnt to a crisp or fled. Nettles wasn’t giving up so easily. She had chosen to purse the most ill-tempered dragon, Sheepstealer. He was a long thin dragon, while most like Cannibal were bulkier. He attacked the most would be dragon riders. Most men saw a vicious monster. She peered into the dragon’s eye and saw a familiar harsh life. Once the successful men left with their dragons, the dragons lairs were abandoned. Nettles remained and dragged over a sheep to the brown dragon. She pushed it near the Sheepstealer’s lair and walked slowly away. He snatched it up and devoured it. The next day, she slaughtered a ram and laid it outside his lair. She continued to slaughter sheep for the dragon for about week.

  “Are you a dragon rider or a dragon wet nurse?” Alyn of Hull often mocked her as she departed in the morning to feed Sheepstealer. “Do you hope to make the dragon so plump that it won’t move when you put a saddle on it?”

  She ignored him. He may be a bastard like her. Yet, he was a rich bastard. He didn’t understand. She had more in common with Sheepstealer. Neither she nor the creature had a desirable appearance. She hated her crooked teeth. The dragon had its’ dull scales. They were both lean, though not by choice. They had several nights, where they went to sleep hungry. She knew this by how he ate. He wrapped his claws and his body around his food, so the other dragons wouldn’t steal it. He had been ignoring her as she stood and watched him eat. It was their routine. He ate the sheep and returned inside his cave. By the end of the week, the dragon suddenly didn’t retreat back into its’ lair. It stood there and let her come toward it.

  “Would you like to join me for a fight?” She stuck out her hand. It responded by dropping its’ head, so she could rub it.

  All the soldiers’ mouth hung down as Nettles presented her dragon to Prince Jacaerys Velaryon. He observed the saddle across the dragon’s back. “We gladly welcome you to our noble cause.”

  The dragonriders were given lodging at the castle in Driftmark. At her first official meal, Prince Jacaerys and his stepfather Daemon Targaryen dined with all of the riders. Alyn of Hull sat at the table too even though he wasn’t a rider. His brother Addam was a dragonrider, and since he had joined the queen’s forces, they allowed him to come too. Addam had pretend to be polite and introduced himself to Nettles. She could tell. His eyes stared down at her, and he kept his nose in the air. Though, she didn’t call him out on it ever. She didn’t want to cause problems. He proudly told everyone about himself and his brother. Their mother was a captain of a ship. She was a fine sailor and taught her sons about sailing. While he spoke, Nettles glanced down at the food tools laid out in front of her. She had never used them or seen most of them before that day. She proceeds to ignore the tools and eat. The two brothers with their fine manners rolled their eyes at her and the other two riders.

   Hugh Hammer shoved a large piece of steak pie in his mouth. “My father is a smith.” Crumbs fell out of his mouth as he talked. “He told me once many years of working with a fire can’t prepare you to play with dragon fire.”

  “I used to work as tanner.” Ulf admitted. He didn’t seem comfortable discussing his past.

  Nettles had no qualms about it. “My mother was a whore. She got a gold dragon and me from a dragon lord. It was her best night’s work. She used to say.”

  “Are you a whore?” Hugh scooped up some potatoes with his hand and mashed it into his face.

  “Isn’t it obvious?” She gestured to her body. “My mother was the beauty. The brothel owner threw me out when I was six. He had hoped that I would be at least pretty. I lost work as a wench in a tavern because I wasn’t appealing enough.”

  “I haven’t met a tavern wench who was prettier than ale.” Hugh chuckled.

   Alyn asserted. “So, you became a sorceress?” She looked up at him confused. “It’s the only reason that you could tame a dragon. You poured some magic potion on the sheep. You must have. You don’t even look Valyrian.”

  Prince Jacaerys became livid and banged his fist into the table. “I’m not pretty enough for that either.” She laughed uncomfortably. She didn’t want a fight. “Dragons must be like men. Their wives can charm them into work with a warm bowl of stew. It wasn’t hard to determine to feed a dragon his favorite meat.”

   “Nice mutton would charm me too.” Hugh ripped apart a roasted chicken. “Is there a brothel in the castle, or do we have to summon them?”

   “All in due time,” Prince Jacaerys calmed down. “We will begin training in the morning with your dragons. Your afternoons will be spent training with the master-at-arms. As for your evenings, Maester Qutub will be teaching some of you to read and write. We have plans to make all of you great lords and ladies after the war has ended.”

  The prospect of being a lady didn’t have much of an appeal to her. Nettles was mostly content with food in her belly and a roof over her head. Prince Jacaerys’ kindness hadn’t gone unnoticed by her. She approached him in private after the meal. It was almost private since he had a guard with him. “I wanted to thank you, milord. I’m not used to someone… well, you know.”

  “Defending your honor,” the prince smirked.

   She blushed. “I didn’t believe that I had any.”

   “You do here, my lady.” He bowed. “I bid you a good night.”

  Training proved vigorous. Everyone gave their upmost in learning to fly dragons. Sadly, little care had been given to their other training. The master-at-arms had been impressed by the tall muscular Hugh. His size made him arrogant. He refused instructions. Ulf was dutiful in the sword training for the first few days. Soon, he joined Hugh in indulging in revelries. Neither man was inclined to learn to read. The maester didn’t attempt to propose the idea to them again. A septa had been assigned to give Nettles lessons on how to behave as a lady. The old woman barely lasted two days. Nettles’ foul jokes and ghastly manners drove the septa away. Maester Qutub taught her to read and write, since she was inclined to learn. It had been difficult for her to do it.

   Her fencing lessons felt like a relief from the burden of reading.  Most times, she had stuck practicing alongside Addam of Hull and his brother. She didn’t look forward to sparing with them. Their mood improved greatly when they were legitimized by the queen. They were given the family name of Velaryon. Their lack of kindness towards her remained the same. Addam would strike her with his wood sword any time that she lost a match to him. She lost often since he had more training than her. She was used to life being harsh to her.

  Her sole comfort was Prince Jacaerys. He allowed her to call him Jace which his family and friends referred to him as. In turn, she let him call her Netty. One sword practice was particularly disheartening. She could maintain her cheerful disposition. Addam casted doubt upon her. “As if a silly girl like you could ever be a warrior.”

  “May I show you something?” Jace held out of his arm. He helped pulled her off the ground. “Stepfather, would you please draw your sword?”

  The entire field became dead silent at the sight of his sword. All the soldiers trembled slightly. All knew Prince Daemon’s brutal reputation and his bloodthirsty sword.

  “This is Dark Sister,” Jace addressed the group. “This was the sword of the mighty warrior Visenya who saved her husband Aegon the Conquer from an ambush.”

  Daemon swung his blade. “A warrior isn’t a man or woman. A warrior is a sword made flesh.”

  The dragonriders' progress was coming along nicely. Jace with the queen’s approval allowed them a night respite. There was dancing, a little gambling and drinking. Ulf drank himself under a table. Hugh boasted of his exploits to three maidens. He wished to woo one or all of them. It was hard to compete with Prince Jace. Nettles had to admit that she found him handsome. Though, she would never presume to have a relationship with him or even speak of it to him. She was satisfied simply being comrades in arms together. Fellow soldiers told stories of their fights. Hugh showed some old burns on his arm. Nettles rolled up her sleeve. “I got this gash from killing a fox. It was going to kill a poor little lamb.”

  “What of the cut on your nose?” Jace had been curious about it since her arrival. The men gave him a peculiar look. The reason was well known to most everyone except perhaps ones whom were raised in a castle.

  His stepfather turned away from his card game for a moment. “She received it as a punishment for stealing.”

  “I stole a burnt loaf of bread.” Nettles informed him. “It had been an awful harvest, and work was scare. The fish seldom bit for me.”

  Jace rose his eyebrow. “Why take a burnt loaf?”

  “The baker doesn’t earn as much money for it.”

  This information troubled the young prince. He discussed the matter with his stepfather. “Would you have issued such a harsh punishment for stealing?”

  “I have ordered far worse punishments than that.” Daemon remarked as they walked to their chambers to retire. “However, it is ridicules to punish a young starving girl. She doesn’t have much choice in the matter.”

  “Can’t she go to a motherhouse for support?”

  “They only care for some orphans, and usually up to the age of six or eight. It is unspoken truth that they prefer boy orphans to girls. Hence, more girls becoming whore than septas. Though, many girl who become neither are left to die on the streets. Orphan boys only fare slightly better.”

  “This is wrong,” Jace decided. “Once we win this war, I’ll request to my mother that more provisions and work should be made available for people.”

  “The old king would have approved.” Daemon knew good kings were rare. He honestly would never strive or pretend to be a great king. This young man would be a good king for the realm. He didn’t mind being overlooked once again if Jace was made king.

  The following morning, Daemon was preparing to leave for Harrenhal on his dragon, Caraxes. He stumbled upon Nettles attempting to feed his dragon. “Are you trying to steal my dragon?”

  “Oh no, milord,” she petted her own dragon. “We only steal sheep. I wanted my dragon to befriend him. If we’re going to all fight together, our dragons should be comfortable with each other. Vermithor and Silverwing seemed tolerable to Sheepstealer. Seasmoke doesn’t fancy us at all.”

   Daemon tighten the straps on his saddle. “That isn’t how it is done.” He yanked her arm over and forced her hand against Caraxes’ skin. “This is the traditional Targaryen way.”

  Sheepstealer hissed and bared its’ teeth. “It’s alright.” Nettles spoke softly to him. She gently strokes Caraxes’ scaly hide. Caraxes remained alert but aloof to the other dragon’s glare.

 “Riders feed their own dragons.” Daemon released his grip on her. He hoisted himself up onto the saddle, “or they allow their servants to do. Riders don’t feed each other dragons.” He flew away.

   Awhile later, Nettles and the other dragon riders went to Dragonstone to be inspected by the queen and her council. They were very pleased to see four more dragons added to their forces. A feast was held to celebrate. The rumor mumbled during the feast. There was a plan to burn down Hightower’s castle. Some argued for Storm’s End’s castle to be burnt as well. The queen was to have said to be against it. She preferred to offer again the Baratheons to side with her.

  Ulf poked his food with a fork. “Why aren’t we siting at one of the more prominent tables.” He grumbled, “they placed us in some unseen corner.” He, Hugh and Nettles were seated together.

  “I wouldn’t wish to be placed in such a position to be scrutinized by all these people.” Nettles stared at Queen Rhaenyra’s long lush silver hair. The queen was so regal in clothes. Nettles felt like duck wearing swan feathers in her formal gown. Not everyone saw her this way.

  “We haven’t seen you before, maiden,” two drunk soldiers intercepted her as she went to her chambers. “You have a good womanly stature, though perhaps a little thin. Still, there’s enough of you for us to have some entertainment.” Nettles punched one of them and dashed away.

  Prince Jace caught sight of them chasing Nettles. “What are you doing with my sister?”

   They recognized who he was, and the threat hinted in his voice. “I’m sorry, my prince. We were doing nothing.” They quickly vanished.

   “This is Netty. My fellow sister-in-arms,” Jace introduced her to a silver haired girl walking along side him. “Netty, this is Lady Baela Velaryon. She is my stepsister and cousin.”

   “That’s rather confusing.” Nettles immediately regretted saying that.

   Baela took no offence. “I prefer simply his betrothal.” She wrapped her arms around Nettles’ arm. “You’re the lady dragonrider?”

   “I’m not much of a lady.”

  “Good,” Baela beamed. “I wish for Jace, Addam, you and I to go flying together once my dragon Moondancer is bigger.”

   “I look forward to that.” Nettles bowed.

  A maester came towards them. “A raven came from Winterfell. It stated there are dragon eggs down in the crypts of Winterfell.”

  “That’s great news.” Baela turned to Jace. “My sister is so worried about an egg hatching for her. Now, she will have a dozen more chances.”

   “It is indeed.” Jace’s brows creased very slightly. “It’s getting late. The maester and I will escort Nettles to her new chambers.”

  “Splendid, I’ll say good night to my cousins.” Baela curtseyed. “I’ll see you all in the morning. Sleep well.”

  As they moved further down a lonely corridor, Nettles whispered to Jace, “What maiden did you sleep with?”

  “What did you say?!” the maester overheard her.

   Nettles added, “he slept with a maiden in the crypts.” Jace’s eyes stretched out as far as the sea. “It wasn’t much of a secret passage.”

   Jace sighed deeply and recounted the occurrence to them in private. “As you may have heard, I went to various great houses to rally banners to my mother’s cause. After negotiation with Lord Stark concluded, he held a feast to honor the alliance. There were many pretty ladies at the meal. Only one was a true winter rose, Sara Snow. We had pleasant conversations all evening. I fancied her. The squires had often mentioned how many girls that they wooed. Even Baela played the kissing game. Sara seemed very willing ever since we kissed under a tree. She took me to the crypts, so we could be completely alone and undisturbed. She didn’t expect her half brother Lord Stark to visit them that late at night. He was livid at us until she mentioned the tree. I swear on my life, that I didn’t know. The maids had saw us talking and kissing under the tree. How could I have known about some strange northern practice?”

  “Known what?” The maester was intrigued.

   “It had been a marriage ceremony. What can I do? I suppose to marry Baela. I want to marry her. I can’t have two wives.”

   While Nettles tried not to chuckle, the maester consoled him, “My prince. Don’t fret. It can easily be annulled. You clearly went into the matter unknowingly. After the war is over, we can quietly straighten out the issue with House Stark. It is obvious from their message that they also wish it done quietly.”

  “What about the eggs?” Nettles reminded them. “It means that she is pregnant.”

  The maester suggested, “we can tell them to give her moon tea.”

  “No,” Jace understood fully what was meant by the drink. “It is not the child’s fault. I saw what the loss of my sister did to my poor mother. Please write to the Starks. ‘If the egg hatches, we will provide for it and bestow the name Stark upon it.’”

  “How far do you plan to care for this child?” The maester inquired.

  “If she bears a son, I will take him as my ward. As for a daughter, the crown will give her a handsome dowry.” Jace groaned. “How would Baela feel about it?”

  “If she didn’t fall to the floor laughing over your surprise wedding, I would be shocked.” Nettles did seem to understand Baela in rather short time.

   Jace observed how well they got along with each other the next morning. He had invited Nettles to accompany them horseback riding and hawking. Nettles wrestled with Baela which made her glad. Baela had been banned from wrestling with the squires. Her female companions didn’t engage in such activities. The next day, Addam and Alyn joined them. They had a lovely day with Baela before they returned to the Driftmark.

    They were supposed to prepare for their secret attack. Instead, they were secretly assaulted by a large enemy fleet. It should have been impossible. Their enemy, the Greens, didn’t have a fleet that large. They had contacted some kingdoms of Essos. The four dragons flew into battles with their established formations. About a hundred ships confronted them. Out of those enemy ships, about twenty ships sailed away in defeat. It should have been victory. However, it’s wasn’t Green men under the false king that perished. They were little more than sellswords. For this reason, their hearts weren’t fully in the battle. Their interest laid in looting and plundering the island for the Velaryon’s treasures. Though, Hugh and Ulf celebrated it as a victory. Nettles mourned it as defeat because Prince Jacaerys and his dragon had died.

  She rested her head on her dragon and cried. Addam and his brother spotted her alone in the courtyard. She stood up as Sheepstealer growled at them. “I wasn’t…” She wiped her face with her sleeve.

  “I know,” Addam gave her a hug.

  Fresh tears dripped from her eyes. “He wasn’t supposed to die. He and Baela were going to be a great king and queen.” Nettles envisioned them flying their dragons together.

  Addam gently rubbed her back. “I know.” From that day on, the dragons Sheepstealer and Seasmoke stopped quarreling with each other.

   The queen shed no tears for her dead son for she had none left to give. She chose to bear her claws at the enemy’s throat. She planned a deadly strike. Daemon came back to plan the attack with his wife and console his daughter. He didn’t comfort as other people would. She didn’t mind it or wish it to be different. Their temperament was very alike. They refused to give in to their sadness. He decided to console his daughter by teaching her to fly and fight using her dragon. Nettles and Addam would assist him when they weren’t on patrols of the two islands.

   “Every man, dragon and castle have a weakness. It’s about knowing where and when to strike. Don’t hesitate or halt in your attack until your enemy is dead.” Daemon voiced echoed his many years of experience. His words proved true.

   The Greens’ ruler Prince Aemond’s weakness was his arrogance. He felt he was the best and want all the glory for himself. Harrenhal had been the perfect prize to lure his dragon and his men away from the Red Keep. He lusted over destroying his enemies’ stronghold. He never reasoned that his actions would leave the capitol defenseless. Then, the crown mostly blinded itself to the city’s problem. They had the elite Kingsguards to protect them. Daemon had built the Gold Cloaks to guard the city. Seven skilled men were no match for a thousand men. With six dragons in the sky, it took little persuasion to open the city’s doors.

   The people cheered as Rhaenyra landed her dragon. Their true queen had arrived. It has been said that the Iron Throne cut her as she sat on it. That was a fairy tale, and a vicious lie told afterward. If it were true about terrible rulers, the Iron Throne would be constantly drench in blood.

   During her coronation, Nettles, Ulf and Hugh were again placed in the back of the procession. Ulf grumbled about it for most of the coronation except for one moment. He noticed a cloaked woman hidden in a dark corner of the castle. “That’s Prince Daemon’s mistress.” He bragged since he knew something that they didn’t.

   “She is too old and ugly to be a mistress for any man.” Hugh scoffed.

  Nettles looked her over. “She was very beautiful once.”

 

   Mysaria had been a dancer when she first caught the eye of the Prince Daemon. She was nimble and discreet. She had never thought to use her skills for spying until Daemon told her about one of Maegor the Cruel’s wives. The woman had an advisor to the king who dealt in secrets. Now, Mysaria was Queen Rhaenyra’s Mistress of whispers in all but name. She had never imagined having such power. She fully reveled in it. She causally entered her lover’s room. Daemon had usually been a fiery passionate man. This night, she found his demeanor cold as ice. “What’s wrong, my love?”

  “My love,” Daemon repeated from his chair by his desk. “You haven’t called me that for a long time.”

  She walked in front of the bed. “Do you feel neglected?”

  “You have been very busy.” He uncrossed his legs. “You’re the Mistress of Whisperers. What did you do to attain that position?”

  “You know very well that I helped arranged the revenge of her slayed son.”

   He rose up. “No one rewards the middleman with such a prize. What else did you do? Did you arrange her first husband’s death? She had always view him as an obstacle.”

   “What are you accusing me of?”

  “I’m not accusing.” He came towards her. “I’m stating that you are here spying on me for the queen.”

   “Ridicules! What woman would hire their husband’s lover for such a task? How could you believe such nonsense?”

   “Because it’s the truth, you can lie to me but Rhaenyra can’t. I’ve watch her lie so often that I can tell. When she pretended to be annoyed with me, I knew that instance the truth. It didn’t bother her at all, that I slept with you. She trusts you to keep an eye on me. What did you do to earn such trust?” Mysaria refused to answer. “What do you love more me or the power that she gave you?”

   “Don’t claim betrayal.” She countered. “You tossed me aside when the king, your brother, beckoned you to. You did it so you could remain in his good graces.”

   “My dear kind brother threated to strip you and flog you in the streets like a common whore if I didn’t. I loathed him to this very day for that and the loss of our child. I’m an ambition mad. You know that I have never hid this. I had loved you for many years faithfully.” He stared deep into her eyes. He swiftly grabbed her and swung her at the door. “Neither of us regard each other that way anymore.”

   His marriage to Rhaenyra wasn’t built on love. Daemon did care deeply for her children. Their relationship had been a partnership. They were two people dealt hardships by the late king.

   “I need two dragons to accompany me.” He approached the throne. “We will find and kill the remaining dragons.”

  “Aemond’s dragon is the only true threat.” Lord Velaryon stood to the side of Queen Rhaenyra. He was her hand. “You need just one dragon.”

  “Three dragons can cover the terrain faster and lure him into a trap.”

   Rhaenyra would hear none of it. “You are skilled enough to handle the task with only one other dragon for support. Pick any dragonrider that you wish and be on your way at once.”

   “As you wish, you grace.” She could discern his resentment for being treated as a common knight. She didn’t care. He was no longer as necessary. She wore her crown now.

   It didn’t take him long to decide on a dragonrider. While Daemon didn’t feel comfortable leaving Ulf and Hugh together, he couldn’t trust them to guard his back. Both Addam and Nettles were honorable. Addam was more suitable to life at court. Nettles clearly wasn’t. This had been demonstrated as he yanked her out of a tavern.

   “I won five coppers for blenching the loudest.” She proudly declared. “Where are we going? She tried hard to keep up with the prince.

   “We have been assigned to hunt down Aemond and his dragon.”

  “Are we heading back to the Driftmark?”

  “We received word that Aemond is burning the Riverlands. We are going to Maidenpool to speak with Lord Manfryd Mooton.”

  The lord of the castle welcomed them. “my prince, it’s an honor to have you as a guest.”

  “You must receive many men as guests.” Lord Mooton and Daemon looked at her confused. Nettles added, “since they hope to see naked women bathing.”

  Both of them proceed to ignore her as they entered the castle. Nettles and Daemon dined with Lord Mooton’s family. They watched her amused Lord Mooton’s young nephew by playing with her food. Thankfully, the lord wasn’t offended by her manners. His wife didn’t appreciate her crude jokes. Daemon couldn’t place it aside any longer.

   He confronted her in the hallway. “You do understand once this war is over, you’ll be ennobled. You’ll have to behave like a lady.”

  “I never wanted to be a lady, milord.” Nettles responded. “I just wanted food and shelter.”

  “First lesson, my lord,” he emphasized the last two words. “You say it wrong again, and I’ll slap you on the back of your head.”

  He continued her instructions the next morning. She wasn’t allowed to eat a single mouthful unless it was done properly. A maid stood next to her after breakfast, and she showed Nettles how to curtsey. Nettles angrily glared at Daemon. He looked over at her to ensure that she actually practiced. Daemon was working on plotting points on a map and planning a strategy. She wasn’t only being taught manners. He instructed her on fencing and flying. Daemon was a strict instructor in everything that he taught. Yet, he seemed more relaxed fighting. By the end of two week, he became more agitated. She laid down on the grass and rubbed her sore muscles. “Aemond and Daeron keep flying away. It’s hard to trace them.”

  “Naturally,” Daemon pouted as he sat down next to her. “Daeron is a follower. His general is wise enough to tell him and his dragon to leave. Aemond, on the other hand, may be arrogant. He is also a coward. He favors weak targets.”

  “How do we find them and draw them into a fight?”

  “I don’t know yet.” He had an idea that would kill two bird with one stone. He proposed giving Ulf White the kingdom of Storm’s End. He could marry one of the Stormlord’s daughters. The Stormlands were a big enough target to force Aemond and Daeron’s hand. The Lannister’s castle would be another good choice as well.

  Queen Rhaenyra declined to do it. She wanted to try a peaceful resolution. He found this outrageous. She was behaving as if she already won the war. Aemond may be on the run, but he was still a rival heir with a powerful dragon. Cole had his large army. The severely injured Aegon had completely disappeared. She was that naïve. Or was she that complacent like her father? Daemon had thought her to be closer to him in temperament. She was the realm’s delight which is easy to be for a spoiled princess. Her father was a good king. It was easy for him when his realm was being ruled mostly by his Hand. He never strived to accomplish anything during his reign. Now, his daughter is following his example, when the kingdom desperately needs her help.

  Maester Norren trailed behind the fuming prince. “My lord, what reply should I give the queen?”

  “Tell her, ‘She is a stupid FOOL!’ Her whole kingdom is going to tear itself apart at its’ steams. Her enemies will slit her throat because she puts greater importance on taxes than on winning. Soldiers aren’t sellswords. They’re willing to await payment as long as they have a home to go back to. This would be assured if she would let us use our dragons in the battlefield.” Daemon stormed into Nettles’ bath chamber. “What is taking so long?”

  “She refuses to go in the tub.” The maidservant had been arguing with Nettles for an hour.

  He promptly stripped off her clothes and tossed her in the tub. Nettles started shaking in the tub. It wasn’t due to the water being cold. Daemon didn’t mean to frighten her. He ordered all but one maidservant gone from the room. Demon wetted a small cloth. He gently placed it on her face and slid it down to her neck. His voice softens. “You work from the top to all way down to your feet.” He handed her a soapy cloth. “You should also dip your head into the water and brush your hair. Hair should be brushed at least every other day.”

  “You can do that. Your hair lets you. My hair fights against me. I should have cut it all off.” She usually kept it short. Jace had once remarked how he thought it would look pretty long. She let it grow.

  Daemon poured some water on her hair and reached for a brush. “I’m not afraid of a challenge.” He brushed her hair to her slight embarrassment. When he finished, he rose up to depart. “The maid will help you dry off. You will get dress and come to dinner in haste.”

  She begrudgingly did as he told her. It was just one evening. Then, it was over. During breakfast, she found that wasn’t true. She informed him about her plan to cut her hair short. He ordered her not to.

  “If you can tame a dragon,” he reasoned. “You can learn to tame your hair.” He gave her his ivory brush and sat down. “You will begin by practicing on my hair since you believe it to be such an easy task.”

  Nettles approached his head. “Perhaps, I’ll braid your hair.”

  “I’ll beat you bloody if you do.”

  “It might be worth it.” She teased.

  He grinned at her. Nettles brushed his hair for about ten minutes. She went to return his brush to him. Daemon waved his hand to her. “Keep it.”

  While he spoke with Lord Mooton, Nettles played outside with the lord’s nephew. She often played with the young boy. Most of the young squires his age had left the castle for the war. She felt bad that he was left alone. Lord Mooton glanced down at them through the window. They were playing in the garden.

   This reminded Lord Mooton. “Prince Daemon, you would have an easier time finding Aemond if your dragons flew in two separate directions.”

  “We have lost too many dragons and riders in solo fights.” Daemon declined his suggestion.

  Lord Mooton and Maester Norren respected his decision. They didn’t wish to see the young girl harmed. Maester Norren was especially fond and impressed by her after one of the flights.

   Daemon and Nettles had been searching for Aemond when they stumbled upon injured fellow soldiers. Daemon headed to discuss strategy with the lords. Nettles wandered over to the injured soldiers. There were too many hurt men, and too few healers.

  “I can take your brother back to Maidenpool,” she offered a soldier, Bronn, who was leaning over his severely injured younger brother.

  Before he could speak, another man derided, “he would never arrive there in time to be save.”

  “He would if his cot was placed on top of my dragon.”

   No one had dared to think of such an idea before. Dragon terrified even the bravest of men. Bronn stared his brother. He realized there was very little that he wouldn’t do for him. “Please take him, my lady.” He helped her load his brother and two other injured soldiers on her dragon.

  “You’re being foolish,” Daemon declared, but he didn’t command her stop. ‘You’re leaving yourself vulnerable for an attack.”

  “I know,” she climbed up her dragon. “They’ll die if I don’t.”

   Maester Norren had been in his study when a servant summoned him outside. Nettle and Bronn were carrying an injured soldier on a cot. Maester Norren noticed the two other soldiers. He immediately issued orders. The injured men were taken into guest rooms.

 “How many more men can you care for?” she inquired.

  “Eight or ten maybe.”

  She quietly left for her dragon. Maester Norren was astonished and pleased, when she delivered six more injured men. After two trips there and back, she was exhausted. She fell asleep under a weirwood tree. Her dragon coiled itself around her.

  Sheepstealer carefully monitored Daemon as he approached the sleeping Nettles. He draped his cloak onto her cold shoulders. She awoke slightly. Her heart was racing, and her eyes were in a fog. “What’s happening?!” She reached for her sword.

  “Nothing,” his calm voice brought her mind to the present.

  “I’m sorry. I was supposed to return straight to the front-“

  He interrupted her. “There is no need to apologize. Like I said, nothing happened except for disorganization. I swear the Riverland’s campaign is being led by everyone and yet no one.”

  “Are you mad at me for abandoning you?”

  “It was foolish and honorable of you. I did the same thing once for the City Watch.”

  “I saw how they held you in high regard.”

   “When I was appointed over them, they were viewed less than sellswords. Farmers had better weapons.” Daemon stared at the moon. “I remembered Hightower’s smug face. ‘This suits a man of your talent and breeding,’ he mocked me. ‘Prince of Fleas and heir of nothing.’ I built up the City Watch from mere guards of crime to fearsome protectors of the city. I give them my money and time to refine them into my Gold Cloaks. That pious lord lived to regret my assignment to them as did my brother. They could take away what I built despite sending me away.”

  “You did many good deeds for King’s Landing.”

  “No, I did many good deeds for myself.” He confessed.

  “The whores of the Street of Silk mentioned how you spent days looking for a man that had hurt them. No one else would have cared to bring him to justice.”

  “I didn’t accomplish it out of kindness. I abhor cowards that prey only upon the weak. A selfish reason can never become a good deed.”

  “Perhaps, if you keep doing good, you’ll learn to do it out of kindness.” They were quiet for moment. Nettles began to tug the cloak off.

  “Keep it,” he told her again. “I have plenty of other cloaks.”

  They continued to have more conversations each day. Once after they had been sparring, Daemon won the match, “Since I won the duel, I claim that you tell me about your first kiss.”

   Nettles shrugged her shoulders. “It isn’t an interesting tale. I delivered wool to a weaver for a time. His son had a custom of gathering wildflowers for his little sister. He couldn’t find any flowers one day. So, I gathered some from off my path. His friend told him to reward me with a kiss on the lips. The boy didn’t get that his friend was merely jesting and kissed me. It was sweet. Though, I prefer a more passionate kiss. I received one from a squire. The squire quickly wanted more than a kiss. I broke his nose before he could take it from me.” He chuckled at her story. “Your story must be far better. Was your first kiss with Baela mother, your first wife?”

  “Second wife.”

   “Second wife,” she frowned. “I’m sorry to hear that you were twice a widower.”

   “I only mourned for Laena. She was a good wife and gave me two beautiful daughters. As for my first wife, I was relieved when she died. Marriage can be joyous, or it can make you long for the black cells.”

  “Were you forced to marry her? Did you love another?”

   “My marriage was arranged by never forced upon me. I actually tried to be a good husband at first. My brother never believed that. We loathed each other. We had very little in common except for our stubbornness. Neither of us would bend to the other. She would parade me around like I was her falcon. I would retaliate.”

   “You would hit her?”

   “Only weak men hit their wives. She might have preferred if I did. You see, she loved brooches. Her father had given her very first one. She brought more than two dozen brooches. She treated them better than me. She nagged often at me. ‘If only you were as refine as my gold brooch.’ It was then I decided to steal a brooch. I took one every time that she vexed me. She would dig through the castle to find it. Once she was s enrage, she had five Vale soldiers tear apart the castle searching for them. They never found one brooch. By the time that I left, I had taken eleven of her brooches.”

  “You left and married Laena?”

   “I wish,” he sighed. “I tried to dissolve the marriage by Vale judges. It was barely consummated. She refused to support it despite her hatred of me. I appealed to my grandfather. He privately brought the matter to the small council. They declined to help. I read about the Faith had dissolved a marriage due to a husband abandoning his wife. I attempted to do that. It wasn’t successful. Finally, I asked my brother. He didn’t want to lose the support of a rich powerful house, so he refused to help me.”

   “You spent all the time in such a miserable situation.”

   “Well, I had some comfort. I went to war.” They both laughed. “I am curious about something,” he changed the subject. “I saw the way that you slaughtered the sheep. You were a shepherdess?”

   “For a few years,” She stared at Sheepstealer. “After I saved a shepherd’s lamb from a fox, he taught me the trade. He was a kind old man. He let me sleep in his barn and gave me food each day. He couldn’t pay me much. I received a copper a week. He was a kind man. His son wasn’t as generous as his father. He casted me out of the farm once his father died. That was the last time that I had roof over my head until now.”

   Daemon enjoyed talking with Nettles. She was fascinated by his tales of his battles and travels. “Essos is far larger than Westeros. The people are such contradictions. You have the Free Cities which practice slavery. They love sellswords. They don’t care if the sellsword company fought savagely against them yesterday. They’ll hire them to fight for them tomorrow. The sellswords don’t care as long as they get paid. Even the brothels or pillow houses as the Lyseni call them only care about the coins. It’s said for your last drink that they add poison in it free of charge. Lys can’t have beggars dirtying their streets.”

  “Is there any place that you haven’t visited, and you would like to visit?” Nettles leaned closer to him.

   “The fighting pits of Meereen, Quarth, Yi Ti and see the Winged Men,” he listed. “I could see you becoming a famous sellsword in Essos.”

  “I would like that as long as I could fight by your side.” She hinted at her strong affection that she had for him.

  His heart had grown inclined towards her very gradually. Daemon hadn’t realized it until he fell for her both literally and figuratively. They were sparring in an empty field. She had been finally able to knock him to the ground. “Better,” he pulled himself up from the ground. “What do you claim as your spoils of war?”

  “Your boots,” she pointed her wood sword at him. “And I think, I’ll have you dunk into that mud- “

  He tripped her. She fell to the ground. He jumped on top of her and pin her to the ground. “You’ve never truly won until your enemy is dead.” Daemon caressed her face. He could feel her heart racing. “If we do this, they’ll call you terrible names. Do you still want to- “

  Her passionate kiss answered his question. They kept their relationship private. Their glances of affection were too plain to see. Most of the castle knew by one of the formal dinners. Nettles was practicing being a lady. The little six-year old nephew had assisted her by being escort. He seemed very pleased to do it. He walked her to her chair and kissed her as he had saw his father do with his mother. “You look pretty.”

  “That’s very kind, your sir. Though I’m not pretty.”

  Daemon sat across from her. “Unlike women, men’s view of beauty is depended on their affection for the lady.”

  From his gaze, Maester Norren observed Daemon’s fondness for her. He wondered if Prince Daemon had changed his plans for her. The crown had promised to ennoble the dragonriders. Outside of the brothers legitimizing and two men’s knighting, they hadn’t received anything else. Daemon had taken action to ennoble Nettles. He requested Maester Norren to find her suitor among the great houses. It wasn’t easy since she was commoner and a bastard. After weeks of searching and making inquiries with other maesters, Norren found a possible match. “Nettles could marry one of the sons of House Mormont.”

   “I’ve never heard of them.” Daemon sat down next to him.

  “They’re a rather small house from Bear Island in the North. Their men and women are known to be honorable warriors. They have to be fierce since both the Ironborn and Wildlings attack them. They might be willing to have her marry into their house. Her dragon and her dowry that you are providing would be a great benefit to them. There are tales about their women and bears which I believe that work in Nettles benefit. They might not look down upon her for being a bastard as most other house would. In addition, Nettles’ marriage to the Mormonts could be taken as a sign of good faith concerning our old pact with the North.” Maester tilted his head. “I could propose this to them if you still wish it.”

  Daemon understood his meaning and gave him a sad smile. ‘If I were younger and smarter, I would take her away to Esso and live out the rest of our days.” He shook that dream aside. “We’ll wait for Lord Stark to arrive. They’ll be more accepting of our proposal if it came from their lord.”

  “You’re not what I…” Maester Norren quickly bit his tongue.

  “Expect from the rumors,” the prince laughed. ‘Which one did you hear? There has been so many about me.” The maester hesitated. He remembered tales of Maegor and his maesters. “Don’t fret. My temper is towards only those who say such thing and not towards those who have heard them.”

   “Yet, they say you almost beat a messenger to death when he gave you bad news.”

  “I hit him once by mistake.” Daemon voice started to turn into snarl. “My spies had been searching for years for a singer. They found him and brought him to me that day. The messenger had walked in on me as I was administering justice.”

  “What offence did this singer do?”

  “I had an aunt named Gael who was about my age. She had been the joy of my grandmother. When Gael died, my grandmother soon perished after her. That fiend caused both their death and the death of Gael’s unborn child. Everyone who looked upon Gael knew she was a sweet fragile girl. He preyed on her like wolf upon a weak fawn. He lied to her and got her pregnant. Then, he bored of her. He proceeds to mock and slapped her hard. The grand maester wouldn’t say it officially, but we all knew he hit her too hard. Gael lost her baby. The sweet girl couldn’t bear it and killed herself. I got my revenge against him as I heard him scream his last song. My grandfather would have pardoned me. My brother could no longer be trusted. I ordered the messenger to be silent on the matter. It is reasonable that he had to think up a reason for the injury.”

  “I see,” Maester Norren gained a fully understanding of Targaryen. They are the ‘Blood of the Dragon.’ Dragons are like any wild creature such as wolves and bears. They’re vicious to their enemies and loving towards their own.

  That night, Daemon retired not to his chamber but to Nettles bed chambers. She immediately sat up in her bed as he closed the door. As he approached the bed, she eagerly started pulling down her clothes. “It’s late.”

  She halted. “Is everyone alright?” She saw the haze in his eyes.

  He gently stroked her face. “It is, indeed, my love.” He crept into the bed with her. She laid her head on his chest. He wrapped his arms around her body. In that moment, he seriously doubted that he could let her go.

  Her company had made him feel joy and fire. While his assignment for the queen seemed hopeless and wasteful, Nettles had been his sole comfort. Queen Rhaenyra had given him no more assistance nor had she allowed him to assist in any other campaign. His every suggestion was met wit “no.” Daemon remained stuck with a task which was like digging a trench with his bare hands. Those concerns and problems faded as he sat in a field and watched Nettles with their dragons. “Your idea is ridicules.”

   “Many creatures enjoy playing.” Some herd dogs had been playing in the field. She was curious to see if she could get the dragons to play. She attempted to incite them to play by throwing in the air a spine of an aurochs. Her dragon Sheepstealer rolled his eyes. To their surprise, Caraxes leaped up and fetched the spine. Caraxes though quickly broke the spine in half. “It’s a start.”

   He beamed at her. “I have a gift for you.” She came over and kneeled down next to him. He presented her with a silver looking glass. “Now, you won’t have to borrow mine.”

  “Thank you very much.” She held it close.

   Most of their meals in Maidenpool had been private. As much as he wanted to train Nettles in etiquette, he distained having an audience. Her manners had improved greatly. So, there wasn’t as much of a need to do formal dinners. Maester Norren interrupted them during one of their private dinners.

   “Did a raven arrive?” Daemon was concerned that another prince had been killed due to the maester’s pale face.

   “Hugh Hammer and Ulf White have betrayed the crown and sided with the enemy.” This didn’t shock Daemon. They must have received a better offer from the Greens. It did irritate him since he had warned them of this. “Queen Rhaenyra has ordered Nettles immediate death under the charge of bewitching the prince consort.”

   “A queen’s words, a whore’s work,” Daemon sneared. He drew out his sword. “How many soldiers are standing outside the door?”

   “None, my lord. I haven’t told anyone else.” Maester Norren. He didn’t want to get Lord Mooton killed. He had just convinced the lord to take time to reason on the best course of action. Considering the danger Prince Daemon posed, it would be prudent and not treasonous. Maester Norren’s actions had been clearly treasonous.

   “You’re a terrible maester but a good man.” Daemon placed his hand on the maester’s shoulder. “Thank you. We’ll depart in the morning.”

   The maester left. He resigned himself to go to King’s Landing alone. Lord Mooton would hand him over to the queen. Norren swore to himself to never even hint in anyone else involvement.

   Nettles turned to Daemon once the door was closed. “Where are we going?”

   “You’re going to the Mountain of the Moon.” He grabbed one of the maps. “There is a cave where I hid all the brooches at. You’ll retrieve those and use this.” He gave her a bag of coins. “You’ll head to Essos.”

   “Where will you meet me at?”

   “No,” he shook his head. “I’m going off to kill Aemond.”

   “I’ll stay with you and fight.” He declined her offer. Her voice became desperate. “Please don’t ask me to leave you. I can’t. I am -“

   Daemon placed his finger on her mouth and his other hand on her belly. “I know. You’re leaving this mad war behind. Promise me.” Nettles promised him. Though, she persisted in begging him all night long. She wanted to stay with him or have him and his daughters come with her. She wept as they made love for the last time because he refused to relent. She collapsed in his arms from exhaustion. “My sweet lady,” he kissed her and fell asleep.

  They awoke before sunrise. He grabbed her hand and looked her straight in the eye. “You are Blood of the Dragon. You were forage in fire and blood. Always be strong.” She attempted to be strong for him. She got dress and fed Sheepstealer a big black ram. Her resolve wavered when it came to mount her dragon. He loaded her belongings and helped her onto Sheepstealer. With tears hanging in her eyes, she grabbed the reins of her dragon and flew off. Daemon’s own dragon Caraxes regarded him disbelief. It screamed a thunderous roar echoing Daemon’s unspoken feeling.