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The Stranger's Son

Chapter Text

 

Rhaenys Targaryen

129 AC

Rook’s Rest



   The seawind whipped through her silver streaked raven tresses as Meleys flew through the sky towards their forces besieged at Rook’s Rest. The waters of Black Water Bay churned beneath her and crashed against the jagged shore as her dragon’s mighty scarlet wings propelled her towards her foe. Before she had left Dragonstone she had studied the Painted Table intently. What most did not know was although it was commissioned by Aegon the Conqueror to show his soon to be united lands, its primary purpose was to show the land from above as it would look upon a dragon. Every peak and valley was carved into its surface in loving detail. It allowed a rider to plan a route, note the peaks, valleys, and roads depicted there and use them to navigate to their goal on dragon back with some degree of accuracy.

 

  It seemed she needn't have bothered with her preparations.

 

   The Usurper's army had left a path of destruction through the countryside. From the ground a man might spy a pillaged home or a burned field. From above it appeared as if a burning sword had cleaved it's way through the countryside. How many innocent people had died as Aegon’s army swarmed across the land?

 

   She lamented the foolishness of this war. Were the old King's wishes not clear? Had he not had the great lords of the realm come to King's Landing to swear to uphold his daughter's rights to the crown? She remembered that day, Lords from as far as the North to as close as Bronze Gate in the Crownlands, from as weak as household knights to the lord of Storm's End himself. They had sworn before gods and men, before the King himself and his chosen heir that they would support and defend his daughter Rhaenyra when his own time had passed. She still remembered the furious look upon Queen Alicent's face as her son Aegon had been passed over for his older half-sister. She had never seen a more petulant look than the one upon Aegon's face as knights and lords swore to the Princess of Dragonstone. 

 

   She had disregarded any thoughts of rebellion at the time. The whole business of Blacks, those supporting the Princess, and Greens, those supporting her brother, was nonsense to her. What could Aegon do? The King's choice was clear. When the Princess of Dragonstone had married her own son Leonor, uniting their claims and giving her three beautiful grandchildren she thought their position unassailable. Her own father was the firstborn son of the last King, King Jaehaerys, while Viserys was the firstborn of the old King’s second son. There were many who thought that it should have been her or her son to gain the throne instead of Viserys I. By uniting their claims none should have questioned them.

 

   Yet question it they did. The Greens spread Vile rumors. Men whispered in dark corners that Rhaenyra’s children by Leonor were but bastards born of an affair between The Princess and her sworn shield Sir Strong. They pointed to Jacaerys, Lucerys, and Joffrey. They saw their brown hair and muttered how they looked like no true Targaryans.

 

    She never believed it.

 

    She saw the way her son had doted upon his children, how he played with them and tickled them and snuck into the nursery to look upon them when their nursemaid was abed. She knew that no man could look upon a child not his own with that much love. As for their looks, didn't she herself have hair as black as night? Did any dare say she was not a daughter of old Valyria when mounted upon her dragon?

 

   Though she had ignored the slanderous whispers others had not. Upon the back of a thousand broken vows and forsaken oaths Ser Criston Cole, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, placed a crown upon the head of Prince Aegon and pronounced him King Aegon, second of his name.

 

   Oaths were but words it seems and words were wind. Those that had sworn to support their queen when her time came turned their backs upon her. Rhaenys own kin, lord Baratheon, had spurned his sworn oath and allowed Aemond the Kinslayer to kill Lucerys, her own precious grandson, as he flew from Storm’s End. 

 

   They would be made to answer for these deaths. She swore to herself as she thought of her grandson’s broken body washed up on shore and the little bodies she knew must be dead along the path of Aegon’s march.

 

    As she rounded the last cliff between her and her destination the sight shocked her. She had expected to see a besieging army encamped about the castle with trenches dug and siege works built. She had expected the sky to be clear of smoke or foes. 

 

   She was wrong.

   Trenches were dug, the siege towers built. About all four sides of the castle tents were pitched and trenches dug and great wooden towers rose from the ground. Yet the towers belched flame and smoke into the morning sky. The trenches on three side blazed like cracks into the seven hells themselves. Above three great beasts whirled a gyre of bronze and gold flames. The great bronze dragon was known to all the realm, Vhagar, the last of the conqueror’s dragons lumbered through the air, its great aged bronze and blue bulk struggling to catch its quarry. The golden drake was also known to her, Sunfyre the mount of Aegon the Pretender, yet though it was smaller than its mark, it strained to bring its claws and flames to bear against it. The third…

 

   She did not know the third. 

 

   It was impossible. She knew every dragon that had ever spread its wings over Westeros. She had memorized them as a child and saw them every day on Dragonstone or in the Dragonpit, but she did not know this one. Its great green body was smaller than Vhagar yet it was still larger than any other dragon known to yet live.

 

   The jade dragon was faster and more agile than its size should allow. As she watched, it rolled away from the stretching neck and searching fangs of Vhagar then tucked its wings tight to his body and dove under Sunfyre’s coriscating breath, the golden flames burnished its green scales bronze as it passed beneath. The jade dragon's dive brought it down upon the last line of trenches left unburnt and it unleashed fire. She could see in the distance little men fleeing as they were set ablaze. The tents closest caught fire from the heat. The beast's wings swept open and it began to climb, weaving between smokey columns as it ascended, leaving behind a scorched wasteland. The two other dragons whirled about, trying to match its pace but fell behind as their quarry gained speed and height.

 

   As the Jade broke through a curtain of smoke it flipped to face its hunters, great wings spread to slow its fall; it hung inverted in the sky, as though suspended in amber and time. It unleashed a column of bronze flames as Sunfyre broke through the smoke in pursuit. The golden beast shrieked in pain as the flames licked its head and flank and it swerved away, It’s right side smoking and its scales scorched. Time seemed to flow again as the Jade angled its wings and finished the flip, returning upright and continued its climb into the sky, disappearing into the clouds above. Vhagar, lumbering behind, bellowed its challenge as it followed into the clouds.

 

   She did not know who it was who battled the pretender, but Sunfyre was injured and separated from Vhagar. The chance to slay Aegon was too great to resist. If he was felled from the skies then the Greens’ ambitions would fall with his corpse. And if she could avenge her grandson by slaying the Kinslayer… She flicked  Meley’s reins and shouted, “Nābēmagon!” into the wind. The Red Queen surged forward through the air. Though she could not match the Jade’s bulk, she was once the fastest of the dragons. She had slowed as she aged, but her dragon's sinews stretched and her muscles flexed to meet the challenge. The wind whipped her hair like a curtain of black and silver as her dragon’s mighty wings propelled her towards her wounded prey.

 

    Meleys roared a challenge and Sunfyre turned to meet her, bellowing his defiance in return. They came together with the snapping of teeth and raking of claws. Their fangs sought throats and their talons bellies to tear. The red dragon clawed its talons along the gold’s flank and the brittle scales that had been bathed in bronze flames crumbled before the onslaught.

 

   Burning blood fell like rain.

 

     They broke apart circled then came together again with another roar slamming together clawing and biting for dominance. Again Meleys came off better. This close she could see the havok that the Jade’s flames had caused to Sunfyre. It’s right eye was missing, it’s socket weeping boiled jelly and blood. The scales along his right side were brittle and charred. They crumpled under her mount’s talons. She could see Aegon screaming commands to his dragon though the words were lost in the wind and the roars. She could feel his panic and it was sweet.

 

   Sunfyre was weakening. Each clash he came off worse and worse. After the fourth clash his sides were ravaged and his neck hemorrhaged blood. She smiled as she urged her mount on towards another clash. Her good daughter would sit the throne, her grandson and daughter would rule after her. The insult of being passed over for the throne would be avenged at last and her progeny would rule the seven kingdoms for a thousand years.

 

   Her joy turned to ash as she heard the roar of Vhagar from above.

 

   She looked up and saw the great bronze and blue beast gliding down towards her. She screamed, “Pālegon!” and tugged the reins. Maleys rolled and tucked in her wings just as a torrent of flame slammed into her dragon’s belly. Had her dragon not interposed her body between her and the flames she would be dead. The Red Queen shrieked in pain and Vhagar roared in answer as it flew past. Perhaps it was her own imagination, but she thought she could see the Kinslayer’s smirk as he passed. At her command her mount finished its roll and she looked about her.

 

   Her heart fell. Though Meley’s roll had saved her life it had likely weakened her scales even more than Sunfyre's; and the move had cost her height. Sunfyre descended towards her, his mouth open wide to deliver his fiery vengeance upon his tormenter while Vhagar banked and rose from below to meet her. 

 

   She was surrounded. 

 

   As her doom closed in she thought of her husband. Sweet brave Corlys The Sea Snake. The greatest explorer the world had ever known. She would miss his sweet kisses and wonderful tales of far off lands. He had always wanted to return to Yi Ti and she had promised to fly him there upon her dragon one day. She wished she had that chance. 

 

   Her mind went to her grandchildren. Brave Jace and bold Baela the future king and queen of the seven kingdoms. They would rule well, she knew.

 

   Joffrey was a sweet and kind boy. She loved him well and knew he would be a worthy successor to her husband as the Lord of Driftmark.

 

   At least her thoughts turned to sweet Rhaena. She was her favorite. Beautiful as she was kind, smart as she was considerate, patient as she was loving. She would miss her most of all and she knew her own death would affect her the most. The thought of what Aemond or Aegon would do to that sweet girl should they lose this war. She had seen the looks they had sent towards her twin granddaughters. They called her son a degenerate in their cups but the appetites of the two princes were as dark as they were base. She had heard reports from Daemon’s friends among the Gold Cloaks about what they did to the peasant girls they abused.

 

    She would not allow them to touch her granddaughters.

 

   She snarled to herself. Her heart hardened, and she resolved to sell her life dearly. She sent her prayers to any gods that would listen that Corlys and the rest of her family would be well and turned her dragon to face Sunfyre. If she could slay the Pretender then she would count her life a worthy trade.

 

   The Jade dragon came hurtling from the clouds, its wings folded close to its body it’s tail trailing behind. Like an emerald comet it plummeted through the sky and crashed into Sunfyre from above. Scales cracked and the great golden beast shrieked in agony as its foe’s talons sank home. Sunfyre struggled and shrieked, writhing violently as it tried dislodging its foe. The Jade tore into the golden dragon from above. Its claws sunk deep into its prey where its rear legs met its body. It’s winged forelimbs latching on behind Sunfyre’s head forcing it’s searching teeth and licking flames downward and away. The Jade’s head darted downward, its needle-fanged jaws seized upon Sunfyre’s wing where it met the shoulder, and tore .

 

    Black bone cracked and tendons snapped as the dragon’s wing was violently shorn from its body. Blood spurted in great gouts from the stump and the once green dragon was painted red in gore. The bloody Jade released its grip upon its prey and as it separated from the golden dragon, lashed its back and rider with a lance of fire. He followed behind the plumitting dragon unleashing a relentless torrent of flame upon its foe.

 

   An adult dragon’s scales allowed them to shrug off glancing hits from another dragon’s flames with no harm. A direct strike would damage its scales leaving them brittle and weakened, vulnerable to another dragon’s teeth and claws. Continuously bathed in the Green’s flames... scales turned to ash and draconic flesh blackened. The great golden beast raised it’s remaining wing to shield itself from the fiery onslaught.

 

    It’s membrane ignited like parchment in a forge. 

 

   Finally the Jade cut off its stream of bronze flames, spread its wings and pulled up from its fiery dive. Sunfyre shrieked in agony. Where its once golden scales remained they flaked off and where they had been ripped away by Maleyes the flesh was turned to char. Smoke trailed behind the plummeting dragon, like the streamers of a falling kite, it’s string cut by a flaming sword.

 

   She liked to imagine that she heard the Usurper's screams as he burned, as he fell. In truth she heard nothing. It seemed as if a great stillness had covered the land as all watched one of the mightiest of dragons plummet from the sky. Its one membraneless wing beat useless against the air, flailing and tumbling uncontrollably through the sky. It wasn't until the great golden body slammed into the ground that sound returned and with it a roar from the Jade, a cry of bloodlust and victory over a mighty foe. It was the first sound that it had made throughout the battle. She knew something in her bones then. It was not the first such cry it had uttered. 

 

   She doubted it would be its last.

 

   Vhagar shrieked in the distance. She looked and saw the Kinslayer’s mount winging back towards Kings Landing. She fought the urge to follow him. Meleys was by far the faster of the two. She would have no trouble catching the great aged beast, yet it was not wise. Meleys was wounded while Vhagar was larger and unhurt. She could catch the great dragon, but she doubted she could defeat her without surprise, even if she wasn’t injured. She would let him run. His reckoning for murdering her grandson could wait for another day.

 

    Her gaze turned back to the great green dragon that felled Sunfyre from the sky. It was circling downward towards the still smoking corpse of its kill. She bit her lip as she thought. Should she follow? The beast had not attacked her or her dragon. It had battled her enemies and slain their greatest foe. Yet she knew of no dragon of its size and coloring, nor did she know its rider. She had glimpsed dark hair upon his head. The only riders with dark hair that she knew was herself and her two remaining grandsons. All others had the pale locks traditional of her house. She must risk it, she decided. There was no way of knowing their intentions without speaking with them.

 

   She flicked her reins in a signal for Meleyes to begin her descent. She landed not far from the Usurper's corpse upon the smoking plain. All about her were the scorched remains of the army sent to take Rook’s Rest. Charred corpses of men and horses littered the ground. To her left she saw the smoking remains of the command tent, the singed banner bearing Criston Cole's crest hanging limply from a pole at its peak. With luck, the Kingmaker had perished quickly. To her right she saw a knight cooked alive in half his armor. Smaller bodies smoking about him clutching pauldrons and helm, doubtless his squires trying to equip their knight as the world ignited above them. As if plates of steel were shield against dragon fire. She clenched her gauntleted fist in sorrow and rage. Had she arrived an hour earlier it would have been the flames of her dragon that took the life from these boys.

 

    She changed her mind. She hoped Criston Cole died screaming. 

 

   Her hatred of the Usurper redubled as well. He was dead, but how many had died for his folly? How many more would before this rebellion against the rightful queen was put down?

 

   Her eyes left the poor charred children and wandered up towards the Stranger. His dragon feasted upon the flesh of his fallen foe. Great chunks of meat were ripped from the golden corpse. The victorious dragon greedily gulped down smoking chunks of muscle and bone. His rider walked towards her, his hands held high.  

 

   She was right about his hair. It was a dark brown, bound back from his long face with a leather thong. It was a sweet face, if not for the stubble of dark hair upon his jaw she might have thought it too pretty a face for a man. His eyes were a dark grey that reminded her of her husband’s descriptions of the hurricanes upon the shivering sea. His clothes and mantel were black. Upon his body he wore armor of dark mail and plate and about his neck a gorget carved with a dragon and rose twining about one another. His equipment was well made and cared for, yet plain. She had seen many lesser lords and knights wear more opulent armors. He had a bastard sword at his hip. Its alabaster pommel carved in the likeness of a white wolf. The only note of vanity in his dress was a necklace. It’s chain was of fine silver wrought in the form of a leafed vine. The links joined together to form the silver stem of a rose, its blossom wrought from a single great sapphire carved in the likeness of a rose in bloom. The gem seemed to glow with an inner light as it glinted upon his chest.

 

    As he drew nearer her eyes glanced up towards his upraised hands. In one he clutched a circlet and the other a sword. She knew both. They were the ones worn by her forefather when he smashed the forces of the seven kingdoms and forged the iron throne with his dragon’s fires. It was the blade of Aegon the Conqueror and his crown.

 

    She could see the soot that lay thick upon them.

 

    She puffed out a breath of dark amusement. Of course that sniveling little shit would think himself worthy of his ancestor’s sword and circlet simply because he bore his name. She was shocked the crown had fit his swollen head.

 

   She looked at his face again and upon it there was a shy smile. She changed her mind. This stranger was lovely, not pretty. Though he did not have the coloring of old Valyria he had its beauty. Judging by his face she thought him perhaps twenty namedays of age. He stopped ten paces away and twirled the crown of the Conqueror about his black clad finger. When he spoke it was with a voice unlike any she had heard. A husky rasp that seemed to contain the grinding of glaciers and the chiming of bells. It was a voice ment for bards and sweet whispers in bedchambers not the battlefield

 

   “I imagine that you and your queen would want these?” The twirling stopped and he grasped the crown firmly in his dark gloved hand before extending it and the sword towards her. “The one wearing them didn't look as if he had the right to them and he shan't have use for them now besides.”

 

   She approached cautiously. As she grew near, it seemed that the sweltering heat of the scorched battlefield eased, and though they had been awash in flames not many minutes before, the crown and sword felt cold in her hand. “You imagined rightly, stranger. These are worthy trophies you offer. What is your name? I would bring my queen tidings of your deeds and see you rewarded for this mighty service you have given her.”

 

   He opened his mouth, but his eyes darted to the side, his hand flashed forward and shoved her backwards.

 

   It saved her life.

 

    A soiled white shadow leapt from the ground where he had crawled close as they spoke. A morning star swung through where she’d been standing. The steel spikes ground against her breastplate as it raced past. She tumbled to the ground and struggled desperately to stand. All she could hear was the clashing of steel on steel. She struggled to her feet, Blackfyre clutched before her in her right fist and she beheld a dance of skill and death.

 

    Cole was known as one of the greatest knights to live. He had been a terror upon the tourney field winning many a melee. He had been Rhaenyra’s sworn shield before he had even joined the Kingsguard then rose to Lord Commander over men his seniors through skill of arms. There were few men to match him in the Seven Kingdoms. 

 

   The stranger was better.

 

   Every swing of mace was met with flick of sword, guiding it past his form. Every parry was followed with a riposte. The Stranger’s sword sought blood with every swing but met the steel of plate or wood of shield instead of flesh or bone. His feet moved with a dancer’s grace and his hands a killer’s skill.

 

   The duel ended as she rallied to join it. 

 

   Cole, desperate to end the fight as his armor became more battered and his shield splintered lunged forward, hoping to grapple his foe where his greater strength might be brought to bear against his nimbler opponent. Viper quick, the stranger darted to the right. His bastard sword swept up then down in two savage arcs. 

 

   Twice blood sprayed and his dark sword gleamed red.

 

   Cole’s mace left his hand as his palm gushed blood. His left knee buckled, it’s tendons cut. The stranger’s sword rested upon Criston’s shoulder. She could see now it bore the swirling dark patterns of Valyrian steel. His words were as gentle as his sword was cruel. “You fought bravely Sir. I would know the name of such a worthy foe.”

 

   The Kingsguard met his dark grey eyes with his own pale green and spat.  “You slew my men without warning and without cause. You butchered my king and even now your beast feasts upon his corpse. You will have nothing but death from me Kingslayer.” He tried to grasp his dirk with his bleeding hand but his bloody fingers refused to bend. The Stranger’s blade had sliced his palm where soft leather of glove lay beneath the tempered steel of plate. She doubted he could grasp anything with it ever again. He lunged forward upon his good leg trying to tackle his foe. The Stranger stepped his left foot to the side and swept his right behind him along the ground in an arc that sent a curtain of grey ash billowing about him. He brought his sword down again in a brutal swing. Its blade bit deeply into his foe’s helm and drove him to the ground. Dazed from the blow, the Kingsguard struggled to stand again but failed, collapsed upon the ground and vomited upon the ashes of his army. 

 

   “It was well fought, but it is over, Sir. Resist further and it will not go well for you.” He brought his blade to Cole’s throat before continuing. “You claim I slew your army without cause? Was this siege not a trap for Princess Rhaenys or Prince Daemon? Was this army not bait for them and their dragons? Did not your Hightower Princes think to pounce upon their foe while they busied themselves in burning this army? A catcher thinking to trap a wolf as he does his rats should blame none but himself when it steals his bait and kills his cats. Your men died for your foolishness as much as to Rhaegal’s fires.”

 

   She walked up beside him then. “It seems I have yet more reasons to be thankful to you Sir.” She glanced up at him wryly before continuing. “I would hold my tongue comparing Prince Daemon to rats or wolves in his presence. He will be grateful for your service, but his pride was ever prickly. Likening him to any beast not a dragon roused his wrath as a boy and I fear he is yet to outgrow it.” His fair face returned her smile then and he bowed in acquiescence. She felt something with that smile. If she was twenty years younger… 

 

   She shook her head and thought of her loving husband. She turned her gaze back to the struggling Kingsguard. “You have slain Aegon the Pretender, destroyed his army and captured his Hand. We must speak, you and I, for with these services to her Grace you have won yourself a place of honor in her court and councils. I would know your name Stranger, that I might sing your praises to our queen and see you justly rewarded. 

 

   At her words he removed his sword from his fallen foe’s throat and delivered a savage kick to the side of his head with his sabaton shod foot. Cole collapsed into a heap and did not move. He turned and bowed deeply to her before replying. “Before my birth my father thought to name me Aemon if a boy, though he longed for a girl to name Visenya. He and my mother quarreled before I was born, a quarrel that was not resolved before my birth or their deaths.” His eyes looked up and locked with hers. There was something icy in those eyes for all that they smiled up at her. “My mother named me Jon your Grace, though I have answered by both it and Aemon. I have come to swear my dragon and sword to house Targaryen and its rightful head, Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen.” 

 

   She nodded and turned her gaze to where the gates of Rook’s Rest were opening at last. “It would be best if you go by Aemon from now on. A Valyrian name will help you much in the court at Dragonstone. What is your house name? I have heard of no other family of dragon riders that escaped the Doom.”

 

   “You have heard nothing of other dragon riders for good reason, your Grace. My family escaped the doom at the same time as yours but we were without dragons for nearly two centuries before my aunt hatched three dragons from stone.”

 

   Two centuries.. they must have lost their last dragon shortly after the doom then, but his statement on gaining dragons again.. “Hatched dragons from stone? How is such a thing done?”

 

   He tilted his head and gave her a curious look. “With fire and blood your Grace, how else?” She did not know what he ment but from his gaze and words he expected her to. She ignored it for now.

 

   “Your family has two other dragons? Are they as large as this Rhaegal you fly?”

 

  “We had three for a time. Your Grace, Rhaegal is the last of his brothers as I am the last of my house. I have spent years in Asshai by the shadow and they died long before I left.”

 

   Asshai by the shadow? It was a dark place with darker whispers about it, but it was one of the only other places in the world where some of those whispers were sometimes of dragons.”Did your family shelter in Asshai?”

 

   He shook his head. “No you Grace. My aunt hatched her dragons east of any free city, but I did not journey to the shadow lands until after her and my family's deaths.”

 

   “And your house’s name?”

 

   “Is not mine your grace. I am a bastard not trueborn. I would not sully my family's name by claiming it. Let my dead kin rest in peace.”

 

   She regarded him critically. Being the last of his house was a blessing for hers, another family of dragon riders could have challenged hers,  but a bastard dragonlord.... Jace riding a dragon had taken the wind from the sails of those claiming him a bastard. With the accusations against her own grandchildren it would look poorly to have a bastard dragon rider at court. Her mind went to one of her favorite figures from the history of Valyria, Jaenara Belaerys. She had explored further than any of her people had before. Yes, it would do. None would be surprised to find one of her descendants near Asshai. “I will respect your wish to not take your family’s name, but you can not come to court as a bastard no matter your achievements. You will be known as Aemon Belaerys. It is a name known widely enough to be noteworthy and none live that can object to your taking it.”

 

   His grey eyes turned stormy. His jaw set and his hands clenched upon his sword. His eyes closed and he took a steadying breath. The ash wind blew cold then stilled. He opened his eyes. “It is not my name but it will serve me as well as any other. It will be as you say your Grace.”



   She nodded then looked towards the group of mounted men who were cautiously making their way towards them across the smoking plains. “I see Lord Staunton has finally bestirred himself to leave his gates. Come,” she kicked the unconscious Cole’s side before continuing, “We must see this curr in chains and his wounds treated before he escapes us on his knees or into the Stranger’s arms. Then we shall borrow one of Lord Staunton’s rooms, you and I. We must discuss how best to present you at court and what rewards you would have from the crown.”

 

   He nodded in agreement and they stood together as the riders grew closer. Rhaegal let loose another roar of triumph and Maleyes joined him. Their cries merged together in a medley of savage dominion. The ashes of their foes blew about them as cinders danced in the wind. 

 

   Princess Rhaenys knew that the world had changed.