(122-12-15) The Fourth Goblet
The Fourth Goblet
Summary: Prince Rhaegor Targaryen brings his former squire, Prince Vhaegor, to call upon Princess Vhaerys. Twice. Refreshments are offered and come under heavy scrutiny.
Date: 15/12/122
Related: Makes brief reference to this the day before.

As though in honour of these princes' first visit to Princess Vhaerys's chambers, her open windows are lit by a blazing sunset in shades of red and orange and gold which might have been calculated to appease Targaryen tastes.

Fires and torches are blazing, in competition with the sultry heat and fragrances of the summer garden below, and Vhaerys's own sharp scent — reminiscent of a citrus grove — which strikes immediately, unavoidably all who cross the threshold of her suite. Her occupancy of years' duration has overlaid many another personal touch upon the splendour of these rooms, the most characteristic being the perfect symmetry of every chair, every table, every smaller object, set out as though the squares of white marble underfoot form a grid to which her possessions must always, sooner or later, snap back.

But this afternoon, this evening as it has become, the Myrish carpets have been rolled up and the floor has been cleared, to make room for a table consisting of a long, heavy slab of marble set upon wooden trestles. A man in his thirties lies upon it — not sleeping but cold and naked and dead, his arms by his sides, his eyes looking glassily up to the ceiling, his torso open. A second, smaller table drawn up close beside is the repository of specimen jars, in several of which organs already float ponderously in viscous fluid, and an assortment of fine steel knives and more mysterious tools which would be gleaming rather more if they weren't so bloodied.

The princess who resides here has her white-golden braids pinned up atop her lofty head, and has donned a protective leather apron and matching gloves over a dark red gown that doesn't quite sweep the floor.

"Our cousins may enter if they wish," she remarks dispassionately to the liveried servant who has just relayed to her the news of their presence, whilst another holds the door ajar a fraction and then widens it. She has both hands deep inside her other visitor's gaping chest cavity and seems altogether more interested in seeing what she might next lift out of it. Likewise the much younger lady of obvious Valyrian blood, posted on the other side of the table, with her hands folded behind her back and an air of anticipation.

Rhaegor & Vhaegor have come calling. The sunset and the fires and the torches all make for rather pleasant environs for a visit, only there's the matter of the corpse in the midst of it all to give the former pause, prompting him to glance, wordlessly, at the latter. "Perhaps we interrupt you at your leisure, cousin," he remarks to Vhaerys, but in total contrast with the suggestion he approaches the table to pay closer inspection to her current project. He might generally announce the purpose for such a visit, but he makes a judgment call and decides that can be deferred until later.

When Rhaegor approaches, Vhaegor follows his one-time Master towards the table and their cousin, his gaze briefly and dispassionately scanning the corpse briefly — stopping once on the face as if checking for recognition — before he turns his scrutiny to Vhaerys. He wasn't brought up to speed on the reason for their visit, unfortunately, but some part of him clearly doubts it had anything to do with a corpse or its dissection. However, for the moment he lets Rhaegor do the speaking, his hand resting lightly on the hilt of the sword strapped to his hip, trusting in his cousin to carry the conversation to… wherever it's headed.

When Rhaegor is near the princess's cool violet gaze flicks up to him. "I have most of what I want," she allows. "Don't be concerned; he died of nothing contagious." And not long ago to judge by the odours near the table, which are frankly all too human but lack the taint of putrefaction.

Speaking, she draws out a glistening organ cradled in both her hands, which may to these two veterans of Rhaegor's Qarthian bloodbath be recognisable as the man's heart. She holds also, between two gloved fingers, a small narrow blade angled away from her prize — this she reaches behind her to line up with its larger fellows whilst the heart drips congealed blood down into its former owner's open chest. "Fascinating…" A murmur almost to herself. "The state of this valve… thickened, one might almost say fused… do you see it, Vysena?" This an invitation to her young companion.

She looks away again, to Rhaegor. "I see you've brought your former squire; for what purpose does he suppose he'll require his sword in my chambers?"

Rhaegor inspects the corpse in a dispassionate manner, his eyes going instinctively to the heart, when Vhaerys separates it from the body. His eyes search for the anatomical anomaly she describes, but he does not know well enough what it is the women look for. He turns away from the table, then, to rejoin Vhaegor, halted only by Vhaerys's address. He pivots to face her once more. "Our business can wait until the completion of yours. We'll leave you." Because he evidently deems that preferable to asking the tedious questions of how and why she came to possess the body. Rhaegor is not compelled to defend the reason either of them bear their arms.

Vhaegor would be insulted if he wasn't already used to worse things being said about him than, 'Which one is that?' Instead, he just glances to Rhaegor to see how he'll answer. When it's with silence, Vhaegor follows suit and turns slightly to allow his elder cousin to pass by and walk in front, his hand remaining exactly where it is. If he actually ends up heading towards the door of course. It's amazing how often these conversations seem to be about to end, only for them to kick off again. Then again, dead bodies tend to kill conversations pretty well, so who knows.

"Vysena, you'll draw this for Luckin's collection," the princess orders her lady-in-waiting, setting the heart aside in a broad, shallow porcelain dish. "As you wish," is her answer to Rhaegor and his attendant, protective shadow. "I imagine I'll keep on till I lose the light — and then you would be welcome to discuss… whatever's in your heart." The longer scalpel she takes up glints in her grasp; she smiles faintly at her cousins as they depart.

When the sunset has died away to distant embers in the sky and the two Targaryen princes, the light and the dark, once again brave Princess Vhaerys's chambers, that great slab of marble and its partially-dismembered occupant have been cleared away and the carpets unrolled across a marble floor scrubbed-clean. The air smells of fine herbal soap and the beeswax candles burning in plenitude in mirrored stands set here and there about the sitting-room, whilst Vhaerys herself, divested of her gloves and her apron, and with her braids flowing freely down her red silken back to her waist, stands out upon one of her balconies, perhaps enjoying the evening air, or more likely listening for the calls of Princess Visenya's dragonets.

This time word was left at the door that the young men were to be admitted whenever they called: and wine is waiting, two open bottles one somewhat sampled and the other untouched, behind a trio of polished silver goblets which match the one already in the princess's hand.

She turns, silhouetted against the night, resting a hand upon the wrought-iron scrollwork and taking a sip of the rich Arbor red. "Ah, Rhaegor." A pause. "And Vhaegor again. To what do we owe the pleasure?" Free now of other occupations her tone is casually — even fondly! — curious.

Rhaegor inspects the room anew with the flick of his gaze. One might hardly guess what purpose the chamber was earlier put to, from its present state. "Vhaerys," he says, in greeting. "I trust your work was… productive." The manic edge of his fever seems to have subsided, for the moment. But it's not to say that dragons are not still the purpose of his visit. "I have paid further thought to the question you posed me in the pavilion." His intention, clearly, is to bring Vhaegor into their confidence; he leaves it to Vhaerys to disabuse him of the notion, if she is so inclined.

Naturally, like before, Vhaegor follows behind Rhaegor as they both enter the newly corpseless room. This time, his hands are carefully held behind his back and well away from his sword hilt, and he even greets Vhaerys with a low dip of his head and a murmured, "Cousin," before he lets the other two talk. For his part, he seems completely unaware of any previous secrecy about whatever this pavilion question was, but he does seem to understand that it was a private conversation beforehand and tries not to look too interested.

Dragons are in Rhaegor Targaryen's eyes; dragons are reflected back to him by Princess Vhaerys's violet gaze, in a communion which leaves out the third in the chamber even before, with a glance which takes him in en route to an empty chair across the chamber where it lingers longer, she affects deliberately to misunderstand. "You suggested that we might dance together," she recalls; "had you it in mind to invite young Vhaegor to savour the pavilion's heat in our company…?" Her remaining servant fills the other goblets and, in answer to a quick flick of her hand, takes herself away with a curtsey. "I wonder," she eyes Vhaegor again, this time rather longer and with her lips curving into a speculative expression, "whether he'd find it agreeable."

Vhaerys remains an object of study, where Rhaegor is concerned. She deflects him handily, and he does not mistake it for what it is, but he does seem at least mildly irritated to be made to speak of something he'd neither desired nor intended to. Still, she is an elder cousin, and he defers to her as such, even if he does surveil her with his stare. "Vhaegor has often seen me dance. In fact, you will the both of you have the opportunity when I claim my satisfaction from Daevon's swordman." He chooses one of the goblets of wine, and does not remark on the superfluous third goblet on the tray.

Vhaegor, not being completely deaf or dumb, has a fairly firm grasp on what exactly is being said, even if it's not really being said. "You dance well, Cousin," he comments, breaking his sort-of silence briefly before he looks to that third goblet. Is it for him? Is it a trap? After a few seconds, he decides he's not thirsty enough to risk it and turns back to inspect the room slowly, anything to occupy his focus so he can pretend like he could care less that it's being suggested he's not really Targaryen enough to stand what is most likely a very hot mystery pavilion.

Red silk sways about Vhaerys's lean, muscular frame as she comes inside from her balcony, her goblet held low in one hand. "Ah, yes… Daevon," she drawls. "I hear so much of that young man of late. Usually that he is 'the pretty one'," she rolls her eyes at the chair upon which her eyes rested a moment ago, and segues for a phrase into what would sound like High Valyrian to a casual ear but to a fluent speaker hovers somewhere beyond the edge of comprehension, "but I don't see it, myself. I can think of him only as the boy whose brought his precious goats to this manse whilst I was away," she utters bitterly; "and didn't even trouble to keep them all secure. Plants I nurtured for years were eaten — others savaged — the garden was so changed I hardly receognised it. The Maiden's Knight — the Knight of Goats, he ought to be styled. Give him a scar for me, Rhaegor, will you? If you have the leisure," she hastens to add, inclining her head towards him, "betwixt settling your own scores."

Rhaegor clearly doesn't give a single fuck about the garden or goats or any of the rest of it. Her lamenting inspires not a single comment on any of the same from him, but at the last, he says, "I do not face Daevon in the duel; Desmond Snow accepted the challenge on his behalf." It suits him fine. Desmond was the one who paid him the initial insult, even if Daevon elected to defend the bastard over his blood. Now he looks to Vhaegor, rather than to Vhaerys. "Will you stand as my second, cousin?" he asks. A further declaration of esteem and trust for the dark-haired Targaryen for Vhaerys to witness.

"I would be honored," Vhaegor replies, failing utterly to sound as if this was the first time he's ever been asked to stand as Rhaegor's second in a duel. Still, he does seem genuine, and even gives Rhaegor a little nod in appreciation of being recognized. For a moment, he even reconsiders that goblet that may or may not be a trap. He even starts to walk towards it, but halfway there thinks better of it and approaches one of the candles to inspect it momentarily.

The fact is that Daevon Targaryen defends goats also over his own blood.

At the mention of a Desmond Snow Vhaerys's pale eyebrows lift; "I must have been misinformed," she allows, with an air of mild disappointment that she is to be denied the sight of the goat-fancier's adolescent features ground into the dirt by a true specimen of Targaryen manhood.

Several long-legged strides take her to the high-backed, thronelike gilded chair which marches with the one to which her eyes so often revert. She sits, upright and at her ease, the base of her goblet resting upon the chair's arm with her long fingers to steady it; "You make quite a point of the esteem in which you hold Vhaegor," she remarks to Rhaegor. "Why not, if we are all kin here," and given the kin they are, she favours her visitors with an ironic smile, "dispense with your diplomatic circumlocutions and simply say aloud what it is you wish us to know of him, and why you brought him to meet us?"

Rhaegor clasps Vhaegor on the shoulder appreciatively as he passes, watching his once-squire become suddenly enthralled by a candle, but without comment. And he might usually allow for Vhaerys's subtle remark to go unanswered, too, except that the fever still broils in his mind and in his flesh, rendering him not so well in control of his mood as he might otherwise be. His words are a little sharp, accordingly. "Because he is due my esteem, and yours. He has never wavered in his service to our blood." The rest of his wine is consumed, and then the empty goblet is returned to the tray, where two full ones still stand on account of Vhaegor's distrust.

Rather than indulge Vhaerys with what he'd originally intended, perhaps disinclined now on account of her initial reception, he instead asks, "How often do you bring the dead to your rooms?"

Vhaegor's appreciation for Vhaerys's candle fades as he's suddenly kind of accepted — or in the case of Rhaegor, vehemently defended. "You're too kind, Cousin. I do only what I can, as is expected of me," he replies, deciding at that moment, he'll have that wine goblet after all. Before he even reaches the table, he's changed his mind again and is instead focused on Rhaegor and Vhaerys, finally able to stop pretending as if he only sort of exists. Then the conversation turns to the dead and he's denied once more the chance to be in on a secret.

Boy is he getting thirsty.

Vhaerys's cool, clinical eyes wander from Rhaegor to Vhaegor to Rhaegor again. "That is what I have heard of him; by your repetition, you certainly lend credence; and yet we do not know him," she points out, "save by repute." Her words aren't coloured by any especial feeling. To her it's a simple fact, a simple justification for not wishing to discuss her more private business. She is on the point of adding some other remark when Rhaegor diverts her: "Oh, it depends what can be had that's fresh enough," is her frank explanation. "The Citadel usually keeps the most valuable specimens," she sniffs, "but after a number of maesters were lost to the plague I have this year had the pleasure of a great deal of practical experience. One can only learn so much from books, or from observing dissections conducted by others… it's useful, tremendously useful, to put one's hand to a scalpel and see what one can see. Why do you ask…? I always supposed you to be more interested in dealing death by your hands, than in investigating its causes." Again she speaks with genuine curiosity, ever the seeker after knowledge.

Rhaegor cedes the point. "I merely encourage you come to know him," he suggests, without explicitly outlining to what end. He does, though, meet Vhaegor's stare, his own seeming to suggest it will be a matter of further discussion between the two of them. Hang in there, little buddy. You exist.

This proclivity of Vhaerys's was clearly previously unknown to him, though he absorbs her explanation in silence, his expression detatched but not disinterested. After all, their rooms are close enough together in the hall that he has cause to wonder how often she's been engaged in studying some unfortunate corpse's anatomy while he studied Emira of Dorne's. "To what end?" he wonders aloud. "Do you apply your craft to the living, as well?" In a healing capacity, he no doubt means, rather than a dissecting one.

Vhaegor looks from Rhaegor to Vhaerys as the latter is invited to get to know him. Some people might offer a smile here, or something to seem less stand-offish. Vhaegor simply continues to wear an overcast expression, perfectly expressing the level of amusement he's had so far in this conversation he's primarily been an observer for. As for healing, it just so happens Vhaegor isn't entirely inexperienced in that field, oddly enough, and suddenly he's vaguely interested again. True, his experience hardly extends past the knowledge needed to tend to wounded soldiers, but the theoretical knowledge is at least partially there.

Rhaegor's latest commendation of Vhaegor is received with a regal inclination of Vhaerys's white-golden head, quite as though she's willing to consider the man's merits. The forthcoming results of her consideration… well, to those she can hardly speak so soon, can she? "I haven't often the opportunity. Though if one of your dancing partners should have uncanny luck and there isn't a maester to hand, you may call upon me — I sew neatly enough," she confides, a credible claim from a woman about whom all is symmetry and precision. Her gaze shifts then to Vhaegor, the silent one, who in his prowlings has hardly addressed a word to her: "Have you decided after all that we are of greater interest than the reflections of our candles?"

"I did not wish to intrude on your conversation," Vhaegor offers up by way of explanation as to why he felt the need to examine candles instead of join in. Then, with the ghost of a smile, he continues simply: "Though I feel the need to mention, luck will not be enough for any of our cousin's dance partners to do any lasting harm." He doesn't even seem to be offering up idle conversation or flattery, either. There's a deep-seated faith in Rhaegor evident in his tone, the kind of faith only an ex-squire might have. "The Northman is large and slow. Even while I was fending off Ser Malcolm he was unable to touch me in the melee, and I am barely half the swordsman Rhaegor is."

It's not that Rhaegor is modest, but that he isn't vain. "The Seven will decide the matter," he says, as if it were someone else's duel that he himself had little stake in. "I only hope that there is no interference in the arbitration of it." He does not name the quarters that he anticipates interference might originate from. In any case, he has finished his wine and Vhaegor seems disinclined to attempt any himself, so Rhaegor suggests, "The hour grows late. We should leave you, cousin. We will speak of dragons another evening." And even though he'd gotten a little fresh with her on Vhaegor's behalf, Rhaegor now inclines his head in perfect due accord to Vhaerys, in advance of their departure.

Their hostess looks to each man as he speaks and once again to the empty chair separated from hers by an occasional table: "Another evening," she agrees tranquilly, sparing no effort to retain Rhaegor's company when one visitor can patently not be had without the other.

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