(122-12-16) What Groweth in the Middle Ground
What Growth in the Middle Ground
Summary: Two older Targaryens cultivate together a middle ground — and plant in it thoughts of dragons, dreams, and what they've been reading lately.
Date: 16/12/2015
Related: References to the Dhraegon/Marsei wedding, wedding feast, and tourney.

Dhraegon has been reclusive since the Wedding night, but he's known to get overstimulated when there are big gatherings. Flox has been letting in visitors today though. One at a time. He is sitting by the window wearing pastel blue and green, long white hair loose and fanned out around him like a cloak. He is singing softly and very off key to a small, spikey white flower inder glass. There is a pitcher and a tray of cups near to hand. He seems calm, and appears to me recovering from all the excitement.

The flower is called Asphodel, a rare bloom of Old Valyria that still grows in wet years on the Penisula and down into slaver's bay. A small dose will grant a deep sleep with vivid but pleasant dreams. A very slightly larger one gives dreams from which the sleeper will not wake. The difference between the doses is very hard to calculate.

Mounting so many flights of stairs to call upon a man who is as like as not walled up in his pillow fort and not receiving visitors, is the gesture more of a friend than a mere cousin. It is in this capacity that Princess Vhaerys Targaryen presents herself at the chambers of the newly-wedded Prince Dhraegon, attired as the dragonrider she was, in dark red leathers over a black silk shirt (quite the sartorial statement for the Hightower) and with her whitening gold braids flowing down to her waist.

She deposits her retinue in one of the Hightower's many incidental sitting-rooms, for one does not inflict extra company upon Dhraegon, even that of a lady-in-waiting whose colouring and bearing alike mark her as a daughter of House Velaryon, if not a minor Targaryen herself; and bestows a reserved nod upon Flox, who by his unswerving care for one who needs it has earned more of her notice than most who don't bear Valyrian surnames; and enters with little ado but a sharp tang of citrus, cypress, and bergamot, which to her cousin's sensitive nose must mark her before he even sees her, as either Vhaerys or Vhaeron, or in her mind's eye perhaps both.

She comes straight to him, her strides quiet and confident in soft-soled leather boots — or straight to the plant? "A treasure…" she judges, without preliminaries. Yes, the plant. "But not without its price, I think."

Flox bows her in, the picture of respect and quiet service. Cousin Dhraegon makes a happy squeal on seeing her and comes at her arms open for a hug, but stopping just short to let her decide, "Vhaeron! It's been forever! You smell wonderful! Did you hear I am wed after all? I saw Vhaerys at the Sept!" He giggles happily, "She is very pretty, don't you think? I gave her daughter to My Tiger Lily as a courting gift!"

To Vhaerys it's natural to hear her twin-husband greeted with such enthusiasm — she exchanges a knowing look with him; he does smell wonderful — and regrettably so also to see Dhraegon homing in upon her for a hug. For the briefest instant her lips press together — but one knows what one is getting into when one calls upon Dhraegon. It's inevitable. She lifts her hands in a gesture of moderate welcome, and returns his embrace with a gentle pat for his back, those long white tresses silky beneath her hand. He's family. One tolerates family as one must, when they show one such kindness in return.

Nonetheless she's quick to step away, bending over the glass dome which protects his prize. "I haven't seen asphodel in a long time…" she muses. "Where did you come across it?" And then, straightening as she recalls what she came here to ask, "How is marriage agreeing with you, cousin?"

Dhraegon's hug is gentle and his hands stay in appropriate places as they do with him, the hold just wide enough for the two of them. He smells of vanilla and lavander, his breath is citrusy, and he smells sober. He releases her after the pat, beaming, "You really do look well." He beams as she mentions the flower, "Flox has arangements with ship captains to bring rare specimins, I have had her a decade and she has only had the one daughter." He is as proud as if he were the father in the flesh. He blushes at her question, "I was terrified when they said I was to marry and I… did not handle it well. The first lady fled after meeting me, but it is better now. My Iris and I understand each other, for all she isn't… well… you understand. She is gentle and kind and she likes flowers and cakes. We are fond of each other."

Perhaps she looks especially well to one who remembers her fourteen years ago, a gaunt creature with her belly swollen by pregnancy, hardly eating enough to keep herself and her child alive — some may account the present Princess Vhaerys irreparably damaged in her mind, but to all appearances her lean, muscular form, as tall as most men, is the picture of health. She hardly even looks her years as she sits down in a chair near his, near also the window and the clear strong afternoon light, crossing one leg over the other at the knee, her violet gaze tempted still by the blooming asphodel.

"If you are fond," she says after a moment, "I am pleased for you." And if there were a record of all her utterances, it would show this is the nicest thing she has ever said about a Targaryen marrying an Andal. Her curiosity then gets the better of her. "'For all she isn't'…?" she quotes softly. She knows what she thinks he means, but with Dhraegon…?

Dhraegon blushes, "Well, what can be more attractive than a brother or siter? But I have none that lived. Would you like some honeyed lemon water?" He blushers again, "I am trying really hard not to drink before the sun sets and Flox keeps the key to stronger things."

To that Vhaerys can only nod, with regret for all she understands not only of Dhraegon's circumstances in life — but what in a gentler world they might have been. "Perhaps in time Lady Marsei will seem more a sister to you," she suggests, though without a great show of confidence. No Hightower could approach so nearly the mysteries of dragonkind. "Lemon water would be most refreshing, thank you, after climbing your stairs… You do have a remarkable view," she allows, having oriented herself to admire that as well as his delicate little plant, "up here. I haven't seen it in too long." Her late absence from Oldtown was oddly protracted, and has not been explained.

Dhraegon pours her lemon water and tops off his own. He flashes her a shy smile, "I hope so, Vhae and you are kind to wish it…. How do things go with you generally? You really do look well." He giggles, "I like it up here and there is plenty of light for the plants. The garden at the dragon manse was too close to the stables." He shudders, "I could hear them in there! Making those creepy sounds!" He imitates a whinny badly and shudders again, "And the air is so much cleaner.

"We're both well," confirms Vhaerys, with one eye on where someone might, for instance, be examining the construction of Dhraegon's pillow fort; she lowers her voice and leans nearer as she accepts the lemon water. "Not only horses — I heard sheep baa-ing out there one morning a week or so ago. And Visenya's dragonets, of course," upon which thought her censorious expression can only soften into a smile which succeeds in reaching her eyes, "but the sight of them basking on the roof of the pavilion is such a feast for the eyes that I can forgive a few singed treetops. Your plants are far safer here, to be sure — I've long since taken cuttings of anything I value and put them in pots on my balconies, but the constant need for replanting down below has me in despair of growing anything to maturity again." And there is the vexed Vhaerys again, forced to live in a world where there are things which don't stay exactly where she puts them and grow exactly upon her schedule.

It is an excellent Pillow Fort, the chairs turned inward to use as shelves for provisions and an oppulent supply of blankets and pillows within. Dhraegon takes his pillow fort construction seriously. "Ooo! They must have had some of the goats in for milking." He sighs, "It tooks months to fix the guarden after the plague, even with Flox fencing off the really rare things. Those goats save lives though. I hope my Rosebud likes it here. That's my riding bull! A gift from the Starks and much more dignified than a horse and less likely to eat anyone…. Ormund was so kind! He let me plan and have planted a special garden here as a betrothal gift!"

The ex-dragonrider Vhaerys can't quite bring herself to applaud the idea of a Targaryen riding a bull. It is against nature. She changes the subject. Not to one likely to be a delight to her cousin — but in deference to his sensibilities she attempts to phrase as delicately as she can this question she has been pouring lately into sympathetic ears… "Did you witness the dance of Syrax and Veraxion, at your wedding tournament? Perhaps I should say," her smile broadens, "concluding your wedding tournament."

Luckily, Dhraegon is good at not noticing sex in the natural world. "I was in my pillow fort and only saw a little of the fight when Marsei came to get me for a picnic somewhere… less exposed. At our betrothal party there was the trouble with the dragon and the Maester."

He thinks it was a fight. All right; Vhaerys presses on. "You are some years older than I, Dhraegon. I wondered whether perhaps you might have seen two dragons, one of them yellow or gold, behaving in such a manner before — fighting without flame, dancing together so exquisitely up in the blue… Perhaps," she suggests, "when I was yet a small child."

Dhraegon beams at her and nods, "I have seen many dragons fight over Dragonstone. High spirits I expect! Almost as bad as horses!"

This is the wrong man to ask, obviously. But he's the only cousin of the necessary vintage at hand in Oldtown; Vhaerys contemplates him with analytical violet eyes across the rim of her cup of honeyed lemon water. "As have I; but this fight was an unusual one," she presses, "something I feel I have seen — and yet I know I cannot have seen." She catches her lower lip between her teeth and looks away to Dhraegon's lofty windows, as though the intensity of her cogitation could conjure a similar sight into the sky without. "There is no mention of such in my journals," exhaustive documents, going back forty years, "and I begin to think… it can only have been a dream."

Dhraegon lightly touches the back of her hand with a big baby soft fingertip, "Might you have had a dragon dream? Young Bryn gets them. He has strong blood for all his mother wasn't one of us. Perhaps you dreamed a true dream and half forgot?"

Vhaerys's hand upon the table tenses at the unexpected touch but remains still; she looks back to Dhraegon and shakes her head a fraction beneath the weight of her pale braids. "Those aren't dreams one can forget." A short sigh escapes her and she avails herself again of the lemon water, which by her own abstemious nature she considers an unexceptionable alternative to wine. "Rhaegor suggested a fever dream — I don't recall ever suffering such a fever. I am left to suppose that it was, indeed, a memory from when I was a babe in arms… and Vhaelyx still my father's mount." Hence her question to a cousin nine years her senior, who has lived always near dragons.

Dhraegon pours a third cup which he slides towards he brother's chair as he says quietly, "Well, there used to be a gold dragon, called that, but it fell. You could be thinking of that one…. You did have a bad fever once, when you were….I do wish babies grew on vines like melons. It's so dangerous for women and they get fevers and… and things. Baby eggs on vines would be much better and we ARE Dragons. Dragons have eggs. We could too."

Enough is suggestive in Dhraegon's vague murmurings that Vhaerys's gaze slides sideways after that third cup, intent upon a point in space a couple of feet above where it rests on the table. "Did I?" she inquires of the one who would be surest to know. Whatever answer she alone can hear it doesn't content her; she looks back to Dhraegon and shakes her head and purses her lips. "You both seem to know more about me than I do myself… Eggs," she agrees, "for our two-legged children as well would be a blessing. If they weren't too big."

She falls into an uneasy silence, her forearms resting against the edge of the table, her attention reverting to the much less troubling subject of the asphodel. "Do you ever put it to use?" she asks at last.

Dhraegon lets it drop. Dhraegon has planted the seed and is patient. If she is ready it will sprout; if she isn't, no matter. He beams at her. Finally someone understands about the baby eggs, "If they had a leathery shell it would keep the birds out! It would be much better and kinder to the women and those who care about them I think." He gives her a quizzical look as he struggles to follow her thought, "You mean Asphodel? Sniffing her makes me a little sleepy so I do not take her out often and she needs the glass to keep her warm enough. She needs it to be very wet and warm or she goes back to sleep beneath the earth."

Keep the— yes. Eggs on vines. Vhaerys follows. Nearing sixty, and over six foot, Dhraegon resembles in these matters a child of six. "Then she's fortunate," and she adopts his pronoun for the plant, without for a moment considering that it's a kindness akin to the pouring of that third cup of honeyed lemon water, "to have a dragon to tend her…" She clasps her hands, rubbing one over the other as though still unsettled by their talk. "I apologise, Dhraegon, for not remaining longer at your wedding feast — my head ached, Vhaeron took me home," she admits, by which she means she had a feeling she needed rest more than society. It's simple when you understand her.

Dhraegon beams at his cousin, "I take very good care of her. She is one of my favories!" He pats her hand gently again, barely touching her, "And that was the Princely thing to do when a Princess needs rest." He appears to look between her and her invisible twin as if confirming his agreement for both. he wrinkles his nose, "To be honest I get a little… Feasts can be really hard, but the wine helps and I like it when everything gets alll distant and spinny like none of it is real and it goes all quiet inside."

With the fond look of a wife for her husband of three decades, though she be equal parts princess, warrior, and dragonrider, Vhaerys regards that point in the air where she still sees his face and concedes, "We like the quiet when we go home again." Once again making an approach to Dhraegon, to meet him where his idiosyncrasies march with her own; for instance, "What have you read lately? Or have you not had time enough to yourself?"

Dhraegon follows her gaze, expression friendly enough, nothing in his pale gaze suggesting he isn't seeing what she is seeing, "It's good you found such a comfortable home, after so much wandering. I hope to feel that way about this room. I've spent so much time being sent from one place to another….Oh!" And he is up, bouncing over to his bedroom shelf to show her a thin folio of flower pictures, "Some Maester returned from the Summer Ilses with sketches some time back and they are making copies now, though it is slow because of the time the illuminations take."

The princess receives the folio with hands as cautious and respectful as its owner could possibly wish; and out of habit she moves the cups out of the way, murmuring an apology to Vhaeron as she shifts his as well; and then she opens it upon the table to peruse with freshly serene eyes each drawing in succession. "When the work is of this quality one can hardly be surprised…" she muses, tracing with one neat, short-nailed fingertip the outline of a delicate tendril a third of an inch above the page. "I shall have to see about a copy of this." But meanwhile she is transfixed by her cousin's — reading the notes with lightning speed and lingering over the pictures, turning ahead only to turn back again, noting (as he's bound to note her noting) the similarities between certain of these arcane foreign species.

The text lists the properties of the plants, care and feeding, but it is mostly pictures of exotic blooms, lovingly rendered by a real artist. Likely the folio was very expensive. Dhrae makes a mental note to see if a copy might be ready in the beginning of March. He gives her a big goofy smile. Of course she gets it! "There has been lots of fitting for clothing and excitment, but there is always time for plants."

The quieter but still broad smile with which Vhaerys greets the advent of knowledge both valuable and pleasurable, lifts to meet her cousin's. "I'd go mad if I hadn't time to sit quietly with a book every day," she opines.

Dhraegon says, "And I would go mad without a good garden. I am glad to see you." His gaze includes the invisible Prince and there is nothing in his eyes and smile suggesting any clue that anything might be wrong in the room, sanity wise. "What have you been reading?"

"My journals," intones Vhaerys drily. Task enough, one might suppose; but then she relents and mentions a study of the architecture of Volantis by a long-dead archmaester, the pictures in which she praises and pledges to show him in turn, when next they should meet.

Surely even Flox will have no complaints regarding an hour which passes in such cosy familial peace, attended by nothing stronger than honeyed lemon water and the hues of the blossoms on page eight.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License