(122-12-18) Awkward Sauna
Awkward Sauna
Summary: Princess Vhaerys Targaryen summons Prince Vhaegor for a little chat in the sweltering (to outsiders) garden pavilion, to settle in her own mind once and for all the question of his colouring and his blood. Their awkward small talk takes in time still less comfortable turns.
Date: 18/12/2015 and then 31/12/2015 (attack of the holiday season)
Related: None

The message which reaches Prince Vhaegor Targaryen, writ not upon parchment but delivered in the soft, sweet voice of a dragonseed handmaiden who appears before him with her eyes downcast and her hands folded before her waist. Her mistress, Princess Vhaerys, requests his attendance in the garden pavilion.

The garden itself is as usual in these balmy summer days a busy place; thus the princess's privacy is guarded by another handmaiden, attired like the first in pale violet linen, as like unto her as a sister.

Beneath its domed roof of red and black and colourless class the pavilion's black marble has been soaking up the heat of the sun for many hours. To walk into it is to sweat and to stifle, if one is any ordinary person — or to feel pleasantly at home if one's veins run with the true Blood of the Dragon. Thus the ease with which the princess sits upon her black marble bench, soaking up the stone's warmth through the finely-tooled dark red leather of her vest and breeches, and her black silk shirt beneath. Again her hair is in long braids, rippling over each shoulder, uncannily neat and un-wispy. Her eyes were shut; they open with the pavilion's door, already upon the shape of Prince Vhaegor silhouetted against the brighter light beyond, alert and cool and curious.

Parchment might have been easier to put off for a few hours, but as Vhaegor is delivered this message from one of Vhaerys' dragonseed maidens, he finds it desperately difficult to avoid. In truth, the idea of stepping into the pavilion sets his nerves on edge. For so long, he's trusted his mother on her word alone, something that's never felt quite as inadequate as it does now, standing before the black pavilion in the walled garden of Dragon Door Manse. Noticably, he hesitates just outside the door, lingering a mere step away from the potentially suffocating heat of what could be proof for or against him, before he finally steps inside.

For a moment, he holds his breath, worried, but he eventually takes in air, breathing deeply and… comfortably. What should be oppressive is actually quite homey, and for once Vhaegor lets a bit of emotion color his expression with a hint of pride and relief, before it fades away to leave his normally stoic gaze in its wake. "Cousin," he greets, now more sure than he has ever been of the accuracy of the word, "Are you well? Your handmaiden said you required my presence." For now, he pretends as if he's unaware of what was most likely, the primary reason he was called out here today, simply affecting an unconvincingly curious tone.

"Won't you sit…?" inquires Vhaerys silkily, her hand lifting from her lap to indicate the bench most nearly opposite her own. The movement brings from shadow into light a golden ring in which a vast black pearl glows amidst a swirl of smaller pigeon's blood rubies. Targaryen colours, repeated again and again, about her person and in the patterns of light cast upon the pavilion's floor of black marble and red jasper. "I am well indeed," she concedes with a nod of her head, "and I do trust you are the same." A pause.

Vhaegor looks around briefly before selecting a bench he feels is close enough to Vhaerys to be polite, but far enough away to maintain their personal space. "I am content for the moment," he admits, glancing about at the near lack of any color other than black or red in the pavilion. Even he contributes with a pair of black breeches paired together with a light, loose fitting red tunic with black trim, all very simply done save for the expense of the fine fabric and the ornate leather swordbelt that rests on his hips. "Rhaegor was visited by Ser Desmond just recently. He asked after his health and sought his council on a… knightly matter. It was all very civil."

The princess's wide mouth curves into a smile bereft of any particular humour. "I imagine Oldtown's newest anointed knight requires a great deal of counsel in… knightly matters," she agrees; "at least those more subtle and complex than hammering a man till he falls over. Northmen have a bent for that, I've observed." Another of those pauses, during which her purpose and his apprehension remain unacknowledged — and perspiration notably fails to bead upon his forehead. "How is Rhaegor, in your opinion?"

"Recovering," Vhaegor replies instantly, no trace of hesitation or real concern anywhere present in his confident response. "He's still unsteady on his feet, but that should pass with time. Soon enough he will be as before with little more than a few new scars as lingering evidence of his injuries." After a moment, he seems about to add something, but he stops and shakes his head, letting the pause linger, apparently letting whatever he was going to say drop.

Vhaerys lets out a soft breath. Her expression hardly shifts as she taps into a bottomless reservoir of cynicism. "Ah, Vhaegor. Saying to me what you'd say to anyone who asked you in the street. Such loyalty. Such devotion. It touches me to my very core." It doesn't. "Tell me, is there any matter we might discuss, upon which I'd hear Vhaegor's words rather than Rhaegor's…?"

She may not exactly mean it as a compliment, but Vhaegor takes it as one anyway. "There are few matters that we do not see eye to eye on," he admits, shifting comfortably in his seat, "Personal matters, perhaps, but I can not imagine they'd interest you in the slightest." He thinks for a moment, clearly racking his brain before letting out a sigh and shaking his head, "He taught me just about everything I know. I fought beside him and he saved my life several times." Apparently this is enough, in Vhaegor's eyes, to have near identical points of view. Or at least, to never betray the thoughts and opinions of his mentor.

… Except inasmuch as he betrays them moment by moment by uttering them aloud, or by his innocent, shining adherence to an agreed-upon line Vhaerys's keen gaze can pierce with truly scant effort. "If you prefer to be a follower all your days, if that suits your ambitions, you're right — it doesn't interest me in the slightest," she agrees. "I'll say only it's a misfortune for Rhaegor that you were not born his sister." There, yes, a hint of a real smile, as she pictures the red and black light upon him as his wedding cloak.

Vhaegor blinks once, then twice, clearly caught off guard. The allusion to marrying Rhaegor had he been born female is, for the moment at least, completely ignored. "I… I do not… I'm not simply a follower," he finally retorts, the slightest hint of a defensive tone creeping into his voice, "He trained me. He saved my life many times and he defended my…" he trails off, catching himself before he mentions the very reason he's out here directly. After a slight pause, he breathes out, settling himself and allowing the emotion to drip right back out of his voice, "It's true that I am loyal to Rhaegor, but that doesn't mean I am without my own goals and desires, Cousin."

Yes, yes, a defensive rather than an aggressive tone from this man who is not simply a follower. Vhaerys affects to agree with him; her braids shift as she nods along with his words. "You were the youngest knight in the history of the Seven Kingdoms," she purrs, "of course you have goals and desires of your own, in plenitude, and your destiny is to be a great man of our times. And that is why… you compete in tournaments?" A quirk of her eyebrows. "You do your duty in defense of the Red Keep, among many others. From time to time you make these little pilgrimages to wherever Rhaegor may be, to stand two feet behind him and fall silent when he speaks, in gratitude to a man who defended you when you could not defend yourself. At four and twenty you remain unwed: neither your descendants nor your own deeds seem likely to resound through history.

"And you wonder, Vhaegor," she laughs quietly, "why I wonder; and why despite Rhaegor's proud, fond recommendations of you to my notice I look upon you still as a shadow of a prince."

Still, for a dark-haired dragon there's some measure of recognition to be found in this slur upon his character rather than his colouring.

"That was merely… There were outstanding circumstances," Vhaegor begins, but immediately quiets as Vhaerys continues, only to realize he's further proving her point by meekly shutting up. Again, emotion starts to crack through his trained, stoic shell as a heavy frown crosses his face. "I…" he begins, then closes his mouth, contemplating how exactly to respond. "What exactly would you have me do?" he asks, his question a mixture of anger and genuine curiosity, "I… I am not a lackwit. I know my situation. My station in life. My 'options' are limited."

The princess rises lithely and takes a step nearer, her pale golden hair lent a reddish halo by the very light behind and above which throws her own face into shadow as she regards the prince she has just accused of living all his days in that condition. Her stance, as befits her past training and her present garb, is subtly more that of a warrior than a gently-bred lady — though it can hardly be said that Vhaegor, who has met her of late under circumstances reliably unusual, requires reminding that she's a dangerous creature in whose company even Rhaegor himself displays respectful caution.

A face shadowed, surrounded by light, isn't the easiest to look into: but violet eyes are staring straight out into Vhaegor's, holding him fast. "It is by holding such foolish beliefs," Vhaerys informs him coolly, "and by displaying them to all you meet — in your deferential posture, your discreet eyes, your obedient silence before your betters — that you foster the belief you're no true Targaryen." Another step, and she reaches out to brush over his forehead and down his cheek fingertips which despite the heat of the pavilion remain only pleasantly warm, as well as pleasantly soft. She turns her hand palm-up, as though to show off to him… the absence of anything.

"You're not sweating," she points out, "and you would be if you weren't one of us. But if you don't believe you're a dragon — if you don't know it in your blood and in your bone, in your waking hours and in your dreams — then you're not." Her strong shoulders shrug into black silk. "And the others of our house will treat you as a lackey, a tool to be used, a carpet to be trampled upon, till there's nothing left of the man you might have been; they will overlook you at every turn, and this you'll accept as your due; and none will notice your death."

When Vhaerys stands, Vhaegor's eyes follow, his frown lightening marginally. He doesn't shrink or turn away from her hand, though he's clearly unsure as to what she's doing, exactly. When it becomes obvious, his frown alleviates entirely and he turns away, his hand going to palm his forehead, clearly still distressed by the way the conversation has turned. "I am no lackey," he murmurs, all trace of curiosity gone, leaving behind only anger as he suddenly rises to his feet, dark eyes meeting violet again.

"I have fought for this family, bled for this family, and killed for this family all to gain the respect I am due. The respect that is withheld from me simply because my hair is dark," he reaches up to take a few strands of his perfectly black hair between two fingers before releasing it. "I know I am a Targaryen, a Dragon. It is they who doubt it," he declares, pointing sharply towards the outside world. "Rhaegor is the only one who has never questioned my lineage. Who has never judged me lesser than him simply because of my appearance. He trained me, he knighted me, and he trusted me, and I can not simply ignore that. So I am unwed, so… So I follow his guidance rather than…" His bluster starts to fade, the anger either turning inward or dissipating, "So I act in his interest before my own…"

With a grunt, he suddenly cuts off and turns away, walking slowly towards another corner of the sauna to angrily thump his fist against a thicker bit of wall. "Perhaps it is true that I am not precisely where I hoped I would be," he relents after a bit of sullen silence, "However, I can not simply abandon Rhaegor to pursue my own interests without abandoning my honor." He glances back towards Vhaerys again and stares at her with something approaching shock as he begins to register his outburst, though it fades away into the protective mask of stoicism that he more commonly wears, though no apology is forthcoming.

Vhaerys Targaryen of course has lived her life as a dragon among dragons. Nothing has been smashed, torn, or set aflame — to her this hardly qualifies as an outburst. Rather it's a muted imitation of true Targaryen temperament, as everything else about this boy is carefully muted, restrained, controlled, quenched, for fear of being deemed a poor and untrustworthy tool and being pushed further to the outside. She turns slightly to track him with her gaze but stands otherwise as proud and as tranquil as a statue, as though there were marble rather than flesh beneath her well-fitted red leather and black silk, as though however he may rage she'll remain apart, untouched, for such small personal troubles as his couldn't possibly concern her.

"It will avail you nothing," she observes, "waiting to be given respect as a dog awaits his bone," with which thought she breathes out harder, something like a snort, humourless, "all the while convinced others will necessarily withhold what you crave…" She gives a slow shake of her head. "You say you're no lackey — and yet what else can you be considered when you leave your honour bound up all in one man, and that man not your own self? Do you mean to suggest it is a requirement of Rhaegor's greatness that those closest to him remain small men — never rising to his own heights? That you can honour his virtues and his principles and prove the value of the life he saved only from a lowly position in his service — never as his equal, his ally, a puissant and powerful prince dominating the Seven Kingdoms as his comrade in truth? … No," she sighs brusquely; rubies flash as she lifts a hand to forestall his answer, "you find it easier where you are, don't you? And so the prevarications, the excuses. You were correct. You don't interest me in the slightest."

Whatever resolution he made with himself in those brief moments as his 'outburst' dwindled, it is apparently sturdy enough to shore up Vhaegor's defenses and allow him to maintain his neutral, uncaring mask as Vhaerys declares him uninteresting. "If that is the case," he returns, once again devoid of any evidence betraying his emotions, "I will take my leave. I would not want to waste your incredibly valuable time on someone who does not warrant your interest." He does not wait for dismissal, for agreement, or even recognition that he has even spoke. Instead, he turns on his heel and calmly strides from the sauna without a backwards glance.

Woe to the first servant Vhaegor comes across, however…

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