(122-12-28) To Court a Marriage Contract
To Court a Marriage Contract
Summary: Rhaegor and Vhaerys Targ it up.
Date: 28 December 2015
Related: The Memory of Heat

It is suggested to several lesser scions of the royal house that their business in the garden pavilion is finished for the day; whereupon Princess Vhaerys Targaryen's dragonseed handmaidens move in with a luxurious carpet and cushions all in shades of red, spicy mulled wine and a brazier to keep it warm, and a pair of goblets. Only a pair — for Prince Rhaegor's suggestion to his cousin was that they two should meet again, and not they three. The pavilion was her contribution to the scheme, but the inspiration to occupy it so often his. And so they are in conspiracy.

She is present when he arrives, sitting cross-legged on the carpet in the same golden leathers she wore the last time they encountered one another within these black stone walls, and what is presumably a different white silk shirt. Behind her one of the dragonseed girls kneels with her head bowed and her hands upon her shoulders, kneading an ache from her muscles, as she gazes pensively into the depths of the brazier, into the glowing coals.

Rhaegor attends dressed in black. His favorite color. The transformation of the pavilion is noted with a flick of his gaze from ornament to ornament; the rug, the brazier, the cushions, the handmaiden. And then his attention settles on Vhaerys. "Are you certain this is wise?" he asks, stepping further into the pavilion, approaching the place where he presumes she intends him to sit. He is much more mobile, by this point, but the floor is rather a far way away and his ribs are still tender.

Vhaerys's eyes remain on the brazier when her cousin comes in — she knows perfectly well who it is; she has a guard outside to be certain of it — and only looks up from the coals, seeing them still, when he speaks. "You tell me," she suggests. "I thought we might try," her lips twist ironically, "the Dornish style today; but you must sit where you feel comfortable." Here, now, alone with a favoured cousin and a servant so intimate she doesn't count, everything in her own demeanour is comfortable already, as never when Rhaegor brings his squire, or his betrothed, into her presence.

Rhaegor tries. The effort only seems to grieve him a little, but he lays a hand upon his side to brace himself. He sits with one knee up, upon which he rests an elbow, the other to flat upon the ground. His airs are easy, too. It is a simple thing, to be the Blood of the Dragon when in the company of the Blood of the Dragon. No need for masques. For pretenses. For airs. Like speaks to Like.

His eyes go to the dragonseed handmaiden, knelt before the brazier. "Whose is she?" he asks, of her bloodline. Like it's a question that he's wondered before but only now presents to Vhaerys. He watches the girl at her task, as if he might discern the answer for himself by studying her. The first indication he has given that he's noticed her handmaidens at all.

The question surprises Vhaerys. She cranes her neck, looking back at the lovely young creature whose hands are engaged upon massaging the knots from her shoulders — as though to remind herself of which one this is.

Her eyes then find Rhaegor's. "Her grandfather was a king," she explains quietly, "although I don't see the need for telling her which. The wine." Her last two words form an instruction to this most royal of bastards, who rises smoothly from her knees to her bare feet to pour fragrant mulled wine into the empty goblet. She presents it to Rhaegor with lowered eyes and lips which utter not a word. Vhaerys's girls are always exquisitely trained.

Rhaegor lifts a hand to accept the goblet of wine presented to him, but doesn't quite, necessitating the handmaiden's lingering a moment longer before him. He inspects her as one might a horse. An extremely fine one, of course. "What is she called?" He is satisfied with the vague answer to his first question, deferring to Vhaerys's whim that the girl herself not know.

Not only fine, not only highly-bred, but self-assured in her modesty — for she can endure the close examination of Rhaegor Targaryen without wavering, without breathing harder, without the goblet trembling in her grasp.

"Her name is Talia. I have had her since she was twelve years old." She must by now be twenty-three or twenty-four. "Longer than I usually keep them," concedes Vhaerys, though her preferences in that regard are likely to be a mystery to all given the interchangeable nature of her creatures, "but then, she is less foolish than they usually are, and I have become accustomed to her… I may retain her a while longer. Why do you ask?"

Indeed, Rhaegor rarely offers a woman such intense attention only to be shown indifference in return. A testament, perhaps, of her very fine training indeed. He accepts the goblet, finally, and tastes the wine without further hesitation. "One wonders," he answers, a last glance in Talia's direction. "When one observes the Blood of the Dragon."

Had Rhaegor been among the small circle favoured with the taste of Princess Rhaenyra's Myrish wine at the royal wedding several weeks past he would recognise in this heavily spiced vintage only a weak imitation; but for what it is, it is rather fine. The difference perhaps between a full-blooded Targaryen and a dragonseed meticulously reared to attend upon her.

"It cannot be mistaken." The other goblet has been waiting next to the brazier; Vhaerys brings it to her lips and sips idly as the girl Talia kneels again behind her and returns to her earlier task, the all-important massaging of her mistress's sore neck and shoulders, her fingers slipping beneath the low collar of her loosely-laced dark golden leather vest to dig into her muscles through only the shirt beneath. "One of our most poignant ironies, isn't it, that there are smallfolk on Dragonstone with truer Valyrian blood in their veins than some who in these days call themselves Targaryen."

Rhaegor notes the contrast in the wine, but does not comment upon it. After all, it's still very fine. His attention returns to Vhaerys thereafter, even as Talia kneels behind her mistress to administer the massage. He makes a low sound that's not amusement, exactly. It's duller and flatter than that, inspired by her observation where blood is concerned. "A shame," he says. What it sounds like he wants to say is that it's criminal.

Like, looking into the eyes of Like, understands the word he might prefer to employ; and remembers that night when he made clear that, whatever he may have come to feel for Emira of Dorne, he has not ever been in a position to choose his own wives… "Decisions made for this year, next year, a decade," murmurs Vhaerys, echoing a line of thought she brought up between them several days past; "not for fifty years, a hundred years, a millennium. I have a passion for history, Rhaegor, I am accustomed to thinking in the longer term. Decisions which alter irrevocably the future of our house — the very nature of our house — for brief and illusory gains, trouble me. I am not, however, in a position to…" Her shoulders shrug up into Talia's firmly caressing hands. "Amend these decisions, save by the occasional small and personal step."

He is the sort of conversational companion who is content to listen rather than be first to speak. The mark of a diplomat. "Your daughter," Rhaegor suggests, at the last. For all that his ribs still smart, he is accustomed to the abiding of pain, be it major or minor. And this, in comparison, ranks as relatively minor. Even if he is made to sit on the floor. He shows no discomfort, though he must obviously feel it.

Well, yes. Vhaerys inclines her head toward her sagacious cousin and lets another moment pass whilst she sips the richly spiced wine. "What other marriage are we in a position to make?" she suggests. "How else might we reacquaint the others of our house with the principles we hold to be wisest, and perhaps encourage them to follow suit when disposing of their own children in matrimony…?" Another sip; she raises an eyebrow. "I would prefer it, naturally," she drawls, "if all our cousins were to consult us in such dynastic matters — but, strange to say, they do not. Perhaps in twenty or thirty years, when we truly are the elders of the family — but by then it'll be a wonder if there are any full-blooded Targaryens left."

Rhaegor, himself, is fully-blooded. Targaryen on both sides of the bed, as he had put it in their earlier conversation. Yet another similarity between them. Yet another common ground. I might have wed my sister, Lhaeda, Rhaegor had confessed to his golden cousin, if left to his own devices in choosing a wife. It all renders him rather inclined towards exploring the matter of a marriage contract enforcing the precedent upon which their illustrious house achieved its greatness. "Naelyssa was neither a rider or a dreamer," he notes. A great black mark upon his son's pedigree. But she was surpassingly beautiful. A fine physical specimen of Valyrian blood. And given Vhaerys's intimate knowledge of bloodlines, it may go without saying that there were riders and dreamers in his wife's immediate family.

The lady Naelyssa's pedigree is without reproach; that she was her family's frailest flower is not, in Vhaerys's considered opinion, a reason to burn out the bush entirely. "Nor is Vhaeron," she admits quietly of the man she loves, "though his blood is so like to mine." And she of course has proven herself both, in strength. "Dreamers of course are rare… Not all riders dream; not all scions of our house are born so close to the throne that we may rely upon having dragon eggs placed in our cradles for our convenience; and yet a man may possess other qualities worthy of esteem," for has not Rhaegor himself spoken of his youthful admiration for Vhaeron, and does he not keep Vhaegor as close to him as a brother, "and a woman may certainly pass some measure of her father's and her grandfather's virtues to her son."

"Viseron has an egg." Rhaegor discloses this fact at this particular point in the negotiations because instinct tells him it is the right point in time to do so. "He will ride." And this in spite of underselling his son, or at least his son's mother. A black mark. Followed by the brightest mark there might be. A shift in the flow of power, perhaps, where the negotiations are concerned. An invitation to Vhaerys to begin the brokering of terms.

Of this Vhaerys has not before heard a whisper.

The goblet in her hand returns to the brazier's low table without a glance to make sure of its placement, for her eyes are locked with Rhaegor's and aglow with a softly burning fascination she doesn't trouble to conceal. He wouldn't be fooled, after all, by a show of disinterest. "How?" she inquires.

It's an ace up the sleeve, and Rhaegor knows it. They are the both of them dragonriders without dragons, and an egg is a very precious thing indeed. "Visenya," he says. A simple answer to a simple question. But of course there's more to it than that. Rhaegor had sought leave of the Crown to marry his cousin. She was at the time in possession of Veraxion's egg, the one that hatched the twin dragonets. But lesser known is that she had a second egg. Lesser known still (which is to say, but pretty much no one) is that she gave the egg to Rhaegor, thinking that they would be wed. Rhaegor did not return the egg when it became clear they would not.

"She came away from her encounter with Veraxion with two eggs. Thinking I would become her husband, she gave one unto me. I have received leave from the King to bestow it upon Viseron, rather than to relinquish its ownership."

The breath Vhaerys was holding leaves her lungs in a slow sigh of understanding. She is quiet for another moment or two, weighing the matter with the respect it deserves, before at last she murmurs, "You do great honour to your son, Rhaegor." She nods solemnly to him. "We regarded already a son of yours as an intriguing prospect, liable to be reared into a young man any parents would consider suitable for their daughter… An egg, however."

And a smile begins to tease at the corners of her wide mouth. "How much more does a young dragonrider require his wife to be of the purest lineage, to match his own. A young woman perchance whose mother, grandfather, great-grandfather were riders; in whose person is distilled the heritage of an entire branch of our house; who will in time inherit, through us, that branch's full wealth. We have but the one child, you know," she mentions.

"Viseron must still prove himself," Rhaegor cautions. Even with an egg to his name, a boy of ten has a long road to manhood ahead of him. He must squire. Earn a knighthood. And above all, learn to ride. "Your daughter has the advantage upon him in years. Are you sure that it is your will that her marriage be delayed?" Of course it is. Targaryen teenagers wed each other all the time. What is six years when one forges a bloodline that will trickle through the ages?

"The historian's eye," his golden cousin reminds him with a lift of an eyebrow. "Enough, girl." The handmaiden who has been patiently, ceaselessly massaging her shoulders all the while, affecting obliviousness to this sensitive discussion of Targaryen family matters, arises without meeting the gaze of either dragon and pads softly, self-effacingly out of the pavilion.

"The best is worth waiting for," she continues to Rhaegor as the door shuts behind Talia; "and I might even go so far as to say the disparity in their years is more advantageous as it is than if your son were the elder and my daughter the younger. With such a match Viseron would be in a position to sire his heirs quite early in his life, if such was your wish for him, without waiting for his bride to grow up into womanhood."

Rhaegor inclines his head at Vhaerys, conceding her well-made point. A point all the more poignant on account of his own limited number of sons (just the one). "Very good. Once we have a marriage contract that pleases us, I will seek the King's approval." He doesn't so much as look at Talia when she rises to leave, the Dragonseed girl forgotten in the midst of their marriage brokering.

The princess glances away to the low table placed not quite between herself and her cousin and reaches for her goblet of hot spiced wine. Not the season for it, of course, but what chilled vintage could one possibly serve in the balmy heat of the garden pavilion—? "I'm glad to know we are, in principle, agreed," she says softly, "and I'll speak with Vhaeron of what we've discussed today. He's as pleased as I am by the prospect of seeing Ardaerys well-settled, even if we must wait a while to see her so in truth… To our grandchildren, then, Rhaegor," she concludes; and she lifts her wine to him and wets her throat with a long, slow, meltingly warm mouthful of it.

Rhaegor has his goblet of wine to hand already, delivered there expressly by the Dragonseed handmaiden called Talia. Vhaerys's words are as good as a toast. When she speaks them, he lifts his goblet, and then he drinks. There is little more pleasing in life to Rhaegor Targaryen than the satisfactory conclusion of a good bit of business. "I am pleased," he agrees.

The prospect of a handsome blonde dragonrider for a goodson appears to have put Princess Vhaerys into one of the least sour tempers in which her cousin has seen her during her present sojourn in Oldtown. Her visage is softer somehow, as though made of warm human flesh rather than cool marble; she looks her years, as much as Targaryen women ever do, but with that smile lingering upon her lips, not unbecomingly so. "And what of your wedding, then?" she inquires, with a genuine and not at all scathing curiosity. "We didn't think to hear an announcement in that vein when all the city's eyes were upon Dhraegon and his little flower, but perhaps you are to be next…?"

"It is my hope that the court's appetite for weddings has been well and truly sated, and that I might conspire for a quiet affair at Dragonstone. Visenya's wedding to Torren was a Dornish spectacle. There is no need, I think, for a second." Rhaegor is not a spectacle kind of guy, after all.

After brief consideration Vhaerys shakes her head, pale golden braids rasping softly against leather and silk. "I don't think you'll get away with it," she says drily; "it needs to be seen, by as many influential figures as can be crowded into a sept, precisely because our cousin Visenya has made of herself a Dornish spectacle… Dorne," she stresses, "sheltered safely beneath a wedding cloak of black and red, of fire and blood."

Vhaerys confirms Rhageor's own suspicions, or perhaps fears, that his best laid wishes will be for naught. It is, after all, a political marriage, even if is clearly more than that to Rhaegor and Emira both. And political marriages are meant to occur in the spotlight.

He takes a drink of his wine, it being clear from his expression that he concurs with his cousin's observation. But he says it out loud anyway. "I suspect you are right."

Vhaerys's thoughts run along similar lines: "You are a political creature, Rhaegor, as much by your own will as by your birth…" she muses. "I suspect there have been many moments when, consciously or no, you chose this life in which such matters as your marriage are, even by the standards of our house, unusually public, unusually subject to politics and to pageantry."

Absent the services of her dragonseed girl she shifts easily onto her own knees and lifts the pitcher of mulled wine from the grate above the brazier, replenishing her own cup and then inquiring of Rhaegor's with an eyebrow. If he holds it out toward her she'll pour wine for him as she adds, "Vhaeron and I lived similarly in our youth. Our marriage was celebrated with five days of feasting and music and feats of arms in the Red Keep; I was crowned with black pearls and red roses, woven afresh whenever the petals began to wilt; I don't recall sleeping… But to a girl of fifteen of course it was all pleasure, all delight," she drawls, settling again with her own goblet.

Rhaegor does indeed proffer his goblet for more wine. He brooks no argument with her assessment. His career may not have been chosen, but he is no recluse, and further would not think of denying the whim of the King. Still, there is such a thing as blind hope, isn't there?

He drinks of the wine while Vhaerys recalls her wedding, and in a rare show he even is inspired to smile, just a little bit, just a tiny fraction, a lift at one corner of his mouth. "I don't imagine you did," he says of sleeping. An off-color joke? From Rhaegor?
<FS3> Rhaegor rolls Sex Jokes: Good Success.

Violet eyes hold violet eyes. Vhaerys's head turns a fraction, studying the uncharacteristic mien from which that remark has just issued. She notes her cousin's meaning, yes, that is apparent from the deepening of her own smile — but rather than taking it she leaves it alone. "Still," she concedes gravely, "I should not care to have so many public appearances to make again without, shall we say, the ebullience of youth—? Vhaeron and I have come to place a high value upon the quiet life we've found in recent years. I suspect you've an occasional taste for the same…?" she guesses. "Inasmuch as you can achieve it, inasmuch as it is compatible with the rest of your nature."

"I prefer to serve," Rhaegor admits, letting go the brief moment of wry impropriety when Vhaerys opts not to remark upon his remark. Instead, he resumes the civilized portion of their conversation. "And I prefer service that does not make a fool of me, as Dhraegon's wedding did him." A would-be recluse, precluded from the very same on account of his sense of duty.

"When a Targaryen is made to look a fool, House Targaryen looks thuswise," his cousin agrees without any need to contemplate the matter, so firm is she in this opinion as in her many others. "There are ways and ways to serve — so we all must, in our house's interests, when we are called to do so — but for each there is…" Her lips, a touch redder perhaps than nature alone could have made them, press together for another instant. "A suitable way. I am fond of Dhraegon," a sentiment baldly stated, where many another Targaryen would hedge or excuse, or deny familial fondness entirely, "and I know him well enough, as I thought we all must, having dealt with him so long, to know he is at his worst in large crowds. He's the one who ought to have been wed in a small private ceremony, for his sake and for everyone's." Thus the return of a vexed Vhaerys, inhaling sharply, magnificent in her own fashion.

Indeed, it's a further matter of agreement between them. Rhaegor says, "I do not understand why it was thought prudent to make so public and grand an occasion of that particular marriage." Hightower influence, perhaps. So his pointed gaze might imply, without even needing to say the words. He takes a drink of his goblet, laying a hand upon his side to brace himself as he shifts in his seat upon the pavilion's floor. That particular attitude must have begun to grate upon his healing ribs.

"It would have been seemly," adds Vhaerys, "for a widow's remarriage to a much older man to be conducted quietly in the presence of only their nearest relations." But as she speaks she studies Rhaegor's change in position, gauging the ease of his movement and whatever hint of pain her keen eyes may possibly discern in his. "You moved well in the training yard with your Dornish friend," she comments; "how do you feel, all in all? Or is it too tedious of me to keep inquiring into the same matter?"

Rhaegor inclines his head in agreement. Ceding the point. Down with the Hightowers.

"I find action begins to prove more tolerable than inaction, rather than the other way around, as it has been until these past several days. I am glad to hear you say that I conducted myself well in the spar. It did not feel so easily done." A confession he would make to precious few individuals. An acknowledgment of abiding weakness. An imperfect specimen.

Vhaerys doesn't take amiss this revelation of the flaws in the specimen she has been studying so closely in recent days: she listens, she nods, and she remarks judiciously that, "Your strength is returning to you apace. Of course after yesterday morning I supposed it must be." And does she refer again to his sparring with Manfryd Qorgyle, or is that the coolest, most nonchalant of allusions to his early morning amusements with Emira of Dorne…?

"Of late the effort of exertion has increasingly wrought more than mere regret for having made the attempt at all," Rhaegor confirms, obliquely, of fighting and/or fucking. "Perhaps on the morrow I will attempt to sit a horse." Perhaps. A mild, non-committal perhaps. He drains the last of his wine.

Both Vhaerys's pale eyebrows lift. Either at the declaration of his ambitious scheme, or the thought of what else he may have been mounting meanwhile. "I assume you intend to join the excursion in search of Syrax and Veraxion? … A piece of fortune for you, perhaps, that it was briefly postponed," she considers. "You may find the endeavour more comfortable, when your body's had those extra days to grow strong again." Though it goes without saying he'd have gone along in either case, she'd not have expected otherwise.

"I will be ready enough to ride by then," Rhaegor asserts. But the way he says it implies that he would have been ready today if that is when it was expected of him to attend Princess Rhaenyra on her mission to recall Syrax. "Will you ride?" he asks of Vhaerys and her intention where the excursion is concerned.

The princess sips her wine, sips again, and reaches forward to restore her goblet to the table. An obvious delaying tactic. "My husband," she mentions quietly, having settled upon the truth as she believes it, "doesn't ride without pain since his accident in the Vale." His accident. "Chasing through the uplands after Syrax is not his notion of a pleasure trip… I have not decided what I shall do," she admits to Rhaegor. "I have the profoundest sympathies for Rhaenyra in her present situation, but I do not know whether my presence would be of any use, and then…" She shrugs slightly. She is not accustomed to being alone. She doesn't know she's alone.

Vhaeron is so rarely spoken of, except by use of plural pronoun, and it interests Rhaegor to hear Vhaerys provide this anecdote about her husband. Rhaegor studies her with particular attention, leaning forward in a mirrored gesture to lay down his own goblet, now empty. "I am certain Prince Daevon will want to ride along, and so I expect it may please you well enough to enjoy the manse in his absence. I will make my report to you upon our return."

Far less accustomed than her dragonseed girls to offering these graceful hospitalities Vhaerys rises again, belatedly, to her knees, to pour mulled wine into her cousin's empty goblet — and a drop more into her own, too. In case it should be wished for. She drinks no more herself at present.

"If only we had some assurance he'd take his waifs and strays and pets with him," she remarks drily of Daevon, sitting down again in an altered position, her long legs stretched out to the side till her booted feet almost touch the black stone wall of the pavilion beneath one of its benches. For support she leans her elbow into a plump red silk cushion, her braids pooling upon it behind her. "I may yet come," she admits; "the fact is that I find points for and others against… Do you know who else may comprise the party?"

Clearly in Rhaegor's estimation it doesn't much matter who else attends beyond himself and Rhaenyra. "More than I would likely counsel prudent, if it were upon me to devise the construction of the party. Or so I expect." Yes, dragon hunting. Likely to attract all kinds of barely tolerable kin and their barely tolerable retainers, each of them vying to be the one to win the Princess's esteem. He accepts the freshly poured goblet with a low thanks, expressing his appreciation further by drinking.

"Points," reiterates Vhaerys with a slight smile, "against… Of course the larger the party the more slowly it will move, the more colourfully, with great fanfare and jockeying for position to be sure to warn the nesting dragons of its approach. My dear cousin," she drawls, "when I go to the Vale," as she does every year, in search of a golden dragon long dead, "I take two men and a maid. No more is needed to watch for shadows."

"When we rode in search of Visenya's dragons, we were but six. And only then because Visenya insisted on Torren and his man riding with us. And when we went in search of Veraxion's den, Emira and I rode alone." Veraxion's den. This may be a new development. They've not spoken, in great detail, of what it was that prolonged Rhaegor's return from Dorne. Dragons.

Those violet eyes trained upon Rhaegor's face, so like his own and yet wider, framed by the creases of the years, warm again as always when he teases her with such talk. She is above all a historian of dragonkind. "The two of you rode alone…?" she prompts gently; and her hand digs into the rich red carpet beneath, pushing herself up that she might reach again for her wine.

"We found the den, in the Uplands. It was empty. Veraxion had not been present in some time. We made our camp there," yes, in the den, "in the mouth of a cave. That night I dreamt of…" Rhaegor hesitates. He drinks more wine. He looks into the goblet as he decides to reveal the content of his dragon dream. "Syrax, upon the Citadel. Sunfyre, upon the Hightower. Whoremaster winging towards them to meet them in the sky." A prophecy, perhaps, of what eventually occurred at the tourneygrounds. "The next morning, we rode for Oldtown."

'In the den' strikes Vhaerys as a perfectly sensible place to camp, the locale having received already a draconic stamp of approval. She nods — and then nods again, a motion first sharp, then slow… "The succession," she states in an undertone, her summary of the dream in a single unbearably telling phrase. "Not so clear-cut in these days as you and I and King Viserys would have it, I fear. And now I wonder, Rhaegor, whether your dream portends some significant role to be played by Veraxion's rider, in the years to come, in swaying the balance one way or—" She pauses to taste the word. "Another…?"

This suggestion strikes Rhaegor, having the effect of arresting him as he delves into a spiral of contemplation. "Perhaps so," he muses, in a low voice. The kind of voice that gives away the continued workings of his mind, only having just begun considering this particular angle of interpretation.

For a while they simply sit, Rhaegor with his thoughts and Vhaerys with her wine and her reflections upon him; and then in response to some inner prompting she drinks one last, decisive sip and restores goblet to table.

"I would be intrigued," she admits, "if you were to bring me any other such dreams… I make a study," and her wry smile acknowledges the redundancy of the statement, "of all that concerns dragons." She tucks her feet beneath her and rises gracefully, without employing her hands for support.

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