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This article, The Lost Dragon, is property of Cilfyc.

The Lost Dragon is a story that takes place in the aftermath of the Dance of Dragons in the year 131 AC. This is the story of Jaehaerys Targaryen, the young son of a lesser-known Targaryen prince, who sets out on a journey to return home with his family and their soldiers, knights, and guards. Along the way, Jae and the others encounter murderous pirates, strange fish-faced people, a wide variety of monsters, both men and beast… and, perhaps, the last living dragon in the world as they attempt to not only find their way back to Westeros, but survive in a brutal and cutthroat foreign land. All of the chapters are told from Jaehaerys' point-of-view, except for the epilogue, which is written from his sister's point-of-view. As well, every chapter is told in chronological order, except for the epilogue, which partially takes place concurrently with chapter 10.

This story's theme song is Icarus by Bastille.


House Targaryen
This line of Targaryens traces its lineage back through Baelon Targaryen, a son of King Jaehaerys I.

  • {PRINCE AEGON}, called THE WINDRIDER, third child of Baelon Targaryen, died of a pox,
    • his wife, {LADY JYANNA of House Lannister}, thrown overboard by Captain Malligan,
      • {SER JAREMY HILL}, an older knight, her guardian and sworn sword, killed by pirates,
    • their children:
      • PRINCESS RHAENA, a girl of sixteen years,
        • {SER EDRIC THORNE}, a famed knight, her guardian and sworn sword, burned to death by the dragon Neryalax,
      • PRINCE JAEHAERYS, a boy of fourteen years, knighted by Ser William Selmy, rider of Neryalax,
        • {SER WILLIAM SELMY}, called QUICKFOOT, his guardian and sworn sword, killed in single combat by a pirate,
      • {PRINCE DAERON}, a boy of ten, lost in Yeen,
        • {SER MERRIK RYKKER}, called THE STATUE, his guardian and sworn sword, lost in Yeen,
    • their soldiers and servants:
      • {COSSENELLO}, the Braavosi captain of the Firewind, burned to death by the dragon Neryalax,
      • {OSWYCK} Owl-Face, a guard,
      • {JYANNA'S CREW}, loyal soldiers and sailors, many of whom were killed by pirates or brindled men or disease, the rest burned to death by the dragon Neryalax,
        • {LYNC}, a loyal household guard of House Targaryen, killed by pirates.

Malligan's crew
This is the pirate crew who took Jyanna Lannister and her children as prisoners.

  • CAPTAIN MALLIGAN, called Firebeard, captain of the Maiden's Slit,
    • his crew:
      • BOLLO, a fat pirate,
      • {ROONEY}, a Myrish pirate who was severely wounded in combat by Jaehaerys Targaryen and later dismissed from Malligan's crew for suffering that wound,
      • UNNAMED MAESTER, a Westerosi Maester who was captured by Captain Malligan and is now in the services of the pirates,
      • MALLIGAN'S CREW, some of whom were killed by Jyanna's guards and soldiers.

Grazdan's entourage
This was a small group of Meereenese who came to Talon to bid on slaves and purchase other treasure from the pirates there.

  • GRAZDAN ZO YHERIZAN, a wealthy, fat Great Master of Meereen who deals in the slave trade,
    • his servants:
      • MEEREENESE GUARDS, some of whom were killed by Jaehaerys and Rhaena,
      • NUMEROUS SLAVES, both human and fisherfolk.

Fisherfolk village
This was a small village of fisherfolk who lived on Toad Isle, quite near the famous Toad Stone of that island.

  • {FISHERFOLK ELDER}, the leader of the village, killed by The Emerald Lord's crew,
    • his people:
      • {FISHERFOLK}, a small village of fish-like humanoids, who were all butchered by The Emerald Lord's crew.

Pirates of Xhorre
These pirates lived in Xhorre, the only city in Sothoryos. Considered soft by their peers, they were nevertheless the largest group of pirates in the entire continent.

  • PIRATES OF XHORRE, many of whom were killed in battle against the Mudtown pirates,
    • {UNNAMED PIRATE PRISONER}, a man captured by Ser William who later escaped before being burned to death by the dragon Neryalax,
    • {UGGAK BONESLAYER}, a notorious pirate, skilled with a blade, slayer of Ser William Selmy, and slain by the very same man in single combat.
    • {UNNAMED FEMALE PIRATE}, a tall, axe-wielding pirate, slain by rival pirates on the shores of the Zamoyos River,
    • {THE EMERALD LORD}, a pirate lord who wears emeralds and gold in his hair, killed by rival pirates on the Zamayos River.
      • his crew:
        • {SHANNY}, a white-haired, homosexual pedophile, killed by rival pirates on the Zamayos River,
        • {THE EMERALD LORD'S CREW}, killed by rival pirates.

Pirates of Mudtown
These pirates operate out of Mudtown. They took Jaehaerys and his siblings captive after butchering another pirate crew from the rival city of Xhorre.

  • {THE BONEMAN}, a pirate lord who rules over Mudtown, killed in battle against Xhorre pirates,
    • his crew:
      • NYSARRO, a scarred pirate lieutenant who is skilled with a blade,
      • {SI JIN}, a vicious YiTish pirate, called Corpse-Eater, killed by Ser William Selmy in single combat,
      • {ROONEY}, a former member of Captain Malligan's crew, abandoned at Mudtown after suffering an injury to his arm,
        • {NAQQO}, a slave from the Summer Isles, killed by Si Jin,
        • SWEETGUMS, a female slave who has spent several decades in Mudtown.


The Dreaming Dragon

He was drowning.

By the light of a fading moon, the boy thrashed and gasped. The midnight sea clung to him like a blanket as his muffled screams echoed across the frigid waters. Terror caught the boy in the throat when he realized he was all alone - there was no ship, nobody around to save him. Everyone had gone away. How he’d fallen in, he did not remember. Yet now, there was no getting out. Mother, he tried to cry, but the words did not come. Help! Someone help me!

Mist rolled across the surface of the waters and threatened to swallow him whole. His head sunk under the blackness for a moment, and he was greeted by an unimaginable cold that shook him to his bones. The mist swirled around him, tickling at his eyes as he struggled to remain above the surface. His breaths came in ragged, fretful gulps and he felt himself sinking down again.

The wind wailed like an angry leviathan, blowing the mist away, all of it curling out into the desolate nothingness and taking the forms of skulls and faces and dead things he once knew. They watched him, wearing the stars as their eyes, and he thought they were grinning.

Seawater rushed into his lungs. He clawed at the water, but it was no use, as slippery and formless as it all was. He looked into the sky. Mother have mercy… I am the blood of the dragon! I can’t die like this! Please, he sobbed. The boy’s heart pounded desperately in his ears.

And then, with a blast of smoke, the moon and its host of stars were veiled. The wind was howling again, skirling hard above the starless sea. The boy heard the sound of wings, felt a heat rising in the air that forced the coldness from his veins and gave him a flicker of hope. For an instant, he was cloaked in a cape of fireflies, burning white and hot. Then, the sparks died and the darkness took hold again. I’m still drowning, he thought.

It was too late for him. He was going under. The black surface began to ripple and boil, and then with a crack like a whip, something hit the water in front of him and the force of it sent him shooting downwards. He felt his head dip below the water’s surface for the last time, and then he was falling, falling, falling into the deep, down to the cold dead darkness. As he went, the boy saw something black above him, peering down hungrily. Its eye met his - it flickered like a pale, drowned star, alive with an ancient light. He gasped, his heartbeat pounding furiously in his ears and through his body, and he felt like he was going to burst.

Jaehaerys Targaryen awoke with a sharp breath, and found himself covered in sweat. He sat up and saw through the nearest window that it was morning. There was someone knocking on his door, someone pounding incessantly, so he got up yawning and stiff and went to them. It was his sister Rhaena. Upon seeing him, his sister gave Jaehaerys a queer look.

“Sleeping again, Jae?” He must have looked rather disheveled. “I’ve been knocking on your door for five minutes. I feared something dreadful had come of you. I thought I would need to fetch a guard to break down the door!” Rhaena shook her head. “And all you were doing was sleeping!”

The boy shrugged. “I was tired.”

“As of late, it seems you’ve been doing more of that than living. Were you dreaming again?”

“No,” he lied.

They returned to his room, Rhaena closing the door behind them. She sat down on the edge of his bed, and Jaehaerys poured them some honey wine. For a while they sipped their sweet drinks together in silence, the ground rocking beneath them softly in a slow rhythm, until, after the third or fourth drink, Rhaena noticed something hidden beneath the boy’s blankets. When she pulled out a large scaled egg, black-as-pitch and streaked with lines of soft blue, she gave him a disapproving look.

“Sleeping with it? Really, Jae? Do you still think you can make it hatch?” she asked him. “After all these years?”

Jaehaerys stood up and did not look at her. He took a swig of wine and stared out the window at the endless blue expanse. Like all Targaryens, he had been given a dragon egg at birth. But unlike so many of his cousins and family and distant relations, Jaehaerys’ had not hatched. The dragon inside it had never woken. Grand Maester Orwyle had told him once that perhaps a dragon had never grown inside the egg at all, but Jaehaerys didn’t believe him. The egg was warm to the touch, warm to his touch, though the Grand Maester never seemed agree. That stupid old man, Jaehaerys thought angrily. I should have had a dragon. Even the Velaryon boys had their eggs hatch. I’m the blood of the dragon. It should be me who has one, not them.

Oft as not, Jaehaerys found himself daydreaming about his dragon that never was, about riding the mighty beast through the skies and across the seas and to the lands of the distant east where men grew wings and lived in cities of gold and silver and bone. He wanted to explore the world, to experience all there was to see like the legendary Jaenara Belaerys had so long ago. His uncle Jason used to read him stories about her and other famous dragonriders when he had been very little, and Jaehaerys had grown up hoping to become like them. He wanted to be free, to feel the wind rushing through his hair as he soared above the world. But that was just a dream, he knew, and not one like to come true without a dragon by his side.

Rhaena stood up and pressed her body against his from behind, hugging him solemnly. “I know, Jae. I wanted a dragon too. But our eggs were no good.”

The wine was sweet on his tongue, and the room itself smelled even sweeter. The perfume in his sister’s hair clouded his nose and made him feel dizzy. She felt warm against him, her chin on his shoulder, her hand massaging the back of his head, running through his hair in familiar lines.

“Cheer up, Jaehaerys. We’re going home,” she said at last. “The war is finally over.”

That surprised Jaehaerys. “Who won?” he asked.

“They are putting Rhaenyra’s son Aegon on the throne. He’ll be crowned King Aegon III.”

“Oh.” Jaehaerys had not closely followed the war, though he knew his family had been on the other side. They had supported the right of King Aegon II to rule the Seven Kingdoms. His lady mother’s two brothers had been greatly involved in the war, but he did not know what had happened to Uncles Jason and Tyland. They had been good and kind uncles to him in his youth, and he hoped nothing ill had befallen them. “If the blacks have won, then why are we going back?”

“The blacks did not win,” Rhaena contended. “Both Rhaenyra and King Aegon are dead. It was quite a bloody affair… I will spare you the details. Still, in the aftermath of it all, that leaves Rhaenyra’s son as the rightful heir.”

Jaehaerys saw a splash of white foam outside the window. He thought he saw the silver glint of a fish trying to take flight. “Will we be pardoned?”

“Pardoned from what?” she laughed, her hot breath on the back of his neck. “We didn’t do anything. We haven’t participated in the war on either side.”

“But mother’s family…”

“Mother says we’ll be welcomed back,” his sister replied. “She wouldn’t take us back to King’s Landing if we were in danger.”

“I suppose father did think this through,” Jaehaerys said. “He wouldn’t have sent us to Lys if he thought we would be in trouble.”

“Father did it to protect us,” Rhaena noted. “None of us had dragons. If we got swept up in that war, we would have died.”

“I may have died,” Jaehaerys said. “But you are a woman, Rhaena. You would not have fought in the battles.”

“Perhaps, Jae. But you remember that I was betrothed to little Joffrey Velaryon, don’t you?” Jaehaerys nodded, though in truth he had forgotten that. “Well, he died, along with all of his brothers and their dragons, if the letters are to be believed, right in the middle of King’s Landing itself. I might’ve died with him had I been there.”

She wrenched free of Jaehaerys and began to pace about the room. He looked over at her. “Are you sad?”

“Sad that I won’t get to ride his dragon perhaps. But I never knew the boy. We were matched when I was very little. I only met him once or twice.”

“There was a girl I was betrothed to as well. A Corbray or a Hightower…” Jaehaerys frowned, racking his brain. He had never met his future wife; his father had arranged the marriage almost a decade ago. He would only marry her after her first flowering, Jaehaerys father had told him, but the boy knew not how old she was or if she had flowered yet. He expected the first time he was to meet her would be on his wedding night.

“Does it matter?” Rhaena said sharply. “Father is dead, and you’ve never met the girl. Why should you go through with it?”

That took him aback. “Why wouldn’t I? A promise is a promise.”

Rhaena walked over to him and kissed him on the forehead. “Oh Jae, you are so blissfully naïve sometimes.”

“Am I?” he frowned. “I would think marrying a highborn maid would be good for everyone.”

“Everyone?” Rhaena’s deep violet eyes locked on Jaehaerys’. “What about me, brother?”

Jaehaerys’ heart began to beat faster, thumping in his chest like a caged animal, and he didn’t know why. “I am sure mother will find you a new husband.” Someone better than those cursed Velaryons.

“I don’t want a new husband… at least not one like that Joffrey. I don’t want to be married off to someone I’ve never met,” she sighed before downing the rest of her honey wine. Rhaena’s face flushed a delicate shade of pink. Jaehaerys walked over to the pitcher and poured them each another cup. His heart was beating fast again. He didn’t know why he was drinking so much wine. It’s easy to drink, and easier to feel good. “We are the blood of the dragon, Jaehaerys. We are members of the royal house. If we marry outside our house, we are marrying lesser folk.”

“Father did.”

“Father is not us,” she said emphatically. “Jaehaerys… I have been so lonely these years we’ve spent in Lys, waiting for the war to end. I’ve only had you and little Daeron to keep me company. The entire time, I’ve wanted to go home so desperately, to return to how things were… but now that we’re on our way, I can’t help but think what are we returning to? Mother will just marry me off to another Joffrey. All my friends are gone or dead or won’t remember me. What awaits me in King’s Landing, brother?”

“Home,” Jaehaerys whispered.

Rhaena snorted. She was quite drunk now, Jaehaerys could tell. A fine sheet of sweat was draped across her forehead, and the flush in her cheeks was darkening with every passing second. When she spoke again, Rhaena was slurring her words slightly, “Aegon the Conqueror married his sisters… and so did King Jaehaerys… and King Aegon II…” her voice trailed off delicately and she kissed him on the nose awkwardly.

The silence was heavy. The room was wobbling a bit more than Jaehaerys would have liked. I’m drunk too, he realized. I’ve never been this drunk before. I best be careful. Rhaena is acting rather oddly. When he went to speak, his sister pressed her body against his again, and kissed him on the cheek. “I don’t want to be married off to some lord in a castle. I want to stay with you, Jae. You and Daeron and mother. I want things to be as they were when we return home.”

Rhaena had never hugged him like this before. He became acutely aware of her breasts pushing against his chest. Jaehaerys could feel his sister’s hard nipples poking at him from beneath her pink silk gown. Feeling light of breath, the boy tried to pull away from his sister, but she just hugged him tighter. He stared at her in bewilderment and she smiled back at him timidly. The wine was making the room spin. Jaehaerys felt weird, felt something weird happening to him in his trousers.

It was then the drunken Jaehaerys became aware of how beautiful his sister was to look at… she had long blonde hair and dark purple eyes, and her face was comely, her breasts full. She had the prettiest little smile too. It all made Jaehaerys feel… well, he had never thought of her like that before. Yet now…

“Mother will not approve,” Jaehaerys said hoarsely, finally understanding the game Rhaena was playing. Suddenly, he found himself craving more wine, but Rhaena would not let him move.

“Mother is a Lannister. We are dragons.”

Rhaena pushed Jaehaerys to the bed. She knelt before him and pressed her chin to his knees. “Have you ever been with a woman before, Jae? Did you go to the pleasure houses in Lys and let the pretty bedslaves suck your cock?”

Jaehaerys reddened. “N-no…” he stammered. “I’ve… I’ve never been with a woman,” he said.

“Shame,” Rhaena laughed drunkenly. “Those ones could have taught you much and more.”

During their stay in Lys, one of Jaehaerys’ servants had taught him how to pleasure himself one night while a large feast was being held. Partway through, the two had left the great feast hall to get some fresh air outside. The servant had boasted about how he had gotten a pretty Lysene girl to kiss him between serving courses. Then, he had pulled out his cock and showed it to Jaehaerys.

“Look how she made me hard!” he had bemoaned. Jaehaerys had had no answer for that, but the servant boy had been quick to continue, “Little Rabbo from the markets told me how to deal with this sort of thing, though. He said all you gotta do is take your cock in your hand and rub it like this,” the dark-skinned boy (who had been three years Jaehaerys’ senior) had told him. Jaehaerys had watched as the boy had slid his hand up and down his stiffened member until, after only a few moments, white globs of his seed had come shooting out and landed in the dirt ahead of them. The servant had then offered to give Jaehaerys the same pleasure, but the boy had refused. Later that night, Jaehaerys had tried it out himself, in private, and that was as far as he had ever gone. The boy was too shy to go to one of the brothels to try himself out on a woman, and though his servant had told him much and more about how to please a woman, in that moment when Rhaena began to fumble with the lacings of his trousers, he forgot it all.

“Wait, Rhaena…” Jaehaerys breathed. “We cannot do this. You must stay a maid… lest rumors…”

“And who would start those rumors?” Rhaena replied, annoyed. “There is no one here to watch us.”

“If you get pregnant,” he said, “there will be many questions. I will not father a bastard with you, sister. I must marry a maid; it is only proper for a prince of House Targaryen.”

“If you are the one who deflowers me, what is the difference?” his sister’s voice was impatient, thick with drunken desire. “Here or in our wedding bed, I want you, Jaehaerys. It makes no difference.”

“No!” Jaehaerys tried to shove her away. I am not ready for this, he thought. I don’t want to make a fool of myself. Not here, not now… not with her. What is going on? Is this a dream? My sister has gone mad. And I’m just as mad. He was feeling dizzy again, and the rocking of the ship was not helping.

“You can try to be noble and virtuous Jae,” Rhaena stated. “But…” she said, continuing to untangle his laces, “let’s see if you can resist me after I suck your cock.”

Jaehaerys went to protest, but Rhaena was too quick. She undid his laces, pulled down his trousers and smallclothes, and suddenly, his pale little cock was in her hand. It grew large against the warmth of her skin, and Jaehaerys let out a little whimper of shock and pleasure as she squeezed it.

She’s… she’s touching it! My sister… she’s so pretty on her knees. She… she knows what she’s doing. That was all he could think as Rhaena began to kiss him down there, first down his stomach to where his pubic hair grew in golden curls, then down his leg to his thigh, and then on his balls in light, quick pecks, and then up his shaft, which now stood straight and proud, and then at the head of his member. How did this happen, he asked himself, how did it come to this? What are we doing?! The sweetness of his sister, heavy in the air, was enough to put Jaehaerys in a daze and he felt his mind run blank.

His sister suddenly wrapped her lips around his cock, and he let out a stifled scream. Her mouth was warm and wet and as he felt her tongue slip between the folds of flesh covering the head of his member, Jaehaerys groaned. She seemed to know just where to touch him, just where to press her tongue, and in no more than a few seconds, the boy found himself grabbing the back of her neck as he thrust himself deep into her mouth and released his seed.

Afterwards, they had more honey wine. Sipping his drink, Jaehaerys traced his finger across the the tiny scales of his dragon egg. It’s still warm, all these years later. Why couldn’t it have hatched? He didn’t know what to think about what happened. His cock was still tingling, and his mind felt cloudy and detached. The more he drank, the more detached he felt, but the less he cared about that. We Targaryens have wed brother to sister throughout our history. Rhaena was right… if our ancestors have done it, then why not us? It felt good, to be with his sister, to lay with her. After they had a few more drinks, Jaehaerys found himself on top of Rhaena, kissing her, tasting her, feeling her tongue against his. He found his mouth drift down to her breast, and after tearing Rhaena’s clothes from her, he pressed his lips to a pink stiffened nipple and began to suck. In a drunken move that he would not have tried had he been sober, Jaehaerys found himself pressing his fingers against his sister’s sex, feeling how wet her curly blonde hair was done there. When he slid a finger inside of her, Rhaena gasped upon his lips. The servant said something about this… girls like it when you put fingers inside them, he thought, but he couldn’t remember the specifics. So he just slid his fingers in and out in a slow massage, and he was happy to see that his sister found that pleasurable.

“Take me, take me!” his sister moaned softly. “Oh Jae, put it inside me. Please, Jae, oh!” And he might have, had his sister not used her mouth on him already.

A knock came at the door, startling both of them. Rhaena hid beneath Jaehaerys blankets as he hastily re-clothed himself. At the door stood a guard Jaehaerys knew to be Oswyck Owl-face, a man who had oft guarded the boy’s door during his stay in Lys and during their journeys at sea.

The man spoke in a gruff, but polite tone upon seeing his prince, his wide eyes scanning the room behind the boy suspiciously. “Prince Jaehaerys, beggin’ yer pardon… I hope I didn’t wake ya, but yer mother has called for ya. She’s on deck, says it’s urgent.”

“I’ll be there shortly. Thank you, Oswyck.”

Jaehaerys shut the door and returned to his room. Rhaena removed herself from the cover of his blankets, her breasts bare and her smile wide. “Oh Jae, you’re blushing. Come back to bed, sweet brother,” she said playfully. “Let’s finish this.”

He felt himself getting hard again at the sight of her but shook his head all the same. I’ve been in bed long enough today. “I must go see mother. She’s called for me,” he explained.

Rhaena frowned. “Will you tell her about us?”

“Mother will be wroth to hear of it.”

“I am a woman grown, and you are on the cusp of manhood yourself, Jae. We must make these decisions ourselves. If she does not like it, there is little she can do.”

Father could have done something about it, if he hadn’t died of the pox, Jaehaerys thought. But there is much that would have been different had the disease not taken him so suddenly. Would this have angered him? He was a dragon, after all. But he did arrange my marriage to that girl… “I suppose, but mother won’t see it like that.”

“You are the man of our household now,” Rhaena said, sitting up and reaching for her clothes. “You best remind our lady mother of that.”

The air was cool and salty above deck, and the sky was wrecked with a battlefield of clouds. A mid-afternoon breeze was blowing through the sails of the Firewind, as guards and workers moved about the decks like busy bees. Jaehaerys still felt hot in the face and stiff in the trousers, but he pressed on as if nothing had happened. The breeze felt refreshing on him, and it gave him new vigor.

Daeron was sparring with Ser Merrik Rykker with a wooden sword when Jaehaerys passed them. His younger brother’s hair was a tangled mess of blond-silver and there was a bruise upon his cheek where a blow had befallen him, but he was otherwise in high spirits. Upon seeing his older brother walking past, Daeron’s little face lit up, his dark eyes shining with delight.

“I’m training to become a real knight, Jae!” he boasted, raising his sword into the air. “Ser Merrik is teaching me to be the best swordsmen in the Seven Kingdoms!”

Jaehaerys laughed. “And well he might, if you keep practicing like that. You’ll be the next Aegon the Conquerer,” he mused. Though we shan’t have dragons this time. “Tell me brother, have you seen mother?”

Daeron pointed with his sword to the cabin behind him; the only one above deck. And there, Jaehaerys came upon her. She was sitting down at a wooden table, eating a plate of fresh fish, hard bread, and sharp cheese. In her hand was a goblet of Lysene white wine. Lady Jyanna’s wore an exquisite robe of dark green silk with black Myrish lace. A necklace of red gold hung around her neck and seemed to reflect the lusty light of the fire. When Jaehaerys entered, his mother’s eyes, glimmering emerald with flecks of gold, followed him in and watched him take a seat across from her, but she spoke no word.

Her sworn shield, Ser Jaremy Hill, sat beside her. He was an old, bald, fat man with grey whiskers adorning his face like a depleted forest. He looked uncomfortable in his full armor - his cheeks were red and and his brow was glistened with sweat - but he betrayed no sign of discomfort openly. He’s too noble a man. One day, Jaehaerys wanted to become a knight. Maybe when we get home, if Ser William allows it. That would make me happy. He was squired to Ser William Selmy, and though they had not fought in any battles together, they had grown close. It was an odd relationship, theirs, since the knight Jaehaerys served was also his sworn shield. But such was the nature of their escape to Lys. His father had given each of his children and his wife a sworn shield to protect them from any and all dangers, and their sworn shields had done their best to follow that command. Now the war was over, and there would be no more dangers, at least until they set foot in Westeros again.

“Oswyck said you wanted to speak to me, mother,” Jaehaerys said dutifully.

Lady Jyanna Lannister took a long drink from her Lysene white and then frowned. “You look strange, Jaehaerys. What’s wrong?”

I’m drunk, he thought. But I’ll never tell her why, no matter how much Rhaena begs me to. I will not have mother shame me, not in front of Ser Jaremy. I don’t even know if I want to marry Rhaena. “I’m just a little warm…” He felt his burning cheek and grimaced.

Ser Jaremy burped and covered his mouth. “Beg pardon… beg pardon my lady…” he apologized. She ignored him.

“Drinking, I see.” His mother’s own narrow face was dark with color too. “Were you scared?”


“The storms. They were quite fierce. Cossenello wasn’t sure we would make it through.”

“Oh, I must’ve slept through them,” Jaehaerys responded. He had slept through quite a bit of the trip back to Westeros, and he remembered no storms, at least not in the waking world.

“Were you dreaming again, Jae?” She looked at him intently, and he did his best to betray nothing.

“Not that I remember,” he assured her.

His mother gave a look that made Jaehaerys think she didn’t believe him, but she didn’t push the issue further. “Well, while you slept, we have received several messages from home,” his mother began, pulling out some parchment from her robes and setting it on the table. “Rhaenyra’s son has ascended the throne after her and Aegon II were killed in the war. King Aegon III is a young boy, and not one who craves vengeance against his own blood. Even if we were involved in the war, your father thought that perhaps us fleeing would be seen by Rhaenyra as a sign of us forsaking her. It was not certain, had she won, that we would have been allowed back. But the boy king’s advisers assure me that we are to be welcomed back. This is a time of healing for all of Westeros, and more bloodshed is not what anyone desires.”

“And what of uncles Tyland and Jason?”

His mother bit her lip. “Jason is dead. Tyland was maimed… severely… but he is now the Hand of the King. It is that fact that makes me most sure that it is safe to return home. My brother would never let harm befall us, especially with himself in such a high position.”

There was silence; an empty feeling tore through Jaehaerys’ stomach. Lord Jason Lannister had been his favorite uncle, the one he had most hoped to see again. He used to read stories to me, of knights and monsters and adventure. I wanted to return to him as a knight myself and tell him of my adventures. Jaehaerys sighed in his guilt. But the only adventure I’ve been on is the one with my sister. Uncle Jason would not have liked to hear that tale. But the lion was dead, and it was not for the dragon to mourn the passing of a lesser beast. At least, that was how it was supposed to be. Jaehaerys found such composure more difficult in practice than in theory. Ser Jaremy bit down on hard on some bread, causing a great crunching sound to echo about the small cabin. His mother took another drink.

“Am I to be wed?” he asked after a while.

“Yes Jae, and that is why I have called you here. If you remember, your father arranged a marriage between you and Ellyn Hightower when you were both very young.”

“I remember.”

“She is the eldest daughter of Lord Ormund Hightower, a great supporter of the greens during this war.”

Jaehaerys exhaled. “But you said the war is over.”

“It is,” Lady Jyanna admitted. “Still, it is unfortunate that you must be wed to the House of my brothers’ enemies. Still, a promise is a promise. And this letter says here…” she continued, pointing to a spot on the parchment, “that young Lady Ellyn has flowered for the first time this past year. She will expect to be married to you as soon as we return home.”

Rhaena won’t like that. “As you said mother, the Hightowers were with the greens during the war. It may be unwise for me to marry her.”

His mother shook her head. “It may not be ideal, but we will go through with this, regardless. Your father set up this marriage pact many years ago.”

Ser Jaremy bit down on some fish, his teeth slicing through the pink flesh and cracking through the bone savagely.

“I have never met the girl!” Jaehaerys protested. “Why should I marry her?”

His mother’s face was calm, cool, and her eyes studied him like gold-green flames. “I never met your father before our wedding night. This kind of thing is quite common. You will marry her, Jaehaerys,” she commanded. “This is not up for discussion.”

He was not certain where this stubbornness came from. Jaehaerys did not know if he really wanted Rhaena, but at the same time, he did not know that he wanted this Hightower girl either. But if I don’t marry her, I’ll be breaking my promise. And a knight does not break a promise. Is Rhaena worth that? That gave him pause. But at the same time, he thought of Jaenara, of her unrestrained freedom to travel where she wanted, to do what she wanted, and how he wanted to be like her. Is there anything worth more than being able to do what I want? Well, mayhaps a dragon, he mused.

“I am nearly a man grown,” he replied carefully. “And soon I’ll be a knight. I should wish to choose my own wife.”

“You are a member of House Targaryen,” Lady Jyanna reminded him. “But you are not of the royal line, not any longer. You have no claim to the Iron Throne. This match is very good for both houses; Lady Ellyn comes from one of the most powerful houses in Westeros. She is perfect match for someone of your station.”

Jaehaerys stood up and raised his chin with pride. He was feeling reckless, despite himself. He was not feeling very knightly, no matter how much he tried to be. “I am a dragon, mother, and to marry any other but a dragon is beneath me.”

That made her laugh. Ser Jaremy, the quiet glutton, buried his face in his goblet, perhaps to cover a laugh of his own. “Do not jape with me, son. If you mean to admit that you should marry one of your cousins or…” Jaehaerys looked away from her, “your sister, even, do not think that will come to pass.” She laughed at the thought of that while Ser Jaremy refilled their cups hastily. “Your father arranged this marriage to strengthen our family. You will follow his wishes, and that is that.” Jaehaerys went to reply when his mother rose a finger. “Quiet now, Jae. I am tired, and I don’t want to hear your complaining. Have you seen your sister?” He shook his head in reflex “If you see her, have her come visit me too. I must talk with her about who she is to marry.”

Jaehaerys left the cabin exasperated and angry and not knowing what to do. These women are bearing down on me from either side and neither one will be satisfied without me kneeling to them, he thought. Rhaena won’t be pleased with this, but what can I do? He could run away when they returned home. Run away with Rhaena and marry her before mother can catch us. But then where would he go? Where would he live? Such an act would surely cause them great financial strain. He wouldn’t have the Targaryen riches at his disposal if they ran off. The Hightowers are one of the richest houses. Maybe that’s why father wanted me to marry Ellyn. He wondered if she was a good girl, like Rhaena. He had no way of knowing, and that scared him the most. Jaehaerys wondered why all these women in his life never asked him what he wanted.

Jaehaerys did not seek out Rhaena, for he knew what she would say, and he was getting a headache. The boy had a quick meal of fish and cheese and ale by himself as he wondered what was to be done. It may be wiser to marry the Hightower girl… but… I don’t know that I want that.

He watched Daeron learning how to swordfight with his sworn shield for a while thereafter. Jaehaerys took to his daily duties of cleaning Ser William’s armor and preparing his sword and shield for practice. Surely, most knights did not wear their full armor on ships for fear of drowning, but their sworn shields were very solemn about their duties. Jaehaerys thought them a bit mad, but a bit noble too. He wanted to be like them one day, fearless and gallant and skillful enough with a blade as to make men fear him. If I can’t have a dragon, I should have a sword… a cruel Valyrian blade fit for song and legend. Jaehaerys found that he was dreaming again, and brought himself back to reality, to the cold, bleak, boring world of the living.

He found Ser William near the stern of the ship wearing leather boots, leather gloves, dark wool pants, and a blue coat over a shirt of boiled leather. Jaehaerys helped the knight into his hauberk and then fitted him into his heavier plate armor, smokey, and polished to spotless perfection. Once the knight was fully clothed in his best armor, Jaehaerys presented him with his sword, and the two began their daily practice.

Much like Daeron and Ser Merrik, Jaehaerys and Ser William dueled, for there was little else they could do on a ship. Ser William had taught the young dragon how to use a sword, and now Jaehaerys was good enough to act as a training partner to his sworn shield. In truth, Ser William used Jaehaerys to keep himself from getting rusty with his sword movements more so than he did to train Jaehaerys, but the boy picked up enough during their sparring to hold his own. Today, Jaehaerys had a fierceness about him that wasn’t wholly because of the wine and ale or because of his mother and sister. He pushed back the older man at first with such viciousness that Ser William had to extend some effort to block his attacks. They did not use wooden swords, but the edges of their practice swords were blunted so that neither could slice each other in half.

After a time, Jaehaerys wore himself out, and Ser William Selmy pushed the attack. Steel clashed against steel; great clangs echoed across the open blue waters in rhythmic bursts. The muscles in the boy’s arms burned, and his hands throbbed every time their blades met. Soon, his face was dripping with sweat, and his stance faltered. Still, even in his heavy plate armor in the blistering sun, Ser William stood erect and still, unphased and untiring. Jaehaerys shouted a war cry and charged him. The man parried the boy’s attacks, each one feebler than the last, until the boy dragon was disarmed and on the ground. He tasted blood in his mouth.

Ser William Selmy held out a hand to help his squire up. “You are getting quicker,” he said, sheathing his sword. “But you are still too weak, Jaehaerys. You are not even armored like me, and you have worn yourself out so quickly. What are you to do when you wear such heavy plate?”

“I am getting stronger everyday,” the boy replied. “Just last week I could not have gone for half this long.”

“Right you are my prince,” the man said warmly, patting him on the shoulder. “And when we get home, it will be less painful. We will have more room to train, and I will be able to teach you how to joust and use a bow.”

Jaehaerys beamed. I should like to return to Harvest Hall. He had stayed there the last few years before they had gone to Lys. He remembered it as a large castle - not as large as the Red Keep, but an admirable castle in its own right. It had bountiful lands, and Jaehaerys had never wanted for food there. The Dornish Marches were a beautiful place, he remembered, and he would be delighted to return to them. But neither mother nor Rhaena would. Well, whoever married him, be it the Hightower girl or his sister, they would have to go with him to Harvest Hall. I shan’t give up on being a knight for any woman.

Once their training was done, Jaehaerys removed his sworn shield’s outer armor and got the two of them some red Lysene wine. They drank it down thirstily and in silence. It was as the two were sitting there at the back of the ship, their backs against the far wall, that they heard the voice Cossenello. And though they could not understand his words from across the deck of the great carrack, they could hear the panic in his voice. It chilled Jaehaerys to his bones.

Getting up, Jaehaerys and Ser William Selmy ran towards the cabin where Lady Jyanna Lannister was. In there, they found a host of people, including Ser Jaremy, Ser Merrrik, Ser Edric Thorne (Rhaena’s sworn shield), Cossenello, and several guards. Cossenello’s black eyes were nearly bulging out of his sockets.

“The storm…” he stammered. “It blew us off course… we have been going the wrong way for the past two nights…”

Lady Jyanna, for all her grace, did not display any anger towards the ship captain. “Then right our course, captain.”

“It’s not just that!” he squeaked. He wiped at his brow and Jaehaerys noticed his hand was shaking. “There’s another ship pursuing us now.”

The silence that followed was as thick as as a winter fog. After a time, Ser Edric Thorne shuffled on his feet and spoke gruffly, “Show me.”

They went outside and moved to the stern of the ship, near where Jaehaerys and his knight had so recently been sparring. The ship captain handed Ser Edric his looking glass. “There!” Cossenello squawked with dismay, pointing off at the horizon. Jaehaerys squinted, but he could see nothing.

“Aye,” Ser Edric said hoarsely, handing the looking glass to Lady Jyanna who peered through it herself. “Black sails.”

“Pirates,” said Ser Merrik.

“Can we outrun them?” his mother asked them, still peering through the looking glass with one eye.

“This carrack was not made to be fast,” Cossenello explained. “It is a large vessel with a sizable crew and a great deal of cargo. A pirate galley could easily catch up to us if they wished.”

Jaehaerys’ mother sighed, gave the looking glass to Ser William, and then spoke calmly, “Right the course, captain. Should that ship prove to be after us, we will prepare to repel it. If not, we will not show them our fighting power, lest we tempt them. Is this understood?” the knights and captain nodded. “Good. Jaehaerys,” she said, looking at her son with a countenance as bold and beautiful as a lioness’, “get below deck. Should this turn to fighting, I don’t want you involved. Take Daeron and Rhaena and hide them with you. I’ll post a guard at your door.”

“But mother, I want to fight-”

“Quiet Jaehaerys,” she commanded. The green fires in her eyes were burning bright. “You may be a squire and nearly a man grown, but I am still your mother, and today I rule this ship. You will do as I command.”

She spoke with such cool ferocity that Jaehaerys was taken aback. He sunk his head in embarrassment and nodded. “As you wish, mother.” At that moment, he wished he was dreaming again, for even in the darkest of his dreams, Jaehaerys could stand against his enemies. He wanted to fight so bad that the desire welled up in his throat like the taste of hunger. But the world was not like in his dreams; here, Jaehaerys still had a mother to command him about. He didn’t much like that. Still, in front of the knights and guards, Jaehaerys would not make a scene, so meekly did he retreat from the deck of the Firewind to take his rightful hiding place in his room.

Lady Jyanna Lannister nodded and ushered her son away. “Ser Edric, gather the men and prepare them for what is to come. I will not have us taken by pirates this day.”

The Bound Squire

The sun was setting behind a veil of clouds, ragged as a column of banners. Jaehaerys could now see the black sails with his waking eyes as they moved swiftly towards the Firewind. The golden sky flickered with the last light of the day; the deep blue waters of the Summer Sea pulsed and swayed the Firewind lazily. It would have been so peaceful if not for those black sails.

Guards and sailors were running about above deck, shouting and suiting up for battle and creating a frenetic din of noise. I should be with them, Jaehaerys thought angrily, I should be fighting too. He was nearly a man grown, and he had gotten much better with his blade these past few months. Mother will need everyone available to defend the ship if those are pirates. What use am I down here?

He felt cramped, confined, in the little room. In truth, it was a storage compartment, more fit to hold food and other supplies than him and his siblings, but it was the best place his mother could think of hiding her children until the battle was won. They’ll never look for us down here, if the pirates do go looking for us. That’s what mother thinks, anyways. There was barely enough room for the three of them to sit down, and Jaehaerys felt like he was being suffocated. His heart was beating fast, so fast he could hear it even above all of the excitement coming from above deck. He felt a dizzy.

“Jae?” Rhaena’s voice was an echo. He stopped suddenly, realizing he was pacing frantically about the tiny room. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” he replied.

His sister scowled at him and rolled her eyes. Jaehaerys felt a burning desire for a cup of honey wine.

“I’m hungry!” Daeron complained loudly. “Where’s Oswyck? He was supposed to bring me some candied ginger from mother!”

“Quiet, Daeron,” Rhaena said softly, patting him on the head. “If you’re hungry, have some crab stew. Here, I have a little left…”

She brought a bowl filled with a cream-colored broth to her brother’s mouth, but he waved it aside. “I don’t want any crabs!” he cried indignantly. “I want my ginger!” Daeron stood up and went for the door when Rhaena grabbed him and sat him down again, holding him loosely in her arms.

“Now Daeron, you know you can’t go outside. There’s a battle that’s to take place,” she cautioned, though the pale-haired boy just made a face when she spoke. “Be a good boy and stay here, and when all of this is over, I’m sure Oswyck will bring you a treat.”

“Do you think so?” Daeron looked up at her, his eyes wide and earnest.

Rhaena nodded. “Yes, sweet brother. Now…” she looked at Jaehaerys who broke their gaze almost at once, “what shall we do until the battle is over?”

Jaehaerys’ throat itched. “Oh, I know! I know!” Daeron squeaked, bouncing up and down in his sister’s lap. “I want to hear a story!”

“A story about what, Daeron?” she asked, curling a lock of her brother’s hair around a finger.

“I want to hear about Aegon the Conqueror!”

The ship was closing in on them just as the last rays of sunlight vanished beyond the watery horizon. Jaehaerys could now make out the three big masts of it from the room’s little port window. It’s almost as big as the Firewind. It should have near the same number of crew. That made Jaehaerys’ heart race even more. If we don’t have the advantage in numbers…

There was a knock at the door that startled the three Targaryens. Jaehaerys opened it cautiously and found Ser William Selmy standing on the other side, as noble a sight as the boy had ever seen. He was in his full armor, splendid and clean and strong, his sword sheathed, his visor raised. The Targaryen prince noticed Oswyck standing guard no more than a few feet from the door, facing the other direction.

“Do you require me, Ser William?” Jaehaerys asked.

The knight shook his head, rattling his armor. “No, my prince, I have come to bring you something.” He reached behind him and then pulled out a sword - a real sword, not one of the blunted ones they had been using to train together. It glimmered silver in the lantern light.

Gods be good. “For me?” Jaehaerys gulped. “A real sword?”

“Castle-forged,” the knight replied with a smile. “I know your lady mother doesn’t want you to fight, Jaehaerys, but should this battle turn against us, and the corsairs make it below deck…” his voice trailed off and he frowned, deep wrinkles etching themselves into his aged skin, “well, should it come to that, and I don’t expect it will, but should it come to that, I want you to be able to protect your brother and sister. You have grown to be a very capable warrior, my prince. I hope you can put your training to good use should the fighting make its way down here.”

Jaehaerys beamed. “Thank you, Ser.”

His sworn shield nodded and then stepped back. “They are almost upon us. I must return above deck. Remember, Jaehaerys, should you be forced to fight, do not panic. Clear your mind, stay light on your feet, and let your hand guide your blade. Don’t overthink it.”

“I won’t,” said the boy as he ran his fingers across the edge of the steel, feeling its sharpness. “Fight well, Ser.”

That made Ser William laugh. He put one hand on his sheathed sword, turned, and then strode away into the growing darkness.

Rhaena lit a parchment lantern and placed it on an iron chain hanging from the ceiling. The little room was bathed in flickering, dim light. She clutched Daeron in her lap, stroking his long, boyish hair. Jaehaerys stood in the corner, by the window, his sword in his hand, testing the weight of it. Daeron had been gleeful upon seeing his brother bring the sword back into the room, and indeed, even now, his eyes were steadfast on the blade. He wants to be a knight so bad, Jaehaerys observed. He wants to be just like me. But I am only a squire.

Jaehaerys wondered who he wanted to be like. Ser William or King Aegon, he guessed. Aegon the Conqueror was as good an idol as any, though as of late, Jaehaerys found that he reminded himself more of Daenys the Dreamer than the Conqueror, and that made him feel ashamed.

“I want to hear about the battle of Harrenhal!” Daeron proclaimed proudly, as if he should be congratulated for knowing his history.

“Well, it wasn’t really a battle so much as a slaughter,” Rhaena replied.

Daeron screwed up his puffy face. “Well, that’s what I want to hear!”

His sister chuckled. “As you wish, my prince. Well, as you know, Aegon the Conqueror arrived in Westeros on the very day King Harren completed his castle of Harrenhal - the largest, most magnificent castle in all of Westeros,” she began in a soothing voice.

“I knew that! I knew that!” Daeron whooped.

“Well, soon after landing, King Aegon set out to conquer all of Westeros and make it his new kingdom. One of the first places he conquered was the riverlands. At first, it appeared King Harren had the backings of all of the vassal houses in that region, as well as from the ironborn. But, when Lord Edmyn Tully decided to support King Aegon and his dragons instead, others soon followed, and Harren found himself without half the men he thought he had.”

There was a sharp bump that nearly made Jaehaerys fall to the ground. He grit his teeth and looked out the window again.

“What was that?” Rhaena asked him, fear in her voice.

“The pirate ship, I think. It’s reached us. The battle has begun.”

Jaehaerys noticed Daeron biting his lip, his deep purple eyes, flecked with green and gold, focused on Jaehaerys’ blade. Don’t worry brother, I’ll protect us if the pirates come for us. I have been trained well. I’ll be just like all the knights in the stories.

Above deck, Jaehaerys heard the shouts turn to war cries and screams of pain. It has begun. Please, he prayed silently, let Ser William and the others have this victory.

“Come on, Rhaena, tell the rest of the story!” Daeron said impatiently.

“Oh, yes, of course.” Rhaena’s eyes broke from Jaehaerys’, and the boy felt a cold shiver roll across his body. He wanted her, he knew. He wanted her then and there, as the battle raged above deck and men gave their lives for the three of them. But with Daeron here, it’s impossible. He felt his member stiffening, a heat rise in his cheeks and ears, and nearly laughed. I’ve never been more scared in my life, he thought, and yet my cock doesn’t suspect a thing. His heart was beating relentlessly in his ears again.

Rhaena continued on with her story, not noticing Jaehaerys’ flushed face.“Well, after Lord Tully declared for King Aegon, many other great houses of the riverlands joined with him. Battles were fought, and King Harren was pushed back to his impregnable castle. There, King Aegon met him in a parley.”

Even below deck, Jaehaerys could hear the clash of steel. Death cries filled the air, and Rhaena’s story was not drowning them out. A spear of panic cut through his chest. They’re too loud. There’s too many of them. He wondered which side was winning, how many were dying. Ser William won’t let us down. He’ll kill all of the pirates himself if he has to.

“King Harren told him, ‘What is outside my walls is of no concern to me. Those walls are strong and thick.’ But Aegon laughed and replied, ‘But not so high as to keep out dragons. Dragons fly.’”

“I wish I had a dragon!” said Daeron carelessly. “Then I could fly anywhere I wanted!”

Rhaena patted him on the head. “Quiet Daeron. If you want me to continue, do not interrupt me again, all right?” The small boy nodded, and Rhaena caressed him gently. Jaehaerys noticed how she stroked Daeron’s cheek and thought he had seen her do something similar with that very hand before. Only just this morning, and not on my cheek. Jaehaerys felt a throbbing in his trousers. “Good. So, let’s get back to the story: Harren was arrogant, and he underestimated the might of Targaryen dragons. He told the Conqueror, ‘I built in stone. Stone does not burn.’ And to that, all King Aegon said was, ‘When the sun sets, your line shall end.’”

The fighting was getting fiercer. Jaehaerys noticed flaming arrows shooting out into the dark waters, over the edge of the ship. The shouting was getting hoarser, and quieter. There’re fewer men to shout. Have we beaten them back? He ran his hand across the cold steel in his hand and felt a little better.

“And so that night, King Aegon rode Balerion over Harrenhal and used dragonflame to burn it to a crisp. So hot were Balerion’s flames that he melted the stones that made up proud Harren’s castle. Harren and his sons cooked alive in their tower, and when morning came, Harrenhal was a nigh empty, smoking ruin. King Harren was dead, his line ended, and the riverlands were Aegon’s.”

“All because of Balerion!” Daeron’s face lit up in glee. “Balerion sure was the best dragon, wasn’t he?”

“The very best,” Jaehaerys said with sudden passion. “No dragon could rival him, nor will any ever rival him.” He was the greatest dragon ridden by the greatest Targaryen, and I am only Daenys reborn, without even a dragon of my own. His flush began to cool.

If only my dragon had hatched. He thought back to his dragon egg, lying beneath the blankets in his cabin, and regretted that he hadn’t brought it with him here. He desperately wanted to feel its warmth against his skin. His neverborn dragon had grown to be a part of him, and Jaehaerys felt empty inside whenever they were not together.

Rhaena sighed. “When I was little, father took me to Harrenhal to watch a tourney. The tales are true - the towers looked like they were melted wax. Pity, that it had to come to that. It was the most beautiful castle I had ever seen…”

“Quiet!” Jaehaerys whispered, raising his hand. At once, Rhaena stopped talking, though her mouth remained wide open.

They could hear voices coming from outside the door. Then, the voices turned to shouts and grunts and shrieks of pain. Before Jaehaerys could raise his sword or think of what to do, a body crashed into the door and broke it into a thousand splinters.

Daeron and Rhaena yelled in terror, jumping up and running behind Jaehaerys. He stepped forward, fear thick in his beating, living heart, his sword pointed out to the darkness. He looked down, and saw from the flickering lantern light the face of the bloody body that had been flung into the room.

Oswyck’s face was cleaved open, his cheeks red gashes, his teeth a cracked and bloody ruin. His eyes - brown and pale - stared unseeing at the hanging, swinging parchment lantern above him. Jaehaerys felt a cold dread wrap itself around his body like a wolfskin cloak. He felt half of his face go numb. Behind him, Daeron began to sob. Rhaena tried to hush him, but her own voice was choked full of grief and horror too. Jaehaerys gulped. I am almost a man grown, he thought. I have to be brave.

Two men stepped into the doorway, grinning and licking their lips. One was tall and fat, bronze-skinned, his ears decorated with precious jewels and bands of gold. He wore a nose ring that held a dark ruby which seemed to dance in the meager light of the lantern. His companion was half as tall as him, weasel-faced and pock-marked. His skin was sallow, tattooed with strange patterns, and his teeth were the color of his companion’s skin. Neither wore shirts, revealing their bare, scarred chests. They held short, curved scimitars, and Jaehaerys noticed that their fingers were adorned in nearly as much jewelry as the taller one’s ears. These are experienced pirates. They have plundered far and wide. I must be careful.

“Who goes there?” Jaehaerys said as calmly as he could. He noticed that the hand holding his sword was quivering, causing his blade to swing back and forth almost as fiercely as the lantern overhead.

The taller one said something in a tongue Jaehaerys had never heard before. The shorter one laughed and licked his red lips again. “Lookit wha’ we found here, Bollo! ‘idden treasure for the cap’n!” he said in the Common Tongue, though his words were difficult to make out from under his thick, foreign accent.

“We don’t want any trouble,” Jaehaerys began, “please, just leave us be…”

“Arrgh, shuttup!” the shorter pirate roared. He jumped forward, swinging his scimitar wildly at Jaehaerys.

The squire parried the blow and stepped forward, trying to distance their fight from his helpless siblings. When the pirate went to strike again, Jaehaerys lunged at him, parrying violently, trying to knock the blade from his opponent’s grasp. Yet the shorter pirate had a surprising amount of strength. He blocked the boy’s attack and then lashed out with a flurry of strikes of his own. Jaehaerys could smell the bitter stench of the man’s breath now that they were so close. He’s drunk, the boy noted. That’ll make him careless.

Steel clashed against steel; sparks flew in the dim-lit room; the Firewind swayed back and forth; all Jaehaerys could hear were his shallow breaths and the distant screams of dying men. Stay light on your feet. Don’t overthink it. He swung recklessly at the man, who lept back to dodge the attack. The taller pirate ran forward at that moment, not allowing Jaehaerys enough time to react. The boy was hit into the wall, his head slamming against the porthole window and cracking it. Seeing spots and stars explode across his vision, Jaehaerys let out a bellow and pushed the fat man off of him. He drew up his blade and sliced outward, moving from foot to foot, almost dancing, as he struck and parried and fought for his life.

The shorter pirate had recovered by this time, and he attacked Jaehaerys at the same time as his companion. The boy had never trained two-on-one, and he did not have the weapon for that anyways. So, in desperation, Jaehaerys jumped to the side, staying as cagey as he could. He drew his blade above his head and brought it down on the shorter pirate’s arm. He felt the steel tear through flesh and muscle and scrape against bone. Blood flew and splattered across the young squire’s face. The man screamed and fell. Jaehaerys grinned. Feeling adrenaline surging through his veins, he rushed the fatter pirate, and with a war cry, swung his blade, trying to decapitate his foe. The bejeweled man effortlessly parried the attack and then pushed Jaehaerys back with his blade. Bollo’s strength was so unexpected that Jaehaerys lost his footing. As he hit the blood-soaked ground, the boy felt his sword slip from his grasp.

And then, Bollo was on him. His short curved blade poked into Jaehaerys’ neck and seemed to suck all of the air out of the prince’s lungs. The man said something to Jaehaerys in his foreign tongue. After Jaehaerys did not respond, he thrust his blade deeper into the boy’s neck, causing it to break through his skin. The squire felt a trickle of warm blood run down his skin.

“Jaehaerys, no!” he heard Daeron scream behind him, though it felt like they were a world apart. Jaehaerys felt numb again, felt like he was slipping out of his body. He didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t good enough. I’m no knight. He felt like crying, but had not the strength to.

“‘e can’t understand ya!” the shorter pirate suddenly shouted to Bollo. He sat up, his hand covering his bloody wound, a look a weariness in his eyes. Then he too yelled something in a foreign tongue, and a moment later, three pirates came into the room. They grabbed Jaehaerys, Rhaena, and Daeron and pulled them out of what had once been their hiding place.

The three Targaryens kicked and screamed. Rhaena bit the ear of her captor; Daeron spit in the face of his. Jaehaerys barely resisted. He felt so numb, so cold. This isn’t real. This isn’t happening, he told himself.

They were carried back up to the afterdeck and were met with a blast of seawind, salty as tears. The deck was afire, dead and dying men lying about in pools of dark blood. Jaehaerys saw one man with one of his arms cleaved off struggling to crawl away from the fire. Yet in a flash of light, he was overtaken. Then did his screams rise above the others’, and Jaehaerys had to look away. The blazing heat clung to his flesh, but it could not have been a colder feeling.

He wondered where his mother was; had she been captured or killed? Was she still leading the defense of the ship with Ser Jaremy and the others? Well, the defense was certainly going poorly, and Jaehaerys saw few of the Firewind’s crew still alive. Most of the people he saw running about were pirates, scavengers, plunderers, searching perilously for riches amongst bodies and flames. What happened to everyone? Why were they beaten so easily? Up ahead, Jaehaerys nearly gave into his emotions when he saw Ser Jaremy splayed on the ground, his armor riddled with arrows. He lay there unmoving, his sword fallen from his leather-gloved hands, blood pooling around the corners of his mouth.

Ser Merrik was a little ways ahead, sitting up against one of the ship’s masts. He had a wound to his leg that prevented him from standing. There were three or four dead pirates around him, and whenever another came running by to finish him off, he mustered up his strength and drove them back or killed them. Daeron shouted to his sworn shield, but the raging fires and sounds of battle muffled his voice, and Ser Merrik never heard him. It’s madness out here! Everything reeks of blood and fear.

From the smoke ahead, a man stumbled out, badly burnt. Jaehaerys could not tell if he was a pirate or a household guard. His skin was blackened and glowed red; his clothes were melted against his body. Hairless, noseless, his lips cracked and bleeding, he staggered forward, grabbed the sword of a fallen warrior and then charged at the pirates holding Jaehaerys, Rhaena, and Daeron. Yet, before he reached them, he seized up without warning and fell to his knees. The Targaryen prince heard the man’s weapon hit the deck with a heavy thud. The man knelt there for a few moments, looking around in confusion with eyes as blue as a summer sky. When the pirate holding Jaehaerys reached the man, he kicked him aside and kept on running, not pausing to see who he was. Jaehaerys closed his eyes, but all he saw were dancing flames and those two, burning blue eyes boring into him like icy daggers.

Rhaena was screaming again, her silk gown billowing around her as she kicked and fought her captor. Men holding torches ushered the three captives and their holders away from the Firewind, and towards the pirates’ ship, which was floating on the starboard side of the Firewind. Here, the bodies were more numerous. A dozen pirates and Targaryen household guards lay unmoving, the light of fire dancing across their exposed, pale flesh.

The pirates threw Jaehaerys and his siblings across to the other ship, where they were caught by more pirates. Every one of those cursed men smelled of rum and sweat. And before Jaehaerys could try to break free of them, his hands and feet were bound up with hempen rope so tight the rope cut into his skin and caused him to whimper. He looked over and saw that both Rhaena and Daeron had been bound up similarly. The tears on Daeron’s face glinted in the moonlight.

The pirates forced them to sit down on their knees. Jaehaerys felt so alone then; he felt like going away inside, but found his mind to be as equally hopeless as his present situation. There were drops of water falling down his face, though he didn’t know where they were coming from.

Jyanna Lannister was bound up just like her children, and was standing near the ship’s main brazier, surrounded by leering pirates on all sides. A tall pirate, a mountain of a man, with a bushy brown beard and only half a nose, was inspecting her, feeling her over with his hands. He was laughing loudly, his voice as deep and rough as a gust of winter wind. When Jaehaerys’ lady mother said something to him, his smile vanished, and he slapped her so hard, she fell over. Daeron was crying. Rhaena was crying. Jaehaerys felt like everything was moving in slow motion.

From the Firewind came another shout, and this time Jaehaerys knew the voice at once.

“Ser Edric!” Rhaena cried desperately. “Ser Edric! Save us! Please! Save us!”

And Jaehaerys saw him - Ser Edric Thorne, his face covered in blood and dirt, leading a small host of Targaryen and Lannister household guards. When they saw the Targaryen children on the pirate ship, their hands bound, they let out shouts of anger and fury, and Ser Edric led them forward, his blood-covered sword raised above his head. The host cut through the pirates still on the Firewind like they were flowers. Dozens stood against Ser Edric’s host, and dozens died. Once Ser Edric reached the edge of the boat, looking out towards the other ship, he began to say something (Jaehaerys thought he was telling his men to jump to the other vessel), when he was struck in the chest by an arrow and fell backwards.

The moon, bright and lonely, was casting a long shadow in the black waters. Rhaena’s shriek echoed across those bleak waters, never to return. A few household guards made the jump anyway. They were butched as soon as they landed on the pirate ship. Outnumbered perhaps ten to one, they fought bravely, but they were too few to save the princes and princess. Jaehaerys had to shut his eyes, to stop himself from seeing the savagery that was taking place before him. Limbs were hacked off. Flesh was ripped from bone. Men screamed and pleaded for mercy and were thrown into the sea. The last hope Jaehaerys and his siblings had of escape died with the last man as he was thrown howling into the midnight waters of the Summer Sea.

A loud creaking sound signalled the two ships breaking off from one another. The pirate ship sailed swiftly away, leaving the Firewind as a burning graveyard. Jaehaerys watched as his ship disappeared into the darkness. It was all so quiet now that the battle was over. The soft sound of burning wood was all he could hear over the cool waters as the two ships departed from one another. Where is Ser William? Was he killed in the battle? Is he still alive? Why didn’t he come to save me? Why couldn’t I save us? There was a heaviness in Jaehaerys’ heart. He wanted so badly to feel his dragon egg between his fingers again, feel its warmth, its life.

The Firewind would not last much longer burning like that, Jaehaerys knew. If the survivors did not put out the fires, it was sure to sink. Whether or not Ser William survived the battle would not matter. He only hoped they could get those fires out and then follow this ship to wherever it was headed. But Jaehaerys was not too hopeful. This ship caught up to the Firewind. It’s much faster. It’ll be able to escape without a trace, and they’ll never know where we’ve gone.

It rained. Cold drops battered Jaehaerys and the others like drums. He watched the blood of his foes wash away from his skin, and began to shiver. The squire saw his siblings shivering as well, though perhaps it was not the cold that was causing them to do so. The pirates, many of them bare-chested and scantily-clad, did not even flinch as the cold water began to drench them.

After what seemed like an eternity of this quiet march into oblivion, the captain of the ship called forth Jaehaerys and his brother and sister. He was a monster of a man, with a face that looked like it had been pulled out of the mud. His yellow eyes glowed like his gold teeth, and his hair was near as long as Jaehaerys’ lady mother’s, though as unkempt and unwashed as it was, it was a disgusting sight.

“Welcome ta the Maiden’s Slit, children,” the man chuckled. His voice was decidedly clear, his accent perhaps Westerosi, even. He picked at something in his beard and then ate it. “So nice of ya to join us.”

“Let us go, please!” Rhaena whimpered, rainwater running down her delicate cheeks. “We’re from the royal family of Westeros. We can pay gold…”

“Ahah!” The captain grunted. “Four ransoms!” He slapped his belly jovially. “Aye, the old wench mentioned ya’re royalty. It seems my luck has changed, ahaha!”

“Please… don’t harm my children,” Lady Jyanna spoke up then. Her face was still as glass, but the melancholy in her eyes nearly made Jaehaerys break down. “Do whatever you wish to me… but please, spare my children. I beg you…”

The captain grinned. “Oh, I’ll be doin’ plenty ta you, milady,” he said with a mock bow. “Ya said these three’re princes and princesses of Westeros, didn’t ya?” Lady Jyanna nodded tersely. “But you…” there was a glimmer in his eyes. His gold teeth glowed in the light of the brazier. “Ya ain’t no princess, milady.”

The color drained from Lady Jyanna’s face.

The captain drew a dirk and then pressed it to her breast. “Ya said yer from this house called… Lannysah or sommat.”

“Lannister,” Jaehaerys’ mother said coldly.

“That’s the one! Ahaha! And that ain’t the royal family, is it?”

She shook her head. The man giggled maliciously. “What luck! A wench this pretty and she ain’t even a princess!”

The man guffawed again. Suddenly, with a silver blur, his dirk sliced across the black Myrish lace holding together Lady Jyanna’s exquisite green robes, causing them to fall to the deck. Men let out lusty shouts in a dozen different tongues as the highborn woman’s naked body became apparent for all to see. Rainwater flowed down her pale, shapely body; Jaehaerys could not look away, but his face burned with shame all the same. His mother’s nipples hardened as the frigid water streamed down her breasts and through the sopping-wet bush of curly golden hair between her legs. Yet, for all the noise created by the pirates around her, Lady Jyanna kept her grace. She did not blush nor blink no bow her head. She stood there before the captain of the Maiden’s Slit, defiant and proud. She was a noble lady of House Lannister, and that was not something an uncouth pirate could take from her.

“Close your eyes, Daeron,” Rhaena instructed her brother. “Don’t look.”

The captain heard her and stopped his advance on Lady Jyanna. He walked over to the two and pointed his dirk at Daeron’s face. “Ya close yer fuckin’ eyes, I’ll cut ‘em outta yer skull. You watch this, boy. Watch what I’m about ta do ta yer mother.”

And so the three children watched the captain of the Maiden’s Slit have his way with their mother while his crew looked on. It was a feral thing, devoid of all elegance and passion - it was all instinct and unsatiated hunger. It was brutality and shame. And when he was done, the captain proclaimed loudly, “Alright boys, I’ve found us the new ship whore! Everyone who wants a turn, line up!”

Jaehaerys’ ears reddened. Cold rage flared up under his skin. He stood up, shrugged off the pirate guarding him and ran forward. No one makes a mockery of my family. When he reached the pirates standing around his naked mother, Jaehaerys ran past them and rammed himself right into the captain, who stood at the center of their group. The captain, who was not expecting this, tumbled over, falling flat on his monstrous belly. Jaehaerys stumbled and tried to reach with his bound hands to grasp around the man’s neck. But the other pirates caught him before he could and forced him back. He felt a few swift slaps to the back of the head that nearly made him lose consciousness. The boy was not ready to give up, though. I will make this fat man pay.

“The Others take you!” he snarled at the captain. He tried to run forward again, but the pirates held him back.

The captain stood up and rubbed his stomach where he had fallen on it. He squinted at Jaehaerys, as if seeing him for the first time. The ire in his pupils could have killed a thousand men. “So yer her son, eh? Don’t like what I’m doing ta yer mother, dya?”

“You’ll pay for this!” Jaehaerys roared. He felt the color rising in his head as he shouted, and it made him dizzy. It made him feel good.

“Oh will I?” replied the pirate, unconvinced. “Why don’t ya make me, ya little shit?!” He nodded to the other pirates to let Jaehaerys go.

The enraged squire stepped forward. “No pirate can stand against a dragon!”

Jaehaerys sprinted towards the captain. He could smell the salt in the air, taste his own madness. I will not let him get away with this. I will not! I’ll kill him! I’ll kill them all! Just before the young squire reached the massive man, the captain stepped forward and shot his hand out quick as a flash of lightning. Jaehaerys didn’t feel the blow hit him. He heard his nose crack, felt himself falling, and then felt and saw no more.

The Meek Prince

The air was redolent with the smells of vomit, piss, and nightsoil. They huddled together in the near darkness on beds of sodden straw reeking, miserable and shivering. The chains around Jaehaerys’ and his siblings’ wrists and ankles seemed to jingle every time the great pirate ship rocked back and forth. Elsewise, there was little noise. Occasionally, another prisoner would cough or moan or rattle their own chains, but no one spoke. No one had anything to say.

Since their capture by the pirates of the Maiden’s Slit, Jaehaerys, Rhaena, and Daeron had been kept in the bowels of the ship, cut off from daylight and their mother. Jaehaerys had not seen his mother since being knocked out by the pirate captain, though her near-constant sobbing above deck could be heard even deep in the confines of the slaves’ quarters at the bottom of the ship. Jaehaerys found it excruciating listening to that, day in and day out, knowing there was no way for him to save his mother. She was the only woman on the Maiden’s Slit, save for Rhaena, and the captain had ordered no one to touch Jaehaerys’ sister, lest her ransom be revoked. So Lady Jyanna suffered alone as the ship’s only whore. And for a crew this big, for pirates who had not seen the shore in many a moon, it seemed like they were inflicting Jaehaerys’ mother with a kind of misery and pain that knew no end.

His head was pounding and his broken nose itched. He could not scratch it, for his hands were chained above his head, a cruel punishment for him trying to attack the captain. His siblings were not drawn up in such a position, and neither were any of the other slaves. They sat huddled on either side of him, their heads bent in sorrow or perhaps sleep. He did not know. Jaehaerys hoped that the pirates were taking them back home. The ransoms would be high: hundreds, if not thousands, of gold dragons. It would be a tempting offer for these corsairs - likely more gold than they had ever seen. But what if the pirates are not taking us home? What if they don’t care about the ransom? That sent a wave of dread through his bones. No, Jaehaerys assured himself, I musn’t think that. I must be brave, for Daeron’s sake. We are going home. We are.

His stomach rumbled; his head ached. He felt dizzy. Someone began retching, and soon a chorus of coughing and gagging filled the room. Jaehaerys’ shattered nose was hit with a fresh wave of vomit, rank enough to make his eyes water. He shut them and let his body sway with the ship. Daeron began whimpering. Jaehaerys didn’t want to throw up, to look weak in front of his brother. I… I have to be strong. For their sakes. The aching in his head was making him feel queasy, making the inside of his skull feel like it was sloshing about like porridge in a bowl. He slowed his breathing, focused on the heartbeats pounding in his ears. He focused on the pain pulsing through his head and across his nose, the scraping of chains on his wrists, the soreness in his arms, the pain shooting across his forehead, the cold sweat coating his entire body. And then, in an instant, the smells and fears faded away and he was alone.

It was night, and the moon hung in a cloudless sky, half-full. Jaehaerys stood on the edge of a beach, dark sand covering his bare feet. A cool wind was blowing through his wet hair. He watched the waves come in and go out again, feeling the water’s grasp just touch his toes before receding again. There was something in the water, under the water, staring at him. When he saw it, he thought it was his father, and that scared him so bad that the boy ran off into the forest that lay behind him. He did not pause to see where he was going, not that he could have, for the forest was as thick as it was dark and wild. The boy felt branches and leaves slap his face and arms as he sprinted aimlessly. One branch hit him in the nose, and the pain he then felt nearly brought him to his knees. But terror drove him, and Jaehaerys could not stop. He kept running, running, running, never looking back, never stopping, with only his shallow breaths keeping him as company.

And then he came to a clearing where ash blanketed the ground like snow. Here, the trees were dead and leafless, save for one massive, bony stalwart just in front of Jaehaerys that was alive with roaring flames. The boy felt the heat on his face and stepped back. Above the trees, screaming echoed through the night. It chilled Jaehaerys to the bone. At first, it was one scream, and then a second joined the first. He could not tell what was making the noise. Was it a bird? No, it can’t be. It’s far too big, whatever it is. A dragon? He had never heard one scream like that.

Despite the light of the moon and the burning tree, the sky was dark, and the prince could not make out what was flying above him. He saw dark shapes pass below the moon, silhouetted against the pale light. And then, one let out another terrible scream. The trees shook. The boy felt warmth returning to him. The air seemed to pop and come alive with heat. And as he looked up again at the nameless things circling above him, he saw a flash of light and then one of the black masses came tumbling towards him. Run, he thought, panicked. Save yourself! But Jaehaerys couldn’t move. The black mass was so big that it seemed to swallow the sky as it tumbled down towards the ground. Jaehaerys tried to make out what it was, but he couldn’t. The night was too dark. The burning tree was no longer burning. Smoke rose from the blackened, twisted wood. The heat was becoming unbearable. Jaehaerys felt his face itch as rivers of sweat ran down it. He wanted to claw at his face, but he found he couldn’t raise his hands. The young squire looked up again and opened his mouth to scream as the black mass bore down on him. It’s going to crush me! He tried with all his might to move. But he couldn’t. He tried to scream, and he couldn’t even do that. His mouth opened and no sound came out of him. And then Jaehaerys was covered in darkness.

He awoke retching on the straw bed in front of him. He was seeing spots and his head was burning, as he spit up bits of hard bread and old, watery soup. “Wa… water…” he moaned hoarsely.

“Ain’t no water down ‘ere,” a voice spoke from the darkness ahead of him. “But we got black tar rum…”

Jaehaerys knew that voice. “P-please…” he pleaded.

A hand shot out from the darkness ahead of him and brought a cup to his mouth. The boy tilted his head back and let the sweet-tasting liquid flow down his throat. He nearly gagged again from its aftertaste, but this time he was able to hold it down. A fire was ignited in his veins that quickly snaked down his whole body. For a brief moment, the pain dissolved away, and he felt alive.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

“Shut yer ‘ole, cunt,” the voice rasped. “If cap’n didn’t wan’ ya ‘live, I’da knock all yer teeth out fer wha’ ya did!”

At once, a torch was lit, bathing the place in a low light. Jaehaerys saw the pirate whom he had fought against on the Firewind sitting on a bit of wood. He sneered a brown-toothed sneer and cradled his wounded arm, which was wrapped in thick bandages. Jaehaerys could see red stains on the white linen, where the blood had soaked through. Behind the pirate stood the other pirate whom Jaehaerys had met before - the fat, foreign man named Bollo, who spoke not a word of the Common Tongue. He leaned against a nearby wall of the Maiden’s Slit, his bronze skin covered in sweat, one hand on his sword hilt. He was not looking at Jaehaerys or his companion, instead staring off into the darkness with a look of supreme boredom. The shorter, wounded pirate, was staring at Jaehaerys. His face was scrawny, and his had a thin, black beard covering his pock-marked face. Rage danced in his eyes like flames.

Jaehaerys bowed his head and blinked, trying to adjust his eyes to this new light. The heat of the rum had died down and been replaced by a sickly burning in his cheeks and forehead. Jaehaerys once again felt his head pounding. He felt so hot he began to shiver.

“Whassat? Ain’t got nothin’ ta say, now that yer chained up, eh?” The pirate stood up and walked over to Jaehaerys. “If the cap’n didn’ wan’ ya ‘live, I’d make ya scream just like yar bitch mother,” he growled, unsheathing his knife and sticking it against Jaehaerys’ cheek, just below his right eye. The steel felt cold on his skin.

“No!” Daeron shouted. “Don’t you touch him, you monster!”

The pirate grinned. “Mind yer own business, kid, or I’ll gut ya like a fish.” He turned back to Jaehaerys, grinning. “Oh don’t worry, kid, I won’t kill ya! I’m just takin’ a little piece off that pretty face of yers…”

Jaehaerys looked up at the man and spit in his face.

The man snarled and stepped back, though he kept the knife to Jaehaerys’ flesh. After a moment, his smile returned. “Ya got some pretty eyes,” said the pirate. “Just like yer mother’s.”

The weasel-faced pirate pressed his blade into Jaehaerys’ cheek. The boy felt a jolt of pain explode across his face. Daeron was shouting again. The man was laughing. Jaehaerys tried to keep his gaze on the pirate, tried to open his mouth, but found he had not the strength. Black spots overtook his vision; numbness spread from his lips to the rest of his body like wildfire. I’ll kill you! I’ll wipe that smile off your ugly face, he thought. But the Targaryen prince had not the strength to say so aloud.

He felt his head drop, saw a single tear of scarlet drip from his cheek and fall into the filth below. I must stay strong. I must fight this! Look up, he told himself, look up and bite his nose off. But try as he might, Jaehaerys could not raise his throbbing head again. He watched the teardrop of blood fall in what seemed like slow motion, illuminated by the pirates’ torches, and when it finally hit the mess of vomit and piss at the edge of Jaehaerys’ bed, the boy saw no more.

In the coming days, Jaehaerys could barely tell what was real and what was not. He drifted in and out of consciousness as easily as one would drift from one thought to another. He noticed he was no longer chained to the wall of the ship, no longer surrounded by putrid smells, and that frightened him more than anything.

“Where’s Daeron… Rhaena… where are my siblings…?!” he asked once. There were dark shapes in his vision, blurry, black masses that seemed to coast in and out of sight like flying, flittering bugs. “Where… where are my brother and sister?” he asked again, and this time, one dark figure stepped closer to him. The faint, yellow color of a man seemed to materialize from the darkness. He was wrapped in robes and thick clothes, the small bit of his face that Jaehaerys could see being hidden behind a veil of curly grey hair and sweat. The man’s eyes were as black as the night. He pressed something to the boy’s forehead and Jaehaerys saw him no more.

He remembered being fed, feeling the shackles on his wrists clamor off one another as he tried to grab for the bowl and realized he was too weak to raise his hands so high. He fell back into weariness and sleep. There were voices that sometimes drifted into his ears, though he knew not if they were real. Every now and then, he heard a familiar scream coming from nearby - it was closer than before. Sometimes, a dark shape would be sitting in the corner of his room for what seemed like days and days and days. It frightened him. But at the same time, Jaehaerys realized that he was lying in a bed - that he was no longer in the slave’s quarters on the ship. He didn’t even know if he was still on the Maiden’s Slit, and that gave him a hope so fierce, he nearly choked on it. He wanted to sit up, to get out of bed and find that he was home.

He woke again much later - what seemed to be much later - and felt a little stronger. His vision had returned, and he saw that he was in a small cabin made wood. Candlelight flickered erratically about the ceiling, and he noticed that the room was rocking back and forth. I’m still on the pirate ship. Or maybe this whole thing was a dream and we’re going home. But no, that couldn’t be right. This wasn’t his room. It was too small. None of his things were here. Indeed, not much of anything was here. Aside from a mirror on the nearby desk, a few candles, a half-empty bowl of old food, and an abandoned chair at the opposite end of the room, the place was bare.

Jaehaerys felt his head. He still had a fever, but it had lessened significantly. He brushed his fingers across his nose, feeling the ruin of it and winced. That pain had not dulled with time. But, for the most part, he almost felt alright. Sitting up, he looked around for any sign of the pirates. When he saw none, Jaehaerys chanced a call to see where he was. His voice was answered almost at once, when from a nearby door, a short and hunched over man came waddling out. He looked up at Jaehaerys from behind a mess of robes and dark clothes that covered most of his body, save for a slit around his eyes and nose. Even in the darkness, Jaehaerys could see that this man’s face was familiar.

“Awake, are you?” the man asked him gruffly. “It’s about bloody time.”

“Where am I?”

“Pssh,” the man replied, walking over to Jaehaerys and handing him a cup of rum. The boy downed it in a single gulp and sighed deeply. The familiar feeling of fire in his veins calmed the dragons fighting in his skull, if but for a moment. “You ain’t gone anywhere, kid.”

“Then why am I here? Where are my brother and sister?”

“Cap’n wanted you up here to be treated. I made sure you didn’t die, I did,” the man said proudly. He sat down on the edge of Jaehaerys’ bed. “We almost lost you, kid. Hell, if you wasn’t a prince of the Seven Kingdoms, we’d a let you die. But you’re valuable, I s’pose.”

Jaehaerys let himself fall back into bed - his strength had not yet returned, and he could not stand sitting up another second. “Thank you for saving me, my lord. May I know your name, so that I may thank you properly?”

The other man grunted and turned away from Jaehaerys. “My name? Bah! I am an old man, and I’m on this ship, same as you. That’s all that matters.”

“Be that as it may,” Jaehaerys began, “you speak the Common Tongue naturally. Are you not from the Seven Kingdoms?”

“I served the Old King, aye,” the man replied unenthusiastically. “But that was a long time ago. Nowadays the whole country seems to be at war.” He spit angrily.

“They’re calling it the Dance of the Dragons,” Jaehaerys noted.

“That makes it sound almost beautiful,” the old man said. “But I’ve lived too long to believe that. War is ugly; there ain’t no dancing, ain’t no elegance to it, I promise you that. And I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t want to see all that death, all that pain, all that suffering… I don't’ know why anyone would. So that’s why I left, and I don’t mean to go back.”

Jaehaerys cocked his head. “And you became a pirate?”

“I was captured by one,” the man said, shrugging.

Jaehaerys narrowed his eyes. “So you’re a slave just like us!” Jaehaerys leaned forward, and the man finally turned to look at him, his dark eyes appearing as two spots of watery coal behind his layers of robes. “You can help us escape! We can help each other get out of here.”

The old man stood up. “Cap’n Malligan has ordered me to keep you alive. I will do that. But I can’t save you from everything, kid - least of all yourself. Don’t go and waste all the effort I’ve put into you by getting yourself killed.”

And with that, the man left the room.

In the morning, Jaehaerys was greeted by none other than Captain Malligan, the huge, red-bearded man who called himself captain. He looked like a giant and smelled of rum. When the captain entered the room, Jaehaerys had been breaking his fast on hard bread and watery porridge. The captain did not come alone, for the short, weasel-faced pirate was there with him. The two entered without a word and then closed the door behind them. The weasel-faced guard sat down in the far chair, while Malligan stood over Jaehaerys, his arms crossed, his yellow eyes shining with lust.

“Yar back with us.”

“I’m not dead yet.”

“Good, good. I don’t want ya dead, ya know. Yer better use ta me alive.” The big man chuckled and picked at his beard. “And anyways, ya look better now, ahaha! I like what ya’ve done with yer nose!”

The remark cut deep, causing Jaehaerys’ ears to redden in embarrassment. Since he had awoken last night, he had glanced at himself in the mirror, beholding a pale corpse with a ravaged nose and a deep cut in his cheek. He looked nearly as broken as he felt. If they ever got back home, Rhaena would never look at him as she had before. She won’t want me anymore.

“Rooney here,” the pirate captain continued, pointing to the wounded pirate in the seat behind him, “told me that ya were the one who wounded him. Yer good with a blade, I see.”

Jaehaerys sat up, trying to regain his composure. “I was trained by Ser William Selmy, the finest knight in the Seven Kingdoms.” Perhaps that was a bit exaggerated, but they will never know. And if Ser William is dead, that’ll give him a good laugh.

“Eh? Ehahaha! Yer gonna grow up to be a knight one day, are ya?”

Jaehaerys stared back at the man and noticed that the light from the torches seemed to gravitate towards Malligan’s beard. The effect produced something that looked like fire - an imposing, demon-like sight. Upon noticing the ghastly sight, the boy became tired and broke his gaze before he could speak. It made his words come out much feebler. “I-I want to become the greatest knight in the history of the Seven Kingdoms,” he tried to say.

“But yer the prince,” the captain retorted. “And one day yer gonna be king. Kings can’t be knights. It’s not proper.”

What is he going on about? I’m not going to be the next king. My family’s only distantly related to the current king. I’m perhaps the tenth in line to the throne, not counting Aegon III’s line, which hasn’t even begun yet. Unless nearly every other Targaryen dies, I will never sit the Iron Throne. But doesn’t he know this? Jaehaerys studied Captain Malligan’s ruddy face. The captain held steady a queer and uncertain expression. No, he realized suddenly. He really does think I’m going to be the next king. Did mother tell him that? It would make sense if she had. To protect her children, Lady Jyanna would most certainly lie, and like Jaehaerys himself had done moments before, she was like to exaggerate to suit her own purposes. Jaehaerys’ mother stating that her children were in line to become the next kings of Westeros meant they were worth more than distantly-related members of the royal line.

“I… yes, that’s true. I guess I’d just rather be a knight than a king,” Jaehaerys offered. “It always seemed to be more fun to go on adventures and hunt down evil outlaws. When I was younger, I thought about giving up the throne to my younger brother so I could pursue being a knight, but…” Jaehaerys noticed how Malligan’s demeanor shifted at that - the man’s eyes narrowed and he seemed to consider the squire with great suspicion, “… b-but, I grew out of that. Not all of us can grow up to be knights, after all. I had to put my duty before my desires.”

The captain suddenly burst out into laughter. “Eh, that’s true, I’ll give ya that!” He patted Jaehaerys fiercely on the shoulder, causing the boy to wince and sink deeper into his bed. “Ya got Rooney good, and he’s one of my best swordsmen. Hell, if ya weren’t a prince, I’d make ya my new first mate. But yer too valuable for that.”

“‘ey, Cap’n, no fair!” Rooney protested from the chair, but Malligan waved him off.

“Shut the fuck up,” he growled. “Did I give ya permission ta speak?” When Rooney went red and sunk down into his own chair, Malligan once again turned to face Jaehaerys. “If I was a different man, I’d take ya back home myself,” he sighed. “Would be nice to see home again - but of course yer not from as far north as I am, no.” The pirate scratched his beard, which seemed to flow like flames in the low light. “Would be nice to get put in the history books, too. ‘Captain Malligan… captures the crown prince of the Seven Kingdoms and returns him home safely for the biggest ransom in history’… aye, that would be a fine story. Worthy ta be told over mugs of rum, I’d say! Shame it’s not gonna happen.” There was sadness in the man’s eyes. “I know now I’m never goin’ home. Too much money ta be made out here… and too little time.”

Jaehaerys’ mouth was agape, and when the captain saw this, he grunted humorously again. That caused a cold sweat coat the boy’s entire body. “Wait… if you aren’t taking us home, where are you taking us?”

“Yer my slave,” the captain said with a sardonic grin. Then, he stepped back and made his way toward the door. “I’m going to sell ya ta whoever wants ya.”


The captain shook his head and slapped his belly. “Whoever takes ya’ll know about the ransoms. They’ll take ya back home… maybe. I think whoever buys ya’ll be someone who wants ta get that ransom. But me, I ain’t got time for that. There’s more money ta be made out here selling slaves. And I reckon you’ll be my most expensive one yet, hahaha!” Malligan looked to Rooney, nodded to him, and said something in a foreign language, and then turned back to Jaehaerys. “Good ta see ya didn’t die. Yer gonna live, and yer gonna make me a lot of money. That’s good fer both of us.”

With that, Captain Malligan ducked down and stepped out of the small room, leaving Jaehaerys and Rooney behind. At first, silence pervaded the room. Jaehaerys didn’t want to look at the ugly, dirty pirate. But when he noticed that Rooney was staring at him, Jaehaerys was forced to return the gaze. The other man was chewing on his fingers as he locked gazes with the Targaryen squire.

“What do you want?” Jaehaerys asked him.

“Shut it,” Rooney replied. “Lucky I don’t kill you meself. If Cap’n wouldn’t gut me for it, I’d do it. I swear I would.”

So Jaehaerys slumped down into bed again. He rubbed at the metal chains around his wrists where they were chafing against his pink flesh. I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to get Rhaena, and Daeron, and mother back to safety. But the squire knew not how that could be done. And as he lay there, Rooney watching him, he saw no hope in his escape. Has he been watching me as long as I’ve been up here? Even at night? There was no one in in the room last night, but that didn’t mean Rooney or Bollo or another pirate wasn’t outside the door just waiting for him to flee.

It was at that moment that Jaehaerys realized that although he had his hands and legs chained together, he wasn’t actually chained the wall or the bed. Perhaps they had thought him too sickly to escape; perhaps that old man had needed to move Jaehaerys around as he had tended to him. Regardless, Jaehaerys was still not chained down, and now that he was getting his strength back, he knew his window to escape was small. Maybe tomorrow they would realize they needed to tie him to the wall. Even with his hands and feet chained together, he could escape - he could find a knife or sword or some other piece of metal and pick at his locks. He could escape.

Jaehaerys looked up at Rooney again. The wounded pirate was biting mercilessly at the fingers of his left hand, not watching Jaehaerys. The boy felt a sudden rush, a sudden desire to get up and run at Rooney. Perhaps he could wrap his chains around the man’s neck and suffocate him quietly. Yet as the Targaryen prince sat up to prepare for this, he felt waves of exhaustion spread through his body. He felt how weary his arms and legs were. And he knew he had not the strength to kill Rooney. Not yet. I need more time.

But time was not on Jaehaerys’ side.

In the coming days, Jaehaerys asked both the old healer and Rooney for his brother and sister to be brought to him, but neither paid him any attention. He assumed they were still alive, for Malligan seemed to understand their monetary worth, at least. But if they were still in the hull of the ship, amongst the filth and darkness and other slaves, separated from their brother… it left Jaehaerys feeling ill and roused him into a rage that made even Rooney keep himself on guard.

During the days, a pirate - usually Rooney - sat in the cabin to watch Jaehaerys. At night, there was no one present, though Jaehaerys guessed that there were probably pirates nearby. Did they want to bait him into getting up at night? That would be all Rooney needed as an excuse to kill him.

Still, the days passed by with little of note. Jaehaerys spent most of the time sleeping or eating or using his chamber pot. He was not allowed to get up and move about, so he was not certain how much he was regaining strength, though he did sometimes test out his strength at night when no one was around. Still, in the confines of the room, in heavy chains, he found that being able to move about a little was hardly useful and did not help him gain knowledge of his own capabilities. He wanted to be able to run free on the deck, to be able to use his arms and legs as they were meant to be used, but alas, Jaehaerys was a slave, and what he wanted did not matter.

It was on the third day after he woke up from his fever dreams that Jaehaerys saw Rooney enter into his room with a most curious item.

“Bollo found it on yar ship,” Rooney said with grim satisfaction. “Gave it to me as a present. Good man, Bollo is. I’ve always wanted meself a dragon egg.”

He held up a small, scaled egg so black it looked burnt, with streaks of light blue coursing between its scales. When Jaehaerys’ face went white with horror, Rooney smiled that brown-toothed smile of his and grinded his teeth. “This’s yers, innit?”

The boy did not reply. He kept his eyes trained on the egg. This isn’t happening, Jaehaerys thought. He tried to calm his mind, to clear the anger from his head, but no matter what he tried, he could not let the rage die down. It’s my dragon egg! He cannot take that from me too! I have to kill him. I have to. This has gone too far.

Rooney sat back in his chair and laughed. He ran his hand over the egg, feeling its scales just like Jaehaerys used to do. “Cold, innit? Why’s it so bloody cold? Is it dead?”

“No!” Jaehaerys snarled. “It’s alive. It’s warm. You’re just dumb. You’re not a dragon.”

“Notta dragon?” Rooney laughed. Jaehaerys could tell the man was drunk. “Whassat supp’sed ta mean? Yer notta dragon either.”

“I am the Blood of the Dragon!” Jaehaerys replied, his voice quivering with anger. “My ancestors conquered Westeros on the backs of dragons. We are the last dragonriders in the whole world!”

Rooney bit at a finger for a long time before responding. When he finally did, he began to rub the dragon egg again. “And ‘ave you ever ridden a dragon?”

Jaehaerys did not respond.

“Thought so,” the man said.

He will die for that. Jaehaerys sat up, feeling the weight of the chains on his wrists. He felt better than before, felt stronger. The days of recuperation under the care of that old man had allowed Jaehaerys to return to proper health - at least, as proper as he could imagine. He wasn’t able to actually test his balance or how the weight of the chains would affect his movement. But he had to try.

From the corner of the room, Rooney took out a knife and stuck it in the dragon egg. It didn’t pierce the egg, for the armored shell was quite too much for simple steel. But the gesture itself was enough to get Jaehaerys’ attention.

Rooney had a knowing look in his eyes. He poked the dragon egg a few more times and then set it down on the cabin’s floor, a few arm lengths away from where he was sitting, as if daring Jaehaerys to get up and try to grab it. At the same time, the weasel-faced pirate clasped the knife tightly in his unbandaged hand. He wants me to attack him. So Jaehaerys laid back down and tried to sleep. The rage in his veins was hot and begged him to try to kill Rooney. But that’ll just get me killed. And mother and Rhaena and Daeron won’t be better off with me dead.

Thinking about his mother made Jaehaerys realize that he hadn’t heard her screams for several days. He scratched at his broken nose and felt a familiar pain wash over him.

The next few days went by without incident, though Rooney continued to mock Jaehaerys with his dragon egg. The boy did his best to not let the pirate’s words provoke him, but after three days of this, he was ready to die.

If I must die for the honor of my dragon, so be it.

On the fourth day, Jaehaerys had had enough. “Enough!” the boy shouted, jumping out of bed, his chains rattling violently. “Give me back my dragon egg!”

“Or what?” Rooney sneered. He licked his lips and stood up too. “What ya gonna do, slave? Yer lucky yer above deck at all. If you wasn’t worth so much on the flesh markets, I’da slit yer throat.”

“Shut up!” Jaehaerys stepped forward. His rage made him feel light in the head, made him feel reckless and bold. “You can’t kill me. Your captain said so. He’ll kill you if you do anything to me. Unless you give me that dragon egg, you’ll end up dead one way or another.”

“Ain’t no slave gonna talk ta me like that! Fuck Cap’n. Fuckit all! Ain’t no slave gonna tell me what ta do! I’ll kill Cap’n myself if I have to! If he thinks yer more important than me… well maybe it’s time for Bollo and Rooney to become the new Cap’ns!” Rooney shrieked. He drew his knife and picked up the dragon egg. For a few moments, he stood there, his chest heaving, sweat pouring down his face. Then, he stood up straight, composed himself, and shook his head. “Fuckin’ slave. Gettin’ me all riled up. Cunt.”

“Give it back.”

Ignoring Jaehaerys, Rooney paced back and forth, waving his knife drunkenly as he spoke to himself, “And besides, this fuckin’ egg’s worthless! It’s a dead dragon!”

“He’s not dead!” replied Jaehaerys, brandishing his chains and preparing to charge.

Rooney continued to ignore him. “I ain’t got no use for a dead fuckin’ dragon, I’ll tell ya that.” He looked Jaehaerys dead in the eyes, saw the pain in the boy’s face, and grinned. “This dragon means everythin’ ta ya, eh?”

Before the squire could respond, the pirate turned around and opened the porthole situated just above the chair he usually sat in. A burst of cold air shot into the room. The candles all went out. Smoke filled the air. Jaehaerys could smell the salt of the sea. Both his and Rooney’s hair began to blow about as a cold wind rushed into the room.

“Give me my dragon egg,” Jaehaerys said once again, “or die. I almost killed you once, and I’ll finish you this time if I have to. You don’t scare me.”

“Ya want yer egg, cunt, why don’t ya join yer mother, and go get it?!”

And with that, Rooney threw Jaehaerys’ dragon egg out the porthole window.

The candles in his room were burning low when Jaehaerys got out of bed. His hands shook. He smelled blood. Balancing himself over the cabin’s writing desk, the boy watched blood fall in fat splotches onto the dark wood. He thought back to when he used to live in King’s Landing, when he had often awoke in the night with nosebleeds, and how the servants had tended to him every time. He didn’t even know if his parents knew that this was a common occurrence. He guessed not. The servants wouldn’t tell Lord Targaryen and Lady Lannister such a trivial thing. They wouldn’t their masters to know that Jaehaerys was broken.

One servant woman named Esgred had told Jaehaerys after the third or fourth night this happened that he could die if it continued. One night, mayhaps, he would not wake up in time, and the blood would trickle down his throat and drown him. There was always that possibility, Esgred warned him.

Jaehaerys had been quite young then - this had been before Daeron had been born - and responded by telling the servant woman that he was the Blood of the Dragon.

“A dragon cannot be killed by such a little thing,” he had told her.

Esgred had just laughed at that. “My little lord, many noble dragons, young and old, have died from less.”

The nosebleeds came less frequently as he grew older, but they never stopped completely. He still got a few every month, and it seemed like his nose didn’t realize that it had been broken. Still the nosebleeds came, despite Jaehaerys now being Captain Malligan’s slave.

When the blood stopped running freely, the boy blew out every candle and walked over to the door. He had been waiting for this moment all day. He had restrained himself from attacking Rooney only because he knew doing so would result definite confinement. He would be locked away, chained up, and there would be no chance for freedom or revenge.

The Targaryen prince opened the door slowly, peering into the next cabin. This room was much bigger than the last, and on the walls hung many trophies - some of animal skulls, some of gold and silver and gems. The room smelled of exotic spices and black tar rum. In the center of the room was a massive bed, where Jaehaerys saw Captain Malligan sleeping. The red of his beard danced with the room’s candles even as the captain snored loudly. The boy moved forward. He saw that, just on the other side of the door, a pirate was sleeping, sitting in a stool up against a wall. This man’s face was unfamiliar to Jaehaerys, though the boy knew he was the night guard, meant to keep Jaehaerys from escaping.

He’s had too much rum.

Jaehaerys raised his hands quietly and prepared his chains. He could strangle the man silently before the man could react to what was going on. That was, if Jaehaerys did this perfectly. If he didn’t, well Captain Malligan would wake up, and Jaehaerys would be thrust into far greater danger. Warrior, make me brave, the boy thought. Let me have the courage of a knight, like Ser William or Ser Jaremy. Let me have the strength to see this through.

Jaehaerys’ breathing quickened. His hands shook. Kill him, he told himself, over and over again. Make them pay for what they did to you.

His eyes became hot and wet, and his vision blurred. Still his hands remained outstretched towards the sleeping pirate, and still they refused to move just a little bit forward. They deserve to die. Every one of them. That was my dragon egg… my dragon. He was not dead… and I’m not either. I’m not dead yet. They have to pay for throwing him into the sea. They have to…

Jaehaerys’ hands fell to his sides, causing his chains to rattle slightly. Neither Malligan nor the other pirate woke up, though. I’m broken, Jaehaerys thought, and that bleak thought almost brought forth the tears. But before he could give into despair, Jaehaerys saw it - sitting on the edge of a table next to Malligan’s bed, was a necklace wrought of red gold, shimmering in the candlelight.

It was placed between a pile of books and papers and was mostly hidden under some old clothes. It had been under there for some time - a few days, perhaps even a week or two - it seemed. Why is mother’s necklace here? Did the captain take it off her to humiliate her?

Perhaps. But he had not heard of his mother in a long time, and Jaehaerys wondered why Rooney didn’t bring her up anymore too. If he had been raping her like all the others, he would have certainly mentioned it to Jaehaerys to make the boy angry. Was she gone? And what did Rooney’s comment earlier that day mean? Why don’t you join your mother? Jaehaerys gripped the band of red gold and returned to his room.

These pirates were not smart, but they greatly outnumbered him, and as long as he was in chains, he had no hope of overcoming him. He could get revenge on one of them, maybe two if he was lucky. But then they would take him out. They would kill him or torture him or make his life a living hell. They might kill Daeron or Rhaena to hurt him. The gold the Targaryen hostages were worth meant a lot to Malligan, but it wasn’t worth his life, and it wasn’t worth his honor. The captain would kill Jaehaerys before allowing the boy to damage either of those things.

The boy sat back down in bed. If someone buys us and does take us back to Westeros, then we will be safe. Everything will turn out okay - well, most everything. My dragon egg won’t come back. And mother… Jaehaerys felt a rawness in his throat, and he desperately craved some rum. Alas, there was none to be had for a slave and a prisoner at this hour of the night. He held his mother’s necklace firmly to his chest. Even if we get home after all of this, it won’t fix everything. I want to make those pirates pay. I want to make them hurt for what they’ve done.

Yet he had not the power to do so. Not here, not now. What’s the use in being a dragon, he thought, if I can’t burn all my foes away?

The darkness gave no reply. But as soon as Jaehaerys closed his eyes, he saw the face of Esgred, worn as an old rock, laughing and shaking her head at his naïveté.

The Captain's Catch

Grey were the clouds and grey were the waves the morning they came upon Talon. Jaehaerys Targaryen and the other slaves stood in rows upon the deck of the Maiden’s Slit as it eased its way into port, pirates pacing around them on all sides. It’s not like we could escape, the boy thought, looking around, we’re all in chains. How much he would have given to have his sword back…

All of them stood in tattered rags, dirt on their faces, reeking and silent. Half of them were greensick, and the other half appeared more like walking corpses, so listless were their gazes. All of them were broken. All of them save for him. Captain Malligan wants a good price for me. He still thinks I’m the crown prince of Westeros. Jaehaerys was well-groomed, clean and washed, clothed in soft green silk, as Captain Malligan had ordered; he suspected he had been better fed as well. The captain wanted to make an impression with the buyers, the boy knew. He wanted to show them all that he had the true heir to the throne of Westeros. Were it true, the boy would fetch the pirate lord a monstrous price. Jaehaerys just hoped that someone would believe it. He wanted to go home more than anything.

Around them, in the churning grey waters, dozens of other cogs, carracks, and galleys held anchor, their sails flying black. Pirates all, Jaehaerys knew. The boy could see a port in the distance; a shanty town covered in rows of rickety wooden buildings loomed up from the sharp, black rocks on the shore in a desperate attempt to cling to the island. This was not just a place for the pirates to congregate, it appeared. This was their kingdom, their home.

Where this island was, the boy was not sure. He had never heard of a place called Talon before, nor had he ever seen it on the maps he had been forced to study as a child in King’s Landing. How such a large collection of corsairs and slaves had come together to form a kingdom of their own made no sense to the boy. If this place was an island in the Stepstones, surely his own kin or the leaders of the Free Cities would have sent a fleet to root it out. No, they were somewhere different, somewhere far away. That thought chilled Jaehaerys to his bone. He knew there was no escape.

Rhaena and Daeron stood solemnly next to the young squire. They had fared as the others had, and Jaehaerys had felt a cold rage when he had seen them for the first time since being separated from them. He wanted to make the captain pay for keeping his brother and sister holed up in the bottom of the ship, left to fester in their own shit and vomit. There was guilt too, tugging at his heart like a spear. He knew he did not deserve to be spared the horror they had endured. It was his place to protect them, to be their knight, now that Ser Merrik and Ser Edric were gone. A single lie from mother, he thought. That was all it took.

As they neared port, the Maiden’s Slit passed by a small war galley. The pirates on that ship whooped and hollered at Malligan’s crew. Some of them exchanged a few coarse words back in a gutteral tongue the boy did not understand. They were all laughing. They’re probably talking about how much they’re going to sell us for. He clenched and unclenched his fists. He had to calm himself. He could not let his rage take ahold of him. As much as Jaehaerys wanted to kill these pirates, he knew there was little chance of that happening, given his current position.

Up ahead was an anchored warship, its hull black as pitch. Its deck was empty, but the wind that blew through its sails seemed to give it a little life… that, and the half-decayed skulls that festooned its hull on hempen rope like gemstones on a necklace. The smell of rotting flesh soon came to them, and Jaehaerys had to look away. Others gagged, and at least one black-haired woman who stood before Jaehaerys fell to her knees retching. A pirate quickly ran over and whipped her back to her feet. Jaehaerys kept his eyes trained on her, watching the lines of crimson run down her dark, dirt-covered skin. He thought he heard a sob coming from behind him.

Soon the great pirate galley came to its stop, laying anchor just off the coast of the rocky, windswept island. A scraggly, oily-haired pirate told the group of slaves that Jaehaerys was a part of that they had arrived at Barter Beach. Jaehaerys barely understood the broken, base Valyrian the man was speaking, but he understood the tone well enough. Barter Beach was to be their only stop.

Upon hearing this, many of the slaves began to shift uncomfortably, and at least a few let out shrieks of despair. One man near the edge of the ship abandoned reason for madness and jumped overboard. As all the slaves were chained together, his nearest neighbors went tumbling over the side with him and continued to do so until the pirates ran over, unhooked the chains of a man now dangling over the edge of the water, and broke the line. The man fell screaming into the bay; all in all, half a dozen had gone overboard, and none would be coming back.

Jaehaerys put his hand around his brother’s shoulder and hugged him tight. Looking down, he saw the tear stains on Daeron’s cheeks, etched in the dirt and grime that coated the boy’s once-cheerful face. This will all be over soon, Jaehaerys promised himself. We will survive this. He hoped his brother understood as much, for it would have been the whip for Jaehaerys had he spoken. Instead, Daeron bowed his head and began quietly sobbing again.

Swearing to themselves, the pirates ordered everyone back into lines and began the long process of spiriting them away to Barter Beach on smaller, faster boats. Jaehaerys and his siblings were ordered into the first boat, for they were the captain’s prize, his guarantee to future riches. The three of them clambered into a little boat, already being lowered down by several members of the pirate crew. On the ship was Captain Malligan himself, as well as Rooney, Bollo, and several others. Malligan beamed when he saw Jaehaerys.

“Lookin’ good, lad. Just a little while longer, and yer gonna make me a rich man. Har har har! Dontcha worry, kid. This won’t take much longer!”

Jaehaerys looked away from the hulking man, biting his lip. He felt Daeron huddling up against him, felt Rhaena trembling beside him. He had to be brave for both of them. He had to. But he felt just as scared, just as uncertain as them. He wanted to reach for his mother’s necklace, stashed away in his left boot. But that would be a foolish thing to do, and Jaehaerys knew he had done more than enough foolish things already.

Talon was a fervid, wet place, so humid Jaehaerys found himself struggling to breathe. Fat black flies swarmed through the thick air in roving bands, buzzing and biting at any living thing within sight. Each one stung and produced red bumps on the skin - some of the larger flies were even able to draw blood, the boy quickly found out. Yet, the pirates didn’t seem to mind. They did not recoil or scratch or curse like the slaves. That’s years of being on this island, getting used to the pain, Jaehaerys knew.

Malligan and his crew led Jaehaerys through the golden sands of Barter Beach up to a row of metal barred pens. Into the first one, he and his siblings went. The dozens of other boats of slaves filled the pens around them. This is a flesh market, Jaehaerys realized, like in Slaver’s Bay. He had been taught about Slaver’s Bay and its rich, brutal history in the slave trade back in King’s Landing by Grand Maester Orwyle. He had thought that old Ghiscari concept had died out… but apparently not. Here, at the end of the world, the slave trade was thriving.

“I thought you were gone.” Rhaena’s voice cut through the sweltering air like wings in flight.

Jaehaerys turned around to find his sister sitting up against the far wall, cradling Daeron in her arms. He appeared to be asleep, or at least trying to sleep. “They took me,” Jaehaerys began, “I-I had no choice.”

“I know,” she replied, letting her eyes fall to her younger brother. She ran her hand through his hair and sighed. “I just thought you had left us, like…”

“I tried to get them to bring you above deck, too. I told them we were all Targaryens, that you were my sister and Daeron was my brother, but they didn’t care. They only cared about me, because… because they thought I was the crown prince of the Seven Kingdoms.”

Rhaena’s eyes widened. “Who gave them that idea?”

Jaehaerys looked away. “It doesn’t matter. All that matters now is that whoever buys us will know that. Captain Malligan told me they will take us home for a ransom.”

“A ransom?” His sister’s voice was as thin as a razor’s edge. “And what happens when they find out you aren’t the crown prince?”

“Quiet!” he commanded, glancing around wildly. There were no pirates nearby, not yet at least. Malligan and his lackeys had walked off to the far edge of the shore, where the boats were beached, to talk with another group of men. “Don’t let them hear you.” The prince winced at the harshness of his own voice. He felt sweat rolling down his brow and wiped it away. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s the heat… it’s making me sick. I want to get out of here just as much as you, sister. But you know we can’t escape. Not from this cage.”

Rhaena placed her free hand on one of the metal bars, then grasped it firmly. “We are not slaves. We are dragons. We must get out of here. We cannot let them sell us off to some other monster.”

“They’ll kill you if you try. Don’t,” Jaehaerys walked over to her and squatted down. “We need to get home. Think of Daeron. This isn’t a game, Rhaena.”

“I know,” she replied. “That’s what annoys me.”

At that moment, Daeron raised his head and looked around. “I want mother!” he screamed, shrilly. “Mother! Mother!! MOTHER!!! Where are you, mother?!?!”

“Hush, Daeron!” Rhaena whispered calmly. She pushed him back to her chest and rubbed his head through his hair. “Go back to sleep.”

“Where’s mother?” the little Targaryen prince squeaked again. “I want to see her.”

“Shh,” his sister soothed. “You will see her soon, I promise. Go back to sleep. You were having a bad dream, Daeron. Mother is fine. We will see her soon.”

Daeron nodded sheepishly and laid his head back down on Rhaena’s chest. Within a few moments, he was fast asleep again, and Jaehaerys could hear his brother’s breathing coming in soft, rhythmic pulses.

“Sometimes there is truth in dreams,” Jaehaerys said, standing up again and walking over to the far wall.

Rhaena gave her brother a reproachful look. “You know as well as I there’s still a chance…”

“One of the pirates said something to me… something I know means she’s gone.” Why don’t you join your mother. Rooney had said those words just before he had thrown Jaehaerys’ dragon egg into the sea. The thought still enveloped the boy in a cold rage, one that made him want to strangle that ugly pirate to death, to watch the life leave those beady little eyes.

“What?” Rhaena’s voice was faint.

Jaehaerys shook his head. He didn’t want to repeat Rooney’s words. “If mother were still alive, she would have been on the deck with the rest of us. And she would be in here right now…”

Rhaena looked away, scrunching her face up in a frown. Jaehaerys saw tears in her eyes, and he felt them coming to his own. He looked away and blinked heavily. The pirates continued to talk amongst themselves on the far side of the beach. Jaehaerys wondered what they were all saying to one another. Probably trying to work out how much we’re worth. It’s a lot more than what they’re worth, he thought angrily. If Malligan and his brutes were in here instead of us, they wouldn’t fetch a tenth of the price.

He watched more ships come in, with slaves and supplies and spoils from far-distant lands. Malligan’s pirates carried boxes filled with gold and silver and gemstones and swords and armor and all sorts of other trinkets. He wondered how many ships they had boarded and plundered as they had the Firewind. He noticed that every pirate in Malligan’s crew (save for those still on the ship) was helping out - all except one: Rooney. The tall, lanky pirate milled about, holding his wounded shoulder, not daring to carry a heavy box of loot himself. It was painfully obvious that the man was doing everything in his power to not appear like he wasn’t helping out - but even to Jaehaerys could tell what Rooney was doing.

It was at that moment that the prince witnessed a blur of black descend upon Rooney, who stood perched against a beached boat full of spoils. Like a tree in a windstorm, he was thrown over, falling face-first into the muddy sand. Standing up, cursing, Rooney threw a reckless punch at the man who had knocked him over. Captain Malligan caught the fist easily.

“If ya ain’t gonna help, get the fuck outta here!” the captain roared, his voice booming across the sands. “I ain’t got time fer freeloaders!”

“But cap’n, me arm!” Rooney whined, pointing at his bandage. “I can’t carry nothin’! Not like this!”

“Then yer no use ta me. If ya wanna stay a parta my crew, ya better start pullin’ yer weight.” Malligan slapped Rooney across the face again and then stormed off. And seeing that almost made Jahaerys feel a twinge of happiness. It had been so long since he had felt something like that.

Over the next few hours, slavers, pirates, sailors, and men with some extra coin to spend came to see what was for sale. They milled about the pens, sometimes talking to themselves, sometimes calling out for Malligan or a member of his crew to speak to them. Others perused the chests of loot (under careful supervision of Malligan’s crew, of course). The heat only grew more suffocating as the day wore, and Jaehaerys felt like he was sweating all of the water out of his body. Daeron and Rhaena were weaker than him, having spent most of their journey to Talon in the bowels of the Maiden’s Slit. The boy especially was not doing good; his face flushed and covered in sweat, Daeron looked like he had a fever or worse. All Jaehaerys and Rhaena could do was comfort him. He continued to call for “mother!” every now and then as he struggled to sleep, but alas, that cry went unanswered.

The round man known as Bollo stood guard in front of the Targaryens’ holding pen. He pressed his body up against the bars after a while, and Jaehaerys noticed how his fat seemed to squeeze itself in between the bars into his cell. After a few hours of this, Jaehaerys was certain Bollo had fallen asleep at his post, but he was not willing to test that notion.

Across from them, a group of Tyroshi pirates purchased a massive group of Malligan’s slaves, in exchange for a few bits of silver. “Headin’ off ta Mudtown,” one said as he stroked his blue-and-green dyed beard, while the others laughed lustily behind him. Whatever Mudtown is, it can’t be good. Maybe that’s why that one man threw himself overboard. They all know where they’re going anyways. He felt sorry for them, the men, women and children, as he watched them get led off across the beach to be loaded onto a new ship, their faces blank or trying to conceal misery. But he knew he would never see them again, and he thanked the gods that he was born a Targaryen.

Others came to look at Jaehaerys and his siblings, most of them out of curiosity in the stead of actual buying interest. Captain Malligan had set a high price for the three, and his claim that they were the heirs to the Seven Kingdoms raised more than a few eyebrows. Those who came to have a look often spoke to Jaehaerys, trying to glean any information from him that they could. They said things to him in tongues as foreign as could be, and like sweat streaming down his face, he felt what they had to say and then it was gone. Occasionally, one would speak in a broken dialect of High Valyrian, but rarely could Jaehaerys understand their words or questions.

“They’re mocking us,” Rhaena noted. She stood up and walked over to Jaehaerys. “They don’t believe we are the blood of the dragon.”

“I don’t care what they think,” Jaehaerys muttered. “As long as one of them takes us home.”

Rhaena scoffed and walked over to the perhaps-slumbering Bollo, kneeling down behind him. “Distract them for a moment, Jae.”

“What are you doing?”

She shook her head and turned away from him. So Jaehaerys turned to face the ravenous onlookers. He noticed they were, for the most part, well-dressed, clothed in fine silks and robes and sparkling because they were adorned in so much jewelry. The common pirates and corsairs had taken to Malligan’s other slaves, but he and his siblings were a bit out of such creatures’ price range. No, what stood before him and his siblings were a different breed of monster.

One man in particular was watching Jaehaerys curiously - he was an incredibly fat man with a long, thin brown beard and dark eyes. His olive skin shone with sweat, and he was being carried on a palanquin by perhaps a dozen slaves. In his hand was a platter of cut-up fruit, and his fingers and face were splattered with the juices of all of the fruits. Jaehaerys met the man’s eye for the briefest of moments as he took a bite out of a slice of blood orange.

Others there were too, Ghiscari mostly, who were all richly adorned in gold and gems. A thin man with a pointed face and a yellow sandsilk tunic was watching Jaehaerys closely, his arms folded, his lips pursed. Please… just let them take us home. They must know the ransom will make them richer than they could possibly imagine.

He smiled at them, knowing that his prim-and-proper appearance, which Malligan had gone to great lengths to show, was wearing thin. It had been several hours. He was exhausted, covered in sweat, hungry. He knew he didn’t look very princely anymore, but he spoke to his onlookers in High Valyrian all the same, trying to convince them, with all his charisma, that he was a prince of the Seven Kingdoms. That part is not a lie, he kept telling himself in his head. But not all princes are given the same importance… especially when there are so many of us. Yet, Jaehaerys knew the Dance of the Dragons, as it was being called, had been a deadly, bloody war that left many of his kin dead. For all he knew, he was the heir to the Seven Kingdoms. There was no harm in pretending.

After a while of this, with with Jaehaerys struggling more and more to speak in the ancient language of his forebears - one which he had never practiced with great enthusiasm back in King’s Landing - Jaehaerys gave up and retreated to the back of the cage, where Daeron huddled. He saw Rhaena glance over at him, a look of fear flash across her face. Then, she sprung up in a blur and retreated as well.

“You could have told me you were done,” she whispered angrily. “I could have been seen.”

“Seen doing what?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Jaehaerys shrugged. “You seem to think it did.”

“Unlike you, I want to get out of here,” his sister replied through her teeth. “And I’m not willing to bet that a pirate is going to bring us home in one piece.”

She just doesn’t get it. “There are more than just pirates here. But whoever will buy us will buy us. We can’t do anything about it. ”

Rhaena looked away and fumbled with something in her hands. Jaehaerys leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to sleep. It was a strange feeling, the heat of this island. It made him tired, both in body and mind, and he felt as if he was living an eternal dream. If only his dreams could feel more like the real world… but that would be no good, Jaehaerys knew. He oft had nightmares, perhaps even more so than he had good dreams. And he was tired of his nightmares.

“There ya are, cunt,” a raspy voice breathed behind Jaehaerys, startling the boy and causing him to sit up. Jaehaerys whirled around and saw the weaselly visage of Rooney the pirate. He was clutching at his wound and had a sour look on his face. “They’re gettin’ ta ya next. I hope they send ya off ta Mudtown. If I had my way, ya’d be there already. Fuckin’ cunt. You deserve ta die fer what ya did ta me.”

“It seems you have problems of your own,” Jaehaerys observed. “And soon I’ll be on my way home. Why don’t you just leave me alone?”

Rooney spit at Jaehaerys and sat down on a nearby chest. “I’m gonna enjoy the show, kid. Ya got no idea what’s comin’ fer ya, I swear.” Rooney’s smile was cocksure and hideous. Sweat was dripping down his pock-marked face and into his scraggly beard. Jaehaerys had to look away.

Jaehaerys looked back over at Daeron and Rhaena. His brother was not doing good in this heat. His face was flushed pink and he was panting. He looked to be unconscious. Jaehaerys swatted the stinging flies away from Daeron as much as he could, but it was no use. The flies were too numerous - one wave of the hand dispersed one group for a second, giving a second group the chance to jump in and bite him. They were all covered in little red bumps now, but Daeron seemed to be faring the worst. His entire face was coated in red bumps, as if he had been taken by the pox.

In time, a man approached the front of Jaehaerys’ cage. He wore so many necklaces and bracelets of silver and gold and amethyst and ruby and emeralds that he jingled when he walked, much as the slaves had in their chains. His three chins jiggled as he walked, and he emitted a strong stench of perfume. He had a long, crooked nose and a sharp, knowing face that gave Jaehaerys pause. When the man took center stage, just in front of the holding pen and turned around to face the onlookers, all of their talking stopped. Then, the man began speaking in a foreign tongue, perhaps a bastard speech related to High Valyrian, for Jaehaerys could understand every third word or so. Regardless, he soon began to speak so quickly that Jaehaerys could not keep up.

Rhaena sat up straight and watched the man speaking to the others. She had always been better at High Valyrian than Jaehaerys, so he turned to her for clarification. “He’s started the bid…” she muttered. “I don’t know what currency they’re using…”

A few from the crowd called back at the man moderating the auction. Jaehaerys saw the obese man on his palanquin raise his hand or grunt when he wished to raise the price, even as he continued to engorge himself on exotic fruits; the man in the yellow sandsilk robe also made several bids; others too joined in - an old woman, a ragged, scarred pirate, a drunken Tyroshi. But as the announcer’s voice continued on and the price of the three rose ever higher, fewer and fewer voices rang out in response. At several points, the bidding stopped entirely, and the commentator had to come up with something to say to entice the bidders back into the game.

“He’s telling them that we have dragons waiting for us at home and will give one to whoever returns us.” Rhaena’s face was flushed with shock. “We… we don’t have dragons, Jae.” She looked at him. “What happens if the one who buys us demands to have his dragon before we get freed?”

“I don’t know,” her brother replied. “If we can just get on land… I’m sure King Aegon will think of something.”

After a few more comments from the man, the Tyroshi to roar out a bid. He flailed a gem-studded sword hilt at the holding pen and then shouted something angrily.

“He doesn’t want to spend so much on three children,” Rhaena noted. “He’s not convinced we’re really Targaryen royalty, either. He’s complaining that he knows he must take the risk anyways.”

Jaehaerys bit his lip again. If he’s the one who wins, there is no way we will make it home. That man is a drunken fool. If he doesn’t kill us, he’ll get himself killed on the trip back. “Hopefully he spent too much coin on whatever he’s drinking. I’d rather anyone else win.”

“Ha! Like ‘ell ya would,” Rooney roared from behind them. He got up and slinked over to the Targaryen children. “Ain’t all of ‘em wanna take ya home.”

Jaehaerys groaned. “Which ones don’t?” He felt a cool sweat running down his back.

Rooney grinned and sat back on the sand. “More fun fer me if ya don’t know.”

Jaehaerys returned his eyes at the crowd, trying to glean any information. But there was nothing to see. There was no way of knowing who would want the ransom, and who just wanted him. “Rhaena, you’ve got to say something! Tell them how high the ransom is.”

Rhaena shook her head. “That announcer already said as much. He promised much and more for whoever takes us home. Those who will have already made up their minds. No words will change that.”

He looked at her, cocking his head to its side. How could she give up? Just moments ago, she wanted to get out of here at any cost. “But we have to try!”

“We already have.” It was strange, Jaehaerys thought, how she had changed. Is there something she knows that I don’t?

Rooney laughed again behind them.

The bidding was slowing again; by now, only the fat man and the hawk-faced man were still in the running. Jaehaerys had no idea who he wanted to win more. After a few more annoyed grunts, despite the announcer’s goading, the man in the yellow robe bowed out. The fruit-crusted enormity had won.

The announcer roared and spun around to face the three children. He ordered for the door to be opened, and suddenly, the Targaryens were on their feet and being pushed out into the sand by several of Malligan’s crew. The other bystanders grumbled in frustration to themselves or others, and most of them began to disperse at this. Some, however, stayed to watch the spectacle.

They were brought to the giant ruin of a man who was so large, he made Bollo seem like a starving puppy in comparison. He smelled of spices, though that smell could not mask the overwhelming odor of sweat and decay that radiated from his body. The tokar he wore may have been orange once, but now it was so faded by time and sweat that it looked more like a pale yellow.

He had one of his guards take the three children and pull them close to him. The man spoke in a low growl, the sagging flesh of his skin swaying back and forth with every rasp. Jaehaerys saw spittle and pieces of fruit fly from the man’s mouth with every breath he spoke. The guard nodded his head and bowed deeply once his master was done.

“My master, the Great Grazdan zo Yherizan, welcomes you. He understands that being from Westeros, you may not understand him quite yet, but the Great and Wise Grazdan hopes that you will soon learn to speak as we can,” the guard said with another bow. “He promises to take good care of you, his new children.”

“Wait,” Rhaena interrupted. “Is he taking us home? Back to Westeros?!”

The guard and his master exchanged a few growls. Then, the guard shook his head and bowed deeply again. “My master, the Magnificent Grazdan zo Yheziran, insists that he takes you back to his own home, the splendid city of Meereen, where he will groom you to be his new children. You especially,” he nodded to Rhaena, “will learn to please your new master.” He grinned. “The ancient and powerful house of Yheziran is renowned throughout the world its long history of producing the finest pleasure-slaves. Yes, you three will learn much and more from your Great Master and your new father. He has a gentle and merciful heart, and he will show you how to love as he does,” said the guard again, with a bow. “Now please, Grazdan the Graceful would like to know the name of each one of his new children.” Graceful is the last word I would use to describe that gross pile of meat. Glutinous, gargantuan, grotesque… those would fit him better.

There was honey on the guard’s voice, but Jaehaerys could detect malice in the sharp smile of his. We tried, he thought. What can we do now? We went to speak when Rhaena interrupted him:

“I am no whore,” she said bitterly, her cheeks flushing with embarrassment. “I am the blood of the dragon and a princess of the Seven Kingdoms!”

Grazdan zo Yheziran grunted and pointed at Rhaena, and his guard nodded in understanding. At once, he produced a whip and struck Jaehaerys’ sister across the chest with it, sending her to her knees wailing. Daeron began crying and shouting as well, seeing his sister on the ground, coughing and spitting up blood. Jaehaerys went to run forward, to knock the guard over, when a second guard grabbed Jaehaerys’ chains from behind and pulled him back. The boy yelled and tried to punch the man, but that only resulted in him getting a lashing as well. Falling over, out of breath, Jaehaerys gasp. He felt the heat rising from the sand, felt the blood dripping from his mouth. He could hear Daeron crying, could feel the eyes of the crowd on him and his sister. All of it felt so far away. He looked over at her. She was staring down at the ground, a determined look upon her face. Her face was still flushed, but she didn’t seem to be embarrassed anymore. Fury and helplessness. That’s what got my nose broken. If she’s not careful, it’ll be worse for her.

Jaehaerys could not speak. The whip had hit him too hard. He could barely gasp for breaths. Yet, he was brought to his feet again by one of Grazdan’s guards. The other, who hovered just in front of the massive puddle of flesh, bowed as Rhaena and Jaehaerys were brought to their feet by other guards.

“Your names?” he asked again, a little smile moving across his face. “You don’t want to keep your new master waiting. That would be most disrespectful.”

Rhaena looked at Jaehaerys, then sighed and closed her eyes. She’s given up, he realized, and that thought frightened him. He knew then that there was no hope. It was a quiet thing, giving up. They said their names, got put in line with the rest of the slaves the Great Master bought, and followed his procession back to the dock, where his ship was surely at anchor.

And as Jaehaerys went, he saw Rooney stand up, walk over to the dozing Bollo, wake him, and point at the three Targaryen children being led off to their new life of slavery. Jaehaerys stared back at them as defiantly as he could, but when they began laughing, he had to look away. He didn’t want them to see his tears.

Barter Beach port was pure pandemonium. People rushed about this way and that, items of purchase in their hands or on their heads, merchants hollered at potential customers from every alleyway, and pirates and sell swords paraded through the streets, their fingers never far from their sword hilts. The air smelled of spices and roasting food, and it all made Jaehaerys’ mouth water in spite of his situation. Jaehaerys felt numb. His lips were tingling and his mind was blank. He didn’t know what to think or what to do.

He followed Rhaena and Daeron at the very back of Grazdan zo Yheziran’s procession. Their obese master had a dozen or so guards to keep his slaves in line. Most of his slaves were walking in front of the palanquin, while others were holding it up. All of the guards, save for two, were ahead of them. Those two held on to Rhaena and Jaehaerys specifically, leaving Daeron free to stumble between them, his head down, moaning softly as his fever endured.

So it was that they walked through the dusty daze of the city, sweating and delirious, until they came to a calmer part of the shanty town. Across a wooden plank bridge, the procession went, and down this road, there were few people. No food merchants or shoppers could be found down this far; no, this was the road to the ship, Jaehaerys knew. Only guards stood sentry here, and as the procession passed them by, they bowed deeply. Grazdan must be a frequent customer if he owns a section of this town. This is his own little slice of Barter Beach.

They passed through what felt like a dozen guards and doors and turns in the road, an endless maze that made Jaehaerys feet begin to hurt. Yet, still they plodded along, the palanquin swaying in front of them holding steady as their guide. When they rounded the next corner, Rhaena seemed to trip on something, and she fell over and crumpled onto the ground like a dead leaf. The two guards with the Targaryen children halted, and the one holding her went over to pull her back up. Suddenly, Rhaena rolled over and lept up, as spry as a cat, and cut him across the neck with a dagger she held between her chained hands. The man’s blood sprayed the princess; he tugged at his open throat hopelessly and gasped and gagged silently before falling over.

The second guard, who held steady to Jaehaerys shoulder, just began to let out a shout of surprise when Jaehaerys spun around and knocked him so hard in the mouth that teeth and blood and flesh flew out. Jaehaerys didn’t know how Rhaena had gotten ahold of that dagger, nor if she had planned that move of hers, but he didn’t have time to think. Instinct and Jaehaerys’ desire to protect his family kicked in. He saw the man’s cheeks split open, and before the man could let out more than a low grunt of pain, Jaehaerys pushed him back and knocked him to the wood-plank floor. Effortlessly, the boy placed his chained hands over the man’s throat and squeezed. He squeezed so hard he lost feeling in his hands. He stared the guard in the eyes as he did this, sneering and gritting his teeth, imagining that those eyes he saw, those fearful little specks of life, belonged to the pirate he hated the most.

When it was finished, Jaehaerys stood up and looked at his sister and brother. Rhaena stood defiant, blood soaking into her rags. Daeron was wide-eyed and sniveling, his cheeks as red as the dawn. He looked from his sister to his brother, his lip trembling. He’s afraid of dragons. Just as I was, once. Rhaena moved forward to hug him, and Daeron took a step back, shaking his head. Jaehaerys knelt down to inspect the bodies of the dead men.

“Oh come now, Daeron. Don’t be like that,” Rhaena cooed. The young boy shook his head violently, his eyes bright and wet. “Daeron…!” Rhaena put her arms out. “You know we had to do it! To save us. To set us free. You are a dragon, just like us, Daeron. You are my brother! I didn’t want to see you hurt. I wanted to save you. I had to. A-and sometimes… sometimes that means doing terrible things,” She took another step forward; this time, Daeron did not move. “Please, Daeron. Don’t be scared. You know all I did, I did for you. I love you, and I know you love me too. You know that, Daeron. Please… come here. Give me a hug. Let’s forget all these evil things that have happened to us.”

And with that, Daeron broke down, falling to his knees and sobbing loudly. Rhaena rushed to him and buried him in her arms, muffling his cries. Rhaena then looked up at Jaehaerys and nodded. “Check them to see if they have the keys. We don’t have long before the others realize we’re gone.”

Jaehaerys smiled and held up a little chain of keys. “Already found them.”

Rhaena’s eyes lit up. She looked happy for the first time since they had been alone in Jaehaerys’ room together. But that was a lifetime ago. “Let’s get out of here,” she whispered. But where are we going, Jaehaerys wondered.

“Are you going to tell me where you got that knife?”

Rhaena smiled thinly. “Pirates can be so stupid and unaware sometimes.”

Once they were free of their shackles, the three Targaryen children went running down the road in the other direction until they came to a closed door that barred their path. The door directly ahead of them was the one they had come through, with guards yet on the other side of it. On the wall to their right, however, there were additional doors, spaced between rows of boxes. Without a second thought, Jaehaerys led his siblings through the nearest door.

Inside, three monsters awaited them. Rhaena let out a whimper of surprise when she saw them and immediately stepped behind Jaehaerys. The boy, however, did not flee. These creatures he saw were female, he quickly observed, for they were shirtless, and their large breasts were plain to the eye. Bigger than Rhaena’s. But these were no ordinary women - girls, as well as Jaehaerys could guess - they were fish. Or at least, they looked like fish. Their faces… seven save us! They’re fish! Their heads were abnormally-shaped, slick and pointed like a fish’s, their eyes widely-spaced and glassy. He didn’t know exactly how to describe what he was seeing: but they reminded him of fish either way. He saw their hands and feet were webbed, as well, and they were chained around the wrist and ankles too.

The three light-skinned girls were sweeping and sorting boxes of spices when the three Targaryens entered. Upon seeing the escaped slaves, they all dropped what they were doing and retreated to the far side of the room, behind some boxes. The air was sweet with the smell of spices - the same kind that Grazdan himself stunk of.

“You’re better with High Valyrian,” Jaehaerys said to his sister. “Ask them to help us get out of here.”

“Why would they know how?” Rhaena responded. “Besides, they’re probably with the guards. I doubt they’ll help us.”

“They’re chained, just like we were. Tell them we will set them free if they get us out of here. We don’t have time to argue, Rhaena.”

Rhaena shook her head doubtfully, but said as much in High Valyrian, as well as Jaehaerys could tell. The three fish girls looked puzzled by her statements, hesitant and skeptical. They shook their hands and asked her to leave in hideous, shrill voices. Daeron let out a gasp of fright upon hearing them talk; and had Jaehaerys been a few years younger, he might have as well.

“Tell them we have the keys,” Jaehaerys offered, holding up the guard’s blood-stained ring of keys. The fish girls saw that and cocked their heads in confusion. Rhaena spoke and told them how she and her brothers had escaped already. The fish girls, however, did not seem like they believed Rhaena. In annoyance, the girl stepped forward and snatched the set of keys out of Jaehaerys’ hand, before flinging it to the girls.

“There!” she spoke in the language of her ancestors. “See for yourself.”

And so they did. One by one, each of the girls’ chains fell with heavy thuds to the wooden planks. Astonished, they rubbed their wrists and looked up at the three children who had brought them their freedom. One stepped forward.

“Thank you!” she cried in her thickly-accented Valyrian. “I cannot believe it! We are free! But why would you do this? Why would you help us?”

Rhaena was not moved. She ignored the fish girls’ questions and instead spoke with authority, “Can you take us to safety?”

The fish girl nodded. “We will need to take a boat away from this cursed place.”

“We have to go soon,” Jaehaerys said, his voice filled with urgency. “Grazdan probably already knows we’re missing. He’ll find those guards, and then…”

Rhaena nodded. “There’s no time. We have to go now. Can you take us somewhere safe?” she asked the fish girls in Valyrian. “Please?”

The one at the head of her pack turned to face the others; they talked in quiet, queer whispers for several excruciating moments before turning back around. “Yes,” she hissed in her broken dialect of Valyrian. “We will bring you home.”

Jaehaerys’ heart was about to spring from his chest until he realized what the girl meant. Her home, not ours. It was a cruel joke, but Jaehaerys could not stop himself from laughing at it, in spite of himself.

He followed the others out of the room, down the hall to the boat the fish girls promised would be their way off Talon. And as they passed by the dead bodies of the two guards, Jaehaerys noticed that one of them, the one Rhaena had killed, had a sheathed sword tied to his belt. The boy bent down and ripped the sword, scabbard and all, from the dead man. He drew the blade and saw a warped, dirty reflection of himself in its silvery gleam. I won’t let anyone take us again. I’ll be a true knight like Ser William trained me to be. I will protect my family the best I can. With that, he looked up and began walking again, saw that Daeron was watching him, and smiled. It was a weary, half-hearted smile, in truth, one more full of relief than genuine happiness.

Despite the fever that was ravaging his body even at that very moment, Daeron smiled back.

The Young Warrior

Rain drizzled down the slick black stone as lightning crackled through the sky. It was not a cold rain, and the sky was not even very cloudy - in the distance, the sun could still be seen sinking down the horizon - but it made Jaehaerys shiver all the same. It was an ugly statue that stood before him, a coarse, savagely-wrought thing. While it looked a bit like a toad, the misshapenness of its head and eyes gave it an unnatural fishy quality as well.

He watched the waves crash against the rocky shore, spraying white foam onto the black sand. Salty wind whipped at his face, with power enough to take the breath away. The light of day was fading fast. A hand touched his shoulder.

“Jae?” It was his sister, Rhaena. “Dinner will be ready soon. The elder wants you to be there.”

He remained facing the waves, one hand on his sword hilt. “Very well. I will be there shortly.”

“Daeron is doing better. He’s been drinking a lot of water, and even ate some. His strength is returning to him.”

“That is good to hear.”

“What are you doing up here anyways?”

“I just needed some time to think.”

“About how to get us back home?”

He nodded. Rhaena stepped up to him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, hugging him loosely. “I don’t even know where we are… mayhaps this place is somewhere in the Summer Islands, but I don’t know…”

Rhaena’s hot breath was on his neck. “None of these people are Summer Islanders, brother,” she sighed. “Their skin is too light, and I haven’t seen a single swan ship.”

“These are a queer folk, whoever they are. They are like the merlings of legend… had I not seen them with mine own eyes, I would have thought these fish people to be things of legend.”

“They have no ships,” Rhaena reminded him. “They are fisherfolk and scavengers. Look,” she said, pointing off to the grey-blue sea ahead of them, “see, some of them are out there even now, searching for food.”

Jaehaerys Targaryen saw them - little black boats bobbing in the churning ocean like corks. So tiny and frail, he thought. Rhaena is right. Those will never be able to take us back home. “Then what are we to do?”

“We need a ship, and more importantly, a crew who knows where we are and how to get us back home.”

“We could return to one of the pirate lairs and steal one of their ships.”

“That is madness, Jae.”

“What other choice do we have?”

Rhaena broke her embrace and moved to look her brother in the eye. “Do you really think you can storm a galley, kill its crew, and steer it back home? Truly, do you believe that you would be able to do that?”

“We will capture a crew to take us back.”

“We?!” Rhaena laughed cruelly. “A boy, not even a man grown, his sister, and their sickly little brother will take over a pirate ship and its crew? Have you gone mad, brother?”

Would that I had the time, I would hunt down the pirates who captured us, too. “These fisherfolk can help us,” Jaehaerys offered. “They owe us.”

Rhaena’s eyes shifted away from Jaehaerys. “Perhaps… but you would need many of them. Dozens. There are not so many men in this village, I think.”

“We must speak to them,” Jaehaerys said.

“You mean I will have to.”

Jaehaerys blushed. “You are better with High Valryian than me, Rhaena.”

She smirked and turned to walk back down the hill. “Come, let’s sup with these fisherfolk. With food in our bellies, things will become more clear.”

Jaehaerys stole one last glance at the hulking toad statue. Hideous though it was, he couldn’t help but think that there was something knowing, something intelligent in the way its black, oily rock had been hewn. These simple fisherfolk couldn’t have created that, he thought. Someone else did. Someone who knew what they were doing. The fisherfolk were too simple, he had deemed from these past few days of living with them. They worshipped the stone as if a god had placed it on their island for them. Maybe he did. It wouldn’t be the craziest thing about this place.

They supped on chopped fruit and salty soup in the village head’s yurt. There, a great fire roared in the center of the room while Jaehaeryrs, Rhaena, Daeron, several of the fisherfolk, and their tribe leader sat around it in a circle. A pot of the soup was passed about and poured into cherrywood-carved bowls. There were no utensils, no tables, no cups to drink from. Instead, Jaehaerys watched as the fisherfolk brought the bowls to their lips, tipped their heads back, and slurped the hot broth into their mouths. The boy and his siblings did the same. And after one gulp, Jaehaerys had to put his bowl down and cough. It’s so salty. He glanced around at the others. Rhaena and Daeron were likewise coughing and even gagging, but the natives seemed to drink down the soup as if it was plain water. The soup was thick with lentils and onions and pepper and mushrooms and ginger and boiled fish. It was not the worst soup the boy had ever had, but it was by far the saltiest. They are of the sea… fish, in appearance and temper. Just as we are dragons.

The fruit was stringy and fleshy and yellow and sweet - not something the boy had ever had before. It was a good counter to the salt of the soup, and he took more bites out of that.

While they feasted together, for the first time, the village head stood up to speak. He was a squat man with a long, fishy face and bulging eyes. He had a wispy beard and his face was so wrinkled it was difficult to make out his eyes. He looked ready to die.

Putting out his hands, he spoke in a sloppy, growling debased Valyrian, “Today we give thanks to these three foreigners who returned our daughters to us! They have risked a great deal to save three of our own from slavery, and we will never forget you,” he said to the Targaryens. He held up his soup bowl, as if in a toast, and then took a noisy gulp.

Jaehaerys saw the others do the same in turn, and he sighed, picked up his own bowl, and followed. Rhaena did so as well, but Daeron wasn’t paying attention. He was too busy drawing lines in the dirt at his feet and munching on the yellow fruit.

The other fisherfolk let out cries, shrill and reverberating, as if in celebration, while they slurped their soup noisily. The village elder continued to pontificate, but Jaehaerys scant heard another word of the elder’s speech. The young squire glanced over at Rhaena. It’s now or never. He nodded to her. She met his eyes and understood. We have to get home. Now.

This was the second day they had been on the Isle of Toads, and already Jaehaerys was itching to leave. It wasn’t a bad place (though he had not found a single toad on it, aside from that statue), but he wanted to get home. It was time. Just as they had helped those three fisherfolk to get free, now it would fall on those fishy people to return the favor for the Targaryen children. They had not been properly acquainted with the village of these people until today (the first day, they had spent in beds, recovering, nibbling on fruit and drinking endless cups of water). This would be their first impression with the fish people; their only impression. Come on, Rhaena. Convince them to help us.

Rhaena cleared her throat and stood up. Her High Valyrian was delicate and forceful, a pointed difference to the village elder’s. “Thank you for feeding us, my lord. We are eternally grateful.” She glanced down at Jaehaerys. “My brothers and I have come a long way-”

A horn echoed from the distance. Silence fell over the congregation. Jaehaerys saw the others begin murmuring to one another, wide-eyed and confused. The horn blew again, this time longer and more desperately. At that, everyone stood. The village head began shouting; the others were drowning one another out.

“Stay here, stay here, stay here! Hide, don’t come out!” The village head roared, running up to Rhaena. Clasping her on the shoulders and shaking her, he said, “Whatever happens, do not come out!”

“Is it pirates?” Jaehaerys asked the man. But the village elder had no time to talk to Jaehaerys. He and the others of his brood fled the room in earnest, leaving three Targaryens, a low-burning fire, and a bunch of half-eaten food behind.

“What is it, Jaehaerys?” Rhaena asked. He could hear the fear in her voice.

“Trouble. I don’t know what kind. I’ll go see.”

“He said we are not to leave!”

Jaehaerys glanced over at Daeron, who sat eating the sweet fruit, oblivious to what was going on around him. “It’s my job to protect you and Daeron,” he said, “and I can’t protect you if I don’t know what’s happening out there.” He drew his sword. I may not be a knight, but I know how to use a sword. If it’s pirates out there, I won’t let them take us again.

“Jae… don’t,” his sister pleaded. He ignored her and went for the door.

“Aw, Jae, are you gonna fight some bad guys?! Like a real knight?” Daeron said, looking up. His eyes were shining with wonder.

“Probably not,” Jaehaerys replied. “Stay here with Rhaena, Daeron. And don’t make a sound.”

Daeron wasn’t listening. Now that he saw Jaehaerys’ sword was out, that was all he could focus on. “How many are you gonna kill? Tell me, tell me, oh!”

“Rhaena, take him.”

Jaehaerys left the tent, crouching and trying to stay out of sight. It was still raining lightly, though by now, the sun had set. Torches burned throughout the village, giving off some light. Jaehaerys saw a group of the fish people gathered in the center of the village, but he couldn’t make out who they were talking to, so he ran to the outskirts of the town and used the outer tents and buildings as cover as he moved around it to get a better view.

Once he came upon the outer edge of the village, Jaehaerys saw what he had most feared. Pirates. But not my pirates. They were clothed in ragged armor and roughspun clothes, and their leader, a big man with dark, curly hair, was adorned with gold and emeralds in his hair and ears and fingers. What are they doing here? Do they know we escaped? Do they know we are here? He gripped his sword hilt tighter. They will be in for a surprise if they think they can capture us again.

He could not hear them, so he crept closer, silent as shadowcat. They were speaking broken Valyrian when he came into earshot.

“No… thirty girls… we demand…” the pirate was threatening. His voice was cold as ice, thick and old. He’s been doing this for a while.

“Please,” replied the village elder. “We have no more girls to give… we have given all we have to you.”

“More,” said the pirate. “Or die.”

“Please…” the village elder pleaded. “We are a small village… we already gave you twelve girls last month… we were promised you would not return for another year!”

“Things have changed. We want more.”

We’ll have to take these pirates out if the fisherfolk are going to help us, Jaehaerys realized. He quickly scanned the pirate’s group and counted at least a dozen swordsmen. All of them were well armed and armored. And none of the fisherfolk who stood opposite them seemed to have any weapons at all. Do they even know how to fight? I don’t like my chances if I’m the only one left to stand against those pirates. The only thing worse than getting enslaved again would be getting himself killed, Jaehaerys knew, for that would leave Rhaena and Daeron without any protection. I have to be smart about this.

“Daeron!” The cry pierced through the air and through Jaehaerys’ heart. He sucked in air, terror flooding through his body, and peeked around the building again.

There stood Daeron, his silver-blond hair unmistakable in the torchlight. He was standing right in front of the big pirate. Rhaena came running into view and wrapped her arms around her brother, pulling him into the air. As she stepped back, the pirate stepped forward.

“What’s dat?” he roared. “Got escaped slaves hidin’ in yer town?” That question was directed at the village elder, who stood stoic, unmoving, numb to what had just happened.

“I wanna see the fight!” Daeron yelled, kicking at his sister to drop him.

And drop him she did, for his stubbornness was too fierce. That made the pirate leader laugh. His emeralds glittered in the light of the fires. “Deal’s off,” he spat. “These two aren’t yer kind.”

“They appeared on our shore this morning,” the elder fishman stated calmly. “They washed up, perhaps from a shipwreck. We nurtured them back to health, but had no idea they were escaped slaves. We did not find them in chains.”

“Ain’t nobody out here who isn’t one o’ us or one o’ you,” the pirate growled. “Ya lied, old man!” The curly-haired man turned to his fellow corsairs. “Kill ‘em,” he shouted. “Leave these two,” he motioned to Rhaena and Daeron. “They’re gonna be my new slaves back at Xhorre! Haha!”

“N-no!!” Jaehaerys whispered. His lip began to tremble. He wanted to jump forward, to save the fisherfolk. But he had not the courage. The wolves rushed forward, hungry for blood, their blades drinking in the torchlight. Jaehaerys could not watch. He sunk to the ground, up against the building, shut his eyes, and put his hands over his ears so he wouldn’t have to hear the screams. He heard them anyways.

Tears rolled down the boy’s cheeks. They were good people… they fed us, gave us shelter… they didn’t ask for this. It’s all our fault. I should have done something. I should have stopped those pirates. He thought of Ser William, the leal, noble knight who had trained him. I failed him. I’m not half the man Ser William is. He would have run out there and died for those people, even if he knew it was hopeless. He began shaking uncontrollably. Rhaena and Daeron… he thought, and panic that thought brought him gave him enough energy to stood up. When he looked around the building again, he saw rows of corpses, fisherfolk running for their lives and getting hacked down, tents and homes burning, people screaming, bleeding, dying in the mud. The rain was falling harder now.

It was soon over. The fisherfolk were, all of them, butchered. The pirate lord had Daeron and Rhaena. He had a dozen men protecting him. Long odds, Jaehaerys thought angrily. But what choice do I have? He was seething now. Rainwater rolled down his cheeks. I want to make them hurt. I want to make them pay for those they’ve killed.

“Nice stock, eh?” one pirate said to his lord.

“Aye, the girl’s pretty. She’ll learn to warm my bed,” he grinned.

“I want the boy,” another pirate shouted. “He’s pretty as a Lysene whore! Bet he can work wonders with that pretty little mouth of his!”

“Shut it,” the captain barked. “These two’re mine, and they’re both goin’ back to Xhorre with me. Once we’re there, I’ll decide what ta do with the boy.”

Better to die with courage than to live as a coward, Jaehaerys thought. I am a squire… I want to be a knight. A knight wouldn’t run. And yet, it would be so easy to leave his brother and sister, he knew. The pirates didn’t know he was there. He could slink away into the shadows and leave them behind. It would be so much easier to do that. But what would dying accomplish, either? The thought crept into his head like a pesky fly - one he could not shake. If I am to run out there and die in battle, what difference does it make?

None, he knew.

Jaehaerys stepped out from behind the building. That’s my sister, he thought. That’s my brother. He let his sword fall into the mud with a dull thud. The sound was loud enough that it got the attention of the pirates. They turned to face Jaehaerys. His hair was wet and splayed across his head messily, and his eyes were red with tears, but there was no mistaking him for the brother of the two captured children.

One pirate ran up to Jaehaerys and knocked him over with a punch to the face. The old wound in the boy’s nose reopened, sending blinding pain spiraling out across his skull. He screamed. The pirate laughed. Blood dripped from Jaehaerys’ broken lip into the mud and was lost. Each footstep was another shot of pain, as the pirate lumbered back to the group. Once they were back, the pirate unslung Jaehaerys, and made the boy kneel in the mud with his sister and brother. Jaehaerys could not even look at them, especially not Daeron. I have let them down.

The pirate captain’s emeralds were gleaming just as he was. He smiled broadly as he strode over to Jaehaerys. Bending over, he showed the boy his brown teeth and licked his lips. “Couldn’t let yer brother and sister have all the fun, could ya?” he laughed, patting Jaehaerys hard on the shoulder. The boy did not reply and bowed his head. “Well, Ima show ya three a good time in Xhorre, I promise ya that.” He drew his dirk and placed it on Jaehaerys’ cheek, just below the boy’s right eye. “Escaped slaves’re the worst kinda slaves. Yer not gettin’ out of this unscathed. Oh, no! I’ll make ya scream before this is all over. I’ll make ya beg for death. Ya can bet I will. Ain’t no escaped slave gonna try ta escape again once I’m through with them, ha!”

The rain pittered and pattered against the ground, tittering and pinging off the metal armor of the pirates in regimented bursts. Lightning flashed, and a few seconds later, thunder followed. Jaehaerys swallowed and try to detach himself from the situation. He thought back to that day, so long ago, when Rhaena had come to his room and laid in bed with him. He tried to concentrate on that as they walked back to the pirates’ ship, laid at anchor just off the coast of the island. But the sobs of Daeron and Rhaena broke through his memory like an iron fist through a glass mirror.

“Ain’t but a million things that’ll kill ya in Sothoryos,” the pirate said as he rubbed Rhaena’s shoulders. His emeralds jiggled and swayed when he did that. “Stay close ta me, and you’ll do fine, darlin’.”

The rest of the crew sat in silence, in their little boat as they moved down the river. Jaehaerys and Daeron’s wrists and ankles were chained, as were Rhaena’s. A short sail from the Isle of Toads had brought the group here, and now they were entering a vast continent known as Sothoryos - a place Jaehaerys had never heard of. It was now morning, early morning, and fog was still hanging low over the water, but even now, the coldness of the night was rising, and heat, blaring heat, was returning to the world.

Sothoryos was a queer place, thickly forested and humid. The river they were traveling down met the ocean not far behind them, and it was mud-green in color. The shores were all mud and black sand, moss, and weeds. This place looked thoroughly untamed to Jaehaerys’ eyes. There were no roads, no buildings, no other people, no signs of life anywhere he looked.

“Jump overboard, I dare ya,” the pirate had told Jaehaerys a few hours earlier in their journey down the river. “And those little fish ya see swimmin’ around’ll tear all the flesh from yer bones in a heartbeat.” The pirate had licked his lips again after saying that.

They passed by many a crocodile sunning on the shores of the river, their long snouts open, their pointy teeth barred. These beasts reminded Jaehaerys of dragons back home - Vhagar and Sunfyre, in particular - and he wondered how many men these crocodiles had eaten. Not as many as a dragon, I’ll wager. Balerion in his prime could eat a hundred men in a row without pause.

This Sothoryos place, wherever it was, was hot and sticky - even worse than Talon had been. Gnats and mosquitos buzzed about them, and dragonflies and queer red-belly flying beatles buzzed about, looking for anything living to nibble on. The pirates began passing around a flash of fire wine, each taking a swig before giving it to the next. They even forced Jaehaerys and Daeron to down a gulp apiece. The young, poor boy sitting on Jaehaerys’ left wretched and coughed after being forced to swallow his ration, and this caused the pirates to break out into raucous laughter. Would that I had my sword. These fools would know what comes of mocking a true dragon.

It was obvious to Jaehaerys that the pirate lord wanted Rhaena, and it was only the fact that everyone was so confined in the boat that he didn’t take her right then and there. He suspected that those ‘million things’ that could kill anyone in this place were the reason he didn’t disembark and take her on the shore. Once we get to Xhorre, he’ll try. I don’t have much time. I’ll have to get out of these chains at once. Yet how he would, Jaehaerys knew not. Indeed, he knew not how far away Xhorre even was. Was it a day’s journey? A few hours? A week? The difference could mean everything.

“Xhorre’s gonna be your new home,” one of the pirates - a white-haired man with an eyepatch and a clean-shaven face - said to Daeron. He was caressing the boy’s chin and looking at him lustily. “We aren’t as cruel to our slaves in Xhorre. Oh, no, no, no. We’re nice… gentle.” He smiled. I want to slit your throat, Jaehaerys thought, clenching his fists so hard, his nails broke through his skin. “Not like those… savages in Mudtown. You’re lucky you’re not going there, boy. They’d work you to death there, oh yes.” The pirate’s voice was deceptively sweet, but even so Daeron wasn’t paying much, if any attention to him. He had his head bowed, his eyes closed, either sleeping, trying to, or perhaps going away inside, as Jaehaerys was wont to do. I hope he is. That way he won’t know what that snake is saying to him.

A few more hours down the river in a lazy crawl seemed to get them nowhere. This whole place looks the same. It’s just forests and rivers and heat… and endless things that could kill you. Why would anyone come here? He was broken out of his thoughts, at once, by the sound of wings in flight. It was a leathery sound - not that of a bird, no. The sound was coming from a much larger creature.

“Dragons!” Daeron squealed, kicking his legs and nearly jumping up and out of the boat in excitement.

The pirates were forced to restrain him. But Daeron’s declaration was not so crazy, Jaehaerys realized. When he looked up, he too saw great lizards in the sky - they looked like dragons to him, only smaller. Could there really be dragons all the way out here? I thought they were only in Westeros…

“Settle down, fucker,” the pirate lord growled, his emeralds shaking in his curly hair. “Those ain’t dragons. Them’s wyverns. Nasty beasts. Clever, too. But they ain’t dragons. No fire in them.”

“Awww!” Daeron whined. “I want one!”

He’s oblivious to what’s going, Jaehaerys thought sadly.

“Har har, I’d like to see that, I would! Ya’d get eaten up like a snack real quick! One bite!” The emerald-wearing pirate licked his lips.

Jaehaerys watched the wyverns in the empty, azure sky. They were fighting amongst one another, scraping and clawing with their teeth and claws. They were small, he could tell. Much smaller than a true dragon. Balerion could have swallowed one of those things whole. Even Meraxes could have, I’d bet. They were all dark-scaled, but one of them, a bit bigger than the rest, looked more like a dragon than the others. Jaehaerys watched as the feral beast flew at another, its mouth open in a scream, and latched onto the wyvern’s neck. With a brutal crunch, it broke through the scales and ripped apart muscle and bone. Blood sprayed through the sky as the wyvern’s head was wrenched off savagely. It was a maneuver he thought he’d seen somewhere before - or maybe someone had told it to him in a story about one of Aegon’s dragons a lifetime ago. He could not remember. But that one doesn’t seem like a wyvern, Jaehaerys thought. There’s fire in the way it moves, the way it hunts.

A moment later, the bleeding, lifeless corpse of the flying lizard fell with a great splash into the muddy waters just ahead of the boat.

“Fuckin’ hell,” a pirate mumbled. “That coulda taken us out. Then we’d all be dead.”

“Easy now. Stay calm. No one shout or let ‘em know we’re here,” the pirate lord said. He looked suspiciously into the sky. “They don’t usually fight like this. We best get outta here.”

“Aye,” the others replied.

And thus, the oars were placed back into the water, and instead of letting the current carry them, the pirates began to work at the boat. Jaehaerys continued to gaze into the sky. Seeing these wyverns fight had touched something deep inside him, gave him a light, fluttery feeling in his chest; and he couldn’t say if it felt good or bad. He wanted to fly with them, to be up there amongst the blood and the fire, but he knew that was an impossibility. He rattled his chains hopelessly and bowed his head.

Within minutes, they were out of eyeshot of the wyverns, though the cries and shrieks of the predators could still be heard. When the pirates rounded another corner, they were met by a second boat - this one was not as big as theirs, but it was also full of pirates. Jaehaerys knew this because of those sly, swarthy faces of theirs. They were all decorated and grimy, ugly and ferocious-looking.

“Mornin’ boys,” said a pirate from the other boat. He had a long scar covering most of his face, and it looked like half of his nose had been hacked off a long time ago. He was holding a short, curved sword, and was pointing it at the other boat. “Didn’t fancy seein’ you down here.”

“Mudtown dogs,” one of the pirates muttered.

The pirate lord stood up, his emeralds clattering together. “Leave us be, we’re just passin’ by.”

“These are our waters,” the Mudtown pirate said.

“No they ain’t!” shouted a pirate from Jaehaerys’ boat. “This’s the way to Xhorre!”

Other pirates from the Mudtown boat stood up and drew their swords, prompting the same thing to occur on Jaehaerys’ boat. Before the boy could tell what was going on, it looked like everyone was spoiling for a fight.

“Let us pass,” boomed the pirate lord. “Or die.”


A ragged war cry arose from the ranks of Jaehaerys’ boat. And suddenly, the boat was shooting forward, oars heaving as quickly as they could. Within seconds, the two boats had rammed right into one another. Several pirates went flying into the river, screaming and cursing. Jaehaerys saw one man trip and get his sword hilt caught on an oar. He fell face-first into the water, though his entanglement kept him from going overboard. In the chaos that was erupting, no one saw him fall at first. A minute later, another pirate spied what had happened and went to pull his friend up when he let out a gasp of horror. The dead man’s face had been reduced to bone - polished clean and white. There was still hair on his head, and much of the back of his neck was still covered in skin, but the entire front side of his face had been eaten off with grim efficiency. I guess they weren’t lying about those carnivorous fish.

And then, the remaining pirates began to fight. Some leapt from their boat to the other, and others leapt from the Mudtown boat to theirs. The fighting was close and personal, horrific to watch. Jaehaerys grabbed his brother and pulled him to the back of the boat. A second later, Rhaena crawled over to them, and the three huddled there, praying to the Seven that no one would come for them, that no one would notice them.

Ahead, the pirates who had brought out swords found themselves in grave mismatches against those who wielded short dirks or daggers. The shorter blades allowed for more dexterity and speed, and Jaehaerys saw on more than one occasion a pirate close the gap on another and then stick his dirk through his foe’s neck long before the other pirate could direct their sword to parry.

The pirates all looked alike, which made it hard for Jaehaerys to know who to root for or understand who was winning. That cunt who was talking to Daeron said that Xhorre is much nicer to its slaves… but he could have been lying. I don’t know who to trust. They died by the scores, either way. And when they died, most fell into the river. If they weren’t dead before they hit the water, they soon were once they reached it, for the weight of their armor that many of them had on was like to drown them, and the carnivorous fish… well Jaehaerys had already seen what they could do to flesh.

Three pirates stumbled to the back of the boat - one pirate taking on two others. The outmatched man held two daggers, and parried the short swords of his foes with blinding skill - skill that would have made even Ser William proud. When one of his foes got too close, he jabbed the man in the chest. However, his dagger got lodged in the pirate’s armor, and he lost it, forcing him to resort to a single dagger against his remaining foe. That pirate was not as eager to die as his friend had been, and instead took a step back. With the space between the two now greater, the man with the sword held the advantage. It took no more than a few strokes for him to force the dagger-wielding man to throw himself forward in desperation. In so doing, the swordsman was easily able to plunge his blade into the belly of his foe, though the dagger-wielding pirate also managed to stick his blade into the shoulder of his foe. The remaining pirate staggered and fell to a knee, but at that moment, he saw Jaehaerys and his siblings in the corner. A bloody grin spread across his mouth and he crawled over to them, reaching for his blade as he went.

Jaehaerys had no time to think. He sprung forward, jumping up and running right at the pirate. As the man reached for his sword, Jaehaerys ran up to him and slammed his chains into the man’s face, shattering his teeth. The pirate groaned and fell backwards, dropping his blade. Jaehaerys stumbled forward, even as the chains around his wrists and ankles prevented him from moving cleanly. He reached for the sword, and before the pirate could so much as plead for mercy, Jaehaerys thrust the blade into his heart. Life’s blood flowed from the man’s mouth as he coughed and gurgled, though each spurt was weaker than the last; and his eyes became wider the longer he stared at the chained boy. Jaehaerys watched the light leave those eyes. My first kill, he thought. Such a thing was a critical moment for any knight - a moment to be cherished and remembered for the rest of one’s life. But given Jaehaerys’ position, he had no time to relish in his accomplishment

Jaehaerys looked up and saw that the fighting had died down ahead of him. There were few pirates left. One pirate he did recognize was the pirate lord with emeralds and gold in his hair. The pirate lord was covered in blood, and his right hand was severed - blood leaked from the gaping wound on his arm in a red-rushing torrent. He was kneeling, holding his wounded arm, and looking up at the pirate who had defeated him - the one with the half-destroyed nose. That pirate was beaming.

“I always knew the boys from Xhorre were soft. Bunch of women and boy-fuckers, if you ask me.” His surviving crew laughed. The pirate lord said nothing, but continued to grimace as his wound bled on. “Bad mistake challengin’ us.”

The pirate lord went to speak, but before he could, the other pirate drew his blade in a flash and sliced it across the lord’s neck. And so, the pirate who had, only the night before, captured Jaehaerys and his siblings, died, his bejeweled head falling with a splash into the river. That’ll be a nice feast for the fish.

Jaehaerys had long since dropped his sword, knowing that keeping it would result in certain death, and retreated back to his brother and sister. He knew they were proud of him for killing that man, but he still couldn’t face them. He wasn’t proud of himself. He was weak, and he had killed a weak man. There was no honor in what he had done. I am no knight.

“Well, well, well, lookee what we got here,” the victorious pirate said, walking over to the far side of the boat. “Couple o’ slaves, eh?”

“P-please… my lord, mercy.” Jaehaerys’ voice was high and full of fear.

The pirate laughed. “Mercy? I ain’t givin’ you mercy. Nah, I’m lettin’ ya live.” He sheathed his sword and motioned for his men to run over and grab the three Targaryens. “We’re takin’ ya back ta Mudtown, kid. And believe me, before long, you’ll be wishin’ I ended your pathetic little life instead.”

When it was their turn to be processed, Jaehaerys, Rhaena, and Daeron were brought into the room together. Their guard dragged them by their chains and threw them onto the dirt floor of the low-lit room. Sitting at a table on the other side of the room was a man with his head down, writing something by candlelight.

“Three more slaves,” the guard grunted. “Last ones for today. Nysarro found them on the Zamoyos.”

“I’ll mark them up,” the other replied. “You can leave us.”

I know that voice, Jaehaerys thought with horror. A moment later, after the guard had left, the man on the opposite side of the room looked up, and by the candlelight, Jaehaerys beheld the weasel-faced, pock-marked glower of Rooney.

“Fuckin’ hell,” the man whispered. “Lookit what we ‘ave ‘ere… Lookit what we ‘ave fuckin’ ‘ere!” He smirked and stood up. Walking over to the three, he studied them all, but kept his gaze longest on Jaehaerys. “When cap’n left me here on account of me arm…” he gestured to his bandaged arm, a remnant of the pirate’s last battle with Jaehaerys, “I thought me life was over. I wanted ta sail the seas with Cap’n Malligan, aye. Not rot away in this shithole…” He bit his tongue and his smiled curled bitterly. “Looks like you three escaped that fat fuck who bought ya, eh? Y’know, stayin’ with him wouldn’ta been half as bad as what’s gonna happen tya now.”

Rooney slammed Jaehaerys onto his knees and pulled him forward. I could try to wrap my chains around his neck. He could still be weak from that wound… but then, Rooney drew a dagger from his belt and poked it into Jaehaerys’ cheek, just below the boy’s right eye.

“Try anythin’ funny,” he said, “and yer dead. No one cares ‘bout slaves in Mudtown. They’re like sheep. Ready for the slaughter. Always new ones comin’ in. No cap’n here to keep ya alive anymore, ha!”

“What do you want with me?” Jaehaerys asked.

“I want them ta watch,” the pirate laughed, pointing his weapon at Rhaena and Daeron.

“Watch what?”

Rooney burst into laughter and pulled down his pants. There now was his cock, small and red like a worm, covered in a thick, curly bush of dark hair. “Suck it, cunt. Use those pretty little lips of yers,” Rooney ordered Jaehaerys, thrusting the boy’s face into his cock. Jaehaerys noticed that the little thing was beginning to grow in size. “Suck it real good fer yer brother and sister.”

Jaehaerys bit his lip so hard he tasted blood. “I won’t,” he whispered.

“You will,” replied the sallow-skinned man. “Or I kill yer brother right now.”

Jaehaerys looked back at Daeron for a moment. There was a weird look in his brother’s eyes - confusion, fear… disappointment, even. That last one cut the deepest. Jaehaerys bit his lip again and frowned, tasting copper. It was a sour taste. There’s always a choice, he thought. My pride or my brother.

It was not a hard decision for him to make.

The Corpse-walker

It was no great mystery to Jaehaerys Targaryen how Mudtown had earned its name. Every day it rained - some days, the skies were grey, and the sky seemed to drown out the ground endlessly; other days, a warm sunny rain would fall. But regardless, every day, it rained in Mudtown, and every day, the dirt roads were reduced to a sloppy, muddy mess. Jaehaerys soon found himself covered in mud: his fingernails turned black; his clothes turned brown; his hair became caked in dried mud; and he even seemed to have a constant dry, earthy taste in his mouth.

He and Daeron had been assigned to the mines, while Rhaena had been taken with the other women to cook for the town, and wash and clean the clothes of all of the pirates and slaves. It was grim and tedious work, the mining. The Targaryen children had lucked out in one regard, though: they were not yet experienced enough to take part in the truly back-breaking mining. That was the gold mining, taking place in the rivers deep in the jungle. Jaehaerys had heard horror stories coming out from those camps; the cannibal fish, the stinging flies, attacks by feral brindle-skinned half-men… it all sounded miserable to Jaehaerys. And the bodies didn’t lie. Higher and higher the stacks piled each day; bloated, mud-caked corpses left to fester in the sun.

There were a million flies, always hovering, always waiting to sting the flesh of anyone and everyone. Just like on Talon, soon Jaehaerys and Daeron’s skin was covered in little red bumps. Some of the other new slaves suffered the same, but not those who had been living in Mudtown for any length of time. So said Naqqo, of the Summer Isles. He was an older man with a salt-and-pepper beard and a face full of sun-dried wrinkles. And he had taken Jaehaerys and Daeron in on the first day they arrived at Mudtown. He had made sure they weren’t put on mining duty. He had no reason to do that, Jaehaerys reflected. He didn’t know us. And yet that had not mattered.

Naqqo had gotten Jaehaerys and Daeron on digging duty, on the excuse that they were mere boys, not strong enough or experienced enough to mine with the rest of the men. Naqqo himself was a digger too, on account of him missing half of his right hand. The diggers’ job was simple - they rose early in the morning and dug out holes in known mineral deposits for the miners to then get to. This had gone on for weeks - Jaehaerys wasn’t sure exactly how long, though. The days had all blurred into one muddy, tired march to work and back. He had lost count after two weeks.

The first day, Jaehaerys had moved so much dirt, he had felt like his bones would fall off. But Naqqo told me to keep going. And he had. Despite the aching in his muscles, Jaehaerys had pushed through that first day. He had been sore to the point of barely being able to walk for several days thereafter, but that was enough to help him pull through. Now he drifted through the days, mindlessly working, numb to the pain.

Daeron had fared much worse. He was many a year younger than Jaehaerys, and he was sick too. He had struggled to do much of anything, so Jaehaerys, Naqqo and the other diggers had been forced to cover for him. Ever since they came to Mudtown, Daeron’s fever had returned and gotten worse.

It was perhaps a month after when they had come to Mudtown that Daeron took a turn for the worse. The day was new, a light rain was falling, and the paths were capped with a fresh layer of mud. Naqqo led Jaehaerys and Daeron and the rest of the diggers to the edge of the encampment, as he did every day. Their chains, which were all locked together, jingled in the fresh morning air. A few pirates walked on either sides of them with whips in their hands, and they stumbled as they followed the group of slaves. Already drunk, Jaehaerys thought. It figures.

One pirate who was not drunk was at the back of the pack, and he scared Jaehaerys the most. He wore armored gauntlets with spikes on them, kept his chest bare, and wore armored pants and boots. Around his neck, he displayed a stone made of a curious black oily substance that reminded Jaehaerys of that terrible statue he had seen on the Isle of Toads. The pirate was known as Si Jin, the Corpse-Eater (based on the rumor that he would eat the corpses of fallen slaves - but this rumor was never discussed in his presence). He was a wiry, muscled man of Yi Ti, and he wore a bejeweled monkey tail hat, too. In his hands, he carried two butcher knives, long and sharp and often dripping with blood. He was the most brutal of the pirates Jaehaerys had ever seen, for he was quick to kill anyone who annoyed him or whom he believed was not doing work. He only tagged along with Jaehaerys’ group every now and then, but every time he did, Jaehaerys felt anxiety strong enough to burst through his chest, and he always worked twice as hard.

By now, they no longer swatted at the flies that buzzed around them. Yet as they walked, Daeron began to lag behind. Jaehaerys noticed, but said nothing. He’s weak and tired. It’s nothing. But when Daeron collapsed, face-first into the mud, Jaehaerys broke from the group to run back to him.

He grabbed Daeron and picked him up. He’s light… too light. The realization startled Jaehaerys. Up to this point, he had thought Daeron was just sick, that he would get over it eventually. But now, the boy had to admit that his brother was not doing well. He’ll die if things don’t change.

“Daeron, get up!” Jaehaerys whispered to his brother. “Come on, stand up. We’re not far. You only have to walk a short ways.”

“J-jae…?” came the distant response.

“Daeron, get up. The pirates are watching us!”

But it was too late. Jaehaerys felt the bitter sting of a whip smack his back. He let out a cry of pain and fell into the mud himself.

A pirate strolled over to the two by the time Jaehaerys was able to sit up. The boy let out a sigh of relief when he saw it wasn’t the Corpse-Eater. “Leave him,” the man grunted to Jaehearys in base Valyrian. “He’s a walkin’ corpse.”

“He’s my brother.”

“Not for much longer he ain’t.” The pirate smiled broadly, showing his yellow teeth. Then, he raised his whip over his head and threatened to bring it down on Jaehaerys a second time.

“He’s… he’s fine, I promise. He’s just a little tired.” Jaehaerys stood and helped Daeron to his feet. Slinging one of his brother’s arms around his neck, the young squire shifted his weight to support Daeron. “See?” he said to the pirate. “He’s fine.”

“Sure, kid. Next time he falls, though, he ain’t gettin’ back up. We’re not stoppin’ again.”

Jaehaerys didn’t let go of Daeron until they reached the dig site. By that point, he was already covered in sweat. The muggy heat of the early morning had sapped much of his strength. He was eternally sore and weary from the digging, and carrying Daeron through a humid, green hell made what little energy he had left evaporate. The pirates, as they were wont to do, left as soon as they group reached their destination. Going off to relax. They can’t be bothered to watch us. We’re chained anyways. It’s not like we’re going anywhere. He set Daeron down up against a rock and felt his brother’s forehead. It was burning and slicked with sweat.

“How are you feeling? Where does it hurt?” he asked.

Daeron groaned something indistinct in response and then slumped back, asleep.

“We must get to work silver boy,” Naqqo spoke, walking over to the two boys. He called Jaehaerys that after the boy’s hair color and because he couldn’t pronounce ‘Jaehaerys’.

“I-I know…” Jaehaerys said, struggling to his feet. His legs were already burning. “I just wanted to make sure my brother was okay.”

“He’s got a disease,” Naqqo pointed out. “Nothing we can do about it. I seen it a hundred times. This evil place… it don’t want us here. That’s why we all dropping like flies.”

I know, but I can’t give up on him. I’ll find a way to save him. I swear on my honor I will. Jaehaerys sighed, picked up a shovel, and walked over to the nearest hole to begin digging. The dirt here was almost all clay and roots beneath the surface layer of mud, and it was hard work to get through. But Naqqo was a strong man, and a fast worker too. He helped Jaehaerys get through the days. Around them were countless other holes; some were empty, some were filled with stagnant water, filled in after being mined to completion. The cesspools stunk, and a permanent scourge of hungry mosquitoes hung around the pools, waiting to suck on the blood of any who came too near.

Yet, what stunk more than the water pits were the bodies. The pirates were too lazy to drag them back to Mudtown, so they had the slaves pile them up in a corner of the dig site. Some had died of exhaustion, of the heat, of dehydration. Two men had fallen in the nearby river and been swarmed by cannibal fish. What remained of them was a sickening sight: two bodies torn to pieces. The first had been eaten on half of his side, where he had slipped into the water. The other was almost a full skeleton, with remnants of flesh and clothes hanging in tatters around his ribs and legs. Jaehaerys didn’t like to look at them.

They worked slowly, but steadily, for as Naqqo had once told Jaehaerys, “Work slowly when they not watching. These slavers are stupid, and if we not in chains, they’d be in big trouble. They are just men.” After an hour or so of this, Jaehaerys returned to Daeron, gave him some water, and felt his forehead again. Still burning. He’s on fire. I thought fire could not kill a dragon…

Daeron came in and out of a daze, and Jaehaerys did not know if his brother knew where he was. He tried telling him a story about Ser Merrik besting their uncle, Jason Lannister, in a tourney fight. That did little to rouse young Daeron’s spirits. He’s sad about losing Ser Merrik, Jaehaerys realized. Just as I am about Ser William. To lighten things up, Jaehaerys then told Daeron a story about how he had once met the magnificent youthful dragon Sunfyre in King’s Landing, and how beautiful and powerful the dragon had looked as it was fed live sheep by their cousin Aegon (who had eventually declared himself King Aegon II before dying in the Dance of the Dragons).

Hearing about the dragon perked up Daeron’s interest. His eyes opened wide and shone with wonder. “I saw a dragon yesterday!” he declared. “He flew over the forest! I saw him go. He was black and silver and massive!”

A wyvern, most likely. Those creatures are common here. But they are no dragons; they lack the fire and the size. “I saw it too,” Jaehaerys lied.

“I’m going to catch him and name him Neryalax,” Daeron said, determination on his face. The name of his unborn dragon, Jaehaerys thought sadly. Rhaena and I never named ours… but he was so eager. When none of them hatched, Daeron was the most devastated. “He’s going to be my dragon!”

I wish I had his optimism. Jaehaerys stood up, ruffled his brother’s hair, and returned to his work. He seems to be doing a little better. Still… I need to find a maester or some kind of healer to treat him. He won’t last long if I don’t do something. As he walked back to the pit Naqqo was digging, he felt something shift in his boot, and an idea for how to save Daeron suddenly formed in his mind. But I can’t try it until we’re done here.

The pirates began drifting back to the camp by noon. Some were so drunk they could barely walk. Si Jin paced in the shadows of the trees, murmuring to himself, and Jaehaerys thought that he kept looking over at the prince and the Summer Islander. What would he want with us? We’ve been working the whole time. There was nothing Jaehaerys could do even if the Corpse-Eater wanted to kill him, so he just lowered his head and shoveled as much dirt as he could. Forget Naqqo’s plan. There’s no way I’m going to work slowly with this guy watching me.

The day dragged on, and the slaves began sharing rumors and stories they had learned since the previous day. Once mentioned how a slave detachment a little bit west of this one had been attacked by monstrously-sized apes so big and powerful that they could rip a man in half as easy as one tears a cooked leg from a chicken. Naqqo didn’t believe a word of it; and Jaehaerys didn’t know what to think. Could such monsters really be out there? He didn’t doubt that something nasty was out there. He’d already seen the wyverns and cannibal fish. Giant apes were just as likely, weren’t they?

Other rumors were just as gruesome - tales of thirty-foot snakes swallowing men whole and of huge basilisks twice the size of lions who hunted men for sport. One slave said something that interested Jaehaerys in another way, though. His report on a great forest fire not but a few leagues south of the dig site was most curious. He even said that several dozen slaves and pirates had returned grievously burned, and scores more had been lost to the flames. A ferocious creature had attacked them from the deep of the woods unprovoked, though no one had gotten a good look at it before it had blasted its flames at them. A dragon, Jaehaerys thought. Daeron’s dragon. He remembered back to the boat ride on the river with the Emerald Lord. There had been a wyvern bigger than the rest. He tore the head off another one like it was nothing. Like a great ape would tear a man in half. He was not like them. Jaehaerys had felt something when he had looked at that wyvern that he had not felt when he looked at the others.

The rest of their work went with little incident. A few slaves got whipped, and the Corpse-Eater beat one of them savagely for taking a break, but that was quite normal. The barbarism of it all was something Jaehaerys had become numb to after weeks of enduring it. Luckily, he had never been on the receiving end of such brutal beatings. And even more luckily, none of the pirates seemed to notice the sleeping ten-year-old boy near the rocks and supplies at the far side of the camp. Even if they did see him, they probably think he’s dead or don’t care. It’s not like he could do much work even if he wasn’t ill.

As the day began to turn to night, the pirates ordered the slaves to pack up their things and return to Mudtown. Jaehaerys looked down at the holes he had dug, with the help of Naqqo. He was proud of the work he’d done, even if he was unbelievably sore now. Naqqo told him he would finish uncovering the last hole, allowing Jaehaerys to return to Daeron. Jae gave the boy some more water, and then helped his brother return to the rest of the group. However, after a few moments of standing in the group, as the pirates began to order the procession from the front by chaining all of the slaves back together, Jaehaerys noticed that Naqqo was nowhere to be seen. The large Summer Islander struck quite a figure, so it was odd that Jaehaerys could not see him. Maybe he’s still digging that last hole. He’ll get left behind if I don’t tell him we’re leaving.

The boy peeled off from the pack and returned to where he and Naqqo had been working on a set of new holes since the morning. There was no sign of the man. Did he try to run off? Jaehaerys was just about to return to the pack when he heard a rustling in the bushes nearby. Carefully, he crept over to edge of the forest. From behind gnarled tree, he peered into the tall grass beyond.

The ground was slick with blood, and plenty of the leaves and blades of grass from nearby were painted red as well. There stood Si Jin, covered in blood himself, his two butcher knives held high in each hand. They were dripping with blood, and he was hacking at a body viciously, the monkey tail on his hat swaying back and forth with every strike. Jaehaerys craned his neck; as soon as he saw the dark flesh, he jumped back, catching his gasp in the back of his throat. Blood was splattering across the air and the wet smacking of blades on flesh confirmed what the prince had feared. He couldn’t let the Corpse-Eater know he was there. If he sees me, he will do the same to me. Jaehaerys ran all the way back to the group.

He was shaking, but he had to calm himself. He tried to think of something else; he tried to focus on the wyvern he had seen above the river. But every time he closed his eyes, he saw Naqqo’s blood staining Si Jin’s blades. What did he do to provoke the slaver’s wroth?

“Are you okay, Jae?” Daeron asked sheepishly.

Jaehaerys opened his eyes and looked down at his brother. “Oh, it’s nothing. Hey, are you feeling better Daeron?”

“A little.”

“That’s good. I think you need to get more sleep.”

“I don’t want to sleep. I want to go find that dragon.”

Jaehaerys forced a smile.

When they returned to their cages, which were out in the open, supplied with nothing but a bucket to shit in and rows of cramped cots for everyone to sleep on, Jaehaerys saw Rhaena waiting for them. She had been placed in a different pen than him and Daeron, but she was close enough that they could still talk. He told her how Daeron was doing (making sure the boy was well out of earshot when they exchanged words) and relayed some information about the work he was doing everyday. She doesn’t care about that, he thought, watching her face. All that she cares about is Daeron. But I can’t tell her my plan until everyone goes to sleep.

The slaves ate dinner, and then most of them collapsed on their cots, instantly falling asleep. The stench of them - their sweat and piss and shit - made Jaehaerys wrinkle his nose. That was one thing he had never gotten used to after staying here all these weeks. He made sure Daeron got plenty to eat, and then ate himself. He watched the other pens getting served as the sun began to set, and noticed that Rooney was one of the pirates out there serving the slaves. Just seeing that man left a sour taste in Jaehaerys’ mouth and made his ears burn hot with anger. If we ever get out of here, I’ll make sure to kill him before we leave. And I’ll make sure I make him hurt a lot.

The day turned to night, and the pirates retreated back to their huts. Out in the cold, the slaves had but one thin, flea-ridden blanket apiece. As the midnight winds began to howl, Jaehaerys began to shiver, and he noticed most of the other slaves were too.

He was lost in thought over Naqqo, the man who had helped him so much, when Jaehaerys overheard someone talking to Daeron. She was an old woman, wrinkled as a prune and nigh toothless. She sat cross-legged, sucking on a piece of red bark. Her lips and gums and the tips of her fingers were stained bright red. And that was how she’d gotten her names: Sweetgums. She loved to suck on the sweet bark, for she lacked the teeth to eat the hard bread that was served to the slaves. She was running her fingers through Daeron’s hair as he lay in her lap, and not a moment passed without her voice cracking through the air.

“Oh yes, they come out at night for little boys like you! They want only the freshest meat, the sweet meat, hyuk hyuk hyuk! That’s why you must go to bed. If you stay up too late, they’ll be coming for you, oh they will.”

“What are you talking about?” Jaehaerys asked her, annoyance clear in his voice.

“The Ravenings,” the woman proclaimed proudly. “They hide away in distant caves in the days, but they come out at night, oh yes they do! The stories say they don’t have eyes, but they use their sense of smell to hunt you down.”

“Is she telling the truth, Jae?” Daeron asked innocently.

“It’s nonsense, Daeron.” He turned to face the woman. “Don’t fill his mind with such tales.”

“Oh these aren’t tales my boy. The Ravenings are nothing compared to the fishmen. Oh yes…” her voice trembled and she licked her lips. “The most ancient race of beings. They’ve been here since the lands rose out of the sea. Legend says they still live under the sea, waiting for the right time to return to the surface. Then we will know them, oh yes!”

“It’s just stories,” Jae countered.

“Is it? Have you seen those who live on the Isle of Toads? Half-breeds. They are of the sea and of the land, but they are more fish then men. That is why they worship the ocean. One day, the fishmen will come to claim them.”

She has a point. The fisherfolk do look like fish. But that’s just a coincidence. “You just made that up. It’s a story, nothing else.”

“Stories, ha! If you don’t believe me, go see the fishmen for yourself.”

I would if I wasn’t in chains, you old fool. “And where would they be?”

“Yeen.” She sucked her barked and snapped her jaw. “The oldest city in the world. That is where you’ll find them, trust me!”

“You’re mad, do you know that?”

“My sweet child, why do you think you know better than me?” Sweetgums looked angry, perhaps. It was hard to tell with all those wrinkles covering her face.

Jaehaerys shrugged. This place is full of strange things. Who knows how much truth she is telling. “Go on then,” he told her. “But don’t scare him.”

“Oh I’m not scaring him, boy. I’m just telling him how it is.” She then proceeded to tell Daeron a story about how the fishmen had once started a war with a race of lizard men. It was a bloody affair, almost bloody enough to sound real. But whatever the story was about, it was good enough to help Daeron get to sleep. And once he was dozing softly, Jaehaerys stood up, picked him up, and placed him on his cot. He placed his own blanket over the sleeping prince.

Just as Jaehaerys was going to his own cot, Sweetgums spoke up from behind. “He’s not got long, that brother of yours.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s got pus-eye. And green fever too. I wouldn’t doubt if he has a dozen other diseases.”

“I know.”

“You will need to get him help soon, or he will die.”

“I will.”

She looked at him suspiciously, then shook her head and hobbled off to bed. Old hag. Do you really think I’d let him die?

Jaehaerys waited until everyone around him was breathing rhythmically; once he knew they were asleep, he rose from his cot, shaking because he was shivering so hard, and proceeded to the edge of the pen. Waiting for him, as he expected, was Rhaena.

“Well?” she said. “What do we do?” There was an edge to her voice. Exhaustion. She’s just barely holding on.

“I have a plan,” he replied. Then, he pulled his left boot off and reached his hand into it. Once he had found what he wanted, he held it up for Rhaena to see. “Use this to bribe a guard. Make sure you get his key to let us out of here. A key to get us out of our chains will be needed too. And if you have to bribe him other ways too… well… just think of Daeron.”

Silence fell over the two. Rhaena was looking wide-eyed at what Jaehaerys held. After an eternity, she whispered softly, “Jae… where did you get that?”

“I found it in the captain’s room.”

“D-does that mean…?”

“Stop it, Rhaena,” Jaehaerys said. “Mother is gone. We can’t do anything about that. We have to focus on saving Daeron.”

“I know, b-but…”

Jaehaerys lowered his head too. He felt tears coming, but pushed them back. He didn’t look up to see if Rhaena was crying. I didn’t mean to open old scars, but this is the only way. “Come on, Rhaena,” he said after a while. “We have to be strong for him. We have to do whatever we can.”

“I know. Give me the necklace. I’ll make sure I get that key.”

The determined tone of hers startled Jaehaerys. A second ago she seemed to have given up hope. Now there was fire in her; the fire of a dragon. Jaehaerys threw his mother’s necklace towards Rhaena’s cage. It landed just outside, in the mud. Rhaena reached her hand between the bars and grasped the necklace of red gold. She took it in and held it to her chest.

Jaehaerys stood. “I need to get some sleep.”

“Ye-yeah… me too.”

“We don’t have much time, Rhaena. Make sure you get those keys.”

“I will.”

The next day, Jaehaerys and Daeron were awakened by the sounds of cheering and screaming. The cheering was human; the screaming was not. Ahead, outside of the slave holding pens, Jaehaerys could see a crowd gathered. Slaves and slavers alike were cramped together, watching something Jaehaerys could not see. The air was wet and fuliginous, and three massive fires were burning in the mud. What are they doing? Is this some sort of celebration?

A moment later, the cheers exploded into jeers and cries of shock. The crowd parted, with some slaves falling into the mud as they tried to flee. Then Jaehaerys saw the tattooed lizards - they were as big as wolves, their scales painted viridian and onyx and crimson and saffron. They ran on their hind legs and had frightening speed.

When the crowd parted, Jaehaerys could see that the lizards were being held in a pen of their own, made of wood and iron. There were several lizards in there, and all of them were bleeding and pacing about. They must’ve been fighting. The pirates must have been making a betting game out of it. Yet, the lizards had begun to turn their ferocity on the men watching them. One had lunged at the wooden wall, cracked it, and broken through. Then it jumped on the nearest man it could find and tore him to pieces. The lizard managed to attack several others before three pirates ran forward,spears and swords drawn, and surrounded the creature. As it looked back and forth, trying to pick which one to attack, one man thrust his spear into the creature’s belly.

When it was all said and done, half a dozen men were injured by the tattooed lizard. Two were pirates; four were slaves. The slaves were left where they fell, to die. The pirates, though, were carried away to be treated. They must have a maester or a healer here. If we can just get out of the cage at night and find him… Jaehaerys looked down at his brother, who stood watching the crowd. He was trembling, and his eyes were raw and red. If Jaehaerys hadn’t known better, he would have thought Daeron was crying. But that was the pus-eye Sweetgums had mentioned the previous night. It’ll take his eyes first, and then his life.

At once, the noise of the crowd fell to a hush, save for the dying slaves. Jaehaerys looked up and saw a party of slavers approaching the crowd. The man leading them was Nysarro, the pirate with a hacked-off nose who had captured Jaehaerys and his siblings on the river. Guards followed him. And yet, it was not he who was the true master of this group. For when they stopped, Nysarro stepped aside, and a big man took his place from the middle of the throng. He was fat and short and he wore a huge black skull upon his face, covering it totally. It’s not human, Jaehaerys knew. Maybe it’s from one of those huge apes people were talking about yesterday. The man wore a suit of bronze armor and held a curved Valyrian steel scimitar, which he seemed to be pointing angrily at the crowd.

“Who’s that?” croaked Daeron. “He looks like a monster!”

“You best stay away from him, child.” Sweetgums said from her cot behind them. “That’s the Boneman. This is his town. He’s got a terrible temper. It’s best if you don’t even think about him. He knows if you think evil thoughts about him, oh yes he does.”

Daeron shivered. Jaehaerys put his arms around his brother. “He does not. But the old woman’s right… try to ignore him. Don’t draw attention to yourself, Daeron.”


A man let out a squeal of shock as the Boneman split his stomach open, letting his entrails spill out into the mud. The Boneman was shouting now, and his voice carried all the way to the pens. He was speaking in some foreign tongue Jaehaerys did not know. He turned to Sweetgums, who had been here for years. “What’s he saying?” he asked her. In truth, he had no idea if she could understand whatever language the man was yelling in.

“He’s telling them to get back to work and stop wasting their time,” she said idly. “He doesn’t like that they killed one of the lizards. Those creatures can be quite difficult to catch.”

Jaehaerys looked at the blood-soaked ground, where four men and one lizard lay. They were all either dead or dying. Soon, they would be joined by a few scapegoats, Jaehaerys knew. The Boneman apparently liked to kill people, for he executed three more pirates and a dozen slaves, and left their bodies there in the mud for all to see. And then he and his entourage marched off, as if they had merely stopped to rest their feet.

Later, Jaehaerys, Daeron, and the rest of the slaves in their pen returned to the dig site to continue their work. Jaehaerys felt an urge to return to that space in the tall grass where he had seen Si Jin the previous day. But his curiosity was not sharper than his fear.

As the day wore on, Daeron once again grew weak and was only able to do a little digging before collapsing again. Jaehaerys gave him some water, but there was little else he could do. With Naqqo gone, I have to do enough work for three people now. As tired as Jaehaerys was, he had little hope of doing just that. He grit his teeth and started to work as fast as he could, but digging through rooty, clay-filled soil was slow work, and soon Jaehaerys felt like his arms were going to fall off.

Reports from the western slave sites continued to trickle in, with more talk of burned men. Some thought that the burning was coming from Xhorre, from warriors hidden in the trees shooting flaming arrows at those of Mudtown.

“There’s a war brewing. I can feel it in my bones,” one slave muttered. “These kinds ‘a things don’t go unpunished.”

“Xhorre’s bigger,” another slave reminded him. “We best hope it doesn’t come to war.”

“Bunch of boy fuckers and women up there,” the other slave responded. “I’ve heard that they don’t even know how to fight with swords. I’m not worried.”

Doesn’t sound like they don’t know how to fight if they are attacking the other sites. Jaehaerys looked around, surveying the forest that surrounded their dusty little plot on all sides. There could be bowmen out there right now aimed at us with flaming arrows. We won’t know until we’re aflame. He thought he saw something in the bushes just ahead of him, and he heard a faint whispering coming from there. A cold sweat covered Jaehaerys’ body, in spite of the heat of the morning. Is there really someone out there?

He kept his eyes trained on the bushes ahead of him, and he thought he saw a glint of metal at one point. A sword. He thought about saying something to the pirates, but refrained. If it is the Xhorre pirates, they will just go for the slavers. They won’t attack us. We can’t fight back. At least, he hoped that was the case. He looked around and counted the pirates who were patrolling the dig site. Twenty-five. That’s a lot. If the Xhorre pirates want to attack us, they would be best served to use their bows and not meet us in open combat. He couldn’t think about it much longer either way, for the slavers would notice if he was slacking off and staring off into the forest. So, Jaehaerys lowered his head and kept digging.

It was near the end of the day, when the pirates were not focused on Jaehaerys’ area, that he decided to run back over to Daeron. He needed to check on his brother and make sure he was getting lots of water. What greeted Jaehaerys, behind the stacks of supplies and dirt, was a horrible sight. Daeron was huddled, red-faced and shivering. His eyes were leaking a sickly yellow-looking pus and he was twitching. Jaehaerys wiped away the foul-smelling leakage, but as soon as he did, more came out from Daeron’s eyes.

“J-jae…? Wh-what’s happening to me?”

“You’re sick, Daeron. But it’s okay. Rhaena and I are getting you the medicine you need. Everything will be alright. Don’t you worry.”

Daeron nodded when a booming screech echoed through the skies. Everyone - the pirates, the slaves, perhaps even the beasts lurking in the thick forest - looked upwards and saw a wyvern. It was large for a wyvern, its scales rippling black and silver in the light of the setting sun. As it flew towards the bleeding horizon, it let out another roar. Jaehaerys ran around the dirt pile to get a better look. He was surprised to feel Daeron at his side. As weak and tired as the boy was, he would not miss seeing this. It sounds like Sunfyre, Jaehaerys thought, awe in his throat. That sounds like the roar of a dragon.

“Aw… Neryalax come back!” Daeron’s voice was as thin as a razor’s edge, but Jaehaerys could detect the disappointment in it. “I want to ride on his back!”

Later that night, Jaehaerys met with Rhaena again. This time, she stood outside the pens.

“I have a key to get out,” she explained. “He wants me to come every night to make him feel good.” Her voice was mechanical, forced, almost as weary as Daeron’s.

“Did he take the necklace?”

She nodded, not looking at Jae.

“And you’re sure this is the pirate who has the keys to our chains?”

Another nod. The wind was howling through the camp, and it blew Rhaena’s hair this way and that. Despite how dirty she was, in the moonlight, Jaehearys found her beautiful. He felt a tightening in his smallclothes, but another thought crept into his heart with that. Why is she spending time with him every night? Wasn’t the necklace enough to bribe him? What is she doing? He looked her over and knew.

“Daeron’s eyes are leaking,” he said at last. “Pus-eye is fatal if not treated. Sweetgums said as much. She also thinks he has a few other diseases.”

“We all have diseases,” Rhaena replied, detached. “Don’t you know where we are, Jae?”

It was true enough. Mudtown was a wretched place, and Jaehaerys thought that perhaps half, if not more, of the slaves and pirates were afflicted by some disease or another. He himself had had a fever on and off for the past few weeks, one that had given him night terrors and made him feel lightheaded. But in time, that had passed. Daeron had not gotten better with time.

“You have to hurry, Rhaena. He doesn’t have much time left.”

“I know,” she sighed. “I’m trying.”

He knew she was. Back on the Firewind, she had been so willing to give herself to him. But this was different. It’s all for Daeron.

Rhaena walked off into the darkness, and Jaehaerys returned to his cot. That night, his dreams were all fire and blood. And when he awoke the next morning, the only thing he remembered was the feeling of wind in his hair as he had flown above the world.

Another day passed, and Rhaena did not get the key. That night, she once again snuck out of her holding pen with the key the gate guard had given her. She just needs the key to the chains. We can’t get away if we’re still chained up. Even so, as Jaehaerys watched Rhaena get up and start walking off, he thought madly that he and his siblings should just run off into forest. To die free, even if they were chained, was better than living out the rest of their pathetic lives in this hellhole.

It was never going to happen. He would never give up and die. Not while there was still hope. “Rhaena! Rhaena, come back!” he whispered as forcefully as he dared.

She heard him, and came walking back in that daze she had been put in ever since he’d given her the necklace. “What?”

“Take me with you.”

“You want to suck his cock too?” She gave him a dark look. “Or do you want to watch? Are you really that cruel, brother?”

“I’m going to kill him.”

Her eyes narrowed. “And how are you going to do that?”

“He’ll be naked. I’ll sneak over to his clothes, get his knife, and cut his throat while you distract him.”

“I want to get the key myself,” she answered.

Your pride doesn’t matter here. “It’s taking too long.”

She sighed and shook her head. “If this goes wrong, Jae…”

“I know.”

Rhaena Targaryen let her brother out of the cage. In the moonlight, the two ran off towards one of the nearby huts, where the gate guard lay awaiting Rhaena for his nightly pleasure. Jaehaerys’ heart was beating hard in his chest. With every footstep, his blood began to run hotter and hotter. There’s no room for error. I kill him or he kills us. He tried to remember everything Ser William had taught him, but his mind was running blank. He was so focused that he couldn’t think.

There were pirates patrolling around the compound - Jaehaerys counted at least a dozen of them. The two Targaryens kept to the shadows, trying to remain out of sight. How did Rhaena get to the gate guard’s hut the past few nights without being seen? That seemed odd to him. His sister wasn’t a master sneak; she was just a sixteen year old girl with chains around her wrists and ankles. It didn’t seem like she should have been able to sneak past all of these pirates. And then, when Jaehaerys took a good look at one of the pirates who came pretty close to them on his nightly rounds, he realized why. They’re all drunk. Drunk as any man can get. It’s a wonder they can still walk. There was no way such men would have seen Rhaena… and there was no way they would see them tonight. The two moved on.

“It’s just there,” Rhaena said, pointing at a cluster of huts ahead of them. “The one on the left. I’ll go in first and distract him. He’ll be turned around. If you’re really going to do this, Jae, be quick…”

They ran over to the huts, which were up against one of the walls of Mudtown - Jaehaerys guessed it was the western wall. I don’t know if I can kill him without alerting anyone else. If I miss his neck, he’ll scream… and then… He thought about voicing this concern to Rhaena, but quickly decided not to. Rhaena doesn’t need to worry any more than she already is.

They came up to the gate guard’s hut, which was sagging up against the wall. It was made of mud bricks and it had a thatched roof. As they approached it, Jaehaerys thought he heard whispering again, this time coming from the forest just to his left. He peered out into the darkness for a moment, looking for any sign of movement, but there was none. Then he was off again with Rhaena. When they got to the door, Jaehaerys stood back, letting Rhaena go in alone. She put her hand on the door handle.

The door opened. It was not the door Rhaena had her hand on; no, this was the door opposite the gate guard’s hut. Jaehaerys saw the muscled figure of Si Jin, the Corpse-Eater, step out into the night. He let out a cry and jumped back, tripping over his legs before falling into the mud.

“N-no…!” he stuttered. Then, he looked wildly over to Rhaena. “Run!” he urged her. “Get out of here!”

Si Jin saw Jaehaerys. He walked over to the boy, a butcher knife in each hand. The blades were shining in the moonlight. The man’s monkey tail was swinging in the wind. His face was blank, but his bright eyes were rippling with battle lust. He’s going to kill me.

After a few steps, Si Jin built himself up into a sprint, his butcher knives thrust in a ‘V shape’ behind him. Jaehaerys’ heart was beating in his ears so hard that his vision itself was pulsating. His face had gone numb. He felt sick, empty, already dead. It’s over, he thought. He winced, preparing for the crashing of blades down upon his skull.

The Corpse-Eater ran right past him. Jaehaerys spun around in confusion and saw another man standing there, waiting for the pirate. He was dressed in fine armor, which shone silver in the moonlight. In his hand, he held a longsword, sharp and clean. On his breastplate was the sigil of House Targaryen - a three-headed dragon. It cannot be, thought Jaehaerys. Is this a dream? The knight stepped forward to confront Si Jin. The butcher knives bounced effortlessly off the longsword. A whirlwind strike followed, which disarmed the Corpse-Eater of one of his blades. Then, Jaehaerys saw the other House sigil, forged on the breastplate just below the three-headed dragon. Three stalks of wheat on a field. Ser William Selmy’s House. Jaehaerys wanted to shout for joy, but his effort caught in his throat.

He watched as Ser William moved deftly forward, closing the distance between him and Si Jin. The slaver used his last knife to cut across Ser William’s body, but the blade was useless against heavy plate metal. Ser William punched Si Jin in the nose with his gauntlet, and the pirate fell, blood spurting. He went to finish the deed by impaling the YiTish pirate with his sword when Si Jin kicked William Selmy’s feet from under him. The knight fell over. No! In that heavy armor, he won’t be able to get up easily. With Selmy in the mud, Si Jin cackled, wiped blood from his mouth and rushed forward to cut his throat.

“Hey you! Weren’t you looking for me?” a voice shouted from across somewhere behind the two fighters. Si Jin turned to look at who had spoken to him, and then he was hit in the face by a large stone. Teeth and bones burst apart at once, and blood flew everywhere. The man dropped his last knife and wailed in pain. Jaehaerys could see the blood dripping from between the pirate’s fingers as he held his shattered face.

From behind, Ser William sat up on one knee and then used his longsword to help him stand. Without hesitating, he raised the blade and stuck it through the back of Si Jin’s neck. The slaver coughed and then fell limp.

“Ser… William, is that you?” Jaehaerys asked cautiously to the armored knight, whose once-pristine armor was now covered in mud. On closer inspection, he saw that there were parts of it that looked dented and rusted too.

The knight removed his helmet, revealing a bearded and scarred face. Ser William fell to one knee. “My prince,” he began. “Apologies for the delay. It has been quite an adventure trying to track you down.”

Tears were streaming down Jae’s face. “I-I… I thought you were d-dead…”

The knight stood, wiped his sword, and sheathed it. “We thought you were dead too… but we couldn’t stop looking. Not after the oath we swore.”

“We?” Jaehaerys looked around. There, by the hut he saw Rhaena standing with Ser Edric Thorne, the man who Jaehaerys realized had thrown the rock at Si Jin. They were talking and hugging and beaming. It had been a long time since Jaehaerys had seen Rhaena smile. Out from the shadows then came Ser Merrik Rykker, Daeron’s sworn shield.

“Aye. But we can finish talking about this later,” he said, looking around. “It’s too dangerous here. We need to get you back to safety first.”

“Where’s Daeron?” Merrik asked gruffly.

“Still in the cages,” Jaehaerys said.

Rhaena and her knight walked over. “I have the key,” she said. “I can take you there.”

“No,” Merrik said plainly. “It’s too dangerous. I’ll get him myself. Give me the key.”


Ser Edric put a gloved hand on Rhaena’s shoulder. “Enough, Rhaena. Listen to Merrik. He’ll get Daeron, don’t you worry.”

“Just tell me where,” said the knight known as the Statue.

“He’s in the holding cage furthest to the right.”

“He’ll be sleeping next to an old woman,” Jaehaerys added.

“Very well.” Ser Merrik drew his blade and then stalked off into the darkness.

“We must needs leave this place,” William Selmy then said to the others. “The pirates will soon know you are gone. But fear not. They won’t track us far. The forest is too dangerous, too thick. They won’t risk losing their own men searching for a couple of worthless slaves.”

“Shouldn’t we save the other slaves too?” Jaehaerys thought of Sweetgums, the old woman who had told Daeron stories of fantasy and half-truths.

“We have neither the time nor the men to liberate this place. Plus, even if we were to do so, where would they go? What would they eat? How would they defend themselves?”

“I don’t know…” But it seems wrong to leave them all here. He thought of Naqqo, the man who had helped him for no reason other than he knew Jaehaerys needed his help. A good knight protects all of those who cannot protect themselves.

“Jaehaerys…” Ser William whispered. “We must leave. The guards will soon figure out that one of their own is dead, that you are gone.”

Jaehaerys sighed and nodded. He felt sick to his stomach, and he did not much feel like a knight, but he knew he had only one choice. “Very well, Ser. Take us home.”

The Blood of the Dragon

That night, Jaehaerys Targaryen dreamed of nothing, and come morning, they rose at the break of dawn to continue on. There were two dozen or so men with the three knights, Jae observed - many of them the last survivors of his mother’s household guard. When we were in Lys, they numbered fifty. Now none but ten remained; the rest were Lysene sellswords Cossenello had hired for the voyage home. There had been more of them too… before the pirates attacked.

They formed a column, four men abreast, six lines long. Ser Edric led the march. Ser Merrik (who carried Jaehaerys’ sick brother) and Rhaena stood in the middle of the group, protected on all sides. Ser William Selmy, Jaehaerys, and two household guards took up the rear. Before, Ser William would have never let me stand with him like this. But the boy knew they needed every able-bodied warrior for the journey home. He could no longer sit in the middle of the pack, to be protected like his brother and sister. I am nearly a man grown, not a boy. I should have a sword in my hand, like the rest of them.

A sword he did have, but he kept it sheathed as the group trudged on, through the mud and tangled roots and tightening forest. Ser Edric and a few of the guards at the front of the column had their swords drawn, to cut a path through the dense jungle. The day wore on, and soon everyone was slicked with sweat, the mere act of walking causing the men to breathe hard and diminish their pace. The weight of their armor, especially for Ser Merrik and Ser William, who wore full plate, was astonishing - too much for Jae to comprehend. He didn’t know how they were doing it.

They paused only infrequently, to pass around their dwindling sacks of water. Soon we will have to drink of the river, Jaehaerys knew. That would spell certain doom; he had been forced to do that, along with all of the other slaves in Mudtown, and it had made him sicker than he had ever been.

The morning turned to noon, and the heat grew as stifling and suffocating as Jaehaerys had ever known. His curiosity soon got the best of him, and Jae began to question his sworn shield about what had happened to the men since that fateful night on the Summer Sea. The Quickfoot was silent for a while, but finally he spoke in a hushed tone, recounting to Jaehaerys the tale of how he and the crew had put the fires out on the Firewind with seawater, how they had suffered massive casualties not only to the pirates, but to the flames. The next morning, the ship still smoking, Cossenello had set off towards the Basilisk Isles, where he expected the pirates to be taking the Targaryen children. The Firewind was a slow ship by design, and being partially burned with more than half its crew dead or dying, did not help matters. It had taken them an extra week to reach the Isles, and they had burned through many of their supplies on the way. Ser William had to lower his voice when he spoke of them slitting the throats of several grievously wounded men to lower the number of mouths they had to feed. By the time the Firewind limped into port on the Isle of Flies, the crew had eaten every bit of provisions they had stocked for the return to Westeros, and were dangerously close to eating anything they could find - including one another.

“Thankfully, it never came to that,” said the knight. “But we were close. Then we found an unsuspecting slaver’s ship at dock, killed its crew, and took it for our own. Since then, we’ve been scouting the islands looking for any sign of you. We followed a lead from a slaver on Talon who thought he’d seen you, but that led us nowhere. We eventually came to the mainland simply out of desperation - our last hope was to check the slave towns on Sothoryos to see if you were there.”

“But how did you find us? There are probably thousands of slaves in Mudtown.”

“Aye, wasn’t an easy thing, that. We were here three days before Merrik thought he spotted your sister down by the river doing laundry. We split the group up, having them hide in the bushes, shadowing the slave groups to see if they could find any of you. Yesterday, I saw you with mine own eyes.” The knight’s voice trembled and he paused for several moments before continuing. “I called for you, but I didn’t chance more than a whisper, not with all those guards around you. I couldn’t risk them maiming or killing you.

“We were planning on storming the town at night, to break you out of those pens while the pirates slept. It just so happened that a guard spotted you and Rhaena out on your own… and you know the rest.”

Jaehaerys nodded. “Tell me truly, Ser, was it you who was burning all those men?”

William Selmy’s face lit up in surprise. “Burned? What do you mean?”

“Well, there were stories of slaves and pirates getting burned to death in the outer slave camps, like someone was hunting them. Some said it was fire archers from Xhorre hiding in the forest, but I thought…”

The knight shook his head vehemently. “Not us. We have bows, aye, but no such fire.”

Then what was doing that? Jaehaerys thought he knew, but the thought was too frightening to face now.

After another hour of sauntering on, Jaehaerys worked up the courage to ask his sworn shield the one question that had been troubling him since the previous night. “Last night…” he began, “the way you killed that pirate…”

William was unperturbed. “What of it?”

“There was no honor in the trick you played with Ser Edric.”

“Honor?” the knight grunted in surprise. “What does honor have to do with this?”

“You’re a knight.”

“I am.”

“Knights are supposed to have honor.” Jae tried to say that as casually as he could, but the words came sharp and cruel.

“That we are,” the man chuckled, “but you are my only concern, Jae. Honor is worth piss all out here if I don’t get you out alive. I swore an oath, you remember. I’m your sworn shield, your protector. It’s my duty to make sure nothing happens to you. And I’ve failed miserably in that regard for much of this journey. That much has not been lost on me. I won’t let anything happen again. And if that means I have to kill a man without honor, then fuck honor. My prince’s life is worth more to me than a little pride.”

They did not go much further before stopping for lunch.

“Don’t wander far,” Ser William told Jaehaerys. “Watch him. Make sure he doesn’t run off,” he said to a nearby guard.

“Where are you going?” Jae asked.

“To catch us lunch.”

The knight unslung a bow from his back and ran his gloved fingers up and down its string. He smiled and then marched off with several others who also had bows at the ready. Up ahead, Ser Merrik had placed Daeron on a blanket on the ground, and the ship’s maester was attending to the boy. Please help him, Jaehaerys thought, watching. Let it be something curable. Daeron wasn’t doing so good, though, and Jae knew that likely meant he wasn’t going to make it. Out here, there’s not much hope. But even a little was better than none.

He found Rhaena standing alone on the edge of the makeshift camp, staring at a waterfall foaming over an outcropping of rocks ahead. The white-blue water was hurling itself into a thin stream below, and his sister was running her fingers through her hair as she watched.

“Are you okay?”

Rhaena shook her head. “I’m tired, Jae.”

“I know, I am too.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder.

“All this time, I’ve held out hope that if we could just get home, if we could just return to how things were… but that was foolish of me. What do we have to return to? Mother and father are dead… the whole Seven Kingdoms are bleeding from the war… Where would we go? How would things ever return to how they were?”

“Would you rather stay here?”

“Sometimes I wonder if it’d just be better to die out here. I’m tired of it all.” She ran her fingers through her hair again. “What’s the point?”

“You’re just saying that because you’ve been out here for so long,” he tried to say as delicately as possible. “But I know you want to get out of this just as much as me.”

“Maybe,” she said, turning away from him. “I’m so dirty. My bones ache. My head is burning. My stomach’s killing me. I can’t stand it. I just want it to end.”

“You can’t abandon Daeron.”

She lowered her head and bit her lip. “Yeah, Daeron…” She’s already braced herself for what’s to come.

“Come now,” he said. “This is not the time to be moping about. We were just rescued from slavery! Our sworn shields never gave up, and neither should you.”


“No, I don’t want to hear it. Come on. Let’s get you cleaned off.”

Suddenly, Jaehaerys felt himself pulling his sister into the stream, underneath the waterfall.

“The fish…!” she whispered in horror, but that only made the squire laugh.

“It’s not deep enough!” The water didn’t even reach their ankles. “Don’t be afraid.”

He pulled her in, pulled her towards him. Their shirts came off, first his, then hers. Then their pants, their boots, until they were in nothing but their smallclothes. She did not resist. Does she want to do this or is she just too weary to stop me? He didn’t let that thought deter him. She’s skin and bones, he realized. He could see her ribs, and when he looked down at his own stomach, he noticed that he could see his own as well, poking up from under his flesh. Her breasts were laid bare before him, pale and perky and small, the pink nipples gathering drops of falling water. He spun his sister around, bringing her under the waterfall, soaking her hair. He laughed, watching the dirt, grime, and sweat wash away from her frail form. He thought he saw a fleeting grin ripple across Rhaena’s face.

“There’s a man watching us,” Rhaena murmured to her brother a moment later. He saw her lilac eyes dart back and forth from behind the veil of water. Her hands came up instinctively to cover herself.

“It’s just a guard. He won’t watch.” Jaehaerys craned his head around to get a good look at the man Ser William had left to watch him. “Turn around,” he ordered the man. “Give us a little privacy, alright?”

The man nodded awkwardly and averted his eyes. Once Jaehaerys was sure he wasn’t watching anymore, he stepped up to Rhaena and kissed her. There was surprise in her face, but she kissed him back. Even after all the hardships they had gone through, her lips were as smooth and light as they had been that day she had come into his room. He thought back to that day, to how he had tried in vain to fight against his urges. I’m tired too, he thought. Tired of pretending I don’t want her.

Now he was the one to lead. Though she was older than him, Jaehaerys had grown taller, and he had to lean his head down to kiss Rhaena.

“Sh-should we be doing this out here?” she asked, but he didn’t respond. He put his mouth to hers again, and kissed her once, twice, thrice before lowering a hand to her breast. He squeezed her left breast while placing his lips on the nipple of her right. She moaned and let the water flow down her face, through her hair. His hand glided down her belly, into her smallclothes, and before Jaehaerys could even put a finger inside her, he felt Rhaena reaching for him too.

The humidity of the day was lessened under that waterfall, where cool water rushed and cleansed. The sound of the current skating across rocks and sand comforted Jaehaerys, and he felt color returning to his cheeks. The guard never turned around.

Not long after, they dined on wild boar, caught by Ser William and his hunters, roasted over a fire. They had not long to eat; the constant threat of predators who would be lured by the smell of cooked meat was enough impetus to hurry. Merrik Rykker stated that on the way to Mudtown, they had been ambushed by a pack of Tattooed Lizards and that he had nearly lost an arm to one that had tried to steal a piece of meat right from his hand. Since then, guards had been posted on all sides of the encampments, but they all knew that if something truly big came for them - a painted jungle cat, a giant venomous snake, or even an overgrown Basilisk - there would be no stopping it. So they ate quickly, put out the fire, and trekked onward.

“No sign of pursuit,” Ser William said as they got going again. “Either the pirates don’t know you’re gone, or they don’t care.”

“As long as they aren’t following us, I don’t care,” replied Jaehaerys. “But how long is it going to be until we no longer have to worry about them?”

“Not long,” the man assured him. “We’re going back to the river Zamoyos. Once we find it, we’ll follow it back to the coast, where Cossenello and the rest of the crew are waiting. We can’t take the river back - too many pirates patrolling it in their little boats. It’s safer to follow the current out from the shore. Cossenello’s flying the sail of slaving vessel, so no one will trouble him, and no one will trouble us on the journey home. That much I hope. We were not troubled on the way here.”

There was a tingly feeling in Jaehaerys’ chest, a feeling of possibility, of hope. Up ahead in the Statue’s arms, Daeron’s head jerked suddenly, and he vomited on the ground. As Jaehaerys passed the pool of half-digested boar meat, he saw blood. Daggers tore at his heart again, and just like that, everything was numb again.

They came upon a camp turned to ash when they hit the river. The Zamoyos was so wide here that Jaehaerys could not see the other shore. Its green waters churned like an ocean.

“Fresh,” said Edric Thorne, who led the group. He kneeled down, picked up some ash between the fingers of his leather glove, and then flung it at the sea. “Whatever burnt down, it was recent.”

“Keep moving,” William Selmy commanded. “We’re not stopping here.”

“Out of water,” one guard complained. “We hafta get some from the river! Whattya say, Ser?”

Ser William Selmy nodded, but he didn’t seem happy. And his fears were realized not much later. Several guards began to vomit only a few minutes later, as the group moved past the burnt camp. But they kept on keeping on. They would pause to spill their guts, wipe their mouths, and return to the group. There was no time to stop. A few hours later, when the water had truly run out for everyone, even Jaehaerys was forced to drink from the river. Just like the guards, he was soon heaving and spewing his lunch all over the black sands. But there was no time to stop. Weak as he was feeling, he couldn’t hold up the group. I’m a man grown, not a boy. I can’t be weak. I have to push on. Everyone else is. I can’t let them down.

And push on he did. Though soon Jaehaerys’ feet were aching, the pleasure of the afternoon long gone from his thoughts, he couldn’t stop. He felt so much weaker than the men around him, felt so ashamed by his lack of endurance. He knew it was worse for Ser Merrik, who had carried Daeron the whole way. And Rhaena’s not going to be doing any better than me, he knew. But she’s not complaining. So I won’t.

They came to a place where the river narrowed considerably before splitting in three directions. At a low point, they crossed the riverbank and headed west. The river isn’t so wide here. As the sun sunk behind the distant horizon, the buzzing flies and mosquitos came out to bite every bit of exposed skin they could. They’re more vicious here than they were in Mudtown. He slapped at one, crushing it against his neck. Pulling his hand back, the boy saw a splatter of blood.

Annoyed, he wiped the bug on his pants, cursing internally. He didn’t even hear the arrow sail past his ear. When it hit the man in front of him in the back of the head, Jaehaerys screamed. The man jerked forward and then slipped backwards, his eyes comically wide, reaching for someone, something to help, as he sputtered into the mud. And then, the world went mad.

Dark-feathered arrows screeched through the air, bouncing off armor and shields. Some hit the men, but most did not. Ser William grabbed Jaehaerys by the arm and pulled him behind a tree. “Patience,” he muttered, as the two watched butchery unfolding before them. Dark beasts, hairy, squat, and broad of shoulder, were rushing the group, clubs, curved scimitars, and long knives in their hands.

Brindled men. Jaehaerys had seen some of them in Mudtown; they had been amongst the hardest workers in the entire camp. Their endurance was legendary, and their strength was greater than that of a regular man’s. He saw one raise a club over guard’s head and split the man’s shield in two with a single blow.

“We have to help them!” Jaehaerys cried. “My sister… Daeron! They’re in there.”

“I have to protect you,” Ser William said. “It’s too dangerous.”

Fuck that. Jaehaerys unsheathed his sword and ran into the fray. He could feel Ser William at his back and knew that the man would do his best to protect him even if he was angry at Jaehaerys for running back to the battle. But we need to save everyone, not just me. He found a brindled man engaged in a duel with a Lysene sellsword and stuck his sword through the back of the man’s hairy neck. It was a weird feeling, sliding a blade through flesh. It was not one Jaehaerys was used to. He pulled the sword back and saw it slicked with blood. That’s two, he reminded himself, although his second kill was far less notable than his first. He had planned on keeping a tally of all the men he killed, but if he stayed here much longer, he would soon lose count. Are these mongrel beasts even men?

They looked more like apes, savage and wild and recklessly feral. That scared Jaehaerys. One beast turned his attention to him and came running, swinging its blade behind itself until it met Jaehaerys. The boy parried the first swing and knocked his foe’s guard away on the second. Then, he stabbed the brindled man in the chest. The beast let out a grunt and fell away. Two arrows shot past Jaehaerys and hit a guard in the leg and back ahead. The man fell face-first into the mud and didn’t move. Two more brindled men beat their way through the guards just ahead of Jaehaerys, and charged at him. With blood on their blades, they came running forward. Yet Jaehaerys did not stand alone; Ser William Selmy lunged forward to take the first man’s head off with one clean slice. The second he hacked down at the shoulder blades with less elegance.

“This is too dangerous!” he shouted hoarsely to Jaehaerys. “We have to get out of here!”

“I’m finding Daeron and Rhaena first!”

Men lay in puddles of blood, dying or dead, but the guards were beating back the brindled men, killing more than they were losing. And soon, the savages from the trees ran out of arrows, and a guttural cry went up. Like monkeys, other warriors answered and retreated to the forest on the right. Jaehaerys saw Ser Merrik ahead, taking on two brindled men at once, slashing them down, preventing them from fleeing with the others. Where’s Daeron?

The remaining savages were driven back, Ser William leading the charge with a battle cry. The brindled men buckled when they saw armored men with steel swords charging them and screaming for blood. The rest of them who could still run vanished into the trees.

It was over faster than Jaehaerys would have thought. He looked over, and saw the sun still hung in a blood-orange sky. That took five minutes, maybe, he thought. But looking around at the carnage, the boy was disgusted by how much death he saw. At least seven of their company were dead, and twice as many wounded. Ser Edric had taken a spear to the shoulder and was unconscious. The men who could still stand were sick from the water they had ingested. He found Daeron and Rhaena unharmed, huddling together behind a wall of five guards, which let Jaehaerys breathe a small sigh of relief. Still, the next attack will surely break through. We are too few, too wounded.

He wiped the blood from his sword and looked over at his sworn shield, who was helping Ser Merrik with the unconscious Ser Edric. There was chaos in the group, and unsettling feeling of vulnerability. We need a leader, someone to get us out of here.

Jaehaerys ran to the far side of the shore, where the group was heading, looking for anything, anywhere for them to hole up. On the horizon, sticking up like a few distant rocks, stood something, he knew. A city. Xhorre maybe. That was better than nothing. Even if it was pirate camp, they would have to go there. They couldn’t spend another night out here and risk another attack from the brindled ghouls.

Returning to the group, Jaehaerys said, “There are some buildings in the distance, that way,” he said, pointing towards the sun. “We’re going there.”

“Could be a pirate hideout,” William Selmy said.

“Even if it is, we have to go there. We can’t survive another night out here in the open. Not with the brindled men out there. The one’s that got away… they’ll be mad. They’ll come back, wanting blood. We can’t face them again.”

The knight looked up at the boy, narrowing his eyes. He appeared as if he was about to yell, but when he finally did speak, his voice came soft as new-fallen snow. “Aye, my prince. We can’t stay out here. Lead the way.”

It was a ruin if Jae had ever saw one, desolate and eerily quiet. The city, made of giant black, oily stones, stood apart from the forest, which dared not get too close. In Mudtown, the forest had always pushed against the buildings, frequently managing to get through the wooden walls. Yet here, in a place that looked as ancient as Valyria itself, no vegetation grew within three hundred feet of the stone.

They made camp in one of the towering buildings, made of blocks so large, each one could have been a house on its own. Inside, in vast, empty halls, nothing lived. There was no dust, no dirt, nothing. It was unsettling to Jaehaerys, but he didn’t know exactly why. Still, they couldn’t leave. They had to find shelter for the night. Men lit torches, which the black stones seemed to drink in. Others took guard positions by the door, which was impossibly large - too large for mere men to walk through. What’s the purpose of that? Why is this place so big?

These questions he could not answer, for as night came, so too came weariness, and the group had to get some rest. Some remained awake to tend to the wounded, but most did not. And when Jaehaerys woke in the morning, he found that two more men had died of their wounds. Their bodies were placed outside the door, to be burnt so as to not attract any animals. Other soldiers - perhaps eight or nine - were lying bandaged and moaning, many of them horribly wounded. Ser Edric had woken since the previous night, and though he was in great pain, he was doing better. There was no maester to tend to him, though, for in the previous night’s scuffle, that man had lost his head to a brindled man’s rusty blade. Jaehaerys only learned of that in the morning, when he asked for the man to tend to Daeron. It was a crushing blow, but not one that Jaehaerys thought was unexpected. Our luck has been bad since day one.

Daeron lay, his eyes glazed over and milky, trembling. Jaehaerys and Rhaena took turns holding him. The boy had become so frail that they could carry him as easily as when he had been a newborn. “I want to go home…” the boy said that morning, in a soft croak.

Jaehaerys squeezed his hand. “I’m taking you back, Daeron. Don’t worry. We’ll be home soon.” A lie. One that he will never know. Guilt wracked the squire’s heart. Knights are supposed to be noble. If I am to become one, I should be noble too. I shouldn’t lie to Daeron. Yet, when he thought about it some more, Ser William’s speech about honor came back to him, and he knew he’d done the right thing.

By the late morning, Ser William Selmy and his scouting party returned with a captive. “Found him skulking about on the edge of the ruins,” the knight explained.

“Let me go!” the pirate, who was bound with hempen rope, exclaimed. “This is an evil place! Take me anywhere else!”

“Where are we?” Jaehaerys asked, approaching the man.

“Yeen!” he whispered, his eyes wide with horror. “We should not be here! Don’t you know what this place is?”

Yeen. Sweetgums mentioned it before. She called it the oldest city in the world. She said this is where we would find the fishmen of her stories. He glanced around, looking off towards the darkness emanating from deeper in the room, as if hoping to find fish eyes staring back at him, but there was nothing. He shivered all the same.

“I’ve heard stories,” the boy admitted. “But they are just stories.”

The pirate struggled against his chains, causing Ser William to punch him hard in the belly. As the man fell forward and spit, he wheezed, “They’ll kill us all. We have to leave! Get out of here! Tell ‘em, boy! Tell ‘em what you know!”

Ser William turned his attention to Jaehaerys, but the squire shook his head. “I was told stories of this place, back in Mudtown. But they are just stories.”

“What stories?” the man pressed.

“Some kind of ancient, fish race has supposedly lived here since the dawn of time, and they like to hunt men.”

“They’re coming for us all!” the pirate sobbed. “We must leave!”

“It’s just a story,” Jaehaerys said.

Ser William nodded. “It does not matter. We will not stay long. Once our wounded are attended to, we will head off.” He moved forward, over to Merrik Rykker, who stood with Daeron, and handed him the prisoner. “Interrogate him. See what he knows. I’m going to scout our surroundings, see what’s out there.”

Merrik nodded.

“Wait, I want to go with you!” Jaehaerys said. “Please, Ser…”

The knight sighed. “Very well, Jae. But you must promise to listen to whatever I tell you. If there’s danger… I don’t want you disobeying me again, like last night.”

“I promise.”

And so they set off: Ser William, Jaehaerys Targaryen, and four household guards.

“Where did you find the pirate?” asked Jaehaerys.

“He was near the river, not far away, wandering about.”

“Do you think he’s with the pirates who are looking for us?”

William Selmy shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. Like as not, he’s from a slaving camp nearby, wandered off for a few moments of alone time, and that’s when I found him.”

We should be more cautious. We should expect the worst. What if he really was with the slavers? They could be plotting to attack us even now. But Jaehaerys said nothing.

On into the bushes they went, their swords out, scouting around. There were some abandoned wood-and-leaf tents that the Quickfoot thought might have been old brindled men camps. They found four of them, one on every side of Yeen, but none had been occupied for a long while, the knight assured the rest of the group. They found no pirates, but did stumble upon a huge coiled snake who lunged at one of the men when he stepped on its tail. Jaehaerys cut off the creature’s head when it tried to strike again.

Satisfied that they were in no immediate danger, Ser William ordered the group to return to their camp, where they would plan their next move. He said something about going to find some food, but Jaehaerys wasn’t listening. I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to see all of the dying men. Most of all, he didn’t want to see Daeron again. He didn’t want to see what his brother had become. He couldn’t face that.

Before the group reached the monolithic building where everyone was staying, Jaehaerys split off from the group. He made his way into another building, which was as derelict as the previous one. The black stones seemed to move, to shimmer like waves. He felt dizzy looking at them. He walked aimlessly through the rooms, holding a torch he had grabbed from one of the guards earlier, and moved deeper into the building. He wanted to be alone so that he could escape reality, but he soon realized that he was trapped with his thoughts, and that was worse than anything else. Try as he might, he couldn’t think of anything aside from Daeron. I’m going to have to bury him. It’s my duty.

The boy suddenly stopped, for he heard a faint whispering, more like the rustling of leaves being carried on the wind. It reminded him of the sound he had heard back in Mudtown coming from the bushes. But that had been Ser William trying to get my attention. He drew his sword. “Who’s there?” he asked, his voice echoing down to the deeper chambers. “Answer me!!”

The sound stopped. The boy stood tense, his ears going hot with anxiety. He thought he heard something else, like wet flesh moving across stone floors. He looked down, shining the light on the floor and saw that it was made of the same black slabs as the walls and ceiling. Whatever was moving - slithering, it seemed like - was coming closer. Jaehaerys held his sword close to his chest and waved the torch, trying to conjure as much light as he could.

“Who’s there?!” he asked again. This time, the sound of movement stopped.

He stood still for what felt like a life age, hearing only his own breaths and the beating of his heart. When the sound never returned, he relaxed slightly and went to leave. That was when he saw something brown, something alive, standing just on the edge of his torchlight. It was impossibly large, wide as three men, and draped in darkness. The boy sucked in his breath and dropped his torch. He sprinted out of the building, all the way back to the other one where the rest of the group was holed up. As he ran back, the boy thought, was there really something there? Was that one of the fishmen from Sweetgum’s stories? Were my eyes just playing tricks on me? He was too scared to look back.

Inside, he was met by the cries of a wounded man who sat up against the far wall. Everyone was huddled around him, and he was shouting gibberish and flailing about. When Jaehaerys got close, he noticed that the man’s eyes had been cut out. A feeling of dread entered the boy’s heart. He glanced off into the darkness beyond the group’s torches, and wondered if another gigantic beast was hovering just out of sight, waiting to swoop in and eat them up.

“What happened?” he asked a nearby guard.

“He went mad, I saw him do it!” the man replied, his voice thin. “Cut out his own eyes and tried to rip out his tongue!”

Jaehaerys looked back at the man and saw him thrashing again.

“It’s no use!” Ser William was yelling. “He’s lost!”

They tried to stop the man from going for his knife again, but it didn’t work. He wouldn’t listen to anyone, wouldn’t pause for a second. All he wanted was his knife to cut off more pieces of himself. Maybe he saw what I saw.

“I told you!” the pirate shouted from the corner, where he sat bound and sweating. “We gotta leave this evil place! It’ll be our ends if we don’t!”

Ser William’s words hung like the humid heat in the air, and soon the others realized what had to be done. Jaehaerys turned away when the knight gave the madman the gift of mercy. Afterwards, he told his sworn shield what he had seen in the other building, but Ser William simply scolded him for leaving the group. He didn’t seem to give a thought to Jaehaerys’ description of the monster he’d seen. Still, after witnessing what the soldier had done to himself, the knight promised Jaehaerys that they would leave the next day.

Later, Jaehaerys found Ser Merrik, as the knight watched over the dying boy he had sworn to protect. The man stood still as a statue, not a hint of emotion on his face. This is killing him, almost as much as it’s killing me and Rhaena, Jaehaerys knew. But he’ll never tell anyone how much pain he’s in.

“Well met, Ser,” Jaehaerys greeted the tall man. “How is he doing?”

“Not well,” the knight replied coldly. “Maester’s dead. Not sure he would’ve been much help anyways.”

“He’s been like this for weeks. The others in Mudtown thought he’d caught multiple diseases. There was nothing we could do there… nothing any maester could have done. I’m not sure even Grand Maester Orwyle could’ve done anything.”

The Statue did not reply.

They stood there awkwardly for some time. Jaehaerys knelt, ran his fingers through Daeron’s hair, and looked at the ruddy-faced boy who had once been his brother. Daeron shivered and opened his eyes, which were white as milk. He looked around confused, crying noiselessly and breathing hard, before slipping into unconsciousness again.

“I was chosen as his sworn shield before he was even born,” Merrik Rykker said at last. “Your father chose me because we grew up together. He trusted me more than anyone. I promised him I would let nothing befall his son.”

“I didn’t know that Ser.” He blames himself. “You could not have stopped this,” Jae tried to say. “Any of us could have caught these diseases. You are no healer.”

“We will be off tomorrow, Selmy said. Don’t know if you heard.” Merrik’s words came thick and slow, and Jaehaerys knew what that meant. Daeron can go no further. This is his last stop.

“I will be back tomorrow then,” Jaehaerys sighed. He stood up and walked out, not waiting for a reply.

Outside, the sun was setting. The soldiers were gathered around a fire pit, cooking meat and conversing with oblivious cheerfulness. Jaehaerys looked up to the sky, where he saw the last bit of sunlight fading behind the treeline. Gold and crimson was the sky, as richly-colored as a tapestry in King’s Landing. He felt the tears on his cheeks and had not the heart to wipe them away.

He awoke at dawn, and as tired as he was, Jaehaerys Targaryen could not fall back asleep. Most of the others were still sleeping, so he stood up, took one glance at Daeron, gathered his sword and armor, and wandered out of the building, past the guard. He lied, saying that he was just going for a piss, but in truth, he needed some time alone.

Past the city of Yeen was the river Zamoyos, and Jaehaerys thought that was as good a place as any to go to gather his thoughts. Yet, when he made his way there, he saw in the distance a fire burning. Pirates was his first thought, but then he remembered the tales he heard heard of burned men and monsters in the forest back in Mudtown. He glanced back. I can’t go back in there, he knew. I’m not ready. So his only choice was to go forward, to run, to see the fires up close.

It was a short trek across a low point in the river to the burned area. Most of the trees had been reduced to piles of ash; only a single massive gnarled one stood in the center of the encampment still, its leaves melted away, its branches twisted, as if reaching up towards the sky in a soundless plea. Jaehaerys’ cheeks flushed; his body hummed nervously.

There were bodies everywhere. Many were charred so black, they were barely discernable from the ash. Others were only half burnt, and Jaehaerys could clearly see they had been pirates, adorned like those from Mudtown. What did this? And why were Mudtown pirates out here, so far from their lair? He thought he knew the answer.

Above, a skirling wind rose; at first it came softly, from a great distance, and then it was on top of Jaehaerys. The boy saw a shadow pass over the ground around him, impossibly large for a bird. The sound of leather wings was unmistakable. The boy’s heart caught in his throat, and he looked up.

Its scales were black, its body as long as Sunfyre’s. The wyvern, Jaehaerys thought in astonishment. Daeron’s dragon. He did not truly know if it was a dragon - he had never seen it breathe fire. But it was big for a wyvern, and this whole area was burnt to a crisp. Did he do this? If he had, that meant… These pirates were from Mudtown. Maybe they were coming for us. Did the dragon protect us?

The great beast flew over Jaehaerys, and continued on into the distance until the boy could no longer see him. That was when the silver-haired boy realized he was shaking, that his palms were slicked over with sweat. It’s a dragon, he thought fiercely. And I’m the blood of the dragon. How much he wanted one, he could not express. Ever since the day he’d realized his egg would never hatch, the burning feeling inside him, the desire to fly with one of these noble animals, had become too much to contain inside him. And now, I might’ve found one. He wanted to catch it; he needed to. But how does one tame a wild dragon?

Jaehaerys was jarred from his thoughts when he heard a cracking of twigs behind him. He spun around to see a man coming out from the forest, on the edge of where the fire had burnt everything away.

“Lookee who we got here, eh? Cunt!” Rooney’s voice was unmistakable. The pirate was bare-chested, covered in sweat, and held a curved scimitar, which he was pointing at Jaehaerys. “How’d ya escape?”

They weren’t coming after me. “What are you doing here?”

“None o’ yer business, fucker.”

“In that case, you may as well leave.”

“Nah, nah. That ain’t happenin’. We gotta score ta settle, you’n me.” He pointed his blade at Jaehaerys once again. “Yer the one who got me put in this shithole. Yer the fucker who hurt me arm. Don’t think I forgot, cunt. Heh, I think ‘bout it everyday. Just like I think ‘bout what a good mouth you got on you,” he laughed, patting his crotch.

Jaehaerys tasted bile in the back of his throat and drew his own sword. “I’m tired of you. You just won’t go away.”

“I’m gonna split yer throat open ‘n fuck the hole!” Rooney grinned a brown-toothed grin. “Whaddya say, cunt?”

“If you think you can, try it.”

Jaehaerys didn’t know where his newfound courage had come from. Maybe it was because he had just seen that dragon, or maybe it was because of Daeron. He had a glow about him, a rage building in his veins. I’ve had it with this bastard. Knights defend their honor. Knights aren’t afraid of cowards like him. He doesn’t realize who he’s up against.

They both ran forward to meet each other. Steel kissed steel; sparks flew as the two parried each blow intensely. Jaehaerys’ sword was longer, and he realized at once that he was stronger. He began to beat back the skinny pirate, and Rooney was forced to go on the defensive. Their steel clashed without pause, each blow ringing out over the water. Soon Jaehaerys’ hands became numb as the constant blows rattled his blade over and over and over.

Then it was the pirate’s turn to press forward. He stopped Jaehaerys’ advance with a side swipe and leapt at the boy, pushing him back. Jae could see the hate in his eyes. He wants to kill me. He wants that more than anything he’s ever wanted. Every time Rooney raised his blade, Jaehaerys was there to answer him. Sweat rolled down the boy’s cheeks, stinging his eyes. His arms were becoming heavy, but still he defended himself. I will never give up.

Rooney lashed out recklessly, trying to cut the boy across the chest. Jaehaerys saw the pitiful attempt coming and spun out of the way of the attack. Then, he slammed his sword down upon Rooney’s as hard as he could. He thought for sure that would make the pirate drop it, but it didn’t. Rooney parried the blow and tried to press the attack again. But Jaehaerys could see how tired the man was; he knew how tired he was becoming too. This can’t go on much longer. Now’s my chance.

When next Rooney’s blade met Jaehaerys’, instead of pulling back, the boy used all of his remaining strength to hammer at his foe again. Rooney was not expecting such a quick strike and, in a panic, raised his blade high in the air to protect his face. Jaehaerys swung downward and caught the man’s hand with his swing. When he pulled back, there was blood on his sword’s edge.

Rooney let out a shriek and dropped his blade, grabbing his ruined right hand and bending forward. Jaehaerys pressed the tip of his blade to Rooney’s throat. The pirate stood there, frozen, panting, moaning.

“It’s over,” Jaehaerys said. I should kill him. I must kill him. If I let him go, he will never stop hunting me. But he also knew he had to be smart. I need to find out what he was doing out here, if he and the other pirates were really hunting us. “Now tell me why you are here.”

“Y-ya fuckin’ cunt!” the man roared. “Ya cut me hand! Ya did it again!” He looked up, tears streaming down his face, his bloodshot eyes, two small, dark pools of fury. He let go of his hand, and Jaehaerys watched the blood fall from the open wound in a steady flow. He had cleaved the hand almost in two, in a split running parallel between the middle and ring fingers nearly to the wrist. Rooney put his left hand behind his back, as if to steady himself.

“You’ve lost this fight, now answer my question. You don’t want to die, do you? Tell me what I want to know, and I won’t kill you.” Another lie, the boy thought, and he realized how little he cared.

“Prince of Westeros,” the sallow-faced man spat. “I’ll carve a crown into yer head!”

He was as fast as a snake. His left hand shot around, a knife grasped firmly in it, and slapped at Jaehaery’s sword aside. The boy, who was not expecting this, did not have a very tight grip on his weapon, and he watched in dismay as his blade went flying into the ash. There he stood, completely unarmed, with a bleeding, vengeful pirate before him.


Jaehaerys went to run, but Rooney was too close. He jumped forward like a cat pouncing on a mouse and took the boy to the ground. Ash covered them; it filled the boy’s lungs. He coughed and kicked and did all he could to push the slaver off of him, but it was no use. Rooney used his weight to pin Jaehaerys to the ground. With his left hand, he raised the blade and tried to bring it down on Jaehaerys’ face. The boy held the hand back with his own hands, but he could feel his muscles tightening up; he knew he couldn’t hold out forever.

It was as if he wasn’t in his own body. Everything slowed down; Jaehaerys watched as if he was a spectator sitting behind his eyes. His body reacted on its own. His need to survive was as visceral as anything he had ever experienced. There wasn’t time to think; all he could do was act.

He dropped his right hand, which left only his left to hold back Rooney. Rooney’s blade began sinking towards his face. But it was no matter. His body had a plan. He had no idea what it was; he was simply watching it all unfold. His right hand moved instinctively towards Rooney’s right hand. And then he stuck his fingers in the open wound and ripped out the exposed tendons.

The pirate known as Rooney let out a bellow of pain loud enough to make birds take flight. He fell off Jaehaerys, clutching at his ruined hand. The leather handle of his blade stuck out from the ash just in front of them, but Rooney was too busy rolling around holding his wound and crying to notice. Jaehaerys, without even pausing to think, grabbed the blade, stood up, and ran for the pirate.

He punched the dagger into Rooney’s chest, just where his heart should be. If he had one. The pirate stopped squirming and let out a gasp. His eyes went wide, and he coughed up blood, bright and bubbling. Jaehaerys stepped back.

The pirate tried to stand, but he couldn’t. He collapsed onto the ash, his entire body getting covered in it. Rivers of blood were flowing out from his wounds now. Rooney sat up and pushed himself to his feet, gritting his red teeth. He looked at Jaehaerys for a second and then nearly collapsed again, drooping his head. He’ll bleed out before long. It’s over.

At once, Rooney looked up with those wild eyes of his. He focused on Jaehaerys and stumbled forward. He wrenched the blade from his chest, causing blood to spray everywhere. More of his life’s blood was leaking from the corner of his lip. Then Rooney began to sprint. Jaehaerys had not enough time to react. The pirate was on him too quickly.

The last thing Jaehaerys Targaryen saw was a flash of silver cross his vision. Then everything went black, and the pain washed over him like dragonfire.

The Broken Boy

Jaehaerys Targaryen awoke to find his sworn shield looking down on him, their faces no more than a few inches apart. The bearded knight’s face softened, and his scars seemed to shake in the torchlight. Stepping back, he grabbed a linen bandage and cut off a piece of it with his knife. Jaehaerys realized he could only see out of his left eye - his right was swollen shut. The wound, he thought with horror, remembering Rooney’s final act. Did he take my eye? The boy felt his face and let out a cry when he touched his bandaged cheek. Closing both eyes, he knew he could feel his right one still there, but he couldn’t see anything with it. He hoped that was only temporary. I don’t want to be blind.

“Thought we lost you,” the knight said, reaching for the soiled bandage and untying it. “Why did you wander off like that, Jae?” There wasn’t anger in his voice, just disappointment. Those few words cut through Jaehaerys’ heart worse than Rooney’s blade could have.

“I… saw the forest burning,” the boy croaked. Ser William handed him a glass of water. “I wanted to see what happened… and I found Rooney waiting for me.”

“Who’s Rooney?” the knight asked. He’s dead, then, Jaehaerys knew.

“One of the pirates from Mudtown.”

“He gave you that wound?”

“He did.” But what I did to him was much worse.

William Selmy nodded and placed the new bandage over Jaehaerys’ cheek, just below his right eye. “We cleaned your wound with boiled wine. I pray that will stay the infection, but there is little else we can do, even if the wound does become corrupted. Our maester is dead. This is a bad place to be without a maester. We cannot stay here. We’re leaving, soon as you can walk.”

Jaehaerys’ heart began to beat faster. “But… where’s Daeron? Is he still alive?”

Ser William turned away from Jaehaerys, fumbling with his gloves. Stiffly, he spoke, “Get some rest, my prince. When you are strong enough, we will be on our way.”

The knight strode off into the darkness without another word.

Jaehaerys’ cheek was burning. His head felt empty, and his chest was heavy. Try as he might, he couldn’t sleep. What if Daeron is gone? I should see him one last time. I have to. He tried to rise, but found his strength had not returned. The boy shouted into the darkness for someone, anyone, and a few moments later, Rhaena appeared, pale-faced and meek. In her hand was a cup of water, which she gave to Jae.

“Are you feeling better?” she asked.

“Where’s Daeron?” I don’t have time to play games with her too.

She sighed and shook her head. “Gone,” was the only word that escaped her lips.



“What do you mean?”

“They disappeared in the night, Jae. While you were unconscious. Ser Merrik and Daeron vanished… into thin air. We sent two men down into the bowels of this place looking for them, but they found nothing. They went mad, Jae. Found them wandering in the dark a few hours ago. One was covered in blood, and the other had his throat slit. They were babbling incoherently. They went insane like that one who stabbed out his own eyes.” The memory of that caused Jaehaerys’ wound to sting.

“Are you sure Ser Merrik took Daeron down there?”

Rhaena shrugged. In the torchlight, Jaehaerys could see the dried tears on her cheeks. “Guards were posted by the exit to the jungle. No one saw them leave that way.”

“Then I’m going after them.” Jaehaerys sat up, ignoring the lightness in his head. “Where’s my sword?”

“You aren’t going anywhere, Jae.”

“I’m finding my brother.”

“Do you even know where we are, brother?”


She nodded. “Uncle Jason told me about Yeen once, a long time ago. Some of Nymeria’s ten thousand ships stopped here, after she and the surviving Rhoynar fled from Valyrian dragonlords who sought to enslave them. Later, when she sent a boat down the Zamoyos to see how everyone was doing, they found Yeen abandoned. Hundreds of men, women, and children had vanished… without any sign of struggle. This is an evil place, Jae. It has always been so. There’s something here that isn’t right. I’ve felt it in my bones, like I’m being watched. What if something came and took Daeron…?”

“You’re sounding like Sweetgums now. Those are just stories.”

“Those people vanished, Jae. That’s not a story. They died. And now Daeron and Ser Merrik…”

“They are not gone. I’ll find them.” Jaehaerys used all of his strength to get himself to his feet. His cut was burning, causing his eyes to water.

“You’re not strong enough,” Rhaena pleaded. “And you’ll go insane, like the others.”

“I will not.” I am not so weak, Jae thought fiercely. “Where is my sword?!”

“Here,” came a voice from beyond the darkness. Ser William stepped out from behind the atramentous veil, a scabbard between his hands. “But you aren’t taking it deeper into this place. We are leaving, not going further in.”

Jaehaerys’ face flushed with anger. Don’t any of them want to find Daeron? Don’t they care? “Ser, you serve my family, do you not? You took orders from my lady mother, when she was still with us.”

“I did,” replied the knight.

“Then you will listen to me. You are my sworn shield, and I am your squire, but I am also the head of my house. My mother and father are gone, and I am nearly a man grown. I now command my family’s knights and household guards, including you, Ser. You will listen to what I tell you: we are going down there to find my brother. I will not be told otherwise.”

“It’s dangerous,” the man tried to say.

“Aye, so you best join me, Ser.”

Jaehaerys reached for his blade, unsheathed it, and took a torch from the nearby wall. Ser William followed him, cautiously. I’ve insulted his pride. He won’t like this. But he doesn’t have to. He must know he can’t tell me what to do anymore. Things have changed. They left Rhaena behind and walked on, their boots clapping noisily on the dark stone beneath them. It was not long before they came upon the body of one of the men who had gone after Ser Merrik and Daeron. He was lying face down, unmoving. A line of bloody footprints led away from the dead man, back towards the camp. What did they see? What happened to them? Jaehaerys chanced a look back at his sworn shield, and Ser William raised an eyebrow.

“We found them pacing in the darkness and babbling in some unknown tongue, if it was one at all. When we tried to bring them back to camp, they both attacked us and began screaming… so loud, their voices echoing off the stone… I killed that one; the other man fled that way. He’s still out there, so keep your guard up, if you insist on going further.”

Jaehaerys raised his sword and crept on. He wasn’t about to turn around now. There was water dripping somewhere in the distance, each splash echoing several times before another dropped. The place smelled of salt and water, though Jaehaerys didn’t see any pools anywhere. On they went through the massive rooms, so wide the light from Jae’s torch couldn’t shine on both walls. Jaehaerys felt like something was watching him again, and he was reminded of that shape he had seen in the other building. A trick of the eyes, he assured himself. There was nothing there. There’s nothing here. Yeen is an abandoned ruin.

Outside of the torchlight, the air was as black as tar, and the smell of salt grew stronger as the two moved forward. It was getting colder, and soon Jaehaerys began to shiver. There was no blood this far down, no more footprints for them to follow. Jaehaerys kept his wits about him, knowing that the insane man was out there somewhere, probably stalking them, waiting to make his move. The boy gulped.

They reached a door not long after, and what Jaehaerys saw there made him drop his sword his hand began to shake so much. As he went to pick it up, Ser William darted forward and knelt down next to the pool of blood.

“Merrik’s,” he murmured.

I know. That’s his helm. The knight held up the steel helm, which was dripping with blood. “My prince,” he said as carefully as he could, “this is a sign. We should turn back.”

“Is it his blood?”

“No way to tell.”

Daeron… could Daeron have been wounded, and he was carrying him, and somehow he lost his helm? Jaehaerys knew what was more likely than that: something was hunting them, and it succeeded. The realization caused Jaehaerys to drop his sword again, lurch forward, and vomit all over the stones next to the pool of blood.

I must see for myself, he told himself, as much as he didn’t want to. What if they aren’t dead? Wiping his mouth, Jae grasped his sword again and bade them onwards. “We go on, Ser.”

There was a drum beating, in the distance, deep down in the bowels of the ruins. Yet when Jae asked Ser William Selmy if he could hear it, the knight shook his head and said he could hear nothing. That frightened the boy. Am I hearing things? Or is he lying?

Past the door, the smell of salt grew stronger still, to the point where Jaehaerys could taste it on the air. That was when they found the water; half the room beyond lay submerged under a black pool. Nothing grew here. No moss, no seaweed; there weren’t any fish so far as Jae could see, either. All was still, but not for lack of living things; Jaehaerys could feel the tension in the room, thick enough to cut with a knife. Into the room the two walked, their boots clanging loudly on the floor. There were steps, descending into the water, and nothing else. Ruins surrounded the pool on all sides, broken bits of rock crumbling inwards towards the blackness. Jaehaerys took the steps all the way down to the water’s edge, crouched, and stuck a finger into the water.

The chill that befell him almost made him fall forward, but Ser William caught him and pulled him back. “What was it? What happened?!”

“It’s so… cold,” Jae said, detached. “W-we have to find them before they freeze…”

“This is a dead end, Jae. They couldn’t have gone anywhere else.”

“I know.”

“The knight pulled him back, up the steps, towards the door.

“Daeron! Daeron!! Ser Merrik!” Jaehaerys screamed desperately as he was being pulled back. His voice echoed thrice and then was lost. That was when Jaehaerys realized the drum had stopped beating. He held his breath, waiting for a reply. Goosebumps covered his body, and he knew something was watching him. “Daeron!! Daeron!!” he tried again, and this time, Jaehaerys thought he saw movement on the edge of the blackness, weird shapes crawling and moving and gliding across the stones and water, towards him. My mind is playing tricks on me. There’s nothing there.

Still, the way his body was reacting, the way he was feeling, wasn’t natural. He felt sick. His wound was burning. He was cold, shivering, near catatonic. He wanted to fall in that pool and drown. The boy turned to Ser William, whose face was covered in sweat as he looked this way and that, his eyes darting wildly. Something made those men go insane. If we don’t leave now, we’ll end up just like them.

“Ser William,” Jae spoke at last, watching the dark, impossible shapes curl and slither on the edge of sight, despite them not making any sounds. “We should go.”

“Yes, we should. We must…” the knight muttered. There was unease in his voice. The first time I’ve ever heard that. That scared Jaehaerys. If this place was causing Ser William Selmy, a renowned, fearless knight, to feel dread, what hope did Jae have of maintaining his sanity?

“They’re dead,” the boy stated. “We cannot save them anymore.”

The man nodded, helped Jaehaerys to his feet, and without a second thought, the two sprinted back to camp.

They were meant to be seventeen upon departing Yeen, but the seven Lysene sellswords stole away in the night, to leave the ten to die. Only Ser William and three of the household guards weren’t injured or sick. It was a miserable group, weak and ready to give up, Jaehaerys knew. One more attack, and they would be broken. I’m already broken, he thought, feeling his wound. He felt suffocated, confined, useless. How can anybody live here? This place is beating me down.

Ser William led the group, with the captured pirate in tow. Ser Edric took the rear. He had taken to his cups since his wound, and he stumbled onwards with the most sickly members of the group in the back. Jaehaerys had never seen a knight drink so much, and he knew that Ser Edric wasn’t drinking just because of his wound. I wonder what Rhaena thinks of his behavior.

The group returned to the river and began following it out to the sea. The going was slow, for the wounded and sick outnumbered the healthy. The morning was grey and foggy, and mosquitoes buzzed everywhere, hungry for blood. Jaehaerys was too tired to swat them away.

“I gave Cossenello ten days,” Ser William was saying. “If we didn’t return in ten, I said, he should leave us.”

“How long has it been?” Jae asked.

“Five days. It’ll be tight, but I think we can get there before Cossenello leaves. To be honest, I think he’ll wait longer, even if we don’t get there in time. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go. We’ll chance the river when we get a little farther ahead. Xhorre’s not far, isn’t that right?” he asked the pirate, shaking the man into awareness.

“Yeah… Xhorre’s just north of Yeen. Everyone knows.”

Ser William continued, “Once we pass Xhorre, we’ll find a boat and ride the current out.”

“But aren’t there pirates patrolling the rivers?” Jae asked.

“Not so many as before, kid. There’s a war brewin’. Everyone’s getting ready,” the pirate coughed. “Big things ‘bout to go down.”

“We’ll chance it,” Ser William repeated. “There’s nowhere safe in this wretched place. We may as well take the fastest way out. By foot, we may be hunted down by pirates or brindled men or the native animals before we can reach the shore.”

They trudged on through the mud and fog. Jaehaerys kept his distance from Rhaena. We’ll have to deal with Daeron later… not now, not here. He wasn’t looking forward to that conversation with her. He missed Daeron as much as Rhaena, but Jae couldn’t face her sorrow again, not after all he had been through. I just want to get home and forget any of this ever happened. He found himself missing his dragon egg, that last comfort of his childhood, more and more. Ever since Rooney had thrown it into the sea, Jae had felt like he had been forced to grow up. And while he wanted to be a knight, wanted to be a warrior like Ser William, a part of him wanted to stay just as he had been back in Lys, and back home in King’s Landing. He found a certain innocent allure in the past.

“Careful now!” the pirate whispered, and the group came to a stop. “Fighting up ahead.”

“It’s over,” Ser William said, straining his eyes. “All I see are bodies.”

“Bodies in the mud,” the pirate nodded. “The war’s already begun.”

“Lucky we missed it,” said the knight.

It was an eerie scene, the battlefield. Bodies appeared out of the fog with sudden clarity as the group tiptoed on; many of them were sliced to pieces, their organs spilt out onto the sand and mud. Jaehaerys saw tattooed lizards feasting on one pirate to the right, but when the group reached the corpse, the animals bolted off. It was strangely quiet; not even the bugs or birds were singing here.

There was a man with half of his face cleaved off, sinking in a pile of quicksand next to the river, blood slowly trickling down his forehead. There were dozens of bodies. What were they fighting for, Jaehaerys wondered. What would lead men to such butchery? He found it funny how in all the stories his uncle Jason and others had told him, they never mentioned the actual ugliness of war, the gritty details of what dead and dying men looked like. Jaehaerys had seen quite a few dead bodies since his journey from Lys back home, but this scene, of all of them, made him feel the most sick. He had to look away. Their guts, the blood, the bloated bodies, the corpses half-gnawed by feral beasts of the jungle, and the smell… he would have wretched had he no discipline.

Rooney and his group were probably supposed to take part in this battle. They weren’t chasing us after all, the squire realized. It was just luck that we found each other again. He was not sorry he was the one to strike the killing blow on that sallow-faced monster; the silver-haired boy only regretted that he hadn’t been able to see Rooney take his last breath.

“Fresh tracks,” Ser William observed a few minutes later. “More fighting’s going on up ahead, most likely.”

“Aye,” said the pirate. “This ain’t the end, not even close. I ‘spect they’re gonna fight the big one tonight. Xhorre’ll win, I’d bet my life on that.”

Jaehaerys, who had witnessed the savagery of the Mudtown pirates firsthand, was not so sure. “Why?”

“Xhorre’s the only city in Sothoryos. Mudtown’s a tiny cesspit. More pirates in Xhorre.”

“We were captured by Xhorre pirates, but when we met a group from Mudtown on the river, the Mudtown pirates won the fight. They seemed like much better fighters.”

“That don’t matter when you’re outnumbered ten to one, heh!” the pirate cackled. “Been waiting for this for a long time. You don’t even know. Mudtown’s been a thorn in our side for too long. We’re going to wipe ‘em out.”

“What about the slaves?”

“Most will be put to the sword or sold on the Basilisk Isles, if they’re lucky.”

Anger surged through Jaehaerys veins. The way these pirates talk about slaves… they don’t see them as people. They’re the savages, the true monsters, not the brindled men. He wanted to decapitate that pirate and had to restrain himself. That concerned the boy. Ever since he’d come to Sothoryos, he had less and less control over his emotions. He didn’t know why. I don’t want it to be like that. He wanted Ser William’s discipline.

By noon, the fog was lessening. The signs of battle were everywhere now. Bodies, footprints in the mud, signs of burning, destroyed boats covered the ground. Ser William took Jaehaerys out hunting, and though the boy was not very good with a bow, they managed to catch a few colorful birds, which the group roasted over a fire. With food fresh in their bellies (and more wine in Ser Edric’s), they took to the river again. However, almost as soon as they were back on the path, Ser William raised his gloved hand, and everyone stopped.

“Mudtown boys,” the pirate whispered. “Up ahead, moving through the trees.”

Jaehaerys saw them. There were a dozen or so crawling through the dense foliage. The pirates didn’t notice Jaehaerys’ group; they were focused on something else, as if they were stalking prey. Ser William led the group around behind the pirates to hide behind some trees, though Jaehaerys and him stayed out far enough to keep an eye on the pirates.

“That’s the Boneman,” Jaehaerys told the knight. “The one in the bronze armor!”

It was him, without doubt. The Boneman wore that same skull over his face - the giant ape skull - and in his hand was a curved blade of Valyrian steel. Jaehaerys’ wound was burning again. He ignored the pain. Ser William let them pass.

“It’s going down,” the pirate told the group. “We have to go around if we want to miss it.”

Jaehaerys didn’t want to trust the pirate. He wants to get free anyway he can. What if he’s leading us into a trap? “Ser, lead us around, but don’t listen to our captive. He could be leading us into a trap. Remember, he’s from Xhorre too.”

“Hey, you little shit, I’m just trying to save all our skins. D’ya really think I have any chance of surviving if you get into a fight and die? No way. I need you to stay alive, as much as I need to stay alive myself.”

“Enough.” Ser William stood and drew his sword. So did Jaehaerys and the other men. “Follow me.”

He cut a path for them through the jungle, behind where the Boneman and his men went. The journey through the thick forest was treacherous and slow, made slower by the wounded men and Ser William’s cautiousness. He made sure there were no tattooed lizards are giant apes waiting to ambush them. Most of all, he made sure there were no pirates.

Yet, there were pirates. Not in the thick jungle, but just outside it. The group could hear their fighting, the clashing of steel, the screaming, just on the other side of the trees. It was as if they were passing through a dream. Where the jungle eased up ahead, more fighting was unfolding, bloody and personal and too spread out for them to continue ahead. They were surrounded on all sides by pirates. There was no going back, no going forward. The forest on all sides of them squeezed them in. I don’t want to stay here, Jaehaerys thought. There are foul beasts that lurk in this forest. His eyes began to twitch at the thought of that. The pirates weren’t that close - not close enough to see Jaehaerys’ group unless they came marching into the forest. But it was unsettling enough that the boy could see them fighting in the distance, that he could hear them. He felt vulnerable.

“We’ll stay here for now,” Ser William commanded. “Stay quiet and don’t draw attention to yourselves. I don’t want them to know we’re here.”

Most collapsed onto the ground, exhausted or sick. Two men went looking for supper, bows and arrows in their hands. Ser William tended to Ser Edric’s wound. Rhaena sat alone on a rock, her head in her hands. Jaehaerys’ sword was still drawn. He stood, adrenaline pumping through his veins.

“This ain’t the big one,” the captive pirate was saying. He was struggling with his bindings half-heartedly and kneeling in the foliage. “Not enough. No, the big one’ll be a spectacle. You’ll want to see that, heh. Hundreds and thousands will die…!” There was hunger in his eyes. Jaehaerys’ belly rumbled.

A few minutes later, one of the guards returned. “Found a cave,” he said. “Could use that as shelter until the battle’s over.”

“Take me there,” Ser William said, standing up. “Come on, everyone.”

They followed the guard east, where a mound sprouted up from the dirt. It was covered in bushes and moss, and gnarled, blackened trees grew around its opening, like broken teeth. Its entrance was wide enough to fit fifteen horsemen riding abreast comfortably.

“Are there any beasts lairing inside?” asked William Selmy. “Did you check to make sure it’s safe?”

The man looked embarrassed. “I… uh, well no, Ser.”

“Go do that.”

The group stood apprehensive, most of their swords drawn. The battle shouldn’t take long. We won’t stay here long. He found himself longing for Cossenello’s ship, and that almost made him laugh. He hated boats, hated being on the sea. He often got seasick. But that would be a thousand times better than where they were right now. I don’t want to sleep in some creepy cave tonight.

From inside, a scream echoed. A flash of orange flickered on the rocks, and Jaehaerys could smell burning hair. Then came the guard, sprinting - a blazing fireball. He was shrieking unceasingly, and as soon as he got out of the cave, he fell to the ground and rolled around hopelessly. Soon, he stopped moving altogether. He’s dead. Just like that.

The group instinctively took several steps back, their swords raised. Jaehaerys thought he knew what was in there. His heart was beating in his throat. He could taste iron. The cooked man’s skin had become black and red, and his eyes had begun leaking down his cheeks. Jaehaerys’ stomach was twisting in knots. There’s only one thing that could have done that to a man.

They heard it first: the sound of leathern wings magnified by the enclosed cave. The wind was rising; it was a furnace wind, hot enough to make Jaehaerys’ cheeks flush. Swiftly came the beast, its spiked scales gleaming argent and ebon. Jaehaerys felt a lump in his throat. He’s so big. Twice the size of the wyverns. Big enough to ride.

The dragon came screaming out of the cave and took to the air, breathing flames at the trees in its path. Jaehaerys fell backwards in awe as the beast’s belly coasted right over his head. Landing hard on the ground, he felt his right wrist snap and winced in pain. Still, he kept his eyes on the dragon above him and watched it until it was out of sight.

“Seven hells…” Ser Edric muttered.

The others were talking amongst themselves in hushed whispers. Ser Edric stood still, gaping, sweat running down his brow. Rhaena looked stricken. Jaehaerys sat up and felt his wrist gingerly. Broken, he knew. Could I have worse luck?! That was his sword hand, a hand he’d need to use while hunting with bow and arrow. Without it, he was naked, defenseless, like Rhaena. Jae cursed silently for letting himself suffer such an injury.

Above them, the trees crackled and burned, flaming leaves and branches falling like snow around them. The heat of the dragon lingered, beyond the burning trees. It was something that stayed with them, a presence as much as a feeling. The heat was burning Jaehaerys’ wound below his eye. He felt lightheaded, felt like his skin was going to fall off.

“Everyone inside the cave,” Ser William instructed. “That beast will have drawn the attention of the pirates. We have to hide, now.”

“I’m not going in there!” one guard shouted. “What if the dragon comes back?! We’re going to be its next meal.”

Fire cannot kill a dragon, Jaehaerys reminded himself. Rhaena and I are dragons. But the others…

“Lookit what we got ‘ere,” came a voice from behind. The group saw a small band of pirates wading through the forest. They were shirtless, bronze-skinned, holding swords and axes, and covered in blood. “Looks like yer the ones that woke the dragon, eh? Always thought we had one of those around these parts. Now I gotta see him wit’ me own eyes! What a show!” The pirate next to him clanked his hand axes together enthusiastically.

The blade in the pirate captain’s hand was a curved scimitar, made of Valyrian steel, dripping with blood. He pointed it at the group and smiled, his gold teeth sparkling.

“Turn around,” Ser William said unhappily, “and I won’t kill you.”

“Or we could stay,” replied the pirate. “Yer not killin’ us either way. There’s ten of us, and less of you. I like them odds.”

Ser William glanced back at Ser Edric, and then at Jaehaerys. We’re all wounded and sick. There’s no way we can beat them. He tried to hold his sword with his broken hand and found he couldn’t. Moving the blade over to his left hand, Jaehaerys realized he could barely hold the weight at all, let alone swing or parry with it. The horror of that realization, that their group would have even less men able to fight now, was enough to make Jaehaerys cry. Hot tears seeped down his cheeks. He didn’t wipe them away.

Ahead, the pirates charged Ser William and the others. Rhaena ran back towards Jaehaerys, while the two knights and four guards rushed the pirates, screaming ‘Fire and Blood!’.

“Why aren’t you going with them?” Rhaena asked him.

“My wrist,” he said miserably, showing her his twisted arm. “I broke it when the dragon came out. I can’t hold a sword.”

“Gods, Jae, we’re outnumbered as it is!” the girl yelled.

“I know.”

All he could do was watch, and pray that Ser William had enough skill to kill the men. And indeed, at first, it appeared like that was the case. He took out the first two pirates who rushed him with his first two slashes. One took a pirate in the neck, the other had his belly opened with a single blur of silver. But the others in the group were not faring so well. Jaehaerys saw two guards go down to the man with the Valyrian steel sword, while Ser Edric was barely able to kill the first pirate he dueled against before collapsing in exhaustion. That left three against seven. Poor odds, even for knights. I have to help, Jaehaerys thought. But if I go in there, I’ll just get myself killed. And then another voice spoke up: you’re going to die either way. If you sit back and watch, they’ll kill you anyways. Wouldn’t you rather go out as a warrior, as a knight?

Jaehaerys Targaryen unsheathed his knife and ran forward. He saw Ser Edric parrying the pirate captain’s blade, while the last guard and Ser William had their backs to one another and fought like Jae had never seen men fight. Their desperation gave them the edge, and the pirates who charged them lost arms and hands and parts of their face when they got too close. The pirates fell screaming, blood spraying from their open wounds, left to moan out their last breaths in the mud and moss. Jaehaerys ran up behind a pirate who was pacing in front of Ser William, and knifed him in the back of the neck. His thrust was weak with his left hand, but the blade was sharp, and it went through skin and muscle. The pirate fell, choking on blood, and Jaehaerys finished him easily with a slice across the throat.

The boy scampered from dying pirate to dying pirate, putting them out of their misery (and removing the threats they presented), as Ser William and the last guard turned to face the pirate captain, who was still locked in blows with Ser Edric. Ser Edric was faltering, slowing. The wound in his chest had limited his dexterity and strength, and it was not long before the pirate disarmed him and sent him to his knees. The pirate cackled with glee, wiped sweat from his eyes, and slammed the blade down towards the drunken knight.

Ser William Selmy was there to meet it, his own blade blocking the death blow not an inch from Ser Edric’s neck.

“So ya want to die next, eh?” asked the pirate.

“I could ask you the same thing.” Ser William flashed a smirk.

“Hehe, yer arrogant. I’ll turn that smile into a red grin!”

“You may try.” Ser William brought his sword to his chest and stepped forward. “But I will let my blade speak for me.”

The two locked blades, steel banging against steel. Sparks flew. Around them, the jungle burned. Dead and dying men bled into the mud. Those who survived watched in awe. Ser William’s slices were graceful and quick, and he jumped from one foot to the next, as if he was dancing around the pirate. The pirate was fast, but his speed lacked focus, and soon he was tired out. Ser William, in his armor, had more stamina. He easily blocked the attacks and pushed the pirate back with a merciless flurry of blows so quick the pirate’s eyes bulged and he let out a cry of fright. He knows he’s going to die, Jaehaerys thought with glee.

The pirate kicked Ser William in the knee, causing the knight to stumble back. Then he rushed the man and used his weight to try to knock the man over. William Selmy would not go down so effortlessly, however, and he pushed the pirate off of him. The two raised their blades and brought them together again. This time, Ser William’s sword shattered, its steel splintering into a thousand pieces. Before anyone could run forward to save the knight, the pirate brought his superior Valyrian steel down upon the man. It sliced through his shoulder blade and lodged in his chest, cutting through his steel armor like a knife through jelly.

“Nooooo!!” Jaehaerys screamed.

The pirate began laughing. Ser Edric tried to stand, tried to find his blade. The household guard was running forward. Everything seemed to slow down. Jaehaerys didn’t remember when he started running. His knife was in his hand, raised. I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him, I’ll kill him! Tears were streaming down the squire’s cheeks, burning his wound.

Ser William sank to a knee. Bright blood flowed out over his armor, but he didn’t so much as make a sound. He looked up at the pirate, who was trying to slice further into the knight’s shoulder. Ser William grasped the blade and raised it up out of his wound. Blood pooled under his glove where his hand was being cut from Valyrian steel edge. Still, he did not cry or even grunt in pain. With one hand, he had enough strength to rip the blade out of him, even as the pirate was trying to hold it down with both of his.

Jaehaerys saw Ser William pull his knife out from his belt and stand. “Why are you laughing?” he asked the pirate. “I thought you were going to give me a red smile.”

“Oh I will,” the pirate boasted. “You’re already dead, old man.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Ser William stated coldly. He whipped his knife around and cut the pirate across the face, opening both of his cheeks to flap uselessly in the wind. Soon the pirate’s face was covered in blood, his teeth stained crimson. He screamed, dropped his sword and lurched back. Ser William caught him by the shoulder, held him up, looked him in the eye, and then lodged his knife in the pirate, just where the man’s throat met his lower jaw. The pirate’s eyes bulged and went white, and he fell lifelessly to the ground.

“Ser William!” Jaehaerys cried, reaching his sworn shield. The knight had collapsed and was holding his wound, which was spurting torrents of blood.

“J-jaehaerys…” the man said softly.

“I-I’m sorry! I should have… been there to save you.”

The knight laughed. “Don’t worry about it… my prince. It was me who was supposed to die for you… not the other way around… Looks like things are… working out just how I’d hoped…”

“I don’t want anyone to die,” Jaehaerys sobbed, tears running so thick he could barely see.

“I wish the world were like that…” Ser William breathed. He laid his head back. “Where’s our captive?”

Everyone looked around, but there was no sign of the captured Xhorre man. “Gone,” said Ser Edric.

“That is not surprising…” Ser William coughed. “You must go now… get to Cossenello. Follow the river to the coast… his ship is anchored there… flying black sails. Lady Jyanna we named it. Take it home, Jae… get to safety…”

“I don’t want to leave you,” the boy cried.

“We can’t take him,” Ser Edric said, his voice sober and sad. “The wound is mortal. And we cannot stay here. The forest is burning around us.”

Jaehaerys knew that. The trees were on fire, and soon that would spread. They would be trapped. They had to leave. I don’t want to leave him. I can’t. I’m his squire I failed him. Shame washed over Jaehaerys, and his tears came fresh again.

“It’s time…” Ser William said. “Go. Tell my family I died protecting my prince… please…”

“I will,” Jaehaerys promised, clasping the knight’s bloody hand. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be as brave and strong as you, Ser.”

He spat up blood. “H-ha…! Y-you aren’t a knight, Jaehaerys. Not yet, anyways…”

Ser William Selmy struggled to his feet. Jaehaerys stood back in awe, not sure what was going on. When the man stood, he used a nearby tree as support. Blood was falling from his body like rainwater, and he had become inhumanly pale. He doesn’t have long.

“Your sword,” he groaned, and Jaehaerys handed him his blade. “Sorry, but mine’s broken.” He took the steel and held it up to his face, inspecting it. Satisfied, he nodded and looked Jaehaerys in the eyes. “Kneel,” he commanded the boy.


“Kneel, Jae. P-please… I can’t… wait…”

Realization dawned in Jaehaerys’ mind. The squire dropped to one knee. He’s going to… The blade touched Jaehaerys’ right shoulder, and the boy shuddered.

“Jaehaerys, of House Targaryen,” he said slowly, “in the name of the Warrior I charge you to be brave.” Then, he moved the blade to Jaehaerys’ left shoulder. “In the name of the Father I charge you to be just.” The blade returned to his right shoulder. “In the name of the Mother I charge you to defend the young and innocent.” Then, back to the left. “In the name of the Maid I charge you to protect all women.”

When it was over, Jaehaerys was crying again, though this time in pride and love of the knight who had raised him into the man he now was. He stood up and embraced Ser William. “I will not forget you, Ser. I will make sure your honor and courage is never forgotten.”

“Protect them now,” said Ser William. “Bring everyone else home.”

“I will, Ser.”

The knight closed his eyes and smiled. Jae felt the man fall from his arms, as lifeless as the pirate had not but a few minutes before.

The four remaining members of the group reached the coast of Sothoryos two days later. They were able to avoid the pirates, mostly because the fighting between the two sides had taken them south of Yeen. The waterways were cleared, and they took an abandoned boat they found all the way to the sea.

It was there that the tired men and Rhaena beheld something they had not expected to see. There was indeed a great pirate galley anchored off the coast, just where Ser William had promised it would be. Its black sails danced with flames, and smoke rose in dark plumes from the deck. The air smelled of brimstone and salt

“Cossenello’s ship,” Ser Edric said, pointing. “Gods… it’s been set aflame.”

There was no saving the ship, Jaehaerys could see. It was burning down to the hull, and it had been burning for some time. “What did this?” he asked. “Pirates?”

“I don’t know why pirates would do that. And if they did, where is their ship? How did they get on board?”

Our one way home, burned. Something wasn’t right. The pirates didn’t even know that this ship was secretly being used by Cossenello. He had been flying pirate flags up until the ship had been consumed. No, this had to have been the doing of someone else.

Jae saw the shadow before he heard the wings. A graceful, bird-like shape extended across the sea, howling like a volcano. There flew the dragon, Neryalax, as Daeron had named him. He burned the ship. Did he know we were supposed to take it home? Is he trying to keep us here?

Heat rose in Jaehaerys’ cheeks. His wound itched. He wished he could see out of his right eye, wished his wrist was healed. I want to tame him. I want to capture that dragon. By all rights, he should have had a dragon. He was a Targaryen prince. He had been given an egg. Only, it had never hatched. That was all luck, all misfortune. Sometimes you have to make your own luck, he told himself. “I’m going to catch that dragon and tame it,” he said to the others, suddenly, pointing at the beast that was circling the pirate ship.

“That’s madness, Jae,” said his sister.

“I am the blood of the dragon,” he reminded her. “Plus, if we want to get another ship back home, we’re going to need a dragon on our side. We no longer have enough men to storm a galley and commandeer it back home. We’ll need some real firepower. I’m going to ride that dragon into Xhorre and take their best ship home. All of you, and my dragon, are coming with me. I will protect you all, as is my duty. This is the only way.” He looked at the three individually and collectively.

There was doubt on their faces. It was like they thought he was insane. I am the blood of the dragon, he thought stubbornly. If anyone can tame that dragon it’s me.

“And how do you plan about doing that?” asked Ser Edric. “Pardon me, my prince, but I don’t know how one tames a dragon.”

Jaehaerys racked his brain, trying to come up with an answer. Of all the stories Uncle Jason and my father told me about dragons, they never once mentioned how exactly they’re supposed to be tamed. Doubt found its way into Jae’s mind then, for only a moment. And then he remembered he was a knight, a Targaryen, a prince. “I’ll think of something,” he said. “I have the blood of old Valyria coursing through my veins. Dragons are intelligent creatures. Some maesters think they are even smarter than men. Let’s put that to the test. If he knows I am the blood of the dragon, he will let me ride him. I have no doubt about that.”

A Knight of the Wind

The light of dawn was beginning to suffuse the eastern sky. Jaehaerys Targaryen sat on a slab of black stone poking up from the sand, polishing the Valyrian steel blade that had felled his sworn shield. He was trying to get the dried blood off of it, but the more he scrubbed, the less likely it seemed he would be able to remove the stain. With the wrist of his sword hand broken, the work was slow and difficult.

The only reason Jae had kept the blade was because it was lighter than regular steel, and he needed to be able to hold it in his left hand. He’d named it Windsong, after his father, who had been known as Aegon the Windrider. Legend had it that Jaehaerys’ father had bedded Lady Jeyne Arryn, the Maiden of the Vale, (as well as half of the women of her court) while squiring in the Eyrie, thus earning him his nickname. The boy didn’t know how much of that was true. Probably not much.

Jae watched the waves go out and come in again. There was a host of tiny dead squid on the the beach, a few of them stuck in the endless cycle of churning waves just on the edge of the black sand. He counted thirteen before tasting iron in the back of his throat. Shaking his head, the young knight saw drops of crimson fly from his face. Esgred was right, he thought. It’s going to kill me, one of these days. He lowered his head and let the blood trickle from his nose, as he tried his hardest to wipe Ser William’s from the cursed sword. What would he think of this? Would he want me to take the sword? Or should I have left it where it fell? The boy did feel a little regret, felt a little sick whenever he looked at the sword. Yet it was Valyrian steel. It was sharper than regular blades - he had seen this one shatter Ser William’s after all - and if he needed to, he was sure he could sell it for a fortune. Could buy a ship with it, if anyone around these parts was trustworthy. Like as not, if he tried that, they’d laugh in his face, slit his throat, and steal the sword anyways.

The dead squid mocked him with their blank stares. Around the boy, he could hear monkeys whooping in the trees, chasing insects and mating wildly. Colorful birds sang and conversed; a small one with red and blue feathers landed on a stone in front of Jaehaerys, pecking at a dead squid. The forest was alive, it seemed, though not with men. He hadn’t seen a pirate in days.

It began to rain, lightly at first. I hate the rain, Jae thought miserably. I’m not meant to get so wet. Jaehaerys used his fingernail to scrape against the edge of the blade, under a flake of dried blood, and managed to peel it off. That’s how it’s done. Smiling, he went to pull another dried droplet off when he heard the flapping of leathern wings. Above him sailed the black dragon, coming from the east with the rising sun. From over the water he flew. What he had been doing out there, Jaehaerys hadn’t figured out. It’s the rain that’s brought him in. Dragons don’t do well in rain. He’ll be looking for a place to hide, to get some rest. Now’s my chance.

Standing up and sheathing his sword, Jaehaerys made his way west, back towards camp, where he had seen the dragon going. With any luck, the beast would land nearby, and he’d be able to reach him. Back in camp, a small fire was sputtering and smoking. Rhaena and her knight sat around it, huddled up in rags and old clothes, talking. The other soldier who had survived, a man from King’s Landing named Lync, was off hunting for breakfast. They didn’t even notice when Jaehaerys crept back into camp. What if I was a pirate? He shivered. I’ll need to have a talk with Ser Edric about keeping guard.

“No, it’s madness,” Ser Edric was saying. He already sounded drunk. “Absurd. How are we going to take a ship with a dragon? It’ll burn the whole thing down!”

“How are we to get home then?” Rhaena asked. Jaehaerys could detect strain in her voice.

“I say we use what coin we have to buy passage back. I have a little gold, and more silver. If we could just find somewhere to go…”

“This place is all pirates, Ser. I don’t know how many of them offer safe passage to Westeros.”

“Aye, may be so. But we must try. This dragon business… I don’t like it. The boy doesn’t know what he’s doing. How is he supposed to catch it? You’re Targaryen, Rhaena. What do you think?”

“I do not know how one tames a dragon. We’re only given the eggs when we’re babies. I assume when the dragon hatches, it will bond with the child it was given to, and by adulthood, they both trust each other enough for the dragon to be ridden. But a feral dragon… I have never heard of how one of those could be tamed.”

“He’ll get himself eaten, or worse… burned alive.”

“That’s Jae for you,” Rhaena sighed. “He can be so daring sometimes. I don’t think he knows the danger he puts himself into.”

An army of colorful birds were sitting in quiet rows in the trees, watching this conversation, tilting their heads and clicking their beaks. Slamming his foot on some branches and causing several of the birds to take flight, Jaehaerys alerted the two that he was walking back. He pretended he hadn’t heard what they had said.

“Jaehaerys?!” Ser Edric’s gruff voice was thick with surprise. “Where were you?”

“Taking a piss,” the boy replied glumly.

The knight eyed the bundle of blankets on the ground not far from him, where he had thought the boy was still sleeping. When Jaehaerys walked past that makeshift bed further west, to the other edge of the camp, the man spoke again, “And where are you going now?”

“Taking another.”

“Oh, come off it, Jae!” Rhaena said. “Don’t go wandering off again!”

The boy’s green-and-gold-flecked indigo eyes met hers. “You know that’s not what I’m like, sister. I never wander off.”

And so Jaehaerys wandered off, out of the camp, after the dragon. Ever since the war started, there haven’t been any pirates around. He felt recklessly safe. Against a man, he stood little chance, but he liked his odds against the native wildlife… well, most of them anyways. He had yet to see any of those giant apes or painted cats the other slaves had gossiped about in Mudtown.

The air smelled of wet grass and mud, but he could detect smoke and burning wood too, and he followed that scent half a mile to a hill of gnarled trees. An ancient tree had sprouted fifty feet into the air, its branches as numerous as there were Targaryens in the world. Its roots had dug deep gashes in the hill, as had the roots of the trees around it, leaving a hole the size of a small gate below them. In front of this hole, the grass was torn to mud, and a pile of bones lay scattered about. Hogs and cattle and sheep, it looked like to Jaehaerys, all charred black, some of it melted. Jaehaerys liked the way the rain sounded when it bounced off the bones. The air was rank with the odor of burning fur. The boy wiped blood from his nose.

The dragon’s in there, he told himself. He swallowed, trying to remain calm. I will not let him see my fear. I am a dragon too. Dragons do not fear other dragons. I am not like the other men he may have seen. He will soon know that. I have the blood of old Valyria in me. It is my right to ride a dragon. The boy approached the cave cautiously when out of a side bush, a little lizard came scrambling out. Its scaly bony body was covered in spots of green and black and orange, and when it saw Jaehaerys, it stood up on two legs and hissed. A flap of skin under its neck sprung up around its head, surrounding it like a pretty flower (Jaehaerys didn’t think it was pretty at all). It began spitting at the boy. Calmly, he drew his blade and cut off the beast’s head with one fell stroke. Its slumped into the graveyard of bones, its blood being swept away into the mud by the falling rain.

I’m good with my left hand, he thought. At least when they cannot parry my blows.

He heard a deep grumbling coming from inside the cave as he approached it. Holding his breath, Jaehaerys sheathed his blade and walked up to it. He felt naked, but he wasn’t trembling. That’s good. Fire cannot kill a dragon. I am a dragon. He stepped to the edge of the cave and spoke:

“Hello?! Dragon?!”

A low roar replied, arrogant and hungry. Two suns of molten gold bloomed into existence to peer at him from the darkness. The boy began to tremble.

“Dragon,” he said. “I am Jaehaerys Targaryen, son of Aegon Targaryen. My father was a dragonrider, as was his father, and his father before him. My whole family has raised dragons, ridden them, bred them. We are one in the same,” he said earnestly. “And I will be your new master, dragon. You will see, I am not like the other men you have encountered.”

He tried to sound as confident as he could, as steadfast and cool. The eyes blinked twice, and then he saw a flame rising from below them. When it spewed out at him, Jaehaerys had only a moment to fling himself aside, lest he be cooked like the bones behind him. Getting up, Jaehaerys, returned to the mouth of the cave.

“Dragon! You will not…!”

He saw a new batch of flames being roused. This time, the dragon’s dark form slithered towards him, its ebon teeth as long as swords, spread apart, bloody, hungry. It was coming to eat him. But I’m a dragon, he thought.

Maybe he was. But Jaehaerys’ instincts kicked in at that moment, and he found himself running back through the forest, back towards his sister and the knight who didn’t believe in him. Maybe he’s right, the young knight thought. Maybe I cannot tame a dragon.

“My uncle was a bear-tamer. Never liked him much,” Ser Edric grunted, taking a swig from his wine pouch. “Smelled of wet fur and dried mud, and he was damn near useless with a sword. Heard he ran off and joined a sellsword company in Volantis after he was caught buggering my brother.” The man chuckled humorlessly.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Jaehaerys asked, annoyed.

“Be-cause,” the man burped, “he told me a story once… ‘bout how he used to get the bears to do what he wanted. He’d feed them lots of food, get the beasts nice and happy, and that made them less aggressive. Afterwards, a whip was all it took.”

“And you think this would work for dragons too?”

The knight shrugged. “You’re the one who said they’re smarter than men, my prince.”

Perhaps a man like you. “We will try it,” said the boy with the silver-blond hair. “It is our only hope.”

The knight gave him a dour look but nodded all the same. “Very well, my prince,” he spoke, grabbing a bow. “Let’s get that dragon his dinner.”

They trekked off into the forest together, for it would not be safe to leave Rhaena by herself, and the other three would all be needed to hunt. They made their way towards the dragon’s lair, so that whatever they caught wouldn’t have to be hauled very far. By now the rain had stopped, and the trees were alive with crying monkeys, brown-furred and wide-eyed, and a seemingly endless variety of bright-feathered birds. Both Ser Edric and Lync held bows, but Jaehaerys only had his sword drawn; with his broken wrist, he could not hope to pull back a bowstring. When the older men peeled off to hunt their quarry, Jaehaerys stayed with Rhaena, handing her the bow that had been his when he and Ser William had gone out hunting several days before.

Showing her how to nock and arrow and aim was a difficult task, and Rhaena was not very strong to begin with. He guided her hands, telling her just how far to pull the string back, and how to aim. The girl missed her first three shots, but on the four, she took a fat orange-feathered bird in the wing. When it tried to flee, its wings sputtering, the bird fell off its branch to thrash in the bushes below.

“I caught one!” Rhaena shouted with glee.

“That won’t even be half a bite for the dragon,” Jaehaerys noted. “You’ll need to put an arrow through at least a hundred of those before we start filling the beast’s belly.”

“Fine, Jae,” his sister, said, pulling the arrow out of the now-dead bird. “You always have to ruin my fun, don’t you?”

She’s never gone hunting before, he realized. “You did good. I didn’t get my first kill that easily.” He patted her shoulder and noticed the sadness in her eyes.

Turning away, Jae looked for the knight and the guard. When he found them, he was not disappointed. They had caught half a dozen monkeys, three tattooed lizards, all strung up by their necks on a rope on Ser Edric’s shoulder, and even managed to find two fat hogs, which they were dragging through the undergrowth.

“Bastards wouldn’t go down,” Ser Edric complained. “Took five arrows for this one, seven for that.”

“We need more,” Jae said. “The dragon is big. If we are to fill his belly, we need to give him a proper feast.”

Ser Edric looked up, anger etched in his wrinkles, sweat pouring down his dirty tan face. “Aye, but it won’t be much longer until we’re out of arrows and out of time.”

“That’ll do, Ser. Take this meat there,” he pointed. “Leave it in front of the hill with the big dead tree. The dragon is inside.”

“Won’t he come out to eat now, if I do that?”

“I don’t think so. He likes to hide. He’s scared of people. He doesn’t want to confront us if he doesn’t have to. We’ll have to leave the area before he thinks it’s safe to come out. He won’t be coming out of that cave, even for a little bit of meat.”

Once the first batch of premium dragon food had been placed in an appetizing pile in front of the dragon’s graveyard of bones (Rhaena’s bird was surely the cherry on top), the four returned to forest, searching for bigger game, such as hogs and fat monkeys. As Jaehaerys cut his way through the thick foliage, he came upon a clearing, where he saw a hog with its head buried in a mess of fur, eating viciously. When it looked up at Jaehaerys, its mouth was dripping with blood. It’s eating a brindled man, the young knight saw. He raised his sword.

“Come on then,” he goaded the beast. “Try to eat me.”

From the bushes behind, Ser Edric popped out, shooting an arrow into the lumpy animal’s rump. The hog was frightened by this and began to charge forward, towards Jaehaerys. He swung his sword at it when it got close, lodging his blade in its neck. Yet, he had not the strength to slice all the way through the flesh. As the hog barreled past him, squealing and bleeding, he was knocked over and lost the blade. He saw a blur of steel as Ser Edric went running past him after the beast, and stood up, brushing wet mud from his hair. If only I hadn’t broken my hand… I would not look like such a fool.

He found the hog not far away, collapsed in a pile of leaves, bleeding out. Ser Edric stood over it, pulling arrows out of its backside. He wrenched Windsong free from the bone it was stuck in and handed it back to its master.

“Thank you, Ser.” Ser Edric grunted and didn’t look at him.

The day grew later, and by evening, they had collected several more hogs and monkeys, and were dragging the last batch of them to the pile they had made for the dragon. Around them, birds sat on branches, watching with curiosity. Some screamed and some clicked their beaks; the monkeys were long gone, fearful of the arrows. They are smarter than these birds. Just like a dragon is far wiser than any of them. That worried Jae. He didn’t know if this plan would work. And if it didn’t… what else could they try? He clenched his blade. We’ll have to try to sell Windsong. He thought that was even riskier than trying to tame the dragon, though. The only things less predictable than dragons are men.

Rhaena was carrying a handful of bleeding monkey carcasses, her face blank and dirty. Jaehaerys, who was dragging a young hog with one hand, came up beside her. She looked over at him coldly and then returned her gaze towards looking ahead.

“What?” he asked.

“Do you think this is wise? Truly, Jae?” she spoke after several moments pause. “Perhaps Ser Edric’s plan wasn’t so foolish. Compared to this… I’d take my chances against pirates.”

“You aren’t the one who has to fight them.”

“But how will a dragon get us home? We cannot storm a ship with a dragon. He will reduce it to ashes.”

“I know. I’ve already thought about this, Rhaena. You don’t have to worry. We’re going to take a pirate ship that’s at dock, with most of its crew off in some winesink or buying slaves. The dragon will protect our backs as we sneak onto the ship and take it over. The crew will not stand against us when they see we have a dragon with us.”

His sister sighed, brushing her long silvery hair out of her eyes. “Sounds more like another one of your dreams than a real plan, Jae. This dragon…”

“His name is Neryalax,” Jaehaerys interrupted, “and he’s going to get us out of this green hell.”

She scoffed. “Neryalax? Daeron’s unborn dragon?”

Jae nodded.

“Really now? You’re playing games like he used to?”

Their eyes met, ire radiating between those deep pools of purple. “Daeron saw the value in dragons.”

“And what did that get him?” Rhaena asked angrily.

“I didn’t say this would be easy! I’m doing all I can. Do you think I wanted things to go like this?”

She looked away from him and continued walking. She’s hurt. That’s why she’s lashing out.

The group was coming upon the cave when from either side of them, the bushes rustled. A dark blur abruptly shot over Jaehaerys’ head, and he heard inhuman growling follow. The boy dropped his hog and spun around. There were two painted cats with black fur and yellow spots, tearing into Ser Edric’s fat hog. They were the size of large wolves, though Jaehaerys could see their ribcages; they were clearly starving. Desperate. Willing to face us for food. The man had drawn his sword and was approaching one of them, shouting loudly. The animals did not take heed of his warnings and continued to devour bloody flesh. Lync drew his own blade as well.

When the older knight reached the first cat, he lunged to the right, slicing it cleaning across the back. The painted cat growled menacingly and jumped back, its head lowered to the ground, its back feet standing straight up, as if it was about to pounce. Ser Edric did not take the bait and stood far enough back, his sword pointed at the beast.

Then someone screamed, and the second painted cat was on Ser Edric’s back, clawing into the spaces between his armor with thick black claws. Ser Edric’s blood was the same color as the hogs’ and monkeys’. Lynch came slicing at the second painted cat, ripping its back to shreds and causing it to jump off the man. Jaehaerys saw the first cat creeping up towards their group again, its teeth bared, its fur now soaked in blood. Its silver-green eyes were wild with trepidation.

They are hunting us as they would any other animal. One is trying to distract Ser Edric while the other hits him from behind. He could see it now; the painted cat that Ser Edric and Lync did not have their gazes trained on was slowly moving forward, still ready to pounce. The boy felt a surge of adrenaline move through his veins. He raised his sword, yelled, and charged the cat. It leapt around him as he swung carelessly. Jae caught it in its belly, tearing through several layers of skin and muscle, but not sticking it with a mortal blow. The boy twisted around to chase after the predator, but his foot caught on a root and he tripped, losing his sword. He beheld the cat jump on Ser Edric’s back again and bite him hard in the neck.

Guilt spread across Jaehaerys’ body. He stumbled up, looking for his sword. He saw Windsong nowhere, so he drew his knife and ran at the cat. Ser Edric had collapsed under its weight, and Lync was hacking at it madly. When Jaehaerys reached them, he punched his knife into the cat’s spine, causing it to release its grip on the knight. When it shrieked and looked over at him, Lync swung his sword and decapitated the feral predator in one fell swing.

The other beast screamed and growled and paced before them. Two men stood guard, with Ser Edric lying there, bleeding into the mud. This cat perhaps thought better of risking it all for a little pork, and with another sneering growl, it bounded back into the thick jungle.

Lync stood guard, lest the cat come back, while Jaehaerys and Rhaena rushed over to the wounded knight. He lay there on his stomach, bleeding out. His wounds were severe, but not mortal, Jaehaerys instantly saw. None of the claw scrapes were deep enough to be lethal, and the bite in his neck hand only penetrated an inch or so into his skin. They sat the man up against a nearby tree and tried to wipe away his blood. But neither of them was a maester, and they didn’t have any clean bandages either. They could stay the leaking wounds, but Jae knew they would almost certainly become infected; the two Targaryens did the best they could with the wounded knight, tying his neck up with an old rag, but there was nothing they could do beyond that.

“Seven fucking hells!” Ser Edric groaned, feeling his neck. “Those are some nasty bastards. Bigger than any shadowcat I’ve faced.”

“Are you okay?” Jaehaerys asked.

“Yeah, I’ll manage. Let’s go. Get this over with.” The knight stood up, stumbled forward gingerly, and slung Jaehaerys’ hog over his shoulder, leading them on.

He hates my plan, and he hates me. He’s trapped in his duty. Jaehaerys bit his lip and sheathed his sword. I wasn’t a good knight today. I was supposed to protect them. I should’ve killed that cat. But I couldn’t. I’m weak. I’m not the knight Ser William thought I would be. Jae grabbed the half-eaten hog carcass and dragged it onwards to the pile.

As the sun began to sink behind the horizon, the light was fading fast. The group positioned all of the food outside of the dragon’s cave, dragging the carcasses up to the cave’s entrance. Then, they retreated to the forest’s edge, far enough back that they hoped the dragon wouldn’t sense they were there, but close enough that they could see him feast.

And feast the dragon did. The black-scaled monster soon came to the entrance of the cave. He looked around, as if he expected this to be a trap. When no trap was sprung, the dragon sunk his face into the pile of meat, and Jaehaerys could just make out the small puffs of flame it used to cook the meat.

By nightfall, the great dragon of Sothoryos had eaten its fill of the day’s catch and returned to its cave. At that point, Jaehaerys knew what he had to do. He looked at Rhaena, the weak Ser Edric Thorne, and even the random guy named Lync, then set off for the cave.

When he reached it, he called for the dragon again. There were its eyes, clothed in blackness, watching him intently. He once again told the dragon who he was, that he just wanted to bond with the poor lonely flying lizard, and that he needed its help to get home. He promised the dragon a safer home in Westeros, where he could engorge himself upon as much mutton as he wanted, and he would never have to worry about pirates or fell beasts, or the heat of this place anymore.

And what did that get Jaehaerys, the master bargainer? Well, another face full of flames came his way, and he was forced to run, or burn. As content as he was, with so much meat in his belly, the dragon still seemed too cautious, too fearful of Jaehaerys to let him get close. I don’t even know if he can understand me. I hope he can, because if he can’t… well that makes things a lot more difficult.

He returned to camp with the bad news.

“Wine’s out,” was all Ser Edric said in response, throwing his empty wineskin away. “Damn shame there isn’t any more Arbor gold out here.”’

“You can have more when we get home, Ser,” Rhaena said sweetly. “It’ll be soon, I promise.”

“We go out tomorrow,” Jaehaerys resolved. “If the dragon sees a pattern, understands that we have been feeding him for several days, maybe that will gain us his trust.”

Rhaena gave him a dirty look. The boy ignored her. Protect them, Ser William said. I cannot do that with my own skills with a sword. Even if my sword hand wasn’t broken, I’m not sure I’d be much protection. They need true protection… a dragon to hold all the monsters of this world back with its cleansing flames. And they will be protected, soon. The dragon will break before I do.

Yet as Jaehaerys laid down to sleep, he couldn’t help but think of the look Rhaena had given him, the words she and her sworn sword had spoken about him, the way he hadn’t been able to save Ser Edric from that painted cat. He stared up at the stars in a desolate sky, as distant at home, listening to the echoing whoops of monkeys and all the bugs making music. He felt so alone. What would Ser William do? Would he try to sell the sword, try to find passage back on a slaving ship? Or would he support me in this?

The boy rolled over and shut his eyes. He didn’t know the answer. If I did, all of this would be so much easier.

That night, Jaehaerys Targaryen dreamt of floating above the clouds and being surrounded by a wall of flames. He dreamed of drowned dragons and a pile of bones placed neatly atop a hill. Is that the hill overlooking Harvest Hall? He tried to imagine his first sparring session Ser William Selmy, but he couldn’t remember the knight’s face. The hill dissolved away, and there before him stood Rhaena, her cheeks pale as milkglass, her eyes red and raw. She pulled down her dress to reveal one breast, the nipple erect and pink. He went for it, but she stepped back, smiling sheepishly. That was when he noticed her lips were blue. And when he kissed her, she felt as cold as ice.

When his lips left hers, Rhaena fell backwards, into the water. “I’m going home, Jae. Back to where I belong,” she sang sweetly. “Come join us. Everyone’s here. Don’t you want to join us?”

“I won’t,” he replied, the tears frozen against his cheeks. “It’s too cold.”

“That’s what I said,” she laughed. “But look at me now.”

He sprinted from the water’s edge, across the beach, past the burning forest, looking for the boat home. He called for Cossenello desperately, but no response came. The woods crackled and danced with flames around him. He liked the heat. He went for it, running into the smouldering jungle. There he found a brindled man squatting over his brother Daeron, pulling the entrails from his open belly. Daeron was giggling and pointing at the sky.

“Look, he’s coming!” the boy was was yelling with delight. “He’s coming! My dragon! There he is, there he is!” The boy clapped his hands, but when Jae called for him, he didn’t respond.

The brindled man looked up at Jae, a mouthful of intestines hanging from between his teeth. The boy screamed.

And then he was returned to the world, and it was not his scream he was hearing. Lync was knelt on one knee before them, a spear thrust through his chest from behind. Blood oozed out between his chainmail, and his bloody hands were wrapped around the point of the spear, trying to push it back, as if doing so would undo his wound.

Lync’s screams were wet gurgles, and he sprayed bright red blood everywhere he yelled, even splattering Jaehaerys’ face with some. The boy was on his feet in a moment, as was Ser Edric, who despite his wounds, looked to be no slower than he had been two days ago. Like a shadow, a man came from behind the tree Lync had his back to, and slit the guard’s throat with a rusty knife.

“Shoulda killed me when you had the chance,” the man said in a deep voice. He thrust his shoulders back and drew a curved sword.

“Rhaena, behind me,” Ser Edric barked.

“Two on one ain’t an even fight,” the pirate smiled. He had long curly black hair, oily and full of flecks of grey. His face was windswept as a castle on the Iron Islands. This is the same pirate Ser William captured in Yeen… the same man who escaped from us a few days ago. When the smile formed on his lips, it looked as if a crack had formed in stone, an ancient, dry wound. “Let’s change that.”

He whistled, and soon three more pirates sidled out of the bushes. One held a bow, another a spear, the third a short sword. Four against two. Not good odds when Ser Edric is wounded and I can’t use my sword hand.

“Back!” ordered Ser Edric.

The path sloped up to the dragon’s den, and now, at least, they had the high ground. But the further they went back, the closer they got to the slumbering dragon. If he feels threatened, he’ll bathe us in dragonfire. And then fighting the pirates wouldn’t matter at all. Maybe it wouldn’t matter anyways. One of them had a bow; another held throwing spears. Closing the gap between those two would be troublesome, especially since Jaehaerys knew he and the older knight would have to duel the two swordsmen first.

I’ll need to take the pirate out quickly, but I don’t know if I can. He had never practiced sword fighting with his left hand, nor had he ever parried a full blow with that hand. He didn’t like his odds. Jaehaerys tried to grip Windsong with both hands, but the pain was too great. He let out a gasp and felt dizzy.

“End of the road,” the pirate was saying. “No one’s getting out of here alive.”

Ser Edric pointed his sword at the former prisoner. “Maybe none of you will walk away from here, but I’m not planning on dying today.”

“Don’t matter what yer plannin’, old man!” the pirate with the bow spat. “Yer life’s ours.”

Ser Edric glanced Jaehaerys’ way. He’s relying on me as much as I’m relying on him. The pirate chief twirled his blade, as if bored. “On with it. I don’t have all day.”

“You’ll regret your impatience!” Ser William stepped forward, swinging his sword in violent arcs of silver. The clang of steel against steel rang out in the new day.

Jaehaerys’ belly rumbled. He stepped up to the other swordsman, cautiously circling around him. As of yet, the two other pirates simply stood back and watched. Maybe they’re dumb enough to wait for us to kill their friends. He prayed that was so.

The heat of the morning was rising; it was getting hotter, more humid than it had been in several days. Jaehaerys felt sweat rolling down his back, but he still wished he had armor. I don’t like the look of this one. He’s got crazy eyes. Indeed the pirate did. When he charged Jaehaerys, spittle ran from his mouth, and he spun his sword behind his back. Jaehaerys’ nearly lost Windsong when their blades clashed for the first time. But he didn’t. Maybe I can duel this one.

Though his left arm was by far the weaker of the two, Jaehaerys was able to parry several blows and even make a few haphazard slashes at his foe. Across from him, Ser Edric dueled calmly against the other pirate. In the background, Jae saw the other two readying their weapons; The spear-thrower threw his first spear at Ser Edric, though it sailed past him into the cave beyond. The second one took him in the leg, causing him to stutter and fall to one knee. The other pirate was on him like a hungry wolf, eager for blood.

The old knight would not give up so easily.

He parried the blow and punched the pirate with his armored fist. The man dropped like a sack of noses, screaming, as Ser Edric rushed the spear thrower. That man seemed half drunk, which meant he was perfect company for Ser Edric. His spear throws were off-target by a mile. They sailed around, some almost hitting Rhaena, many of them flying into the cave beyond. When Ser Edric reached him, the pirate dropped his spears and began to engage the knight in sword-to-sword combat.

Across from this, the bowman was aiming at Jaehaerys, though he couldn’t get a good angle on the boy. Maybe not being able to kill this pirate is working to my advantage. He knew as soon as he defeated his foe - if he did - the bowman would loose a feathered arrow into his heart.

There was a low rumbling coming from behind them, almost as if the earth itself was moving. Jaehaerys couldn’t look around; that was the fastest way to getting his head cut off. He remained focused on the pirate in front of him, slicing and parrying, smacking steel against steel. His arm was quickly growing tired. Yet, even when Rhaena screamed from behind, he did not turn. He couldn’t.

It was not until a river orange flames rolled past him that Jaehaerys did. There in the mouth of the cave stood the dragon, black-scaled, golden-eyed, and stuck in the shoulder with two spears. He spit his tendrils of dragonfire at the two pirates with Ser Edric, and Jae saw all three of them go up in flames. Rhaena was screaming in the background. The eyes of the pirate in front of Jaehaerys’ had gone wide, and he began to run off into the forest. The bowman shot his first arrow at the dragon, its point bouncing off the great beast’s armored hull. The dragon roared, loud enough to bring Jaehaerys to his knees. Then, the boy watched as the man was torn in half, his upper torso ripped from the ground in one sideways swipe from the dragon Daeron had once named Neryalax. The man died screaming, swallowed (half) whole.

The very air seemed to pop and explode with heat. A torrential wind blew about, decimating the trees around. The dragon lurched forward, moving across the ground like a tattooed lizard, chasing after the one pirate who had fled. Jaehaerys looked back at Rhaena and shouted, “Come on, now’s our chance!”

Her eyes were red and raw, and she was shaking. “Bu-but… Ser Edric…”

“We can’t save him now! Come on! The dragon’s our only hope!”

And after him they ran. Neryalax hadn’t touched them with his flames; he hadn’t attacked them. But the dragon had gone after the pirates. Perhaps he had gone after Ser Edric too. More likely he was caught in the crossfire. It was a short sprint through the jungle, which had become as quiet as a night on the summer sea. Everyone and everything has fled; they cannot stand against a dragon. It was eerie, the quiet. The birds, the monkeys, even the bugs were completely silent, as if death had overtaken the forest.

The pirate’s camp was situated not far from Jaehaerys’. That would be why they were able to find us this morning. There were a dozen other men there, some sitting around fires eating or conversing with one another, others sparring or patrolling about. All jumped to their feet when they saw the dragon come into camp. It was a bizarre scene, surreal almost. Jaehaerys didn’t feel like he was there, like he was a part of it. It was more like a dream, like something his uncle Jason had told him in a story: a dragon fighting a group of men in the middle of the forest - and a prince and a princess chasing that deadly monster for the wild hope that it was their only protection.

This is madness. What are we doing?

The men drew their blades, their bows, their axes and spears and knives. These were mad men. Maybe they thought their combined strengths could defeat the beast. And perhaps they were not wrong. While Neryalax blasted a group with flames, others charged him, chopping at his sides with their sharp weapons. He crushed one between his teeth, but there were too many. Others were making Neryalax bleed, and he couldn’t get to them fast enough. Jaehaerys couldn’t just sit back and watch the butchery unfold.

He was charging head-long into hell. Fires swirled about. Burning men screamed, their eyes melting down their faces like milky tears. Jae caught one in the back of the neck with Windsong who was hacking at Neryalax’s legs. He sliced another’s bare back open, and stabbed his blade through the skull of a third. The heat was becoming unbearable. Jae’s face went numb. He felt nothing. He was reacting, not thinking.

There was a spear sticking out of the side of the dragon, courtesy of a particularly unskilled spear-thrower. Jaehaerys ran up to it and tried to pull the long pole out. When he did, he saw that the iron tip of it had melted. Out sprouted a smoking fountain of golden blood. The dragon screamed and spun around to face Jaehaerys.

Neryalax, the prince thought. He faced the dragon, his sword lowered, his body unmoving. He felt no fear, even as the dragon roared in his face, blood and bits of flesh dripping from its wide mouth. Eat me if you will, he thought, elsewise, I’m taking you as mine.

The dragon’s eyes flickered and burned. It stared at Jaehaerys for a moment, until another spear hit him on his blind side. Then, Neryalax blasted the remaining pirates with flames. A wall of fire grew around them. The trees, the grass, the foliage, even the native birds and other wildlife that had hidden themselves deep in the jungle, were aflame. It was the end of the world. He saw Rhaena’s silver-blonde hair bobbing beyond the sea of flames and then it was lost. He called for her; there was no reply. The dragon’s back tensed; its scales rippled, and it growled softly. Golden blood dripped down his scales, sizzling and burning the dust away into a crater.

Jaehaerys ran forward. He didn’t know what he was doing. It was all reflex. When he grasped the dragon’s spikes and pulled himself onto its back, when he hunkered down against its warm scales, when he felt the beast’s leathern wings start flapping about him, he thought of nothing. Soon, they were moving forward, faster than Jae had ever gone. He felt warm wind screaming through his hair, the feeling of being picked up, and when he next looked down, the boy saw the forest as a small burning land being left behind. Colored birds were in the sky, hooting and tumbling about in swarms. Neryalax snapped at one, catching it in his mouth. They soared onward; Jaehaerys’ heart was in his throat, his hands were shaking, even as tightly as he was holding onto the spike on Neryalax’s back, just behind his neck.

For one single moment, just when they came above the clouds and Jaehaerys beheld the world as he had never seen it before, the Targaryen prince was saturated with euphoria, powerful enough to take his breath away. So this is what everyone else felt like when they rode their dragons for the first time, he thought. How much more he hated that his had never hatched, that he had been forced to wait this long.

Yet, as they flew, Jaehaerys’ mind returned to those haunting violet eyes of his sister. Protect her, he heard Ser William pleading with his dying breath. A true knight protects those who cannot protect themselves.

“Neryalax!” he yelled hoarsely. “Go back! We cannot leave my sister behind!”

But the dragon flew on, deeper into Sothoryos, as if he had never heard Jaehaerys Targaryen speak.

The Dragonrider

The signs of the dragon’s hunting were evident across the lands, like spreading corruption. Charred and blackened were the trees, and most of the bushes, leaves, and undergrowth were burnt or reduced to ash. Jaehaerys stood on a cliff overlooking the sea, the dead forest around him. On the shore, Neryalax crouched over a beached whale, tearing at its grey flesh, his flames dancing across the sand. I will not join him, Jaehaerys told himself. I am not yet so hungry.

The boy’s belly had been empty for the past few days. He had survived on some late autumn fruit, most of it spoiled, and some wild onions he had found growing near a stream by Neryalax’s lair. It’s not enough to sustain me. I need more.

Looking down at his hands, Jaehaerys drew them into fists. Blood trickled between the blisters and cuts on his palms; the boy wiped his hands on his shirt and looked away. He knew he could not hold a sword. The closest tree was still burning. Neryalax couldn’t help himself. He tried to catch a hog, and when it fled deeper into the forest, he covered everything in his fury. The air tasted of smoke and salt.

Returning to the stream, which flowed over the cliff as a waterfall, Jaehaerys took his fill of the cool water. He had an unnatural thirst. His stomach was in knots; his hands were shaking slightly. I cannot hold a sword, he knew. I cannot hunt or kill. I’m useless. The dragon’s flames had touched him, and the purple-eyed prince had learned firsthand that fire could, indeed, kill a dragon. But I saw her, he swore. Beyond the flames. She did not burn. She was floating. I saw her.

He had tried to get the dragon to turn around, but dragons were not like horses. They are not simple mounts, easily swayed by a rider’s desires. Ser William had taught Jaehaerys how to ride, how to completely control a horse, but that had been nothing like how it was to ride a dragon. Neryalax was prideful and predatory. He was always looking for animals to hunt, for fights to wage. He had already roasted a pirate ship with his indomitable flames, just for fun as far as Jaehaerys could tell. The boy had screamed at the dragon and tried using his hands to steer Neryalax back to land, but it had been no use. He goes where he wants to. Dragons are more cats than dogs, to that end.

Sliding down the cliff-face, Jaehaerys made his way across the beach towards the feasting dragon. Out in the iron, churning sea, beyond a veil of foam and fog, the ship they had attacked still burned, like a lonely, lost candle. Jaehaerys’ belly rumbled. It was growing hotter, more humid. It’s not even midday, he reflected. This will be a scorched day.

Around the dragon and the whale, the sand was burnt to glass. He could smell blood and decay, and his stomach groaned loudly. The dragon did not look up as Jae hobbled over to him. The boy gave the red hole that Neryalax had his snout in a look, but had to turn away. I will not eat that.

“Neryalax,” the boy whispered. “Neryalax…” He reached for his mount, running his hand down the beast’s scales. They were hard as rock, black and spiked. Jaehaerys saw a little silver in them, iridescent as nacre. The heat radiating out from the dragon’s body was like a fire, and the boy could not keep his hand on the dragon too long without feeling his blisters screaming at him. “We have to go back… please,” he said softly, taking his hand back. “My sister… Rhaena… she’s a dragon just like us. We need to find her. I can’t let anything happen to her. I’m supposed to protect her.”

The dragon grunted and pulled himself out of the whale. Dripping with dark blood, his snout fumed and smoked and sniffed at Jae. The dragon growled, and his growl turned into a roar, and his wings were spread like a blossoming dragon’s breath. Into the sky he went, blanketing the ground in shade, screeching like the wind.

“Wait… come back…!” Jaehaerys pleaded meekly, his voice breaking. He raised his arm after the dragon, but Neryalax was streaking off like an arrow in flight. On he flew, towards the misty, humid sky, silver in the light of morning. “Come back…” Jaehaerys pleaded again, this time so quietly that not even the waves could hear him.

Blood dribbled out of the whale like a flowing stream, and Jaehaerys felt a clawing at the inside of his throat. A knight does not forsake the needy. I will find you, sister, he promised. And Neryalax will learn to obey me.

That was easier said than done.

Sweat cut rivers through the dirt that coated Jaehaerys’ body like armor. His hands were trembling now, as if he had the shaking sickness. Mother guide me, he thought in delirium, bring me safely home. Brooding colored birds perched on branches bare of fruit, singing for him as if he was a king. In front of the boy, a snake slithered. His head felt heavy.

Reaching down for the snake, the boy wondered if it was foot long. When he touched it was when he realized it was a monstrosity - maybe the length of three men, thick as a tree. The beast hissed and slithered off into the bushes, cracking dead leaves as it went. Why did I do that? He felt lightheaded.

The rising humidity congested in Jae’s lungs, making it harder to breathe. All he could smell was mud and ivy. The half-burnt jungle provided only sporadic shade for Jaehaerys. There was a painted lizard standing in the middle of the beast trail on its hind legs, chewing on a fat sapphire-shelled bug. The boy’s stomach squirmed, and he lunged for the puny predator.

The little thing dropped to all fours and scurried off into the underbrush. Its head looked like Neryalax’s. At once, the tears came to Jae. The dragon has three heads… it must, it must. Dropping to his knees, Jaehaerys cried into the mud for what seemed like a green eternity. It’s not fair, he thought. It was never fair.

After some time, feeling confused and empty, red-eyed and delirious, the prince tried to stand. That was when he noticed a corpse hanging from the tree in front of him.

A trail of dried blood had leaked from a wound in his side and run down his hairy leg. The pirate wore what looked like old rags, a thick black beard, and a sword scar upon his chest. Any jewelry or weapons he might have carried were gone. He has a familiar face, Jaehaerys decided. Mayhaps I remember this one from Mudtown. He hung in the middle of the trail, his face purple and contorted in a final death scream. Clothed in flies, the copper-skinned pirate had small bite marks perforating his body. The jungle has been gnawing at him for a while. Walking over to the man, cautiously, Jaehaerys drew his knife. The steel bit into the flesh easily, and Jaehaerys found it still warm to the touch, if only just.

The bit he’d cut off was drenched in blood and smelled of dirt and sweat. Jaehaerys eyed it, fat stinging flies buzzing impatiently around him. He let the flesh fall from his grasp. I am not yet so hungry.

“You call yourself a knight?” the dead man said, his lips never moving. His voice came low, and thick with wine. Father. “Pathetic. I’ve seen seen men with more honor in Flea Bottom!” It was so hot, so stuffy, Jae was finding it hard to breathe. “You made your choice. Aye, you did,” the corpse continued, anger rising in his voice. “The dragon, not your sister.”

“I’m sorry, father.”

“Sorry?!” The Targaryen man growled. “You are sorry, I’ll give you that. Broken, more like it.”

“I tried, father… please, I thought the dragon would…”

“Dragons only destroy,” Prince Aegon countered. Now, even the pirate’s blood-pooled face was morphing into the man who Jaehaerys hadn’t seen in more than a year, since the pox had taken him. “Fire… cleansing flames… there is no life in a dragon, only death,” the corpse’s eyes seemed to shine with pale flames. “Your sister could have given you an heir, you hapless runt.”

“I’ll find her,” Jaehaerys resolved. He gripped Windsong with his burnt hands and let out a cry of pain, feeling the pain spike up his forearms.

“Fool,” breathed the corpse. “You already made your choice. You dare call yourself a knight?!”

The wind blew through the trees, and the dead pirate swayed back and forth. His father’s face faded, and the spell was broken. Jaehaerys tasted salt and ran.

“Rhaena?!” he called, but no answer came. I’m sorry sister. I shouldn’t have forsaken you. I want you back. I need you here with me. He called for her again, and again, and would have called for her a third time, only he noticed there were people ahead of him.

The trail thickened and came to a clearing in the jungle. The stream broadened into a proper river here, snaking around rocks and dark sands and disappearing into the deeper forest. Where the water met the shore, four pirates stood. Twice as many were bleeding dead on the ground. One against three.

She was shirtless, her breasts small and perky. Still, they flopped around every time she moved. Jae felt a warm rush in his smallclothes. The female warrior held a throwing axe in either hand and wore an iron helm. Her three opponents were all men: two gripped spears, and the third had a bastard sword drawn between his hands. I wonder which side is Xhorre, and which is Mudtown.

The sun was in Jaehaerys’ eyes as he stepped out of the forest and into the clearing. They were still a far ways off, too preoccupied to notice him. He didn’t know he was moving forward. He couldn’t sit still. The man with the sword charged at the axe-wielding woman, and she parried his blows effortlessly. Kicking him aside, into the river, she stepped up, knocking the spears away. Both of those men went down under a flurry of iron. Their blood was left to stain the black sands.

Spinning around, the woman returned to the man with the bastard sword. She’s wonderful, Jae thought in a daze. Her breasts bounced up and down, down and up, as she fought the man. There was blood on her, running down her arms. Not her own, though.

The woman pushed the man back against the water’s edge. Her blows were so savage, like how one would beat a drum. The man could do little more than parry. One of her axes went flying after a particularly hard blow. The woman let out a scream and grabbed her foe by the shoulder with her free hand. Her remaining axe slashed across his eyes, splitting them like ripped curtains. The man yelled shrilly, falling to his knees. Shaking the blood off her axe, the female pirate raised her weapon, preparing to slice his throat. That was when the man thrust his sword wildly, in a last gasp attempt. The iron punched its way through the woman’s chest, coming out red and dripping from her back. The man fell back into the river and was carried off by the current. The woman fell over, coughing up blood. Screaming, she pulled the sword out of her and tried to stand. When she couldn’t, Jae saw her collapse in a puddle of blood.

He did not run forward, did not try to help her. He knew he couldn’t. Once she stopped moving, Jaehaerys walked over to her. The rushing water seemed to sing as it passed by rocks. there was the woman, dead, her blood still running hot. Around her, the other dead pirates lay covered in squatting spiders and tiny basilisks, tearing at the sweet meat ferociously.

“You’re beautiful,” he told her a moment later. “I need you. Please,” he said, reaching down for her breast. He squeezed her, and his stomach rumbled. The Targaryen prince didn’t know whether he wanted to fuck her or eat her. His own blood was running hot. It’s been so long, he thought. I’ve never been inside a woman before. He didn’t know if he would ever get that chance again. If we don’t find Rhaena… and yet, at the same time, the empty feeling in his stomach screamed at him too. She didn’t look tasty, but he knew he could eat her. She’s fresh, at least.

“You have a sister,” the dead woman seemed to say. Her lips never moved, her eyes never locked with his. But he heard his mother’s voice, saw her face in the dead pirate.

“I had a sister,” he repeated, his voice coming softly. “I do not know if she lives.”

“You abandoned her, Jae,” the voice was not angry, but sad. A shiver spread across the boy’s body. The wind rustled through the dead leaves. “You alone are responsible.”

“I j-just wanted to protect everyone…” the boy said, trying to hold back the tears. “I didn’t think we could get home without the dragon…”

“Get home?” his mother laughed. “Are you as naïve as your brother?”

“No, mother.”

“Fire or blood,” the corpse seemed to say. “A choice must be made.”

“I don’t want to,” Jae said unwillingly. “Please… don’t make me choose.”

“You already have,” the dead woman said, and he thought he saw her lips curl in a smile. “My little dreaming dragon,” she said sweetly, “I should have known.”

He hung his head and saw the woman again, half-naked and very much dead. I want her, he knew. Not as much as Rhaena, but Rhaena’s gone. It was a stark notion, one he didn’t want to believe. That doesn’t mean she can’t be found. That thought made Jae remember his brother - and all of the useless things he had tried to do to keep Daeron alive. Sighing, he returned his gaze to the woman. He could taste the bile in the back of his throat. The boy knew what he had to do.

The fog that hung over the river, thin as gossamer, dissipated by midday, and the sun came out to venture through a empty blue sky. That was when the dragon returned.

Neryalax skidded into the sand, nearly sinking himself in the river. Coming to a stop, the dragon faced down Jaehaerys and seemed to scowl at him. The boy had long since left the corpses and was drinking from the river upstream. He’s mad about something, Jae guessed. Wiping his mouth, he approached the dragon.

“Neryalax,” the boy said calmly. “You’re back. Are you ready to take me to my sister?” The dragon snorted and turned his face to a nearby corpse. In one gulp, he devoured the man. “Neryalax!” Jaehaerys’ voice came harsher this time. “We are going to find my sister. You are going to take me back to her.” The restless dragon ate another corpse. This time, Jaehaerys did not watch. If Rhaena’s still alive, I will find her… but is she? Doubt crept into his mind. It had been several days since he had last seen her. He didn’t know exactly how long it had been; the days had all blurred into one, like a fire moving through snow. I cannot give up, he resolved. I will not. Until I see her corpse with mine own eyes, she is not dead.

Neryalax turned his attention once again from the boy; Jaehaerys wouldn’t have it anymore. I’m a knight. I’m a dragonrider. I cannot sit back and let Neryalax rule me. I am his master. Jaehaerys strode up to the dragon. For a moment, Neryalax’s opened mouth was no more than a few inches from Jae, as he searched for more dead pirates to eat. He could have killed me there, but he didn’t. He’s not going to hurt me. Knowing that made Jae a little fearless, and a little more reckless. He climbed up the dragon’s wing to get on his back. Though Neryalax had spikes across his entire body, there was a small smooth patch on the nape of his neck where Jae could sit. He grasped onto two bigger spikes further up the dragon’s neck and secured himself firmly in place. His hands were blistering and humming with pain, but he did his best to ignore that. I’m not weak, father. I’m not.

“Fly!” Jaehaerys commanded, kicking hard.

At first, Neryalax shrugged him off and continued to eat, but when Jae kicked him again and screamed his order a second time, the dragon seemed to hear him. Though he protested by slinging a shot of fire from his mouth at a nearby tree, he nevertheless listened to Jae. From the clearing near the river, they came into the air. Above the trees they sailed, where the blaring heat of the empty day awaited them. Jaehaerys didn’t care. In truth, he’d forgotten the pain in his hands too. Is there anything in the world as good as flying? He could spend the rest of his life up here.

The wind blew against his head and face. It was a weird feeling, since he was bald as a tit. He wished the dragon’s flames hadn’t burnt away his hair. I look like ridiculous… like an egg, I’d wager, Prince Jaehaerys reflected.

West they flew, back towards the pirate camp they had burned. The last place I saw her, Jae thought. But if she’s alive, would she still be there? He did not think so.

There was another beast in the air, flying in circles above the trees. At first it was a dark speck, and then it grew larger and bonier. Its scales looked as blue as the sea in the light of day. A wyvern, Jaehaerys knew. Neryalax felt it too. Jae could almost feel the beast’s heartbeat quicken when he saw the wyvern. Neryalax began flying faster and changed his trajectory to face this new foe. He’ll eat it, Jae knew. I hope he knows I’m on his back. He remembered the first time he had seen Neryalax fight wyverns. The day I killed my first man. The way the creatures had spun through the air, as vicious as a pack of wolves, gave Jaehaerys pause. It’s a long way to the ground.

They came upon the wyvern twelve heartbeats later. Neryalax went right for its throat. Jaehaerys shouted, trying to keep the dragon from flipping over or spinning about. Neryalax seemed to heed his call and remained upright. “Dracarys!” Jaehaerys screamed carelessly, trying his best to remember his High Valyrian. She was always better at that than me. Neryalax’s jaws were locked against the wyvern’s. The two were roaring at one another; the wyvern had a higher voice, and for some reason, that gave Jaehaerys some small measure of comfort. Their claws ripped into one another, sometimes scratching uselessly against scales, sometimes reaching the vulnerable strips of meat between them. Searing golden drops fell from Neryalax, while the wyvern weeped a red torrent. Their quarry was smaller than Neryalax, though not by much.

They flew away from each other, and when the two winged beasts came ‘round again, the wyvern went to lock jaws with the dragon. Neryalax pulled up, hovering in place, disciplined and hungry. He bathed the wyvern in dragonflame so hot that the wyvern’s wings caught on fire. It wheezed and screamed and burned, and Jaehaerys found the smell of it all to be most appetizing.

Though enveloped in fire, the wyvern would not give up. It sprung forward and rammed into Neryalax. Jaehaerys slipped and his blisters burst open. Sticky blood ran down Neryalax’s spikes as the boy lost his grip. He slid down the dragon’s backside until, digging his fingers into a scaled crevice, he stopped suddenly. Pain throbbed in his hands, especially in the broken one. Gritting his teeth, Jae tried to forget the pain, but it was hard. His feet dangling over the side of the dragon, the Targaryen prince felt lightheaded again. Fear will not take me, he assured himself, but when he looked down at the far-distant ground, the boy let out a groan and felt his hands shaking again. I’m going to fall.

Neryalax had the wyvern’s neck in his mouth, and though it struggled and clawed at him, it could not prevent the dragon from biting down as hard as he could. Jae heard the bones crack even from his precarious position, and then the wyvern fell from the sky, splitting and felling the trees it landed on. In the air, Neryalax let out a bellow of victory, shooting fire into the sweltering sky. Jaehaerys’ grip was loosening again, and the pain in his hands was growing to unbearable levels. He began seeing spots and felt numbness spread across his body.

“To the ground!” Jae shouted at his dragon. “Down, down, down!”

Neryalax was happy enough to oblige his master. He wants to eat that wyvern anyways, the boy knew. Would he have let me fall had he not been hungry?

They landed with little grace; Neryalax crawled over to the wyvern’s corpse, cooking it with his life’s fire. Jaehaerys stood, a hand on his shoulder, gasping and shaking. I nearly fell. I have to be more careful. No more hunting wyverns.

Yet as he stood there watching his dragon feast, Jaehaerys could not stay the hunger inside him any longer. The trees around were burning, but he didn’t care. He ran next to his dragon and slashed at the fleshy parts of their defeated prey with his knife. Out the flesh came, smoking and bloody, and he didn’t care. Jaehaerys tore at the wyvern like an animal. Dropping his knife, he took his mouth to the wound he had cut, sucking at the stringy flesh and blood waiting for him inside. There is no heat in a wyvern, he thought. Not like a dragon.

The meat was fresh and full of iron, and it was the best thing Jaehaerys had ever tasted. Sitting up, he wiped the blood from his mouth and stared at the trees around them, burning. I’m sorry, sister. I’m not a true knight.

Fire and blood,” came his mother’s voice, carried by the wind, thin as a summer cloud.

You dare call yourself a knight?!” His father’s voice burst forth from the smoke, full of anger and ash.

The one voice that did not come to him was Ser William’s, but Jaehaerys did not need help remembering his sworn shield. He remembered the feeling of the sword touching his shoulders, remembered what Ser William had told him with his dying breaths. Protect them. Bring everyone else home.

I failed, Ser. Everyone died except me. I tried, but I couldn’t save any of them, not even my sister.

The trees crackled and burned and collapsed inwards, the orange-hot flames turning to dust and embers.

I’m never going home, he realized. I’m going to be stuck out here until I die. He expected to feel grief, to feel hopelessness crush his chest. But he felt nothing, except his hunger. I’m a dragon, the prince told himself. This is what I was always meant to do.

Jaehaerys Targaryen leaned in and returned to his feasting, his mount at his side.

The stars were out, though the sun had not set yet. In the distance, the sky was the color of a blood orange. It was blacker here, further away. The wind blew against Jaehaerys’ bald head, causing him to shiver. He sat mounted on Neryalax, their bellies full.

High above the rust-tinted clouds they journeyed. The world was so magnificently bleak up there. I’m never going back. I’ll be the next Jaenara Belaerys. I’ll travel the world and see everything worth seeing. Somehow that didn’t depress the boy so much anymore. Every now and then, a colorful bird could be seen flying in the distance, and Neryalax would let out a little whimper, but Jaehaerys dominated his mount with kicks and firm words, making sure the dragon didn’t lose sight of their goal. He will learn to stay his desires. He’s already getting better.

They came below the clouds at a river - the Zamoyos it must have been, for it was so wide. In the distance, beyond the murkiness of the jungle and the dying light, a city of dark stones stood tall. Yeen, Jae thought at first, though he soon understood that guess was folly. No, the buildings are too high, and there are lights coming out of some of the towers.

“Steady,” Jae said, and they came to a hovering stop, just outside the city. Below, the green-brown waters of the Zamoyos gushed pleasantly. Xhorre, Jaehaerys knew. The other pirate town. They defeated Mudtown, he knew, but they would have butchered or taken all of the slaves there. He thought of Sweetgums and the others, and a spike of hatred exploded inside his chest. And they’re the ones who attacked Ser William and the others. Nearly everyone is dead because of these bastards. They must be brought to justice. “This city should not be here,” the boy said as coldly as he could. “It is an evil place.” There will be much fire and blood this night.

A thought came to Jaehaerys, of the slaves and innocent people in Xhorre - surely there were many - but he could not let his thoughts cloud his judgment. Dragonfire destroys, and it cannot be fully controlled. This is the best I can do. Besides, if everyone dies, I’ll destroy the slave trade in the area, and future slaves won’t have to live and suffer here. It was not a very knightly thought, but then again, Jae didn’t think he was very knightly to begin with. I am not the kind of knight Ser William was, but I am still a knight… Ser Jaehaerys, he thought, and a smile came to his face. I like the sound of that.

The dragon carried Jaehaerys to Xhorre, soundless as a shadow on the wind. The fury inside Jaehaerys was like a flame itself, growing as the sun sunk beneath the horizon. They’re all sleeping, I bet. They don’t know what’s going to happen to them… He thought of Ser Edric and Ser Merrik, the sellswords and Targaryen household guards, and Ser William, all of whom had risked their lives for Jaehaerys and his siblings. Many of them had perished at the hands of Xhorre pirates, including Ser William.

For that, they will not see the dawn.

“Alright!” Jaehaerys shouted. “I want to hear these bastards scream. Burn them all, Neryalax. Dracarys!” he said again. At that moment, something changed in Neryalax. Before he had been calm, but no longer. Now, flames boiled around his opened mouth, and he shot forward in an anxious panic. As if he were hunting.

It’s been a thousand years since this place has felt the fury of dragons. This time, they will not forget it. Jaehaerys’ mind turned to his sister again, and he thought, I know you’re gone, sister. But once we’re done here, we’ll try to find you… if you’re still out there. Dragons do not abandon their own. Jaehaerys tasted blood and knew that his nose was bleeding again. As it will continue to, until it kills me. Shaking his head forward, he felt the blood ooze down his mouth and chin and onto Neryalax’s scales, and he didn’t care.

For then, the night’s wind was upon Jaehaerys, and he felt alive for the first time in a long time. The weight and anguish he had borne seemed to vanish as Neryalax blew his first blast of dragonfire at the nearest tower. And when Jaehaerys saw the stones melt, heard screams coming from inside, and saw his dragon hovering there, the most noble and invincible steed in the world, he couldn’t help but laugh madly.

Jae thought of his own dragon egg, lying at the bottom of the Summer Sea. He thought of sweet Daeron, lost in Yeen, of his uncles, mayhaps still in King’s Landing or returned to Casterly Rock or dead. He thought of Maester Orwyle and his wise words, of Esgred and her wiser ones, and of Ellyn Hightower, the girl he had been meant to marry. Jae wondered if she was beautiful, if she was already promised to someone new. I’m sorry, he thought. You were going to marry a dragon. He thought of Balerion the Black Dread, Sunfyre the Golden, and all the other mighty dragons his house had commanded in their long history. He thought of all the people he’d known, and all those he would never see again. They’ll think I’m dead, another boy lost at sea. But I’m not. I have a dragon. I am a dragon. Well, I’m not Aegon the Conqueror or Jaenara Belaerys. I’m just me: Ser Jaehaerys of House Targaryen - the dreaming dragon, my mother and sister called me. And I’m going to destroy this city.

And so he did.


The rain was pouring down across the jungle, as far as the eye could see. Though the dragon’s fires still raged, they were more smoke now than flame. Arcing plumes dotted the landscape like crumbling towers, ash-black against the grey sky. They served as markers of sorts, for which way the dragon was going. So too did the dragon’s screams, which sometimes echoed through the skies like thunder. And once, the form of the dragon itself, black and tiny as a faraway bird, was seen swimming through the clouds. To the east, two dozen galleys bobbed in the tumultuous sea, their black sails flapping recklessly.

Alone in the mud, a baby monkey squatted, drinking water out of a puddle. It was cupping its hands and scooping some of the brown slosh up to its lips when an arrow sailed past it and bounced off a tree. The wide-eyed monkey squealed and scampered away into the bushes.

Of course it missed. I have no luck. Stepping forward, Rhaena pulled the arrow out of the mud, wiped it off, and chased after the monkey she knew she could not let get away. Rhaena hadn’t eaten in two days and she wasn’t about to go hungry again. The pain in her stomach was growing, and soon it would consume her. Rushing through the nettles and brambles, she glanced a blur of brown moving through the trees to her right. The baby’s lost. I can’t let it find its mother. So long as it was alone, Rhaena knew she had a chance.

The bow she’d gotten from Jae, who had gotten it from Ser William Selmy. Both of them were gone now. Jae’s probably dead. She remembered back to the first shot she’d taken, her brother guiding her aim, and how she had let loose that arrow into the bird. The rush it had given Rhaena to hit that bird was unlike anything she had ever felt. If only I had been born with a cock between my legs, maybe someone would have taught me how to use one of these things. Perhaps father… or Ser Edric.

The thought of her sworn shield brought back memories of blackened flesh, melted eyes, a face contorted in an eternal scream. When Jae had left her, Rhaena had returned to camp, hoping that Ser Edric had survived the dragon’s flames, but instead she had found him black as pitch and stiff as driftwood. She’d taken his knife and found her bow, though that was her only protection. Rhaena had been sure Jaehaerys had been on the dragon’s back; for the first day, she had prayed he would return for her. Spending her time waiting, Rhaena walked from the pirate’s burning camp back to the dragon’s lair several times, hoping to find her brother and the wild dragon he rode. Alas, they never appeared. Why didn’t he come for me? Did Jae forget about me?

Painted cats had appeared on the second day, to feast upon the corpses. Rhaena couldn’t stay around there any longer - it was too dangerous. So she decided to look for Jaehaerys herself. The dragon’s presence could be felt all around Sothoryos. The air is filled with dread. Everyone is hiding, staying quiet, trying to avoid it. And there were the fires, springing up like bloody wounds, leaving smoke and destruction in their wake. For the past two days, Rhaena had been following those plumes of smoke, hoping that they would lead her to her brother. She’s reached three of them so far, and each was just an ashy expanse, charred bones and the smell of death greeting her. She didn’t know what Jaehaerys was doing. Is he playing Aegon the Conqueror? Or is he just trying to get revenge on the pirates for what they did to us? If it was the latter, she did not know why he hadn’t come back for her first.

The thorns and branches cut at her arms, poking and scraping her pale flesh, drawing blood. The pain of that was nothing compared to the gnawing feeling of emptiness inside her. The rain had made the forest slippery, and Rhaena tripped over roots or slicked leaves more than once. Every time, she got up and continued running as fast as she could, hoping to catch another glimpse of the baby monkey. Yet there was no sign of it.

It was an eternity in that green hell before Rhaena came to a clearing - a lumpy hill overlooking the coast. On it, old bony trees grew like weeds. The tree at the very top of the hill had a few leaves still, and as Rhaena approached it, she spied a golden fruit lying in the grass below it.

Her heart suddenly racing, Rhaena grabbed the fruit and took a bite. Overripe though it was and full of worms, the taste of food, of something real and sweet and mushy made tears stream down her face. She raised her head to the heavens, silently thanking the gods, and laughed.

And when the princess laughed, a high-pitched clicking sound answered in reply. There before Rhaena was the baby monkey, sitting comfortably in a dead tree, catching falling raindrops in its open mouth. Its eyes were shining and curious and it was singing softly.

“Here!” she offered the cute little thing, gently, raising the half-eaten ruin of a fruit. “Come here. Take some.”

The monkey cocked its head and ripped a few small branches off the tree in play. Patiently, Rhaena held the fruit, her tone soft as a mother to her newborn babe. The smell of the fruit was sweet, like a pear dipped in honey. Its fragrance emanated from Rhaena’s hand, and the girl knew that the monkey could smell it. He was hungry; he was curious; he was young.

A few more encouraging words brought the baby monkey down from the tree. It approached Rhaena in a cautious crawl, taking its sweet time. Finally, its hand reached out for the fruit, touching her skin. The girl recoiled, bringing the fruit to her chest. The monkey howled in annoyance and dashed up to the girl. She grasped him in her hands, holding him as she had once held her brother. He squirmed and twisted until Rhaena brought a slice of fruit to his mouth. Satiated, the monkey wrapped his tiny hands around her fingers. He’s beautiful, so young, so innocent. Rhaena caressed the monkey’s forehead, pulling a knot out of the fur just above his ear. He looked up at her with those big eyes of his, and she nearly wept again.

In a swift motion, the Targaryen princess lifted the monkey up, bringing him to her face, and tore at his belly with her teeth. Though he screamed and though he howled and though he squirmed and kicked and clawed, the monkey’s entrails spilled out of his open wound and Rhaena did not let go. Her belly screamed for food; her throat burned with desire. She felt the beast’s blood and guts on her tongue and thought he tasted better than the rotten fruit had. The golden mass of wormy sweetness dropped from her grasp, and Rhaena dug her mouth deeper into the open belly, tasting the meat inside. The baby didn’t scream much longer.

When her belly was full, Rhaena wiped the blood from her mouth and stared down at the shore ahead. There were so many pirate ships out there, most of them caught in the storm. Others yet were on the beach, some approaching in smaller boats, some congregated in groups in the sands.

By midday, the rains let up, and the sun returned. All the smoke’s gone. I’ve lost the trail. The princess’ stomach rumbled and she hoped to find more fruit, but all the trees this side of the jungle seemed to be dead or dying. If I had squired for Ser Edric, maybe I would be able to use a bow. But no, such things were reserved for boys and men. She closed her eyes, trying to blink away the tears and once again, the blackened face of her sworn shield, half-melted like a day-worn candle, came to her, and Rhaena could not stand to look at it.

Father took us to Lys to keep us safe. Had he known it would end up like this, he would have never sent us across the sea. There was a lot her father, Prince Aegon the Windrider, had prepared them for. He had assigned each of his children a distinguished knight as their sworn shields. He had given their lady mother a host of soldiers, a Braavosi ship captain who could be trusted. But fate led us here to Sothoryos, and nothing could have prepared us for this place. Everyone was dead… everyone except for Rhaena and maybe Jae. She felt so lonely out there, so tired and hopeless. Being a lady of the court in King’s Landing had not prepared Rhaena Targaryen for this humid jungle. It almost made her laugh how out-of-place she was. It’s absurd. I should be knitting in Maegor’s Holdfast, or being fitted for a new dress, or gossiping about the Queen’s new necklace…

She sighed, spitting out a piece of bone that had caught between her teeth. Sometimes I get so tired, I don’t want to go on. But she couldn’t stop now. Jae needs me. He needs his sister. I’m the only one in the world who knows he’s alive… and he’s the only one that knows I’m alive. Then a memory came to her, golden and fuzzy, of her brother as a newborn babe, laid gently in her arms by her father. Her father hadn’t grown fat yet, she recalled. He smelled of pine and horses back then. And her mother… pale and slender, a weary, yet vigilant lioness, her eyes trained on Rhaena. “Don’t drop him”, they had pleaded. She had not. Rhaena remembered how warm her brother had been, how much warmer than her. She had run her fingers through his hair and he’d giggled. The sense of warmth that spread through her fluttering heart at that moment, even at such a young age, was something she had never forgotten. “Watch over him, and don’t let him get into any trouble,” her father had told her a few years later, as she and Jae had been at play in the godswood, picking dragon’s breath and singing. I will not abandon him, even if he abandoned me.

When this was all over, maybe they could return to King’s Landing and start anew. Rhaena wanted to feel like a girl again, free and happy, but she knew those were mere fancies. I may be a princess, but I’m a woman grown. I cannot let my desires rule me. But I’d give anything for a cold glass of sweetened lemon water just about now…

As the day grew older, Rhaena began to pray for more rain. The sun returned, the sky was a barren field, empty and azure, and the heat only seemed to grow in the humidity. In all of the weeks she had spent on this miserable place, Rhaena had never gotten used to the cursed heat. Her rags had been soaked with sweat by the time she continued down the shore, keeping herself close enough to the treeline so that no one would see her. There were pirates on the beach, exchanging supplies and wealth. They wouldn’t be looking for her, but maybe they would have guards posted for defense. Xhorre and Mudtown, wasn’t it? I wonder if one has destroyed the other yet. Certainly, from the way fresh food and slaves were being unloaded from the boats, it didn’t look like the pirates were concerned about the war at all.

A branch cracked and Rhaena felt her heart leap into her throat. Jumping soundlessly behind a knotted oak, she sunk low to the ground. Footsteps could be heard, and with them, voices. When the first pirate came into view, Rhaena thought she recognized him. He was bearded, pock-faced, covered in sweat. His clothes were as dirty as hers. The procession that followed was a miserable lot: the pirates looked underfed, dirty, tired; the slaves they were driving were even skinnier (Rhaena could see their bones poking out from underneath their skin), dirtier, and looked full of despair. Every one of them had a look in their eyes that Rhaena recognized. I had that same look when I was taken to Mudtown… when that pirate with the keys took me into his hut and told me that my cunny tasted like honey… when I heard that Daeron…

Rhaena let them pass. She had a bow and a knife but was too tired and hungry to have the strength to fight. Even if she was feeling better, she knew she lacked the skill to actually take on a group of pirates. I am not like Jae. As clumsy as her brother’s fighting form had appeared to her eyes (at least in comparison to the other swordsmen in their host), she had noticed the power and grace in his movements, the subtlety of form that she lacked. I’ll not get myself killed before I find him. I can do nothing for these slaves.

A little further onwards, through the mud and weeds and thorns, Rhaena found two men pleasuring one another. The odor of black tar rum was thick in the air, and each man had pulled down his pants. Rhaena watched as one got down on his knees and began to use his mouth on the other, whose cock was already standing at attention like a throwing lance. She felt something watching them, something tingle deep in her stomach. Perched on a rock next to the drunk men, Rhaena saw a bag with some bread poking out of the top of it. They aren’t looking. If I grab their bag and run off…

The princess nearly screamed when she saw a fat hairy spider, the size of a kitten, crawling slowly across her lap. Sucking in her breath, Rhaena tried not to panic. Ahead, the men were groaning loudly, not even trying to hide themselves. Reckless, she thought. Their noise could bring a painted cat over here… or worse. The spider’s legs poked at her like grass; she could see the straight brown fur on its legs, its black pincers opening and closing slightly, and it was all Rhaena could do not to scream. At once, she wanted to run, wanted to stay, wanted to take those pirates’ bread. Her stomach was aching again.

The standing pirate let out a sigh akin to a Baratheon pretender after losing the Battle of Winterfell. “Fuckin’ dragon’s back,” he was complaining when Rhaena looked up again. “Seen him last night, I did.”

The other wiped his mouth. “I say we bring him down. Lure him to the beach and stick him full of arrows like a porcupine, ahah!”

“You do that, he’ll cook us all up, nice ‘n toasty.”

“How else we gonna get him?”

“That’s the thing, eh? There’s someone riding that dragon. I seen him, I did. We gotta kill that one first.”

“Bloody hell. That’s a difficult shot!”

“We’re not going after them while they’re in the air, fool,” said the standing man. His hair was long, black, matted. His beard was as thick as Rhaena’s father’s had been before he had died.

“Then what’re we doin’?!”

“Track ‘em. Find where that dragon’s taking its nap, eh? Then we slit the rider’s throat and spear the bugger to death, if we can.”

“Aye, now that’s a plan.”

“Get the others. We’ll need two dozen at least… more would be better.”

“Where’s the dragon gettin’ his beauty rest? Is it nearby, eh?”

The pirate shrugged. “Someone musta seen where he landed. I heard him last night, I did. I’ll see if anyone knows. You coming?”

“Aye, a moment,” the other breathed. He was hunched over, not facing Rhaena’s way. “Get going, I’ll be along.”

The black-haired pirate grumbled and walked off. Rhaena looked down and saw that the spider was gone. She let out a sigh of relief, bouncing up onto her feet, and crouch-walked forward into the clearing where the last pirate stood. The bag of bread was still there. Rhaena’s stomach was screaming at her for nourishment. I won’t even care if it’s a little moldy, she told herself.

The next step Rhaena took cracked a fallen branch, causing the pirate to spin around. His pants were down, his cock in his hand. There was a look of surprise upon his flushed face, and when he got a good look at her, thick strings of some kind of white liquid came leaking out of his pisshole. He let out a moan, his lip trembling, and Rhaena was incredibly confused. She didn’t know what was going on. Is he spilling his seed? Flashes of memory exploded in her mind, from Jae’s room on the Firewind to that quiet waterfall, how filling it was to have her brother inside her mouth, how much she enjoyed the taste of him, and of course that indescribable feeling of his mouth against her slit…

The adrenaline was running hot and fast through her veins. Fire and blood, she told herself. Jumping forward, Rhaena threw herself at the man. In her hand was a dagger. Though the man struggled against her, he was at such a disadvantage that a starving princess of six-and-ten was able to easily overpower him. She opened a red smile in his throat from ear to ear, and he bled out before long. As Rhaena watched the man die, seeing the blood bubble up from his trembling lips, she wondered if he sucked cock as well as she did.

The bread was fresh, and Rhaena ate the whole loaf. Wiping the man’s blood and seed from her fingers, she tore into it. But Rhaena knew she couldn’t stay long. The corpse will attract many creatures. I have to go soon. Glancing back at the body, she wondered why he had been pleasuring himself alone, why that other pirate hadn’t returned the favor with his own mouth. Jae always did so for me. She knelt down next to his cock, which was beginning to shrink again into the coarse black forest below the dead man’s navel. Holding it in her hand, she wondered how old the man was. He’s thicker than Jae, but not so long.

Standing, she swallowed and shook her head. She wanted Jae, so badly. Her body was tingling in anticipation. She wanted him inside her, wanted to feel the warmth of his seed running down her throat again. The pirate said he saw the dragon around here last night. All I need to do is find where Jae and the beast landed before the pirates do.

Rhaena thought of her mother, her father, of little Daeron and safe, big King’s Landing. At various times on her journey around this miserable continent, Rhaena had wanted to give up, had felt like curling up and dying, the weight of her pain had been so fierce. Now, she felt nothing of the sort. Her mind was empty, her body free. There was a fire burning in her, growing with every passing second. Her sex was dripping and tingling; her stomach was full. I only want to find him, to be with him. She’d find her brother, she swore, and she’d take him back home one way or another. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be, Rhaena knew. This will not be our end.

They were fighting - and losing to - a pack of tattooed lizards when Rhaena found them. The pirates screamed like women and children when the beasts tore at their flesh, spraying blood on the green leaves around them, revealing muscles and organs and bone. Rhaena came to the edge of the pirate camp, where the forest met the beach, and realized that these pirates were not with that other group she had seen working on the beach. They didn’t seem to be from Mudtown either, and she knew little and less of Xhorre to make a guess about them being from there.

These pirates had no slaves with them, kept a loose guard, and seemed to just be posted up on the beach with no other purpose. Sneaking into to the village, Rhaena looked for food and water, and finding a little, she searched about for where Jaehaerys could be. Her brother, if he lived, would be somewhere high or somewhere deep with his new dragon. The pirates will not know. I have time. They are too busy with their own folly anyways, she thought, glancing down the sloping hill, where the village met the water. There, more than thirty men were fighting the edacious lizards, and many of the pirates were taking wounds. They will be preoccupied for a while.

No high places could Rhaena see. Dense jungle expanded out on three sides, and the beach took up the fourth. They would be in the forest somewhere, deep in the jungle, in a cave perhaps, or on a moss-covered hill. Rhaena would have to go looking for them. I haven’t gone so deep in the jungle before, she thought, feeling sudden panic. There are monsters in there… creatures that can eat me. I won’t be able to defend myself.

But Rhaena knew that she could either find her brother or die. There is no middle ground. If I don’t find him, I’m as good as dead anyways.

Into the forest she went, the dagger drawn, her bow on her back. It was heavy going through the green congestion for some time, until she came upon a game path littered in broken dried leaves. She thought of the last autumn she’d spent in King’s landing, how all of the beauty in the world had gone away, shriveled up, died upon the ground. The trees had become like skeletons and everyone had inhaled that gloom like it was mother’s milk. There had been a certain allure in the way the leaves had turned gold and crimson and silver. But once that beauty was gone, and the trees were laid bare…

There was a root in the road, springing up from the ground like an arch, twisted and brown, its thick outer shell falling off. Stepping over it, Rhaena caught the smell of burning fur. Some animal was screaming. Like Ser Edric. The image of her slain sworn shield came to Rhaena Targaryen again, and she tasted bile in the back of her throat. When we get home, I’ll make sure they lay a statue for Ser Edric and the others. No sacrifices will be forgotten. He had given his life for her; she would not squander her own. I’m alive because of him and the others. I won’t disappoint them. I won’t let their sacrifices be in vain.

A roar punctuated the forest, deep and thick. It was not so far away. A big animal made that sound, the girl knew. A dragon, mayhaps, or a wyvern. She shivered.

Soon she came to a clearing, where many trees had been felled. The trail ended abruptly before a fallen red-bark tree; to the left, a vast expanse of shattered trees lay in the mud and grass, and beyond them, a rocky hill curled around the deeper forest. Rhaena’s breath caught in her throat. This is just like the last place.

There was a fat hog with a leech hanging from below its eye running about without purpose or direction. Its rump was aflame, and the burning smell of its pink flesh made Rhaena’s mouth water. When the beast saw her, it squealed and scrambled off into the brush to the right. It could set the whole forest on fire, that one.

Stepping off the trail and onto the path of fallen trees, Rhaena could taste ash. Is this it? Her heart beat with trepidation. Her palms had slicked over with sweat. Beneath her, the blackened bones of dozens of hogs and monkeys cracked. At the entrance of the cave, the burnt skulls of five men sat, a grisly warning for all those who dared continue on. They can’t be eating people… Jae wouldn’t! I know he wouldn’t debase himself so.

Weakness bore down on her chest, and soon Rhaena found it hard to breathe. “Jae? Jae?! Jae?!?!” she whispered into the cave, her voice echoing a few times before being lost. No response came. The Targaryen girl ducked into the hole and wandered blindly past the rocks and bones. Daring to raise her voice a bit more, Rhaena said, “Jae?! Jae, are you there?! It’s me…”

There was a warmness creeping up Rhaena’s cheeks, a sharp heat that had not been outside the cave. It was a thicker heat, a more precise heat, she knew, feral and unrestrained. She’d felt this kind of heat once before. Dragons.

A single golden eye blossomed in the darkness, unquenchable and hungry. The dragon slowly uncoiled itself, the sliding of its metal plates sounding like bugsong. When it sighed, a puff of smoke exited its mouth, and Rhaena saw, for the briefest of moments, the small, frail figure of her brother nestled against the dragon’s wing, fast asleep. Bald he was, and thin and pale and dirty. He didn’t look very princely, but that was her brother, she knew, and he was very much alive.

He did it, she thought. He tamed a dragon. He always wanted one. Even more than me or Daeron. Jae always wanted to fly. She thought back to when her brother had been four years old and had jumped off a table in the great feasting hall of the Red Keep, attempting to fly like a dragon. “I’m mad!” Jae had said afterwards, standing up after his fall and rubbing his forehead. He hadn’t cried or screamed, but a cut in his forehead, just above his right eye, had formed and made his face as red as one of those silly stage performers in the streets of King’s Landing that she had seen once.

Father beat me for that. I should have been there to protect Jae, he said. I should have stopped my brother. I was older. It was my responsibility… But I was a girl of six years. What was I supposed to do? The thought of that still made her raw.

“J-jae…” she tried to say. “Please…”

The dragon screeched, opening its mouth in a wide cackle. Its teeth were a foot long apiece, midnight black. The mouth fell around Rhaena like a cage; then came the heat - as terrible as being thrown into a brazier.

“N-no… stop!” she pleaded. “Jae, tell it to stop! Jae it’s me, Rhaena! Wake up, Jae! I’m a dragon too, Jae, please!!”

The dragon’s flames illuminated the cave. Rhaena noticed queer runes carved in the stone on all sides of her, silver and squiggly. The polished black walls seemed to drink in the light. Jaehaerys Targaryen stirred. For a moment, his indigo eyes were confused and glazed-over. He was dreaming again, she thought. She could see it in his eyes. Did he see me dying in those dreams of his? Does he even know what’s happening?

Those two green-and-gold-flecked purple flames saw her, and he knew. In that moment, Rhaena’s body began to tingle. She no longer felt the heat or the fear, just the endless fluttering of her weary heart.



  • The Lost Dragon is the longest story on this site and is the longest page on the wiki overall. This page is more than three times as long as the second-longest page on this wiki.
  • The dragon featured in this story was likely one of the few dragons noted to have survived the Dance of the Dragons in The World of Ice and Fire, or one of their offspring.

The Lost Dragon
Main characters Jaehaerys TargaryenRhaena TargaryenDaeron TargaryenJyanna LannisterJaremy HillEdric ThorneWilliam SelmyMerrik RykkerOswyckCossenelloCaptain MalliganRooneyBolloUnnamed MaesterGrazdan Zo YherizanFisherfolk Elder The Emerald LordShannyNeryalaxNysarroThe BonemanNaqqoSi JinSweetgumsLyncUnnamed Pirate PrisonerUggrak BoneslayerUnnamed Female Pirate
Mentioned characters Aegon Targaryen (son of Baelon Targaryen)Rhaenyra TargaryenKing Aegon II TargaryenKing Aegon III TargaryenTyland LannisterJason LannisterJaenara BelaerysJoffrey VelaryonEllyn HightowerOrmund HightowerGrand Maester OrwyleAegon I TargaryenJaehaerys' servantRabboKing HarrenEdmyn TullyBalerionDaenys the DreamerJaehaerys IEsgredVhagarSunfyre
Other pages
Ships FirewindMaiden's SlitLady Jyanna
Regions Y'ha Teiho (YeenZamettarXhorreMudtown)
Races PiratesSlavesFisherfolkBrindled Men