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He woke to the creak of a chamber door.
His head was cloudy with sleep; eyes squeezed shut, his dream still on the fringes of his mind. The padding sound of little feet came up beside his bed, and Oswell tried to make himself appear dead to the world. How many hours did he sleep since he finished his duty? His body was weak with exhaustion.
"Wake up!" a childish voice urged from beside him. The sound only made him bury his face deeper into his pillow, the remnants of his dream fading fast. "It's morning!"
Oswell gave a groan of annoyance and pulled the blanket over his head, hoping that would be enough of a message to the child. There was a silence, but he could still feel the child's presence. By the Gods, can't a man sleep? He was supposed to be abed for another three hours yet. And standing around in heavy armour isn't exactly easy on the shoulders…
"We're having Lamprey Pies," the girl said, trying to urge him awake.
He opened one bloodshot eye and peaked out at the Princess. Daenerys was standing there in her lavender dress, staring at him expectantly and Oswell felt his resolve weaken. Damn those big eyes… "Alright Princess," he groaned miserably. "I'll be up in just a moment."
Oswell looked up at his chamber's ceiling, staring at it with half-closed eyes, unable to make any of his muscles move much. Waking up, he decided, is a lot like crawling out of a bog of mud in full plate armour.
"You'll fall asleep again Ser," the child complained.
He sucked in a breath through his nose and exhaled it through his mouth before throwing the covers from his bed and putting his feet on the floor, face in his hands, rubbing the sleep away. He turned to look at the princess who was still standing near the foot of his bed, staring at him. "How did you get here? Why aren't you with your mother?"
The little princess gave him a frown. "Mother was being boring," she said, as if that answered everything. "So I came to see if you wanted to come down to breakfast."
Not for the first time, Oswell found himself wondering why he had ever chosen to get involved with the royal family in the first place. Oh that's right, he remembered bitterly. I thought being glorified across the realm would be a good laugh. If this was glory, why did it taste like tedium? He did not feel particularly glorious, being led around by a five year old. He felt irritated and tired.
And sore. Every muscle in his body ached, and his neck gave an awfully loud crack as he turned his head one way and then the other. He had been pushing himself hard in the precious moments he had when not on duty, spending his time sparring and training and urging himself on until his whole body hardened with aches. Just thinking of it made him wince, but he kept at it, every day. 'A Knight of the Kingsguard is a sword and like all swords he needs to be honed,' Ser Gerold had once told him, and it was a lesson he had not forgotten.
Oswell slowly stood up and rolled his shoulders to get the stiffness out, and then grabbed a tunic from the pile that sat beside his bed and slipped it on. He was still wearing the breeches of last night, but could not find the energy to find better attire when his current wears would serve. He washed his face in a nearby basin, allowing the cold water to remove the last inches of sleep from his mind.
He turned to Daenerys. The little princess was busy admiring his helm, tracing around the bat wings with her finger. It occurred to him that Rhaegar had a similar look whenever he was examining a book he had not read. Though this child's eyes are softer than Rhaegar's, he noticed. And they lack the deep sorrow. As long as Oswell had known the king he had been unusually sombre, a trait that his siblings did not share. "Princess," he asked, "Are we ready to go?
Her hand quickly drew away from his helm at the sound of his voice. "Yes, I think mother will be missing me." She watched him as he grabbed his sword from its place against his bed. "Do you need to take that with you everywhere, Ser?"
"Oh yes," he replied without much enthusiasm as they left the chamber. "I am practically married to it."
The little Princess looked up at him as though he had grown a second head. "But why would the Septons marry you to a sword?"
"A jape princess," he said with a faint smile as his eyes flicked about the corridor for threats, an old habit that he could not shake even when not on duty.
With Dragonstone so crowded, Oswell could not hope that he and the princess would be disturbed by any jabbering fools. On their way to the Great Hall they found Lord Paxter Redwyne and Mace Tyrell quietly discussing some matter. As soon as they caught sight of the princess they stopped and exchanged pleasantries with her. It was strange to see the Fat Flower so far from the capitol and stranger still to see him actually excited about it. He and Redwyne both gave a bow. "How are you today my princess?" Tyrell asked with a pleasant grin.
Daenerys gave a perfect curtsey. "I am well, thank you my lords."
The two lords chatted away with the child, walking by her side as they made their way towards the Great Hall. All the while Oswell stayed just a few steps behind, watching all and hearing nothing. That's right my lords, continue to simper and bow to a five year old. Winning favour with a child will do you no good.
The doors of the Great Hall loomed up in front of them, fashioned in such a way that one literally had to enter through the dragon's mouth. The hall itself was warm like dragonfire, the sky outside was unusually clear and the sun shone through the windows, illuminating all the guests who had gathered for breakfast.
And what a gathering it is. Lady Rhaella had gathered together all the lords on the Narrow Sea sworn to Dragonstone, Lords Hayford, Massey and Farring of the Crownlands, a handful of Reach lords that had accompanied Tyrell and Redwyne, and even some Northmen. And all for Prince Viserys' name day, he didn't believe it for a moment. None of these men give a fig about some boy's celebration, or least not enough to travel all the way to Dragonstone.
If Prince Viserys was concerned about so many strange people attending his name day, then he gave no indication. The young prince smiled at everyone and everything, looking like a thinner version of his older brother. To his right sat his mother, who was murmuring something to lord Bar Emmon, and to his left sat his nephew prince Jon, who was sitting in solemn silence as everyone else around him chattered about. Ser Barristan stood guard, giving Oswell the slightest of nods as he walked in with the princess and the two lords.
"Daenerys!" called the Queen dowager. "Where have you been child?"
The little girl was shooed over to a seat on the dais beside her nephew whilst Mace Tyrell went to exchange courtesies with Lady Rhaella. Oswell, feeling oddly rejected, walked over to Ser Barristan and took up a place beside him, eyes facing the royal family and scanning for any sign of danger. They didn't talk, Kingsguard never spoke to one another whilst protecting their charge, but there was a silent welcome from the older knight and Oswell felt himself relax just a little bit.
The guests broke their fast on honeycakes baked with blackberries and nuts, gammon steaks, bacon, autumn pears, and a Dornish dish of eggs cooked up with fiery peppers. There were flagons of milk and flagons of mead and flagons of light sweet golden wine to wash it down. Musicians walked about piping and fluting and fiddling, much to the delight of the younger guests in attendance. Oswell watched them all carefully, trying to see any hint of danger among them. The thought brought the vaguest hint of a smile to his lips. Even battered and bruised I could still carve any foe in two before they got near the children.
When the food had been cleared away it had been time for gifts. Usually such things were done with more grandiosity, but the Queen clearly had something else planned for her second born. The lords Celitgar and Velaryon both presented the prince with swords of dazzling make and beauty, whereas Bar Emmon brought forth several books dating back from the time of the Old King. "These were given to my family by King Jaehaerys, your noble ancestor. It is my privilege to return them to you my prince."
"Books are just as valuable as swords," the prince announced dutifully, his eyes occasionally flicking over to the Queen Dowager for reassurance.
Mace Tyrell waited until last to present Viserys with his name day gift: a dazzling suit of armour as black as polished onyx, the mail was a dark crimson, finely wrought, upon the chestplate the three-head dragon of House Targaryen stood out, encrusted with rubies much like the one Rhaegar wore at the Trident. The helm was no less dazzling; with its curved dragon wings that looked half like horns and a visor that was carved and designed in such a way that it resembled a snarling beast where the wearer's mouth was. The prince looked like he was about to burst with excitement.
Dragons, thought Oswell with a stifled laugh. Even Rhaegar in his wisdom was not immune to the call their image had on his family. He watched them continue to babble on like trained ravens for some time, wondering if Ser Barristan was feeling as bored as he was.
Eventually Prince Viserys rose, looking the picture of Targaryen gallantry and with a smile that would send many a maiden swooning. He thanked all the lords that had come to celebrate his name day, promising them that he would not forget such kind gestures. Rhaella's words coming from his mouth, Oswell noted. She has the boy trained well.
The Queen Dowager rose as well, smiling benevolently at her son. "The King has given you a gift as well my son," she announced happily. "It is sitting in port just outside this very castle, Vermax's Flame, all for you."
There was a collective cheer and barrage of compliments thrown in Viserys direction, and Oswell could practically feel the lords trying to suck at the Prince's favour. He kept his disdain covered underneath a blank stare.
"Let us see this grand vessel!" called one lord.
"Aye, it must surely be a thing of beauty!" called another.
Viserys turned to his mother pleadingly, looking more a child than a young man of three and ten. The Queen smiled at him and gave her consent. With a broad grin he scooped up his squealing sister and with a cheer led the procession out of the hall towards the docks. A silent signal had been given, and the two members of the Kingsguard moved from their places to follow them, yet a soft hand on Oswell's arm stayed him. He turned to see the Queen Dowager staring at him with a benign smile.
"Would you be so kind to wait a moment Ser Oswell?" she asked, purple eyes shining. "I'm sure Ser Barristan can keep my son from too much trouble, for five minutes at least."
Oswell bowed. "As you wish, Your Grace."
"You are not at rest," she observed.
Though I ought to be, he reflected with more than a little bitterness. "The princess had other notions," he confessed. "For some reason she felt my presence necessary."
"And you let yourself be cowed by a child?" She gave a knowing smile and leant back against the table of the dais. "If she can charm great knights at the age of five, she'll have the entire kingdom wrapped about her little finger at five and ten."
And you will have the girl wrapped around your finger, won't you my lady? The Queen had been a dutiful woman during the reign of King Aerys, but Oswell was no fool to think that she had no mind for politics. "A gift she shares with all of her royal siblings; Prince Viserys composed himself quite well in front of such noble guests."
Rhaella rolled her eyes. "Viserys has had enough time to learn the ways of court, but he still…" the Queen Dowager trailed off, and her face fell into a slight frown as she looked down. Oswell's eyes followed her and saw the young prince Jon clutching to her skirts.
"Grandmother," he said in his tiny, solemn voice. "They all left without me."
Ser Oswell always found himself staring at King Rhaegar's second son. It is for you that Seven Kingdoms bled, he wanted to say, but that was not fair and he knew it. Rhaegar had whisked away the Stark girl and married her in secret under the notion that she would birth him another princess for his damned prophecy, and Oswell had helped him do it. All the while war and devastation broke out in their absence, staying at some cursed tower in Dorne. And for what? Lyanna Stark died and Rhaegar did not get the daughter his dreams told him of. Jon Targaryen was a living reminder of Rhaegar's folly and for that the king would not have him in the capitol.
Rhaella however, loved the child fiercely. "Never mind the others sweetling," she cooed. "Why don't you go read one of Viserys new books, I'm sure he wouldn't mind."
With a gentle nudge, the boy gave one last look at the two adults and went over to the table, sitting down on the steps of the dais and opened one of the books. Despite the overwhelming colouring of his mother's house, Oswell noted that the prince had some of Rhaegar in him. It's the eyes, he realised. The boy has his father's sad eyes…
"The prince does not seem to struggle with his letters," The Kingsguard noted.
Rhaella had the smallest of smiles on her face as she watched her youngest grandchild. "He takes after Rhaegar in that," her eyes moved up to meet his, her maternal pride swallowed under a mask of cold courtesy. "But then, you know my son well do you not?"
"Yes," he gave an artless shrug. "The King and I are friends, that is no secret."
"Rhaegar is loved by many, but he has few friends." The Queen's eyes were sharp, more so than they had ever been when her husband was alive. "So tell me Ser, why would he send one of the few people he can trust away from court?"
If only you knew the half of it. He looked at the Queen evenly. "I was not sent, Your Grace, I asked to come."
The Queen threw back her head and chuckled at that, it was an oddly musical sound. "And why in the world would you willingly choose to exile yourself here to my humble isle? Surely there is greater honour to be found in King's Landing, and Ser Barristan manages just fine protecting us from non-existent assassins."
He took his time answering her, and instead looked over at Jon. Oswell had been there the day that Lyanna birthed him, killing herself in the act. Ser Arthur tended to the child, and Ser Gerold frightened the midwives into silence, but it was Oswell who heard the lady's last words as she bled out. 'His name is Jon,' she whispered in a strangled voice. 'Promise me he'll be kept safe, promise me…" As of late he had thought on those words often.
After a time he blew out a sigh. "The King commanded me to watch over his youngest child once," he turned back to the queen. "He may not have known that it would be another son, but he commanded me to protect him. Duty compels me to uphold my oath, even if the King has forgotten."
"You served my son over his father," she pointed out. "Even though Aerys was your lawful king you chose to conspire with Rhaegar rather than stay loyal."
And I kept silent when Aerys choked to death, he added silently. They all knew it was Elia Martell and her Dornish handmaidens who poisoned the king once they knew Rhaegar's victory over the rebels was certain. Each and every man in the Kingsguard knew, and yet they never spoke the words aloud, as if by not saying the truth could make it go away. "That was for the good of the realm," he said quietly. "I am not here to spy on you, my Queen."
There was a moment of utter silence as Rhaella regarded him with her piercing purple eyes. There was more life and fire in them now than he had ever seen during the time she served as Queen rather than simply the Queen Dowager, a dragon awakened after so long dormant. Finally the smallest of grins appeared across her face and she leant forward slightly, voice lowered to a whisper. "How would you like to serve the realm yet again?"
Before he could answer, she turned and went over to collect Jon. "Come sweetling, let us go see Viserys new ship."