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A Veil of Prophecy

Chapter 6

An hour later…

"Well?" Maekar asked. "Is he going to survive?"

The old maester blinked nervously. Aemon looked aside, refusing to answer.

"Your Grace," the white-haired man said, "the wound is serious, yes, but not necessarily deadly. We need to remove the spike from the wound before accessing the damage."

Maekar nodded. "I see," he said evenly. "Well, what are we waiting for? For infection to start, maybe?"

His voice was so even that Ser Galend did not even want to imagine what he surely sounded – and looked! – like to the tens of people crowded in the tent. Here is the monstrous father who doesn't care whether his son lives or die, as if the Prince is a dog trampled on by his horse… He never learned, the knight thought. He never learned to be anything but perfectly self-controlled when it mattered most – and give the impression that he doesn't give a damn! It was a good thing that a King's life and rule did not depend on people's opinion on their character, otherwise Maekar wouldn't have lasted a day.

"I'll do the removal," Aemon said. "Maester Caral and I agreed on that. He has much more experience but…" He hesitated.

"Experience isn't all there is to it," the old man said. "Hands are needed, too. Young and steady hands."

Are they going to be sure, Ser Galend wondered. Once, Maekar had told him the story about Rhae's stillbirth and how Aemon had refused to do it with his own hands because he wasn't sure his hands would be steady enough on his sister. There was no reason to think that he'd be more self-assured when it came to his brother.

Unless, of course, there was no other choice. Not exactly encouraging.

Aemon took a deep breath and looked at Maekar. "I have done such procedures on the battlefield before but I'll need a model to practice on." He paused. "I need heads, Father," he said bluntly. "As many heads as possible."

"I see," Maekar said. "Well, we're not in the lack of those."

He looked at Ser Galend. "Go to where they bury the bodies and give orders. Bring ten heads to my son."

Ser Galend bowed and immediately left to obey the command. When he returned, it was only Maekar and Aemon in the tent. Aegon was still just like he had been at Ser Galend's leaving but then, he hadn't expected him to stir. Head blows were a very tricky thing but most of them did not suppose immediate movement.

"The heads will be ready in a few minutes, Your Grace," he said.

Maekar looked at Aemon. The young man stared at one of the poles of the bed. "I'd better go," he said but did not move for a while. When he did, it was slowly, reluctantly. At the entrance, he turned, looked at his brother, bowed to his father and disappeared like a ghost.

"He's scared." Maekar's voice was as even as before but Galend could pick up the slight undertone of worry. "I don't think I've ever seen him more scared than this."

The knight shrugged. "That is to be expected, I think. Still doesn't mean he won't do it right."

Maekar made a step toward him, looked at him in the eye. "Do you think he'll succeed?"

What should I tell him? What is it that he needs to hear? Of course, Galend knew the answer to that. But it didn't mean that was the right answer. He had never told Maekar anything but the truth. He had lied and cheated because of him but never to him, even when the truth had been very much not to the Prince's liking. That was the thing that had made Maekar keep him close all those years when they were all but children growing up together.

"I don't know, my prince." He always called him that when they were alone. They both preferred it this way. "He strikes me as very competent."

"He is."

"Then I'll keep faith in the best outcome."

Again, Maekar looked at the bed. "I wish I could," he said very softly. "But I keep thinking… I remembered, Galend. I remembered the blow that slew him."

Ser Galend immediately knew that Maekar did not mean Aegon. "It was just a mishap. You cannot possibly think…"

"I do. It was a mishap, truly. I… I was very angry with him but I would have rather died than hurt him intentionally. But I killed him and since then, it was as if someone cursed us. The Spring Sickness, the bad crops, Rhaegel's death, Aerys' death, that damned Baratheon…" He paused and looked at the other man. "You know what happened to Daella, don't you?"

Ser Galend sighed. "Everyone in the Seven Kingdoms knows about this. I still fail to see how it is your fault."

Of course, it was the fault of the young man lying on the bed. But neither of them said it.

Ser Galend went to the table and poured wine for both of them. Then he looked at Maekar. "You haven't eaten since yesterday. You need to eat something. And have a rest. It'll be hard days ahead of us."

"You're putting it mildly." Maekar sighed. "Go out and tell the crows who no doubt are straining their ears that he's still alive… and he'll stay this way, so they can all get lost. Then come back here."

Of course, Ser Galend thought. He was the only one Maekar would allow to stay near. He always had been. His lord had always preferred to lick his wounds in private which, of course, helped spreading further the supposition that he was too heartless to have any. In truth, Galend was a little relieved because maintaining the façade Maekar kept for the world came at a great prize. Galend was one of the very few who knew that when severely overwhelmed, sometimes Maekar was prone to episodes of lethargy and despair during which he lacked even the energy to rise from his bed. The Seven were merciful: it did not happen often, only six times in the ten years he had spent with the Prince when young. But when it happened, it was pretty horrifying. He could deal with it discreetly but he had to be present for that purpose.

He was about to say something but Maekar was no longer looking at him. His eyes stared unblinkingly at the bed where Aegon lay with no change in his state.

He'll survive, Ser Galend thought. He must.

Three days later…

The severed head gave them no answers – at least, no one but Aemon and the old maester could say what the answers meant. By what he could gather, Ser Galend had to conclude that it was going neither way – sometimes Aemon could open the skull with stunning precision, and other times he was worse than a drunken butcher. The tension constantly rose, along with the expectation of the infection that would surely – surely – manifest itself if they didn't hurry up. Aemon tried to speed things and that made his attempts worse.

The arrival of Princess Rhae and Queen Aelinor didn't do much for the overall confidence. Like Maekar, they keep their concern over control admirably but it was so palpable that Ser Galend couldn't stay in the tent a moment longer, for he couldn't breathe in this air of despair, hope, guilt and who knew what else. He needed to get outside.

Where he found a brawl.

He raised a hand to his brow to make sure that he wasn't seeing wrong. He wasn't. About fifteen yards of the royal tent there was a bear of a man who was arguing with the outer guards. The two Kingsguard at the entrance of the tent watched impassively but then, Ser Galend hadn't really expected them to get involved.

He crossed to the brawlers and asked sharply, "What's the problem?"

The troops looked up and recognized him. "My lord," one of them said, "this man wants to break into His Grace's tent."

"Not true," the man-bear grunted. "I only wanted to see how the Prince was. There are all kind of rumours among the ranks…"

Ser Galend looked upward and then some to see the worried face of the speaker. He was by no means a small man but compared to the young bear he must look quite… toylike. Did he, by chance, have giant blood? And then he knew.

"Come with me," he said and looked at the guards. "He is with me. He may enter."

With a stammered thanks, the bear followed him toward the tent. Ser Galend stopped once to look at him. "He's alive," he said. For now, he added mentally.

"How did you know?" the young man asked. "Did Egg… the Prince, I mean."

"Not the Prince. The King," Ser Galend replied. "Ah, here we are. I must warn you that they are all very anxious. Keep quiet, don't bother them and for the Warrior's sake, if they ask you a question, be as brief as possible."

Unfortunately, Rhae had no intention of keeping quiet. Oh she spoke softly but she did not mince words.

As soon as she noticed the newcomer, she stood up, her hands on her hips. "Look at what the cat has brought along," she said and glared. "What are you doing here?"

Dunk shifted his weight uneasily. "Well, I was in the battle and I heard he was unwell, and…"

"And you decided to find out whether he's dead or alive?" she interrupted. "Well, you can see that he's alive. Now, clear off."

"Rhae…" Aelinor said softly and the young woman's eyes flashed.

"Don't 'Rhae' me! Aegon expected something of him, expected it when he was well and our noble Ser Duncan the Tall didn't bother to show up. He was obviously among the ranks and he still didn't seek Aegon out. Am I supposed to welcome him now? No way!"

Dunk looked at the bed. Never had he seen Egg so pale and irresponsive. Of course, he was now very changed and all grown up… or at least he had been before the blow on the head. Sometimes, people didn't wake up after such a thing; sometimes they woke up fools.

"Rhae," Maekar said firmly, "stop it. Stop it now! It isn't the time to settle scores and honestly, it is no concern of yours. Aegon will have his say when he wakes up."

If he wakes up, everybody thought and no one admitted.

When Dunk woke up, he blinked a few times to clear his head and looked around to find out where he was. The furnishings reminded him of a royal castle, although they were far more austere. The darkness coming from the slit between two canvases at the side of the tent told him that it was the late afternoon. Then his eyes fell on the bed and he remembered.

Egg was still just like he had been before Dunk fell asleep. Rhae had fallen into exhausted slumber next to the bed, her head propped on it. Her lips were moving, as if she was murmuring or praying in her sleep.

On the other side, Maekar and Aelinor sat together on a bear hide in front of the fireplace. He had wrapped an arm about her shoulders and their heads were touching.

It was not their physical contact that stunned Dunk. He had heard plenty of the king kinslayer and the queen whore who had brought all the ills in the kingdom with their sins but he had never pricked up his ears for slanders. The fact that they had not wed, despite being able to do that, seemed to deny the claims that the two of them carried out an undisguised affair and still, he did not doubt that there was something to this rumour. When with Egg at Summerhall, he had heard the elderly talk about times long gone, that Maekar and Aelinor had been to get married once, that they had been exactly suited to each other. And well, with Targaryens the incest was almost a guarantee. If they were as upset as Ser Galend had implied, it was normal to seek comfort in each other. No, he was stunned by the intimacy they radiated, the feeling that they were two halves of a whole. They looked so naturally together that Dunk was almost inclined to forget the incest and wish that he could have something like that. Maybe Egg and Rhae will look like this one day when they grow old, he thought. They must grow old. He must recover.

Not noticing that he was now awake, they started talking and Dunk had no other choice but pretend that he was still sleeping. They should never know that he had heard them them – it was all too personal.

"You look awful," Aelinor said. "You haven't slept in days, haven't you?"

"I have nightmares when I sleep. I don't want to sleep."

She sighed. "Still the same dreams?"

"Still the same. Always the same." He paused. "I remembered, Aelinor."

"What?" she asked. "What do… oh!"

Silence. And then – her voice, heavy with aching tenderness. "Why does it still matter? It was so long ago. You didn't mean it. You didn't, and it's all in the past. Now that you remembered, you can put it to rest."

"I can't," he said sharply, angrily. "Look at my son. Look at him and tell me again that it's in the past. It's the reality. We have to deal with this now. He might die now. All because I am…"

A new pause. Then, he again. "I am sorry. It's not you, Aelinor. It's me. You see, that's what I saw all those years ago when Mother brought me to Eliar the Dornish – that wound, that tent… When I woke up then and they told me about Baelor, I thought that that was it… but it wasn't. All my life, I've been trying to forget that night and now it's right here."

"The night you left me?" she asked. He had never given her any explanation about his behavior. One moment, he'd been blindly seeking the comfort of her arms, the next he'd been making love to her as he had never done before, and in the morning he'd told her they must obey their father's orders.

He looked aside. "The night I left you," he confirmed. That was all – no further explanations, no excuses. For a moment, she remembered the horror she had sensed in him then and then it was over. She was beyond grievances about that, had been in years. It was all over. Now they were together and that was what she chose to focus on.

He looked at her, her expression as transparent to him as his was to her. "Is your leg troubling you?"

"It's nothing," she said.

"It is something," Maekar corrected. He could see that she was in serious pain. He drew back. "Come on. I'll take you to Aegon's tent and there I'll give you a massage. Do you carry your oils? No? Well, we'll have to do without."

"I thought you'd rather stay here."

He looked at Aegon at the bed and then Rhae and Ser Duncan, both seemingly asleep. "He's still as he was and if there is a change, they'll call us. There isn't anything I can do for him now but I think I might be able to do something for you."

Indeed, he was. That was an intimacy Aelinor allowed no one else, the touching of her deformity. The fact that massages brought her some relief was inessential compared to her pride. No one should see how badly her leg and hip had twisted with time.

She smiled slightly. "What an honour, to have a king acting as my maester. Yes, you'll be able to do something for me, indeed. The truth is, I've missed your ministrations."

He returned the smile. 'You would have me to be your slave forever, wouldn't you, my Queen? Warming your oils, rubbing away your aches…"

"Are you offering?"

His smile disappeared and his face turned sober. "Would it help?"

She held out a hand and he gripped it. They locked eyes silently, then Maekar stood up and bent over to lift her off the bear hide. She wrapped an arm around his neck and he carried her out of the tent, both looking at the bed as they went.

Only when he was sure they were already halfway through their massage did Dunk open his eyes.