Chapter 20: The Return
The bells had been ringing in the King's Landing since first light, calling the nobles in the city to the throne room. Lord Arlen Buckwell of Duskendale and Lord Qarlton Chelsted of Bramsfort had arrived late and were standing on their tiptoes to see over the assembled crowd.
"Does anyone know anything?" Arlen asked,
"Sir Arryn seems to think the king is dead," said Qarlton, "Lord Royce said he heard the Hand is declaring war on someone." Arlen nodded. The last time they'd been called to assemble like this it had been for war with Ghiscar. *Father,* he thought, *Let it not be war again.* The crowd abruptly stopped murmuring as Lord Edric Stark, Hand of the King and Protector of the Realm, who had served as regent since King Arys' "sickness", swept into the room.
"My lords and ladies," he shouted, "I thank for you patience." He walked towards the throne but, to everyone's surprise, sat on the wooden chair at the thrones side, not on the throne itself. Qarlton and Arlen exchanged looks. Suddenly everyone was jostling forward, trying to see better and Arlen was pushed off balance and fell backwards. The crowd let out an audible gasp at something Arlen couldn't see and began applauding. Qarlton gave Arlen his hand and pulled him up, just in time to see Aerys, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men take his seat upon the Iron Throne.
"My friends," said the king once the applause had subsided, "Return for your holdfasts and prepare for war."
"A toast to your recovery your grace!" Morgan Karstark raised his cup and the rest of the Small Council followed.
"Long live King Aerys!" said Edric before draining his goblet in one.
"Indeed," said Lord Creighton, "But, about this 'war' we are to prepare for. Where has this information come from?"
"From trusted sources," said Aerys. Lord Andar looked visibly hurt.
"Your grace," said Grand Maester Kennett, "With the deepest, and most humble, apologies, is there not a chance that this information is a symptom of your..."
"I said I was cured Kennett," said Aerys, "And I am."
"Of course your grace," said Kennett quickly, "Forgive an old man his foolishness." Aerys shot a quick glance at Edric who sighed.
"I have seen this... information myself," said Edric, "And it is genuine." He had sword not to reveal the fact they were following Aerys' flame vision. *Maybe I'm mad too,* thought Edric, *For going along with this.*
"To business then," said Morgan,
"Yes," said Lord Andar, "While you were recuperating I am sorry to say your nephew Emperor Otherys was killed in battle against the Sealord of Bravos. He lost and arm and died some days later from his wounds." Aerys felt this news like a blow. *I need his armies,* he thought.
"And what of the New Valyrian Empire?" he said.
"In ruins your grace," said Grand Maester Kennett, "It controls small territories along the Rhoyne but the Free Cities are free once more." Aerys nodded. There would be no help from New Valyria then.
"And Haera?" he said.
"She continues to fight her rebellious vassels," said Andar, "With a savagery that would make her father proud." Aerys shook his head.
"I don't know what happened to her," he said sadly, "I raised her as my own daughter."
"But as a hostage your grace," said Kennet, "And a hostage never forgets what they are, even if we do. A lesson the Starks learned," he gestured to Edric, "At terrible cost."
"The Turncloak," Morgan spat. Aerys nodded.
"Nevertheless," said Aerys, "We will need her to bring her armies to Westeros if we are to survive the coming war." The entire Small Council, all but Edric, stared at him, eyes wide.
"Your... Your grace..." stammered Kennet.
"Well, if there's nothing else my lords," said Aerys before standing up and walking out the room before they could answer.
"He won't bite," said Aerys as his son and heir Rhaegar reached out hesitantly to stroke Viserion's snout in the Dragon Pit. The boy was fourteen, nearly a man grown and yet had no dragon of his own. He would probably end up riding Viserion then and it was time the boy became comfortable around him.
"Not like that," said Aerys, "Like this." He knelt down and looked in the dragon's golden eyes and stroked the beast's snout firmly. Viserion grumbled softly.
"He'll be the greatest friend you ever had," said Aerys, "Your surest companion." He scratched the dragons chin. "Viserion was there when I was born. He was with me through the deaths of my parents, your mother, my siblings and my children." Aerys rubbed Viserion's neck as Rhaegar scratched the top of the dragon's head. "He was with me for my every mistake and victory. My every battle and betrayal. And he will be around for centuries after I am gone." Aerys stood up.
"But that won't be for a long time yet father," said Rhaegar, "You're healthier than I've ever seen you." This much was true, Aerys had a fire in him he hadn't felt since the War of the Dawn and yet... *The fires do not lie,* he thought, *My time is nearly up.* Aerys just smiled back at his son.
"Oh yes," he said, "I'll be around for a long time yet."
Haera stood in Meereen's central market, staring at the rows of crosses stretching off into the distance. Each held one of the rebellious Masters of the city. *Just like grandmother,* she thought.
"Your majesty," said a small Yitish man in broken common, "A letter from King." Haera snatched it from his hands without looking at him and the small man retreated, head bowed. She turned it over, saw the three headed dragon seal of House Targaryen on the back. She broke the seal with her thumb and read the letter. And then read it again.
"What is it my love?" he husband Gowen said appearing behind her, "News from Westeros?" Haera laughed.
"The rumors of your father's insanity must be true after all," she said, "He's invited me to bring my army to Westeros to help him fight some 'Sunset War' he has seen in a vision. He claims we shall not be impeded in anyway and invokes the 'blood we share' asking for my aid."
"Oh," said Gowen, "But we can't of course, we were going to march on Volantis next and..."
"Oh we can," said Haera cutting him off, "We can return. I will march my armies into his lands not for our blood, but for my fire! Westeros will be mine."
Seagard was a peaceful place and had prospered since the end of the Long Night. Signs of it were everywhere, in the newly built wharves and jetties, the rich looking people walking the streets and the general sense of contentment that seemed to ooze out of the place. Lord Patrick Mallister sat back on the balcony of his castle in the center of town observing all this, and drinking honeyed wine, and sharing in the contentment of his people. It had been decades since the great bronze bell that alerted the people to danger, most commonly Iron Born raiders, had sounded and Patrick liked it that way. Yes, a paltry token force had been raised to defend against Aerys' 'danger' but they were little more than town-watch. Patrick would go an train with them tonight of course, he had to make a good show of it. But there was also a young man, Brynden, who's company he particularly enjoyed. And since his wife was away in Riverrun for the next few weeks he suspected he would enjoy him deeply and repeatedly...
Patrick shot out of his seat to the sound of the bronze bell.
He heard screaming come from the town as people ran to the castle for shelter.
He looked out over to the sea and saw them.
Hundreds of ships, thousands, of a strange design he did not recognize and above...
...were those birds?
"Oh Seven save me," he said aloud, "No, no, no, no... Fuck no!" He turned to run, realizing that those shapes were not birds, but dozens upon dozens of dragons.