"I find myself honoured to be able to entertain so many of my friends, my fellow merchants-in-arms, my brothers and sisters around such a humble table as this." Falmari's voice was low and resonant; enough to make wine tremble in its cup and quicken the hearts of the assembled company. He spread his large hands wide as he spoke, in gentle lapsing gestures as if he were orchestrating the words as they moved through the room. Punctuated by laughter- his own and others- and the odd shower of applause that he laid to rest with one of those beaming smiles, his speech rumbled on.
He spoke of the unveiling of the south, and the oceans that moved like silk beneath their blessed ships, the roads that turned smooth as parchment beneath the wheels of their wagons- "Thanks to the blessings of all our Gods." A brief interlude of murmured prayer and thanks, a few of the congregation lifting up their hands in praise of heaven and earth.
Then the topic moved on to the city. In its history, he explained, we find our own story. An enterprise kept and maintained in confidential care, a secret civilisation. And now here they were; released onto the gawping, stupified world as the extent of our wonder, and the ingenuity of our business. "From the ashes of Old Valyria," he explained in a dulcet voice, "We arose and burst forth with more beauty, more tolerance and more wisdom than those who sought to chain us." The applause broke out again, the heads of the company nodded and calling out praise in sharp, passionate words.
He raised a hand and an eager silence was left.
"But, my friends, I would never have us erase the past; both that of ourselves and the empire from which our civilisation was born. An empire that was evil, yes, full of unspeakable terrors. There was fire, there was blood, there were chains. But-- and I beg you forgive me my indulgence, but there was beauty too. You may decry it! I see you shake your heads. But to burn and render forever lost the cultural secrets of Old Valyria is to burn ourselves. And to that end I ask you to look on, for we have not only a prince in our midst, but one who brings with him the spectre of another time. And I am sure you shall agree with me that, beyond the ruin, beyond the violence and depravity of his ancestors, there lies beauty, too."
Falmari stepped back, then, to expose the boy in his shadow to the scrutiny of the room. A prompt, a gentle wave of Falmari's hand, and he rose to his feet. In the sudden silence, without laughter, without applause, the chair legs screeched discordant on the flagstones. The boy stood there for a moment, silently allowing the gaze of the dozen or so assembled to penetrate through his clothes and rake through his soul. The air was thick with the scent of good wine and disgust. His hair was braided back so tight, the necklace such a perfect choker that he did not have the luxury of bowing his head to look away from the eyes that watched him with such hatred.
Then, his steps agonisingly slow and stumbling in the caustic silence, he slipped between a space in the tables and stepped up onto the platform. He wore silk slippers. The soles were thin. He turned, and with a despondent hand took the pale fan offered to him by one of the musicians who sat in one of the delved corners, waiting. In the dim light and flickering shadow, down-lit, the nuances of his expression were lost. It was only by watching the very ends of the fan, and the way it moved in his grip that you could tell his hands were shaking.
Falmari sank back into his chair and leant back to watch, eyelids low.
The drums began first, and then some sort of a flute, a wailing, old sound, like a kite's cry on the air. A step, a snap as the fan split open, a long-fingered hand coming to rest by a black-silk side. And then... and then. The fan became a bird, limbs became water, sinuous, fluid. In the darkness the candles faded to be dull, made thin and weak by the flame at their centre that burned white and silver, that danced with the same feet as Water Dancers. There was no boy, no man there; something less, something more, a memory of a beautiful thing once dead that fed on the breaths that the company did not-- or could not-- take. Hands clutched tables, mouths parted in fury, in awe, too lost to call out and do anything but watch.
In the half-light, a dead prince came alive.
Unseen, Falmari nodded, once.
A drum crashed to the floor, and the spell was broken. The flame stuttered, faltered, slipped and was sent, hard, to his knees. The fan escaped his stinging fingers and slid across the platform. Suddenly the slip of fire was nothing more than a thin boy, panting, beads of sweat falling from his forehead with each ragged gasp. A few strands of his hair had escaped and hung about his face. He tried to get up, and slipped on the heaviness of his robes.
A ripple of smiles.
"A shame." Falmari spoke. His voice was soft with concern.
The boy finally made it to his feet. His robes were hanging lopsided on him now, exaggerating the painful tug of his shoulders. He looked down at where Falmari sat, and checked his hand when it rose to tug at the necklace.
They watched each other for a long moment.
Some unseen conversation flickered through the air; painted across their eyelids, hidden in their silence. And then, painfully, the boy turned, his shoulders back, his gaze focused above the lines of the company's heads, and spoke. His voice was unbroken, still that of a child's.
"I apologise for embarrassing the company." He bowed his head three times, one to each of the tables. The necklace pressed deep. Then he turned, and extended the same courtesy to Kathmar Falmari. Head bowed, tilted towards him, he seemed to wait for the words of release.
"Your Highness, truly. That is not necessary."
He began to raise his silvered head, and then--
"Please, next time, I beg of you to make any concerns you have about your education known to me. I am your faithful servant and friend, Prince."
The boy stopped, held in place by the words. Compelled.
"Of course." He bowed his head lower. The company looked on and held its breath. Falmari didn't speak. The boy cast up a glance, and saw that he had no intention to. What colour was left in his face drained away. He bowed deeper, at the waist now. His words were strained, now. "The fault is my own."
Falmari sat, and watched. He rolled a grape between thumb and forefinger. His silence seemed to reach out to rest one large hand on the back of the boy's head.
Slowly, under the weight, he dropped to one grazed knee. And then another.
"Lord Falmari, that I caused embarrassment to your guests is... is not befitting of my..."
Utter silence. The guests did not move, did not smile. There was no jubilation, no jeers, no cruel jokes. Instead there was the silence of the Sept. Of a courthouse.
He raised his head to throw one last look upwards. And was met with no remedy.
He looked down. Thin hands curled into fists and fell loose. A clenched jaw relaxed, eyes fell half shut.
The last true King of Westeros leant forwards and pressed his forehead to the floor, and begged Kathmar Falmari to forgive him the sin of a ruined dance.
What felt like an hour passed.
With a creak of a chair, Falmari rose. And in the torturous silence, he answered, with the same stern love as a father-
"Prince Targaryean. Your humbleness is nobility itself."
The boy's shoulders shook. Fingers curled to dig their nails into the wood beneath them.
"But, I beg of you," Falmari extended a hand. "Do not prostrate yourself like this. You must remember your birth and name." Now came a note of softness, a gentle tenderness. "You must be exhausted. Perhaps away from the cacophony you may catch some rest. I shall have healers sent to your room. Your fall looked a painful one."
They all watched him; the way he drew himself back up with limbs that looked hollow as reeds, thin lips that only seemed to move when questions were asked of him, as if his words had been lost somewhere in the inches between his mouth and the greasy floor. They watched as he thanked him, and moved out of the torchlight, to stumble and accidentally send a decanter of wine crashing to the floor. The splinter of the glass was his applause. He skirted around the side of the room and--
Barely inches apart, separated by a wall, a slatted window--
The hardness of raw, reddened eyes focused forward. Hoarse breathing. A skinny wrist pressed against an anguished mouth to trap back words. He didn't see Johann where he stood. Why would he be looking for servants, after all?
He slipped through the double doors at the end of the room, and escaped the lacerations of eyes. And one pair, Kathmar Falmari's, turned instead to look towards that slatted window and the man who stood behind it. And then he ate his grape and resumed his conversation.
Seconds later a servant arrived at the end of the corridor and informed Johann Stark that the Prince would soon be able to receive him in his chambers, just as soon as he had changed.