Sansa ran her fingers lightly over the scaly egg as Sam read out the terms of the agreement.
“So, in return for two dragon eggs, we agree to pay 3% of the net profits from our goldmine during the first six moons once it is fully operational. However, there is a stipulation that if the eggs fail to hatch or if the hatchlings fail to thrive after a period of six moons then the contract is null and void”, he said in a monotone voice. He looked up as he laid the paper on the desk.
“In other words, either we get dragons out of the bargain or they get nothing”, he clarified. “Are you sure they will agree to this?”
Jon sat back in his chair and poured himself more wine.
“Where else can they peddle these eggs?” he asked after taking a sip. “We have the only known dragon in the world and there have already been numerous fruitless attempts to hatch the eggs. They even tried to duplicate the events of the funeral pyre that led to the hatching of Daenerys’ dragons with futile results”.
He smacked his lips in smug satisfaction after taking another sip.
“They have no choice but to comply with our terms”, he added as he glanced at Bran who nodded back.
Sansa listened to the scratching of Sam’s quill as he completed the contract before passing it to Jon to sign and affix his seal in the molten wax. Then Sam rose and positioned himself behind Bran’s chair.
“Ready?” asked Sam as he passed the contract to Bran.
“Ready”, replied Bran as Sam gave the chair a gentle push and wheeled him out the door. The sentry posted outside the door gave Jon and Sansa a brief nod before closing the door after the departing counselors.
Sansa turned to Jon with a wry smile and a raised eyebrow.
“More dragons?” she commented. “Isn’t one enough of a burden?”
“Rhaegal could live for another hundred years or die tomorrow”, said Jon. “If that should happen then what is an ice dragon king to do without a dragon?”
Sansa sighed and plopped down on his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“I see…so there is a need to preserve your reputation here”, she replied.
“And provide an enduring legacy for our children”, he said as he nuzzled her cheek. “Dragons are part of the history that we are making, my love. They need to become an essential part of our reign”.
There is some validity to this, thought Sansa. The songs that were circulating around the north attested more or less to a willingness to accept the dragon as a protector of the fledgling kingdom. And two more dragons would be insurance for their continued existence…as long as they were committed to keeping them well fed and under control.
“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” she asked.
He gave her a small smile.
“I accepted dragons as part of our future long ago while you still wrestled with the notion”, he teased. “So…more importantly, are you ready?”
She tilted her head to one side and then leaned forward.
“I’m in it for the long haul”, she said with a sigh as she brushed her lips against his.
The recent acquisitions remained on display during the celebratory evening meal. The two eggs, nestled together in an intricately carved wooden chest, inlaid with ivory and jade and lined in deep blue velvet cloth, were flanked by a bored looking sentry.
Sansa studied the expressions on the faces of the guests as hundreds of pairs of eyes regarded the eggs from surreptitious glances to bold stares. Most of the guests openly expressed their approval of the purchase. Of those, some had quietly, albeit reluctantly, come to the conclusion that dragons were now part of northern lore and an integral cog in their system of defense. Others, more sycophantic in nature, endorsed the purchase with loud enthusiasm in order to curry favour with the young monarchs. However, a small group of skeptics and non-believers, who had mainly been victimized by Rhaegal’s voracious appetite for grazing livestock, wisely kept their opinions to themselves. Even though Jon had a reputation of being a benevolent and evenhanded king, he was still a king and his decisions were absolute and not open to discussion.
Sansa’s heart went out to this small group of dissenters who glowered into their cups and muttered amongst themselves. She herself had thought that the possible introduction of two more dragons might be a tougher sell and she was still at a loss as to how they would fed and housed in order to minimize having them cast their malevolent gaze freely over the surrounding countryside.
But Jon, she soon realized, already had a plan.
“There is a system of caves to the northeast surrounded by fertile grazing lands”, he explained as he unfurled the map and pointed at a spot near Winterfell. “The hot springs feed into these caves keeping them warm year round. We have already begun to buy up herds of elk, sheep and other livestock to keep the Rhaegal fed and prevent it from straying too far and disrupting the farmers’ livelihood”.
He laid small stones on the corners of the map to anchor the curling edges.
“We can build up these herds and increase the grazing grounds for future generations”, he added as he leaned over the map, his finger tracing a border around the location of the caves.
“And in winter?” she asked.
Jon smiled and shook his head slightly.
“We’ll build out buildings to house the livestock”, he said. “This will be no different than a farming operation although on a much grander scale”.
She looked at him with doubt in her eyes.
“This will work, Sansa”, he said as he gathered her into his arms. “Bran and Sam have drawn up plans and are confident that this can be done with minimal damage”.
She didn’t like his choice of the latter words and it showed in the crease of her brow.
“There is always the risk of the unknown and unforeseen”, he said in a low tone of voice. “You’re just going to have to have faith that every last detail will be taken into account. And then…pray that it doesn’t go all pear-shaped”.
After the meal concluded the eggs were removed to Jon’s solar. Torrhen looked at the eggs with a mixture of curiosity tinged with fear while Lyra briefly traced the ridges of the scales with her pudgy fingers before withdrawing them quickly, a guilty look crossing her face.
“Pretty”, she declared.
Jon knelt down between the two of them and placed his arms across their shoulders. He turned to Torrhen.
“As the oldest, you get to choose first”, he said.
Torrhen looked startled and swiveled to look beseechingly at his mother. She gave him an encouraging smile.
“If all goes to plan then you shall have a dragon of your own”, she said smoothly. She prayed that he couldn’t see how her lips quivered when she spoke.
Torrhen turned back to his father, seeking confirmation of his words. Then he swallowed and reached out to the egg coloured in brilliant shades of scarlet and gold and touched it lightly. His eyes grew in astonishment as the egg rocked slightly in response to his warm touch.
Jon rose to his feet and plucked the egg from the casket.
“Hold out your hands”, he commanded. Torrhen raised his hands, palms up, to receive the gift. Then he raised his eyes silently to his father’s face.
“You will sleep with this egg in your bed until the turn of the next full moon”, Jon explained. “Lyra will do the same with the other egg”.
“Then what?” asked Torrhen after a few seconds hesitation.
“Then, the gods willing, Rhaegal shall birth two dragons…one for you, the other for Lyra”, replied Jon as he ruffled his son’s curls.
Lyra picked up the other egg, painted in mottled shades of silver and sapphire, and cradled it in her arms. Then she began to hum a nursery song as she swayed back and forth with her prize.
Jon nodded to the nursery maids and the sentries to return the children to the nursery after they had made their final goodnights with their mother.
“I would rather have a direwolf”, whispered Torrhen into his mother’s ear as he clung to her, fearful that his father might overhear and be displeased.
“So would I, little love”, whispered Sansa in return. “So would I”.
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