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Maternal Instinct

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It seemed as though everyone in the world had an opinion about what Elia should do, about how she should react to the motherless bastard who had been brought into her home, but none of them had to live with it — with the babe, with Rhaegar, with the eyes of seven war-torn kingdoms upon her and hers. With the consequences of her decision.

She did nothing for weeks.

No, that wasn’t true. There was plenty for a new queen to do in the wake of war. She organized her household, and she prepared for the coronation. She comforted Rhaella and sighed over her rounded belly. She played with her children, and she teased Viserys about his betrothal to Cersei Lannister. She gave alms to the commons, and she visited the Great Sept to pray.

She did not do anything about the boy, though.

Jon.

Rhaegar had wanted to name him “Aemon,” in honor of his uncle, after he learned the child was another son and not his prophesized Visenya, but Ser Arthur had barely placed the boy in the king’s arms before announcing that “Queen Lyanna” had already named him after some long-dead Stark ancestor. Rhaegar had enough decency not to rob the boy of his last gift from his mother, but Elia could not guess how far this decency of his would go.

(“Queen Lyanna,” indeed.)

Oberyn would kill the infant in his cradle, quietly and as painlessly as possible. Her brother was not a cruel man, but he was clever and he was dangerous. She could hear him now: “Smother the babe today, and in twenty years, you will have saved thousands sons from war — a second war, fought over the same babe.”

Perhaps he had whispered it from wherever he stood in Essos.

The point was sound, but Elia could not bring herself to do it. She was no murderer, and she did not know what Rhaegar would do if Jon were to die. He might wed Cersei Lannister in Viserys’s place, and then it would only be a matter of time before Elia and her children joined Lyanna and Jon in the grave.

No, she could not kill him, but she did need to decide what she would do.

Elia typically summoned her children to her whenever she wanted to see them. It was what her own mother had done, in order to avoid disturbing the nursery’s routine. This time, however, she went there herself, and she went alone.

Her children were ecstatic to see her, and Septa Fenella was wide-eyed with fearful anxiety as Rhaenys practiced her curtsey (“Look! Look!”) and Aegon babbled excitedly about nothing at all. Elia smiled at them before saying, “Forgive me for intruding, Septa, but a mother’s whims are not to be ignored.”

Septa Fenella curtseyed again and nodded with every appearance of understanding.

The Sword of the Morning was the princes’ guard that morning, and his face did not change when she made her entrance. “My queen,” he said, and he bowed.

“Ser Arthur.”

Her children still clamored for her attention, and she indulged them until she could not deny the true purpose of her coming any longer — not to herself, anyway. There was the cradle sitting in the corner where the sunlight would not disturb the napping prince. A Dornishwoman sat in a chair beside him, humming to herself as she sewed and pointedly did not look up at the queen.

Elia brushed a curl out of Rhaenys’s face and said, “One moment,” before stepping towards the cradle. She picked up the prince before anyone could stop her, and she almost laughed at Septa Fenella’s gasp and the nursemaid’s blanched face.

Ser Arthur did not move an inch, but Elia saw how tense he stood. He had carried Prince Jon from Dorne to King’s Landing, and he had guarded Lyanna Stark for longer than that. It was natural that he love the child dearly. It was as natural as it was irritating.

Aegon should have your love, she seethed, not his ill-born brother. Does the Sword of the Morning mean to become another Kingmaker?

She held the babe close to her chest and turned away from Ser Arthur.

Jon did not have the look of an usurper. Daemon Blackfyre was said to favor the Conqueror, and Aegon the Usurper looked no less Valyrian than his half-sister. This child resembled the wolf more strongly than the dragon, in spite of his tender years.

It was not his looks that mattered, of course. Daemon Blackfyre was the product of an angry and ambitious mother and a hateful father, surrounded by flatterers, and made his brother’s enemy by the machinations of others.

But Jon’s mother was dead, and Rhaegar did not have it in him to hate anyone, let alone Elia and Aegon. She need only ensure that no one else encouraged Jon to become Aegon’s rival, whether in thought or in circumstances.

“Aren’t you a sweet one?” she murmured just loud enough for his nursemaid to hear.

Prince Jon looked at her with a steady grey gaze, but she would convince him too. Let them all whisper of how much gracious Queen Elia loved her husband’s son, how she had lifted him into her arms and accepted him into her heart.

They would think her stupid and soft-hearted, but it was a fine thing to be underestimated. Doran and Oberyn would understand when she explained it to them. They would not be happy or convinced, but they would understand.

Elia pressed a kiss to Jon’s soft cheek.

“Guard the children well,” she said as she passed out of the nursery.

Ser Arthur inclined his head. “I always do my duty, Your Grace.” It was a rebuke, she knew. Ser Arthur had squired for her uncle, and his brother had once courted her —, but he was no true Dornishman, not anymore. His heart was Rhaegar’s.

“As do I.”

 

The role of queen was one that came naturally to Elia, and she did not suffer unduly from the stress of raising five children — three of whom were not her own. Her health would never be excellent, she had long accepted that, but she soldiered through it.

Rhaegar would always be the people’s silver prince (if only because they did not know that he left ruling to his far more capable Hand), but Elia was well-liked and respected. There was room for her to rise whereas Rhaegar could only fall.

She was the sun.

Her ambitions did require her to form a power base, and for that she, unfortunately, needed to surround herself with courtiers she liked little. Her ladies were a silly bunch of northerners, but she tolerated them and she had trained them to write their fathers and brothers exactly what she wanted them to without their knowing.

Word had spread throughout the Seven Kingdoms of how elegant and gracious, how clever and hardworking Queen Elia was, and how kind she was to Prince Jon, Prince Viserys, and Princess Daenerys. She had strived for that reputation, and her elder brothers and the Dornish courtiers had all worked to strengthen it.

Clever and motherly she might be, but Elia did not expect to meet any of the children when she came across Jon with two of his friends outside the king’s solar, standing opposite Ser Barristan and Ser Jonothor. The boys were supposed to be in the yard with the master-of-arms while the girls were cloistered with Septa Fenella and the Seven-Pointed Star.

Should I be suspicious? Boys of six were dangerous creatures, but Jon was one of the quieter ones, no more than Aegon’s shadow half the time. Samwell Tarly was a shy, cowardly creature, and Torrhen Stark knew perfectly well that he was not merely his cousin’s companion but a hostage for his father’s good behavior. His mother had done well to name him for the King Who Knelt.

That did not mean they were incapable of trouble, however.

If they were up to mischief, it would be better if Elia put a stop to it instead of Rhaegar. Her husband had no patience for childish troublemaking.

“What are you boys doing?” she asked in a careful voice, sweet and motherly without being too warm. Lady Tyta frowned regardless. The queen’s ladies disapproved of Jon more than she did, and it took them time to learn how to mask their disapproval. Lady Tyta was new to court, and she believed the Bastard Prince undeserving of the queen’s civility, let alone her kindness.

“Waiting,” Jon muttered.

Jon knew that royal princes did not mutter or skulk about the palace, for Septa Fenella had taught him better. “What are you waiting for, Prince Jon?”

He stood up straighter and said, clearly, “We’re waiting for the king to finish his meeting. I promised to show Torrhen and Sam the portrait of my lady mother.”

Elia hated that portrait. It was a fine likeness of Queen Lyanna, she was sure — a long-faced girl of sixteen, rather pretty in a wild way, with tangles of dark hair and eyes the color of steel. The painter had seen Lyanna at Harrenhal, Lady Sarra had told her, and he had added a crown of silver and sapphires to please Rhaegar.

It was pure fancy to crown the uncrowned, but that was not the problem. Elia did not object to the painting itself, but she had almost forgotten herself enough to object to its placement. Nobles and peasants alike now spoke of how much His Grace had loved his queen of love and beauty, for he had placed her portrait opposite his desk in his solar so he might look upon her always.

But where was Queen Elia’s portrait?

“I am alive, Oberyn,” she had told her brother when he brought those concerns before her. The last thing she needed was for Oberyn to cause trouble in her name. “He does not need to be reminded of what I look like.”

Oberyn had snorted in derision, but he thankfully left her to her game.

Elia smiled at the boys before turning to face Ser Barristan. “Will His Grace be much longer, ser?” she asked.

The Lord Commander inclined his head. “Lord Fell brought an urgent matter before him, but that was some time ago. I am certain their business will soon be concluded.”

“Then we shall wait,” she concluded, and she almost laughed at the palpable discomfort of everyone else in the hall.

Jon was the only one who showed no such unease. He came closer to her, shy and sweet as ever. “Do you think my lord father will let the court painters make a miniature of her for me?” Jon asked in a soft voice, meant only for Elia but heard by everyone else.

“He will. I will insist on it.”

Lady Tyta looked fit to faint, but there was no harm in it. The portrait had already done the damage it could do, and no one would think anything of Jon’s carrying around a picture of his own mother. Elia had a portrait of hers in the queen’s solar.

The door opened, and Lord Fell blinked at the sight of them all there. “Your Grace,” the old man said hoarsely before bowing.

“My lord,” she said. She placed her hands on Jon’s shoulders. “Is the king much occupied, or may we beg his indulgence for a moment?”

The lord did not have the opportunity to answer, though he did open his mouth to do so. “Come in, Elia,” Rhaegar said, his voice firm and carrying rather than loud. Perfectly kingly.

He should have been a mummer.

Or not. His eyes widened when he saw Elia pushing Jon forward while Samwell and Torrhen followed them inside meekly and silently.

“Is something amiss?”

“Not at all. Jon’s friends wished to see Queen Lyanna’s portrait, and I would like a brief word with you.” The door closed, and Elia walked towards her king as Jon pointed out several details that no one but him would care to notice.

“My queen,” he said as she drew near enough to whisper.

She did not, but she did pitch her voice low. “Jon wishes for a miniature of his mother to carry upon his person. You might wish to order one made.”

Rhaegar’s brow rose. “You are very considerate of his wishes, Elia.”

It was a struggle not to roll her eyes. “Do not credit me with ulterior motives, Your Grace. He is a child who wishes to look upon his dead mother’s face from time to time. What sort of monster would deny him?”

He had no reply to that, but Jon soon received a miniature portrait of his mother — this one with a crown of winter roses instead of silver and sapphires. She did not know why Rhaegar would order the change, and she did not ask.

She did agree with Rhaegar’s suggestion that Rhaenys and Aegon should receive miniatures with portraits of her, and she posed willingly and uncrowned.

 

Oberyn often traveled between King’s Landing and Sunspear with no warning for anyone except Ellaria Sand, so Elia was unsurprised to wake one morning and discover that her younger brother had arrived overnight.

“Were the princes and princesses informed?” she asked Lady Allyria.

Her lady nodded. “He is in the yard with Prince Aegon and Prince Jon as we speak,” Ashara’s younger sister said with a prim dutifulness the elder had never known.

Elia dressed for the day and broke her fast before going to find her brother and the princes in one of the more secluded sparring grounds. Her uncle Prince Lewyn and Ser Arthur Dayne were training the boys while Oberyn watched.

“You aren’t contributing?”

Her brother kissed her cheek. “How can I teach them when I do not know what they need to be taught?” he asked. That was nonsense, obviously — he had only been gone a few months.

The boys began their fight by circling each other with a wariness that made her think of old soldiers from the War of the Ninepenny Kings, and Elia looked away to avoid laughing.

The Red Viper did not look away, and his eyes narrowed when the fight began in truth.

Oberyn watched the two princes hack at each other with burgeoning skill, and she could see him think. “Prince Jon is not bad with a sword,” he said. “I could make him better. Travel broadens the mind, they say, and in Dorne you will never lack friends. Will Rhaegar agree to his son becoming my squire?”

There could be no safer place for him, not for Jon and not for Elia, but her enemies would become suspicious if Oberyn had the charge of her husband’s son for years. Nothing could happen to the child (and nothing would), but those suspicions would do more harm to her brother’s reputation more than the death of old Lord Yronwood ever had.

“I doubt he dreams of knighthood. He follows the old gods.”

That cannot please those who would wish to make him mighty,” Oberyn muttered, and she pretended not to hear.

The match continued under their watch, but not for long. Aegon stumbled and dropped his shield, and Jon noticed too late and overreached. Both boys fell to the ground, and Elia ran forward and arrived in time to hear the Kingsguard knights curtly explain their mistakes.

“We’re fine,” Aegon groaned, and Elia exchanged a look with Uncle Lewyn as he helped her son to his feet. Ser Arthur had already lifted Jon as one might a doll, but the younger prince did not complain. Arthur Dayne was a living legend, not his great-uncle.

“I know you are, sweetling, but mothers worry.”

Aegon rolled his eyes, and Jon hid behind Ser Arthur. She turned to him and tried to think of a kindness to say. She decided upon “Perhaps next time you ought to underestimate your opponent rather than overestimate him.”

Her son gasped in a mockery of outrage, Oberyn burst into laughter, the knights hid their smirks, and Jon giggled from his spot behind the Sword of the Morning.

 

Elia should have known that nothing good would come from these private suppers Rhaegar had initiated once the children were old enough to hold conversations, but at the time she had only thought of how charming and well-spoken Aegon was, especially in comparison to Jon’s almost grim terseness.

The only comfort was that years had passed since that decision without incident. Her lack of anxiety was excused, and it furthermore could be credited to her mistaken belief that neither her children nor Jon would ever cause any trouble at the table. She should never have underestimated Jon’s desire to do and speak as he willed.

But who could have predicted that Jon Targaryen would say, so baldly, “I wish to join the Night’s Watch” over an unseasoned northern dish? Certainly not them — Elia could only stare in shock while Aegon choked on his wine, Rhaenys struggled to find words, and Daenerys blinked a great deal.

(Thank the Seven that Viserys was far away at Casterly Rock.)

Rhaegar said nothing at all.

“It is an honorable occupation,” Daenerys said with brittle brightness. Elia could have kissed her good-sister in that moment, but that would have to wait.

“My uncles serve with distinction,” Jon agreed.

Rhaenys and Aegon exchanged glances, and Elia silently prepared a speech about the long histories that the Starks had with the Night’s Watch. She would need to say something about Good Queen Alysanne and the New Gift as well, but she did not have the opportunity.

“I forbid it.”

Jon stared down his father without fear. “I am of age, and I wish to go.”

“You are a prince and my son, and you answer to your king and father. You will not take the black. I forbid it.

Rhaegar’s son stood and slammed his fist on the table, rattling the dishes. The door opened, and Ser Oswell and Ser Jonothor appeared to serve as silent observers to this latest Targaryen drama.

“I have told you —”

“And I have told you, Jon, that this will not occur. Sit down and finish your meal, or excuse yourself and spare us your needless dramatics.”

“I am old enough to decide for myself!”

Rhaegar laughed coldly, and Daenerys winced. Rhaegar rarely laughed, and his family knew it boded ill. His wife and children knew better than to exhibit their shock, however, unlike his sister. “What makes you think that?”

“I am older now than my mother was when you fucked her!”

Even Daenerys knew to join Rhaenys and Aegon in staring down at their plates then. Oswell Whent’s eyes were wider than their wont, and Rhaegar rose to his feet. “Get out! I do not wish to see your face again until you have learned to mind your tongue and respect your king!”

The table was utterly silent when Jon bowed mockingly before fleeing the room. Rhaegar sat down and continued his meal, daring anyone to speak up. No one would, but someone needed to do something before their frozen states became permanent.

What would I do were it Aegon who had quarreled with Rhaegar?

The answer did not please her.

Elia cast Rhaegar a dark look and chased Jon out of the room and through the halls till they reached his chambers. The door closed behind her (and in the face of a panting Ser Jonothor). She held out a hand, only to recoil when Jon punched the wall. “I hate him!” he declared.

“Jon! You do not hate your father!”

A sharp emotion overwhelmed her — panic and fear, she told herself. Resentment was the cradle of a rebellion.

He threw himself into a chair. “I don’t hate him,” he muttered sourly. “I don’t hate anyone, except maybe — I hate these circumstances.”

Elia gathered her skirts and sat down beside him. “Who do you hate, Jon?” She hoped it was not too dramatic, or she would struggle to keep Rhaegar from overreacting. He would too, if he kept his anger hot but could cast his blame elsewhere than at the feet of his darling son. It had taken too long to convince the king that ripping out the tongues of maidservants did more harm than good.

Jon did not answer, not directly.

He did not answer at all for a while, and she was almost shocked when he did speak, in the quiet, careful tone of voice he used whenever he erred on the side of caution.

“Lord Tarly ordered Sam to join the Night’s Watch. He told him so when he took him riding during his visit. He thinks Sam isn’t worthy of Heartsbane or Horn Hill because he has no taste for killing. It’s nonsense. Sam is the finest man anyone could know.”

Samwell Tarly was a sweet boy, but Elia would not go so far.

“You wanted to go with him,” she prompted gently.

“Why should I not? Sam needs someone to look after him, and there is great honor in taking the black. Starks have served on the Wall for thousands of years. My uncle Benjen is First Ranger!”

“You are a Targaryen, Jon, not a Stark.”

He snorted. “Am I?”

“What makes you think that you are not?”

“I am not a child anymore, Your Grace. You cannot scold everyone who calls me the Bastard Prince — no more than my lord father can rip out all their tongues.”

“I can try.”

This time Jon’s laugh was softer. “Targaryens have served at the Wall too. Maester Aemon is still there, and Bloodraven rose to become Lord Commander.”

The gods were testing her. Elia had worked too long and too hard for Jon to remain unaware of what they said about him, only to discover that someone had told him about it anyway. Elia had fretted over Jon’s similarity to Daemon Blackfyre for too long to be complacent about a comparison between him and another Great Bastard.

Ignore it, her better self whispered.

“Yes, and Maester Aemon left behind a brother with five healthy children. Aegon is not even married yet, let alone a father.”

“Will the king relent once Margaery Tyrell gives me nephews enough?”

Elia hesitated. If only! “You may discuss the matter with him then.”

“You mean that he will not.” Jon scoffed. “I must have the only father in the Seven Kingdoms who is not eager to see the back of his bastard son. He will not let me take the black, he will not let me visit Winterfell — He will not even let me go to Harrenhal with Rhaenys!”

“You are not a bastard.”

“What else could I be? A man cannot have two wives.”

Somehow, Elia had never imagined having this conversation with Jon, even though she had performed her part hundreds of times before. “Your father did. He married your mother in the rites of Old Valyria and in the sight of the old gods.” Impulsively, she added to her script: “He loved her dearly, and that is why you must not go to Winterfell or Harrenhal or, yes, the Wall. You are the last mark Lyanna Stark left upon the world. Would you leave your own father so bereft?”

Jon’s eyes shone in the firelight. “I am so tired of being Lyanna Stark’s son.”

“Then become your own man.” Elia stood. She would send Aegon to him, and her son would talk some sense into his brother before Jon and Rhaegar met again. “I will try to help Lord Samwell, for your sake, but it will undoubtedly require the king’s interference.”

“So I must go to him on my knees and beg for his forgiveness?”

“No, but I recommend it all the same. No ones likes it when their children oppose them, and kings like it less than most. But for now, go to sleep. Your thoughts will be clearer in the morning.” She pressed a kiss to his cheek and swept out of the room.

He must have heeded her advice: Jon and Rhaegar were soon reconciled (through what means Elia did not learn), and they again shared the long silences that they enjoyed so much. Rhaegar spoke with Lord Tarly, and his son did not sail north.

That did not end Jon’s desire to join the Night’s Watch, however. He continued to speak of the honor and glory to be found at the Wall, and he even sang a few songs about past heroes who had worn the black. It was an unusual occurrence, for Jon had inherited his father’s musical talent but not his taste for singing.

Rhaegar scowled at every note.

 

The king sought a way to permanently bind Jon to King’s Landing, and eventually he found one. “Jon will not leave behind a wife, let alone a wife and children,” Rhaegar told Elia one evening in his solar. She had come only to share a piece of news from her niece, and she had not expected further conversation.

“Who do you mean for him to wed?” she asked.

Truthfully, Elia had hoped that Jon would wear Rhaegar down and that she would not need to worry about his marrying an ambitious bride and fathering ambitious children. She should have known better.

“I have no idea. Harrold Arryn has no sisters, Renly Baratheon has no daughters, and Balon Greyjoy’s daughter is too old and unworthy of a prince besides.”

“Must she be kin to a lord paramount? There are other houses, as ancient and noble as those to whom they are sworn.” And less powerful. A maiden from the Reach could no threaten Margaery Tyrell’s position. “Why not Talla Tarly? Jon is dear friends with her brother, and it would keep Lord Tarly quiet.”

“I will not reward Randyll Tarly. His behavior is inexcusable, towards me, towards his son, and towards his liege lord.”

Oh, that.

Elia had forgotten how convoluted politics were in the Reach. She bit back a sigh and agreed that Westeros did not need the princesses continuing family disputes through their sons. “The Hand has a daughter. You could reward him for his years of friendship.”

Jon Connington’s ecstasy would be sickening to see.

“I thought to betroth Daenerys to his heir,” Rhaegar said after considerable thought, “but Jon and Dany might as well marry each other. The High Septon should not rest too easily, and we have given him reason to hope by marrying Rhaenys and Aegon to others.”

Elia had not been consulted before Rhaegar bestowed their children and his brother upon the faithful to bind them further to House Targaryen and to the Iron Throne. She had only praised his choices with a smile.

This choice was a more dubious one.

Jon and Daenerys were mere months apart in age, and they had always been close. Neither would object to the marriage, and in time they might love one another as husband and wife instead of as nephew and aunt.

Therein lay the issue. Would a marriage with his aunt make Jon seem more Targaryen than Aegon with his Tyrell bride? Incest was how House Targaryen had distinguished itself from their vassals all these years.

But their marriage would also prevent Jon from gaining greater allies than his Stark kin. The Northmen could not withstand the wealth and manpower of the Reach, and there was little chance of other great houses joining them.

Perhaps the Arryns, but Harry Arryn was a fool.

Elia had been silent for too long, but Rhaegar thought nothing of it. “You are right,” she told him. “You must act quickly, or Jon will ride north before Dany is cloaked.”

“Stubborn boy,” his father muttered, but he could not disguise his pride.

Jon scowled when Rhaegar informed him of his impending nuptials, but he could not protest with a delighted Daenerys standing beside him. The High Septon was as little pleased, but he would never commiserate with a heathen like Jon.

Rhaenys returned to King’s Landing, this time with her husband and their two children, and she sat beside Aegon and his pregnant bride as their brother was bound in matrimony to their aunt. Oberyn sat behind them, and Elia turned around and glared when she overheard him mutter yet another witticism to Ellaria Sand.

Ellaria blushed, and Oberyn grinned.

Only the gods knew that Elia’s prayers were full of pleas that Jon and Daenerys be as barren as Viserys and Cersei, but she did not dare interfere this time. Oberyn would gladly find her more of that Essosi potion, but it would be suspicious if only Elia’s children bore issue.

These northern smallfolk were so quick to jump to accusations of witchcraft, and Elia had worked so hard to win their love.

Her lack of interference cost her, for the couple was young and healthy and predisposed to like each other. It was only a matter of time before husband and wife stood before the king and queen, pink-cheeked and awkwardly proud, while Jon announced that Daenerys was pregnant with their first child.

“How wonderful!” Margaery exclaimed, with every appearance of sincerity, as she bounced Daeron on her knee, and Elia struggling not to admire her good-daughter.

The queen embraced the soon-to-be father to distract herself from unpleasant thoughts of the woman whom her son loved, and it took her a moment to realize that neither she nor Jon had pulled away from the embrace.

“Say that you’re happy for me,” Jon demanded quietly.

Elia blinked. “Of course I am, Jon.” His son was less dangerous than any child of Viserys, just as the Starks were less dangerous than the Lannisters.

Jon smiled into her hair. Such a shame, she thought.

It was not the first time she had the thought. Elia had begun to suspect, as the years passed, that she might have liked the boy if he were Lyanna Stark’s son by any man other than their mutual husband. If he were the child of some other mother.

But he would not be Jon if he were another couple’s son.

She pulled away at last. “Where will you go for your confinement?” she asked Dany. She did not want the child born at Dragonstone. “Summerhall might suit —, or my brother would welcome you at the Water Gardens.”

“We thought to stay at court,” Daenerys replied.

Rhaegar shook his head. “King’s Landing is no place for a mother and infant. Both Rhaenys and Aegon were born on Dragonstone, and Jon was born in Dorne. You might visit Winterfell, even.” The suggestion obviously displeased him, but now was no time for his jealousy of Ned Stark. “It is not too late for you to travel, if you go by sea to White Harbor.”

“We will stay, Father,” Jon insisted. Rhaegar said no more on the subject himself, but others spoke with his voice.

Jon and Daenerys were afterwards flooded with invitations to visit more salubrious castles, including Highgarden, but they refused all offers. Elia did not know why, but she guessed it had to do with Aegon and Margaery’s new residence on Dragonstone.

Aegon was the Prince of Dragonstone, of course, but Jon had no specific title of his own. Was this meant as a hint that he desired one, or was it done to distinguish himself from the heir? Caution made her suspect the first, but the latter seemed more likely, even if she could not figure out why he would wish to do such a thing.

She spent the entire pregnancy pondering it.

Elia was the second visitor to the new mother and child after Daenerys was safely delivered of a daughter. Only the child’s father beat her to the nursery.

“Have you decided on a name?” she asked. The past months had seen the couple scuffle over mothers and fathers, grandparents, and past kings and queens with affection that warmed the cold, dead hearts of Elia’s ladies-in-waiting.

Jon grinned shyly. “Elaena.”

There had been only two women named “Elaena Targaryen” in the past. One of whom was a Lady of Dragonstone, and the other was the youngest of the Princesses in the Maidenvault. Elia had no idea why they decided upon that name, but there were worse options.

Naming her “Rhaenyra” might have driven her to violence at long last.

 

Elia had never been one to rebel against her place in the world. She was born a princess and made a queen, and she had served capably in both those roles. Other women dreamt of swords and glory, but not she. Her dreams were always in her grasp.

Yet, lately, she found herself envying Rhaenys’s odd friend Lady Brienne. The Maid of Tarth was in the north, fighting for the fate of their world, while Elia waited for word of her husband and children in King’s Landing with an equally anxious Lord Connington.

It might have made any other two people friends, but not them.

Rhaegar’s letters were dutiful and polite, no more than orders and reassurances disguised as affection. The children’s were both more informational and more comforting. They wrote often of their dragons and their battles, but between those accounts were them.

Rhaenys had already read half the books in Castle Black, and she could not wait to read the rest. Aegon wanted to show her and his wife and his children the grim beauty of the Land Beyond the Wall. Jon found himself unusually popular with the wildlings (“Free Folk,” he insisted) because of his skill at swords and brusque practicality. Daenerys had learned to play several traditional songs on the harp, and she would show Elia when they returned.

Elia whiled away her time by fussing over her grandchildren. Rhaenys’s children were with their father’s family at Harrenhal, but she had Daeron and Elaena to keep her entertained. Margaery had even begun to bring Maekar to her rooms without prompting, but he was too young to be of much interest.

Margaery was with her and the children in the queen’s solar when they received word that Heartflame had been seen flying southeast with Prince Aegon on his back.

Her good-daughter’s face lit up, and Elia smiled. Some arranged marriages brought joy, and it was fortunate that none of the children’s had brought misery.

“Shall we go meet Papa in the courtyard?” she asked Daeron and Maekar, and the princes babbled (one more coherently than the other) in reply. Elaena soon discovered her meaning, and she joined Daeron’s chants of “Papa! Papa!” with her own: “Uncle Egg! Uncle Egg!”

Elia lifted the girl into her arms while Margaery wrestled to keep Maekar in her arms and Daeron’s hand in hers. “Come on, sweetling,” she cooed. “Your uncle will want to see how big you and your cousins have gotten.”

“So big!” Elaena agreed.

They arrived in time to see Aegon dismount, a sight that awed his family and the courtiers alike. (There were few courtiers to be amazed, admittedly. Many had gone north to fight or to their castles to prepare for the disaster.) Heartflame exhaled a trickle of flame before flying off again, and Aegon — paler, thinner, and more exhausted than his mother could remember his ever being — stepped towards the present members of House Targaryen.

He paused to greet Lord Connington. “My father wishes for me to discuss some matters of business with you, my Lord Hand, but first I must speak to my mother and wife alone.”

“Is something the matter?” Princess Margaery asked. She paled. “Is it Loras? Or Garlan?”

Aegon’s eyes were such a bright shade of violet. Elia had always thought his eyes beautiful. “Your brothers were in perfect health when I left them, my lady. Please, come with me. Their septa can mind the children until we are finished.”

“Papa?”

“Uncle Egg?”

The Prince of Dragonstone forced a smile on his face for the assembled crowd. “I am afraid I have important news to impart to my lady mother and wife. You shall soon hear it yourselves, and I am certain you will not judge us for desiring privacy.”

Murmurs followed them as Aegon led Margaery and Elia inside Maegor’s Holdfast. Septa Samara and Septa Eglantine guided the children inside as well, but they turned to the left rather than continue to the right with the queen, prince, and princess.

“What is the matter?” Margaery insisted again.

“I will tell you when we get to my mother’s solar. This is not a discussion for the hall.”

Elia’s heart sank. Someone was dead — or injured badly enough that grief struck all the same. Was it Rhaegar or Rhaenys? Or Oberyn?

Her solar was empty, but it still bore evidence of the children’s play. Her ladies had all joined them in the courtyard, and they were wise enough to stay away for the time being.

Aegon lifted Elaena’s doll off a chair and gestured for Elia to sit down, but she refused. She would accept the news standing on her own feet.

Margaery sat.

“What has happened?”

“I wish you would sit down, Mother.” She raised an eyebrow, and her son sighed. “The war is won, and the Others were driven north once more. The king granted the Free Folk the lands of the Gift in perpetuity, and they will be subjects of the Night’s Watch.”

Aegon.”

He did not delay further: “Jon and Dany are dead. Tyrion Lannister, too.”

“What?”

He explained Rhaegar’s damned prophecy and the Red Priestess’s visions of Azor Ahai and Ned Stark’s second son, but it was as though her head were underwater and she could not hear him clearly. His voice was garbled, inhuman.

Someone would have to tell Elaena. Elia would. How could you tell a child so young that her parents were dead — that they were heroes? Elaena was enamored with her parents’ dragons, too, and what had happened to them?

Elia could not ask.

She tried to imagine what Jon would wish his daughter to know. Sweet, quiet Jon. She would never hear him laugh again or watch him and Aegon duel in the yard, bickering all the while. He would never storm and simmer over injustices and pick fights with knights and lords (or his father and king) with his surprisingly sharp tongue.

Dany, too, was lost to her, but she had never favored Elia’s company.

Jon had, sometimes.

He liked to hear her thoughts on this lady and that lord when they were sat beside each other at feasts, bewildering those new to court, and she had enjoyed his. He had shared her impatience with them all, and for the same reason. Either they wished him to overthrow his brother or they insulted him to gain Aegon’s favor, and neither attempt worked.

They never saw him as his own man, only as an alternative to Aegon.

Jon could no longer be a threat to her son, and Elaena would never be threat to Daeron. Elia had spent nearly twenty years manipulating and deceiving Lyanna Stark’s son, and why? He died a hero, not an usurper.

He had been such a sweet child.

“Mother? I told you to sit —”

“Your Grace, you look faint.”