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Like the Time Before the Time Before

Chapter Text

Jon Connington

“She cried listening to my song, Jon. She understands. What it’s like to not be free, to live like a trapped bird in a pretty cage.”

I have shed tears too. For your songs. For you. For the us that never was, and never will be.  

He knew what it was like to live like a trapped bird too. To live every day lying to the world, lying to himself, about who he was, what he wanted, what he needed.

About who he loved.

Those words he could never say. Not to his silver prince. So he did the right thing and he counseled Rhaegar about his duties. His responsibilities. His wife. His children. His kingdom. How could a prince abandon all of that for a mere girl?

“She is more than just a girl. I need her,” Rhaegar insisted.

“You need her? You love her, do you mean?” Jon asked, perturbed.

“I need her,” Rhaegar said darkly, and refused to divulge further. “My wife and my children, I leave them in your care for the time being.”

Elia refused to believe that Jon did not know where Rhaegar was headed. “He would have confided in you,” she confronted him time and time again. “His most trusted companion, his beloved friend. How could you not know what he had been planning?”

Beloved. He repeated the words in his mind over and over again. Rhaegar trusted him, depended on him, but did not love him. Rhaegar loved his lady wife, Jon had secretly despaired at one time, but that was beginning to seem less and less likely now. For how could you love someone, yet went on to pile humiliation after humiliation upon them?

Rhaegar needed his wild northern girl, but was need truly the same as love?

“I have loved, and I have lost,” Elia said bleakly.  

Jon wished he could have said the same, but he could not. He had loved, yes, but he had not lost, for how could you lose someone that was never yours to begin with?  

Chapter Text

Marya Seaworth

Her husband left home with a ship full of onions and salt fish, and came home with a knighthood and a piece of land in Cape Wrath. “Our sons will never have to risk their lives flouting the law like I did,” he told her, relieved.

He told their sons about the new home they would soon move to, about the new life they would soon embark on, about the new future they would be able to avail themselves of. She smiled and laughed alongside her boys, but her husband did not miss the shadow behind her smiles, the crack underneath her apparent joy.

“I want to know about the other things too,” she whispered to him softly, when he stroked her face at night and kissed her forehead.

So he told her about the piercing cries of hungry children, skeletal men trying to move in armors that looked far too big and too heavy on them, horses’ bones, rats’ bones, and the young lord with fleshless face and fleshless limbs who still looked defiant against all the odds. He told her about the crackling sound when cleaver met bones. He told her about the pain that no maester’s potion could alleviate.

She stitched the pouch herself, thread by laborious thread, by the flickering light of the candle. He had been carrying the bones in a sack he held in his hand always. The other hand. The one not missing four fingers. “To remind me of Lord Stannis’ justice,” her husband had said when asked why he had not thrown the bones away.

When she gave the leather pouch to her husband, she took out the bones from the sack herself, held them in her palm and inspected them carefully, so she could remember each and every bone forever. This was part of him, part of the man she loved. She stored the bones in the pouch and handed the pouch to her husband.

“Wear it around your neck,” she said to him.

“Why?” Her husband asked.

“To remind me of Lord Stannis’ justice,” she repeated her husband’s words, but suspected she meant something quite different by them than what he had meant when he said those words.

Chapter Text

Jeor Mormont

The letter from his sister Maege had been short, as was her wont. “Jorah has fled. Bear Island is now in my care,” was all she had written.

“Lord Stark is waiting for you, Lord Commander,” his steward reminded him again.

It was not out of the ordinary for the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North to come to Castle Black; the Wall, after all, was in his land. And Lord Stark counted a younger brother among the Black Brothers. But Mormont knew Ned Stark’s reason for coming this time had naught to do with the business of the Night’s Watch, or with his brother Benjen.

“I do not know where my son has gone,” Mormont declared as soon as he and Ned Stark were both seated. “He is not here, hiding in Castle Black.”

“I did not come here to ask you that,” Ned Stark replied. “Jorah fled taking his lady wife with him. It is unlikely that he would be coming to the Wall to take the black.”

“Then why are you here, Lord Stark?”

Ned Stark gave no reply. The look on his face, however, told Mormont all he needed to know.

“My son committed a heinous crime. He deserves to be punished for it, and it is your duty to punish him,” Mormont said firmly.

Death. Death was the punishment. Mormont glanced at Ned Stark’s sword. Ice, it was called. He imagined the blade going through his son’s head.

Jorah. My son. What have you done?

Had he done wrong, stepping down to allow his son to take up the lordship of Bear Island? Was it too soon? Should he have waited longer for Jorah to be more prepared?

Pointless. Regrets and second-guessing were pointless. Ned Stark had a duty to do, and he had his duty as well.

“Jorah left this in his bedchamber,” Ned Stark was saying, holding out a sword to Mormont. “I thought it right to return it to you.”

Longclaw. The bastard sword. Five hundred years of Valyrian steel and Mormont history. He had given it to his son when he took the black. Mormont’s hands gripped the bear’s head on the sword’s hilt. Jorah’s hands had grasped the same hilt when he took a knee and swore to his father to be a good lord to their people. Instead, he had sold poachers to slavers for gold dragons.

“Thank you,” Mormont stood up and said stiffly to Ned Stark. The sight of Longclaw was a painful reminder of his many doubts and misgivings, but he was grateful to Ned Stark for bringing it to him nonetheless. 

 

Chapter Text

Edmure Tully

“Cat! Where are you? Cat!” There was no reply. Little Edmure continued looking for his sister. Maybe Cat was with Lysa, hugging her while Lysa cried for some silly thing or another. Lysa was older than Edmure, but much more of a baby in his mind.

“Lysa! Lysa!” But Lysa was nowhere to be seen either. Edmure looked and looked, to no avail.

Petyr, he thought. Lysa would follow Petyr around while Petyr followed Cat around. It was like a game of tag, but with more tears and crossed words. WhereverPetyr was, Edmure’s sisters were sure to be there as well. He ran out to the meadows. They were not there. He climbed the elm tree he was not supposed to climb anymore after he fell and broke his arm that time, but he could not see them even from that up high.

When he fell and broke his arm, Cat had made him promise never to climb trees ever again. Edmure had promised her because she looked so sad and in pain, as though she was the one with the broken bones, but sometimes he forgot. And in any case he was a boy and boys climbed trees, that’s what Petyr said. Edmureusually paid no mind to Petyr, but Petyr was a boy too and he was fun to play with. Sometimes. When he was not mooning over Cat like a silly cow.

Finally Edmure gave up looking for them and made his way to the godswood. He liked it there better than the sept. There was no septon or septa to wag their fingers at him telling Edmure to be a good boy, and how much high hopes his lord father had for his one and only son. He heard giggles in the godswood. Lysa’sgiggle. But Cat’s too. Cat was giggling? That did not happen often. Sometimes Cat would laugh when Edmure made funny voices while she was reading him a bedtime story.

Petyr was with them. He was sweating heavily. His hands were on Cat’s shoulders, holding on so tightly Edmure thought he was going to hurt her. Edmurestepped forward. “Leave her alone!” He was about to say, when Cat suddenly brought her face closer to Petyr’s face. She did not look upset or displeased. What were they doing? Edmure was perplexed. He tried to get a better look, but was worried his sisters might spot him.

“You smell of mint,” Edmure heard Cat saying to Petyr.

Petyr was smiling, a huge grin on his small face. “Did you like it?” He asked Cat boldly.

Cat did not reply. She turned to Lysa and said, “Your turn.”

Chapter Text

Alayne Baelish

Petyr would not stop talking about the eldest Tully daughter. Catelyn. Cat, he called her, even as Alayne wondered if it was her son’s place to call Lord Tully’s daughter by the family’s pet name.

“They have a pet name for me too,” Petyr replied when Alayne voiced her concern. “Littlefinger. Edmure gave me that name.”

Littlefinger? That did not sound like a name that indicated fondness. It sounded almost … mocking. Of Petyr’s small size, perhaps? Her son had grown since she saw him last, but he was still short and small for his age. He would never grow to be as tall as his father had been, Alayne suspected. The men on her side of the family were mostly short and slender in build.

“It’s because I’m from The Fingers, see?” Petyr explained to his mother. “And Little because we have so little land.

Contrary to her worries, her son did not act as if he was uncomfortable or embarrassed to be home, staying at their modest house with the constant smell of dung fire that was surely a far cry than the comfort and luxury of Riverrun. Petyr treated his mother and the servants as he always had, with no sign that he now thought they were beneath him. “He’s just the same sweet boy as he was,” Grisel who had been Petyr’s wet nurse told her with amazement.

But Alayne knew better. She saw other changes - subtle changes, yes - but changes that disquieted her nonetheless. Petyr did not sound upset or embarrassed by the name Edmure Tully had given him, true, but she sensed a determination to return the mockery, somehow. One morning as they were watching Kella minding the sheep, he spoke of what a marvel it would be, if a boy born heir to some rocks and sheep pellets were to make a match with the daughter of Lord of Riverrun.

Was he talking about himself? Alayne had thought all his talk about Catelyn Tully had been foolish boyish affection, one that would fade in time as he grew older, as he became more aware about the way of the world.

“Catelyn Tully is not for you, Petyr. She is much too old for you, for one,” Alayne told her son, desperate to make him see the impossibility of the match. Age was the least of the problem. Hoster Tully would never agree to it, Alayne knew with certainty. And Lord Tully might even be offended, appalled that the boy he had generously taken on as a ward had the temerity to think above his station.

“Only four years older, Mother. That is nothing. Father was more than ten years older than you were when you married him,” Petyr replied.

“It is different for a man. And Lord Tully would want his daughter to marry well,” she said firmly. It was time to put an end to this nonsense, for Petyr’s own good. She did not want him to spend his life pining over a woman that could never be his. “Someone from a Great House, or at least a lord with significant power and holdings of his own.”

Not people like us, Petyr. Not modest lords whose ancestors were sellswords and hedge knights.

“Don’t worry, Mother. I will prove myself to be more worthy than a thousand of those lords,” Petyr replied, smiling enigmatically.

 

Chapter Text

Tywin Lannister

“It is done, my lord.”

“I heard. Both children?”

Gregor Clegane nodded. “The mother too,” he added.

Tywin Lannister turned his head almost imperceptibly. “The mother? I said nothing about the mother.”

Clegane met his gaze without flinching. “She was with the boy in the nursery, and refused to part with him. There was no way to get to the boy without  –“

Tywin interrupted. “Yet you had time to have your way with her. Did you do that before or after you killed the boy?”

“Does it matter, my lord? Rhaegar Targaryen’s children are both dead, as you commanded.”

It would matter to Doran Martell and Dorne. That could prove to be an unwelcomed complication, Tywin thought. It had not occurred to him that he should have reminded Clegane not to rape Elia Martell. In hindsight, perhaps it should have. But what was done was done. He would have to try to make the best of the situation.

“And the girl? You did the deed yourself?”

Clegane suddenly looked ill-at-ease. Surely he did not rape the girl too? Tywin wondered. How old was she? Four, five? Clegane’s appetite could not have run that deviant, could it?

“Amory Lorch killed the girl, my lord,” Clegane replied.

“And?” Tywin persisted.

“Lorch went overboard and stabbed her over and over again.”

That would mean blood. A lot of blood. Another unwanted complication. “I told you to smother the children with pillows,” Tywin said impatiently. It was supposed to be done cleanly and efficiently. This was beginning to sound much too messy for his liking. The last thing he needed were martyred children.

“The girl was hiding under her father’s bed, and she tried to run away when Lorch came into the room.  A pillow was not a possibility, my lord,” Clegane replied.

“I suppose there was a lot of blood?”

Clegane looked surprised by the question, as if he had not expected Tywin Lannister to be the squeamish sort.

Tywin set the record straight immediately. “Robert Baratheon might object to the sight of bloodied children, even as he’s secretly relieved the threats to his throne have been so conveniently removed without him having to dirty his own hands. Wrap the bodies in crimson cloaks. It would hide the bloodstains, and remind Robert Baratheon that his throne was secured by House Lannister.”

 

Chapter Text

Asha Greyjoy

Her father had his first kill when he was fifteen. At thirteen - Asha’s age -Balon Greyjoy was already an expert oarsman, and by seventeen he was captaining his own longship. Asha aspired to be at least as good as her father, or even better.

“Let me sail with Rodrik to take Seagard,” Asha begged her father, when the rebellion first broke out. “I am better with an axe than Rodrik.”

“You are to stay here to protect your mother and Theon,” her father commanded her. When news came of Rodrik’s death, Asha’s mother pleaded with Balon to bend the knee to Robert Baratheon, for the sake of their remaining children. Balon refused.

“Let him try to take Pyke and be destroyed,” Balon declared. Asha wanted to fight by her brother Maron’s side, guarding the walls and resisting the invaders. Again, she was told to stay in the castle to protect her mother and her little brother.

When Maron died and Robert Baratheon’s forces swarmed into Pyke, her father finally bended his knee. He knelt in the presence of Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark, while Asha’s mother held Theon and Asha tightly behind him.

“Your son as proof of your loyalty,” Robert Baratheon declared, not satisfied with Balon’s bending his knee.

Asha’s mother cried, pleaded and begged, to no avail. “He will be treated as my ward, not as a hostage,” Eddard Stark promised her.

But hostage was certainly what Theon would be. Asha had no illusion about that. Another rebellion, and Theon’s life would be forfeited. Theon did not cry. Her father did not cry. And Asha certainly did not cry, not in the presence of their enemies.

Her mother never stopped mourning her boys, even the one still living. Her father never stopped cursing Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark, the men he held responsible for the loss of his sons. Asha thought of her little brother Theon sometimes, and what hardship was befalling him at Winterfell, but in truth, she had been closer to Rodrik and Maron. She wanted to do all the things her older brothers did, and wanted to do them better, so she followed Rodrik and Maron everywhere. Theon was too young for their games and their battles.

“You are the only child I have left,” her father told her one day, handing her a new, shiny axe. “You will captain ships, raid shores and kill men like your brothers did, like Greyjoys have done for hundreds of years.”

“What about Theon?” Asha asked. One day, when she was strong enough to aid her father, perhaps they could -

“He is lost to me,” Balon replied swiftly, staring into the night. 

Chapter Text

Shiera Seastar/Bloodraven

“No? Your answer is still no? After all this time?”

“Why do you persist in asking the question when you already know what my answer would be?”

“It is not a question, Shiera. It is a proposal.” A marriage proposal, one he had extended to his half-sister countless times before, and been rejected just as many times.

“Aelinor was praying in the Great Sept again today. Praying to the Mother for a son, I gather. Someone should tell our good Queen that prayers do not make babies. Bedding does,” Shiera said, her fingers gently caressing the birthmark on his cheek. “Perhaps you should turn your effort in another direction, Brynden. Making sure our King beds his wife and plants his seeds in her, quickly. Aerys needs a son to inherit his throne. If one of his brothers becomes king … if Maekar becomes king …”

He was always Brynden to her, the name his mother had given him, never Bloodraven. Just like Bittersteel was always Aegor to Shiera. She had bedded Aegor too, Bloodraven was convinced of it. True, she had bedded many men in her times, was still bedding them now in between his visits for all he knew, but none troubled Bloodraven as much as their traitorous half-brother Aegor.

He stared at her. Shiera had a smile on her face, a smile that heightened the contrast between her mismatched eyes.

“What do you find so amusing?” He asked, irritated with her complacency. I want more. Don’t you want more?

“Aelinor is wedded but never bedded, not even once. You are bedded – many, many times and to your great satisfaction – but not wedded,” she replied, amused.

He did not share her amusement. “We can change that,” he told her.

The smile faded from her face. “Why would I want to change anything?” She asked. “I am content and happy as I am.”

“We would be happier as husband and wife. And when we have children, they would not be bastards,” he replied.

You would be mine, Shiera. Mine and mine alone.

“Marriage did not stop our father from taking countless mistresses, our own mothers among them. Marriage did not stop him from producing an army’s worth of bastards either.”

“I am not our father,” Bloodraven said vehemently.

“Perhaps. But a marriage vow has never stopped men from straying and taking mistresses or fucking any whore or tavern wench that caught their eyes. For a woman, it’s a different story altogether.”

He raised his voice. “So that’s the reason? You will not marry me because it would mean you cannot bed other men?”

“I will not marry you because I do not wish to belong to anyone except myself,” Shiera replied, her voice as calm as if she was telling him about the season. “I will still gladly bed you,” she declared, her hand playing with the sapphire-and-emerald necklace on her throat.

He could never resist her, not like this.

Chapter Text

Blessed

They had no food with which to feed another mouth, but his wife had insisted. “I will share my own portion with her,” Betha said, cradling their newborn son in her arms. The latest addition to their already large brood was a healthy-looking lad, suckling greedily at his mother’s breast. Betha would need all the food they could spare, so Dale gave half his own portion to the strange woman who had knocked on their door asking for shelter from the heavy rain.

The older children stared at the woman while they ate their bread. She smiled at them, her heart-shaped face perhaps the loveliest sight his children had ever laid eyes on in all their years on earth. “Where did you come from, m’lady?” Dale’s eldest daughter asked the stranger.

“I am not a lady, merely a servant of god,” the woman replied, her voice deep and melodious.

 “Then the Mother will keep you in her protection, always,” Betha said eagerly. She had prayed to the Mother for another son, and her prayers had been answered. Davos, they had named the babe.

“The Mother, well. Perhaps there is a higher power out there more powerful than the Seven,” the woman replied, her tone mysterious.

Dale was startled. What could be more powerful than the Seven? Was the woman from the North, perhaps, a worshiper of the old gods? Before Dale could ask, she was asking Betha a question of her own.

“What is the name of your babe?”

“Davos, m’lady," Betha replied. “Would you like to hold him?” She asked the woman shyly.

Dale was about to object, but the woman was already holding out her hands to take Davos into her arms. She held the baby expertly, as if she had held many babies in her time. She lifted the cloth covering part Davos’ face and stared at the babe for a long while. Her face shifted and transformed, hardening, then softening, then hardening again. The sight of it disquieted Dale. He was about to snatch his son away from the woman, when she handed Davos to Betha herself, in a quick but gentle motion.

“He will grow to be a famous man, your son,” the woman said. “A famous knight whose name is known all over the kingdom.”

The children laughed with delight. Betha laughed too. “Oh I should think not! Not for the likes of us, being famous knights. I only pray that he will grow to be a strong and healthy lad, and father plenty of children, just like his father,” Betha said, her hand patting her husband’s lap.

“He will father many sons, yes, I see that too,” the woman replied, but with a sad look in her eyes. Why should this strange woman be sad that his Davos would be a father to many sons? The woman was making Dale more and more uncomfortable. He was relieved when she declined Betha’s offer to stay the night at their hut.

“We shall meet again one day,” the woman whispered in Davos’ ear as she was leaving, but Dale heard her clearly. Perhaps he was meant to hear. Davos began to cry loudly.

Betha tried to soothe her shrieking son. “He’s usually such a good baby. Don’t know what got into him tonight. I expect he’s afraid of that choker you’re wearing, m’lady. What is that, ruby?” Betha asked.

The woman left without giving a reply.

Chapter Text

Maester Cressen tells young Stannis the story of Bloodraven and Maekar Targaryen.

“Why did King Aerys I choose his uncle to be his Hand, Maester?”

“Some say the king was bewitched by his uncle’s spells and lies. Do you remember what Brynden Rivers was also called?”

“Bloodraven, on account of the birthmark on his face and neck,” Stannis replied. “Was he truly a sorcerer?”

Maesters were not supposed to believe in magic, only in knowledge and truths that could be verified. Yet Cressen wondered about Bloodraven and his supposed powers. He truly wondered. He did not share his misgivings with the young boy under his charge, however.

“Those were merely stories told by his enemies and by those who found Lord Brynden a poor choice to be Hand of the King. Lord Brynden did make several controversial and ill-judged decisions as Hand. He ordered the smallfolks not to leave their land, even as they were starving because of a long drought, causing many to perish needlessly,” Cressen said.

“The smallfolks blamed him for the drought, didn’t they? They said it was a punishment from the Seven because Bloodraven was a kinslayer. But Maester, if the sin was Lord Bloodraven’s, why would the gods punish everyone else?” Stannis asked, frowning.

Other maesters would have called that question impertinent, but not Cressen. He smiled fondly at Stannis. The boy was curious and thoughtful, not content to simply accept the things told to him by others without questioning. “It was not a punishment from the gods, the drought was a natural cycle, like the coming of winter. But the kingdom was unprepared for it at that time, and no food had been stored beforehand,” Cressen told Stannis.

“King Aerys should have made his brother Maekar his Hand,” Stannis declared. “He turned out to be a good king later, Maekar Targaryen. I’m sure he would have been a good Hand as well, better than Lord Bloodraven.”

Maekar Targaryen had indeed expected to be appointed Hand of the King by his brother Aerys, and had retired to his residence at Summerhall in protest when their bastard uncle Bloodraven was appointed instead. He spent years sulking because of the slight, some said. Cressen did not think it wise to mention that to Stannis, considering Maekar Targaryen was Stannis’ great great grandfather.

“Well, it is for us to heed history and learn from the mistakes of our ancestors,” Cressen told the boy. Stannis nodded in agreement.

 

Chapter Text

Ned Stark brings Arthur Dayne’s sword Dawn to his sister Ashara.

She was heavy with child, the lady Ashara, Ned’s eyes could not fail to register. Wartime marriages were common - his own union with Catelyn had been arranged hastily after Brandon’s death – but Ned had not heard any news that Ashara Dayne was wed. But that was hardly his concern. He came here for a different matter.

“How did my brother die?” She asked, her eyes never meeting his own.

“He died doing his duty as a Kingsguard,” Ned replied.

She waited.

“He was slain in single combat,” Ned continued.

She continued to wait.

“I killed him,” Ned said, finally.

She closed her eyes tightly, but no tears came. “What was Arthur doing at Tower of Joy?”

“Guarding my sister Lyanna, on Rhaegar Targaryen’s order.”

Her eyes were opened now, those haunting violet eyes, the same shape and color as her brother’s eyes. Ned had stared into Arthur Dayne’s eyes as he was dying. “Bring my sword home to my sister. Tell Ashara I am sorry. Please, Eddard,” the man had said with his dying breath.

Ashara Dayne was paying her brother’s sword Dawn scant attention, however. “Is your sister safe, at least?” She asked Ned.

Ned shook his head, but was too overcome with grief to say a word.

Ashara was startled. “Arthur didn’t … he didn’t harm your sister, did he?”

“No,” Ned replied swiftly. “Lyanna … she died of a fever.”

Childbed fever, but Ned had promised Lya that would be their secret forever.

Ashara rose and walked to the window, staring out to sea. “Arthur was Sword of the Morning, and now dusk has set. My baby will be born without a father.”

Ned was not certain he had heard correctly. He cleared his throat.

“The Targaryens wed brothers and sisters for hundreds of years,”Ashara said, her tone defensive.

“It is not my place to judge, my lady,” Ned replied softly.

“We loved each other, Arthur and I, despite his vows.” She was weeping now, the tears coming down furiously as if a floodgate had suddenly been forced to open.

 “He wanted me to tell you that he is sorry,” Ned said.

“He is forgiven.”

“I am sorry for your loss, my lady. More than I can say.”

 “You are forgiven too, Lord Stark.”

 

Chapter Text

“Willas has a bad leg but a good heart,” said Margaery. “He used to read to me when I was a little girl, and draw me pictures of the stars.” (A Storm of Swords)

His stories grew darker and darker after his first and only tourney. He did not come to Margaery’s room to read to her as he used to; she went to him instead, in his sickroom that was almost always dark, day and night.

“Read to me, Willas,” she asked, pulling the curtain to let the sun in.

“No!” He shouted, angry at her as he had never been before.

“It’s too dark,” Margaery said. “How can you see the words in the book?”

“I don’t need to see the words. I know the story by heart. The whole damn story, and how it will end,” Willas replied bitterly.

She had never heard him curse or swear before. Margaery set the book aside and sat on her brother’s bed.

“Do you want to hear the story of the gallant knight, or the crippled heir?” Willas asked.

“I want to hear about the crippled heir who becomes a gallant –“

“I will never be a knight, sweet sister. Not now.”

“- who becomes a gallant and good lord.”

He did not smile as she had hoped, but he looked slightly less bitter and miserable than he did when she first came into the room. He drew more stars for her, but these were not stars in the night sky, he told her. They were the stars he saw when the sun was shining brightly, and he thought he would never see her again.  

Chapter Text

Rhaegar Targaryen

“Can I ride Balerion, Father?”

“He is not really a dragon, Rhaenys. He’s a kitten.”

“I know that,” the girl giggled.

“You should call him Meraxes instead,” Rhaegar said.

“Why?”

“Balerion is the name of Aegon’s dragon. Meraxes is Rhaenys’ dragon.”

“That’s why kitty is Balerion. He is black and scary like King Aegon’s dragon.”

The kitten did not look scary. It was trying to snuggle close to little Rhaenys’ leg. The girl ran around in circles, shrieking with excitement as her black kitten tried to chase her. She took pity on the creature after a while, holding it in her arms and caressing its head gently.

Rhaegar had meant a different Aegon. His Aegon – his son, not the first Aegon Targaryen. Three dragons would require three riders, there was no getting around that. Aegon to ride Balerion as his namesake did, Rhaenys to ride Meraxes as her namesake did, and another child, a daughter to ride Vhagar like Visenya did.

The maester had been adamant and unequivocal after Aegon’s birth. “Another childbirth will kill her, Your Grace. I do not think the princess will even survive carrying another child to term.”

“You have your heir, and a daughter too,” his mother had said. “Elia has more than done her duty.”

But his mother did not understand. No one did. They never saw the things he had seen, in dreams that stood out more vividly than his every waking moment ever did. He needed a Visenya of his own, a proud and passionate warrior like the first Visenya Targaryen.

The mother would have to be similarly -

“Father, look!”

Rhaenys was trying to mount the kitten, which was desperately trying to get away from her.

“Leave the kitten be, Rhaenys. Would you like to ride on my back instead?”

She nodded eagerly. He carried his daughter on his back from the garden to Aegon’s nursery, Balerion following them quietly the whole way.

 

Chapter Text

“My brother Willas gave me that name, as it happens. To protect me. I was a plump little boy, I fear, and we do have an uncle called Garth the Gross. So Willas struck first, though not before threatening me with Garlan the Greensick, Garlan the Galling, and Garlan the Gargoyle.” (A Storm of Swords)

“I was a plump little boy too,” Father said, laughing, “and look at me now. Don’t worry, Garlan.” Garlan stared at his father’s belly and his ample girth, and was not reassured at all. Father meant well, Garlan knew, but he must have forgotten how terrible it was to be a boy cruelly teased by other boys.

And teased by girls, too.

And in any case, Grandmother insisted that Father had not been plump little boy at all. “As slender and graceful as Willas, your father was, as a young boy. He must have eaten too many puff fish later to swell up that much.”

Garlan the Gross, he had heard those names whispered behind his back. The more imaginative boys had dissented; there was already a Garth the Gross in the Tyrell family. Garlan the Girth, they suggested. Garlan the Giant, others said.

No one would dare call him those names to his face – his father was Lord of Highgarden and Warden of the South after all – but just like the whole Reach knew Garth Tyrell was also called Garth the Gross, Garlan feared that those names would stick to him as well. Garlan the Giant might not be so bad, he told Willas. There were giants beyond the Wall, famed for their strength.

“But they wouldn’t be calling me Garlan the Giant for my strength, would they?” Garlan asked his brother sadly.

Willas said nothing, which was answer enough for Garlan. “Giants are yesterday’s news,” Willas said later with all seriousness. “Gargoyles, now, they are far more impressive. Garlan the Gargoyle. How about that?”

Garlan was never certain when his brother was speaking in jest; Willas’s expression gave nothing away.

“A gargoyle is uglier than a giant!” Garlan protested.

“How do you know? You’ve never seen a giant,” Willas replied.

“I wish I could see a giant,” Garlan said with wonder in his voice.

“We will, one day,” Willas promised.

“When, Willas? When can we see a giant? Can we travel beyond the Wall, just the two of us? Will Father let us go, do you think?”

“Settle down, or I might call you Garlan the Galling for being so irritating,” Willas replied, but he was smiling listening to his brother’s excited chatter. “On second thought, Garlan the Gallant is perhaps better,” Willas continued.

Garlan frowned. “But I am just a boy, not a gallant knight. How can I be Garlan the Gallant?”

“You don’t have to be a knight to be gallant. And not all knights are gallant anyhow,” Willas said.

And so he was Garlan the Gallant from that day on. Willas said so, and everyone followed suit because Willas was beloved in Highgarden – he was Lord Tyrell’s oldest son and heir, who would be a gallant knight himself soon, after he fought in his first tourney in a few moon’s turn.

 

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“There is us, and there is the rest of the world,” his mother had taught Stannis, the implication being, we, you and I, my son, must make allowances for the foolishness and weaknesses of others, must not show them our contempt so freely and unthinkingly, must protect the world from the sharpness of our tongue and the harshness of our judgment. If Cassana had not died so soon, perhaps her son would have heeded the lesson. Or perhaps that was only a conjecture those who loved him the most desperately wished to believe.

“Anyone who is not us is the enemy,” Cersei had taught her own son, her firstborn, the boy who would make her mother of a king someday.

They knew each other at first glance, Cersei and Stannis, a knowledge forged deep in the bones, each recognizing an uncomfortable yet essential truth in the wary gaze of the other.

“He is an enemy,” she thought, “who believes everyone who is not him is his enemy.”

“She is a dangerous woman,” he thought, “who believes everyone who is not her is a danger to herself.”

“Poor Robert, having a brother like that,” she thought, perhaps the only instance of her feeling sorry for her husband, once she had truly known Robert for the brute that he was.

“Poor Robert, married to a woman like that,” he thought, perhaps the only instance of him feeling sorry for his brother, since the day Robert took what should have been his by rights to give to Renly.

They could have bonded over their various resentments towards Robert Baratheon, but they never did. He was too loyal to his brother for that. She was too proud of her own strength for that. He considered it his right to be contemptuous of his brother, but not her right, nor was it others. She would rather that they resented each other, hated each other, openly showing contempt to one another, then for him to show her pity, let alone understanding.

They could have bonded over the fact that they were who they were, people who saw the world the way they did, full of fear and suspicion. But that would have required acknowledging that they were the kind of people that they were, and they were neither of them capable of that act of genuine self-awareness and self-knowledge.

When he finally realized the extent of her treachery and her evil deeds towards his brother and towards the kingdom, there was great relief buried deep under his fury and his determination to bring her to justice, for her to be punished.

 I can hate her freely now, without feeling that I am hating myself as well.That was the thought he would deny ever thinking of, later. 

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The Yronwood girl was to blame, the youngest bastard old Lord Yronwood had sired on one of his many paramours. This one had very pale skin and blue eyes, so the mother was probably not even Dornish. She took Elia’s hand and begged the princess to play with her, to join the gaggle of screaming children at the largest pool in the Water Gardens. Elia resisted at first, glancing thoughtfully at her brother by her side, but something in the Yronwood girl’s eyes changed her mind.

Elia could never resist a sob story. As they grew older, she would ask him time and time again – how would you feel, were you in that person’s place? Can’t you spare them a thought?

Back to the Yronwood girl who was not called Yronwood but Sand with her puppy dog eyes and her sad stares, Oberyn was four and Elia five at the time, and he was recognizing this monstrous truth for the first time – we are not one and the same. His sister had a mind and a body of her own so alien to his own, and she could be wrenched from his side at any moment. Even worse, even more unforgivable, was the fact that at times she herself would freely choose to leave his side, preferring the company of others to his own. How could this be? Everyone had always spoken of them in the same breath –EliaandOberyn, OberynandElia, as if they were one entity, a being, inseparable forever.

He felt betrayed, abandoned, lied to.

But it was a lesson that needed to be learned, he understood later, no matter how painful and wrenching it was at the time. The Lannister twins had never learned that lesson, Oberyn thought, as he watched them conversing with each other, their golden hair touching so you could not be sure where his ended and hers began, lost in their own secret world and their private universe, excluding all others.

He envied them their closeness, but at the same time he was also judging Jaime Lannister unfavorably as a potential husband for Elia. Elia deserved nothing less than a devoted husband who would put her first above all other women in his life.

As for Cersei Lannister, Oberyn was less troubled. A woman who was too devoted to her husband could prove more troublesome than helpful in the long run. Love and devotion could so easily curdle into jealousy and possessiveness, and Oberyn certainly did not want a jealous and possessive wife. Cersei could still love and admire her twin brother from afar, and leave her husband in peace to pursue his own pleasures.

“Has Mother spoken to Lord Tywin yet? About … the big matter,” Elia whispered, interrupting his speculation.

Oberyn shook his head. “She said she would wait a few days more, to give him time to grieve.”

Elia was restless. “Perhaps it is better for us to leave without the matter being broached at all. Lord Tywin has just lost his dear wife, and Jaime and Cersei have just lost their lady mother. Surely it is not the time to be thinking of betrothals and marriages,” she said softly. “And whatever informal agreement Mother might have come to with Lady Joanna, it is moot now that she is dead.”

“Why? Don’t you like Jaime Lannister? Is he not the man of your dream?” Oberyn teased his sister.

Elia was not in the mood for teasing. “It’s not about liking or disliking, is it?” She replied in a tone that struck him as uncharacteristically bitter.

Was it possible that she already had her heart set on another man? A man not Jaime Lannister. Once when they were much younger, Oberyn would have thought that impossible, would have been convinced that it was completely implausible that his sister could keep something that monumental a secret from him, but now he was far less certain. There were things he had kept from her - many, many things. For her own sake, he tried to convince himself, for Elia’s health was uncertain at best, and she did not need more worries to blight her days and burden her thoughts. Yet at times he wondered whether keeping things secret from her was really for his own benefit, for he could not bear her censure and her disappointment, could not bear to think that she loved him any less than she did when they were children.

He yearned to ask her to confide her secrets to him, but his own secrets stayed his tongue. Yet he could not help but notice the relief in Elia’s eyes when Mother abruptly told them that they were leaving, that there would not be any betrothal at all, and there would never be any Martell-Lannister marriage alliance in her lifetime. Mother was tight-lipped about what Lord Tywin had actually said, but whatever it was must have been very offensive and insulting to raise the ire of the usually even-tempered Princess of Dorne to that extent.  

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Dark Sister and Visenya Targaryen

A Valyrian sword and its owner.

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Of the two ancestral swords belonging to House Targaryen, Blackfyre was the one Visenya coveted. She had cast her eyes on it when she was too young still to wield anything other than a wooden sword, running her fingers on the hilt and caressing the blade as if caressing the face of a beloved.

She was the firstborn, but not the oldest son. Or the only son. That was Aegon, her brother, her eventual husband according to thousands of years of Targaryen tradition. Blackfyre was not for Visenya to wield, but for Aegon.

“This sword must have been originally forged for a woman. Look at its slender blade. It would suit you perfectly,” her father told Visenya, when he was showing her Dark Sister for the first time. Or so he believed. In truth, Visenya had taken Dark Sister out too, in secret, long ago. She had disliked the feel of its hilt in her palm, had loathed the swing of its blade. Compared to Blackfyre, the sister sword had seemed to Visenya almost weightless, inconsequential, second-best at best, third-rate at worst.  

Blackfyre would have suited Visenya better. Much, much better.

“There doesn’t seem to be any ancestral sword for me to wield,” Rhaenys said good-naturedly, after Aegon and Visenya were finally given possession of Blackfyre and Dark Sister.

“Do you mind at all?” Aegon asked his younger sister, looking concerned.

Rhaenys smiled. “Why should I mind? The new sword Father told the blacksmith to forge suits me perfectly. It is made specifically to fit me, not anyone else. And it is mine, all mine. I do not have to worry about thousands of years of family history, or about all the illustrious ancestors who wielded the sword in the past, and what a grave burden it is to prove myself as worthy as they were supposed to have been.” She laughed. “And we all know dead ancestors are always good and worthy, and responsible for glorious deeds we cannot hope to compete.”

Her sister had always been an incomprehensible mystery to Visenya. Burden? It was a challenge, a very exciting challenge, not a burden.

And a sword can be made your own, after all, even if it was not forged to fit you in the beginning. Even if that sword had seemed like a poor consolation prize at first, to replace the one you truly coveted, but could never have. Visenya realized this after her first kill with Dark Sister in her hand. The true power lies not with the sword, but in some mysterious alchemy between wielder and sword.

You are mine, and I am yours.  

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Stannis & Davos talking about Davos Baratheon

“There was a Davos Baratheon, once.”

“I did not know that, my lord.”

“He was the son of Orys Baratheon.”

“The founder of House Baratheon?”

“Ah, so you know some history after all. And yet you told me you do not know how to read and write, smuggler.”

“I know how to listen, Lord Stannis.”

“And how to ask questions, no doubt.”

“What happened to this Davos Baratheon? Did he become Lord of Storm’s End after his father?”

“He watched his father die. That is the only thing history saw fit to impart to us. He was only a second son after all, inconsequential in the eyes of the world.”

“Watched his father die? In battle?”

“After a victorious battle. They were on their way home when Orys took ill and died.”

“It seems a cruel thing, to lead a man to victory and then –“

“- and then to let him die so close to home. But then the gods are cruel. Do you not know that, Davos?”

“The Seven has blessed me in many ways, my lord. My sons, my ship, my safe return from sea after every journey.”

“I stood on this very parapet watching my father’s ship sink, the day the gods saw fit to drown my father and mother. Do not speak to me about the blessings of the gods.”

“Lord Orys … was he not known as Orys One Hand?”

“He was, yes. He lost his sword hand during the Dornish campaign. Davos One Hand. The name does not suit you, Davos. You are only short four fingers after all.”

“Davos Shorthand, perhaps.”

“Must you mock yourself? The world does that enough, surely? Unfairly, certainly; but when has the world ever been fair?”

“They will mock me either way, my lord. An upjumped smuggler stinking of salt fish and onion, I am called. I am thinking of putting an onion on my sigil.”

“To remind you of their mockery?”

“To remind me of where I came from.”

“They may mock you for your onions, Davos, but were it not for my Onion Knight, Storm’s End would have fallen and its people starved to death.”

“Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight. I like the sound of that.”  

  

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Asha Greyjoy

Planky Town was a poor excuse for a harbor, the captain of the Black Wind decided.   

“They say that the princess is here,” Qarl announced, his chin still sticky with the remnants of peach juice. Damn. Asha thought she had kissed it clean, kissed him clean. Well, she would just have to do it all over again, once they were back inside the cabin.   

Still relishing that thought, she teased him, “A princess? Here? On my ship?”

Qarl laughed, shaking his head. “No, here in Planky Town.”

“Which princess? Dorne is overgrown with princes and princesses.”

The Dornish carpenter she had hired to mend the ship’s broken plank looked up. “There is only one princess now, since Princess Elia was murdered. Princess Arianne, Prince Doran’s heir,” he said.

To be Dornish, Asha thought, and to be heir by right of law, not just by her father’s design. She was older than Theon after all. More to the point, she was the one her father had been training to rule the Iron Islands, the one he intended to sit the Seastone Chair after him.   

No, Asha was an Ironborn, and she would never wish to be anything other. Her axe would do her fighting, if the law would not do it for her.  

“She is a great beauty, they say. This Princess Arianne,” Qarl remarked, before swiftly adding, “Of course, no one is more beautiful than my sweet captain.”

Asha glared at him. Sweet? Well, at least it was ‘sweet captain’ this time, and not ‘sweet lady.’ She had been trying to break him out of that habit since the first time she took him to bed. “The day I require praise for my looks is the day I lay down my axe.” Which would be never.

“I –

She fed Qarl another morsel of peach, to drown out his apology.   

Directing her question to the Dornish carpenter, Asha asked, “What is this Princess Arianne doing at Planky Town, and not at Sunspear?”

“She has just returned from a voyage east, visiting her lady mother in Norvos.”

 “Prince Doran’s wife is still living?”

“Living, yes. But his wife in name only, truth be told. They have lived apart for many years.” The carpenter seemed to relish telling Asha - an outsider - this news.

“Prince Doran is not much to look at, they say,” Qarl interjected. “Unlike his younger brother.”

Thinking of her own mother at Ten Towers, Asha remarked, sharply, “I doubt she would leave her husband just because he is not much to look at.”

Had Prince Doran and his lady wife lost a child, Asha wondered? Or more than one child? No, not likely, she thought. He was cautious to a fault, this prince, people said. Indolent, even. Certainly not the type to raise a rebellion or to do anything rash and ending up losing two – or three – sons in the process.

Rodrik? Maron? Where are you?

Where are my sons?

Theon? Where is Theon?

Where is my baby boy?

This wife of Prince Doran was at least more fortunate than Alannys Harlaw, Asha thought.

All her children were still living.

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Melisandre

“Tell me more, Lady Melisandre.”

So she did. She told Selyse about the night that never ends, about the savior born in salt and smoke, about the flame, the beautiful flame that dances and flickers and shows the future as it should be.

(The future as it would be, if she served her lord, her one true god, well enough.)

“I have always known that my husband would be more than just the forgotten brother of a king. They scorn him, you know. They scorn him for nothing more than the sin of being who he is, for not being his charming, frivolous brothers, when in fact he is a hundred times the better man than they could ever be.”  

“They scorn you too, my queen?”

“They laugh at us both. No one will be laughing at us ever again. No one.”

She knew, then. She recognized the hunger in this woman, the desperate yearning that was like a fire burning through her flesh; all-consuming, ever-present. Let the fire burn, my queen. Let it burn and purify your soul, firm your resolve, harden your heart, like it did mine, long ago.

What does it matter? What does it matter if Selyse’s faith is less in the Lord of Light and more in her lord husband and what is due him (and by extension, herself), what is owed them by the world that has made a cruel mockery of them both for far too long? What does it matter if Stannis’ notion of faith resembles a sulky, defiant child bargaining with a parent – two is not threeshow me three, not two, and I might believe in your power then, and only then.

Noneof that truly matters. Her own faith is strong enough for all of them; strong enough to sustain them in this journey to save the world from darkness, from the cold, long night that never ends.

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 Ormund Baratheon/Rhaelle Targaryen

 “Love is supposed to dignify us. How can it be love, when all it does is make liars and betrayers of my brothers and sister?”

“You kept your word and your father’s promise. You, alone, among your siblings. How much joy have you had of that, Rhaelle?”

“How much joy have you had of your father’s vengeance, Ormund?”

“How much joy have you had of our union, my princess?”

“We make our own happiness, my sister told me.”

“Pity she did not tell you that before our wedding.”

“Oh, but she did. Run, Shaera whispered. It’s not too late, she said.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Where would I have gone? Shaera had her Jaehaerys. I had no one.”

“You had me. You have me still.”  

“I wanted that, once. When I was a foolish girl dreaming of her father’s brave squire. Before Duncan’s great love made a mockery of everything, poisoned what once could have been.”

“You can want it again.”

“And risk another crushing disappointment, another devastation? Love is supposed to dignify us. How can it be love, when all it does is strip us bare of our defenses?”

“How can there be love, unless we’re willing to be stripped to the bone, unless we’re willing to be truly known, to the other?”

Love is supposed to dignify us, she thought. How could it be love, when all it did was leave her with the bones and silence of the one who had known her best?

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Quote swap: Ormund  Baratheon + “There’s no shame in fear, my father told me, what matters is how we face it.”

 

His son would not meet his gaze. “What if I disgrace myself in battle? What if I disgrace you, Father, and bring shame to the honor of our House?”

“You will not.”

“But how do you know? How can you know the future? How can anyone? It’s not possible.”

The Targaryen blood in Steffon had not conferred to him the dream of dragons or the belief in prophecies, and for that Ormund thanked the gods sincerely.

“I may not know the future, but you are my son, Steffon, and I know you.”

“I’m … I’m not as brave as Tywin, or even Aerys. Aerys is impatient for the battle to begin. Tywin sits and confers with battle-hardened knights and lords, and he is as comfortable in their company as he is in our company,Aerys and myself.”

“He has to be. Tywin is a knight himself now, a man grown at eighteen.”

“I wish I am not afraid.”

“There’s no shame in fear, my father told me, what matters is how we face it. We must not allow fear to make cowards and cravens of us. Fear is something to be conquered, not dreaded.”

“I never thought the Laughing Storm would ever have been afraid of anything,” replied Steffon, in amazement. The greatest fighter of his day, Lyonel Baratheon had been dubbed. Songs were still sung and tales were still spread far and wide in the Stormlands about his prowess in battle, about his booming laughter mocking his opponents at every joust in every tourney; the latter, pure exaggeration for the sake of art, of course.

“He laughed at some opponents to put fear in their hearts in tourneys and in mock battles, but never in real battles,” Ormund said. Men are not afraid of mere laughter or mockery when death is staring them in the face, Lyonel Baratheon had told his son.

“Was your father afraid, before he faced Lord Commander Duncan in single combat?”

“It would not surprise me if he was. He was not angry with Ser Duncan, however, which did surprise me. I had thought he would be furious with Ser Duncan, since he had fought on Ser Duncan’s behalf in the trial of seven at Ashford, had come to Ser Duncan’s aid when most other knights in the realm had flatly refused to do so. But my father said Ser Duncan was only doing his duty as a knight of the Kingsguard, and he was not the one who deserved the blame. It was someone else my father reserved his fury for.”

“Grandfather Aegon?”

Ormund nodded. “My father thought King Aegon should have been able to control his own son, should have forced Prince Duncan to set aside his supposed marriage. ‘Young men are often foolish,’ my father said, ‘there is nothing strange or new under the sun about that. I was a willful, stubborn lad myself in my younger years, before my own father knocked the foolishness out of me. It is the duty of every father to set his children straight, to drag them back to the right path, kicking and screaming if need be. The king fails in that duty.’”

A willful, stubborn old fool in the thrall of his pride and his fury, some had called Lyonel Baratheon, when he renounced his allegiance to the Iron Throne and declared himself the Storm King. He fancies himself Argilac the Arrogant come again, others derided, and look what became of the last Storm King.

What would Lyonel Baratheon think now, his son and grandson fighting for a Targaryen king, under the Targaryen banner? His son leading the Targaryen army, in fact. Ormund dared not wonder, dared not contemplate the answer too deeply.  

“What does it matter? Why should it matter what he might think, how he might judge you?” Rhaelle had said in her blunt, no-nonsense tone before Ormund departed for the Stepstones. “They are all dead; your father, my father, even Ser Duncan. And you are a better man than your father had ever been, even if you doubt it yourself.”

“I’ll keep him safe, our son,” he had promised his wife.

“And who will keep you safe?” she had asked, her hands caressing his face.

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“Does it not horrify you, my lady, what your betrothed did to the Reynes and the Tarbecks?”

What Joanna yearns to say is this: I would have done the same, in his place. They needed to be taught a lesson, the Reynes and the Tarbecks, and Tywin taught them and the whole of the Westerlands a lesson they would never forget.

She knows better than to say this out loud, however. Men are allowed much and forgiven more; women are not.

She does not yearn to reform Tywin, to change him ‘for the better,’ to turn him into ‘a kinder, gentler soul.’ She sees him for what he is, knows him for what he is, loves him for what he is.  

Her heart does not beat with the desire to be his salvation; it beats with the desire to be his true partner, a lifelong companion not only of the hearts and the bodies but also of the minds.

We are one, Tywin and I, in all things.

And oh what heights we could reach together!

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Melisandre had made the mistake once, not long after her arrival in Dragonstone, of asking Stannis why he kept the fool around in his castle, the fool who must have reminded him, with each jangling of the bells and with each noisy inhalation of breath, of the father and mother Stannis had lost at too young an age. The fool who was a constant painful reminder of the death of Stannis' father and mother, who, unlike Patchface himself, had not survived the sinking of Windproud.

Stannis had stubbornly refused to answer the question. Instead, he pointed the arrow at her direction, asking, “What painful memory did Patchface resurrect for you, my lady? I saw the way you looked at him, the way you stared long and hard at his face, with fear in your eyes. I did not think it was in you to be afraid of anything, or anyone, but clearly I was wrong.”

Melony. He reminded me of Melony. Of the slave who was bought and sold like a piece of meat. How much did your father pay for the fool, Stannis? How much was his wit worth in gold, before he lost it?

Patchface resurrected unbearable memories of the girl who was not in control of her own destiny, who was completely at the mercy of others, who -

No! She would not think of that girl. She would not think of Melony. Melony was no more. Melony was dead, dead in all the ways that really mattered. She had made sure of that. Melisandre had made sure of that.

Melisandre was a champion of light and life, not a slave girl whose life was lived in darkness.

She laughed, to make light of Stannis' question. “Why should I fear your fool? I have nothing to fear from him, though others do, yourself included. He is a dangerous creature.”

Dangerous, not the least, to her own peace of mind.