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The Pre-Canon Drabbles

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"I will not have my son turning cartwheels and tumbling on dinner tables," snapped Tywin. "You should not encourage him."

Gerion rolled his eyes. ”The boy enjoys it, and you never let him have any fun, Tywin.”

Tywin raised his eyebrows. He never expected Gerion to understand. Gerion never thought about anything. That, he supposed, was the burden of the eldest, and Gerion was as far from being the eldest as it was possible to be. Even Tyrion showed more responsibility than Tywin’s youngest brother, and the little monkey was still a child.

"He is a Lannister. He will amuse himself in ways befitting his birth," Tywin said through gritted teeth. "As should you."

"What good is being a Lannister if you can’t enjoy yourself properly. You wouldn’t know proper joy if it farted in your face."

"I suppose that’s why you named your bastard Joy, is it?"

To his surprise, Gerion threw his head back and laughed. ”You might say. Tywin, listen to me, you take all this too seriously. You’ll find yourself with a son you can’t control if you keep restricting his pleasures.”

"And what would you know of it? You’ve been uncontrollable and ungrateful your entire life. If you had half a lick of responsibility, I might take you seriously."

It was Gerion’s turn to raise his eyebrows. ”I thought that you took all Lannisters seriously?”

"All Lannisters that matter," Tywin said before he could stop himself.

Gerion’s eyes were big and green and altogether too much like Mother’s. That baleful glare was one Tywin had seen all too often when he was a child, when Tygett and Gerion fought, when Kevan cried, when he had ignored his younger brothers.

"Well," Gerion said at last, "At least you recognize that your son matters—worried as you are about what shame he’ll bring the family name. Perhaps there’s some hope for you yet, brother."

He turned and left, the oak door slamming shut behind him. Tywin took a deep breath, then crossed the room and poured himself a glass of red.

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"There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere."

The Prince looks up from his book. It takes a moment for his eyes to focus. Then slowly he closes the book.

"What time is it?" Rhaegar’s voice is dry, unused for many hours. How long has he been here? It’s been a very long time since Arthur has had to search for him in the bowels of the Red Keep’s library. And it’s been even longer since the Prince had missed a morning’s spar.

"Just past midday. Your Lady Wife awaits you." She had been nervous, when she’d asked him where her husband was—as though dreading the answer, fearing he would be abed with some paramour. As if Rhaegar would do such a thing. Princess Elia was simply unaccustomed to marriage. Weren’t all women, when they were newly wed?

Rhaegar scrunches his eyes, and shakes his head slightly, as though ridding himself of a fly. Then he gets to his feet, putting the book back on a shelf.

"You read too much," Arthur comments when they step into the hallway.

"I hardly read enough, Arthur. There is much too much for me to do, and not enough hours in the day."

Rhaegar’s eyes are distant, still lost in the swirl of words.

Arthur does his best not to roll his eyes as he follows his Prince to lunch.

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He had heard of the Princess’ beauty, of course. A dutiful beauty, he had heard it called—yet not a beauty untypical of a Targaryen. And he was not disappointed in it, when he glanced at the stands before lowering his visor. Pale as the dawn, she was, with pink lips like coral and eyes that seemed too lost in thought to focus on the riders before her. He wondered what could cause her brow to crease that way. A bride should be bright on her wedding day, nor preoccupied.

He did not doubt that she would be named the Queen of Love and Beauty today. That was what one did during tourneys celebrating a marriage. One crowned the bride and let ones beloved know his true feelings after the joust was one. Of course, even if she weren’t to be wed, he would probably crown her. To kiss her hand while presenting her with the crown of white lilies and sprinkled lilacs would be more an honor than knocking Ser Bonifer on his pompous ass.

Jon couched his lance and kicks his horse into a gallop, his mind full of sad violet eyes and silver hair.

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Visenya taught him to respect ferocity, and a woman who arches her neck in defiance. She looks very little like Visenya, though, hair dark and wiry, a flush high on her cheekbones, and her arms crossed over a breasts too large to hide. But here is a familiar steeliness to her, and when he crosses the room, he knows better than to try to break it, for one cannot break steel; one can only meet it.

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"No!" wailed Loras, "Garlan, it was my turn to play with her!”

"You’ve been playing with her," snapped Garlan, "You’ve played with her for a full five minutes. It’s mymy turn now, isn’t it mother?”

"Garlan, be nice to your brother," Alerie intoned, looking up from her needlework. Garlan had Margaery on his lap, and she was burbling happily in his arms, a little bit of snot dribbling down her nose.

"But he’s had his turn," replied Garlan. Oh Garlan, old enough to know how to get his way now, Alerie saw. He’d learned from Willas, and Loras was too young to know that yet. Loras, whose big brown eyes reminded her of her Uncle’s, especially when they were wide and wet because her youngest son, her beautiful son, was on the verge of tears.

"I never get a turn though,” Loras pouted. ”Willas hogs her, and Garlan does too! And I love her. She’s my sister too!”

Margaery made a squeaking noise as Garlan pressed the tip of her nose, then she began to giggle.

"Exactly," Garlan said, "Willas hogs her. I never get a turn either. You’ll have plenty of time with her when I’m old enough to go out to the practice yards with Willas. You’ll have plenty of baby time together."

"I’m not a baby!" whined Loras.

"Yes you are. You’re bigger than Margaery, but you’re still a baby."

"Garlan," said Alerie again.

"It’s true. He is. He cries over everything," Garlan said. He was now taking turns squeezing the tips of Margaery’s fingers—which only caused more happy giggling.

"I am not a baby!” Loras began to cry, great wet tears dripping down his face.

"See?" said Garlan.

"Garlan, give me your sister," Alerie said. Garlan frowned, wondering what he had said wrong, but did not dare disobey his mother. So he pulled himself to his feet and brought Margaery over to her. Alerie took Margaery in one arm, and pulled Loras onto her lap with the other.

"You’re both so young. All three of you—so very young. You’ll have all the time in the world to play with one another," she whispered to Loras. He reached out and took Margaery’s hand, and the little girl smiled at him.

For a moment, Loras looked like he might stop crying. Then the door opened and Willas burst in with the little brown Terrier Romper, both of them covered in dirt, and Margaery let out an ecstatic yell of, “Wiwwa!” and Loras wailed again.

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Kissing Arthur is a lot like dueling him.

Arthur’s hands are on his chin, his tongue is in his mouth, and Jaime feels that every move he makes, every attempt to gain the upper hand is thwarted because Arthur is just better at it than he is.

And when Arthur presses him against a wall and growls into his mouth, Jaime smiles. Yes, Arthur is better than him—but unlike with swordplay, Jaime might just beat him one day.

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She is a cold woman, this wife of his. Colder and harsher even than Visenya—a feat he had not thought possible. Visenya, at least, warmed for Rhaenys, and even smiled at him when she dragged him into her bedroom. Visenya, at least, seemed to take joy in his cock, when she tied him to her bed and rode him furiously, grunting with concentration until she was spent above him.

Not so with Argella.

Argella was distant—he rather thought on purpose. He heard the men describe her as a chid, boisterous and willful. He’d heard her described as “the spirit of the storm”, his little Storm Princess, untamable as the wind over Shipbreaker Bay. Yet she was practically docile when he came to her. She spread her legs and looked out the window while he took his pleasure, and, though Aegon told him she was a victory, that she was vital to his conquering the Seven Kingdoms, Orys couldn’t help think he’d rather be tied down by Visenya than take his distant wife once more. Every time he entered her bedchamber, he couldn’t help but think that perhaps, this time, he’d put a son in her, and it would all be done.

Visenya visited for half a day, flying east from Highgarden to see him, and refused his bed. ”You have a wife now, Orys. Are you displeased with her? Or do you simply miss my ropes,” she teased before climbing onto Vhagar.

"She—" Orys would have lied, had it been anyone else. But Visenya could smell a lie as a dog could smell fear. And besides all that, she was the eldest of them—she knew them better than anyone in the world. "She takes no pleasure in me."

Visenya laughed, and Orys felt himself flush. ”Oh Orys, you are worse than Aegon, you little sentimental fool. If she takes no pleasure in you, pleasure her.”

"I am trying, Sister, but—"

"Are you?" asked Visenya. "Are you truly?" and she raised her whip an with a crack, Vhagar kicked into the air and a great shadow fell over the courtyard of Storm’s End as the wind took his sister away.

That night, after dinner, he followed Argella to her chambers. She didn’t say a word as she stripped away her gown, though he saw the muscles tighten in her jaw as she lay down, naked as her name day, on her bed and spread her legs for him so that he saw a peep of pink between the dark curls of her cunt.

"My Lady," he said at last, "I feel I misuse you."

She looked at him, eyes bluer than the sky boring into him. “Do you, My Lord.” It wasn’t a question, and he felt hot shame bubbling in his face. ”Tell me, was it your sister that made you realize it?”

"It was not, My Lady, though she put words to it."

Argella stared at him. ”I seem to recall a man who gave me a cloak instead of chains,” she said, “A man who was kind where those who I’d known since my girlhood were harsh. That was the man I married, yet he seems to care for me not at all—only for the son he has not yet planted in my womb.”

Orys wanted to look away but he couldn’t, he could not look away from her strong chin, the wiry dark curls on her head, those piercing icy eyes.

"What would you have of me, My Lady?"

A war seemed to rage on her face and he wished he knew what she was thinking. If it were Aegon, he would know, or Visenya. Certainly Rhaenys, who wore her thoughts on her sleeve, but Argella was still a mystery to him. It was not a comforting thought.

She gestured to him, lifting a finger and making a gesture to pull him towards her. He came and, still clothed, settled himself above her. She kissed him once, lightly and then, pressed him down, down, down, until his lips rested against that peep of pink.

He kissed her there, and she spread her legs a little wider beneath his lips. He kissed her again, and again, feeling the softest skin his lips had ever touched. He kissed, and kissed, and kissed, until he noticed a spot of moisture beginning to drip down from between her folds and he extended his tongue to taste it. She let out a moan, and he licked again, more liquid now dribbling out of her. She tasted like the sea and the earth all in one and he licked, and licked, and licked, feeling her hips buck beneath his tongue as he never felt them do beneath his cock. He licked, and licked, and when he found the little nub at the top of her slit, she called out the Gods and he circled and nipped and sucked on that little nub, feeling her press it to him, rocking her hips back and forth against him until she was shuddering and gasping and liquid was dripping out of her cunt and into his beard as she cried out his name.

She pulled away from him, clamping her legs shut. A flush had risen on her chest, her eyes were closed now and her lips parted as she breathed shakily.

"That is what I would have of you, My Lord," she said at last, her eyes opening just slightly. "That is what I would have of you."

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He really shouldn’t be doing this. Really, very much, shouldn’t be doing this. Cersei would be furious with him if she ever found out, and he didn’t want to even begin imagining his father’s face. And, of course, Tyrion would laugh himself silly.

But he doesn’t care. Arthur’s tongue is in his mouth, and his breath tastes of Dornish Strongwine, and the heat of him is unlike anything that Jaime has ever felt.

He’s only ever kissed Cersei before, and he’s used to the press of her breasts against his chest. There are no breasts to keep Arthur away from him—they are flush up against one another, and Jaime feels the press of Arthur’s cock against his leg.

What a sight they must make, two blonde-haired men, gold and white, arms and tongues entwined. If someone walked in on them…

But Arthur’s tongue is stroking his, his hands are caressing his face, and Jaime can’t bring himself to care.

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His kiss doesn’t taste the way it used to. There’s something forced about it now, in a way that it never was before—the sort of kiss that claims. She doesn’t like it. It doesn’t feel dutiful, or respectful, or playful. It feels obligatory.

She wonders if he kissed Lyanna Stark this way—and she knows she’ll never forgive him.

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They meet in skirmish—some fight with a cog out of Lannisport that, upon seeing their sails, decided to attack first. It was foolish, really, the fat little merchant’s vessel was no threat to the longship, but that hardly mattered. What mattered was the new boy.

He was taller than she was, an swung an axe with the sort of deftness that she only saw in older, hardened men—yet his face was smoother than a peach and there was a focus in his grey eyes that almost distracted Asha. Almost—but not quite.

Later, when the fighting was done and they’d decided to relieve the foolish merchant of his cargo of plums and silks, she sat with her crew and laughed with them. She liked the way she could see the apple bobbing in his throat as he swallowed his rum, and how he kept his right hand rested lazily on the head of his axe. And, when he caught her watching, the focus in his eyes went darker, and his smile more catlike and Asha decided she’d fuck him.

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Surely the sky shouldn’t be so bright—surely…no, those couldn’t be stars in the sky.  Not during the day.  Not unless the world was ending.  Maybe the world was ending.  It would certainly explain the fact that his body felt like it had been ripped in half.  Willas glanced down.  No, it was all still there.  As far as he could tell.  The horse had fallen on it and—was that blood?

“Can you hear me?” He hears Oberyn Martell’s voice now, but it’s different than it was before.  There’s no lazy lilt to that voice now, and he blinks stars out of the sky again, because they seem to be determined to stay there.  “Can you hear me?  What’s your name?”

“My name?” he mumbles. 

“Oh Gods on high,” he hears someone say—someone else.  He doesn’t recognize that voice.

“Willas.  I’m Willas Tyrell,” Willas says.

“And how many fingers am I holding up?” He’s removed his gauntlet, and is holding up two—three, no it has to be six fingers.

“Too many,” Willas says.

“You get away from him!” he hears his mother shriek. 

“My Lady, I am trying to—”

“Away from him!  You’ve done enough already.  Willas, my love, can you hear me?  Can you—”. He feels his mother’s arms tug at him.

“My Lady, you shouldn’t do that.  He’s hit his head, you should leave him be until a Maester can tend to him.”

“Do not tell me what to do with my son,” mother cries out.

“Mother—” Willas says.  “I’m fine.  He wasn’t trying to hurt me.  I just f—ow!” he tried to shift towards her and a searing pain, like a needle slicing at his skin, but worse, tore up his leg, and oh Seven Hells, his leg had fallen off, hadn’t it?

It was that thought, more than the pain itself, that made the stars expand in Willas’ eyes and his nose went fuzzy and he couldn’t hear or see anything else anymore.

 

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It’s like a knife in the gut—how much she is like Elia.  She looks nothing like Elia, in truth.  Her skin is darker, her hair curlier, her nose larger; her breasts are larger, her hips wider, her lips a darker red.  And yet all he can think as he stares at her across her father’s hall is Elia.  She is Elia.

Her name is Ellaria Sand.  He has known of her for many years, even if this is the first time he sees her.  There is something captivating about her, some vivacity in her gestures, some playfulness in her smile, some promise in her eyes that he doesn’t understand because Elia never made promises with her eyes, she only did with her mouth—her lips tightening when she meant what she said, and slackening when she lied.  

And when Ellaria crosses the hall, he sees it, recognizes it, the slight swing to her hips, the controlled gait of a confident woman, and in those hips, in those legs, he sees his sister.

 

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Dancing is the only thing that’s ever made her feel happy.  

No, not happy.  Not truly happy.  She had been happy once—as a small child, she thinks, when her mother would coo at her and her brothers would argue over dinner about who would wield Dawn.  Happiness was innocence, she supposed, and innocence was so far gone now that she wasn’t sure she even had the right to be happy anymore.

What did a man’s arms matter to her?  She knew that Anders wanted her wed—they all wanted her wed, the dark beauty of Starfall.  Arthur didn’t say anything, of course, though he knew the beds she’d shared.  She wondered if it was his northern friends and their sensibilities that made him purse his lips when she followed another knight to his chambers.  But lovemaking proved that all men were different and no man was a dream.

At least, when they danced, they did what they should.  Perhaps one would trod on her feet, or perhaps one would would let his hands drop to her waist instead of holding her between the shoulder blades, but their steps were a pattern, unbroken, exactly what she expected, without harsh truths and disappointed expectations.

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To hell with it—with men saying he wasn’t man enough because he was growing pudgy like Father, as though he’d never held a sword in his hand, or raced his horse across the Reach to Oldtown and back.

To hell with it—Father finding a wife for Garlan before finding one for him, though he is the heir and should further the Tyrell line before Garlan does.

To hell with it—watching Loras moon over Renly Baratheon, as though he’s the finest man that ever lived, and wishing—wishing—that he had someone to fawn over him that way.

To hell with it—ignoring the shooting pain in his leg when he walked to fast, being quiet reserved bookish Willas all the time because that was all that was left for him.

To hell with it—listening to Mother when she said that he should under no circumstances find himself alone with “that vile snake” who “ruined his life”, as if his life had been destroyed to bits when his leg had been.  

Oberyn Martell hadn’t destroyed his life.  He wasn’t to blame for everyone treating him the way they did.  If anything, Oberyn Martell treated him as he treated everyone, and Willas wondered what on earth it would be like to spend hours of the day walking with him, laughing with him, speaking with him, letting Oberyn’s crooked grin wash over him like a wave.

So to hell with it.  To hell with it all.

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She had once thought that nothing could change her, that no man could sway her tastes.  But his eyes are molten gold in the setting sun and she feels something—she doesn’t know what.  So she approaches him, and touches his arm lightly, and decides, in that moment, that she might as well try.

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When he begins coughing blood, he knows that it was Ramsay.

His stomach twists again, and bile rises in his throat and he is sure that there will be blood in his vomit this time too. It’s that, more than anything, that makes him sure that he will die. Ramsay, who has all the subtlety of a war horn, had somehow done this to him.  It’s almost funny, except it’s not, truly.  Domeric can’t move without his stomach revolting, his bed is drenched in a sour-smelling sweat, and there has been a steady stream of shit streaming out of his ass for the past four days.

"And how are you feeling today, brother?” Ramsay had asked. “Are you uncomfortable?” he had thought that the question had come of brotherly concern, of of sadness of being left alone in the Dreadfort while father was off in the Rills. He hears the door open and twists to see who has entered.

He needn’t have bothered, really. He knew it would be Ramsay.

“Are you feeling any better, brother?” Ramsay asks. He keeps his distance, as he has each time he has come to visit Domeric. The pale eyes they share wide, too innocent, much too—

“Yes, I am.” It is a foolish lie, he knows. He knows that Ramsay will see the falsehood on his face, just as he now sees the falsehood on Ramsay’s.  Surprise flickers in those pale eyes.  Good.  Let him be nervous.  Let him think I’ll live.  Let him be afraid.

"I am glad of it," Ramsay says smoothly.  "I had feared the worst, as your fever grew more pronounced."  He crosses to the bed and sits on it, resting his hand on Domeric’s leg.  Domeric does his best not to twitch beneath Ramsay’s hand.  Ramsay’s fingers are making little circles over the furs.  Domeric can’t feel them though.  

"It takes more than a fever to kill me," Domeric replies.  He feels a shiver rising through his spine, and does his best to suppress it.  Bad enough that he is still sweating—shivering will give the game away.  That is, of course, if Ramsay does not already know the game afoot.

Ramsay smiles his unsmile, the smile he smiles when smiling is the only response, the smile he doesn’t mean.

"Would you be sad without me, brother?" Domeric asks.

Ramsay cocks his head, the unsmile still hitched across his face.

"Yes," he replies.  "Of course."

"How much?" Domeric asks.

"More than you could know," Ramsay replies.  "You are my brother.  I’d always wanted a brother."  His voice sounds thick.

And yet you slew me at the first chance, Domeric thinks.  If you are truly in pain, you brought it upon yourself.  It is not a thought that makes him feel better.  Suddenly, he doesn’t feel like playing anymore.

"You have killed me, Ramsay," he says.  Ramsay won’t look at him.  His eyes are on his fingers, tracing patterns through Domeric’s sweat-matted sleeping furs.

"Yes," muttered Ramsay.

"Are you pleased with yourself?"

"I suppose."

"Don’t be."  

Ramsay looks up, and the unsmile is back.  It’s even more twisted than usual now—now that he knows that Domeric knows.  

"Why not?"

"Because you did so foolishly," Domeric shrugged.

"What do you mean?"

"Father is away.  He’ll assume you killed me.  You wanted your legitimacy, I presume?  I can only assume that’s why you did it.  Otherwise, it would simply not make sense—unless you truly hated me."

Ramsay doesn’t say a word.  That niggles.

"So you did hate me, then," he sighs.

"No," mumbles Ramsay.  How like a little child he is, caught in his murder, and told that he didn’t do it properly.  

"Well, that’s something, I suppose.  But regardless, Father won’t legitimize you if he thinks you killed me.  But then again, you never think things through.  If you did, you would wait until you’d been legitimized to poison me."

"I wouldn’t have been though.  Not while you lived."  Ramsay sounds angry, petulant.  It amuses him.  He almost laughs, but the impulse sends a shooting pain up his throat.  He winces, and is glad that Ramsay is looking away.  

There’s no changing the fact of my death.  But let him think I’m strong while dyinglet him wonder if he could have brought me down in any other way.  Let him always try to best me, even after I’m gone.  

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She hurts and she hates it, her cunt, her breasts, her throat from screaming, but Joffrey has been born and everything seems peaceful now that everyone has left her alone. Everyone, of course, except Jaime. Jaime has barred the door, and climbed up onto her bed and curled himself around her, fingers trailing patterns on her stomach, and breathing gently into her ear. "We have a son," she whispers, and she feels his lips on her jaw.

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She thinks about Forget-Me-Not only slightly less frequently than she thinks about Melony in Lot Seven. It does her little good to distract her from the flames, and Forget-Me-Not can only be a distraction now.

When she had been little, when she had been Melony, she had cradled Forget-Me-Not against her own small frame, her bare feet slapping the ground as she tried to keep up with her mother. Or maybe it was someone else’s mother pretending to be her own. She was too young to know then, and too old to know now. But she knew that that bundle of girl in her arms was all she needed in the world, the only thing worth protecting because she was so small and her eyes were so blue and she burbled with delight in Melony’s arms.

Melony hadn’t caught the flux when it had struck Asshai. She didn’t know how she avoided it, didn’t know how she was able to keep her body pure when men and women were dying in their own shit. Forget-Me-Not was not so lucky, and the flux ran through her in a day, burning through her tiny burbling body until it was limp and quiet. Melony had wanted to keep carrying her, to hold her a little while longer, but the city guards had taken Forget-Me-Not from her and thrown her into a mass grave beyond the city walls.

She had known Forget-Me-Not’s name once—the name she had cooed at her while hushing her to sleep, the name that had wailed when a soldier in a silver and black mask ripped her dead sister from her arms.

In his wisdom, the Lord of Light took that name from Melisandre, and when the name was gone, it hurt slightly less.

Forget-Me-Not’s eyes had been a different blue than her King’s, a softer, watery blue in comparison to the clear sky that had claimed territory in Stannis’ face. When she had first arrived on Dragonstone, before the Queen had seen the Lord’s Light, they had strolled along the sea cliffs and Melisandre had seen a tiny flower, tiny like the eyes of her sister, bouncing at her in the wind.

"Those flowers," she had asked the Queen, though at the time she was only Lady Selyse, "What are they called?"

"They are Forget-Me-Nots, good Lady," the Queen had replied.

She had repeated the name, as if to remember, even though she knew she would never forget—a strange tightness overcoming her heart. And that night, when she dreamed of Asshai, it was not Lot Seven she dreamed of. It was warmth in her arms, a little happy giggle, and Forget-Me-Not.

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She was a lioness twice over before he had even been squirted into his mother, did he think he could just take that from her?  He was only a child who didn’t yet know the way of the world, and thought that his voice mattered more than those he would rule.

None of it mattered, really. She would teach her little nephew soon enough. He would learn that in a pride, it was perhaps the lions who ruled, but it was the lionesses who hunted, and she would hunt him down and rip his throat out and leave his corpse for her pride to feed upon until there was nothing left—not even bones.

He touted the glory of the Golden Lion of Casterly Rock, shining as bright as the sun on his banners. Her lion had always been red, like blood, like dawn.

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Father had bought her a new dress to impress Robert Baratheon—a Southron dress.  It had looked so frail and delicate when he’d presented it to her—a billowing pile of silk and chiffon.  Lyanna had hated it immediately and on principle, because such a dress would be easily ripped if she wanted to do anything, and she probably would want to do “anything.”

She disliked tremendously that when she came South, she was imprisoned in silk.  She wore it for the tourney—what part of the tourney she observed, anyway—and could feel Robert’s eyes on her.  She did her best to ignore it.  Ned said he loved her, and this was the first time he was clapping eyes on her, and it wasn’t her.  The real her wore wool and heavy linen and velvet from time to time—not flowy silk like some dainty Southron butterfly. One could not ride in flowy silk.  One could only watch others ride, and clap one’s hands, and wonder what it would be like to be a man riding in the lists.  

Lyanna did not like wondering such things.  She liked holding a sword in her hands, feeling the weight of a lance couched under her arm.  But Brandon had rolled his eyes when she’d ask if she could ride (“a mystery knight, Brandon!  No one need know that it’s me!”) and said, “I thought you would grow out of this, Lyanna,” and that had hurt worse than staring into the sun.

She’d done it anyway, of course.  She had shed the silken dress and put on leathers and armor and ridden the lists.  She hadn’t wanted to win—that had never been the intent.  She was quite confident that she couldn’t have won—with such knights as Barristan Selmy and Arthur Dayne riding.  (Although she was quite confident that she could have beaten Brandon.  That would not have been difficult.)

They said that she had “won” her crown of winter roses.  They’d wondered loudly how she’d done it, what Prince Rhaegar saw in her that he didn’t find in his lovely Dornish Princess.  Lyanna was sure that they wanted her to smile demurely, to blush prettily, and say that she didn’t know and was honored and flattered by his attention.  But she couldn’t.  For she truly had won that crown in the lists, as any knight would have.  They would never understand that Prince Rhaegar, more than any other man, more even than her own brother, recognized that she was brave and bold and gallant.

What a strange place, the South was.  

 

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"My lovely wife!" Robert was in his cups again, stinking of wine. The stink of wine was even worse now that she was pregnant. Most smells and tastes were worse now that she was pregnant. She said most, for the taste of Jaime and his seed was still on her lips. "Pregnant with my" he hiccuped, "son! Let me give you a kiss." He pressed his lips to hers, wet, and almost wormy, his tongue digging into her mouth like a spade.

Do you taste him, she thought bitterly, Do you taste my sweet Jaime?

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She had dark hair.  There was something so lovely about dark hair and doe brown eyes. Everyone always talked about how stunningly beautiful Targaryens were, with their infamous Valyrian beauty and violet eyes and hair that shone like silver in the sunlight, glowed like gold in the candlelight.  

But Elspeth had dark hair, black, curly, great bulbous curls that he could have slid several fingers through, not the tight curls and waves of his sisters.  

The other novices liked her because she was buxom, because her hips were wide and her skin was soft.  They made lewd comments about her, and how they’d like to feel their heavy teats in their hands.  Aemon never did though.  He was not, he thought bitterly into his mulled cider, raised in a barn.  He was a Targaryen—at least for the moment, anyway—and he knew that that was not how you treated girls.  Or perhaps, it was merely the older brother in him.  He would have gladly hit each of his friends over the head with his tankard—even if it lost him his cider—if they made comments like that about Rhae and Daella.

Elspeth always had a smile for him, pale pink lips that parted slightly to reveal her teeth as if she were showing him all her secrets in the world.  She even would slip him peaches under the table when she brought over their drinks because she knew—she had to know that he was different, that he was special, that he loved her—a true and pure love unlike anyone had ever loved someone else before in this very world.

She kissed him once—after he had gone outside to take a piss, and made his way back inside a little tipsy and still cool from the night’s breeze.  She found him just outside the entryway and kissed him, gently at first, then more insistently, bringing his hands to her soft hips and holding him tightly and for one wild moment, he thought of giving everything up—his dreams of a chain, his position at court.   He’d open up a little tavern here in Oldtown, or anywhere Elspeth liked and they’d be happy together and have lovely little children with dark curls and doe brown eyes…

A flux came to the city.  It wasn’t as bad, the Archmaesters said, as the Great Spring Sickness.  But it was a flux nonetheless and novices were confined to the Citadel until the worst had passed.  And when Aemon Targaryen and his friends went to the tavern again, Elspeth was gone.  Her body had been buried in the pauper’s graves outside the city.

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"But mother—"

"But Doran," she cut him off, imitating his very intonation.  She selected a necklace from the box a handmaid was holding for her and looked at him in her mirror as she fastened it around her neck.  "No buts, young man.  You are a Prince of Dorne, but I am your Princess and your mother and you will heed my words.  Now.  I am off to sup with Lady Yronwood and Lord Manwoody.  And you," she looked at him fiercely, rather the way he imagined that Nymeria of the Rhoynar had looked at Mors Martell when she’d forced him to submit to her will, "will look after your sister and brother.  They are your blood, and require your love more than you can possibly understand."

She stood up, golden silks brushing the floor as she swept towards him and pressed a kiss to his forehead.  Then, without another word, she left him, her handmaids trailing after her.

Doran pressed the heels of his palms to into his eye sockets, seeing green and blue stars erupt in front of him.  Then he shook himself, took a deep breath and left his mother’s bedchamber, crossing the hall to the nursery.

"Doran!" "Doran!"  They squealed in not quite perfect unison and a moment later, Oberyn had attached himself to Doran’s leg and Elia was jumping up and down, giggling and clapping her hands delightedly.  They were both of them half-dressed and clearly being prepared for bed.  Septa Lyane looked rather as though she had seen the Seven Hells and lived to tell the tale.  Doran could take no heart in that.

"Will you tell us a story, Doran?" asked Elia, following Oberyn’s lead and clutching at the leg of his trousers.  "Oh, please, please, please!  One about dragons?  Or Nymeria!  Oh!  Tell us about Nymeria!  Please Doran!”

"No!" protested Oberyn, "You said you’d play knights with me, Doran.  You said you’d play ages ago!  Will you play with me?”

"But that’s no fair!" Elia wailed.  "I can’t play at knights.  You know I can’t!"

"But Doran promised!” Oberyn insisted, and for a moment, Doran thought he’d lose all feeling in his leg, so tightly was Oberyn clutching it.  ”Didn’t you promise, Doran?  Didn’t you say we could play knights?”

Elia looked close to tears and Doran rested a hand on Oberyn’s head.  ”Now, now, why don’t we play in the morning when you’re not getting ready for bed,” he tried.

"But you promised!”

Elia, however, leapt at the possibility.  ”Yes.  It’s almost bedtime.  Perfect for stories!  Not good for playing knights again.”

"I don’t want to hear any stupid stories," grumbled Oberyn.  His grip on Doran’s leg had, thankfully, loosened.  

"They aren’t stupid," said Elia, swatting at him and missing, "They’re very important.  Mamma says so."

"Well, so’s being a knight," Oberyn shouted.

"How about this," said Doran, and they both turned to look up at him as one, tiny round faces excitedly anticipating his solution, because, somehow, they already knew that he would always have a solution.  "We’ll do both.  We’ll make up a story as we go.  Elia—you’ll narrate it for us, and Oberyn and I will be the actors and we’ll fight if you tell us to, or perform valiant deeds or sing songs—"

"I don’t want to sing songs," interrupted Oberyn.

"I don’t want you to sing songs,” said Elia, sticking her tongue out.

"Princess," said Septa Lyane, "That is hardly appropriate behavior for—" but Elia ignored her.  

"I want to play too.  Can I still make up the story?"

"That’s not fair!  I want to make up the story!" said Oberyn.

"How about this?" Doran tried again, "I’ll make up the story and you two play it out.  And if you need someone to fight, I’ll stand in, all right, Oberyn?"

Both looked satisfied and for a moment, Doran was so pleased with himself for  finding a satisfactory solution that he couldn’t think where to begin.  Then, he chuckled to himself.

"It begins," he said, "with a very beautiful Princess named Daenerys…"

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He sees them from afar, horses picking their way through the mountain passes, the white and grey standard flapping in the wind as they climb steadily up the hill. It is a bittersweet sight, knowing that they will have to die, when they have come all this way—that he could step aside, and let Lord Eddard see his sister for one last moment before the fever took her from the world. But those are not his orders, and the babe in her arms, its squalling red face with eyes so unlike his Prince’s—that child was one Lord Eddard could never see, could never know about, and for the short remainder of his life, he would wonder why Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, had been left to stand sentinel for a dying girl.

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He knows very well he wasn’t supposed to hear her.  He is sure that no one was.  She’d gone out of the bedroom she and Sansa shared and is sitting in corner, staring out at the Godswood and sniffling.

"What are you doing awake?" Ned asks her gently, sitting down next to her and reaching for her hand.  She starts and looks around at him.

"You were quiet," she says, "I didn’t hear you coming.

"You were loud," he replies, wiping a tear away from her cheek.  "What are you sad about, Arya."

"Nothing."   She is lying, biting her lip and not looking at him.  Her eyes have gone back to the Godswood, and the leaves shivering in the night breeze.  "What are you doing awake, anyway?”

He smiles.  ”I am riding out in an hour.  I must go to Torrhen’s Square?”

"Why?" she asks.

"Ser Helman Tallheart is having difficulty with one of his…well, it doesn’t matter.  I won’t be gone long."

"You promise?" Arya says, and there is an urgency in her voice, a nervousness in her wide grey eyes.  "Promise me you’ll be back soon."

Promise me, Ned, he hears on the wind rustling through the trees, as if the Gods themselves were sending her voice to him, as only the Gods ever can.  

He does his best to keep the sadness out of his face when he smiles down at Arya and leans down to kiss her forehead.  ”I promise.  If you’ll promise to tell me why you were upset.”

"I had a dream," she says quickly.  "I had a dream that you rode away and didn’t come back and that something bad happened.  I don’t know what though.  I can’t really remember.  But I think…I think you’d died."

"Well, I won’t die in Torrhen’s Square," Ned says, pressing the tip of her nose with her thumb, hoping the gesture will make her smile.  It usually does, but not tonight.

"Promise me you’ll never die."  Arya flings her arms around him and squeezes him as tightly as she can.  "Promise me, promise!  Please!"

He sighs, and rests a hand on her head.  ”I can’t promise you that, love.  All men must die, as they say across the sea.  But I can promise you I won’t die just yet—how about that.  Will that do for now.”

Arya nods, her face still pressed against his chest.  

"Now, you head back to bed, all right?  You have a few more hours before you need be awake, and you have a full day ahead of you."  She nodded into his chest again and then pulled away.

When he rode off an hour later, he glanced up at her bedroom window.  She was sitting there in the early morning light, watching him ride away, her eyes wide, and grey, and sad.

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"Can I tell you a secret?" Jaime was lying on the floor of Mother’s sitting room, looking up at the ceiling.  They were waiting for her, waiting for her to come back from running accounts with Uncle Kevan.

"Of course," said Cersei.  She puts down her needlework—she hates her needlework, and any excuse is good enough for her to put it down.  Especially if it’s Jaime.  She’d do anything for Jaime.

"I still haven’t finished the book that Maester Maron gave me."

"You haven’t?" Cersei asked.  "But it was so easy!" She’d read it in one sitting, and then had read it again aloud to Mother when Mother hadn’t believed that Cersei had read the whole thing when she’d told her.  Mother had smiled at her and run her hands through Cersei’s curls and told her she was very smart, and that she had a lovely voice for reading aloud, and she’d told Mother that she was wrong because obviously Mother had the best reading voice.  Mother read Cersei and Jaime bedtime stories every night—or at least, she had until she was too big to get out of bed.  Maester Maron said that they would have a little brother or a little sister soon.  Mother had promised her a brother, and she hoped that mother wouldn’t take her word back.  A brother, like Jaime, beautiful and golden, like her.

Jaime, beautiful and golden, was frowning and still staring determinedly at the ceiling.  ”I haven’t,” he repeated.  ”It’s because I can’t read.”

"Can’t read?" Cersei couldn’t believe it.  Of course he could read.  They read together when Maester Maron gave them both heavy old books that smelled funny.  They read them together.  Of course Jaime could read.

"No."  Jaime said.  And she saw red creeping up his face.  "That’s the secret.  I can’t read.  I try.  I’ve been trying for years now.  But I just…can’t."

"Why not?" Cersei asked.  "It’s so easy."

"It’s not," Jaime snapped, and she realized he was very upset.  She slid off her chair and came and sat down next to him on the floor.  He turned slightly so that his back was to her, and she crawled over him so that he couldn’t avoid her.  

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"The words," he mumbled.  "They get all twisted.  The letters won’t stay put.  They don’t ever look the same.  And the spellings are all muddled.  And I just can’t read, all right?  I’ll never be able to read.  Never.  I’ll always be stupid, and Father will hate me."

"Father couldn’t hate you," said Cersei, "Mother wouldn’t let him.  Have you told Mother?  I’m sure she’ll know how to fix it."

He shook his head.  ”I haven’t told anyone.  It’s a secret, Cersei.  Just you.  You’re the only one I’ll ever tell.’

Cersei frowned.  ”But there has to be a solution.”  There had to be.  There was always a solution—always.  That’s what Maester Maron always said.  And Mother.  And Mother was always right.

Jaime’s lips were compressing into a tight frown. ”It doesn’t matter.  I don’t mind being stupid.  I’ll get so good at swords that I’ll kill anyone who calls me stupid.”  

"Not if I kill them first," said Cersei.

Jaime smiled at her.  ”You’ll read to me, right?  When I need to know things?”

"Of course," she said.  She leaned down and kissed him on the cheek, and then collapsed on the floor, lying down next to him.  It was a lovely ceiling, she thought vaguely as the two of them dozed off together.

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Dany had always been quiet.  So quiet, all the time.  She was even more quiet than Rhaenys had been.  He winced.  He didn’t like thinking of Rhaenys.

He had had nightmares for weeks after he’d heard she’d been killed.  He’d dreamed he rode Balerion and that he burned Casterly Rock to the ground, and that Balerion feasted on the flesh of Tywin Lannister.

Dany was quiet now, sitting on the bed they shared with her hands on her lap.  She was small ordinarily, but she was even smaller with her forearms pressed against one another and her gaze resting on her wrists.

"I don’t want to go," she said.  She even spoke quietly.  His mother (he didn’t like thinking of Mother either, though it was less painful than—) had spoken quietly too, but never scared.  Mother had never been scared of anyone.  There was pride in her quiet.   And Rhaegar—Rhaegar had been quiet too, and Rhaegar had been the finest man to ever live—everyone had said so.  

Not so with Dany.  Dany’s quiet was timid, meek.  He did not like that she was timid.  A dragon should be bold, even if she was quiet.  But whenever Viserys told her not to be so timid, she flushed and looked down and mumbled an apology, clasping her hands together low in front of her.  And when he told her to look up, to be proud, for she was a Targaryen, and Targaryens were dragons, and dragons did not look down at their hands—such a thing was cowardly and dragons were not cowards—Daenerys had lifted her chin, but kept her eyes down.  She always kept her eyes down.  

Why did she always keep her eyes down?  What was she so afraid of?  Surely she must know that nothing in this world could be worse than what had happened already—that they couldn’t lose more than Westeros, which they had lost before she was even born.  She wanted to go home, she said, but what was her home?  What was home to a girl who’d grown up in Braavos.  She surely didn’t think Braavos was home, did she?

"Well, we have to," he snapped at last.  "We don’t have a choice.  We can’t stay here."

"Why not?" she asked, so quietly he could barely hear.

"Speak up," he said.  "I can’t hear you.  A Princess should never mumble."  Mother had told him not to mumble when he was a child.  He’d listened to Mother.  Why wouldn’t Dany listen to him?  

"Why not?" she repeated, a little more loudly this time.

"Because we can’t stay.  The Usurper’s Dogs will be on us in less time than it takes to say your name."  There was no use hiding it from her.  It was the truth, and he had stopped being a child when he was near enough her age.  She should do the same.

"Where will we go?" she asked.

"Home," he replied, wishing it were true.

She looked up at him, wide excitement in her bright purple eyes.  Those were Mother’s eyes—in the shape.  Her face looked like Mother’s too—younger, but the same in essence.  Viserys had always looked like his Father when his Father had been young.  Ser Willem had always said that.  ”Really?” she breathed.

"Yes, ultimately."

"Ultimately?" she asked. She sounded like she did not know the meaning of the word.

"One day.  Soon, I’m sure.  We sail for Myr."

"For Myr?" He could hear the disappointment, the dashed hopes and he wished she wouldn’t.  He wished for many things, but he wished Dany had a little more sense most of all.

"Yes."

"But—" she cut herself off, looking down at her hands and biting her lip.

"What is it?" he didn’t bother trying to hide his exasperation anymore.  If anything that made her look more like a crumpled doll than anything else.  Why did she always look like a crumpled doll?  Didn’t she have any kind of backbone?  Mother had been brave and strong and Dany was neither.  

"We haven’t money to pay for it," she said.

Viserys stopped short.  She had spoken loudly, at least, but how had she known that?  How had she—he hadn’t told her that he had burned through the last of their gold in Tyrosh.  

"Don’t worry about that," he said, a little testily.  Dany didn’t move, she just stared at her hands, and Viserys sighed.  "I am taking care of it."

He picked up the basket by the door, hoping she wouldn’t see the wooden box in it.  If she saw it, she would cry, and he didn’t want her to cry right now.  He wouldn’t be able to bear it for the thought almost made him want to cry himself.  But dragons didn’t cry.  And besides, Dany had never seen Mother wear this crown.  She only dreamed of wearing it herself, but all that was useless now because what good were her dreams if they were dead.

"I’ll be back soon.  Have your things packed when I do." 

He watched her nod before he left and as he made his way down the stairs, Viserys wondered bitterly why it was that Daenerys had lived when Mother had died.

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Asha’s mother wept for days—days  and days, and even when Asha wasn’t nearby, she could almost feel her mother’s tears, as though their souls were connected in a way that no one else’s were.

Asha missed Theon, she missed his smile and the way he followed her around and the way that she could sit him down and explain to him what the different kinds of clouds meant—which ones meant storms so you had to take in your sails, and which ones meant clear weather and strong winds.  He would wrap his arms around her and together they’d plan raids on the Greenlands.  (“Lannisport first,” she’d always said, “and after that, maybe inland to the Riverlands.” And Theon would nod and smile and promise her that he’d have at least twenty longships by the time they went and that that would be more than enough to take Tywin Lannister’s whole fleet in the ass.)

She missed Rodrik and Maron too, her taller, older, louder brothers, who, ever since they started growing hair on their chest, had to be forced to pay attention to her.  Rodrik had taken to doing the Finger Dance, just to show he could, and Maron had laughed and mimicked his motions, eager to learn.  Neither of them had had time for Asha—still too young to even fight properly, they said—but she missed them all the same, because Pyke wasn’t the same without them.  Pyke was suddenly empty, without all her brothers, Theon’s whining squeals whenever Rodrik had pinched him from behind, Maron’s tuneless singing.  No wonder her lord grandfather had had nine sons to fill the echoing , damp halls of his castle. 

She missed her brothers, but she missed her mother most of all, her mother whose strong jaw and whose straight posture seemed  both to have melted when she lost all of her sons in the span of a month.  Her mother, who curled around herself in her bed and wept and wept because in all her life, she’d never felt quite so defeated.

Asha did her best.  Asha tried—really and truly tried—to make her mother smile again.  But it seemed as though smiles were a thing of the past, so Asha contented herself with climbing up into the bed with her and worming her way into her mother’s arms, as though she were younger than Theon, as though she were still a little babe who needed to be comforted when the world was scary. 

She liked to think she succeeded—that she did comfort her mother somewhat on those days when her mother couldn’t even bring herself to rise from her bed.  Her tears were more sparse, at least, and her breathing more easy, as she held Asha’s hand in hers.

“Be bold, my Asha—let no man bend you to his will,” her mother would murmur. 

I will, thought Asha, but she didn’t say it.  Instead, she just listened to her mother’s breath, shaky and uneven as she settled back into her tears.

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She hurts.  She hurts all over, bruises on her breasts and arms and legs, but most of all between her legs.  She wonders if there are bruises there too, inside her.  She fears that there are, and that the pain will stay there for days—like the bruise from the time that Uncle Pate’s goat had kicked her in the leg and there’d been a great big purple turning yellow and green spot just above her knee for over a month.  It had hurt, but she’d walked on anyway, because how could you not walk on, when there was so much to do—butter to be churned, weaving to be finished, little Meg’s tears to be mopped up when the goat (what a mean goat!) had stepped on her foot too.  She’d carried on, persisted, because fighting through pain and oh Gods, this pain was nothing like an angry goat because…because…

They’d held her down while she’d struggled.  Held her down and laughed while she’d cried.  They had called her thingsand spat in her face and she couldn’t even look away because they forced her to look up at them.  They mocked her tears, saying she wasn’t even a very good whore and that Jaime Lannister could have done better for his brother, although given what sort of a brother he was they supposed any bit of coin was too much spent.

And she’d cried—cried and cried and thought of the chicken he had fed her and the wine they had drunk and the love they had shared, and how she had dreamed that they would be left alone for she had never met anyone so sweet, so gentle as that boy who was nearly a man, with his mismatched eyes and his shy smile and when he’d climbed on top of her again with tears in his eyes she’d wanted to die because death would be better than smashed dreams and ruined love.

But somehow, she survived.  Somehow she was sent away with a pile of silver in her hands and one gold coin for Tyrion and she hadn’t gone home because she couldn’t bear it.  She didn’t know where she would go—or how, and she wanted to throw the whole pile of coin into the harbor, but she couldn’t because if she did then she’d truly have nothing left at all.  For a moment, she considered jumping into the harbor with the coin, letting it drag her down to the bottom and hold her there until she drowned—good and certain—a glittering tombstone for a girl who had never known anything good and sweet to last.

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Now two children danced across the godswood, hooting at one another as they dueled with broken branches. The girl was the older and taller of the two. Arya! Bran thought eagerly, as he watched her leap up onto a rock and cut at the boy. But that couldn’t be right. If the girl was Arya, the boy was Bran himself, and he had never worn his hair so long. And Arya never beat me playing swords, the way that girl is beating him. She slashed the boy across his thigh, so hard that his leg went out from under him and he fell into the pool and began to splash and shout.

The first time she went, she tied her hair into a knot, put on a pair of Brandon’s clothes, and snuck out.  It was the middle of the night, and no one would see—she was sure of it.  Father was feasting Lord Arryn, who had come to take Ned away, and he’d sent her and Benjen to sleep.  She had always gone straight to bed—he would have no reason to suspect that she would sneak out.  But better safe than sorry, especially in this, so she dressed up as a boy anyway.

The sword was a small one—she’d snitched it after watching Brandon show Benjen how to hold it.  She had watched carefully as Brandon had adjusted his grip, and told him what the importance of a sword’s balance was, then clapped him on the shoulder and told him he’d make a fine warrior.  He had winked at Lyanna, as if he’d known why she was watching, then hadn’t locked the door to the armory properly and she’d gone in and grabbed it because she needed to know.

The godswood was quiet, and every now and then she heard the disconsolate hooting of owls.  When she had reached the very center of it, right between of the heart tree and the pool, she stopped.  She took the sword and held it the way that Brandon had showed Benjen, feeling what he meant when he said “balance”.  Then she swung it.  It was a wild swing, she could tell as she made the motion, for the sword was heavier in her hand than she’d anticipated—far heavier than sewing needles.  She swung it again, trying to control it a little better, and again, and again.

Lyanna let out a yelp of joy and took off, running and swinging the sword—knowing that she wasn’t actually drilling anything, but it didn’t matter.  She was Nymeria of the Rhoynar, she was Argella Durrandon, she was Roslin Mormont, she was Lyanna Stark and she could do anything she wanted to.

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"No one will even be able to tell the difference," she smiled at him.

"How do you move in this thing?" he asked, tugging at the tie that Cersei had done up around his waist.  Her legs were slightly shorter than his, and he knew he would trip over the hem and ruin it.  

"You just do,” she replied, stepping back.  Then, she reached for her dressing table and put a jeweled pin in his hair to keep his bangs in place.  ”There.  You look just like me.”  She kissed him on the cheek.  Jaime blushed.  She smelled so clean—and he was sure they had put lavender oil in her bath.

Then, a sly look crossed her face, and she backed away, taking quick steps.  ”Bye!” and she darted away, pushing open the door and sprinting out, leaving Jaime quite alone.

It was a hellish sort of day.  Not because he missed running about.  He did.  But because everywhere he went there was something he was doing wrong.

"Have you forgotten your manners, Lady Cersei," snapped Septa Norelle when he sat down.  "You wait  until your elders are seated.”

"Leave her be, Septa," Aunt Genna said, then turned to Jaime, "Though are you feeling well?  You look a little like your stomach is ailing you and you can’t find the privy."

Then, later, “That dress again?  It’s much to small for you, Cersei.  You really should send it to your cousin Cerenna.  She’d be lucky to have so fine a gown from Casterly Rock.”

"Why are you reading so slowly?  What’s the matter with you, girl?"

"Sit up straight, My Lady.  Everyone knows that a good back will help you when you carry a child.”

"What have you been doing with your hands?  There’s dirt under your fingernails.  Go and wash them again.  Honestly, you’re as messy as a pigboy sometimes.”

"Don’t speak back to your elders, or I shall write to your Lord Father."

"You should know better than to speak that way, Cersei."

And on, and on, and on.  He didn’t know how she managed it.  There was never any kindness in their chiding—never the good-natured correction he knew in the practice yards, or from the Maester.  There was always some sort of derision in their voice, some form of disappointment.  How did she keep it from hurting her?  It certainly hurt him.  Perhaps Cersei was stronger than he was, braver.

And by the time that Cersei found him again, sitting on the floor of her bedroom, playing sullenly with Tyrion because only Tyrion didn’t care what he did or didn’t do, she had eyes that shone brighter than emeralds and a broad grin on her face.

"Look what I found while going down to see the lions."  She handed him a tooth.  It was huge, and pointy, and pale.  "It must have fallen out," she grinned.  "You should wear it strapped around your neck."

"Why don’t you wear it?  You found it, after all."

Cersei looked at him, raising her eyebrows.  ”You must know they wouldn’t let me.  They’d call it horrid, even if I told them it was a gift from you.”

Jaime looked down at Tyrion, who was now chewing on the hem of Cersei’s dress.

"How do you do it?" he asked.  "Don’t you hate it?"

"More than anything in the world," she replied, reaching for the laces behind his back and beginning to undo them with a forlorn sigh.

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She wept at night sometimes. She knew what they whispered—what they would have the world believe of her son, that he was a bastard, that she had been unfaithful, that she had chosen one brother over another. She could hardly bear it. She had never once in her life been unfaithful—and had not the Seven sworn that her faith would be rewarded? Was that not what the Gods promised?

What were the promises of men compared to the promises of the Gods? Her father had promised her that she would be happy, that she would make a fine queen and that Aegon would be good to her. He was not bad to her—that much at least was true. But good? Aegon was not a good man, not a kind man, not a faithful man, and the lust he felt would have made cousin Baelor eat, for he wold have seen that starving himself would ultimately put his Kingdoms in the hands of—

But no. No, she must not think such things. For he would not release her that she might take vows as a Septa, which meant that to him alone on this earth she must be faithful. Him, and her son, for without her son what joy was there in this earth? When she expired, when her soul rose to the Heavens, the Seven would reward her, as they had never rewarded her in life, for the Seven rewarded those who were dutiful—those who were faithful.

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They took their vows together—he and his cousin Brynden, kneeling on the floor of Castle Black’s bare sept. There were other men there too, though he didn’t notice them in truth. He had spent much of the ride up listening to their stories, doing his best to ignore the red, one-eyed (a thousand eyes and one-eyed) gaze that he felt even when he slept. He had been glad that Brynden Rivers had been kept fettered during their two-month trek north, but the time of Bloodraven’s chains was over. And when Aemon stepped into the darkened Sept, he was waiting, smiling.

He and Bloodraven did not have to wait to take their vows. The children and farmer’s boys and old men needed training, but it was clear that he would be a Steward. And Bloodraven…the Lord Commander nodded sullenly at his suggestion that he would be best suited as a Ranger. He needed no training, no anything—he knew how to fight, had slain his own blood in battle with the keen eye of someone who only had one eye (one thousand eyes and one true eye) to see the whole world.

"Cousin," smiled Brynden, reaching out and gripping Aemon’s arm, "or should I call you Brother now?"

This man was no brother—his brother, his true brother was Egg, a thousand miles (a thousand miles and one) to the south, seated on the Iron Throne and wearing a crown of spun gold. Strange, he thought, this man had sat the throne on behalf of Uncle Aerys, as Egg did now as king; this man was also a Night’s Watchman, as Aemon was. He wondered if blood truly did run thicker than water, for now they shared blood twice over, now that their blood ran back.

Aemon realized he had not replied and did so coolly. “We are brothers now I suppose.”

Bloodraven leered. “And what a team we shall be, you knowing most and me knowing the rest.” His hand went from Aemon’s arm to his shoulder and Aemon resisted the urge to shudder.

When he and Egg had been little, they had been afraid of Bloodraven. They had each done their best to avoid him, keep their secrets from him, such secrets as they had, anyway. And Egg now sent him North, forever free of that birthmark and the scar that covered his empty eye socket, and Aemon…Aemon would never be free of him, not until death took him. They knelt together, staring up at Septon and he said the words, almost without thinking.

Night gathers and now my watch begins.

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“He is a handsome man, Lord Hoster, is he not?”

The words echoed through the yard, and Minisa could hear them near as clearly as she could hear the ringing of her brothers training with steel for the first time.  Lord Hoster was indeed a handsome man, with hair like the burnt leaves of autumn and eyes as clear a blue as ever the lake waters on a sunlit day.  And he was to be her lord husband, and she would be gone from home before too long.

If the Tullys were lords of the Rivers, then the Whents were lords of the Lake—the greatest lake in all of the Seven Kingdoms, so wide you could not see across it.  There was an island in the middle, but you could only truly see it if you climbed to the top of Kingspyre Tower, and Minisa did not like heights, so she never looked. Her brothers said it was red, though, red like Lord Hoster’s hair, red with the leaves of the weirwood trees that were so rare south of the Neck.

Surely it couldn’t be so different to be surrounded by the rivers.  Her lord father told her that Riverrun had the river on both sides, and would seem a tiny place compared to Harrenhal.  He made it sound a boast.  Everyone knew that Harrenhal was the largest castle in the lands, but somehow it was the Tullys of Riverrun who held the title of Lord Paramount.  Perhaps it made her father feel better to think of Harrenhal’s size when his young lord came to take his daughter away.

She wondered what it would be like to be far from the lake.  It was true, she was a daughter of the Riverlands, and the rivers should thus not seem alien to her, but they moved so quickly.  The lake was steady, its tiny wavelets lapping against her bared feet when she went with her brothers to wade.  The lake was smooth and soft and gentle and shiny—shiny like a great silver coin.  She’d heard that the Tumblestone was wild when it met with the Red Fork, that there was always noise and frothy water beyond the gates of Riverrun.  Would it keep her awake at night, in that small castle so far from here?  Or would it come to lull her to sleep, like a lullaby, as her husband held her in his arms?

He was a handsome man, Lord Hoster.  And he thought her beautiful.  Gretchel told her so when she’d braided her hair that night.  Gretchel had heard it in the stables, some of Lord Hoster’s men talking of how the young lord was quite taken with his bride to be.  What a fine pair they would make, the Lord of the Rivers and the Lady of the Lake.

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Aegon came home with his skin so brown that Rhae laughed and told him he looked like he should be sewing oats, not donning princely velvets. Aegon smiled at her, a crooked grin he hadn’t used to have, and said he had done that already and it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Rhae blushed, and Daella knew that she had been caught in her joke.

Aegon was taller now, his shoulders broader, his frame more muscular. There was a canny look to his eyes when he spoke, almost like a cat’s and Daella thought that it made him look more interesting that the dusting of silvery hair growing on his browned scalp. Aegon had always been smarter than her—they all had. She was the baby of the family, after all, and she would never know as much as they would simply for lack of time. Daella knew she wasn’t as smart, but looking the sharp awareness in Aegon’s eyes, she wondered if this wasn’t the first time she looked it.

Rhae continued with her teasing, her joking. Aegon looked like an acorn, she said as his hair grew longer and flopped about on his head, too short to be controllable but too long to stay put; Aegon had missed everything that had happened while he had been running about; Aegon was hardly looked the part of a Targaryen prince in his simple doublets. There was dirt beneath his fingernails too, and Rhae suggested that he simply never bathed properly. All of her jokes, even the meanest of them, earned her a smile, and sometimes a good-natured retort, and Rhae would blush.

In many things, Daella was stupider than her siblings—the least of them by far. She had her mother’s big nose, too, which, though Rhae was too well bred to say it, made her the ugliest of them as well. But she knew what that blush meant: Rhae wanted to marry Aegon.

And, furthermore, Daella knew she never would.

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She does not doubt that they will tell stories of the chains. It is titillating—the Storm Princess presented bared and ensnared before the conquering lord. It is the stuff of songs, the stuff of legends.

She wonders if those stories, those songs and legends, will tell of the bruises on her face, of her skin chafed raw by the iron binding her, of the scratches on the arms of those men she had known since her girlhood.

She doubts it.

Men mislike being reminded that they have done wrong.

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Snow was swirling outside and the winter wind whistled through the windows of the Rock.  Joanna heard the crash of the waves outside.  They always seemed louder here, without the curtain walls that surrounded the keep at Lannisport to block the sound. Here, nothing stood between the sea and the Rock.  She didn’t notice it often, but she noticed it now as she sat and waited.

Some ladies were lucky.  They had their husbands home with them every day, except when duty called them away.  Their husbands’ love might manifest in a private dinner, candles and a viol, and murmured words of tenderness.  Joanna was not so lucky, and no such constancy existed in her marriage.  She knew more days and nights alone than days and nights at his side, and duty did not drag him away—it stood between them, how many hundreds of miles away, until home called him as duty called other men.  A finer gesture, perhaps, but one that left her lonely in the end when he went away again.

Joanna did not like waiting.  She never had.  When she’d been a girl in Lannisport, how eager she had been to leave—how she couldn’t wait.  How exciting it had all seemed, to ride east and serve as handmaiden to a princess.  It had been in King’s Landing, Tywin had told her she must learn patience or else she would never get what she wanted.  Her impatience, he had said, would be her undoing.  Impatience, he had said, meant not so much missed opportunities as poorly formed plans, and a well laid plan was always better than stumbling into success.  She knew he had been thinking of Castamere as he’d said it, of waters rushing into the mines.  She always imagined a rush, like a waterfall echoing up through the stone, slowly growing more and more quiet until silence stretched over the surface of a dark pool where the mine entrance had been.

She had learned patience, of course.  It was hard for motherhood not to teach one patience.  She even thought she had learned patience sitting at Rhaella’s side, watching her sew with a blank expression and wondering how it was that she did not rage, did not fight, did not run away from it all.  There was an art to patience, she thought, an art to being patient the way that Tywin was.  She did not think that Rhaella had ever learned such patience.  But Joanna had.

All the same, it was hard.  It should be hard, Tywin had said, for if something isn’t difficult it isn’t worth wanting.  It is the challenge that makes it so sweet.  And it was a challenge sitting still, sitting in his study while the snow fell, wondering if this would be the day he arrived home, his horse sweating and eager for the peace of the stable, it’s rider eager for the sight of her.

She liked the thought that she made Tywin impatient, that she made him hurry his horse through snow and sleet because he could not wait to be in her arms.  She liked the thought of him opening the door to this study, or perhaps, if she grew tired, to her bedchamber and without more words than a simple “Joanna,” coming to her and pulling her mouth to his.  She liked that he might have helped shake her from her girlhood, but it was her womanhood that undid him.  It pleased her just as much to think that coming to her through the snow when he had all the Kingdoms to rule was to him the greatest challenge, the sweetest challenge, finding the month he could slip away from court to be in her bed again.

The wind blew, and the snow swirled outside the window, and the candles on his desk guttered and faltered, and she knew it would not be tonight that he came.  Her heart sank.  So that was it, and she would wait another night, another day, perhaps, knowing that he was growing nearer, that he would come to her and when he did arrive at last, how impatient he would be, how he would reward her for her patience.  A fine reward indeed for a challenge so well met—but was it truly a challenge when she had no choice but to sit and wait?  Another sad thought for a cold night alone.

Joanna lifted the candlestick and left the study, shivering slightly in the draft of the hallway as she went to ready herself for bed.  And when sleep did come at last, she dreamed of her husband.

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He feels nothing.  He is nothing.  He is no one and has never been anyone—certainly not a boy from Norvos, or a seller of cockles on the streets of Braavos, or an actor, or a singer, or a water dancer.  He has been none of those things—is none of those things, will never be any of those things ever again, unless Him of Many Faces should need that boy, that cockle-seller, that actor, that singer, that water dancer to reappear in his service.

Tyrosh is a wide city.  Wide, he thinks, for it is not round the way that some cities are, circling around a center.  Wide for it is more like the pupil of a goat—narrow, rounded, long.  He strolls through the markets, eyes drinking in the colorful silks, the colorful flowers, the colorful hair of the patrons who pause at stalls and run their fingers over the merchants’ wares, testing quality.  

If I were a man, comes a thought, unbidden, I would try and have a stall here, dye my hair many colors and—he pushes the thought away.  He is no one.  He is nothing, and not even the face he wears is his own.  He does not remember what his own face should even look like.

He passes through an archway into a darkened alley and comes upon a man with a long blue pony tail pissing against a wall.  He takes up most of the alleyway, his sword jutting out behind him, and he has half a mind to skirt around it as best he can.  

Instead he waits, watching the man piss.  

"Sorry," says the blue-haired man lazily.  "Lot to get out."

"Take your time," he says, and he leans against the wall.  The blue haired man has yellow mustachios, and he can’t be more than…he is the same age as he is. It’s not something you see in a face, it’s something you see in the way a man might grasp his cock while pissing.

The blue haired man grins at him, and flashes a golden tooth.  A fighter, he thinks.  But he knows better than to think that fighters are dangerous.  They are too obvious, with their shouts and their weapons, so he just stands there, watching.

"Like what you see?" the blue haired man asks as he shakes the last drops of piss from the tip of his cock and begins to tuck it back into his silken trousers.

"You did not also dye below," he says lazily, and the man’s eyebrows dart up, his eyes narrowing as if unsure whether he is being mocked

"No.  I didn’t," says the blue-haired man.

It’s as good an excuse as any, he supposes.  An easy way to learn this wide-not-round city.  So he leans in, leans in so close that he can feel the way his breath mixes with this strange man’s.

"You should."

And he kisses him.

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"I do not want you to go to Crakehall," said Cersei over dinner, and her Aunt Genna frowned at her.

"It is hardly your choice," Aunt Genna said, at the same time that Tyrion mumbled, "I don’t want you to go either, Jaime," but Cersei ignored them both, staring only at her brother.  He cut his venison slowly, and when he lifted a chunk to his mouth, he chewed it slowly as well.

"I shall miss you, sister," he said quietly.  "And you as well brother."

"When will you be back?" Cersei demanded.  "Did father say?"

Jaime only shook his head.  ”Father didn’t say a thing, besides that I was to serve as squire for Lord Crakehall until such a time as I earned my spurs.”

"And then you will be back?" Tyrion asked.

"I think so," Jaime responded.  

"But not before?" Tyrion looked close to tears.  What, is it so bad to be left alone with me? Cersei thought.  It is not nearly so bad as being left alone with you.

"I don’t know," sighed Jaime.  "I don’t.  Just that I will be leaving on the morrow."

"You’ll write me?" Tyrion asked, and Cersei could shake him.  Didn’t he know that it was difficult for Jaime to write?  Didn’t he know that Jaime did not like to read letters—that only matters of extreme urgency should be put to paper, and even then he might take a long while to read them?

"I shall try," Jaime said, and he went back to his venison.

"I shall visit you at Crakehall," Cersei announced.  "I shall visit you once a week."

Aunt Genna laughed.  ”You will spend more time on the road than off it.  Crakehall is a good ways from here, Cersei.”

Cersei glared at her.  ”Well, I shall go.  I shall go and visit Jaime.”  She was good on a horse.  She was as good as Jaime.  She didn’t want him to leave her, to leave her alone, abandoning her the way that Father, and—and Mother—and—

"I am sure you shall, but not every week," Aunt Genna said.  "Besides, you shan’t be in the Rock for much longer."

"Oh?" she asked at the same time that Tyrion said, "Why?  Where is Cersei going?" He needn’t sound so pleased.

"After your name day, you will join your father in King’s Landing," Aunt Genna said.

Cersei could scarcely breathe.  Queen you shall be.  

"Can I go too?" Tyrion asked.

Until the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.

"No, you may not," she hissed at him.  "I’m to go.  And Jaime’s to go to Crakehall.  And you’re to be here all on your own."

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It is unbearable sitting for the portrait.  

Unbearable not just because Alysanne had felt ill that morning, as she had every morning for months now, or because her back ached, or even because Aemon is fussy and doen’t like sitting still.

It is unbearable because of Jaehaerys.

"I promise I will make it worth your while," he had said to her that morning, his violet eyes wide and sincere as he held her hand.  "I promise."  And, like a fool, she had relented, though truly she only wished to return to bed.

For hours she stands there with him, one of his hands at her shoulder, the other at the small of her back, his lips near her ear, murmuring words that she hopes to all the gods the painter could not hear.  ”I will have you convulsing,” he whispers.  ”I will have you unable to remember your own name so intensely shall I love you.  Don’t blush like that—do you want that to be how you are painted for posterity?” She hears the smile in his voice, and knows that her blush pleases him, knows that if there has to be a portrait of them, he would have her blushing and thinking of his promises to make her come.

"I am salivating already," he breathed into her ear.  "Gods, if only I could have them paint me kissing you, licking you, sliding my tongue inside of you, my lovely Alysanne."

She feels him stiffen behind her, and she almost turns to face him.  ”You make it very hard,” she says, arching the small of her back slightly so that her rear presses against his cock, “to keep my face still.  Do not trouble the painter.”

His hand at her back dips down and cups her ass, and she makes a squeaking sound.

"Your Grace?" asks the painter.

"Forgive me," Alysanne says, her voice perfectly calm while Jaehaerys peers around and she catches a hint of laughter on his expression.  He always likes to see how I will handle things, she thought.  ”The babe kicked.”

The painter makes a noise of sympathy, and Jaehaerys asks, concerned, naturally, for his wife’s health and strength, “Will you be much longer, Master Painter?”

"Only a few more touches, Your Grace," the painter says.  "Any moment now."

Jaehaerys presses a kiss to her cheek, then whispers in her ear, “Good.  I grow impatient.”

"I know," Alysanne whispers back, and she arches her ass into his cock again.

"The Wicked Queen, they should call you," he says, and he pinches her ass.  She does not squeak this time.  

"It does have a ring to it, though the Good Queen does suit me better, I think.  I am certainly," she clenches the muscles of her ass so that they rub against her husband, "good."

"I think that it is done, Your Grace," the painter announces.  "Would you like to come and look?"

Alysanne passes Aemon to his nursemaid, who takes him from the room, and she follows Jaehaerys to look at the painting.

"Flawless," Jaehaerys says, and he presses another kiss to the side of Alysanne’s head.  "Truly marvelous."

"Indeed, it is lovely," Alysanne said.  She does look ill—but such is to be expected.  Part of her is frustrated that Jaehaerys would insist on a portrait while she was so ill.  Another part of her is amused.  He does seem to grow more inflamed when she was with child.  Mayhaps he shall take special joy in this painting, she thought, and suppressed a smile.  ”If you will forgive me, Master Painter, I should retire.  I have been unwell of late.”

"Of course, Your Grace," the painter says, bowing to her.

Jaehaerys finds her not long after, and he settles himself on the bed.  She lies above the blankets, looking at him through hooded eyes.  It is only in lying down that she had realized quite how exhausting it had been to stand so still for so long.  She should not be as surprised as she is. Her time is nearly upon her, and the closer it gets, the more tired she becomes.

"Gods but you’re beautiful," he says.

"I am pale and sickly today, my love," she murmurs.

He rests a hand on her belly, just above where she imagines their babe’s head is.  ”Beautiful,” he repeats, and bends to kiss her swollen stomach.  His fingers find the chorded belt between her breasts and belly and he unties it, then brings the fabric of her gown up and up until it rests above her heavy teats.  His lips drop to her stomach again, and he kisses her.  ”Mother have mercy.”

"Only you would make that sound as licentious as you do," she teases, reaching a hand up and pressing it to the side of his face.  He grins at her wickedly.

"She always was my favorite.  Let the warriors keep their maidens."  

His lips find her nipples and he sucks upon them and she sighs.  How good they feel—how warm and gentle.  Her teats have been dry these past few weeks, and though she has rubbed balm upon them, there is no balm quite like Jaehaerys’ lips, the way he brushes his teeth across her flesh as it begins to stiffen.  He cups her breast with his hand, squeezing it lightly, and gods but his hand feels right when it is there, holding it so perfectly that she can almost feel the softness of it, just from the contour of his hand.

He sits up again and stares at her, his eyes seeming to drink her in, and, were she not full with child, she’d feel perfectly beautiful, perfectly scandalous, lying here with her gown at her neck and her smallclothes the only thing that covered her at all.  ”I seem to recall,” he says, “A promise that I had made.  For a wife who was very good to me earlier.”

"Well, my love," she says, "It is always a good thing to make good on your promises."

He drops a hand to her smallclothes and begins to draw them down her legs.  She shifts her hips and smiles, watching as the violet in his eyes begin to fade to black.  

"Oh, I plan to," he says, and he settles himself between her legs and begins to suck.

She had been somewhat wet before.  Uncomfortably wet from his whisperings while they were being painted, and she widens her legs as far as they will go, as wide as if she were riding Silverwing, for the wider her legs are, the more his tongue can do and oh—he has a good tongue, her husband.

He slides it along her, warm, and soft—but also unyielding.  How is it that a man’s tongue, a man’s cock can both be strong and soft?  She’s heard men call them—both cock and tongue—swords, but they are not swords.  Not swords at all, for no sword could make her heart flutter quite like this.  Swords are hard, and cold—not at all like Jaehaerys.  He circles along her length, and she moans, bucking her hips into his face, feeling the rub of his beard against her thighs, against her cunt as he licks happily at her.

He has always loved the taste of her.  She has known that for years—years when they’d been young and betrothed, but hadn’t dared do more than kiss, and lick.  He’d found her flower then, and how he’d delighted in it’s “nectar” as he’d called it.  She’d mocked him for it—mocked him for sounding like a silly singer who could not find a good poetical term, and he had licked her until she’d stopped, licked her until she’d pressed her palm to her lips to keep herself from screaming.

She does not have to keep herself from screaming now—hardly.  She moans and rubs herself against him, her hands coming to cup at her own breasts, to trace circles into her nipples the way his tongue was tracing circles into her cunt.  Around and around and around he goes, periodically pausing to swallow, to breathe, before his tongue dips into her again, finds that nub he’d stumbled upon before they’d been wed and how good it had been that he’d found it, for he had brought their bed much joy in doing so.  

Her heart pumps strong in her, and everything is warm, and as he licks and sucks at her, he slips a finger inside her, and then another, curling them slightly—another joyful discovery—gently tickling the inside of her while his tongue circles at the nub, and she wishes she could see his him, wishes that the babe did not obstruct their gaze, for when she is not with child, there is little she likes in the world quite as much as the sight of Jaehaerys between her legs as he is now.  But she is not so lucky, and can only imagine it, and gods, he is pushing in a third finger inside her, curling them as though trying to lift her to his mouth from the inside and oh, there is nothing like this, nothing at all, and wildly she wonders whether after she’s had the babe, he would be able to fit his whole hand inside her and—

She gasps and sighs and shakes and cries out, feeling as though every drop of blood in her body is flowing in her cunt, as though that little nub feels everything thrice as much as the rest of her, and her legs, her back, her breath are all shaking as it throbs against Jaehaerys’ lips.  He pauses in his suckling, though his fingers continue their strange pull as her cunt clenches around them, as if never wanting them to leave.

He does withdraw his fingers in the end, when she cannot move anymore, and she feels him swipe his tongue along her cunt one last time, and hears him sucking at his fingers.

"You are a good king," she sighs as he slides up the bed and kisses her neck.  "Doing all you can to fulfill your word.  It is very honorable of you.  Very noble."

"It is hardly a hardship, my love," he whispers, his breath tickling her skin.  "Gods, but I could spend eternity between your legs."

She smiles.  ”Be careful what you wish for.  I might just make you promise to.”

Chapter Text

She is a proud girl, Lady Lyanna. She sits with her back straight, her jaw clenched, her hands resting on the lump at her middle. When they had arrived in this place, Lady Lyanna had been slender like a reed and now she is not anymore.

She is a proud girl—a girl. She is only a girl—not yet sixteen. Her hair, which had near her shoulders at Harrenhal has grown to the middle of her back. She wears it in a braid, an iron arrow that points down her back like a second spine. She is young, younger than he is, younger than Ashara and their brother. When had fifteen started seeming so young? His new brother, Ser Jaime, is young as well—and it had only been a week past when Ser Gerold had cast Arthur a sideways glance and called the newly knighted Sword of the Morning a boy who would learn one day what it truly meant to wear the white cloak.

He wonders what she thinks of when she stares out of the window. Does she think of home? There are no mountains near Winterfell. The castle lies in the moors. Arthur has never seen it, but he knows that much. How alien this must feel to her, trapped in a tower where she used to ride and explore, her laughter filling the air like a song, to hear others speak. These mountains are different from his mountains, the mountains near Starfall. Northerners think that all Dornish mountains are the same, but these mountains are red and the mountains of Starfall are blue and purple in comparison. Even the air is different—less salty, more crisp, with a hint of sweetness and oak when the wind blows down from the Stormlands.

Does she think she will die here? Every day her face grows more gaunt. That much he sees. Her grey eyes are distant, and the laughter he had once seen there, seen as they rode south, her swathed in a dark cloak, staying away from the Kingsroad so that no whispering of their travels would reach her betrothed’s ears has long since faded. She has not smiled since they reached Dorne, if before then. He remembers her smile faltering when she had told the King she was with child, faltering when he had smiled and kissed her and told her it was all to plan.

"To plan?" she had asked and there had been something so horrible there, as if she had awoken from a dream. But Rhaegar had not replied, he had simply mounted his horse again and waited for Lyanna and Arthur to do the same.

He knows she has no fondness for him, and he would not be surprised if little fondness remained for Rhaegar. She is movement and laughter, but above all she is stubbornness, and in her stubbornness she would bite her bitterness between her teeth and keep her thoughts to herself. Perhaps she is silent out of spite, though whether that spite is for him or for Rhaegar or the babe growing within her or the brother and father who died in her name he does not know.

"Guard her with your life, Arthur," Rhaegar had said as he had ridden north. "If she dies, you die as well." Arthur had not smiled. It was not a jape—it was an order.

If she dies, I die. It is as simple as that.

Chapter Text

"But of course, everyone knows a woman’ll like it best in the knight’s position."

Robb looks perturbed, as though he wants desperately to ask the question on his mind as Theon continues to peel his apple.

"The what?" Jon asks derisively.  He doesn’t care if Theon thinks he sounds stupid.  Theon’s mostly full of hot air anyway.  He doesn’t understand why Robb listens to him—apart from now, of course.  Theon’s older than them, and, more importantly, Theon’s been with women.

"The knight’s position," Theon says, rolling his eyes.  "You know…you’re on your knees and she’s got her legs up on your shoulders like you’re being dubbed.  The knight’s position."

"Swearing your sword to her," Robb guffaws and Theon smiles at him appreciatively.

"Yeah, but—we don’t follow the Faith of the Seven.  We don’t get knighted.  None of us,” Jon says pointedly at Theon, who brings up the Drowned God and the Iron Islands whenever he can.

"It’s not the religion that matters, Snow,” Theon says peevishly.  ”It’s the symbol of the thing.  Or are you too thick to see that?”

Jon doesn’t reply.  He crosses his arms, and frowns, and thinks that, if he’s ever with a woman, he’ll kiss her, not try out some dumb position that Theon Greyjoy told him about.  All the same, he doesn’t shut his ears as Theon continues telling Robb, “And there’s this this little spot just above her slit and if you rub it while you’re in her she’ll rut right against you like a cat in heat the entire time.”  That, at least, sounds like it might be useful later.

Chapter Text

 

She had shoved him in the river the first time she met him.  He had only been a bald boy then, with a big straw hat to cover his head.  She’d called him stupid, and shoved him and he’d fallen backwards and gotten thoroughly soaked and she’d had to bite back laughter.  She hadn’t known he was a prince.  Princes weren’t bald and they certainly weren’t stupid.  Everyone knew that.

He’s stupid now, too.  Still stupid, rather.  The same stupid.  That sort of stupid that comes when your heart’s too big—bigger than your head at least.  And Egg…he doesn’t go by Egg anymore.  He’s got hair now, so he’s not so much an egg-head as he had been when his hat had fallen off and begun floating downstream and he’d flopped and flailed after it while Betha had laughed at him.  He’s taller than she is now.  She’d been taller than he’d been when she’d shoved him in the river, but that’s how children are at that age.  There’s that window her mother’s always going on about where girls spring up before boys do.  She’d met Egg during that window.  But Aegon stands taller than she does, and he’s still stupid, even if he has hair and a beard now, and he’s twice as stubborn as he’d been when she’d met him first.

She likes that he’s stubborn.  She likes that he raises his eyebrows at her, and crosses his arms, and that he smiles when she does the same.  She likes that he doesn’t let her wriggle out of replying the way everyone else does because everyone else learned years ago that sometimes Betha’s just stubborn and so you just let her do what she wants.  If Aegon doesn’t know that, he’s stupid, or maybe he doesn’t care, which still makes him stupid.  But she likes him stupid.  She likes that he doesn’t care how stupid he is, and that his eyes seem to glow when he looks at her.

Meet me by the river where we first met.  Come away with me, Betha.  He’d said it and she’d nearly laughed, because if her father heard, it wouldn’t matter if he was a Targaryen Prince (so far from the throne it hardly mattered, if you thought about it for long enough), her father would string him up in the godswood.  But he’d meant it.  He’d been stubborn and stupid about it and her breath had caught in her throat, and she hadn’t said a word, and he hadn’t said a word and when she’d laid in bed that night, all she could think was this time it wouldn’t be like Melissa and the last Aegon, because he didn’t want it to be that way and besides even if he did she wouldn’t let it be and she always got her way.

So before dawn, she sneaks out her window and meets him by the river.  And, for good measure, gives him a good shove into the water before diving in next to him, laughing.

Chapter Text

They never learned how to play together, she thinks.  Even when she’d been young, there had rarely been laughter.  Too often, games of come into my castle had ended in tears, and if Daemon wanted to play while Daeron was reading, more often than not a book would be thrown across a room and Daeron would run, crying, to mother.  Even when they’d grown older, they hadn’t known how to share.  Aegor and Brynden had squabbled for Shiera’s attention, and Daeron had frowned whenever Daemon sat at her side.  She remembers no joy from her youth, no peace.  She remembers whispers about her mother and her brother, and she hardly remembers her father at all.  A part of her thinks he only began to care for her when she’d grown breasts.

She wonders if that was why it was that Daemon led the realm to war.  Daemon had never learned to share and had certainly never learned to lose.  As she watches the children run through the water, sometimes it is her Doran who wins their games, other times it is Davos Dayne, and sometimes it is even her little Allariya who is cleverest of all of them, though she is four years younger than her brother.  How many games had Daemon stormed away when he’d seen that Daeron had him beaten?  And how many times had Daeron shrugged away a defeat because…what did it matter?  It was only a game, after all.  Nothing of import.

How easy it was for Daemon to forget the realm when he only thought of himself.  How easy it was for Daeron to think of history before his people.  Did either of them truly think of the realm? Did either of them think of themselves as men as well as kings?  They’d never had the chance to be boys, after all.  She does not know if childhood can truly exist in the Red Keep.  She had thought it could, when she’d been there, but now…now she cannot remember laughter, or sunshine, or play, or joy, or any of those things that should well have meant that all was well.

She watches as six-year-old Wyl Yronwood tails after Allariya, two years his senior.  By rights, he should heed Doran, but he knows that Allariya is cleverer, and when Wyl trails after her, so too do the youngest children.  She watches Doran with his friend Maric, a boy of no consequence who lives on a pole boat on the Greenblood, and Maric’s friend Tansel, and Tansel’s friend Lyla.  Doran grins when they speak, grins as he never does in his father’s hall for here it does not matter that he is a prince and that these others have no name, for they are all children and such things only matter to men and women grown.  She watches as Davos Dayne tugs at Allariya’s braid and she headbutts him back so that he topples over into the water and everyone laughs for none doubts that he deserved it.  She watches the way that Doran watches and hopes that he will understand one day—understand that if you do not truly know peace, how can you truly understand the need to protect it?

Chapter Text

he is seven again. seven and not frightened, mother tells him that a dragon is never frightened. a dragon is never frightened a dragon is never she cries. she cries but doesn’t cry, not the way he cries. she cries the way that only mother cries, with eyes bright and tears at the corner of her eyes but the tears never fall because mother doesn’t let them fall mother doesn’t let anything fall. do not be frightened she tells him.

he is seven again and rhaenys is there. rhaenys who is three and who follows him around with her cat who follows her around so they are a little train of targaryens, viserys first then rhaenys then balerion who is named for a dragon but isn’t a dragon. he is seven again and rhaenys is crying.

rhaenys doesn’t cry the way that mother cries. rhaenys cries the way that only rhaenys cries, loud and squalling and blubbering, demanding to know where her father has gone, wanting to go see her mother when the maesters say that elia must rest, loud loud don’t forget me i am still here loud crying that only viserys hears.

don’t forget me i’m still here. that’s what her tears meant. viserys knows that now, knows it in his sleep though viserys is not seven anymore. viserys is not seven anymore, but rhaenys still is three.

rhaenys cries when he leaves, cries and hugs him and tells him not to go don’t go don’t go i’m scared viserys don’t go. don’t go please don’t leave me behind please please please.

you are a dragon you shouldn’t be afraid.

my father was a dragon too.

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"When will father be home?" 

"Soon, Dale.  Soon."

"You said ‘soon’ last time.”

"And I mean it."

"Father hasn’t left us, has he?  Gawain’s father left his mother and never came back neither."

"Gawain’s father was a drunk and a sot and Gawain’s better off without him.  Your father will be home."

"When?"

When the war is over.  But she doesn’t say that, for she knows the next question out of Dale’s mouth will be an excited, “When will the war be over, mother?” and she could no sooner answer that than the question Dale asks every night as she tucks him into bed, the constant, “When will father be home?”

Soon enough, Marya, Davos had said when he’d kissed her farewell and she’d asked him herself.  He’d come to the washrooms and asked for a few moments, which Goodwife Marilyn had given with narrowed eyes.  Goodwife Marilyn did not like Davos.  She did not like men who defied the King’s law.  She’d only hired Marya to work in her washrooms before she’d known the truth and nature of Davos’s work.  Lord Stannis has need of some onions.

Lord Stannis—Davos, please that’s treason.  She had only mouthed the last word.

Mayhaps, but it’s also stags.  And maybe with enough of them we can stop paying that crook Abel and rent us a nice set of rooms in the upper city.

Davos, that’s dreaming.

Marya.  He had kissed her again, and she’d held him as tight as she could around her belly, swollen with their fourth.  The Mother will protect you while I’m gone.  She looks after her own.  But if she’s busy, my cousin Barth will look in on you.

Barth’s more crooked than you are. Davos had only  smiled at that, and kissed her again.  

Then let’s pray the Mother has her eye on you.

The Mother looks after her own.  That she had heard hundreds of time, from Septas and midwives and goodwives like Marilyn.  And so far, Davos had been right about that much.  While he’d been gone, she had known nothing of—

Fire!” She hears it in the street, a panicked call.  She flies to the window and sees them, men with torches setting pot shops and houses ablaze.  It is dark outside, and but in the horrible flicker of yellow and orange, she thinks she sees red cloaks.

Dale!” she yells.  Dale, wake up.  Allard!  Matthos!”  She shakes the sleep from her boys.  We must get out of the house.  But where?  But where?  Davos would have had an answer to that.

Matthos is crying, and Allard looks near to it.  She gives Matthos to Dale and snatches up Allard, grabbing a knife from the kitchen.  If it’s Lannister soldiers, she thinks, why are they burning the city?  Lord Tywin was the King’s hand before he wasn’t.

They aren’t the only ones hurrying to the streets.  They aren’t the only ones fleeing from the flames that are swallowing Flea Bottom whole.  She sees people running for the Great Sept, or crying for mercy before a spear catches them—Allard bursts into tears in her arms, burying his face in her neck.

The Mother looks after her own, she can’t help but think.  I must not cry, I must not.  I have no time for it. 

She slips into a back alley, Dale right behind her, and it is as though her feet are taking her somewhere of their own will.  It takes her a moment to realize that she is making her way towards a grate near the Iron Gate that lets the water through.  Lannister men are moving their way up to the Red Keep, in the other direction, and they won’t be looking to that grate at all, won’t know that it’s not fastened so tight as it should be and that Davos and his friends have kept their boats in a little cove out of sight there for years now.

His boat won’t be there, she thinks, his won’t be, but maybe Barth’s will, and if Barth’s is there… and even if it’s not, it’s as good a place to hide and no fear of fire.  

There’s heat at her back, and sweat, and fear, but she can’t look back and when she reaches the darkened archway along the blackwater.  She puts Allard down.

"Hush now," she hisses at him.  "Hush now we don’t want to be heard."  He stuffs his hand into his mouth and nods while she runs her fingers along the grate, finding the loose points, bending her legs and pushing.  "Quickly—through.  Through!" and the three of them toddle through, and Marya follows, wincing and gasping as her swollen stomach rubs against the stone and the rusted iron scrapes at her back.  The grate snaps back into place with a clang that would have been easily heard had there not been screams from the city.

Marya shudders, takes Allard’s and Dale’s hands and leads them along the outer wall until they find that little outcropping where the boats are.

Barth’s boat is there, though there’s no sign of Barth.  Barth’s house was on the other side of Flea Bottom, and is probably ablaze already, but maybe if he escaped, he can sail them out into the water where they’ll be safe, where no fire can catch them. 

She puts her sobbing Allard onto the deck, and helps Dale and Matthos climb aboard as well before stepping onto the shifting boat that is rocking like a cradle.  

Gentle Mother, she prays, Gentle Mother, save us all.  She sits down on the aft of the boat and holds her children to her, shaking.  Gentle Mother, save us all.

Chapter Text

It is not the first time in her life that Marya has been homeless.  Once when she was ten, just after her father had died and her mother hadn’t been able to find a place to live for four weeks, and then again when her mother had learned she was pregnant with Dale and thrown her from the house.  Davos had been off with his smuggling, and she hadn’t been able to find a place to stay until he’d come back and married her.  

Now’s different, though.  Now she sleeps on the hard stone floor of a tiny sept just off Fishmonger’s Square, Dale, Allard, and Matthos curled about her.  The septon is a fat old thing, and he looks haggard every day, as people come to him begging for food, for shelter.  It was the Mother that saved me and my sons, septon, she had pleaded, we won’t be a bother, won’t ask for food, I’ve a job, I promise—just a roof overhead until my husband returns, and he had relented.

Marya spends her days hiking up to the Street of Sisters, and Goodwife Marilyn’s washhouse, ignoring the protests of her swollen ankles, and pausing every few minutes to catch her breath.  This babe, this fourth one, is bigger than Matthos had been and he drains the breath right out of her when she moves.

But move she must, for the coin that she brings back every day keeps her boys fed, and the only reason that Septon Farryn had allowed them to stay was that they wouldn’t ask him for food.  There is food in the city, at least.  In his defeat, Lord Tyrell does not deny trade to the new Baratheon king, and there is even some spring breads coming down from the riverlands now that the fighting there is done.  

So it wasn’t treason after all, Davos, she thinks as she closes her eyes and leans against a the wall of a motherhouse.  It wasn’t treason go bring Lord Stannis his onions, then.  Lord Stannis is brother to the king, now.  Mayhaps he may even reward Davos his service.  But Marya would not know.  She has not heard from Davos, nor from any of his friends.  She’d told them where they were staying, for when he came back to the city he would undoubtedly be horrified to see the ruin that was the pot shop over which they had lived.  A problem for another day, she thinks, resting her hand on her stomach.  Her next boy kicks, and she winces.  You stop your fighting, she wants to tell him.  I don’t need trouble from you just yet.  Not while Dale is quiet and Allard is weepy and Matthos is too young to understand what’s going on.  You keep your kicks to yourself.

The sept is full of people when she returns, and Dale is not waiting for her when she pushes her way inside.  She looks around and sees him, and Allard, and even little Matthos crowding around a man on a bench—a man with a beard and a fancy cloak and—

She leans against the wall and closes her eyes because he’s there, he’s back, and he’s dressed like a lord.  And his arms are around her and he even smells all clean, not like the sea, not like her Davos.

"You took your time coming back," she said to him.  "And where did you get this?  Was it a gift from Lord Stannis?"

He chuckles delightedly. “Forgive me, Marya.  I was on Cape Wrath, looking at our new home.”

"Cape Wr—new home?" she stares at him and he reaches out and takes her hand in his and—"Davos, what happened to your hand?"

"Lord Stannis took my fingers for smuggling." 

Marya raises her eyebrows and says, sharply, “He needed your smuggling.”

"He did," Davos agreed.  "And I was also rewarded.  You speak now to Ser Davos Seaworth, a knight of Cape Wrath.  Marya—we have a castle!"  

Marya clutches at him, afraid of falling over even as the fourth kicks her again.  She’d lived through much in her life—work that didn’t pay more than a few pennies, fear and homelessness, her children nearly being burned alive—and Davos…

"Seaworth," she murmurs.  "You have a name now."

"And so do you, Marya," he says excitedly.  "Marya Seaworth.  For the sea has made our worth, and a knightly sigil of onions."

"Onions," she sighs.  "It couldn’t have been something bolder."  And then she smiles—truly smiles, a great one that spreads across her face.  "And I never have to wash that old shrew’s sheets ever again!"  She throws her arms around her husband’s neck.  If he’s a knight, does that make her a lady?  She wonders if there’s ever been a lady who started out a washerwoman before.

Chapter Text

Her time comes early—earlier than it should by a month at least, Maester Luwin says panickedly when he enters the room to find her lying there, already sweating.  Her time comes early, the little babe inside her eager for the world, eager for her arms, eager to add her cries to Robb’s and Sansa’s and the bastard’s.  The babe comes early, and Catelyn breathes deeply as she pushes, for it would be like this—the rebellion would have ended, and Ned would be on his way home, but his child will not wait for him.  This child would greet him too.

It is a girl, small and squalling and completely bald at her birth, and when Catelyn holds her in her arms  She is smaller than Sansa had been, but more boisterous than Robb, and when her eyes open, it is not the familiar Tully blue that Catelyn had expected peeping out from pale eyelids, but Ned’s deep grey.  Deep grey, and confused, as all babes are on the day of their birth.  

She is lovely, Catelyn thinks as she gives her her breast to suckle.  Lovely, and she is like Ned.  She had so longed to give Ned a child that took his look.  And here she was—this third child with her long face and Ned’s eyes.

"What will you call her, my lady?" Luwin asks her the next morning.

She had hoped Ned would be home for this, but he will be on his way from Seagard, perhaps, or maybe he was still on the water, sailing to the Stony Shore so that he can be in the North again, and so the task falls to her, and her alone.

Robb had been easy to name.  She’d been raised on stories of the bravery of Red Robb Rivers—a favorite of Edmure’s.  Robb, which sounded like Robert, her new husband’s dear friend.  She knew so little of him, just that he wasn’t Brandon, and she feared that if she named their firstborn boy Brandon, he might take it ill, take it as a sign of her heartbreak, and he must never know how she grieved for Brandon.  

It had been Ned who had suggested Sansa—Sansa Stark, had been some great-great-great aunt, and he had always liked the sibilance in the name.  Sansa, not Lyanna, though his grief for his little sister still tore at him sometimes, when he didn’t think Catelyn would notice.  And Catelyn had liked the name—loved it, truly.  It sounded like Lysa, and Minisa, and was a name of the North all at once, and she’d been glad of that, for she knew that if she kept giving Ned sons and daughters with their Tully red hair, it would be best that their names be as northern as could be.  

But this little girl, with her grey eyes and her long face…

She could name her Lyanna.  Some of Ned’s lords had sworn to name their daughters Lyanna in her honor.  But there was something about the way that Ned bit his lip when he thought about her, the way his eyes darkened and the way he retreated into his own mind that made her think that perhaps…perhaps the next daughter.  Not this one.  

She could name her Lyarra, like Ned’s mother, but Lyarra sounded very much like Lyanna.  And perhaps it would make no difference, but if Robb or Sansa grew to call her “Lya,” and Ned didn’t stop biting his lip, would it not be the same pain, the same reminder that this girl could never replace the sister he had lost?

She runs her finger down the girl’s cheek.  She knows of other northern names as well—Alys, and Arsa, and the rest.  She likes the feel of them well on her tongue, but they do not quite fit the little girl who is now watching her, waiting, wondering who she will be.

Who will you be, little love? Catelyn wonders, looking down at her daughter.  Who are you now?

She likes the starting sound of ‘A,’ different from Sansa and her sibilance.  Alys and Arsa, both have that s, but Arrana does not.  There had been an Arrana Stark, and an Arra.  But no…Arra had been a Norrey, if she remembered correctly.  A Norrey who had wed the Stark of Winterfell and—

She smiles.  Ned’s own grandmother had been named Arya. 

Arya.  Arya Stark.

She likes that name.  She likes it very much.

Chapter Text

she was pride.

she was his pride. the sort that everyone japed about—lions and their prides. there was nothing to jape about in it, but lesser minds will when they must find solace in their inferiority. his pride. his bride. his proud bride, with her long neck and the smile that was only wide for him.

she was the sound of the sea, rolling and crashing against the rock, immense and immeasurable.

she was the laughter of their twins, the tears of the other.

she was the sun setting over the water, warm and gold and melting into reflections of light. not like fire. never like fire. joanna was never like fire. she was too constant for it.

she was a shared smirk, a subtle comment meant only for his ears, to ease the pain of serving madness and weaker men.

she was a jade necklace from the jade sea that matched her eyes entirely.

she was disdain, disdained, disdainful. she was all of them in one when she looked at her queen. once she had felt pity, but now she is pitiless. once they had been close.

she was everything, the realm, the world, the rise of their house from between their legs—her legs and his entwined together and for a moment nothing else but breath.

she was castamere, and mines bubbling with water and death the way that laughter bubbled from her lips.

she was gone.

Chapter Text

“Is Sansa very ill, mother?  Septa Mordane says that she has been retching all day.”  Arya’s hand is small in hers, but not half-so clammy as Sansa’s had been that morning.  

“She is ill, but it will pass.  It always does,” Catelyn replies gently.  “You’ll be sleeping in my bed tonight.”  She gives Arya’s hand a little squeeze, and Arya tilts her head up to look at her mother.  Her eyes are so like Ned’s, but full of a childish curiosity that she’s never seen in her husband’s face.

“Won’t Sansa be lonely?” 

“She may be, but I wouldn’t have you getting what she has from her.  When she is better, I’m sure she’ll be grateful of your company again.  Besides—I am very lonely with your father away in White Harbor.  Will you not keep me company for a night, sweetling?”

Arya chews her lip and nods up at her mother, her bangs flopping about on her head.  Catelyn sighs.  Arya cut them herself three weeks before, and Septa Mordane had come to her shrieking that she’d only just managed to keep Arya from cutting it all away.  Arya had said she’d just wanted to have her hair look more like the bastard’s.  Andwhere she’d found the knife, Catelyn would never truly know, though she saw Robb looking uncomfortable that night at dinner and suspected that Arya had snuck it off him when he wasn’t paying attention.  

Catelyn kneels and tucks the loose hair back into her daughter’s braids.  “You’ve been running about again, haven’t you.  Your hair is coming undone.”

“I’m sorry, mother,” Arya says automatically, but Catelyn can see that she only half-means it.  At six, her daughter has already shown that she takes her father’s sigil to heart, running through the lichyard and the godswood, laughing and playing like a little wolf.  I swam like a fish when I was at Riverrun, Catelyn thinks, remembering sunny days when she’d strip down to her shift and dive into the Tumblestone with Lysa and Petyr.

“It is late,” Catelyn adds gently.  “I suppose all hair comes loose towards the end of the day.”  

Arya nods vigorously and her bangs fall loose again.  Catelyn smiles and lifts the loose hair from her daughter’s face, running her fingers through it.  It’s so soft, though she does find a piece of a twig in it this time. “You must promise me never to cut your hair by yourself again.  I would not have you hurting yourself—and besides, your father loves your hair long.”  She presses a kiss to Arya’s forehead and the girl says, “I promise, mother.”

Catelyn stands and takes Arya’s little hand in hers again.  “Come now, what story would you hear before bed?”

“Nymeria’s!” Arya says excitedly, and Catelyn feels her lips tugging into a smile. 

Chapter Text

Just a few drops.  

They’re called tears.  That’s what Petyr says.  Tears–clear like water, and they’ll make widows weep.  She’ll not weep for Jon.

In his wine.  

Jon takes his wine every night as he finishes reading over the crown’s accounts.  It helps him relax after a long day.  He’s old, her husband, and it sometimes takes him a while to sleep.  The wine will help with that.  He gets drowsy after one cup and doesn’t drink it with dinner anymore.  The wine will help with that.  The tears will help too.

You’ll be quite safe.

She’s done so much for Petyr already.  She loves him so.  She always has.  Her hands shake as she lets her tears fall into Jon’s Arbor gold.  Tears of Lys.  Tears of Lysa.  Lysa’s Tears.  Lysa’s babes tear her open.  

Her hands shake and her thoughts are all a jumble but her breath is calm, and when she sees herself reflected in the glass of the bottle, she looks like a tiny porcelain doll.

No one will ever know, Lysa.  

No.  It was a tiny porcelain doll who married Jon at Riverrun, who cowed to her father’s wish, who kept her tears at bay.  My skin has turned to porcelain, to ivory, to steel.  And at long last she’d be free.  Free from Jon’s stinky breath and his bad back and his dead sons in her womb.  She’ll be free and she’ll have Petyr as she should have had all those years ago.  When all is ready. When Petyr says all is ready.

She places the tear-filled wine glass on a tray and carries it into Jon’s solar.

No one will ever know.

Chapter Text

Brandon Stark has nearly a foot on him, and more than a few years, but Petyr doesn’t care.  He refuses to care.  Refuses to be afraid of the easy way that Brandon Stark moves his sword lazily from hand to hand, swinging it and stretching and flexing.  He refuses to be frightened–he refuses.  

It’s like the songs.  That’s what it is.  In the songs, the worthy one always wins–the one whose heart is true, the one whose love is greatest.

He hears Catelyn’s voice, “Please, be easy on him, Brandon.  He’s only a little boy,” and it stings.  He loves her, doesn’t she know?  She should be impressed by him, by this, by his bravery, by the fact that he’s right.  He is right, after all.  He loves Cat more than Brandon Stark ever could.  Brandon Stark doesn’t evenknow her.  How could he love her?  Cat only thinks she loves him, because he’s older, because he’s handsome, but she doesn’t know him either.  How could he–

The fight is over fast.  It doesn’t matter that Brandon Stark is older than him, and handsome–it’s the height that does him in, and the bulging muscles.  Petyr’s quick, but not quick enough, and he doesn’t even know how he ends up flat on his back, looking at Brandon’s laughing face.  “Did you think you could win?” he asks, and Petyr hates him.  “Come on now, boy.”

“Brandon, please.  He’s just a boy.”

“Are you afraid?” Brandon Stark asks, his grey eyes shining.  “Are you pissing yourself?  Think I’ll kill you?  I should you know.”

“Brandon!”

“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?”  Petyr’s brave, he will not cry he won’t.

“That’s a remarkably stupid question,” Brandon says, and he presses his sword to Petyr’s chest and Petyr cries out.

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elia begs rhaegar not to name their daughter rhaenys. she begs him.

rhaenys targaryen died tortured beneath the hellholt.

the queen that never was died crownless and charred beyond recognition.

so she begs. names have power, she tells him. name her nymeria for her rhoynish blood, or alysanne for the good queen if he must have a targaryen name. but not rhaenys. please, not rhaenys. if he names her rhaenys, she is doomed to horror and mutilation.

rhaegar only kisses her forehead. “she must be rhaenys,” he says simply. “she must be rhaenys.”

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Arya was ill, and mother told her that she was to sleep in bed with Bran that night, lest she catch whatever illness Arya had.  So after dinner, Sansa put on her nightdress and gathered her belongings from the bedchamber she shared with her sister and went into Bran’s bedchamber.  

Old Nan was sitting by Bran’s bed, and her little brother looked so small all by himself.  She wondered that he didn’t share a room with Robb or Jon.  Or at least with mother and father.  He had, until recently.  He had until their mother had begun to swell with a new child—a brother or sister.

“What story would you like to hear most?” Old Nan asked, and Bran piped up, “A scary one!” at the same time that Sansa asked “Florian and Jonquil again, please.”

“But there’s kissing in that one,” Bran whined, and Old Nan laughed.

“There’s kissing in most stories, little lord,” Old Nan said.

“I don’t like kissing stories,” Bran said.  Sansa kissed his cheek and patted the top of his head. 

“You might one day,” she told him.  That was what her mother had said.  Boys pretended not to like kissing stories, but one day they’d like kissing well enough.  She was sure Bran would be no different.

“I won’t,” Bran insisted.

“Well,” Old Nan said, looking between them.  “I know just the story,” she said.
And she told of the Night’s King and his Queen, the love that destroyed him more stunningly beautiful than anyone in the world.  Sansa liked the story of his love well enough, though she wished it weren’t his love that was his undoing.  That wasn’t how love was supposed to be.  At least, not that way.  Love was supposed to make a man learn the error of his ways, not be the cause of the error of his ways.  Sansa supposed this was more of a scary story than a kissing one, though, so she told herself it wouldn’t matter in the end.  But Bran’s eyes sparkled as he listened, and when Old Nan was finished he looked content.

When Old Nan finished her story, she got to her feet.  “Sleep well, little lord, little lady,” she said and she departed.

She had left the candle burning, and Sansa made to blow it out.

“No,” yelped Bran, grabbing her wrist.  

Sansa turned to look at him.  “What?” she asked.

“Don’t blow it out,” Bran said, and there was fear in his voice.

“Why not?” Sansa asked.  

Bran flushed a little and mumbled, “There are demons in the dark.”

Sansa blinked at him.  He was scared of the dark.  Her little brother, who could climb before he could walk and was always up on ledges that would have terrified Sansa without fear of losing his balance—he was frightened of the dark.  She turned away from the candle, wrapping her arms around him.

“Well,” she said slowly, thinking quickly.  Arya had never been frightened of the dark—she’d always seemed to love it.  And Robb and Jon weren’t frightened of anything.  It was silly, really, being frightened of the dark.  But Bran was, and she didn’t want him to feel silly.  He was only barely older than a baby, after all.  He would grow out of it, she was sure, and be brave and noble like Prince Aemon the Dragonknight.  But for now, he was only a little boy afraid of what awaited him when the candle blew out.  “The demons in the dark can’t hurt you if you are under your blanket,” she said carefully.  “They’re frightened of blankets, you see.  That’s part of why we make them.”  She pulled the blanket up around him and tucked it about him.  “And I will make you every blanket to protect you from the demons so long as I have a loom and hands,” she swore.  She was sure he’d forget one day.  It wasn’t really true, after all.

But Bran hugged her tightly and burrowed under the blanket, tugging his pillow beneath it as well.  “Thank you, Sansa,” he said, his voice muffled.

“Of course, Bran,” she said, smiling.  She ran her fingers through his hair under the blanket and turned to blow out the candle.

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On the third day, she goes to him.  She pushes her way into his bedchamber without knocking and marches to the window, jerking the curtains open with two sharp motions.  The sky outside his window is the sort of pale grey that might dissipate to blue if the sun is strong enough today.  

Behind her, Orys groans and turns away from the light, throwing the stump of his arm over his head.  “Close it.”  

She looks at him.  Her husband.  Her lord.  Her protector.  “I had not known that the Dornish had defeated you so thoroughly.”

Her words are harsh.  Her tone is cold.  She crosses her arms across her chest and tilts her chin up. Orys sits up and his eyes are bloodshot, his beard untrimmed and wild.  There is color flushing up to his cheeks.

“What did you say?” he sputters.

“I had not known that the Dornish had defeated you so thoroughly.” 

His eyes grow hard, and Argella fights back a smile.  It would hot be a happy smile.  It would have been triumphant.  But she doesn’t need a smile to triumph now.  So she continues.  “My husband, hand of the king, the good Lord Orys, undone by the will of the Wyls.”  She smirked despite herself.  She’d always liked moments of good wordplay.  Orys had never had a way with it, though he had always seemed to appreciate her wit.  He had spent much of the first few years of their marriage commending her for it whenever he could in hopes it would warm her to him.  She sees the words twist like a knife in his gut.  

“They had me in chains, Argella.” He fumbles with his covers with both hands, cursing as his stump grazes the blanket.  “They took my hand.”

“I know the experience of chains,” she says.  “And I had not known that losing your hand made you less a man.”

At last, he throws the blankets off and stumbles from the bed.  He is naked and makes no move to cover himself.  He’s always been proud of his nakedness, Orys.  To be sure, he had good reason for that. That had always made it more difficult.  He was handsome, muscles that rippled and a cock that was long and thick.  It does look off balance, him without his second hand.  His sword hand.  The hand he had used to rub balm on her wrists while he murmured words of safety to her by her fire.

“I cannot fight,” he says, his voice a quiet rumble, like a distant storm.  He is standing very close to her now, and she can taste his breath on the air.  It is sour from sleep and wine the night before.  “I cannot fight, Argella.”

“I had not known that your hand was necessary to fighting.  You have one left, have you not?”

He glares at her.  “It’s not so easy as switching your fork from hand to hand over dinner.”

“So you will work at it,” she says simply and he grumbles again.

“No matter how hard I work, I will never be what I was.  That hand made me the man I was.”

“And I had not known that your hand defined your manhood.  How foolish of me.”  

He raises his stumped hand as if to strike her and her eyes shoot to it.  “Or perhaps it was.  You swore never to harm me when you had that hand.”

Argella watches his arm fall to his side, hanging limply near his cock.  She looks up at his face and he sees rage still bubbling in his face.  

She’s never seen her husband angry before.  He’s always been the picture of good will.  Always genial, always kind.  She’d misliked that, yet oddly it had fit.  That a man who had no fury would steal her father’s words and make them his own, as he’d taken Storm’s End, he who had never lived through the summer hurricanes.   

He wore fury well, though.  It suited him.  Brought color to his cheeks, made him stand taller.

“Do you think me less a man?” he asks her, and Argella feels her eyes narrow.  Of course he would ask her that.  He has always needed her to think well of him.

“For making to hit me?  No less a man than those who stripped me and brought me to you.  You are in good company.”  He flinches.  He likes seeing himself the hero, her Orys.  In that too, he had failed in Dorne.

“For this,” he says, jerking his wrist again.  

“Only what it’s done to you.  Though I suppose, what it’s done to you you’ve always had in you.  So really, it’s just made it all worse.”  He frowns at her, silently asking the question.  “You care too much what others think of you.”

Orys’ mouth opens in surprise.  “What do you mean?”

“You care that others will think you less a man for having lost your sword hand, for having submitted in Dorne and failed your king.  You care that I will think you less a man.  You care that others whisper that you are a bastard,” his eyes narrow.  He hates that word.  “You care that others whisper that you’ve known both of the queens—”

“How did you—what?”

Argella did not even bother to answer the question.  She continued on.  “You care that I did not think you so grand and good when you did not rape me on the worst day of my life.  You care too much what others think of you.  It is your weakness, Orys.  It is what makes you less a man.  You’ve always had it.  It comes to the fore.  Do I think you less a man?  You’re the same man I married.”

He’s glaring at her, hard now, harder even than before.  It is good.  She knows well how to handle wrath.  It’s his airs of gentleness she’s never had much taste for.  “You think me weak.”

“I think you pitiable,” she says, shrugging.  “It is pitiful, after all, being so shaped by what others would have of you.  There is no strength in it.”

“You hate me,” he says and she can hear the tinges of despair there—that which he has worked so long, so hard, to avoid, to fight.  He has never wanted her hatred, has dreaded it as surely as he’s dreaded losing this hand of his.

Argella sighs.  “I love you,” she says, and even as his shoulders sag in relief, she adds, “I just don’t like you very much.”

The funny thing about Orys is how similar he looks to her father.  Many had remarked upon it when first they’d wed—that he was the Storm King come again in many ways.  Argella had disliked that.  She would have willed he looked like his Valyrian half-siblings with their silvery hair and their violet eyes.  She would have preferred that to waking up next to a man whose jawline is her father’s.  

Now he stands before her and he is just a man.  No lord, or king, or father, or husband.  Just a man named Orys, who has learned his wife doesn’t like him very much.  

“How can you love me and yet not like me?” he demands, his brow furrowed in confusion, and Argella fights back laughter.  Of course he would not understand.  He has never had reason to love someone he did not like.

“What should I like about a man who slew my father, took my kingdom and made me his wife.”

“Made you—I asked and you agreed.”

“What choice did I truly have?”  Her words hang in the air and Orys opens his mouth to respond, before closing it again.  “Why should I like a man who takes my house, my honor, my virtue, my words, my fury as some prize of battle and then does nothing with them?  You serve your brother as hand—well, you would well have done that anyway.  Why did you need Storm’s End?  You go to Dorne on his command and lose your hand.  ‘Tis true, the Storm Kings have done battle in the Marches for centuries, but you went for Aegon, not for these men you lead.  Why should I like you when you took everything I had and did nothing with it?”

He’s looking at her as though seeing her for the first time.  He takes a step back, even, leaning against one of the bed posts, and Argella steps forward. 

“And now, though you’ve the gratitude of your king, and the glory of your wars won and lost, you come here, and you mope for a hand that took everything and yet did nothing with it.  Why should I like you my lord?”

“Why have you come?” he snaps at her and she hears anguish in his voice.  “To gloat?  To bathe in my weakness, to remind me of my every failing?  You horrible woman.  How is that love?”

“Because I came,” she said simply.  “You are the man I married, and there is strength to you—more strength than you hold in that missing hand.  Wallowing is beneath you.  It is pathetic.  You are the father of my son—I would not have you weak when it is your strength I love.”

He sags again, and Argella grabs his shoulders and bends down, forcing him to look her in the eye.  They have the same eyes—both clear and blue.  The same eyes as their son.  “You are more than the hand that killed my father, that soothed my hurts and cloaked me, more than the hand you held your sword with, more than the hand you held our son with.  You are more a man than that hand.  Or have you forgotten?”

His eyes flicker between hers.  Bitterness, misery, but also something warmer.  He likes that she loves him.  He will wear it as a badge of honor, then, the fool—take her love and use it the way she likes least in him, as is his right, she supposes.

He reaches up to touch her, forgetting his missing hand, and his stump brushes her cheek.  She does not flinch away, though he does when he remembers phantom fingers.  He lets the arm fall and raises his left instead, cupping her cheek, and stroking it.

“You could have said it more gently,” he says at last.

“Why should I have?  Would you have preferred I let you weep into my shoulder while I hush and coddle you?  You aren’t our babe, Orys.  You’re a man.  Act like one.”

He lets out a huff and stands up a little straighter.  He pulls her into his embrace and she feels his breath against her cheek, the beginnings of the stirring of his manhood against her skirt.  

“I am a man,” he breathes again, as though affirming what she’s just said, and she rolls her eyes and pulls away.  A look of disappointment crosses his face.  “Where are you—?”

She turns away from him, sweeping back towards the door.  “Mayhaps tomorrow, when you’ve proven you can leave your bedchamber,” she says.  

“Argella!” he calls after her, and she turns to look at him.  He’s half-hard and there’s a flush to his cheeks, and a flicker of annoyance to his face.  

Now we are even, my lord, she thinks as she smiles and leaves the room.  I was brought to you naked and defeated and you soothed my hurts as best you could.  Now I have done the same.

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All he can do is stare at her, ruddy and wriggling as she is. Surely no babe should be so small. She is tiny, fragile, breakable.

Jon had not been so small, and Robb had been older when Ned had first seen him in his mother’s arms. She looks very like Cat–her hair, her nose, her eyes. Like Cat…he had hoped maybe like Lyanna…but she is beautiful, and her eyes open in confusion when he brushes his fingers across her cheek. Her skin is so very soft–like velvet. He cannot help but smile.

He does not remember his own father smiling much. He had mourned Ned’s mother, and then had grown preoccupied with his responsibilities. Brandon had laughed and smiled, and Lya and Ben too. Ned had always been somewhat solemn, except when Robert shook it out of him.

Would his own sons remember him as a man who frowned and did not smile? He had hardly been able to look at Jon. He looked so much like Lyanna, and Ned had been distraught. And Robb, who like his sister resembled their mother–he should have been Brandon’s son, not Ned’s.

But this sweet little girl…she burps at him and he feels his smile widen. He should smile more.

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he hurts, this one.  more than even her twins, one right after the other.  or perhaps she does not remember their birth clearly.  it was different, then.  bright and warm in her birthing room, the window open and the sound and smell of the sea washing over her.  

it’s dark now.  dark and stuffy and the fire is too hot.  she hates the winter.  she longs for the sunshine, the summer, of moments by the sea with her twins and tywin.

he hurts.  he’s out of her now, and crying, and maester gooden is bending down between her legs, wrapping linens around her, dabbing away blood, and whatever else came out of her as she pushed the babe out.

“where is he?” she asks him.  they’d given her cersei and jaime straight away, to hold while they’d cleaned her.  but they have not given her her babe yet.  she wants him, wants to see his face, his brilliant green eyes.  she wants to see tywin in his face.  she had seen stafford in jaime’s.  “where’s my boy?”

she hears whispers.  they sound like buzzing flies.  she hates it.  flies only buzz like that around the dead, but she is alive, and she hears her boy fussing.  “maester?  midwife?” she demands.  she tries sitting up, but it hurts and she is tired.  it hurts and she feels wet heat between her legs still, though the maester should have finished cleaning her by now, shouldn’t he?  

the midwife turns and looks at her.  the babe is bundled in her arms, but she doesn’t bring him to joanna.  joanna glares at her.  it is not as fierce a glare as it should be.  she is tired.  her arms are heavy as she holds them up, demanding wordlessly.

the midwife hesitates only a moment before crossing the room and placing the babe in her arms.

his head is too large, his features are compressed and his eyes are mismatched–one black the way her mother’s had been, the other a heavy green, like tywin’s.  is this some cruel jape the gods have played upon her? that her son would look like this?  perhaps her head is spinning.  she does feel light-headed, after all.  perhaps she’s seeing things.  birth exhausts.  she knows that well, and this boy had not come easily.  her eyelids flutter.  she is very tired.  she should rest.  perhaps when she wakes up, her mind will not project odd fancies onto this son of hers.

“midwife, please bring me more linen,” she hears maester gooden say.  there is something wrong in his voice. 

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“And Ser Arthur, I can only assume?”  

The Princess’ voice is unreadable, though perhaps a little airy.  

“Yes, Princess,” says Ser Barristan.  There is a bite to his words.

Brother, how can you do this?

“And you know not where he has gone?”

“No, Princess.  Only that he is gone, and, if Brandon Stark is to be believed, that he seems to have Lady Lyanna with him.”

“Lady Lyanna?  She is only fourteen.”

“Fifteen, Princess.”

Brother she is only a child.

“Small matter.  She’s only a girl.  What is Rhaegar thinking?”

“Princess…perhaps…”

“Perhaps he is as smitten with her now as he was at Harrenhal?”  

Elia’s voice is cold.  She never mentions Harrenhal.  Nor does Rhaegar.  It is as if that blue wreath had never existed.

Girl child, she child, child nonetheless.

“I could not say, Princess.”

“Of course not.”  

Ashara looks out her window at the sea.  She likes the sea less in King’s Landing.  It does not crash against the waves and spray them with salt and color them blue and white.  It is docile here.  

You are a great knight.  You are Sword of the Morning.  You are the one who dove into the Torrentine with me when we were small, who kept me from drowning.  

“And none of your brothers know where he has gone?”

“The King is making enquiries, though I do not doubt that they will be fruitless.”

“The King.  So he knows.”

“He does.  He—ah—heard Brandon Stark’s arrival.”

“Half the city heard Brandon Stark’s arrival.”

“Not the part where he bade Prince Rhaegar come out and die.”

Do you do this for your prince?  Do you do this for your king?  Do you do this because you think it right?

“A fool.  That is treason.”

“Indeed, but I fear the King may…act equally rashly.”

“All is madness these days—the King, Brandon Stark, my husband and his valiant knights carrying off a girl child in the night.”

“Perhaps, Princess.  I fear how it will end.”

“In blood, I suppose.  And fire.  Our king is so fond of fire.”

“Princess—the Prince did not—”

“No, he did not.  I know nothing of his intentions, and I suppose that Ser Arthur said nothing to Lady Ashara before he departed.”

She turns away from the window.  They are looking at her.  

“No.  No, he said nothing.”

How can you do this, brother?  She is a child.  She is a war.

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When she’d been a little girl, she had heard tales of Nymeria.

Who hadn’t?

The Princess was her house’s pride, witch and warrior and, above all, wise.  “Grow to be like Nymeria, Meria, and you will not do our house ill.”  That was what her mother had told her, and what her mother’s mother had told her before that.

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

Meria looks to the window.  Does she imagine it, or does the window seem a little less dark than the blackened blurs of everything else?  She knows there should be sunlight streaming in.  She can feel it on her face, even if she cannot see it.  

“Dragons are coming, mother,” she hears Nymor say.  She can hear fear in his voice.  Good.  He is not a fool.

“Mother—”

“I heard you,” she says.  Her voice sounds like a croak.  Perhaps Argilac had not been so misguided in calling her a toad.  Not that that mattered.  Argilac was dead and gone, and his daughter had been subdued.  While she may be a toad, she was still hopping along, at least for the moment.  She wondered vaguely if her skin was bumpy now in her old age as well.  

“They have burned the West, laid claim to the riverlands and the Stormlands, the North and the Vale have knelt—we are all that’s left.”

Meria hums.  Once she’d had a lovely singing voice.  She’d sung for her first husband, when she’d been a girl—sweet and high and regal.  She’d sung in quite a different way for her paramour.  Now her voice crackles.  Do toads’ voices even crackle?

“What shall we do, grandmother?”  

Ahh.  There she is.  Her sweet Lorea, who used to sit on her lap and ask her questions about the sands.  Meria reaches out and finds her great-granddaughter’s hand.  She pulls her to her and caresses the girl’s hair.  She is tall.  Soon she will be a woman. 

“Mother, we cannot fight them.  They’ll burn us to the ground.”

Meria only smiles.  “What do you remember of Nymeria?” she asks him.

“Mother, now’s hardly the time for stories,” he says.  He keeps trying to make her feel old and dottery.  It would be offensive, were it not so ill-executed, for Meria’s wits are the only thing that remain her, that have grown refined with age.

“When the dragons came to the Rhoyne, Nymeria took her people away in ten thousand ships, and sailed the seas,” Lorea supplied.

“And when the dragons flew over the cities of the Rhoyne, they saw nothing.  They burned the cities for spite, but they did not find a soul.”  She turns her head to her son’s voice.  “Summon your people to Sunspear.  The dragons will find no one when they descend.”

“We cannot flee across the sea, mother.”  He sounds so peevish, her boy.  He was not peevish when he was a child.

“No,” she agrees.  “Nor will I bend my knees to them.  I am old and do not kneel well.”

“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Deria says quietly, and Meria strokes her hair again.

“Mother, Torrhen Stark knelt and none of his people died.  Mern Gardener and his sons perished in flames, and Loren Lannister gave up his crown in shame.  If Nymeria is to be thought of, she should be remembered as one who would do anything to spare the lives of her people.”

“And I will not have her people submit to dragons, which, above all, she refused to allow.”  There.  She doesn’t sound like a toad at all.  She sounds like a Princess, and she can hear her son startling and stepping back from her.  

She shifts in her seat, and turns her head back towards the window.  “Bring our lords to us,” she says.  “This infestation of dragons is hardly big enough to merit fleeing our lands.  So let them come.  Nymeria did not loose her ten thousand ships only to have her daughters bend their knees to dragons.”  

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“has your father come yet?” his voice bounces.  off the walls?  off his head?  off his head.  off the walls.  “has your father father father come yet yet yet?”

the boy is a shadow in white.  dark and light.  face in shade clothed in bright.

“his forces enter the city.”

he hears a drip drip drip.  in his head? off the walls? off the boy’s sword a drip drip drip not like wine not like water slower stickier, but nothing drips like that nothing he’s allowed near him in years.  a drip drip drip.

drip drop of blood.

“i want him dead, the traitor. i want his head, you’ll bring me his head, or you’ll burn with all the rest. all the traitors. rossart says they are inside the walls! he’s gone to make them a warm welcome. whose blood? whose?”

“rossart’s.”

rossart’s.  rossart’s.  rossart’s.  but fire does not bleed.  and yet there is blood on the boy’s sword and his eyes are green like fire wildfire fire is the fire wild will the wildfire fire?  he doesn’t think he will know.  he doesn’t think he will ever know.  he knows he will never know.  

he has seen that sort of look in lannister green eyes before.

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Brandon remembers times when they’d seemed in love.  Before Lya had been born, and before Ned could walk, he remembers his father bending down over his mother’s chair to kiss her before riding off to Torrhen’s Square, or maybe to Hornwood.  Lord Rickard had squeezed her shoulder, and his mother had said, “Come home soon to me, my love,” and he’d promised he’d return to her in all haste.   

More, though, Brandon remembers shouts.  

They begin after Lya is born, but grow more frequent after Ben.

“Would that Jocelyn had thrown someone else in my bed!” 

“You know as well as I that Joss had little to do with it.  It was all you, you feral bitch.”

Brandon remembers the sounds of slaps, of powder coming off his mother’s face at the end of a day to reveal yellowing bruises sometimes.  “I walked into a door, love.  It will fade soon,” she’d whispered to him before kissing him goodnight. 

Brandon remembers his father’s stern expressions, ones that Ned never understood but tried to replicate because it was father, after all. He remembers his mother’s icy eyes when she went to pray in the godswood.  Most of the time, Brandon has to stay with his father.  He is the heir to Winterfell, Lord Rickard’s firstborn son.   

Brandon loves his mother.  He loves her fiercely.  It’s Lady Lyarra who teaches him to ride, who sings him to sleep, her voice low and rough, who tells him stories her mother had told him—stories from the mountains, of winter winds that blew harder than even those that battered the walls of Winterfell, for winter is always harder in the mountains.  It’s Lady Lyarra who watches him train to fight.  “A good lord must always be bold, lest winter take the heat away from him.”  So he trains harder, and when he isn’t training, he decides that he will be bold, for if he’s not, then his mother will think less of him.

“You encourage him too much, Lyarra.”

“And you encourage him not enough, Rickard.  He is your son and heir.  Act like it.”

“And what do you know of ruling Winterfell?”

“Am I not a Stark as well?”

“A lady knows nothing of a lord’s business.”

“Then you must be the lady of Winterfell, for you seem intent that your son be in skirts.”

That is the last time that Brandon hears them fight.  A week later, he rides south to Barrowton and Lord Dustin’s castle.  “You will learn the ways of the North,” his father says, “That one day you may rule wisely and well in the King’s name.”

Brandon’s eyes flick to his mother’s.  She’s watching his father, and her expression is cold like ice.  Ben is in her arms, and little Lya is toddling at her side, clinging to her skirts.


He is not gone for long.  Barely a month later, a rider comes south from Winterfell.  A sickness took Lady Lyarra in the night, and she is gone, and Brandon rides north with Lord Dustin to lay her to rest.  She does not get a tomb in the crypts.  

“She should,” he hisses to Ned.

“Only the Lords of Winterfell are buried there.  Father says.”

“She’s a Stark.  It’s her place, isn’t it?” 

Ned frowns.  Ned’s always frowning, even before mother had died, but now he sounds like father, and Brandon doesn’t like it.

“A bold lord would put her down there, knowing who she is, and damn anyone who tells him it’s not his place,” Brandon says vehemently.  Ned gasps at the curse word.  He’s such a little boy.  Willam Dustin curses all the time.  Brandon had been excited by it, especially when he realized that only Lord Dustin cared if Brandon cursed, and what Lord Dustin didn’t hear didn’t matter.

“I suppose,” Ned says at last, “I suppose father could do what he wanted.  He is the Lord.”  But Ned doesn’t sound convinced.  Brandon doesn’t care if he’s convinced though.  Brandon only cares if Ned agrees with him.  That’s what younger brothers are supposed to do, after all.  When Brandon’s lord, perhaps he’ll move mother’s body into the crypts where she belongs.


After that, Brandon’s gone two full years, and by the time he comes back to Winterfell, Ned’s been sent to the Eyrie to serve as Jon Arryn’s page.  Brandon tries not to be jealous.  Brandon’s the heir.  He should be the one serving the Warden of the East, instead of being stuck in boring old Barrowton.  The only good thing about Barrowton is that there’s good riding nearby.  He’s gotten to be even better on horseback.  Mother would be proud, if she knew.

“Benjen will make a fine man,” his father tells him over dinner.  Ben is little more than a baby, and has food dribbled all over the front of his tunic.  “Lyanna, though…she’ll be a trial.  Deny her anything and it becomes her heart’s desire.  It’s all I can do to keep her from being your mother writ small.”

Brandon doesn’t remember Lya much.  He hadn’t paid much attention to her in truth, she’d been so young before he’d gone south.  But he looks at her now.  Her hair’s a mess and there’s a spot of dirt on the side of her neck.  Brandon smiles.

He hopes she is their mother writ small.


Father’s ridden out to White Harbor and will be gone for two weeks.  When he returns, Brandon will be sent back to Barrowton for a time.  Father thinks he still needs more formation. 

“You’ll be the Stark in Winterfell while I’m away,” Father says.  Of that, at least, Brandon is proud.  He is nearly a man grown, but Father has other,older Starks he could have called upon for the duty.  But then again, Father has never been overly fond of his half-brother—another Brandon Stark.  It gives Brandon pause that he might have been named for him…While Ned was named for my lord grandfather.  It’s the first time he’d thought of that.

“Yes, Father,” Brandon says, shaking himself.  The Stark in Winterfell for two weeks.  He’ll think on that.  The Stark in Winterfell, and then back to a little corner where father won’t have to think about him.

Ben sniffles as father rides off, but when Brandon turns to him to tell him that boys don’t cry, Lya’s got a sly look on her face that quite distracts him.  And when the gathered crowd disbands, he sees her sneak off, and follows her towards the stables where she’s already luring a pony out of its stall.

“What are you doing there?” Brandon asks her, and she starts and tries to hide the pony behind her, and failing spectacularly.

“Nothing,” she lies instantly.

“Well, nothing’s bridle isn’t fastened properly.”

She blushes and Brandon bends down next to her and fixes it.

“Do you even know how to ride that thing?” he asks her.

“Yes,” she insists hotly.  

“Father lets you ride?”

She chews her lip and Brandon laughs.  He crosses the stable and fetches a saddle which he secures on the pony’s back.  “Come on then, I’ll teach you.”
Brandon’s heart swells as she beams at him.  

In that moment, she looks like mother.

Chapter Text

“he’s handsome.  arthur says he’s handsome,” ashara says for nearly the hundredth time as the ship makes its way to the dock.  elia wishes she didn’t sound so nervous about it.  it makesher nervous.

“and does arthur say anything else about him?  all the kingdoms knows he’s handsome.” and my mother warned me there might be madness. it doesn’t matter how pretty a man is, elia.  it’s his wit that’s important.  elia feels guilty that this is the first time she’s thought to ask the question.  she’s had other things on her mind, she supposes.

“arthur says he sings, princess,” ashara suggests.  “he says that prince rhaegar plays a harp with silver strings.”  

elia hums noncommittally.  she’s never had much of an ear for music.  she likes it well enough, but a husband who sings…well, she supposes she’ll have to learn to like it, if only to please him.  “does he write his own songs?” she asks. 

“arthur didn’t say,” ashara replies, her voice trailing away disconsolately, and elia suppresses a sigh.  she leans over the rail of the ship, looking at the city–so much bigger than the shadow city beneath the walls of sunspear–and its great red keep crowning the highest hill.  they are close enough now that elia can see the crowd gathered on the docks, the black and red banners rippling in the wind.

she feels her heart flutter.  not love.  nerves.  she’s can only hope that she and rhaegar will love each other as well as doran and mellario, but her mother warned her long ago that her husband might not be her lover.  though when her mother had warned her of that, her mother hadn’t yet betrothed her to prince rhaegar, and elia doubts very much that she could take a paramour without suffering dire consequences.  she shudders at the thought.  

this place will be more a pit of snakes than any castle in dorne, she thinks.  i must be careful.  

sailors are shouting and ropes are being thrown and tied, and ashara fusses with elia’s jewels and her gown and then holds her by the shoulders and says, “it will be all right,” and it’s only when ashara says that that the nerves spread from her heart to her stomach and elia feels wholly unable to breathe for just a moment.

and if he doesn’t love you, sweet sister, i’ll slip a tonic for impotency in his drink so at least he’ll love no one else.  i learned how to do that in the citadel.  she almost laughs at the memory of oberyn’s words.  she wishes he were here with her now.  

when she descends from the ship, elia sinks into a deep curtsey before the prince.  the king has not come down to greet her, though queen rhaella is there.  she chances a glance between her lashes to see that prince rhaegar is bowing to her as well, his face obscured by a sheet of silver hair.  when he stands, he offers her his arm, and she takes it.

ser arthur was right.  he is handsome, she thinks.

“i trust your travels were not hard,” he says, and his voice is a light tenor, musical.  a singer’s voice indeed.  

“positively calm.  there were no storms,” she responds, pleased her voice does not sound breathless. 

“i am gladdened to hear it,” he says.  

there are many people out to see her, to catch a sight of the dornish princess who will one day be their queen.  some eyes are hard, and elia does her best not to focus on those.  others are curious.  elia chances a smile at one young girl whose face breaks out into a grin, and the girl turns to tug her mother’s skirt.  elia feels her own face relax.  they just do not know me, she thinks.  they will like me when they do.  

and so too will he.

“i hear,” she says to rhaegar, turning to look up at him, “that you sing, my prince.  i do hope that you’ll write a song for me.”

he looks surprised for a moment, and then pleased.  

rhaegar’s voice is quiet, and sincere.  “I would know no greater pleasure, princess.”

Chapter Text

it’s near sunset, and they’ll be at the inn soon, and they are racing.

she and brandon always race–brandon who taught her to ride her first pony, and whose practice swords she stole because he always left them on his chair when he went to sleep and he never barred his door.  

she is winning, already much farther ahead of brandon as she tears through the trees.  she can hear his horses–his and the others’–on her tail, the thrum of their hooves mixed in with brandon’s curses that little lya’s faster than him today.  she feels the wind in her face, her hair coming loose from the braid she’d tied it in that morning, the snap of her cloak behind her and something else as well.

she thinks it’s a trick, first.  a trick that brandon’s somehow gotten colton to mimic his curses while he outpaces her a little to the side so he can meet her at the inn and laugh, standing there, waiting as if for hours.  

but there are too many hoof beats.  if it’s brandon, it sounds as though brandon’s got the whole party with him, but he can’t.  he can’t, for if he did, she wouldn’t hear them behind her, cursing.  there are many more.

she kicks wildwind faster.

she looks over her shoulder.  she hears them through the trees, but cannot see them.  except, the odd flash of light off armor.  armor–they’re wearing armor.  why would they be wearing armor?

suddenly she doesn’t care if brandon wins.  she doesn’t care at all.  she’ll beat him some other time.  all she cares about is that they’re wearing armor and that there are more of them than there are of her and perhaps, if she had one of brandon’s practice swords, she could put up a fight, but she is unarmed and a little too far ahead of brandon and colton and the rest.

but if she slows, they’ll fall upon her.

what would they want with me, though? it’s a thought that sends a shiver down her spine.  

“lya!” she hears brandon calling, “damn you, lya, you’re more horse than girl, aren’t you?”

“brandon!” she shouts, and there’s panic in her voice.  “brandon there are men!”

and they come out of the trees–six of them, and maybe she’s more horse than girl, but both girl and horse let out a shriek as lyanna is pushed to the ground.

Chapter Text

“Father!” She runs to him. It has been so long since she has seen him, and she has almost stopped believing mother when mother says that father will be home soon. Her father’s hands wrap around her ribs and he lifts her into the air and she giggles happily, reaching for him. “I have missed you, father!” she tells him. She has to tell him. If she doesn’t tell him, then he won’t know and he will go away again.

“I know, little one. I missed you as well.” Rhaenys had hoped he would sound a little more excited, but he pulls her close and wraps his arms around her and she puts that from her mind.

“Where were you?” she asks him.

“In Dorne,” he says quietly, so quietly that only Rhaenys can hear. She wonders if it is a secret. She looks over her shoulder, to her mother who is sitting by the window, her back very straight and not looking at them.

“Why did you not bring mother? Mother is from Dorne,” she whispers.

He doesn’t reply. Instead he presses a kiss to her cheek and shifts her so that he is carrying her in only one arm. He walks them both towards mother.

“Elia,” he says, and he bends kisses mother’s cheek as well. He reaches out his hand to rest on Aegon’s head and mother stands quickly, and her eyes flash when she turns to look at last at father. But why is mother angry when father is finally home?

“It is time for Rhaenys’ bath,” is all mother says.

“No,” Rhaenys wails. “Father only just got home.”

“And is undoubtedly weary from his adventures. He rides to face his cousin Robert soon, and must regain his strength.”

“No!” Rhaenys protests. He only just got back. It is not fair that he go away again so soon.

“I can bathe her, Elia,” father says, but mother laughs. It is not mother’s usual laugh. Mother’s usual laugh is warm and loving. It is not this.

“I think not,” mother says, and she hasn’t stopped laughing that odd cold laugh.

Rhaenys feels her mother’s free hand and then her father let’s her go, and she is on her mother’s hip. Rhaenys waves to him sadly as mother takes her away.

Her father’s eyes are distant, almost like he can’t see her at all.

Chapter Text

Catelyn looked at Jon Snow's face and all she could see was her husband.

It hurt worse than anything.  She knew men had bastards.  She knew also that women lied about bearing noble bastards, that their sons might know a better life.  But she knew Ned didn’t lie.  The bastard’s face wouldn’t let him.

Chapter Text

Never before had he been so frightened, but the sight before him still deserved his respect.

His father had once told him that no man can tame a dragon.  But a man might hope to know a dragon, if he is very, very lucky.  Aegon looks at Balerion–a beast larger than any he’s ever seen, larger and meaner for Balerion remembers the Fourteen Flames and Aegon does not.  How do I know you, though? Aegon wondered as he stepped forward.  Do you even want to know me?

Chapter Text

there was a small part of her that was relieved.  relieved.  she knew that brandon was furious, and knew that ned was outraged and disappointed, but as she sat there with ben in a dress of white silk, she felt like laughing.

it didn’t matter that he wouldn’t keep to my bed in the end, she thought, raising her eyes and staring out of the window at the sea,he’ll never be in it now.

she could laugh.

she’s never felt more free.

Chapter Text

“you said you’d never wed.”

“i said i’d never wed you, brynden.  i never said anything about marriage more generally.”

“shiera–you can’t do this.”

she looks at him, her eyes not quite the same color, her lips a little more red than usual, red like blood.  they say she bathes in the blood of virgins.  i’d give her my own blood to bathe in if she truly bathed in blood.

“i truly can,” she says and there’s laughter in her eyes.  “and furthermore i will and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“i could kill him.  or have him killed.  or sent to prison.”

“yes, but you won’t.” shiera’s response is even and when she turns to look at him, there’s something hard like iron in her eyes.  

“oh?” he asks quietly.

“if you do, do you honestly think i’ll ever even look at you again, brynden?”

brynden stares at her.  there’s such determination in her face and he knows she means it, knows that she’ll never even set those mismatched eyes on him ever again.  

he sags, and knows he’s lost–she’s lost.

Chapter Text

i.

“genna.”  tywin never asks.  the others do when they knock on her door, but tywin always states.  he does not ask her attention–he commands it.

and genna lannister gives it gladly, for tywin is her champion.  she will never forget that.  

“brother?” she asks him, and he shuts the door behind him.  it must be serious, if he would shut the door.

“i have a–ah–question,” he says.  genna waits for him to continue.  but he does not.

“generally one asks questions when one has them, tywin,” genna says, laughing.  he gives her a stern look.  he’s always so stern, even when sternness is unwarranted.  like now.  “come on then.  what is it?”

“if i were to…pursue someone.  woo someone… what flowers should i give her?” 

genna blinks at him, unsure which is more shocking, that tywin would woo, or that he would come to ask her what flowers to give the object of his affection.

“are you in love?” she demands, and watches as his face reddens.  it makes his green eyes even greener, and genna lets out a shriek of delight.  “you are, aren’t you!  well, what’s her favorite flower?  you should probably pick that one.”

“i don’t know what her favorite flower is,” tywin says through gritted teeth.  “don’t you think i hadn’t thought of that?”

“well,” genna says, hands on her hips, “you should find out, tywin.  or else what sort of suitor would you be?”  

she crosses the room and wraps her arms around her brother.  “i hope she’s worthy of you.”

“she is,” tywin says stiffly.  

“and does she love you?”

tywin’s jaw tightens, and genna squeezes him closer.  “she’d best.  or else i shall have something to say about it.”  

when she looks up at tywin again, he is smiling.  he is actually smiling.

 

ii.

“what’ve you got there?” kevan asks her.  he is missing both of his front teeth because he’s old and when you’re old, mother says, you lose your teeth and newer, bigger teeth come.  genna is frightened of losing her teeth.  especially both of the ones in the front the way that kevan did.  what if something’s wrong with her and they don’t come back?

“nothing,” she lies, wrapping them in the folds of her skirt.  

“that’s not true,” kevan says.  

“it is,” she says, holding out her empty hands, but kevan shakes his head.  

“i saw you put them in your skirt.”

“you did not,” she insists, but he’s already tugging at the fabric, and genna is squealing and they bounce loose and scatter like beads across the stone floor.  kevan grabs them and looks down at his hand, examining them.

“what are these?” he asks, frowning.  

“they’re nothing.”

“genna,” he says, trying to sound like tywin, all old.  he’s even missing the teeth to prove it.

“teeth,” genna mutters so quietly she hopes he can’t hear her.  

“what?”

“they’re teeth, kevan.  i’m collecting teeth in case mine don’t grow back when i lose them.”

kevan stares at her, then he smiles and pats her head.  “yours’ll grow back.  i promise.”

“but what if they don’t?  yours haven’t.”

“they’re starting to.  look.”  he opens his mouth and tilts his head back and genna stares at the pink of his gums.  she can see white beginning to poke through.

“does it hurt?”

“not really.  it’s fun to run your tongue over,” he says, and he does, just to show her.  genna cocks her head and reaches out a hand to touch his gum and kevan grabs it.  “hey!  leave me be!”

“but–”

“it’ll happen to you soon enough, and then you can rub your dirty fingers over it as much as you like,” he snaps.  genna glares at him, feeling a sting in her eyes, and kevan sighs and wraps an arm around her, and she knows he didn’t mean to be mean, not for true.  

 

iii.

“you’re getting tall.”  she does not like it.  she does not like being shorter than tyg.  he is younger than her, and she’d never had the audacity to be taller than tywin.  but tyg is taller than she is, and is creeping closer to tywin’s height with every passing day.

tyg smiles at her.  “height’s an advantage,” he says, patting his sword.  “and strength.”  he flexes his arm muscles showily and genna rolls her eyes.

“and arrogance gets you killed,” she reminds him.

“if they can catch me,” he shrugs.  “i’m better than everyone else.”

“i doubt that,” she says because she has to.  she knows he’s good.  she’s seen him in the practice courts, throwing the other boys back, fighting knights twice his age and winning.  but she has to say it.  it’s what big sisters do.  they don’t let their little brothers get hurt, and she remembers when tyg was frightened of the lions in the bowels of the rock.  it had been her job to make sure he knew he shouldn’t be afraid of anything–especially not them in their cages.

fear is one thing and is dangerous to a man, she thought, but arrogance is just as deadly. 

“name one knight who’s better than me,” he says, clearly confident she won’t think of a single one.

“barristan the bold.”

the smile slips and she resists looking pleased with herself.

“well,” tyg says, considering.  “one day…one day i’ll be better than barristan the bold.”

“will you?” she asks.

“yes,” he says but he doesn’t sound as though he fully believes it.

“you have to believe you will in order to actually do it, tyg.”

he pauses for a moment, then looks at her with wide eyes, and it doesn’t matter that he’s taller than her, he’s still younger.  “do you think i can?” he asks her, and genna sighs.  now look what i’ve gotten myself into.

“it’s not out of the question,” she says, steeling herself for more arrogance.

and the crooked smile is back.  “i will be.  you’ll see.”  and he hurries off, and genna can’t help but wonder if he’ll live long enough for that.  

 

iv.

“do you have to go, gery?” she asks him, helping fold his tunics for him and placing them in his trunk.  it feels odd to her.  she can’t remember when last she packed clothes away.  usually the servants will do it for her and emmon whenever they visit his lord father at the twins. and yet here she is, helping gery pack his clothes away as if she were still a girl.

“yes,” he says, and genna wants to roll his eyes.  why is it that men always say yes that way, as though women are fools for even daring to ask the question, when they’re the ones who are diving out into the world and risking never coming back?

“why?” she asks him, peevishly, and he gives her a hard look that she’s sure he learned from tywin.

“i can’t stay here,” he says through gritted teeth.

“that’s not–”

“have you tried living in tywin’s shadow?  in tyg’s?”  she notes he does not name kevan.  “no matter what you do, someone’s done it first.  you’re no glory of lannister, no honor.  you’re nothing.  just nothing.”

“am i?” genna asks him mulishly and shock crosses his face.  “if that’s what you are, what am i, then?”

“genna, you know i didn’t mean it that way,” gery says, trying to appease her.  

“answer the question,” she says angrily.  

“you’re a lioness,” he says carefully.  

“and i bring honor to the house?”  he inhales slowly, and looks down at the tunic in her hands.  “perhaps if i’d married someone else,” she says angrily.  “but my sons will only ever be freys, won’t they?  nothing glorious in that.  i’m the family shame, aren’t i?”

“i didn’t mean that,” he says again.  “i just meant that i–”

“you meant that you feel shame that you’ll never be the lion of lannister as tywin, the gifted swordsman that tyg is, or even the reliable brother that kevan is.  you think that means shame?  try being the sibling that no one remembers,” genna said angrily.  “for being a woman, or for being a frey, which ever you think is kinder, brother.”

she shoves the tunic at his chest. “you’d best return and with that bloody sword, or i’ll never forgive you.”  

 

v.

she remembers joanna saying once, “starks are always right in the end.  winter does come.”

winter has come.  she’s seen the snowy raven that’s fluttered its way north from the citadel.  spring, summer, autumn, and winter again, and this time, she is the last of them.

once she’d had four brothers–two older, and two younger, gods help her.

and now, genna lannister has none.

Chapter Text

you said you loved me.

you said you would defend me.

you said you were happy.

you said you’d keep me happy too.

you said you thought i was beautiful.

you said you loved my laugh, my nose, my smile, the way i made you feel.

you said all of these things, but when they found us, it’s what you didn’t say that mattered more.

you didn’t say you believed me.

so the rest must all have been lies.

Chapter Text

since she’d been a girl, the sound of the sea is soothing.  even in storms when the wind whistles and waves crash, you can always count in it rolling in the background, constant and strong.  it sounds tonight as it has always sounded, like the breath of her mother as she falls asleep.

“i do not mean to take your home from you,” he had said before he’d gone inside. “i am sure i will not be here often.  i will be serving my king.  you are and ever shall be lady of this castle and lady of this region, second only to me.”

i was supposed to be second to no one, she thinks bitterly. i was to be queen.

the thing she likes least about her new lord husband is just how likable he is.  her men–such as she could call them hers, they who had betrayed her–had taken fast to him.  he is charming and intelligent and polite.  does he ever anger?  does he ever shout?

ours is the fury.  he’d taken those words from her as well, but, she thought, he did not know what fury was.  she’d never once seen him angry, and one had to balance the rage of the storms off shipbreaker’s bay with one’s own rage.  one could not be cowed by the world around them.

i will not be cowed, she thinks.  she’d thought it too as she’d struggled in chains that were cold and rough against her skin.  but he does not seek to cow her, her husband.  “i do not mean to take your home from you,” and yet he had, for this place is not the same with him here.  people look at her differently now that they’ve seen her laid low.  they know that she is second to him, though hers is the fury and his is the polite smile.  

it angers her.  give her someone to fight, someone to storm against, to scream her rage at, to tear apart as the shipbreaker’s bay tears away ships.  

but that is not her lord husband.  he is something else altogether, and so nothing is the same, and only the tide is constant.  

Chapter Text

they wanted her to hate the stark girl.  she knew that well.  it would only be natural, to hate the girl her husband was enamored of, who he had shamed her for and stolen away and started a war.

but it was not lyanna stark she hated.  oh no.  she was only a girl, after all.  and elia had seen her face when she’d been given that crown of blue roses.  she’d been surprised, even horrified at it.  she had not wanted his attention, had not asked for it.  and yet she had it.

it was rhaegar she detested, that man who’d shared her bed, who sang to her children, who had sworn before the seven to love and protect and honor her and in the end had done none of it.

Chapter Text

she hadn’t known–rhaegar hadn’t told her.

it washes over arthur in horror as he sees the way her eyes go bright–this girl who had not wept, not once in months, as she learns from his stupid lips that her brother and father are dead, that war rages and she may yet lose another brother for treason against the crown.

he had merely been trying to provide some solace. some comfort to a girl who could not even leave the tower.

she hadn’t known. hadn’t known about lord rickard, hadn’t known about brandon, hadn’t even known that stalwart ned had ridden to war.

he wishes he could summon the words back into his lips, or go back in time and make rhaegar say them, for it should have been rhaegar to tell, not him.

but she begins to cry, and arthur–arthur doesn’t know what to say. he doesn’t know what to say at all.

Chapter Text

“she has your smile,” rhaegar says, wrapping his arms around her waist and resting his chin on her shoulder and looking down at their sleeping girl.  elia tilts her head back and kisses his cheek, feeling a glow in her heart.

“she looks like my mother, i think,” elia says.

“i should hope so.  your mother was a wonderful woman,” rhaegar says seriously.  “if rhaenys is half so clever, we shall not have anything to fear.”

“you make it sound as though we do have something to fear.  any daughter of ours will be as perfect as a sunny day.”

rhaegar smiles.  it does not reach his eyes, but then again, it never does.  he is so beautiful when he smiles, though, and elia lets it wash over her, perfectly content, as he says, “you are of course correct.  as perfect as the sun in the sky.”

Chapter Text

“sit, maester.”  the lord commander’s voice is somber.  his eyesight is failing him, but he can still hear.  

“is something the matter, lord qorgyle?” he asks, fumbling in the dimness for the wooden back of a chair.  the lord commander waits for him to guide himself into his chair before he continues.

“we’ve had a bird from lord lannister in king’s landing,” the lord commander says.  “the king is dead.”

aemon frowns.  he had never met egg’s grandson, but had heard that the king bore few similarities to his brother.  "there’s more,” qorgyle says, and aemon starts when he feels the lord commander’s hand rest on his.  he is trying to comfort me.  dread fills him.

“maester–i’m sorry.  the king’s son was slain at the trident, and when lord lannister took the city, princess elia and her children…there was an overzealous knight…they’re dead.”

aemon’s throat goes dry.  “the children?  they were only babes.”

“yes,” qorgyle says.  “they were, gods rest their souls.”

“an overzealous knight, you say?” aemon says.  so that was how lord lannister had chosen to say it.  he knew lord lannister’s ilk–had known the likes of them at court as a boy, and had read how many letters from his council over the years?  “and what’s become of this overzealous knight who brings shame to his spurs and kills babes in arms?”

“lord lannister made no mention,” qorgyle said.

“of course he did not.” 

aemon doesn’t have to close his eyes for the world to be black, nor does he have to say a word to express his fury.  children, he thinks.  the last of my house.  he gets to his feet again, hands extending to find the wall.  “thank you for telling me,” he says.  it’s all he can say.  dark wings, dark words, dark eyes, dark hearts–why was the world so dark?

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the tide goes in and comes out twice a day. it has every day since the dawn of time.

it was raining the day her boys fell. cold and raining and perhaps balon had forgotten that their king was a storm king and thrives in the rain. perhaps he’d thought that so long as they’d had the tide on their side, there was no way that robert and his armies could defeat them.

but the seas change. how could he forget? his blood is salt and iron, and his feet are as firm on deck as they are on land. how could he forget that the tide goes in and out, twice a day, and when the tide came in, it brought robert’s fleet, and when it went out again it carried maron and rodrik away.

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Arya is not frightened of her uncle Brandon.  

Robb pretends not to be, and Sansa doesn’t pretend not to be, and Bran just is,but Arya isn’t afraid–she’s not.

She heard her mother whispering about it once to Bran when her baby brother was frightened.  “The mad king broke him, she said, her voice gentle, her eyes sad.  Arya wonders what that means.  What does it mean to break a man?  What was her uncle like before he was broken?

There’s a scar around his throat, but they don’t see it often.  Her uncle, silent, hair streaked with white, haggard of face and empty of eye, often wears high-collared jerkins lined with fur.  Jon once whispered that it was a scar from when the mad king cut his head off and sewed it back on because it’s harder to kill a wolf than one would think.  Father had heard him, though, and had told him to be quiet and to stop spreading nonsense.

He doesn’t go outside often.  He stays and broods in his halls, and though he is the lord of Winterfell in name, he leaves the ruling of the castle and the North to her father.  Where her father goes among his men, Lord Brandon Stark sits coolly in his seat and glares when people talk to him.  “He misses his little sister,” Robb told her once.  “Father says that he loved Lyanna, and cannot bear that she could not be saved.”  Arya had chewed her lip at that.  No one speaks of her aunt Lyanna–at least not often.  Sometimes, when her father came to tell her bedtime stories, he would pat her head fondly and tell her that she looked like his little sister.  


It’s a sunshiny day, and Arya is in the godswood with Bran.  Bran is climbing in the weirwood and Arya is keeping watch, knowing that they’ll both get in trouble if he’s caught up there.  

There are some pink and blue flowers growing along the edge of the hotspring, and Arya picks them, weaving the ends of them together into a bouquet that sticks out probably in more directions than a proper lady would make, but a proper lady would only pick hothouse flowers and not godswood wildflowers.  

She keeps the bouquet in her belt when Bran descends from the tree, and they sneak back into the keep, knowing that Septa Mordane will be wroth with them for having disappeared, but if they go directly to dinner, she won’t be able to say anything because Father and Mother will be there, and Arya will have flowers for them.  For Father, she thinks for a moment, remembering her bedtime story from the night before.  He had said that it had always been Lyanna’s favorite.

As she settles in her seat, her eyes fall on her uncle Brandon, staring at his plate blankly.  He looks so lonely, she thinks, and glances at Bran.  She wonders how sad she’d be if something were to happen to him, and gets to her feet.

“Where are you going?” hisses Sansa, but she ignores her sister and walks along the length of the table until she reaches her uncle.  He doesn’t notice her, so she tugs at his sleeve.  His eyes are so cool when they look at her.

“I picked you some flowers, Uncle Brandon,” she says and pulls the bouquet–a little crumpled and still not neat and ladylike–out of her belt and hands it to him.  “From the godswood.”

For a moment, she thinks he hadn’t heard her.  For a moment, she thinks she’ll leave the bouquet by his plate on the side where Father usually sits.  Then he takes them from her, staring at the flowers, then at her.

It’s the first time that Arya has ever seen her uncle smile.  It doesn’t reach his eyes, but they don’t look quite so blank as he pats her on the head and shoos her back to her seat.

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She’s so small.  So small, and fevered, and Stannis is not allowed to touch her.  “Be careful, my lord,” Maester Colemon had warned him.  “Be careful, for if you touch her skin, you may catch her affliction.  She may yet survive.  It will be deadly for you.  Best if you leave her entirely in my care.”

But Stannis had given him a look, and the maester had retreated.  

She’s so small, and he sees the grey creeping across her skin.  Can stone creep?  Stannis would not have thought.  Maybe he is tired and his eyes are playing tricks, or the candlelight perhaps, but he thinks he sees it spreading across her little cheek.  

“Fight, damn you,” he whispered to her, then wished he could take the words back.  She was just a babe, not a warrior, and he wondered what his mother would say if she’d heard him damning his own child.  “Please,” he adds belatedly.  “Stay alive, Shireen.”

Selyse is distraught.  How long had she labored to bring Shireen into this world, only for her to catch such a blight.  “Stay alive for your mother,” Stannis continues.  

The sound of his voice in the empty room is both soothing and eerie.  It should not sound so loud.  He is barely whispering.  But better eerie and too loud than silence broken only by his girl’s labored breath. What else could he say?  What else did one say?  She wouldn’t remember–not in her fevered state.  Only a fool talks to himself, Stannis thinks.  But the silence is too loud, and Shireen’s breath rings in his ears far more than his own words.

Then I am a fool.  

“When I was a boy,” he says to the girl whose eyes are closed and whose lips are parted as she pants, “I found a goshawk.  She’d been hurt and was nearly dead, but I brought her back to health.  She would sit on my shoulder and follow me from room to room and eat the food I gave her.  Proudwing, I called her.”  He swallowed.  He had not thought of Proudwing in years.  We would have had to eat her during the siege, Stannis thought bitterly.  “But for all my ministrations, she wouldn’t fly high.  She was frightened, I think.  After whatever it was that had hurt her.”  He wants to reach out and brush a loose strand of dark hair from Shireen’s forehead.  

But to touch her would be death, that’s what Maester Colemon says.  

“She lived,” he says and his throat is dry.  “She lived.  She stayed alive.

“Stay alive for me.”

 

 

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Alysanne awakens to the familiar thundering of wings overhead and hears Silverwing let out a shriek of greeting.  She smiles briefly to herself, then turns over beneath her furs and buries her face into the warmth of her pillow.   She’d wondered how long it would take him to come.  He’d lasted less long than she’d imagined, though perhaps that was Lord Edwyle’s host.  The man was dry.  Good hearted, but dry.   

The thundering of the wings dies down and she hears the distant, throaty sound Vermithor always makes when he lands after a flight, almost like the sound that a hungry cat will make in the back of her throat.  I hope Silver will share her sheep, or else we’ll have dueling dragons soon, she thinks, amused.  Silverwing does not  particularly like sharing food, though if it’s just Vermithor…four other dragons had come north with them when they’d come to see Winterfell and Lord Stark’s holdings, but it sounds as though Jaehaerys has come on his own.  There is a noticeable difference in the air between five dragons and one.

She opens her eyes for a moment and looks about the room.  It’s a modest room near the very top of the keep.  There’s a fire crackling away merrily in the hearth—a steward must have come in while she slept to keep it lit for her, a kindness she appreciates tremendously—and the curtains are drawn by the slim window to keep the cold at bay.  The Lord Commander had told her that it was high summer here, as had Lord Stark repeatedly, but Alysanne was cold.  Not the sort of cold that comes with riding a dragon.  Your blood runs hot when you are riding a dragon, and it keeps you warm within your clothes even as icy winds cover your flesh.  No, this was just cold.  The north was cold.  Who would have thought.

She hears footsteps on the stairs, and the door to the chamber opens, and Jaehaerys steps inside, looking thoroughly ruffled.

She smiles at him and stretches while he crosses to the bed and lies down next to her on it.  “Are you ever coming back?” he demands.

“Good morning to you as well, my love,” she says.  He wriggles closer to her like a child, resting his face in the crook of her neck.  Then his hand drifts to her hip in a decidedly not childlike manner.  

“You know, when you said you were going for a ride, I hadn’t imagine I’d have to cross half the kingdom to fetch you back.  Am I so loathsome?”

Alysanne snorts.  “Hardly, though Lord Stark is dry.”  Jaehaerys makes a noise. “Ah-ah.  Don’t try to deny it.  You know he is.  That’s why you came to fetch me back, isn’t it?  Even Jaehaerys the Conciliator of the endless patience can be bored witless by Edwyle Stark.”

“When you put it that way…” Jaehaerys says, not keeping an ounce of derision out of his voice.  “I take it you’ve enjoyed your little adventure?” he asks sighing.  His fingers run over the furs above her hip, and she twists slightly so her face is against his now.  His hand slides to her rump and pulls her hips closer to his.  

“Oh yes,” Alysanne says happily.  “The Black Brothers are a fascinating lot, I must say.  We must send some funds from the crown to them.  Sometimes they haven’t the money to pay for their repairs, and some of their arms are in woeful shape.  They protect the realm.”

“They’re far too far away from the realm to protect it,” Jaehaerys points out and Alysanne narrows her eyes.  “It’s at least a twenty day ride from Winterfell if the length of time it took me to fly here is anything to judge by, and Winterfell is far away North from—”

“Then they, at least, protect those who live near the Wall.  Do you know how much damage wildlings can cause when they raid south of the Wall, Jae?”

“I seem to recall Lord Stark saying something about it, yes,” Jaehaerys says.  His hand was tracing circles on her rear now and he clearly didn’t want to keep talking about this.  

“I spoke to a mother whose only son was killed and whose sister was carried off.  Carried off, Jae.  Though of course, if we’re going to talk about being carried off, then we should—”

“Aly—”

“at least talk about how Lords have the right to carry off virgin brides before even they know their husbands.  I don’t see the difference there.”

“Aly, we’ve—”

“Yes?”

That catches him off guard.  

He blinks at her, suddenly unsure.  Jaehaerys, better than anyone, knows that when Alysanne wants to say something, she doesn’t stop until it is said.  

“You were saying?” he says, testily.  

“Oh, it just sounded as though you had a thought, dear husband.”  Now he looks positively unnerved.  He didn’t say anything at all.  “Ah.  I see I was mistaken.  Well, in that case, I’ve yet to see how it is that when men say they must protect the realm, they care not if women are raped—be it by wildling savages or by their own liege lords.  What right does a lord have to a woman’s body when we brand men who rape?”

Jaehaerys closes his eyes, and his hand left her rear so that he can press it against his eye socket.  He is clearly thinking hard.

“And Aly,” he said quietly, “I have already told you, my lords will hate me if I take away their right to a first night.”

“They’ll hate that you name them rapists, but that is what they are, Jae.  What right does any man have to my body?”

“I should like to think that I have some right to your body.”  He clearly meant it as a flirtation, the smile in his eyes, the quirk of his lips, but both fade as Alysanne glares at him.

“Only when I give it to you, my love,” she says calmly.  “I can assure you were you to try and take it from me, you’d have a harder time finding your wayward queen than you had in flying north to the Wall, for all I am your wife.”

Jaehaerys flushes.   

“Some say that it is duty—” he says feebly.

Alysanne snorts.  “You of all people should know that our bed is not and has never been a duty.  Nor should any woman’s bed be.”

“Aly—”

“Jae, you must see the hypocrisies of it.  Surely you must.  Tell a girl she must touch no man but her husband, but before she can even do that, she must take her lord to her bed, though she knows him not and means nothing to him.”

“She means—”

“If she meant anything to these lords, they’d not insist upon a first night with her.  They’d see her as more than just her cunt.”

“Aly!”

“Am I wrong, Jae?”

He sighs.  “You’re never, wrong, Alysanne,” he said and he kisses her forehead.

“You’re just saying that so I’ll drop it, aren’t you,” she replies.

“No,” he says calmly.  “I’m not just saying that.  When we return home, I shall speak with Barth upon our return.  You’ve had an ally in him for a while.”

“I know,” Alysanne says, amused.  “It was Barth who brought up how godly girls are raised in innocence but that innocence is never given to their husbands.”

“It sounded like something Barth would have come up with,” Jaehaerys says ruefully.  “My lords will be angry with me for a good long while, I expect.”

“And your smallfolk shall sing songs of your goodness and wisdom,” Alysanne muses, and she kisses him.  “Not to mention your wife shall be very happy with you.  If any of your lords takes issue, make sure that I am present while they try to explain their right.  I want to watch them squirm.”

“I shall do my best, my love.”  His hand is back on her rear again, and Alysanne’s lips find his again.  They are chapped from the wind of his flight, but she doesn’t care.  Warmth is spreading through her and that glow that comes from victory.  
“Are you going to come under these furs or am I going to have to come out there and get you?” she asks him.

“I thought you’d never ask,” he teases, and she hears him toe off his boots and a moment later he’s sliding down next to her and Alysanne sighs happily as his lips connect to her neck.

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Genna pins rubies in her hair, and helps her paint her lips so that they are nearly as red.  Crimson.  Scarlet.  Lannister.  

Joanna’s gown is white myrish lace over cloth-of-gold, with pearls and opals stitched into them.  They click whenever she takes her skirts in her hand.

Somewhere, in the distance, bells are ringing, summoning witnesses to the sept, and surely they should ring more loudly, surely they should ring faster.  Surely she should not be able to hear the beating of her heart above them, and yet she can.  Perhaps it beats louder than the bells.  Perhaps Genna can hear it too, blood roaring as loud as a pride.

It is autumn.  Even the trees are red and gold, with leaves like lion’s paws.  The gods smile upon this, she thinks, for half a moment  before she shakes the thought away.  The gods had not planned for this–she and Tywin had.  And when she and Tywin planned together, it mattered not whether the gods smiled or frowned, for the will of the gods was nothing compared to theirs.  She’ll exchange one red cloak for another, and the lion shall remain the same, and no gods will tear her name, her rock, her husband from her.  

She looks at herself in the glass one last time, a vision of white and gold and Lannister.  Lady Lannister, Lioness of the West.  Joanna smiles at the perfection of her reflection.

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Elia has a spine like a spear, and she breaks for no man, not even her husband.  If she cries, she hides it.  She would certainly have never shown it to Ashara.

As they ride south, Ashara looks at Arthur.  He rides beside Prince Rhaegar, his white cloak shimmering in the sunlight it seems.  Fine silk, brother, she’d told him when she’d first seen him wearing it.  He’d grinned at her.  It had been so soft to the touch—softer than a warrior should wear, she’d gone on to say, but Arthur had shrugged.  I don’t wear this one into battle—fear not, little sister.

He is a good man, fear not little sister.  That’s what Arthur had told her before she’d first been introduced to Prince Rhaegar.  He is my dearest friend, and clever as a cat.  He’d pressed her nose, as he had done when she’d been a little girl, and that had brought a smile to her face.  If Princess Elia was unknown to her, at least if she was to be in the royal household, her brother’s dearest friend was with her too.

He is a good man, Arthur had promised her, and so too, had she promised her princess when first she’d come to court, slim and sickly and guarded.  My mother told me that there are serpents at court, Princess Elia had confided one night while they’d both waited for sleep to take them.  It is true, Ashara had thought.  But what she’d said was what Arthur had told her.  Prince Rhaegar is a good man, and clever as a cat.  That had made her princess smile.  

Princess Elia rides in the wheelhouse with two other ladies.  You’ll want to ride with your brother, I’m sure, she’d said.  Ashara had ridden horseback north, why should she not south, but it had shaken her.  Does she think I would choose Rhaegar’s folly over her? Ashara had wondered, bewildered.  Had there been no one else there, she may well have asked, but there are serpents at court, and feeding the serpents can be dangerous.  So instead she inclined her head and mounted her horse, but even so, she could not bring herself to ride with Arthur and Rhaegar.

He is a good man, and clever as a cat, Arthur had promised her, pressing her nose.

Clever.  She could laugh.  How is it clever to present a laurel to a girl so young, not even yet a woman?  Perhaps he thought himself clever in doing so, but he was not.  He’d been stupid, and hardly a good man, and perhaps there were no good men in the world.  She looked at Arthur in his shimmering white cloak.  They are riding in silence, the two of them.  Arthur and Rhaegar, a stunning pair to behold, a more puissant pair of warriors the likes of which could not be found throughout the kingdoms.  

Are you so stupid as to think he is still a good man, brother?  She wonders.  For this—this is a damage he could never undo kind of stupid.  Perhaps he did not see it.  Perhaps he didn’t know, perhaps neither of them did.  But Elia’s spine was like a spear, and it was clear to Ashara if to no one else—a new kind of stupid.  A you didn’t think this through kind of stupid.

Princess Loreza had warned Elia that there were serpents at court.  Were not dragons a kind of wyrm?

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i.

“don’t tell ben,” ben hears brandon say to ned.  they think he’s asleep.  “he can’t keep his mouth shut and he’ll go blabbing to father and then he’ll know.”

“you shouldn’t do it, brandon,” ned whispers back.  “it’ll be trouble.”

“it’ll be fine,” brandon insists.  “i can look out for myself.  i know you can keep a secret.  just don’t tell ben.”

ben bites his pillow, and his eyes sting.  he can keep his mouth shut and he won’t go blabbing to father.  he’ll show brandon.  he’ll keep a secret even better than ned will.  he’s not a baby.

ii.

“don’t tell ben,” ned says in a hushed voice to lya.  “he’ll just get sad all over again.”

“sad about what?” ben asks loudly, and ned looks chagrinned for half a second before lya says, “one of mariah’s pups died in the night.”

“that’s not it,” ben says loudly.  “you’re a liar, lya.”

“am not,” lya hisses angrily and she pinches him.

“are too!” ben snaps, and brandon laughs.

“don’t be a baby, ben.”

“i’m not a baby!  what were you going to say?”

“i’m leaving for the eyrie again,” ned says gently, and ben chews the inside of his cheek to make sure that he doesn’t cry even though he wants to.  he won’t get sad all over again.  he won’t.

iii.

“don’t tell, ben.  you won’t tell, right?”

benjen sighs, annoyed.  “i don’t tell,” he snaps.  “i don’t know why you think i do.”

“brandon says–”

“that i’m the baby and can’t keep my mouth shut,” ben says.  “brandon just likes to blame other people that he can’t keep his mouth shut.”

lya snorts.  

“well then,” she says, and she tosses him a stick.  “you won’t tell father?”

ben grins and raises the stick like a sword.  there’s no one here to see them, and no one will ever know but the gods.

“i won’t.”

“well, prepare for defeat then.”

iv.

“don’t tell, ben,” brandon says as he comes back in.  it’s late, and his jerkin’s not laced up properly.  

“where were you?” ben asks.

“i was out,” brandon shrugs.

“out where?”

“must i give an answer for everything?  just don’t tell, all right?  father won’t be pleased, and if my betrothed hears…”

ben sighs.  “i won’t tell,” ben sighs and he tosses on the bed, turning his back to brandon.  he doesn’t think brandon will believe him anyway, even if he is telling the truth.

v.

“don’t tell, ben,” lya whispers.  she’s got bruises on her arm and chest, and he helps her peel off the armor.  

“was it worth it?” he asks her, and she smiles at him.

“yes,” she says, excitement glowing in her eyes.  

“you can’t tell anyone, though,” ben says wistfully.  “they’ll all think the knight of the laughing tree was some hedge knight, not you.”

she shrugs.  “you’ll know.  that’s enough.”

she ruffles ben’s hair.  lya’s a liar, and the best lies are the ones that no one knows the truth to.  but ben knows.  ben knows, and no one else ever will.  he just needs to get her armor off before anyone finds them…

vi.

“don’t tell, ben.  you can’t.  not even catelyn can know.”

ben stares at jon.  he’s small–so small.  brandon had called him a baby, but he’d not been that small when brandon had done that.  and ned is a truthteller, but he’s lying for lya now, and ben…

ben stares into the babe’s face.  it’s long, and he has a tuft of dark hair and grey eyes just like ned’s.  an easy lie to keep if it’ll keep him safe.  for lya.  for brandon.  for ned.

he looks up at his brother and leans back in his chair and nods.  “i never tell,” he says quietly.  “not ever.”

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“that one should be king.  his father gave him blackfyre.  why would he have done that if he had not wanted his son on his throne.”

“shut up, gawen.  the prince is right there.”

“no he’s bloody not.”

“yes he is.  the darker prince.”

baelor pretends not to have heard as marq dondarrion tightens the straps holding his breastplate to him.  he keeps an expression of mild neutralness on his face, just the way his father always did.  daeron the good, he reminds himself.  better than aegon the unworthy.  the only other king baelor–the cousin baelor had been named for and had never met–was calledthe blessed.  who will i be?

he almost snorts.  the darker prince.  

you look like my father,” his mother had told him proudly several nights before.  “too martell, and not enough targaryen,”  he’d heard others whisper.  “the darker prince.”

yes, daemon looked the part of the true targaryen–silvery blonde hair and violet eyes he’d inherited from both of his royal parents.  and baelor?  

be good, my son.  be good to them.  you serve them, not the other way around.” 

how do i serve them if they don’t want me, though?  i’m the darker prince.

he sounds like a petulant child.  he knows it.  he’s seventeen–a man grown, yet he feels a boy.  at least he can hide his bitterness behind a serene smile.

“there you are,” marq says.  “all set, my prince.”

“thank you, marq,” baelor says, accepting his helmet.  it’s black, with a red plume.  his armor’s black, and daemon’s is red, and today, in honor of daenerys, it will be the lighter prince jousting the darker.

face obscured, baelor doesn’t have to pretend he didn’t hear.  he’s the prince of dragonstone, not daemon.  yet how many looked at daemon and saw the true targaryen, the blood of old valyria, pure and silver?  some even prefer him to father.  baelor should not know that, but he does.  no one should know that, but they do.  they whisper about the sword, and about grandfather’s favoritism, and about prince aemon the dragonknight, and how father might be a bastard too.  father might be a bastard, and daemon should be a bastard and me–i’m trueborn, but not targaryen enough.

marq helps him mount strider, and hands him his lance, then he rides to the end of the lists.  off at the other end, he sees daemon’s red.  they trot towards the middle to give a show, and the commons cheer, and baelor catches daenerys smiling towards daemon before turning to her husband.  and the king…his father is watching him.  i will make you proud, father.  i will be as good a prince as ever these kingdoms have ever seen.  they’ll unite behind me one day, and all of this will be memory.  i’ll serve them better than daemon ever could.

how could daemon serve them?  his father was aegon the unworthy.  baelor’s was daeron the good.

he reaches the far end of the lists again and turns strider.  he sees daemon’s horse rear slightly, sees his cousin wave to the commons, sees him wave to daenerys, always eager to show her his love before he whirls his horse.  all show, and no substance, baelor thinks, before he stops himself.

he’s seen daemon train.  his cousin is a puissant warrior.  that’s what won him blackfyre to begin with.  don’t be arrogant, baelor.  don’t forget what you are.

that one should be king.

the darker prince.  

he couches his lance and kicks strider into motion and sees daemon ride towards him.  baelor leans forward and at the right moment, his lance knocks into daemon and he hears a crunching sound as he a shock rock through his body.  he looks over his shoulder.  he cannot help it.  

daemon’s still in his saddle.  

baelor hands his broken lance to daemon’s squire, who brings him a fresh one.

they charge again, and again baelor’s lance breaks against daemon’s shield, and his left arm feels as though it will fall off when he reaches the end of the list again and marq hands him his third lance.  “all right?” marq asks, and baelor almost grunts, but he knows the boy’s just excited and hopeful so instead he says.

“we’ll see how the next one goes, shall we?”

“yes my prince.”

he looks down at marq.  the boy is only eleven or so, and his eyes shine up through a thatch of reddish brown hair.  my prince.  that shouldn’t have been as heartening as it is.  it’s merely an honorific.

baelor couches his lance, and rides  and this time, oh it’s easy, it’s easy, positively popping daemon onto his lobstered bottom in the dirt.  and suddenly everyone’s cheering for him as he pulls his helmet off and wipes sweat out of his eyes.  he grins and waves and walks strider over to where his father and mother and daenerys and maron are sitting and it is baelor who crowns his cousin the queen of love and beauty while the crowds chant his name.  baelor!  baelor breakspear!

Chapter Text

elaena hates stairs–they hurt her knees–but she climbs them anyway. she climbs them haltingly, taking more time on each step than the bells that ring clear across the city from baelor’s sept. when she reaches daeron’s apartments, she finds ser patrek royce outside the door.  ser patrek doesn’t make her knock, he opens the door silently.  he knows that she’ll not be unwelcome.

the curtains are all drawn, and there are no candles lit, and daeron sits in a chair with his back to her, a glass between two fingers, looking almost like it might fall and shatter against the ground.  she’d not be surprised if he dropped it.  it would be fitting.  she’d heard that baelor’s skull was broken from impact as well.

“i’d thought to find you in the sept with mariah,” she says quietly once the door is shut behind her.

daeron does not respond.  but he lifts the wine to his lips and sips it before letting his hand droop again.  elaena crosses the room and sits at his side, taking the glass from between his fingers.  

“did it hurt this much?” daeron asks her.  his words are slurred, and his eyes, when he looks at her, are vacant.

“did what hurt so much?” she asks.  daena, is her first thought, but she doesn’t say it.  she’s sure that’s not what he means.

“when daemon died.  when brynden struck him down.”

“daemon was not a son of my body.”

“you loved him like a son, though,” daeron says.  

elaena does not respond.  

daeron begins to cry.  “i loved that boy,” he sobs, and elaena reaches her arms around him and holds him close to her.  “he was my son.  my firstborn.”

“i know,” she whispers to him.  “i know.”  she does her best not to think of baelor’s smile, of the triumphant expression on his face when he unseated daemon at daenerys’ wedding, of his laughter, of the thoughtful look in his eyes when he was impressed with something someone said.  but she finds she cannot.  i grow old, she thinks.  once she’d have been able to, she’s sure.

she tries to think of daemon, many years dead now.  she tries to remember the numbness she’d felt at the news of his loss, and the deaths of his sons as well.  numb, disbelieving…yes, it is remarkably similar.  

no one had wept for daemon.  elaena had had to keep her grief to herself.  her mourning could only have been for ronnel, not for the bastard traitor her sister had brought into the world.  her daughters had not mourned him, nor had her cousins.  jon might have, but she had not known how to ask him, not when he’d fought in maekar’s van.  elaena had kept her eyes dry for daemon’s death, and she does so now as well, though…baelor had hardly been a boy, but she remembers him, gawking and over-tall at the age of thirteen.  both boys.  both so young, and both dead.  i grow so old.

bells toll across the city.  she knows the sound of them well.  but it’s different now.  smiling mariah is in the sept to pray in a voice thick with grief.  and daeron weeps.

Chapter Text

“look, armor’s one thing, but you’ll need a shield.”

“i’ll steal one of those too,” lyanna hisses.

“yeah, but you need a special sigil, or else everyone’ll know who you are.  the whole point of being a mystery knight is that you’re a mystery,” benjen says.

“shut up.” 

benjen sticks his tongue out at her.  she sticks her tongue out right back at him.

“that’s not ladylike, what will robert think?”

shut up!” lyanna growls, before thinking, and adding, “besides, i think being a mystery knight is plenty unladylike for robert.”

benjen snorts.  “you still need a shield with a special sigil.  and where are you going to get one of those before tomorrow?  it’s not as though there’s shield sellers all over the place who’ll paint one up for you.”

“how do you know?”

“and who won’t tell father,” benjen adds.  lyanna glowers at him.  her father would hate the very notion of her wearing armor.  he hated that she raced brandon through the wolfswood, he hated that she had callouses on her hands from dueling ben in the godswood, even if he never knew where they came from.  her father didn’t like the idea of her as anything other than the perfect lady who would go south to storm’s end.  that’s not me, she’d told him, but he’d not listened to her.  

“well, i guess we’ll have to do it ourselves, then,” lyanna says with more bravado than she feels.  “you can get paint, and we’ll leave the shield to me.”

“how about you get the paint and i get the shield.  i can pretend to be some desperate squire or something.  and you can be some southron lady looking for paints for….needlework?”

“needlework doesn’t require paint, stupid,” she snaps.  she looks down at her dress.  it’s as northern as they come.  “besides, i don’t think anyone would think me a southron lady in my wools.”  but benjen was right.  it would attract far less notice for him to find a shield than her. 

“what sigil will we paint, anyway?  it needs to be good.  you don’t want to be remembered as…the knight of the…snowflakes or something.”

lyanna thinks.  benjen loves stories of mystery knights.  ser barristan selmy had been one, and prince aemon the dragonknight, and even ser duncan the tall.  maybe she could base her sigil off one of them.  but all three had carried the white shield of the kingsguard, and she couldn’t very well take the targaryen sigil as inspiration for her own, and it feels odd to have the wheat stalks of selmy as the inspiration for her sigil.  it’s so…southron.  and she is of the north, even if most northmen don’t have knighthoods.  i don’t have a knighthood, she thinks, but that doesn’t matter. 

“what was ser duncan the tall’s sigil?”

“he was a kingsguard,” ben scoffs as if she’d forgotten. 

“i know that,” she says, rolling her eyes.  “before that though.”

benjen frowns, trying to remember.  “a tree of some sort, i think,” he sounds unsure.  “but not like the blackwood tree.  a little…i can’t remember.”

“maester calmore would be disappointed in you,” teases lyanna.

“you as well.”

“ladies don’t need to know knights’ sigils,” she said in a mock stuffy tone.  it’s not true, but it’s something maester calmore or her father might say.

“yeah, well…it’s hardly a good sigil for this.  a tree?  who wants to be the knight of the tree at a tourney.”

but lyanna’s eyes go wide.  “knight of the laughing tree, ben.  it’ll be a weirwood, with a grin on its face.” 

ben laughs.  “i like that!”

“right–i’ll get the paint, you get the shield,” lyanna commands and they both run off.  lyanna’s heart pumps hard in her chest, in her ears.  the knight of the laughing tree, she thinks and looks up at the sky overhead and remembers the way that howland had spat out blood after they’d been kicking him.  the best and truest knight to ever be a mystery knight.

Chapter Text

#bbsitter!Sandor is my fave #you know he’d be great making up doll stories (x)

“hold this,” she says and a moment later a fucking doll is being pressed into his hand.  it’s in the shape of a lion–a golden lion–everything’s golden lions in this fucking court, and its got a pink bow on it.  princess myrcella has been tying pink bows on everything lately.  it’s her favorite color of late.

the little princess flounces away, golden curls bouncing, skirts swishing and sandor just stands there, holding a fucking lion doll as she crosses the room.  she’s going to wish her father a good morning, and she dips into a pretty little curtsey.  he doesn’t hear what she says, but he hears king robert’s grunted “did you sleep well?” and watches those golden curls bob as she nods.

“what are you doing with that?” joff asks.  he’s looking at the doll.

“your sister gave it to me to hold,” sandor responds, watching joff closely.  joff is, it seems, in a good mood today, and he shrugs and crosses towards his father as myrcella scurries back, holding out her hands for the doll again.

“thank you,” she says carefully.  the last time she gave him the doll, she’d called him ser and he’d told her not to.  she’d been confused, but seems to have remembered.  he’s not sure what to say in response.  he should say something.

“i return him to your care,” he decides.  that sounds proper enough for a little girl who is also a princess.

“did lionel behave?” she asks, looking very serious.

sandor shifts uncomfortably.  out of the corner of his eye, he sees ser boros smirk and is sure that he’ll be made fun of later.  well fuck ser boros blount then.

“aye, he did,” sandor says, “though he thinks his bow’s a little too tight.  worries it’ll make it harder to hunt later?”

myrcella looks down at the doll and cocks her head.  then she frowns and tugs the bow loose.  “would the tail be better do you think?” she asks him.

“probably.”  sandor thinks of kind spot who used to chase her tail in play.  “may even make a game of it, something to chase when you’re at your lessons.”

myrcella hands the doll back to him.  “hold, please,” she says and sandor does so while she ties the ribbon to the lion’s tail.

“there,” she says and smiles up at him.  “that better?”

sandor blinks, wholly unsure what to say.  it still looks ridiculous–a pink bow tied on a lion doll.  but you can’t say that to a princess.  “might be,” he says.  “you’d have to ask him.”  he hands lionel back to her, and she holds him to her ear.

“yes,” she says.  “he says it’s better.  thank you.”  she curtseys again and trots away, lionel the lion tucked under her arm.

Chapter Text

“What do you see in the stars?” He can be quiet, her husband.  She’d not heard him approach over the wind.  She does not like it.  Ours is the fury, she thinks.  Or it should be.  But Orys is hardly furious, for all he’s taken her father’s words. 

It is cool out tonight, and winds over the sea are high.  Autumn storms have always been Argella’s favorite, but it’s not stormy tonight.  It’s as if the winds are at play.

“I do not look to the stars,” she says.

“Oh?” He sounds surprised.

“I look at the wind.”

“Wife, you cannot see the wind,” he says.  “Only the stars and planets overhead,” he points.

“Planets,” scoffs Argella.  “There are no planets in the sky tonight.” 

There are barely stars.  It is cloudy, and Argella can see the way the winds cut across the waves in the waves that flutter in the night. 

“There is.” Orys points.  It’s a dull little star out to the east.  Argella has seen it before.  Nothing like the Red Eye that sat in the sky when she was a girl and her maester had told her was not truly a star at all

“That’s hardly a planet.  It’s far too small.”

“Aye.  It’s the smallest of them.”

“The smallest of them.  What nonsense is that?”

“Not all planets are the same size,” Orys says, and there’s a smile in his voice. 

“I know that.”  Argella does not bother to keep the bite from her tone.  “I was taught by a maester as a girl.”

“Of course, my lady.  That one’s small, but it’s still a planet.  I promise you.”

Argella rolls her eyes and looks at the little star in the sky.  It’s one of the only ones up there.  She looks back at the rolling sea, and the wind blows at her face and hair and it is so loud that she does not hear when her husband returns indoors.

Chapter Text

“where is arya?” catelyn sounds tired.  she asks the question too frequently.  their second daughter has a penchant for running about, coming to table with leaves in her hair and with grubby knees.  it’s not so much a question as a habit.  

ned gets to his feet.  he knows that catelyn’s question, or habit, or whatever it is, is a command as well.  find your daughter, ned.  because ned, alone of anyone in the castle, has a way for finding arya.

he goes out into the bailey and closes his eyes for a moment.  he imagines laughter–lya riding her horse around the yard, ben not holding his shield high enough. it hurt less to remember lya like that–when she was a little girl still, and wild like a wolf, always on horseback…

he opens his eyes.  the stables, he decides today.  it seems as likely a place as any to find his wayward daughter.  she was about the same age that lya had been when she’d started to ride horses. even if father had tried to restrict her, she was always sneaking into the stables and out the other end on the back of a pony, or a horse.  she’d have an apple and a smile for hodor, and there wasn’t a thing that the stableboys would deny her.

when arya learns to ride, i’d best keep an eye on her, he thinks, and the flash of amusement that accompanies the thought turns sour.  elsewise she’ll ride away from me and not come back.  he doesn’t want to think of that yet.  she’s only a girl.

“what are you doing?” he asks when he finds her in the stable.  she’s still very small, coming not even to his hip, and he knows catelyn will groan at the state of her hem when she comes inside.  

“i just like looking at them,” arya says.  “they’re sweet.”  she chews her lip, and her eyes are far away.  “friendly.”

“aye.  there are some mean ones out there, but we’ve only got friendly horses at winterfell.”  he crouches down, eyes narrowing slightly.  her eyes are red and puffy and there are dried tearstains on her face.

“what are these?” he asks her gently, cupping her cheek in his hands.  arya’s come back to them with scrapes on her knees and elbows and eyes alight with excitement.  she’s tripped and sprained ankles and bruised bones, but he’s not once seen her cry.

tears well in her eyes again.  “it’s nothing,” she lies, chewing her lip again.

“arya stark,” he says, trying to sound stern, but he can’t–not now, not truly.  he takes her in his arms instead as she cries again.  “my sweet girl.  my lovely sweet girl.”

arya hiccups, and he kisses her forehead.  “dry those tears.  have you tricked hullen or hodor into letting you ride a pony already, or have you saved that for me?”

arya sniffles for a moment, then his words seem to hit her.  “ride?” she breathes, as if hardly daring to believe it.  

“aye,” he says.  “a proper northern girl should be at ease on a horse.”

“i thought i was too young!” she is positively alight with joy at the prospect of it, and that alone is enough to set ned’s mind at ease.  whatever had brought tears to her face is fully forgotten at the prospect of being allowed on horseback.

“you probably are,” he says.  “but i expect i’ll always think that.  it’s time.”  and he picks her up and tucks her underneath one arm the way that brandon always used to carry lya and arya’s giggle sounds so like lya’s his heart freezes for a moment.  she’s not gone, not truly.  not if arya laughs her laugh.  and he vows then and there, his daughter tucked under his arm that he’ll protect lya’s laugh as truly as he protect’s lya’s secret.

“hullen,” he calls, “i’ll need a pony.”

Chapter Text

“Why yellow?” Argella had once asked him.  It had been in springtime, when she’d been a girl.  She’d still had little brothers then, and a mother.  She’d been sitting in the godswood, looking up at the sky, and her father had smiled at her, the skin around his eyes–blue as the sky–crinkling.

“You’ve not lived long enough to see an autumn storm,” he’d said, pressing her nose.  “When you do, you’ll know why.”

She knows why now.  It’s rained for days and the sky is black, and when it’s not black, it’s yellow.  Yellow for the storms, she thinks as she looks west.  Her father is dead, and Lord Baratheon will be at her gates soon.  Black for their fury.  Ours is the fury.  Mine is the fury.

She squares her shoulders.  She’s the last one left.  Her brothers died alongside her father, and her mother had long ago sailed east to her father’s halls on Tarth, no longer able to bear Argilac’s fury, Durrandon’s fury.  My fury.  She knows her father’s men expect her to flee to her grandfather’s hall as well, but she will not, not ever.

Rain pounds against stones, and the wind whistles through the courtyard, and Argella Durrandon is unafraid.

Chapter Text

“how fares minisa?”

“she sleeps.  the girls are with her.”

brynden nods.  hoster looks tired, with dark circles under his eyes.  brynden is quite sure he doesn’t fare better.  minisa’s yells had kept them all awake through the night.  lysa had wept, and catelyn had held her close.  cat never liked it when lysa cried, and always tried to put a smile on her face.

“come see him,” hoster says.  he sounds excited.  “come see my boy.”

will this one live? brynden doesn’t ask.  both girls did, after all, even if robb and jonos had not.  but he doesn’t say that.  it is ill luck, he knows, to even think such thoughts on the day the boy is born. 

the windows of the nursery are open, and a cool wind comes in from over the river.  in the middle of the cradle, swaddled in a blue blanket was a baby with a red face and a tuft of red hair.  he is sleeping, and crinkled, and brynden can hardly breathe.

he’s so small, is all he can think.  smaller than cat had been, surely, and smaller than lysa.  he must be smaller than robb and jonos as well, for they’d been bigger than cat had been, hale and loud and fussing.

“edmure, we’ve called him,” hoster says.  “the midwife said there was nothing wrong with him, apart from coming early.  she said he’d be strong and bigger before too long.”

brynden reached down and ran a finger over the boy’s cheek.  it was so soft, like a flower petal.  just a babe, he said, just a little babe.

“you should wed and have one of your own,” hoster said, but brynden shook his head.  i’d take no joy in the making.  but he can’t say that to hoster.  hoster would never understand that. 

“why, when you’ve a boy of your own that i can love,” he says.  love and protect.  he thinks of the girls, cat’s bright smile, lysa’s tuneless humming.  what will you be, little edmure? 

the babe yawns, and snuffles, and continues to sleep, and brynden–he can’t stop staring at him.

Chapter Text

At first he thought he envied the attention she gave Rhaegar.  The way she smiled, the way she laughed.  He thought he envied it, for she was always cold to the rest of them.  “Winter coldness blown down from the north,” Gerold had muttered one night over their cookfire.  And it was that more than anything that slew the envy.  Lady Lyanna looked at Rhaegar with the same cold eyes she looked at Arthur.  Just because her lips were smiling meant little–she simply pretended to hide it for the prince.

Why, though? If she stormed and raged to the rest of them, but hated Rhaegar no less… did she fear that he’d hurt her?  He couldn’t see Rhaegar doing that, but then again, he had not expected that Rhaegar would abandon Elia without a word.  Ashara will be livid at that, he thinks sadly, And livid with me for being here with him.  

It’s that that he envies, he realizes.  There are moments–rare moments, but moments nonetheless–when Lady Lyanna glares at all of them and says, “My brothers will kill you all.“   Arthur does not doubt that it will be true, or at least, that they would try.  They love her fiercely, that much he had seen at Harrenhal.  Does Ashara love me fiercely? he wonders.  Or will she detest me.  Does she think I’ve soiled my white cloak?

I’ve only kept to my vows.  I’ve done as my prince commands. 

But every time Lady Lyanna glares at him, every time that he sees steel in her cool grey glare, he thinks of Ashara.  Every time she sneers at him, he remembers playing with his little sister in the waters of the Torrentine.  He envies Lady Lyanna her love for her brothers, and finds that he wants, needs for her to smile, for her eyes to forgive him.  Perhaps if Lady Lyanna does, Ashara will as well.

Chapter Text

it is hard to look at the boy.  he looks like you, lya had said as she lay there dying.  he has your eyes. 

and yours, lya.  he stares down at the baby each night after wylla has finished giving him suck, forces himself to stare long and deep into the boy’s eyes.

you are all that’s left of her.  he cannot bear the thought, cannot bear what has happened, brandon and father, and coming to lya too late.  he cannot look away.  if you tell robert, he’ll kill him, please ned.  promise me. 

it had been enough, and lya had not even known what had befallen little aegon and rhaenys.  she’d not seen the boy’s skull more mush than head…

your brother.  robert was my brother, and he didn’t care what happened to yours.

but no.  no he must not think that way.  he must not.  the boy is his son.  his war-born bastard.  his jon snow, and jon’s only brothers will be the boys ned gives to catelyn, not the boy that rhaegar targaryen gave to elia martell.

it’s enough to make his head spin.  i must make them believe me, he thinks.  all is lost if they see the lie.  so he stares at little jon snow as long and as hard as he can each day, willing himself to forget lya’s bed of blood, and the way she’d wept at the sight of him and begged him, willing himself to love this boy who is his sole solace for all the war tore from him.


wylla leaves them at starfall.  it is her home, and ned would not force her to stay with jon now that it’s all over.  he and howland take turns strapping the boy to their chests as they ride, cleaning him every few hours after he fouls himself.  “give him goat’s milk if you can find it,” wylla had commanded.  “cow’s milk will do, but goat’s milk is better.”

the boy misses her terribly, and cries frequently.  howland has brothers and sisters, and knows how to soothe a babe.  ned had never really learned, but he tries with jon.  he coos, he pats, he holds, he even tries singing some of the songs he remembers his mother humming when he’d been a boy.

you know she’s gone, don’t you? he thinks.  you know she died.  does he think wylla died too?  he’ll be too young to remember either of them, and with a jolt, ned realizes that his own grey eyes are the ones that jon has seen most consistently since he was born.  cool grey eyes.  he has your eyes.  a father’s eyes.

my son, ned thinks, trying the words on.  my bastard son.  jon snow.  jon, named for jon arryn, for to give my father’s or brother’s name to a bastard would dishonor catelyn and her babes.

as if a bastard isn’t dishonor enough.

“am i imagining it, or is he calmer with me than with you?” ned asks howland.

“he should be.  you’re his father,” howland says.  a rush of warmth spreads through ned.  howland knows the lie, and he won’t let me fail to remember. 

my son.  not lya’s.

not lya.


jon’s a sweet thing, really.  he makes funny burbling sounds, and chews–well mouths.  he hasn’t got teeth yet–on his wrappings.  he likes crawling about as well, and sometimes ned has to leap to his feet to keep him going off into the darkness when they have settled to camp for the night. 

“you’ll have a job taming that one,” howland says.  “he has your sister’s wolf-blood.”

would that he’d gotten less, he thinks sadly.  though better a wolf than a dragon.

jon’s got a thick crop of dark black hair, and he has stark grey eyes.  not a sign of targaryen that would put him in harm’s way. 

he giggles sometimes when ned tickles him, and there always seems to be crackling dried snot in his nostrils.  but the boy seems healthy, and strong.  ned remembers them saying that ben was a sickly baby, and jon seems more robust than ben had.

he grows quickly, too.  ned can hardly believe it.  he’d seen robert’s mya grow quickly, but somehow he’d thought that jon would stay small forever.

he’ll be a man, one day, ned thinks.  and a good one.  better than his father.  better than me.

he strokes jon’s cheek and jon turns his head and chomps down on his finger, and ned smiles.  

Chapter Text

“does arianne have a balerion too?” elia looked up.  her daughter was holding her kitten in a very uncomfortable looking position–just under its front paws so it’s back legs dangled.  the cat looked unhappy, and made a plaintive yowl.

“don’t hold him that way, darling.  hold him like this,” elia said, getting to her feet and scooping the kitten away from rhaenys.  she twisted flipped it over and pressed it to rhaenys’ shoulder and the cat cuddled her as a babe would cuddle its mother. 

“the way you hold aegon,” rhaenys said knowingly.

“the way i hold aegon,” elia agreed.

“does cousin arianne have a kitten too?”

i don’t know.  there was no way for elia to know.  she suspected that it wasn’t something doran would ever think to include in his letters.  especially not while the kingdoms were at war, and most of his notes were asking whether she mightn’t like to come down to dorne when the fighting was done so she didn’t have to look at her husband. 

“can i send her one?  for her name day?“

you really love that cat, elia thought.  “yes, my love.  but i think we may have to wait until the war is done.”

rhaenys nodded eagerly.  “i hope it is done soon.“

“so do i, sweetling.  so do i.”

Chapter Text

on dies young.  a fever takes him, and the husband he’d been named for does not weep.  he does not rage.  he stares out the window for days on end, looking lost.  isn’t it his duty to comfort me? cyrenna wonders.  isn’t it the husband’s duty to say “there will be more sons, and many?” but jon doesn’t say it. 

so cyrenna does.

“there will be more sons, and many,” she tells him one evening, running a hand over his back and ignoring the way what is left of heart twists.  she is tired, for she’s had trouble sleeping of late.  she keeps imagining she hears the boy running through the castle’s halls.

jon looks at her, his brown eyes not quite honey colored anymore in his sadness.

“i saw my own death in his,” he whispers.  he swallows.  “his name was jon too.”

“you’ll not die.  i shan’t allow it.  and nor shall our next son.”

beric is born a year later, hale and hearty, with jon’s red-gold hair and cyrenna’s blue eyes.  a more beautiful boy she could not imagine.


jon does die, just the way her babe had died: a fever from a cut that became infected, and no leeching could quite siphon off the illness.   he is buried on the hill where first they’d met, where first they’d kissed, where beric had taken his first steps while cyrenna had read him stories of ser galladon of morne and written letters to her sister, entreating her to come visit. 

beric is eight when he becomes lord dondarrion of blackhaven, and he the bright smiling boy she loves so dearly falls into the shade of sadness that comes with loss.

“i didn’t want him to die,” he whispers to her one night as she tucks him into bed.  cyrenna smooths back the hair from his head, and caresses his cheek.  he’s so very warm, but not feverish the way jon had been when he’d been breathing his last. 

“hush, child,” she tells him, trying to smile.  “everyone dies one day.  it’s a matter of how we face it.”

beric tilts his head, his brow furrowing.  “what do you mean, mother?”

“will your life be something you’re proud of?  will you have done good, been good and brave and true?”

“like ser galladon?”

“aye, like ser galladon,” she says.  “you are a lord now, and you must be a good one.  it is not strength that makes you strong, it is goodness.  ser galladon never unsheathed just maid against a mortal man for the fight would have been unfair.  you must be fair, you must protect those who are weaker than you, and you must do the right thing.  it is hard, but you are young and there is time to learn.”

“what if i die before i’ve learned?”

cyrenna pauses.  “then you’ll have died doing your best to be your best,” she says.  “but you needn’t worry about that.”

“but i must! i’m lord now, and nearly a man grown.”

“it should not be fear of death that makes you good, beric.  that must come from yourself.”

“but i don’t want to die.”

“no one does,” cyrenna sighs.  she’s very tired.  he is too young to understand, surely, that no one can evade death.


he excels in his lessons, maester grandon says, and is a fine swordsman says hollis morgan, and jon’s younger brother bryan takes him as his squire so that he will learn what it means to be a knight but needn’t leave his lands.  he is serious, but as he grows older, she hears his laughter filling the halls.  he makes friends with a stablehand near his own age, and begins to care about horseflesh more than he ever had before.

he grows tall, too.  taller than she is before too long, and growing every day.  and as he grows older, his face fills out and a red beard begins to grow, which he picks at as though unsure it’s truly there while he sits with her and maester grandon and learns how cyrenna has been running his castle for him.

he is knighted, and she stares at this man who had been just a boy, just a babe, and wonders where the years have gone, and where they are going.  he agrees to a match made with a dayne of starfall, and takes his bride-to-be’s nephew, the little lord of the castle, to be his own squire.

the day edric dayne arrives, her son comes to her as she is preparing for bed.

“i…ser bryan says that it’s an easy thing, caring for a squire.”

“i hear doubt in your voice, beric.”

beric shuffles his feet as though he is a child, despite his beard and height.  “what if it’s not?  what if i’m not good at it?” 

“bryan knew you well.  you’re his nephew.  it’s easy enough when he’s known you your whole life.  edric is a stranger.  it will be harder, and easier.”

beric looks at her, waiting for her to say more.  she laughs.  “what would you have me say?  he’s not a babe.”

“but he is a child.”

“so you will teach him all you know.  you’re a good man, beric, and you will teach him to be good as well.”

“but what if i fail?”

“then you will keep trying.  you don’t stop trying just because you fail.” 

beric nods, his eyes distant, thinking. 

“thank you, mother,” he says at last and he kisses her forehead.  cyrenna rolls her eyes, and opens her mouth to say something, but beric continues, “i couldn’t be who i am without you.”

cyrenna closes her mouth, and brings a hand to her throat.  it is tight, and she doesn’t know what to say to that.

“don’t forget that–not ever,” she says gently, and beric smiles, his eyes–the ones they share–crinkling.

“i couldn’t.  not ever.”

Chapter Text

arianne remembers the day she was born.  there was a new star outside of her window, and when she pointed it out to her nursemaid the next night, her nursemaid shook her head.  “you’re imagining things, princess,” she said, picking arianne up and carrying her to her bed.  “there are no new stars in the sky.”  but there was.  arianne remembers.  it was a little bit yellower than the rest.

a raven arrives a week after and arianne’s father smiles as he reads it allowed.  “dearest brother, your arianne has a cousin.  princess rhaenys targaryen was born on the fourth of the month, and she has your eyes.”

arianne has her father’s eyes and she hops up and down with excitement.  a new cousin.  arianne likes cousins.  and this one has her eyes.


arianne learns to read and write, and sends her baby cousin rhaenys scrawled letters.  dear rhaenys (misspelled thrice and she’d had to start afresh each time) i cannot wait to meet you.  i know we will be friends one day.  your cousin, arianne martell, princess of sunspear.

her fingers are covered in black ink, and she sends along the little necklace her mother helped her pick out to send for her cousin’s first nameday.  “she will like it?” arianne asks.

“she is a baby–the same age as your little cousin sarella.”  

“sarella would like the necklace,” arianne says, hoping more than believing it would be true.  sarella has a fondness for putting things between her gums and chewing on them.  she’d like chewing on the necklace at the very least. 

“then i imagine rhaenys will too.”


for her name day the following year, arianne opens a letter containing a drawing of a cat.  it’s not a very good drawing of a cat, but the note, written in tight, clean, grown-up handwriting, says, dear arianne, happy birthday from your cousin rhaenys (and your aunt elia as well).

arianne pastes the picture by her bed near one that tyene had drawn and by a stuffed horse toy that nym had given her.  she smiles.  i love my cousins, she thinks happily.  i love them all, even if i’ve never met rhaenys.

i will.  and we’ll be the best of friends. 


she gathers little pieces of information from her aunt elia’s letters.  rhaenys loves cats.  she likes lemon cakes.  she doesn’t like it when it rains.  she runs around constantly, and will probably need a dornish sand steed–a proper horse–one day because she loves the feeling of wind in her hair.  she is clever and is attentive to her lessons.  she likes music–especially the harp when her father plays, but also the flute.  she wants to learn how to dance.

arianne collects them and waits–waits because she knows one day, when she does one day meet her cousin rhaenys, she is determined to love her, determined that her aunt’s daughter not feel far from her martell cousins, determined that she know that just because she’s never been to sunspear, or to the water gardens, she is welcome there too.


arianne remembers the day she dies. 

she doesn’t want to think about what it might mean that that little gold star in the sky isn’t there anymore.  she doesn’t tell sylva who is curled up asleep next to her, she doesn’t tell her mother, or her father.

but when, a week later, her father locks himself in his room, and her uncle oberyn rides from sunspear, howling like the wind, arianne goes back to her bedroom and folds up the little cat drawing, tucking it into a box of her dearest possessions, and cries.

Chapter Text

“they say i brew love potions,” shiera laughs.  “is that before or after i bathe in the blood of virgin girls, i wonder?”

“or maybe that’s how you brew a love potion,” brynden says dryly.  “i can’t imagine a good love potion that’s not got the blood of virgins in it, and whatever comes out between your legs while you’re in it.”

shiera gives him a dry look that doesn’t quite hide the twisting of her lips into a small smile.  i must not, he thinks.  

it’s a game to her–he knows that much.  a game of how long it will take before he breaks, before he kisses her, and holds her, begs for her.  it’s a game, and she’ll laugh, and pet his cheek, and tell him not to be silly, she’ll never marry.  stars don’t wed, she will intone, then stretch pressing her breasts into the air.  stars belong to no one.  

i belong to you, he has told her many times.  she knows that by now, and he doesn’t need to say it, just as he doesn’t need to kiss her–except he does.

“have i had a taste of it?” he asks.

“of what?”

“your love potion?  is that why–” but she laughs.

“don’t be stupid, brynden.  i don’t make love potions.  if i’m to bathe in anything it’s lavender water.”  how well he knows.  he can’t smell lavender without thinking of her.  “and besides,” her voice shifts to a purr.  “i wouldn’t waste a love potion on you.  you’re already in love with me.”

Chapter Text

she can see it in his eyes–he wants her.  in truth, he’s wanted her for weeks, but he has made no move.  there are men who would say that it is his right, that she is his right.  she’s sure that there are those who’d say she should be grateful of that–that her husband does not force himself on her, in her, at his whim.  argella hates that.

they all think you’re so good, she thinks.  how gallant of you to wrap your cloak about me.  how good.  but not good enough to leave me be.

he wants her, loves her perhaps, even.  he laughs when she is harsh, and he listens to her more than she thought he would.  and she had sworn to herself that she’d never come to love this man who’d slain her father, but sometimes she catches herself looking at him, reading letters from his king, dining with her men, training in the castle’s yards, sweat streaking down his back, and she feels her traitor heart beat faster.  they’d have me think this is right, that i would come to love him in time, that i should be glad of it, for it could have been worse.  she could instead have been wed to petyr massey who’d ripped her bodice apart while she’d tried to bite the arms that had held her…

grateful.

she could laugh.  there’s nothing to be grateful for–not least that she wants this man who wants her, and who won’t do anything about it.  

but nor will she.

he’d taken her castle, her father’s sigil, her birthright–he could not have her pride.

Chapter Text

when did it begin?  when did she start to notice it?  is it because her mother is dead that they spoke that way?  dead and gone and a distant memory–brandon holding her dear in his heart but never speaking her name, father feeling freed.  pestering.  that’s what he’d called mother.  pestering lyarra and her wolf’s blood.  more wolf than woman if truth be told.  with a bite to his voice, as though a only a man could be a wolf…


“yes.  yes that’s a fine match, i think.”  that is all her father says.  he looks between ned and lyanna.  “a thoughtful one, ned.”  ned smiles.  he thirsts for father’s approval, and lyanna crosses her arms over her chest, wishing it were still flat because everyone looks at her differently now that it isn’t any longer.  or maybe she just notices that they do.  do they?  

“i haven’t even met him,” lyanna says hotly.  the wolf blood, like your mother.  gods be good what did i do to deserve the pair of you?  

“he’s my dearest friend, lya,” ned replies smiling at her.  “as close to a brother as i could have found in the vale, as dear as brandon or benjen, and as true.  he’ll make a fine husband to you, and a fine father to your children.”  

lyanna blinks, surprised.  ned’s words sting–she hadn’t been expecting…her crossed arms stiffen over her chest.  he speaks to me as if i am a woman–any woman, telling me what any woman would want to hear of her betrothed.  he doesn’t speak to me as though i’m me.

perhaps that is why he hadn’t understood.  he’s been gone too long, he won’t know…

so she hardens her words–hardens them the way she does for father, because father doesn’t listen to her either.  “robert will never keep to one bed.  and i hear he has gotten a child on some girl in the vale.”  ned had written that in some letter or other before he’d ridden north.  written it and spoken it, as if it did not matter.  how can this friend be truly true, be loyal and faithful to her if he wanders?  or will he speak coolly of her, the way father does when he deigns to mention mother?  

ned has the decency to flush now, but when he opens his mouth, he says, “none of that will matter, lyanna.  i promise.  it won’t stand in the way of your marriage, and what he has done before your betrothal won’t matter.  he will put it behind him, and it shan’t ever affect you, it will be the past.  he is a good man, and will love you as truly as any man has ever loved any woman, i promise it.”

lyanna did not smile.  lyanna glared.  “love is sweet, dearest ned, but it cannot change a man’s nature. and it won’t change robert’s.”

she turns back to her father, and opens her mouth to tell him she won’t do it, but before she can.

“you will marry him, lyanna.  it is your place.  it is who you were born to be, and i’ll hear no more on the matter.”


it always starts with father, she thinks.  father who wouldn’t let her train at swords and so she’d done it clandestinely.  father, who laughs at her jokes, and who kisses her forhead and who is so warm and so cool all at once.  father, who confuses her as she grows older, who tells her she’s not a child anymore but treats her as though she’s as silly as one all the same.  father, who tells her she must be a woman, but when she tries to be the woman she wants to be he yells at her and tells her not to be like brandon.   why is brandon allowed to be brandon, but she is not allowed to be lyanna?  


“do you wish to marry catelyn tully?” she asks brandon.  they are on horseback and he has caught her at last.  on most days, lyanna would have teased him.  he doesn’t know the wolfswood so well as i do, she thinks.  he went to the barrowlands.  he went away.

“i suppose,” brandon says.  “she’s the same as any other woman father would have me wed, i suppose.”

the same as any other woman… “you don’t know her though.”

“i’ve written to her, and she’s written back.  she seems fine.”  he sounds so uncaring.

“but i thought you loved barbrey ryswell?” lyanna accuses.  he’d talked of nothing but barbrey in several letters he’d written her, how pretty and thoughtful and fun she was.  

brandon shrugs.  “i liked her well enough, but i’m not heartbroken over her.  i always sensed we weren’t to marry.  what does it matter?”

“i want you to be happy,” lyanna says.

“and i expect i shall be.  women are a good thing to have in the world, but they’re not the only thing.  i expect that even if i like lady catelyn less well than i’d like there will be other women, and i’ll be lord of winterfell one day besides.  my happiness shan’t be dependent on her.”  he gives her a smile.  “it’s sweet of you to think of it, though, lya.”

lya chews her lip thinking for just a moment.  my happiness shan’t be dependent on her.  she thinks of robert, thinks of father, thinks of the way ned had promised her that she’d be happy because of robert and for no other reason.

“i fear i won’t be happy with robert,” she tells brandon.  brandon will understand that, won’t he?  he has the wolf’s blood, like father says–too much of it sometimes, enough to make him wild.

“that’s just a maid’s fear,” he tells her.  “i promise you–if robert’s half the man he claims to be, he’ll keep you happy.”  he waggles his eyebrows suggestively.

“that’s not what i mean,” lyanna says hotly.  men make more comments like that around her now that she’s grown breasts, but she’d never thought to hear one coming from brandon’s lips.  what has that got to do with her telling him anything?  if she weren’t on horseback she’d have kicked him.

“is it not?  does that not matter?”

“no!” lyanna protests, but brandon doesn’t hear her.  he’s laughing so loudly that it echoes off the trees and now it sounds like the gods are laughing at her as well.  foolish girl, foolish woman, foolish lady, foolish bride of robert baratheon.

but never foolish lyanna.  

“i won’t marry him,” she tells brandon, and waits for him to respond, but brandon’s still laughing.  he kicks his horse to a walk again and circles her.

“you’ll come round,” he says.  “you’re still young, lya.  you’ve got a lot to learn about the world.  you’ll see it’s not so bad as you think it is.”


it’s not that they don’t love her.  ned, and brandon, and father.  she’s sure that they do, or that they think they do.  but it’s hard not to notice that she’s treated differently from them–and what for?  she’s as clever as ben, and better at swords.  she’s no less thoughtful than ned, and she’s a better horseman than brandon, and quicker than he is besides.  and yet it’s as though they don’t see it.

she catches glimpses of it in their eyes sometimes.  glimpses that she is not what they think she is, or think she should be.  it makes father angry, it makes brandon laugh, it makes ned frown as though he can’t understand why, as though it’s much more complicated than it truly is…


“i don’t want to marry him,” she tells father, and father shakes his head and tells her he’s tired of this conversation, tired of her sounding like her mother and that she’ll do what she’s told.

“i don’t want to marry him,” she tells ned and he promises her that she just doesn’t know robert well enough, and that when she does, she’ll love him as much as ned does.

“i don’t want to marry him,” she tells brandon, who laughs again, and says, “well, it’s your duty quite as much as it’s mine to marry catelyn tully.  she’s not so bad.  you’ll get used to it as i did.”

“i don’t want to marry him,” she tells benjen, who looks at her with wide eyes, and nervousness and asks, “well…what will you do?”

i don’t want to marry him, she thinks as she climbs out of her window at the inn, not sure where she’s going, not sure what she’ll find along the way, not sure of anything except that they keep telling her she must and why won’t they listen to her when she says she doesn’t want it?   they love me, don’t they? she thinks, angry tears falling down her face, because she realizes that they can’t if this is what’s to befall her.

“i don’t want to marry him,” she tells rhaegar targaryen when she finds him on the road, the prince intending to stop by riverrun for brandon’s wedding as it seems everyone is.

he looks at her with cool eyes–cool like father’s, and with a voice that’s even like ned’s–and says, “well then, my lady, you mustn’t.”


foolish lyanna foolish lyanna foolish lyanna the gods seem to sing at her as she stands on the island.  she remembers howland telling her that they speak more loudly on the isle of faces than they do anywhere else.  

brave lyanna brave lyanna brave lyanna she hears in their whispers as well.  

can she be both foolish and brave?  foolish for running away, and brave for not letting them make her go through with it?  she hopes so.  

she hugs her arms over her chest again, feeling more like a frightened little girl than she ever has before, and looks about her.  she’s the only one here except for the gods–rhaegar and his knights have gone to set up camp.   they won’t find her here, surely, won’t think to look here.  she can figure out what comes next and decide for herself, be a woman, not a child, not a man, and she won’t have to worry about what they think because she knows she’s already disappointed them.

they’ll blame robert, she’s sure.  “lya always said she didn’t want to marry him,” brandon will laugh as father rages and ned looks confused.  they’ll blame robert–and they won’t be wrong to, but she wonders if they’ll remember she’s running way from them too.

Chapter Text

the first thing that strikes her is that roses make for poor crowns.  

lyanna has always loved winter roses, ever since she was a little girl.  she and her mother had picked them together, before ben was born.  they’d gone through the godswood and the glass gardens and her mother had told her that most roses grow better in the cold, that southron roses grow only in spring and summer, but winter roses are of the north.  “just like you,” lyarra stark had said, pressing lyanna’s nose and making her giggle.

lyanna remembers trying to weave a crown of winter roses while lisbeth cassell had woven one of daisies.  rose stems were thick, and solid, and promised a sturdiness that would do well for a crown of flowers. yet lisbeth’s chain of flowers had grown long enough for her to start a second, and a third to braid together, while lyanna’s hands kept getting pricked on the thorns, and when she did finish what seemed like hours later, the thorns had caught in her hair and scraped at her scalp.

you could cut the thorns off,” lisbeth had said, offering her a knife, but lyanna had shaken her head.  the thorns were what made roses roses and not lilies or daffodils or daisies.  you couldn’t just cut them off.

lyanna’s hands tremble as prince rhaegar extends the crown to her on the tip of her lance.  her throat is dry and she is frightened.  “i’ll not reveal your secret,” he’d told her.  but was this not a revelation, a violation of that promise?  surely everyone would know, or would at least suspect.  he should have given the crown to his wife.  the blue roses would look so lovely with her orange silks.  

“my lady,” the prince says, and lyanna lifts the roses from the lance.  their petals are so soft, and as she turns the wreath between her fingers, she finds that whoever made the crown stripped the thorns away.

Chapter Text

i brought you flowers, lya.  flowers for you.  they’re your favorites–the blue winter roses.  brandon never noticed, but i did.

they are dying in his hands, the flowers he brought her from the north.  he’d tried drying the petals the way that lya had used to do, but he’d done it wrong.  mayhaps you couldn’t dry the whole rose.  mayhaps you could only dry the petals when you’d plucked them away from the flower.

it was stupid to bring them.  

you stupid! she was always calling them stupid.  brandon when he tried to pull rank and age, ned when he tried to reason with her–both stupid.  stupid boys.  sometimes it was fond, other times it was not.  you truly think robert will change for me? don’t be stupid, ned.  don’t be stupid.  

there’s blood on the roses.  arthur dayne’s blood, and gerold hightower’s.  blood because there’s blood on his hands.  ned tried to wipe the blood away so the roses wouldn’t be covered in it but he hadn’t done it well enough.  it will be all right, though.  lya will call him stupid–the fond sort of stupid–and she’ll smile at and it will be all right.  

eddard! she’d screamed to him before the fight, a name she only used when something was wrong.  truly wrong.  eddard, when mother had died, eddard, when ben had fallen from a tree and broken his leg, eddard, the last time he’d seen her before…

she was captive.  that’s all.  

he can’t imagine her a captive.  he can’t imagine the white knights of the kingsguard knowing what to do with her.  he imagines her trying to climb down the tower through her window the way she’d used to climb the burned tower at winterfell, he imagines her making pointed comments about how swordsmanship doesn’t make a man, he imagines her berating them for what true knight holds a girl captive? what prince does? how can they live with themselves? 

it will be all right.  lya fights everything.  it was just a warning–that ser arthur is–was–the best swordsman, that there were three of them, that–

there’s blood.

blood on the floor, blood on the bed, blood between her legs.  her face is pale as death and her lips are dry and cracked and scabbed, and her grey eyes are shining with fever.

“eddard,” she says. her voice is so weak.

“lya.  i brought you flowers lya.  i brought…”

Chapter Text

“come on,” nymeria calls to them.  "nothing to be frightened of.“  she nudges her own sandsteed forward, well practiced by now.  she rides a full horse now that her legs are starting to grow longer, not the ponies that the stablehands have brought out into the courtyard.  

arianne looks at tyene.  her cousin looks nervous, but she frequently does.  tyene is cautious.  arianne’s the one who has to be bold.  she’s a princess after all, and it is her duty to protect her family.  (her mother says that is why her father is always so sad–he could not protect arianne’s aunt elia.  if arianne protects little quentyn, and her cousins obara, nymeria, tyene, and sarella, perhaps her father will be happier and he will play with her again.)  she will make sure that the ponies are safe for tyene.

so she marches towards them, each being held in place by a stableboy, and the master of horses, garse, hands her some dates to feed the one nearest her.  "they’re sweet things, and gentle, princess,” he promises, “but this way he’ll get to know you.”

“what’s his name?” she asks garse.  nymeria talks endlessly what she will name her horse when she has one that’s properly hers.  stonesilk, yes i know cousin, arianne has said countless times, jealous that she had not thought of the name first for it is lovely.  

“we call him lucky, but you can call him as you please,” garse says, and arianne holds up her the palm with the dates to the pony’s mouth.  his mouth is so soft against her palm, and the dates are gone almost at once.  she pets his forlock, thinking, and looks back at her cousin.  

tyene has stepped forward and is only a few paces back now, looking at the second pony.  "he’s sweet,“ arianne promises, and tyene takes another step towards the pony.  garse hands her some dates to feed hers.

“come on,” nymeria calls again, and arianne rolls her eyes.

“we’ll be ready soon,” she tells her older cousin.  "we’re getting to know our ponies.“  nymeria kicks her horse’s flank again and it speeds into a canter, circling the yard.  

"show off,” arianne mutters under her breath.  she’ll be able to ride just as well soon enough, and then she’ll race her cousin across the sands.  she’s too pudgy to be fast on her feet now, and nymeria’s older and her legs are longer for footraces, but on horseback, she’ll be able to outrace her cousin with ease, she knows it.  

“ready, princess?  my lady?” asks garse, and arianne nods.  he helps her mount lucky and settles the reins in her hands. the stableboy who has been holding his bridle tightens his grip.  

lucky’s back is wider between her legs than she’d thought it would be.  the pony shifts under the weight of a new rider, and as she pulls on the reins the way she’s seen her mother do, she hears tyene squeak behind her.  arianne turns around and sees her cousin–knuckles white on the horn of her saddle while her pony shifts underneath her as lucky had beneath arianne.

“it’s all right,” arianne says, but even as she does so, lucky jerks again, turning because when she’d turned to tyene she’d accidentally pulled the reins as well. the startled stableboy had let go of lucky’s bridle. “woah!” she says, more out of surprise than anything else, pulling on the reins again, and lucky stills.

behind them, nymeria laughs.  "you’ll get used to it,“ she says.  "but you’d better be quick about it.  i won’t wait around forever.”

“go ride with obara then!” arianne says hotly, and nymeria brings her horse closeby and kisses her cheek.

“i want to make sure you’re set up properly.”

“well stop being impatient,” arianne tells her.  "otherwise we won’t learn properly.“ nym laughs and brings her horse to tyene and bends down to kiss her sister’s cheek as well.  then she kicks the horse off and begins circling the yard again.  tyene’s horse startles from nym’s suddeness, and tyene lets out another squeak and tugs on the reins.  

“hold on tight,” arianne says.  “you won’t fall.  i promise.”  she had no way of knowing, but she knew her cousin well enough to know that if arianne promised it would sooth some of the nerves away.

"ready?” garse asks them.  he’s smiling, and arianne lets go of the reins with one hand and reaches out to tyene.  nervously, tyene takes her hand, and arianne gives it a squeeze.  

“we’re ready,” she says, and garse nods to the stableboys holding the bridles of the ponies.

“good,” he says.  "first lesson.  how not to sit like a sack of potatoes.“  

Chapter Text

I.

It had been years since Tywin had spent a thought of Steffon, a casualty of distance more than anything else. They’d been friends as boys, Tywin the eldest, Steffon the youngest, one far more likely than the other to laugh.  It hadn’t been an unpleasant balance, but time is enemy to that which seems pleasant in boyhood.

Aerys doesn’t mean it,” he remembers Steffon saying.  “He just doesn’t think before he speaks sometimes.  He’s always been that way.

This isn’t making the Dornish deserts bloom, Steffon.  This is my wife.

Steffon had never liked strife.  He had insisted upon harmony.  He’d blinded himself to truths too hard to stomach, rather than routing them at the root. Easier to say that it was unthinking Aerys, whose antics had caused so much mirth in their boyhood, than to admit that the man was a fool, a madman.   

It is the privilege of your friendship that allows him to speak thusly, Tywin.

He insults my wife out of love of me?  Is that what you are suggesting?” 

Merely that he has confidence in your love of him.” 

Tywin Lannister never suffers fools, even fools he’d once been fond of.  He takes joy in removing them from his presence, of reminding them that he was the Lion and not to be presumed upon, not even by kings. Steffon Baratheon grew from a boy into a fool, hiding behind laughter and warm memories, and with what purpose? What had he gained from it?  The king’s trust—which he’d already had—and what else?  He’d been a more promising boy than man.

Tywin Lannister reads the letter, written in a maester’s neat hand, that his friend and the hand of the king died in his own bay, leaving behind three small boys.  He reads that word again, a small one only six letters, and remembers Steffon’s laugh, but finds he feels nothing at all.

II.

Tywin did this to him. He knows it.  It’s always Tywin.  Tywin gets the credit, Tywin and not the king he serves.  Served.  Tywin doesn’t serve him anymore.  And nor does Steffon.

Steffon would have helped him.  Steffon understood him, understood that Tywin wanted all of Aerys’ glory, all of his power. Steffon would have protected him, even from Rhaegar who grew less biddable the older he grew.  Steffon would have known what to do.  Everyone liked Steffon.  Everyone trusted Steffon.  Tywin had kept them from liking or trusting Aerys. 

The winds killed him. The winds.  He’s no fool.  The winds didn’t kill him, no more than the walls of Duskendale had held him.  Men do things, not stones or winds.  And the only man who stood to benefit from Steffon’s death was Tywin.  Tywin, who betrayed friends left and right for his own gain, Tywin who Varys whispered was plotting even now, insulted that Aerys had refused to wed his son to Tywin’s daughter.  As if it was his right he’d asked it.  As if it was his reward.  Friendship knows no reward.  Steffon had understood that even when Tywin hadn’t.  And Tywin took his own reward for good service.  He wouldn’t get Rhaegar.  He couldn’t get Rhaegar.

So he’d taken Steffon. He’d taken Steffon.  He’d taken, greedy lying lion that he is.

Chapter Text

he grows old.  that is what aunt elaena would say.  age and memory are enemies.  memory remembers the good and the bad with too much strength, so age must destroy it, or something like that.  he can hear her voice saying it as clear as day, creaky and bemused.  he grows old, and that is why.

he spends the entire week in a thunderous temper.  dyanna would have said that that was normal for him, but it’s a blacker temper than even his usual days.  perhaps it’s that aegon had gone and married his blackwood girl without waiting for the king’s consent; or perhaps it’s that aerion–in a fit of madness–named his heir for maegor the cruel rather than maekar his father; or perhaps it’s that it’s a longer and harder winter than he wants; or perhaps it’s that he should never have been king to begin with. 

he grows old, and he remembers aunt elaena.  she was sharper than the whole lot of them, even as she shrunk with old age.  sharp of mind and of tongue, though in her last years both softened until her mind wandered too far and she began to forget who she was.  time makes you forget, she had said to him before she died, on one of her more lucid days.  time makes you forget.  i remember my sister daena, remember that i loved her more than i loved nearly anyone else.  but i cannot remember her face.

he remembers baelor’s smile, his stride, his booming laugh, his wisdom.  he remembers baelor’s bravery, and his compassion, and in that moment he knows why the black rage.  his heart remembered that this was the day of baelor’s death, even when his mind had not, and his heart was furious with him.

Chapter Text

“I wasn’t going to wait around for you forever, you know,” Oberyn says breezily.  He always speaks breezily, her little brother, and Elia rolls her eyes as he extends an arm to her.  Then, more seriously, “I hope you’re not unwell, sister.”

She gives him a look that she hopes channels mother, because of course Oberyn would know.  He knows that her health has always been fragile.  She grips his arm more tightly than normal as she says, “Do I look peeky?”

“You are as radiant as the sun ever was, sweet sister,” Oberyn says and he kisses her cheek in a very ostentatious way, and Elia swats him with her free arm while still gripping him tightly.  

“Well, I suppose the sun must shine, even in the north,” she says.  She knows that somewhere, the Stark boys would moan at her calling Harrenhal the North, but it is a gray day today, and she is wearing more layers of silk than she had in King’s Landing.  I woke in the night shivering.  And I haven’t bled.

“How long before your husband crowns you do you think?  Do you think he can truly best Barristan the Bold?”

“You don’t think he can?” Elia asks as they mount the dias.

“I do think he can, but it is a good deal less exciting than if he’d…” Oberyn looks around.  The King isn’t present yet.  “Than if our mystery knight were in the final tilt.  I’d sooner see him face Ser Barristan.”

“You’re a dreamer,” Elia remarks.

“And stories of princes are boring.”

Oberyn settles himself in the seat next to her, and looks down at her arm.  She’s  still gripping him tightly now, and his eyebrows knit together slightly.  “Are you unwell? You do look pale today,” he asks under his breath.

Rhaenys was hard on me, and I haven’t bled, she wants to say.  But she knows Oberyn well enough to know that if she tells him any latent fear of what was to come, he’d be paralyzed by it.  Her brother was fierce and could slay thousands of knights in battle, but knowing he could do nothing to ease her pain and fear… If Rhanys loves this one half so much as I love my brother, I’ll be content.  “I slept poorly,” she says.  “And should speak with a maester.”

“I shall find one at once,” Oberyn says, making to rise, but Elia doesn’t let go of his arm.  

“It’s not urgent.  I know what I think it is,” she says.  Oberyn looks confused, and Elia shifts in her seat and rests a hand lightly, for a moment, over her belly.  Oberyn’s eyes light up and he opens his mouth, but Elia cuts him off.  “Not just yet,” she says.  “No words.  I want to know for true before anyone says a word.”

Oberyn kisses her cheek again, and then they rise for the king has arrived.  He ignores them both, and Elia breathes deeply.  It is easier when the king ignores them.  “Have you told your husband of your suspicions?” Oberyn asks quietly as the crowd begins to cheer.  Rhaegar and Barristan ride past on their horses, looking properly gallant.  Is she imagining it, or is the crowd less excited than they had been for the mystery knight?

“Not yet,” Elia says.  “Perhaps tonight, when I know.”

“And he’ll bed you with flowers in your hair,” grins Oberyn.  “Or is he the sort to stay away when the deed’s done, poor gallant fool of a man?”

“Oh hush,” Elia says and they ride. 

Barristan rides well, but Rhaegar rides better, and Elia leans forward in her seat as Rhaegar rises his horse onto his rear legs and collects the blue wreath.  She lets go of Oberyn’s arm for the first time since she’d found him that morning, and prepares herself to rise and smile.  But Rhaegar keeps riding and she doesn’t rise at all.  She watches as he gives that flower to a different woman and this time, it is Oberyn who grabs her arm with a grip like iron.

Chapter Text

arthur dayne was the first boy elia had ever kissed.  he’d been barely a boy then, thirteen, and pimply with an attempt at a beard growing on his chin.  his lips had been a little too wet and his breath had tasted of wine and they’d agreed afterwards that it was for the best they never spoke of it again.  but they’d been fond of one another, and sometimes in the firelight, elia had caught him watching her and wondered–as one can only wonder–if he ever thought about it and wondered too.

“he’s gone,” ashara had wept.  “he went with rhaegar.  i don’t know where he is–what he could be thinking–why he did it?”

she tries to remember that goodhearted boy, the white knight he’d become–fearsome to duel and brave and gallant and all the things knight should be.  he’d been gallant as a boy too, tender when he’d kissed her and honorable when they’d decided that perhaps they would not be each others’ first loves.

she thinks of the reports, that rhaegar and arthur and the rest had gone and had stolen lyanna stark away, a girl who was barely more than a child herself.  of rhaegar, she can sit and seeth, insulted and betrayed, wounded by a man she’d thought cared for her but had remained a mystery throughout their marriage. but arthur–arthur she doesn’t understand, and she thought she had and that is a different sting altogether.

Chapter Text

“I am not the best to send,” he’d told Torrhen.  “Send someone else.  Send Rufus Manderley or–”

“They do not have my blood.  You’re the only brother I have.  And King Aegon has his own bastard brother.  He’ll know your words have my heart.”

“I’d sooner kill him,” Brandon had snapped, but Torrhen had raised a hand.  Torrhen is younger than Brandon, and calmer.   It’s how I know you’re mine, his father had said, as though Brandon’s long face, grey eyes, and the fact that, after his voice had broken and become a man’s, he could confuse men into thinking he was his father just by speaking, weren’t proof enough. You have the wolf’s blood.  If Torrhen had the wolf’s blood, Brandon had never seen it.

“You’ll bring us peace.  You must.  Your king commands it.”

And so Brandon had gone, and Brandon now sits in a room filled with dragon sigils with three maesters at his side, sitting opposite another calm king.

“Wine?” Aegon Targaryen asks him, and Brandon shakes his head.  He gets tired with wine, and this early in the day, he would sooner have his wits about him.  

“Pomegranate juice, if you have it,” he said. 

Aegon Targaryen gestures and one of the squires he has at his side scurries from the tent.  His violet eyes fall on the three maesters sitting at Brandon’s side–Maester Mallador from White Harbor, Maester Josmyn from Last Hearth, and his brother’s own Maester Sefton.  At last, his gaze falls on Brandon, and Brandon feels the hair on the back of his neck prickle.  

“My brother would have no war between us,” Brandon says, deciding not to wait for the pomegranate juice.  “He would have peace, but sees not why you need the North.  The Westerlands and the Reach–that is obvious, for they would never stand for you to rule along their borders and would fight you and yours until the bitter end.  But what lies north of the neck can hardly be of interest to you.”

“And what are my interests, according to King Torrhen?”

Brandon bites back a laugh.  Torrhen has the same way of speaking–he learned it from his mother.  He’s too much like his mother.  If he had the wolf blood for true, I’d have been sent to kill King Aegon, not to drink his pomegranate juice.  

“Kingship,” shrugs Brandon.  “But not a breed I’m familiar with.”

“Are northern kings so different from southron ones?” Aegon asks.  He sounds as though he doesn’t intend it to be answered, and Brandon feels a wolfish grin cross his face.

“Oh yes,” he says.  “For you see, the north is hard, and when winter comes, who’s to say what men might be compelled to do to survive.  And winter is always coming.  Southron kings may fight for land and wealth.  They may even fight for people.  We fight for life.”  

“We protect our own,” Torrhen had said as Brandon had fastened his furs under his chin.  “Remember that.  We protect first and foremost.”  There’d been a sad look in his eyes, one that had reminded Brandon far more of Torrhen’s lady mother of Hornwood than of their father.  

“But,” Brandon decides to add after a pause, “I know of no southron king who would seek to conquer all the kingdoms.  You’re more like Harren the Black than Loren the Lion.”

“A reaver king?” Aegon asks.

“What else could you be?”

“And what do you think I do when my reaving is done?”

There’s a flurry of motion in the corner of Brandon’s eye and he turns.  The squire is back with a glass jug of juice, and he pours it into a goblet for Brandon.  Brandon raises his goblet, and Aegon raises his and they both drink.

“My lords,” Maester Sefton begins, leaning forward.  “I’m sure that His Grace would be anxious to hear terms of peace if at all possible.  And while the conversation at hand is an interesting one, I fear it may be–”

“Unrelated?  Maester, Harren the black encouraged infighting amongst his lords to ensure that his power was never uncompromised.  It was you that told me so, and it was precisely such infighting that led Tully to declare for King Aegon in the first place when all this began.  If King Aegon is little more than a reaver king, surely peace will not follow his rule, and my brother is adamant that peace follow.”

Maester Sefton sighs, and gave Brandon the sort of look he’d started giving him when Brandon had grown to manhood and started caring more for girls than for lessons.  “Willful,” the maester had called him.  If that will is what achieves my king’s demands, then so be it.  If Torrhen doesn’t want blood, then he shan’t have it, but tyranny is no better than war.

The thought gave him pause.  Is that it, brother?  But surely killing him would solve the problem far better than anything else.

Aegon takes another sip of wine, carefully weighing the words he would say next.  “Are you wed, Lord Snow?” he asks.

Brandon raises his eyebrows.  “I’m no lord,” he says.  “The bastard of Winterfell requires no honorofic.  Snow will do just fine.”  He barks a laugh.  “Gods know there’s plenty of snow in the North.”

“Very well,” Aegon says, inclining his head.  “Are you wed, Snow?”

“Not yet.  More important that our king find his bride.”

“The lady Karstark,” Aegon says carefully.

“You prepared, didn’t you?” Brandon snorts, expecting Aegon to flush, but he doesn’t.

“I did,” Aegon says.  “I would rule.  That means I must know.  You are not wed, so you perhaps never had anyone to tell you that a man who cannot govern his house cannot rule his land.”

“Our father said something of the like to Torrhen.  Mayhaps I overheard it,” Brandon responds.  

“It grows far more complicated when you have two wives.”

“Two sisters, you mean,” Brandon says, eyes narrowing.  Valryians have queer customs–everyone knows that.  But he has a little sister named Lyanna, and while he’d give his life for her, he could never be compelled to wed and bed her.  What compels you to want your sisters?  The thought sits ill with him.

“Two sisters,” Aegon agrees.  “Wives and sisters, yes.”  His lips twitch, almost as though he knows how uncomfortable the words make Brandon.  I must do better at masking my thoughts, he thinks at once.  Torrhen would not have given that thought away.  He should not have sent me to treat.  He should have sent Lord Mormont, or anyone without the Wolf Blood.  He should have come himself.  “You’ll find,” Aegon continues, “that they are not here.  Nor are they on Dragonstone awaiting my company.  They fly on dragonback, and war in my name.  One family, each with their own strength.  And while I’ll not pretend that there are not moments of argument–for how can there not be?–what matters is that their arguments come from them, and not from me.  I keep peace where I can; I do not make war.”

“My lords,” interjects Maester Sefton again, “might it not be good to set forth terms and work from there?”

“Your brother has terms for peace, I take it,” Aegon asks, inclining his head to the maester.

“Peace,” Brandon says simply.  “Warriors who may return to their families, smallfolk who shan’t be burned in their homes.  Peace.”

Aegon considers, turning his goblet between his fingers.  “And your terms, your grace?” asks Maester Josmyn.

“The very same,” Aegon responds.

“Well, this was fruitful,” and he begins to rise to his feet, but Aegon cuts him off.

“Which means no northern raids in my riverlands to disturb my loyal bannerman of Tully, not even when a long winter ravages your people.  You want peace; you must, therefore, make no war.  You may fight for life as much as you like, but you will leave my people out of it.  I will suffer no attacks on those I am sworn to protect.  And you will recall,” he smiles and it is not a wolfish smile but something else entirely, “I have dragons.”

Chapter Text

“you miss cersei,” she says one morning.  

it is quiet.  the king is asleep, and queen rhaella is in the gardens with prince viserys.  rhaegar is still missing.  there is a war, and jaime is not fighting in it.  he is standing by the door of princess elia’s solar, hand resting on his sword while she reads to princess rhaenys.

rhaenys is asleep, her head on her mother’s lap.  she has trouble sleeping on nights when the king is shouting and he was shouting late into the night.

princess elia is watching him.  

“yes, princess,” jaime says at last.  i miss cersei, i miss tyrion, i was supposed to be serving alongside the sword of the morning but he is nowhere to be found.  

“i miss oberyn,” elia says quietly.  “especially on days like today.”

“and what makes today that sort of day?”

elia smiles and runs her hair through her daughter’s hair.  “it is too quiet.  oberyn does not allow for quiet.  i miss his laughter.  but i suppose it was always quiet under the rock.  you must be used to this.”

roars in the night? aye, but coming from lions not from kings.  

jaime inclines his head.  

“i miss the water gardens.  i miss the sounds of children playing, and of fountains.”  she heaves a sigh and looks at jaime.  “you like to laugh, do you not, ser jaime?”

“when given occasion,” he says.  he does not feel like laughing now.  she had mentioned cersei and now all he can think of is her smile and the way her eyes flash in the sunlight. 

“i should like to laugh with you, ser jaime.  i know i am not your sister, but we could be siblings to each other while ours are away.”

jaime looks at her.  she is nothing like cersei–cautious, hesitant, quiet even if she hated the quiet.  cersei was never quiet, especially not on a quiet day.

“i would make a poor brother to you, i think.  and you a poor sister to me.”

elia’s lips twist in a wry smile and she turns away from him.  he cannot see her face anymore, cannot hear even the hint of broken breath.  he cannot hear anything at all.

Chapter Text

promise me, ned, she’d whispered.  promise me.

promises were supposed to be easy to keep.  he’d promised robert that he would love lya, and he’d been right.  he’d promised lady ashara that he would never forget her, and he would remember her until his dying day, remembered her even as her brother’s blood dripped off his sword.  he’d promised mother that he would look after ben since brandon was going to look after lya and ben was easy to look after, easy to love.  

promise me, ned.  she’d begged him and when had he been able to deny her anything.  he’d have said anything to keep her talking, but she was wheezing, her lungs too full of fluid and the maester’s hand on his shoulder.  he’d promised, and she’d smiled at him and her lips had cracked and her grey eyes were glossy in a strange way that he didn’t like.  

he liked his mother’s eyes.  they were his eyes too.  father had brown eyes, but mother had grey.

when had he forgotten that?  or perhaps, he never had.  perhaps he’d been unable to look at grey eyes and not think of lya.   that was the hard truth of the matter–that none of them had ever been able to.  lya was a force unto herself, as strong as the winter winds over the snows around winterfell, enough to knock you off your horse if you weren’t careful, enough to blow your face raw.

promise me, ned, your brother won’t understand.  he’s too young.  

i will, mother.

was it that her breath was ragged? was it that he couldn’t remember his mother’s face–or was it something else.  lyanna lyarra why must they both be dead?  they said ned was a man grown, but he felt a boy looking down at his sister’s corpse.  

she was not supposed to die.  she was supposed to outlive them all, but here she is.

she looked so small.  

had his mother looked that small too?  he can’t remember.  he’d been too young.  too young and promising an easy promise, that he would look after ben.

how different it is now.  how wildly different.

promise me, ned.

the baby is small–smaller than lya, smaller than little ned swearing a similar oath, smaller than anything he’s seen.  he’s small and his eyes are open and he is watching ned.  he has lya’s eyes.  lya’s eyes, ned’s eyes.

his mother’s eyes.

Chapter Text

mother had always called king’s landing a lion’s den.  

you must always be careful, or the lion will eat you.”

“mother, it’s a dragon’s den.  not a lion.”

“trust me, my love, it’s not the dragon that’s the most dangerous one there.”

and yet she’d sent elia there.  

of course i did.  it is a great honor.  and besides, the dragon’s not the most dangerous one there.”

“you worry too much doran.”

elia had smiled at him, standing next to their mother.  mother was buxom and plump, elia was small and thin–she always had been, born early as she was. but they had the same eyes, and the same proud smile.  “you forget, i am the sun of dorne, and i shine bright enough to illuminate the darkness in any lion’s den.  they shan’t catch me.”

doran was not calmed, though.  elia was so much younger than he.  elia was clever, and observant, and all sorts of wonderful things, but elia…he worried.  she could be so sickly sometimes.  

but elia had seen that on his face.  elia had and she’d rolled her eyes.  “you needn’t worry, brother.  i can tend to myself.  and if i can’t…well…i’m sure you shall avenge me, won’t you.”  

she’d meant it as a jape.  she was always japing, elia.  she could make light of anything, could spin words like a singer, could make you feel so warm, could take your breath away.

i’m sure you will avenge me, won’t you.  not a question.  a command.  and by all the gods he’d see it done.  he would see it done.

Chapter Text

“a marcher lord?”

“my lady–”

“my brother would wed me to a marcher lord?”

“that is what he bade me convey.”

“marcher lords–who call us sand rats to be kept in our rat’s nest south of the prince’s pass?”

“my lady–”

“and why is he not telling me this himself?  is he frightened of me?”

“lord ali is feeling ill after his journey and is resting.  i am sure he knows that he shall have to face six rounds with you when he has the energy for it.”

“but he has already agreed.  there’s nothing i can do, or say.  a marcher lord?”

“lord beric is a good man i hear.”

“i care not if he’s a good man.  i care about the blood upon the mountains.  i care about the blood on the hands of any man who swears his sword to king robert.  or has my brother that it was on dornish blood that the man took his throne.” 

“i’m quite sure your brother has not forgotten–nor too has he forgotten ser arthur’s friendship with rhaegar targaryen and lady ashara’s with princess elia.”

“or my mother’s blood shared with house martell.”

“nor that too, my lady.”

“then why?”

“i cannot pretend to know his mind.  i’m sure that you will learn the answer for true when he has the energy to speak with you on the matter.”

“but you can guess, maester.”

“i can, my lady.  but it is a guess and nothing more.”

“and what is that guess?”

“that these are times of peace.  and that if we must live in peace, we must also make peace and–perhaps not with king robert over the death of princess elia and her babes, but–”

“but to his loyal bannerman of the stormlands, to a marcher lord whose house existed to swat the dornish flies back south, is that it?  why must it be my marriage bed that makes that peace?  or is it, i suppose, that my brother cares so little and would sooner say why not my marriage bed?”

“that i cannot say.”

“i do not want lord dondarrion.  i never wish to leave starfall.  it’s my home, and i’m quite sure edric would never wish me to leave.”

“my lady…edric will be leaving for blackhaven in a week’s time.  he is to serve as lord beric’s page.”

“but he is only a boy.”

“as are most pages.”

“so my brother sells me away and sends his son away and for what? for whom? does he love this lord beric so dearly?  more than his own kin?  why does he trust him so?  but no–no you can’t answer that can you? you can only guess.”

“as you say, my lady.  i know your brother well enough to be sure he has his reasons.”

“a greater peace, yes, yes.”

“dorne has been a part of the united seven kingdoms for over a hundred years now, and yet no marcher lord has ever married a dornish woman, and no dornish lady has married a marcher knight.  if change cannot come in times of peace, when shall it come?”

“and why should it change? why must it change with me?  his brother died defending house targaryen and yet now he sends me to a vassal of king robert’s own brother.”

“my lady–”

“i know.  i know.  why not me.”

“there is no need to be so disheartened, my lady.”

“a jape, maester.  why shouldn’t i be?  when shall i be wed?”

“i imagine not for several years.  you are still quite young, and lord beric–”

“how old is he?  is he old and creaking?”

“younger than your brother.  older than you.  a man and a lord for many years.  his father died when he was young and he was raised by his mother.  i believe that lord ali hopes this shall make him an easier husband for you than…”

“i’d complain less if he sent me to last hearth than if he sent me to a marcher.”

“i imagine you should have complained either way….forgive me, lady allyria–that was impertinent.”

“so edric is to leave, and by the time he’s to return, i shall leave again? is that it?”

“there may be some overlap in blackhaven, my lady.  i imagine lord beric and lord ali shall decide when you shall be wed to him.”

“oh i could kill him for this.  he promised me i should have a say.  he never struck me for a liar before–not the way he spoke of arthur and ashara and how seriously they took their promises.”

“i suspect you shall tell him so on the morrow when he’s well enough to hear it.”

“was he ill on the road?”

“my lady?”

“is it just tiredness or is it…is it the shakes again?”

“i’m afraid it is, my lady.”

“you said they would go away.”

“i had hoped they would.  lord ali said they were gone for a time, but after he left blackhaven and lord beric’s company they returned.”

“will they kill him?”

“i do not know.  all men die at one point or another.  these shakes may take his life, or they may not.  it is hard to know.”

“is it bad?  is it worse than last time?”

“my lady–there is no need to upset yourself.”

“i’m not upsetting myself. i’m asking a question about my brother’s wellbeing.  it’s important to me that he…that he be well enough to let me harrangue him for this.”

“only time will tell.”

“well…he’d best get well, and fast.  i refuse to be the only dayne in starfall.  i refuse.”

Chapter Text

i don’t want a wife.  i want to be a knight of the kingsguard.

how many times had he said it growing up?  day in, day out, over and over again–a reaction to whenever daella asked who he would marry, her or rhae; a reaction to his cousins who all asked him what he could possibly want for himself since he was so far down in the line of succession that he couldn’t hope for even his father’s seat, much less the throne; a justification as good as any to make people understand why he had to travel the seven kingdoms at dunk’s side.  

he’d never been bookish like aemon, and he had no particular desire to join the faith, but he was quick and clever and not a bad hand with a sword and from what he’d been told that should be enough to earn him a white cloak.  i won’t be prince aemon the dragonknight, but it’s foolish to hope i would.  no one can be as good as prince aemon the dragonknight.  i just need to be better than most everyone else.

i want to be a knight of the kingsguard.

you’re young,” his father had told him when he’d declared he never wanted to marry.  “let yourself be young, but don’t pretend you shall always be young.  that is folly.”

but aegon had been convinced that he’d never wish to marry.  his travels with dunk only solidified that he wanted to be a knight, for ser duncan was a true knight, and a good one.  he did his best to serve, and that’s what aegon wanted too–to serve, to do his best, to protect those in need.  he didn’t need a wife for that–he needed spurs and a targaryen name, and he already had one of those.

i don’t want a wife. 

he met her first when he was nine and she was very annoying.  she always had her hands on her hips and was bossing him around and telling him he was stupid because that’s not how things were done at raventree hall.  they’d argued, and dunk had laughed and said if she’d been a boy they’d have been wrestling in the dirt, but that you couldn’t wrestle in the dirt with little girls–much less noble little girls, especially if you were a targaryen pretending you weren’t a targaryen.

it’s lord bloodraven’s blood.  he was born of a blackwood, after all, he’d convinced himself heatedly when they were riding away from raventree hall.  betha hadn’t apologized for how she’d treated him–not really.  “forgive me, prince aegon, but you were being stupid,” she’d said, arms crossed over her chest.  but if it was lord bloodraven’s blood, that much aegon had not seen when betha blackwood had arrived at court, for lord bloodraven barely acknowledged her presence.  

“lady betha.” aegon bowed slightly.  “welcome to court.”

“my prince,” she said, and her voice was rich and musical and when she swept her skirts in a curtsey and smiled at him something was different.  it was a cheeky smile, now.  the smile of a woman who had known him for a stupid boy but had seen that he’d grown.  “you have hair now.”

aegon felt his lips part in surprise.  he had half a mind to parrot her words back to her, that’s not how things are done in king’s landing, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to.  he doesn’t like how things are done in king’s landing, the way no one seems to care about anything but themselves.  he found himself blinking, for betha had cared–she’d cared for the smallfolk, and cared that ser arlan who’d knighted dunk was properly commemorated in pennytree even when no one else had.  instead he said, “i do.  i’ve had hair these past five years.”

“it suits you,” she said smiling.  “though i was fond of your egghead.”

“fond?”

“in memory.  easier to remember stupid egg than that i’d called prince aegon stupid.  for you were stupid.  very stupid.”  she was smiling still, and her lips were quite pink and her head was cocked ever so slightly to the side, like a dog’s and aegon only noticed that he was doing it too when his hand rose unconsciously to his hair to pull at one of his curls.

“aren’t we all stupid when we’re young?” let yourself be young, but don’t pretend you shall always be young.  that is folly.  

“oh i never was,” betha replied airily.  “you were stupid enough for both of us.  but that was what i liked about you–that you were so very stupid.”

“you liked something about me?” he asked.  he’d meant it to sound dry, uncaring but it hadn’t quite worked and her eyes flickered and the easy air that she’d been speaking with seemed to slip.  she seemed younger, suddenly, nervous.

“oh yes.  yes, i think i did.  you cared.”  she looked about the hall.  no one was paying attention to the two of them.  no one ever paid attention to aegon except dunk.  why should they? he’d never sit the throne, and would like as not never even marry.  i want to be a knight of the kingsguard.  why did it feel more like he was trying to convince himself now?  

“i’m glad to see you,” betha said after a moment and she still looked young, and nervous.  “i know you may not believe me but…but i don’t know anyone at court except you and i fear not having a friend here.  melantha always described this place as more lonely than winterfell.”

aegon swallowed.  he could name every person at court, and the members of their house, and who they were feuding with, but he was quite sure the only friend he had here was dunk.  he’d never thought about it that way before.

“well so long as you promise to stop calling me stupid, i might be convinced to show you how things are done in king’s landing.”

betha rolled her eyes.  “i knew i’d be a lost cause.  you found the one thing i shall never be able to stop doing.  it’s habit by now.  i suppose it was too much to hope for a friend.”

and aegon laughed, and his laughter made betha laugh, and when she laughed her eyes sparkled.

Chapter Text

“which one are you again?” 

“aegon, aunt.”

she looks at him with blank eyes–violet irises with pupils gone pale with age, searching through his face as if unable to articulate the question.

“maekar’s son, who was your cousin daeron’s fourth son.”

a smile cracked across her old face.  “aegon.  of course.  i thought.  but no.  no that would have been years before, and he never named a son after himself.”  

“no, he didn’t, aunt,” aegon agreed, knowing she meant her cousin aegon the unworthy.  she was old–older than anyone else in the palace, or so it seemed.  

“i went to your wedding,” she said.  “to the blackwood girl.  not missy, though she looked rather like her.  what was her name?”

“betha,” aegon says.  

“betha.  yes.  betha.  not bethany.  she was a bracken, and older besides.  how many years ago was that?”

“thirteen.”

“thirteen.  i was positively young then, wasn’t i?  how old was i?”

“we were wed just after your seventieth name day.”

“seventy and then thirteen.  so that would make me eighty three.  gods i had not thought to live this long.  daena died before thirty, and i can still remember her face…and would you know? i used to be able,” she waved a gnarled finger in the air, “i’d once have been able to do that math in my head.  seventy plus thirteen is eighty three.  yes.   but i fade.  that’s age.  fading eyes, fading wits, fading memory.” she looked at him again with those pale eyes.  “aegon.  son of maekar, son of daeron my dear beloved cousin.  i loved him.”

“i know, aunt,” aegon says.

“and you had a little sister.  rhae, was it?”

“rhae and daella.  two of them.”

“yes, but rhae was the one who was frightened of me. i heard her telling your father so once.  didn’t want to wish me a happy name day.”

aegon blinked, and almost laughed.  “i’d forgotten that.”

“i suppose there’s something left in this old mind,” cackled elaena targaryen.  “she was a sweet girl.  afraid of getting old.  that’s youth for you.  afraid of all the wrong things.”

she gave him a significant look and he felt a chill go up his spine.  if rhae had been afraid of aunt elaena because she was old, aegon had always been nervous about her because somehow she always managed to–

“i raised seven children,” she said, patting his arm.  “but you weren’t one of them.  i know when you’re frightened.  you only ever come find me when you’re frightened.”

aegon swallowed.  

“if you wait much longer to spit it out, i may die,” she japed and aegon felt his mouth open in surprise.  how rarely did he speak with her these days that those words would surprise him?  he knew she had a cutting tongue, and spoke her mind.  betha had liked her very well in the early days at court, before their children, before she’d begun to make friends, before elaena had grown too old to easily make her way across the red keep to take tea with her.  and now she barely remembers betha…a face in a sea of people over a long life, i suppose.  he would tell betha to visit her when he was done.  if you wait much longer to spit it out, i may die.

“aunt elaena, what if they make me king?”

elaena targaryen frowned.  “you have older brothers.”

“aerion is dead, and aemon wears a maester’s chain.  he did not say if he would put it aside for the crown.  what if he doesn’t.  what if i’m to be king?  i don’t want to be king.”

“good.”

“what?”

“no man in his right mind should want to be a king.”

that made aegon smile, though he couldn’t say he was amused.  

“if they make you king, they make you king.  it’s an unfortunate thing–most kings don’t decide to be king.  it happens to them.  you’ll be part of that grand tradition.”

“yes but…but i’m not prepared.  i was supposed to be a knight of the kingsguard.”

“and now you’re married with heirs and next in line for the throne after your brother who has none but you.”

aegon swallowed.  “yes,” he said, his voice the uncomfortable midway point between a whisper and a murmur.  

“what?  speak up, boy.”  

he cleared his throat.  “yes, aunt.”

“that’s a good thing to be afraid of.  kingship and your first foray of fatherhood.  that was the last time, you know.”

“the last time what?”

“the last time you came to me frightened.  i remember now.” she was smiling and there were gaps between some teeth where others had fallen from her gums.  she seemed less addled as if she were able to pull the world together around her despite being barely able to see and hear.  did she remember?  or did she just guess–correctly–that as betha had taken to her birthing bed, aegon had gone to find his aunt who had born seven children, since his own mother and grandmother were long dead.  “fear’s a good sign,” she continued.  “a sign you’re not stupid.  neither mad nor stupid.  a good start to a reign.”

aegon tried to laugh.

“what if i am bad at it?  what if i’m worse than aegon the unworthy and all the kingdoms spit upon my memory?”

“don’t worry about that.  you’ll be dead,” elaena said dryly.  “why do men always worry about how they’ll be remembered?  i’ve never understood.  daeron and conquering dorne, baelor and his sept, aegon and his manhood…daeron was the only one with a head on his shoulder and he was called daeron the good because of it.  aim for that.  or aim for no one remembering you so they’ll remember how odd it was you made it to your throne to begin with, youngest son of a youngest son that you are.”

“yes, but–”

“no.  no buts.  don’t worry about how the histories will write you.  someone will always hate some king or another.  that’s how it goes.  do good.  be good.  serve.  that’s what it is to be king–serving.  some kings think it’s the other way around but they’re wrong.  don’t be that arrogant, or you shan’t be a very good one. and you’re neither mad nor stupid.  you have that as an advantage already.  don’t squander it.”

“yes aunt,” aegon said.  she made it sound so very easy, but that had always been aunt elaena.  even when he’d been a boy, the way she’d spoken about the crown’s accounts, the kingdoms’ economy as though it were something even a child could master…how stunning she was.  he’d only begun to realize as she’d grown too old and her mind had begun to fade.

“you won’t be alone,” she added.  “you’ve your ser duncan to help keep your head on properly.  and me so long as i’m alive, but you and i both know i shan’t last forever.  and i’m sure betha will have her opinions.  she’s always had them.  it’s what i liked about her to begin with.”

“oh, i imagine her opinions won’t be going anywhere,” aegon laughed, though he didn’t truly feel humored.  “but it all feels…well it’s no matter.  perhaps aemon will shed his chain.”

“you and i both know he won’t,” elaena said, and her voice cut through the room, and aegon stiffened.  “that boy’s headstrong.  all of maekar’s boys were.  comes from maekar himself, and dyanna.  she was a stubborn one too.  just like betha.  he gave his word when he forged his chain and put aside his name.  that’ll be that.  you’ll be the next king.  best to prepare yourself for that now.”

aegon took a deep breath.  she was right of course.  he remembered his grandfather saying something like that once.  “always listen to elaena.  she’s always right.”

they sat quietly for a time, and aegon staring vaguely out of the window. king aegon.  aegon the fifth.  aegon the unlikely.  that’s how he’d be remembered, he was sure of it.  youngest son of a youngest son.  why do men always worry about how they’ll be remembered?

he heard a shuffling snore.

he glanced back at aunt elaena.  her head had rolled forward and her pale eyes were closed and she had fallen asleep.  aegon got to his feet and found a woolen wrap and wrapped it gently around her.  she was old.  he dreaded that she would catch a cold.

Chapter Text

“my lady?  a raven.”

it takes ashara a moment to hear.  she’s staring at the cradle again.  it has been three days.  three days since they’d taken her and buried her alongside her father, alongside her mother.  three days of vacillating between being unable to bear looking at the thing and being unable to bear looking away.  she’d not left her room, barely touched her food, and when little allyria–little, sweet allyria–had crawled into her bed next to her to try and comfort her she’d begun to weep so inconsolably that she’d frightened her small sister.  they were supposed to be playmates.  the two of them and elia’s girl.  rhaenys targaryen, allyria dayne, and dyanna sand.  

her babe had been sweet, and strong.  but an illness will take a babe from the cradle, even if they are sweet, and strong, the maester had told her when–all of a sudden–the coughing had stopped.

the maester presses the tiny scroll into her hand, and she sees the martell seal on it, orange wax and a sun emblazoned.  can it be condolences? it has only been three days.  oberyn has bastard girls that he loves, perhaps he writes to congratulate.  that would be worse.  as far as she knows, oberyn has never lost a daughter.

she takes a deep breath, knowing nothing good can come of the note, but knowing that she must read it.  so she does.  she reads the words once without taking them in and must read them again.

then the tears come.  and sobs that rip from her body as the coughs that had slain dyanna.  the scroll falls from her hand and maester donwell picks it up curiously.  he understands it far more quickly than she does and she feels a hand on her shoulder.

“my lady,” he says.  “i’m at a loss for words.”

ashara is too.  that elia would die she had always feared, from the moment that she’d learned her friend was to stay in king’s landing.  if robert’s men ever made it there there was a chance she’d live for if robert’s men made it to king’s landing she’d make a valuable hostage as her blood promised.  ashara had been far more worried about the fires.  “he wouldn’t dare,” elia had promised her, squeezing her hand.  and apparently he hadn’t.  

but rhaenys.

elia’s girl had been sweet, and strong, too.  she’d hated taking baths and had loved that little cat of hers.  she’d always asked questions and had a fierce determination that had only grown more fierce as she’d gotten older.  she’d not been afraid of anything–not ever.  had she been afraid when tywin lannister’s men had come to hunt her down?

ashara couldn’t bear it.  she couldn’t bear it at all.  that rhaenys would live had never been in question, even as the war shook the kingdoms, for who would kill a little girl?  she’d been more worried for aegon–rhaegar’s heir–than for rhaenys.  rhaenys and dyanna were to be fast friends, as she and elia had been.  but, it seemed, dragons fall like stars.

she can’t stand, can’t move for she knows she’ll stumble and fall if she does.

Chapter Text

“stop that,” arthur hissed.

“stop what?”

he glared at her.

“my queen–”

“ser arthur.”  

he looked around, nervous.  rhaegar was far away, speaking with lord redwyne, and the dowager queen had already retired with her newborn daenerys and her two grandchildren.  the evening was dwindling, and the fact that elia had run her hand over arthur’s leg, was resting there lazily under the table where no one could see and everyone could discover is nearly too much for him.

“we can’t do this here,” he said through gritted teeth.

“why not?”

“what if the king sees?”

“i saw him crown lady lyanna.” the rest went unsaid.  that arthur had brought lady lyanna’s bastard to court because rhaegar had bade him, that the boy slept in the cradle alongside her aegon at rhaegar’s instruction, for he wished them to be fast friends, that even now, rhaegar never came to her anymore–never dared for though she could carry herself the queen before all the court, he knew, he knew that her rage had not abated, and would never.

can you forgive me?” rhaegar had asked.

so long as the sun shall break in the morning, i shall never forgive you.” she’d promised.  and arthur couldn’t blame her.

it had begun by accident–elia had refused to be in a room with him, had refused to speak to him, until she’d asked, half-drunk one night after putting her children to sleep–how he could stand to look at her and did he bear her no loyalty, he who was a dayne and whose blood was sworn to hers?  

in you, i see all my sins,” he’d said, “in you, i see the life i wish to live from this moment on.  i cannot undo what i have done, my queen.  but i can abhor myself for it.”

later, after she’d kissed him, after she’d drawn him to her bed, he’d learned it was more a concession than ever she had gotten from her husband.  

theirs, he prayed, was a subtle affair.  kisses in her bedroom after she’d sent her ladies away, her hands roaming his chest, his manhood pressing into her until his moment of delight when he pulled out–knowing all too well what would happen if she were to be with child again, and dreading the words that rhaegar had told him repeatedly.  “i need another child.  and the grandmaester says elia will die if she bears another.”

but there was no subtlety now as elia’s hand traced circles on his thigh, her fingers climbing up and up and up until he let out a breath for she’d found the tip of him through his trousers.

“please, my queen,” he said again.

“you’d deny your queen?”

“i can deny you nothing.  i merely beg mercy.”

a single one of her fingers could burn its way through the fabric.  he looks at his king across the hall, resolutely ignoring his wife as he’d done ever since their coronation.  aegon the unworthy had a man drawn and quartered for bedding his lover.  what would a king do to a man who bedded his queen?

she squeezes at his cock now and his hand flies to hers, but when he looks at her, it’s not with anger.  “if you keep doing that i shall spend myself here and then what will you have for the evening?”

“oh, i think that i shan’t push you quite that far,” she said.  “what fun would that be?”

“her grace must be very tired.  she is making little sense.”

that made elia chuckle and there’s a bite to it for he sees her eyes travel to rhaegar.

“yes, i imagine i am.  i should rest.  i shall return to my chambers.  you needn’t follow.”  she stood.  

“i cannot allow that,” arthur said.  “it is my duty to guard you.”

“guard me?  from what, pray? do you fear an assassin in the castle?”

“we must be vigilant.”

“be vigilant, then,” she said and swept off the dais.  arthur followed her.  she was walking calmly, but it seemed the moment they had left the hall and the presence of the court, her hips began to swing.  arthur kept several paces behind her, resting his hand on his sword, doing his best to ignore her walk, for if anyone crossed their path and he was staring at her arse, only something truly unbearable could follow.

she opened the door to her chambers and stepped inside.  arthur glanced about, and upon seeing no one at all, followed her, and barred the door for good measure behind him.

“where are my ladies,” elia asked.  “i shan’t have anyone to help me from this gown and i can’t do it on my own.  the laces are very tricky.”  her eyes twinkled at him like stars.  “ser arthur, would you be so good?”

“it would be my honor,” he replied and the words were more serious than he intended.  he intended to meet her playfulness, but the moment that he said them her expression changed.  the playfulness is gone and the only thing remaining is something softer, truer.  she turned her back to him, and he began to unlace the gown.  when it was mostly unlaced, she pushed the skirt past her hips and it pools on the ground around her feet and she stepped out of the circle of it.  arthur bent down and picked the gown up, folding it gently, reverently, and throwing it over the back of a chair for one of her ladies to tend to later.  

when he turned back to her, he found that she stood there naked save her shoes.  she had stripped away her underdress and her small clothes and thrown them on a chest at the foot of her bed, and when she looked at him, she looked at him with that same, now serious, look.

“you do me great honor,” he whispered to her.  in trusting me with this, he meant to add, but the words caught in his throat.

“honor me, then,” she whispered back, and held out her hand.  he bent and kissed it, and then he went to the trunk and her smallclothes.  he ran a finger over them–they were such fine fabric.  she came to stand next to him, and he felt her press her lips to his cheek.  “honor me,” she whispered again.

and his knees bent.  he knelt before her and took both of her hands in each of his and kissed them again.  he leaned forward and pressed a kiss to stretch marks on her stomach–skin that had swelled to hold each of her two children inside her–and kissed each one of them.  he rubbed his nose through the hair on her sex, and pressed a kiss there, looking up at her.  

“always,” he vowed, and he knew it was a truer vow than any other he had ever sworn.  he raised his hands to hold her rear and used his face to nudge her legs a little wider apart and pressed a kiss to her her warm, damp sex.

he guided her down so that she was sitting on the chest, and she spread her legs and rested them over his shoulders.  she let out little satisfied moans as he licked her, and he felt her shift so that she was holding onto one of the bedposts behind her as he tongued her slit, tongued that precious spot that made her tremble, made her free hand come to his hair, made her whisper his name as though afraid that anyone but them could hear it.

he honored her.  surely she would understand this devotion he had, the homage he paid with his tongue as she sighed, and smiled, rocking her hips into his face, dripping her essence onto the underdress beneath her.  and when he felt her sex pulse beneath his lips, when she let out a strangled cry, and, after a moment, leaned forward to kiss the top of his head, he knew no greater truth than that he loved her, and would never allow any ill to befall her ever again.

Chapter Text

“you’re soaking,” cersei said when she opened the door.  she hadn’t slept particularly well.  the stink of the city had come through her window and she’d quite forgotten just how rotten king’s landing smelled during the summer.  

“it was raining out,” jaime said as he took off his white cloak and hung it on a hook by the door.  “can’t you hear it?”

she had.  she’d thought it was the sea when first she’d woken because the waves were so very loud, but that was because it was storming out.  “it would be storming on my wedding day,” she huffed.

“they say it’s a good sign.  the storm king takes his queen on a stormy day.”

“he doesn’t take me,” cersei said.  she’s never liked the way that men phrased that.  to take a woman, to have a woman.  she wasn’t some bitch to be humped by a hound.  if it was a matter of take how many times had she taken jaime within her?

“does father know you came?” she asked him.

jaime shook his head.  “ser barristan does.  i told him that i was going to spend the morning with my sister before she wed the king and he agreed that it was right and fitting.”

“i don’t like that man.  he served the mad king,” cersei told jaime.  “i don’t see why robert pardoned him.”

jaime shrugged.  he did not care it seemed.  he’d never really cared–not half so much as cersei.  and here they stood, and in only a few hours she’d be his queen.  she looked away.  was this it, then–the end of it all?  from her brother’s arms to her husband’s?

“cersei,” jaime took a step towards her and she felt his hand take hers.  he squeezed it.  “you will be safe.  i won’t allow anything to happen to you–not ever.  i’d die before i allowed it.”

she turned to him again, and allowed herself to smile.  his tunic was sopping wet.  “you’ll get sick if you keep that on.  here,” she tugged it over his head and threw it over the screen by the fire.  “it will dry and you’ll look fine.  all in white.”

he heard the way her voice seemed to slow as the words came from her lips.  “i’m a knight of the kingsguard.  i can’t wear lannister crimson.”

“i don’t see why not.  it’s only one day and i’m your sister.”

“you’re my queen.”

she liked the words coming out of his lips.  she liked them very well, but didn’t like that they were in defiance.  even worse, there crept up, unbidden from some dark corner of her mind.  queen you shall be, until another comes…

but jaime wouldn’t let anyone take anything from her.  he said it himself, he’d die before he allowed it.

she kissed him then and he made a noise of surprise.  “we can’t,” he said almost at once.  “it’s your wedding day.”

“i’m not married yet,” she said fiercely.  “i shan’t be married for several hours.  she went to the door and barred it, then began unlacing the back of her dress.  “please, jaime.  one last time.”  it would be the last after all, wouldn’t it?  aye, six-and-ten for him, and three for you.

she let the dress she’d thrown on when she’d heard his knock fall to the ground and jaime couldn’t look away from her bare form.  she’d have him, then.  she knew it.  she could see it in his eyes that he protested, but he wasn’t wearing his white cloak, or even his white tunic.  and soon he wouldn’t be wearing anything at all.

when she kissed him this time, she bit at his lip.  she fumbled at the laces of his trousers and took his cock in her hand, knowing the feel of it as well as she knew any part of her own body.  when she pulled him towards the fire–the floor, not the bed, for she was certain some silly serving wench would take one look at her sheets and the truth would be discovered–and pulled him down on top of her, he did not resist her at all.  he could not resist her.  he would die rather than harm her.  he loved her, and she loved him for it.

when he entered her, the sound of the rain and sea faded from her mind for it had been too long since he’d been inside her.  her body stretched for him, ached for him, and here he was within her as he should be, as he always had been in some way.  he kissed her now, firmly, deeply, his tongue delving into the depths of her mouth as his hips pumped up and down, pressing himself inside her in every way he could while she held him close, felt the feel of his skin against her breasts, the heat of his heart against hers.  i’m to wed today, she thought, and she wondered if she could take joy in robert.  he was handsome, to be sure, and strong.  but would he know how to love her as jaime did?  could he ever?  jaime’s lips against hers, one hand on the ground, the other reaching down between them so he could press at that nub at the top of her sex that he’d discovered all on his own–could robert ever do that?  she could show him, she supposed.  but she didn’t like showing.  she liked that jaime knew, knew her so well, knew her in every way.

he choked out her name before she had come, and she felt him spurt inside her.  before, she’d have gone to hunt down moon tea, but today is her wedding day.  if her firstborn child has a lion’s mane of gold hair and sharp green eyes, they’ll say he takes to her and not the king.  and how sweet a secret that will be.

Chapter Text

“you must be fierce.  can you do that, for our queen?”

ben nodded, his swallow belying his fear.  aly looked around.  she rested her hands on his shoulders.  “you can do it,” she said.  “it won’t be so bad.  i’ll have stuck them full of arrows by the time you charge.  that’ll stop them.”

ben was pale.  her nephew was only eleven years old.  his father had ailed in the past few years, which was how aly had even been able to sneak in practice with her bow.  her brother had been determined that she wouldn’t whenever she’d asked as a girl, but he’d hardly been able to get out of bed since she was thirteen.  whatever my brother’s virtues, he is not a man his son can take heart in on the eve of battle.  

she took benjicot’s helmet and set it on his head, dropping the visor down.  “remember: if you’re frightened, you can yell really loudly.  it’ll make you feel better and it’ll frighten anyone in your path.  can you do that?  roar like our queen’s dragon?”  ben nodded.  “can you yell for me now?”

he did, his tiny boy’s voice filling his helmet.  he balled his armored fists and hunched his shoulders and yelled, his voice raw.  

“good,” aly said.  “now i want to hear you from the hill with my archers, all right? i’ll be listening for you.”

ben raised his visor and reached for his waterskin.  “aly?”

“yes?”

“you’ll shoot them, right?”

“as many as i can, and as swift.  you’ll hear the whistling of my arrows as you ride out.  i promise.”  she pressed a kiss to his forehead.  

he wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly.  i’m all he has.  

and in that moment, aly blackwood was afraid.  she’d never been the type of girl to frighten easily, but the thought of her little nephew crushed by the incoming westermen, his brains pouring out of his skull and filling that helment…

she squeezed him back, squeezed him as tightly as she could, and reminded herself to be fierce too.

Chapter Text

there are things you are born with, and things you come to know as you grow older.

elia knows this. 

she is born with her father’s widow’s peak and her aunt’s name.  

she crawls about on the floor, gurgling and playing with her big sisters.  “you have given me a clever daughter,” her father says, though she will not remember it.  she is too young.  her mother smiles, and leans against him.  

“bright,” her mother tells her father.  “bright as the rising sun.”

her father does not say anything, but he squeezes her mother’s hand.  

elia does not know until after her father dies that the grandmother she never knew used to call the aunt she never knew her rising sun.


she is lady elia, not princess.  

she is elia, and not elia.  

she will be elia, and refuses to be elia.

it is the day she learns her aunt’s fate–her aunt’s true fate, not the gentle “she died before you were even a twinkle in my eye, sweetling,” that she’d gotten for so long–that elia picks up a lance for the first time.  she has always liked riding, the wind in her hair, the feel of the horse moving beneath her, and the lance is a fitting weapon for horseback.  

she rides until her legs are sore, tilts until her hands blister, bleed, and harden, striking at quintain after quintain until she could unhorse any squire in sunspear–and a few of the knights as well.

lady elia, not princess.

she’ll be a knight, perhaps.  she will never be a princess, though her father was a prince.  the savor of being a princess, the beauty of princesses in songs faded the moment she learned the truth of her name.  she’d be a finer knight than ser gregor, she’d defend and protect and not smash babies heads into walls and not rape princesses and carve them open with a great sword, she’d defend her father’s memory, she would be her aunt’s champion for a name can be a champion as well as any knight.

this she must be, for this is all in her name.  

lady elia, not princess.  elia sand.  elia of dorne.  lady lance.  bright as the rising sun.

Chapter Text

“you’re overly fond of lord bloodraven’s kin,” his father told him, grabbing his arm as he got to his feet.  the hall was loud, and there was music playing and betha was dancing with landry tyrell.  

“lord bloodraven is our kin, too,” aegon replied, annoyed, but far from making his father let go of his arm, maekar targaryen’s hand tightened.

“don’t get smart with me,” he said.  “you’re not a willful boy, aegon.  you should be wary of her connection to him.”

“she has no more connection to him than i do.  less–even.  he has spent far more time here than at raventree hall.”

maekar’s gaze seemed to waver between each of his son’s eyes.  “do you love her?”

aegon gaped at his father.  “she’s my friend, father,” he said.

“so you won’t mind my saying that if you go and interrupt her dance with lord tyrell’s heir, you may ruin her chances of a fine match to a great house?”

despite himself aegon turned to look out at the dance floor.  there she was, weaving through the dancers, smiling when she took lord landry’s hands.  she was too far away to see her face in full, but he knew the way her eyes glittered when she smiled like that.

next to him, his father sighed.  “you’re too pigheaded for your own good,” he said at last.

“wonder where i get it from,” aegon responded before thinking.  to his surprise, his father chuckled.  

“i was right,” his father sighed.  “you are overly fond of her.  just don’t be a fool, aegon.  love makes everyone a fool, one way or another.  she is lord bloodraven’s kin–” he could hear his father rolling his eyes “–as are we.”

aegon was still staring at betha.  surely the dance didn’t call for lord tyrell’s hand to be that low down her back, did it?  gods but i sound like a stupid child.

betha had always japed that she liked that he’d been a stupid child.  

would her eyes sparkle if he asked her to dance?

suddenly he was nervous.  he hadn’t been when he’d gotten to his feet, intent on interrupting her and lord landry, for lord landry was boring and he and betha had made it a rule between them that they should always rescue one another from boring people.  but her eyes are sparkling at him now.  she is laughing.

“may i go, father?” he asked and maekar released his arm.  

he descended from the dais as the song ended and the dancers applauded the musicians.  lord landry extended a hand to betha and was about to ask her for another dance when aegon appeared at his shoulder.  “lord landry, if i might steal away your partner,” and who was landry tyrell to refuse a prince of the blood…even one so far down the line of succession that oft a not he was forgotten at parties like this one.

he set himself opposite betha who gave him a smile.  she glanced for a moment after lord tyrell before saying, quietly, “you’re late.”

“late?”

“do you know how hard it is to convince a tyrell that i care about roses?” she made a face.  “he kept going on and on and on and on about them and all i wanted was to say, ‘my lord have you never seen a water lily? come talk to me when you recognize the scent of weirwood sap on the air for i can hardly call you a horticulturalist if you can’t.’”

aegon chuckled as they began to dance.  “i think, my lady, the rose may have been a metaphor.”

“what for?” betha asked.

“don’t be stupid, betha.  it’s beneath you.”

betha gave him a horrified look.  “take those words back into your mouth aegon targaryen!” she hissed.  “he does not want to marry me!”

her affront eased whatever jealousy he’d felt on the dais.  lord tyrell may see her glittering eyes, but it wasn’t the true glitter, and it certainly wasn’t the flaming outrage that aegon was sure was reserved only for those in her closest confidence.  or, perhaps, just him.  “what other rose would he try to interest you in?  it would be a fine match.”

“a fine match,” betha scoffed.  “don’t talk to me about fine matches.  you’re not my father.”

aegon remembered a purplefaced man, horrified that his daughter had wrestled in the mud with a squire just because she thought he was stupid.  “i should hope not,” he said.  he thought of his own father.  he could almsot feel prince maekar’s eyes burning into the back of his head.  “forgive me.  i’ll speak no more of matches.”

but something in his voice earned him a sharp gaze that melted into a look he’d never seen in her face before.  he’d seen betha angry, he’d seen betha joyful, he’d seen betha determined, he’d seen betha excited–but her gaze was guarded now, soft somehow and his feet faltered in the steps of the dance.

part of him wanted to kiss her.  a larger part of him was sure she’d bite his lip if he tried.  except, a small but loud part of him protested, that gaze is so confusingly soft.

the music had cceased and the dancers around them were applauding once more, but he and betha were just standing there, staring at one another.  when someone approached, trying to dance with her next, betha hardly seemed to notice.  and when the music struck up again, she danced once more with aegon.