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I was whole, whole I would remain

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297 AC - KING’S LANDING

Rhaenys can only blame herself for the chaos that ensues once her train of companions, servants, guards, and the inevitable amount of luggage reaches the foot of Aegon’s Hill. The winding process up towards the gates of the Red Keep would have been an ordeal to begin with, but the smallfolk are out in full force, and many of the wealthiest merchants as well, and everyone is cheering and screaming and flinging flowers on the ground, because this is not just any procession, but the princess’, and if there is one thing Rhaenys has always excelled at-

Well, she’s always known how to put forth a very entertaining display. The flowers on the ground are primarily roses and carnations and peonies, bought at stalls all across the city and already wilting under the force of the sun blazing overhead. There’s so many clumped together across the cobblestones that the street ahead looks more red than brown. They’re going to be crushed to a pulp underfoot anyways, so why not at least make it more enjoyable than this godsforsaken plodding pace? How many more babes can she possibly bless? She would think, had she any divine powers, they might have manifested years ago, preferably in the form of something more thrilling, such as healing the sick with a single touch or calling down lightning from the sky.

“My good ser,” she addresses the knight riding to the left of her, “I think I should like to make it home before nightfall, wouldn’t you?”

Renly Baratheon raises a dark eyebrow at her when he glances her way, and catches her wicked smile entirely too late. “Your mother is going to have your head mounted on the wall,” he notes archly as she snaps the reins and digs in her heels, leaning forward slightly. “Alongside my own. Have you no heart at all, sweet lady-,”

She’s off like a bolt before he can continue on that mocking strain, breaking out ahead of the honor guard and the rest of the party and there’s a chorus of roars from the men meant to be preserving her safety, and a responding chorus of delighted shrieks from the crowd, and Meraxes, her favorite sand steed, a firey red stallion, reaches a gallop generally forbidden within city limits for fear of causing a stampede- And the stifling crowds and the manses and shopfronts and the smell of sweat and shit and rotting fruit and those high walls in the distance, they all fall away, and she may be in Aegon’s shadow now, but she feels freer than she has since they left the Kingswood, and a genuine beaming smile stretches across her face.

Mother says she looks like her own mother, Loreza Martell, the Sun of Dorne, when she smiles like that, and Grandmother claims she looks just like spirited Black Betha with that fearless, jubilant grin, but Rhaenys can never summon it whenever she catches herself in the looking glass, so she will have to take their word for it. She’s never much cared for who she may look like. Boys and men have been telling her she is the most beautiful girl they’ve ever seen, the loveliest girl in the entire world, since she flowered at twelve. Rhaenys does not believe them, of course, though she is accused of extreme vanity at least once a week, but is not so truly pigheaded as to think she’s the fairest maid to grace Westeros since the Age of Heroes-

But it never hurts to feel as though one is the most beautiful girl in the world, either. You can feel like something and still know it is not strictly true. And very often, she does.

She is perhaps less than two minutes from reaching the gates when Loras Tyrell comes charging out of a side-street on his white horse, like a knight out of a song, and uses the massive horse’s sheer size to block her off and force her to bring poor Merry down to a canter, than a brisk trot, shaking and huffing and twisting his head. “I know, darling boy,” Rhaenys tells him, this stallion she named for a dragon when she was fifteen, ruffling his fine, silky mane and wishing she could could cool down as easily as he.

This gown is one of her finest and cut quite enticingly as well, but it was not made for horse racing anymore than any gown is. Women do not race horses. Most women never even sit a horse. Most women work all day in the sun, bleed, wed, bleed again, birth children in rapid succession, bleeding all the while, work some more, and die not two leagues from where they were born. All the wealth and power in the world, and Rhaenys Targaryen wastes her position, her reputation, and any wits she has about her, racing horses up Aegon’s Hill. She can hear her mother now. You could have fallen and broken your neck. You could have run down some urchin in the street. You could have caused a panic.

“How many times must I warn you never to bet against Highgarden?” Loras is drawling, removing his helm- only a boy as in love with himself as Loras Tyrell would wear a helm during a sedate little journey in relative safety up to the keep, Rhaenys thinks, but admires how his lush brown curls catch the sunlight all the while. Loras is not for her, but he is pretty to look at all the same. He would perhaps be prettier did he not so look much like his sister that they could be twins, but Mace and Alerie Tyrell seem to have only managed to produce exactly one appearance, and repeated it in all their children.

Yet she and her own brother could not look more different.

“I didn’t wager any money on my winning, Ser Florian,” she tells him, without any real ferocity. “I was only hoping to make things go a little faster.”

“Your uncle told me to tell you that you ought to be horse-whipped for that stunt,” he comments, bemusedly.

“I am sure you will rise in defence of my person, my lord,” says Rhaenys very sweetly, as Renly joins them, breathless but smirking, Ser Lewyn Martell not even a horse-length behind him, with two of his squires, and then several gold cloaks appear, and there is quite a bit of shouting and scolding and lecturing, and Rhaenys does her best to adopt the look of a chastened, humbled girl, nodding dutifully here and there and saying, “It was thoughtless of me, my lords, I agree,” in the most earnest of tones, all the while Loras tries to disguise his laughter with a sneezing fit, and then she is forced to rein up alongside a few of the ladies, and ride in a cossetted bundle, as if any of them might make a run for it at any moment now.

Historically, the Red Keep has seldom been kind to any women, so Rhaenys might understand the concern. But the majority of her traveling companions, some she has known since girlhood, such as Allyria Dayne, have been here before, and of those who have not, well, Robin Baratheon perhaps puts it best-

“It’s hideous,” pronounces Renly’s eldest niece, who is the firstborn child of Stannis Baratheon and Jeyne Swann, who is but thirteen but absurdly tall already, nearing five foot eight, with the square face and black curls and blue eyes of her father, and utterly lacking his penchant for only speaking when he has something of grave import to say. They may call her Robin, but the girl was named Roberta Baratheon at birth, for her dead uncle, and she is his successor in temper, stature- no one could ever call Robin dainty- and in general loathing for all things Targaryen.

Rhaenys loves Robin dearly, and believes that with every passing day the girl reluctantly grows a bit fonder of her as well. She has a mind to beg of mother to plead with Lord Stannis and Lady Jeyne to send the child north with her. Robin is thirteen now, surely old enough, and she would be a dear comfort (and a source of endless amusement) in Winterfell. Why, Rhaenys could simply point her in young Beron’s direction and she might savage him like a dog at the bone. Robin has made her disdain for House Stark’s refusal to join the Baratheons in their rebellion fourteen years ago well known.

“You should not say such things,” says Robin’s sister Cassana, solemn Cass, who is a near identical copy of their mother, save her darker hair and blue eyes, riding alongside them on her pony, being just nine. “Robin, it’s very rude to insult someone’s home-,”

“Hush up, Cassie,” Robin interrupts her with a scowl. “It’s not as if Rhae built it-,”

“Certainly not,” says Rhaenys amiably, “I would completely eliminate that tower, for example-,” she jerks her head as they continue on their way, “and I would refit all the gates and paint them blood red, so when they carry the corpses out it would simply blend in…”

Robin breaks into riotous laughter, and poor Cass blanches, excepting the swath of skin on her face and neck ravaged by greyscale, which does not move at all. Wherever that girl goes, people will stare and whisper after her, cured of the disease or not, and whenever that happens, they can surely count on Robin to go striding up, shouting, “Something to say about my sister, have you?” and following the question up with a pummeling.

Rhaenys always wanted a little sister as a child. She’d loved Aegon, her Egg of a brother, of course, but some part of her had watched her cousins the Sand Snakes enviously and yearned for that easy knowing. Girls understood girls better. Aegon and her had always been close, but he could never truly grasp things the way a sister could have. He was a boy, he was king, he had the Targaryen look to him. Their lives would inevitably take very different turns, split apart. Yet there was no sense in begging Mother for a sibling, because she had no father. She supposes she still has some vaguely distant memory of Rhaegar- she remembers a man singing to her, with a voice that ran soft and clear as snowfall- but no more than that. Her great-uncle Lewyn and her uncle Oberyn and even old Jon Arryn had always been all the fathers she ever desired. They could not give her a sister, either.

When she’d been older, just shy of her twelfth name day, her mother had at some point spoken to her in private about her father, about the legacy he’d left them, and had explained that he had not, in fact, run away with Lyanna Stark and provoked a rebellion out of a fit of sheer lust but because he had seen it as his duty to produce a third child, a second daughter, a Visenya. Rhaenys had never wished for a sister again after that. The news that her father had thought to someday wed her to her own brother had not been entirely shocking, given the family history, but the idea of being a mere pawn in some grand scheme has always irked Rhaenys.

Of course, that is exactly what she still is, prophecies or not. She may not be some fabled rebirth of Queen Rhaenys herself, but she is still a Targaryen, and her life has never been her own. She was promised to Beron Stark before he was even conceived, and what is almost more infuriating than the thought of having to wed a boy three years younger than her, a stupid little child who’s left the North perhaps twice in his tender life, is the certainty that she cannot raise any real objections to the match, because this is the price of peace, and this is the way things are, and only a fool would expect otherwise. She was never going to have a love match, never going to choose her own husband, never going to remain unwed long enough to see twenty, and-

It would be easier perhaps, were Beron ugly or dimwitted or cruel or lascivious. He is none of those things, and he’s not stupid, she is just being childish. What he is, is young and Northern and proud, and she has no real reason to hate him or even dislike him. Were she not betrothed to him, she thinks they might even have been friends. They are not friends. They are not enemies, either, it’s just that it is terribly awkward to look down at a boy who, when she last saw him, barely reached her shoulder, and think about pledging herself to him before a heart tree and sharing his bed. It’s uncomfortable.

Oh, poor Rhaenys is uncomfortable, she thinks critically when it is finally time to dismount, and she catches the first glimpse of her mother, her brother, Viserys, her uncle and his paramour and his daughters- poor Rhaenys is uncomfortable, you see, so we’ll simply have to call the whole thing off and betroth her to some dashing Dornish knight instead so she might spend the rest of her days riding up and down the beach and eating oranges and peaches. Her own grandmother was forced to wed her brother. Her mother married a man who nearly brought them all to ruin with his dreams. She should be thankful her circumstances are not far more dire.

But she is not thankful, or grateful, or humble. Rhaenys is none of those things, and thinks she’d be a better daughter, better sister, better wife, if she were, but she’s hardly going to lie to herself, either. Instead she smiles, forgoes a curtsy, and throws her arms open to embrace her mother, who winces a little at the force of it, as she always does, before her arms come down around Rhaenys’ waist in that old comforting manner, and while Rhaenys is seventeen now and far too old to cling to Mother’s skirts, it has been near five months since they last saw one another, what with the trip to Sunspear and then the slow return, stopping in the Stormlands along the way. “No tears?” she asks teasingly. “Mother, are you hard of heart in your old age?”

“No harder than yours,” Elia Martell retorts fondly, a hand on Rhaenys’ hot cheek. “You were due back in King’s Landing near three weeks ago, daughter.”

“The storms,” Rhaenys waves it off with a laugh, although she does feel a small patter of guilt. She did everything she could to take her time returning here, because when she leaves next, she will not be coming back. She will not be going anywhere but Winterfell, and once she is there, she is well aware she will stand no chance of leaving again until well after she is wedded and bedded and nursing a Stark son of her own. Or daughter. Perhaps she will only give Beron daughters. The thought is both amusing and alarming. The North may be regarded as wild and uncouth and violent, like Dorne, but it is not Dorne.

Still, she will be cold in her grave before she ever lets any man deny a daughter of hers all she deserves. Rhaenys received the same education as Aegon. She can read and write and speak (poorly) High Valyrian and a smattering of Rhoynish. She can add and subtract and multiply and divide and even try her hand at geometry. She knows her history and her geography and she is well-traveled. She can ride as well as any man, and she knows her way around a blade and a bow. She plays the high harp and sings beautifully, and she can dance until her toes are stiff and numb. She has never not felt his equal, not until she flowered and realized that while he would stay here and rule, she would go off and be some little boy’s wife and live and die in the unforgiving North.

She knows her smile is not quite as bright when she embraces Aegon, but hopes he does not notice. He looks pleased to see her, at any rate. He has always been hard to read, her sober, thoughtful brother. “The only storm we’ve heard tell of was you, sister,” says Aegon with a smile, and Rhaenys winks at him and notes how much he’s grown, even in the span of several months. He must be nearing six feet now, and while she is tall herself- they both inherited their father’s slim build and height- for the first time she looks at him and does not see a gap-toothed boy with dimples and silver-gold curls that refuse to lie flat. He looks like he could be a king, perhaps.

Then she catches Oberyn’s eye, and he nearly sweeps her off her feet, and then she is kissing Ellaria’s cheek and teasing the girls and promising them all sorts of gifts and sweets from Bronzegate. The eldest of his daughters by Ellaria, Elia, named for her mother, is twelve now, and much taller and lankier than she last recalls. Old enough to travel without her mother, certainly. Oh, if she could just be granted Roberta Baratheon and Elia Sand for the journey north, she might be happy. They remind her of her, she knows. It is the ultimate self-obsession, wanting to surround herself with girls who remind her of herself at their ages, so she can pretend she is but twelve or thirteen again two, wild and free.

Finally she extricates herself from the children and turns, and Viserys is there, and she all but pitches herself into his arms- it’s been near a year since she last saw him, and he has always been so restless, never content to stay any place for long- and kisses him on both cheeks and then pulls back. He is only an inch taller than her, and it has been that way since she began to grow like a reed at the age of nine or ten.

Somehow she still feels as though she were still gazing up at him anxiously, hoping he was happy. Aegon is brother by blood, but Viserys, uncle that he may be, is her brother in her heart, and she perhaps worries over him more than she should. He is a grown man and can make his own choices, go where he pleases. Still-

“I had thought to run into you in the Stormlands,” she accuses him, “but I heard tell you were in Oldtown.”

“I was,” he says lightly, “forging another link. I trust you won’t begrudge me that, Rhae.”

He is not wearing the chain, but then again, he is no more a master than Oberyn is- it is not uncommon for a lord, particularly one who is not the firstborn son, to study for a year or two a the Citadel and learn what he may. Viserys’ interests change with the tide. He is impulsive and impatient. But he earned himself three links all the same; bronze for history, yellow gold for economics, and now bronze for warcraft, he tells her.

“How do they judge one’s knowledge of that?” Rhaenys smirks. “Set you up with an army of toy soldiers and play in turns in a map room?”

He rolls his eyes, but she knows from the look on his face that they will speak later. Viserys and her are like in that sense. They can say one thing in front of company but the opposite in private.

When all the introductions and greetings are finally done, she is- thank the Seven- finally allowed some time to herself, after she is escorted back to her old rooms in Maegor’s Holdfast by Mother, who reluctantly removes her hand from the crook of Rhaenys’ elbow to say, “It is good to have us all together again, my love. I know your brother says little, but he has missed you, I promise, he has only-,”

“Had much to worry about as of late, I know,” says Rhaenys, as she pushes open the door. “Of course, Mother. This is very important for him- for all of us. I know Aegon. He’ll never forgive himself if anything is slightly out of order or imperfect. And we’ll never hear the end of it from Olenna Tyrell, either.” She frowns. “Where is Margaery? I have quite missed hearing her tittering grow closer and closer-,”

“Be kind,” says Mother, although she does smile slightly. “We did not know you would arrive today until a scout arrived this very morning. She went out on a trip down the Blackwater on a pleasure barge with some cousins. These are her last weeks before she is wed and crowned, and I could not begrudge her for wanting to spend some time with family-,”

“Some time scheming, you mean-,”

“Rhaenys, she has been your future good sister for years now,” Mother says patiently. “When will you two come to tolerate one another, may I ask?”

“We tolerate one another quite well from afar,” scoffs Rhaenys. “Come now, Mother. You know it is only because I cannot stand most of her family save Loras, and she and I are far too alike. We shall get along famously once she is queen and I have been exiled off to the land of bears and wolves,” she adds flatly.

“When you are a little older, you may understand the importance of allying yourself with other powerful women, rather than seeking to best them at every turn,” Mother notes dryly.

“Have I not allied myself with young Robin?” Rhaenys challenges, as she steps into the room. “Give that girl a few years, and you may have yourselves a new Argella. Especially if you insist on this notion of her and Viserys,” she adds, “she will not have it, Mother.”

“She would not have any husband at the moment, she is a child-,”

“Stannis Baratheon will not have it either,” Rhaenys continues, “I think he would rather see his precious girl wed to one of the Onion Knight’s boys than any relation of ours.”

“You should rest,” her mother tells her, as a way of ending the conversation. But then she hesitates, and the look in her black eyes softens. “I know this is not an easy time for you, Rhaenys. But I also know you are brave. This is just the beginning, you must see that, don’t you? Not an ending.”

“I should hope not,” says Rhaenys blithely, “I intend to ask Beron for a trip to the Wall as a wedding present. Perhaps I will even make a return trip back from it, if he asks sweetly.”

Once she is truly alone, she lies down on her childhood bed in her childhood room and watches the shadows on the floor change as the light shifts outside. At some point she hears a familiar rumbling purr, and sits up in delight as Balerion jumps on the bed and regards her furiously. “Bal,” she croons, holding out a hand for him, which he pointedly ignores, instead lying down and presenting his belly for rubs. He lets this go on for perhaps half a minute before he starts to claw.

“You are a very jealous old man,” she informs him, nursing her injuries, as he prowls around the room as if inspecting for intruders before returning to her, clambering into her lap as a peace offering. “Really- you run around siring little bastards on all the she-cats without a thought, but I dare leave for a while, and suddenly I am the villain here?” She kisses his grizzled face, and then lays her head down atop his fur and chokes back a sudden, unexpected sob.

Balerion purrs all the more, then hisses in irritation when she lifts her head back up to wipe at her eyes. “I’m going to miss you, old man,” she mutters. She could try to bring him North with her, but he’d be sure to run off on the way there, and the Red Keep has been his home all his life. It would be cruel and selfish to take him away, even if it would hurt her less. He won’t even notice she’s gone, most likely, so long as he’s fed and scratched under the chin every now and then.

But she will miss him, savage little beast that he is. Rhaenys begins to cry again, wanting to ridicule herself for it. She knows Winterfell, knows what to expect, and she will not be alone. She will have ladies in waiting and Grandmother and young Aly and she may lay eyes on little Ben Snow for the first time as well. She has always wondered about him, her half-brother, the result of so much woe and suffering for Mother, for his own mother. She does not hate the thought of him- she does not know him, and Aegon may never know him at all. There is something cold and sad about it, all the same. She wonders if he is happy. Perhaps he is, among the crannogmen. Perhaps he does not think of any of them at all.

Thinking of Ben Snow is not making her any less sad, so she takes a nap instead. When she wakes Balerion has gone off to hunt mice and fight other tomcats in the cellars, and she summons a maid, changes into a more reserved dress of rich purple, and sets off to look for her brothers. She finds Viserys in the upper gallery of the throne room, which is empty at the moment, the court session ended for the day. How many times has she sat here and gazed down upon Aegon, looking miniscule in his seat, and Mother forcing herself to stand firm and strong at his side? How many times has she wished just once it were her turn?

“You do not want a throne,” Mother once told her when she was nine or ten. “Your brother will be chained to it for as long as he lives, Rhaenys. You would be miserable upon it.”

Viserys is looking at the throne now himself. He does not even seem to hear her approach until she has slipped into the seat beside him, and then he tenses and turns to her.

“I do wish they would replace the cushions up here,” she admits, and that does get a smile out of him, a genuine smile, not the one he puts on in public.

“You will have a more comfortable seat during the coronation,” he replies. “Your mother wants you down there with Aegon and Margaery when they are crowned.”

“Holding her train, no doubt,” Rhaenys jests, but she can hear the bitterness in her own voice. “I’m sorry. I sound like an ungrateful wretch.”

“Never,” he puts an arm around her, and she briefly rests her head on his shoulder, sighing, before she pulls away. Once she was sitting like this with Viserys during a visit to Storm’s End, after her return from the North, when she was fifteen and he nineteen, and as they’d watched the storm over the bay draw closer and closer, relishing the crackling in the air and the rising howl of the winds, he’d turned and kissed her.

At first she’d thought he’d somehow slipped, but that was nonsense- you don’t slip onto a girl’s mouth. He’d kissed her and she’d sat there, shocked and speechless, until she’d jerked away from him. They’d stolen a bottle of wine and been more than a little drunk, and he’d never said anything about it, so she had agreed with herself to blame it on that. She had not felt horrified or disgusted or frightened, just- shocked and perhaps a little alarmed. He is like her brother. He is her brother in spirit. They have played together, bickered, danced together at every feast since childhood. Him being a ward of House Baratheon never fostered any real distance between them.

She loves him in the same sense she does Aegon, as a brother, and not in the Targaryen fashion, either. And she knows he feels the same. Hopes he feels the same. She hopes, so she does not want to rest her head on his shoulder when they are alone, because some part of her worries he might try again, now, when they are both sober and old enough to know better. But Viserys does not try to kiss her. Instead he says, “I have a gift for you,” and she laughs.

“The last time you said that when it was not my name day, the ‘gift’ was to dump sand and shells on my head.”

“I promise only part of it used to be sand,” and that is all he has to say to have her eagerly grabbing at what he coils into her hand, which is a necklace.

The chain is very simply done, but the truly intricate part is the golden dragon that hangs from it, and the glass amber sun that it clutches in it claws. Its wings are spread in mid-flight, and its eyes are rubies. Rhaenys lights up in wonder and and then hugs him again as it dangles from one hand. “It’s beautiful. Thank you, Vis. I adore it.” She draws back and fiddles with the clasp, glancing back up at him. “An early wedding gift, is it?”

His smile vanishes, and she pauses.

“Only a fool would send someone like you to wither in the North, Rhaenys.”

They have this conversation many times, and often she is stridently agreeing with him, but now- she feels older, somehow, and while she may feel the same, she cannot voice the same old complaints and angers that she always has.

“I like it no more than you do,” she says instead. “But it’s what must be done. My mother averted a war with that promise. I would not see her live to witness it broken.”

“I would rather she have let them come down from their grey tomb of a castle and killed them all,” he retorts. “It’s what I would have done. We had the Old Wolf and his heir in our hands, and we let them walk free and take my mother with them.”

Viserys lost his mother to the Starks, and now he will lose her to them as well.

“There’s no changing it now,” Rhaenys says quietly. “But we have had over a decade of peace, Viserys. Excluding when the Ironborn rebelled-,”

His hand finds hers. “You don’t have to go,” he is not quite looking at her. “There’s still time. Let Stark marry some Northern wench. You are a Targaryen. You should not marry-,”

“Beron Stark is not beneath me,” she says crossly, pulling her hand away. She does not know why she is defending the boy, but the implication annoys her. It is not as if she were being sold off to a hedge knight. “He is the blood of kings, just as I am, heir to a Great House-,”

“When you were born, my father said you would wed me someday.” It seems to slip out of him in almost juvenile rush. She stops and stares. So does he, angry and wounded and embarrassed.

“Your father is dead,” Rhaenys says, for want of anything else to say, her head buzzing. “And we should both be glad of it, for had he lived it would have meant all our deaths.” Aerys was mad. His madness could not have been tolerated much longer. Had he not passed, he would have surely been overthrown, murdered, and likely them along with him, and Westeros would have splintered apart completely.

“Of course I am glad of it,” Viserys says. “Of course- I meant nothing by it, Rhae.” But his eyes say ‘unless’, and she realizes now that she is a sister no longer to him. It is a pity. She had so liked being his little sister, doted upon and fiercely guarded.

“I know you didn’t,” she lies, and nearly gives him back the necklace, but stops herself. It is so beautiful, and she already thanked him for it. And she does care about him, fiercely. She only wishes anything were enough for him.

“I should go,” she stands, smoothing her skirts, having finally worked open the clasp and slipped it on. “But I will see you at supper tonight, I hope, not prowling around the city with Lannister.”

Viserys has made some friends of the Hightowers, and through them, because Cersei Lannister settled for Baelor Brightsmile, Jaime and Lysa Lannister’s eldest boy, young Tyland, who is thirteen but carries himself as though he were far older. Tyland is a fine dancer, a talented swordsman already, and has high aspirations of reaching knighthood at even younger age than his father. Rhaenys likes him well enough, but she trusts him about as far as she could throw him. She wishes Viserys could stand Robin’s presence at all, wishes Stannis’ boy Steffon were older, not a child of three, wishes any of this could have been different. She touches the dragon with two fingers, as if for luck, and then presses them lightly on his arm.

He smiles at her, although it does not reach his eyes, and before they entangle themselves into another argument, she goes.

Aegon can be found hacking some poor dummy to deaf, spilling straw all across the floor of the yard. Rhaenys would spar with him were she wearing trousers, but instead she just watches from a stone bench nearby until he finally takes notice of her, puts up his blade, and wanders over, panting and dripping with sweat. “Not on me,” she warns, kicking an empty bucket in his general direction. “Fill that up and send some of that Valyrian sweat off to an alchemist to test, brother.”

He takes the bucket, but not before shaking his sodden hair at her. She yelps and curses him as he goes off to fill it. When he returns, he smells of well-water, and less of a nearly sixteen year old boy. “Well,” she says when he sits down beside her, “by my estimation, your footwork could still use some improvement.”

“Shut up,” King Aegon VI mutters.

“Mother will truly murder you if you get yourself killed in a melee just before your coronation,” Rhaenys can’t resist.

“Gods, it never ends with you, does it?” He turns his red face sky-bound as if seeking assistance.

“I am your elder sister, so never, no.”

They sit there in comfortable silence for a little while longer.

“I’m afraid,” he admits.

“Of what?” she snorts. “The High Septon? Mother? Oberyn getting into a duel with a Tyrell during your wedding feast?”

“Yes,” he says, “and my wedding. Margaery. The throne. All of it.”

“Kings ought to be afraid once in a while,” she quotes their mother, not for the first time. “It keeps them alive. But you’re as ready as you’ll ever be.”

“I can’t disappoint them.” Only Aegon, who has never put so much as a toe out of line in all is years, could say such a thing. Nothing about him is disappointing. He’s perfect. He’s clever and kind and strong and determined, and- she looks at him once more, then sighs and wraps her arms around him.

“Well,” says Rhaenys. “The wedding will be alright, because if it doesn’t go well the Queen of Thorns will have them all executed immediately. Margaery will perhaps take pity on you once she realizes you’re still too nervous around her to be besotted with her just yet, and then maybe you can have a genuine conversation. You’ve been sitting on that throne for years now, and you haven’t cut yourself once, but you can always have it melted down for scraps, you know.”

A small smile emerges onto his shadowed face. Rhaenys squeezes once more, then lets go. “Take it one day at a time. Any man ready to be king is either a liar, a fool, or both.”

“Aegon the Conqueror was ready,” he points out.

“Aegon the Conqueror was a joyless slab of stone who had the greatest dragon in the world, and never once- not once!- according to our history texts, flew for pleasure,” she tells him. “Do you know what I would do with a dragon?”

“Run away,” he says with a wry grin.

“I’d become a pirate queen,” she corrects him primly. “And then levy all sorts of taxes on you for the sake of not pillaging your shores.”

“Interesting plan,” Aegon is beginning to snicker now, like the boy he is, “suppose I put a bounty on your head?”

“Then whoever you’d sent, would, I pray, have better footwork than you,” she retorts, and he takes the bucket up in his hand, with the little bit of water left in it, and tosses it at her.

“AEGON!” she snarls, as he backs away, laughing. “You’d best fetch that sword before I show you how to use it-,”

He’s already running, and Rhaenys wipes at her face and hands, then picks up her skirts and goes racing after him, mindless of anything else but the sound of their footfall and laughter in the deserted training yard.