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I was whole, whole I would remain

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282 AC - KING’S LANDING

Rhaella thinks perhaps the gods, any gods, have heard her prayers, when Aerys vomits up blood in bed. He has just finished with her when it happens, has just rolled back over, breathing haggardly, proudly, as if he’d just accomplished some great feat, as though he had proven something to her. Rhaella lies very still, as she always does, fighting back the last of her hoarse sobs of pain and humiliation, trying to calm herself by breathing steadily, in and out.

It is something her old septa advised, in the days leading up to her wedding to her brother. She had been just a child then, a timid girl of thirteen, newly flowered. Aerys had been a child himself, only a year her elder, but he had had his fair share of girls and women; it was well known around court, for he was a handsome boy then, tall and lithe and so charming and carefree. Charming. He had never held any charms for her, Aerys, who though he claimed reluctance at the idea of wedding ‘his sweet sister’, well-

She had come to him a fortnight before they were to be wed, had hoped that, although they had never been close growing up, that he might see reason now- neither of them wished to wed the other, it was only at the behest of their mother and father that they do so, and-

“So, you see,” she had told him, “if neither of us desire it, but we must obey- well, we need not have a bedding, brother, only a wedding. You may be with whomever you like, and I will not breathe a word of it to Father, I swear to you, Aerys, let us both be happy in this. We may still live as brother and sister,” she had assured him, innocently, hopefully. He was her brother, for all his arrogance and cruel temper, and she did love him, as all good sisters should.

He had looked at her and laughed, as if she had just told a fantastic jape. “If I am to wed you, sister,” he had almost sneered, “you may rest assured that I will not shirk my duties as your husband. Any of them.” And then he had cupped her face with his hand, and stroked her cheek with his long fingers while she struggled to hold back tears of shock and anger.

She had confided this in her septa, and the woman had told her, “You must never show your fear, Princess. Remember, you are a Targaryen. It may be unpleasant, but you must maintain your composure. Focus on your breathing, when he is… attending you. It will help. Come now, child. No one wants to see an unhappy bride on her wedding day.” She had held Rhaella as her mother the queen never had, and Rhaella had taken her words to heart. Aerys could do what he pleased to her, she had assured herself, but he would never make her feel less than. She was a princess. She was going to be the queen, the most powerful woman in all of Westeros.

And here she lies, Her Grace the Queen, the most powerful woman in all of Westeros, and the gaunt, sickly creature that was once her handsome, vindictive, reckless brother begins to hack and cough, and she breathes in and out, blinking hard to dry her eyes. Her arms and legs are mottled with fresh bruises, and there is blood between her thighs. She closes her eyes and feels at the vicious bite mark on the side of her neck, swollen and hard under her fingers. Aerys continues to retch, and then doubles over and vomits.

She would think he had drank too much wine, but he rarely drinks anymore, so frightened of poison or being in a vulnerable state. As if he is not in one now! Aerys was never a warrior, and he has looks as though he had aged twenty years in the past five. His face is lined and wrinkled, his hair the pure white of an old man, not the silver and gold of a true Targaryen, and his body is frail and withered, for he seldom eats or sleeps undisturbed. She has heard his shrieking nightmares before, echoing down the halls.

Now he gags and vomits some more, and a coppery smell reaches her nostrils. It cannot just be her blood on the bed sheets. She sits up slowly, wincing, and looks at him, the panicked, slightly dazed look on his face. He sways, then collapses, falling off the bed and onto the hard stone floor. Rhaella stares in shock, and then, when he does not stir, screams for the Kingsguard.

She is sure to scream “The King!”, for they are well used to hearing her scream and shout for help for herself. It never comes. They are sworn to protect Aerys, you see. Not her. The first time he struck her in front of one of them, she had looked to Ser Gerold Hightower, clutching her cheek, waiting for him to… she is not sure what. Say something, perhaps.

But he had only averted his eyes, shifting in his pristine white armor, and she had realized then that this was it. There was nothing to be done for her. Aerys could rape her in front of them, and not one of these fine, brave men would lift a finger. If he asked, they would likely hold her down themselves. They might not like it, but they would obey. He was the king. They had vowed to obey his will in all matters.

Now Ser Jonothor Darry bursts in, a hand on his sword, young Ser Jaime Lannister on his heels, and at the sight of Aerys lying prone and still spitting on bile and blood on the ground, shoves the younger knight in the direction of the door. “Get the maester! Now!” The boy glances at her as she lowers her eyes and pulls the sheets up over her naked form, and then he is gone, mail clanking as he runs. Ser Jonothor lifts Aerys back up onto the bed, and Rhaella scrambles off it, ignoring her body’s protests. Everything aches. Her hair is a matted, snarled mess. Aerys likes to pull and rip at it while he… It does not matter now.

She backs away from the scene, and stumbles into Ser Barristan Selmy. She has always liked Barristan, who is quiet but not stoic, gallant without making a show of it. “Your Grace, come with me,” Ser Barristan says quickly now, putting a gloved hand on her bare shoulder, where Aerys fingermarks burn like brands. She flinches, and he removes his hand, only guides her from the room and into the torchlit hall.

She stands barefoot on the floor, wiping at her eyes, while he summons a servant from the growing crowd outside. A few moments later she is escorted down the hall to her own bedchambers, where Ser Barristan assumes his post outside. A maid helps her into one of her silken dressing gowns, and hastily pulls her hair back with a net, trying not to look at the bite mark on her neck.

She is asked if she would like a bath, but she shakes her head jerkily, and sits on the edge of her bed instead. She had laid down here hours ago, praying she would not be summoned. She was, of course. Aerys, for all his talk of how dull she was in bed in the earliest days of their marriage, as of late has taken her almost every night. Two years ago, the first time he ever wrapped his hands around her throat while he rutted against her, she had fought back, flailed and screamed and clawed at him, spit in his face and bucked frantically underneath him, certain he would kill her.

He hadn’t killed her, of course. Only beaten her bloody for resisting him, screamed in her face that it was her duty to lie beneath him, to give him another child, that she should be honored he had kept to her bed. And he had, since Jaehaerys’ death. He had sworn off all his tittering mistresses, had told her he would be true to her and her alone from now on, and she had been forced to thank him for it before the court, as if it were some demented play they were putting on. Oh, how grateful! How noble of him! How lucky she was, that the King had seen the error of his ways.

Her entire body shudders with either a sob or a laugh, she is not sure. The maid leaves. A few of her ladies file in to dutifully console her, but she sends them out almost as soon as they enter. She is in no mood to play the part of the frantic wife at the moment, grieving her husband’s sudden illness, distraught over his condition. She is anything but. She hopes he is in agony. She hopes he is in pain the likes of which he has never known. She hopes he is weeping from the pain of it, that his insides have gone to knives, that he wants to die.

Gods know she wants him to die. She would have felt guilt over this ten years ago, perhaps. When he was not the mad creature he is now. Now she feels nothing but burning, hateful hope. Please. If there is any justice in this world, end him. Please, Stranger, hear her prayer. Take him. Take him as cruelly as you like, only take him. The Mother may condemn her to the seven hells for this, for a wife to wish death upon her husband, her lord and master, the king, but Rhaella cares not. She has already lived through one hell at Aerys’ side. How much worse could the rest be?

The sky is beginning to lighten outside when Pycelle comes to her. “The King is most unwell, Your Grace,” he says, folding and unfolding his hands in front of his grey robes. There are fresh stains upon them, below his gleaming chains. “A sudden onset of some sort of stomach illness- he vomits no more, but he is burning with fever. I have requested a list from the kitchens of all that he ate yesterday-,”

Rhaella cares not what he ate or did not eat or what the origin of this is. “Will he live?” Her voice trembles, and she hopes it is mistaken for grief.

Pycelle pauses, and that is all she needs. “I… I think all that can be done now is to give His Grace milk of the poppy. To ease his suffering, and to… well, so he might go peacefully.” His eyes gleam in the dark, and Rhaella focuses on her breathing, then lets her expression cave with false sorrow.

“Of- of course,” she stammers, bowing her head. “You are most wise, Maester. I- I only ask that I be the one to tend to him. He is my husband and my king, and I would… I would see his face one last time, before he is lost to me forever. Please,” she adds, hoping to stroke his ego even more, to think of the queen begging favors from a lowly grey worm such as him, who has been writhing about in Tywin Lannister’s deep pockets for years now.

Pycelle falls for her ploy. “Of course,” he says graciously. “I will show you how to administer it, Your Grace. Your compassion has no bounds.”

He does, and then she cries some more, to get him to leave the room, leave her with her beloved husband, her king. Pycelle scurries out at the sight of her tears, and Rhaella sits at Aerys’ bedside, the thick white potion in her hand. She looks at Aerys, who lies white and frail in bed, shaking and whimpering with the fever, and then rises and tosses the potion out the open window. It splatters down the red stone walls. Rhaella sits back down beside Aerys, takes his claw-like hand in her own.

“Husband,” she says gently. “Aerys, look at me.”

He twitches a little, his eyes drift over to her, and she is not sure if he sees her truly or not, but he seems to sense her presence. He mumbles something incoherent, and his grip tightens around her fingers. That will bruise, too, but Rhaella for once does not mind. It is the last injury he will ever give her. This past night was the last time he will ever rape her, violate her, scar her. No more. There will be no more of that. He is a dead man.

“You are dying, Your Grace,” she whispers to him.

“No,” mutters Aerys, “no, Mother-,”

He was always fond of their mother, and she him. How Shaera loved her Aerys, her sweet, fickle boy, the apple of her eye. Just like his mother, everyone praised him. Shaera was ever the darling of the court. Rhaella always took after her father, Jaehaerys. Quieter. Subdued. A shadow to the bright light that was their wife and brother.

She had thought herself her father’s favorite, just as Aerys was Mother’s, until he commanded them to wed, told her it was her destiny, that she would birth a mighty line of kings and heroes, that they would save House Targaryen, bring about a new age of dragonfire and dynasties.

“Mother,” her brother-husband weeps, and Rhaella extricates her hand.

“Mother is not here,” she tells him softly, sweetly. “Only me, Aerys.” She pauses, licks her dry, cracked lips, feels the swelling where he bit her there, too. “You will be with her soon, I think."

“It hurts,” he rasps. “Please, Mother, help me, it hurts-,”

“I know,” hums Rhaella under her breath. “I know it hurts, Aerys. Call for your guards, Your Grace,” she suggests, leaning in close, letting her breath fan across his tear-streaked face. “Can they help you? Perhaps not. And I am glad.”

His feverish ramblings die away, and he quiets, eyes glassy. It will not be long now, she thinks. “Brother, you have been such a dutiful husband,” Rhaella tells him in little more than a whisper. “And I hope I have never forsaken my duties as your wife. Permit me this last one, Your Grace.” She plucks up the nearest pillow and presses it firmly over his face. He barely makes a sound, gives the weakest semblance of a struggle before she lifts it once more.

His breath rattles in his chest now. She lays her hand on his damp forehead. It burns and burns. She imagines fire licking his bones inside out. He chokes a little, and then stills. She waits for the next breath, and when it does not come, she sags in relief. Removes her hand from his head, wipes it on her robes. Stands, as the door creaks open. Pycelle and the Kingsguard await.

“The king is dead,” she says, and now her voice is hard and firm, like glass. “Long live King Rhaegar, First of His Name.” The knights bow their heads, repeat her pronouncement. “As the king is away from court at the present, I will head the small council in his stead,” she says, and sees surprise flicker across their faces. Pycelle most of all. “I want word sent to Dragonstone and to Dorne immediately. And I want Lord Brandon and his peers removed from their cells and put into rooms in Maegor’s Holdfast, under guard.”

“The northerners are our prisoners, Your Grace,” Ser Jonothor says. “His Grace the King decreed that Lord Rickard appear before the court to answer for his son’s treason-,”

“I do not think Lord Rickard will be appearing anywhere in the Crownlands, once word reaches him that the King has died,” Rhaella says evenly. The entire city will know by midday tomorrow. There is no sense in trying to halt the rumors, which have been fermenting all night, from the unending whispers and chatter of hundreds of courtiers and servants. “And so we shall endeavor to make this as simple as possible for my son, His Grace, to resolve upon his return to court. I want our prisoners clothed and fed, as befitting of highborn men.”

“Apologies, Your Grace,” Pycelle says, after a long moment of stunned silence. “I do not doubt your goodwill, but I cannot help but suggest that- well, it is only that- you are the Queen Dowager, not the King, and-,”

“Ah, yes,” says Rhaella mildly. “And I want Grand Maester Pycelle arrested, on suspicion of poisoning my late husband, the King. There will be a formal investigation. In the meantime, find a room in the holdfast for him as well.”

Ser Barristan gapes at her, and when she offers a serene look in response, glances at Ser Jonothor. “Your Grace-,” Pycelle begins, but Rhaella has already turned back to Aerys' corpse as he shouts and struggles against the men. A small smile blossoms across her face as she stares down at what was once her husband. She thinks she may have a very restful sleep tonight.

Chapter Text

282 AC - DRAGONSTONE

Elia is awoken by a fierce spring storm and the low groan of her bedchamber door creaking open. Thunder rumbles outside and she tenses, sitting up in bed, then relaxes when she sees how small the shadow is. There is the familiar patter of small feet, and then Rhaenys is scrambling atop the covers, wriggling her way next to Elia, who wraps an arm around her trembling form. “It’s alright, sweetling,” she murmurs drowsily. “Just a storm.”

“Bad dream,” Rhaenys whimpers, pushing her head of dark curls under Elia’s arm. Elia pulls the sheets up over both of them, placing a hand on Rhaenys’ back, moving in small, soothing circles. She distinctly remembers her father doing similarly when she was a child and could not sleep at night, kept up with a stomach ache. Her father was an uncommon man by most standards, but what was most uncommon about him was perhaps the way he loved his children. He expected nothing in return from them. He only gave.

She wishes she could do the same for Rhaenys and Aegon, but she has too much of her mother in her. She loves her children. She would do anything for them. But they are a princess and prince. There will always be expectations upon them. There is no escaping that. Elia knows the weight of duty well. She has always bourne it better than most, or so she was told. Now she is not so sure. Now she is troubled every waking moment. Now she lies in bed at night and wonders if her mother was wrong. That she is not strong enough to walk through this particular fire unscathed.

“What was your dream about?” she whispers to her daughter, whose sniffling has died down. Rhaenys is usually such a cheerful, playful girl, clever and inquisitive for her age, but in the dark of night Elia knows Dragonstone’s keep seems strange and sinister, with its stone gargoyles and wyrms, and the sea thrashing around the jagged cliffs just outside their windows.

“A big fire,” Rhaenys mumbles, wiping at her nose. “Eating Egg.”

Egg is what Rhaenys calls Aegon. Elia is not sure if it because his name sounds a bit like ‘Egg’ to her, or because he was born bald, with a big head. Aegon is six months old now, and his hair has come in silvery blonde and fine. He no longer looks at all like an egg, but the name has stuck. Elia does not mind. She referred to Doran as ‘Dorne’, assuming their homeland was named after him, for nearly four years.

“A fire, eating Aegon?” Elia’s breath tickles her daughter’s ear. “Now that is very silly, my lovely girl. Do you know why?” She presses a swift kiss to Rhaenys’ hot brow. She always runs hot, as if she has a fever, although she never does.

“Why?” Rhaenys asks.

“Because Aegon is a little dragon.”

“No,” Rhaenys sounds shocked.

“He is,” Elia nods. “One day he will grow scales and fly away, you’ll see. He could take you all the way to the Sunset Sea and back again. His breath will be so hot it will melt castles,” now she smiles, and Rhaenys blinks, then grins the dimpled beam of a toddler. “Mama’s lying.”

“But you’re not scared anymore, are you?” She nuzzles Rhaenys’ hair for a moment, then holds her close. “Let’s try to go back to sleep. The storm will pass by morning. You’ll see.”

Lightning cracks nearby, but now Rhaenys is unbothered; she rests her warm head on Elia’s chest, and is asleep within minutes, breathing evenly. Elia runs her fingers through her daughter’s thick, dark curls, and tries to sleep herself. But she has not been a little child for years and years, and there is no one to hold her close and assure her that it will be alright, that the storm will pass. Her stomach churns along with the rain pounding on the window.

She wonders if it is raining where Rhaegar is. And then she spirals yet again.

As of late, her dreams are always of Harrenhal, and once again Rhaegar crouches at her side, takes her hands in his own. His hands are soft, always soft, no matter how often he trains with swords and lances. A scant month after Aegon’s birth, when she nearly died for the second time in two years, she feels weak and infantile once more, like a child he is trying to console. She rips her hands away from his, struggles to compose herself. She has never wept in front of him before, even when she was delirious from pain and milk of poppy, and she is not about to now.

“Elia,” he says, and she wishes he sounded even the slightest bit shamed, the slightest bit caught off guard or disconcerted or even frustrated. Anything but this quiet, assured confidence, as if he knows something she does not. He clearly does. She had only thought- she had not thought their marriage was of the sort where he openly humiliated her in the hopes of securing the affections of a girl of fourteen. “Elia, look at me.”

She does, and to her relief, her eyes remain dry. Good. She will not break down and cry like a child in front of him. She is not so easily unmade. He did not break her composure in public, when hundreds of eyes were upon her, all waiting for her to crack, to split in half from the shame of it all, Rhaegar’s plain Dornish bride, finally overturned in favor of some feral Northern beauty. He will not see her deteriorate in private, either. Of course, there is never any true privacy between them, even when they are alone. Their station in life does not allow for it.

“I understand if you are upset with me,” Rhaegar says gently. Gently. She wants to spit venom in his face. Oberyn would applaud her. Instead she raises her chin slightly, as if she could look down upon him. She is a small woman, and Rhaegar is very tall, verging on lanky. She could not look down on him if she tried. But she can try. Her jaw tenses, but she remains silent.

In the early days of their betrothal, she had almost found him boyish, painfully naive and sheltered. She was two years his elder, far more traveled, more learned, she had thought to herself. He was to be king, but she was not some simpering lord’s daughter who would fawn over his beauty and quiet grace. She was a princess in her own right, not his lesser, or some pawn. Had she truly underestimated him so? Has she been blind all this time? What else has he been plotting, just out of her sight?

“But I can assure you,” Rhaegar continues, “it was not ill-meant. I intended no slight upon you, Elia-,”

She nearly slaps him, draws back suddenly, and he freezes. She does not quite raise her hand. No. She is to be queen. She has never struck anyone in her life, and she does not intend to now. She will not let him drag her down to petty bickering, as if they were- well, as if they were common. Like it or not, they are anything but common. They are to set an example for the entire realm, and today his example was to spurn her presence in favor of crowning a Stark his queen of love and beauty. Has he gone mad?

“No slight upon me,” she echoes him, and is relieved her voice does not shake, although it is slightly more shrill than she should like. She will not have him dismiss her as some hysterical woman. She has every reason to be infuriated with him. “No slight- how could it be seen as anything but? Rhaegar-,” she steels herself, “if you wish to take a mistress,” now her voice goes hard and flat, “you may do so. But do not attempt to make one out of Robert Baratheon’s betrothed, and in full view of the public! How did you think it would be seen? How else could it be seen?”

Elia is no romantic little girl. She and Rhaegar have never loved one another. Lain together out of duty, showed affection towards one another on occasion, yes. She had never been miserable in their two years of marriage. She had always considered herself happy enough with him, with Rhaenys and Aegon, on Dragonstone. He had always treated her kindly, courteously, with the respect she was due as his wife and future queen.

They had seldom argued, had never presented anything but a united front to the court and the people. He had never demanded of her what she was not willing to give. But love? No. She had let go of those hopes long ago. Love was rare in a marriage such as theirs, but friendship and mutual respect was something to be commended, and she had commended herself for achieving it with him.

She would never have outright encouraged him to take a mistress, but she could have overlooked it, put it apart from their marriage. There were sacrifices, allowances, that could be made when one was wed to a future king. This was different. Much different. Aerys had paraded around his mistresses before, but even he would not have thought to do such a thing.

“A mistress- Elia, I have no intention of taking a mistress,” he had told her, utterly serious, and she had stared at him. Then he had exhaled and stood. “I apologize for any hurt I have caused you. I assure you, my lady, I would never subvert your position as my wife. You have nothing to fear. There is- there is much that I cannot…” he had shook his head sadly, as if she were the one who had insulted him. “I will explain everything in time. I am sorry. I will leave you to your ladies.”

“Rhaegar, wait-,” she had tried to stand then, but he had already slipped away.

Months later at Dragonstone, she awakens from the dream once more. It always ends where her memory does, although sometimes she does run after him, run as she was not able to in reality, and when she steps out of the tent the world is ablaze around her, men and horses shrieking, and the clash of steel on steel ringing out, surrounding her.

Rhaegar had explained everything ‘in time’. He had sent her a letter, after word came of the Stark girl's abduction. Despite every instinct screaming for her to rip it to shreds and burn it, along with every item he had ever owned, she had kept it still. The letter had assured her, yet again, that he was not taking a mistress. He was taking a second wife, as Aegon the Conqueror, his ancestor, had done, as thousands of Valyrians before him had done. The dragon must have three heads, Elia, and you have given me two. For that I am grateful. But there must yet be a third, a promised daughter, a song of ice and fire.

By all indications, Rhaegar believed he had found his ‘ice’ in Lyanna Stark, the girl he crowned, then stole.

Three months, and no further word from him. She does not know where he is, although she suspects somewhere in Dorne. She only knows that he has taken Lady Lyanna with him. And his letter proves nothing, says nothing, really. He has chosen to refer to the girl as his ‘wife’, not his mistress. What of it? Did the High Septon authorize this ‘marriage’? Does Rhaegar have the authority to break Lyanna Stark’s betrothal? Will any of that appease Rickard and Brandon Stark? Will it quell Baratheon’s rage? Yes, the prince may have stolen your daughter, sister, betrothed, but he has the best of intentions, he swears it! He means to sire a third child on her! Have no fear, and go in peace!

Of course not. It would do nothing but only work the rumors into more of a frenzy. The Northerners say she has been kidnapped, raped and defiled. The court whispers that Rhaegar was borne away by love, that he could not deny his feelings for the girl, that Elia- that Dornish interloper- how could a frail, sickly woman like that ever satisfy him? Why would he keep to a brown wife’s bed when he could have a true winter rose, with eyes of grey and skin of snow?

Elia has heard every possible insult, both whispered behind her back, and said to her face, in the case of the king. Dornish whore, scheming witch, flat-chested bitch. How dare she rob them of a proper Andal queen? How dare she think to wed a Targaryen prince, who should have had a sister to take to wife, not a distant relation from a poor, rebellious kingdom that had never learned their place? How dare she not grovel before the court with her ladies? How dare she be raised to speak her mind, to lower her gaze in submission before no man, to make her own judgements?

How dare she birth a Dornish-looking princess, with too-dark skin, too-dark hair, her mother’s nose and eyes? How dare she nearly bleed out in the birthing bed, twice? How dare she deprive Rhaegar of his prophesied third child? Ah, but the dragon must have three heads, Elia. If you cannot provide, another will suffice. Fire and ice. Does Rhaegar believe himself the fire? What does that make her? The discarded ashes? The charred remains of a marriage, a life?

No. She is Elia Nymeros Martell of Dorne. Second child of Loreza and Trystane. Sole daughter of House Martell. She was not raised up to be discarded, passed over, forgotten. She was raised to rule. So yes, she dares. She will continue to dare. And this will not, cannot, be her undoing. Rhaegar will not take everything from her. Not like this. He wed her in the great Sept of Baelor, in full view of the Seven. She gave him two healthy children, a daughter and a son.

Whatever promises he has or has not made to Lyanna Stark, whatever prophecy or destiny he believes himself to be fulfilling- all that pales in the light of her outrage. He ran. Like a coward, he ran. Ran from her, ran from court, ran from his father and mother, from House Stark, House Baratheon- like some common outlaw, he ran away with a little girl. When he does return, she will be ready, and then they will see who the true fire is, in this marriage.

The storm has passed, as she had promised Rhaenys, who still slumbers peacefully on her chest. The rains have receded to a light drizzle. Elia carefully sits up in bed, and gently lifts Rhaenys off her. Her daughter does not stir, only mumbles in her sleep. Something about cats. She adores cats; follows the ones that live on Dragonstone around, trying to catch them and pet them. Elia had a cat as a girl, a skinny wraith of a thing named Lew, after her uncle, who had gave it to her for her name day one year.

There is a soft knock at her door. It is early, but Elia has never been one to lounge in bed and sleep in. She always feels best in the mornings, and prefers to begin the day immediately, rather than prolong the inevitable. In the early days of their marriage, she would wake before Rhaegar, and simply watch him sleep. Whenever he came to her in the night, he often fallen asleep in her bed, not hastening back to his own bedchambers. She had found it charming, endearing. Her silver dragon prince, sleeping like a child beside her in bed.

She wonders if he is sleeping beside Lyanna Stark at this very moment, and her chest tightens painfully. She may never have loved him, but she will not lie to herself and pretend she does not care, intimately. He is still her husband. They swore vows to honor one another above all else. Does that mean nothing to him? Does she really mean so little to him? She is thankful that Rhaenys is so young, and Aegon just a babe. As far as Rhaenys knows, her papa is simply off one of his travels. She adores Rhaegar, loves to hear him sing, to braid his long hair. How will Elia ever explain this to her, when she is older? Fathers are always heroes to their daughters, it seems. Hers certainly was.

A knock again. She exhales, and clears her throat. “Come in.”

Ashara ducks into the room, her long, silken dark hair falling in front of her face. She tucks it behind her ears as she turns to face Elia, closing the door softly behind her. Her violet eyes have darkened, troubled by something. She has been a gift to Elia these past few months, with her observant nature and sly wit. Elia has always liked her brothers as well, Alaric and Arthur- well, Arthur- Arthur is with Rhaegar now.

“A letter from King’s Landing,” Ashara says in a hushed voice, approaching the bed and handing it over to Elia. Elia straightens more as she takes it, cracks the crimson wax seal embossed with the snarling trio of dragon heads. She opens it, and then stares at the unfamiliar writing for a few moments. Ashara tenses, watching her worriedly. “Elia?” she asks after a long silence. “Is it… news of the prince?”

“No,” Elia licks her lips, almost trembling in shock. “News of the king. He has died after ordering Brandon Stark’s arrest.” Her grip on the slightly damp parchment tightens, and she finally looks up at Ashara, who is staring at her. “Your Grace,” she murmurs, bowing her head. “You are Queen Consort of the Seven Kingdoms.”

Chapter Text

282 AC - THE TOWER OF JOY

Lyanna grits her teeth, and swings. Her sword clashes against her opponents, but instead of forcing him back as she would have liked, he pivots instead, avoiding much of the force of the blow. Caught off guard, she scrambles backwards, bringing up her sword in a hasty block as his crashes down upon hers. The strength behind it is enough to make her shudder, but she maintains her white-knuckled grip on the pommel. She won’t be bested this easily. Adjusting her stance, she squares her shoulders, and then ducks, feeling the blade skim above her back.

She pops back up and is about to launch a jab at her foe’s side when she is distracted by the sound of horses. She pauses, listening, and then her legs are swept out from under her, and she is lying flat on her back in the dust. Lyanna gasps, the wind knocked out of her, as a tall figure looms over, blocking out the burning sun. Spring in Dorne is far more brutal than any northern summer, she has discovered, even in the mountains.

“My lady,” Ser Arthur Dayne says, face creased in sudden concern. “Are you alright? I didn't mean to knock you down-,” he hastens to help her to her feet, extending a hand, but Lyanna jumps up herself, dusting off her tunic and breeches, which are both too big on her. She has had to make do with hand-me-downs, but she doesn't mind. This is the first time she has ever been allowed to wear such things freely, and in front of men, at that.

“I’m alright, Ser Arthur,” she assures him with a smile; he looks mortified, which she finds rather amusing. Imagine that, the Sword of the Morning, Ser Arthur Dayne himself, flushing like a green boy at the thought of having injured her! It seems almost like an absurd dream, but she could say that for much of the past few months, ever since her escape from the Riverlands and into this new, strange life.

“You’re not injured?” he questions, looking her up and down in search of cuts or bruises. “I should not have agreed to this. You are not a squire-,”

“I promise, I’m perfectly fine,” Lyanna says impatiently, brushing off his concern, and rankled by his obvious discomfort. Has she not proven that she is no meek little woman by now? “I used to spar with my brother all the time- you have not damaged me in the slightest, Ser, see?” she holds up her calloused palms as if in supplication, still holding onto her sword.

Arthur winces. “Still, we ought not to make a habit of it.”

“Oh, but we must!” she argues. “Should I not learn to properly defend myself? Rhaegar was so worried for me, on the way here, but if I could carry a sword always, there would be no need-,”

“It is the Kingsguard’s duty to protect you, my lady,” Arthur shakes his head. “You need not fear any threat in our presence.”

“But you are the Kingsguard, not the-,”

“The Queensguard?” Despite his consternation, one corner of his mouth twitches slightly. But now it is Lyanna’s turn to be discomfited. Despite everything that has come to pass, it still feels queer to her. She- Well, she has wed Rhaegar, but she did not do so to be his queen! Only, she had swore she would be no man’s mistress, and it seemed- well, it seemed the only option. She cannot imagine herself sitting on a throne beside him, or attending council meetings.

But Rhaegar has assured her that all will be well, and she believes him. She has to believe him. He knows what he is doing. He is heir to the throne! Even the Kingsguard do not call her, “Your Grace” or “Queen Lyanna”. She would rather they simply address her as “Lyanna”, but they are damnably stubborn, down to the last man. Well, it is no great matter. She will simply have to get used to things. Rhaegar says this will all seem natural enough, in time, once she has gotten used to the new order of things. Once everyone else has, as well.

“Lyanna!” His voice rings out in the distance, as familiar as a bell, and Lyanna turns immediately, beaming. She darts back into the tower to stow away her sword in the small room that functions as a makeshift armory, and then dashes back out, kicking up dust. Rhaegar has dismounted from his stallion, and Lyanna collides with him with a muffled shout of delight. He has been gone three days, this time, and she has missed him so. He presses a kiss to the top of her head and embraces her tenderly, his hand on the small of her back.

“I have missed you,” he tells her, voice throaty from the dry heat and the road, and Lyanna beams up at him.

“Then show me, my lord,” she says with an impish note, and then laughs when he kisses her soundly. Her hand comes up to run through his soft hair, and then they break apart, and he sets her back down on the ground. Her head is spinning slightly, as it sometimes does around him. Everything seems so bright and clear and impossibly beautiful when she is with Rhaegar.

She finally understands what other girls were speaking of, when they talked of boys and men who made their bellies go to butterflies and their hands and knees tremble, who seemed to bring in sunshine with them. Only with Rhaegar, it is more like pure, sweet moonlight.

“Have you been well?” he asks her, as he escorts her back into the relative shade of the tower, Lyanna holding his arm, unable to keep from smiling. Whenever she was made to hold onto Robert, during feasts and dances and the like, she always felt as though she were chained to his side, suffocating under his lusty stares and longing looks. It was impossible to feel at ease; she was like a cornered animal. But with Rhaegar, she has never felt more giddily free than beside him. He makes her feel bold, as if she could do anything, say anything, be anyone.

“Very well,” says Lyanna, “only missing you- and Ser Gerold would not take me out riding,” she complains, only then she flushes a little, for she does not mean to sound like such a pouting child. She is grateful to them all, of course she is. It is only- well, they have been at the tower for a month now, and she has explored every corner of it. And she has never been one to sit still, rain or shine. She wants to be out in the world, wants to see all there is to see- this is the time, is it not? Now that she is finally free of Robert and Father’s expectations and everything that had tied her down before? She cannot help but feel as though she should be making the most of it.

“Only, I had so enjoyed my rides with you,” she tells Rhaegar, squeezing his hand fiercely. When she first sat in front of him on his horse, when they raced off into the early morning mist- it was as if she were flying, she had never felt so alive. Rhaegar is a fine horseman, can command a mount just as neatly as she, and one day she hopes to race him through these red mountains, under the extraordinarily blue sky, and feel the wind in her face once more.

“I know,” Rhaegar says, smiling down at her; he towers over her, but it does not feel like such a distance now that she knows him as well as she does. He is no longer the prince to her, some beautiful man carved from marble, with eyes like violets. He is simply Rhaegar, and she Lyanna. It is all she has ever wanted in a marriage, all she could ever want. She has only ever wanted to be equals. To stand with someone, not behind.

“But I’m afraid it is too dangerous for you to go out riding,” he continues, and she exhales in dismay. “I’m sorry, Lyanna. I do not mean to confine you, but I can only be certain of your safety here. I promise, it will not be forever.” He raises her knuckles to his mouth, his lips brushing over them, and she shivers slightly in pleasure.

“Where shall we go after here?” she asks eagerly. “To Starfall? I have read all about it. They say it is the most beautiful castle in Dorne.” A place of wonder and legends, home to thousands of years of great warriors and heroes. Lyanna has always loved her heroes. In the stories, the brave men always win, always rescue their lady loves, always vanquish the evil from the realm. And in her story, she thinks, it is perhaps even better- she has rescued herself, has she not? She did not lose- not to Robert, not to Father. No man snatched her away to spend the rest of her years in his castle. With Rhaegar, she is freer than she could ever have dreamed.

“In time, we shall go to many beautiful places,” Rhaegar says patiently, amused with her eagerness. Lyanna fights to compose herself. She worries sometimes that he thinks her childish, sheltered and naive. She has never been to court, never traveled Westeros the way he has, never seen much of anything, really, until this wonderful year. He is a prince who will someday be the king. She cannot be some cosseted little girl for long. After all, she is a woman wed now.

“But for now, we remain here,” he tells her, as they ascend the stairs. He takes in her dusty appearance. “Shall we change for dinner, then? You seem to have been quite busy in my absence,” he pushes an askew curl out of her eyes, and Lyanna blushes in spite of herself.

“Ser Arthur has been instructing me with my sword,” she tells him. “I have been out of practice, since-,” she hesitates, and Ben’s face flashes in her mind’s eye. Her gut twists suddenly. Ben, and Ned, and Brandon- she does miss them terribly.

This is the longest she has ever been away from home, and away from Ben, who has always been her dearest friend, as well as her closest sibling in age. But she will see them again. Of course she will. The next time she sets foot in Winterfell, she will not be a child to be ordered about anymore, but a proud, strong woman. A true queen, even, as much as the title intimidates her. And they will understand, by then, that she was… That she was just trying to-

“Lyanna?” Rhaegar is looking at her, concerned.

She shakes her head. “It is nothing. But yes, I was practicing. Might we spar after dinner?” He indulged her briefly at the tourney at Harrenhal, but that seems like ages ago now, although it has been less than half a year. “I could show you how I have improved!”

Rhaegar smiles slightly as in exasperation. “I wonder at your eternal energy, sometimes. But I can think of other things,” and now his voice lowers, “that we could amuse ourselves with after dinner.” She can see the desire in his lovely eyes, even now. He wants her, even like this, dressed like a man and covered in dirt. Robert would have howled with laughter to see her like this, but Rhaegar wants her all the same. She revels in the feeling of it.

“Perhaps,” she teases, although in truth she has never denied him. They have been together nearly every night since they first wed in the godswood at Harrenhal. The Kingsguard were their witnesses. She had no maiden cloak, but Rhaegar put his Targaryen crimson around her shoulders all the same. She taught him the vows herself, since her father was not there to give her away.

She felt strong then, her a woman of House Stark, teaching a Targaryen prince the ways of the North, of her gods. In the eyes of her gods, they are wed, she reminds herself continuously. It matters not what others think. Their marriage ceremony was just as valid as any held in a sept. When they laid together that first night, it was as husband and wife. True, Northerners do not practice the marriage of more than one bride, but the gods have no law against it, the way they do kinslaying or incest.

“Perhaps,” he echoes her with a sigh, as she darts away from his grasp, playfully. “Lyanna, you will be the death of me.”

She laughs as she enters her own bedchamber. It is smaller than the one she slept in for years at Winterfell, with only one window, overlooking the mountains on the horizon, but she doesn't mind it much. It is only temporary, after all. Whenever she feels unsure, or irritated with this exile of sorts, she reminds herself of that. This will not be forever. A few years from now, this will just be a distant memory, and she will have the rest of her life to look forward to.

Despite her preference for tunics and breeches, she dresses as befitting a lady for dinner, although she has no real fine gowns here, only the few simple, sturdy woolen dresses she brought with her, and a few lighter gowns brought to her by servants. Rhaegar does not seem to care what she is dressed in. Lyanna bathes quickly beforehand, with the help of a maid, and relishes the cold water as it runs through her hair and down her back and legs. Then she combs out her thick hair herself, sitting on the edge of her bed. When she was young, she would sometimes wish her mother had lived to brush it herself, but that was just a child’s whim.

In truth, she has no real memories of Lyarra Stark, and thus no cause to miss her. But- perhaps it would have been different, had Mother lived. Father might not have sent Ned to the Eyrie, or betrothed her to Robert- but she might never have met Rhaegar, either. There is no sense in brooding on it. What’s done is done. She only wishes she had some female company here, besides the few maids.

It is not something she had ever wished for before- she had no real close female friends growing up, although she was acquainted with other ladies, such as the Ryswell sisters. She never quite felt as though she belonged. But it is different now, when she is surrounded by men at all hours of the day. It felt almost frightening at first, the prospect of being alone with the Kingsguard, but she knows them well enough, she feels now, and they would never harm her. They believe in Rhaegar, all of them that are here. And so they must believe in her as well.

Dinner passes pleasantly enough, although the fowl turns her stomach a little. She enjoys her wine; she was never allowed more than a cup at feasts at Winterfell. But Father was not present at Harrenhal, and so she could drink as much as she liked- she and Benjen got spectacularly drunk the first night, in the privacy of their own tent, she recalls, screaming with laughter and red in the face, while Brandon mocked them ferociously and Ned looked as though he’d rather be anywhere else.

Afterwards, she follows Rhaegar back to his room, suppressing some giggles. As soon as they enter the bedchamber, though, and he takes her and kisses her deeply, her stomach churns again, and she clumsily reciprocates before it is too much and she wriggles out of his gasp. “I am sorry, I-,” she feels the bile rise in her throat and turns and runs into the privy, vomiting. Burning with mortification, she pushes her hair back out of her face as she gags and retches again. She can sense him standing just behind her.

When she is done, she sits back on her haunches, wiping at her mouth, but Rhaegar picks her up with ease, and carries her back to the bed. He pours her a cup of water from a pitcher in the corner, and Lyanna gulps it down thankfully. “I’m sorry,” she says, avoiding his gaze in her embarrassment. “It must have been the bird, I thought it did not agree with me-,”

But he doesn’t seem to be listening to her. His gaze is somewhere else; she cannot place it. “Lyanna,” he says slowly. “Have your courses come this month?”

She stares at him, and the barest hint of a smile crosses his face. Then she laughs, suddenly, and it vanishes. “I- Rhaegar, my… my moon blood came four days past, before you left,” she says in amusement, not sure if it is the wine or her tiredness from a day of swinging swords and pacing up and down the tower steps.

“I- did you think I was with child?” In truth, she has been worried about that herself- she has not been able to procure the ingredients for moon tea since they arrived at the tower, but she had assumed- perhaps foolishly, she thinks now- that he knew ways of avoiding a child that she did not.

Rhaegar says nothing. There is no more smile in his eyes, nor his face. She stills, feeling a deep, foreign sense of unease. Dos he think she is mocking him? “I didn't mean to offend you,” Lyanna says quickly, rising on still shaky legs. “Rhaegar-,”

“No,” he says swiftly. “No, of course not. You could never offend me, Lyanna. I was only curious.”

For the first time, she does not quite believe him.

Chapter Text

282 AC - KING’S LANDING

Rhaella takes Viserys to see his father just once before the cremation. In the early hours of the morning, she stirs her son from his bed, brushing his smooth-as-satin hair back from his eyes. Viserys has his father’s eyes, a pure, pale lilac, lacking the shades of indigo blue that Rhaella and Rhaegar share. He has some of his father’s features, inherited from his grandmother, as well- a thinner, more angular face, a sharper nose and chin, narrow shoulders. He will still be handsome when he is older, Rhaella thinks, but he will never be the beautiful child that Rhaegar was.

Viserys pouts and whines as she sets him on her hip; he is newly six but small for his age, as he has been since birth, and her arms are stronger than they appear, from carrying babes and toddlers, most of whom are dead. He burrows his face into her hair, which was washed only the night before; Rhaella knows it smells of sage and lavender and comforting things. Viserys has always found her a comfort, just as she has always found comfort in him; The maesters had advised, after Jaehaerys, that she would have no more children. Yet Viserys had come all the same. Her lucky boy.

“Hush,” she murmurs to him, “we are going to say goodbye to your father, sweetling. Don’t cry.”

Viserys does not cry, to his credit, but he does fist his fingers in her hair until it is almost painful. It reminds her of her husband, and she fights back the urge to slap his hands away. He is just a little boy. He knew little of his father’s true nature. She strove to keep as much distance between the two as possible. Aerys had already suspected Rhaegar of potential treachery. She did not want him to turn suddenly on Viserys one day as well. Everyone was an enemy in the making, after Duskendale.

But not her. Aerys never accused her- of infidelity, of cuckoldry, certainly. He had threatened to have her head for it after Daeron had died, had locked her in Maegor’s Holdfast, had her watched and spied on every hour, waking and sleeping, of the day. Yet he had never accused her of any other treasons. Perhaps she should be grateful he never thought her capable enough. Perhaps he even believed she loved him as much as she feared him.

His corpse lies in state at the Red Keep’s sept, dressed in finery he has not worn in years. His hair and beard was cut by the Silent Sisters, his nails trimmed, some of the haggard lines and blemishes on his skin painted over, so he might be more presentable, more kingly in death. Rhaella sees only the same pathetic, craven creature. She would spit on him, were Viserys and a Kingsguard not present. Ser Jaime Lannister stands in vigil at the foot of the body, face expressionless, although he bows his head when she enters with Viserys.

Rhaella sets her son down; he is missing a slipper and cringes at the cold from the marble floor. The air reeks of wax and incense. Aerys has been dead four days now, and the smell will not be able to be contained much longer. Rhaella steps up to the body, surrounded by wilting spring flowers from the gardens, and beckons Viserys forth. He comes reluctantly, sullenly, dragging his feet and tugging at her hand. “Come pay your respects to your father, Viserys,” Rhaella says, and her voice is hard and flat. Her son looks at her in surprise; she has never spoken like that in his presence before.

He will have to get used to it; things will not, cannot be as they were when Aerys lived. Her duty is no longer just to console and comfort him. He will not be a little boy for much longer, and part of her fears she has coddled him too much already. Rhaegar was a much different child; quiet and independent, he would often wander off by himself, leading to hours of searching, only to be found with some old tome or scroll, or in some tower room, gazing up at the stars.

Viserys, on the other hand, is never far from her side. But he cannot hide in her skirts forever. Painful as it will be, she will have to let him go. Now he peers at his father, nose wrinkled, eyes squinting in dismay. “I don’t like it,” he says tremulously, turning back to her, but Rhaella puts her hands on his skinny shoulders, forcing him to remain still and face forward.

“I know,” she says, “but you must look all the same. We will pray to the Seven, that his soul has found peace.” She kneels beside him, her skirts rustling, and clasps her hands in front of her, waiting to close her eyes until he does the same. She should be shamed at such a lie; she prays fervently not for Aerys’ peace and respite, but for all the scorching fires and snarling demons of the Seven Hells to engulf him. She imagines a great dragon drowning him in fire. She prays selfishly, for herself, not to the Mother, as she should, but to the Crone.

When Rhaella feels an acceptable amount of time has passed, she rises silently to her feet, bringing Viserys up with her. She does not set him back on her hip with Ser Jaime present. Instead she takes his small, clammy hand in her own, and glances over at the silent young knight. In the candlelight of the sept, he looks far less like Tywin and far more like Joanna. “You have your mother’s look,” she tells him, impulsively.

He glances over at her, wary. “Thank you, Your Grace. I… I am told you knew her well, in her youth.” When Jaime Lannister first came to the Red Keep she had expected a wild, boisterous young warrior, alight with the legends of the knights of old, desperate to prove himself. And she supposes he is, but there is a deep bitterness to the boy as well. Perhaps he has come to regret his decision to take the white cloak. Perhaps he left a love behind. Perhaps he has soured from months of watching Aerys burn men and listening to Aerys take his pleasure.

“I did,” says Rhaella. “She served as my lady in waiting for four years, until she wed your lord father. We were the same age. My lady mother, I must confess, thought she would be a good influence on me. I was a terribly shy girl.” This is likely the most she has ever said to him; Ser Jaime looks as surprised as she feels. Viserys is looking up at her curiously.

“Your mother was a strong woman,” she continues after a moment. “I admired her greatly. She made me want to be brave.”

“I see,” says Jaime, and for a moment his expression shifts and he could be a boy of twelve or thirteen, and she feels a pang of sympathy for him. “I… have few memories left of her. I was only a boy when she died. It was very difficult for my sister. She idolized her. As all little girls do their mothers.”

Yes, Lady Cersei, who Tywin would have seen wed to Rhaegar. Rhaella had never been opposed to such a match, had even spoken of it with Joanna when they were but girls, but Aerys would never have considered such a thing. A bride with the might of Casterly Rock and Lannister coin in her dowry would have been too great a threat, could have filled Rhaegar’s dreamy head with notions of ascending to the throne before his father’s death. No, as much as Aerys railed at the thought of a Dornish wife for his heir, he had much preferred the thought of Elia as princess of Dragonstone.

She imagines Tywin still wishes to seek a dragon husband for his daughter, this time in Viserys, since Elia survived both births. That will have to be dealt with, in time. Rhaella has no intention of seeing Lannisters prowl through her court once again, surrounding her sons. Pycelle was bad enough. The Lannisters ought not to be provoked, but they cannot be indulged, either. She will not have Tywin Lannister said to be ruling the Seven Kingdoms once again, pulling Rhaegar’s strings like a mummer’s puppet show.

“She would have been very proud of you both, I am sure,” says Rhaella now to Ser Jaime. “Family was very important to Joanna. Your father’s betrothal to her was announced at our court. My late husband held a splendid feast and ball for them. Joanna was the happiest I had ever seen her, then, and your lord father as well.”

Jaime seems a little taken aback at the idea of happiness and Lord Tywin going hand in hand. She cannot say she blames him. Even in his youth, Tywin seemed to make joy his enemy the way Aerys made celibacy. Still, she danced with him at her wedding, did she not? He was handsome then, although she thinks Jaime is fortunate to have inherited his mother’s shocking beauty. Tywin was an attractive young lord, but Joanna was like the midday sun, glorious and blazing. Men almost shied away from her when she passed, trailing light and power.

Rhaella almost hated her for it, that Joanna could be so magnetic, and her a Lannister, not the crown princess. But Joanna is dead now; all her beauty and influence could not win her war in the birthing bed. And Rhaella lives on, having lost what seems like a hundred battles against her mother and father, against Aerys, against her own body. But she has not yet lost the war. She inclines her head to Ser Jaime, and leads Viserys out of the sept.

Once the sun has reached its highest point, Aerys is shrouded and brought down Aegon’s Hill to the Great Sept of Baelor. There, the High Septon preaches for the masses of courtiers and smallfolk, spilling out of the sept and into the plaza. Wood and kindling is piled high around the litter. Lord Merryweather, Aerys’ last hand, says a few encouraging words, which may as well be ringing in Rhaella’s ears. She steps forward, veiled in black gossamer, and takes the torch from Ser Gerold. “From ashes you came, to ashes you return,” she utters in Old Valyrian, one of the few phrases, she knows, and touches the flaming torch to the pyre. Smoke begins to curl up into the overcast sky, which is threatening rain. Yet it holds off for the time being, as the wood begins to crackle and burn, and Rhaella is glad that her veil hides her smile, as before her, her husband returns to ash.

Several hours after the pyre’s flames have been put out by the rain, she has Ser Jaime accompany her to Lord Brandon’s room- or cell, more accurately- in Maegor’s Holdfast. The door is firmly barred, and the two guards outside hesitate at her approach, clearly shocked to see the queen up and about. She is trying to use this to advantage; inept Lord Merryweather has no idea she is here, nor does the rest of the Small Council.

“I would speak with Lord Brandon,” she says mildly, releasing her hold on Ser Jaime’s proffered arm. When neither guard immediately moves, she adds, “Seeing as he is imprisoned for treason against the royal house, and I am the present caretaker of said house-,” They step aside, slowly unbarring the door for her.

“Your Grace, the man’s a savage, it may not safe for you-,”

“Ser Jaime will protect me. It is his duty, after all.” Rhaella steps into the room, her eyes adjusting to the change in light. It is in shambles. A chair is shattered in a corner, the curtains are shredded, the bed is a mess, the tapestries ripped off the walls. Brandon Stark has left no stone unturned, so to speak, in his quest for anything that could be used as a weapon or a way out.

He stands in a corner by the cold hearth, and she takes in the sight of him; Brandon Stark is still a handsome young man, tall and strong, dark-haired and grey eyed, but the month of imprisonment has aged him; there are new lines in his face, and he has clearly lost weight and with it muscle; his clothes seem slightly too big for him. His hands open and shut up into fists at his side, as if reaching for a sword or knife that is not there.

“Your Grace,” he says, and it is perhaps the closest one can come to spitting the title.

Jaime keeps a hand on his sword, not moving from Rhaella’s side.

“I do not expect you to offer your condolences for my loss, my lord,” says Rhaella.

“That’s wise,” Brandon Stark snarls. “For I have no condolences to give.”

“Mind your tongue, Stark,” says Jaime. Brandon gives him a look that can only be described as scornful.

“Does begging for scraps at Targaryen heels run in your blood, Lannister?”

Jaime takes a threatening step forward, but a single glance from Rhaella stills him. She did not come here to set the two on one another like dogs in a fighting pit. “My late husband ordered your arrest,” she says, “and now he is dead. My son will ascend his throne upon his return. I have hopes that we may yet put this behind us, my lord. Rhaegar is not without mercy.”

Instantly she knows she has said the wrong thing, for Brandon’s grey eyes are like stones set into his skull. “Without mercy?” he all but growls. “You think I would seek his mercy? He has kidnapped and brutalized my sister, dishonored two Great Houses-,”

“Enough,” snaps Jaime.

Brandon rounds on him. “Or what? Going to beat an unarmed man? I wouldn’t be surprised, Lannister-,”

“Lord Stark!” Rhaella raises her voice just high enough that they both stop and stare at her. “Your grievances are with me, not Ser Jaime.”

“My grievances are with your rapist son,” Brandon says flatly. “I will have ‘grievances’, as you put it, Your Grace, until my sister is returned to me-,”

“And if your sister does not wish to return?” she demands.

She sees it register slightly in his eyes- surely, part of him must question it, however small, part of him must have considered, even briefly, that Lyanna Stark may have fled of her own free will, but- Then it is gone, and the snarl is back. “Rhaegar will answer to my family when he returns, or he is no king at all.”

“More treason,” says Rhaella, although not with any great outrage. “My lord, I beg of you, do not dig yourself any deeper into this hole. I will ensure you have a private audience with the King when he returns, and I will do everything in my power to mend the rift between the Crown and House Stark. I would have you see your sister again.”

Brandon says nothing, his shoulders heaving slightly as if he is about to roar, but then he turns away, and when he speaks, says only, “You speak of treason, but loyalty is not only paid one way. House Stark has never risen against your Iron Throne, the North has never had war with Targaryens, and this is how two hundred years of loyalty are repaid?”

Rhaella can feel Ser Jaime’s gaze upon her, so she keeps her expression smooth and neutral, despite the fire in her chest, not just at his stubbornness, but Rhaegar’s foolishness as well. She has spent decades tidying up after Aerys, and now she must clean up Rhaegar’s mess as well, or at least contain it. Should Rickard Stark appear at the city gates with an army from the North, Vale, and Stormlands, she does not think they can count on Western or Dornish aid. Presently, they are vulnerable, even without Aerys’ madness seeping through every crack in the Red Keep.

“Thank you for speaking with me, my lord,” she says, instead of screaming, which is what she would like to do. She nods to Jaime, who escorts her from the room, keeping his green-eyed gaze on Brandon Stark’s furious frame all the while, watching them go with barely contained rage.

Chapter Text

282 AC - DRAGONSTONE

Elia makes use of good weather when Dragonstone offers it, which is infrequently. When she had first come to the island, a month after wedding Rhaegar, she had dreaded the sight of the fortress. Nothing was more Targaryen than it, she had convinced herself, not even the Red Keep. It could not have been more different from the airy sandstone palace at Sunspear, with its elegant Roynish towers and the gold-capped Tower of the Sun, her mother’s seat, now her brother’s. She has not had word from Doran yet, but she imagines she will soon. He has never been one to sit idly, especially when it comes to family.

But she has word from Starfall, or at the very least, Ashara has. Elia suspects there are no fewer than ten servants and several knights at Dragonstone reporting directly back to the Red Keep, so she would prefer for correspondence to be read outdoors. Preferably as far away from any eavesdropper as possible. With the excuse of the rare bout of pleasant weather, which for Dragonstone means the sun has deigned to show itself, the clouds have parted, and the wind has died down to a stiff breeze, she walks along the shore with her ladies. Aegon is napping in the nursery, while Rhaenys is a little ways away, darting in and out of the tide and squealing with delight, watched over by two fretful maids.

The sun will do her good, Elia thinks. Her children spend far too much time cooped up indoors. When she was a girl, on the occasions when her health permitted it, she would swim in the Water Gardens with Oberyn and the other children, chase each other around, laughing and shrieking, from dawn to dusk of every long, sweltering day. Even when she was not permitted to leave her bedchamber, her brother would still devise something for them to do, be it passing notes in a secret language or juggling oranges or putting on a play. She misses Oberyn even more than she misses Doran. He was her best friend, as a sickly little girl, dreaming of a life beyond Sunspear’s winding walls.

Ashara at last feels at ease enough to take out the letter, holding it firmly so the breeze does not wrench it away. Elia resists the urge to peer anxiously over her shoulder, not that she could do so easily; Ashara has the same imposing height as her parents and both her older brother, towering over Elia, even on the uneven sand. Ynys Yronwood has no such disadvantage in height, and no such compunctions, linking her arm with Ashara’s in what may look like a display of friendly affection from a distance, and resting her head on her shoulder so she may read, squinting in the sunlight.

There is a long silence, punctuated only by the crash of the waves, before Ashara says, “Alaric has word of Rhaegar. He is a three week’s ride from Starfall. He has not received word yet of his father’s death, but he will soon.” She pauses. “My brother defers to your judgement on the matter, Your Grace.” The letter is folded up and slipped neatly up the elaborate sleeves of her amethyst gown.

Elia knows Ashara refers to her with such formality now not because she sees her any differently, but as a nod of respect- she is Your Grace on Dragonstone now, regardless of Rhaegar’s… flights of fancy. “I see,” she says, glancing around at her other ladies. Nymella Toland looks ready for a fight, her face set in a scowl, while Larra Blackmont and Alyse Ladybright exchange murmurs.

Ynys scoffs. “Should you like, he need never leave Dorne alive.”

They all tense collectively, as if drawing back from a venomous snake.

“That is treason, Ynys,” Larra says through gritted teeth. “Have you no concern- our queen should suffer greatly, were you overheard-,”

“She was only japing,” says Alyse quickly, narrowing her eyes at Ynys. “Surely. No one would be fool enough to-,”

“Is it not treason of a sort, to break one’s vows to one’s lady wife, when said wife is a queen?” Ynys demands. “Is it not treason to take a betrothed girl- is it not treason to so blatantly violate pacts set forth by House Targaryen, House Stark, House Baratheon-,”

“That is quite enough,” says Elia mildly, and Ynys immediately quiets. She has been friends with most of these women, given their varying ages, since girlhood. But she will no deny there has been a shift since she married Rhaegar. No longer can she gossip and laugh and scheme with them the way she would as an unwed princess. She loves them still, is grateful to them all, to come so far north with her, to stay at her side through this storm, but- She is still their queen, Martell or not. Nothing can, and nothing will, change that.

“This talk of broken vows is irrelevant,” she continues, voice hardening slightly. “I cannot will Rhaegar out of Lyanna Stark’s arms. And I will not have it whispered and insinuated that I threatened treason and rebellion in my husband’s absence. There are quite enough rumors already.” She comes to a halt, shielding her eyes from the sun, and staring out at the choppy grey waters on the horizon. “Rhaegar will return. Aerys is dead, and he has been waiting for years to assume his father’s seat. This cannot be much of a shock to him. The late king’s health,” and here she does allow herself a hint of spite, “was ever poor.”

“But should he bring the Stark girl with him,” Nymella snaps, “should he install her at court-,”

“Lyanna Stark aside, Rhaegar will not do anything until King’s Landing has seen him crowned in the Great Sept of Baelor,” Elia says evenly. “He is not a fool.”

Ynys sniffs audibly at that, and Ashara makes a sound a bit like a scoff, but easily disguised as a cough.

“And I will make no sudden moves myself, until I have been crowned at his side,” Elia says flatly. “Then we shall see. For the time being, we know he will soon be on his way back to court. If he has any sense, he will not bring her with him. There are matters of law to be dealt with. A new Hand to be appointed. A Small Council to be arranged. Rhaella has imprisoned Pycelle- he, too, must be replaced. And the Starks to be dealt with.”

“He may bring her,” cautions Alyse, “to soften her father and brother- or perhaps to threaten them- Lord Rickard is a hard man, they say, but Lord Brandon- Ashara has known Brandon, have you not, Ash? He would do anything for his sister. With her in Rhaegar’s hands, he may go meekly as a lamb-,”

“You don’t know Brandon,” says Ashara, sharply; they are all a little surprised at how sharply. “He has the blood of a wolf.”

“What is that to mean?” Larra laughs, somewhat uneasily. “Is the man part wildling?”

“It means, Brandon has never gone meekly, and he will not start now,” Ashara says. “It means, he recognizes no ruler but his own will. Tread lightly with him. The worst thing Rhaegar could do would be to patronize him.”

“You shared a few dances and nights with the man, and you think him a Winter King reborn,” Ynys mocks, and then stiffens at the look Ashara gives him.

“I think House Stark will not tolerate another slight,” she retorts. “I have the measure of them- Brandon, Eddard, even the young one, Benjen. You turned up your noses at their kind at the tourney, but I was not so discerning, Ynys. They are as proud and fierce as any Dornishman.”

“Then, gods willing, I can make them see reason,” Elia says forcefully. “We cannot- I will not see another uprising. Duskendale cannot be repeated. Rhaegar is on shaky ground as it is, even if he refuses to acknowledge it. You are right in that we must tread lightly, Ashara. Aerys did great damage to the Targaryen hold on the throne. Had he lived -,” she shakes her head, “Rickard and Brandon Stark both would be dead, I am sure of it.”

“He would have executed the warden of the North?” Nymella questions, freckled face wide with surprise.

“There is little he would not have done, given the opportunity,” Elia says bitterly. The barest whisper of sedition on her part, and he would have given her over to the flames as he has given so many others. In the past, she had assured herself that Rhaegar would protect her, even against his own father, her gallant husband, who’d sworn to defend his wife in all matters. Now… she is not so sure.

After a moment, she collects herself, and squares her shoulders. “We will depart for King’s Landing in a fortnight. I cannot abide here any longer. Rhaella is a good woman, but she is no longer the reigning queen. And the people must see that the transition of power has gone smoothly. I must bring the children, so that everyone will recognize the presence of Rhaegar’s heirs.” Rhaenys is just as much an heir as her brother, even if their Andal customs dictate that the son be preferred over the daughter. She will not see her daughter reduced to her younger brother’s shadow. Rhaenys will always be a princess, on both her mother and her father’s sides.

“We will be with you every step of the way,” Larra says, squeezing her hand. “You are our queen. Westeros’ queen. You are Unbent-,”

“Unbowed,” Nymella snarls.

“Unbroken,” Ynys mutters.

Elia allows herself a smile, and then turns back to the distant figure of her daughter, now playing in the sand. Rhaenys seems so tiny from this far away. But children never stay that small for long. Just yesterday Aegon could have been a babe at his wetmaid’s breast, and soon he will be crawling. She picks up her skirts and starts back towards her eldest child, the sunlight warm and reassuring, even if for only this fleeting moment, on her upturned face.

She dines with her uncle and the children the next night, all together as a family, something that has not happened in months. Lewyn is like Oberyn in that he has always been able to make her laugh until her chest aches, and with Oberyn off in Essos doing gods-know-what with some free company of sellswords, her favorite (and only) uncle will have to suffice. He says nothing of Rhaegar, Rhaella, Aerys, or the Starks, to her relief, and only criticizes the wine with her and tells her childhood stories about Doran.

The weather has held up, and for once it is a peaceful night around Dragonstone, with no howling wind or sleeting rains. She eats more than usual, determined to keep her strength up, even if her appetite has been lacking from her worries these past several months. She feeds Rhaenys from her own plate while Lewyn bounces Aegon on his knee, and tries not to think about all the other times when Rhaegar ate with them. She had always been so pleased by that, that he was not the sort of man who avoided the company of his wife and children, that he was happy to spend time with Rhaenys and her.

But Rhaenys has not asked after her papa yet today, and falls asleep on Elia’s lap without doing so. Elia makes to stand with her, but Lewyn hands her Aegon and scoops his great-niece up. “Soon enough she will be of an age with Ari,” he says, referring to Doran’s eldest. “She is six now, if you can believe it.”

Little Arianne, six? Elia has not seen the child since her own wedding, and remembers Arianne as a rambunctious girl of three or four, chasing after Oberyn’s daughters. It would be so sweet to see them again, all of them. She means to cultivate a Dornish presence at court, as Mariah Martell did. She never wishes to be caught unawares again. Perhaps she will write Doran, and see who he can spare. “I can believe it,” she sighs, slowly rising with Aegon in her arms. “Sometimes Oberyn is still a boy of thirteen, to me.”

“And sometimes you are still Reza’s little sunbeam, in my mind,” Lewyn says wryly, then turns to regard her in the doorway, adjusting his grip on Rhaenys. “But no longer. Your mother would be very proud, Elia.” When she looks away, he adds, “She was always very proud. She counted you and your brothers amongst her greatest achievements.”

“That does sound like Mother,” Elia agrees with a rueful exhale. She feels Aegon’s warmth against her chest, and kisses his head. If she tries, she can hear her mother’s forceful tones ringing in her ears. What did she always say? Enough dawdling, daughter. Sometimes smooth hands must see rough work done. I did not raise you to shy away from it.

Chapter Text

282 AC - THE TOWER OF JOY

Lyanna reads the letter once more, straining to see in the light of the fire, and then slowly sets it down. Rhaegar sits perfectly still on the bed, staring in the vague direction of the window, where the first stars can be glimpsed. She can see the stars even better here than she could at Winterfell, although she is not often out at night to see them. She is tired of this tower, tired of the red mountains that block out much of the horizon.

She feels as though the valley shrinks by the day. Or perhaps it is just that this letter, with the promise of change, has stirred up her restlessness once more. She never could sit still as a child; Father always said she had too much of his mother’s Flint blood, the blood of the wild mountain clans, who still loathed to call themselves lords, and who rarely came down from their ancient holdfasts. Arya Flint died when Lyanna was four, so she has no memories of her left. But she sometimes wonders how she felt, to come down from her mountain peaks to be the lady of Winterfell.

At least Lady Arya could likely come and go as she pleased.

“Rhaegar,” Lyanna says softly, padding over to him on her bare feet. Sometimes it can be quite cool in the evening, even in the Prince’s Pass, but tonight is not one of those nights. She curls up next to him clad only in her shift, lays her head on his shoulder. “I am sorry.” And she is; she may have thought the king a madman and a craven, to be so enraged at the thought of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, but he was still Rhaegar’s father. If you love someone, truly love them, Lyanna thinks, all their sorrows and joys should be your own.

Her prince- no, her king- has not cried, but he has said nothing at all since they received word. Selfish as it might be, she hopes he is not like this for long, for who else does she have to talk with? The Kingsguard? Shall she spend her days with Ser Arthur and Ser Gerold? Sometimes they look at her as though they have never seen her before. She finds it both flattering and disconcerting. Is she really so strange, in their eyes?

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he murmurs at last, and she relaxes into his arms, wrapping her wiry arms around his graceful neck. “I am only…” He trails off, shaking his head a little, and then laughs, to her surprise, although it is not a joyous laugh. “It feels as though it were a dream. But none of my dreams have been quite like this.” She likes the feeling of his breath on her scalp, and she presses a sweet kiss to his cheek.

“I know it must be a shock.”

Rhaegar does not answer her, only takes her by the chin and kisses her, hungrier than she expected. Perhaps he is a little relieved, as she is, after all. Lyanna will not pretend that the thought of Aerys’ wrath, despite all of Rhaegar’s assurances, had not on occasion kept her up at the night. But he is gone now, no longer a spectre looming over them. The king is dead, and- and to think of Rhaegar as a king, it still catches her off guard.

He has been ‘the prince’ for her entire life, it would seem. Reigning at court, perhaps, the object of admiration and envy, but never ruling. She has never seen the Iron Throne, but to think of Rhaegar sitting upon it seems incongruous, somehow. That is a conqueror’s seat, a warrior’s seat, forged with thousands of swords from hundreds of vanquished kings and defeated lords. Rhaegar is a warrior, of a sort, she supposes, but he is not- it is not as if he were warlike, aggressive, violent. Not like Brandon or Robert or so many men she has known.

But not all the Targaryen kings have been warriors, of course. This is a time of peace. Rhaegar will not need to melt down new swords for his throne. The work of taming the seven kingdoms has already been done for him. And the people love him, of course they do, so- so surely the throne will come to suit him, over time. Or he will come to suit it, another voice whispers, but she ignores it, pays it no mind. He is still the same man who she loves, the same man she wed in the godswood. A crown on his head will not change that no more than a crown on hers would.

She expects him to bed her, but he stops both of them when she begins to hitch up her shift and scrabble at his shirt. “Lyanna, I must leave in the morning,” he tells her, and she freezes in his lap, her hands falling away from him. “The people will expect me. My mother- Elia-,” he hesitates, for he has been so careful to never mention the princess- the queen- her stomach jolts- in her presence. Lyanna will not pretend at having rid herself of any jealousy, but she has no ill will towards Rhaegar’s first wife. She has even asked after his children, Rhaenys and Aegon- she will have to get to know them, will she not? But he never wished to speak of such things.

“Of course you must, and I must come with you,” she says earnestly, taking his hands in her own. His skin is as cool as always, which has always amused her, for the Targaryens have fire and molten lava in their blood, do they not? But Rhaegar has never run warm. “We vowed to never be parted from one another, and we won’t- I can help you, let them see you have two strong queens by your side, let me ease your burden-,”

He interlocks his fingers with hers, but shakes his head. “No. It is better that I go alone. I will take Ser Oswell with me. Ser Gerold and Ser Arthur will remain with you, and I will send word when I am there and crowned.”

Lyanna rips her hands away, outraged. “But you are king now, there is no need for me to stay behind, you promised we would go together, always-,”

“I am the king now,” says Rhaegar evenly, “and I will be crowned as such. I would see a crown on your head as well, my love, but you must trust me. This is a time of transition. Things must be handled gently. The people need to see me as king before they-,”

“But Visenya and Rhaenys were crowned alongside Aegon,” retorts Lyanna. “You told me yourself, you said- you said once everyone saw me by your side they would understand-,” Her voices hitches slightly, and she flushes red with anger and shame, bubbling in her chest. It is not that she craves a crown at and a throne beside his. But she is his wife. If he is the king, then she must be a queen consort, she must, else she is-

A mistress, that same damnable voice jeers, a whore, another Blackwood or Bracken. She blinks hard. No, she has not cried in years, she will not now. She will make him see sense.

“Lyanna,” Rhaegar kisses her brow. “Please, don’t cry, my heart. You are my wife. Of course you are. This is simply how things must be done. Slowly. Let me make the path forward for you as soft as possible. I would have you treated as you deserve, as my bride. Without distrust or suspicion.”

“No,” says Lyanna, tone hard now. She is not going to cry. And she is not going to be treated like a blind child. She is a Stark of Winterfell, and she will face what comes, not hide here like a criminal. “No. I am going with you. We swore vows to one another, we promised to stand together, always, and I will stand with you now. I am strong. I can endure it, whatever people might say- only I cannot pretend at shame, I am not ashamed.”

“Nor am I,” Rhaegar assures her, and then he looks at her, and she feels as though a veil had just come down between them, obscuring their view of each other. He does not look at her as the man who she has spent so many days and nights with, the man who sang for her, the man who whispered tales of Old Valyria and the dragonlords and Aegon the Conqueror. He looks at her as he does when they first met, truly, her in her borrowed armor, her sword and crudely painted shield still in hand. He looks at her as a lord, a prince, a king. Her superior.

“But I am your king,” he says. “And when you took me in front of the heart tree, you took me as your husband and your future king. You will remain here, Lyanna.”

She recoils. “You would command me?”

“I do command you,” he says, with that same quiet, smooth tone. “As all kings command their subjects. I love you as I have never loved anyone else, and you know this. But there are decisions I must make for the both of us. You may not see it now, but in time you will understand.”

“I am not a little girl,” Lyanna snaps. “I can decide for myself- is that not what you told me, at Harrenhal? You said Robert was unworthy of me.” He stiffens. “You said only I knew my own heart and mind. And now you would know it for me.” She scrambles off his lap, infuriated as she has not been in months. “How can you- I am your wife! Does my opinion not matter at all to you?”

She sees emotion ripple briefly across his face- guilt? Anger? Unease? But he remains as calm and composed as ever. It makes her feel silly and stupid, and she crosses her arms under her chest, struggling to rein in her temper. She does not want to fight with him. But if she admits defeat in this, she worries at the precedent it might set. This was supposed to be the sort of marriage she could never have had with Robert, or any other man like him. Things were supposed to be fair. She chose it for herself, and now he is choosing for her?

“Of course your opinion matters,” he says at last, “but that does not mean I will always yield to it. This is what marriage is, Lyanna. There must be compromises. We will not always agree. I promise, I will send a raven as soon as I am able. It will not be for long. And when you come to the Red Keep, you will have everything you could ever have desired- swords, horses, jewels and gowns- I will see you a true queen, and everyone else will see it as well.”

“I don’t want- I just want you,” she exclaims raggedly. “I could be with you anywhere- I don’t care about the Red Keep, I don’t want another sword, or horses, or new clothes- I just want you, Rhaegar. I love you,” she says, and she has always felt so confident and bold declaring it, but now there is the slightest hint of a question in it- do you love me as I love you?

He sighs, and stands, gathering her into his arms. She resists at first, but then relent, laying her head against his chest, where she can hear his heartbeat thudding. That, at least, is the same. “I love you too,” he says, and his voice vibrates in his chest as well. “I will always love you. The gods brought us together, yours and mine, and they will never see us parted. You must forgive me this, Lyanna. I will spend as long as I must making it up to you.”

Part of her wants to push him away, to storm off, to slam a door or run down the stairs- but there is nowhere to go. This is not Winterfell, or Harrenhal. She cannot escape this fight or him leaving in the morning. She stands there in his arms for a moment, listening to his breathing, and then relents. “Alright,” she whispers. “I trust you, I do. If… if this is what is best, then… Then go, as quickly as you can, and send your raven all the sooner.”

She can feel him relax slightly, and then he hooks a long arm around her waist and lifts her up slightly to kiss her. “I swear on my honor as king, I will.”

Lyanna watches him and Ser Oswell ride off at dawn, from the entrance of the tower. The rising sun makes the sky go a spectacular blend of pinks, lavenders, oranges, and gold. Rhaegar looks every inch the king as he disappears into the distance, his mount kicking up a shroud of scarlet dust around them.

“Courage, my lady,” says Ser Arthur, violet eyes kind. “You need only wait a little while longer.”

Lyanna smiles at him briefly, but it does not reach her gaze. She feels a bit sick and breathless, as if she had just run a great distance. Digging her nails into her palms, she forces herself to exhale slowly. Just a little while longer. This will all be over soon. “Let’s have another lesson now, Ser, before it gets any hotter. I’ll fetch my sword.” Then she turns on her heels and walks quickly in the direction of the armory, before he or Ser Gerold can say anything, not wanting them to see her face crumple in helpless grief and anger.

Chapter Text

282 AC - KING’S LANDING

Rhaella is meeting with the Small Council, or what remains of it, when she receives word of her good daughter’s arrival in the city.

“We will release Kyle Royce, Jeffory Mallister, and Ethan Glover,” Rhaella says, not for the first time striving to be heard over the arguments between Chelsted and Staunton. Lucerys Velaryon and Varys the Eunuch remain far more coy with their opinions, holding their tongues as the Master of Coin and Master of Law debate.

“Your Grace,” Symond Staunton splutters, “the precedent it would set- they have been arrested on charges of treason and plots of murder-,”

“I remember, my lord, as I was present for their arrest,” Rhaella says, speaking a bit slower than normal, and resisting the urge to massage out the throbbing headache developing. “However, I recall Brandon Stark doing most of the shouting and threatening. We must begin to make concessions, and we must make them quickly. Let us keep Stark and Arryn’s heirs, and release the rest. It must be seen that we can be reasonable. Let them swear fealty to the throne, and we will see them out of the capitol under guard.”

“If they renew their loyalty to House Targaryen, and vow never to take up arms against their rightful king, I see no reason not to show mercy,” Varys says in that softly persuasive tone of his. He smiles banally at Rhaella. “The queen dowager has the Mother’s gentle wisdom.”

Rhaella does not like the eunuch, nor trust him, but she would much rather see him on Rhaegar’s Small Council than anywhere else.

“It is not within the queen dowager’s purview to release prisoners-,” Quarlton Chelsted begins stridently. Rhaella has always despised him. Yet another of Aerys’ sycophants.

“We could consult Lord Merryweather, but he has taken ill again,” Lucerys says, with more than a few sardonic notes. Lord Merryweather was an old man when Aerys appointed him Hand a year ago, and his health and wits have hardly improved since then. Rhaella would not be surprised if the man did not live to see the new year. She has no ill will towards Merryweather, the old fool, but his absence at the Council meeting is hardly noted.

Rhaella forces her voice and countenance to remain even and reassuring. The last thing she needs is to lose her temper and be confronted with threats of instability and hysteria. There are already rumors that Aerys’ maltreatment and all the lost babes unraveled her mind long ago.

“Rhaegar will return soon, I am sure. He has been informed of his father’s passing. But in his absence, it is indeed my role, Lord Chelsted, to pass judgement when he cannot. Brandon Stark threatened his life. Rhaegar will see the King’s justice done to Brandon Stark, whatever that may be. I will not release Elbert Arryn until we have a sworn letter from Jon Arryn ensuring peace between the Vale and the Iron Throne. But as for the rest of the lords my husband saw fit to imprison, the longer they remain here, the more time their houses have to consider rebellion. I will not give them the opportunity any longer. Their sons will return to them and tell them that they were well treated and that this misunderstanding is well on its way to resolution. Because our options are growing increasingly limited.”

Chelsted and Staunton can surely not expect to remain on the Small Council any longer than Merryweather will. Their protests and squabbling are inevitable. They know their time is running out, and they should consider themselves lucky, Rhaella thinks, that Rhaegar will simply dismiss them from office, rather than setting them alight in the throne room. Before this can go any longer, a messenger is escorted into the room by Ser Barristan.

“Queen Elia and her household have arrived in the city, Your Grace.”

Rhaella rises, smoothing down the black skirts of her mourning gown. She has had so many gown dyed black as of late that she will need an entirely new wardrobe when the seven month period of mourning has concluded. “Then we must welcome her back to the Red Keep. My lords, let us end this meeting here.” Not waiting for much of a response, she takes Ser Barristan’s offered arm, and leaves them, feeling some of the tension seep out of her neck and shoulders.

She is equal parts relieved and uneasy with Elia’s return. Rhaella has always been fond of Elia, considered her a fine match for Rhaegar, for she had always looked upon Loreza as an elder sister, older and wiser and sharp as a blade. She had always wanted a sister as a girl, had even wished Aerys had been born a girl. For then there would have been no prophecy, no marriage, and much might have been different, if they could have stomached a woman on the throne.

Yet while she looks upon Elia as akin to a daughter, and loves Rhaenys and Aegon dearly, she would be foolishly sentimental to believe that all will be well now. Elia has been dishonored greatly by Rhaegar. She has always been a kind, gentle woman, but she is still a Martell, and their anger runs deep and strikes swiftly and brutally. She may hate Rhaegar, and she may have every right to, but hatred and grudges will get them nowhere. They must present a united front, queen dowager, queen consort, and king.

By the Seven, Elia must see that. For Aegon’s sake, her son’s sake, if nothing else.

Elia arrives on a litter draped in crimson and gold, her son in her arms, Rhaenys curled up at her side, having looped one of her mother’s flowing scarves like a bonnet round her head. Elia’s hair is longer than it was when Rhaella last saw her, and cascades down the back of her magnificent crimson gown in well-oiled waves, shining darkly in the sunlight. She is wearing the slender gold circlet, studded with garnets, that she last wore on her wedding day. The three heads of the Targaryen sigil snarl fiercely from the onyx-and-ruby pendant on her chest.

She looks every inch the reigning queen, and Rhaella is keenly aware of her own age and appearance; she must look half a wraith, pale and wan as she is in black. Still, she holds her head up high and smiles unwaveringly as Elia is lifted down from the litter by her uncle, Ser Lewyn, who swings little Rhaenys down, squealing happily, after her.

She knows Elia’s dramatic presentation stems not from vanity but from recognition of her new role: the people lining the city streets, cheering for their queen and princess and infant prince, would not have cheered quite so loudly had Elia hurried through in a closed off wheelhouse, hiding her face in mortification of Rhaegar’s actions. It is all about appearances, after all. The smallfolk must believe the Targaryens were ordained by the gods themselves to rule, for without dragons, why should they keep their allegiance with the Iron Throne? Every queen must appear as though chosen by the Mother herself, every king anointed by the Father.

“Your Grace,” Rhaella inclines her head as Elia stops in front of her.

“Your Grace, our royal mother,” Elia says loudly and clearly enough for everyone in the courtyard to hear, a public display of respect. “Thank you for sending your knights to escort us to the keep. You honor us.”

“The Red Keep is as much yours as it is mine,” says Rhaella graciously, and an unspoken agreement passes between them, that this is how it must always be, always, when eyes are upon them. There can be no sign of discontent, no disagreement, no bitterness between the two. Courtiers love nothing so much as a tale of two women- two queens- pitted against each other. The constant references to Lady Lyanna’s potential arrival at court and the ‘ladies’ war’ that might follow are grating enough.

Lyanna Stark is but a child, and House Stark has never had a presence at court, or anywhere at all, south of the Neck. Rhaella has never met the girl, but the accounts of her do not seem to indicate a scheming girl-woman clawing her way into power. Of course, they likely said the same of Missy Blackwood, who went on to wield great influence for a mistress. Just an innocent young maiden. Rhaella would see Lyanna Stark back into her father and brother’s presumably cold embrace, but that will rely on Rhaegar being made to see reason.

“Rhaenys,” she greets the little girl sweetly, unsure if Rhaenys remembers her; she has not seen her since before Aegon’s birth. “Do you know me, sweetling?”

Rhaenys glances up at her mother, then says, “Grandmother,”, only it sounds more like “grand-mudder”.

Rhaella breaks into her first genuine smile since Aerys’ funeral, and then beckons Viserys forward; he has been lingering behind her with Ser Jaime, whom he often follows around, much to the knight’s bemusement. “And this is your uncle, Prince Viserys. Pay your courtesies to the princess.”

Viserys takes an uncertain step forward, looking warily at Elia and Ser Lewyn, but gives a jerky little bow to Rhaenys, who bobs her head of dark brown curls in delight. When Rhaenys was born, Aerys spoke with open disgust of her Dornish appearance, saying it marked her an unsuitable bride for Viserys, who surely deserved a wife with the Targaryen look.

The thought of wedding uncle to niece turns Rhaella’s stomach, particularly when she looks upon her son, a boy of six, and his niece, not even half his age. Her grandfather had thought to put a permanent end to the tradition, when he and Queen Betha arranged marriages for all their children, but her parents had escaped their betrothals. She wishes Grandfather had been harder, crueler, wishes he had sent her mother to the faith, sent her father to the Wall- anything but his begrudging tolerance of their joining.

When she and Elia can finally speak in private, it is hours later, after dinner and the extended sympathies and false smiles of half the court, all burning with curiosity to see how Elia is taking her husband’s betrayal. Finally, they can escape the feasting halls and children are put to bed, and Rhaella stands in the tower rooms that have always been Rhaegar and his wife’s during their time at court. She sits down by the window, watching the distant torchlights of the city below, and listening to the faint sounds of Elia sing her children to sleep.

Elia comes down with her hair tied up in a simple, pinned braid, and her face freshly washed, her elaborate gown traded in for a simple night dress and slippers. She looks younger now, her eyes dark and glossy, and as her maids take their leave and her ladies excuse themselves, Rhaella and Elia regard one another carefully, and with great care.

“I commend your haste in coming here,” says Rhaella, when she is certain they are alone, or as alone as anyone can be in this castle. “I know it cannot have been easy, with the children, and with the rumors.”

“I pay no mind to rumors about myself,” says Elia, “I find others far more enlightening.”

The Small Council may have Varys, but Rhaella would put coin on Ashara Dayne collecting her own information for her queen. “I find Rhaegar’s actions disappointing,” she says bluntly, so they might get this out of the way not. “To say the least. I had thought to have raised him better than to so blatantly disrespect you. And to leave the Crownlands entirely- it was poorly planned, on his part.”

“Oh, by now I am very aware of my husband’s poor plans,” Elia pours herself a cup of wine, and offers some to Rhaella, who simply shakes her head. “And I do not hold them against you- I know you never have approved of such a thing. His words and deeds are his and his alone. House Targaryen has survived worst.” She pauses. “As has House Martell.”

“Yes,” says Rhaella. “We have.” She hesitates, considering her next words.

“I must express my deepest sympathies, for your loss,” says Elia, “but I pray you understand why I did not come here in mourning colors, for the late king.”

That does provoke a laugh from Rhaella, one that startles both her and Elia, who pauses mid-sip of her Dornish red. “Elia, my daughter,” she says, “I would not blame you if you wished to dance on his ashes, never mind abstain from wearing black in his memory.”

Elia stares at her for a moment, expression inscrutable, something she inherited from her mother, a sort of bred neutrality, and then smiles. Her eyes are glinting in the firelight. “My thanks, Your Grace.” She reaches forward and takes Rhaella’s hands in her own. “We have only ever known one another in Aerys’ shadow. But he is gone now, and we both remain. You have outlasted a thousand of his shames, and I know we can right Rhaegar’s path, together.”

“Rhaegar is my firstborn son,” acknowledges Rhaella, “and I will always love him. He was a great comfort to me, as a boy. But I cannot and will not allow him to sacrifice his power as king for the sake of love. I have seen it happen too many times before.”

Elia stills. “I am not so certain Rhaegar thinks only of love, with his lady Lyanna.” She appears to be just barely keeping the disgust from her voice. “He… has indicated to me that his… actions with her were borne from prophecy. Chiefly, a desire for a third child. Another head,” she adds, when Rhaella only stares at her.

“He-,” she is speechless. She has not spoken to Rhaegar in months. She would not have thought- How can he- “He means to sire…”

“I cannot be sure,” says Elia, “but I will show you the letter he left me. Only I beg of you that we not reveal this to the Small Council. This must be contained by those who know him best. And I will not have it said that my husband the King is a madman, like-,” she halts herself mid word, and Rhaella finishes the sentence for her, in her own mind: like his father before him.

Chapter Text

282 AC - KING’S LANDING

Elia’s coronation gown is a splendid thing; the long red train of Myrish lace resembles spun rubies, glittering under the sunlight pouring in through the high, stained glass windows of the Great Sept of Baelor. The train, held by two of her ladies, stretches out from her flowing crimson skirts, and her bodice is weighed down with hundreds of small fire opals and garnets.

Her sleeves are delicately scalloped to match the high neckline, and her hair is gathered a top in her head in an elegant cascading updo, loose tendrils framing her face. She has been often called pretty and seldom felt beautiful, but now she does, even more so than she did on her wedding day.

She rises from her kneeling position with the crown of Alysanne the Good atop her head; a simple golden circlet, quite similar to the one she wore as a princess, although it is set with seven different colored gems, to represent the seven kingdoms. Its masculine twin, the crown of Jaehaerys the Wise, has been lost since Rhaenyra sold it flee King’s Landing during the Dance.

Beside her, Rhaegar rises wearing the crown of his grandfather, Aegon the Unlikely, commissioned by Aegon Dragonbane, ironically enough, Elia thinks. At least it is a simple gold band, to complement her own. Better that than Aerys’ old crown, that red gold monstrosity, tainted by his madness and Aegon the Unworthy’s greed. He has never been one to dress elaborately, but he is so handsome, she thinks pragmatically, that his simple maroon tunic, finely embroidered with silver threaded dragons around the collar, seems kingly enough.

A few feet away, Rhaella stands with Aegon in her arms, and Viserys and Rhaenys at her sides. The packed sept roars in approval, as it has for every king and queen before them, and Elia forces herself to take Rhaegar’s arm, smiling serenely at the crowd from the dais. Rhaegar tilts his head down to press a gallant kiss to her cheek, and it is all she can do not to spit in his face. She forces her expression to remain unchanging, utterly calm and assured.

Thank the gods he did not bring the girl with him. Thank the gods they have gotten through the coronation in one piece. Thank the gods this is all almost over. In a sense, it is just how she always dreamed. Rhaegar is king and she is queen. Aerys is dead. Her children are happy and safe. Every man, woman, and child present recognizes her as their rightful queen. Everything she has worked for, every insult and scrap of gossip she has endured, every miserable day and night of her pregnancies, her agony in the birthing bed, the isolation of Dragonstone, the sneers of the court, it has all been worth it, because here she stands.

If only- well, there is no sense in wishing. She must deal with the reality of the situation. Even if for today, she can pretend, along with everyone else, that all is well. Rhaegar arrived with Ser Oswell Whent five days ago. With the rushed preparations for the coronation ceremony and the lavish feast that must be held- because people will talk if the celebration is anything short of joyous- she has barely had time to speak to him, or the desire to. She put on a mask of manners for the sake of Rhaenys and Viserys, both thrilled to see their father and brother, and even for Rhaella’s sake, for while she may be displeased with her son, she still embraced him warmly when he arrived, as any mother would.

But she knows Rhaegar must be well aware of how she feels. None of her smiles have reached her eyes, and she has spent no time alone with him. Her bedchamber door has been firmly barred, although she does not think him pigheaded enough to try at affection, after everything. But he has been looking at her like a kicked puppy, so to speak, and she has had about enough of it.

Were she not the queen, she would have slapped him silly, screamed in his face, and cursed his name. Or at the very least, she would have fantasized about it. She has never been an angry person, did not inherit her mother’s formidable temper, or so she has always thought. But what she currently feels goes beyond pure anger or even rage. She can barely stand to look at him, never mind touch him.

They are forced by tradition and decorum to lead the dancing at the feast that evening, so they do. Elia last twirled around the Queen’s Ballroom with him during their wedding feast. She did not love him then, but she was happy, she thinks. They spoke of Sunspear and her family and what their household on Dragonstone would be like, and she remembers recalling how well they moved together, how nicely they seemed to fit, her in his arms, his indigo gaze never leaving her upturned face. When the call for the bedding went up, he spared her from humiliation and carried her away himself. She had looped her arms around his neck and smiled, unafraid, as they went.

Now she is silent and stiff, resisting the urge to wrench her hands away from him. Every so often he seems about to speak, and then only exhales and looks away. Good. Let him be uncomfortable. It is the very least of what she had endured from him. Finally, Elia finds it within herself to speak without hissing, and says, “Her Grace the Queen Dowager and I have written Lords Stark and Arryn, informing them of your arrival and crowning. If- when- Arryn pledges to submit to the Iron Throne’s authority, we may release Lord Elbert. Rickard Stark will likely feel more comfortable coming to the capitol on his son’s behalf now.”

“And the other prisoners have been released,” Rhaegar says.

Elia stares at him, unflinching. “Yes. It was the best option before us.”

“I would not have my wife and mother shoulder my burdens,” he seems troubled, as he should be. He should be far more than troubled, in fact. Does he not see how close they have come to ruin? “I apologize for my absence, Elia. I know this cannot have been easy for you. You may rest assured that I will not shrink from my duties now.”

She very nearly laughs aloud at that. “Do not make this any more difficult than it has to be,” Elia tells him, frankly. “Send for the Stark girl, let her talk some sense into her brother, and release them to their father. Put it behind us quickly now, and the people may forget.” That is half a lie. No one will forget the events of Harrenhal, not now, not in the next century. “You need not grovel before them, but if handled well, there is no need to provoke further upset. Write to Robert Baratheon, apologize profusely, and let us find a new bride for him-,”

“Elia,” says Rhaegar, and she pauses, hating herself for it, and hating Andal customs all the more, that this is all mere suggestion on her part, that he can so easily disregard her will- “There will be no…” He seems almost amused. “I did not wed Lyanna Stark to renege my vows to her and her gods. I have every intention of treating with her father and brother, but they will come to see that I have given House Stark great honor in this. In the eyes of their gods-,”

“The old gods do not recognize polygamy,” she snaps, grateful no one can hear them over the music, as they gracefully weave around the other couples. Rhaella is dancing with Lord Lucerys Velaryon. This must be the first time the woman has danced in years, after so long sitting paralyzed by Aerys’ side at every feast and celebration. “You know that as well as I do, Rhaegar. You cannot truly believe Rickard Stark will take this as an honor. He arranged his daughter’s marriage to Baratheon. And his son is convinced you have raped the girl every night since you took her-,”

Rhaegar’s grip on her tightens, and Elia holds her tongue, mindful of the look on his face. Rhaegar has always been slow to anger, but he is still a Targaryen, she reminds herself. He is still Aerys’ son. “Her name is Lyanna,” he says, coldly, “and I would have you use it, as she will be your sister wife, my lady. I have done nothing that she did not freely welcome. I know this will be a difficult adjustment for you, but you will respect this. You will respect me,” he continues, “as your king, if not your husband. I know you have been hurt by this. I wish I could have spared you the pain-,”

“Spared me the pain?” she hisses. “Gods be good, Rhaegar, do not pretend at compassion now. I wonder if you have any for myself or your children at all. No prophecy told you to abscond with a betrothed girl and attempt to sire a third child on her! A child who would be a bastard in the eyes of the law and the Seven.”

“I will speak to the High Septon,” he says.

“You cannot provoke an uprising among the Faith as well,” she tells him sharply. “Listen to me. I am your queen, Rhaegar. I have always given you wise counsel, I have never gone against your will- think of Aegon. He is your heir, he needs you, he needs to come into a strong seat, a stable rule. We cannot put out a dozen fires at once. Robert Baratheon could still call his banners, as could Stark-,”

Rhaegar softens slightly, seeing her obvious distress. It only infuriates her more. She does not want his chivalry, she wants him to listen. How can he not see what she sees? What his mother sees? What the Small Council sees? “You are a good, gentle woman, Elia.” He tells her soothingly. His long fingers stroke a small circle on her back. She goes even stiffer, if that is possible, her spine rigid and aching.

“I know you think only of our children. I promise you, Rhaenys and Aegon have nothing to fear. Nor do you. This may seem uncertain now, but I have- I know all will be well, and we will triumph over any foe. I will be a better king than my father. A stronger king, and all the more with you and Lyanna at my side. The people will love you for your kind heart, and her for her courageous spirit.”

“I am not Rhaenys, and that child is not your Visenya,” she whispers to him, almost frightened, not necessarily of Rhaegar himself, but of what he speaks of, what he references. “And you are no Aegon the Conqueror, Rhaegar. You have no dragons.”

“Not yet,” he says calmly, knowingly, and it chills her to her core. “I once thought myself the hero this land will require, but I was mistaken, blinded with a child’s arrogance. Aegon is the one. You must see it as well. What he could become. He will restore glory to this house, to Westeros. Summerhall will not be forgotten.”

Finally, the song ends. Elia breaks free of him, her hands shaking slightly, to her dismay. Rhaegar seems to take her stunned silence for a wife’s obedient acceptance. Perhaps it is for the best. She may be able to reason with him better if he believes her to be on his side. If she is too outspoken with him, too visibly angered, he will dismiss her entirely as ‘blind’ to his great vision. She cannot afford to be sidelined now. They are bound together like weights. If he falls, so will she, and everyone she loves.

With this in mind, she persuades him to bring her with him when he speaks to Lord Elbert and Lord Brandon. Elbert Arryn is willing enough to bend the knee, bowing his head before them both, and, whether he believes it or not, readily accepting Rhaegar’s brief summation: that Lady Lyanna went with him of her own free will, that there was no abduction, no rape. Thankfully, Rhaegar says nothing of a second queen, dragons, or a third head. He has that much awareness, at least. Elia suspects Elbert is simply desperate to be out of a cell, and would agree to anything to see his home and kin once again, as any sane man would.

Brandon Stark is another matter entirely. He must be kept at sword point by both Ser Jaime and Ser Jonothor to be stopped from lunging at Rhaegar on sight, and Elia’s presence does little to moderate matters. He all but spits at their feet, purpling with rage when Rhaegar speaks. “Your sister loves me, as I love her. I know you mistrust my words, but when Lyanna is here, she will tell you much the same, my lord. I consider her my wife. We were wed before your own gods-,”

“Do you fight as well as you lie, dragonspawn?” Brandon snarls. “Let us test it- your blade against my own. Keep my gods out of your cursed mouth. Where is my sister? If you have hurt her-,” he surges forward until Jaime Lannister’s sword pricks at his neck.

“When Lady Lyanna is here, you may see her with your own eyes, my lord,” Elia says, desperately trying to quell his rage. “His Grace the King has not mistreated her, I am certain of it.” She is certain of none of it, of course, and she prays the girl has not so much as a scratch on her, but her maidenhead will be gone all the same.

“Did you bring your wife to soften your lies?” Brandon barks at Rhaegar. “You think I would accept anything from you- You stole a woman of House Stark, a highborn lady, a promised wife! For months, you kept her from her home, her kin, her own betrothed- and now you would come to me and speak of love?” he sneers. “You love no one. You are as mad as your father before you.”

Ser Jonothor cuffs him hard round the face at that, and Brandon Stark spits blood and saliva at him, laughing harshly. “Do as you like to me. My father will avenge my shame, and my sister’s.”

“Your sister has no shame,” says Rhaegar evenly, his only sign of temper betrayed in the iron of his voice and the dark look in his purple eyes, “for she is held in high esteem by a king. Your King. In time, you will bend the knee to me, and repent your treason and your accusations, and you will do so gladly, knowing the full truth of the matter.”

“The only truth is your cowardice, Targaryen” says Brandon hoarsely. He looks at Elia with a mixture of scorn and pity. “Had we met on the field, I would have rid you of this craven you are saddled with.”

Elia sucks in a quick breath, and Rhaegar takes her firmly by the arm, steering her towards the door. “Enough. Do not harm him,” he tells Darry and Lannister, as Brandon unleashes a string of curses in his direction. “I will treat my prisoners with respect, even when they offer me none.”

Outside the room, Elia stares at him. “How soon?” she asks slowly. “Until Lady Lyanna arrives?”

“I have already sent for her,” says Rhaegar, and he presses a cool kiss to her brow that she fights not to cringe away from. “I will not keep her from her destiny any longer.”

She feels a need to lie down after that, and is her private sitting room with her ladies when Rhaella arrives, face drawn and pale. For a few moments Elia is terrified that Rhaegar has changed his mind and put Brandon Stark to the sword for his outburst earlier. But Rhaella holds a letter with the seal of House Arryn.

“Jon Arryn pledges his loyalty to us in exchange for his nephew’s freedom,” she says shakily, as Larra guides her gently into a seat. “And Rickard Stark is on his way. But Robert Baratheon has left the Vale.”

There is a long, pained silence. “If he left on a ship from Gulltown, he could be back at Storm’s End already,” Ynys says pointedly.

“Arryn warned us,” Elia murmurs. “He could have kept it hidden longer.”

“He is a man past sixty. He does not want war,” Rhaella says, running her trembling fingers through her hair. “But Baratheon-,”

“Would like nothing better,” says Ashara. “And he has every reason to.

Chapter Text

282 AC - THE DORNISH MARCHES

Lyanna can smell the approaching storm in the air. Storms taste a little different in the North, but she would recognize that almost coppery smell anywhere. The sun has slunk low behind the Red Mountains, but within a few days they will finally be free of the Marches, and then Ser Gerold says the travel will be much easier and quicker when they cross the Blue Byrn and take the Rose Road the rest of the way until King’s Landing.

Right now they are in between Blackhaven and Harvest Hall, but Ser Arthur says they should be safe enough, that Blackhaven’s imposing fortress is far enough back in the mountains that they should be able to pass through without notice. And they can always ride for Harvest Hall if need be; House Selmy should welcome them, perhaps not enthusiastically, but out of duty nonetheless.

Lyanna knows she should perhaps be nervous or frightened, that outlaws might beset them or a marcher lord take notice, but she is so relieved to be away from the Tower of Joy that sleeping on a bundled cloak on the ground and wearing borrowed squire’s clothing seems a mild inconvenience indeed. She cut her hair before they left, anticipating the blazing heat and the days she would be spending out in the open air. Now it barely comes past her chin; scandalous, yes, but neither of the knights attempted to stop her, and she has always wondered what it would be like to cut it.

Lying on her side on the ground, smelling the encroaching storm, she runs her fingers through her hair and tries not to think of how Ben would braid flowers and leaves and grass and sometimes even acorns into it. Skinny, silly Ben, her little brother. She misses him the most, she thinks. Even their name days are close together. Soon she will turn fifteen, he fourteen. He caught her once, rereading one of the few letters Rhaegar sent her. They had been just past the Neck, on their way to the Riverlands, for Brandon’s wedding and her escape.

She had begged and pleaded with him not to tell Father, and he hadn’t. “Please, Ben,” she can still hear herself, “Please, it’s only a trifling, don’t tell anyone?” They’d always kept each other’s secrets, when it had been just him and her at Winterfell, before he was sent away to Oldcastle for his fostering. She wonders if he is there now, running up and down the shoreline, watching the tide come in from the Bite. Of all her brothers, Ben knows her best, even when they were like to kill each other.

The fire has died down to dull embers, glowing in the growing dusk, and Lyanna rolls over and tries to will herself to sleep. She enjoys sleeping outdoors, but she keeps waiting for the telltale rumble of thunder in the distance. They will have to move out of the foothills and under some rocky outcropping or into a cave then. Ser Arthur is speaking with Ser Gerold in low murmurs. The two of them are close, she thinks, despite the gap in age; Ser Arthur seems to regard the older knight as something akin to a fond uncle.

Lyanna closes her eyes, and after a few moments can hear them a little better; perhaps they think she has finally nodded off. She can still only make out snippets, over the low crackle of the fire, but she thinks she hears, “The Queen,” and “...crowned…” and “Brandon.” Brandon is what makes her bolt upright, shoving off the cloak she’d been using as a blanket. Ser Arthur sees her first, and his mouth settles into a grim line, as he glances at Ser Gerold.

“What about my brother?” Lyanna asks hoarsely.

“Go back to sleep, my lady,” says Ser Gerold. “You will need your rest come morning.”

“You said Brandon,” she says stubbornly. “What about him? Is- has something happened?” Brandon should have wed Catelyn Tully by now. He should be siring a babe on his new wife, or out hunting, or giving Ned a hard time-

“Your brother did not take the news of your… disappearance well,” Ser Arthur says after a long moment, ignoring the sharp look Ser Gerold gives him. “He is in the custody of the Queen Mother and the King. King Aerys, gods rest his soul, ordered his arrest for threats against the then Prince.”

Lyanna’s breath hitches in her throat. “But- Aerys died near five months ago,” she says. “He- Brandon has been imprisoned all this time? The letter from the queen didn’t-,”

“Now that King Rhaegar is at court once more, I’m sure the matter will be dealt with fairly,” says Ser Gerold in a gruff tone. “He would not wanted to have troubled you with such news, my lady.”

“Troubled me?” Her voice is far more shrill than she would like. “My brother- Brandon doesn’t know that I’m safe? We- why are we sitting here when we could be riding for the capitol? We have to get there as soon as possible! I have to- once I explain everything to him, he’ll see-”

Her eyes sting, but she refuses to let the tears of shock and anger come. How could Rhaegar not have told her? How long has he known? Was there another letter, one he kept from her? What else- no, she can’t think like that, she tells herself firmly. Ser Gerold is right. He was just trying to protect her. But so is Brandon- Brandon has always protected her. What must he think, locked up in some dark cell? Does he know where she is?

You hardly left them a letter, the nasty little voice in her head hisses once more.

Her stomach roils. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Rhaegar had assured her that it would be alright, that- Maybe Brandon already knows, perhaps it’s already been resolved. If Rhaegar told him the truth, that she was safe, happy, even- Why would he believe Rhaegar, the little voice continues, almost twistedly amused. Why would anyone believe that it was not what it looked like? After all, no one would ever think a Stark capable of such a dishonorable thing

No. She pushes her hair back, head sinking. It wasn’t- it’s not like that. She and Rhaegar wed in the godswood. It was done with honor. He promised her that Princess- Queen Elia would understand, that she would come to welcome Lyanna, that- she coughs suddenly around the lump in her throat, face flushed, and Ser Arthur crouches gallantly by her side, squeezing her shoulder.

“It will be alright, my lady. You’ll see. You have trusted the King thus far-,”

“You trust Rhaegar,” she did not mean to say it quite so loud. She looks up suddenly, eyes darting almost frantically between him and Ser Gerold. “You trust Rhaegar, do you not?”

“Of course,” says Ser Gerold stiffly. “He is the king. We swore vows-,”

“Not as the King,” she snaps. “As a man. You… you believe in him, don’t you? You- you think he’s doing the right thing? That…” She trails off, looking searchingly at Ser Arthur. His violet eyes are shadowed, and not just from the increasing lack of light.

“I do,” he says at last. “I have known him since he was young. He is a good man. He will be a great king.”

A small amount of the tension seeps out of her. “Oh. Good-,” she stops, for Ser Gerold has suddenly stood up, a hand on his sword. Ser Arthur immediately stands as well, murmuring, “What is it?”

Ser Gerold hesitates. “I thought I saw a light.” He stares out into the twilight for a moment longer, and then relaxes. “No. I must have-,”

There is a sharp, distant cry. Ser Arthur reacts instantly, kicking dirt and rocks into the small fire, then stamping on it to put it out. Lyanna belatedly realizes it is so their attackers do not have a point of reference.

“Is it outlaws?” she hisses, jumping to her feet, and snatching up her own sword, which she always keeps by her side at night.

“Could be,” says Ser Gerold, “but they’d have to have been combing the foothills for travelers- shit,” he curses suddenly, as a distant crack of lightning momentarily illuminates the landscape. “Shit! Arthur, the horses!”

Arthur runs to the horses tethered to a scraggly tree nearby, untying their reins, and Lyanna runs after him to help, as Gerold unsheathes his sword. “It’s not outlaws,” he rasps. “It’s stormmen. They mean to push us back towards Blackhaven.”

“We could hide in the hills, use the storm as cover-,” Arthur begins, adjusting the saddle on his horse.

“No,” Gerold snaps. “We can’t take the chance of them cornering us. I only got a glimpse, and I counted at least five on horseback, riding hard. Someone gave them forewarning we were in the area. They’ll fan out and search every bloody crevice and cave if they have to. Take her,” he jerks his head at Lyanna, “and go down the northwestern path out of the hills, and then ride hard for Harvest Hall. I’ll hold them off up here, and if you can make it out onto the plains before the storm breaks, you should be able to make a clean break.”

“We can’t just leave you here,” Lyanna begins in protest, then gasps as Arthur picks her up without warning and settles her on his own horse, then clambers up behind her. Ser Gerold is mounting his own horse, and then goes charging down in a different direction, sword held aloft, shouting, House Hightower’s words, “We light the way!” He is trying to call as much attention to himself as possible, she barely has time to realize.

“Keep your head down, and hold on,” Arthur says in her ear, and before she can say anything else he has kicked his mount into a canter, then a gallop. There is boom of thunder overhead, and she tries to look back, but the grey and reddish brown of the foothills blur around her. The shouts and cries get louder, and she hears the distant clash of steel. They streak downhill, and Arthur leans around her to urge his stallion ever faster, crossing a thin stream in one leap.

Lyanna holds on, blood racing in her veins, watching the slate grey sky overhead. Arthur curses behind her. “We’ve got two,” he mutters, and now they are out onto the plains, but Lyanna can hear the two gaining on them, the sound of hoofbeats behind them growing louder and louder. She leans into the horse’s mane, as if to will it to push on, but they are gaining on them all the same. An arrow lands in the ground nearby, then another whizzes overhead.

Lyanna stops breathing for a moment, and then something hits Arthur, behind her, and he cries out in pain. She tries to look back at him, just as another arrow grazes the flank of the horse. Too late, she tries to pry loose Arthur’s clenched grip on the reins as the horse rears, but he has stiffened in agony from the arrow that found its home in his shoulder, between his plates of white armor. The horse bucks, and he falls. Lyanna just barely maintains her grip, conscious of her sword at her side, but they’ve already lost ground and now another rider is in front of her, cutting off their escape.

The stallion whinnies in panic as thunder rumbles even closer, and bucks again. Lyanna hisses a curse under her breath, grabs the pommel, and then kicks her legs clear as she throw herself off the horse before it can throw her itself. She lands on her hands and knees in the dirt, conscious of Arthur, who has gotten back to his feet and who is fighting one man mere feet away. Lyanna stares up at the other rider, clad in the colors of House Dondarrion, and scrambles backward. To her shock, he unsheathes his sword. She knows why they are here, but she had not thought they meant to kill her-

“Tell me where the lady Lyanna is, and I may let you live, boy,” he barks, and as the sky opens up overhead, Lyanna realizes that he has no idea who- or what- she is. He thinks her a squire, her face obscured by the darkness and the rain. She pulls loose her own short sword, tries to clamber to her feet, as a man screams in pain in the distance, but the Dondarrion before her is already swinging-

Lyanna ducks, and the blade just barely skims over her back, slicing at a few locks of her hair. “Arthur!” she shrieks, dodging as she runs, and her attacker gives quick pursuit. But Arthur is locked in combat with the other knight, their swords clashing together, even with an arrow in him. The ground is quickly turning to mud underneath her, and she slips and falls to the ground, rolling over and getting dirt and grass in her mouth as she evades yet another blow.

“You can’t dance forever, boy,” the man jeers, and as she slips and scrambles away he rears back and kicks her flat with a powerful jab of his booted foot. The wind knocked out of her, Lyanna’s head slams into the ground, and the sky ripples darkly overhead. She coughs and retches frantically, trying to regain her sense, as he circles, toying with her. He could have taken her head clean off by now.

“To see the Kingsguard reduced to a pack of kidnappers and rapists,” he jeers. “Tell me, how does it feel to die a coward’s death?” The rain begins to sleet downward, and Lyanna blinks back tears of pain as she stares up at him, trying to place his face. Suddenly his rough hewn features ring true in the back of her mind.

“I know you,” she rasps, “...Ser… Axel.”

She is sure he did not hear her over the gathering storm, but then he pauses. “You-,”

“We-,” Lyanna coughs raggedly, and manages to roll onto her side, grasping at her sword. “Danced with me- once.”

He is staring down at her, sword still raised, and then, as lightning crackles again over the mountains- “Lady Lyanna?” He lowers his sword, expression horrified, just as another sword is thrust through his side, back out, and then near takes his sword arm off. Lyanna screams as he crumples, but Arthur Dayne stands behind him, haggard and bloody but still alive, his other foe dead on the ground nearby.

“Lyanna?” Ser Axel of House Dondarrion, who she danced with what seems like years ago, who complimented her new gown and lied, as they all had, that Robert would surely change for a beauty like her, that all those tavern maids and serving girls would pale in comparison- Ser Axel is staring up at her, still horrified, and pleading somehow, in his eyes, as Arthur Dayne cleaves off his head.

It topples to the ground at her feet, still looking desperately at her. There is blood all over her breeches and boots.

Lyanna gets to her own feet, sword loose in her limp grasp, looking at Arthur, who runs a hand through his drenched dark hair. “Come on,” he says roughly. “We must keep moving.”

“You didn’t have to kill him,” she whispers in shock. “He- he recognized me, he wouldn’t have-,”

“He was standing over you with a sword,” says Arthur curtly. “Lyanna. We have to go. Now.”

“I didn’t want- I didn't want this,” she says, although she does as he says, for what else is there to do? Ser Axel is still looking at her. She wants him to stop. She wants it all to stop. The storm, the frantic rabbit kicks of her heart in her chest, the blood trickling off Arthur’s greatsword. “I didn’t want anyone to get hurt, I didn’t mean- What about Ser Gerold?”

“My duty is to keep you safe. Ser Gerold will catch up with us when he can.” He grabs her by the arm and pulls her towards one of the men’s horses, a short distance away.

“I knew him,” says Lyanna raggedly. “I- I danced with him, he was friends with Robert, he liked my dress-,” she is babbling, she knows, and hates herself for it, but the words keep flowing from her mouth, “he wasn’t- he seemed like a good man then, I didn’t- is Robert here? I don’t want- We can’t just leave him like this, if Robert sees-,”

Arthur’s grip on her tightens. “If Lord Robert is here, I don’t intend to wait for him to find us.”

“This is my fault,” says Lyanna faintly, almost wonderingly- “Brandon- Ser Axel- this is my fault. Oh gods. Oh gods.” Her feet drag and slip in the mud. “He lowered his sword. Didn’t you see? He wasn’t going to hurt me, why did you- he thought he was saving me-,”

She stops talking once she is back in the saddle in front of him, and then the tears come, although they mix with the rain until she is not sure whether she is still crying or not.

Chapter Text

282 AC - KING’S LANDING

Rhaella finds her son in the rookery. She recalls Rhaegar spending some time here as a boy, intrigued by the work of the maesters and the ravens in their roosts. She had sometimes thought, before he had taken up a lance and sword, that it was a pity he was the heir to the throne. He had a maester’s soul, it had seemed to her, inquisitive and thoughtful, inclined to the more scholarly pursuits.

But that was long ago. Rhaegar has not been that quiet little boy for years. Now he sends three ravens off into the dark, a letter in hand. The sun set not an hour ago, and in this drafty tower, at least, all is still and quiet, aside from the rustling of the birds up in the rafters. Rhaella lifts up her skirts to avoid the dried droppings on the floor, as Rhaegar turns to see her.

“Mother,” he sounds mildly surprised. “I had thought you had retired after dinner.”

“I find that sleep does not come easily to me, as of late,” she says. In truth, sleep has never come easy to her. Not since she was a little child, she thinks. She lay awake in bed, gripped with terrified dread of Aerys summoning her, or worse, coming to her chambers, for years. And she always had the strangest dreams during her pregnancies, which would wake her up in a gasping panic. Pycelle offered many potions and tonics, but she refused them all, wary of what they might contain.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” he says. “I would have hoped that you are finally at peace, now.” His brow is creased in genuine sympathy, but she would rather his honesty than his compassion. She finds it difficult to reconcile the sweet boy she raised with the man standing before her. Has she truly failed even him? Should she have been harder on him? Favored discipline over comfort?

He grew up hearing the tales of her uncle Duncan’s shame, to have forsaken his rightful throne for a peasant girl with flowers in her hair. Duncan may have been unashamed of his actions, but her grandparents were shamed for him. To have raised an heir who could throw it all away on a whim- And he made her father king. For that she could never forgive him and his sweet Jenny of Oldstones. Nor her twisted witch.

“How can I be at peace?” she finally asks, with a note of bitter irony. “You have ensured that.” Before he can respond, she nods to the windows. “To whom have you written?” Perhaps she presumes too much, to ask the King of his correspondences. But he is still her son, her boy, and she has not relinquished a mother’s rights yet.

“Griffin’s Roost,” Rhaegar says. “I mean to name Jon my Hand.”

“Better he be well on his way to the capitol already,” notes Rhaella. “The Stormlands will not be fit for travel much longer.” Robert Baratheon will see to that. There has been no official word of him calling his banners yet, but it is only a matter of time. And when he does, storm lords will flock to his cause or their king’s, and he will have to fight a war against his own people before he can challenge the Crown.

“I have summoned Marq Grafton for the position of Master of Coin,” he continues, “And Richard Lonmouth for the position of Master of Law.”

“They are both young for such positions,” Rhaella notes warily. Grafton is just shy of twenty eight, Richard Lonmouth twenty one.

“We need young blood,” Rhaegar replies. “I cannot have my father’s old friends on my council. I know they will do what is best for the realm.”

“They will do what they think best for you,” says Rhaella. “I know you think of them as your companions from youth, but the Small Council must be evenly balanced. Wisdom must temper boldness. You ought to consider a Tyrell- a position such as Master of Law for a man like Ser Moryn, for example, will go a long way in assuring their loyalty. Even a western lord- I would not counsel you to sit a Lannister in your inner circle, but a Crakehall or a Lefford…”

Rhaegar moves to her side, and gently takes her arm, a son reassuring his fretful mother. Only she does not feel so reassured, even as part of her welcomes it. She has been so alone, and he is still her child. It was difficult for her, once he reached manhood and was no longer hers alone. For years he had been the one bright glimmer in her dark world. A reminder that something good and pure had come from her and Aerys. Now-

“You must trust me, Mother,” he says. “I will not the fool that Father was. I will not squander my responsibilities, or avoid my duties as king. I know you are-,” he hesitates, “I know you have cause to doubt me as of late, but I can and will resolve this. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

“I am always afraid, Rhaegar,” Rhaella whispers, and reaches up to cup his face gently. “That is what being a mother is. We are always afraid for our children, and I am queen as well, so I must fear for many more than just my sons. These things seem simple to you now, but ruling is not so straightforward as you believe. I wish your father could have instructed you as a king should his heir. I wish things had been different. But we cannot change the past.”

“We can’t,” Rhaegar agrees, as she removes her hand. “But I can change the future. If there is a war, I will win it. We will have peace the likes of which we never had when my father ruled.”

“Not when House Stark and House Baratheon have been so offended.” Her tone hardens, and her stance stiffens. Rhaegar has towered over her for years, but he is still her son, and she knows what it means to reprimand one’s child in private. “You know I would never contradict you before the court. But your actions have been reprehensible. Had you simply taken a mistress, that could be forgiven, overlooked. Gods know your father had dozens over the years. But to spirit away a betrothed girl- even if she agreed to this plan of yours- you are courting ruin,” she says sharply. “And you cannot even see how close to the precipice you are. This talk of approaching the High Septon- it must end. You cannot weigh the throne against a second marriage. It will not end in your favor.”

He stares at her as if shocked. Good. She need not beg his favor and fear his retaliation. That is the advantage of being Queen Dowager. “Listen to me,” Rhaella says. “I watched my uncle hand over his crown to his brother, my father, for the sake of a lady love. Do not tread near that path. You may love her as you have never loved anyone. Westeros comes first. The people come first. You do have two wives, and the first will always be the throne.”

“She is no mistress, Mother,” he says. “You misunderstand my intentions. I do not mean to set her a place in my household as some- some whim to be entertained. I am not like Father. I would never treat Elia the way he treated you-,”

“Your father never spurned me in front of a tourney full of thousands to crown a maid of fourteen,” Rhaella snaps. “Your father treated me worse than a drunkard treats a whore, make no mistake.” Her voice cracks like a whip, and Rhaegar blanches. “But even he knew better than to bring up the question of polygamy. Once it becomes public knowledge that you intend to crown a second queen, we will have war. Not just with Baratheon, or Stark, with every house that follows the Faith. With every septon, with every maester, with every knight. Do not make claims you cannot enforce.”

“If I speak with the High Septon-,” he begins.

“You will not,” she hisses. “You will do no such a thing. You may think you can bribe him, bestow honors upon his kin, titles and land. Perhaps. But you cannot bribe them all. You could provoke a schism, not only in the Faith of the Seven but in Westeros. You are no Aegon, and you are no Maegor. There are no dragons waiting above for the people to bow their heads and say, “As you wish.” There are already rumors that you are a half-mad fool to disappear for months on end with the Stark girl. Do not give them more wood for the fire with rumors that you believe yourself worthy of not only a paramour, but another queen as well.”

“She is to bear my child,” Rhaegar’s face is a mask of cold anger. “I wed her, and when she bears the third head of the dragon-,”

“She is not with child now,” Rhaella retorts. “The girl may be barren for all you know. She may never give you a living son or daughter. And even if she did, you must accept that they will be known as Waters, not a Targaryen- and never a Blackfyre. Never. You do not remember Maelys the Monstrous and the Ninepenny Kings. I do. I cannot prevent you from siring a bastard, nor can Elia. If you believe in this prophecy of yours, surely the name of the child does not matter.”

“I gave her my word as King,” says Rhaegar. “That I would see our marriage known as legitimate.”

“And any children with her?” Rhaella fights to keep her voice even, calm, despite the fury in her.

He pauses there. “We did not speak of children. I thought it best to...”

“It would seem you have spoken of a third child with everyone but the girl you would see mother to it,” Rhaella says tartly. “Does she know of the prophecy? Does she know what you expect of her?”

“Lyanna loves me,” says Rhaegar, and she can see how he believes it in his eyes, gleaming in the dark. “As I love her. How could a child not come of such a union?”

“No woman loves bearing a bastard,” says Rhaella. “But it would seem she will have to grow used to the idea, for you cannot put forward the question of legitimizing the child or the marriage. Tell Rickard Stark you wed the girl in the godswood to assuage her guilty soul. Tell him it was purely symbolic in nature. Beg his forgiveness for what you have done, and do whatever is necessary to keep the wolves at bay. But if you try to create a second queen, or a third true-born child, you will risk everything, Rhaegar. Everything and everyone you hold dear. What do you think they will do to her, when they come through our gates crying for your head, calling you a heretic and a madman? What do you think they will do to Elia? Your children? Myself and Viserys?”

She sinks into breathless silence. She has never been this openly angry with him, never. He was never a child who needed a tongue lashing or a scolding. She only remembers raising her voice to him once, when he walked in on her and Aerys- when he- she had been so frightened that Aerys would do something, for Rhaegar had been twelve then, and tall for his age, no longer a harmless child, and the look on her husband’s face-

It was the first and only time Rhaegar had ever tried to come between them, to defend her from his father, and Rhaella had screamed herself hoarse for him to get out, to go away, that this was between husband and wife, that he had no right to question his kingly father. She had done so to protect him, but she can still remember the look of hurt on his face. Aerys had been caught off guard by her rare display of temper, and then taken it for a sign of devotion on her part, and had ripped open her gown and bent her over the table as soon as Rhaegar was gone, grunting praises in her ear as he raped her, as if she were a dog who’d learned a new trick.

Now Rhaegar looks at her with a similar expression of stunned hurt, although it is different coming from a grown man, not a frightened boy. “Do you have any faith in me?” he finally asks hoarsely.

“I have had faith in you since the moment I birthed you in the smoke of Summerhall,” says Rhaella. “But faith does not mean blind trust, Your Grace. You are right. You can be a better king than your father. You can redeem our house. But you must consider what he did not. You must weigh your actions, always. The people want a king, not a hero of legend. They care not for dreams or prophecies, only food in their bellies and fertile land to grow it on. Ruling is as much what you prevent from happening as what you make happen. If you truly love Lyanna Stark, you will heed my advice.”

She prays he heeds it. Elia may loathe the presence of Rhaegar’s mistress at court, as most wives would, and the possibility of a bastard child being raised alongside their Targaryen siblings is just as disturbing, but they will cross that bridge when they come to it, Rhaella thinks. For now, the most she can do is to convince Rhaegar not to give the Faith or the people cause to think him a madman attempting to follow in Maegor the Cruel’s footsteps, marrying other men’s wives. He has an heir in Aegon, and if the gods have any mercy left at all, he will either never be able to sire a child on Lyanna Stark, or will only produce a daughter. A bastard girl would be manageable. A son, especially one with the Targaryen look-

Rhaella would rather not consider that. And perhaps there is still hope of him setting Lyanna aside. He claims he loves her- what of it? Aerys said the same about half of his whores. Rhaegar is still a young man, with a young man’s passions. They proclaim to love a woman one day, and they despise her the next. If he did promise Lyanna Stark a crown, and cannot deliver it to her, this ‘love’ may dissipate as quickly as the morning mist. Gods know if Rickard Stark will even agree to take the girl back after all of this, but it would certainly go a long way.

“I will consider your words, Mother,” Rhaegar finally says. She curtsies out of formality, and to perhaps assuage his wounded ego. Then she dares to nod to the letter in his hand. “Have you received word from Lord Stark? He should be in the city any day now.”

“No,” says Rhaegar. “This word comes from Harvest Hall. Lyanna and Ser Gerold and Ser Arthur were attacked by knights from the Stormlands.”

Rhaella feels her heart drop. “Was anyone killed?”

“Ser Arthur slew a Dondarrion and a Swann. Ser Gerold slew a Morrigen and two squires before he was killed.” Rhaegar’s voice is calm, but his knuckles are bone white around the parchment. “The Selmys say they found his entire chestplate caved in by a war hammer. I have little doubt that it was the work of Baratheon. It is a miracle that Lyanna and Ser Arthur were able to escape him. There are rumors that Baratheon was wounded by Ser Gerold before his death, and that is why they retreated.”

They may have a bit more time then, Rhaella forces herself to think pragmatically, if Robert needs to recuperate before he is once more fit for battle. But he still may not wait long. She cannot imagine the man being content to lie in bed, recovering, while he knows Rhaegar has his betrothed. “You must write Storm’s End,” she says. “You must make an official statement that Lyanna came of her own will. You must have her sign it, as well, in her own hand. It will not stop him from calling his banners, but we will still need it circulated-,”

“I intend to write Storm’s End,” says Rhaegar shortly. “I intend to demand recompense for the death of the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, and the attempt on the lives of Ser Arthur and Lyanna. And when Robert offers me nothing but threats and curses in turn, there can be no doubt that the Crown has every right to defend itself against rebellion and treason.”

He begins to move past Rhaella, and then stops. “I will not ask Elia to ready the household for Lyanna’s arrival, but I will ask you as your king, Mother. No doubt she has suffered greatly. I would have her feel welcome here. It will not be long now. Ser Arthur and her rode on with an escort from Harvest Hall a fortnight ago.”

Rhaella opens her mouth, then thinks better of it. She may have pushed and pulled at him far enough tonight. “Of course, Your Grace,” she says, inclining her head. “I will see that the preparations are made for both her and Lord Stark and his men.”

He leaves her in the rookery, and Rhaella stands still for a moment before crossing to the windows, and peering out into the evening darkness. King’s Landing seems to glow dully beneath her. She has always hated the city, but the sight of it brings her even less comfort tonight. She can count the number of times she has been permitted to leave it on one hand. She has not seen the ocean, the true ocean, not just the bay, nor the towering mountains since she was a child. But they are there. They must be there, even if she cannot see them. They must still exist, just as she does, in spite of everything.

One of the ravens utters a shrill croak from far above, making her flinch, and the rest of them join in, shrieking and cawing as if mocking her. Rhaella quickly turns and walks out as they form an ever-louder chorus, trying not to let the fear curdling inside her show. Nasty birds. She has always hated them. What is it that the maesters always say? Dark wings, dark words? She believes it now more than ever before.

Chapter Text

282 AC - KING’S LANDING

Elia’s first impression of Lord Stark is that she has never met a man who looked quite so out of place in the Red Keep. She has met Northerners before, of course, but Rickard Stark rode through their gates with the wary look of a wild beast entering a cage. Not frightened, but deeply discomfited, and although his face betrays nothing, she saw his eyes when he first glimpsed Rhaegar on the throne.

She thought then for a moment that if the throne room had been empty of all but the two of them, Rickard Stark would not have stopped and inclined his head in acknowledgment, if not deference. He would have kept on walking, taken that greatsword from his back, and cut Rhaegar down where he sat. It was not rage, she thinks. It was grim assurance. He will not be so easily led as Chelsted or Staunton or Elbert Arryn.

She suggested a walk through the gardens, ostensibly to show Lord Rickard where the castle’s godswood is located out of respect for his faith, but in reality he and she both know that was a mere pretense. She wanted him out of the anticipatory eyes of the court, who are waiting for the Old Wolf to howl for his son and daughter, and away from Rhaegar. She will not be able to delay her husband treating with the Warden of the North forever, but she does not wholly trust him not to provoke him the way he did Lord Brandon.

“The gardens are lovely this time of year, but I am told the godswood holds great beauty as well,” she says graciously, cognizant of the fact that her ladies and his retainers are exchanging dubious stares behind them.

“Your Grace, I trust that you did not invite me out here for a comparison of native horticulture,” Lord Rickard replies, staring straight ahead. It is rather uncanny.

Elia hesitates, then lets her smile vanish as quickly as it appeared. “No. I did not.”

“And if you hoped to obtain some promise of peace from me before I meet with the king, you will be disappointed,” he continues brusquely. “I have come on behalf of my son and my daughter. There will be no assurances of any kind from me until I have seen both of them.”

“You would be foolish to do otherwise,” says Elia. “I will not deny that you have been wronged, my lord. I can only offer up my own assurances, that I am prepared to do whatever is necessary to settle this matter peaceably.”

“You are young, Your Grace,” says Rickard, “and you have a young woman’s hopes of amity and goodwill. I should be sorry to disappoint them.” But the unspoken note in his steely eyes says, ‘yet I will disappoint them and more if I must’.

Elia nods silently. This is not one she can win over with a silver tongue and a soft smile. Rickard Stark may have had southron ambitions for his children, but he still has the northern pride. And who could fault him for it? Even the most forgiving of southern lords would react much the same, had it been his daughter. No self-respecting high lord would not demand justice.

“You have been wronged as well,” says Rickard, surprising her. She glances at him briefly, keeping her expression neutral. “It is a mark of your character that I did not come to this court and find it brimming from top to bottom with foul rumors concerning my daughter.”

Elia is sure there are still rumors and insinuations, of course, but she is glad none of them circle around her. It would hardly be productive for her to spend her free time spinning smears and slurs against Lyanna Stark. Not when she has much greater concerns. Rickard Stark would not be standing here calmly conversing with her had he arrived to find that the queen had publicly denounced his daughter as a wanton whore who’d stolen the king from her marriage bed.

“I am the Queen Consort,” she says, “and I would not invite any more speculation and gossip than there has been already. I despise gossip and slander,” although it does have its uses, she thinks, “and I should hope my court would reflect that. We must lead by example, my lord.”

“Indeed,” says Rickard Stark, and then there is the whisper of skirts along the grassy path, and Alyse is curtseying at her elbow, and whispering in her ear, “Ser Arthur has just come through the North Gate,” she pauses, “along with his loyal squire.”

Elia does not allow so much as a ripple to spread across her face. She inclines her head to Alyse, who steps back, and turns to Lord Rickard. “My apologies, my lord, but I have been summoned by the Queen Mother. I hope we may speak again soon,” and oh, they will, for Lyanna Stark has arrived, even if he does not yet know it, “and under happier circumstances.”

She is not sure whether he suspects anything or not, but he can hardly prevent her from leaving, as it is. Rickard Stark bows, retreating to his sour faced, bearded men, and her ladies swarm around her like bees to a hive as she sets off a bit quicker than normal through the hedgerows, picking up her skirts in her haste.

“We haven’t much time,” says Ashara. “They cannot keep her disguised as a squire forever- most of the court will have heard by this evening.”

“If Stark believes us to have tried to keep her from him, it will go poorly,” Elia says in a low, forcibly even tone. “I want her bathed, suitably clothed, and never alone. Not with Rhaegar, not with any of the Kingsguard, not with a single servant. One of you must be with her at all times. Polite. Calm. Tell her nothing without my leave, but do not harass or provoke her, either.”

“You think she may try to run? Or see her brother without permission?” Larra questions as they pass under a stone archway.

“I have no idea what she may say or do,” Elia replies. “I do not know her. I do not know what she wants or what she thinks, only what the King believes of her. I cannot trust his judgement, for better or worse. And that makes her all the more dangerous. Treat her as a prisoner, she may lash out and do or say something we will all have cause to regret. Underestimate her, and gods know how this will end. Or if it ever will.”

Rhaella meets her in the Maidenvault. Elia had not sent her word, but there had not been much point in it- Rhaella would be one of the first to be informed anyways. “Where is Rhaegar?” Elia asks immediately, as she falls into step besides Rhaella. “Is he still in the Great Hall?” She prays he is. If they can meet with Lyanna before him, they may have some success in-

“Elia. Mother.” Rhaegar is at the other end of the hall, Ser Oswell and Ser Jaime at his sides.

Elia curses silently, and hopes Rhaegar does not sense her distress. “Your Grace,” she says, dipping into a curtsey, as does Rhaella beside her. Rhaegar approaches, kisses his mother on the cheek, and takes her hands in his own. His fingers were always uncommonly soft and smooth, despite his years with the lance and sword and reins in hand. Only the pads of his fingers, she noted long ago, were ever rough or calloused, from his constant harp playing.

“If this will be too difficult for you, my lady,” he tells Elia almost kindly, “I will not take it as a slight if you wish to take your leave.”

Elia stiffens, but instead forces herself to squeeze his hands in reassurance and smile benignly. “Of course not, Your Grace. I have prayed for Ser Arthur and Lady Lyanna’s safe travel, and I would see them and bid them welcome as any other guests.” She does allow some of the consternation show in her gaze, so he does not think she is manufacturing feigned compassion, but rather putting on a brave face for his sake.

He softens. “You are as good-hearted as always, my wife.”

Rhaella told her of her… discussion with her son, concerning the Faith and a second marriage. Rhaegar has not said anything more on the matter. Elia is tentatively prepared to take that as a good sign. If anyone could tempt a change of heart, it would be his long-suffering mother. Rhaella’s pain cannot be so easily ignored as Elia’s. Most men have a weakness for their mothers. Doran and Oberyn certainly did.

Now they turn to the door before them, and Elia allows Rhaegar to step forward. He seems almost unsure, boyishly nervous as he pushes it open. She does know how much of this weak-kneed, giddy affection she can take. She certainly hopes he does not think she and Lyanna will be happily sharing living quarters, weaving and practicing the bells together, existing in domestic harmony for him to return from some council meeting so they can shower him with womanly affections.

Inside the room, the needle half of Westeros seems balanced on awaits.

Arthur Dayne looks much as she remembered, although his face is weathered and darker, and his hair longer. Elia has known him since she was a child, and now, with Rhaegar before her, does not bother to hide the open disdain in her expression as she looks at him. It would seem Arthur has forgotten his Dornish roots in favor of his lily white cloak. But he holds himself stiffly and avoids her gaze, although she can see his violet eyes momentarily search the doorway for Ashara.

Lyanna Stark- Lyanna Stark is not at all what she expected. Elia barely saw the girl but a few times at Harrenhal, and remembers a vague outline of a young maid. Fair skinned and dark haired and clad in blue and grey, she recalls. A loud laugh ringing through the feasting hall and a veritable pack of wolfish boys around her, her brothers. A speck in the tourney stands, the tip of Rhaegar’s black lance mere feet from her, the crown of roses dangling in the air.

Now she is standing before Elia and concrete and real, and she is- young, and skinny, and almost waifish, in a sense. Her fair skin is burned and peeling around her neck and nose from the hot sun of Dorne, that long dark hair has been crudely hacked off, not even touching her shoulders now, and she is clad in the worn and dusty clothes of a young squire, a battered, thin sword at her hip. She is smaller than Elia thought she would be; she had for some reason built her up into some towering figure in her imagination, older and more coy, knowing, somehow, but this-

This is a child, Elia thinks. Not so much because she cannot be any older than five-and-ten and because she is dressed in a green boy’s clothes but because of the look on her face. It is the look of a child, equal parts defiant and shame-faced, stubborn and intimidated. It is the conflict. She does not bow her head and shy away from Elia or Rhaella or Rhaegar but she does not smile and simper her greetings, either. Instead the girl stands there, entirely caught off guard, frightened but unwilling to show it, clearly wanting to hunch her shoulders and look down but standing quite still instead, momentarily frozen.

“Lyanna,” Rhaegar says, and it obviously all he can do to keep his kingly composure and keep himself from going to her right then and there. Instead he is mindful enough to stay where he is, to not embrace her immediately and shower her with kisses or assurances. “My lady,” he says, “you cannot know how much I feared for you, when we received word from Harvest Hall. Ser Arthur,” he looks to the knight, who raises his gaze in hollow acknowledgement, “you have my sincere thanks. You conducted yourself as befitting your rank and more.”

“Yes, Your Grace,” says Arthur, and then no more. The Sword of the Morning, at a loss for words? Then Elia feels almost cruel, for she knows he did care for Ser Gerold. But Ser Gerold was the Lord Commander, and he sanctioned Rhaegar’s foolhardiness, and Elia does know if she will ever be able to put that aside to offer up any genuine grief for the man.

“Rhaegar,” Lyanna says hoarsely, but as he turns to her again his crown seems to catch the light and Lyanna seems to note it and amend her words, perhaps realize that things are different now, already, that this is the Red Keep, not some hovel in the Red Mountains where they were free to treat one another like any other common couple- “Your Grace,” the girl corrects herself, and glances at Rhaella and Elia, and gods be praised, Elia thinks, she has enough sense to curtsey, stiff and unyielding thought it might be. “Your Graces,” she murmurs again.

“Lady Lyanna,” says Rhaella, quietly. “I pray the rest of your journey was peaceful.”

“Yes,” Lyanna nods jerkily, but cannot seem to take her eyes off Rhaegar, her gaze desperate. She has dark circles under her eyes, Elia notes. Is it the travel that has disrupted her sleep, or guilt, perhaps, does she blame herself for Ser Gerold’s death, or does she already have misgivings- surely she must have heard by now that she is not the only Stark present at court.

“You are exhausted and travel-worn,” says Elia, and she keeps her voice light and delicate, oh so careful, for Rhaegar is looking at her very intently now, and she cannot chance him finding some fault with her for an insult or snub of Lyanna Stark, intentional or not. “I will send some of my own maids to draw your bath and provide you with fresh clothes, my lady. You must rest here, of course.”

“My brother,” Lyanna nearly interrupts her, catches herself, and then, shooting Elia a wary, guarded look, goes on, gaze flickering right back to Rhaegar. “My brother, is he- is he well? Have you spoken to him? I- I can go to him now, to make things right. I’ll explain everything to him,” she says swiftly, as if worried they will shout her down at any moment. She seems to draw upon some reserve of courage, and her voice loses the hesitant tremor. “If he is a prisoner here, it is because of me, and I must set things right. He can hear it from me, the truth. If you take me to him, Rhaegar,-”

Now Rhaegar does touch her, laying a hand on her arm. “Peace, Lyanna,” he says soothingly. “Your brother has been treated well, as befitting a highborn prisoner. No harm has come to him, I promise you. When you are rested, we will speak with him together, and your father-,”

Beside Elia, Rhaella tenses, and Lyanna Stark freezes in shock. “My father is here?” She had flushed from her passion in speaking before, but now Elia watches with some small but not necessarily thrilled satisfaction as all the color drains from her face. “My- he came to King’s Landing?”

“Only to answer for your brother. He is not our prisoner, Lyanna,” says Rhaegar, taking her hand in his own.

“You must take me to him.” At last, the she-wolf has bared her teeth. The anxiety and the hesitation and the youthful embarrassment, they are all gone. Now she is wild-eyed and iron-voiced, and Elia sees a little of Rickard and much of Brandon in her. “He- I must see my father now. He thinks I’ve been kidnapped. He thinks you-,” she jerks away from Rhaegar. “No. There’s no time. I can’t just sit here- or bring him here to me! Once he sees that I’m alright, that no one’s hurt me or-,” her voice cracks slightly, and Rhaegar seems to take it for innocent grief.

Elia knows it to be fury. Lyanna Stark is infuriated. With Rhaegar, with herself, with the situation, perhaps even with her father and brother for taking her disappearance to its logical conclusion. She may even be infuriated with Rhaella and Elia for standing here and saying nothing. But the brunt of her anger snarls and scrapes at Rhaegar, even if he cannot see it, or chooses not to see it. She may love him. But they do not share the same conviction in their deeds, Elia thinks, regardless of what Rhaegar thinks.

“Everything will be alright,” says Rhaegar. He kisses her on the brow, identical to the way he has kissed Elia there in the past. She fights back the wave of revulsion. “Lyanna. Listen to me. All will be well. You cannot see anyone like this. Tonight, I promise. You will see them tonight, and we will settle things between your house and mine. Together.”

Chapter Text

282 AC - KING’S LANDING

Lyanna nods off twice in the bath, and has to be stirred awake by the maids attending her. Part of her wants to shake them off and sink deep below the steaming hot water, but her bones feel loose and aching at the same time, and her skin is bright red and pruning. The water has gone a greyish shade of brown from all the dirt and dust that was crusted on her hair and skin.

She steps out of the tub with a grimace, burrowing into the robe held out for her, and then dismisses the maids. Lady Ashara lingers in the doorway, violet eyes trained on her. They are the same exact shade as her brother’s. It unnerves Lyanna. She feels like a wild beast in a cage, being inspected. But she cannot dismiss one of the queen’s ladies in waiting the same way she would a servant.

Instead she huddles cross-legged on the bed, combing out her wet hair herself. It takes barely any time at all, now that it is so short. Ashara Dayne steps out briefly, then returns with a gown draped over her arms. She lays it silently on the bed beside Lyanna, along with a pair of satin slippers. “I hope this is to your liking.” The gown is an intriguing shade of dark blue, almost midnight, trimmed with black velvet. Lyanna has not worn anything half so fine in months. She runs her fingers along the silk of the bodice.

“Thank you.” Her voice still sounds small and hoarse, to her dismay, as if she has a bad cold, or as if she’d been crying recently. It was bad enough the way they all looked at her- she still burns inside with shame and mortification from all of it. She had not thought she’d be meeting Rhaegar, his mother, and his wife all at once. And to find herself face to face with Queen Rhaella and Queen Elia- Rhaella Targaryen had seemed more grieved than anything else, but the look in Elia Martell’s dark eyes, despite her polite smile-

Lyanna cannot help but feel that Rhaegar was wrong. Elia would not come to understand their union. She would not come to accept Lyanna. She would not- and before, it was different, it sounds silly, she thinks, but it was. It was different because she had never stood before the woman and looked her in the eyes and realized- Rhaegar should have- No, she should have- It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Things were supposed to be different. He is already crowned. Her father is here. Brandon has been rotting in a cell for months.

There is a strange tightness in her chest, and she feels numb.

“Are you alright?” Ashara Dayne asks her, tone carefully smooth and gentle, and Lyanna wants to hit her. Not because Ashara has done anything to her, or has anything to do with this, but because- she is tired of people being careful and gentle with her. She is ungrateful and proud and spoiled and this is all wrong but she is here now, and she just wants to know where she stands. For once, she wants someone to be truthful with her.

“I’m fine,” says Lyanna, lying through her teeth, and quite sure Lady Ashara knows it. She is not fine. She may never be fine again. They never should have gone to Dorne. Rhaegar should have brought her back here first. He should have faced his father, damn the consequences. She would have stood alongside him and done the same. They should never have run. She should have insisted he send word to her family, to Robert. They should have publicly announced it. And gods- he should not have told her- she should never have believed-

Elia Martell, she thinks, will never forgive her this. It is a hollow realization. She will never. There is no question of ‘when’ or ‘if’. If it were Lyanna- and how easy it is to slip into the other woman’s shoes now that she has reason to be angry with Rhaegar as well- if it were Lyanna she would never forgive it, could never forgive it- She will never forgive you, and your father will never forgive you, the voice tells her flatly, and Brandon will never forgive you. And everywhere you thought to find joy you will bring only rage and sorrow.

After she is dressed she ignores Ashara’s attempts at casual conversation, watching the noon-day sun outside the window. She has never been here before. Never been in a city this large before. White Harbor could not compare. Winterfell is bigger than the Red Keep, but lower to the ground, cold and quiet and ancient. This castle seems too loud, too tall, too vivid. The smells and sounds are strange. She thought she would feel free here, but she does not. She sits in silence on the bed, staring blankly at the wall, stomach churning. Father- Father is going to-

“Lady Ashara, if you would leave us,” Rhaegar has stepped into the room, alone this time.

Ashara hesitates, then curtsies and goes. Lyanna glances at him, him and his crown and his princely finery, and part of her feels as though she were looking at a stranger. His face and hair are the same as ever, and his smile is the same, but she does not- It feels different, to be around him now. How could everything have changed so quickly? But when she tries to sleep at night she sees Ser Axel’s face, hears his dying cries, feels his hot blood on her.

“Your Grace,” she says, standing and curtsying slightly.

“When we are alone, you may still call me Rhaegar,” he sounds bemused, and runs his long fingers through her short hair. “You cut it. I shall miss your hair, Lyanna.”

She doesn’t. “I want to see my father and brother,” she says.

“Tonight,” he reassures her. “Your father has been… informed of your arrival.”

Her stomach twists again, like a knot. “We should have sent word to them months ago.” He should have. She had no access to a quill and parchment, never mind any ravens. But she feels as though she cannot accuse him- he is not some monster, he did not lock her up and throw away the key- she came with him willingly-

“We had other concerns,” he says. “I was worried for your safety. If they had known where we were, where we were going- things could have gone wrong. Innocent lives could have been taken.” He cups her cheek with his hand, but she wrenches away.

“Innocent lives have been taken,” she says. “Ser Gerold- the men he killed- the men Arthur killed- that wasn’t supposed to… Robert thought I was in danger. He still thinks I’m in danger.”

Rhaegar’s look darkens at the mention of Robert. “Those men would have hurt you, Lyanna. You cannot know the brutality-,”

“They thought they were saving me from a monster!” she exclaims. “Brutality- they thought you were the brutal one! This is- we have to make this right, Rhaegar. I cannot- the way people are looking at me since I got here-,”

“Who?” he questions. “No one has- Lyanna, if you feel as though you are in danger-,”

“Of course I’m not in danger!” she resists the urge to shove him, hit him, do something, anything. “That’s the point! I’m not in danger, but other people are! Good people! Innocent people, Rhaegar! You think I- I have heard things. That we may have war. There can’t- you can’t let there be war. Not with the Stormlands- not with my father.”

“There won’t be any war,” says Rhaegar. “If Baratheon rebels, we will extinguish it.”

“What if my father rebels?” she demands. “What if- what if it’s too late? What if-,”

He cuts her off with a kiss, and she resists at first, then succumbs to it, before pulling back.

“It is not too late,” Rhaegar tells her fiercely, passionately, and he could be her dragon prince again, her silver prince, the man she thought was saving her, or helping her save herself. “I will make peace with your father. I will see to it that you have nothing to worry about. Nothing to fear. You cannot doubt this, Lyanna. This is-,” he catches her hand in his own, locks his fingers with her. “I love you, and you love me.”

“But what- what if we made a mistake?” She does not pull her hand away, but she stares at him intently. “What if there was another way, a better way, if we had waited-,”

“Waited for you to be married off to man who you despised?” he demands. “How can this be a mistake? I’ve told you of my dreams, of the song of ice and fire-,”

“You never explained what that was! You think we’re meant to be together, but you can’t even tell me why, or how, and the gods- your gods- they could be wrong,” she says hoarsely. “What if they did not mean it to happen like this? And- your wife-,"

“You…” he hesitates. He is still keeping things from her. She can tell.

“I did not want to think about it before,” says Lyanna. “I wanted to trust you. To believe you knew best. But you cannot tell me that Elia has not been-,” she can’t even say it. Is it guilt? She doesn’t even know what she feels anymore. Anger and fear and betrayal and hurt and guilt, yes. Mostly on her behalf, but on others as well. Ser Axel. Her family. Elia. Perhaps even Robert, as much as she loathed him. She did not want this.

“Elia is a kind woman. A good woman. I will not deny that she has been… hurt, but in the long-term, she will see that this was for the best,” says Rhaegar. “It will take time, to be sure, but we have time, Lyanna. Time for everyone to adjust.”

She is not so sure at all. “I am a fool,” she says, blinking hard. “Maybe not a fool to love you, but a fool to be so easily led, I think. I should have made you send word before I went with you, I should have- Gods, you should have- We should have found another way to be together. This is not what I wanted.”

He kisses her again, and it so sweet and aching that she kisses him back, because if she does not do this she thinks she will break down and cry like a child, and then his hands are at her waist, and her newly laced stays are coming undone, and Lyanna thinks she should stop this, should push him away, should shout and scream at him for letting her believe any of this would come easily, but she cannot. She does not want to. She wants to pretend they are- she doesn't know where. Still in that godswood at Harrenhal, perhaps. She wants to pretend that things still feel right and simple and free.

She wants to pretend that she still feels free.

Her poor, fine new gown, hitched up around her waist. Rhaegar whispers and murmurs a thousand apologies for everything into her ears while he takes her. Lyanna locks her arms round his neck and digs her nails into his scalp. She pretends she is causing him pain, for his penance. She pretends this may help make things a little right. His circlet is still on his head. It is cold under her fingers, but the feather bed beneath her is very soft.

Rhaegar lies beside her on his back, breathing hard as if they had just raced on horseback. Lyanna twists the golden band round and round in her hands. She wants to throw it out the window. She wants to melt it down and make him drink it, she thinks. How can she be so angry with him, yet have already half-forgiven him it all? Because you are a stupid little girl, says the voice in her head, and there is nothing you would not do and would not forgive, so long as you can squeeze some pleasure from it. That is what she used to think of Robert. A selfish, arrogant fool, only concerned with his own wants and desires, his own pleasure, his own pathetic ego.

She does not regret not marrying him, despite it all. Should she? She thinks if she were a good, righteous girl she would, she would cry to him in her sleep that she did not mean it, that he was to be her lord husband. She thinks their marriage bed would have been miserable for her. He would have took and took until there was nothing left but bitterness and rage. And then in turn it would have been miserable for him, when she was no longer enough, when she went cold and cruel and spared him no smiles nor laughter nor mercies.

In a few hours she will see her father and brother, and she does not know what will happen. Lyanna does not think it will go well for her. In her dreams from before, she had thought that given time, they would understand, as Rhaegar says of everyone and everything. Given time. The people can come to accept anything, given time. They accepted Aegon and his sister wives and one true king to rule over them all, given time.

And for the first time she thinks how many died, given time. How many did Aegon kill before the people bowed their heads and accepted him? How many did Visenya? Rhaenys? How much of the land was scoured by dragon fire, how many graves were dug, how many died on the sword and by the noose and in the blaze and under the rubble of destroyed buildings?

“Do you think I forgive you?” she asks Rhaegar, almost sleepily. The room is too warm. She feels flushed and lightheaded.

“You already have,” says Rhaegar. His hand is splayed across her chest. Underneath it, her heart pounds slow and steady. She is not frightened of him. She wants to be. It would be easier to understand than this. “Do you know I love you?” Her chest rises and falls underneath his fingers.

“You already know,” says Lyanna bitterly. She sits up, head swimming. “You need to go. You have to get ready for tonight. Please,” she says, as he sits up himself, and takes his crown back from her. “You cannot flatter my father. You cannot convince him of anything. You must tell him the truth. And- let me handle Brandon.”

“I thank you for your counsel,” says Rhaegar, adjusting his crown. His tone is almost sarcastic, but he softens still, looking at her. “I will do what I must as king, Lyanna.”

“Then be the king.”

They do not meet in one of the castle’s many solars, but in a small, secluded feasting hall in Maegor’s Holdfast. Rhaegar sits at one end of the table, Queen Elia and Queen Dowager Rhaella on his right and left side. Lyanna sits beside Rhaella, across from a stone-faced Marq Grafton. Richard Lonmouth is beside him, fixing her with a flat stare. Elia murmurs something to an attending servant about bringing in refreshments, just as the doors at the end of the hall open once more.

Lyanna stiffens in her seat as her father walks in, dressed in all black, accompanied by her brother. Brandon has two guards at his back, and his hands are shackled before him, but he looks unharmed, although he is pale and gaunt, his hair longer than she remembered. His beard is freshly trimmed. She starts to rise from her seat, but Rhaella lays two cold fingers on her wrist, and she sits back down.

"Your Graces,” her father bows. He turns to her. “Lyanna.”

“Father,” Lyanna says in a voice barely above a whisper. The weight of his stare is crushing her. Brandon’s gaze is fixed on her, darting between her and Rhaegar.

“You’re alright,” he says, and his voice cracks as it has not since he was a lad of fifteen. It was her fifteenth name day three days ago. She told no one. She feels much older right now than fifteen. She thinks this gown may make her look more womanly, more mature, more secure. Brandon is still looking at her wildly. “You’re alright,” he repeats, and then his voice hardens. “Lyanna, what happened?”

Her father is sitting down on his end of the table. He jerks his head at the seat beside him, and Brandon slowly sits, shackles rattling. It is dead quiet.

“Now,” says Rickard Stark. “Shall we begin, Your Grace?”

He is not looking at Rhaegar, although he addresses him. He is looking at her. Lyanna swallows, and feels her throat contract.

“Yes,” says Rhaegar. “We should perhaps, begin with a review of the charges brought against your son, and those he has brought against me-,”

“Father,” says Lyanna.

Rhaegar stops talking. She can feel the heat of his look upon her, but she cannot turn away from her father.

“Father,” she says, “There was no kidnapping. We exchanged letters, after Harrenhal. He said he could take me away. I agreed. I lost my guards intentionally, in the wood. We went before a heart tree and said our vows. He gave me his cloak. I laid with him.”

Elia Martell gives a barely audible exhale. Rhaella Targaryen is like a stone statue beside her.

“Lyanna,” says Brandon again, and this time his voice crackles with rage.

“I did not give you leave to speak,” says Rhaegar. No, not Rhaegar, the King. “In the future, my lady, you will wait-,”

“House Stark is done waiting,” says Father, the iron of his voice crushing Rhaegar’s silk. Without leave to speak. “Is the tale my daughter tells true, Your Grace? I would have your answer here and now.”

“Lya,” rasps Brandon. “How could you?” His shackles shudder and clink underneath the table. She thinks if he was not bound, he would spring from his seat and throttle Rhaegar, then her. Her big brother. He will never smile at her again, never laugh with her, never embrace her, never look upon her with anything but fury and wroth.

How could she? Lyanna does not know. She does know much of anything anymore, she thinks. There is no crown upon her head, no sword in her hand, and Rhaegar is not by her side. She feels like she might vomit. Her stays were re-laced too tightly. All her breaths are shallow and neat. All she can do is look at her brother, eyes wet and shining, as they all wait for Rhaegar’s reply.

Chapter Text

282 AC - KING’S LANDING

Rhaella looks at Rhaegar and silently wills him to lie. If he openly admits to Rickard Stark that he set about to make his daughter a second queen- even if it temporarily appeases Stark- it will all unravel anyways. She knows he knows she is right. He cannot give the girl a crown, and he cannot name any children by her as legitimate. Whatever ‘marriage’ they conceived of, done before the old gods or not, is a sham. A mummer’s farce. He is not Duncan, and she is not his Jenny.

“I was a fool for love,” says Rhaegar. “I was enchanted by your daughter at Harrenhal. I had never met anyone quite like her. We met by chance, privately.”

“Would that I had cut you down then and there,” Brandon Stark growls, before a single glance from his father silences him. Rhaella is concerned he may lunge for the nearest sword, shackled or not.

“She confessed her… displeasure with her betrothal,” Rhaegar continues. “She feared that Robert Baratheon would not be true to her, that she would be miserable as his wife.”

“How fortunate,” says Rickard, “that a maid of fourteen found such an understanding friend in a married Targaryen prince.”

Rhaella glances at Lyanna Stark, who is sitting frozen beside her, her mouth slightly open as if she wants to interject, but cannot. If the girl has any sense, Rhaella thinks, she will hold her tongue for the rest of the evening. Any words from her will just enrage her father and brother even more, at this point.

“The fault lies with me,” Rhaegar says. “I suggested she break her betrothal. I encouraged her to come away with me. I told her that I would make vows to her in the fashion of her own religion, so she would know this was not some whim.”

“I confess, Your Grace,” Rickard replies coldly, “that I find that difficult to believe. I cannot think of what one would call this but a foolhardy whim. Did you not make vows to your own wife?” he nods to Elia, who is doing an admirable job, Rhaella thinks, of keeping her expression entirely calm and composed, her hands clasped before her neatly on the table. “Or has the Faith suddenly reconsidered their teachings against adultery and polygamy?”

Rhaegar hesitates, and Rhaella prays as she has never prayed before. Then he says, “They have not. Your daughter was of the belief that I could take two wives, like my ancestors. I consider Lyanna akin to a wife. I will never set her aside-,”

“As you have your wife before the Seven,” Rickard interjects.

“But Elia remains my Queen Consort,” Rhaegar continues firmly. “I will not petition the Faith. Lyanna will be accorded a worthy place at court. She will want for nothing. But the seven kingdoms must come before my own desires.”

“They did not when you publicly flaunted your interest in my daughter and broke her betrothal to your own cousin,” says Rickard, in a tone that would be almost amused were it not so infuriated. “Many words in order to explain to me that my daughter is your whore, Your Grace.”

Lyanna seems about to speak, but Rhaella catches her eye. The pain is writ across the girl’s face; shock and anger and seamed through that, fear. She is terrified. For herself, now that Rhaegar has disavowed any notion of making her a queen, or for her own kin, that they will declare rebellion at any moment and thus sign their own death warrants- does it matter, which? Rhaella seizes that fear, and without so much as a word, gets the point across.

If you care at all for them, you will say nothing.

“I am the only man Lyanna has ever laid with,” says Rhaegar. “She is no whore. She promised to be true to me and me alone.”

“She was promised to another,” says Rickard. “She was not for you to take and spirit away like some serving girl or crofter’s daughter. Let us be blunt. My daughter is a mistress of the king. Your only mistress, perhaps. That is not my concern. What shall I do now? Demand her back? Shall I go to war for my own child, who by her own admission, went with you freely?”

“Freely,” scoffs Brandon hoarsely. “Admit it,” he sneers at Rhaegar. “You would have taken her anyways. Are we to believe you and your Kingsguard,” he pronounces it as if it were bile, “would have rode away with nary a complaint had she changed her mind? It was your own cravenness. You could never have tolerated being denied any woman, just like your father-,”

“Someone gag this man,” says Marq Grafton irritably, but it is Elia who overrides the dull roar of voices by saying loudly and clearly, “Might we return to the matter at hand? Lord Stark,” she addresses Rickard directly, “none here would dispute that your house and honor has been grievously wronged in this. The Iron Throne does not want war with the North. Our people do not want war with the North. I do not think you want war, either.”

“We will pay Lyanna’s bride price,” Rhaegar says. “Twice over.”

“How generous,” Rickard says curtly. “You think to hand me a sack of gold and send me on my way? I am Warden of the North, a title appointed, should I remind you, Your Grace, by your very own Aegon the Conqueror. I am not some blacksmith or miller to be thrown a few coins so you might have my daughter’s maidenhead.”

“We are also prepared,” says Elia, with a quick look to Marq Grafton and Rhaegar, “to send men and resources North, that you might begin to rebuild Moat Cailin. In addition, Lord Lucerys has expressed a willingness to begin consultations in White Harbor, that we might have a Northron navy once more.”

“You would give us ships,” Rickard says, “and trust that we would not turn and sail them into the Blackwater to burn your own fleet?”

“Surely it need not come to that,” Rhaella cuts in. “Let us be reasonable, Lord Stark.”

“And such reason has been displayed thus far, when our King enticed my daughter to ride off with him in the days before what was to be my firstborn’s wedding,” Rickard snaps.

“Perhaps,” says Richard Lonmouth, with a meaningful look to Rhaegar, “we can all agree that House Targaryen should be willing to provide a bride to House Stark. The princess Rhaenys-.”

“As I am the princess’ mother, I shall take that line of thought from here.” It is the first real sign of temper from Elia; her voice cuts like a knife, and has such an edge to it that even Lonmouth relents, lowering his gaze.

“Your heir may still wed Lady Catelyn,” says Elia, “and we might join their firstborn son and the daughter of the King and I in marriage.”

Rhaella thinks it admirable of her to not rage against it; no mother truly wants to barter with the hand of her toddler daughter in marriage. But Elia is a queen before she is a mother, just as Rhaella was. Is. She still wears a crown, does she not?

Rickard Stark says nothing for a moment, and then at last inclines his head slightly. “I would not take such a promise lightly,” he warns. “I will have it in writing, and I will have your oath,” he looks to Rhaegar. “You would deliver her to Winterfell when the time came yourself.”

Rhaegar’s expression contorts in what might be rage for a moment- Rhaella has never seen such an emotion on him before- but then he composes himself. “I am willing,” he says.

“But as it stands,” says Rickard, “my son is yet unmarried and your prisoner. And nothing is guaranteed. He might sire no sons on Lady Catelyn-,”

“If you require more immediate proof of House Targaryen’s devotion,” says Richard Lonmouth. “Perhaps arrangements could be made for Prince Viserys to travel North. As your honored guest and ward, of course-,”

Rhaella sees the unwelcome twist of Rickard’s mouth. Why should he welcome in another dragon prince, when the elder has stolen his daughter and his pride? No. Would it ensure peace, she would send Viserys with them. It would break her heart, but that has been shattered so many times before, there would be little difference in the pain. This will require more drastic measures. “If speaking of future betrothals does not please you,” she says, surprising herself with how even and steady her voice is, “perhaps a more immediate one.”

Rhaegar and Elia are both staring at her in shock now. Lyanna Stark is looking at her brother, as if trying to root him to his chair with her gaze, begging him not to lash out again.

“I would wed you,” says Rhaella to Rickard. “If that is what it will take for you to go home with dignity, and not tidings of war. My mourning period for my late husband will conclude in three moons’ time. I can be ready to travel North immediately following then.” She allows herself a bitter smile, “I do not think you shall have any children by me, my lord, but I will wed you before a heart tree all the same.”

“Mother-,” Rhaegar begins, but Elia leans over and whispers something to him fiercely, and for once he seems to listen.

Rickard Stark looks at her for a long moment. She knows what he is thinking. She would be a glorified hostage, a promise that the Targaryens will never overstep again, more so than a bride. But he has not rejected the idea instantly. There is some hope. She is not thinking of herself. How can she? He does not strike her as a monster, even in his rage. And truly, what could Rickard Stark ever do to her that Aerys had not?

“Father, you cannot be considering this,” Brandon Stark says incredulously.

“I would wed you,” he says to her, and then to Rhaegar, “I will have from you the promised men and supplies for Moat Cailin in six moons time, or the North will secede. I will have from you shipbuilders for White Harbor in six moons time, or the North will secede. I will have from you a promise of betrothal between a Stark son and your daughter, immediately, or the North will secede. And I will have from you your mother’s hand in marriage in three moons time, or the North will secede. Pay her dowry, and not my daughter’s. You will ask for no men from us, when you march against Baratheon. It is not our concern. My son will recant his treason and his threats, and he will never come south with swords again.”

To Rhaella’s dismay, Rhaegar looks at Lyanna first. She finally looks away from Brandon, and directly at him, and remains silent. Her eyes are red-rimmed.

“I agree to your terms,” says Rhaegar. “You have my apologies for what has transpired, and my thanks that you are willing to look past it in the interest of peace. The necessary documents will be drawn up.” He stands, as does everyone else at the table. Rickard Stark comes round, and bends the knee, although he does not bend his head, staring up at Rhaegar fiercely. Brandon does not join him.

Rickard stands after a few moments, looks to his son.

“I will never kneel to a Targaryen,” says Brandon, grey eyes lit with rage. “No more. You know it was no treason, Father. If we forgive this now, they will speak of the North’s weakness for years to come. He does not deserve our loyalty.”

“You are young and a fool,” Rickard says roughly. “You should never have rode for the capitol. I am your lord father. Shall I march thousands to their deaths for the sake of your sister’s virtue and my pride? Shall I tell our people that we will see an endless war with the South, so that you and I might console ourselves with fresh blood on our blades? Enough. In time, you will understand these things. When you are Warden of the North-,”

Brandon spits at Rhaegar’s feet. His saliva melts into the red stone floor.

“Brandon, please,” Lyanna bursts out furiously. “I don’t want to see you hurt because of me, please-,” Lonmouth blocks her path to Brandon, lest she run to him.

“This is not for you,” her brother barks, without looking at her.

“You would have me put you to a trial?” Rhaegar demands. “Listen to your father.”

It is the very worst thing he could say, Rhaella thinks.

“I am my own man,” Brandon snarls. “I am not a child to be led.”

“Brandon,” Rickard’s voice is like ice. “Do not do this.”

“Give me a trial, Your Grace,” Brandon Stark’s lips curls back as he bares his teeth. “A trial by combat, and we will see for ourselves-,”

“Lord Stark-,”

“Brandon!”

“Very well,” says Rhaegar, in a very quiet voice that overrides all the rest. “You shall have one. Our terms still stand,” he says to Rickard. “I release your son into your own custody in preparation for his trial.”

Chapter Text

282 AC - KING’S LANDING

Elia secludes herself in her lady’s solar over the course of the week following what much of the court now refers to as ‘The Second Hour of the Wolf’. Comparisons to steely Cregan Stark of yore are frequent and apt. She supposes that would make Rhaella Alysanne Blackwood, and herself and Lyanna Stark Rhaena and Baela. That comparison is somewhat less appealing. Yet the Stark girl’s presence did not completely unhinge the negotiations, to her relief. Part of Elia had been convinced she might suddenly change course halfway through the meeting, declare herself betrayed and swindled by Rhaegar, and insist her father demand her back.

Gods know how Rickard Stark would have responded to that, but it was still a disturbing possibility. Ashara has made herself somewhat of a friend- or as close to a friend as the girl is like to get in the Red Keep- and tells Elia that Lyanna seemed upset and unnerved even before she laid eyes upon her kin. Now- well, Elia has heard the distant shouting and slammed doors herself. Her ladies all murmur that Lyanna will have no civil words with Rhaegar, and one of Elia’s maids swears the girl took a sword to one of Rhaegar’s harps and left the pieces on his bed.

That is likely an exaggeration, but Elia can believe that Lyanna Stark is both shocked and infuriated. If Rhaegar truly did spin a spider’s web of tales about a crown on her head and a recognized marriage, truly did promise her that she would have recognition and power and respect from both him and his court- Well, Elia can sympathize with the desire, if not the actions. In her own wildest fantasies, she could sway Aegon, when he is a king crowned and a father to preferably many, that should his firstborn be a daughter, he should leave the throne to her, and not the first child he sires with the right parts.

But that is just that. A fantasy. A Martell queen, using her influence to persuade her son to permit a daughter to ascend to his seat, when he had sons as well? It would never be tolerated. Elia is not a child. She has long known the difference between fantastical dreams and reality. She does not hate Lyanna, she thinks. She had thought she would loathe the girl on sight, and perhaps she ought to, but she does not. Oberyn would call her soft-hearted, not keening for revenge and blood. She thinks she may despise Rhaegar. But his mistress-

Elia has no warm desire to embrace the girl as a younger sister and gently correct her course. She is an obstacle, a fallen tree or a rock in the road. She will be navigated around and removed at a later date. Elia does not want to break her, revel in her newfound misery and upset. But there is a wide gulf between that and fond forgiveness. She wishes none of this had come to pass at all, and perhaps now Lyanna does as well. But gods be good, the girl should count herself lucky that she has no crown. For then there would be no choice, for Elia. Mistresses can be bent into more tolerable circumstances. Another queen would have to be split down the middle.

Rhaegar has allowed for a fortnight to prepare for the duel. Ser Arthur has pledged himself to fight in his name. Elia did wonder briefly if Rhaegar would insist on fighting Brandon Stark himself, to establish his martial power at court and prove that the gods truly do look favorably upon his path, but he did not. Perhaps he thinks it a kindness to Lyanna. Perhaps he thinks with far more pragmatism than he has displayed thus far, that if he kills the girl’s brother in front of her she might be far less inclined to share a bed with him.

For now, Elia would rather spend this tense time with her children. Aegon’s first name day will be here soon enough, and she has seen so little of them as of late. And now that Rhaenys- her chest tightens at the thought of it. This is not what she wanted for Rhaenys. She knew she would have to wed, and it is hardly a poor match, but it is not what- It should not have happened like this. So while she does not hate Lyanna Stark, she thinks she could drag both her and Rhaegar over a bed of nails for Rhaenys being tangled in this mess, all the same. Her children are precious. She wanted them spared from this madness, not in the middle of it.

It is some consolation that Rhaenys will still grow up here, but she can hardly see Winterfell for the first time on her wedding day. She will have to spend time in the North before her marriage, to adjust to the people and the customs, to prove that she is not some Southern interloper come to replace their gods and their ways in the heart of whatever Stark boy she weds. At the very least there may be a little more time because her future bridegroom is not even conceived yet. Elia does sympathize with Catelyn Tully, at least. This is likely not the course she thought this year would take.

She knows Rhaenys will be strong. Her daughter will be well-prepared for her life as Lady of Winterfell. She will come into her marriage educated and confident. She will learn when to speak her mind and when to hold her tongue. She will be beautiful and clever and courageous, and they will learn to love her. But that does not change the fact that she was sold alongside a fleet of ships and a ruined castle. All marriages are transactions. Elia’s certainly was. But she was twenty two when she was betrothed to Rhaegar. It had been her mother’s aspiration to see her wed to the prince for years by then, but Elia came into it willingly enough.

What will she tell Rhaenys? That her fate was determined when she was little more than a babe, because her father took a high lord’s daughter as a lover? All for the sake of a prophecy, some wispy dreams? And gods, what will she tell Aegon? He has to be better. Better than Rhaegar, better than Aerys, better than Jaehaerys, better than all of them. He must be the king in every sense of the word. If Elia has her way, her son will never sit easily on the Iron Throne. But he will sit there all the same, and when they write of her in history, they will write that she made a strong and righteous king, and not just in her womb.

But now Aegon walks around the circular room with the help of Larra, beaming as he balances on her shoes, and Rhaenys carries on a lively stream of fairly incomprehensible chatter with a patiently listening Ynys, as she clashes her wooden figurines of horses and lions and dogs and bears together. Elia supposes she will have to commission some wolves from the woodcarver. Rhaenys had best learn how to bring a pack in hand sooner, rather than later. Elia has never been to the North. It was not under consideration when her mother was considering spouses for herself and Oberyn. Whenever she thinks of it, all she can conjure up in her mind’s eye are snow covered fields, grey mountain crags, and a sea of harsh faces wreathed in winter furs, heads bowed under the dark weight of the sky.

She shakes herself from her bitter mood. There are other matters to attend to. She has not wallowed in self-pity or outrage or fear thus far, and she will not begin now. As soon as the trial over, there attention can and must turn to the Stormlands. They have had word from Jon Connington that he should be here soon enough. Still no messages from Storm’s End. It worries her. Gods know what the Baratheons could be plotting, or who they have already convinced to the justness of their cause. At the very least, Rhaegar has seen fit to show her the letter he has written. Lyanna Stark signed it all the same.

It will not break Robert’s rage, but it may deter others from his cause, a declaration that Houses Arryn and Stark will not seek retribution against the Iron Throne, that Lyanna went willingly. As for House Tully- Brandon Stark may very well die. Elia has never seen the man fight before, cannot weigh him against Arthur’s honed skill with the sword. If he does, she thinks it is a surety that Ned Stark will take his place at the wedding altar. Hoster Tully has had the promise of his eldest daughter as Lady Stark for years now.

But-

“Your Grace, the Queen Dowager is here,” says Alyse, stepping side to let Rhaella into the room. Viserys is at her side, lavender eyes darting around curiously. He brightens slightly at the sight of Rhaenys, and breaks away from his mother to crouch at her side and explain what she is doing wrong with her little wooden menagerie. Some say the little prince has inherited Aerys’ foul tempers and instability. Elia would rather not judge a child of six by the sins of his father, but she has resolved to watch him closely all the same. He is her little goodbrother, but he is still a threat. So many threats. She is tired of of keeping track of them all. Rhaegar. Lyanna. Viserys. Robert. Tywin.

Elia rises out of respect, only to sit down again, this time across from Rhaella, who smoothes down her dark skirts and accepts the cup of elderberry cordial from Nymella with a nod.

“My princess, my prince,” Ashara, who has always enjoyed the company of the children, says brightly to Rhaenys and Viserys, while Larra sets a squirming Aegon on her hip. “Shall we take our animals outside? I think they should like the sun and the grass, no?” A maid hurries in to help gather up the toys, and then they are left nearly alone, except for Alyse and Nymella, who retreat to the windowsill to take up their needlework. They are assisting with Rhaella’s wedding garments, although Elia knows from experience that Nymella dreads nothing more than sewing. Well, they all must make their sacrifices.

“Your message mentioned the cat in the gardens that loves to fish in the pond,” Rhaella recounts in her usual softly firm tones. She casts a brief, meaningful glance in the direction of the remaining ladies.

“We may speak freely in their presence,” Elia says. “I trust them with my life.”

“Very well,” says Rhaella, after a sip of her drink. “You propose we convince Rhaegar to release Ser Jaime from his vows and wed him to Lysa Tully.”

“Surely you have heard that the match was proposed before.” Elia allows a slight quirk to the corner of her mouth. “In fact, I have heard tell that it was foiled by none other than the Lady Cersei herself. That she planted the seed of the idea of naming the boy in Aerys’ mind.”

Rhaella stiffens, but says, “Cersei Lannister inherited her mother’s persuasion. Tywin saw the girl as a glasshouse flower to be preserved and carefully tended in the hopes of betrothing her to Viserys, if not Rhaegar. He refused to see the thorns on the rose then, and he refuses to see them now. The thought had likely already occurred to Aerys, and Ser Jaime was eager enough, but I will not deny the girl’s cunning. She wanted her brother here, with her.”

“The Lannisters have always been rather possessive of one another,” Elia admits. “But that is besides the point now. I would see Hoster Tully firmly aligned with us, regardless of Brandon Stark’s fate. Release Ser Jaime back to his father, so he may his precious heir once more, and with a pretty young Tully bride at that- why, I should think even Lord Tywin might not turn not his nose up at that.”

“He would be pleased,” says Rhaella. “If likely not wholly appeased. But it is better than the current situation. It will need to be done delicately. Hoster Tully sees one daughter as wife to the Warden of the North, and the other as wife to the Warden of the West, and in return, we will have men of him to deal with Robert’s host once it has formed. Tywin Lannister has back his heir, a wife for his heir to make more Lannisters with, and perhaps some of his pride. And in return, we will have men of him as well.”

“My mother once said that she should not trust any Lannister army at her back on the battlefield,” Elia says.

“There is still the chance he could turn,” Rhaella sets down her cup. “But I have known Tywin since he was a boy. He despises risks. He will always align himself with the heavier weight. And with only the Stormlands in rebellion...” She sighs.

“You spoke of roses before,” Elia says. “I have not forgotten the crop of them in the Reach. Mace Tyrell never did strike me as a man eager for battle. But with the right incentive…” She cannot help her face from falling. This is not any easier. It is never easier. “Mace’s youngest is a son, is he not? Little Loras? It is no matter. He has sisters and relations a-plenty with daughters of their own. Tyrell, Fossoway, Redwyne, the name is unimportant. I would not be adverse to a Reacher bride for Aegon, someday, if that is what it takes.”

“Rhaegar will never agree to it,” says Rhaella immediately.

“But he will agree that we need the Reach’s men and food firmly in our own basket,” Elia replies. “Nothing need be set down in writing, of course. But much can be implied. Tyrell will pick up the scent of it like a hunting dog.”

Rhaella looks at her steadily. “If you believe you can ensnare them with a quill and ink, do so,” she says after a moment. “When I am gone from here, you will be the only queen in the Red Keep. It will be up to you. I know I am not your blood, Elia. But I do believe in you, and what you can accomplish with the right intentions. It will not be easy. But nothing is ever easy for women in our position.”

Elia smiles briefly, and thinks of Aegon. She doesn't feel as much guilt as she did with Rhaenys. Aegon will always have more power. More room to do as he pleases. But it still hurts her. She feels as though part of her become the sort of scheming liar people whispered of when she came to court. But she is doing this for the right reasons, is she not? This is not for her own gain. This is for their survival. Of course, Tywin Lannister likely tells himself the same thing as he lies down to sleep each night.

But she is not a Lannister. She is a Martell, mother to Targaryens, and all of that will not be undone in the new year. She will not allow it. They will come out of this the victors. She will come out of this the victor. Has she not fought and won her battles thus far? Has she not kept accusations and insults at bay? She remains unbent, but others can and will bend for her. Rhaegar surely will. She saw his face, after that meeting. Rickard Stark rattled him. One might even say Lyanna has rattled him. Does he see it now? What he has wrought? His queen will never forgive him, his mistress may never forgive him. He is on the defensive now, and Elia cannot retreat before him.

Chapter Text

282 AC - KING’S LANDING

Lyanna makes another half-hearted attempt to eat some of her breakfast before pushing the platter away. It’s pointless. She’s had little appetite since her arrival in King’s Landing, and Rhaegar frets over her like a mother would an obstinate child. Part of her almost childishly wishes she would take ill, if only to make him- make him what? She can’t make him do anything. That has become abundantly clear. She calls for one of the maids and paces over to the window, locking her arms round her middle.

She would not speak to him for three days following the meeting with her father and brother. She shouted at him through the door instead. Liar. Coward. Traitor. A hundred insults and curses he could have had her head lopped off for, but Rhaegar has born it with martyr-like patience. Even when she tore the strings from one of his prized harps, slicing open her palms and fingers in the process, in her fury, he did not shout back at her, or punish her, or strike her. She wishes he had. It would make things that much simpler, easier, then she could believe wholeheartedly that he was a lying, deceitful monster all along, luring her into his web-

The maid in question arrives, and Lyanna fidgets in her seat before the burnished looking glass, avoiding glancing at her own reflection. Her hair will reach her shoulders once more in a few more weeks; it has always grown quickly. She doesn’t want to look at her own eyes. Her eyes are Father’s eyes, Brandon’s eyes, all staring at her, accusing her, denouncing her. She wants to be angry at Father, angry at Brandon, but in reality, she knows the person she is the most furious with, whom she loathes the most at present, is herself.

Stupid, selfish, silly little girl. It was all some sick ruse. None of it was ever true. He was never going to make her a second queen, he was never going to win her a place at court and a true name for any children. He only told her what she wanted to hear, what she needed to believe, in order to justify it to herself. And he had told it so well, Rhaegar. Looking back it seems ridiculous, but when- when he spoke to her at Harrenhal, in his letters, it all seemed so genuine, so real, so important.

He said he dreamed of her, even before they met. He dreamed of blue winter roses, growing round a sword and shield, painted with a laughing tree. He dreamed of a grey-eyed maid with a warrior’s heart, praying in a godswood that the old gods might intervene and change her fate. He knew things she had never told him. He’d dreamed a girl hunting a black stag in the wolfswood with her brothers, a howling pack of wolves.

They had brought down a black stag, two months before they ever left for the South. The last hunt she had ever been on. Ned had thought it might be an ill omen, with her betrothed to Robert, but Brandon had laughed such nonsense away, and pointed out that the stag was really more dark brown than black after all, and anyways, wasn’t ‘Lya’s Robert’ more like a wild boar, for all the times she’d called him boorish? How she and Ben had laughed with that, and even Ned had cracked a small smile, shaking his head at their wild amusements.

Lyanna had slit open the stag’s throat herself, cutting through the hide with her hunting knife, putting it out of its panting misery. She can still feel the warm dampness of its breath on her hands. She’d been sick to her stomach the first time she’d killed a living beast, a rabbit on one of her first hunts, when she was but ten. Father had consoled her in his own gruff way, telling her to breathe, and keep a steady grip on the blade. She remembers his hands, heavy but comforting on her shoulders. He’d praised her determination afterwards, and they’d had rabbit stew for dinner. She’d always treasured his rare smiles of approval.

She will have no smiles, nor anything else from him, ever again.

Yet Rhaegar had told her of that hunt he’d dreamed, and there was no way he could have known. How could that have been a lie? And if his dreams came true, or had always been true- Then some of it had to be the truth. Some of it had to have been genuine. When he said they were meant to be, and she had believed him, this starry-eyed prince who spoke of the past and the future in the same breath, who sang so sweetly, who told her how she could take her fate in her own hands and change it with one bold move-

But at the same time all she can see is Brandon with the stag slung over his broad shoulders, blood trickling down his leather jerkin, as they walked back to the horses. “Would I could have you on all my hunts, sister,” he’d said only half-teasingly, with a fond grin down at her. “Quiet as a mouse when she wants to be, isn’t she, Ned? And a truer shot with the bow than any man I know.” Lyanna had beamed at the compliment, the arrow that had at last felled the stag in her cold hands, as she turned it, over and over.

“Robert thinks to test your aim at your wedding, Lya,” Ned had told her in what he likely thought was an encouraging tone. “You would like that, wouldn’t you? A small tourney at your own wedding? They say the hunting is fine in the Stormlands, there’s so many deer. You’ll be eating venison every other night.”

And that had brightened her briefly, before she thought of Robert well in his cups at said tourney, girls in his lap and hanging on his muscled arms, the ribald jokes and the jeering laughter, and the idea of a bedding, with her humiliated and him triumphant, like some glorious conqueror, thinking himself Orys come again-

Her smile had vanished, and she had turned cold and dismissive. “Then I will tire of it quickly, and not be able to stand the taste of deer before the year is out. The only tourney I look forward to is Harrenhal.”

“Storm’s End? It can’t possibly be as large as Winterfell,” Benjen had imitated her mockingly in a high-pitched voice. “They say it reeks of saltwater. I shall be positively miserable there. Oh, please, say you’ll stay after the wedding, Ned, don’t leave me alone with that big boar of a man-,”

Brandon had nearly dropped the stag in his roar of laughter, while Ben scampered away from Lyanna, who had half a mind to put an arrow in him. Ned had gone red in the face in an attempt to suppress his own chuckles as he watched them. “You’ll be eating worms for supper when I’m done with you!” Lyanna had shrieked after her brother as he dodged between the trees.

“Better worms than venison!” Ben had sang back mockingly, then ducked the clod of earth she’d thrown at him. “Ned, call her off! Help me! Set the dogs on her, she’s gone wild!” His snickers had only died out when she finally tackled him to the ground, and both of them had rolled down a small slope, breathless and shouting. By that point even Lyanna had cracked, and was too helpless with giggles to do much but smack him.

Now she has only the memory of their laughter and the crunch of snow underfoot and the smell of the forest. She sucks in a breath as the stays of her pale blue-grey gown are laced up. She insists on her hair being severely braided back in a simple plait, leaving it even shorter than before. The maid, Gwenda, steps back, hands folded in front of her, and says very quietly, “I shall pray for your lord brother today, milady.” She is not praying that Brandon will win, Lyanna knows. That would be treason. Her brother’s opponent is the Crown. More specifically, Ser Arthur. She has not seen Ashara in days, and she cannot blame her.

“Thank you,” says Lyanna, although Brandon would never accept prayers to the Seven on his behalf. She prayed last night. She prayed that he might live. She cannot bring herself to wish for Arthur Dayne’s death, but she just wants- she just wants Brandon to be alright. She wants him to go home with Father and a wife, as he was supposed to all those months ago. She wants none of this to have ever come to past. She wants to disappear.

Gwenda leaves, and Lyanna turns away from the bright sunlight spilling in through the window. She wishes it were dark and stormy. She wishes a blizzard would descend on King’s Landing, blot out all the red with pure white. But they are a long way off from winter now. She wonders if Elia and her ladies are also getting ready for the trial, at this very moment. Does Rhaegar spend time with her? What about his children? There is no stab of jealousy now, just a hollow, empty place. She needs to speak with Elia, to offer up her apologies, but what good would that do, really? What has been done cannot be undone. She can never go home.

There is a quiet knock at the door, and Ser Jaime opens it from the outside to let in Rhaegar. She has never been locked in these rooms, but there is always a Kingsguard stationed outside her door. Lyanna does not have to ask why. Both to keep others out, for Rhaegar does fear for her, worry over her incessantly, and to keep her in. It is the same as the Tower of Joy. She thought herself free there. She could not have been more wrong. It was a cage all the same, only she was willfully blind, deluding herself into thinking she could easily flit between the golden bars. If she had changed her mind then, had told Rhaegar this was a mistake, that it was wrong, would he have heeded her words, sent her home?

She knows the answer to that.

“Will you not even look at me, my lady?” Rhaegar asks gently. Lyanna lifts her gaze, relieved that her eyes are not wet again. She did cry, afterwards. After Father had left the meeting with Brandon, after she was back in this room, their words had echoed in her mind, and when she closed her eyes she could see the look on Elia’s face as she promised little Rhaenys away, and she had choked and retched on her own tears, the sobs tearing out of her.

“Your Grace,” says Lyanna. “May I ask you something?” She cannot bring herself to call him Rhaegar, as of late. She cannot bring herself to even bear his touch. He’d tried to take her in his arms and kiss her, the day after the meeting, telling her it would be alright, that he was sorry, so sorry for all she had endured, and she had tore away from him and scrambled across the bed, spat at him not to touch her. He had left after that, and not come for her again all day.

“Of course,” says Rhaegar. “Anything, Lyanna.”

“When you… when we spoke of your dreams,” says Lyanna, in a voice that is very soft in volume but hard in tone, “you… you told me you’d dreamed of me. Of us wedding one another. Of fire and ice. You told me about the winter roses and the sword and shield I carried and the godswood, and the stag and the wolves- Of my brothers and I in the North.”

“Yes,” says Rhaegar. “I still dream of you, Lya.” He reaches to take her hands but she jerks away.

Don’t call me that, she wants to scream, Brandon calls me that, Ned calls me that, and Ben- never, ever, you’re not allowed to call me that, it’s mine and theirs, not yours, you can’t have it.

But instead she says, “You dreamed of other things as well, but you would not tell me then. You said you dreamed of a great danger. The Long Night, and darkness. You said the gods wanted us to be together. You said I would help you face the darkness, and the dangers. I did not ask how then.” I should have, she thinks bitterly. I should have made you tell me everything, and then run away.

She had almost run, when he found her in her armor that sunlit afternoon. Fear had surged through her, in spite of his soft smile and quiet beauty. She had been terrified he would have her dragged before his father. She should have run. Instead she had not. She had resolved to be brave, to face whatever might come head on, and she had stayed, refusing to quail before him, refusing to apologize. Rhaegar had seemed almost delighted with her nerve.

“How?” she asks now. “How will I help you? How am I helping anyone, here? I have not helped your claim on the throne. I have not helped Elia and your children. I have not helped your lady mother.”

“They cannot see it now, but they will,” says Rhaegar. Still, he hesitates.

“If you did ever love me,” Lyanna whispers. “Tell me the truth, this once.”

He seems to steel himself. “You may have already helped me.” He is not looking at her face. “Lyanna, all the dreams I told you were true. They have been true, they will be true. You will bring forth the third head of the dragon. I do love Elia. Not as I love you, but she is a good woman, a good mother, and a good queen. She is as strong as you in spirit, but she was not strong enough to give me a third child.”

Lyanna gapes at him, her blood seeming to curdle in her veins. Heat floods her face. “You-,”

“I knew you would be the mother to my Visenya from the moment I saw you,” says Rhaegar. “You come from ice, you will deliver fire. Our daughter will be every bit as beautiful and courageous as you. A true Targaryen princess, despite her natural birth. Waters or not, when the time comes all of Westeros will know her for what she is. A dragon, just like her siblings. When the Long Night comes to call, they will answer it with fire and blood. They will be our salvation. They will drive back the darkness.”

“I did dream of you,” he says. “I dreamed of you with my babe at your breast. You sung to her so sweetly, Lyanna. History will remember you as a great woman. My son and daughter, your daughter, they will ensure that. I know it will be so. Would that I could have told your kin the same, but-,”

“Gods,” says Lyanna, backing away from him. “Gods- what have you done?”

Rhaegar just looks at her calmly. “I have done what was necessary. I have given Westeros their promised Prince, and I will give him his sisters, and together they will bring back the age of magic and heroes.”

“You are not a hero,” Lyanna gasps raggedly. “You lied to me-,”

“I made promises, some of which could not come to pass,” he corrects her like a patient teacher. “I told you no lies.”

“You said nothing of a child-,”

Here he does seem troubled. “I had to be sure you would make the right choice, Lyanna. I could not take the risk that it would daunt you. I know this seems frightening. It frightened me at first at well. But what I feel for your is-,”

“The right choice?” she spits. “In what- how is this the right choice, Rhaegar? Does it seem right to you? To your wife and mother?”

“They don’t understand as I do.”

“No one understands as you do!” she snaps. “Did- did anyone understand your father? Did you? Only a madman would-,”

“I am not mad,” his peaceful countenance has disappeared, and he is the King in all his authority once more, bearing down on her. “You have no idea how this has tormented me. Do you think I wished for such dreams? For such a burden? To know that an entire dynasty rests on my shoulders? To know that with one misstep, we will all be doomed? Aegon is the only one who can save us. Him and Rhaenys and Visenya, just as it was then-,”

“Did they save us?” Lyanna demands wildly. “Or did they enslave us?”

“From my line,” Rhaegar says through his teeth, “have come the greatest kings this world has ever known.”

“And the worst,” her voice shakes, against her will.

“I do not wish to fight with you-,”

“My brother may die!” she shouts. “For the sake of- so that I might bear your bastard? You lied to me! Had you told me then what you have just said, I would never-,”

“Your regret comes only at your own sacrifice,” Rhaegar retorts. “You had no qualms about such a thing before-,”

“Then you’re right!” she shrieks. “It is my own selfishness, Rhaegar, it is my own fear for my own kin, I did not think of the others, I did not consider- or I did, and I ignored it! I broke oaths with you! Gods, I wish I had not now, but I did! Oaths you swore! Oaths my father swore! If I could fight in Brandon’s place, if I could put myself to trial-,”

“Don’t say such things-,”

“No,” she says loudly. “No. I was wrong. I have been so very wrong, Your Grace. I have known it since men first died on my behalf, but I was too cowardly to admit it then, I think.”

“You would rather have married Robert,” he says coldly. “You would rather a miserable life at his side-,”

“I would rather you were the man I thought you were at Harrenhal, but the truth was in that crown of roses, only I was too much of a little fool to realize I held it in my hands. The truth of you!” she spits back at him. “I thought you were saving me. But you only gave me chains that were prettier to behold. You craven. You cannot even admit it to yourself.”

“Enough!” He raises his voice loud enough that she flinches back, and at that moment the door bangs open.

They both whirl, breathless, on Ser Jaime, who stands there, green eyed gaze flicking between the both of them. After a moment Lyanna realizes he is looking at her to see if she is bruised or bloodied. He obviously thought Rhaegar had struck her, or was about to. And she cannot say for certainty that it would not have happened, either. She does not know the King at all. She only thought she did.

“It is time for the trial, Your Grace,” says Ser Jaime. Rhaegar gives a tight nod, then walks past him, leaving her behind. Ser Jaime looks at her. Lyanna breathes in and out, trying to compose herself. “Are you alright, my lady?” he asks after a moment. His expression is inscrutable.

“Yes,” lies Lyanna, and takes his offered arm. “I am as well as can be expected, Ser.”

She is accorded a place of honor at Queen Rhaella’s in the upper gallery of the throne room. On the opposite side, her father sits with his men, his eyes firmly trained on the floor below. On the other side of Rhaella sits Elia. Ashara comes to stand nearby, pressed as close as she dares to the stone bannister. The rest of the court files in with hushed murmurs and whispers. She thinks she glimpses money being exchanged.

And then there is Ser Arthur, and Brandon, approaching one another from opposite ends of the hall. Arthur Dayne is clad in full armor, Dawn sheathed at his back. She wonders if his shoulder still pains him from that arrow. It must. But she cannot see his face; he wears a full helm and visor. But he carries no shield; he obviously intends to make full use of Dawn’s impressive length by wielding it with both hands. She has seen what its brutal swings can do. Brandon wears far less armor; a chainmail shirt, shin guards, a far simpler half helm. He holds it under his arm at present; Lyanna can see that he has shaved the sides of his head, and braided back the hair in the middle. He looks more wilding than lordling.

One of Brandon’s squires comes to strap a shield to his arm. Brandon’s own sword is far smaller than their father’s Ice, but just as vicious, common steel or not. Lyanna remembers how he fought in the melee, grinning with savage delight. Brandon is not wearing a gorget, just a mail coif. She is rigid and tense in her seat as both men kneel. Brandon is only slightly shorter than Ser Arthur. He will be able to move more easily, without the heavy armor, she thinks, hopes. She wishes they could have done this in the godswood. It would give him strength.

A court septon comes forth with a crystal orb in hand. He raises it above his head. The rainbow prism dapples Brandon’s shadowed face. Lyanna knows he is listening to none of the prayers to the Seven. He would have said his own prayers with Father in the godswood before this. Then the septon retreats. She wants to scream. She wants to leap down there and come between the two of them. She wants all of this to stop. Arthur and Brandon rise. They both unsheath their blades, glinting in the dull sunlight coming through the upper windows and through the magnificent stained glass panels behind the Iron Throne. There Rhaegar sits, face betraying nothing.

Arthur turns and raises his sword to him. “For our King!” he shouts. The court applauds and cheers in approval.

Brandon simply gazes up at Father. “For the North,” he says in a harsher, quieter tone. The Northmen rise to their feet with a muted roar of recognition, then sit back down as one.

“You may begin,” says Rhaegar.

And so they do.

Arthur strides forward, footsteps echoing on the marble floor. Brandon braces, raises his shield to meet the first pointed blow, then feints left, then right, forcing Arthur to wheel round to face him. It goes on like this for the first few minutes. Brandon is lighter on his feet, dodges one blow, then another, then ducks a sweep of Arthur’s sword and gets in a jab of his own. Lyanna does not think he will play at this game for long. It is not in Brandon’s nature to spend half a duel feinting and dodging. He is trying to tire Arthur before things really begin.

“Will the Young Wolf not face his foe head-on?” Richard Lonmouth calls down stridently at one point, and then Brandon blocks yet another blow with his shield, whirls, and lands a hard slash at the crux of Arthur’s exposed under elbow. Arthur starts backward in pain, and Brandon shield comes down; he stops using it to block, and uses it to batter instead, forcing Arthur back a few paces. Again and again Dawn comes crashing down on the increasingly battered shield, as Brandon delivers vicious jabs and slashes around it, retaliating as soon as Dawn has come down, knowing it will take Arthur a few split seconds longer to raise the massive sword up again.

Lyanna begins to have some small slice of hope, until Arthur gets in a solid hit to Brandon’s legs, sending him staggering, and then another blow to the shield. Brandon falls backwards onto the hard floor with a gasp of furious pain, and the court seems to brace itself for the killing blow in this moment of vulnerability, but Arthur says instead, “Yield.”, staying the downward thrust that could end Brandon here and now, and instead Brandon rolls forward, propelling himself and his oaken shield into Arthur’s legs.

Arthur wavers, but instead of trying to topple him, Brandon twists round with a muffled shout and drives his sword up into Arthur’s armpit, the lunges away before the knight can react. Now Arthur slumps briefly in pain, just as the edge of Brandon’s shield crashes into the side of his head. He stumbles backwards, and the Northmen begin to murmur and chant their approval, as Brandon swings again- but this time Dawn clashes against the smaller sword, forcing Brandon back. “Yield,” grinds out Arthur again from behind his helm. “Go to the Wall, Stark. Yield and live as the warrior you are.”

Brandon growls in response, manages to duck away, but Arthur slashes down his back, and he staggers. They’re both slower, limping now. Arthur delivers another blow, and Brandon almost falls to his knees. Instead he reaches out and grabs Arthur’s arm, bringing them both to the floor. The court hisses in disgust for the tactic, but Brandon is too busy thrusting the shield at Arthur’s gorget- what good will that do- no, the underside of his helm, Arthur struggles beneath him and then with a yell slashes open Brandon’s face from ear to mouth, exposing red flesh and muscle underneath. But the edge of Brandon’s shield catches underneath his helm, tearing it up and off, and Arthur’s strained, reddened face is exposed as he recoils.

Brandon rolls over on the floor, groaning and bleeding. Tears prick at Lyanna’s eyes, but she cannot even blink. “Yield,” Arthur says haggardly, leaving his helm where it is on the floor. Sweat drops down from his dark hair. He is still holding his one arm awkwardly, his grip on his sword less secure. But at Brandon’s silence, as her brother struggles up to his hands and knees once more, he raises Dawn back to swing down-

Brandon gets his shield up at the last moment with a grunt of pain, and Dawn cracks it down the middle once, then again as it clashes down, shattering the shield. Brandon scrambles away, flinging away the pieces, and then charges into Arthur, shoulder first with a roar. They both stagger back once more, as he tries to block Arthur from securing the reach necessary to bring Dawn up once more, until Arthur slams a mailed fist into his stomach. Brandon doubles over, retching in pain, but one-handed, raises his own sword, and gets in a slash at Arthur’s face just as he starts to raise Dawn.

It was the eye, Lyanna, and it so it seems the rest of the court realizes after a moment. Arthur screams in pain and turns away, clutching at his face, there is a torrent of blood, and then as Brandon grins fiercely, she sees the blood on her own brother’s teeth, dribbling from his mouth, and as her wolf brother, panting, swings for another blow, Arthur sweeps his legs out from under him, brings down Dawn with a yell, and opens up the underside of Brandon’s chin. No, his neck. Brandon makes a faint sound, and Dawn comes down once again, weaker this time, and then her brother is on the ground, face down on the marble floor, a pool of blood spreading around him.

Lyanna stares, waiting for him to get back up, not believing what she sees. “Brandon,” she says hoarsely.

Arthur has fallen to his own knees, laid down Dawn, and is still clutching at his ruined eye. The court is so very quiet.

“Brandon!” Lyanna shouts, jumping to her feet. “Brandon, get up!”

He does not move.

Out of the corner of her eye, she sees her father has also risen to his feet. Then, after a moment, he sits.

“The gods have spoken,” says Rhaegar. “The trial is over. Lord Brandon has his judgement.”

“Brandon, no, Brandon-,” Lyanna’s shouts and screams have died away to frantic murmurs. “Please,” she says, to no one in particular. “Get up, please, he’ll yield-,”

Arthur Dayne is being helped to his feet and led away by two squires, a maester already on their heels. Brandon remains where he is. The red pool still blossoming.

“Come,” says Rhaella, taking Lyanna by the arms. “Come away.” Two of Elia’s ladies are helping to escort her away. Everywhere she looks, she sees her brother, so she closes her eyes, hot tears spilling down her face and onto her neck.

Chapter Text

283 AC - STONEHELM

Jeyne watches the Baratheon party approach from her window in the Black Swan. House Swann was well known for its dramatic sigil; two swans battling one another, one dark as night, the other pure as snow. Similarly, their seat of Stonehelm had its own ‘swans’; two parallel towers, distinguished by the color of their stones, both tall and slender like the neck of a swan. Much of the family kept their rooms in the Black Swan; the White Swan was generally reserved for guests or travelers, and housed the castle library.

Her window is not the highest vantage point, but it is on the second to highest floor, and from it she can see across two courtyards and the bailey, out past the ramparts, across the Red Watch and the River Slayne, rushing along in a grey streak that slashes through the murky green forests of the Rainwood. Stonehelm has a strong seat at the mouth of where the Slayne meets the Sea of Dorne, and to attack it from the north one must traverse the mountains first. She imagines the Baratheons took a ship to cut across Shipbreaker Bay, perilous as it could be.

Time is of the essence, after all. It may be barely a week into the new year, but if Lord Robert is to have any hope of solidifying power, crushing the royalists, and presenting a strong Stormlands to face the wrath of the Iron Throne and Dorne, it will have to be soon. Spring is firmly in season, and the rains and storms are delaying travel and correspondence enough as it is. Robert may have sent word to King’s Landing that he will not yield, will not submit, will not rest until Lyanna Stark is returned to him and their kingdom is recognized as independent, but bold declarations are easy, Jeyne thinks. Men make them all the time. Delivering sufficient force behind wild threats and vows of vengeance is another matter entirely.

It is not raining at the moment, but there are dark clouds overhead, and the wind lashes at the approaching yellow and black banners. She can just make out the small shapes of her father, uncles, and brothers riding out to meet their guests. Mother has been in a state for the past fortnight over the prospect of hosting Lord Robert and Lord Stannis and all the lords and men at arms already pledged to them. Jeyne takes a step back from her window as the wind snarls at the drapes, then jumps when her bedroom door slams open.

She whips around to see her sister flit into the room. Celia flits everywhere; they could not be more different. Jeyne is tall and lanky, with dark brown hair and dark brown eyes to match. She has the prominent nose and pointed chin of her father’s kin, and very little features of her mother’s, a Caswell of Bitterbridge. Celia is petite and plump, with their mother’s honeyed blonde locks and pale green eyes, a dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Their brothers are equally divided; Gulian, the eldest of them all, is like Father and Jeyne, while young Dennis is like Mother and Celia.

It would perhaps be easy to resent Celia, who is prettier and livelier and better liked by seemingly everyone they meet, but Jeyne is not a resentful girl any longer, to cast envious stares at a sister who has never intentionally done her wrong or cause for offense. Celia’s fair looks are not a stain on her character, Jeyne reminds herself, even as she turns to glower at her sister in exasperation. And as they will soon be parted, it seems all the more important to treasure what time they have left. Jeyne is not beautiful or exceptionally talented at dancing or needlework or singing or poetry, but she is clever and loyal and honest, and she does love her siblings, even when they’re acting like fools.

“You scared me,” she says, a hand on her chest, where her heart is thudding rapidly. She’s never done well with loud noises. Not since the Kingswood. She’s always prided herself on her composure, but men shouting in the yard, the thunder of approaching hoofbeats, the rasp of steel being drawn, even drunks laughing and jeering with each other during feasts- it had taken her months to get to the point where she was not like some frightened rabbit, darting and flinching this way and that, cringeing and ducking her head at any sudden noise or movement.

It’s absurd. She is perfectly well. She is home. She has been home for the past year and a half. She is safe. But she- sometimes she does not feel safe, and she doesn't know how to make the feeling go away. It makes her skin crawl. She rubs briefly at her nose, fingers glancing over the bump where it was broken. She can still taste the blood in her mouth. They’d beaten the man who’d struck her across the face half to death for it; she was worth more without any marks on her. Disfigured ladies did not a good ransom make. But that did not stop them from trying to-

Sometimes in her dreams she is still scrambling backwards across the mossy earth, hands bound behind her back, screaming for help in the dark of the night, hoping one of the more merciful or practical bandits will rouse. He was laughing. Laughing at how frightened she was, at her tearful face, waiting for her to break down and beg and plead with him. She had not. She wishes she would have been too stubborn too, too brave, but really she was too panicked and terrified to do much more than scream and yell.

“-sorry, Jeyne,” Celia is saying, laying a warm hand on Jeyne’s elbow. Her expression is genuinely regretful; silly as she can be, Celia has always been open with her emotions, be they joy or grief or rage. Dramatic, Gulian calls her. As though he were one to talk. Her sister is fifteen, only three years younger than Jeyne, but she stands an entire head shorter. “I didn’t mean to- I was looking for you, you know!” Her repentant tone takes on a teasing edge. “Come along, Mother sent me- you have to be there to greet them, you know!”

“Of course I know,” says Jeyne crossly, but she takes her sister’s arm all the same, and together they make their way down the winding, narrow stairwell.

“Aren’t you nervous?” Celia goes on as they walk briskly through a long corridor, approaching the entrance to the keep. “I am! My stomach’s all fluttering- do you think Lord Robert will dance with me tonight? He danced with me at that feast-,”

“You were thirteen,” Jeyne reminds her. “That was an indulgence, a favor for Gulian-,” she cuts herself off at the crestfallen look on her sister’s round face. “Oh, I didn’t mean it like that, Celia- I’m sure he found you charming, only-,”

“I know,” says Celia, with forced lightness. “I was only japing with you. Of course he won’t- we’re to be at war, I’m sure he’s… They’ve all... “ She trails off as they take their place at their mother’s side; Lady Beatrice frets over them both; she is warm and sweet and prone to clicking her tongue when worried about her children, which is nearly constant. Their father once when well into his cups compared her to a clucking mother hen, rather than a swan.

At the moment Jeyne does not mind; mimicking a mask of serenity for her mother’s sake does make her feel a little calmer, in a sense. She is brave. She is a Swann. She will get through today and tonight and all the days and night afterwards. She forces herself to stop playing with the strings of pearls at her long neck; one white, one black. It feels a bit absurd to be standing here in all her finery, although theirs is a wealthy house and they are all dressed well, but-

She is the only Swann getting married today, after all.

She stops thinking momentarily as the men ride in, and then her gaze is roving the sea of faces before her- Father is speaking with Lord Robert, Gulian is joking with one of their cousins, her uncles are as stone-faced as ever, and- Lord Stannis is still astride his horse, not looking at her or anyone in particular, head bowed from the wind. His hair is just as dark as his brother’s although perhaps a bit thinner, and he seems just as tall and broad. Good. She had been worried she might be taller than him, that they might look odd standing beside each other.

He dismounts swiftly, speaking sternly to a young boy on a pony, and after a moment Jeyne realizes that boy must be little Lord Renly, given the similarity in their looks. Finally Robert breaks off his discussion with Father in order to properly greet the household, and comes forward to clap Gulian on the back, embracing him roughly. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, Swann!” He bows to Mother and kisses her on the cheek, then squeezes Dennis’ shoulder with enthusiasm, before rounding on the sisters.

“And this must be the bride,” Robert booms; she’d forgotten just how loud his voice was, and how far it carried, even with the wind. He has grown out his beard and hair since she last saw him, but otherwise he is much the same, and despite the circumstances this could be any old visit, and her smile is not altogether forced as she curtsies. One cannot help but be at least a little charmed by Robert, even in circumstances such as these. “My lord,” she inclines her head neatly. “I am honored to become part of your house.”

“And we’ll be honored to have you, good sister,” he says, taking her by the elbows and practically turning her towards Stannis. Robert seems almost amused by his brother’s reticence, although she expected him to be far more curt, with all that has happened. To have his own betrothed stolen away, raped and defiled, then to be struck down in an attempt to rescue her- they say Gerold Hightower wounded him badly enough to lay him up for near a month, and that the maesters had to strap him to the bed to keep him there, lest he go charging out again, headed for King’s Landing.

Jeyne has seen a copy of the letter proclaiming Lyanna Stark Rhaegar’s royal mistress, essentially, and purporting that she went willingly, but she has avoided engaging in the often strident debate over it. Robert obviously does not believe it, and even if even some small measure of it is true, it does not change the great dishonor the Targaryens have paid to them- all of them. To publicly besmirch a great house, to steal away the future Lady of Storm’s End- it is unconscionable. No amount of ravens from the Red Keep will change that.

Now Stannis does at last step forward. He gives her the barest hint of a nod, his mouth an unmoving grim line. “My lady,” he says. That is all. There is no real inflection to his tone, no sign of emotion across his square face, or in his dark blue eyes, just… Him. This is hardly their first meeting. The Swanns are a prominent house of the region; the Baratheons have visited multiple times. She even remembers Lady Cassana and Lord Steffon, who came when she was twelve, the year before they died returning from their search for a Valyrian bride for Rhaegar.

But it is all very different now. Jeyne chances a smile at Stannis, hoping to salvage the stiffness of the entire situation, but he only briefly meets her gaze, before he is staring stoically past her. Fine. She remembers when he was an awkward, gawky boy of thirteen, with that sickly goshawk of his. What was it called? Weak- No, Proudwing. She remembers that, and the way he would never dance at feasts and balls, only stand in a corner, refusing to touch even the wine. Lady Cassana dragged him out onto the floor with her once; it was the only time she’d seen him smile, at something his mother said to him.

“My lord,” says Jeyne. The least he could do was think of some vague compliment for her gown. There are swan feathers at her collar, and if she is going to sit for an entire ceremony and hours of feasting in this contraption, you would think he might summon up the will with which to at least pretend to be enchanted with her. If there was ever a day for empty flattery, or any flattery at all, Jeyne thinks it ought to be one’s wedding day, as ideally one will only be married once.

Father does not linger; he offers bread and salt to break their hunger to the rest, and the wedding party moves directly to the sept, no time wasted. Jeyne had forewarning, and knew this was coming, but her stomach lurches all the same, and her palms are clammy. She is being ridiculous. She is eighteen years of age, a woman grown, not some flighty little girl. She knows well enough what a marriage entails. And it is hardly as if she were marrying a stranger, although perhaps that might be better, for she knows enough of Stannis to expect, if not the worst, well, not a very happy wedding day, either.

She does not have the luxury of brooding on her expectations, or lack of them, in the sept. Suddenly things seem to be going very quickly, and she is holding Father’s arm as they move up the aisle towards the altar of the Mother, Celia and their cousin Ravella holding her maiden’s cloak so it does not drag across the floor. When Father told her she was to wed Stannis, she thanked him for the fine match, her personal feelings aside. She know he believes Robert may very well die in battle and thus her husband will be lord of the Stormlands, if the Targaryens do not kill them all first, aside from the fact that Robert has refused to wed any woman but Lyanna thus far, but-

Politically, it is a good, strong match. House Swann will fully commit to the rebellion through this. Father would not have committed to the Targaryens in defiance of Robert even if Jeyne’s hand in marriage had been refused, but he might have been far more reluctant in his support. After all, did the Kingsguard under Aerys not rescue his eldest daughter from the Kingswood Brotherhood? Will House Swann not be a much needed bolster in the coming fight with the Conningtons? Jeyne has looked over the maps that Gulian left out while he was entertaining himself with a few of the kitchen maids, yet again.

And here she is, thinking of strategy and geography while Septon Dashell finishes his brief sermon. The heavy weight of her cloak is removed from her shoulders, as Father steps back, and then Stannis Baratheon is draping his own cloak over her, and going to great lengths to not accidentally brush against her while he does so. She steels herself and smiles for the sake of her parents and siblings, taking his hands in her own. They are calloused and cold.

“With this kiss, I pledge my love, and take you for my lord and husband.”

He says much the same, and then there is a brief moment of hesitation from both of them before their lips clash together for barely more than a second. Then he pulls back, and she is bright red and flinching from the loud echo of the applause and cheering in the vaulted sept. Stannis glances down at her with what might be curiosity, before looking away again. Robert is jesting with Gulian about his younger brother’s swiftly approaching end to his ‘maidenly status’. She has heard rumors that Stannis wants nothing to do with whores, nor any women at all, for that matter.

Then again, Robert is bad enough to make anyone look celibate in comparison.

The sun is starting to set by the time they are in the feasting hall, and it casts a queer shade of light across the room. Jeyne sits at the same head table she has sat at for years, ever since she was old enough to take her meals outside of the nursery. Her father sits at one end, her new goodbrother at the other, and in the middle she watches Stannis eat sparingly, casting a sharp look at Dennis, who has a habit of chewing loudly. Celia makes pointedly delighted conversation with Ravella about how fine and pretty Jeyne looks and how lucky a man Stannis is-

“I do not see why I should consider myself lucky,” says Stannis. “Your father wanted your sister wed, Robert would not take a wife, and so I am her husband.”

Jeyne does not think he is trying to be cruel, although he seems irritated with Celia. That almost makes it worse. Her sister falls silent, but angry; she may be a girl of fifteen but Celia has always been nervy, and she is not afraid of anyone or anything, least of all Robert Baratheon’s sour younger brother. Jeyne wishes she could even summon up that much outrage. What she mostly feels is discomfort and dread.

“Of course, my lord,” says Ravella diplomatically. Ravella is more sensible than Celia but kinder than Jeyne. She is betrothed to a Smallwood. “We meant nothing by it, only we were so happy to see Jeyne wed. She has spoken highly of you.” She gives Jeyne, two years her elder, a slight smile of encouragement, like a mother reassuring a timid child.

Stannis makes a noise that might be either assent or disbelief.

Jeyne takes the liberty of refilling his water. She enjoys wine but she will have to watch herself carefully tonight; some men might welcome a tipsy, giggly bride, but she thinks Stannis would likely lock her in a cellar rather than deal with that. “Do you still hawk, my lord? I have a peregrine falcon. It was a name day gift from my father.”

“No,” says Stannis. “It was a pointless pursuit.”

This conversation is a pointless pursuit, Jeyne wants to say. He is angry. He is angry that he has to wed her, that Robert has coerced and cajoled him into this, he is angry that he has to answer to Robert at all, he is angry that they are here feasting rather than out on the battlefield, and he is likely angry that he will have to bed her. None of this is very difficult for Jeyne to discern. Well, she is angry to. This is not how she wanted to be wed. She wants to be the girl she was before the Kingswood, who thought the best, and not the worst, of everyone she met.

Although she doesn't think he would have liked that Jeyne much better.

Soon the feasting turns to dancing, and her father and her mother and Gulian and Celia and Dennis and Ravella, they are all gone. Robert is dancing with another one of her cousins, already red in the face from his ale. Jeyne feels the beginnings of a headache. “Stannis,” she says, for if there was ever a time when she was permitted to use his first name, now would be it. “I must beg a favor from you.”

He says nothing, but he is looking directly at her, so she knows he is not ignoring her.

“I do not want a bedding song and dance and-,” she feels her mouth contort in disgust- “and all of that nonsense. I will not have it. I will not have men handling me like that. Might we leave the hall together, when… they are all distracted?”

He still says nothing, staring at her now. She feels heat creep up along her neck. “I know there are rumors,” she lowers her voice, not that anyone could hear them over the loud music. “About… me. They are not true. I am still a maid. I have been with no man, I swear to you now. But I just…” she trails off, feeling stupid. If he wasn’t suspicious before, he likely is now. Certainly, he will be thinking, the girl was violated in those woods and is now skittish and terrified around strange men. What a great prize Robert has given me.

But Stannis says instead, “I am of a similar opinion, Lady Jeyne.” He finishes the last of his water, then stands, to her shock. “We should leave now, before my brother or your kin take heed.” When she does not immediately rise with him, he glances down impatiently at her. “My lady.”

Jeyne stands, reeling a bit. She did not expect- well, how could she have known he- and he is already striding forward like a general going to war, forcing her to hurry after him, lifting her heavy skirts. A few people call out to them as they past, and a servant carrying a platter of meat skewers stops to gape, but they make it out of the hall without much fuss. Then Stannis comes to an abrupt halt, so she almost collides with his back.

After a moment of confusion she realizes he has no idea where to go.

“This way,” she says, in a voice that is stronger than she feels, and steps before him. It is bold of her to presume to lead a Baratheon and her husband, but he does not try to overtake her as she leads him out of the main hall, across a shadowed courtyard, and into the White Swan. There rooms are near the top. She was not looking forward to being practically dragged and carried up all those stairs by a group of drunken, groping men.

Nevertheless, they are both breathless by the time they reach the top. “This seems excessive,” Stannis says.

Jeyne busies herself with opening the door instead. There is no fire yet in the hearth, but the room has been cleaned and prepared for their wedding night. Immediately she takes off her bridal cloak, folding it neatly and laying it in a chair by the window, then nods to the fireplace. “Would you mind?” When he frowns at her, she sighs and gestures to her elaborate gown.

She sits down on the bed and with some difficulty, removes her shoes, then her jewelry. He has managed to start a fire by the time she stands again. “You’ll have to undo my stays.”

Stannis makes no sudden moves.

“I can’t reach behind my back, my lord,” Jeyne lets a note of frustration creep in, and with the steps of a man approaching the gallows, he comes up behind her, and jerkily tugs at her stays until they are loose enough that the back of her bodice opens up. She slips behind the folding screen painted with a landscape of- what else- lake brimming with swans- to manage the rest, almost relieved when she is free of the stark white gown with its black velvet piping and standing only in her plain shift.

Then she steps back out. Stannis is still fully clothed. Does he intend to merely unbuckle his belt? She is not some tavern wench. Jeyne folds her arms underneath her chest, and gives him an icy stare, which he returns and then some. This continues until she breaks- he is not even blinking, for the love of the gods.

“Alright,” she says. “If you have no intention of consummating the marriage, then perhaps we might play a round of cyvasse, or compare notes on agricultural yields-,”

“Do not mock me, wife,” he snaps, and that riles her more than if he would have thrown her down a few minutes ago and got on with it.

“I am not mocking you! I have offered you nothing but respect and goodwill- my house has offered you nothing but respect and goodwill- and you have conducted yourself like a spoiled, sulking child,” she retorts, too quickly to even consider her words. “I am sorry this match is not to your liking, my lord- I am sorry marriage is not to your liking, but I have always done my duty, and now you must do yours.”

“You have no right to speak to me thusly,” he says. “I am your lord husband. A woman should not-,”

“No,” says Jeyne. “You will listen to me. You were rude to my sister at dinner, and me. I demand recompense for the insult.”

“You would rather I have lied,” he sneers. “And filled your head with hollow words-,”

“I would rather you be open and honest with me, as a husband should, instead of hiding your anger and giving me nothing but dark looks and cold words.”

“And I would rather you obeyed me, as a wife should.”

They glare at one another, and then Jeyne sits down on the bed. “Let’s talk of other matters.”

“I thought you wanted the marriage consummated,” he says reproachfully.

“It is hardly the end of the night, and you seem in no hurry.” He stands there, brooding, before finally taking a seat on the edge of the bed. Jeyne crosses her legs underneath her to be more comfortable. “You will fight the Conningtons at Griffin’s Roost,” she says. “They will try to force Robert’s men back towards Grandview, so the Grandisons may trap you in the mountains between the two.”

“I know this,” Stannis says, narrowing his eyes at her. “I am not a green boy to be lectured by my own wife on battle plans-,”

“You do not know about the Gooseneck Pass,” she says with a slight smile of satisfaction. “Sometimes they call bastards of House Swann geese. The pass allowed one of my ancestors to pass through the mountains unseen to visit his mistress and their bastard children on the shore. It was forgotten for a time, until my brother Gulian found it while out scouting. He did not tell our lord father because he wanted to use it to as a shortcut to the village on the edge of the Rainwood.”

Stannis is now staring at her as though he has never seen her before.

“The brothel there is quite popular,” Jeyne adds by way of explanation. “You must make sure Gulian tells Robert, so you may make use of it.”

Stannis stands up, paces away from her, stares out the window, and then turns back around. “You are not what I expected.” It is somewhere between an accusation and a compliment.

“Thank you,” says Jeyne, “for sparing us both the bedding. It was an honorable thing to do.”

His mouth twitches slightly in what might be the barest suggestion of a smile.

Chapter Text

283 AC - WINTERFELL

Rhaella leaves Viserys with her crown near the Twins. The party that has accompanied her this far North is small; Elia persuaded Rhaegar that for the king to leave King’s Landing at the moment would serve no one’s interests, and Rhaella agreed. She doubts Rickard Stark and his people want to see any more Targaryens than is absolutely necessary, after the trial. She also refused a member of the Kingsguard; not only does she worry that Winterfell would consider it an insult, but she has lived through one marriage under the watchful gaze of knights who only burdened her with further shame, both at her helplessness and their inaction. She will not go through it again in a second.

But Viserys- she brings her son with her as far as she can, because the time they have left together is little and therefore all the more precious. Rhaella knows there would have been a separation at some point, even had she not been wedding the Warden of the North. She would have had to see him leave. But mothers are used to such things. For a child to see his mother go seems all the more cruel. It is supposed to be the other way around. She trusts that no harm will come to him in the Red Keep, trusts that Elia will keep her goodbrother safe, but there is still the hard truth, that she will not see him again for what is likely several years, at the very least.

There will be no visits by the royal household to the North for some time, she knows that much, and Lord Rickard would be a fool to left her travel south for a ‘visit’- he might rightly suspect that she would never return. This is not an ordinary widow’s second marriage, and she is not an ordinary mother. She busies herself with trying to improve her riding and memorize the soft curves of her child’s face. She cannot come to the Starks as a pampered and frail dowager queen. She forces herself to ride for longer and longer every day, although she can scarcely remember the last time she was permitted in the saddle.

Aerys thought riding was likely to cause miscarriages, and furthermore, had never liked the sight of women on horseback. He’d found it mannish. She can recall listening to him mock their lord uncle Prince Duncan, and his wild Jenny, as the two children watched them ride out of the Red Keep and into the Kingswood. “She was loose when he picked her up out of the mud,” Aerys, all of twelve or thirteen, had whispered in her ear, his breath hot on her neck, “and she’s even looser now, the way that whore rides.”

Rhaella can recall thinking Jenny, who was never beautiful but strangely striking with her long auburn curls and her pointed face, her almost elfin ears, had looked free, not disgusting or wanton. She’d looked happy and free, urging her mare into a canter as her hair streamed out behind her and she raced with Duncan into the green trees. She might resent them both now, but she had fond memories of them as a child- of her aunt Rhaelle as well, Rhaelle who went to Storm’s End as a child, who years later married the lord whose sister her brother had rejected in favor of a peasant girl.

Rhae, Grandfather used to call her. The both of them. Big Rhae and Little Rhae.

Well, she is not Little Rhae anymore, but she is not quite Rhaella Targaryen, wife of Aerys, either. Her legs ache and her muscles burn every night, but it is a much better sort of ache than what she is used to. The pathetic truth is, she thinks, that even as she rides off to a fate that will see her parted from her family and all she has ever known, she is still not consumed with the level of sheer dread and terror she had been in the days leading up to her wedding with Aerys. Is she still frightened? Certainly. She would be a fool not to be. They have no cause to love her in the North, and plenty of cause to loathe her, even if she was the one to offer her own hand in marriage.

But she is free of the Red Keep, which had always, from the time she was a child, held far more grief and rage than joy for her. She is free of the stench and heat of King’s Landing, free of the eyes of the court, free of her old bedchamber where in her dreams Aerys’ shouts and slaps still echoed, free of so much pain. It as if she could cast off clothes rendered wet and heavy from the rain. She feels almost lighter, somehow. And even if the North brings only more pain, more sorrow, at least it will be a different sort. At least she can tell herself she chose this, although it was not much of a choice.

She is finally free of the crown on her head, when she presses it into Viserys’ small, pale hands, wrapping his fingers around the cold metal. Aerys had it commissioned for her shortly after he took the throne. It was less gaudy, less demanding than his own, somehow, but she had still never liked the gold inlaid with garnets, the jagged edges of the tips of it. She used to cut her fingers on it often, when she first began to wear it. Rhaella wonders if perhaps Aerys wanted her to, that it gave him some enjoyment, to see her suffer at his hands even indirectly. Well, in that case, he has still won, for she is still suffering from what he wrought- what Rhaegar has wrought- and she rejects the notion now. He doesn’t get to triumph over her any longer.

“You keep this,” she tells her son then. “I may still be a queen, but I have no need for a crown.”

He looks up at her with wet eyes. “I don’t want you to go, Mother. I- Can’t Rhaegar make you stay? Don’t go. Please don’t leave.”

Rhaella will not let herself cry. She does not want him to remember her weeping. She kisses his brow, his cheeks, his nose, and smooths back his hair. It is getting long. It reminds her of Rhaegar. She hopes she is not failing him as she sometimes feels she did her eldest. Rhaegar is his own man, but perhaps she could have- should have- done better for him. Should have been braver, somehow, stronger, should have fought for him, withstood Aerys’ rages and paranoia, and then it might never have come to any of this.

“I must,” she says. “I am a Targaryen, and I swore a vow that I would go North and marry Lord Stark, and that is what I will do. We must be a house that keeps our vows, or we will have nothing left to us, Viserys. I know you can understand. I know you can be strong. You can be strong for me, can’t you? I will see you again.”

“When?” he demands, clutching the crown to his chest, wiping at his nose. “When will you come back?”

“Someday,” says Rhaella. “Someday you will see me again. Don’t cry, sweetling. You are a prince. Your people look to you. I will send you many ravens. Elia and her ladies will help you write back. I love you.”

Then he really does begin to cry, and she knows she cannot stay a moment longer, or she will lose all her perilous nerve and break down with him. She is helped back atop her mount. In the distance, the Northmen are waiting. “I love you, Viserys,” she repeats, digging her heels into the stirrups. She is riding astride. She had riding gowns, the first of her clothes that are not black, commissioned especially for this trip. She will not be led any longer. She is a Targaryen, she was- is- a queen, and she will meet whatever awaits with her head held high. She walked down an aisle once where a monster waited for her. This can hardly be more difficult.

“Don’t go! Mother!” His septa has to hold him back. Viserys seems like to drop the crown into the mud. Part of her wishes he would toss it into the nearest river. “Mother, please!” he sobs aloud, but she nudges her white palfrey into a trot, and his cries are lost on the wind. Every fiber of her being screams to look back, to go to him, to take him into her arms and swear that she will never leave him, but she cannot. This is her only path forward. She keeps going.

Lord Rickard has rode out to meet her as she crosses into the North. She would not have been shocked to see open contempt on his face, but his expression is as neutral as ever, although she thinks there is a trace of surprise in his eyes, at both her lack of crown and a wheelhouse, her simple attire, and the expression on her face; she knows she must look different now, must look harder, somehow, but as she reigns in her horse all she says is, “I thank you for your escort, Lord Stark.”

“Well met, Your Grace,” he replies, and an almost unspoken acknowledgement passes between them, that they will not call each other thusly for much longer.

They say very little to one another over the course of the weeks left to Winterfell. They are traveling much faster than an entire household with a corresponding baggage train would, but the days are still long, hard, and cold. The silence is both incredibly isolating and somewhat relieving. What would they speak of? His children? Her children? The fact that she is only here, with him, because her son spirited away his daughter, provoking one rebellion that was almost two?

She spends most of her time looking at her surroundings, which might seem common enough to anyone else, but this is the furthest she has ever been from the Red Keep, the furthest she ever will be. She’s never seen such a vast expanse of wilderness before, with the keeps and tended land few and far between. No distant constant stream of watchtowers or holdfasts or even bustling towns. Just mountains and forests and plains. This shouldn’t be surprising; she has always known the North existed, studied the geography and history of all seven kingdoms as a child, but it still makes the hair on the back of her neck prickle, to see it all with her own eyes. She’s always felt small, dwarfed by the court and the expectations and the capitol, but now she feels minuscule in an entirely different manner. All of this was here long before Aegon and his sisters ever set foot on the continent. All of it will be here long after she and all her descendants are gone.

It is snowing when she first glimpses Winterfell. Flakes catch in her hair even as she pulls up her hood, and she is shivering by the time they ride through the gates. She can barely get a clear glimpse of her surroundings, everything is swirling white and grey around her. It’s almost dizzying, and she nearly stumbles dismounting from her horse, but Lord Rickard is there, stoically offering her his arm. He is not looking at her, but at the household gathered outside, hunched against the stiff wind.

There are a few scattered curtsies, but other than that, it is all open staring and a few hushed whispers, muffled by the wind and snow. The young man standing beside the red-haired girl must be Eddard Stark, wed to Catelyn Tully in his brother’s place. The skinny boy beside them who looks to be in the midst of a growth spurt is young Benjen, then.

“My lord father, Your Grace,” Ned Stark begins; his face is long and solemn and so similar to Brandon’s that is disconcerting, although he lacks his brother’s fire, and is of a shorter, slighter build. “Winterfell is yours.”

“Lady Catelyn will show you to your rooms,” says Rickard Stark to her. Rhaella lets go of his arm. He seems to be almost drinking in the sight of his two sons, and she realizes that she is not the one here who knows what it is like to be parted from their children. He will never see Brandon or Lyanna again, and theirs has been a much crueler fate than Viserys’.

Catelyn Tully, now Catelyn Stark, is altogether much more welcoming than she could be. She seems determinedly gracious, trying to explain the layout of the massive fortress to Rhaella, and showing her how the walls are warm to the touch. “They have glass gardens to grow food in the winter, and the hot springs in the godswood are lovely,” Catelyn tells her with the earnest tones of any hopeful young wife.

Rhaella suspects she is with child, although likely not showing much yet, from the way she hesitates slightly on the stairs, slowing her brisk pace and taking care with each step. Aerys would often forbid her climbing any stairs or doing anything more strenuous than sitting down and standing up when she was with child.

Of course, it never stopped him from summoning her at night, although in the early years he’d often have mistresses to attend him. He never did like the sight of her nude when she was hugely pregnant, either. For someone who enjoyed women so frequently, Aerys could be quite squeamish about such things. He used to grimace in disgust when she would try to nurse their babes.

As a maid helps her out of her cloak and mud-covered boots, Catelyn lingers in the doorway.

“I shall see you at the ceremony tonight,” Rhaella says in what she hopes is a kind tone, to give her an excuse to leave.

“You will marry in a godswood, Your Grace, and I was wed in my father’s sept, but Ned-,” she quickly corrects herself, “Lord Eddard tells he means to ask his father if he might construct a sept here. For you and I to still practice our own faith.”

It is touching, in a sense. Rhaella has heard that Ned Stark was a far more calmer and reticent sort than his elder brother, but she had not heard about kindness. “That is very thoughtful of him,” she says, and then adds, “and you may call me Lady Rhaella or simply Rhaella, Catelyn. I know we do not know one another, but we will soon enough.”

Catelyn hesitates, then nods in acceptance before taking her leave. Rhaella introduces herself to the clearly nervous group of bedmaids; if she wants to win the household’s trust or even acceptance, it is generally best to start with the maids, and asks for their names, hoping to remember them all. They dress her in the wedding gown she brought with her, carefully tucked away. She wore the purest white imaginable at her first marriage; the gown had to be taken in just weeks before the wedding day to accomodate for her small frame.

She is not a child any longer, and she does not wear white this time, instead favoring a silvery shade of grey, very simply constructed, without a veil. She gathers her hair back in a metallic net adorned with small pearls instead, and examines her anxious face in the looking glass, forcing the lines to smooth back. She will not go into that godswood looking like a terrified waif. This may be foreign to her, but she must seem at ease, must present a serene front. Must still be the queen, even if she is not the queen in the slightest here.

It is dark by the time she enters the godswood, and torches illuminate the strange trees and the crisp inch or two of snow on the ground. It crunches softly under her feet. Ned Stark escorts her to his father’s side before the weirwood tree, as she has no father or male relative here to do so. Everything is unnaturally silent; even the most devout sept has more noise than this. The moon hangs low and pale overhead.

“Who comes before the god?” asks Lord Rickard, and she almost flinches, but stays the course, looking directly at him.

“Rhaella of House Targaryen comes here to be wed,” his son, to be her goodson in mere minutes, recites awkwardly. “A woman grown and flowered, trueborn and noble, she comes here to beg the blessings of the gods. Who comes to claim here?”

Rhaella is not looking at the surrounding onlookers and their faces, which she glimpsed on the way to the tree- some angry and defiant, others uncomfortable or sympathetic, some not even meeting her eyes at all- but she can sense an almost collective intake of breath, as if they are all wondering if this will really happen. A Targaryen and a Stark. Never. Once promised, but never did it-

“Rickard of House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North,” Rickard says. “I claim her. Who gives her?”

She can feel Ned Stark glance at her, then open his mouth-

“Rhaella of House Targaryen,” Rhaella declares loudly and clearly, voice ringing out through the night. “Queen Dowager of the Seven Kingdoms, to be Lady of Winterfell.”

“Do you take me?” Rickard’s grey eyes do not leave her face.

“Yes,” says Rhaella, before she has time to think of anything else, “I take you to be my lord and husband.”

She expects a cloak to be draped around her shoulders, but first they kneel before the tree. The snow begins to seep through her skirt, but she closes her eyes and thinks of something else. Thinks of the open road and the mountains and rivers and trees. Thinks of how she cried until her eyes were red and swollen the night before her first wedding, and had to put cold, wet rags on them early in the morning so she would look presentable. Now her eyes are dry.

They remain dry when they rise, and when he drapes his heavy cloak around her, the direwolf snarling across her back. It is customary in the North, she has read, for the groom to carry the bride into their feast, but as there will be no feast tonight, instead they walk side by side back into the eerily quiet keep. She ate her dinner hours ago, as did he. Now there is little to do but consummate the marriage. They go to his bedchambers, to her relief. Hers can be a sanctuary away from all of this, then. Better to leave any memories here.

He steps into an adjoining room to give her the privacy to change, and the two waiting maids remove and bundle away the cloak, and help her out of her dress. She bathed less than an hour ago; the ceremony was much shorter than she thought it would be, and her hair is still damp. She runs her hands through its waves as they bid her a good night and leave. She considers the bed. Is this where he lay with his first wife? She knows very little about the late Lady Lyarra. Was she headstrong and hotheaded, like her eldest son and daughter? Was she quiet and withdrawn, like the younger two seem to be?

Did they love one another?

But she knows there is very little room for love in many marriages. This one is hardly unique in that regard. She thinks of Viserys, and then she does want to cry, but she swallows back the lump in her throat. She has been strong all this while. She can endure a little while more. The door creaks open, and Rickard steps back into the room. Rhaella lets her hands fall to her sides, and looks at him briefly, before her gaze returns to the bed, waiting. At least there was no bedding ceremony. She remembers the one at her first wedding. The boys and men who brought her to the bedchamber seemed almost ashamed. For her youth or because she was marrying her own brother, she cannot be sure.

“I will ask you to consummate the marriage,” says Rickard. “But after that-,” for the first time in her recollection he does seem to hesitate, his jaw working, before he continues, “I did not remarry after Lyarra because I saw no need to. She gave me four children. I did not want another woman to take her place in my household. I have known women since then, but I never thought to marry again.”

“You have been a good and gracious host, my lord,” murmurs Rhaella. “It is a credit to your house. I thank you for welcoming me into your home, your household.”

“You are not a guest,” says Rickard plainly. “You are the lady of this household now. You will assume those duties. If you desire ladies in waiting, I will ask for them for you from my bannermens’ households. You may choose your own maids. You are not a prisoner here. You may go where you like within Winterfell, and speak to whom you choose.”

“Thank you,” she murmurs again.

“Do not thank me,” he says shortly. “Those are your rights.”

And now for his rights, she thinks, and hopes he does not see the trembling in her hands as she pulls the shift over her head in one quick motion. She would rather remove it herself than let him do it. She learned that lesson well from Aerys. Rickard stares at her as she moves swiftly to the bed, and clambers atop it to lie down. It should be quick, at least. He may not loathe her but he has no love for her, and while she knows she is still an attractive woman, she is far from some nubile young maiden. She has stretch marks and lines on her flesh. And other marks, as well-

“Stop,” says Rickard suddenly, before she can lie down. She freezes, nude and balanced on her knees on the bed, a hand on the pillows. She wants to sit down and gather up her legs beneath her, cover her breasts with her hands, but he is her husband and he told her to stop, and while she does not think him a monster, she does not dare defy him here, either, even inadvertently.

He takes a few steps closer to her, and she closes her eyes once more, bracing herself for whatever is coming.

“The scars on your back,” he says in a low, almost hoarse voice. “What caused them?”

Her hair is mostly hanging over her shoulders, leaving her back exposed. Rhaella opens her eyes, but still does not move. “Aerys,” she says, barely more than a whisper.

“How did a man make scratches like that?” His voice is hard and flat, as if something has just been confirmed to him.

“His… my late husband refused to cut his nails, or his hair, in his… last years. He did not like sharp objects. And he…” She does not know how to word this, any of this. She is almost mortified, although she should not be- it is not as if she did this to herself, so why is she so ashamed? So humiliated just to tell it?

“He gouged your back open,” says Rickard. She cannot read his tone, but it is easier in a way to tell this to the carved headboard in front of her, and not his face. A wolf pack runs across the dark wood. She traces it with her finger, almost unconsciously.

“Yes,” Rhaella says, with a sudden swell of strength. Her voice grows louder, firmer. “He did.” She turns back around, no longer frightened, too angry to be afraid, pushing her hair out of the way so he can see her chest and stomach. “And here,” she traces the scars on her already pale skin, around her breasts, on her collarbone and neck, slashing down her stomach.

“He would bite, too,” she recounts, and she is not cold anymore, either, she feels a hot flood of rage curdle in her gut. “And hit me. And put his hands on my neck and squeeze until I saw stars. Not all at once, and not all when we laid together, but he did it all. There is nothing-,” her breath catches in her throat, but she keeps going, “nothing he did not do to me.”

“The Kingsguard did not defend you?” His tone is hard and almost brittle now.

“The Kingsguard are sworn to the king,” says Rhaella with a bitter, snarl of a smile, now sitting back on her haunches, her hands flat on her thighs. More scars there as well, on the inside of her legs leading up to her sex. “Not to the queen. They took no vows before me.”

Rickard is still looking at her steadily. Then he turns and walks out of the room, and returns within moments with Ice. Rhaella cannot help but draw back slightly, although the blade gleams in the firelight. He sits on the bed across from her, and lays the sword flat across his lap. “We have already said our vows,” he acknowledges, “but tonight I will give you one more, since you have had no wedding gifts from me, wife. I swear on this steel and on my honor as a Stark that I will never do you harm.”

Rhaella stares at him, and then reaches out to feel the cold iron of the hilt. “I accept your pledge,” she says. “It is a kindness you were not bound to offer me.”

“You thought I would beat and rape you, as he did?” There is little accusation in his tone. It is an observation.

“No,” says Rhaella, still staring at the blade, “but I did not think you would offer much mercy, either. I was prepared to withstand whatever was to come, at your hands or by your words.”

“You are my wife,” he replies. “And I think you will find me a different sort of lord and husband than that craven scum you called king.”

She has never heard Aerys insulted in her presence before. But Aerys is dead now. He cannot deliver his judgement or punishments upon her any longer. She has to remember that.

“I do not expect you to forgive me or my blood for what happened to Brandon,” she says very quietly, half-regretting the words the moment they are out from her lips.

“You did not force Brandon into that trial,” Rickard picks up Ice and lays it down across the fireplace mantle. “Nor did the King, for that matter. My son knew his fate would be victory or death. I cannot forgive you for what you did not do.” He turns back to her. “You did not take my daughter, either. Those were the King’s actions, not his mother’s. I am not a young man, Rhaella. I have fought my battles. I will not wage another one, in my own home, against my own wife. You have honored your oaths to me thus far. I offer you the same in turn.”

He looks upon her body once more, but his gaze is not driven by sheer lust or wrath, although she can see the desire behind those cold grey eyes. He is not made of ice himself, then. “I have wielded steel since I was fifteen,” Rickard states as he strips, methodically. He is not bent with age; he cannot be more than five years her elder, she thinks. He still stands as tall and strong as any of his sons. “But you bear more scars than I, my lady. I am not ashamed of mine,” he nods to one gruesome slash down the right side of his chest as he tosses his tunic and trousers aside, “why should you be of yours?”

“After all,” he says, clambering onto the bed, “the men who gave them to us are dead, and we yet live.”

Rhaella looks at him, searching his face, and then decides that her suspicions were correct. He is not hiding anything from her. He may not love her, but he will never lie to her, and he will not hurt her. What she sees of him is what she will get, always. And he is angry, she thinks, she can see it in his shoulders, and his neck, the stiff bearing of a man weighed down with rage and loss, but he is not angry with her, and that makes all the difference.

So instead of lying back and waiting, she moves forward, and puts her scarred flesh against his.

Chapter Text

283 AC - KING’S LANDING

Elia will admit that she is taking perhaps a bit too much pleasure from the sight of the fresh scratch marks running down the underside of Rhaegar’s pale chin and long neck. The livid red lines are echoed in the stitching on his doublet- Rhaegar not dress any more lavishly as king than he ever did as prince, and despite his great love for his heritage, still favors cool tones and melancholy greys over the crimson and black of the Targaryen banners. It matters not. The least of her concerns is how he wishes to dress himself.

Almost, she keeps telling herself, almost, she is so close to a reprieve. A reprieve from Jon Connington, at least. Rhaegar means to send him with a force to Ashford, to assist the Reacher lords in pinning Baratheon there. Despite her successful missives, and the tantalizing all-but-promise of Aegon’s hand for a Tyrell daughter- they say Lady Alerie is with child yet again, and praying for a daughter most fervently- part of her still fears that Mace Tyrell will not get there in time. If the rebels overwhelm Ashford-

No, she cannot think like that. Doran has promised her an initial force of fifteen thousand men, with more to follow, but it will take time to gather that many soldiers. Time she is frightened they do not have. The Vale is sending men- supposedly. She would not expect Jon Arryn to be in any particular rush, now that he has Elbert back. The Riverlands have promised ten thousand. The Westerlands- they will see no men from Tywin until his heir is back in his cold, fatherly embrace. The Crownlands are all pledged to them, but they are just ten thousand, and they can hardly send them all south with only a token force left to protect the capitol.

Baratheon has thirty thousand by now, if he has triumphed at Summerhall. They have not had word yet, but she expects it soon enough. The battle at Griffin’s Roost was barely that- he quickly overwhelmed them, and Grandison and Fell quite literally fell back to Summerhall rather than defend their fellow loyalists. She has never seen an army of thirty thousand, but she sees it every night in her dreams, smashing down the city gates and setting the streets ablaze. Elia thanked the gods, all Seven, when she heard that Quellon Greyjoy wanted naught to do with ‘the greenlander war’. The last thing they need is reavers on top of all else.

At times she feels as though the only other person who understands her concerns are good Lord Jon, as much as they mistrust each other. But he is persevering under the loyal but infuriating belief that she somehow spurned Rhaegar from her own bed and into Lyanna’s, and that all of this could have been avoided had his blessed king simply chosen a different bride in the first place. Has he said as much? Of course not. She can see it writ across his face whenever he looks at her, those red brows furrowing with displeasure.

She will be glad to see the back of him, even if only temporarily.

But for now she must contend with the front of Rhaegar. You would not think there was anything amiss just by looking at him, as he lifts Rhaenys up so she might splash her hands in the jets of water from the burbling fountain. A devoted father he has not been as of late, but deep as her loathing may be these past few months, she could not deny him this. Both out of love for her daughter, and her limitations as queen. A fool once made the glib jape around court that Elia held Rhaegar’s tongue, and Lyanna his cock, both with fists clenched tight. But Elia used her own tongue to order his immediate removal from court, not Rhaegar. No, it is not like Rhaegar to care for the opinions and whispers of the court or the small council or anyone, truly.

Yet it is like Rhaegar to suddenly pantomime great care for what his wife and his mistress think. He knows what Elia thinks from what she will not say, for fear that once she opens her mouth she will scream herself both hoarse and mad and never recover her voice nor her wits about her. He knows what Lyanna thinks from the marks on his neck, where his she wolf clawed him yet again. True, Rhaegar is no Maegor, who would have taken her fingers the first time, her hand the second, her arm the third. But she heard the girl screaming and screaming and the crash of things hitting the floor and walls all the same, and while Elia does not know how Rhaegar retaliated- if he retaliated- part of her is very afraid to find out.

She should not think this way. Rhaegar would not want to risk it. Too much is at stake where it concerns Lyanna Stark. He would never lay a finger on her. She knows he would not. But of course in truth Elia has long since realized that she knows very little of her husband, and what he deems good and just, and who he thinks worthy of punishment. Is Robert Baratheon not being punished, knowing the girl he claims to love and was so close to wedding is just out of his grip, locked away in the Red Keep, her brother dead, her pack returned North? Was Rhaella not punished? Viserys, who wakes up from nightmares screaming for his mother? Rhaenys?

It seems to Elia that all have had their punishments but her own kingly husband. So she thinks she may be forgiven for taking some satisfaction in seeing Lyanna punish him just a little more every day. Every day she rejects him, defies him, screams him out of her rooms. Two harps now she’s smashed. Elia would commission a hammer for the girl had she the gall. Tapestries, ruined. Servants, terrified. The Kingsguard- well, the Kingsguard is in poor enough shape as it is. Ashara took Arthur back home to Starfall. There has been no word from either. The maimed and desecrated Sword of Morning’s sun may have already set.

She locks her hands together amidsts the folds of her skirts to keep herself from marching over to Rhaegar and tearing their daughter- her daughter- from his arms. What right has to play the loving father, after all he has done? He left them. His own children. With no word as to when he would return, and now he thinks that it will all be what? Some vaguely unpleasant childhood memory? Does he imagine that when Rhaenys and Aegon are older, they will look back on and chuckle fondly? That they will sit with-

“Mama!” Rhaenys has wriggled away from her father, and runs over to Elia, who crouches down to greet her, smiling. Her daughter flings droplets of fountain water in her face, and she blanches, but recovers quickly enough, taking Rhaenys up in her arms and kissing her damp brow. “Shall we teach you to swim when summer comes, my sweet?” She thinks of the Water Gardens where she would spend time as a little girl, when her health permitted it. Oberyn would wade through the pool with her on his back, chasing the other children, high and lowborn alike. Doran would watch them play from the shade, and have to coax them in for their supper, promising them all sorts of treats. Her children will see it someday. She is sure of it.

Rhaegar approaches, and Elia falls silent and cool. “Your Grace,” she murmurs, dipping her head just barely. His crown glints coldly in the afternoon sunshine.

His face falls as it always does, ever so slightly and gracefully, when she treats him as such. She could barely speak to him for a week after the trial. Brandon may have demanded it, but to see the man bleed out on the throne room floor- in front of his own sister- it seems to Elia that it should have never come to that at all. She can still hear the screaming in her head. Lyanna had to be nearly carried away, and administered dreamwine, she was shaking and sobbing so, her wails and shrieks echoing down the halls.

Nothing more was heard of her for a week. Then the maesters attended her-

And after that she was never silent again. Twice she has been caught attempting to escape the Maidenvault. Rhaegar had her sword confiscated the first time. The second time she was caught with a stolen blade. Elia still does not know how the girl got it. Ser Jonothor insists Rhaegar should never be alone with her, lest she try to open up his throat. Ser Oswell is of the mind that her windows should be barred, lest she throw herself out. Elia thinks Lyanna more like to tie some sheets together and attempt to scale the walls, even in her current condition.

“I had thought we might dine together tonight,” says Rhaegar. Elia wants to turn her back on him, but he is the king, and must give his leave before she can do so. She supposes she might say to hells with it, and he might let her go, but she cannot take the risk that today is the day the frayed knot snaps, and he has a guard drag her back, kicking and screaming all the while. She will not. She will not have them sink to the depravities and humiliations of Aerys’ court. She will not have her own children see her shamed so.

“As you wish, Your Grace.” Elia knows one cannot truly drown a man in courtesies, but she can surely try. “Although I would think you would desire to meet with Lord Connington before his departure.”

“Jon does not leave for five days, there is yet time.” Rhaegar is as troubled by her stiff replies as ever. “I am more concerned about you, my wife.”

How little the word had meant to him, until she gave him cause to doubt her devotion to him and his grand visions.

“I am quite well, Your Grace.” She cannot help herself. “Did His Grace cut himself shaving again?” She reaches out to him, the barest almost mocking ghost of a touch, and her fingers skim the scratches. Rhaegar recoils as if slapped. “Might you require a new barber? I could speak with the steward-,”

He takes her hand in his before she can pull it back, and she freezes. He is not squeezing her fingers or even hurting her, but somehow she feels the warning is there all the same, although his gaze is sorrowful. So sorry. A butcher might look sorrowful too, as he puts the blade to the squealing pig’s neck. It matters not. “I worry for both of you,” he says. “This war burdens you so, and Lyanna wants for womanly company. On the morrow, might you and your ladies permit her company-,”

“If Your Grace commands it.”

“I don’t want to command it.” He lets go of her, to her relief. “I only- she is so alone, Elia.”

As am I, she wants to scream, ladies or not, as I am, and she is so alone because you made her so- the girl might as well be a lump of clay you molded to your desire, and when you set her in the oven she twisted and grew beyond your control, and now the clay pot holds no water, much to your dismay. Your true wife is false with you, and your false wife is true with you, and you cannot bear either for it any longer.

“My prayers are with her,” says Elia, and that at least is not a lie- she has prayed for the child, as she would want someone to pray for her in that position. But the Mother can only do so much from the heavens above, and the Maiden- well, the Maiden is not here any longer. The Crone prowls these halls now, dispensing wisdom that none want to hear.

“I must beg your leave,” she continues, “it is time for Rhaenys’ nap, and I have other matters to tend to before this evening.”

“But you will join me for dinner.” It is not a question, light as his tone is. He could command her to join him in bed afterwards, as well, although she knows he will not. She wonders if he thinks to command Lyanna in that sense, thinks he may win her back with sweet kisses and touches in the night, if only he could get her to tolerate his very presence for that long. Elia wants no rape under her roof. Nor did Rhaella. That has never stopped any king.

“By your leave, husband,” says Elia, wondering if she may feign a headache or dizzy spell tonight. What will he do, have Ser Jaime carry her to dinner in her bedrobe? The thought almost makes her laugh.

“You may go,” he says, looking as vaguely offended as always for having to say it. Rhaegar detests being pressed to the letter. He wants obedience without having to call it such. Love without questions. Loyalty without judgement. Elia would almost rather he be more militant in it, demand it, not request it. They say Tywin Lannister is a tyrant in the home as much as on the battlefield, and yet all know where they stand with him. With Rhaegar- never.

Funnily enough, her ‘other matters’ have rather a lot to do with Lord Tywin. Or his seed, to be precise.

Jaime Lannister was not guarding them in the gardens, and he is not in the tower. Nor is he in the armory. She is exhausted by the time she finally finds him in a courtyard, sparring with a girl gone three moons pregnant. It is not visible with the tunic Lyanna Stark is wearing, but the bastard is there all the same, just out of sight, Elia knows. The child, she corrects herself with what weary kindness remains to her. The child, an innocent child- an innocent child who may one day thrust their sword through Aegon on some far off field and mount the Iron Throne.

To be sure, it is no serious sparring- they are not using live steel, and she can see Lannister’s discomfort with it even from here- he is taking great care to not so much as graze Lyanna, which only seems to incense the girl more, causing her increase the fury of both her blows and her footwork. Tywin’s young lion blocks every one with ease. The boy did not earn a knighthood and Barristan Selmy’s respect at fifteen for nothing. Yet Lyanna notices her first, and dripping with sweat, hair plastered to her face and neck, comes to a halt, startling Jaime, who whirls. The blunted steel falls to the ground.

“Your Grace,” Lyanna bows, as a curtsy at the moment would be absurd. Elia cannot fault her for it- the girl came to her three weeks after her brother’s death, and said her piece: “You have no want for my apology, but I will give it,” she’d declared, deep shadows under her eyes, voice hoarse and fractured. And she had. She had recounted all that had come to pass between her and Rhaegar to the best of her ability, and not pleaded for forgiveness or for Elia to set it all aside and embrace her, but left then. Then she’d tried to escape for the first time.

Elia rather wishes she had succeeded, even with a Targaryen bastard in her belly. Better a Snow than a Waters, if she could have somehow stole away to White Harbor. Better born anywhere but here. Reared from anywhere but a royal nursery. Had the pregnancy not likely been conceived of upon Lyanna’s arrival to King’s Landing, had it been fated for later, Elia likes to think she could have gotten moon tea to the girl, risking Rhaegar’s wroth as she would be. Likes to imagine. Would she truly have risked it? She cannot know.

What had Maegor done to Tyanna of the Tower, for supposedly killing his babes? Something about a still beating heart pumping witch’s blood in a mailed fist. Then again, Rhaegar is no Stark, that is for sure- he would likely use a headsman, not execute her himself! Again, she almost laughs. She sees now how they whispered that Rhaella was quite mad from Aerys’ abuses. Rhaegar has never harmed a hair on her, and yet here she is. Near hysterical with her twisting thoughts of rape and bastards and fools.

“Your Grace,” Jaime says, inclining his head. They both look at her like children waiting to be swatted and sent to bed early for their misdeeds.

“Some maesters would have women cloistered away for all nine months of pregnancy,” Elia says instead, “but I cannot see the harm in exercise, my lady. Only- I should not let the king hear steel clashing, even if it is dead.”

“He is well away,” Lyanna replies, but gathers up the blunted swords all the same, like a squire.

“My apologies,” says Ser Jaime. “It was- it will not happen again.”

“You cannot blame him,” Lyanna squares her shoulders, but the effect is somewhat lost with how thin and pale she is as of late. She could have aged years in mere months. Elia cannot see that child in her face anymore, only desperation and hunger to be anywhere but here. “I prevailed upon Ser Jaime until he agreed. It is my fault.”

Elia knows it will not happen again, because Ser Jaime will not be a knight of the Kingsguard for much longer. “I see no fault here,” she says mildly instead, and then after a moment’s hesitation. “If you desire a sparring partner, my lady, you might inquire with Lady Nymella. She prefers the spear, in truth, but I should think she might indulge you.”

Lyanna hesitates, grey eyes wary. Perhaps she is wondering if it is some sort of lure or trap. “If the King should find out-,” Jaime stiffens beside her, “He says he will not return my sword to me until after…,” she trails off. “He thinks I may put the babe at risk.”

Poor Rhaegar, plagued by phantoms of moon tea and girls with swords.

“The King will not find out,” says Elia. “Lady Nymella is one of mine, not his.” She pauses. “Your sword- was it forged for you at Winterfell?”

“Not for me,” Lyanna’s voice cracks slightly. “For Brandon, when he was fourteen. He had- many.” Elia did not think it had been crafted for a grown man. It was built for someone of Lyanna’s height and weight, compensating with well-honed speed for a lack of muscle and brawn. “I should return these before anyone notices.”

“I would speak with Ser Jaime alone for a few minutes,” says Elia with what she hopes is a reassuring look. “He will catch up with you quickly, I am sure.”

Lyanna glances between the two of them, then nods and walks briskly off.

“I apologize, Your Grace,” says Jaime in that same stiffly bitter tone. “It was a misjudgment on my part-,”

“Had Rhaegar discovered the two of you sparring he would no doubt strip you of your white cloak tonight, and not in a fortnight,” Elia cuts him off calmly. “He wanted a shieldmaiden, but that was before he knew she carried his child. I am sure you have heard some of the rumors from Ser Oswell.”

“It will be no ordinary bastard,” he says bluntly.

“Ordinary bastards oft live long and peaceable lives,” Elia replies.

Jaime’s green eyed gaze narrows slightly.

“I mean the child nor its mother no harm,” she continues. “I am simply speaking the truth of the matter. He thinks much the same of mine own children. Do you think I wish for Aegon to be a fated hero heralding a new age? Or do you think I wish for my son to be a successful king, as is his right and duty?”

“I have served the Kingsguard faithfully for over a year-,”

“You never should have been appointed,” she snaps, ignoring the open hurt on the boy’s face. “You are a fine knight and a brave man, my lord. But you are your father’s heir.”

“He has two sons.”

“Do you truly believe he will ever permit your brother to succeed him?” she presses. Jaime glances away slightly.

“My father will be dead-,”

“I visited your home shortly after your mother’s death. You remember, I am sure. You and I both know what will come to pass. A lord may name who he chooses as heir, and you have many, many cousins. But Tywin will have you, and you will go home to the westerlands and take Lysa Tully to wife, and you will do so-,” she pauses for a furious breath, “not because I plead and beg with you or because you owe it to Rhaella Targaryen but because if you truly believe your duty is to defend Rhaegar and his heirs, this is it.”

What he does not know is that Lord Varys saw fit to tell her of a particular thread of rumor concerning an offer from Casterly Rock to Storm’s End, testing the waters to see if Robert Baratheon might be prevailed upon to take a certain lioness to wife in exchange for her people’s might in battle. What had Vary said? “Lord Robert’s continued devotion to the unfortunate Lady Lyanna is touching, and a boon to us all.”

She wonders if he offered Stannis as a bride instead. Tywin would have been infuriated by that, she is certain. What is left to him for his precious daughter? And now they say Stannis was wed to a Swann, and Elbert Arryn to a Waynwood. What will he do, send her to the Greyjoys for Rodrik or Maron? He could have had Oberyn for her, poorly as that would have gone. She tears her thoughts away from her younger brother. He may be back in Dorne by now, baying for blood.

“I swore vows,” says Jaime, but his tone is not as strident as it could be. He looks at her like a wounded little boy. Gods, these men-

“Yes,” says Elia. “You did. As did your white brothers. Tell me, do you feel they have upheld them? Have they defended the innocent? The weak? Women and children? Have they devoted their valor and their courage to the gods? Have they been chaste of mind and body? Have they done what is right? Or what is easy?”

“I can fight,” he protests. “Your Grace, I will fight for you, let me stay and go into battle with Connington- I will bring you back Baratheon’s head myself, I will route the rebels-,”

She lays a hand on his shoulder, the way an elder sister might. He stops talking. “Fight for me by ensuring your father gives us men and loyalty, and not assassins in the night,” Elia tells him. “Fight for me and Rhaenys and Aegon and Lyanna. If the scales were to tip in favor of the rebels- tell me, my lord, what do you think your father would do with me and my children? Send us back to Dorne with a gallant escort? To Lady Lyanna? Do you think she would leave the Red Keep alive?”

He says nothing, turning away from her. “Boys go off to battle and cut down bandits and rebels and rescue captive ladies,” she says very quietly. “Men turn the tides of war with marriages and letters and gold. It is a hard lesson but you will learn it all the same.”

“You sound like my father.” He turns back to her, the sun in his eyes and shining off his golden hair.

“Perhaps,” she says, with a small, sad smile. “But you are not your father, and I know it because I found you offering kindness to a girl who has very little left to her.”

Chapter Text

283 AC - KING’S LANDING

Lyanna has had strange dreams since the trial. At first she thought it was because of the dreamwine, but she has not had that in months now. Certainly not with the babe. Maesters worry that dreamwine causes deformities in the womb, else they would dose most women in the birthing bed with it. Now she blames the child itself for her dreams. They are not nightmares. She has had nightmares before. She remembers climbing into Ned’s bed one night as a little girl of four or five, before he went off to the Eyrie. Brandon was her protector and Ben her best friend, but only Ned could offer comfort from things that could not be jabbed with a sword or japed about.

No, these dreams do not wake her with up with shouts or screams. Tears, sometimes, but not always of terror. She dreams all sorts of things. Often she dreams she is back at Winterfell, but it is always different, somehow, larger or smaller than she remembered, or smelling different, or empty and deserted, her footsteps echoing down hollow halls. Once she dreamed of desperately searching for the godswood, feeling that she had to get there, somehow, before- before she does not know what- but when finally found the entrance she pushed open the gate to find only charred stumps and ashes. She could taste the smoke in her mouth, and feel the aching pain of it, somehow.

Occasionally she dreams of the Tower of Joy. Sometimes she is completely alone there, locked in the highest room, gazing out the window at the Red Mountains, watching fire lick their crags and peaks, come racing down towards the valley. Other times Rhaegar is with her, playing his harp, but she cannot make out any of the words, and the more she shouts at him to stop, to listen to her, to tell him that there is danger, that they will die if they do not leave now, the louder he plays, the music at once lulling and tranquil and harsh and discordant, and it does not end until she leaps from the window, the red sand rising up to meet her.

Tonight she dreams not of Winterfell or the Tower of Joy but of a blizzard. She thinks she is in the North, prays she is in the North, but she cannot be sure. All around her is white and swirling, the wind lashing at her face and raking through her thin shift, but although she should be frostbitten or dead from the cold by now, she still has enough feeling in her hands and feet to keep going. Her hair is long once more, trailing down to her waist, covered in a mantle of frost, and she trudges through the snow in her bare feet. There is a hunting knife in her hand. Her knife, the one Father gave her for her twelfth name day. She can trace the carved wolf head on the hilt with her thumb. It is warm, almost burning in her grip.

She would not know no where to go, but there is a trail of crimson blood, speckled across the snow drifts, so she follows that, before it can be covered up. She keeps following the blood. Eventually she can make out a distant, dark shape, through the blinding snow and the cruel wind. She is moving slowly, almost sluggishly, but when she sees it something carves through her, and with a jolt she begins to bound forward, as much as she can, slipping and sliding in the snow. She needs to catch it. She has to catch up to it. Then everything will be alright, she thinks. She’ll be alright if she can just catch it. She pushes forward, gritting her teeth, and gradually gains on it, until the shape becomes more clear. Some kind of large animal. A deer- no, a wolf. It is a wolf, she knows, she has seen wolves before. This one is bigger than normal, but it is moving slowly, limping, it would seem. That explains the blood. Lyanna cannot stop now. She keeps moving.

It could be minutes, it could be hours, but the wolf’s limps falter until it collapses with a low whine into the snow. Lyanna feels a painful smile crack across her chapped and frozen face. Finally, finally- she falls onto it, feeling its ragged breath under its thick, matted fur, and she can see the pain glistening in its eyes. If she kills it and skins it she can use its fur to keep warm. Or eat the meat off its bones. She is so hungry and cold and desperate. She doesn’t think; the knife slashes down across its throat, and she leans into it with all her might, sawing through the tough flesh. The wolf barely stirs, but fresh red blood does not spill from its neck. Instead a strange, sweet smell greets her, and she recoils in horror as rotting roses spill out instead, wintry black and blue.

They coat her hands, and she lifts them up to her eyes in disbelief. When she looks back to the wolf, it is gone. She cries out and staggers to her feet, but there is no sign of it. No more blood. No more roses, just the ones mashed and pulpy and rotten on her hands. She sobs aloud and tries to wipe them on her shift, but they will not come off. She sinks to her knees in the snow, and the cold seems to bite at her now; she can feel her toes and fingers going numb. “Come back,” she tries to call out, “please, come back-,” But there is no sound but the wind. She cannot hear any howls in the distance, no matter how intently she listens.

A shadow passes over her, massive and dark, and she looks up and opens her mouth to scream-

Into her pillow. Lyanna wakes with a start. She clambers up onto her hands and knees, digging her fingers into the softness of the bed. It is still pitch black outside; it must be past midnight, but still well before dawn. There’s a familiar and yet altogether queer sensation in her belly; she puts a hand on the curve of her stomach. One of the maesters estimates her to be near sixteen weeks with child. This could very well be the babe’s quickening, this strange almost fluttering feeling she’s had these past several days, or it could just be her imagination. She was told many mothers do not feel their babes at all until they are well into the fifth month.

She wants to hate the babe. Part of her does, she thinks, part of her is repulsed and outraged- she had always known she was like to have children someday, that it was expected of her, just as marriage, but not like this. Never like this. What shall she tell them? Their origins will always be her shame. She will never be able to look at her child- Rhaegar’s child- and not see him, not remember it all. She could be ninety years old and blind and it would still feel like a knife twisted into her gut. She wants to hate them, this speck- well, more than a speck now- this seed or whatever one could call it. But she does not, or not completely.

Part of her wishes she could see Brandon’s eyes again once more, no matter how it hurts, and if she could see them on her child’s face- on a Stark face- but even then, what of it? Does it matter what they look like, if they are to be a Waters, raised in the Red Keep, to be locked away in preparation for some great, impossible destiny? Once she thinks the thought might have thrilled her, just a little. The idea of her child- a child of her blood and bone- being some hero. A warrior princess, as Rhaegar would say. Not now. Not when this is the reality. She doesn’t want a daughter. She doesn’t want him to be right. She wants it all to be some lie, a mistake, a farce.

She wants a son who looks like the brother she lost, the brother she may as well have killed herself- Brandon- she wants Brandon back, she wants him back even if he lived to hate her, even if he never wanted to see her again, she just wants him to be here again, in this world. She wants back Brandon and Ned and Ben. She wants back Father. She wants back Winterfell and Old Nan and the godswood. She wants back the dogs they would hunt with, she wants back the whispering pines and the cold nights, she wants back stories by the fire and feasts in their hall, she wants to go back. But she can’t. All of that is lost to her now.

She knows she shouldn’t be sitting here in the dark feeling sorry for herself. She wanted Rhaegar, did she not? She wanted some grand adventure. Well, she got one. At what cost? She can hate herself and him and the child he got on her, all at once. That is how much spite Lyanna can contain. She can hate him for lying to her- no matter how much he insists he was only protecting her- she can hate herself for being so easily led, for being so selfish- and she can hate the babe for existing at all, for being irrefutable proof of Rhaegar’s success. His third head. Children are not symbols, she wants to tell him, has told him.

“What if it’s a son?” she’d goaded him not two days past, infuriated that Ser Jaime, who seemed like her last friend, was gone. It has been less than a week since he departed for Golden Tooth, clad in scarlet and gold, not white, and a fortnight since Jon Connington set off for Ashford. “What if it is not your Visenya? Shall you write yourself a new prophecy?” She takes great risks to goad at the king like that, a twisted part of her almost hoping to provoke him into hurting her, to doing something truly terrible, but Rhaegar would not rise to the bait, only looked at her as though she were a mildly vexing child in need of a quiet reprimand.

“You and I both know you will give me a daughter,” he’d replied simply, almost bemused by her defiance, her fury. As if she were attempting to delay or divert something that could not be stopped. An avalanche. The tide. The sun rising and setting.

Oh, he had a thousand apologies for her in the wake of Brandon’s death, when she would not move from the bed, would not eat or drink or bathe, when she wanted to die, wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. He tried to take her in his arms then and many times since then, until she sprang alive, kicking and thrashing and screaming at him to let her go, to get away. In those very dark days she had raked her nails down his face, narrowly avoiding his eye, heaved a heavy vase full of wilted flowers at him, screamed and screamed herself hoarse and hysterical, backed herself into corners, spitting and hissing at him like some wild thing.

She had nearly convinced herself that she could convince him there was nothing to gain by keeping her with him. That he would send her away, send her home. Kings tired of their mistresses all the time. Surely it would be best for everyone. Let him see she had no place here, that she would never forgive him, never forgive herself, that she was no true lady, that she was as savage as the court whispers Brandon was. The wolf’s blood. Her brother was no chivalrous knight. He made now vows to defend the weak, the innocent. The only oaths Brandon pledged were to himself, to the North, to Winterfell. To remind the South that winter’s bite can still be felt in spring.

Then they found she was with child, and Lyanna knew there was no hope then. The tears had come again after that, and Rhaegar had sat by her bedside and taken her hand, and promised her that if she truly desired to leave, after Visenya’s birth he would see her on a ship to anywhere she wished to go. Anywhere. “I love you,” he’d said, “and it will kill part of me to send you away, but if you cannot be happy here, I will not force you to stay. But Visenya must remain here. You may visit her whenever you desire, Lya, but our child must grow up in the Red Keep, alongside her brother and sister.”

So she could go. After the babe came. And she could not take them with her. Perhaps she will truly loathe it as soon as it is born, and she will be gladly on her way. Perhaps. Women bear children they do not want all the time. They tend to love them all the same. She remembers something Old Nan told her once, that children held their mother’s hearts in their little fists. She pictures the babe squeezing her heart dry, fracturing it into a thousand pieces. How can anyone leave their heart behind, even if there is not much left to it?

She’d considered doing something to herself. It would not be so difficult, to find some jagged shard of glass or metal, to slash herself open in the night. Or to throw herself out a window. Or down the stairs. Then they would sing songs of her, would they not? Poor, mad Lyanna Stark, crazed with grief. She thinks Rhaegar might finally rage then, confronted with her lifeless corpse. But he still would not understand, she thinks. He would not. And she doesn’t truly want to die. She just doesn’t much want to live like this, either. She clambers out of bed, kicking away the tangled sheets, and pours herself a cup of water.

Lyanna is mid-sip when she hears a scuffling in the hall outside. Her bedchamber door is not locked, and there is no guard posted outside it at night; rather, the entrances and exits to the Maidenvault are under guard all day and all night, and she is not permitted to leave the building without the company of either a Kingsguard or the King himself, not after her two ill-fated escape attempts. She cautiously creaks open the door, still holding the cup of water, and wishing she had her sword. Perhaps it’s just a stray cat. The Red Keep certainly has plenty of them. A plump grey tabby often lurks in the Maidenvault; Lyanna has taken to calling her Daena, after Daena the Defiant.

The noise is not a cat. It is Viserys. Lyanna stares at the boy in shock for a moment, and he seems similarly surprised by her appearance. “How did you get in here?” she asks hoarsely after a moment.

“The guard was sleeping,” Viserys yawns, rubbing at his eyes. “I was looking for Mother.”

“You know your lady mother isn’t here,” Lyanna says warily. She has not had much interaction with any of the royal children. She has heard Viserys’ temper tantrums on occasion- the boy can certainly scream himself silly- but in the dark he is not a spoiled little prince, but a small and skinny boy of seven, desperately missing his mother.

“I know,” Viserys chews on his lower lip. “I was dreaming about her, is all, and I thought maybe-,”

“You thought maybe the dream might be real,” Lyanna takes a step towards him. “Show me this sleeping guard.”

The guard is sleeping no longer; he has straightened up and is muttering to himself, rubbing his hands together in an attempt to stir himself further awake. Lyanna knew she should not have gotten her hopes up. For a small child like Viserys who knows every nook and cranny of the Red Keep, slipping away from his own bedchamber in the dead of night was likely quite easy. His absence will be noted eventually, whenever his septa wakes, but he was not intending to run away, just to wander, as children do. It would take a great deal more luck for her to somehow make it all the way to the stables, sneak past the stableboys, steal a horse, and- and then what? Ride up to the gates and demand they let her pass?

Even if by some miracle or twist of fate she did manage to get out, she would not last long, unarmed, unprepared, and with child. That is a child’s flight of fancy. She backs away from the corner they’d been peeping around, and straight into Viserys, who recoils dully, already half-asleep again. Lyanna takes him gingerly by the hand and leads him back into the recesses of the Maidenvault. Moonlight pours through some of the high windows in patches across the slate tiled floor. Her bare feet pad along silently next to his. Out of the corner of her eyes, with his long pale hair, he seems like Rhaegar in miniature, although on closer inspection his face is thinner, narrower, his features more sharp and angular.

She takes him into her room, for want of what else to do. “I’m thirsty,” he complains, so she gives him the rest of her water, and sits on the edge of the bed, watching him gulp it down greedily. If she closes her eyes, she might pretend she is a little girl again, staying up late with Ben, giggling and whispering ghost stories to one another about long-dead Starks. When Viserys is done, he sets the cup down, wraps his arms around himself, and stares at her.

“Do you know who I am?” Lyanna asks.

“Yes,” his mouth twists up in a childish scowl. “I’m not stupid. You’re Lady Lyanna. My brother’s mistress.” She wonders if he even knows what that means. “You’re from the North,” Viserys says. “Where my mother went. Rhaegar won’t bring her back. I hate him.” He stamps at the ground with a bare foot for emphasis. “Now she has to live with wolves.”

“They’re not really wolves, my family,” Lyanna says, but feels a stab of guilt all the same. “That’s just our sigil. We don’t… There’s no wild animals in Winterfell.” Not anymore. She thinks of Father, wed to Rhaella Targaryen. He is a man of his word. She does not think he would treat the Queen Dowager poorly. But how must she feel, knowing she can never go home? The same as Lyanna, only Lyanna did not leave a child behind. Not yet. Her hand goes to her belly once more, and Viserys notices.

“People say you’re having a baby,” he accuses.

“I am,” Lyanna’s tone is flat and dead. “The King’s baby.”

“That’s stupid,” Viserys does not seem terribly impressed. “You’re not even married.”

Lyanna laughs, hard and shrill, at that, and it seems to startle him; he flinches back.

“I hope it’s a boy,” he declares in a more subdued tone. “Boys are better, except Rhaenys. I like her. I’m giving her a kitten,” he brags.

“Really?” Lyanna’s eyes are wet; she wipes at them quickly, so he does not notice. “How did you manage that, my prince?”

“One of the kitchen cats is having babies, and I’m going to give one to Rhaenys,” Viserys explains with great pride. “I’ll have one too. We’ll name them after the dragons. Only the best ones, though. Like Balerion and Vhagar and Meraxes.”

She’d learned about those dragons as a girl. Rhaegar thinks to wake some more, someday. So did his grandsire, and that ended in ruin. “That sounds like a wonderful gift.”

“Does my brother give you gifts?” Viserys has grown a bit bolder, sitting in the armchair by the fire, curled up like a cat himself.

Lyanna looks at him for a few moments, and then gives a shaky nod. “Yes. Many.” Mercy from Aerys’ wroth and a crown of blue roses at Harrenhal. Freedom from Robert and then a new cage in Dorne. His love and his lies. Songs. So many songs. Dead men. More than she knows. Brandon’s blood on the throne room floor. The babe in her belly who may be a daughter or may be a son. Is it still a gift if she never wanted most of them? She can’t decide. Viserys is looking at her with a child’s wide eyes. Such a pretty shade of lavender, lighter than Rhaegar’s. The babe may share them. The thought settles in her chest like an heavy weight.

Chapter Text

283 AC - GRIFFIN’S ROOST

Jeyne is trying to reread Stannis’ letter, but little Alynne Connington’s wailing is quickly approaching unbearable. The babe’s mother, Lady Alyce, is trying her best to calm her, but Alynne’s shrieks echo jarringly around the circular tower room. Lord Ronald’s younger sisters, Lady Kyra and Lady Arwyn, have set down their needlework and are wincing and grimacing themselves. Little Raymund, Ronald and Alyce’s second son, a small boy of four, has clapped his hands over his ears, his wooden blocks forgotten on the floor.

Sometimes Jeyne wonders if her mere presence disturbs the babe. That is truly nonsense, since Alynne Connington is a child of one and has no idea that her family are now prisoners in their own home, but the thought needles at her all the same. Did Jeyne not come here in the wake of the battle of Griffin’s Roost? When Jeyne rode through the gates she found Robert’s men drinking and reveling and the Connington women standing in a terrified clump in the hall, trying their best to ignore the occasional jeers and catcalls directed their way.

Stannis had been easy enough to locate at the time, arguing fiercely over some matter with the castle’s frightened steward, rather than joining in with the merriment. He’d seemed shocked to see her, but Jeyne continues to take her marital vows rather seriously, and it seems to her that an active rebellion should not change matters. Where he goes, she will follow, whether he likes it or not. Who is going to stop her? Her lord father or her brothers? Both had been among the triumphant soldiers sharing the Connington food and drink.

“What are you doing here?” he had demanded while she dismounted and removed her riding gloves.

“Good evening, husband,” she’d greeted as if she had not heard him, and had then set about her business; “A pleasure to see that I am not yet a widow. You will tell Robert to give the women to me, won’t you? I’ll not have my husband and goodbrother known for leading a pack of rapists.” Even as she spoke, one of the bolder soldiers was trying to wrench Arwyn Connington away by the arm. Jeyne had stiffened and tried to ignore the sudden pounding in her chest, her hands clenched into fists at her sides, torn between snatching up some drunk’s dagger and running in the opposite direction.

He’d glanced in that direction, his look darkening, and barked a few orders, and so Jeyne had found herself as the inadvertent caretaker of Connington women and children in the weeks following the victory. Lord Ronald and his eldest child, Ronnet, a boy of nine, had been sent off to Storm’s End as a captive and page, respectively, and Robert and his men had set forth for Summerhall, Stannis included, where there was another decisive triumph. After that, the Stormlands were secure, united behind her goodbrother, and the decision had been made to attempt to take Ashford as a stalwart defense against the Reach.

Now she has been over a month without her husband, and a fortnight without word from him. His last letter was characteristically brief. It had informed her that they had not succeeded in taking Ashford, that the battle had been short lived and indecisive, but they’d had minimal losses, and Robert was retreating northeast towards Bronzegate. A Reacher invasion was imminent, and Stannis had been ordered to hold Storm’s End. A ship would take them up the coast upon his return. ‘Your brothers and father survive, I trust you are well’ was as affectionate as his parting words had gotten. Jeyne can imagine him gritting his teeth as he etched the letters out.

Stannis does not seem to know what to do with her, and has evidently hoped she would remain at Stonehelm, patiently awaiting his return, perhaps sitting by a window and doing whatever it is Stannis assumes women do with themselves. He seems to regard the female sex as a strange and untrustworthy species that exists to vex men, and on occasion, follow them on campaign and disregard their husbandly commands. Jeyne supposes she could have taken far more offense to his rather cool affections (or lack of them), but she is willing to admit that even the best of men would likely not have been ideal husbands in a time of war and uncertainty.

Negotiating the sometimes fraught, often confusing waters of their very young marriage is likely a matter for a more peaceful time. Still, Jeyne despises waiting, nor does she like the idea of seeing the Stormlands overrun with Reachmen, but surely not all hope is lost. They have mercenaries crossing the Narrow Sea for them, even if it near emptied out House Baratheon (and House Swann’s) coffers to do so. They have sellswords and hedge knights from the Riverlands and Crownlands and the Reach and even a party from the North. They have the right of it, and even if Robert is defeated, the rest of the Seven Kingdoms will not soon forget the roaring storm of steel that went up when House Baratheon and its bannermen were so disrespected.

Of course, she thinks, as she stands up, the worn letter in hand, and slips from the room, that is all well and good to think in the light of day, when she is safe and her husband yet lives. In the dark of night when she lies abed alone she does not think half so boldly and hopefully. She thinks- she knows- that this cannot end in anything but more bloodshed, that even should Robert get his chance to strike Rhaegar Targaryen down, it will not save them from the Reach, from Dorne, from the rest of the Seven Kingdoms that have not pledged themselves to Robert’s cause. She thinks that this may very well end with House Baratheon as headless corpses, and herself- well, she is a Baratheon now, is she not?

But, she tells herself firmly, none of this is within her control. It does her no good to give herself over to permanent fear and worry, day and night. She cannot change the tides of war, she cannot charge out on horseback, sword in hand, or presume to direct troops on where to go and what to do. This is the ship she boarded, for better or worse, much like her marriage, and she will cling to the mast through even the worst of storms, and if it is dashed on the rocks, well- They will remember her as a loyal wife and capable lady, at the very least. They will say that Lady Jeyne was true to the very end, and conducted herself as befitting of a Swann and a Baratheon.

She has always enjoyed walking the ramparts, and does so now, watching the sun sink low over the sea on the horizon, and keeping a firm grip on Stannis’ letter lest the wind tear it away. They will hold Storm’s End together. He cannot think to send her back to Stonehelm. She is not a child to be ordered home and off to bed. He was raised to fight and deliver judgement. She was raised to run a household, even under siege conditions. He will need her, whether he is willing to admit it or not. Besides, she thinks, it is not as if they have children to worry for. Despite Robert’s callous japes and the rumors, their marriage has not gone unconsummated. Perhaps not… enthusiastically consummated, but they both did what was required of them.

There is time yet, she tells herself shortly. They are both young and healthy and it will happen when the gods will it. Perhaps it is for the best that she is not immediately with child. A war and a pregnancy at the same time would test anyone’s limits. Seven willing, they will both come out of this older and wiser, and then they will be ready for sons and daughters. She’d asked Stannis what he would name a son of theirs, once, when they were lying next to one another stiffly in bed, and although he told her it was foolishness to discuss it when said son did not exist, after a few long moments he had said, more to himself than to her, “Steffon.”, and left it at that.

Jeyne has always liked the name.

She is still up on the ramparts, looking out over the red cliffs and the waves crashing up against them, when the cry goes up. “Baratheon banners!” a guard shouts, and she takes the narrow stairs down to the bailey two steps at a time as the gates grind open. Stannis has returned with a small force; no more than fifty men, she would estimate, as they all come flooding through the gates. Jeyne stands with her back against the wall, steeling herself against the swarm of sound, before exhaling and making her way towards her lord husband, who is standing beside a wagon. At first glance she is perplexed at the covered form on it, before the smell hits her.

Jeyne steps back immediately, as Stannis finally takes notice of her. “You brought back dead?” she asks, brow furrowed. She cannot see why- Her husband stares at her, then pulls back the sheet. The corpse is still in its red armor, the helm in place to cover what seems to be a grievous head wound. What is visible of the fiery beard is unmistakable. Anyone who’d ever laid eyes on Jon Connington before would know it immediately.

“Robert insisted.” Stannis’ tone suggests that only out of duty for his brother did he not leave the body on the side of some road. “Connington died bravely, he said. Let his bones be returned to his people.” He re-covers the corpse.

Jeyne fights back a wave of nausea. “I will tell the women,” she says swiftly. “Best they not hear it from you.”

Stannis scowls. “It could have easily been my corpse. Connington thought to end House Baratheon at Ashford with a few swings of his sword. He was a fool. Tarly lives to fight another battle, and most of his men.”

“A brave fool,” Jeyne agrees. She takes his arm. “I am fortunate that my husband is brave, and as sensible as they come.” She might press a sweet kiss to his cheek, were he the gallant sort and she the sweet sort, but instead she holds his fierce blue gaze for a moment, before letting go. More and more of the castle’s remaining household are beginning to come out to see the returning riders.

She catches Alyce on the steps, a petite woman with prematurely greying hair and a soft mouth. The older woman can tell by her face, she thinks. Alyce pales at once, stopping before Jeyne. “What is it? Not word from Storm’s End- my husband, my son-,”

“Your good cousin,” Jeyne cuts her off. There is no kind way to say this. “Lord Jon fell in battle at Ashford, my lady. His… his body has been brought back for a proper burial here.”

Alyce gasps, a hand flying to her mouth, and then looks past Jeyne. “Is he-,”

“You may look upon him,” Jeyne tries to be gentle. Celia or Mother would be much better suited to this, she thinks. She has seen so many dead men. Only the smell bothers her at this point. In the Kingswood, they fell all around her like flies before the knights of the Kingsguard. She watched Ser Barristan slay six, young Jaime Lannister cut down five. She still remembers the way that boy had grinned, like a cat toying with a mouse. It should have disturbed her, a woman of gentle birth, but after five days- after five days she had rejoiced to see them slaughtered like animals. Her tears were of relief, not fear or horror.

Alyce brushes past her, shoulders shaking with repressed sobs. Perhaps it is for the best that Robert did not come back here himself. It is one thing to take a castle from a family and imprison them. It is another to lay the bodies of their dead kin before them, even if it was not cruelly meant. And she does not think it was- it is not that she believes Robert free of cruelty or malice- no man is, certainly not a man with as many vices as him- but from what she has seen of him, he has always respected his foes. With the exception of Rhaegar. She has heard enough curses called down upon the new king to make a witch quail in her boots.

She leaves the Connington women to sup alone that night, sensing that they will not want to make polite conversation with the woman whose husband just returned from battle with their cousin’s corpse. Instead she and Stannis dine together for the first time since their wedding. Jeyne picks at her food, not wanting to interrogate him, but unwilling to sit there in stilted silence either, although Stannis does seem to mind the quiet. “It’s a relief that you and Robert went uninjured,” she says at last, after judging this comment unlikely to provoke an argument.

“He gave me command of the rear,” Stannis says bluntly. “Robert prefers to lead the charges himself. The glory was too much to pass up.”

Jeyne genuinely does not know if he is being sarcastic or not. “You may not have fought in the vanguard, but you still did your part. Even if the battle was lost, it was a valiant effort.”

“Valiant efforts don’t win wars.” Stannis is looking past her out the window, where the first stars are appearing. “There is a rumor that the Stark girl is bearing Rhaegar’s bastard.”

Jeyne stiffens, then sets down her cup. “Does Robert believe this?”

“Does it matter?” Stannis snaps. “We could hear that the girl was months dead and it would not stop him.”

“It is not just about her virtue,” Jeyne replies evenly. “He broke a betrothal pact between two great houses- with an armed escort, no less! It is no different from some lord riding down to a wedding in the village to carry off the bride. Had it been your lady-,”

“Robert was not interested in my marital prospects until it served him,” Stannis mutters.

“Yes,” says Jeyne, suppressing as much derision as possible, “I am sure you were very eager to be wed, my lord.”

“I counseled him to accept Lannister’s offer,” Stannis stands up. “All he had to do was wed Cersei. We look like the greatest fools in the realm, to have passed such a thing up because Robert is too stubborn-,”

“Tywin Lannister cannot be trusted,” she argues. “If he could abandon the Targaryens after years at Aerys’ side, he would turn on you and yours just as quickly. It could have been some trick. He could have betrayed you in battle, given Robert over to the royalists-,”

“And what would you know of Tywin Lannister?” he demands. “You are a sheltered girl of eighteen.”

“That doesn’t mean I’m wrong,” she stands as well, pushing her chair in with a wooden scrape. “That talk of Lyanna Stark being with child- it could all be Targaryen lies as well. They claim she is with child in the hopes that Robert gives up the fight.”

“You don’t know my brother,” Stannis says darkly. “Do you think Robert would accept any man’s scraps?”

“She is a person, not gristle left on a bone,” Jeyne’s voice cracks out like a whip. For all his pride, Stannis looks slightly chastened, heat rising in his cheeks. “But I understand that it may be difficult for a man to consider such things. After all, I am only a simple girl of eighteen.”

She fully expects them not to speak again until the morrow when they set sail for Storm’s End, but to her surprise he comes to her bedchamber that night. “I don’t feel well, my lord,” Jeyne says immediately, without looking up from her book. “I cannot-,”

He ignores her, climbing into bed beside her, and to her surprise does nothing, laying flat on his back, staring up at the draping. Jeyne raises her gaze from her book. “You told me not a week into our marriage that you preferred to sleep alone.”

“The window is broken in the other room,” he says. “The draft is unpleasant.”

What a horrible liar she has married, Jeyne thinks with almost a tinge of fondness. As if Stannis would be bothered by a draft. The man may as well have ice in his veins. Celia once asked her in jest if he came to bed in full armor each night, just in case. Jeyne had glared at her sister, then laughed, although she’d disguised it with a coughing fit.

“I see,” she closes her book, and blows out the candle. “I certainly hope you are warm enough now.”

He doesn’t answer that. They lie there in silence for a few more moments before Jeyne swallows. “Will you tell me how Connington died?”

“Tarly reached Ashford before us, was well prepared,” he recounts roughly. “Robert still tried to push through, but it was no use, and we knew the rest of the Tyrell host was on the march. We retreated less than four hours into the attack. Connington gave pursuit with twenty men. He killed Cafferen, challenged Robert to single combat. Thought he could end the Rebellion then and there.”

“Robert won,” Jeyne whispers.

“It was quick,” says Stannis. “Connington was no green knight, but he was angry. Too angry. A man that lets his rage move him like that is doomed to fall hard. Robert smashed his sword, then his skull.”

“I had heard the Griffin was a talented strategist, when not acting the fool,” Jeyne dares to let the side of her arm rest against her husband’s. He does not recoil. “And a close friend of the King’s. Rhaegar will be wroth.”

“Robert wants him wroth. He wants him out of the capitol and onto the battlefield. Do you think he would settle for anything less than meeting him in combat?”

“No,” she sighs after a moment. “I don’t.” She listens to his breathing even and slow, and lets the distant sound of the waves lull her to sleep. When she wakes just before dawn, her head is lolling on his shoulder, and he has not moved away from her yet.

Chapter Text

283 AC - WINTERFELL

Rhaella wakes up alone, and has to recall for a few moments why that is. Her husband’s bedchamber is silent and empty, aside from the fire crackling in the grate. She thinks he must have stoked it before he left. Only then does she remember that Rickard was to depart at dawn today, to ride to Castle Cerwyn to meet with Lord Medger regarding some captured outlaw. The Cerwyns’ keep is close enough, but it will still take a full day’s light to ride there and back. She sits up, rubbing at her eyes, and glances at the familiar indentation left in the mattress beside her.

It is peculiar, to think of one’s husband with something approaching amity and not fear or dread. Rickard has been true to his word, and has not summoned her to his bed since their wedding night. That does not mean she has not come into of it of her own free will. Not every night, not even frequently, but more than once in these past few months, enough that she no longer wakes with a panicked jolt of alarm to find herself lying in bed beside a man. She and Aerys never slept beside one another, not even on their wedding night. On that dark night, Aerys had fallen into a drunken sleep immediately afterwards, and she had gotten up and darted into her own room, barely holding back her tears.

Yet on the morning after her wedding she woke to find herself not only lying beside Rickard Stark, to her shock, but to feel her legs entwined with his, her hand on his scarred chest, and his hand slung over her waist. Of course one could not be surprised to find that two bodies in a bed might draw close together on a cold spring night, but- Rhaella has never been comfortable around men, not like this. When she was a queen in all her severe finery, an iron crown on her head, that was a different matter. She could shield herself in that sense. As a wife? As someone lying naked beside a husband? That is something else.

And she should not say that all her fears have magically melted away and that she feels girlish love and affection in her heart for a man she still, in truth, barely knows. But she trusts him, and that is new, and different, and somehow reassuring. That she does not have to spend every moment in his company tense and anxious, awaiting the next blow or accusation or insult directed at her. Last night they even spoke after they’d… well, after they’d bedded one another. It was strange to lie with her hair unbound in the dark, simply talking to a man about their days and the household and what would happen on the morrow. Aerys and her never spoke like that- they barely had conversations.

She likes speaking with Rickard because he listens to her, silly as it sounds. He does not treat her as some sort of broken bird that must be delicately handled, nor does he treat her as some half-witted idiot who could not possibly comprehend politics or history. He behaves as though what she has to say has meaning, even if he does not agree with her. He finds what she has to say interesting, and he never interrupts or reprimands her. She made some comment last night- she cannot even remember what- and he must have found it amusing, because while he did not laugh aloud, he exhaled quickly and tensed for a moment as if suppressing a chuckle.

She’d felt a queer rush of pride at that. It is ridiculous- what should she care whether he finds her amusing or not? This is a marriage, not a carnival act. But it had been nice. She doesn’t love him, but she doesn’t mind his company. Nor his body. He’d been surprised when she’d come to him, a week after the wedding, and said she’d like to claim her rights as his wife. Part of her had been terrified, childish as it was, that he’d be disgusted and order her out. He had not.

No sane man would, she tells herself practically, unless his wife was a leper, but- It had been pleasant. It has been pleasant. Far more pleasant than she might have anticipated. Perhaps it is because there is no looming weight of bearing another son hanging over her head. Perhaps it is because it is not painful with him, even though she does remember Aerys at times and tense or jerk away. Rickard has not taken offense to it yet.

She is still getting used to referring to him as Rickard, even in the confines of her own head. She wonders if he thinks of her as ‘Rhaella’. When they are public he calls her ‘my lady’ or ‘wife’ in that constant grave tone, and she calls him ‘my lord’ or ‘husband’, but when they are alone or with his family he refers to her as Rhaella. “Rhaella, you might wish to go with Benjen to Old Castle in a moon’s turn,” he’d told her at dinner last night. “It is not a hard journey, and he should be glad for the company.”

Young Benjen had chanced an awkward boy’s smile at her as he sipped at his cider, and she’d smiled back. “I would like that.”

She is still trying to get used to the idea that she can leave- not the North, of course, but that if she wished it, she could order her horse saddled and ride down with a few guards to the Wintertown, and no one would stop her or call her back. She has been into the town several times now, twice with Rickard, and when they were last there she was distracted by a group of children playing, who’d stopped to stare in open curiosity at her silver-gold hair and violet eyes. She’d let herself be drawn into their game for a few minutes, then hurried back to her husband, already apologizing for tarrying.

“They are your people now,” he’d said instead. “Should I censure you from speaking with them? You would not interrupt me while I sat the lord’s seat in our hall and listened to their words.”

She smiles slightly to herself at the memory, then shivers. Fire or not, or it is still cold to sit here, furs pushed aside, without any clothes on. She can hear one of her maids rustling around in her adjoining chambers, likely re-making the bed and laying out clothes. Rhaella wraps her discarded dressing gown around herself, and gets out of bed, hurrying in to call for a bath. Most of the servants looked at her as though she were of a separate species when she first arrived, but by now she thinks she has won over her personal chambermaids and the cooks, at least.

“Milady, Master Poole was wanting- wants me to tell you,” one of the girls, Darra, corrects herself swiftly as she combs out Rhaella’s long hair after said bath, “that the septon from White Harbor is coming, and he’ll be here in a fortnight. And that carver, Walton, he’s waiting for you and Lady Catelyn in the tower.”

“Thank you,” says Rhaella. “I won’t keep him waiting long, then.” She eats the breakfast brought in for her swiftly and braids her hair herself. The Northern women seem to wear it loose down their backs or in braids, and she stands out enough as it is, she reasons, with her blatantly Targaryen looks. Most of Winterfell’s household had never seen anyone anything like her before when she first arrived. She could tell from the whispers and startled glances; ‘milady has the strangest eyes, I swear it- she’s a beauty, but her hair’s like ice-,’

To her relief, most of them seemed to bear her no real ill will. As for the nobility- well, she has heard that the Umbers and Karstarks were calling for war with the South up until the wedding ceremony, and that the Norreys and Liddles proclaimed she wouldn’t last a week, but- she is still here, is she not? That must count for something. She is here and she is Rhaella Stark, whether they accept it or not, and she is Lady of Winterfell, and she will still be Lady of Winterfell a month from now, a year from now, whether they like it or not. Rickard has not raised any complaints with her conduct in that role as of yet, and he is not one for empty praise.

The broken tower does not seem quite so dilapidated now that the lower level has been cleared of the loose stones and collapsed beams. It will take months yet to properly repair the roof, but for the time being it is not the ruin that it once was. Rickard would not agree to a sept being constructed at Winterfell, but he would agree to the construction of a prayer room of sorts. The seven sides are denoted on the floor in mosaic tile, not by the walls, and there are no altars, but the wood carver Walton evidently did not consider it a betrayal of his own faith to make masks for each of Seven’s faces.

“They’re wonderfully intricate,” Catelyn is praising the man when Rhaella enters. She turns with a smile to regard her good mother of sorts, pressing a mask of the Mother into her hands. “Look at her hair- I never knew wood could look so detailed.” It is beautiful work, Rhaella thinks, running her hands over the serenely smiling face framed by flowing locks. She has prayed to the Mother the most over the course of her life, she thinks. She barely had a chance to be a young maid, and the Father’s stern gaze always reminded her of her grandfather, who was seldom pleased with her parents in the last years of his life.

“You’ll be wanting them hung, then, milady?” Walton asks gruffly, as Rhaella lays the mask back down.

“Of course,” says Catelyn enthusiastically, although she glances at Rhaella for approval. Rhaella nods. “It’s fine work. You’ll be well compensated for it, as promised.”

After he takes his leave, Rhaella tells Catelyn of the septon from White Harbor. “He should be here in a fortnight, to consecrate the space and hang the crystals,” she says, glancing around the small room. There are no stained glass windows here, and the air is cold and sharp, not stuffy with the scent of incense, but the light is good, and she can see the dust motes dancing in the air. “I know it is not a true sept, but…”

“I’m very grateful to Lord Rickard for agreeing to it,” Catelyn says automatically, cheeks flushing. “I know it is- This is not Riverrun,” she says, as if to remind herself. “We all must adapt.” Her hand goes to the swell of her belly, slightly visible through her rich blue gown. She hesitates. “Do you think it will cause offense if I were to ask the septon to pray with me for the babe, while he is here? I know they cannot be anointed in the Faith, but…”

“Of course not,” says Rhaella immediately. “It is your first child and you are a young mother without any of her kin here, beyond your husband’s blood. I know Ned would never forbid you that. Nor Rickard.” She surprises herself with how firm her tone is, as if she knows them so well, as if she would have the authority to shield Catelyn from criticism of judgement. But in a sense, she does. She has rights at Winterfell, the same as any wedded woman.

“I am trying not to worry,” Catelyn seems to relax slightly, tucking a loose lock of auburn hair behind her ear. “Maester Luwin says everything seems to be progressing normally, and I’ve always been healthy- so is Ned. But my lady mother,” she casts a swift glance at the mask of the Mother, “Seven bless her, she had difficulties in the birthing bed.”

“You have to accept that you have little control over what happens there,” Rhaella says gently, and with a tinge of bitterness, thinking of her own pregnancies. “The best thing you can do is to stay calm and trust in the maester and midwives.”

And how many midwives faced Aerys’ wrath after a child of theirs was lost? And she stood aside and did nothing to protect them. The guilt surges up in her, before she forces it back down. She had no voice then. She could not have defended them, but things are different now. They will be different. And Catelyn is not her; she is young enough to be Rhaella’s own child. It seems strange when they are in similar positions now, but sometimes she forgets how young Catelyn and Ned are. They have similarly serious demeanors. In the end, Rickard Stark could have picked far worse to marry into his somber Northern bloodline. Many Southern women would be miserable at Winterfell, surrounded by a strange culture and strange people.

“I’ve been praying for a boy,” Catelyn confides in her as they leave the tower and step out into the warm sunshine. “My mother had four sons, although only my brother Edmure lived, and Ned has-,” she catches herself, “Ned had two brothers.”

Rhaella has never spoken of Brandon Stark with Catelyn, but he is sometimes standing in the midst of a crowded room. She knows because she has seen Catelyn stop talking or trail off at times, and look at the shade of her dead betrothed, whenever a similarly built young man passes by or a roar of laughter goes up, or she watches Ned and Benjen Stark spar together. Mayhaps she did not truly love him, never having gotten the chance to know him, but the wound remains there all the same.

“Some midwives claim if a woman feels colder while she carries a child, it’s like to be a boy, but I do not think that matters so much here,” Rhaella says dryly as a cool breeze hits them, and Catelyn laughs aloud. “But I don’t believe that. When I carried Viserys, I was constantly hot.” She has yet to actually say Rhaegar’s name aloud while in the confines of Winterfell. It feels as though she might be tempting fate. But Viserys- she has to speak of Viserys, so she does not forget him, so she reminds herself that she is still a mother, his mother, even when parted from him.

“I shouldn’t mind a bit of warmth,” Catelyn says with a slight smile. Then she frowns. “Ned went with his father today. I know it is silly, but-,”

“You miss him,” Rhaella finishes the thought for her. Again, Catelyn goes bright red. Well, there is hope enough for that marriage, in any case. She has yet to hear them quarrel, and she has seen the way Ned Stark watches his wife’s hair gleam in the torchlight.

“I’ve been so used to always being around him, that’s all,” Catelyn says swiftly, but then softens from her usual briskness. “But I miss him. He has been… he feels so guilty, as of late.” She lowers her voice as they walk inside, “About Robert and the rebels.”

“It’s only natural,” says Rhaella. She feels somehow guilty as well. She would play with Steffon Baratheon as a child. Aerys never seemed quite so unpleasant or demanding around him. When she was very young she had once innocently thought that she might marry Steffon, as her aunt had married his father. The Baratheons were descended from the blood of Valyria, even if it was originally a bastard’s line. “Robert was like a brother to him, and he had to choose between his blood and his friend. No easy choice, no matter the consequences.”

“I am glad he chose Winterfell,” Catelyn confesses.

As am I, Rhaella thinks. Gods know Rickard has lost enough children as it is.

Later she rereads her latest letters from Elia and Viserys. It has been difficult and frustrating to accept that she can no longer expect immediate updates as to the going-ons at the Red Keep and the developments of the war itself. Add to that the delay of news given the distance, and Elia’s efforts to keep Rhaegar from seeing her letters, which makes them even more belated- But some news is still better than no news at all, even if she worries constantly that she will not hear something until it is too late. Elia’s letter speaks of Jon Connington departing for Ashford and Jaime Lannister’s release from the Kingsguard. ‘Ser Jaime offered me Robert’s head if I would only send him to fight’, Elia writes, ‘but I reminded him of his vows to serve and protect, even without a sword in hand’.

Viserys’ spelling leaves something to be desired, but his letter details some rambling tale about a pregnant cat and Rhaenys’ infuriating habit of pulling his hair. He has completely sworn off letting her ride on his back in retaliation for this slight. And he has included a scribbled picture of a cat with dragon wings, breathing fire on the Red Keep. ‘When can I come visit?’ he asks plaintively before his smudged signature at the bottom; Viserys Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone. As if she could forget. She folds the letter back up, resolving to finish her reply to him soon. She worries about simply salting the wound of her absence through writing, but surely it is better that he still hear from her, know she is well and safe.

Before dinner she goes for a walk with Benjen in the godswood. He is trying to train one of the hunting hounds to retrieve for him alone, which mostly seems to consist of throwing sticks and waiting with growing impatience for the rambunctious puppy to eventually return them. Rhaella was initially perplexed that he’d want to spend any time in her company at all, but now she knows that the boy is fourteen and has never known a mother, that is often lonely, and that he misses his sister very much. She sits on a stump while he balances on a moss covered boulder, clapping and yelling for the dog to return, then gives up, sitting down cross-legged.

“They never listen to me,” he says, annoyed. “I don’t know what it is. They all used to go mad when Lya would come down to the kennels…” He trails off into a pained silence.

“I will not be angry with you for talking about her,” Rhaella tells him without looking at him, listening to the distant sound of the dog rustling through the bushes. “She is still your sister, and I know you love her dearly.”

Ben says nothing for a long time, then- “Lyanna used to love this old half-blind hound who was no good for hunting anymore. He would follow her around wagging his tail, bumping into people. The kennel master wanted to put him down, but she would scream herself silly if he so much as went near the poor thing. She loved that dog just because it was old and ugly, I think, and no one wanted it anymore so she felt she ought to love it. Eventually it went completely blind and a little mad, and it started snapping at people. It bit her one day, and Brandon had to throw rocks at it to get it away from her. But she still cried when they killed it.”

Finally, the puppy comes racing back… without the stick. Benjen groans, scrambling down from his perch to chastise the dog. Rhaella sits there still as the air grows colder. She thinks what he was trying to tell her what that his sister is not an evil person, that she simply loves- loved blindly, regardless of the risks, that she was never once bitten, twice shy. The bite seemed worth it to Lyanna, was what he was telling her. But had they let that blind, mad hound live it likely would have torn some other little child to pieces, and then she might not have wept so bitterly to see it killed.

Ben scoops up this pup, tucking its wriggling body under an arm as he turns back to her. They can hear the distant sounds of the gates opening. “Father and Ned are back,” Benjen brightens and sets off at a quick pace in that direction. Rhaella stands up herself, sweeping dead leaves and twigs from her skirts, and follows, resisting the urge to glance back at the crimson-leaved trees whispering behind them. She smiles a little to see that the boy has waited up for her, propping open the carved oaken door with his lanky body, ignoring the indignant puppy’s yelps and whimpers.

Chapter Text

283 AC - KING’S LANDING

Elia has prayed the Mother’s Chant before, but it easy to forget quite how long the prayer is when enclosed in the silent grandeur of the royal sept. When she at last rises, knees stiff and aching, alongside Alyse and Nymella, the colors shadowed on the marble floor from the stained glass windows have shifted along with the sky outside, and the candles at the altar of the Mother that they lit upon their entrance have sputtered out.

A windy draft has crept in from outdoors, overpowering even the familiar smells of incense and candle wax. Nymella shivers, murmuring, “What sort of spring is this? A new storm every week, I swear.” Elia nods distractedly, still trying to massage feeling back into her legs, while Alyse hurries to relight the candles, not wanting their intentions to go to waste. Her repeated prayer is more of a blurred mutter at this point: “Gentle Mother, font of mercy, save our sons from war, we pray-,”

Gentle Mother, strength of women, help our daughters through this fray, Elia finishes the last of it in her own head, as the candles spark back to life. Soothe the wrath and tame the fury indeed. She’s no longer sure whose wrath she’s praying to soothe. Robert’s or Rhaegar’s? Or her own? She has been angrier these past months than she can ever recall being in her twenty six years of life. And the worst sort of anger is perhaps the sort that cannot be unleashed but is instead forced to trickle out of one in bitter drips here and there. There’s no relief or peace to be found with that.

Ashford was a disaster. Not at first, not when Tarly’s victory was being celebrated- the rebels pushed back, a path temporarily clear for the Reach to invade, a swift victory to follow seemingly assured- but that was misleading. Ashford was not a victory because Baratheon and the vast majority of his forces are still alive and well, and currently running loyalist troops ragged in three different locations. They should never have been allowed to retreat. Tarly held Ashford; she would have rather he let the castle fall and used the time to encircle the rebels entirely.

‘On the run’ has not been the death knell it first seemed for the storm lords. As far as anyone call tell, Baratheon has split his men into three separate forces. One near Blackhaven, stalling the men her brother sent, and who Lucifer Dayne, the Knight of High Hermitage, brought up through the Boneway along with a flood of Wyls, thinking to catch the Stormlands off guard by avoiding the Prince’s Pass. At the very least, they likely would have passed the Prince’s Pass. It is not clear whether they have yet made it through the Boneway and out of the marches. Dornishmen are not the only men used to raiding in that area, and the Dondarrions are apparently striking like their symbolic lightning left and right.

The second is to the northeast of Grandview, where Tyrell and Redwyne are slowly but surely pushing back Grandison’s men towards Storm’s End. They stand no chance of outright halting the siege in its tracks, but they are certainly slowing it down, likely in an attempt for Storm’s End to drive up more men for the garrison and refurbish its defenses and supplies. And the third is somewhere along the southernmost portion of the Kingswood, perhaps sheltering at Felwood, perhaps within the city of Bronzegate. Richard Lonmouth has made numerous enthusiastic offers to reduce Felwood to ashes and to start taking heads until someone is willing to offer up Baratheon’s location, and Grafton suggests they comb through Bronzegate and double the bounties already in place.

In all likelihood, the Small Council will decide on some mixture of the two, although there is a great deal of paranoia- if they lose Lonmouth or Grafton, that is another two able commanders lost to them. They may still overpower the rebels in terms of sheer numbers, but Elia remembers an adage her mother (truthfully or not) claimed to have coined; ‘A thousand mice still turn tail and run when a single cat comes to call.’ There is a growing fear that Robert Baratheon is that very cat. A rebellion that should have been extinguished months ago is quickly becoming something of a living myth to the smallfolk. One would think the rebels were throwing money to the common people and kissing babes as they rode by, and perhaps there is some truth to that.

She is partly relieved that there is no present threat of Robert and all his men and mercenaries arriving to ram down the city gates. They are too scattered, too divided at present to launch an all out assault. Common sense and logic dictate that this rebellion will fail. It seems like decades to her now in this moment, but it will be remembered as the blink of an eye in a few short years. She has to think of the future. There will be a future. A peaceful future, and she will still be queen, and Westeros will still have a Targaryen king. She must remember that. Robert must know that this can only end with his defeat. He must know that.

At the very least, Rhaegar no longer seems to consider this all a trifling and bothersome distraction from his true task of raising three dragons. Since Connington’s death, he has been different. Harder, she thinks, although it remains to be seen whether the hardness is more iron than copper. She was not with him when the news was delivered to him, but when she went looking for him, she found him with Lyanna, and thanks the gods she happened to arrive when she did. She still does not know what the girl was so intent on saying, but she saw the look on Rhaegar’s face. Elia has seen her husband angry before. Angry, troubled, dismayed, wounded.

This was not the cool anger she was familiar with. This was rage. She has no idea why he went to Lyanna Stark upon hearing this news, what possible comfort he thought she could have provided him- did he think that upon hearing that one of friends was dead, she would suddenly soften to him and take him into her embrace once more? Perhaps he thought to tell her that Robert had killed him in the hopes she would denounce the man as a murderous traitor. Was it an attempt to prove that the blood lies not only on Rhaegar’s hands?

But who sent Lord Jon, she thinks with a bitter little twist. You. Like it or not you sent that man into battle on your behalf, a man who you must have known revered you, held you up like a god- and Robert killed him. He swung the hammer, but it was your actions that lost Connington his life. But by now that is of little importance to her. Connington is dead. It was a shock, but no so much that she burst into tears or even pretended at furious grief. They had little liking for one another, never mind love. She was not overjoyed or even pleased to hear of his death, and she never wished the man to die in battle, but she will not feel guilty over not mourning him more.

Yet when she saw Rhaegar then she was alarmed all the same. What had Lyanna said? “Good,” the girl had been spitting at him, “Good, I’m glad, maybe now you’ll see- do your gods favor you so, do you still think? I hope-,”

But whatever she hoped no one heard, for Elia had propelled Ser Barristan into the room with the force of her look alone; a strident, silent, ‘will you see it play out again, good Ser?’ and then Selmy and she were between the two, and Rhaegar was gone, and Lyanna was saying, “He wouldn’t have done anything, Your Grace,” cradling her belly with a flat stare. “He never does anything, our King.”

Perhaps.

It has been over two moons since then. Rhaegar’s initial grief may have ebbed, but the rage is still there. He has not touched the harp. He has begun to braid back his long silver hair. She is not sure if it is Connington’s death in particular or the suggestion of it- that there will be no swift and decisive victory that he can airily command from afar, then descend upon the Stormlands to judge and sentence whatever and whoever remains. Another of her mother’s sayings returns to her: Rhaegar’s smooth hands may at last have to see some rough work done. She thinks it will be more difficult for him to bear than it ever was for her. It was never his desire to prove himself a martial king.

The thought that the gods care little for his desires is a refreshing one.

Outside the royal sept the air is working itself into a frenzy of a keening wind, glancing off the walls and roofs. It tears off her veil, which Nymella has to leap up to snatch back, and Alyse bows her head against the building storm and locks arms with Elia as they hurry across the stones and indoors once more. Nymella has already removed the cloak that was disguising her tunic and trousers, bundling it under one wiry arm. It is her habit to practice with her spear every evening before they sup together, and for some weeks one was like to find Lyanna Stark with her. But Lyanna Stark is six moons with child now, and even impulsive Nymella would not risk a spear around her.

By rights the bigger Lyanna gets with child the angrier she should be. It is no longer a question of ‘if’ she will bear Rhaegar’s child. There will be a child. It may be that Rhaegar has inherited Aerys’ weak seed, it may be that it never draws a breath or utters a cry, but there will be some tangible, physical proof of her husband’s affair. And it is an affair, as she continually reminds herself, lest she think she is going mad. It was an affair. There is not a man, woman, or child in this court who is by now ignorant to the fact that Lyanna Stark does not wish to be here. Most of them believe Lyanna’s love for Rhaegar withered and died the moment Arthur Dayne slew Brandon Stark. That is not the full truth of it, but Elia is content enough to let it lie. There could not be a worse possible time for courtiers to suddenly start whispering about how Rhaegar believes he will be sire to Aegon the Conqueror and his sister wives reborn.

That she spends more time thinking about Rhaegar’s soon to be bastard and Aegon and his queens than she does her own children turns her stomach. She does not want all the memories she leaves them with to be of their mother fretful or infuriated, of their father absent or reviled, and of their grandmother packed away to the North. She tries to spend at least an hour of her time with them every day. It is more than she got with her own mother at times. She never doubted Loreza Martell’s love for her and her brothers, but she could not be both the Princess of Dorne and their mother. They were speaking to either one or the other.

Father was the one who would play with them, the one who taught them new things, who took them swimming in the Water Gardens and showed her and Oberyn how to climb trees, before his health began to fail. He would read to them and sing to them and she never grew to think of him as a less of a man for it. He was not their ruler. Mother was; he was her consort, as uncommon as such a thing would be in the rest of Westeros. Elia adored him so in part because she felt that he expected nothing from them; not that he did not have his own ambitions or duties, but that he did no inflict them on his children.

Of course, now that she is queen consort with children of her own, whose futures she has bargained away, she thinks differently, thinks of how difficult it must have been for her mother at times, how she wishes she were still here. Rhaegar would be no match for Loreza, she thinks- knows. Her mother could stare down Tywin Lannister in his own home, and while never make the Old Lion flinch, she would never be the first to look away. They call Oberyn the Viper now, but Mother was the one who taught them all how to bide their time. “Men like Tywin have no patience,” she’d told Elia once. “No sooner would you hand them an axe then they start hacking away at the tree. They do not wait for the rains to stop and the roots to dry up and the bark to peel away. They see time as another enemy to be eluded, not their ally.”

Elia can wait. She can wait, she reminds herself, she has waited, she is waiting, she will wait until the rains have stopped, the storm has passed, and the sun is high and burning in the sky above them all once more. First the Rebellion. Then Rhaegar. She will not let him take Aegon from her. Aegon is still safe. He does not have to his father or grandfather’s son. He will have a different path, just not the one Rhaegar envisions, she knows it. Even if Lyanna bears a son, not a daughter- she will not see another Dance come to pass. Never. She will not let Rhaegar make the same mistakes his ancestors did.

Aegon is walking now, and seems to grow bigger by the day, old enough to cry out a greeting and run to her with Rhaenys when she enters a room. But he is too rough with Rhaenys’ kitten, the one she calls Balerion, although it sounds more like Baron when she says it, and no sooner has she seen them then she has to break up an early sibling fight, now that Aegon is old enough to pinch and slap back. “I want Viserys,” Rhaenys declares, clutching the mewling little black cat to her chest, while Elia settles Aegon with some toys. “I want Vissy and Varg.”

Elia has no idea who or what Varg is, and cannot decipher it until a good ten minutes later, when she finally recalls that Viserys named his own grey-and-white kitten Vhagar. She leaves Aegon with a nursemaid, and sets off with Rhaenys’ small hand in her own to find her young good brother and his cat-dragon. All Viserys wants to speak of are dragons as of late. Perhaps it’s the age. Oberyn was mad for horses when he was seven. He broke his arm being thrown from one a week after his name day, and she was secretly delighted that he was trapped indoors with her, so they could spend more time together. They would write ‘secret’ messages in grammatically incorrect High Valyrian, pretending they were fighting some unseen enemy, that they were spies and assassins.

Viserys and Vhagar are with Lyanna, where the boy can often be found as of late. Elia wishes she were more of a mother to him, but she cannot replace Rhaella, and she has her own children. She cares for Viserys, but it is not always easy to forget that he is Aerys’ son, just as much as Rhaegar is. Lyanna is young and still innocent in some ways, even if she does not see it herself, and Elia has admittedly never tried to keep a distance between the two the way she might the girl and her own children.

Lyanna is sitting on a low stone bench in the silent halls of the Maidenvault, watching Viserys taunt his kitten with a piece of twine. Ser Jonothor Darry is guarding them from a distance with an expression that implies he would rather be facing down Robert himself than being forced to endure this fresh hell. Elia is not very sympathetic to his plight. She lets go of Rhaenys so she can release a wriggling Balerion and hurry over to Viserys, shouting with delight, the new Black Dread on her heels. She finds herself sitting beside Lyanna. They have had conversations before, of course, but never sat next to one another as two women, not Rhaegar’s wife and Rhaegar’s mistress.

“My father had a cat when I was a girl,” Elia recounts after a moment. “I can’t remember the name.”

“I doubt it was named after a Valyrian god,” Lyanna mutters, and Elia chances a chuckle at that.

“No, I don’t think it was.”

Lyanna winces suddenly, and Elia glances over at her. “The babe?”

“He kicks more and more the closer it gets to sundown,” Lyanna does not remove her gaze from the laughing children. “He likes the nighttime, this one.”

“He-,” Elia catches herself. A boy. What should she want more? For Rhaegar to be wrong, or for a girl Waters? They would never rally around a Visenya, she tells herself. Whether she had Rhaegar’s look or not. He has a trueborn son. A Visenya could never challenge her brother for the throne. Not after Rhaenyra. Not with Rhaenys. A girl is less of a threat here. A girl is less of a danger. But a girl means, for Rhaegar, at least, that this has not all been for naught. That the greater good has been achieved. And she does not think she can stand by for that. "You think it will be a boy."

“I know it’s a he,” Lyanna says firmly, stubbornly. “It’s a boy, I can feel it, I know it’s a boy. My son.” She hesitates, and then adds, “I’d call him Brandon, but I can’t. It doesn’t feel right.” Her stoic expression crumples slightly then, and Elia nearly wraps an arm around her out of impulse, but she knows more than anything that Lyanna Stark does not want her to see her cry, so instead she gets to her feet to judge the race Rhaenys and Viserys are trying to hold, and lets the girl collect herself in peace. The rain patters down on the ceiling above them, steady and unfeeling.

Later, Elia gathers up her sleepy daughter in her arms, the kitten rubbing around her skirts, and watches Lyanna send Viserys on his way, the empty expression on her face.

"I asked Rhaegar what he would do if it was a son again the other day," now at last Lyanna Stark is looking at her. "He said we would just have to try again."

Rhaenys' face is warm and soft against her chest. Elia adjusts her weary grip on her daughter, and says quietly but forcefully, "If it is a son, I will reason with the King." She can say no more than that with Darry within earshot.

Lyanna seems to sense that Elia does not truly mean reason in a conversational sense. She gives a small nod of grim acceptance, and turns away.

Chapter Text

283 AC - KING’S LANDING

Lyanna is allowed one walk a day now that her confinement has begun. She thinks she would go mad otherwise; she has no recollection of ever being around any pregnant women as a child, and had little concept of how any of it went before this. Despite the maester’s qualms, she prefers to leave the Maidenvault and walk to the godswood, ostensibly to pray. The truth is, she has not prayed to the old gods in months and months. She is afraid to sit beneath the heart tree, now covered in spring vines. She is afraid that the gods have cast her out, abandoned her as she worries she abandoned them.

Today Ser Lewyn is the one to accompany her. She knows he did not like her when she first arrived, no more than the rest of them, but Lyanna thinks perhaps he has softened to her slightly. He never hurries her, and if she makes conversation he will usually reply. He looks a good deal like his niece the queen. Lyanna is trying to understand why a Prince of Dorne would choose the life of a Kingsguard, but when she sees him with Elia and the prince and princess, it is a bit more clear. She has no aunts or uncles herself; her mother had an older sister, Lady Branda, who wed a lord from the Stormlands. Lyanna only recalls meeting her once or twice; she died when Lyanna was nine or ten.

She hates being this big with child. She has always been so active, always on the move, that to be forced to walk so slowly, her breath short and quick in her throat, her legs cramping after every few steps. She can barely sleep at night. She feels as though she were trapped in someone else’s body. Some other, unfamiliar girl, pale and soft and helpless, reduced to sitting and waiting. But waiting is all she has done since Harrenhal, she just did not realize it then. She waited for Rhaegar, then waited for him again at the Tower, then waited to be summoned by him, then waited here, waited for Brandon’s trial, and now she is still waiting for something she does not even want.

Last night she dreamed she gave Rhaegar the daughter he wanted, but the girl was dappled in bloody scales and her eyes were milky pale and blind. Useless wings sprouted from her hunched back, and a limp leathery tail hung between her legs. She shrieked in alarm when the midwife handed her the babe, but in the dream Rhaegar took it from her and cried tears of joy, offering the child his finger to suckle at. “She’s beautiful, Lya,” he’d said to her, as she cringed in horror and fear and the infant wailed and sobbed. “Our Visenya. A true dragon princess.” She shudders involuntarily now even to think back on it.

It was just a nightmare. This babe will be healthy and hale, big and strong like Brandon was. There will be nothing of Rhaegar in him, nothing at all. And then what, the little voice needles at her viciously, Rhaegar will see you’ve birthed a wolf pup and not a wyvern, and send you home in disgust? Is that what you think? He might, she tells herself with a stubborn edge, he might. Perhaps it will enrage him so much that he really will send her and the child away. Or perhaps he will take your head for it and throw the babe into the Blackwater.

Or he might be true to his word, this once, and insist they try again. The pit of her stomach tightens uncomfortably at the thought. She doesn’t want to. She doesn’t want him to touch her. She doesn’t want him near her, and she certainly doesn’t want him in bed with her. She doesn’t care if she went untouched the rest of her life, a spinster confined to the shadows, she doesn’t care if men spit at her as she walked by, so long as she was free of him. But Rhaegar has made it clear that in the grand scheme of things, what Lyanna wants matters little and less.

Ser Lewyn holds the door to the godswood open for her. She murmurs her thanks and keeps walking, despite her tiredness and the pain in her legs and back and feet. If she stops walking she might not be able to move again. The babe kicks less often now. Rhaegar is due to leave in three days’ time, to lead his forces into the Kingswood and flush out the rebels from it once and for all. She hopes Robert leads him on a merry chase, so that Rhaegar is not here when the babe comes. It is spiteful of her- this is still his child- but it is what she wants. She doesn’t want him to see them, doesn’t want him to hold them, doesn’t want him to name them.

Robert is likely going to die soon, she thinks. It is her fault. She’d loathed him, yes, but even in her blackest moods, the girl she had been had never wished him harm beyond a good beating or a fall from his horse. He probably hates her by now, probably wishes he had never even heard her name, never laid eyes upon her. He didn’t know her, not really, nor she him. He knew enough to believe she would change, soften for him, come to love him as he claimed to love her. She knew enough to believe he never could change at all. Both of them utterly convinced that other was wrong. If she hadn’t run they’d be wed by now. She might be bearing him a son instead.

It doesn’t really matter anymore. She’d be blindly wishing she were somewhere else no matter the choice she’d made. In the stories when girls did foolish things or wandered too far from home or loved the wrong man there was always some sort of lesson, whether they lived or died. Sometimes they were rescued and lived happily with their gallant knight, and sometimes they died prettily on beds of flowers and ivy and were kissed by their heartbroken lovers. But there was always some moral to be taught. No one is coming to rescue her and if she dies she does not think it will be pretty and sweet-smelling. And she is not sure what lesson she has learned that she did not already know.

But the girls in the stories weren’t real, of course, so what happened to them didn’t matter, only how nicely it was told and whether it made you gasp or cry or laugh. Lyanna does not know how she will tell this tale, if she ever has the chance. It is not a nice or pretty or heroic story. She might have to change the names and the faces and the place. And even then, everyone will already know how it ends. She lifts her skirts to step around a fallen branch, and flinches slightly as something dark swoops overhead. A raven lands in a nearby tree, cawing at her sharply. Lyanna gazes up at it, those beady dark eyes and pitch black wings.

“Go away,” she says. The hair on the back of her neck and arms is prickling.

The raven caws again. “My lady?” Ser Lewyn has stayed well behind her, but now he calls out to her. “Did you say something?”

“Go away,” Lyanna says, but it is barely above a whisper now. She is cramping terribly again. A hand goes to her belly.

The raven screams, then takes flight, winging off into the clouded late afternoon sky.

There is a rushing between her legs. Lyanna freezes in place, then feels her face flood with heat. She tentatively moves her hands to fumble at her skirts. Did she- there’s another wave of pain, more like pressure, in her lower back, and she gasps and hunches over in pain. Ser Lewyn is at her side by now. “How long have you had the pains?” he asks conversationally, to calm her, she thinks, as she fights back a groan.

“Since- this morning- but not like this- the maester said it was normal to feel-,” she breaks off as a wave of nausea hits her.

“Have your waters broken?” He lifts her with ease into his arms, ignoring her yelp.

“I don’t-,” her fingers dig into his white armor. The sky is reeling above her. She can still hear the raven cawing in the distance. “It’s too early,” she seizes on the thought in blind panic. “It’s too early, it can’t- they said I had at least three weeks left until the babe came, this- it can’t be-,”

“Babes come when they please, my lady. That was how it was for my sister.” His pace has quickened to an almost jog, however.

“It’s too early,” Lyanna whimpers as the pain surges again. “I- they have to make it stop, tell the maester to make it stop-,”

“Try to breathe,” he suggests, as he shoulders open the door and dashes out.

“But the babe-,”

“My niece came a month early, and she stands here today. Breathe,” Ser Lewyn orders, and Lyanna sucks in a breath.

She breathes raggedly and tightly as her surroundings blur around her, then closes her eyes until she can they are indoors and she is being laid down on a bed. There are frightened maids chattering and the sound of hurried footfall and then Ser Lewyn is gone and the maester who has tended to her the most, Harys, is there. Her skirts are bundled up and she bucks wildly against the firm hands holding her down as he inspects her, and then finally addresses her panting, trembling form, expression grave.

“This babe is coming,” he says, “Sooner, I think, rather than later. You must prepare yourself, my lady. Your hips are narrower than I would like-,” Another pain hits and she screams, cutting him off. Time seems to slow after that for her. She is helped out of her clothes and into a warm bath. The shuttered windows are thrown open by order of the head midwife who arrives with two young assistants. At one point she thinks she hears Rhaegar’s voice, but he does not enter the room, to her relief. Men are usually not permitted to remain with their wives while they labor, and she is not even that to him.

The bath could have been a few minutes, or a few hours. Her fingers and toes have pruned when she is finally helped out. She is hot, hotter than she has ever been in her life, even when she was sick with a fever as a child. The midwife calls for more ice, and insists she take turn after turn around the room, exhaling sharply with every labor pain. She wants to push, but is warned not to every few minutes. She wants it out. Now. She wants it out, she doesn’t care what they do, she just wants it out of her. She would rather anything other than this. There is no relief no matter what she does. She wants to fling herself out the window.

When she cannot walk any longer, she is moved to the bed. “Get on your hands and knees,” says the midwife, who firmly arranges her like a limp rag-doll. “Now push.” Lyanna screams, then the screams turn into sobs, then the sobs turn into moans, and then the moans become screams of pain and frustration all over again. All the light in the room is swallowed up. She does not know if hours have passed and it is nightfall, or if she is simply imagining it. She pictures thousands of ravens outside her window, blotting out the sky, a massive shadow over the Red Keep.

She smells blood and piss and absurdly enough, roses, and she would laugh had she the energy. The pain lances through her, and she pushes some more, and then nearly collapses onto the pillows, is only held up one of the unnervingly strong girls who pries their arms underneath her to support her, and someone is saying, “I see the head now.”

“Too much blood,” another voice observes.

“Stop pushing,” someone barks in her ear, and she stops, gritting her teeth.

“The cord-,”

“Fetch me the-,”

“Push,” and she does and it hurts so much she wants to die, and then-

And then-

No one is speaking at all. Lyanna manages to wrench herself around, murmurs, “Where is it, where is it-,”

There’s the sound of a sharp smack, a thin cry, and everyone begins to speak again.

“She’s still bleeding.”

A hand is kneading at her belly. She tries to limply bat it away, but the room is spinning around her, oh so slowly. “Get me more cloth,” a woman says, and “I need milk of poppy,” a man says, and then she can’t hear them at all, only a dull rushing in her ears like a river. She closes her eyes and finds they will not open again.

Later, she still cannot will her eyes open, but the pain is a little less, a steady throbbing instead of sharp agony. An infant is crying nearby. Someone is standing next to her bed. Lyanna reaches out for them, but her fingers grasp at air instead. She tries once more to see and peers through her lashes at the woman beside her bed. “Lyanna,” says Elia. “Can you hear me?” Her mouth is too dry to form words, and she does not have the energy to nod.

“You’re very ill,” says Elia, “but the maesters are doing all they can. You need to be strong now. For your child. You’re a mother, Lyanna.””

Where is my child, she wants to ask, and where is Rhaegar, and what is it, but instead she just lets her eyes close again. “You have a son,” the queen tells her, and Lyanna tries to smile but feels silent tears track down her feverish face instead. She forgets what Elia says after that, and then all is dark and quiet once more.

It is a little lighter when she wakes. Elia is gone and the midwife and maester are gone, and there is no more crying. A boy is sitting by her bed. Viserys, she thinks, or Ben, forgetting that Viserys would never be allowed in and that Benjen is thousands of leagues away and no longer a little boy, but when she lifts her head slightly she sees that it is not a boy at all, but a grown man. Father, she thinks with a queer rush of happiness, Father, you came back, you’re here-

Rhaegar looks up at her. Lyanna lets her head loll back. “Where,” she manages to mouth, and then coughs weakly. He leans over and holds her neck with his cool fingers, lets her drink a bit of water. She cannot read the look on his face at all, but that is no longer so surprising to her. She never really knew him, either. “Where is my baby?” Lyanna asks after she swallows, painfully.

“With a wet nurse,” he says. There is nothing in his voice at all. No more sorrow. No more anger. Just an empty void. “He’s small and weak, Lyanna. He came too early. I will not be here much longer. We ride out in a few hours time.”

“I want to see him,” she whispers, trying to peer around the room, but it is empty and dark. The windows are shuttered once more.

“Later, when you have recovered,” says Rhaegar distantly. He is not looking at her. He is staring into some shadowed corner as if there is someone else there. “We’ll speak more when you are better, Lyanna. Save your strength.”

She is crying again. “Please. I just want to see him. He has to know me. I want to see what he looks like-,”

Rhaegar stands up, and his tall figure blocks out everything else. “He looks like you.”

Lyanna falls silent. What does he want from her? Does he want her to apologize? To promise that she will do better next time? To ask him to hold her?

“I have prayed on it,” says Rhaegar, and now his voice cracks slightly, “But I cannot see why the gods would punish us like this. Perhaps they require me to prove myself first. I will.” He pauses, and then says, almost to himself, “It was the stress. The trial, and the war- it is not your fault, Lyanna. We must not blame ourselves. I will put an end to this soon, and then-,” he leans down and kisses her brow, gently. “And then when I return we will mourn our son together, and make a new beginning.”

“He’s not dead,” mumbles Lyanna, “you said he was still alive- isn’t he? He could live.”

Rhaegar smiles faintly at her, sad and strange. “My mother lost many babes, Lyanna. It is never easy, but you will survive this, I promise you.”

He’s not dead, you said he wasn’t dead yet, she tries to say again, but her voice is gone. You were wrong, she wants to tell him. You were wrong and I was right, Your Grace. You will have no Visenya from me. But she is too tired. “Go back to sleep,” Rhaegar tells her. “It’s not your fault, my love. Don’t think about the babe. Just sleep.”

She does not want to sleep. She wants her son. But the dark is all around her now, and Rhaegar is a pale, fading light. She shuts her eyes, and feels him clasp her hands gently over her chest, like she were a dying girl surrounded by flowers and ivy in one of those pretty stories. He lingers for a few moments beside her, and then she hears him go, shutting the door quietly behind him. She focuses on the pain for a little while longer, then feels herself begin to slip away again. For the first time in months, she does not dream.

Chapter Text

283 AC - STORM’S END

Storm’s End is not a pretty castle, Jeyne has often reflected. Before she sailed from Griffin’s Roost with Stannis, his men, and the Connington women she had only visited the fortress. It is an arduous journey by both land and sea from Stonehelm. The first time the Swanns had been guests of House Baratheon she was a little girl of perhaps five or six. She remembers playing on the shoreline with her siblings and taking a ship to Tarth for Lord Selwyn’s wedding to Lady Alanna Penrose. The bride and groom had made for an impressive couple, both well over six feet tall.

The second time she was fifteen, while Lord Steffon and Lady Cassana were away on the king’s business. Robert was still in the Vale, and Stannis paid the proper courtesies and no more than that. At her mother’s rather insistent suggestion, Jeyne had been sent to the castle’s library to find the elusive lordling and presumably charm him with her dignified demeanor. Instead she had been somewhat distracted herself by a series of scrolls about the lineage of Durran and Elenei and forgotten all about ensnaring the poor boy.

That poor boy is now her husband, and she is a guest at Storm’s End no longer, although it still does not feel like a home when Mace Tyrell is camped outside their gates after breaking through Grandison’s men. Most marriages do not begin with the occupation of an enemy’s keep before defending against a siege that has thus far gone on two months. She is not truly worried about Storm’s End falling. It did not fall to the old gods of the sea and sky, it will not fall to the likes of Tyrell, a smug glutton who enjoys nothing more than a good roast and the sound of his own voice, judging by his numerous attempts to treat with them, urging Stannis to ‘think of his innocent little brother and beautiful young bride’.

Well, Stannis has never been known for his gullibility, no more than Renly has ever been known for his wide-eyed innocence or Jeyne for her astonishing beauty. In truth, although Jeyne has been around many children and knows it is in their nature to be difficult, Renly is one of the most irritating little boys she has ever met. She will come to love him, of course, because he is her kin now and a lonely orphan at the mercy of the tides of war, but that does not mean she needs to love him just yet. Renly is six, Renly is sweet, Renly is spirited and energetic. Renly is also incredibly vexing, prone to fits of wild laughter, thumbing his nose at any semblance of authority, and coming up with a clever remark for every instruction given his way.

Were they not under siege and surrounded by increasingly tense and grim soldiers, this would be a minor inconvenience. As it stands, Jeyne, who has never considered herself an especially violent or temperamental person, is fit to threaten to wring both his and obnoxious little Ronnet Connington’s necks the next time she finds them playing where they should not be. Gods be good, perhaps it is for the best after all that she is not with child. She remembers when her mother was carrying Dennis. Mild-mannered and tender hearted Beatrice Swann became more akin to a vicious beast that ought not to be sought out past sunset.

At the very least, she does not feel guilty, since Stannis without a doubt makes her look like the Mother herself, the incarnation of loving patience and devotion. To say that Stannis has a contentious relationship with his younger brother would be to say that cats have a contentious relationship with mice. She would not think that a man of nineteen and a boy of six would be able to find something new to disagree on every day. She has been repeatedly proven wrong, in every aspect of the word. Stannis has barely enough patience for men twice his age, never mind a rambunctious child. She can hear his teeth grinding from the next room over the instant Renly darts in, shouting about this or that or wrestling around with Ronnet.

It cannot be easy for any of them, she knows. It was not easy for Stannis to watch his parents drown, nor was it easy for him to be saddled with the running of Storm’s End and the caretaking of Renly while Robert was off riding, wenching, and adventuring with Ned Stark in the Vale. It cannot be easy for Renly to grow up without a father nor a mother, only a household of indulgent servants and a brother who had little time or patience for him even before they were at war. And it is certainly not easy for her to be caught in the middle of it all, moderating Stannis’ temper and Renly’s antics and reassuring everyone else that they are certainly not going to starve to death or be paraded out and beheaded as traitors.

It is not easy, but it is bearable. She would not call herself and Stannis friends, but circumstances have forced him to treat her as something approaching a partner in this, more so than they would have, she feels, if they had wed in a time of peace and plenty. Then she could have been easily avoided by him, only to be confronted when it came time to attempt to produce an heir or two. He would have been quite content in his bitterness, as he has been for years now, Jeyne thinks, begrudging the sun for rising every morning and the stars for shining every night in a world that has not been terribly fair to Stannis Baratheon. And she would have been determinedly dutiful, stoically at his side at every event and attempting to cajole him into conversation over dinner, until even her perseverance broke down.

But there is no avoiding one another in a time like this, and so they are forced to have conversations and arguments and to take Renly for walks around the battlements and to dine with Alyce Connington and her children and to visit the prisoners in the dungeons and bid one another good night and good morning and then do it all over again. Not happily, of course, but after a time, with some sense of ease. There is a routine in everything, Jeyne has always found, and if she could not find one, she has always made one.

She even made a routine when her wrists were lashed behind her back to a rotting wooden post in the middle of a bandits’ camp and she was eating food off the ground like a dog and watching the Smiling Knight beat some boy to death for not finding one of his japes amusing. If she could find some semblance of order in that, surrounded by thieves and murderers and madmen, swallowing blood from her broken nose and working on fraying the ropes with a stolen, bent nail every night, Jeyne thinks she can withstand just about anything.

And she can, until the raven from her father. It is the nature of the nobility that sisters never know their brothers as well as they would like; boys are often sent off as fostered at ages as young as seven. For many years it was just her and Celia at Stonehelm; Dennis is still technically a ward of House Gower. Was. Dennis, the little brother she loved but never knew well, is dead. Brought down by a Dornish ambush near Blackhaven. Too young. Fourteen is too young. Perhaps not for some boys, but baby Dennis- for him it was too young, far too young.

She made Gulian promise to look after him. He was just a squire. Overeager and stupid. Reckless. Little boys are always reckless, she tells herself as reasonably as she can. This should come as no surprise. Gulian, fool that he can be, must have done his best. He could not save their brother from everything. She cannot, should not blame him. Fourteen may not be a man, but it is old enough to choose. Common boys do not have the luxury of their fathers shielding them from war. Her brother had a fortunate, happy life. He was loved. He died a warrior’s death

But she still says fourteen is too young. Perhaps some boys are men at fourteen, fit to lead charges and conquer kingdoms. Dennis was not one of them. He is a child. Was a child. Now he is dead. She will never scold him for chewing loudly or teasing Celia or forgetting to comb his hair again. She will never see him stomp into a room, throw himself into a chair, and sulk. She will never see him roll his eyes at Gulian and his whoring or ride through the gates or play at some game with the other boys that they all insist is not a game, it’s training, they’re men now, little men whose voices still break and whose shoulders have not filled out yet, hacking at each other with blunted steel and laughing when they fall down and spring back up.

She thinks one day she may have a son called Steffon for his grandsire, but if she ever has a second son she would name him Dennis. It would not hurt much because he would have black hair and blue eyes, instead of blonde hair and green eyes. And her Dennis would never die of a spear through the throat, because he would never see real war, only sparring and silly games. He might have the same laugh, though. He might smile at her the same way, with his eyes and his mouth and a crinkled nose. Mostly she wishes she could see him just once more, but Dennis is leagues away, and she is here.

Jeyne shows Stannis the letter, then takes all her meals in her rooms, alone, for the next two days. She does not expect an outpouring of sympathy from her husband; her barely knew her brother, and the bare minimum of acknowledgement has always sufficed for Stannis. He leaves her be, and at some point during the second day she hears him sternly talking to Renly outside her door, explaining that ‘you are not to disturb my lady wife, do you understand?’ and sharply overriding the boy’s complaints. On the morning of the third day she bathes, dresses properly, and is relieved that she already has so many black dresses; it will be less dying work for the maids.

She finds Stannis pacing at the end of the hall; she knows he was pacing because he wheels around a little too quickly and she catches the glimpse of surprise on his face. Stannis does not like others to know that he paces. She bit her nails until she was twelve, so she can somewhat understand that it might be a rather embarrassing habit for someone who is supposed to be the very picture of poised self-assurance. She knows Stannis well enough to agree that he is certainly self-assured; one can be bitter, even envious, without being insecure or indecisive. Her husband makes his decisions and stands by them, regardless of the consequences. It is sometimes very admirable. But a part of her is almost relieved to have caught him displaying some sign of distress or uncertainty.

“You are-,”

“I am-,”

They interrupt one another and both descend into silence. Stannis gradually works his way up to something resembling a nod. “I am… pleased to see you are well enough to resume your duties.”

“Yes,” says Jeyne, to the wall, rather than to him. “I apologize for my absence. I didn’t mean for you to shoulder so much of the burden-,”

“Don’t,” he says, and there is something a bit raw to his voice that makes her look at him, truly look at him. He is not red and his eyes are not wet but she thinks she sees it in the lines of his mouth and jaw, which seem, if not softened, slightly less… hard. “You have no need to apologize,” Stannis continues stiffly, but honestly, Jeyne realizes. “I know-,” he pauses for a moment, and then says, “what loss can do, when it is… unexpected.”

“You do,” says Jeyne very quietly, and she almost goes to him then. Instead they stand there and look at each other for a few more moments, before he steps aside so that he is not blocking her path, and they continue on their way together. Their hands brush slightly on the stairwell and for the first time he does not go rigid and stalk past her lest she see him discomfited in any way. This time he does go rigid, but when she takes his hand in her own for the length of time it takes to reach the bottom, he does not react as if scalded with hot water. When she lets go his knuckles clench at air, and she nearly smiles out of the corner of her eyes at him.

They spend the next three nights in a row together, something of a record for the both of them, and when she wakes up to find herself crying with her head crushing his arm, after she manages to console herself she discovers that he has in fact been awake and merely staring into the dark, rather than shoving her off of him or extricating said arm. Celia would find this almost laughable in its petty nature, but to Jeyne it is better than any false compliment or sweet look. She likes watching him shave with a basin of water in the morning, and she likes watching him teach Renly how to ride, as snappish as he can be about it.

The raven comes from Bronzegate with claims that Rhaegar Targaryen is leading an army out of King’s Landing and into the Kingswood. Jeyne is not sure how long it would take that many men to traverse the Kingswood. They are not merely passing through it, they are searching it. That could take weeks. But they will find something to fight eventually, be it villagers or bandits or Robert and his men. Six days later, another letter. Robert is camped along the Wendwater, unwilling to wait out Rhaegar much longer. Jeyne knows enough of her goodbrother to know that patience has never been a virtue of his. Then there is no word at all. Not from Robert himself, not from any allies, not from any enemies.

Nothing.

A week passes. A castle under siege receives no reports from its bannermen. Tyrell has made it a game to award gold dragons to any capable archer who can shoot a raven out of the sky. No word by sea, either. The Redwyne fleet has made certain of that. When word comes, it is from a smuggler who makes the (correct) presumption that while they are not starving yet, they’ll still pay a good price for fish and onions and information of the outside world. Jeyne could take or leave the onions. She and Stannis are both far more interested in what word he has of the southern Kingswood.

“It’s burning,” claims the man, Davos. “Sky’s black as night above it, last I saw- they can’t tell who set it alight, but they’ve traded the swords for shovels to dig trenches with now, milord-,”

A scant few days later, Tyrell’s forces abruptly pull back, breaking their own siege. Now there are more than whispers and murmurs. Mace Tyrell would only be roused from his languid position outside Storm’s End at a royal order or a far greater threat. He leaves perhaps two hundred men around their walls, if that. This time, a raven gets through. Jeyne reads it over her husband’s shoulder. Robert returning to Storm’s End, is all that can be made out of the charred paper. There is no signature.

Five days after that, sixty men under Baratheon banners route the two hundred Tyrell soldiers without much of a fight. Whoever Mace left, Jeyne thinks, is even weaker of will than him. The men inside Storm’s End are cheering and shouting when the gates at last open, all the way until they see Robert. One of his squires, an Estermont cousin, tells it best. “Targaryen challenged him to single combat,” the boy says. He could be Dennis, Jeyne thinks. “I swear it by the Seven, I’ve never seen Robert smile like that before. Couldn’t see much with all the smoke, but they found each other, they did- smashed his lance, smashed his horse-,”

“Is the King dead?” Stannis presses through gritted teeth, while Jeyne tries to listen to both him and Maester Cressen, who is tending to Robert’s horrific burns and weeping wounds, prying off the armor and murmuring prayers under his breath.

Here the Estermont hesitates.

“Did you see him fall?” Stannis barks as Cressen stops praying.

Jeyne knows from the look on the old man’s face. He loves the brothers Baratheon like a father. This father’s son does not have much longer.

“I saw him fall,” the boy says proudly, triumphantly, “Robert dismounted himself to fight him fairly on the ground, it was nobly done-,”

“Fallen from a horse is not dead.”

Here the boy- the child- hesitates. “But Robert won,” he says, almost plaintively. “We won. It was single combat, Rhaegar fell, I didn't see him get back up-,”

“They both fell,” Jeyne murmurs. “If there was no clear victory-,”

“But we won, the wood is burning, the bastards are burning with it-,”

“And when the fire is put out, they will regroup and come for us,” Stannis cuts him off furiously.

Robert is moaning. They all fall silent. Cressen goes to fetch milk of poppy. The Estermont boy flees in the face of Stannis’ long stream of black curses. Jeyne has never heard him swear like that before. She crouches down at her good brother’s side while her husband heaves a basin full of blood-soaked bandages and clothes at the wall. It shatters, and Robert stirs somewhat, eyelids twitching. “Stannis,” Jeyne does not word his name as a mere suggestion. “Come here. He needs you. I am going to get Renly.”

Later, they all crowd around the bed. “I killed him,” Robert rasps every so often. “He’s dead, isn’t he? I killed the bastard-,”

“He’s dead,” Jeyne soothes, “you did it, you won, he’s dead.” Stannis is silent, knuckles white. Renly sits on the edge of the bed, perched like a bird about to take flight, and tries not to look at his brother’s burns.

“Good,” says Robert, smiling faintly through the lies and tears.

A while after that, he calls her Lyanna for the first time, a dying man tricked by fading light and a slim, dark haired girl at his bedside, and Jeyne does not come any closer so that he can see her eyes are brown and her nose is crooked. Instead she holds his hands in her own; they dwarf hers completely. “You found her,” Robert tells Stannis. “Brother. You found her. My Lyanna. I’m-,” he coughs and gasps, and Renly hunches his shoulders and begins to cry. “I’m in your debt.”

“No,” says Stannis, and Jeyne looks at him desperately, wiping at her nose quickly, and then he says, “There’s no debt to be paid, Robert. It’s alright. She’s here with you now. We all are.”

It is both a lie and a kindness, and Jeyne had never considered him capable of such a thing before now.

“I’m here,” she lies to Robert, as he begins to grow quite still. “We found each other.” She holds his hands and looks at Stannis as she says it. “We found each other, and it will be alright now, I promise. You’ve won.”

“I won,” repeats Robert, doubtfully, but he smiles anyways. “Good.” His smile fades. “Where’s Ned, Lyanna? Is he here?”

Jeyne cannot find the necessary words, and then Stannis says, without any prompting, “He’s coming, Robert. Just rest now. He’ll be here soon.”

“Thank you, brother,” Robert’s blue eyes shut, and do not open again. His big, calloused fingers go limp in Jeyne’s. After a moment longer, she lets go. Renly is sobbing now, and Jeyne opens her aching arms and lets the boy crush against her chest. She stands, half-carrying him, before Stannis rises, draws the sheet over his brother’s corpse, and takes Renly from her. She follows him out of the room, smoothing back her good brother’s dark curls from his tear-streaked face.

In the morning, she begins to draft a letter.

Chapter Text

283 AC - WINTERFELL

Rhaella finishes her prayers in the Broken Tower only to find that the sun has come out when she emerges. It has been warm these past few days, unseasonably so for a Northern spring. She shrugs off her cloak and bundles it up in her arms as she walks, feeling the sunlight soak across her brow and face. She begins to start back for Catelyn’s rooms, thinking she might appreciate the company, but then pauses near the godswood. After a few moments deliberation, she turns and slips inside, closing the heavy door behind her, and watching a flock of sparrows wheel off into the pale blue sky overhead.

She feel as though there is a war between hope and fear raging inside her. Hope that the worst may be over, hope that things have been settled at last, that her family is secure, and fear that this is all some sick ruse the gods- be they old or new- are playing on her. A trick of the light, to lull her into some false sense of security before it is all stripped away. Sometimes Aerys was affectionate, even sweet with her. Sometimes he gave her gifts; jewels and dresses and books full of prayers and poetry, musicians to play for her or little pets- songbirds and kittens and puppies.

He could be generous, in his own impulsive way. But it never lasted long. Anything he gave her became something that could be thrown in her face or ripped out of her arms. Ungrateful, she always was, whenever his mood changed, because she had not smiled enough or laughed enough or told him she was too tired to lie with him or spent too much time with Rhaegar.

Wretched and ungrateful and arrogant, making him fight for her. Aerys never wanted to fight for anything. He wanted it handed to him with a ribbon on it. “Do you think yourself above me, sister?” he’d sneered at her once, tossing a book he’d given her not two days prior into the fire. “Poor little Rhaella, wed to her brother- I am the king!” he’d snapped.

“And you look at me as though I were some hedge knight vying for your attention- I am not beneath you,” Aerys had raged, nearly spitting at her, “I made you- everything you have, I gave you! You should thank the gods every day that you were born a princess of House Targaryen, that you were born to be my wife. You should be down on your knees, thanking me.”

You are the king, she’d wanted to say. The king of tantrums and whores and wine and silks. The king of spit and blood and piss. That is what you are the king of, brother. And when you die they will mourn you for a few hours until some new amusement catches their eyes, and then you will be forgotten and derided and dismissed. But she had been wrong, of course. Aerys had been only twenty then. He had been selfish and lustful and often cruel, sometimes violent with her, slapping her or pulling her hair or ripping through her stays behind closed doors, but not mad. Stupid kings were perhaps forgotten. Mad kings were not. Aerys had left his mark, just not as he’d intended.

Aerys is dead. She tells herself this every few days, so she does not forget, because sometimes in her dreams she does, she does forget he is dead and burned, his ashes scattered and lost on the winds. Sometimes in her dreams she is no longer at Winterfell, but back in the Red Keep, and Aerys’ rotting corpse still sits the throne, beckoning her closer with a skeletal figure.

“Come pay your respects, sister,” he’d rasped at her a week ago, grinning to reveal a black and gummy mouth full of broken, yellowed teeth and squirming maggots. “I am still your king and husband, am I not?” Fire had licked at her skirts, and she’d turned to run from his grotesque figure but the Kingsguard had been there behind her, eyeless and silent, swords drawn.

She’d woken with a scream, and Rickard had jerked awake, sprang up from the bed, and drawn Ice from its sheath before she could catch her breath. That time is over, she keeps telling herself. She is safe here, even respected. She is never going back. She sometimes wishes she could, she wishes Rhaegar was a child once again, she wishes she could do it all over, but that would mean Aerys and- and she would never truly want that. Never. Now she only has to see him in her nightmares.

But there is still hope. Hope that the rebellion is over now, hope that Elia has triumphed, that Rhaegar has- she cannot think of her son, because he is hers, how can she wish for any harm to befall him, she only wishes he were not the man she made him, the man Aerys made him- there is hope that all will be well once more and House Targaryen will be unmarred, unquestioned, loved and feared and respected once more. Then maybe it will have been worth it. Then maybe she can tell herself that all of her suffering, all her grief and pain and rage, it was not all for naught. That she helped make something strong and unyielding.

And there is hope in Winterfell too, she thinks, as the heart tree comes into sight, and she stops in surprise and even alarm at the figure sitting before it with a small bundle in his arms. “Ned?” she calls out quietly, drawing closer- the older son has always been more guarded, more distant around her, and she understands, she does- “You brought the babe?” In the Red Keep, none of her children, both those who lived and those who did not, were ever allowed out of her rooms or outdoors until they were past a month old. She was certainly never permitted to simply walk outside with a babe in her arms. She was seldom alone with any of them. Aerys did not trust her judgement, even before he constantly spoke of assassins.

But this babe, Ned and Catelyn’s son, is less than a day old. He is a hearty thing, to be sure, born with a strong cry and a head of thick auburn hair, just like his mother. She saw Catelyn’s face fall later on when Ned took in the boy’s very Tully appearance, but her worried look vanished when he held the babe in his arms and kissed his red face, thanking her in a small, hoarse, shocked voice. “My son,” he’d said. “Cat, he’s perfect. Our son.” Years and years ago, Aerys had said nearly the same thing while holding a perfect little boy named Daeron. Had he lived, he would have been fourteen today, Benjen’s age. But Daeron only saw six months.

“Yes,” says Ned, as she hesitantly sits down beside him on the mossy earth. “All the Stark babes are brought here, if they are hale enough, to meet the old gods. They say it's good luck for the children.” The boy is sleeping peacefully in his arms; he adjusts his grip slightly, and then Rhaella unconsciously reaches out to help him. “You must support the head- there.”

Their eyes meet, and Ned Stark gives her a small smile of thanks before gazing back down at his son, almost reverently. “I had never- it did not seem real, none of it, until I held him.”

“It’s like that for many men, I think,” says Rhaella. “You cannot feel the babe move within you, cannot know it, not really, until they are in your arms.”

He is silent for a few moments, and then says, almost a confession, “The last babe I held was Robert’s.”

For a second she thinks she must have misheard him, but he is looking at her with those solemn, honest grey eyes, and Rhaella feels a sudden rush of understanding. “He had a natural child.”

“In the Vale,” Ned looks back down at his son, moves a finger across his face, his closed eyes and nose, his mouth. “Her mother was a serving girl from House Royce. I don’t remember her name.” He sounds almost shamed to say it, as though it were his bastard, and not Robert’s, as if anyone would expect him to remember a common girl’s name. Robert likely did not, until he knew she’d born his child. “She had a daughter. His daughter. Mya, they called her. He would visit her every day. It surprised me, that he- she was a daughter, not a son.”

“Robert did not seem a man who would have much interest in daughters,” Rhaella guesses, and Ned nods.

“But he loved her. He would take her from her mother and carry her around, or put her up on his shoulders when she was big enough, throw her up into the air… I thought it was a passing amusement for him,” says Ned. “But now I- I know now, what it is like to hold a child of your own blood in your arms, and I....” He trails off, then shakes his head, holds his tongue. They all do that, the Starks. Even Catelyn. Tears do not come easily to any of them. Rhaella has no such iron in her, but there is something to be said for letting them fall.

“He was a brother to you, by blood or not,” she says softly. “And now he is gone. You can grieve him. You must, Ned. What’s happened- none of it is your doing, you cannot punish yourself-,”

“He was a brother to me,” it comes out ragged and harsh, “and I left him to fight alone. To die alone. In a burning wood. I’ve read the letter thrice now.”

Jeyne Baratheon told them of Robert’s fate. They’ve had no word from the Red Keep of Rhaegar’s, and that is why Rhaella worries and fears so. Just because the eye of the storm has passed does not mean the danger is over. Robert did not fight alone, whatever Ned believes.

“You had a duty to your kin. To obey your father’s orders,” she says, putting a hand on his shoulder. “You chose as a man, not a boy. Had you gone to fight with him, it might have forced your father’s hand. Thousands more could have died with you. We would have even more war. Even more death and destruction. You chose wisely.”

“And he died hating me for abandoning him,” says Ned. “Like a coward, who married my brother’s betrothed and ran back home-”

“You are not a coward, and if what you say of Robert is true, he could never have hated you,” Rhaella says fiercely. “Remember your words, my lord. The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Your pack has survived.” She glances down at the babe. “It is growing. You cannot live the rest of your days hating yourself for this. These are nor your sins to suffer for. You made your choice, and Robert made his.”

“We promised to always fight together, when we were boys,” the weirwood’s red leaves whisper above them, and Ned looks up at it almost beseechingly. “But when the time came, I could not. I love my wife, and I love my home. This is where I belong. But I would be lying if part of me-,”

“Part of you will always wonder,” says Rhaella. “You think you are alone in regrets? In guilt? I have made many mistakes. I was queen. Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and I could not stop a madman from slaughtering and torturing innocents. I could not stop my son from taking your sister-,”

“You had no choice,” Ned says swiftly, “you were alone, you couldn’t have-,”

“I know,” she murmurs. “Of course I know, but it does not stop me from wondering, does it? From thinking that I could have done more. Been braver. Bolder. I am descended from women who took to the skies on dragonback and served their foes fire and blood, and what was my addition to their legacy? Dead babes and two kings caught up in rebellions,” she smiles bitterly.

“You are brave,” he says after a moment. “I think so, my- Rhaella.”

“I was a frightened child long after I was wedded and crowned.”

“My father says the only time a man can be brave is when he is afraid.” The babe stirs in his arms, and Ned stands up, extending his free hand to her. She rises with him, smoothing back her skirts.

“Your father is a shrewd man,” she says, tucking her braid back behind her neck. “You would do well to heed all his words, Ned. Particularly when he tells you that you are worthy of this,” she adds pointedly. “Worthy of being his heir. Of having a wife and children. Of Winterfell and the North. Of living,” her voice cracks slightly on the last word. “You are a young man. I’ve seen so many die with sorrow and regrets, Ned. Don’t let them rule you. Life is too fragile otherwise.”

They walk back in silence, until Ned says as they climb the steps together, “Cat and I have spoken of names. I had thought Brandon… or even Robert,” he admits in a much quieter voice, “but Brandon is too- for another son, I think. Not this one. And Robert…”

“Robert will be remembered by many,” Rhaella says. “I would not be surprised if there were a fresh crop of sons bearing his name in the Stormlands as we speak. This boy is a Stark. A Warden of the North.”

“Cat wouldn’t mind calling him Rickard,” Ned pauses outside the door.

Rhaella studies the infant for a few moments. She has spent these past months learning her new house’s family tree. Names flood back to her now in a torrent of ice and steel. Dead kings and lords, some favored, others reviled. “What about Beron?”

“My great-grandsire,” Ned’s brow furrows. “He died fighting Ironborn. He was a second son…”

“Who ruled the North after his brother’s death,” Rhaella finishes the thought. “And sired both your father’s grandfather and your mother’s father.”

“Beron,” he says, considering, then pushes open the door.

“Ned?” comes a faint call.

Rhaella smiles at him, brushes the babe’s head with her fingers, and takes her leave of them.

They toast to Beron Stark, son of Eddard and Catelyn, grandson of Rickard, in the great hall that evening. There are no true musicians present, but they have some singing and dancing anyways, just the household, and Rhaella dances with her husband for the third time. The first two were other feasts, one here, one at Castle Cerwyn. Rickard Stark is not a self conscious man, but he enjoys dancing no more than Ned, and she dances with a few others after him, before returning to his side, breathless and smiling.

“I should have toasted to your determined study of our lineage, my lady,” he says while she takes a sip of her wine, and she stares at him for a moment before realizing that it was a jape. One of his eyebrows is slightly raised. That is his tell, and the very subtle quirk of his mouth. His sons do the same thing when they have just said something amusing. It reminds her of Viserys, who always smiles, fighting back giggles when he lies about having eaten this or gone there or stolen that.

“My lord, you honor me,” Rhaella replies, setting down her cup. “In truth, it was only that I could not have born the confusion of two Rickards in the same castle. Measures had to be taken.”

She feels that same vicious jab of hope when he smiles and shakes his head at her uncharacteristically giddy mood. This is all wrong, She ought not to be smiling and laughing and dancing and toasting to a newborn babe when she does not even know if her son lives, if the seven kingdoms are secure. But what can she do? She is not Good Queen Alysanne, who could cross Westeros on dragonback in a matter of days. If all she can do is hope and pray and wait for word from the South, she might as well take her own advice, and try to live while she can.

Chapter Text

283 AC - KING’S LANDING

Elia has just finished her writing when she hears the patter of small feet entering the room. She turns in her seat, wincing at the pain in her neck and shoulders, and massaging her stiff fingers. Her father’s hands turned gnarled and swollen before he turned forty five. She worries it will be the same for her, that the day will come when she can no longer hold a quill for more than a few minutes, when her letters and missives will be dictated.

There is power in writing your own words. Loreza Martell would read drafts to them as children, pacing back and forth, speaking as the Princess of Dorne, that commanding and cunning woman, not their protective, sometimes infuriating mother. Father and Doran would make suggestions while she and Oberyn only pretended to listen, poking and prodding each other and snickering behind their backs.

Viserys comes round her desk, running his fingers along the surface, disturbing the scrolls and parchment scattered there. Elia quickly gathers up the papers, resisting the urge to snap at the boy. Her eyes are tired, and she feels as though she’s been hunched over drying ink for hours. That her good brother’s face is set in a sullen pout does not help matters. He is all alone, she reminds herself sharply. Have a little compassion. But she sometimes feel as though all her kindness is spent; the well is dry, and the bucket is scraping at the murky bottom. Still, she stands with a soft groan, forces her lips up into a smile. “What’s wrong, sweetling?”

“I can’t find Rhae,” he complains. “She’s hiding from me again.”

Rhaenys has recently taken to playing hide and seek, without informing Viserys first. It is usually not difficult for anyone over the age of eight to locate her; the distant snuffles of laughter get louder the closer you get. Just yesterday she amused herself by hiding in the gardens for near two hours, oblivious to the fact that the bright orange of her smock was visible to anyone not half-blind.

She takes Viserys’ hand and follows him out of the solar and down the stairs, but Rhaenys is in none of her usual hiding places. Not in the curtained alcove, not in the window sill by the cellar stairs, not behind the fountain outside the Maidenvault. She is not in the stables to visit the horses with Nymella, nor looking at the tapestries in the Queen’s Ballroom with Ynys.

Elia takes to calling her name, and Viserys scampers ahead, shoving open doors and yelling up and down stairwells, and a thin, sharp course of unease runs through her veins. It is not like Rhaenys to go this long without answering. She stops following after Viserys in bemusement, picks up her skirts, and begins to walk faster. She sends two maids scurrying in opposite directions, with strict orders to bring the princess to her at once, and begins to search every room in the royal apartments with Larra.

Seconds turn into minutes, and sweat beads on the back of her scalp. “Rhaenys!” her voice cracks slightly, to her dismay, as she throws open wardrobe doors, pushing aside cloaks and gowns. “Rhaenys, come out at once!” She is here somewhere, Elia reassures herself. She could not just disappear from the castle. No. No, someone would have noticed, her uncle hand-selected their guards, someone would have seen, heard- But how hard is it, a little, frightened girl’s voice says, not hers, not a queen’s- how hard could it be to steal away a child of three?

How hard could it be to kill a child of three? She could be drifting dead in the Blackwater right at this moment, throat slit. She could be lying broken at the bottom of a flight of stairs. She could be leagues away from here. “Rhaenys!” she almost shouts desperately, “If you do not come here this instant I will take Balerion away and set him loose in the Kingswood!”

Suddenly Larra comes around the corner, pale with relief. “I found her,” she says, and Elia almost crumples.

“Where?” she chokes out in relief, swiping at her smarting eyes with her knuckles.

Rhaenys is with her father. Rhaegar is sleeping; his wounds are so grievous that he has spent most of the five days since his ‘triumphant’ return to the Red Keep sleeping. Sometimes of his own volition, other times with the aid of dreamwine. It makes it easier to change the bandages and bedlinens. He has always been such a light sleeper; the morning after their wedding she woke at dawn to find him up and sitting by the window, reading intently, head bowed over his books, harp at his feet.

The sunlight had made his silver hair seem to glow, and illuminated the fine lines of his sharp cheekbones and beautiful face. A true dragon prince, she had thought, blearily regarding him through half open eyes, and wondering if this was all some dream, if she would wake up to find herself home in Sunspear once more, still sharing a bed with her friends and cousins. Now she sometimes wishes she could wake up there once more, unwed and childless and unknowing of what the future held for her. She had been happy then, but she had wanted more, had wanted a husband and children and a position, had not wanted to waste her days idling away in the Water Gardens or in her mother’s library.

Now the restless prince turned king sleeps so deeply even her distant shouts and the slamming of doors and running feet could not wake him. Her gaze passes briefly over his prone form; the crisp sheets hide much of it, but even his face was not untouched; Baratheon shattered his helm into his skull. He was lucky to not have been instantly killed at that moment. He was lucky to not have died before the loyalists could get him back to the capitol. He is lucky to still be breathing, however shallowly, at this moment. But aside from that; with his head shaved to stitch up the wounds and his nose broken and his once fine cheekbones a mass of swollen cuts and bruises- no one could ever call Rhaegar beautiful again, she thinks, even should he live.

Rhaenys was hiding under his bed, fell asleep, and slept like the dead, as many young children seem to. Larra gently pulls her out and sets her slumbering form down in a chair near the hearth. Balerion prowls around the room as if on guard for potential threats. Elia’s heart is still pounding in her chest; she lays a hand on it, and wills herself to be calm. “It’s alright,” Larra touches her elbow gently. “She’s alright, Elia.”

“I know,” she says, “I know, I just-” she massages her forehead, turning slightly away. “I’m sorry. Thank you, Larra. Would you mind-,”

“Of course, I’ll see to Viserys,” Larra is already striding out of the room. Elia sinks down onto the edge of Rhaegar’s bed, shaking. She does not know why she was so terrified. But that’s a lie. Of course she knows why. Rhaegar’s condition may not be known throughout Westeros, but news that the King was seriously injured has spread. They are vulnerable. She is vulnerable. Her children is vulnerable. Whether or not Rhaegar was feared or admired as a warrior does not matter at this point. He is in not position to physically defend any of them, and in Westeros a king weak of body-

She digs her fingers into the mattress, gritting her teeth. No. She must not think like that. She has relied on herself and herself alone since he first ran off with Lyanna Stark. She is not going to let this destroy her. She can do this, she must, she has no choice. If she lets them be known as weak and scattered now, it will all be over. Tywin Lannister and his men would be outside their gates in a fortnight, ready to burn the city so that he might sit his daughter and some mummer’s puppet on thrones to preside over the rubble. Or it could be any great lord, really. A viper is a viper is a viper, as Father might say. It does not matter the color or what rock it suns itself on.

Robert Baratheon is dead. There is no official announcement from Storm’s End of it, but the merchants and the traders and the traveling septons and the sailors and the whores all speak of it. When a man like that falls, you hear the echoes an entire world away. If there is any advantage to it it is that the rebels have lost an able commander and the frenzied spirit of their cause. This was Robert’s war. Well, Robert’s and Rhaegar’s, and now one is dead and the other may be soon joining him. Stannis Baratheon never struck her as a rash man. Surely he can be made to see sense. Surely he does not wish any more bloodshed on his lands.

But he is proud. All Baratheons are. He will not come groveling to King’s Landing to be forgiveness for his late brother’s deeds and prostrate himself before a throne that currently no man sits. Elia would not, in his position. Even with her children to think of, she would not. Could not. She is a Martell of Sunspear, a daughter of the Rhoynar, descendant of Nymeria. They do not bow, they do not bend, they do not break, even when faced with invasion and dragonfire and starvation. She glances at Rhaenys, still sleeping. A strong seat, she once urged Rhaegar. Give our son a strong seat to come into. Do not let this be your legacy.

But Rhaegar does not decide their legacy anymore. Rhaegar decides nothing. Rhaegar will never walk again, if he can ever leave this bed. Never ride. Never carry a lance or sword or shield. Never dance or swim or carry their children in his arms. She may have little left in her to mourn the man, but she can grieve the void left behind. Even if he lives- She stands, and walks swiftly from the room now that her heart has calmed, calling for the maester. She needs him conscious, if only for a little while.

Later she sits beside him, takes his hot, damp hand in her own. His fever has returned with a vengeance; the maesters have been doing all they can to prevent blood poisoning, but she saw Harys’ face when he examined him not an hour past. He is worse, not better. “Elia,” he rasps, “Water-,” she sets the quill in his hands, closes his trembling fingers around it. Half of his fine nails are broken and blackened. “Soon,” she soothes him, “soon. First you must sign.”

His eyes cannot focus, and his grip slackens. Elia steels herself, and forces his hand to the parchment. “You must sign,” she repeats herself, “this requires a king’s signature.” Ink spills across the sheets, he sighs and moans, her nerves harden, her vision narrows until all she can see is his shaky letters forming his name. Once, twice. Rhaegar Targaryen, First of His Name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm.

She signs beside him on the first document as his witness. Elia Martell, Queen Consort. A far shorter addition. Is this what they will write of her, in the history tomes? Queen Elia was a good and loyal woman, who gave wise counsel to her husband, the King. In times of war and strife, she remained devout and faithful. She gave our King two hale children. This is her signature. She was an obedient wife and loving mother. Let her be an example to young women. Good Queen Elia.

Gods, at least Alysanne had a dragon. Woe be to Jaehaerys if he ever decided to provoke her.

When he has signed the will declaring Aegon his rightful and only heir, Prince of Dragonstone, trueborn son and the letter to Storm’s End announcing a forthcoming visit under the banner of peace and reconciliation, then she gives him water. She lays her hand flat on his sheared scalp, feels the heat pulsing under her fingers. He feels as though he were on fire. Rhaegar is murmuring about the night, and he is right; the first stars are appearing outside. “More dreamwine, I think,” she tells the attending maid, who bobs her head obediently. “Let His Grace rest. I would not have him suffer needlessly.”

Suffer, yes. Needlessly, no. She does not believe penance can be found on a battlefield, even one men speak of as akin to the Seven Hells themselves, and Robert and Rhaegar warring demons, but what he suffers now she would not wish on any man. To fall from so high a height. He was- he is the King. He held them all in the palm of his hand, and instead of securing Westeros he has let it begin to slip through his fingers like sand. What good is a prophesied hero with no kingdoms left to unite and save? What good is fate as some divine thread when a boy runs around cutting them? He could have confided in her more. Trusted her. She would never have steered him wrong. She could have helped him find a better way. Rhaegar did not want help. He wanted to be right. He wanted to believe that the lonely, bookish boy who loved songs and legends and the stars would be the one they remembered, the one who set the wheel turning again. Who saved them all. He wanted to believe that his father’s rages and his mother’s pain and his family’s slowly fading light was not all for naught.

She can still sympathize, even now. He has not had an easy life. But neither has she. She trusted him. She stepped into a lion’s den for him. She gave and gave for his sake. He did not repay her well. All she wanted was his respect, his consideration. Not his love or affection. And he could not even give her that. It’s too late now. This is what he leaves them all with. And for what? A bastard son who no one thought would live to see a week? Brandon Stark, dead, Jon Connington, dead, Gerold Hightower, dead- The list goes on and on. Countless others, nameless and faceless, but dead or dying or maimed all the same. For the sake of a blind, foolish war that never should have begun in the first place.

She dines with her uncle. “Aegon stays here with you and Alyse. Ynys and Larra will go to Rosby with Rhaenys. Tyrell will guard the city. He knows better than to see little Margaery’s future seat threatened.” Mace Tyrell’s youngest was born two months ago. A healthy little girl with a head of chestnut curls and a beautiful smile, Highgarden reports. Of course, they would say the same were the girl a dwarf with horns. Elia does not care at the moment. So long as the Tyrells remain loyal.

“I should accompany you-,” he begins, expression darkening-

“You are a member of the Kingsguard, you guard the King. The future king.” She forces herself to swallow just another bite of pheasant. “Nymella will come with me. Doran's spears are already there. You may choose all my other guards yourself, Uncle. I will not go defenseless.”

“This is foolish. You would be better served to wait them out-,”

“I have waited long enough. I will not wait here for the Red Keep to crumble around my ears. The Crown cannot be seen as some frightened rabbit waiting for the arrow to land.” She pushes back her plate, gut churning. “What shall I wait for? For my husband to make me a widow? Then what? The Stormlands riot again, Lannisters come to call, the North closes off the Neck and leaves us to our fates? Will the Tullys and Arryns come rushing to my defense? This must be settled. Now. Or someone else will settle it for us.”

“You may walk directly into a Baratheon trap-,”

“Then at least it will be on my own terms,” she snaps. “Gods, at least they will say I did something, Uncle. Should the worst come to pass-,” she hesitates, then forges onward, “you will do everything in your power to see Aegon crowned. You will do everything in your power to see Rhaenys back in Dorne with Doran. And the rest is up to the Seven.”

He looks at her for a long few moments, then nods. “As you command, Your Grace.” She almost comes around the table to rush into his arms and cry, but she is a queen and he is a knight, and she cannot order him one moment, embrace him the next. Lewyn Martell has his sister’s eyes, dark and gleaming back at her, discerning and appraising. He may not be happy with her, but she thinks part of him is proud all the same.

“Thank you, good Ser,” she says as earnestly as she can, and lets him walk her back to her rooms. Outside her door, he pauses. "And Viserys?" he asks, almost reflectively.

Elia stiffens. She had been almost hoping he would overlook it. "Viserys accompanies me," she says, then forces herself to look up at him.

"I see," says Lewyn. He opens the door for her. "Sleep well, Elia."

They both know there is little chance of that.

Chapter Text

283 AC - KING’S LANDING

Lyanna is not present to see the queen’s retinue off on their journey into the Kingswood and towards the Stormlands, but she can hear the cheers and the sounds of the gates opening and horses stamping their feet and whinnying from the Maidenvault. She is still under guard, but she has been less aware of it since her fever broke and she was able to sit up and eat and drink once more. Maester Harys says she is still in no condition to do anything more strenuous than a brief walk once or twice a day, but she feels stronger, harder. The girl she last glimpsed in her looking glass before Brandon’s trial is gone. The woman who stares back at her now has the long, lean, Stark look, and no trace of infatuation or heartbreak in her cold grey eyes.

Her father once told her brothers that a boy was not a man until he’d put childish things away and taken up sword and shield or bow. Until he’d learned that his actions had consequences and seen others thrive or suffer by them. By that reckoning, many men are still children, she thinks. She does not know what it means for women. There is less emphasis on that transition- by many’s reasoning, she was a child no longer from the moment she first bled. But that was when she was newly thirteen, still half-wild and coltish and more interested in racing around Winterfell than in dancing with any handsome young lords or sitting down to practice her needlework.

She would not have gone with Rhaegar at thirteen, she knows. And she is certain that she would not have been entranced by him at sixteen, either. When she met him she was fourteen and now she is fifteen but the months seem to fly by at a pace they never took when she was a child. Soon enough she will be sixteen, then seventeen, then eighteen, and all the other years of her life. Hating and regretting and wishing, for all the good that will do her. The birth could have killed her. Had she still been in the Tower of Joy, it would have. Rhaegar brought no master with them. Had she gotten with child the very first time they laid together, what would have happened to her?

You would have died, she answers herself. You would be dead, now, buried under some pile of rocks in Dorne, and your babe- Well, he would have been buried with her, or bundled off by some Kingsguard, she supposes. Perhaps back here, so Rhaegar could name him a trueborn prince in between killing Robert and her brothers. He would never have known her face, her voice, her heart. Perhaps he would be better off for it. She never pretended her dolls were babies as a child, never played at motherhood. Little children were fascinating and irritating creatures to her, something to be poked and prodded at but ultimately forgotten in favor of more exciting interests.

She supposes she is already a poor enough mother. Had she been born a bastard, she does not think she could have forgiven the ones who sired and whelped her. Had she been born a bastard, she would still be in the North, passed over and ignored and perhaps warming some lordling’s bed or working in the kitchens or teaching little highborn girls the ways of womanhood but never chosen or selected or favored. Lucky, in that sense. Lucky enough to be utterly, contemptibly, blessedly dull and ordinary and of no consequence to Westeros.

Now there will be brief mention of her in accounts of history and vapid speculation on her wanton ways and some oafish old man will write, “Lady Lyanna Stark, King Rhaegar’s ill-fated mistress, found herself utterly alone in the Red Keep, the bastard at her breast little assurance of her future.” They will sing rowdy songs about the she-wolf snapping at the dragon prince and her name will drip off their tongues and three, perhaps four generations of Starks will warn their willful daughters off of ‘ending up like Lyanna the Winter Rose, who ran South and met a cold end’.

And eventually, a century from now, some little girl will find it all terribly romantic and exciting, the way she found all of Old Nan’s stories of cunning knights and defiant ladies and monstrous beasts in need of a good slaying terribly romantic and exciting. But she is not the only one who will have to live with it. Old Nan warned her that children held their mother’s hearts in their little fists. This child has her by the heart, the throat, the mouth and ears and eyes- everything. She did not love him the instant she was finally allowed to hold him in her arms, when he was but five days old, the wetnurse marveling that he’d made it this long.

No, she did not love him, but she knew him, and that was worse. She can find no trace of Rhaegar in her boy. She’d feared she would at first, but now she senses this is a crueller punishment. All she sees in him is herself. Her eyes, her nose, her ears, and what’s hers was Brandon, is Ned and Ben’s, is all Stark, all wolf, and were he anyone else’s son, were he Brandon’s boy or Ned’s boy or even Ben’s boy, were he trueborn and wanted and adored, he’d be the pride of them all. Instead he is her shame, and she will be his shame, and all the more so because she cannot be ashamed of him, because he has her heart in his little pale fist, and he is squeezing tighter and tighter every day.

She named the wretched little wolf boy who holds her hostage Ben, on his sixth day of life. Just Ben. Now he is six weeks, and he though he is still small and frail, he continues to grow, steadily and determinedly. He nurses from her and the wetnurse both, he sleeps, he wakes in the morning and stares at her with those solemn grey eyes, not yet accusing or angry but one day- Part of her wants him to stay like this forever, because one day he will walk and talk and know enough to call her Mother, Traitor, Whore- how could you do this to me, how could you bring me forth, I will know no peace because of you, just shadows of what I might have had-

She supposes it is just like a mother to put words in her child’s mouth before they can even say their own name. She hopes Ben is not like her or Rhaegar or Brandon. She was wrong to hope for a wild little warrior. She hopes he is quiet and calm and patient. She hopes he prefers scrolls and books to swords and daggers. She hopes he can find it in him to forgive her, someday, to understand that she was just a girl, flowered or not, that she did not learn until it was too late, that she would have written him a happier tale if she could. And she hopes he never knows his father.

Lyanna paces the length of the room with Ben in her arms, trying to soothe his fussing. She hates to have him out of her sight, terrified someone will hurt him, take him, that she will never see him again. Elia has been kindly enough with her; allows her to keep him a cradle by her bed, to tend to him herself, has not separated or threatened either of them, has not tried to use Ben against her. But Elia is gone now, and Lyanna knows the queen’s ladies do not necessarily share her mercy. She was on amiable terms with Ashara and Nymella. Ashara has been gone from court for months now, and Nymella left with Elia this morning.

She does not know what will happen when the queen returns. Rhaegar’s condition has worsened, not improved, since he was brought back maimed and crippled to the Red Keep. She was torn between fits of laughter and tears, both hysterical, when she heard. Robert is dead. Rhaegar is, if not dead, certainly not what one could call ‘living’ at the moment. If- when- the Stormlands are resolved, Lyanna knows attention will turn to her and her child, and what will become of them, and what they ought to call Ben. Not Targaryen, not Stark. And not Blackfyre. Ben Waters, Ben Snow- does it matter? He will never have an easy life. The events leading up to his birth sparked a rebellion. Over a thousand dead. And all that blood washes back over her and him with the tide.

Sometimes she sings to him, although all the songs taste sour on her tongue now. She changes the words to suit him better, heaps a hundred praises and lies upon him in the lyrics, tells him she loves him so, that she knows he loves her too, that they will never be parted, all to reassure herself, not the crying child in her arms. Sometimes she runs out of words to sing and just sits on the bed and closes her eyes and weeps silently alongside him. I am trying to be good to you, she wants to tell him, I am trying to be someone you could love and be proud to call your mother, but I can’t-

How can she be? She is not sure that there is anyone left who could love her, least of all her own son. She knows she needs to eat and bathe and see sunlight, but it is often easier to just sit very still and swallow back the wrenching grief inside her and wait. For what she does not know. She has waited before, and nothing good ever came of it. Sometimes she pictures herself painting the cackling weirwood on that battered old shield with Ben, whispering and conspiring into the night, and she wants to burst into the tent, kick over a lantern, and shake herself silly, until her teeth rattle and her eyes roll back.

Two days after the queen’s departure, Lady Alyse calls upon her. Alyse is a sandy Dornish woman, brown-skinned but green eyed from her Fowler father. She is a dainty little woman who favors cool shades of aquamarine and turquoise, and who always wears ribbons in her hair, gathered back in a thick, dark plait to her waist. Alyse is the eldest of three daughters and will inherit her mother’s lands in accordance with Rhoynish customs. Alyse has a breezy, smooth nature to her that sees her sweeping into rooms with an expectant little smile, as if hoping for some resistance simply to liven things up.

If she had hoped to find some in Lyanna, she must be sorely disappointed. Lyanna barely has the energy to change before her visit, and Alyse finds her sitting by the window with Ben in her arms, watching Daena the Tabby chase something along the stony path down below. Alyse insists they sit outside, complaining of the stuffiness of the room, and although she begins to call for a nursemaid to take Ben, upon seeing the look on Lyanna’s face, changes her mind and scoops him into her own arms, crooning over his complacent demeanor and his round little face; he is putting on more weight by the day, it would seem.

They sit under a pear tree. Lyanna never much liked pears, but Alyse slices one for her with a cruel little coppery dagger, Ben resting in a wicker basket beside them, the sunlight dappling across his pale face. “Eat,” she says. “You need to keep your strength up, my lady. Children are rather taxing creatures, as my sisters could tell you.”

“You don’t have any,” Lyanna says, in between reluctant bites.

“I am unwed,” Alyse agrees. “Perhaps I will change that when I return home, or perhaps I will simply name my nephew heir. Then again, that sort of things always provokes squabbles among the little cousins, and I have always wanted to wed an Uller,” she smiles benignly. “My house has an unfortunate pastime of marrying Daynes, as of late, and after Lord Lucifer’s foolhardiness in the Marches, I think there ought to be consequences.”

Even if the North followed the practice of naming the eldest heir, it still would have been Brandon. Lyanna never wanted it, in truth. Running her own household or her lord husband’s household did not seem much different, and Father still would have seen her marry South. Had she had the choice, she thinks she could have been content enough with a Flint or a Norrey. Up in the mountains they say the women and men are barely distinguishable. It is often meant as an insult, but Lyanna thinks she could have stomached it well enough. She always wanted to learn how to throw an axe or chop down a tree.

“Why did you want to speak with me?” she asks, when the pear is all gone, excepting the core and stem, which rolls between them languidly.

“To prepare you,” says Alyse mildly enough. “For what will come when our queen returns.”

Lyanna would stiffen, but instead she slumps. She lays a hand on Ben’s sleeping form. “I want no trouble- you can tell Her Grace herself, I would never seek to challenge Aegon’s inheritance-,”

“Of course you would not,” Alyse cuts in smoothly. “You seem sensible enough now that the King is insensible, if you will pardon my wordplay. You would never challenge dear Aegon’s claim on the throne, because he is Rhaegar’s trueborn son and heir in the eyes of Seven and all those loyal to the Crown, and it would be a terrible shame to devote an innocent child’s life to such foul ambitions.” She smiles, and Lyanna, for all her exhaustion and numbness, raises her shoulders and lifts her chin.

“Ben is more mine than Rhaegar’s. I do not want him on a throne. I do not want him near a throne. I would rather see him dead than have him take a seat that saw my brother killed. I want-,” she hesitates, then plunges on, “I want him to be safe and happy, and well away from here. I cannot stay at court. Elia must see that, I know- I know what they will say, what they will do- to him- what kind of childhood- I will not raise him in the shadows of his trueborn siblings, it’s too cruel-,”

“It is too cruel,” agrees Alyse, “and far too foolish for anyone to consider. He could be given every honor, and it would still not be enough. He can never be a Targaryen, never be legitimized. You understand, don’t you? If he is to stay with you as your son, there must be certain… assurances. Pledges of loyalty. Permissions sought. Elia is not a cruel woman. Nor am I, for all that you are glaring at me with those sad grey eyes, my lady. I will ask you something no man ever has, I fear- what would you do, had you the freedom to go where you pleased?”

Lyanna stares at her for a moment, and then says without thinking, “Home. The North. I- I would never leave it again, had I the choice.”

Alyse’s smile widens. “You cannot know how pleased I am to hear that, Lyanna. I happen to think that your sweet little Ben looks far more like a Snow than a Waters.”

Later, after the pear core has been tossed away and the sun slunk down behind the high red walls, Alyse walks Lyanna back to her room. They have just entered the Maidenvault when a guard suddenly appears, a panting and breathless serving boy at his side. Lyanna stops, as does Alyse, who hands Ben back to her, draws the boy away by the elbow, and inclines her head to feel his hissing, whispered message. Her faintly confident smile vanishes.

“What is it?” Lyanna asks, impulsively. Ben begins to whine again in her arms.

To her surprise, Alyse does not not immediately ignore her. Instead she considers Lyanna for a moment, then says, “I forgot my favorite white shawl outside, and we’re due for rain tonight. Won’t you come back with me to get it, before it’s too late?”

Lyanna stands there, baffled, before she realizes, and hands Ben off to an expectant maid. It is the longest walk she has taken in what seems like months and months, but they reach the royal apartments before the rains can fall. That is, while Rhaegar yet breathes. Lyanna does not quite know why she came. To be free of the Maidenvault a little while longer? Because some sickly part of her still loves him? So she can spit in his face? There is no breaking the fever this time. He has begun to seize and shake. Yet the room is so quiet, free of panicking servants or barked orders. Only Alyse is there, along with Ser Lewyn.

“A king should not die alone,” says the queen’s uncle, but he does not move from his post at the door.

“Word of this cannot leave this room,” says Alyse, who is soaking a rag in a basin of water to drip on Rhaegar’s mottled face. “Tyrell will know soon enough, but on our terms. We would not want to alarm anyone, or provoke any rash behavior.” Lyanna feels as though she is in a strange sort of waking dream. She takes the rag from Alyse and leans over Rhaegar. He seems so small in this moment. Like a slender reed that might snap in half at any moment.

He is trying to say something, to tell her something, she thinks, but she does not think he even knows it is her. “The night came,” he gasps, “the night came-,”

“It’s not dark out yet,” Lyanna corrects him, although she wants to scream and shout and slap him and make him wake up, make him stop dying so she can properly kill him, so she can make him see, make him understand what he’s done to all of them. Water trickles down his broken jaw and pulsing neck. “It’s still day.”

“The night came and the fires all died,” sobs her moonlight king, mad and dying and she balls up the rag in her hand as if to ram it down his throat but then lets it fall, sodden, onto the sheets. She takes his trembling hands instead, tries to hold them still as he thrashes, and then Rhaegar seems to recognize her by her iron grip, her sharp nails, the muddled rage and gaping sadness on her face, and he looks directly at her and says with a note of horrified surprise, “Lyanna-,”

And her name withers on his lips, and he is looking past her, and then not at all.

Chapter Text

283 AC - STORM’S END

Jeyne dreams of the Kingswood the night before the queen arrives at Storm’s End. It has been months and months since her nightmares featured the Brotherhood and the Smiling Knight; her sleep has not always been restful since then, but she found other things to fear and fret over in the dark, not the past but the future. But the prospect of seeing Elia Martell once more, she thinks, has brought it all snarling back. Jeyne was to serve as one of her ladies in waiting. A great honor. She’d been so excited, although she’d done her best to mask it with a composed aura. It was not proper to act like a giddy child at the prospect of life at court and time spent serving the princess, then future queen.

But she had been girlishly excited and hopeful all the same. And why not? She’d been sixteen and unbetrothed, certain that her childhood was drawing to a close and some lovely future awaited her. She pities the child she was then. Pities and hates her and longs to be her once more, some days. That Jeyne died when they ripped her out of the saddle and carried her off into the wood. It was winter. Thankfully it had not yet snowed, but it was cold all the same. Her breath misted in the air and when she cried the tear tracks seemed to freeze on her cheeks. She’d shivered and hunched into her torn cloak while her septa wailed and men laughed, and all the days were far too short and the nights never-ending.

She wakes not with a scream or shout but shivering, despite the rather balmy night outside, and with tears in her eyes. Stannis is a very light sleeper; he stirs awake mere moments after she rustles about in bed, and when she sits up, taking slow, deep breaths, so does he. “Just a dream,” she tells him, and herself. It is what she tells Renly when he has nightmares. Just a dream, sweetling. Go back to sleep. Sometimes he comes into her bedchambers- their bedchambers, for now Stannis spends the nights with her more often than not, even when they do nothing but sleep- and while sometimes Stannis takes him back to his own bed, other times they let him sleep between them, even if he kicks and mumbles to himself.

He says nothing, but his hand finds it way to the small of her back, and after a moment moves slowly and repetitively. Not wanting to keep either of them awake any longer, she lies back down, and rolls over to face him. His eyes look more black than blue at night, like the surface of the sea. She puts her hand on his bare chest so she can feel his steady heart beat, and when he does not jerk away, closes her eyes once more. In the morning she is breaking her fast when there are reports of Targaryen banners in the distance. Renly jumps up, rattling the table. “I want to see!”

“Sit down,” Stannis snaps at him, as he and Jeyne both stand. “You will stay here and finish your meal, and then you will go to your bedchamber until you are summoned. You are not to go running off to play. This isn’t a game, Renly.”

“I’m not a baby,” Renly says mutinously after them, and Jeyne spares him a softer glance over her shoulder as they go, watching him push his eggs around on his plate.

“You could stand to be a bit gentler with him,” she reminds her husband, not for the first time.

“And this is the time for soft words?” he retorts as they near the winding stairwell. “You act as though we were preparing for a feast, not treating with the Iron Throne.”

“I behave civilly because I expect civility,” she refuses to rise to the bait, inadvertent or not. “If we were meeting with Rhaegar, it would be different. But this is the queen. Do you really think she wants more war anymore than we do?”

He flushes slightly. “You don’t think me capable of negotiating peaceably with her-,”

“I think you capable of a great many things, if you can rely on your instincts first and your pride second.” Stannis is not reckless or impulsive the way Robert was. But he does have the Baratheon temper, and her worst fear is that he will allow them to be backed into a corner because of it. They did not rebel for petty reasons. But they are still very much alone. Robert’s main host was defeated. Not all slaughtered, no, but they are in no real shape to wage another battle, to continue this war.

Yet hopeful as she might be for a peaceful outcome to all of this, she goes rigid all the same when the Targaryen party rides through the curtain wall, although arguably much of said party is Dornish spears, not royalist knights. She thinks that any of them could have killed Dennis, but then the queen’s wheelhouse has entered, and she is too busy inspecting Stannis’ and her own appearances. They are both dressed in mourning black, although they both favor darker colors ordinarily as well. For her because of her pride in House Swann, and for him because the idea of standing out through his attire is ludicrous. Renly once begged for a scarlet cloak, and her husband looked as if his brother had just requested a dragon egg.

Jeyne’s hair is not very thick, but it is long, nearly to her waist, and she had a maid brush it until it gleamed in the pale sunlight this morning. They were under siege not long ago. They cannot look aged or deteriorated by that, or Robert’s death. They need to seem strong and healthy and in control. One should not wear extravagant jewelry while in mourning, but an ivory clip carved in the shape of a swan holds two thin braids of hair away from her face. She raises her chin and while not smiling, does her best to look self-assured and calm, almost too worried to glance over and see if Stannis is scowling or not. That is likely a lost cause at this point. One could have a sword to his throat and the man would not so much as move his lips.

The queen is helped down from the wheelhouse by Ser Barristan. Elia has dressed to project power, Jeyne thinks immediately, with her hair bound up in a net of gleaming rubies and her gown a dark, almost bruised shade of crimson, a slash of gold silk underneath the skirt. She cuts a dainty path over to them, and smiles as if this is a reunion of old friends. “My lord, my lady, I thank you for welcoming me into your home.” Jeyne curtsies, and Stannis bows curtly, but neither dare utter, ‘Storm’s End is yours, Your Grace’.

“You are well met, Your Grace,” Jeyne says, when Stannis is not quick to offer a response. She is about to say more, when she notices the boy. She has never met Viserys Targaryen before, but from the hair and the eyes alone it is is obvious enough who the child is. He stands, looking rather small and frail, besides Selmy, squinting in the bright spring sunshine, his hands in little clenched fists at his sides. “The prince accompanies you?”

“Yes,” says Elia, a shadow crossing her face briefly. “I had thought young Lord Renly might enjoy the company of a new playmate while we discuss things.”

Jeyne chances a quick look at Stannis, and their eyes meet in understanding. She did not bring the prince here to appease a little boy. This is an offering. Little Rhaenys is promised to the Stark boy. Viserys is the one of the very few pieces Elia has left to play with them. House Baratheon might be on the defensive, but so is the Crown. Especially now. After the last of the dragons died, the Targaryens tried to compensate with numbers. Now their line is whittled down to three young children.

Then again, the descendants of Orys and Argella currently number a man of eighteen and a child of six.

Were Stannis a different man, they would perhaps spend the day idling away with a tour of Storm’s End, a formal introduction to the rest of the household, an inspection of the prisoners in the dungeons. Because he is not, Jeyne is entirely unsurprised to find them in the lord’s solar, and hopes Elia is not either. The queen looks slightly surprised that Jeyne remains and does not quietly retreat to console Viserys and Renly, and Jeyne feels an odd stab of pride at that, as if she has accomplished something here, in Stannis trusting her judgement and wisdom enough that he, who on their wedding night told her it was a wife’s duty to obey, not to question, now would not even consider leaving her out of this.

She thinks it is something to be proud of, at least. She has proven herself to him, and he to her, in ways neither expected. She sits at his side, back straight, and considers Elia, who brings no other advisers or guards beyond Ser Barristan, who assumes a post at the door. If the queen is at all wary or nervous, she does not show it. They could very well have set this as a trap for her. It would not serve them well in the long-run, but another family might have tried it, might have ambushed the queen and her guard for the temporary vindication of finally seeing some sort of retribution.

But they have, of course. Jeyne’s cousin Ravella’s betrothed’s sister wrote to her of Rhaegar’s death a week ago, and she wasted no time in alerting Storm’s End. Elia does not know that they know. But Rhaegar is dead. It brought Jeyne no particular joy, but she thinks it may have given Stannis some peace, that he did not truly lie to Robert in his final moments, that it was not all a mummer’s farce. If anything, she is relieved. Waiting for the king to recover would have just prolonged things. Elia always struck her as a fairly efficient woman.

“I will begin,” says Elia softly, knowing they will listen intently to her regardless of her tone, “by extending my condolences for your losses. Lord Robert fought valiantly, as did your brother, Lady Jeyne,” she nods to her. “I cannot imagine the grief that must be endured when one loses a sibling, particularly so young. We may have been on opposing sides of this, but they were good men who died fighting for what they believed in.”

She may be lying, she may be exaggerating, Jeyne does not care. The recognition means something, at least. “Thank you, Your Grace,” she says, bowing her head slightly.

“We are not here to discuss our grief,” Stannis has no such compunctions. He leans forward slightly in his seat. “My brother died from wounds sustained fighting your husband and his forces in the Kingswood, over thirty acres of which is now lost. A substantial portion of that wood belongs to the Stormlands.” He speaks as if he were consulting the household accounts.

“The towns and villages along the coast, as well as Bronzegate, lost both material goods and food as a result of the blockade enacted by the royal navy and the Redwyne fleet. There is not a single house in the Stormlands that has not lost family members as a result of this war. Over a dozen will be succeeded by new lords, some of whom are mere children.”

He continues, “I have reports of Dornish bandits taking advantage of the invasion through the Boneway to rape and murder without fear of reprisal. Fields have been burned, castles have been sacked, there is a flood of smallfolk and merchants seeking refuge in Bronzegate, fearing a second attack by the Crown, and there are reports of an outbreak of pox around Felwood, due to, the maesters believe, rivers and streams contaminated with corpses and debris from the battle.”

Jeyne lays a hand on his arm, but he pauses for a moment, then says flatly, “All of this because our King could not help himself from carrying off my brother’s betrothed, fleeing with her to Dorne, and having his Kingsguard slaughter the knights who accompanied Robert to attempt to rescue her. All of this so he could bring her to the capitol, demand recompense for House Baratheon for defending itself against his crimes, name us rebels, sire a bastard on Lady Lyanna, set the Kingswood ablaze in an attempt to route Robert’s men, and take a mortal wound in the process of attempting to defeat my brother in single combat.”

She thinks this is perhaps the most she has ever heard Stannis say in the course of under an hour.

Elia Martell is staring at them both, black eyes wide, before she exhales sharply, and says, “You have had word of the King’s death.”

“House Baratheon may have been alone in this rebellion, but we are not without our connections,” Jeyne says evenly. “Rhaegar is dead. Robert is dead. It seems to me that we should be able to reach some accord, now that both sides have suffered and bled for an event that took place over a year ago. There is no changing the past. We can each mourn our loved ones, and still look to the future. House Baratheon has no desire to stand alone against the Iron Throne. Nor does my husband,” she looks to Stannis meaningfully, “have any desire to reign as Storm King. Our people are suffering still. Innocent lives have been ruined by these events. We will not admit to any wrongdoing, for the King, gods rest his soul, broke pacts and custom alike in his actions. But we are not determined to see more dead and defeated through this.”

“Your complaints and your actions have merit,” Elia clasps her small hands on the table before her. “Rhaegar was my king and husband, and for the sake of the vows I made with him and the children I bore him, I stood by his side through this storm. But he is gone. My son is the new king. Our new king. He will rule differently than his father, than his grandfather. I was not born a Targaryen, as you both well know. But I intend to do my best to see that House Targaryen rules justly, wisely, and successfully in the future.”

“You are a good and fair woman,” Jeyne knows she should perhaps hold her tongue, but Stannis is simply studying Elia, and she cannot keep silent at a crucial time like this. “I have not forgotten the aftermath of my rescue, Your Grace, and the compassion and comfort you showed me. I know you do not want more senseless fighting for the sake of pride and pretense alone.”

She is not lying, either. After she was rescued, she rode in front of Ser Jaime back to King’s Landing, where she was reunited with her family. But before that, the young knight had carried her into the Red Keep, and it had been Elia who took in her state; her matted and snarled hair, her dirty, tear-streaked face, the swollen, broken nose and split lips, her cracked nails and a once fine dress that had been reduced to mere rags, her bare and bloody feet from running across the forest floor.

The princess had wrapped a firm arm around her, despite Jeyne standing more than a head taller than her, and ordered all the men out, all of them, even the servants, and had her own maids draw her a bath, and helped them cut the burrs and knots from her hair, and reassured her that she was safe, that she was going to be alright, that the men who had mistreated her so, who had raped and murdered her septa, who had held her captive and demeaned her, degraded her, would all hang. Every single one.

“You are not ruined,” she’d told her, as Jeyne sobbed and huddled in the bath like a child, “you are not ruined, do you understand? You are stronger than all of them, braver by far. You lived. They will all be dead by the morrow, and you will live, and forget them, and ten, twenty years from now they will be bones in the ground and you will still be here, still whole, still standing. I am sorry. I am so sorry we could not stop them from taking you, Jeyne.”

The Brotherhood had not roused themselves to ride down their party merely to snatch a daughter of House Swann. They had been hoping to come away with a princess. Jeyne had watched Lewyn Martell cut down three men in less than a minute, drag Elia onto the back of his own horse, order her to not let go, and drive his steed clear across a frigid stream, riding hard for the city. The guards protecting Jeyne and Septa Brygitte has not been so fortunate. Those men had fallen, those men had died, and while Jeyne had led the Smiling Knight a fair chase, down the hills and through a grove of oak trees, he had caught her eventually, taken note of the sigil on the broach of her cloak as she kicked and screamed for help that was not coming, grinned broadly at her, and smashed the pommel of his sword down on the back of her head.

When she woke up, she was back at their camp, and earned her broken nose by driving her booted foot into the face of the man securing her wrists to to the rotten post. It had been almost been worth it then, not knowing if she was going to live or die or if they were going to strip her naked and pass her around, to see him reel back with a whimper of pain, blood and broken teeth brimming from his red, red mouth. It had sprayed down her fine white gown when he tried to curse and scream at her, then settled for cracking her as hard as he could across the face with a mailed fist.

Now she looks at Elia, who promised they would all hang, and who kept that promise, and the queen says, “You honor me, my lady, especially given the present circumstances. It is a credit to your character, I think, and your husband’s,” she glances at Stannis. “I hope to live up to such high praise.”

“Then do so,” says Stannis shortly, “and give us what we are owed.”

They settle on men to help regrow and clear the ruined swathes of the Kingswood, supply trains from the Reach for affected villages and towns, maesters for the sick and still injured, Dornish spears to drive back the bandits pouring out of the Boneway, a full retreat of the Reacher, Dornish, and other royalist forces from the Stormlands, a royal dismissal of all pending bounties and headhunts, and the taking of Prince Viserys as their ward until his sixteenth name-day. Renly will go to serve as a page at court in a few years’ time. Storm's End will release all prisoners who were loyal to the Crown and restore them their lands and titles.

Betrothals will be made for widows and affected houses between the Stormlands, the Crownlands, the Reach, and Dorne, in an attempt to dissuade any further malice on any front. A lord of Stannis’ choosing will represent the interests of the Stormlands and House Baratheon on Aegon’s impending regency council. All mercenaries and assorted sell-swords from Essos will be sent back across the Narrow Sea, having collected their coin and done their work. And the Crown will pay the price of Lyanna Stark’s doomed dowry, and House Baratheon will swear fealty to the Iron Throne and the reign of Aegon VI Targaryen.

This discussion lasts well past sundown, and by that time they have both dined and supped together, and Jeyne feels almost fond of the queen, if that makes any sense. Even Stannis seems appeased. Elia’s party will stay the rest of the week, then depart, making haste for the capitol. When they have finally left the stuffy, wretched solar, Jeyne waits until Elia has excused herself to see to her young good-brother and rest, having spent weeks on the road, and then turns to Stannis and kisses him, soundly and unexpectedly.

She pulls back, breathless.

“What in the seven hells,” he is saying, but not angrily, “was that for?”

“You told me you did not believe in the seven hells,” she reminds him, a juvenile, almost hysterical ring to her voice, and then laughs. He is looking at her as though she were a madwoman, and she knows she must sound it, but- was that it? Was that all? Six hours of debate and discussion and disagreements, but they finally came to some sort of conclusion?

Was that all it could have taken? Gods be good, why could Robert not have- why did Rhaegar not come- she is reeling, almost, and nearly laughs again, but tears come to her eyes instead, and then Stannis takes her firmly by the arms and kisses her, quick and curt and chaste, but she can’t bring herself to cry then, only stand there and hold onto him as though something might tear him away.

“Thank you,” she says.

Tentatively, he sets his chin atop her head. It only fits because she is standing slumped and bowed, but she does not mind it. “It seems that I should be the one thanking you.”

Thank you means, I think I could love you eventually, you tall, stubborn fool, she wants to say, but instead she smiles into his doublet, which smells like the iron of the sea.

Later, she goes to speak with Elia privately, as only two women could speak with one another, to tell her that she understands, that she does not envy the task ahead of her, but that she would rather they pledge their allegiance to her and a child of nearly two than to Aerys or Rhaegar or any of the others who came before them, but she comes to a slow halt outside when she hears the crying and screaming.

The door is open barely a crack, the servants evidently dismissed, but just enough that she can make out the figure of the furious, sobbing boy, and the woman kneeling beside him, pulling him to her, murmuring assurances and apologies as he kicks and hits and flails, pulling at her hair, snagging at the rubies.

“I hate you, I hate you,” Viserys shrieks as only a little boy can, “I want home, I want Mother, I want Rhaenys- I don’t want to stay, you can’t leave me, please, please, don’t leave me-,”

“I’m sorry,” Elia is soothing, chanting over and over again, “I’m sorry, I am sorry, Viserys, I promise, it will not be forever-,”

“I hate you,” he wails, “I hate you,” before it curdles into wrenching sobs, and he is not alone. The queen is crying as well, kneeling on the stone floor with a little boy who is not her blood, not her king, massaging her fingers across his quivering back, and then he sags a bit, and she lifts him into her arms as if he were nothing, although she grunts and shakes with the weight of supporting him.

“I know,” Elia tells him shakily. “I know. You can hate me. You’re allowed to hate me. You won’t be the last, sweetling.”

Jeyne steps away, feeling as though she’d witnessed something far too intimate or stomach-turning, like a coupling or a birth or a death bed confession. She goes to find Stannis, and Renly, and what makes up her small, broken, but still there family at the moment, and now that some measure of peace is assured, they take Renly up to the ramparts to see the tents and banners flying outside their walls, and to watch the first stars appear over the sea.

Stannis sets his little brother up on his broad shoulders so he can look for constellations, and Jeyne points them out with him, listening to the tide far below, and the wind whistle across the cliffs and Durran’s Point, and when Renly nods off and slumps against Stannis, eyelids flickering, she thinks to herself, Thank you, thank you, although to who or what, she is not sure, but it’s alright. She knows what it means.

Chapter Text

297 AC - WINTERFELL

Aly knows it is twenty three steps from the bottom of the stairs to the statue, because she has never quite been able to bring herself to walk there with her eyes open. Instead she peers cautiously into the musty dark of the crypts, clutches the bundle of dried flowers to her chest, and shuts her eyes, counting out the twenty three steps in her head as she goes. There is daylight coming down from the top of the stairs, and a few sputtering torches are lit, but it does not count for much, she thinks, and she fights not to jump or flinch when she hears a distant scuttling. Just a rat or mole, most likely. She musn’t be afraid. She’s thirteen, a maiden flowered and certainly old enough to venture down here alone. What is there to be afraid of? Cold stone and old bones?

But deep in the heart of her, she is frightened all the same, and it shames her so. These are the dead of House Stark. Her kin. Her blood. She should be proud to walk in their midst, living or dead. And she is proud, of course she is, it’s only- the crypts have always felt cold and strange and foreign, somehow, like the border of a different land entirely, and not the roots of Winterfell. The rest of the castle is her home, she knows its nooks and crannies like the back of her hand, but here… Every statue she passes seems to glower down at her and mutter, ‘You do not belong here. Leave now.’, so she prefers not to meet their stony stares at all.

She lays down the dried flowers, cringing a little as some water drips down from the low ceiling and onto her shoulder, and clasps her hands in front of her, although that is silly. She is not praying to the Seven, she is just leaving an offering to the dead. Her meandering line of thought ends with, “I hope you like daisies,” which she murmurs aloud, to her embarrassment. But her heart is no longer pounding in her chest, and she feels bold enough, as she turns away, to not close her eyes and make a mad dash for the stairs.

Instead Aly forces herself to walk forward, stride, really, looking straight ahead the way a princess or queen might. She is not afraid. She is a Stark of Winterfell, she is not afraid- there is a brief glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye, far too big to be a mere rat or even a cat or dog, and she freezes, then shrieks in alarm when two figures lunge out of the shadows towards her. Her back collides with the damp stone wall, and her fist catches Theon Greyjoy square in the chin. He recoils with a curse, while her nephew Cregan, who she has always called cousin, chokes himself with his own laughter.

“You- you horrid!” she can’t think of anything else to say that isn’t the sort of foul language that would see her mouth washed out with soap. “It’s not funny, Cregan!” She shoves him back into Theon, who is still recovering from her punch, while he continues to sputter and snort. “Did you follow me down here? That’s awful! I’m going to tell Nuncle, and he’ll have you whipped, I swear he will.”

“I think I’m a little too big for Ned Stark to put over his knee and take a belt to,” Theon sneers, still rubbing at his chin. Her knuckles smart; she’s glad Beron showed her how to punch years ago, but she wished she’d gotten him in his stupid mouth instead. Theon is eighteen and handsome, and unfortunately, very aware of it. Aly still struggles to connect the skinny boy who taught her how to hold a bow properly with the smirking young man who seems to delight in making her snap at him. “You look like you saw a ghost!” he cracks a genuine grin of mirth at her infuriated expression. “Now I really know why they call you White Aly.”

Cregan, who is only a year younger than her, starts up his snickers all over again, and Aly struggles to school her expression into one more befitting of a highborn lady. She’s not some serving girl to be poked and prodded at by the likes of Greyjoy. Besides, he’s only a ward. Not true family. There’s no Stark blood in his veins. She pinches Cregan, hard, and then brushes past both boys, wishing she were taller and more regal. Her braid is coming a bit loose, and she’s certain that damnable pale streak is visible-

Theon mockingly hums “Seasons of My Love” after her as she stalks up the steps, brushing off the dust from her skirt, and she knows exactly what verses he’s referring to. ‘I loved a maid as white as winter, with moonglow in her hair’. Well, she may be pale, but no paler than the rest of them, and there is no ‘moonglow’ in her hair- just that silly silvery streak. If only they’d named her anything but Alysanne. She will never be rid of Black Aly, nevermind Alysanne Targaryen, although they say the Good Queen didn’t even have the traditional Valyrian looks at all, with golden hair and blue eyes.

Aly inherited her father’s long Stark face and dark brown hair, save for a hint of her mother’s silver in just enough strands for it to be visible. She carefully arranges her hair each day to hide it as best she can, but it is often a losing battle, especially combined with those violet eyes. From a distance, she looks as Northern as any girl, but face to face- then the stares and murmurs begin, for there is no hiding the fact that her mother is as far from Northern in origins as a Dornishwoman would be. She is not ashamed of being Rhaella Targaryen’s daughter. But she would rather it not be the first, and often only, thing people think of her either.

I am all Stark, she tells herself as she leaves the crypts behind as quickly as possible. No matter what anyone thinks. With that in mind, she heads straight for the godswood, ducking under laundry being hung out to dry, and taking a shortcut through the kitchens, where she stoops to pet the old orange cat napping on the windowsill, and steals a lemon cake for herself, chewing and swallowing quickly as she hastens down a few stone steps, walks quickly across the courtyard, and pushes open the freshly painted door. By then her mood has recovered enough from Theon’s mockery that she is able to drink in the warm sunlight and the soft earth beneath her feet, and she takes off her cloak, although she knows she will regret it as soon as the wind picks back up.

Jeyne Poole is playing with little Beth Cassel and a few of the servants’ children in the hot springs, and while Aly is surprised not to see Sansa or even Arya with them, she remembers why when Jeyne calls after her, “Lady Stark told me to tell you that the seamstress will be wanting you in a little while, Aly!” as she passes by them, leaving her cloak with the bundles of clothes and shoes in the moss. Aly waves in greeting, then ties up her skirt so she can more easily crouch down at the edge of the other end of one of the warm pools, and skims her fingers through the water, washing off any trace of the crypts and the dead, in her mind. Then she wrestles off her boots and stockings, and plunges in her legs up to her mid-calfs as well, swirling her feet around for a few minutes, wishing it was even hotter. She takes all her baths scalding, to the occasional concern of her maids.

Then she pushes herself up back up onto her bare feet with a groan, and goes dripping water and dodging sticks and stones into the grove of weirwood trees, her path set on the massive heart tree at the center of them all. The sounds of children laughing and playing dies away, as does the birdsong and even the occasional stir of the breeze, until all is silent and still. The air feels heavier, somehow, and she unties her skirts and tries to adopt a more reverent demeanor as she approaches the tree the face in the white bark.

Unlike the crypts and the marble statues below, she never feels quite so uneasy around the heart tree. Like Sansa she loves the tales of the Seven and the beautiful wooden masks in the Broken Tower, has visited the sept at White Harbor and gazed up in awe at the stained glass windows and the hanging crystals, but this is a different sort of appreciation. She feels as though nothing could ever hurt her here. It feels safe for her, and dangerous for interlopers. Like the old gods are watching and waiting, protecting her.

Like Father is here.

She sits down amidst the gnarled roots, crosses her legs underneath her, and tries to tell him about her day. She tells him about what they had for breakfast and the ride she went on with Mother in the wolfswood, and the fox they saw, drinking from a stream. She tells him about her lessons with septa, how she and Sansa are going to have a poetry competition, and Beron, who is secretly trying to read more poetry so that the princess will think him cultured, is going to judge it, but Arya says they’re not allowed to write about love, which made Sansa flick a quill at her-

She tells him about Uncle Ned coming back from his visit to Moat Cailin to see Uncle Ben and Aunt Jonelle and the new baby, Lyarra, and she tells him once again about the crannogmen who are supposed to arrive at Winterfell tonight. She tells him about her needlework and how she is going to add more things to her bridal trunk, and she tells him once again about how handsome she thinks Smalljon Umber is, wild hair or not. She does not mention Theon and her fear of the dark crypts and her fear of a future where she is sent South to wed some stranger, and they all forget about her-

But that won’t happen. Mother would never let that happen. Aly does not know much about her lady mother’s first marriage, when they still called her queen, to her own brother, but when she was young and first took notice of the scars on her mother’s chest and back and legs, and asked after them, she remembers how Mother took her hand and kissed it and said, “A monster, but he’s long dead now, my love.” Aly did not realize she was speaking about Aerys Targaryen until a year later. She hopes he suffered horribly. She cannot imagine anyone even wanting to hurt Mother- Mother is kind and good and gentle but very strong, and Aly still thinks her the most beautiful woman she has ever known, even if she calls herself old and grey now. Mother is not grey, but her face is lined and her hair is white as snow. People still look after her wherever she goes, and sometimes murmur, “Your Grace”, although she carries on as if she has not heard it.

Having run out of things to say, she just sits in silence now, and tries to recall once more the sound of Father’s voice. It has only been three years since he passed, but she worries she is forgetting it more and more with each day. Rickard Stark was past fifty when he died, an old enough age for most men, but there are many who have lived far longer. Her father died on a hunt with her; his heart gave out for no reason at all beyond chance and age, Maester Luwin said. Aly had ridden ahead, and heard him calling for her one moment, then just the barking of the dogs the next. When she turned her horse back, he was slumped over in the saddle, and gone by the time the guards got to them.

Sometimes she worries he was angry with her when he died, for not coming quicker, but she tries to tell herself that isn’t true. He loved her. She may have been just ten, but she knew he loved her. Knows he loved her. She was the very last of his children, but she never felt any lesser in his eyes for coming from a second marriage, a second wife, a southern wife. He taught her how to ride a horse, he lifted her up so she could climb into the lemon tree in the glass house, he held a small feast for her name day each year, and it was he who called her Aly first.

Father was never a soft man or a kindly man but she remembers his face and his beard and what it felt like to sit on his lap and be held by him, and how she would find him and Mother sitting here in the godswood sometimes, together in comfortable silence, and she remembers they had summer snow the day he died, how it dusted down across her hair as she held onto him and cried. The next morning it had melted, but that night, when all of Winterfell sat up in silent vigil, crowded into the godswood and within the halls, candles and lanterns in hand, they had been bathed in gleaming white.

“I thought I might find you here.”

Aly glances up, startled, to see Mother smiling down at her. She blinks and then laughs, the sway of the heart tree broken as she clambers to her feet. “But you checked the glass gardens first.”

“I did,” Mother acknowledges, taking her arm fondly, and pressing a kiss to her hair, “expecting to find you asleep under a lemon tree with a book in your lap, my dreamy girl.”

“I like the smell of them,” Aly comments as they leave the weirwoods behind and turn back towards the hot springs. “The lemons, I mean- don’t you think they smell like the sea?”

“The sea?” Mother is bemused; she can tell by the gleam in her soft violet eyes, the eyes they share. “Alysanne, you’ve only been to White Harbor twice in your life. What do you know of the sea?”

“I’ve read about it,” Aly says, as she gives up on her stockings and shoves her feet back into her boots instead. She’ll be changing soon anyways, it hardly matters. “I should like to go sailing someday, wouldn’t you, Mother? Theon says when you stand on a ship, it feels a bit like a horse or wheelhouse, only it’s not just side to side-,”

Mother’s amused smile vanishes at the mention of Greyjoy. “Theon has not been to sea in many years.”

Theon had not been anywhere in many years, not since his father raised the Iron Isles in rebellion against the queen and the young prince, a brief war that lasted under a year before they were crushed and forced to submit once more to the Iron Throne. Aly has no memory of it; it happened when she was just a toddling babe. But when Father and Uncle Ned came back, they brought Theon with them as a ward. Theon will not go home again until his Father dies, Beron once told her. She cannot imagine what that must feel like, and as much as she can dislike him, she thinks that if she were in his position, she might not be very pleasant either.

“I know,” she says now, waving goodbye to the children playing as they go. “He only plays at being Ironborn in brothels, that’s what Cregan told me-,”

“Cregan is a child who should be nowhere near a brothel,” Mother lowers her voice in disapproval as they leave the godswood, “and I have half a mind to send him back to Moat Cailin. He came here to learn with his cousins, not to follow around Greyjoy like a lost puppy.”

Aly decides not to mention the nasty jape in the crypts, in that case. Cregan can be thoughtless and insufferable, but he is still her friend, far more than Theon ever was. And Beron and him have always gotten on so well; she feels badly for Beron, sometimes- his closest brother is Bran, who is sweet, but only seven. Certainly not old enough to go out riding and hunting or sparring with the older boys. Namely, his chief pastimes are climbing and wrestling around with Arya like a pair of wildlings.

“Have you ever been out to sea?” she asks Mother as they make their way through the bustling castle, up a flight of winding stairs.

“Only to and from Dragonstone,” Mother says shortly, without offering any more detail. She doesn’t like speaking of her life before Winterfell; not where she went or what she saw or what it was like to live at the Red Keep. Sometimes she will tell Aly about Rhaegar and Viserys, but the former very seldom, and the latter, Aly feels, not often enough. She knows it pains Mother that her half-brother has not visited her since he came of age, but Aly has only met the boy- man, now- once, when she was ten, before Father died. They were being hosted at Riverrun by Aunt Cat’s father, Lord Hoster. Viserys hated her. He was perfectly courteous and polite to them all, but after the feast, when she was supposed to be abed, and was instead roaming the darkened halls with Arya, exploring-

“She is not my sister,” he’d snapped at Mother, as they stood in a remote alcove, arguing in hushed voices. “Purple eyes and a few strands of silver do not make her a Targaryen.”

“Of course she’s not,” Mother had replied earnestly, “she is a Stark, like her father, but she is still your sister, Viserys, your kin-,”

“A Stark is no kin of mine,” he’d retorted furiously. “No more than a wolf is kin to a dragon. Some little whelp that he forced on you as a replacement for his whore daughter-,”

She’d heard Mother inhale sharply in shock or horror, but before she could make out her mother’s response, Uncle Ned had found them and ushered her and Arya back to bed. Arya had been only five, too young to grasp what was being said, but Aly had been reduced to the point of tears for the rest of the night. It was a lie. Of course it was a lie. It couldn’t be true, she’d assured herself. He was just saying it to be cruel to Mother, angry with her for marrying Father, for having to leave him.

But the fact remains that she is not her father’s only daughter.

They’ve finally reached Sansa’s bedchamber, where her niece-cousin stands perfectly still, an expectant little smile on her face. The seamstress and her assistant crouch down beside her, adjusting the hem of Sansa’s new gown. They are all supposed to have new clothes in preparation for a trip south. In a month’s time Aegon Targaryen’s regency will have ended upon his sixteenth nameday, he will wed Margaery Tyrell, and Princess Rhaenys will join the Starks at Riverrun after her brother’s name day tourney, official coronation, and wedding, in preparation for a second and final trip north to prepare for her own wedding and life as Beron’s lady wife.

Aly has met Rhaenys before; they all have. The princess stayed at Winterfell for just over two years, leaving just before her fifteenth name day. Now she is seventeen, and by this time next year she and Beron will be wed. The idea of Beron, Beron who is like a brother to her, irritating and kind in equal measures, being wed and perhaps siring sons on a Targaryen princess is almost absurd, in her mind. The last time Beron and Rhaenys stood together, she towered over him, and never hesitated to let anyone know it.

Aly is doubtful that it will ever be the sort of true love the singers recount, but at the very least it should be an interesting marriage to witness.

“Finished, my lady,” the seamstress says, standing with a tired sigh. Sansa thanks her politely- Sansa is always so polite, it makes Aly a bit self conscious, to be outshone in manners by a girl of not yet eleven. But Sansa and her share a love of sweet things and singers and stories, just as she and Arya share a love of horses and exploring and being out of doors. She has never had to wish for sisters, because she has them, and she would never wish to be parted from them. She knows she should be wishing for a strong lordling to wed, but Aly does not see anything wrong with life continuing here as it always has, peaceful and contented and together, all of them.

“Arya, please stop rolling about on the bed,” Catelyn is saying with a note of amusement, although she has pressed her lips together in an attempt to not smile. “It’s your turn for your fitting.”

“I don’t need any more gowns,” Arya grumbles, although she rolls off the bed and reluctantly pads over to the footstool, stepping up onto and pulling a face at Sansa, who is doing a far worse job than her lady mother of masking her giggles. “I have plenty.”

“You are growing like a weed,” Mother says, ruffling Arya’s hair, which hangs long and straight like Aly’s, although hers is a lighter shade of brown. “We would not want you running about in skirts that only come to your knees, sweetling.”

Arya shoots Aly a desperate look, as if she is about to be subjected to the cruelest of tortures, as the seamstress begins to adjust fabric and pin things in place with needles. Aly cannot help but grin back a little, and Arya sticks her tongue out at her. “Why can’t Aly go before me? She likes dresses,” she complains.

She’s right; Aly does like dresses. She enjoys fashion as much as Sansa and Jeyne Poole, loves to admire different colors and fabrics, likes to hear tales of gaudy court fashions and all sorts of frivolities that perhaps a Stark should not be terribly intrigued by. It does not mean she wants to spend her life sitting still and simply looking beautiful and pristine, either. There’s far too much to do and too much to see to waste a life like that.

Arya fidgets and squirms so much that it takes twice as long for her. Aly whiles the time away by watching Sansa practice her letters at her small writing desk; she has the neatest handwriting of all of them, and there is something mesmerizing about the way she delicately forms each letter, the ink gliding across the parchment. Arya, despite her young age, has them both well beat when it comes to sums, but Aly has always been more interested in history, anyways. She loves it, even if their lessons always seem to conveniently end with the Summerhall disaster.

Were she a boy, Aly thinks she would beg permission to study in Oldtown to become a maester. It seems wonderfully exciting to know so much about everything in the world around them. But women aren’t allowed at the Citadel. She doesn’t know why. Or, she does, but the explanations have never really sufficed. Dorne allows women to come before their brothers and inherit. And have they not been ruled by a queen regent and her council, even if said council is full of men? Why shouldn’t a woman be allowed to study and train in the arts of astronomy and healing and architecture? She knows many clever women, both high and lowborn. She has resolved that she will never, ever, wed a lord who does not have a library. He could be the most handsome boy in all of Westeros and if he despised reading, she would scorn him. It seems a horrible waste of an opportunity.

When Arya is finally done, she jumps down from the stool with a relieved sigh, and throws herself back onto the bed. Sansa glances over, and blanches, dripping ink all over her beautiful letters. “Don’t put your dirty feet on my bed!”

“They’re not any dirtier than yours!”

“Yes, they are, and I know you spent all morning mucking about in the stables watching them shoe a horse! Mother, make her-,”

“You’re a rat, always telling on me-,”

“You come into MY room covered in dirt, and then-,”

Aly carefully navigates around the shouting match as Catelyn steps between her bickering daughters; Arya appears to be removing a shoe to fling at Sansa, who is working very hard to both shout down her younger sister and clean up the spilt ink at the same time; and takes her place before the seamstress. Her new dress is going to be pale blue, to bring out her eyes. She would protest, but as a rule she generally prefers cooler colors. She patiently waits until they are finished with her, and then spends what remains of the afternoon practicing her dancing with Sansa and Jeyne, wishing Eddara Tallhart were here so she’d have someone to commiserate with- Aly enjoys music, and loves watching other people dance, but can’t say much for her own talent.

Finally the end of the day draws near, and they all make their way to the castle gates. It is not a visit from any of the more powerful lords, so there is perhaps less pressure for everyone to look their best, and, in the case of the little children, be on their very best behavior, but there is still a vague sense of- something- in the air. Aly isn’t sure what. Curiosity? She is very curious all the time, so it’s hardly any different, but she supposes it is special because Lyanna Stark has not been here since Father’s funeral. And she came alone then, riding through the gates on a borrowed with a sword strapped to her back.

All the tales Aly had heard of her then had described her half-sister as beautiful, that her beauty was her curse, that it had been what allured Rhaegar and plunged Robert into rebellion, but she was not beautiful then. She’d had dark shadows under her eyes and a hollowness to her face, and she had only stayed three short days to mourn, leaving at dawn without any goodbyes. To return to her mudman lord, the servants had whispered. The only man who would have her after her disgrace. That was likely a lie- Aly had heard she’d had offers, eventually, from a Manderly, a Bolton, an Umber- but when wild and wanton Lyanna had wed, it had been to a Fenn of Lilyfen, brother to Howland Reed’s wife, Jyanna.

When Lyanna Stark had at last come home with a bastard babe she called Ben Snow, despite his birth in the Crownlands, she’d been taken to Greywater Watch, not Winterfell, ostensibly to be of help to Reed’s sickly wife and because her lord father would not have her or her dragonseed son in his household again. But those were all rumors, and they claimed that in time Lyanna had grown gills and webbed fingers and fallen under the sway of Wyl Fenn, who is supposedly small as a dwarf but whose bronze knives weep poisoned tears. The same rumors also claimed he has a forked tongue and is half witch on his mother’s side, which Aly has always been doubtful of.

“I heard she had another child,” Beron tells her amiably as she steps up beside him, watching the gates grind open. “A girl. As if we don’t have enough of them around here already.” He smiles at his own jape as Aly rolls her eyes.

“I heard the Reeds might be coming up after them,” she retorts. “Speaking of girls.”

The last time she’d seen Beron in the presence of Meera Reed, he’d been uncharacteristically quiet, and not just red-of-hair.

“I don’t know what you’re implying,” he mutters under his breath, adopting his lofty lord’s tone, as Theon smirks, having overheard her jibe, and Cregan shifts restlessly from foot to foot in front of them. Bran is trying to see, craning his neck, and Arya crouches down to let him clamber onto her back, despite the fact that she’s not that much bigger than him. They teeter and nearly fall over into Sansa, who looks appalled at this display when guests are arriving, but then Aly’s gaze is pulled away-

Wyl Fenn has seldom ridden before, that’s clear enough, by the slight awkwardness as he dismounts. In contrast, his wife swings out of the saddle with ease, and standing together on the ground, it becomes clear that he is not a dwarf, nor is he especially tall for a crannogmen. Lord Fenn may be an inch shorter than his wife, in fact, but he doesn’t act like it, stepping forward and dropping to one knee before Ned and Catelyn. Lyanna bows briefly; she is dressed like a man, although not carrying a sword at the moment, as far as Aly can tell. Rather she’s holding a small girl in her arms; she sets the child down, who is perhaps six or seven, and then embraces her older brother soundly.

“It’s good to see you, sister,” Ned is saying warmly, and Lyanna is murmuring something in response, a tight, wary smile in place under the eyes of the household.

Fenn is saying something to the little girl, and Aly catches her name- Raya- before the third rider finally dismounts. He is taller than Lyanna and taller than Wyl Fenn and then she realizes, to her embarrassment, that this must be Ben Snow. She hadn’t been sure whether they’d bring him. When people spoke of Rhaegar the Ruined’s bastard boy, she had been expecting someone pale of hair and eyes, perhaps sullenly delicate, clad in finery. She has no idea why; it’s not as if he were raised at court or as some fine knight’s squire. The boy is not pale of hair, nor is he particularly delicate. He is tall and lean, and grim-faced, with a shock of dark brown, almost black hair that he pushes out of his eyes now with a gloved hand. He seems older than fourteen, older than Beron, and as he glances up and looks around the yard, around the ancient walls of Winterfell, she feels something strange clench in her stomach.

She is not sure if it is nervousness or dread or anticipation. Why should she care about some natural son of a dead king? He’s likely bound for the Wall within the next few years; what else is there for him? They will never let him marry anyone especially rich or powerful. But it feels odd. He feels odd. As he comes forward she realizes it is the same feeling she always has in the crypts. She’s afraid, not of him but of something else, and she isn’t sure what. He’s at his mother’s elbow now, taking his sister’s arm and nodding at something Fenn tells him, and then gives a brief smile when little Raya looks up at him, eyes wide-

“Come and meet the Fenns, children,” Catelyn is saying, and Mother’s hand is on her shoulder, and Alysanne Stark stands face to face with Ben Snow, and their eyes meet, and they both almost grimace, him at the Targaryen violet of hers, her at the Stark grey in his, the grey she’s always longed for. She recovers quickly enough to smile politely, wondering if she ought to curtsy- he is a bastard but a highborn one- and he gives a short little bow, muttering, “My lady.”

“Welcome to Winterfell, Master Snow,” she tells him, and the look he gives her seems to be trying to determine whether or not she is lying through her teeth. In truth, Aly is trying to determine the same thing.

Chapter Text

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.