Margaery had always dreamed of being Queen, though whether the dream was her father’s or her grandmother’s or her own originally, she could not say. When she was a girl, it had seemed the only logical ambition for the beautiful young daughter of one of the wealthiest Lords Paramount in the Realm. Any other marriage would have been a lateral move – respectable, but hardly likely to strengthen her family’s power bloc after the blow dealt to the Tyrells by Robert’s Rebellion.
At first, it had been innocent enough. She had dreamed of wearing the most beautiful gowns and a jewel-encrusted crown, sitting beside a handsome young King and filling the halls of the Red Keep with lovely children. Later, as she had come to better understand politics and government, becoming Queen had seemed the natural extension of her charitable efforts to improve the conditions of the smallfolk.
Margaery knew that her charity was often perceived in King’s Landing as an affectation, but she had come by it honestly. Once, when she was about nine or ten, she had visited Oldtown with her family and witnessed urchins begging in the streets. As a kind child, her first instinct had been to plead with her mother for coins to throw to them. Before that trip to Oldtown, Margaery had known only peace and plenty; realizing that there were others who suffered deprivation had stung her heart, and she wished fervently to help the less fortunate once she learned of their plight. At the Starry Sept, she had asked the regal Septon how to save the poor children outside the Sept’s doors, and he had counselled her to speak to the Septon of Highgarden about charitable projects she might pursue at home.
Taking the Septon at his word, Margaery had indeed embarked on charitable endeavors when she returned to Highgarden. Even when Septon Triston replaced the elderly Septon of her childhood, she remained devoted to these projects, which had only grown over the years. Her parents had encouraged her interest in helping others, and their support had strengthened her resolve whenever she tired of the hard work. True, her parents had condoned this hobby because it earned the affections of the smallfolk for the ruling family of the Reach, but it was not so cynical as everyone assumed.
My generosity only appears false because the Lannisters are so miserly, Margaery would think quietly to help herself preserve her pleasant manner, when courtiers smiled snidely or mocked her charitable efforts. It is possible to do good while also benefitting one’s political interests. Only the selfish assume the two must be opposed.
In time, as she grew wiser to the ways of the world, Margaery’s interest in charity had become a zeal for politics and governance. After all, what better way to improve the lives of the people than seeking a position of power and influence, from which she might effect reforms? She had studied the reigns of the great Kings and Queens of Westeros, seeking to learn from the example of Jaehaerys and Alysanne, as well as rulers in far-off places in Essos. Under the tutelage of her mother, her grandmother, and her eldest brother, Margaery had learned how to play the courtly games of the ladies and the game of thrones, as well as learning how to manage a household and a Kingdom. All of her life had led up to this moment when she became the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
But now that she was in the thick of it, Margaery had begun to doubt herself. King’s Landing was nothing like she expected, and her marriages to three Kings had not ensured her access even to small council meetings. To her dismay, rather than a confidant and partner, she had been treated as an ornament. No one wanted a woman’s advice on how to maximize the harvest or ensure the conditions of the smallfolk did not deteriorate to the point that banditry and rebellion appeared a more attractive option than abiding the law and the noble structures of authority ordained by the gods.
Worse, Queen Cersei had perceived the younger Queen as a threat from Margaery’s first day in the Red Keep. Though Margaery had tried to befriend her goodmother as best she knew how, and though she had deployed every manipulation in her mother’s repertoire, Taena reported that the Queen Regent remained firm in her commitment to destroying Margaery. I wanted to get along with her, Margaery often lamented to her ladies. But she has made it utterly impossible.
There was still some hope that Margaery might wield meaningful power once Tommen was older. The boy seemed to listen to her opinions, and though he lacked awareness of the realm’s affairs, his instincts were righteous and kind. When he reached majority, it would not be so difficult to persuade him to appoint her to his small council, if only in an advisory role. Once they had a son, perhaps, Margaery might convince the boy-King to send his mother away. If not, mayhaps Grandmother Olenna might be persuaded to make another visit to King’s Landing, to fix the Cersei problem once and for all.
Better to win friends than enemies, but if you face an isolated enemy who cannot be won over despite your best efforts, someone who stands in your way at every turn and will not make common cause at any price, it is best to have done with it and poison them, Olenna had once advised Margaery. At the time, the aspiring Queen had found Olenna’s advice cruel and underhanded, and she had argued with her grandmother, telling her that poisoning people was murder – a sin in the eyes of the Seven!
But now that Margaery understood the nature of the people governing the realm, she found her views had changed. Gods forgive her, but sometimes there was not a kinder, more virtuous way. Some people simply could not be reasoned with, or bought off, or otherwise manipulated. When Kings and Queens held such power over the lives of the nobility and the smallfolk, there was little recourse besides removing a rotten King or Queen from the board. Such had been the case with Joffrey, and now, it seemed, with Cersei.
Sometimes, Margaery wondered why the gods had elected the Lannisters to rule the Westerlands. She knew what Willas would say; he claimed the gods had naught to do with the affairs of men, that they were better understood as builders who made the world and observed it from afar, but that was heresy. The gods must have had some purpose in Lann the Clever's rise, only the Lannisters had strayed from that purpose. It was this reasoning that allowed her to reconcile her faith with regicide.
Even so, Tommen could still be salvaged, Margaery thought. At least, that is what she was thinking before she read Willas’s letter.
Margaery was having tea in the gardens with her ladies, while Tommen played with his cats in the grass beside them, when Maester Pycelle brought the scroll to her. Thanking him and bidding him a warm good-day, she tore it open immediately after he was gone. The note was simple:
Dearest sister, Queen Margaery,
I regret to inform you that our Grandmother Olenna has passed away. Maester Lomys said she died peacefully in her sleep, from a bad heart. Please return to Highgarden at once, to attend her funeral.
With all my love and a heavy heart,
For a moment, Margaery’s heart stopped. Grandmother had been so healthy, just a few moons ago! Had the travels put an unnecessary strain on her heart? Tears leapt to her eyes and guilt wound its thorny vines around her heart, but Margaery forced herself to control her emotions, biting back her sorrow. Then she noticed that the letter’s decorative border was wrought of random calligraphied letters, and she allowed herself to breathe again. Perhaps it isn’t true, she speculated. Perhaps this is only a cover story. Making excuses to her ladies and her husband, Margaery forced herself to glide gracefully back to her rooms, though in truth she wished to run.
Once inside, Margaery pulled a book from her shelves, and quickly began to translate the message. When she had decoded it, the message read:
Grandmother is alive and well. The dragons return to claim the throne. Get out of the city at once, by any means necessary.
The relief she felt at the first sentence turned to terror by the time she read the next two. Eyes fixed to the page, Margaery thought quickly. What should be my next move? How am I to get out of the city? Loras and Father have left me alone here, damn them. I cannot go to the Lannisters for help. Who else can I trust? The answer came to her almost immediately. Her cousins, the Redwyne twins. They still lingered in King’s Landing.
Still trying to cultivate an air of grace and gentle courtesy, Margaery began to search for her cousins, while appearing to be doing nothing of the sort. She stopped to chat with noble lords and ladies along the way, joking with the Blue Bard and complimenting Lady Tanda on her new dress, all the while keeping her sharp green eyes open for her cousins’ whereabouts. When she finally spotted them, Margaery joined their conversation, and then ushered them away under the pretense that she had received news of a death in the family.
Once she had the twins alone, Margaery showed them the papers with Willas’s letter and the decoded secret message. Hobber began to read aloud, but Margaery cut him off after the first word crossed his lips.
“Hush! There are little birds everywhere in the Red Keep,” she scolded him. Margaery watched the twins’ faces as they read the message, noting with concern that they did not seem terribly surprised.
“Oh, that,” said Horas dismissively, when he was finished reading. “Father already wrote me with that news. It is nothing to worry about.”
“Right,” agreed Hobber. “Willas is just being paranoid.”
“Then why haven’t I received a message from mine own father?” Margaery demanded.
Horas and Hobber both shrugged. “Mayhaps the raven got lost,” offered Hobber.
Maybe Cersei withheld Father’s letter from me, and she only let this one through because it said my Grandmother was dead and she wished to hurt me, Margaery thought. That appeared to be Cersei’s reason for passing on the lie about Loras suffering terrible burns on Dragonstone. Thank the gods Willas is smart enough to design a cover story that can make it past Cersei’s hatred-blinded gaze.
“Our father says that our families have…erm…acceded to the beasts’ demands, and they have negotiated to ensure our safety when they arrive,” Horas commented awkwardly, trying to communicate without saying anything specific enough that it could be overheard and understood.
So Father and Uncle Paxter have bent the knee? Margaery was puzzled. Why would Queen Cersei allow that message to reach the Twins? Mayhaps she is stupider than I thought, and either did not recognize the significance of the news or did not realize the twins are related to the Tyrells. Or mayhaps Paxter is cleverer than Father, and worded his message in such a way that its meaning was obvious to the twins but not to Pycelle.
Margaery looked at her cousins skeptically. “That is all fine for you, I suppose, but forgive me if I am not so sanguine,” she remarked. “Do you have a ship in the harbor that I might…charter, to take me home to Grandmother’s funeral?”
“Nay,” said Hobber. “Father and Loras took them all.”
“That is surely why he asked us to remain,” explained Horas. “It is not as if we could do otherwise.”
“But surely there must be something you can do, to help me…get home for the funeral rites? You know how close I have always been with our grandmother, and my heart is broken. I simply must be there with my family,” Margaery pressed.
“I do not know why you are asking us,” replied Horas. “We have less money and power than you do. Why do you not simply ask the Queen-Regent to send you home?”
“That would not be wise,” answered Margaery, glaring at them. Why are my cousins such dullards? she wondered helplessly. Their sister is bright. Why are they so different than her, despite the same upbringing and an even more thorough education?
“Sorry we couldn’t help,” said Hobber, already making for the door. “I am sure you shall find a way, or if not, it shall be fine regardless. Father and Lord Mace send their love.”
Margaery fumed as her cousins departed, wondering what other options she possessed. It was a cruel irony to find herself draped in all the trappings of wealth and power, yet unable to book passage on a ship, as even a merchant’s daughter could easily do. She did not lack the coin, and surely her jewelry could be sold if she needed more than her small reserve of gold dragons, but the trouble was that she would be recognized anywhere she went. I suppose that is the downside of having the people’s love, she thought sadly. Mayhaps I could disguise myself? But that is risky, for if I am caught, it might give Cersei the excuse she has been waiting for, to declare that I am up to some plot…
Then an idea struck her, and Margaery smiled. Yes, of course…that might work…I must go find Megga.
Cersei was finally free of the men who had sought to restrain her power. As Queen Regent and the rightful Lady of Casterly Rock, her dictums could not be challenged. Unlike the kinslaying dwarf who defiled her castle or her beloved yet increasingly neglectful Jaime, Cersei knew that she was the true heir to her father’s legacy. Tyrion made mockery of their family, galivanting about with that Redwyne whore, and Jaime had proved too soft, too beholden to his boyish dreams of knightly honor. Kevan, too, had shown himself disloyal. In the vacuum left behind by their failures, she, Cersei, would rule the Seven Kingdoms with a gilded iron fist, just as Lord Tywin had done when he was Hand to King Aerys.
When word of Jaime’s truce with the deceitful Lady Sansa had reached King's Landing, Cersei had raged about the Red Keep, hurling chalices at serving girls and cutting down courtiers with her sharp tongue. As soon as she could determine who was in charge of the Lannister forces in the Riverlands, Cersei intended to retake Riverrun from the stinking fishes. Sansa is a traitor twice-over, and my brothers are too stupid to see it. She was born of barbaric Northern blood and Tully bottom-feeders, only to spread her legs for the Tyrell cripple. Thrice a traitor. She isn’t even that pretty. I do not fathom why I ever believed her to be the Younger Queen that Maggy the Frog proclaimed would be my downfall. With that hideous red hair, she could never be anything other than a scheming slut. It was clearly Margaery who was the threat, all along.
The Tyrells were the true threat, Cersei knew. Their pretty words and false generosity had fooled the court, but Cersei knew the truth. The Tyrells could not be trusted. Margaery was surely plotting with the dwarf and his Redwyne whore. At least that acid-tongued grandmother of theirs was dead. Without her, that buffoon, Mace Tyrell, could not plot his way out of a rucksack.
Cersei drained her glass of wine and rang for the servant girls to help her dress, only to discover that those incompetent fools had shrunk her new gowns, too. Why is it so hard to find good help in the capital? she wondered. I never had such problems at Casterly Rock. It seemed that even the threat of sending them to Qyburn was not enough to convince them to treat her gowns with care. Finally locating a gown that had not been damaged – a gift from Taena – Cersei let the servants dress her, scolding them for their carelessness all the while. When they were finished, she bid them bring her another bottle of wine, which she took with her to the small council meeting.
As Cersei settled in at the head of the table in the small council chambers, she thought about how pleased her father would have been to see her now. She was the shining image of the regal ruling Queen. Beautiful, brilliant, and ruthless in destroying her enemies. Any day now, she knew, her plot to use the Sparrows to bring down the Tyrells would come to fruition. It was only a matter of time before that slut Margaery gave into temptation and fucked the handsome Osney Kettleblack. No woman can resist his charms, thought Cersei proudly. After the Faith tried Margaery for her deviance, Osney could be sent to the Wall to deal with the Stark bastard, who had cruelly murdered the honorable Janos Slynt.
Unfortunately, it seemed, problems were piling up before her. Cersei had not realized that being Queen was such a difficult job. During that scoundrel Robert’s reign, it had not been so difficult being Queen. In part, that was because they shut her out of the halls of power, a situation she was pleased to have corrected with that clever plot with the boar and the strongwine. But it also seemed that everyone was out to get her in a way that they had not sought to bring down Robert. They cannot accept a ruling Queen, she thought angrily. Why do they not understand that I am a better man than my brothers, in my mind and heart, no matter what lies between my legs? Would that I had been the boy and Jaime the lady. I am my father’s true son. Why will the noble houses not fall in line?
There was no alternative. She would have to crush them all like bugs, as her father had done to the Reynes and Castameres. They would regret disrespecting her.
Finished with her first glass of wine (from this bottle, anyways), Cersei poured herself another as the council trickled in. The first to arrive was Maester Pycelle, then Qyburn, followed by Ser Harys Swift and Lord Orton Merryweather. The last to arrive was Lord Gyles, with his hideous coughing.
“Your Grace,” murmured Pycelle, the doddering old fool. “Urgent news…It seems…I have received word that…the siege of Storm’s End has been broken…by two Targaryens…dragonriders…who name themselves King Aegon IV and Queen Daenerys.”
“WHAT?” Cersei thundered. She did not even have to attempt to imitate her father’s battlefield voice; it came naturally to her. What is that old fool talking about? “The Targaryens are all dead!”
“Of course, your Grace,” replied Qyburn soothingly. “But these pretenders claim to be Aegon, Rhaegar’s son, and Daenerys, Rhaegar’s youngest sister.”
“The Mountain slew the boy Aegon in the siege, on my father’s orders,” Cersei protested.
Her councilors glanced at one another anxiously.
“Indeed,” replied Lord Merryweather, nodding vigorously. “A filthy lie!”
“But they do have dragons,” remarked Qyburn softly.
A jolt of terror struck Cersei at these words. My baby, she thought with increasing worry. I must keep Tommen safe. But how do I protect him from dragons?
“How do we fight dragons?” demanded Cersei.
The small council members exchanged looks again.
“Don’t just sit there looking at each other, answer me!” Cersei said, infuriated by their incompetence. “Doesn’t anyone know?”
“There might be a way,” offered Qyburn. “There is a device called a Scorpion. When I was at the Citadel, I learned that it was used to kill the dragon Meraxes, in Dorne.”
“Dorne,” scoffed Cersei. “Of course those sneaky poisoners knew how to kill dragons. You must build as many of these Scorpions as possible, and quickly.”
“If I may, your Grace?” asked Merryweather nervously.
“Yes, go ahead,” replied Cersei magnanimously.
“Will Scorpions be enough?” he wondered aloud.
“There is…another option…” murmured Pycelle. “During the Battle of the Blackwater…”
“That’s right,” said Cersei, tiring of the man’s stuttering speech. She wondered why she had not given him to Qyburn yet. She knew that he had helped cover up Joffrey’s death. “The kinslaying dwarf used some stupid chain to defend the city. I do not see how that would help with dragons.”
“Not…the chain…” said Pycelle. “The wildfire…”
Yes. Wildfire. The dwarf was a sinful little beast, but he was not stupid, she had to grudgingly admit. Wildfire had protected the city against Stannis, and her father had approved of it. Maybe I will keep Pycelle around a little longer, thought Cersei, feeling triumphant.
“Of course!” the Queen exclaimed with great enthusiasm. “Wildfire. I can’t believe I did not think of it first. Send for the Pyromancer’s Guild at once.”
He and Robert had developed an understanding over the years. Jalabhar would ask the King to invade the Summer Isles and restore him to his rightful place, and Robert would tell him ‘next year.’ It was always next year, never this year. But frankly, that suited Jalabhar just fine. He had made a home here in King’s Landing, and he no longer burned hot with rage. Robert’s continual ‘maybe’ allowed Jalabhar to stay at court without shaming himself, and Jalabhar’s continual asking allowed Robert to fantasize about once again taking up his great Warhammer and doing what he was best at: making war, not governing. He helped Robert relive his glory days as a younger and fitter man, while Robert helped Jalabhar keep the flame of hope alive, to believe that he might return home one day. Now that Paxter was getting serious about the invasion plans, Jalabhar would need to think of some way to stall.
It was not that he did not wish to return home; Jalabhar missed the Summer Isles deeply. Even now, after all these years of exile, he could picture the crystalline azure waters of his homeland. Each of the fifty islands was beautiful in its own distinctive way, but the place that Jalabhar missed most was the island of his birth, known as Jhala. One of the largest three islands, Jhala was lush and verdant despite its sizable population. It was one of the few places in the world where the famed goldenheart trees grew, from which the Summer Isles's acclaimed and highly effective bows were carved. He sorely wished he could return to reclaim the Red Flower Vale, the princedom that was his birthright, situated in the Eastern river valley of Jhala. It was paradise, the castle that he had foolishly lost in a war against his cousin from Jhala’s Western river valley, the princedom known as the Sweet Lotus Vale.
No man could forget the unspeakably gorgeous stone palace nestled amidst bright flowers with colorful birds flying overhead. He recalled the tropical forests, teeming with life. While playing in the jungle as a boy, Jalabhar had encountered fluffy spotted panther cubs, and brought them home to add to his family’s menagerie. Before his exile, Jalabhar had taken it all for granted – the luxurious spices and the chattering monkeys and the endless gems and metals mined from the coastal cliffs. Like it was yesterday, Jalabhar remembered his last glimpse of Jhala, from the port city of Ebonhead, the palms and goldenhearts swaying in the sea breeze as the ship carried him away forever. Though time had weakened the pain of leaving, and though he had created a whole new life here in Westeros, Jalabhar missed it still.
No, it was not his desire to return that was lacking. In fact, it was that very desire that warred in his heart against his reticence to bring true warfare to the islands. Though his people had fought valiantly in real wars against slavers and pirates, they did not truly war with one another. Instead, they maintained their indigenous tradition of ritualized warfare, which was more akin to a Westerosi tourney than the ugly, total war the Riverlands had witnessed during the War of the Five Kings. In the Summer Isles, ‘war’ meant a competition between teams of champions, both male and female, who were anointed by priests to compete in a melee with only slings and spears. Use of the goldenheart bow in such ‘wars’ was forbidden, because it was too powerful a weapon. The team that lost was condemned to exile, as Jalabhar had been, but it was rare that anyone would lose their life in such a contest, and even if they did, it would only be by accident. The point was to settle disputes, not to kill.
Thus, the notion of retaking his rightful seat presented a serious problem for Jalabhar: he could not win back the Red Flower Vale without returning as a foreign conquerer would, bringing total war from Westeros to the shores of his beloved islands. His people would never accept him back, believing the ritual war conclusive, and there was no way to change that short of destroying the homeland he wished to return to. For the residents of Jhala, or any of the Summer Islands, the justness of one’s claim was settled by the ritual war, as with trials by combat in Westeros. It mattered not that Jalabhar’s cousin had been the aggressor. Prince Jalabhar’s whole life had changed on that one, terrible day, when he lost the war.
Robert’s endless deferrals had allowed Jalabhar to dream of going home, without worrying that he would inaugurate the first genuine intra-island war in countless generations. Paxter, however, was a different man. He did not understand the conflict in Jalabhar’s heart, the way Robert had, without Jalabhar’s even needing to speak it aloud. His impending marriage to Megga, and the ships the Redwynes had promised him, revived an internal struggle that Jalabhar had thought he had let go of for once and all, many years ago.
Jalabhar was playing bocce by himself in the gardens when the Queen appeared, along with his betrothed and her other ladies. He was surprised to see them, as they had already visited the previous morning, for their language lessons. Megga, he would not have been so surprised to see, but the Queen herself was a rare visitor indeed. Even though it brought new problems into his life, Jalabhar’s chest puffed at the thought of his rising status in the world. I am truly a Prince, if I can count Queens among my friends, he thought proudly.
“Prince Jalabhar!” exclaimed the lovely Queen Margaery, her green eyes sparkling. “I had hoped to find you here!”
“It is a pleasure and an honor to receive a visit from her Grace,” Jalabhar said warmly, sweeping his glorious cloak of green and scarlet feathers to one side as he bowed elegantly to the beautiful young Queen.
“Well met, Prince Jalabhar!” chirped Megga Tyrell, smiling at her betrothed. Though she was still a bit young for Jalabhar’s tastes, the Prince believed his future bride would grow into a lovely young woman, and Lord Mace had been only too happy to allow for a long betrothal, much to Lady Megga’s dismay. In Westerosi eyes, Jalabhar knew, Margaery’s willowy shape was preferred to Megga’s ample figure, but Jalabhar was as pleased with Megga’s curvy frame as he was with her refreshingly forthright sensuality and her readily apparent desire to wed him. The Tyrells and Redwynes had chosen well, offering such a luscious fruit to tempt him into leading their navies to his homeland.
“Lady Megga!” Jalabhar replied with equal enthusiasm, kissing the back of Megga’s hand as she smiled and giggled. “I am a very lucky man, to receive this special visit from our lovely Queen and my bethrothed, who is – forgive me, your Grace – the most beautiful woman in the world.”
His wife-to-be swooned at this hyperbolic praise, grasping Alla Tyrell’s arm for support. “Isn’t he gallant?” Megga gushed.
“We are both honored to count you as a friend, Prince Jalabhar,” agreed Margaery.
“Is there aught I might do for you, your Grace, my ladies? Or is this a social call?” asked Jalabhar. Much as he enjoyed this fawning attention, he was an intelligent man, and he knew that Queens did not call upon exiled Princes for idle chatter.
“How sweet of you to ask,” said Margaery in a voice so treacly that Jalabhar began to wonder what he was getting himself into. “Now that you mention it, there is something you could do for us…”
“I am at your service, your Grace,” proclaimed Prince Jalabhar. Always with the plotting, these Reach ladies! he thought, stifling a chuckle. He wondered what it would be this time. A prank they wished to pull on a rival lady? A secret trip to Maester Pycelle to fetch illicit moon tea? An elaborate plan to strip the Queen Regent of her power?
“Can you help me find a ship whose captain will allow me to purchase not only passage to Highgarden, but also his silence?” asked Margaery.
Jalabhar blanched. This was no girlish prank and no small favor to ask.
Seeing his expression, Margaery tried to reassure him. “I need to leave King’s Landing and return home to Highgarden for my grandmother’s funeral,” Margaery explained, her fingers picking nervously at the beading on her skirts.
Prince Jalabhar did not believe that story for a second, but he assumed the Queen must be truly desperate if she was asking him for help, and the excuse could provide plausible deniability if he were caught assisting her escape. He searched Margaery’s face, noting the tension behind her outward smile. She is still just a girl, he thought. It appears she is in some kind of trouble. I should help her…it is a risk, that is true, but it might also prove an adventure. I could use some excitement in my life that doesn’t involve Paxter Redwyne.
“I have a friend,” said Jalabhar slowly, gazing cautiously at the Queen as he spoke. “Some might name him a pirate or a smuggler, but he calls himself a privateer these days. Admittedly, my friend’s reputation may not be pristine enough for such highborn ladies, but if it is truly urgent…”
“It is,” replied Margaery, speaking frankly at last. Still, Jalabhar hesitated, testing the waters further.
“My friend once served the false King Stannis,” Jalabhar admitted. “But he abandoned Stannis, because he could no longer pay the monies he promised. My friend serves the true King Tommen now, but his past is checkered. Would that be a problem?”
“I was once married to Renly,” Margaery reminded him. “Your friend’s previous loyalties are not a problem so long as he is a leal subject of King Tommen now. Do you trust him not to betray us?”
She must be truly desperate, Jalabhar thought, increasingly surprised by how this conversation was unfolding. To think, only moments ago, he had been practicing his bocce game and mooning over his memories of the Summer Isles!
“He will not betray you, so long as you have coin to pay,” replied Jalabhar. “He is honorable, to a point, but his business sense is too savvy for him to dance to the tune of promised gold that never materializes. Do you have coin to pay?” The Prince felt silly asking such a question of the Queen, a daughter of one of the richest families in Westeros, but he knew Salla would not help if she could not pay. He was finished with pauper-monarchs, and Jalabhar could not blame him, after his troubled alliance with Stannis Baratheon.
“Yes, ample coin,” Queen Margaery assured him, smiling brilliantly. “And if the coin we have in hand is not enough to book our passage, we have jewels, as well. I trust that shall suffice?”
“Perfect,” said Jalabhar, nodding. “When do you wish to leave?”
“As soon as possible,” said Margaery, her brow tensing slightly.
My, my, what sort of trouble has she gotten herself into? Jalabhar wondered. He hoped he would not hang for this.
“Very well, I shall go to find my friend at once, and inform you as soon as I know when he is able to set sail,” he replied, bowing again. “By your leave?”
When the dragons came, Cersei was sitting on the iron throne, her little boy cuddled in her lap. She was confident that the Scorpions and the wildfire would be enough to protect them from the dragons, but if not, she was prepared to take her own life as well as Tommen’s. I cannot let us suffer the fate of Elia and the real Aegon, she thought bitterly.
But surely, their weapons would be enough, and it would not come to that.
Cersei leaned back, only to feel a sharpness in her side. This damnable throne, she thought, touching the spot where the sword had cut her. It wasn’t deep. There was nothing to worry about. She took another sip of wine and stroked little Tommen’s head, offering words of reassurance.
Gazing out the high windows, their view of the city visible only from the throne itself, Cersei watched with fascination as the dragons appeared and began to burn their soldiers in the streets. She watched as the dragons dodged the Scorpion bolts. Once, it looked as if her men succeeded in striking one of the beasts in its side, but the bolt bounced harmlessly off its armored scales. The usually fearless Queen suddenly began to feel afraid.
“Mommy?” whispered Tommen, staring at the scaly beasts, eyes wide with horror.
“It’s all right, Tommen,” she whispered. As the dragons drew closer, wreaking havoc everywhere they went, Cersei poured a little vial into her wine and offered the cup to Tommen. “Drink this, it shall make you feel better. Nobody will be able to hurt you anymore.”
The boy did as he was bid, and Cersei drained the cup after he had drank a few sips. She judged that would be enough. Choking, Tommen’s little hands clutched at his mother’s throat, and she felt herself slipping away. Just before she lost consciousness, the boy went limp in her arms. Her last sensation was a sequence of loud explosions and a searing heat.
Until this moment, Daenerys had been proud of her military prowess, imagining herself as Queen Visenya come again. Drogon had dodged the Scorpion bolts expertly, and Aegon had kept Rhaegal a safe distance away from the infernal devices. Between the two of them, they had made short work of the city guardsmen and the pathetically small army gathered in the streets below, and they were well on their way to taking the city with dragons alone. After Storm’s End and Dragonstone had been taken with few lives lost, Daenerys had thought they might take King’s Landing without losing a single one of their own men.
From atop her dragon, Daenerys Targaryen looked on in horror as King’s Landing exploded into green flames beneath her. She tried to catch a glimpse of Aegon, circling high above. Even through her armor, she could feel the heat rising from the city as the caches of wildfire exploded, all throughout the city. There is nothing I can do, she thought with sadness.
“Up,” she said to Drogon, flying them safely out of reach of the destruction below.
Margaery did not breathe easily until the ship began to pull away from the dock, but once they reached the open ocean, a sense of pride began to bubble up within her. I did this all on my own, she thought. I had few friends and few resources, and I managed to escape King’s Landing. She could not have done it without Jalabhar’s help, of course. Without his cunning and his chivalrous willingness to aid them, she would have remained stuck in King’s Landing for gods only knew how long. I shall owe him much, much more than the gold I gave to Salladhor Saan.
Salladhor Saan, the captain of the Valyrian, had proved to be a very interesting person. When they boarded his galleas, Margaery had not known quite what to make of the charming sellsail. He was strikingly handsome, with white hair and blue eyes and nut-brown skin, reflecting his mixed Lysene and Summer Islander heritage, though he was quick to note that the Saan family traced their roots to the forty dragonlord families of Old Valyria. He introduced himself as a law-abiding privateer and styled himself a Prince of the Narrow Sea. In time, his wonderful stories about his past adventures made it clear that he had also been a pirate, a smuggler, a banker, a trader, and an admiral in “King” Stannis’s navy. Salladhor’s ancestor, Samarro Saan, known as the Last Valyrian, had been a member of the Band of Nine against whom most Westerosi families had fought during the War of the Ninepenny Kings.
But though Margaery found herself utterly charmed by Salladhor Saan, it was another passenger on his ship that she found most intriguing of all.
It was not until several days into their voyage that Margaery encountered him, but when she finally spotted him, she was unable to suppress her gasp. She was so surprised that the words flew out before she could think better of speaking.
“Renly?” Margaery cried, grabbing the boy’s shoulder.
The boy – or perhaps man, for he was surely on the cusp of manhood, with those broad shoulders – whirled around. Looking upon his face, Margaery realized that it was not Renly, though the boy was his spitting image.
“Not Renly,” the boy said sheepishly. “I’m Edric Storm.”
Edric Storm. King Robert’s bastard son, gotten on Delena Florent in Stannis and Selyse’s wedding bed. Margaery’s mind whirred, as she began to consider the possibilities.
“Pleased to meet you, Edric,” replied Margaery, flashing him a brilliant smile. “My name is Margaery Tyrell.”