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Joanna fought back a high, hysterical laugh. They're so little, too little—they're just babies, they're her babies. They are far, far too young for any of this.

They're only children, only curious, it didn't mean anything, she tried telling herself, but she was not so easily fooled. She knew her children. If that had not meant anything, the way they had clung to each other afterward had.

She had a sudden and vivid memory of being a girl in Lannisport again, sitting on the floor with a litter of kittens. There had been four in the litter: three girls and one boy. She and her siblings had been warned that the kittens needed to be separated when they were four months old. When they had done so, the females did not seem to notice their brother's absence, but he had missed them terribly. He was barely more than a baby, so small and all alone, mewing so plaintively—and they had not had the heart to enforce it.

"They won't," she and her siblings had assured each other.

"They're just babies."

"It will be fine," they told one another.

"Don't worry so much."

Joanna remembered one of the kittens, only six months old, belly swollen with kittens of her own. She thought then of her daughter, and that was when the nausea hit her, bending her over as her stomach emptied itself.

Joanna had been sick so often during this pregnancy that she managed to hold her hair back and keep her skirts clean as she did so. What a terrible thing to be practiced at.

When it was over, she steadied herself against the wall, pressing her forehead against the cool stone to calm herself, and letting her heart rate slow.

With the kittens, they had trusted to luck, dismissed the risk. She had learned her lesson then, and would not do so again.

 


 

Still feeling somewhat numb, not fully in her body—like the time she'd fallen from her horse and had the wind knocked out of her—Joanna slowly made her way down the now-silent corridor. She stopped first in front of her daughter's door and knocked lightly. "Cersei?" she called.

There was a split-second of silence before shouting erupted from behind the door. "Let me out! Let me out! Where's Jaime?! Where is he?!"

Joanna winced. "Jaime is in his room," she replied evenly. "We'll talk later, when you're not shouting."

Bracing her heart, she turned to go, her daughter still raging and screaming beyond the door.

 


 

Joanna rapt on her son's door. "Jaime?"

"Mother?" He sounded so young; once again a baby saying his first word.

"Can I come in?" After a moment with no protest, she turned the key in the lock and opened the door.

"Where's Cersei?" was his first question.

Joanna took a seat on the bed beside the boy before answering. Sitting side-by-side was easier; this way they did not have to meet each other's eyes. "Your sister is in her room."

"Can I see her?"

"Not right now."

He was silent after that.

"Jaime, you understand you should not have been doing what you were doing," she began.

"We were just playing, Mother!"

"Even playing," she insisted, "you must never do that."

He did not reply.

"You must never let anyone but your wife touch you there, Jaime." Internally Joanna cringed; she sounded like her childhood septa. But what other words were there? How else could she explain such a thing to a child? This was what septas told girls, she knew, not boys—but perhaps boys ought to be told that as well. If they were, perhaps there would be fewer bastard children in the world.

Jaime finally dared a glance at his mother. "I have to let my wife touch me there?"

Stranger, take me and spare me from this conversation.

"Your father and I will find you a good match," she promised. "Your bride will be a lovely girl, someone worthy of you."

"I don't want my wife to touch me there." He stared up at his mother, a green boy with green eyes full of trepidation.

Joanna had not been young herself so long ago, and she had not forgotten. Imaging her future husband had always been a tremulous thing. At best the thought had been accompanied by excitement, but never had it been without fear. Why had she never realized that it would be no different for men? Or at least, that it would be no different for boys, before such anxieties were crudely buried under bravado.

"I don't want my wife to touch me there," Jaime repeated.

I understand, sweetling.

"I don't want anyone else touching me there," he insisted. The ‘else’ hung agonisingly in the air.

I think I understand, sweetling. When Joanna's wedding day came, and standing across from her was no half-stranger but a known and trusted childhood companion, who cloaked her in the colors of her own house, whose vow of protection truly made her feel safe, there had been nothing to do but laugh in elation and relief.

"Your bride will be a lovely girl," Joanna repeated, as if from behind a mask. "Someone worthy of you."

Her son stared at his feet. "Not as lovely as Cersei."

He's not wrong there, she thought, with all a mother's bias.

"As lovely," she swore, "though different."

Jaime wrinkled his nose.

Joanna was suddenly—painfully—reminded of the look on Genna's face on that night so long ago. The cousins had all been seated together for the feast. Joanna had been jesting with her brother Damon when her laughter suddenly caught and died in her throat as Tywin tugged at her sleeve and pointed to Uncle Tytos and Lord Frey. Genna had been seven, Joanna recalled, with another wave of nausea—the same age Jaime was now.

That night, after the feast, Tywin had assembled his siblings, along with two choice cousins. Joanna had held Genna as if she were her mother, rather than a scant year her cousin's senior, while Tywin—all of ten years old—swore to the gathered counsel of children that this would never happen again. They had all believed him, so sure that when they were the adults they would never stand for such things.

Joanna tried to hug her son now, but he glared at her and ducked away. She was the offending adult, after all—who could blame him?

"Cersei is your sister, sweetling. That will never change."

"I don't want that to change!" he wailed, with all the rage of a child at an adult who will never understand.

 


 

Joanna pulled out parchment, ink, and quill in a great hurry, but once her hand was poised over the scroll, she found her words had dried up. She could not tell Arianne what had happened, however much she might want to.

And what would Ari say if Joanna did tell her? Perhaps her friend would dismiss it—it was just a child's curiosity, innocence and harmless. Would that be the Dornish view?

But the Rhoynar had fled Essos to escape the dragonlords; they had resisted the Targaeryens in Westeros longer than any other. Incest was a trapping of Valyian culture, and that was damning. For all the stories Ari had told her in quiet tones about kissing ladies back home—stories always accompanied by Ari's signature wry sideways smile; stories always told at dusk, never under the sun—Joanna knew that incest was one taboo they still upheld.

She remembered asking Ari about it one night, when Rhaella was with Aerys. Incest was bad for the blood, Ari had told her. This had been shortly after Rhaella's first—or was it second?—miscarriage. Even though Rhaella was not there to overhear, Ari had lowered her voice to a whisper as she said, "It was a weak babe of bad blood—no wonder it could not live." Her voice had not been without sympathy, and nor had it been without judgment.

(Joanna had to wonder if Ari would say the same today. In the years since then, Ari had had several miscarriages of her own, and two sons who died in the cradle.)

Then Ari had explained that for strong children you needed mixed blood—"Like the Andals and the Rhoynar. Or like yours with mine." Joanna had laughed at that thought, and Ari had feigned outrage. "I beg your pardon! Our children would be beautiful!" Then her friend had been overtaken by giggles. "Ah well—perhaps our children could have a child between them, then," she'd allowed.

Joanna had smiled then at the idea, and she smiled again now, remembering it. "We would be grandmothers together." She had been young then, not yet even a mother, and the prospect of being a grandmother seemed as far away as Yi Ti.

Dearest Arianne,

I hope this letter finds you in good health. I myself am well enough, although this pregnancy has not been easy. This winter is a bitter one, and I hope Dorne is being kinder to you than the westerlands are to us.

In all other ways, I am grateful every day to be away from court, but I miss you terribly.

Do you remember when we were girls and we spoke of wedding our children to each other? My twins are seven now, and while marriage is still years off, fosterage is not. The thought of being separated from either of them tears at my heart, but they are entirely too dependent on each other and I think some space would do them both good.

If I must entrust my babies to the care of someone else, there is no one else in the world I would trust them with but you. Please consider it, as a favor to an old and dear friend.

Ari's firstborn—Doran, who Joanna had known as a babe—was already a man grown. Ari had two younger ones now that Joanna had never met, an older girl and a younger boy. The girl would be a suitable marriage for Jaime, but Joanna knew Tywin would never allow his heir to be fostered in Dorne. She could convince Tywin to let Cersei go, she thought, but Ari's boy would not do as a match for their daughter. The boy was a second son—third, really, as by Dornish law his sister was in line for Sunspear before him as well.

And then there was the question of letting her children go.

It hurt even to think on it. She rested her hands on the swell of her stomach and willed her unborn youngest, Stay little, my darling. Let me carry you under my heart always.

But there was nothing for it.

Jaime, Joanna suspected, would adapt more easily if sent away. Cersei was the more difficult child—more stubborn, if not more willful. Sometimes it made her laugh, to see all of Tywin's unbendable spirit in the form of a young girl. Sometimes it made her weep, to see all of Tywin's unbendable spirit in a young girl. To have so little control over one's life was a blistering cruelty to one such as them.

Do I need to keep her here, with me, where I can protect her? Or do I need to be sent to Dorne for that very reason? Under the pressures of fosterage, would Cersei soften or only harden further?

Ultimately, Joanna signed the letter with no word as to which twin ought to become her friend's ward. That could be negotiated later.

"Posey!" she called.

"Yes, my lady?"

"Take this letter to the rookery and have it sent to Sunspear."

"Yes, my lady." She took the letter but made no move to go.

"Yes, Posey?"

"The children, are they…?" The maid trailed off, unsure what to ask but clearly desperate for an update on the scandal.

Joanna signed. "Posey, bring me the sweet mint oil—I feel a headache coming on."

Posey did as she was asked, returning with the vial and handing it to her wordlessly. Joanna swabbed some under her nose.

Posey still waited, to see if her lady would say anything further. When Joanna didn't, Posey reluctantly took the letter and left, shooting constant looks over her shoulder as she exited the room.

"Oh, and Posey?"

The maid turned around eagerly in the doorway.

"After you've sent the letter, fetch Lynora. Then you are dismissed."

Posey had served Joanna well for several years now, ever since she had returned to the Rock as Tywin's wife. She was a good maid, diligent and skillful. But she was prone to gossiping with the other girls—she could not be trusted to keep dutiful silence. She was clearly busting at the seams to discuss this, and if Joanna would not oblige, Posey would find someone who would.

The baby in her belly began kicking. "Must you and your siblings all make trouble at once?" Joanna asked her youngest wearily. It was not merely her feet and her heart that ached—now that she had sat down, the weariness seemed to permeate every bone of her body.

After carrying twins, shouldn't all subsequent pregnancies seem easy by comparison? And weren't second pregnancies supposed to be easier than first ones in general? Yet it wasn't. She wasn't as big and cumbersome as she'd been with the twins, but in all other ways, this pregnancy was unquestionably harder.

Joanna sighed.

She would have to move one of the twins' bedchambers, so they were not on the same corridor. Jaime's, she thought—she would never again be able to walk into Jaime's present chamber without recalling the scene she had witnessed.

Soon, Joanna told herself, as she eased herself onto the bed and propped up her feet on a cushion. She would rest for an hour, and then—when her feet ached less—she would get up and start making the arrangements.

Winter was not helping matters. This winter had already lasted over a year, and would last at least one more. "Summer is coming," she'd promised her children. Yet they looked at her skeptically, and even she herself could understand that doubt, feel it deep in her bones. No wonder they got up to trouble, she thought with maccabe amusement. They cannot go outside, cannot play along the shore. What else are they to do?

By the time Lynora appeared, Joanna had come to a decision. "Send for Tywin."

Tywin had been granted leave from court to meet his soon-to-be-born child. After the baby arrived, he would be returning to King's Landing once again. It was good to have him home while it lasted, and even better to have him handling many of her usual duties running the Rock while this pregnancy sapped her strength.

When her husband saw her abed in the middle of the day, the first words out of Tywin's mouth were, "Are you well? Is the babe well?"

"I am fine," she assured him, "just tired, and my feet ache."

She met his eyes, and some wordless understanding passed between them. "Go draw Lady Joanna a bath," Tywin ordered, and Lynora vanished, granting them privacy.

When her footsteps faded, Tywin raised an eyebrow.

Joanna quietly explained that she had seen her maid Posey wrap her hands around their son's cock; that she had sent the girl away in a fit of anger, but she now that she had calmed down, saw that this was not sufficient, and something more must be done.

Tywin, flush with contained rage, took his wife's hands in his and promised that it would be taken care of.

What would you say, my love, if you knew that it was not she who did so, but our daughter?

Joanna nodded her silent gratitude, relieved even as her insides curdled. Tywin pressed his lips to her forehead, and she leaned into his embrace, the comfort he offered warring with something else she preferred not to name.

You must never do that again, do you understand? If you do, I will have no choice but to tell your father. The threat had been out of her mouth before she'd even thought it, the words taking Joanna by surprise just as much as her children.

She did not report everything to Tywin. When he was in the capital, serving Hand of the King and managing the realm, he did not want to be bothered with trifles from home. She rarely consulted him because she rarely needed to. When she had left court and he had remained, he'd told her, "The crown will make no commands save taxation, and the Lannisters will rule over the westerlands as they did in the olden days. I will worry about the other six kingdoms, knowing the seventh is well looked after by the Queen of the Rock."

And yet, not reporting to him was different than concealing things from him.

She told herself it was fine—the children were her delegation, and she had the matter well in hand.

"We need to move Jaime's bedchamber. I cannot go in there again without remembering that scene."

"As you say."

Tywin waited a moment, giving her a chance to say anything else she needed. When she merely laid her head back and closed her eyes, he said, "I just got word from Gerion. He should arrive before nightfall."

She groaned. "Oh, joy."

Tywin chuckled. "Why do you say that?" He had little patience for his youngest brother and his japes, but Joanna was usually fond of him.

If she told him, ‘The twins are being troublesome?’ would Tywin merely nod along, or ask for details? She erred on the side of caution. "I'm just exhausted. This little one is going to be more trouble than the twins combined, I fear."

"Should I fetch the maester?"

The maester would only advise bed rest again. "No, I'm fine. I'll just take a bath—the warm water helps with the aching."

 


 

Joanna took her bath, and then—feeling slightly better—went to find a suitable bedchamber for Jaime on the far side of the Rock. She settled on a room overlooking the stables, so he could see the horses—he would like that.

Jaime was out in the yard now, bundled up against the cold. Better to keep him busy, lest he stew on the morning's events. When she went to fetch him, he was practicing with his little friend Addam, a Marband cousin via Tywin's mother.

Joanna ought to find Cersei a companion as well—someone to spend time with who was not Jaime. There weren't any Marband girl cousins the right age, but there were always lesser houses who would be happy to have their daughters fostered at the Rock. The Hetherspoons had a girl the right age, did they not? She would have to look into that.

Joanna bid Addam come along as well—better to frame this as simply a change, rather than a punishment to be resisted. Her son might cool down from his tempers faster than her daughter, but he flared no less hot.

When they reached the new chamber, Addam immediately noticed this room had a ledge they could climb on, but his excitement was not as contagious as Joanna had hoped. Jaime still hung back, shooting his mother dark glances.

 


 

With Jaime more or less settled in his new bedchamber, it was time to check on Cersei again.

Where to even begin this conversation? Joanna wondered as she made the long walk back across the Rock. For a son, "don't do that" was sufficient. For a daughter, the conversation would have to be a broader one, encompassing not just this incident but matters of chastity and reputation more generally.

Stranger, take me and spare me this.

What could she tell Cersei? She was a child; she would not understand it today. It must be something that would stick with her; something memorable enough Cersei would recall it a decade hence, and then—on that day—she would understand.

Joanna's own mother had explained her moon's blood to her when she was only eight. At that time, it had been far enough removed that Joanna had merely listened curiously rather than protesting. In the same vein, perhaps it would be easier to have this conversation today.

No. It would've been easier to have this conversation yesterday. Today it was already too late, too eminently at hand.

But there was nothing for it. Cersei wasn't a summer child anymore. It was the dead of winter, and if she was old enough to play this, she was old enough to know how it could end.

Gods, where to even begin? The banishment of Uncle Tytos's mistress from the Rock? The day Joanna had returned home from court and Genna waited until they were alone before asking in an eager whisper whether she really had been Aerys's mistress? The stories Tywin had relayed to her, about how—in recent years—Aerys had become convinced that Rhaella's stillborn children were bastards?

Truly, what was the lesson she hoped to impart? Queen Rhaella and Queen Naerys—both as meek and chaste as they came—were declared unfaithful when it became convenient for their husbands to wash their hands of their children. Meanwhile, Queen Rhaenyra had three children of dubious paternity without ever being brought to task. And for that matter, what about their own Genna? Joanna had her doubts about Genna's new little boy, Lyonel, and yet thus far it passed without issue. Power and force of personality could get you far.

The nature of a child was a changeable thing. Joanna could not predict what Cersei would be like fully grown, and yet—if her daughter did not prove to be made of the same stuff as Rhaenyra and Genna—then surely she was at the very least more like them than she was like Rhaella or Naerys. Of that, her mother could be certain.

If Joanna took it for gradinted there would inevitably be some level of misconduct from this reckless, fiery little girl of hers as she grew up, what advice should she give her? What was something Cersei might actually internalize and let inform her decisions when she was older?

Be careful, my sweet girl. Be so careful. The world is full of men who are not your brother; who do not care about you, who will hurt you. You have to protect yourself, because you cannot trust that anyone outside our family will protect you.

By the time Joanna reached her daughter's chamber, she was no closer to an answer. But she had waited too long already. Even if she was unprepared, she could not put this off any longer. She rapped on the door.

There was no response. Taking a deep breath, she unlocked the door with her key and found that it would not budge—the door had been barricaded from the inside.

Joanna pinched the bridge of her nose, her headache returning.

"Cersei," she called. "Do you know what the trouble with sieges is? You can't bring food into a city under siege. It's been hours, aren't you hungry? How long do you plan to stay in there?" She waited a moment. No reply. "We have all the supplies of the Rock. You have nothing in there. You can't think to outlast us, sweetling. This isn't a fight you can win. Come on out." Another pause, still nothing. "Do you think you'll wait until nightfall, then sneak out to get food? I could post a guard at your door all night."

Nothing.

"When I was a girl, I had a cat. Once she was hunting a mouse, and the mouse ran under a chest of drawers. The mouse could fit under there, but the cat could not. So my cat sat by the chest for the whole of the next day and just waited. Eventually the mouse died of dehydration. I know it feels safe behind your walls, like you're protected, but to be besieged is actually an extremely vulnerable position. Your opinions are limited, your foes know exactly where you are, and you're running out of resources. This is why you lay siege to your enemies; you don't lay siege to yourself."

Still no sound from inside.

Joanna sighed. If she was to keep this debacle quiet, Cersei would have to be there to greet Gerion when he arrived. There was not time to wait this out.

Joanna could get a guard to break down Cersei's door, yes, but that would not do. She needed her daughter out, but if she was to avoid questions, she needed the girl passibly calm as well.

She suddenly found herself fighting back frustrated tears. It was the pregnancy, it made tears come so much more easily than usual. I am trying to protect you! she wanted to yell at Cersei. I ought to be punishing you and yet here I am trying to protect you, and you won't even cooperate for that!

"Cersei, your Uncle Gerion is arriving today. If you are not there to greet him when he arrives, your father will ask why, and I will have no choice but to tell him. If you would not have me tell him, you need to unbar this door right now. Your brother is being civil about this, but he will be in trouble as well if your father finds out. It's your decision."

After a long pause, there was a scraping sound and the groaning of wood. The door opened just enough to permit a person passage. The bed, which had been pushed in front of the door—no small feat for a child, considering it was made of heavy wood—had now been pushed back again, just enough to allow the door to open a fraction of the way.

Slipping inside, the first thing Joanna noticed was the cold. The room was bitterly cold. The fire must've gone out hours ago. Judging by the wood heaped on the hearth, she suspected Cersei had tried to feed the fire and ended up smothering it instead.

Her daughter stood just past the bed, wrapped in a quilt and shivering despite that, watching Joanna like a nervous dog. The mass of the quilt dwarfed her, and she looked so small and young.

Joanna's anger evaporated on the spot.

Climbing carefully over the corner of the bed, she held out her arms, and—after a moment of deliberation—Cersei ran to her. Joanna caught her daughter in a hug, and relief turned to belated fear as she realized just how cold Cersei was. If she had allowed Cersei to play this out in her own time—as she likely would have, under other circumstances, turning it into a teachable moment about how to properly handle a siege—how cold would it have gotten before her stubborn little girl finally surrendered?

All lessons about protecting one's reputation or laying siege were set aside for another time. They suddenly did not seem so pressing.

"Come on sweetling; let's get you warmed up."

Mother and daughter did not speak as they made their way to Joanna's solar. Cersei trembled under her mother's arms, worn out by the day's drama.

In the solar, Joanna settled her daughter before the fire. "Lynora, draw her a hot bath." When Lynora left the room, Cersei looked up at her mother expectantly, waiting for a lecture.

"I'm going to post a guard in front of your door at night from here on out," was all Joanna said. Her daughter did not respond, for which she was wearily grateful. "Now, come over here, let me brush out your hair."

 


 

With Cersei warm and dressed, Joanna went to fetch Jaime. She was nervous to let the twins be in each other's presence, but she need not have worried. They are quiet and cowed—at least for now. They exchanged only nervous glances with each other, and did not speak.

Together, the three went down to join Tywin in the Lion's Mouth to greet Gerion. On the walk down, the twins had trailed behind her, holding hands when they thought she couldn't see. With a resigned sigh, Joanna let them, not wanting to provoke another fight. In front of their father, they dropped hands, standing further apart. She took some cold comfort in this.

Tywin took his wife's hand and whispered in her ear that it was done, he had dealt with it: the maid was dead. Joanna sighed in relief, even as her insides curdled.

Gerion swept in, vivacious as ever, with snow still glistening in his hair. He greeted them warmly, and Joanna was glad to see him. And yet, when he asked, "How fares the Rock and its gracious lady?" she had a sudden urge once again to scream, It's the dead of winter; Tywin says the king is going mad; I am seven months pregnant; my children are playing at trysts. How do you think I'm faring?

But she smiled politely, and Gerion went on to greet his niece and nephew with great aplomb. Grinning broadly and kneeling so he was at eye-level with him, he took on the performative tone of an adult speaking to a child, exclaiming "Jaime! Cersei!" and deliberately addressing the wrong twin in turn. "How is it that you are already even taller than you were two months ago?"

The twins giggled, full of mirth. It pained her heart for Joanna to turn to her good-brother and say, "Enough, Gery. They're seven now. This game has gone on long enough."

It took a moment for everyone to parse the situation. During that instant everyone stared at Joanna—her cousin, her husband, her son and daughter. That was Tywin's line, not hers.

And then the twins were scowling and reaching for each other's hands, Gerion looked taken aback, and Tywin's eyes flickered with gratitude.

 


 

That night Joanna slept fitfully. She dreamt of the kittens of her childhood, then of the raven crossing the night sky bringing her letter to Arianne. She lay in the dark and watched her husband's chest moving up and down, struck by how vulnerable it made him look. She dreamt she stood by Tywin's side as their children wed each other in the Great Sept of Baelor, so strong and brave and beautiful that no one would ever laugh at them. And then the face of her youngest child, who contentedly read a book and did not cause her any trouble.

She woke, and the baby was moving once again and her back ached. Joanna shifted on her side, pulling the pillow alongside her belly to support it better. She slept again, and dreamt of Cersei standing on the stern of a ship, Arianne's arm around her shoulders. Her daughter's eyes bored into hers unwaveringly—hatred, fury, blame—as the ship departed. When her daughter's face was but a speck in the distance, Joanna finally looked away, and there was Jaime, standing at her side on the dock, his face identical. The winter wind battered the narrow windows behind their curtains, and Joanna woke once more.

Lying to her husband to protect their children from him was a discomforting thing. But what else was there to do? They are not disobedient Reynes, Tywin! They're our children!

She imagined her family in a year's time: Tywin once again away at court; one child off in Dorne; herself here at the Rock with a lone twin and the new baby. Tears pricked her eyes.

I wish I did not know. If this must have occurred, let me not know. Grant me the absolution of ignorance. Why did you have to get caught, my babies?

She knew the twins sometimes masqueraded as each other, dressing in one another's clothes. She could not consistently identify when they did it; only sometimes, when a particular mannerism or quirk appeared in the wrong child. She did not begrudge them this—let children have their mischief. Besides, Tywin meant to bring the twins to court when they were older. They need to learn how to hold their tongues and feign any role the situation required of them, and this was better practice than anything she could've devised. Besides, how could she prevent it, short of undressing them daily to verify their identities before sending them off to their lessons?

Had she granted them too much leeway? Tywin would not allow them their escapades as one another if he knew, no matter how well it prepared them for court. She had coddled them, and now she would have sent one away. In being too permissive, she had incurred a debt. She could have been a little less permissive for the past seven years, and perhaps she would be able to keep her children here with her now. But she had not, and now she would have to pay a high price for it.

Why, sweetlings? Why did you have to do this? I don't want to send you away; you won't want to be sent away. No one wants this, but I have to now. You've forced my hand.

At great length, Joanna rose, drawing a shawl around her and slowly making her way across the Rock. Outside Cersei's quarters, the guard on duty nodded formally to her. "My lady."

Inside, there was no sign of this afternoon's standoff. Servants had pushed the bed back into its usual place, and the room was warm, a small night fire smoldering in the hearth.

Cersei lay sleeping in her bed. She was curled around her pillow, all the new height she'd gained in the past year contracted, folded in on herself. Joanna gingerly sat herself on the edge of the bed, watching a curl of hair flutter each time her daugher exhaled.

It would be Cersei. There was no use pretending otherwise; Cersei would be the one fostered at Sunspear. Tywin simply would not permit Jaime to go, and there was no getting around that.

Arianne would be good for Cersei, Joanna thought, as tears rose to fill her eyes. Ari would not crush her little girl's fire, but she might be able to help channel it. Joanna blinked, and the room blurred, black with a flicker of red firelight.

Joanna had not seen Ari since leaving court. "I adore her and I miss her," was not reason enough to justify a journey to Dorne. But if Cersei was there, that would be a suitable reason. I'll get to see Ari again, Joanna told herself, as the tears spilled down her cheeks. This is a good thing.

Cersei was her firstborn. It was a very slight distinction, since Joanna hadn't even had a moment to rest between the two—Jaime had been holding on to Cersei's foot, causing the maester to exclaim in surprise about ‘compound presentation’ for a matter of seconds, before Jaime slipped out after his sister. But Cersei was her firstborn, and accordingly, she had been the first one they'd laid in Joanna's arms.

She'd always known that motherhood eventually would entail letting them go, but gods, not this soon! Only seven years—Joanna had thought she would have twice this much time with her babies, at least. A muffled sob climbed out of her throat, much as she tried to stifle it. She had to leave, she had to leave—her crying was going to wake her baby girl.

At the door, the guard looked uncertainly at his teary mistress. "My lady?"

"Make sure her fire does not die out," she told him fiercely. "With those big windows looking out on the sea, you would not believe how fast this room gets cold. Make sure of it."

"Yes, my lady."

With that, Joanna passed by, making her way to Jaime's new bedchamber. She let herself sob as she went, and by the time she arrived—she got lost once, misremembering a turn—her weeping was mostly silent.

Joanna slipped inside, settled herself carefully onto the edge of the bed. Jaime had always slept more soundly than Cersei, even when they were babes, and she could gently stroke her son's curls without fear of waking him.

"Oh sweetling," she whispered. "Oh sweetling. The things I do for you, my loves."