Chapter 1: Dragonstone
Kara Zor-El moves through the eery corridors of Dragonstone with a sense of foreboding. The journey from Winterfell to Blackwater Bay has been long and tiresome, but as the newly crowned Queen in the North, she is determined to not let the exhaustion she feels in her very bones show.
She forces her gait to remain steady as she is led into the throne room by Lord Tyrion and Lady Samantha with her stoic Hand, Lady Alexandra beside her. The sight of the imposingly cold, cavernous room does little to settle her unease. Nor does the regal figure seated upon her throne, observing their approach with an air of indifference.
Before their departure from Winterfell, Kara knew only of the tales Old Nan used to spin about the once great House of Luthor and their exile from Westeros. On the journey to Dragonstone, Kara’s advisors told her of Lena’s victories across the Narrow Sea and of her unfound claim to the Iron Throne.
In all those stories, however, it seems that not one of them deemed it important to prepare Kara for how strikingly beautiful the self-proclaimed Queen of the Seven Kingdoms is. Kara’s eyes follow the line of a strong, sharp jawline leading to full red lips. Her long, dark hair is curled meticulously into elegant waves that cascade down her shoulders.
Kara has to quickly averts her gaze as alluring green eyes meet hers. Instead, she watches as Lord Tyrion and Lady Samantha take their respected places either side of the Queen.
“You stand in the presence of Lena Stormborn of House Luthor, rightful heir to the Iron Throne, rightful Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains.”
A moment of silence passes following Samantha’s introductions, in which Kara shares a subtle look of uneasiness with her Hand. After a brief, awkward pause, Alex clears her throat and finally speaks. “This is Kara Zor-El, Queen in the North.”
Lena raises a single, perfectly sculpted brow, visibly unimpressed. “Thank you for travelling so far, Lady Zor-El. I hope the seas weren’t too rough?”
“The winds were kind, Your Grace.”
The Queen is about to speak again, but Kara’s Hand steps forward. “Forgive me, Your Grace, I have a Flea Bottom accent I know, but Kara Zor-El is Queen in the North. She is not a lady, Your Grace.”
A look of disapproval passes across the Queens face. It takes a moment for her to speak, but when she does all traces of her previous welcoming warmth are gone. “Forgive me, Lady…?”
“Your Grace, this is Lady Alexandra Danvers,” Lord Tyrion imparts.
Kara feels a flicker of annoyance at the sound of his voice. The last time she had seen him was at the Purple Wedding, when he was playing Hand to a different Luthor.
“Forgive me, Lady Alexandra. I never did receive a formal education, but I could have sworn I read that the last King in the North was Seyg-El, who bent the knee to my ancestor, Lachlan Luthor. In exchange for his life and the lives of the Northmen, Seyg-El swore fealty to House Luthor in perpetuity,” Queen Lena intones, her eyes fixed firmly on Alex. “Or do I have my facts wrong?”
Alex clears her throat nervously. “I wasn’t there, Your Grace.”
“No, of course not,” Lena concurs, a smirk playing across her lips. “But still, an oath is an oath and perpetuity means… what does perpetuity mean, Lord Tyrion?”
The Queen appraisingly looks between Kara and Alex, allowing the word to settle between them like a weight. “Yes, forever.”
Kara resists the urge to look away from the Queens penetrating gaze. “So, I assume, my Lady, that you are here to bend the knee?”
“I am not, Your Grace,” Kara apprises, steeling herself for the full wrath of the formidable woman before her. The image of the three dragons flying overhead as they sailed into Blackwater Bay now front and centre in her minds eye.
“Well, that is unfortunate. You’ve travelled all this way to break faith with House Luthor?”
“Break faith?” Kara fumes, her anger suddenly kindled. “Surely your Hand has informed you of the atrocities your family has committed against my own. Your brother made me watch as he killed my father unjustly, laughing all the while as his executioner used his own sword against him to chop off his head. He married me off to his Hand like some common whore who-”
“My brother,” Queen Lena deftly interrupts. “Is an evil man. His crimes are-”
“Unforgivable,” Kara interjects this time, observing the slight twitch in Lena’s eye with interest. Lena tilts her head and regards Kara with quiet care.
“On behalf of House Luthor, I will ask for forgiveness for the crimes committed against your family and ask you not to judge a sister by the sins of her brother.”
Kara’s eyes briefly shift to look at Lord Tyrion. She wonders just how much he has divulged to his Queen. Their arranged marriage and the death of her father have surely been discussed at great length, but just how much has he disclosed. Has he revealed all the ways she betrayed her family following her father’s arrest at Kings Landing? Or of how their marriage was a sham and left unconsummated?
“Our two houses were allies for centuries, and those were the best centuries the Seven Kingdoms have ever known. Centuries of peace and prosperity with a Luthor sitting on the Iron Throne and an El serving as Warden in the North. I am the last Luthor, Kara Zor-El. Honour the pledge your ancestors gave mine and bend the knee and I will name you Warden of the North.
Kara shares a look with Tyrion. “The last I heard, your brother still sits comfortably on the Iron Throne,” she says, turning her attention back to Queen Lena. “Or do I have my facts wrong?”
“Lex’s claim to the Iron Throne is unfounded. He is the unfortunate product of one of my father’s numerous affairs. He is not a Luthor,” Lena grinds out. “Now bend the knee and together we will save this country from those who would destroy it.”
“You’re right,” Kara concedes. “You are not guilty of your brother’s crimes. And I am not beholden to my ancestor’s vows.”
A sudden flash of anger passes behind those green eyes, so quick that if Kara were not paying such close attention to her every move, she would have missed it.
“Then why are you here?”
Kara keeps her gaze steady, knowing that the moment has come. The real reason why she has travelled all this way. “Because I need your help and you need mine.”
Queen Lena shares an unamused look with Lord Tyrion. “Did you see three dragons flying overhead as you arrived?”
“I did, Your Grace.”
“And did you see the Dothraki? All of whom have sworn to kill for me.”
“They’re hard to miss,” Kara says, clenching her jaw.
“And yet, I need your help?”
“Not to defeat Lex,” Alex injects. “You could storm Kings Landing tomorrow and the city would fall. Hell, we almost took it, and we didn’t have dragons.”
“Almost,” Tyrion mutters under his breath.
Kara, sensing her Hand is about to retaliate, steps forward and addresses Lena once more. “But you have not stormed Kings Landing. Why not?” she urges. “The only way I see it is that you do not want to kill thousands of innocent people. It is the fastest way to win the war, but you won’t do it, which means at the very least you are better than Lex.”
Lena fixes Kara with a curious look. “Still, that doesn’t explain why I need your help.”
“Because right now, you and I and Lex and everyone else, we’re children playing at a game and screaming that the rules aren’t fair.”
Kara suddenly questions whether she has pushed too far as Lena turns to glare at Lord Tyrion. “You told me you respected this woman.”
“Since her arrival, she has refused to call me Queen, she has refused to bow, and now she’s calling me a child.”
Lord Tyrion’s gaze feels heavy on Kara as he appraises her. “I believe she’s calling us all children. A figure of speech I’m sure…”
“Your Grace,” Kara implores. “Everyone you know will die before winter is over if we do not defeat the enemy to the north.”
“As far as I can see, you are the enemy to the north,” Queen Lena retorts harshly.
Kara sighs and bows her head. “I am not your enemy,” she placates. “The dead are the enemy.”
“The dead?” Lena questions dryly, throwing an incredulous look at her Hand. “Is this another ‘figure of speech’?”
“I know how it sounds, but the army of the dead are on the march. My cousin, Kal-El, has faced them.”
“The army of the dead?” Tyrion repeats in disbelief.
“You do not know my cousin well, my lord, but do you think he is a liar or a madman? Do you think I would be standing here now if I did not have faith in him?”
“No,” Tyrion replies. “I do not believe either of those things.
“The army of the dead is real. The Whitewalkers are real. The Night King is real. Kal-El has seen them,” Kara entreats, failing to stop her desperation from showing. She walks closer to the throne, but the Dothraki guards step forward to halt her. “If they get past the Wall and we are squabbling amongst ourselves, there will be no kingdom left to rule.”
Lena watches her for moment. “I was born at Dragonstone. Not that I can remember it of course,” she says as she gets up from her throne and makes her way down the stairs towards Kara. “We fled before Robert’s assassins could find us. Robert was your father’s best friend, no?”
Kara nods solemnly. “He was.”
“I wonder if your father knew his best friend sent assassins to murder a baby girl in her crib. Not that it matters now of course. I spent my life in foreign lands. So many men have tried to kill me. I don’t remember their names. I have been sold like a brood mare. I have been chained and betrayed, raped and defiled,” Lena stops walking and is now face to face with Kara.
“Do you know what kept me standing through all those years in exile? Faith. Not in any gods. Not in myths and legends. In myself. In Lena Luthor. The world hadn’t seen a dragon in centuries until my children were born. The Dothraki hadn’t crossed the sea. Any sea, but they did for me. I was born to rule the Seven Kingdoms. And I will.”
Kara clenches her jaw, her gaze hardening. “We have all had our share of horrors to endure, Your Grace. But you will be ruling over a graveyard if we don’t defeat the Night King.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Kara sees Tyrion walk forward to stand beside Lena. “The war against Lex has already begun. You can’t expect us to halt hostilities and join you fighting… whatever Kal-El saw beyond the wall.”
“You don’t believe her. I understand that. It sounds like nonsense,” Alex says, and Kara feels herself nodding in agreement. “But if we don’t put aside our enmities and band together, we will die. And then it doesn’t matter whose skeleton sits on the Iron Throne.”
“If it doesn’t matter, you might as well kneel,” Lord Tyrion states matter-of-factly, but Kara shakes her head and looks at the floor. “Swear your allegiance to Queen Lena. Help her to defeat Lex and together our armies will protect the north.”
“There’s no time for that. There’s no time for any of this. While we stand here debating-”
“It takes no time to bend the knee,” Lord Tyrion interrupts. “Pledge your sword to her cause.”
“And why would I do that?” Kara asks, turning to speak to Lena. “I mean no offence, Your Grace, but I do not know you. The lords of the north have placed their trust in me to lead them. And I will continue to do so.”
Lord Tyrion expels a breath, but Kara refuses to look at him, too focused on Lena. “That’s fair,” Lena intones. “It’s also fair to point out that I’m the rightful Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. By declaring yourself Queen of the northern most kingdom, you are in open rebellion.”
Before Kara can respond, the throne room doors are thrown open and the sound of harried footsteps echo around the chamber. Kara takes a step back as Lord Baelish approaches Lena, casting an appraising eye over Kara as he does.
“It is good to see you, Lady Zor-El,” he says before he begins to whisper into Lena’s ear.
Kara’s fist clench at her sides, her anger once again kindled at the sight of the man who sold her to the Bolton’s. And who just welcomed her like an old friend.
“You must forgive my manners. You will both be tired after your long journey. We’ll have baths drawn for you and super sent to your rooms,” Lena says before turning to speak Valyrian to her Queensguard.
One of the guards’ steps forward to escort Kara and Alex to their chambers. “Am I your prisoner?” She asks angrily.
Lena considers her for a moment. “Not yet.”
Chapter 2: Dragonglass
“You’ve been talking to Tyrion?”
“He is my Hand,” Lena states simply, her eyes still firmly fixed on Kara’s.
“He does enjoy talking.”
“We all enjoy what we’re good at,” Lena says, a jet-black eyebrow rising suggestively.
Thank you to everyone who commented or left a kudos on the first chapter. I am just getting back into writing so it really means a lot :)
The following evening Kara escapes the confines of her chambers to stroll the castle grounds. The haunting corridors provide nothing of the welcoming warmth that Winterfell promises its inhabitants. Dragonstone’s castle is too quiet and dark to be of any comfort to anyone, least of all Kara who worries over her first meeting with the Mother of Dragons. So, she ventures outside instead, wrapping her long, black cloak tightly around herself as she makes her way down to the beach. The sun has just begun to disappear behind the horizon when a voice speaks from behind Kara.
“I came out here to brood over my failure to predict the Teschmacher attack, but you have always looked a lot better brooding than I do,” Lord Tyrion laments as he moves to stand beside her.
Kara spares him a glance before turning her attention back to the setting sun. “I’m a prisoner on this island,” she says by way of explanation.
“I wouldn’t say you’re a prisoner. You’re free to walk the castle, the beaches, to go wherever you want.”
“Except to my ship,” Kara questions, her eyes roaming over the spot where her ship had been docked a few hours ago. “If I’m not a prisoner, why have you taken my ship?”
“I wouldn’t say we’ve taken your ship.”
Kara turns to face the man, her cloak billowing around her legs as the evening brings a cold breeze across the island. “I am not here to play word games with you, Lord Tyrion,” she says, her tone as biting as the sea air. “My bannermen thought me a fool for coming here, and they were right.”
“If I were your hand, I would have advised against it as well,” he concedes. “General rule of thumb, El men don’t fare well when they travel south.”
“Nor do El women,” Kara reminds him, thinking of her mother and sister who perished when they travelled south. One at the Red Wedding alongside her brother, and the other following the arrest of her father in Kings Landing. For a time, Kara held onto the idea that Nia had managed to escape the Red Keep the day that Cersei sent the City Watch to capture her sister, but after years without news of her whereabouts, she had been forced to give up hope of her safe return.
“No,” Tyrion appeases, clearly uncomfortable, no doubt from the knowledge that his family had played a pivotal role in the deaths of almost her entire family. “But you survived.”
Kara sighs as she casts her eyes over the imp. He has changed since the last time she saw him. For one he is no longer her husband, that claim died the moment she was married to Ramsey Bolton. The scar across his face is new and grotesque, but the thick beard he has grown manages to hide most of the damage. Above all else though, it is his demeanour that is different. Maybe it is from the loss of Shae, her handmaid during the time she spent in Kings Landing, and the secret lover who betrayed Tyrion following the death of his nephew. Or maybe it is due to his inability to predict Lex Luthor orchestrating the demise of his family and his subsequent ascent to the Iron Throne.
Whatever has caused the shift, he is nothing like the boisterous man Kara once knew. Perhaps she is not the only one who has learned from her mistakes. “How am I supposed to convince people who don’t know me that an enemy they don’t believe in is coming to kill them?”
“Good question,” he says, a smirk pulling at his scarred lip. “People’s minds aren’t made for problems that large. White Walkers, the Night King, the Army of the Dead. It’s almost a relief to comfort in a familiar enemy like Lex.”
Kara knows he is right of course. Queen Lena will not waver from her pursuit of the Iron Throne, not least of all for a northerner spinning old tales about dead men. “I need to help prepare my people for what is coming,” Kara says, her mind made up. “I’d like to leave.”
“It seems unlikely that you became Queen in the North by giving up that easily,” Tyrion teases lightly.
“Everyone told me to learn from my father’s mistakes,” Kara ruminates with a shake of her head. “Don’t go south. Don’t answer a summons from the Mad King’s sister, a foreign invader. Yet here I am, like some northern fool.”
“Lena could have sailed for Westeros long ago, but she didn’t. Instead, she stayed where she was and saved a great many people from horrible fates, some of whom are on this island,” Tyrion explains reverently. Kara begins to frown as she listens to him speak.
“While you’re here you might consider asking them what they think about the Mad King’s sister,” he continues. “She protects people from monsters just as you do. That’s why she came here, and she’s not about to head north to fight an enemy she’s never seen on the word of a woman she doesn’t know. That’s not a reasonable thing to ask.”
Kara sighs as she turns to look back out at the dark waters surrounding them. His words were not malicious, but they are true. “You’re right, of course. You always are,” she says, thinking back on all those times he had proved people wrong. His father, his sister, even his brother, who had always loved Tyrion to a fault.
“Not always, my lady,” he replies, his tone just as pensive. They fall into an easy silence as the evening turns to night.
“Do you believe me?”
“I do, oddly enough.”
Kara laughs lightly, the sound loud against the quiet lapping of waves against the shoreline. “Well, that’s a small comfort at least.”
“Is there something I can do to help?” he asks earnestly.
Kara looks down, contemplating whether she can truly trust her former husband. But he is the only Lannister that has treated her kindly, and whilst she had been angry with him in the beginning, she now knows that he also had no choice but to marry her. Towards the end of her time in Kings Landing she might have even considered him a friend.
“Is it true that Dragonstone’s mountains are filled with dragonglass?”
Tyrion raises his eyebrow as he peeks up at her. “Yes, although I believe the maesters call it obsidian. Why do you ask?”
“It is the only thing that can destroy the White Walkers,” Kara explains, turning to look at the rolling hills behind them. “If your Queen will not fight by our side, at least let us mine the dragonglass.”
The next morning Alex shows Kara around the castle grounds properly, telling her stories of her time here as a child. The adoration she has for the former inhabitants obvious even now. Kara laughs freely as Alex spins tale after tale of the trouble she had caused her mother and father. The smile slowly fades however, when Alex mentions her late friend Shireen Baratheon.
“I wish I had been here,” Alex laments as they stop next to the ramparts. “Why do you think Stannis did it?”
“I heard that it was at the behest of Melisandre,” Kara says, thinking back on the conversation she had with Kal-El after she had arrived at Castle Black and the Red Witch was standing by his side. “A sacrifice to the Lord of Light.”
Alex huffs as she shakes her head, her fists clenching at her sides. “I do not trust that woman,” she spits vehemently.
“Nor do I,” Kara assures, resting a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “But for the time being I need her.”
They stand there for a moment, Kara looking at her Hand with meaning, trying to convey what she is not able to say aloud; ‘the Red Witch will get her comeuppance.’ Alex nods in understanding, a thankful smile pulling at her lips.
The fearsome sound of screeching suddenly fills the air and they both step back from the ramparts at the sight of two dragons circling the skies above them.
“Maybe we should head back inside, Your Grace.”
Kara quickly agrees and follows Alex as she makes her way back to the castle, both of them quickening their pace as another screech permeates the air. As they turn a corner, Kara catches sight of Lena standing at the bottom of a set of stairs. She halts, watching Lena observe her dragons from afar. Kara can not see her face, but she imagines that the woman is smiling serenely.
“Your Grace?” Alex questions, gripping her arm.
“It’s alright, Alex,” Kara reassures as she pulls her arm away. “Go back inside.”
She does not wait for Alex to question her any further. Instead, she keeps a watchful eye on each of the dragons as she descends the stairs towards their mother.
“Amazing thing to see,” she says quietly so as to not startle Lena.
“I named them after my brothers Leviathan and Ladon. They’re both gone now,” Lena muses before turning to look at Kara. “You lost two brothers as well?”
Kara feels a pang of grief hit her squarely in the chest at the memory of Barry being struck down by Ramsey’s arrow. At the thought of Mike’s final moments and the mutilation his body had been subjected to.
Lena nods, her eyes softening as she understands the hurt behind Kara’s own, and in that moment, Kara is suddenly struck by how incredibly beautiful the other woman is. It really is no wonder that she has so many devoted followers, most of whom Kara is sure would die for her without question.
“People thought dragons were gone forever, but here they are. Perhaps we should all be examining what we think we know.”
Kara swallows her nerves before speaking. She hasn’t felt this kind of attraction towards someone since her time in Kings Landing, when she would spend her afternoons walking the gardens with her friend Margery Tyrell. Kara isn’t sure if she had managed to hide her attraction from Margery, but she had been young and naïve back then and Margery had seemed to return her feelings. Now she is older, and she knows the importance of keeping her cards close to her chest.
“You’ve been talking to Tyrion?”
“He is my Hand,” Lena states simply, her eyes still firmly fixed on Kara’s.
“He does enjoy talking.”
“We all enjoy what we’re good at,” Lena says, a jet-black eyebrow rising suggestively.
Kara clears her throat and breaks eye contact for a moment. If she didn’t know any better, she would say that Lena was flirting with her. But Kara does know better, and so she knows that Lena has charmed her way through many negotiations and come out all the better for it.
“Does this mean you believe me?” Kara asks after a moment, refusing to play Lena’s game. “About the Night King and the Army of the Dead?”
Lena is quiet for a long time as she continues to regard her. She smiles knowingly, a silent acknowledgment to Kara’s rebuttal. “I believe that you believe in them.”
Kara nods in understanding. She knows it is all she can expect from the other woman, but Lena, along with the rest of Westeros will soon see the truth of it. Without Lena’s help she is certain that the north will fall, and then it will not be long before the dead continue to march south.
“You know I’m not going to let Lex stay on the Iron Throne.”
“I never expected that you would,” Kara states, before a roar erupts from above and Lena draws nearer.
“And I haven’t changed my mind about which kingdoms belong to the throne.”
Kara clenches her jaw as the sound of flapping wings gets louder. “I haven’t either.”
A tense moment passes where Lena looks ready to argue, but then she turns away and watches as the largest dragon passes directly above them. Kara lets out the breath she didn’t realise she had been holding and turns to grip the wall in front of her tightly.
“I will allow you to mine the Dragonglass and forge weapons from it. Any resources or men you need I will provide for you.”
“Thank you, Your Grace.”
“You better get to work, Kara Zor-El.”
Chapter 3: Children of the Forest
In the days that follow, Kara and her men begin their search for the illusive material that is thought to be hidden in the vast caverns of Dragonstone. The process has been slow, and other than the small pockets of obsidian they have found across the island, it has yet to prove fruitful. To try and move things along, Kara enlists the help of the Dothraki, incentivising them with promises of a share in the obsidian they find.
Kara has not seen the queen since that day on the stairs. Lena and her advisers have been shut away inside of Dragonstone’s war room. No doubt discussing plans to overthrow her brother and finally end his short, but brutal reign over Westeros.
Kara may well have not seen the queen in person, but her dreams have been plagued with images of enchanting green eyes that hold her captive and strip her soul bare. As the tiresome days wear on, she often finds her thoughts wandering back to their last encounter. It had been a battle of wills, neither of them willing to back down from the problem at hand. The north declaring its independence has surely been a deeply discussed topic in Lena’s war counsel, but Kara’s refusal to bend the knee and pledge allegiance to Lena’s cause has no doubt come across as a personal slight. It was never Kara’s intention to hurt her, but she has sworn her own oaths to the north, and she is loath to break them.
So, she throws herself into the search, willing herself to forget all thoughts of the queen, but the obsidian continues to elude them and Kara’s hope of finding it begins to waver. As the only known substance capable of defeating the White Walkers, Kara knows that the whole war hangs in the balance if they do not find it soon.
And then, on the chilliest morning since her arrival, they finally find it.
Kara is standing on the beach, rubbing her gloved hands together to ward off the cold, when a shout echoes from within the cave they have been excavating. She charges forward, her heart hammering against her chest as she makes her way through the narrow passages, until she comes upon a vast, open cavern. Alex stands amongst the men, a torch held high above her head, its light illuminating the bountiful amount of dragonglass entombed in the cavern’s walls.
“It’s here,” Kara exclaims in disbelief as she removes a glove to run her hand over the cold stone, her breath fogging the glass-like rock. “How much is there?”
“Enough to arm the north and then some, Your Grace,” Alex says, a smile breaking across her face when Kara turns to meet her gaze. “There’s more,” she continues, motioning towards another narrow passageway with her torch.
Kara follows her Hands lead in silence. She feels fervent for the first time in days, and the thought of writing back home to share the good news with Kal-El fills her with a profound sense of relief. The war is by no means won, but they have a much better chance of surviving it than they did yesterday.
After a short walk, the passageway opens into another cavern and when Alex lifts her torch this time, the breath in Kara’s lungs leaves her in one long exhale.
“Have one of the men fetch Queen Lena.”
Whilst Kara awaits the queen’s arrival, she instructs her men to bring a brazier into the cavern to help light the area. She goes over the logistics of mining such a vast amount of dragonglass with Alex. If they are to be of any help to the north, then they will need to begin immediately.
In what seems like little time at all, Kara is informed that Queen Lena is making her way towards the cave. She is quick to make her way towards the entrance, and as she turns to look towards the castle, there she is at the top of the steps that lead down to the beach. Lena looks more wonderful than ever, flawless in her mantle dress, its high neck and pointed shoulders accentuating her lithe figure perfectly. As a child Kara’s septa had her and Nia learn all the noble houses colours, so she knows that the black dress and red cape are a homage to House Luthor. So is the dragon brooch she wears on her right shoulder, much like the direwolf cloak clasp Kara wears.
As she draws nearer, Kara listens intently as she speaks Dothraki to her guards, the language rough and crude to Kara’s untrained ear. The guards come to a stop a couple of feet away from the entrance, but Samantha sticks close to Lena’s side. Kara averts her eyes as they near and turns to lead them into the dragonglass cave.
She lights a torch before guiding Lena and Samantha through the cold, narrow passageways. They walk in silence, but Kara can feel the queen’s presence consuming the tight space, and it makes her feel both nervous and excited. Before she can question the feeling, the passage opens into a wide cathedral of jutting rock and gleaming dragonglass.
Kara observes the queen’s reaction with keen interest. She watches as Lena looks around the grandiose chamber with childlike wonder, notes the way her lips part in awe at the sheer amount of obsidian they have found. It’s an achingly beautiful sight, one that is all too difficult to look away from and leaves Kara breathless.
“We will begin mining the dragonglass right away,” Kara says before walking over to the other passageway. “There is something else I would like to show you, Your Grace.”
Lena instructs Samantha to wait here with Alex, before taking the torch that Kara offers and heading into the dark tunnel. Kara lets her lead the way, and as they step into the next chamber, she hears Lena’s catch of breath as the ancient hieroglyphs come into view. There are hundreds of murals, each of them meticulously carved into the stone thousands of years ago.
“The Children of the Forest made these,” Kara tells her as they move along the cave wall.
“A very long time ago.”
“They were right here, standing where we’re standing. Before there were Luthor’s or El’s, maybe even before there were men.”
“No,” Kara says, before walking to another wall. She examines the mural alongside Lena. The carvings depicting images of the Children of the Forest and the First Men standing together.
“Are they fighting each other?”
Kara remains silent as she takes Lena by the arm and swings her torch towards another part of the wall. There, is a mural of the Night King and the White Walkers.
“They fought together against their common enemy. Despite their differences, despite their suspicions, together,” Kara says, turning to look at Lena. “Which is what we must do if we’re going to survive.”
Lena is silent for a moment, her eyes piercing Kara’s very soul. The look reminds Kara of her dreams, of those green, observant eyes. It’s both powerful and disarming, but underneath the slight unease, she cannot help but feel that she is being truly seen for the very first time in her life.
“The enemy is real, Your Grace,” Kara says, breaking the heavy silence. “It always has been.”
“And you say you cannot defeat them without my armies and my dragons?”
“No, I don’t think we can.”
Lena regards her before taking a step closer to Kara. “I will fight for you. I will fight for the north,” Lena says softly, but Kara watches in trepidation as the queen’s expression suddenly hardens. “When you bend the knee.”
Kara sighs gravely as she looks away. “My people will not accept a southern ruler. Not after everything they have suffered.”
Lena steps even closer, so close that Kara can smell the light Meereenese perfume that lingers on the queen’s skin. “They will if their queens does,” she says, a slight waver to her voice. “They chose you to lead them. They chose you to protect them. Isn’t their survival more important than your pride?”
The queen’s sudden intensity takes Kara by surprise. So does the notion that she is being arrogant in her refusal to bend the knee. She doesn’t know why the queen is questioning her character all of a sudden, but the accusation cuts deep for some reason.
A long moment passes before Kara finds her voice. “This is not about my pride.”
“Then what is it about?” Lena refutes, her eyes glinting dangerously.
“What will happen after I kneel for you?” Kara asks, refusing to back down from the queen’s formidable glower. She already knows what Lena will expect from her, but it is a price she is both unable and unwilling to pay.
“I would ask you to help me end Lex’s rule once and for all.”
Kara nods, her suspicions confirmed. “Which you know I cannot do,” she says, knowing that her words will further provoke Lena, but continuing, nonetheless. “Winter is here, and the true threat is to the north not the south. I cannot march my armies away from where they are needed the most.”
“Yet you are asking me to march my armies away,” Lena fumes, regarding Kara with open fervour now. “You would have me leave Lex unchallenged. Do you understand how unreasonable that is?”
Kara closes her eyes and takes a deep, calming breath. She had hoped that showing Lena the murals would make her realise. That seeing them in person, with her own eyes would convince her to join the fight against the White Walkers, but clearly it just isn’t enough.
“Do you want to be queen?” Kara asks rather bluntly, her frustration leaking into her tone.
Lena narrows her eyes at Kara. She opens her mouth to answer, but Kara cuts her off before she can speak. “If you do then be the queen. You don’t need the Iron Throne for that,” she presses. “You name yourself Protector of the Seven Kingdoms. I’m asking you to protect them.”
“By abandoning them to Lex?” Lena rebuts easily.
Kara shakes her head in exasperation. “Do what is right by your people, the people you mean to rule. Help me defeat the Night King, prove to us that you deserve the throne, and it will be yours.”
Lena is silent for a moment as she seems to consider Kara’s impassioned words. “There’s still a wall between us and the dead. Surely we have time to overthrow Lex.”
“The wall is vulnerable,” Kara counters. “My cousin has defended it against attacks that almost made it through.”
“Do the dead know how to climb walls?”
“I don’t know, but we’ve learned its best not to underestimate them.”
“Those who have fought Lex tell me it’s best not to underestimate him.”
A long, heavy silence falls between them. Kara did not expect their conversation to end like this, but she knows they have argued themselves into a stalemate. “Where does this leave us?” she asks after a moment.
Lena sighs and hands the torch to Kara. “It seems to me that you will continue doing what you think is best. And I will do what I think is best.”
“So, you will respect my rule in the north?”
“For now, yes.”
Another moment of silence passes between them before Kara takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Thank you for the dragonglass, Your Grace.”
Lena nods, her expression now sombre. “Shall we?”
Kara feels a sense of relief wash over her as they appear from the dark and oppressing passageway. She didn’t emerge from their little battle of words victorious, but neither had Lena. She has yet to secure the queens help, but she has dragonglass to forge weapons, and that is more than she thought she would have when she woke up this morning.
Alex and Samantha re-join them, and together they walk out into the cold afternoon winds that often befall the island. There they find Tyrion and Littlefinger awaiting them, both of them sporting equally grim faces.
“What is it?” Lena immediately demands.
“We took Casterly Rock,” Tyrion says.
“That’s good to hear,” Lena says carefully, watching in dismay as the two men exchange glances. Kara senses that neither of them are eager to share whatever bad news it is that they have.
“Isn’t it?” Lena probes.
Tyrion swallows nervously. “Lex’s army… wasn’t there. They’d moved east to capture Highgarden, along with the Reach. Lady Olenna Tyrell is dead, and Eve Teschmacher has sunk our fleet.”
Kara glances at Lena, who looks fierce in her rage. She clenches her jaw, her face mask of fury as she stares down at the imp, who seems to shrink even further under her intense gaze. Lena looks to be about to speak, but instead she spins around and begins to storm up the beach.
“You’ll want to discuss this amongst yourselves,” Alex says as they all follow the queen. “Perhaps-”
“You will stay,” Lena interrupts without breaking her stride. “All my allies are gone. They’ve been taken from me while I’ve been sitting here on this island.”
“We still have the largest army,” Littlefinger reminds her.
Kara bristles at the sound of the man’s voice. She has done everything in her power to avoid him, but at every turn there he is, reminding her of his betrayal.
“Who won’t be able to eat because Lex has taken all the food from the Reach.”
“Call Green Arrow and the Unsullied back,” Tyrion urges. “We still have enough ships to carry the Dothraki to the mainland. Commit to the blockade of King’s Landing. We have a plan. It’s still the right plan.”
“The right plan?” Lena fumes, wheeling around as the rest of them stumble to a halt. “Your strategy has lost us Dorne, the Iron Islands and the Reach.”
Tyrion hangs his head. “If I’ve underestimated our enemies-”
“Our enemies?” Lena questions harshly. “Your friend, you mean. Perhaps you don’t want to hurt him after all.”
Kara sighs under her breath. She may not fully trust Tyrion, and she will never truly understand some of the choices he has made, but if there is one thing she does understand, it is his hatred toward Lex Luthor. Tyrion has just as much reason as any of them to despise him, and so she does not doubt his devotion towards ending Lex’s rule.
Lena turns to look out at the ocean, and to the three dragons flying over the water. “Enough with the clever plans,” she says before turning back to look at Tyrion. “I have three dragons. I’m going to fly them to the Red Keep.”
“We’ve discussed this,” Tyrion pleads.
“My enemies are in the Red Keep,” Lena reminds him. “What kind of queen am I if I’m not willing to risk my life to fight them?”
“A smart one,” Tyrion implores.
Lena shakes her head in silent rebuttal before she turns to look at Kara. She seems to consider her for a moment, leaving Kara feeling a little uneasy. “What do you think I should do?”
Kara shakes her head. She has already escaped the other woman’s wrath once today. “I would never presume to-”
“I’m at war, and I’m losing” Lena interrupts, her voice almost pleading.
Kara falters at the sound of it, her heart going out to the other woman. She watches in silence as Lena begins to walk closer to her.
“What do you think I should do?”
Kara takes a deep breath as she turns to look at the dragons. “I never thought that dragons would exist again. No one did,” she says carefully. “The people who follow you know that you made something impossible happen. Maybe that helps them believe that you can make other impossible things happen.”
She hesitates for a moment as she looks back at Lena. “But if you use them to melt castles and burn cities, you’re no different. You’re just more of the same.”
Lena seems surprised by her words, but as she glances back out at her dragons, a look of determination spreads across her face.
“Very well,” she finally says, sending Kara a grateful smile before turning and striding back to the castle alone.
Chapter 4: Chamber of the Painted Table
Kara and Alex walk along the beach towards Dragonstone’s imposing castle. Time has not made its walls anymore welcoming. There are little things to like here. It is a grim and morose place, and Kara cannot help but wonder how Lena survives it.
“We’re making good progress,” Alex says, interrupting Kara’s internal musings. “Myraham will be ready to sail within a few days.”
Kara nods her head. The fat-bellied trading cog’s usual cargo of fine wine, fruit and spices has been replaced by crude wooden crates brimming with raw obsidian. Its first shipment will reach Winterfell in good time and then the real work will begin. Forging enough weapons to arm the north is no small feat.
Alex falls silent as they continue along the beach. Kara does not mean to be distant, but the subject has been at the forefront of every conversation she has had of late. Her days have been dedicated to preparing the north, and her nights have become devoted to Lena.
Her dreams are more vivid than ever. Only this morning she awoke with a breathless gasp and a sudden, intense need to see the other woman. In seldom moments of quiet like these, her mind plagues her with images of a naked Lena atop of her. The sound of her wanton moans reverberates around Kara’s skull like an orchestra. The feel of her hips slowly, achingly rocking against Kara’s fingers causes her skin to flush.
“So, what do you think of her?” Alex suddenly questions.
“I believe you know of whom I speak,” Alex says accusingly, a knowing look on her face as she observes Kara.
“I think she will be a capable ruler,” Kara concedes after a moment. “She has a good heart.”
“A good heart?” Alex says lightly. “I’ve seen you staring at that good heart.”
Kara blushes at the accusation. “There’s no time for that.”
“Perhaps not,” Alex admits as she nods to one of the men passing them by. “And what do you think of her actions at the Reach?”
Kara frowns at the questions. Following the tense and unbridled conversation they shared with Lena and her advisors a fortnight ago, Lena had ridden Leviathan south whilst her Dothraki cavalry launched a surprise attack on the Luthor army stationed at Highgarden.
“She did what was necessary.”
“Necessary…” Alex repeats under her breath.
Kara has known Alex long enough to gage that she is displeased with Lena and her advisors. A month ago, she might have agreed with her, but for some unknown and irritating reason, she feels the need to defend Lena.
“How many men did we kill taking Winterfell back from the Bolton’s?”
Alex sighs at the loaded question. “Still, burning Lord Olsen and his son…”
“I believe they were given a choice,” Kara refutes.
“Kneel or burn,” Alex muses as they begin to climb the stairs that lead to the castle. “I wonder if you will be given the same courtesy.”
The unwelcome thought has occurred to Kara on many occasions since her arrival on the island. Her continuing refusal to bend the knee will not tolerated forever. There will come a time when Lena has no other choice but to turn her army north.
Kara sighs heavily and is about to speak when a voice interrupts her. “Queen Lena requests your presence, Lady Zor-El,” Samantha says as she approaches them. “Lady Alexandra may join us as well.”
“It would be an honour,” Alex says courteously, but the look she throws Kara tells an entirely different story. Still, they follow Samantha into the castle, through the empty throne room and into the Chamber of the Painted Table.
Kara has only ever heard stories of the clandestine room. As a child Maester Luwin would tell of how Lachlan the Conqueror commissioned his carpenters to shape the table after the lands of Westeros, and of how they sawed out each bay and peninsula until nowhere on the table ran straight.
Maester Luwin’s stories do not compare to the real thing. The round room has four tall windows overlooking each point of a compass. The table itself is more than fifty feet long and roughly twenty-five feet wide. On its surface, which has darkened by near three-hundred-year-old varnish, are the Seven Kingdoms as they had been in Lachlan’s day: rivers and mountains, castles and cities, lakes and forests.
Lena sits at the head of the table with Tyrion and Littlefinger flanking either side of her. A Westerosi man that Kara does not recognise stands rigid behind the queen. Lena has yet to speak, instead she continues to stare at the map of Westeros, pieces strewn out across it. Her hair is down today. The lack of her usual braids making it flow down her shoulders freely.
“You wanted to see me, Your Grace?” Kara asks, inclining her head politely.
“I did,” Lena confirms as she finally looks up at her from across the length of the table. Kara cannot help but notice the dark circles under her eyes and the weary way she waves her hand. Littlefinger rises from his seat at her cue and walks over to Kara with a scroll in his hand. “A raven has arrived from Winterfell.”
Kara feels a slight twinge of annoyance at having to read the letter in front of an audience, but she takes the scroll nonetheless and breaks the seal for what she is sure is the second time.
Nia has returned to Winterfell alive and well. Querl has also returned from beyond the wall possessed with strange abilities. He can see across vast distances and warns that the Army of the Dead are marching on the Wall near Eastwatch.
Kara stares at the words for a long moment. “I thought they were both dead,” she breathes as she hands the scroll to Alex.
“I’m happy for you,” Lena says, seemingly unashamed in her blatant disregard for Kara’s privacy. It should irk her more than it does, but her only concern is for her family and the north. If what Querl has seen is true, the Army of the Dead will reach Winterfell within a months’ time. “But you do not look happy.”
“Querl has seen the Night King and his army marching towards Eastwatch. If they make it past the wall-”
“The wall has kept them out for thousands of years. Presumably-”
“I need to return home,” Kara declares, ignoring Littlefinger’s contemptuous glower at being interrupted.
“You said you don’t have enough men?” Lena questions, her tone suspicious.
“We’ll fight with the men we have. Unless you’ve changed your mind?”
“And give the country to Lex?” Lena fumes, her patience fading. “As soon as I march away, he marches in.”
“Perhaps not,” Littlefinger interjects. “Lex thinks that the Army of the Dead is nothing but a story made up by wet nurses to frighten children. What if we prove him wrong?”
“I don’t think he’ll come see the dead at our invitation,” Alex says bitingly, but Littlefinger shakes the remark off.
“So, bring the dead to him.”
“I thought that was what we are trying to avoid,” Lena asks, her brow furrowed.
“We don’t have to bring the whole army. One solider ought to be proof enough.”
Alex turns to look at Kara. “Is that possible?”
“The first White Kal-El ever saw was brought into Castle Black from beyond the Wall.”
“Bring one of these things down to King’s Landing and show him the truth,” Littlefinger urges.
“Anything you bring back will be useless unless Lex grants us an audience and is somehow convinced not to murder us the moment we set foot in the capital,” Tyrion reminds them.
“The only person he listens to is Eve. She may listen to me.”
Lena leans forward in her seat and levels her gaze on Littlefinger. “And how do you plan on getting into King’s Landing?”
Littlefinger smiles knowingly, before turning his attention to the woman standing beside Kara. Alex sighs deeply. “I can smuggle you in, but if the Goldcloaks were to recognise you, I’m warning you, I won’t fight for you.”
Littlefinger nods his head slowly. Lena sighs as she sits back, her eyes falling once more to a silent Kara. “Well, it will all be for nothing if we don’t have one of these dead men.”
“Fair point,” Tyrion says, turning to look at Kara. “How do you propose to find one?”
Kara pauses and stares at the ground. The prospect of carrying out this plan does not sit well with her. “With the queen’s permission I’ll go north and take one,” the guard behind Lena suddenly says as he steps forward.
“Ser Jack,” Lena says with a shake of her head. “I cannot ask that of you.”
“You asked me to find a cure so I could serve you. Allow me to serve you.”
Kara watches the tense exchange with slight unease. “The free folk will help us. They know the real north better than anyone.”
“They won’t follow Ser Jack,” Alex states.
“They won’t have to,” Kara says resolutely.
“You can’t lead a raid beyond the wall,” Alex breathes as she eyes Kara nervously. “You’re Queen in the North.”
“Exactly,” Kara states with finality. Alex nods her head mutely, her displeasure still obvious, but she does not push any further. Kara has no doubt that the subject will be broached again later tonight.
“I haven’t given you permission to leave,” Lena says stubbornly.
“With respect, Your Grace, I don’t need your permission,” Kara refutes as she meets Lena’s intense gaze. “I came here knowing that you could have your men behead me or your dragons burn me alive. I put my trust in you, a stranger, because I knew it was the best chance for my people, for all our people. Now I’m asking you to trust in a stranger.”
Lena drums her fingers on the tabletop before looking to her Hand. Tyrion sits forward and clasps his hands on the table. “I wonder if we might speak to Lady Zor-El alone?”
Alex shares an uneasy glance with her, but at Kara’s assertions she agrees to leave. As the room empties until only Kara, Lena, and Tyrion remain, she cannot help but feel like a fly that has been caught in a spider’s web.
As soon as the door closes behind Littlefinger, Lena stands from her seat. “It seems to me that this plan only favours the north. If Lex agrees to halt hostilities it will enable my army to aid the north, but what do I get in return?”
“What do you mean?”
Lena raises her eyebrows. “I assumed we were negotiating. You want something from me. Typically, this is where you offer me something in return.”
Scowling slightly, Kara looks away. She knows what Lena wants; it is the same thing she has wanted since Kara arrived that very first day. “I cannot bend the knee.”
Lena sighs angrily as she shares an exasperated look with Tyrion, who nods his head and addresses Kara. “If the queen were to travel north to fight by your side it would make you allies, would it not?”
Kara nods hesitantly. “It would.”
“And allies help each other,” Tyrion observes, his scarred brow raised in a silent challenge.
“But you will not bend the knee or join the cause to rid the Seven Kingdoms of Lex Luthor?”
Kara glares at him from across the table. She knows he is trying to bait her into agreeing with him, but she refuses to play his little game.
Tyrion smiles ruefully at her silence. “I assume that you want to protect everyone against the Night King, not just the north?”
Kara clenches her jaw as she looks between Tyrion and Lena. “I do.”
“And yet you refuse to fight against Lex,” Tyrion says with a sigh as he shakes his head. “You of all people know what cruelties he is capable of…”
Kara clenches her fists as the memory of that day bombards her. She can still feel the blistering hot sun scorching her skin. She still remembers the sound of the cheering crowd, the sting of the guard’s hand on her arm as he held her in place, and the snide smirk playing on Lex’s lips as he watched her struggle. But the most vivid memory that has engrained itself in her mind is the sound of her father’s sword being swung by the executioner, and the pregnant pause that followed. Sometimes Kara worries that the silence will consume her.
“He orchestrated the executions of your father, mother, brother and his unborn child.”
Kara looks up sharply. “I believe you played a hand in that massacre.”
“Enough,” Lena says as she gives Tyrion a warning look. The imp sighs impatiently before taking his goblet of wine and walking over to the east facing window. He does not look back as Lena begins to speak again, this time her focus is solely on Kara. “I understand that you are unwilling to risk any of your men in the war against Lex, but what if my people were your people?”
“What are you suggesting?”
Lena looks down at the map, avoiding her gaze suddenly. “It seems to me that the simplest solution to our little impasse would be marriage.”
Kara is stunned into silence, but Lena fills the quiet with nervous ramblings. “I mean to say that we both have something the other wants. And you are unwed, as am I,” she continues, lifting a shoulder nonchalantly.
“Surely you have other options,” Kara says as she fidgets with her hands. “Someone who will be able to give you an heir.”
Lena swallows timidly. “Littlefinger has suggested a distant cousin of Lady Olenna, but as of yet I remain un-betrothed.”
Kara narrows her eyes at the mention of Littlefinger’s name. “And as for the matter of heirs,” Lena continues. “I am unable to have children.”
Lena spoke the words with such openness and vulnerability that Kara’s gut twists, but after Ramsey, Kara swore that she would never marry again. And yet here she is considering the woman before her. Entering into a political marriage with Lena will serve the north greatly in the harsh times to come. It might even come serve Kara.
“You can refuse of course,” Lena says, taking Kara’s silence as an approaching rebuttal.
Kara shakes her head as glances over at Tyrion, who still stands with his back to them. She looks back at Lena and steels herself for what is to come. “I accept.”