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Soon the vestal bride

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"The traitor has returned."

Alicent looks up from where she is nursing her child. Father's countenance is marked by anger. No, not anger. This is wrath, long-nurtured.

She is not unused to wrathful men and women. Rhaenyra takes to wrath quickly. Viserys takes to wrath quickly. Alicent's babes are quick to wrath too. She is used to their tempers, but she has not seen wrath in her father before. It startles her.

"The Sea Snake?"

"No," Father spits.

She realises then the reason for his wrath.

Daemon.

Rhaenyra is touring the Kingdoms to look for a husband. Alicent is glad that she is not here to see his return.

"The King welcomed him with open arms."

They hear a resounding cheer shatter the suffocating and morse quiet of the Keep. The crowds, lords and commoners alike, are celebrating the return of the Prince of the City to his brother's embrace.

Alicent is glad that Rhaenyra will not witness them.

"I must arrange a feast," Father says.

She gives the King sons. Father arranges for the King hunts and feasts, even if be to fete his errant brother whom Father loathes.

"Thank the Seven that she is not here," Alicent murmurs.

"Oh, she is here," Father says bitterly. "She came running into the hall with a girl's grin on her face. I had forgotten that she could look anything but sullen."

Alicent's babe cries.

"You are pulling at her hair," Father says, alarmed.

Once, Rhaenyra lay on Alicent's lap. Alicent combed her hair with bleeding fingers. When stress became overwhelming, she would pull at Rhaenyra's locks. Her friend had never once complained.

Her babe cries.

---

Viserys parts himself in thirds; a third for the realm, a third for the daughter, and a third for the brother.

To his wife he comes with empty hands. He bids her lay on her back and fills her with rotten seed. She imagines his daughter in his place and watches the rats on the rafters.

He fucks with vigour of a younger man that night.

Rhaenyra cupped her hand about Alicent's cunt and taught her pleasure with dragon-warm hands. Alicent has not known pleasure of its ilk before or after. Until this night.

Viserys fucks her until she is gasping and turned insensate.

"Liked that, did you?" he teases her afterwards. There is a smugness to him she hasn't seen before.

She does not customarily spend the night with him after the bedding is done. She decides to spend this night with him. She is warm and woozy, and her husband's vigour has given her something she has not known in his arms before.

"Go on, then," he says in dismissal. "Good night."

"Husband?"

"Daemon will be here soon enough, after his whoring and drinking," Viserys explains lightly. He has the vigour of a young man today.

Bright-eyed, bright-grinned, bright-hoped is he, as he waits for his brother.

Alicent leaves him to it.

As she hurries down the corridor to her bed-chamber, she comes across the man her husband waits for.

"Alicent."

He does not call her Queen.

"Prince Daemon," she greets him.

He is not drunk, but she can smell his whores on him. Volantine perfume and satiation.

He eyes her from head to toe. Alicent knows she is a fair woman. She knows that men watch her for her beauty. Pregnancies have not warped her shape. She remains as slender as a maiden. Daemon does not look at her as a man looks at a woman he wants. He does not look at her as he looks at Rhaenyra.

"I hope you have served my brother well," he says.

The words cut her, as he intends.

The vigour her husband has filled her with is the vigour of his brimming happiness at his brother's return.

Her satiation turns into repulsed grief.

---

"And then, Daemon said that the Sea-Snake swung his mighty—"

Rhaenyra natters on.

Alicent wears her husband's colours as a faithful wife must. Rhaenyra wears Daemon's necklace.

They have slowly mended their ruins. This is not the beginning, but this is some other beginning. Alicent will not risk estrangement by criticising Daemon.

Viserys fucked her with a young man's vigour. Joy waxed him to strength upon his brother's return.

Rhaenyra natters on, about Daemon this and Daemon that. Joy waxes her to beauty.

Alicent has not kissed Viserys outside the forms of court and courtesy. Love turns Rhaenyra's face rosier. Alicent bends to kiss her on the cheek.

Rhaenyra stops her nattering on.

"You wear our colours well," she says quietly. She does not look at Alicent as she looks at Daemon, but she does not look at Alicent as Viserys looks at his wife.

Rhaenyra takes Alicent's hands in hers and presses kisses to her bleeding fingers.

They are kisses of charity.

Charity is more than what Alicent has from her husband. She lets Rhaenyra suckle the blood away.

"I wish you would stop doing this," Rhaenyra admits.

Does she speak of the bleeding fingers Alicent inflicts on herself? Does she speak of something else?

Clad in pink and gold, Rhaenyra is a vestal girl who will soon be bride.

"I will find you a husband," Alicent promises her.

She will find Rhaenyra a husband who does not wax to strength upon an errant brother's return. She will find Rhaenyra a man who has no children by a dead wife. The colours of the cloak that mantles Rhaenyra before the Seven will not be red and black.

"I don't want a husband," Rhaenyra insists, as she ever does.

Daemon has returned to court. Rhaenyra wears his necklace as a faithful wife does.

"You need a consort, when you are Queen."

Rhaenyra does not reply. There is blood on her mouth, the blood she has suckled from Alicent's fingers.

Alicent gathers the pleats of her red and black skirts to mop Rhaenyra's face clean.

---

Viserys fucks her with the vigour of an angry, young man.

"On your fours," he commands.

She needs his brusque help to be guided into the position he desires. He has never taken her like this before. She has never imagined something like this before.

She imagines Rhaenyra behind her, covering her back with kisses.

Her hands struggle to hold herself up.

Viserys bites her down her back, from her shoulders to her hips.

Rhaenyra would not have stopped there, Alicent thinks. The thought turns her wet and she clenches her thighs to hasten her husband's pleasure.

"Is all well, husband?" she asks, before she takes her leave.

"Daemon wishes me to make peace with Corlys."

Rhaenyra nattered on about Daemon's tales of Corlys.

"The Velaryons are your kinsmen," Alicent reminds Viserys dutifully.

Corlys was against her marriage. He was slighted by Father's elevation. A winner can afford to be gracious, Father says.

Why does Daemon speak for Corlys? Politicking, she supposes. Daemon needs more allies at court, and he will not find them outside Driftmark.

"Corlys has pulled the wool over my brother's eyes!" Viserys complains.

He grabs her hand and stays her.

Then he fucks her again with the vigour of an angry, young man.

---

Rhaenyra has eyes only for Daemon at the fete Father arranges for the return of the King's brother.

"How lewd," Father mutters. "The princess is a fool."

Viserys has eyes only for Daemon. He waxes from delight to joy when Daemon smiles at him.

"How ill-considered," Father declares. He does not call the King a fool.

Rhaenyra's sworn-sword watches her from the periphery. His mien is unreadable.

There are burn-scars on Daemon's neck. War has stained him. There are quiet and new griefs living on his brow. Perhaps he has changed. He clings to his brother without pride's curtailment. There is a shy bashfulness to him that Alicent has seen only in vestal maids.

"She should marry the Lannister," Father recommends. "You must counsel the King."

Rhaenyra watches Daemon as a predator might. The confidence in her gaze is obscene. She is sure of him.

Daemon does not look at her. He basks in his brother's attention.

"Are you well?" Father asks.

"Yes," Alicent promises him. "I will speak to the King about Jason Lannister."

She will not. Jason Lannister is a proud man. His pride has pride, Viserys says.

Father has married Alicent to a King. She is fucked to the tune of the King's moods. She does not realise this until he starts fucking her with the vigour of a young man, after this reunion. He has been desultory and duty-bound until Daemon's return to him.

Rhaenyra will not know a husband who fucks her as mood wills, Alicent is determined. She will be a vestal bride given to a man that watches her as her sworn-sword does. Alicent will make sure of it.

She imagines Rhaenyra in the King's place. She imagines the two of them on Syrax flying over the Sunset sea. She longs to feed Rhaenyra cakes. She knows that duty is life's truth and that duty forswears want. She must serve father and husband and realm. All that is in her power now is to protect Rhaenyra by wedding her to a man that will cherish her.

First, she must send Daemon away. Rhaenyra watches him in want's open bask.

"Father."

"Hmm?"

"You must see him sent away from the Princess."

It will not be Rhaenyra's fault, should Daemon succeed. The customs of her family are queer. She will not recognise the unnaturalness in Daemon's advances.

"You are learning them," Father admits. The pride in his voice bolsters Alicent.

She cannot be Rhaenyra's wife. So she will be Rhaenyra's mother.

---

Father finds his opportunity.

Alicent does not carry a child, but her stomach is queasy. She has overheard Father's news.

"Let me speak to her," she begs the King. "She must be in despair."

"Rhaenyra?" the King scoffs. "Oh, she is no innocent."

The King stands by his daughter's claim, but he refuses to stand by his daughter's virtue.

"Viserys."

"See her, then. Suit yourself," he agrees with ill grace. "Fetch her moon-tea, while you are at it."

Alicent has given him sons. The late Queen died giving him a son. He orders Alicent to fetch moon-tea for his daughter.

"She may not wish to—"

"That matters little. If she is to succeed me, the people must believe that she is a vestal bride."

"We must first question Daemon. We don't know what happened," Alicent insists.

"Your father was quite clear, wasn't he?" Viserys jeers. "Coupling, I remember, was the word he preferred."

Alicent takes the blow. Then she repeats with quiet vehemence, "Interrogate your brother. I will deal with Rhaenyra."

She would have afforded Viserys the courtesy of refraining from mentioning Daemon's relation to him, but his slights against Rhaenyra and Father sting.

---

Rhaenyra is aghast at the accusation.

"I swear on the memory of my mother," she insists, before the heart-tree in the Godswood.

She is not wearing the accursed necklace.

"You will marry and put this behind you," Alicent tells her. "You will go to your husband a vestal bride."

"Yes," Rhaenyra says quietly.

Alicent kisses her.

"Your hands are bleeding," Rhaenyra mutters.

It has been a long night of worry and tears. Alicent knelt before the King and begged him to refrain from sending his daughter moon-tea.

Her life is given to realm and king and father and babes. She cannot be Rhaenyra's lover. So she will be Rhaenyra's mother.

---

Viserys comes to her bedchamber that night.

"You are crying," he says. He brings cakes and a book.

Taking a seat beside her curled form, he begins reading to her. It is about the mysterious healing powers of the Maidenpool. His voice is oratorial. It has in it no lulling balm.

"They are dragons, Alicent," Viserys tells her. "They cannot act against their nature for very long. Self-curtailment only sustains itself for a period of time."

"She told me that—"

Alicent cannot bring herself to tell the late Queen's widower that his daughter swore lies many on her mother's memory.

"I love her," Viserys confesses. "I love Daemon too. They are my blood. To love them is to know this too, to know that they are the children of the dragon, that you cannot expect of them what you can expect of the Westerosi."

The Westerosi. Viserys rules Westeros, and he does not consider his subjects his people.

"Otto asked me to take good care of you," he continues.

He has dismissed Father from royal service. Daemon has fled. Rhaenyra has agreed to marry the Velaryon boy.

Alicent's hands are bleeding.

"Laenor Velaryon is rumoured to be disinterested in women," she intercedes. "Let her marry someone of her choice."

She will not have Rhaenyra weep curled up alone in a bed, as she does.

"You and I know who her choice is," Viserys replies brusquely.

"If he took her against her will—"

"My brother is no rapist," Viserys cuts in. "My daughter is no innocent."

Rhaenyra lied to her.

"Please, husband, let us not act in haste. A marriage is unto death. We must not give her away to a man who cannot love her."

"A marriage is a contract," he replies. "As you well know."

He will not be moved.

"Allow me to prepare the city for her wedding. It must be an occasion worthy of our realm's delight," she pleads at the end, when she must resign herself to his resolution.

He grants her that.

"I have bribed to silence the maids who might know something," she tells him. "You must demand the same of Father's sources."

Rhaenyra's future subjects will not question her. They will not cast insinuations about her chastity. They will know that her parents gave her to her husband as a vestal bride.

Alicent cannot be Rhaenyra's lover. So she will be Rhaenyra's mother.