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Oh, mercy, I implore

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She collects friends with the same ease she conceives healthy babes - so her goodmother tells her, something soft and wistful in her sad eyes, and Berta cannot disagree.

Her very first friend was Cersei Lannister, just as tall and beautiful as Berta herself, but otherwise as different to her as the day from the night - slender where Berta is broad, demure where Berta is forward, calculating where Berta is brash, Cersei ought to hate her, and yet they get along nicely. Berta knows better than to trust any woman born of Tywin Lannister’s cold seed, and remembers the fabled Lady Joanna well enough to know that there is no sweetness in Cersei from her mother’s line, but she enjoys Cersei’s company, and knows that it is far better to have her as a friend than an enemy.


 

Her very first child is a girl, a sweet little thing of red cheeks and storming cries, Berta’s image in every way - born in King’s Landing while Rhaegar is away at Dragonstone, Berta names her daughter Rhaelle, for her grandmother and the Queen, before Rhaegar can return and insist on Rhaenys. 


 

There is Elia, too, a little older than Berta and a great deal wiser. Elia is blessed with a beautiful son, Olyvar who has her old eyes, and a husband who values her wit and wisdom too much to try forcing another child from her frail body. Elia keeps watch over all, seeing more even than nosy Cersei or paranoid Aerys, and takes those too wild or too wayward to otherwise thrive at court under her delicate wing, training them all into manners and loyalty.


 

Berta has a son almost the same age as Oly Hightower, as much like Rhaegar as Rhaelle is like her, who Rhaegar named Aegon while she was still sleeping in the birthing bed, and two daughters between Rhaelle and Aegon, tiny little Daena, who clings to Stannis whenever he visits, and big strong Helaena, who so adores the Sword of the Morning’s sister, fair Ashara.


 

Cersei mocks her viciously when she begins to show with her fifth child, poking fun at her rapidly expanding belly and the swollen weight of her breasts - Berta does her best to ignore it, because it is inappropriate for the Crown Princess to smack her principal lady-in-waiting sideways. 

Berta suspects there to be a very specific cause to Cersei’s cruelty - she has been wed to Stannis for a year already, and has no child to show for it, after all, and while Berta knows that her brother has hardly any appetites whatsoever for anything but duty, Cersei is a singularly beautiful woman, and bedding her is a duty, even if it is a different sort of duty than Stannis is used to. 

Even so, it is hard to tolerate, so much so that Berta begins to wish that Rhaegar was a more active husband, that he would speak to Cersei - a word from him, and she would be so busy swooning that she wouldn’t speak a single unkind word for half a year. 


 

Visenya, Rhaegar names her final daughter, something smug and confident in his face that she has never seen before, not with any of their other children, save Aegon. He ignores her second son, a handsome little boy with a mass of hair as black as Berta’s own, who she names Baelor, just to annoy Rhaegar - she knows how the comparisons to Baelor Breakspear and Baelor the Blessed both annoy him, just as the comparisons to Argella Durrendon and her unwanted dragon-husband annoy Berta.

She vows to love Rhaelle and Daena and Heleana and little Baelor twice as much, just to make up for their father never looking at them as he looked at Aegon and Visenya, and dainty little Lysa Tully, her newest and sweetest lady, frowns to hear it.

Berta likes Lysa enormously, thinking her a simple little thing with a soft heart. She understands differently when Lysa Tully runs away with her husband.


 

Rhaegar leaves her a letter.

Berta has never been a woman for letters - Rhaegar knows this, considering how little effect his attempts at wooing her by word had had, before their marriage - and she finds a particular insult in this letter.

Stannis, oddly, is the first to offer her comfort, a stiff embrace high around her shoulders, and a vicious promise to beat her husband black and blue and further for the insult he has dealt her.

She feels strangely hopeless and useless, for all her anger, because it is not even truly her that Rhaegar has insuled - she cannot have any more children, not after birthing the twins, and it seems that only a third of her beautiful children are good enough for their black-hearted father. 

Lysa Tully, in her simple, simpering sweetness, has been deigned a suitable mother for Rhaegar’s third useful child, and Berta half wishes to ride to RIverrun and tear it stone by stone into the blasted rivers the Tullys love so much.

Instead, she gathers Stannis, and Lord Tywin, and Elia’s husband and brother, and she goes to the small council with Rhaegar’s letter of salt-and-smoke and three-headed-dragons in her hand, and issues only one true order.

“My son,” she says, “will be King.”


 

The Tullys are held from war, somehow. Berta does not know, and she cares even less - she has taken her children and departed to Storm’s End, to weather this whirlwind her husband has left in his wake.

Stannis is still furious with the goodbrother he has so loved all these years, and Cersei matches his rage - oh, Berta is not so stupid as to think Cersei's anger is on her behalf, knows well that her goodsister is angry only because Rhaegar did not choose her - in a way that makes Berta feel both welcome and exhausted.

Rhaelle alone of the children seems to truly understand just how deeply wrong things are - she is the oldest, eight years old and wise beyond them, and she spends all of her time keeping her sisters and brothers as quiet as she can, so that Berta might deal with Stannis and Cersei and those visitors and petitioners who come from court.

Renly, bless him, is a balm to the children - he alone can draw a smile from Rhaelle and quiet Baelor, and Berta is sorry that she has never known her youngest brother so well as he deserves. 

Even so, it is difficult. Rhaelle and Renly are but children themselves, and Stannis and Cersei seem so impossibly young, and Berta wishes bitterly that her mother and father had not died of that queer illness that had swept the Stormlands half a year ago.

 


 

 

Berta leaves the children at Storm's End, where they will be safe - Stannis will never allow harm to come to anyone of his blood, particularly not a child of his blood, because for all that she does not think he understands it, he does love, and fiercely so - and returns to court with only her ladies in attendance.

She is relieved that none of them seem insincere in their cleaving to her side, in their anger at Rhaegar and at his silly little mistress, and is particularly grateful for her Dornish ladies, who tease and jape that she ought to make some of her many admirers the happiest man alive and take a lover.

She would not - she has thought of it before, while Rhaegar was away or particularly distant, but she knows that it is not worth losing her head to simply enjoy a pleasant night in bed with a pretty man - but it is more tempting now than it has ever been before, and she tells her ladies as much when things seem most grim.

The King is mad, has been mad for some time, but when whispers begin of wildfire and his Hands burn, one, then two, and the Queen wails in pain, Berta wishes she had not returned to court, even if it is supposedly her home now.

 


 

 

When Rhaegar returns, he is alone.

"Lady Lysa is due to birth our child before the moon next turns," he says calmly, as though this is no great thing, as though the comparisons to Baelor the Blessed have not turned to Aegon the Unworthy instead. "A daughter, we suspect, who will be installed in the royal nursery with my other children-"

"No bastard belonging to a Tully slut will be raised alongside my children," Berta inserts firmly, surrounded by her ladies and her allies. "Raise the child at court if you must, but know that if you do, you will never see another of your children again."

"Roberta-"

"My children," she says, "will be raised as princes and princesses of House Targaryen, for that is what they are. Lysa Tully's bastard is no trueborn heir of your House, my lord, and I will not allow it to be raised as such."

 


 

 

Her stubbornness earns her more support than it earns sympathy for Rhaegar, much to his obvious annoyance, but he brings Lysa Tully and her baby-fattened belly to court all the same.

Berta has the children brought before the bitch can arrive on her husband's arm, and stands surrounded by them, with the twins in her arms, when Rhaegar presents his mistress to the court. 

"I am sure that we can be the best of friends," Lysa coos, when Rhaegar seats her beside Berta at dinner that night.

"No," Berta says easily, pouring a cup of wine for the Queen, who is nursing what looks like a sprained wrist, "for I do not make friends with whores."

 


 

 

Lysa Tully's daughter has red hair and blue eyes, like her mother, and the High Septon refuses to anoint her as Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, instead naming her Rhaenys Waters, and frowning even to do that much.

 


 

 

The King's madness spills over while all of court has retreated to the tourney grounds for the celebrations Rhaegar has arranged for his bastard's birth, or to the tourney Berta has arranged as a counter, which has drawn a larger crowd and a much finer field of competitors. 

When they return, Jaime Lannister kneels before her, before Aegon, with his head bowed low.

"I beg Your Grace's pardon," he says, lifting his head just enough to reveal the hint of a blood-spattered smile on his face, "but the King planned to ignite the whole city in wildfire - there was nothing I could do."

Berta grants the pardon as easily as a dream, offering Ser Jaime her own hands to raise him from his knees, and calls for something to cover her goodfather's bleeding body as though it is a thing of no true worth.

"One gone," Elia breathes, reaching over to smooth down Baelor's tufty hair, "and only one yet remaining."

 


 

 

Rhaegar slips and falls on his way down from one of his dusty towers, not a year after his coronation.

Berta always warned him that his precious scrolls would be his death.