Chapter 1: The line between wrath and mercy
“Fawn over your bastard all you wish, my lord,” Elia says to him, when finally he returns to court, when finally he deems to leave aside his mistress for his wife. “But I will not suffer the child being raised with Rhaenys and Aegon.”
“Come now, Elia,” Rhaegar says, beatific in his surety - he is to ride into battle on the morrow, fighting to defend his father’s throne, which stands in danger as much because of his actions as Aerys’ madness. “She will be their sister-”
“She will be a bastard,” Elia insists. “And I will not suffer another Daemon Blackfyre, husband.”
The Mountain looms impossibly large over them - Rhaenys is gone, in a flurry of curls as black as Elia’s own above eyes as lavender and terrified as gentle Queen Rhaella’s, and Elia is thankful for it.
Rhaegar has lost, then. So be it. At least the world will not end, Elia thinks bitterly, laying Aegon on the bed behind her and setting herself between him and the monster Rhaegar anointed a man.
Rhaegar anointed and decreed and decided without a care for those poor souls left in his wake. Elia has spent their whole marriage attempting to smooth ruffled egos and bruised hearts, but she could always forgive him that, seeing something of Doran’s reserve and Oberyn’s disregard in him.
Now, though? Now, she cannot imagine how she ever saw her brothers in her white-bellied fool of a husband. Who gambles their world on a misinterpreted scrap of prophecy?
“My brothers will see you dead if you lay a finger on me,” she spits at him, and he is reaching a massive hand out for her throat when a shining golden sword sinks into the joint at his elbow, darts back, drives deep into his bare neck.
The Mountain falls, and brings Ser Jaime halfway with him - but Ser Jaime rises again, a sun in splendour in that gilded armour of his, and slams through into Rhaegar’s bedchamber to fell Lorch, who falls less like a mountain and more like a sin.
Rhaenys suffers terrible nightmares, and insists on hiding her silvered scars under scarves of scarlet silk and gold gossamer and black velvet. She is so brave, asking for her beloved papa only twice after Rhaegar’s cremation on Dragonstone.
Rhaella perhaps hears more requests for stories of Rhaegar - Elia has so few to share with her daughter that she is glad of it.
Aegon, a babe, has no memory. Aegon, a king, will speak of this most terrible of events over and over, all across his reign. Elia, his regent, will ensure that none forget just how dangerous even their allies are, in this uncertain world in which they find themselves trapped.
Elia is only thankful that they live - she has her brothers behind her, Arthur returned to her in shame and Ashara returned in grief, the Reach sworn reluctantly to Aegon through victory and the promise of a crown of gold for Fat Mace’s newborn daughter, and the Lannisters…
Well, the Lannisters. Who ever knows just where the Lannisters have truly sworn their swords, save to the almighty Rock? She takes Genna Frey as a lady-in-waiting regardless.
Rhaegar’s bastard was a boy, not the assured girl, and his child-mother barely survived bringing him into the world.
“Marry her to someone safe,” Oberyn says, sharp and unkind, as though he is not set to wed a rebel’s daughter, rebel’s widow, with a bastard daughter at her heels. He of all should be sympathetic to the lady wolf, surely?
It has been near four years since Elia saw her husband lose his mind and let his cock lead him to the girl, and still it stings. Perhaps sympathy is not something left in her heart any longer, cut away by the scars on Rhaenys’ arms and the eye the Mountain crushed from Ser Jaime’s pretty face.
The bastard remains at Winterfell, under strictest guardianship, when his mother comes south, given in marriage to Rhaegar’s pet Hand, ever-mourning Jon Connington who wears more black than the Night’s Watch.
Elia feels unkind, but it is best. If the boy is far away and forgotten, he is no threat to Aegon. She will suffer no threats to either of her children. Never again.
There are memorials - songs and stories, statues and ciphers. Elia ignores them publicly, but she gathers them in secret, delivered to her hand by Oberyn’s little snakes, who feast so gleefully on Varys’ little birds.
A statue of Robert Baratheon - well, of a crowned stag with a warhammer at its feet - is raised in the town below Storm’s End, where Jon Connington now sits as Lord Paramount of the Stormlands. Elia knows it is meant less as an insult to Jon personally and more as an honour for House Baratheon, who ruled near three centuries and are missed for being less strict than House Connington.
Jon rages. Jon always rages, at Elia, because he blames her for Rhaegar’s death. He rages a little less when the crowned stag falls, knocked accidentally by one of the wide balance beams of the wheelhouse bearing Aegon to Storm’s End, where Lord Connington is to host a tourney and feast for Aegon’s fifth nameday.
Elia winks to him, when someone mentions the crushed statue, and Jon goes terribly pale. His wife, at his side, is always pale, but looks worse even than usual now.
Robert Baratheon, Ned Stark, Jon Arryn, Hoster Tully.
They were not bad man, Elia knows - Ned Stark less than any of them fought for ill, for gain, and yet it is his House that she must watch closest of all.
House Arryn is dead. House Baratheon erased. House Tully too close by to be a worry.
But House Stark? The bastard hides among the Starks. Blackfyre, Bittersteel, Bloodraven, Baratheon - bastards of House Targaryen have always wanted more than their due. She will not allow this one to overstep.
She is told that he is a happy boy, who loves his cousin, the child-lord of Winterfell. She hopes that they will be as happy as she and Oberyn were, so he does not wish to challenge Aegon.
“My son is gravely ill,” Lady Connington says, her ever-sickly face all pallor and rage. “I would visit him, at Winterfell, and have him brought with me to Storm’s End when he recovers.”
Elia wonders if it was this damning naivety that drew Rhaegar to the girl, now a woman, and pities her for it.
“You may visit your son,” Elia says, ignoring the grit of Jon’s teeth and focusing instead on the flush of hope on Lady Connington’s corpse-white cheeks. “But he may not return with you. You must understand that such a thing is impossible, surely?”
Oberyn’s wife is sister to the Widow of Winterfell, plump and pretty and highly-strung, but devoted to Oberyn in a way that makes Elia forgive any ills she may otherwise see in Lysa’s character. She is Lady Connington’s inverse, in all things save the existence of her bastard daughter, and wonders just how different things might have been, in Rhaegar’s world or in Robert Baratheon’s.
“I should like to visit Winterfell with Lady Connington, if I may, Your Grace,” Lysa says, her high voice lisping as it sometimes does when she is nervous. “It is only that I have not seen my sister in so long, and we were so close-”
“But of course, sister!” Elia enthuses, delighted by this obvious turn of events, which she did not see. “Oh, Lysa, how could I deny such a thing to you? I know that I would have gone half mad for lack of my brothers, had we been apart so long as you and your sister!”
And of course, if Lysa is to go to Winterfell, then Oberyn will have to accompany her, and perhaps clever Nym can go with them, and their Ellaria, too, and they will be travelling in justified splendour, because of course Rhaenys will wish to go - she and Oberyn’s Nym are as thick as thieves, despite Nym being a little her elder, and Rhaenys so loves seeing new things that Elia cannot deny her this.
And where Rhaenys goes, the Kingslayer follows - so loyal to his little princess that his lordly father despairs openly.
The whole of the far-scattered North will bow to the show of strength that will be Rhaenys’ first progress. Oberyn will allow no less, and will ensure that this is no triumphant homecoming for the last daughter of House Stark.
“He is the plainest boy I have ever come across,” Oberyn says, perplexed, upon his return. “There is nothing remarkable about him whatever, sister. I had expected some sort of marvel.”
“You sound almost disappointed, brother,” Elia teases, remembering clever, shining Aegon, with his golden skin and silver hair and eyes like black amethysts, so bright even as a boy of five or six.
The bastard is six years old now, and outshone at every turn by his trueborn cousin - this, Elia has heard from sources as biased one way as Lysa and as biased the other as Lady Connington, through her husband.
“She says that Lady Stark is not unkind to the boy,” Jon says, “but that she shows favour to her own son - a natural thing, I would have thought.”
Jon’s son is a fine boy, tall for three with a tangle of bright red curls and a chubby smile that has Rhaenys thoroughly charmed. Elia wonders if Lady Connington will ever love her second son so well as she pines for her first.
“I think,” Oberyn says, “that the Lady Connington thinks that her son ought to be elevated in Winterfell, for his Stark blood.”
“Lord Stark’s blood runs true,” Elia says, shaking her head. “If you permit it, Lord Connington, I would have Lady Ashara speak with your wife - she may be better able to help Lady Connington understand the truth of the situation than any of us might.”
Ashara has since wed and had another daughter, but her heart still lies in a marbled-over grave at the foot of the Palestone Tower at Starfall, Elia knows. She is their best chance of making Lady Lyanna see sense, and gods be good but it is high time the girl thought of something other than her own blasted self.
There is a progress, when Aegon is five-and-ten.
Elia travels by wheelhouse, of course, and keeps the windows open so that she may laugh with Aegon and Rhaenys, as they ride alongside. Ashara rides with her, cradling her tiny Lenora to her breast, and Oberyn sometimes joins them, too, saying he is lonely for a lady’s company with both his own stuck in the capital with all their children.
It is marvellous - the Reach, first, and then along the goldroad and the coastroad to the Westerlands, back through the Riverlands and turning north, to the place where Aegon must be particularly honoured, if they are to quell the once-more rising rumours of rebellion.
The boy is only a year Aegon’s junior, four-and-ten and with Rhaegar’s height. He has the same long, melancholy face as his sullen mother, the same petulant set to his jaw, the same hungry eyes - his turned to his trueborn cousin, who is a handsome, gracious boy, a true credit to his mother, since remarried and made an Umber, where Lady Connington’s turn most often to Aegon, who has all that her son might have claimed, had Gregor Clegane’s work been done, and to Rhaenys, who burns as bright as the great red star that has filled the skies of light.
“Your Grace,” the boy grumbles, when presented to her, head down and jaw tight with something she dares not name.
“Master Snow,” she returns, light and airy as if she were greeting Cersei Lannister, turned Marbrand in the wake of the Rebellion. “Your mother was well, when last I saw her.”
Lady Connington had been sent from court for her reaction to Elia’s last decree before their departure - a decree banning Lady Connington from joining this progress, because what place had the King’s father’s mistress on such a journey? Daeron the Second surely never brought a Bracken sister or Missy Blackwood along when he had travelled, and Elia thought it best that of all kings, Aegon emulate Daeron the Good.
The bastard’s face is red with fury, when he lifts his head, and Elia smiles. It is not gracious, she knows, not queenly, but some low part of her triumphs in the face of proof that Rhaegar’s shame has been held down, in the shadows, where it belongs.
Chapter 2: Cold and relentless, with arms outstretched
I don’t respond to comments on this fic because so many of the people in the comments have brainrot. Jon Snow was the first ASOIAF POV I wrote when I started in on this fandom, and nothing has made me hate him as much as his fans.
If you’re feeling ballsy, hmu on tumblr @cosmonauthill, where I share even my stupidest anons for entertainment purposes.
Melisandre of Asshai, seeing Azor Ahai in the flames, seeks a man.
Jon Snow, still a boy, dies with a burning sword in hand.
The war at the Wall, about which Great-Uncle Aemon wrote a long, harrowing letter, one that made Elia grateful to have remained firmly south of the Neck since that far-away progress, seems very far away. Elia encourages Aegon to send supplies and support, of course, and he goes as far as to send Viserys to investigate - a true sacrifice, because his uncle is both his closest friend and most loyal lieutenant. He will make a fine Hand, someday, Elia is sure of it.
The war at the Wall seems very far away indeed, until Rhaenys arrives in Elia’s solar with another of Great-Uncle Aemon’s long letters in her hand. Elia sends away all of her ladies save for Ashara, beckons Rhaenys into the chair beside her own, and waits. It sometimes takes Rhaenys a long while to confess things that pain her.
“The Red Woman, the one who named the boy her hero? She was wrong. He is dead.”
Aegon more than Rhaenys showed some affection for the boy, and Elia finds herself surprised that Rhaenys is upset at his passing. The Red Woman had come to court at the invitation of Thoros of Myr, who runs with Oberyn and Viserys’ wilder crowd, and had thought to insinuate herself with Aegon and the little rose’s circle.
Silly woman. Margaery is too clever to allow another woman influence over her husband - Alerie Hightower taught her well. Elia ceded control of Aegon within six months of his wedding, and has found a harmony of purpose with her gooddaughter that Fat Mace’s wife and mother surely will never achieve.
When she failed to find a foothold in King’s Landing, Melisandy- no, Melisandre, that was her name, for all that it was rarely used when Red Woman was so much more striking - turned north, claiming to be guided by her fires and her visions, but in truth probably hoping to find a prince’s bastard more malleable than a King.
Clearly, Jon Snow entertained the same delusions his father had, of saving the world through lofty, hallowed action. Elia wonders if the Red Woman at least held the boy as he died. She hopes so. No one deserves to die alone.
“What happened?” Ashara asks, always more bloodthirsty than Elia has been.
“It would seem,” Rhaenys says, “that these Others of Northern story? They are far more than just bedtime tales to scare naughty children.”
Rhaenys has already sent her pet lion to ask Aegon to call the small council, Elia is sure, and she leans back on her couch to consider how the board is laid. Aegon will seek to ride North, she is sure, but who will wish to ride with him? Cersei Lannister will push her husband to war, but the Milksop - some Lannister cousin with a foppish air who is so wholly cowed by his wife that the Rock and all its authority will crumble into the sea upon Lord Tywin’s death - will do whatever his goodfather tells him to do.
What will Lord Tywin order? Fat Mace will stand by his King and, more importantly, his daughter, and Dorne will likely split her forces between Aegon’s van and the defence of the city, after the final act of the last war. Brash young Lord Hardyng in the Vale will likely wish to ride at Aegon’s side, and Edmure Tully will do whatever his King asks of him, because he would rather die than see war creep into the Riverlands. Young Lord Stark, who writes such cheerful letters to his bastard cousin, is already entrenched at the Wall, per the reports of Elia’s friends in the North, and the Greyjoys will do all they can to slither out of their duty.
Which leaves Jon Connington on the one hand, and Tywin Lannister on the other. Hands present and past, the two men who hate Elia most in the world. Jon, at least, will do what is best for Aegon, for he loves Rhaegar’s son better than he does his own two fine boys, but Lord Tywin remains as unknowable and aloof as the Rock he prides himself on.
The small council fluffs and flails to avoid war, which is not surprising. They put on a show of unprecedented unity, until Viserys returns from the Wall.
He looks so very young, wrapped in scarlet silk, his throat burned away to nothing by cold fingers. Elia is glad that his face is unmarred. She does not think Rhaella could have borne that.
“He saved a dozen men, Your Grace,” shy Durran Bar Emmon says, with his tear-stained face and bright eyes. He was Viserys’ squire, a surprisingly effective weight of caution to counter Viserys’ lack, and has Viserys’ sword and personal banner in his arms, ready to present them to sweet Ysilla, who so loved her half-mad husband. “He gave his life for theirs. For- for mine, my lady.”
“And he would deem it a fair price, my lord,” Elia says sternly, not at all prepared to allow this boy to blame himself for Viserys’ sacrifice - he was always bound for a wild death, her goodbrother, whether foolish or brave, and she is glad that it was a brave end. He long played merry madman to Aegon’s good sense, and for years was the best person to draw a smile from too-serious Rhaenys - for all that he gave up to support her children, she is glad that the gods have given him this, at least.
How will Rhaella and Daenerys take this?
Aegon, Elia knows, will bear it publicly with kingly reserve, and weep into his little rose’s arms. Already he is making a public welcome for the remainder of Viserys’ retinue, offering them comfort in their grief. He is so very good at public grace, even when it is sometimes followed by stormy evenings in his private chambers. Elia can only be thankful that he has the sense to confine his ill-temper so neatly, and that Margaery is not given to gossiping about her husband.
Rhaenys will lead the public mourning, Elia suspects, because she loves few and loved her uncle so well. She is well-loved, too, more than Elia ever dared hope such a very Dornish looking girl might be, in King’s Landing - but she is well named. Rhaenys is as fiery and clever as ever the Queen that Never Was could have been, and just as charming as the youngest of the Conquerors. She and Nym have half the city wrapped around their fingers, and whoever is not charmed by them has been felled by either Aegon’s serious sincerity or Viserys’ wildness.
How will Rhaella and Daenerys take this?
When Dany’s betrothal to her Blackwood was announced, an envoy from their cousins across the Narrow Sea appeared. Elia had not even known that there were cousins left, had fully believed that Maelys had died childless - but not so, apparently.
Varys introduced the boy, more or less of an age with Aegon, silver and Valyrian and more Rhaegar’s image than either of his sons, as Daemon. Elia had not been able to hide her laughter, and thankfully sweet Margaery, then just Aegon’s betrothed but still the most influential force among the young people of the court, had laughed along with her. Daemon, whatever his grander political ambitions, was doomed the moment the little rose decided against him.
Even with Margaery’s disdain, he was all things charming and correctly mannered, and found very little purchase with any of them save Rhaella, who has a soft heart. He still tried, of course, because the Blackfyres were nothing if not stubborn - Daemon’s very existence proved that.
He had come to woo a princess, whichever princess would have him, and he thought to do so with a trunkful of dragon eggs. Rhaenys dismissed him without much fuss, busy enough with her handsome young husband on the one hand and her handsome white sword on the other. Dany, though, clever girl, accepted the stupid, priceless gift with fluttering sighs and giggles behind draping sleeves, and then merrily waved him back across the Narrow Sea in friendship and defeat.
Now, Dany sets those same eggs on Viserys’ pyre before returning to her mother’s side. Sensible young Brynden offers her his arm, and she takes it with one of her rare, genuine smiles - Dany is much better at the games of court than her mother ever was, Elia is glad to say.
Rhaella, of course, is veiled all in black, more deeply in mourning even than dear Ysilla. Such a shame. Ysilla truly seems to have loved Viserys, but having borne him a son will not draw husbands to her who will dote on her as Viserys did. Too many men will be too eager to control a Prince of House Targaryen, even of a junior branch - she will have to trust in her proud, fierce father in the Vale, and in what influence Elia might wield on her behalf.
Ysilla, with Aelyx balanced on her hip, sets the torch to the pyre. Rhaella had kicked up an almighty fuss about that, until Aegon had put his foot down and agreed that it was more appropriate for Viserys’ wife than his mother to lead the mourning.
The flames catch, and for a moment, the dragon eggs seem almost to glow.
And then they hatch.
Rhaenys has no dragon, and laughs when Elia asks if she is sorry for it.
“Oh, Mama,” Rhaenys says, smiling as though her eyes are not still red with grief for Viserys. “One of us has to remain here to keep the peace, and of course it must be me - am I not the oldest, now that Viserys is gone from us?”
Aegon has named his beautiful white dragon Viserion, and keeps it as close as ever he kept his uncle. Rhaenys likes her brother’s dragon best of the three, maybe because she likes Aegon best of the world’s newest dragonriders. Maybe because Viserion is the one who screamed and screamed and screamed when last they were brought poisoned food. When the little thing tries to breathe fire and fury at any and all danger to Aegon, it is almost as though Viserys has returned to them in it.
Elia misses Viserys more than she thinks she should. She loved him always, her other half-wild little brother, and she knows that he loved her - but he, more than anyone else in the realm, treated her with a queenly respect when she sat as Aegon’s regent, and that created a distance between them. It never became cold, but Viserys had a strict understanding of the hierarchy of the court, and held it almost sacred. The closeness Elia had enjoyed with her goodbrother before Rhaegar’s fool war was destroyed, as so much else was, by her husband’s selfishness.
Rhaenys could have been destroyed by that stupidity. Instead, she is radiant, with Rhaegar’s height and health and violet eyes, but Elia’s colouring, Elia’s mother’s face, Oberyn’s smile, Doran’s watchfulness. There is so much Martell in her, even though she is a true dragon at heart. The thought of a world without Rhaenys, without Aegon? It is enough to make Elia want to gather together all of Rhaegar’s scattered ashes so she might piss on them.
Somehow, even though Aegon is King, it is Dany who leads the cries for war.
The black dragon that spent its first days riding her shoulders, the dragon that is so much larger than its fellows, screes like a circling vulture when the armies of the realm begin to gather in the shadow of the Conquerors’ Hills.
In the shadow of the dragon’s wings.
With her hair gathered high and tight, she is very like Rhaegar on the eve of battle. She had the armourers use Viserys’ ceremonial plate, shining black Valyrian steel, to craft a suit of armour for her, and her mother gave her a pair of ruby-encrusted brooches to hold her long cloak to her shoulders. With her black dragon at her side, she might be Visenya come again.
Hadn’t Rhaegar thought to name the daughter he thought the Stark girl carried Visenya? How strange. How very strange.
There has always been something brilliant in Daenerys, something bright and sharp in the heart of her. She was easily dismissed before now, posthumous child of an unmourned king, tiny and quiet and set to be lost to the Riverlands when she wed young Brynden. Rhaella did all she could to keep Viserys and Daenerys close by, hiding them on Dragonstone while Elia worked hard to make sure everyone knew Rhaenys and Aegon in all their beauty.
Viserys rebelled early and often, making use of Oberyn’s fondness for all those Elia loved to enter into that wild circle, but Dany was as quiet as a lamb, seeming happy to remain on Dragonstone with those few special friends Rhaella chose for her, with her music and her books. That changed when she came to court for Aegon’s coronation, and danced with Brynden Blackwood. The gods themselves couldn’t have kept Dany away from court once she realised the thrill of making friends beyond those chosen by her mother.
She had refused a betrothed of her mother’s choosing too, turning down as many Celtigars and Velaryons as Rhaella could find, stubbornly nudging Aegon until he agreed to overrule his beloved grandmother’s paranoia in favour of his more beloved aunt’s happiness.
Perhaps that should have given them an idea of what was to come.
Aegon with his white dragon, Daenerys with their black, and the wild green dragon wheeling over their heads. Where now will they find their Rhaenys, since Elia’s Rhaenys does not fit this story?
Margaery is with child.
Aegon is radiant with joy, determined now not only to avenge Viserys’ death but also to return home to meet his child - and Margaery, who so carefully cultivates everyone’s perceptions of her, as carefully as her father’s gardens keep their precious roses, cannot hide her fear that he will fail.
“Please don’t let him know,” she says, frantically rubbing at her eyes when Elia happens upon her in what would be a godswood, if anyone in the city kept the Northern gods. “Please, my lady, he has more than enough to worry about without thinking I have no faith in him-”
“He knows that you have abundant faith in him, dear one,” Elia says, leaning hard on her cane as she helps Margaery to her feet. Her bones ache with the cold, and while she does not usually let anyone see her pain she thinks perhaps she should repay Margaery’s vulnerability in kind. “It would be impossible to love one another as well as you and Aegon do without trust.”
“Until the maester told me of the child, I- it all seemed a grand adventure. He has a dragon, now! How can I fear for his safety when he has a dragon? But all I can think is- is the Rebellion, my lady. I know I should not speak of it, but-”
But how can Margaery not think of Aegon’s father, scattering red blood and red rubies in the Trident, while she is carrying Aegon’s child? They are hardly more than children themselves, weaned on stories of Rhaegar’s death and Robert’s death and all those other hundreds of deaths. Of course Margaery is afraid. So is Elia.
“You may speak of it to us, sister,” Rhaenys says, appearing from between the trees as silent as a ghost. “Mama and I have no secrets, and you are one of us now.”
Rhaenys takes the brunt of Margaery’s weight, guides her to the path, and tosses a razored smile over her shoulder to Elia. She has never taken to Margaery, not as Elia had hoped she would, but Rhaenys knows what is required of them now.
If Aegon falls, even in victory, the child in Margaery’s belly will succeed him - and Fat Mace cannot be allowed to control that child.
Oberyn is wearing layers enough for a Northman under his bright copper-faced armour, and Elia would laugh if she was not so afraid.
“I will keep them as safe as I can,” he says quietly, holding her hands tight in his, against his heart. “Elia. Listen to me. Have I ever made you a promise that I did not keep?”
“Not by choice,” she says. “But I fear the gods may take this promise out of your hands, little brother. I fear they may take a great deal, before all of this is done.”
The gods have also delivered unto them a strange gift - a boy with eyes as green as the dragon who bowed to his touch, come from the swamps of the Neck with certainty both of purpose and death in his too-young heart. Young Lord Jojen is the first person who has ever taken Dany’s dragon dreams seriously, aside from serious Brynden Blackwood, and the three of them spend every spare moment they have bowed together over prophecies and omens.
Every day, Elia sees more of Rhaegar in Dany.
Mercifully, she sees more and more of herself in Aegon, and he is not afraid to stand against Dany’s shocking charisma. He is a wonderful King, and Elia is hollow with pain to know that very soon, too soon, his crown will pass to another.
Soon, too soon, she will lose her baby. Rhaenys is her favourite because Rhaenys has always been far more hers than Aegon, father of the realm from infanthood, but Aegon is her baby, and if he dies in battle in the distant North she may not even have a chance to mourn him.
Here, in King’s Landing, it starts to snow. Aegon’s dragon is invisible against the low cloud until the thin light catches on its gold spines, but Dany’s and young Jojen’s dragons wheel through the sky and there is no avoiding them. Will Aegon be forgotten to Dany’s shining legend, to young Jojen’s strange mystery? Elia will die before she allows such a thing to happen.
Aegon, silver-haired and black-armoured and Targaryen lavender-eyed, but also gold, Martell golden-skinned and Martell black-browed and Martell patience to temper even poor Viserys’ Targaryen wildness, is kneeling before Margaery - for the wife’s blessing she is giving him, her fingers tight in his hair, and to bid farewell to the child he might never meet, his hands gentle on her belly.
Might the patience he learned from her be enough to save him? To bring him home?
Had Elia given Rhaegar the blessing he sought before the Trident, what might their lives have become?
Lyanna Stark is at court, on the orders of her husband. She does not want to be here and Elia does not much want her, but Jon Connington rides to war sure of his death, and thinks his wife safer in King’s Landing than in Storm’s End. Elia does not like Jon any more than he likes her, but he has been a loyal and competent Hand to Aegon and he truly does love his children - he would not see them orphans, and as payment for his service, Elia will see Lyanna Stark safe.
“My son,” Lyanna Stark asks. “Did anyone think to deliver him home to Winterfell?”
My son. Lyanna Stark has three sons and a daughter, but she only ever talks of the one she knows least. Armand and Aleks Connington are fine boys, Lora a beautiful girl, but it is only Jon Snow that Lyanna Stark mentions at court.
“I asked,” Lyanna says, because she did. She had Viserys enquire of Great-Uncle Aemon, but she knows Lyanna Stark will not be pleased with her answer. “He was burned, as a brother of the Night’s Watch. As a Targaryen, too, I suppose.”
“He should have been brought home-”
“This may surprise you, Lady Connington,” Elia says, trying very hard not to hate this woman. She has spent twenty years trying not to hate her, and has not quite managed it yet, but she will keep trying. “But I take no pleasure in your loss. Your son swore himself to the Watch, and was honoured as a brother of the Watch. There is no shame in that, in doing for him what was his due.”
“It has never been me that you should hate,” Lyanna Stark has the gall to say. “I am not the one who overlooked you.”
“You think I hate my husband out of jealousy over you? You think that has been the root of my anger all these years?” Elia laughs. “You were a child then, so perhaps I could understand it, but now? Still?”
“I hate Rhaegar’s ghost because of the danger he put my children in! You stupid girl, yours was not the only life he nearly spent in pursuit of his accursed prophecies! What of my children, Lyanna Stark? Would you have been happy to see them dead if it meant your son had whatever you think were his dues?”
“He was just a boy,” she says, tears bright in those striking dark grey eyes of hers. “He did not deserve to die.”
“Nor do any of them,” Elia says, feeling very old and very, very tired. “Nor would we have, had we fallen to Rhaegar’s folly. We must pray now that your son’s death was not in vain. We must pray that if my son must die, too, then it will save the world.”
Rhaenys’ hand lands on Elia’s shoulder, alerting her to the audience they’re collecting. How long people like Cersei Lannister have waited for this day, to see Elia lose her temper, to see Lyanna Stark brought low once and for all! How Elia hates to give it to them!
“My brothers,” Rhaenys says, quiet, just barely loud enough to carry beyond the three of them - but it is silent, here in the hall, and so everyone will hear. “My brothers,” she says again, “have done and are doing all that could possibly be asked of them. Your son, Lady Connington, is as worthy of being honoured as my mother’s, but no more worthy. No more worthy than my uncle, or any other man who will die in this war, which we still don’t understand.”
There are boatloads of dragonglass being sent from Dragonstone, disturbing Rhaella’s peace, and all the Valyrian steel in the realm is being sent north even when its wielders did not wish to make the journey. Young Lord Stark, Lyanna Connington’s nephew and Catelyn Tully’s well-earned pride, is leading the defence in the North, and it is to him that Daenerys and young Jojen will fly on ahead. There is no escaping the Starks in the North, so Elia doesn’t know why she thought to avoid her least favourite of them all during this time of Northern war.
Margaery births a daughter, a beautiful girl with Aegon’s dark skin and bright eyes, but Margaery’s thickly curling chestnut brown hair.
“Aegon wanted to name her for you, my lady,” Margaery says, the babe sleeping against her breast. She does not look far behind her daughter, Elia’s granddaughter, and will sleep soon. It will do her good - keep her from fretting. “But only if you would allow it.”
Pride stirs in Elia’s breast, right alongside the grief. It is an honour beyond measure that Aegon would think to name his child for her, instead of his father.
“Elaena,” Elia guesses, and takes Margaery’s small smile as confirmation. “A beautiful name for a beautiful girl.”
Margaery’s small smile turns to tears when Elia brushes a rheumy, swollen knuckle against Elaena’s smooth little cheek.
“He has died, hasn’t he?” she asks - not of Elia, but of Rhaenys, who has not only Viserys’ Ysilla and Aelyx with her, but also her own little Baela and Alyn, her handsome Arstan Selmy at one shoulder and her Jaime Lannister at the other. Even Rhaella is here, on Ser Jaime’s arm, veiled and stooped under the weight of their grief. “My Aegon.”
“He loved you,” Rhaenys says, coming into the room. She sits on Margaery’s bed, the children clambering up after her to coo at their new cousin, their new queen. “He left letters with me, for everyone - just in case. There are several for you. There are several for her, too, when she is old enough to read them. He hoped they would not be needed, but he loved you too well to leave you without comfort.”
Margaery’s tears fall, and she tips her pretty face up so they will not land on Elaena’s face.
“He also left a will,” Ser Jaime says, guiding Rhaella to a chair. “Lord Commander Selmy was supposed to have it, but he was convinced to entrust it to the Princess as well.”
Rhaenys has been Lady Selmy for many years now, since she married Arstan, but to Ser Jaime she has always been Princess. Elia has long indulged Rhaenys’ special fondness for Ser Jaime, but knows not if she can allow such a thing between Lady Regent Selmy and Lord Commander Lannister - that is, if she has guessed the contents of Aegon’s will correctly.
Oh, Aegon. And so many others. Oberyn.
“We are all that is left of House Targaryen,” Rhaella says, holding her arms out to Alyn when he slides down off the bed. “Just us, my loves. We must be strong. We must be united.”
United against outsiders - Lannisters and Tyrells and whatever Blackfyres yet remain, beyond handsome young Daemon. Jaime and Margaery are on the inside and the outside both, and Elia has never been sure whether or not to trust them.
She supposes that now, with Elaena to protect and a realm turned upside down by grumkins and snarks and sorrow, that she has no choice.
“Someday,” she says, wondering if she will now be able to visit the Water Gardens, for the warmth and the peace and the time to grieve, “we will all be remembered as stories.”
Some won’t. Most of them will be footnotes in Aegon and Dany and Jojen Reed’s story of heroism and sacrifice. But some of them will be remembered. Elia will make sure of it, and she will not be alone in her endeavours. Rhaenys’ hand on her shoulder is proof of that.
“We, at least,” Rhaenys says, squeezing a little to Elia’s shoulder, touching the unruly curls of Elaena’s hair with gentle fingers, “have a chance to write those stories.”