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Cracks In Our Foundations

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Ashara placed another helping of baked apples upon her son's plate, her smile wavering slightly. His forlorn expression did not lighten. "Must you send him away so soon?" she asked of her husband who had yet to put down his scroll. "It makes no matter, surely, whether he waits another moon turn before going back. 'Tis not as though he will be sorely missed."

"It makes matter; I have given my word he will return by the turn's end and so he shall." Jon lowered his reading material, eyes set in a glower which he directed at his heir, "I will hear no further complaint upon this matter, and I understood?"

"But, lord father," Rhaegar protested, trying to plead his case, showing, not for a first, a trace of steel. Ashara attributed that to his sire. "If I leave, Rhaella will be all alone."

The scroll slapped against Jon's knee. "Your sister will learn to keep company with the other ladies of court. And you will go back to your training. In this house, I am lord and master and my word is final."

Leaning back in her seat, Ashara gave him a hard stare, which her husband pretended not to see. Rhaegar rose from his seat in defiance to his words but she swiftly tugged on his sleeve, settling him back into place. "Best you finish your meal. Rhaella was telling me she would enjoy a walk through the gardens after, were you not, dearling?" she asked of her daughter.

For a brief moment Rhaella held her counsel before she allowed a shy nod. "The sun is out this day," she commented in an offhanded manner and returned her attention to the plate before her, apparently engrossed fresh buttered bread and dried fruits.

Jon, meantime, had once more risen the scroll so that it may block his view of them. Ashara leaned back in her seat, annoyance simmering to a low boil in her veins. There were times when she wished she'd spurned his offer when he'd made it. "Come now, eat," she instructed her children, picking at her own food. It was no true example she sat, but she feared an appetite was the last of her possessions at that moment.

Mercifully, the twins made short labour of what was left on their trenchers and were off with Jon's blessings before another argument could break out. She, on the other hand, was obliged to sit with her husband and answer for earlier transgressions. "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times; stop encouraging that boy to cling to your skirts."

"I have not seen my son in nigh a couple of years," she retorted, not about to be shamed by him of all people. "Surely I do not ask so much. He shall be a knight like his father whether he returns this turn or the next." Jon fixed her with a cold stare. She did not care. She hoped the words hurt him.

"There are times, lady wife, when one reached too far. The fall could be most painful." Like waters off the wings of a duck, his warning left little impression. Jon reached out for his cup of wine and took a sip. "You have Rhaella to mind. That is more than enough responsibility."

What did he know? Rhaella needed little guidance. Even in the absence of her brother the child knew how to entertain herself. "You have not seen them in years, Jon. They are strangers to you. But then, you never truly took the time to know them."

Finally exasperated by her antics, her husband combed his fingers through his heir and gave a deep sigh. "What is it that you want. And do be truthful, none of these mummery pieces you keep putting on."

"How dare you imply I have ulterior motives? I am a mother, can you not understand such a simple fact? I want my children at my side. The Queen may keep her son with her, Lady Lyanna's brood is forever a step behind their mother, Ser Ned's wife had yet to send any of her children away. Why must I suffer so abrupt a parting?" Her outburst gained her no sympathy, Ashara feared.

"Because, you fool, the longer they remain at your side, the longer a rumour or another will trail them like a pestilence." Her lips clamped shut with the effort it took not to answer his insulting address. "You are no longer in Dorne where a lack of virtue is to be celebrated."

"If there is any talk," she responded, forcing her voice into low volume, "then it is encouraged by you and your continual dismissal of both the children. It is not my fault you were not man enough," she topped herself before she could complete the line as she desired to and forced a last minute change, "to-to remain with us or have us here with you."

By the expression he bore, she knew he was well-aware of her meaning. Yet she would not sit there and allow him to walk all over her. "I am for the gardens as well, lord husband. A little clean air will serve me admirably," she declared hurriedly, out of her seat and walking.

"Ashara, come back here," she heard him say. Alas, she'd no plans to turn around. And Jon would not come after her. She was quite safe disobeying him.

Only once nearing the stairs leading without did it occur to her she had no cloak and a chill persisted in the air. Frustration gnawed at her insides. She would not go back. Yet she could not proceed.

"My lady?" a familiar voice called her attention. Without looking she knew the owner.

"Ser Barristan," she greeted in return, facing him. She'd clapped eyes upon him as soon as she'd arrived, of course. A woman did not forget her benefactor so easily. But they had no cause to come together, thus she had kept her distance.

An idea occurred to her. A horrible, wonderful idea. The frosty smile upon her lips dropped. He seemed thunderstruck, though she doubted he could see what went on in her mind, for if he had any notion of it, his reaction would be more horrified then astounded, she reckoned.

Yet would it not be wonderful. And there was no cause for which she should not be satisfied. Ever so slowly her smile returned. "Have you a moment for me, ser?" she asked, trying her hardest to inspire his sympathy.

"Forsooth, my lady," the Kingsguard offered in a most dignified manner. Were it not for the subtle moment of hesitation she would have thought him unaffected.

"If you would be so kind as to join me in the gardens." He nodded and offered his arm.