It was astonishing how fast madness had become her new normal. Not every hour of every day, of course. Not even every day or every week. But in the day she had seen the two burnt bodies as they had been carried out of the throne room something had broken inside her, in her very core. All her flights and avoidance had been for naught. Rhaegar had not returned and she cursed him for that, for his lies that he’d always keep her and their children safe from witnessing his father’s madness. Now, they were in the very heart of it, in the eye of the storm, and they had no Rhaegar to build a life with. Just Aerys.
Sometimes, he demanded that they attend his meting out justice and Elia found herself frozen with fear, unable to even beg for mercy because she felt it in her bones that it would take just the tiniest nudge for him to unleash his anger upon the children that he insisted to have there and her. So she only clasped her hands together, looking at Rhaella who always managed to keep her face blank and her eyes unblinking. She had to do the same but she knew her own face betrayed her. Fortunately, the King never looked at her, intent not to miss even an ounce of his justice.
Guards were changed in front of her chambers many times a day and those at her door, hourly. Elia started noticing the lack of the few short words when the shift was passed. Whenever she left, even for a brief walk in the guardens, four men followed her, as if they feared she’d dig a tunnel and disappear. Madness, she thought. Madness.
Then, Rhaegar returned and her fears only deepened. He was deeply disillusioned with Lyanna Stark, just as Elia had expected. She had just thought it would take longer – a year, perhaps. But then, she had not taken into account the fact that the two of them had been together all the time. Elia’s impression of the girl, formed at Harrenhall, was that Lyanna Stark was keen of justice but also childishly exalted, refusing to make allowances for things she did not like and just not very interesting. Indeed, she only seemed interested in horses. Like the squires in Sunspear. Horses and riding horses. Rhaegar had little patience for those who lived in a world of their own – other than himself! Even Lyanna’s sense of justice and thirst for arms had not sufficed for long.
At least he no longer intended to make the girl his second wife – if she would have him which Elia doubted. No, Rhaegar was all Elia’s. Elia could not even leave… and she could not refuse him forever.
Her new state came as a shock for both of them. As frail as Elia was, it seemed that all that was needed was for Rhaegar to look at her to get her with child! A child of war, child of uncertainty… Elia felt none of the excitement she had felt with Rhaenys or the quiet content with Aegon… before a certain crown of blue roses found its way to a head not her own. Only fear. Once again, the birthing bed would reach for her with the pale white fingers of the Stranger, just a little after Lyanna Stark would have given birth to Elia’s children’s potential rival…
Rhaegar looked ecstatic and ashamed in turns. With his disappointment in Lyanna, his belief that Elia was destined to be the mother of the three heads of his dragon seemed revived. And guilt made him make plans that sometimes made Elia scream – plans for the two of them, and the children… Now, he even said he loved her. He had never said it before… and he didn’t feel it now. Elia knew it. She had experienced love before and she knew that whatever Rhaegar felt for her, that was not it.
“I will return, my lady,” he said as she went out to see him off before he left, the dutiful lady wife. He seemed determined to ignore her coldness, her avoidance, her… everything. Of course, she couldn’t yell at him now. She couldn’t even ask what he intended to do with Lady Lyanna’s babe knowing that he didn’t know it either…
When the Mountain broke their door, Elia’s horror was such that she couldn’t even summon a curse for her dead feckless husband as she threw Aegon in the crib and stood before it, the babe in her womb kicking wildly, as if feeling her fear. Rhaenys was nowhere to be seen and for this, Elia was grateful, even as a huge hand reached down, grabbed her hair and flicked, sending her against his chests as if they were embracing… but he landed on her back a hand this heavy that for a moment, she thought he had broken her spine. And then, the hand started pressing her close, crushing her, squeezing the air out of her lungs…
And then, she could suddenly see again and the world spun around her so wildly that she felt dizzy and fell across the crib, almost overturning it with Aegon around. Her son was screaming and the babe was kicking so frantically that she couldn’t push herself upright. When she finally did and turned, she saw a hammer – the very same one that had snipped her husband’s life – smashing first the shoulder of the Mountain’s sword arm and then, when the massive arm hung as listless as a beef side over the fire, smashing his very head.
For a moment, they stared at each other and then Elia rushed for the door. Rhaenys!
Baratheon caught her, shook his head, seemed to know what terrified her. “Jaime Lannister is there,” he said. “He’ll take care of her. You wait here, and the boy. There might be more…”
It was surreal, Elia decided as they stood there – she with a child in her arms and another one in her womb, near the window, and he, the man who had slayed her husband, ready to aim his hammer at everyone who breached their defence. But when Jaime Lannister came in, shining like the sun in his golden armour, blood marring the gilding and a little black-haired girl in his arms, Elia felt like the sun had truly come in.
“Well,” Robert Baratheon finally said, looking at her face, at her children, at her belly, visibly rounded under her gown. “What am I to do with you?”
At the end, it was Jon Arryn who made the decision and Jon Arryn who announced it to her. Robert Baratheon was there and Elia thought it quite cowardly of him to not inform her himself. Not like a warrior king in-waiting at all. And then, she felt ashamed. He had saved her and Aegon with his hammer and Rhaenys with his presence. There was no way for Ser Jaime to be in two places at the same time and the investigation at how Clegane and Lorch had managed to make their way to Elia’s very chambers without being stopped was still underway. Elia did not expect that anything would come out if it. Uncomfortable truths should be buried and Tywin Lannister would get his daughter as the Lady of the Stormlands.
All of this rushed through her mind in the split of a moment before she focused on the failing that she was hearing. The failing of her life, that was it. The failing of the hopes she had been sent to King’s Landing with. The failing of her son’s kingly future. She cared for the fall of Rhaegar’s House not one bit but her children fell with it.
“The Wall?” she asked in a hollow voice. “Did you say the Wall?”
She guessed it was better than murdering her son outright but… the Wall? The Wall for Aegon. The Faith for Rhaenys. And for her unborn child… which one? Or would it be something easier and less suspicious? A cord tied too loosely, so the blood would leave the tiny fragile body in copious amounts? A cradle death the first night? She couldn’t help but wonder as she walked down the halls with the children she never let leave her eye, followed by Baratheon and Arryn guards, if any of them was charged with a sinister task.
Jon Arryn glanced at her in a way that made her shudder. Might he be a little disgruntled with his onetime ward and Ser Jaime for intervening? If her children and she had been murdered, everything would have been much easier. This look almost made her move closer to Lord Robert. Rhaegar’s murderer. Her protector? Madness! The world had gone mad.
She wondered how her goodmother was doing. How little Viserys was. If Rhaella was wise, she’d take him to the first ship to Essos. But perhaps the Targaryen belief in their own destiny burned in her as bright as it had in Rhaegar. And her son was Aerys’ heir. Perhaps Rhaella still believed she could win at the last moment?
“This realm has suffered enough, my lady,” Baratheon said. “Surely you understand that we cannot have your son – sons, possibly – disturb the balance we have yet to build.”
Elia wanted very much to ask him if the same was true for the possible son of Lyanna Stark, the girl who had run away from him with her husband. But she didn’t dare. The last year had taught her much about her own limitations indeed! She had always been taught to thread carefully around lords but actually fearing them – that was a bitter and recent lesson.
“My children are just babes, my lord,” she said, scrambling for a safe alternative that would please Arryn. It was him that she was talking to, although her eyes and voice were turned towards Lord Robert. Unless she was very wrong, whatever she said could move the storm lord deeply indeed – but then his foster father could undo it in a heartbeat. “Why don’t you send them to Dorne?” she offered. “Let us go. We won’t be a danger there…”
He looked at her with grudging respect but when he spoke, she had little doubt that he and Baratheon had planned this in advance – or rather, that Jon Arryn had planned it. Lord Robert looked mildly uncomfortable and she wondered if he was aware of his foster father’s tactics of delaying, letting her apprehensions increase, surrounding her with people who could harm her and the children… although they wouldn’t. It also explained why Eddard Stark was not present. Surely there was some tension between him and Lord Robert, now that the truth of Lady Lyanna’s disappearance had become common knowledge, the girl being kept in Sunspear and not reticent to share her opinion on Rhaegar and her own folly to everyone who cared to listen, as well as many who did not. The wretched fool! By diminishing her own worth as a hostage, she was making Elia’s own position more precarious as well.
“You know how House Baratheon was founded,” Lord Arryn was saying. “Orys Baratheon won the Stormlands in battle and wed the defeated queen. Our wish is to bind old wounds and provide stability…”
How much can you copy from Baelor the Blessed’s speech, Elia wondered. Unbidden, a memory came to her mind, the amazement on Rhaegar’s face when he had first entered her private library at the Water Gardens as her betrothed. “You’re the first person I meet who has more books than I do!” he had exclaimed. For a while, they had been happy.
The babe moved and Elia was relieved. Those days, it did not stir as often, having grown too big and taking too much room. And then, it dawned upon her that she’d be forced to give it up as soon as it was born, and the horror of it made her eyes well up. Baratheon looked away, clearly uncomfortable, but his sympathy did not go as far as step forward as a king could do, put an end to Jon Arryn’s plans, and let Elia keep her children with her.
The hesitation in Madgeen Dalt’s voice made Elia look up. “Yes, Madgeen?”
“Lady Lyanna Stark begs you for an audience…”
The shock was such that Elia almost dropped her cup of tea. She had not known the girl was even at King’s Landing, let alone expected that she’d dare show her face…
“Show her in,” she said, surprised by the casual quality of her own voice.
When Lyanna Stark came in, Elia couldn’t help but notice the huge swell of her belly. Retaining water? Too big a babe? The girl looked no more like a child herself, all pale cheeks and long unkempt hair. Elia noticed it coldly, without hatred or sympathy. “Welcome,” she said as a polite hostess.
The girl made a necessarily shallow curtsy. “Thank you for receiving me.”
Without rising from her place at the table, Elia showed her a chair. Lyanna sat down.
“I trust the journey was a good one?” Elia asked.
Lyanna was biting her lip, looking down and then straight at Elia. Elia wondered which was the real thing and which was the falsehood. And what on earth the girl could want of her.
“I heard you’d wed the new King soon.”
Are you so indignant that I’d wed the man who killed Rhaegar, Elia wondered. Did you expect I’d spent my life mourning him? She looked the girl straight in the eye. “You’ve heard right. Would you want some tea? Madgeen!” she called out before Lyanna could answer. “A cup of tea for our visitor if you please.”
The girl fidgeted, clearly disturbed by Elia’s countenance. Did she expect that Elia would fly at her? Hug her and weep with her? What?
“My brother says when my child is born, they’ll take him or her to Dorne,” Lyanna finally said.
“Yes,” Elia said.
Lyanna swallowed. “I know you have no reason to think good of me but I have no one else to turn to. Rhaegar said that you were a good woman, that you’d understand…”
At this moment, Elia could fly at her and tear her hair. That was the excuse her husband, let him not rest in peace, had provided? That was the explanation this girl had latched onto? That she was good? What came next? That she was Dornish? That was how they thought a good person should be treated? Would she have been allowed to take a paramour because she was Dornish?
“I wouldn’t have come to you,” Lyanna started again, clearly realizing her mistake. “But I’m truly desperate. Please, my lady, could you not convince Lord Robert to rethink? Even if my child is a boy, I’ll never use him against the Iron Throne, I swear…”
“I swore the same thing,” Elia said coldly. “It didn’t make a lick of difference.”
Lyanna gaped at her. “You… your children…”
“My children will be taken to Dorne as soon as this one is born,” Elia said, not even trying to keep the anger and bitterness out of her voice. She had enough of this around her husband to be. She rose and then Lyanna Stark saw… and gasped… Elia tried not to scream because this raw surprise was the last straw, this hurt. As if she had any right to feel hurt! Instead, Elia spoke with the utmost effort and cold precision. “You should be as grateful as I am that your child won’t be given to the Night Watch or the Faith, Lady Lyanna, if not outright killed. That’s part of the peace the victors chose. I will wed King Robert, the First of His Name, and give him heirs. That’s the way for him and his Hand to be sure that Dorne wouldn’t rise for my son over my other. And given this, I really don’t think I am the person you should turn to. I don’t know what influence you imagine I wield with King Robert and his men but you’re vastly overestimating me.”
But the girl no longer listened to her. Elia doubted she had heard much beside the fact that Elia could not help her… and that she was carrying Rhaegar’s child as well. Had she hoped that they could find their way to each other again? Or did was she regretting her decision to throw her lot in with a man who had fathered a child with his wife as she had been expecting as well even more? Elia did not know. But she knew for sure that what she was witnessing was the death of the last illusions, last threads of stability. Well, Lyanna Stark, she thought. Now, I’ve changed your life the way you changed mine.
It was strange how little that meant.
In her womb, the child stirred faintly and once again, the well-known dread of birth came upon her, only ten times stronger. Do not come earlier, little one, she begged mentally. Stay with me for as long as you can.
Magdeen came in with a lamp that swamped the solar in soft light but did nothing to brighten the dark bleakness that had taken hold of Elia's heart long ago.