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Bones

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News of his death had come to Dorne on the wings of a raven, writ small and sealed with a blob of hard red wax. The hand writing the words on the parchment was Ellaria’s, and the seal had belonged to Oberyn. Ellaria’s hand neither shook nor wavered affixing the red wax on the parchment, even as her heart howled and raged at the thought of the hand that will never make use of that seal again, his hand that will never caress her again.

And now she has returned to Dorne with what remained of Oberyn Nymeros Martell - skull and bones stripped of their flesh by the silent sisters’ rapacious beetles, hollow remains drained of blood and everything else that was once inside; a cruel and punishing reminder of the emptiness, the barren desolation in her own heart.

“I have brought him home,” Ellaria said to the Prince of Dorne, to this brother now bereaved of all his siblings, to this grave man with grave eyes and even graver expression. The tears glistened in his eyes but did not fall, and still Doran Martell spoke not a word.

No, she had not brought Oberyn home, of course. How could she? He was gone, everything he had ever been, all that he was and all that he could have been - past, present, future – obliterated. She had brought home his bones; only that, and nothing more.

Skull and bones could not tease an occasional smile to light upon Doran’s solemn face, could not call out the laughter to ring from the Sand Snakes. Skull and bones could not comfort and warm Ellaria in the cold, dark nights ahead. His flesh was no more, his heart was no more. His mind, wit, insight; his intuition, perception, imagination; his wishes, longings, desires; all gone, never to return. 

The dead live on in the ones they leave behind,” she had told Oberyn once, in her desperation to comfort him after his sister’s brutal death. The dead lived on in all the memories and recollections, in every word, every gesture, every action, every object and every place remembered.

“You have a gentle heart, Ellaria,” Oberyn had replied. “But dead is dead. And gone is gone, forever,” he continued, bitterly.

The silent sisters had dressed his bones in the clothes Oberyn had worn when he departed Dorne for King’s Landing. His spear lay across his chest, carefully placed there by Ellaria’s own hands. “Do not touch the tip of the spear,” she warned Doran, as she and Areo Hotah between them helped Doran to his unsteady feet.

Doran finally spoke, his voice thick with grief and sorrow. “Is that the spear my brother used, during the battle?”

Ellaria nodded. Doran closed his eyes. “Gregor Clegane?“ He asked, eyes still shut, hands clasped as if in silent prayer.

“He was screaming in agony and begging for his own death when we left,” Ellaria replied.

“I have written to Tywin Lannister,” Doran said, slowly opening his eyes. “He has promised to deliver the Mountain’s head to Dorne.”

“But not his own head, presumably,” Ellaria said, her own eyes and cheeks dry as a bone. She had wept long and hard during the journey. Now she must remain calm and strong, for her daughters’ sake. For the sake of all of Oberyn’s daughters.  

Doran sighed. “Do you want me to call the spears and go to war for Tywin Lannister’s head, for all the Lannisters’ heads? Is that your wish, Ellaria? Are you of the same mind as Obara, Nym and Tyene in this matter?”

“You should know me better than that,” replied Ellaria, the reproach obvious in her voice. “When Oberyn tried to raise an army to put Viserys Targaryen on the Iron Throne, who was it who worked tirelessly alongside you to convince him to turn back from that dangerous course?”

Holding out his hand to her, Doran said, “Forgive me, Ellaria. My brother is -” he paused, realizing the error, flinching at the pain caused by that one word, a word that could never be used again, about Oberyn. “My brother was … he was very fortunate in the woman who shared his life. You made him very happy.”

“He made me very happy, in all the ways that really counted,” Ellaria said, her voice on the edge of breaking. No, please, she prayed, I must not break now. She steeled herself to say what she had to say to the Prince of Dorne.

“I only wish for my daughters, and all of Oberyn’s daughters, to be safe and well.” Her voice sharpening, Ellaria said, “You have taken them and sent them away, I hear.”

“Do you really believe I would harm my brother’s daughters? His own flesh and blood, my own nieces?”

“Not my little ones, perhaps,” Ellaria conceded, forcing herself to be unmoved and unaffected by the hurt she heard in Doran’s voice. “But the rumors are ripe that you have imprisoned Obara, Nym and Tyene.”

“I had to do it, to keep the peace. To prevent more deaths and more Dornish blood being shed. Obara, Nym and Tyene were agitating for war to avenge their father.”

“Where are they now?”

“They are confined atop the Spear Tower, lacking nothing except their freedom. They will not be harmed or mistreated in any way. You have my word, Ellaria.”

“And my Elia, Obella, Dorea and Loreza? Where have you sent my daughters?”

”All four are safe and well at the Water Gardens, I assure you.”

“Then that is where I must go,” Ellaria decided. “I will leave Sunspear by first light tomorrow.”

There was no reply from the Prince of Dorne for a long while. Doran’s trembling hand hovered above Oberyn’s deformed and damaged skull, his eyes taking in every groove, every indentation, every trace of injury, committing each and every one to memory. The silent sisters, even with all their skills and experience with the dead, could only do so much. They could not hide all traces of violence, all traces of pain and agony.

Elia saw it still, in her mind’s eyes, the Mountain’s monstrously large hands crushing -

The scream building inside her was averted by Doran’s barely audible voice. “Do you think me weak, Ellaria?” He asked. “Do you think me cold and unfeeling, about my own brother’s death?”

“Oberyn never once doubted your love for him,” Ellaria said, truthfully, insistently.

“And yet, he would not have hesitated to call the spears if I had been the one killed.”

“He had boldness to spare, and you have caution in your blood. You complemented one another.”

“And now he is dead,” Doran whispered.

“And now he is dead,” echoed Ellaria, letting her tears fall freely.