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The Suit of Cups

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The Ace of Cups

Round the table, the loving cup passes and the jests and the japes ripple through the hall and rise to the very rafters. Silver direwolves with eyes of clouded opal snarl on the bridal cup, there are fresh blue roses in his bride's dark hair.

He leans towards her, prim and proper and not averse to the idea of being captured by her charms. "You need not be frightened, my lady. I will be gentle."

She turns to him with clouded eyes. "I am never frightened." And she smiles, but not for him, as the loving cup passes to his sister and her husband.

A cloud of doves emerge from the wedding pie, as they slice it open together, his broad hand guiding her thin ones. There ought to be other birds as well - larks and jays and nightingales too, for a marriage should be made of joys as well as sorrows. Lord Stark can scarce keep from weeping as he looks at his only daughter - he will have naught but doves for her wedding pie, naught but joy for her wedding.

His lady wears a gown as fresh and fair as running water, she is all of six-and-ten and a maid untouched as snow by her father's word. He listens in open dismay as she laughs long and loud and joins the japes of sport between the sheets. His bride reminds him of his sister, on her wedding day. He does not like his sister. She lends her voice, slurred by wine, to the lustiest of the bawdy songs. There are some men who would find such wantonness, such lack of decorum in a bride diverting, welcome her merry spirit even. Stannis Baratheon is not one of them.

Her eldest brother, Brandon smiles at him. "Better drunk than in a flood of tears, eh?"

Stannis remembers just in time that it is his wedding and clenches his teeth before he can say that he would prefer the latter. Stiffly, he dances once with her and then hands her over to the men who clamour for the bride - northern kinsmen and southron admirers.

Ned finds him - not sulking, no, just observing. "You're sulking," he points out with the impertinence of a childhood friend.

Stannis grits his teeth and refuses to be drawn into an am-not-am-too contest.

Ned sighs. "Is it her fault she's so full of spirits? She's always been. You know it - I told you about it."

She's dancing with his sister's husband now, she fairly hangs in his arms. "Spirits. Or spirits?" It is a little pun. He is rather proud of himself.

Ned rolls his eyes. "You even saw her two years ago, at Harrenhal. She climbed a tree and pelted us with our shoes." And my sister's husband crowned her with roses. The memory rankles though everyone pretends to have forgotten it.

"I had expected to find her grown in two years." He looks her over critically. "Evidently I was mistaken."

"Some people grow up in two years. Some don't." Ned's voice is laced with irony. "You two will be a perfect match, in that regard even if in naught else."

"I had better offers," he points out. His sister will be Queen of the Seven Kingdoms in time. The Lord of Storm's End could have his pick of women. "And yet I chose your sister."

"Because she was my sister? Because there was naught else she could offer? Then I thank you for the honour." Ned turns away, his face wiped clean of emotion. Yet another misplaced word, yet another petty tiff sprung of nothing. It was easier when we were children, playing with sticks and stones in the Vale.

"Eddard, I-"

Ned waits expectantly.

"I apologize if my words have caused offence." He is crisp and clear. The Lord of Storm's End can bend at times, even to apologize to second sons. "Certainly I would have preferred if she were to conduct herself in a more seemly fashion. But you need have no fears - I will treat her with the honour and deference due to my lady wife."

"You were always so honourable, Stannis." Ned's smile crinkles his face. "That'll stand you in good stead, I trust. Should you give Lyanna any cause for complaint - well you will find that she has three loving brothers to defend her honour." Still smiling, Ned nods and leaves to engage Ashara Dayne, one of Stannis' sister's ladies-in-waiting, in conversation.

Stannis watches the slim, laughing girl dancing with her brother. Comely she might be but there are comelier maids, Prince Viserys' betrothed Cersei Lannister, Ned's sweetheart, even her brother Brandon's Tully bride. Her brothers' devotion to her is striking. How does she merit such love and attention? It was a question to ponder and Stannis pondered it gravely, as he did every question that plagued him, not content until he could find an answer.


The Two of Cups

"We started off wrong, didn't we? After Rhaegar crowned you at Harrenhal, I was so very vexed but then he explained it to me so beautifully... my, but you have spunk!"

Arm-in-arm, the Princess of Dragonstone and the Lady of Storm's End stroll down the rock garden like loving sisters. Roswitha is wreathed in sapphires to match the blue of her eyes, a string of pearls hangs low over her swollen stomach.

"Cold wasn't it, your wedding night? And er... wet?" Roswitha winks at her and laughs. "Well I wouldn't expect anything less of Stannis. He was a wetblanket even when he was a little boy - in more ways than one! But don't tell him that I told you that, he's sure to be furious. Just so touchy..." She shakes her head.

"I was ever so glad when he was packed off to Lord Arryn, I could play Queen of the Castle without him nagging and whining about right and wrong every few minutes. You'd be surprised how he could corrupt a game as simple as monsters-and-maidens into something dreadful about justice and what-not... though of course my gain was your brother's loss. Oh that Eddard of yours, he's rather handsome isn't he? In a cold, icy way, strong and silent and enough to give me shivers."

"Lady Ashara would not thank you for your interest in my brother."

"Oh, Ashara!" Roswitha tsks. "I have a long history of seducing men who er, ought not to be seduced if you catch my drift."

"Should the future queen be seduing anyone?"

Roswitha flaps her hand, exasperated. "Why there you go again! Right and wrong, you're just so like Stannis! And I thought you'd be more fun." She pouts like a little girl and Lyanna, remembering in whose company she is, smiles and takes her hand.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be such a bumbling country bumpkin. I'm just so unused to the way you do things at court." She looks up at her tall, new sister. "But you'll teach me, won't you, dearest? I so look forward to a gay life such as you lead at King's Landing."

Roswitha, with a heart as golden as any honest whore's, melts at once. "Of course you're not to be blamed, sweetling! If Stannis had his way with you he'd shut you up forever in Storm's End but I won't let him, no indeed how could I leave my own sister adrift like that?" Her eyes shine. "We'll be just like true sisters, won't we? I've always wanted one and I can tell from the look in your eyes that you've wanted it too! Oh yes, we'll have such fun. Let's just wait for this one to be born and then... oh what romps we shall have! But you mustn't let Stannis get to you, do promise me that, dear Lyanna."

"I promise I won't let Stannis get to me." Lyanna recites the words and lets her good sister beam and gush over her. Easy for you to say, she thinks as she slips into the princess's embrace. You have Rhaegar. You have everything.


The Three of Cups

It is the year of spring. The fields are starred with snowdrops and ghostflowers and blue-lipped irises grow in the rivergardens. When she rides out in the mornings, the smallfolks' cottage hedges are pink and fragrant with crocuses and button-roses and in the orchards, the apple trees are all in bloom.

And in the Red Keep, a third daughter is born to Prince Rhaegar and Princess Roswitha. "The dragon has three heads," he only says, cold and distant, when the news is broken to him. Kind and charitable as he is, he blesses little Princess Alysanne just as he has blessed her sisters before her - Rhaenys and Visenya. Three daughters, named for the greatest of the dragon-riding queens. He retreats further into the maze of his libraries and it is more often now that he makes his starlit rides to Summerhall.

There are whispers that the princess has his favour no longer, that though she keeps a warm bed still it is not Prince Rhaegar who shares it with her. With no son to follow him, Prince Viserys will be his heir but that holds no weight with him. The Lannisters plot and the Baratheons grumble and Lyanna sings and dances more gaily than she has since the year of the false spring.


The Four of Cups

He watches the storm clouds gather over Shipbreaker Bay. The stout walls of Storm's End have held storms at bay for a thousand years and more and yet Stannis cannot help but fear. There are few things that he fears, but one of them is a summer storm.

His lady wife sits under an elm, a bit of embroidery lying forgotten in her lap. Bored already, and yet not a sennight has passed since he has brought her from the gay court for her lying-in at his castle. He disapproves heartily of her inability to conduct herself in a more womanly manner, of her insistence on early morning rides and dancing after supper. She reminds him too strongly of his sister - the riding, the dancing, the wantonness.

I thought she would be like Ned - pure and noble and dignified. What good was Roswitha ever to me? Neither a dutiful sister nor a dutiful wife. Three cursed daughters. His hopes for political office, of rising under a nephew's reign, have been dashed. And with Prince Viserys betrothed, none of his nieces will ever be queen. The Lannisters will claim everything for themselves through the prince's bride.

Balefully, he contemplates Lyanna. He will not take her to court again. His place, he has realized, is not in the labyrinthe of court but in his own domains. Her place is with him. She is hardly a dutiful wife, but perhaps she might be a good mother. She dotes on Renly, spoilt though he is.

She's drawn her knees to her chest and with her needle, she's busy threading leaves and acorns together in a sort of necklace. She looks almost like a little girl, small and delicate, and his heart softens. Perhaps I have been too harsh on her. He resolves to be kinder.

"Ever since I was nine," he tells her, beginning the story of the day his father and mother died, their ship dashed on the rocks of Shipbreaker Bay, "I've always been frightened of storms."

She glances up at him, contempt in her eyes. "Frightened? Pity. I'm not frightened of anything."


The Five of Cups

She is only seventeen.

The ravens bring joyful tidings, tidings that bring a smile to Stannis' lips as he plans their journey to Starfall, the Daynes' stronghold. Dark wings, dark words, she can only think as he tells her another dreary old story of how Ned and he would dare eachother to lean out of the Moon Door when they were children. The second of her brothers is to be married.

She dashes up to the castle nursery, dismissing her baby's wet-nurse and howls in misery. He was mine, she thinks fiercely. Ned, Brandon, Rhaegar, Winterfell. They were all mine, mine until they were taken away!

From the cradle, she can hear the child mewling. A sickly little girl, much to Stannis' disappointment. That she was born with a cap of fuzzy black hair and blue eyes was to Lyanna's further grief - two of Rhaegar's daughters had the Baratheon look, but the youngest was a little Targaryen princess. None of my children will ever have that look. They will always remind me of Stannis.

The old wives at the castle had warned her not to expect much of the child, had warned her not to love it because it seemed so like to die. Not her. It. They had not even given it a name, it was only a month old and they said it would not last a year.

The child clamours for milk and Lyanna sobs along with it, hating it for crying and hating herself too. But then she feels guilt too. "You wretched little thing," she murmurs and wanders over to it. She has seen so little of it, it is too small to be a plaything, to small to do anything but eat and sleep and cry. It holds no interest for her at all.

Tentatively she picks it up and pats it gingerly. It only howls louder. So you're not a little doll, are you?

She puts it back and lets it howl, feeling oddly detached from it and the situation at hand. "If you look the least bit like Stannis, you'll be very ugly," she warns it solemnly. "And the worst thing in the world is to be an ugly woman - or that's what your Aunt Catelyn says." She thinks about it. "But then your Aunt Catelyn's not very nice."

They have bound her breasts so tight that they ache at times - highborn ladies rarely suckle their own children. It will ruin the shape of your bosom, sweetling. And no one likes an ugly woman, you know. Defiantly, she unlaces herself and unwraps the yards of cloth that seem to stifle her.

"You don't smell too bad," she observes. "So you must be hungry. I shouldn't have sent the wet nurse away, should I? But it can't be so hard if she can do it, can it? All I have to do is just pick you up and and you'll know what to do. Calves do. Babies should be smarter than calves. I'm smarter than a cow."

She picks it up again, conscious that she's playing with it in the way Stannis' nieces play with their dolls and kittens. It takes a few tries, but it knows what to do, knows better than it's mother. Lyanna watches the little pink mouth suckling greedily and awkwardly, pats it's little head.

"You're not an it, are you?" she murmurs, wandering over to the window seat and looking down at the sea stretching out from behind the marble-white walls of Storm's End. "You're my little girl." She thinks of the names they had thought of - Jon for a boy, Shireen for a girl. "You're my Shireen. Not Shireen the First and when you die we'll have a Shireen the Second," she tells the baby firmly. "You're going to live."


The Six of Cups - Unquestionable Love

She finds him under the heart tree, when the morning sky is white as mist and the blooms of dragon's breath red over knots of smokeberry vines. "Lyanna," he says, his voice small and distant as she slips off her palfrey.

"I found you," she says childishly, as though they are only playing a game of hide-and-seek. "Miles and miles away from everyone else, as usual. I'm the best tracker in the world."

"So you are." He favours her with an indulgent smile, the same smile he shares with his daughters. She pulls her hand out of her gloves and and squeezes his cold hands. Just like friends. They are friends now, aren't they? His smile reassures her. His kindness makes her doubt. He is too kind for his own good.

"What are you thinking about, Rhaegar?"

"You." He is always direct, she admires it in him. So is Stannis, but then Stannis is... different. Stannis is colder than a White Walker. He tweaks her nose. "Winter is coming."

"Not that again!"

He laughs. It is good to hear him laugh. "Do I think of anything else, Lyanna?"

"You should," she tells him stubbornly. "You should be thinking about your family for one. Stannis is always telling me about how much you need a son-"

"Did he ask you to campaign for him?"

"Well no, but-"

"The dragon," he says serenely, as though that is all that matters, "Has three heads." He smiles at her troubled expression and dismisses her doubts and fears with a graceful wave of his hand. "Let others trifle with the game of thrones, Lyanna. The game of the gods is of our concern."

"Our?" she demands, the word thrilling her.

His face is full of tenderness as he brings out his harp, dragons of black jade cavorting on the silver frame. "Ours is the song of ice and fire."

"Rhaegar?" She is wrong to doubt, she knows, but she cannot help herself. "The game of the gods? Why does it have to be with the red priestesses? Quaithe and Melisandre and the others, they are alien to us, shouldn't we just-"

His eyes harden. "You are wrong," he says, his reproof so mild that she wonders at how it can sting. "They are everything."

"Of course," she says obediently, just to see that look leave his face. She has let the whispers poison her mind. I have let Stannis and Jon Arryn poison me. "It's just as you say."

Another smile and then he begins to sing, all for her just as he sang for her, his Queen of Love and Beauty, at Harrenhal.


The Seven of Cups - Strange Chalices of Vision

"You are a hard man, Stannis Baratheon!" She flings it at his face, her voice as hot as fire.

He is as chill as ice. "No, I am a just man."

Her hands ball into fists but after four years of marriage, she knows better than to manage him with her fists. Or she thinks she does. "Very well," she says, keeping her voice down with an effort. "You are a just man. Prove it to me." Without waiting to hear him out she says, "In the north, we administer our own justice. Father doesn't keep a headsman. You know our code, Ned must have told you."

He nods jerkily. "A better code than the one we follow in the south, I should say."

"Prove it to me," she says, her eyes glinting. "The child is not yet six years old."

"But a practiced thief none the less. This was not the first time he was caught for thieving - nor the second. I granted him clemency the first two times on account of his extreme youth."

"He was starving! Justice is no justice if it is not tempered by mercy!"

"That is not justice. It is pity." He looks at her, honourable Ned Stark's sister, a daughter of the hard and bitter north. She, who has always claimed to love justice as well as him. She has a woman's tender heart, he excuses her. What can a woman, a mother who has sucked a babe at the breast know of justice? What man can ever trust in a woman's honour? "He was caught pilfering thrice and more than thrice, I should say."

"And therefore you deem him worthy of the punishment - having his hand cut off for stealing!"

He is exasperated and exhausted by the woman's idiocy. "I do not make the laws, my lady."

"You execute them! Even when you know- well, never mind that. You must do it. The boy's punishment is due tomorrow - if you still deem him worthy of punishment cut off his hand tomorrow. With your own sword. Look that child in the eye and cut off his hand and then I will know you to be the man you call yourself to be." Does she mean it as a challenge?

"As my lady wishes." He bows to her and indicates that the audience is at an end.

The morning draws grey and clear and Lyanna, wrapped in a heavy cloak, watches as the boy is lead out of the dungeons. Her eyes are like the licks of flame in an ember as she watches him roll the sleeves of his tunic to his elbows and whet his greatsword. Does she expect him to back out, to shirk away from his duty? She knows nothing of me if she expects that I will ever shirk away from delievering justice.

The boy is only five, a snotty, snivelling, quivering street rat plucked from the stinking pits of the little town nestled within the walls of Storm's End. A whore's get, no doubt, though prostitution is banned on pain of death within Stannis' lands. Stannis is just, but he is not wantonly cruel. The greatsword is sharp, the child will feel scarcely anything, his wound will be cauterized by a heated iron as soon as the deed is over - a sharp, certain lesson for life.

"In the name of Rhaegar of the House Targaryen, the First of his Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, by the word of Stannis of the House Baratheon, Lord of Storm's End, I do sentence you."

He raises his greatsword high, the morning sun glinting off the steel. A woman screams as it comes down and the child gasps as blood spurts from the stump of his severed hand. It is all over very quick and yet for days afterwards, it leaves a foul taste in Stannis' mouth. Justice, he reminds himself as the boy's stump is cauterized. All I do, I do for justice.

Lyanna's face is as hard and white as stone as she saddles her palfrey and rides away in a cloud of dust before he can reach her.

From that day on, they keep separate beds.


The Eight of Cups

Four-year-old Shireen lisps through her prayers at night. "...And long live the new king," she finishes, ready to be tucked into bed by her mother. Tonight, Stannis is listening to his daughter.

"Long live the new king indeed," he murmurs, his mouth twitching as Lyanna follows him out of the nursery.

"Don't use that tone." She is sharp.

"A man can use what tone he likes within his walls."

"The walls have ears."

He snorts. "I should never have taken you to the Red Keep. Women should never be allowed to meddle with intrigue."

"You can hardly stop me from going," she reminds him primly. "You've been invited to a seat on the small council, I have been invited to be your sister's Lady of Honour. The four little princesses will find a companion in their cousin, Shireen." The four princesses are Roswitha's daughters - Rhaenys, Visenya, Alysanne - and Rhaella's Daenerys Lateborn. "Even you cannot nag about such honours."

"I never nag, woman."

She arches her eyebrows delicately.

"I voice complaints. That is all." He is peevish tonight. "I trust no one on the small council - lickspittles and velvet toadies, cravens and eunuchs and a swarm of Lannisters to keep us warm. I'll be the only man of honour among them."

"Honour among thieves. But pray, where does Rhaegar fit in if you are the only man of honour among them, my sweet lord?"

"Rhaegar is not a man."

"I see. His daughters were magicked into being? Or would you call your sister a whore?"

"I would." He grunts. "He was a man before he held traffic with those sorceresses of his."

"The red priestesses? They are highly respected-"

He puts his hands on her shoulders and glares at her. "They have poisoned his mind, that's what they've done. Stargazing, alchemy, writing songs, traipsing to the Wall, all this talk of prophecies and destinies and losing himself in his books just as he did when he was a boy. It's the Targaryen madness, gone to his head and it's Baelor the Blessed we have on our hands again."

"I see." Her voice is like steel. "And would you play Prince Viserys to his King Baelor? Poison him for the good of the realm?"

"I would if it would do any good to the realm. His heir, Prince Viserys is worse. If he found it in himself to sire a son-"

"An excellent proposition. One which might be applied to you as well."

He clenches his jaw. Stannis is an honourable man and honourable men do not force their wives. "You have denied me your bed."

She shrugs and smiles. Not for long, she thinks. Just a few more months, just after we reach King's Landing. "I have denied a traitor my bed," she says sweetly. "Come to me when you have kinder words for our sovereign liege."


The Nine of Cups

It is a son.

Stannis' face lights up in one of his rare smiles - as rare as Rhaegar's smiles these days - as he holds baby Jon. Lyanna savours it all - from the visits from her family, Shireen's adoration, Queen Roswitha's strained, striken smiles, from Stannis' delight (how delicious) to Rhaegar's tenderness.

Thank the gods he looks just like me, she thinks. Brown hair, grey eyes. What could be more natural?

"Will you make a song for him?" she asks Rhaegar when he visits. He has made songs for his three daughters, why not for his son?

"He has a song," he replies, his fingers brushing against the silvery strings of his harp. "He is the prince that is promised and his is the song of ice and fire."


The Ten of Cups

A father, a mother and two children. This is how it should be, Stannis thinks drowsily, half-dozing, half-listening as Lyanna tells Shireen and Jon the tale of the Knight of the Laughing Tree.

"When his fallen foes sought to ransom horse and armor, the Knight of the Laughing Tree spoke in a booming voice through his helm, saying, 'Teach your squire honor, that shall be ransom enough.' Once the defeated knights chastised their squires sharply, their horses and armor were returned. And so the little crannogman's prayer was answered... by the green men, or the old gods, or the children of the forest, who can say?"

Stannis remembers to insert a moral, just in case it is too vague for his four-year-old son and nine-year-old daughter. "That, my children," he tells them, "tells you how important justice was to the good knight. It was for justice's sake that he donned armour to fight the crannogman's oppressors-"

"Though he was sorely untried-" Lyanna put in, smiling.

"And it was justice that armed him for when a man goes forth armed in justice, he will not be vanquished until the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves."

Lyanna laughs. "Your father has a poet's heart, children."

He smiles at her. "My father always told me to make a story dramatic."

She nods at him. "And mine always told me to make sure my lies were detailed."

Jon looks disappointed. "But he didn't win the tourney!" he pipes up. "He ran away. That was stupid."

"Discretion is the better part of valour," Stannis says dryly and picks his little boy up before he can begin to cry and clamour for another ending for the story. "Come on Jon, do you want to pick the green apples in the orchard with me?"

"Me too!" Shireen squeals.

He is in a mood to be indulgent with his daughter as well. "Come then," he says and hoisting Jon on to his shoulders, he puts out his hand for Shireen to hold. There is an odd look on Lyanna's face as she brushes fallen leaves off her gown and rises as well. "What?" he asks defensively. She always has a bone to pick, it seems. Not at all a dutiful wife, he thinks but he's mellowed to her after ten years of marriage. But would I have it any other way?

"What?" he repeats, puzzled by that look.

She flashes a smile at him, sharp and sudden and brittle. "Nothing," she says. "I never thought that you would be so sweet with them, how well you love them."

He tells himself not to be offended and answers her as pleasantly as he can. "And why should I not love my own children?"

"Oh, no reason at all," she murmurs. "No reason at all."

You are a hard man, Stannis Baratheon. No, I am a just man.


The Page of Cups

He loves his son.

Little Jon, with Ned's trusting eyes and Lyanna's roguish smile. They all dote upon him and Stannis fears that they will spoil his son, that perhaps a sterner hand is needed to teach him to face a stern world. His sister's husband laughs comfortably and tells him to let the child be.

Rhaegar... there are some who find his devotion to his wife's nephew unnatural. The folly of a man without sons of his own, the folly of a king with no heir of his own blood. Lyanna plays upon it, Stannis notices, always pushing Jon towards the king, seeking advantage for her son he is sure. She was once so pure. Stannis neither encourages nor discourages it, at times uncomfortably aware of the indignity of his position, of sacrificing his son for royal favours. Greed conquers though. Sometimes.

The septons are not pleased. A honeycomb of R'hllor's stone temples begin to cluster around the septs in the Temple District. By day, the red priests go ringing their bells and saving souls down the city streets and at dusk the skyline lights up with the dancing flames of their nightfires. Rhaegar still pays his custom (perfunctorily) to the Seven but the night never passes that he fails to pay his due to the Lord of Light.

The septons are not pleased.

"We thank you for the sun that warms us. We thank you for the stars that watch us. We thank you for our hearths and for our torches, that keep the savage dark at bay."

The courtiers ape the lines - a mummer's farce. His sister - the Queen of Whores, they call her now - watches the queen-in-waiting, Princess Cersei, with slitted eyes. Cersei's eyes, green as wildfire, travel over her boy-husband's head and latch on her brother's, Jaime Goldenhand. Rhaegar's eyes are shuts as he rocks back and forth, half in a trance, supported by his red priestesses. His eyes seem always shut these days, just like his mother's when the Mad King reigned.

Jon nestles close to his mother, piping the lines in a shrill, childish voice. Conviction is written on his face - he is as entrapped by the Heart of Fire as all the children are. Dutifully, Lyanna recites the words as well but Stannis sees the weirwoods in her eyes.

He turns away, disgusted. Mummer's farce. He is made of better stuff.


The Knight of Cups

"She will not let him be a knight. She dares command me."

Ned nods. A man of few words, Ned, but what he says always hits the mark. Stannis vents it all out. "Your lady wife, now she seems to know her place as a woman. She would never think to disobey you."

"Oh I wouldn't say that." Is that amusement in Ned's eyes? "Ashara has always been strong-willed."

"I had intended for Jon to be fostered at Winterfell under your brother, Brandon. Lady Catelyn and he have sons near his age - it would be as fitting an arrangement as any."

"Why not let him remain at court with his parents? Perhaps Lyanna fears the separation - Jon would receive suitable training at King's Landing as well as at Winterfell."

Stannis purses his lips. "Rhaegar's devotion seems unhealthy to me. He will scarcely let the child out of his sight, he takes him everywhere - to the Wall, to the Free Cities. I will not have Baelor the Blessed in my family - how is he to be a man? And his interest in the red priests and their gods is not to my liking."

"Perhaps he intends to groom Jon for a higher office in the future?"

"His mother seems to think so." And what do women know after all? He respects his wife, he approves of some of her views. He does not trust her. "What higher office? Another Littlefinger perhaps? He is no knight."

Ned winces. The distaste of the great for the not-quite-so-small smallfolk. "He is your son," he only says mildly. "You can see to his education as you think best."

Stannis eyes him balefully. "He is my son," he acknowledges. "But Rhaegar is my king. And my king, Ned, is as mad as his father."


The Queen of Cups

She loves her son.

Ten-year-old Jon, with Rhaegar's gravity, Rhaegar's intelligence, with Rhaegar's every perfection. He looks nothing like his father, they all know him to be Stannis' son, but she can see it in him. Rhaegar can see it in him. He has chosen his son and this day will reveal all.

What would I not do for you, sweetling? she thinks tenderly, as she holds his hand and walks down the length of the throne room. "Don't be frightened, my love," she whispers as the lords and ladies part and make way for them, already sensing that something is about to happen. The whispers fade and die and the Iron Throne looms nearer.

"I'm never frightened," he whispers back, so like her. So very like her.

The dragon skulls watch her, the red priest's candles winking in their hollow eyes. Clad as simply as any peasant on the twisted beast of his throne, Rhaegar watches her. Rhaegar the Red, they call him. The smallfolk worship him, the great fear him. Because he is justice, because he is the true servant of the Lord of Light. They know it in their hearts and they fear him for it.

She sinks down before him, drawing Jon gently down as well. She is in a sea of faceless men but she keeps her eyes on Rhaegar. Beside him, Roswitha's face blurs and she cannot see Stannis at all.

"Your Grace," she murmurs, as he has instructed her. Jon's grip on her hand hurts - she has not told him. Rhaegar had bidden her not to - such knowledge would not sit well with the child. Better that he learn it with the others. "Your Grace, behold your son."

For one glorious moment, she bathes in the storm of whispers.


The King of Cups

When the red star bleeds and the darkness gathers, Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone.

He loves his son. But his son is just one boy.

The pyre is heaped high with sweet-scented herbs and rushes, brush and bundles of twigs and grass. His son is bound to the stake, his eyes half-shut. Dreamwine and milk of the poppy. He will feel nothing. The dragons' eggs are heaped around him, silver-and-gold, white-and-green, black-and-red - the treasures of Summerhall. Summerhall of the stars and songs, where this boy was conceived ten long years ago. Three eggs and three eggs alone - he has three daughters and their brother's sacrifice will bring to life the dragons they will ride.

He has seen it all in the flames. He knows.

The seals of the fruit-shaped clay jugs are broken and the pyromancers pour the thick, murky green liquid over the boy while his mother screams and rends her gown. Resolutely Rhaegar turns his face away from her. Wildfire. The end will be quick, painless. Her son's name will go down through the ages, a hero, a martyr, sacrificed to the cause of all mankind. What mother could want more?

The comet's tail is like fire and blood in the darkening sky as R'hllor's servants begin to sing, their voices loud and jarring above the screams. The time is right.

The Lord of Light cherishes the innocent. There is no sacrifice more precious. From king's blood and untainted fire, a dragon shall be born. Melisandre's eyes burn like fire as she lights his candle. As he strides towards the pyre, he catches sight of Lyanna but somehow he cannot quite meet her eyes.

"Will you make a song for him?"

"He has a song. He is the prince that is promised and his is the song of ice and fire."

She knew. She must have known. But she will not bear the burden of the sacrifice - he has chosen it for himself. Louder and faster they chant as he stoops to light the pyre, he can hear women screaming and women singing and it is terrible beyond measure.

There is sweetness in that terror. This is my destiny, he thinks as the green flames shoot up, as he steps back from the boy. Stone cracks and the flames crackle. And this is yours, my son.

He kneels and shuts his eyes, whispering a prayer to the Lord of Light, praying that his sacrifice be accepted for the greater good. "Lord of Light, defend us. The night is dark and full of terrors."

And for the first time in hundreds of years, the night comes alive with the music of dragons.