"Tell me," Meria says as she pours two glasses of the heavy, sour red wine the Dornish so favour. "Who do you plan on having as your... Council?"
Visenya sets the screen in the middle of the cyvasse board, amused that it has taken this long for this question to be asked. She thinks that the Princess has shown admirable restraint in waiting until now, especially given how things went in the Vale, and the Reach.
"My husband would have me appoint our sister as my Hand," Visenya says, toying with one of her elephants. "I feel that this would be a mistake on my part - it would deprive your son of his wife, after all, unless he came and joined our court with Rhaenys."
Meria's smile is a vicious thing, sharp and biting, and her eyes are bright golden coins under the heavy line of her brow. She knows, better than Visenya might like, why Visenya is so set against Rhaenys being a member of her court, and appreciates it better than Visenya might have expected - which is why Visenya is so sure that Meria Nymeros Martell, Princess of Dorne, will say yes to her next question.
"Tell me, Your Highness," she says. "Would you trust your son and granddaughter to rule Dorne in your stead if I were to ask you to join my court as my Hand?"
"What an interesting city," Rhaenys said, and Orys and Aegon laughed. Men always laughed when Rhaenys spoke, Visenya knew. She had hoped that Rhaenys might set aside her levity for such a serious endeavour, but it seemed that it was not to be. "Quaint, almost."
Visenya thought Sunspear, as these Dornish called their city, looked like what it was - a city with a Rhoynar influence, which had grown to its current size in stages. It was in Rhaenys' nature to mock and make fun of all things, though, so it was only to be expected that she would not take something so simple seriously.
"These Martells," Visenya said, drumming her fingers on Dark Sister's pommel. "Are we sure that they have more sense than these wild Westerners?"
"We are so sure of it that we are bored, sister," Rhaenys said, rolling her eyes and slipping her hand through Aegon's arm. Visenya scowled - Aegon should have removed himself from Rhaenys, but did not, and would not unless Visenya acted soon - but said nothing, choosing instead to motion for Orys to lead the way, the Targaryen banner in his grasp shining dark in the bright sun.
Perhaps in Dorne, where there were allies to be found, Visenya might find a cure for Rhaenys' presumption. Who did the girl think she was, to tempt away Aegon, who was Visenya's rightful husband? No, it could not be borne, and here, surely, in this strange desert, she would find both a means to conquer these western savages and a means of removing her sister's claws.
Aegon was Visenya's. Soon, Westeros would be as well.
"If I were your Hand," Meria says, "I would accept no dissent from your northern nobles on matters of succession. If anyone challenges my granddaughter-"
"No one will challenge Aemma," Visenya assures her, setting her final dragon in place and smiling. "My niece is my heir - she is the only female child born to myself or my siblings. She will marry my son, and reign as Queen. Having her grandmother as her aunt's Hand, why, that is the greatest guarantee she could have, surely."
Little Aemma Martell, Rhaenys' daughter by Meria's son, will soon be brought to court to be raised as Aemma Targaryen - Rhaenys cannot be allowed to ruin her daughter, not when she is to be Queen one day. Aemma must understand the gravity of her name, the importance of her blood, as Rhaenys never has, which means raising her only as Visenya's heir. Even Aegon cannot be allowed too much influence on the girl, for he still harbours more love for Rhaenys than is right when he is Visenya's husband, and would speak kindly of the bitch.
Aemma. As if Visenya does not know why Rhaenys chose that name. A name to hint at Aegon's, to make Visenya doubt that Aegon has remained faithful to her. Rhaenys is a bitch, and a flighty one at that, but she has always had a talent for getting under Visenya's skin.
"So, my lady Hand," she says, "who would you have as my mistress of laws?"
Ronnel Arryn was a tall boy for his age, although Visenya thought that he might stop growing sooner rather than later - Aegon was like that, when he was a child, she remembered him towering over her and she remembered catching him up.
"May I truly ride your dragon, Lady Targaryen?" he asked, dancing on his toes and peeping up beyond her shoulder to Vhagar. Usually silver and ivory, in the stormy moonlight high up here in the mountain-palace of the Eyrie, Vhagar seemed the purest white and the palest blue - appropriate, as a means of enticing the little Mountain King. "Oh, please, may I? I promise I will be careful, and I shan't fall off, I promise."
"If your lady mother agrees," Visenya said, holding to Dark Sister as she knelt before the boy so she did not knock the blade on the polished floor of the open balcony. "And if you promise to do something for me, my lord."
"Oh, anything! Anything at all!"
Visenya held out a hand to Daena Velaryon, who smiled to Lady Sharra as she handed the decree to Visenya. Daena and her twin, Daemon, were Visenya's admirals, the most talented sailors she had ever known, and loyal and true friends besides. Daena's merits even extended to a strident dislike of Rhaenys, always a positive from Visenya's perspective.
"If you sign this here, my lord, and affix your seal here," she told him, pointing to the spaces on the heavy scroll as she unrolled it. "Promise to keep your word, my lord, and we might even see to it that you ride Vhagar twice."
"Sharra Arryn is a formidable woman," Visenya says, feeling almost fond. "She loathes me, I think - she believes I cheated her son, but her adherence to her husband's lofty ideals means she would never cheat me."
"As High as Honour," Meria agrees, taking one of Visenya's dragons with her trebuchet. "A perfect bitch, but an honourable one. She will make a good mistress of laws, I think, if a sterner one than might be practical in these yet uncertain times."
"I am more concerned about my mistress of ships," Visenya admits. "Orys is my finest general, after my brother, and he vouches for his wife, but he is more than a little enamoured of her. It is... Endearing, to see him so. He is not by nature a romantic man, but there is something in Lady Durrendon that has inspired him to trust her, and from there to love her."
Visenya wanted to make Daena her mistress of ships, or Daemon her master, and would have, had the Stormlanders not been so stridently against being ruled by their women. They are though, and so she must find some way of affirming Argella Durrendon's place. The new-made Lady of Storm's End knows seafaring, that much is obvious from what conversation Visenya has shared with her, and she is a strong sort of woman, one who will more than hold her own with Meria and with Sharra Arryn, and with Visenya herself, too.
Argella Durrendon was a tall, strong-boned woman, with magnificent black curls and hard blue eyes.
She had dark bruises and badly broken skin around her wrists and neck, exposed by short sleeves and a low neckline, like badges of honour. Visenya couldn't help but smile - she had worn training bruises in the same way, when she and Aegon and Rhaenys were children on the training yard. How long ago that seemed.
"So you are my new Queen," she said, holding her head high. "My new husband speaks highly of you."
Visenya nodded in acknowledgement. There was nothing she had to say, not until Lady Durrendon invited her to sit, and all present knew it.
Aegon, standing at Visenya's side, was watching Rhaenys with hungry eyes, and Visenya drove the hard heel of her boot into his instep when Lady Durrendon turned to guide them to the seats under the window. It was one thing for him to openly want a woman other than his wife, but another for him to be doing it so obviously before so new an ally!
"I will bow to you, Lady Targaryen," the woman said, sitting as soon as Visenya's arse touched the cushioned seat. "Orys has spoken at some length of your... Fairness. I admire that. I recognise it."
Orys always spoke of fairness, as though it were only right that his bastardy not be held against him, but Visenya said nothing to disillusion her new bannerwoman - there would be time for that later.
"My lords, though," she said, "delivered me in chains to my husband, and would see a man - any man - rule in my stead. How do you intend on protecting my rights?"
"Mistress of whispers?" Meria asks, toying with an elephant. "I would suggest your sister, but as you say, I could not possibly deny my son his wife."
"My brother," Visenya says. "As master of whispers, that is. Aegon has a most disarming talent for secrets, Your Highness - it is... Fascinating."
The fires were still burning high when Aegon and Orys brought Mern Gardener and Loren Lannister's daughters before her.
"Their brothers are dead," Aegon said, his smile blindingly white against the soot and blood staining his face. Visenya loved him best like this, fierce and joyous, and wished he could love her the same. "Or if they are not, they soon will be. For your pleasure, Your Grace - Myrelle Gardener, Lady of Highgard2en, and Cerenna Lannister, Lady of Casterly Rock."
Edmyn and Agnes Tully stood just behind Visenya's left shoulder, Rhaenys behind her right, and they all edged forward at this development. Gardener and Lannister were both handsome women, Lannister perhaps slightly more so, but there was a calculating gleam in Lannister's sharp green eyes that worried Visenya a little. I will have to keep that one close, she thought.
"You will both bend the knee?" she said, fingers drumming on Dark Sister's pommel - there was a hunger in Lannister's eyes when she looked on Visenya's and Rhaenys' swords, one that Visenya thought she might be able to use. "I will give you all support against your surviving brothers and their male heirs if you swear fealty to me as your Queen."
Myrelle Gardener swept an elegant curtsy that almost reminded Visenya of Rhaenys, but Cerenna Lannister took the knee, like a warrior.
She would have to remember to ask Aegon what he had said, to convince these two proud women to bow so easily.
"Myrelle Gardener is no threat now," Visenya says, "for Daemon will never allow her to stray from her vows, and their daughter is to wed their steward's son, who has sworn an independent oath of loyalty to House Targaryen, for reasons I do not think I ought to question."
"He hopes to tempt you away from your marriage bed, Your Grace," Meria teases, and Visenya smiles a little. "But no, the Gardener bitch is safe, under your admiral's control."
Daemon proved himself more than worthy in destroying the Hoares' fleet and their island castle, and the riches of Highgarden - through his beautiful new wife - was the finest reward Visenya could have given him.
"Cerenna Lannister could do with close watching, though," Meria says seriously. "The Lannisters all shit gold - make her your mistress of coin, keep her close at hand."
"She has already been invited to come to court," Visenya admits with a smile, which draws a laugh from Meria. "Now I only have need to pacify the new Lady Stark."
"I do not have any interest in speaking to you," Visenya had told Torrhen Stark. "You have a sister at Winterfell, yes? I will speak with her. She comes before you in the succession. Do not forget that."
And she had left him there, with Aegon but not with Rhaenys, and she had flown with her sister to Winterfell.
"There is power here," she said, knowing Rhaenys would likely not be able to sense it. Old power was something that had always interested Visenya, such as their foremothers had wielded, and there was much of it in these old grey stones.
"I hope there is a woman to match," Rhaenys said idly, sliding down from Meraxes' shoulders and tugging her furs closer around her face. "She must be a warm woman to bear such terrible cold!"
Sansa Stark, though, was not a warm woman. She was long-faced and grim, and tired. Her husband was a huge man from further north, name of Umber, who professed all readiness to take her name and see their dark-eyed daughter as Lady of Winterfell when her mother's day came.
"My brother will lead our armies home," she sighed, signing the declaration of her loyalty, "provided you spare us dragonfire. They say the Reach and the Westerlands may never recover, and I would spare what little fertile land my people have."
"I think she will be easily pacified," Meria says dismissively. "Promise a son or grandson for a daughter or granddaughter of hers, and she will fall into line readily enough."
Visenya looks down at a click on the board, stunned to find all her dragons removed from play by Meria's siege weapons.
"Of course," Meria says, her smile devilish and eyes bright, "that you have three of these to ride helps keep your new realm loyal."