This is a story of Gods and mortal men.
In a castle by the sea, a woman lived in great wealth and luxury. She was fair of face and sharp of mind and had the love of a fine man yet was not content. Each day, she would kneel and raise her hands to the heavens and pray that her womb would quicken with child.
Give me a son; she would plead, to bear his father’s name and mantle.
And though the Gods were not moved by her tears, they gave her the son she so desperately wanted but vowed to take her life as payment, for they believed no mortal woman should weep at her lot and call the Gods unjust for denying her.
(So the elders say: be careful what you wish for).
And when the woman received the child upon her crimson deathbed, fear coiled in her heart and made her numb lest the child should fall or sicken in her absence.
Let him live, she now prayed, let him see winter and summer, sunshine and harvest, let him live to old age.
The Gods granted her a final wish and promised the boy would live so long as he never recognized himself, in water nor silver nor glass. And to satiate his curiosity, they sent him a sister, as perfectly formed and golden haired as her mother, so the boy could see in whose image he had been made.
Content that her prayers had been answered; the woman laid a hand to her breast and fell into that deep and gentle, final sleep, forgetting of course that the Gods’ favours never come without a price.
Yet for a time, the Gods withheld payment and the boy grew.
He grew strong and bold and tall and his hair was flaxen as wheat and his eyes the green of the forest floor. Though he was beloved by all, he loved only one: the sister who was his second self and mirror image. And for her sake, he learnt words so he could call her by her name and for her sake; he learnt sword, spear and battleaxe so he could defend her from every foe. They ran together and knew the secrets that dwelt deep within the rock and water of the earth and even the Gods had to smile at their joy.
But it could not last for their father, who believed himself a God, saw fit to change the plans of the deities. He removed brother from sister and sent the girl far away to live in another palace, in another land, with another man whose eyes were pieces of the summer sky and whose hair was dark as his nature.
And a worm took root in the boy’s heart and an albatross dug its claws deep into his shoulders until he was compelled to follow his sister for without her, he did not know himself.
From a window in the wall, a crevice where stone had crumbled and sunlight pierced through, he watched his sister’s new husband place a crown of metal twisted like flesh upon her head. With horror he imagined he could see the barbed iron piercing through her skull from which blood dripped down, turning her hair into a river of scarlet and gold. Yet when he cried out, his sister looked at him with deaf eyes.
In the shadow of unhappiness, the boy became a man. His sister, too, was sad as mirror images are cursed to be, for her marriage was like a boat upon the open sea, rocked by violent currents and fearsome storms.
When at last, she could no longer bear her husband’s temper; she fell to her knees, lifted her arms and begged the Gods to let her be in the ground and sleep.
And a great flame of anger was kindled amongst the Gods who saw her mother in this woman who was not happy with the fortunes they had dispersed, though they had made her beautiful and clever and a Queen. And so they laid a curse upon her, that she would have no language save the language given to her by men and she could only parrot back the words handed down to her so not even her brother would hear her true thoughts and they called the curse womanhood.
When the woman realized the Gods would not heed her prayers, her wrath was great, great enough to melt mountains to ice and scald the forests of her childhood. Her brother pleaded that she spare her own life and instead, punish her husband for the crimes committed against her. So the woman went down to the caves in which old magic still dwelled and entreated the sorcerers to make her a cloak out of the skin of a boar so that she might kill her husband himself. When her wish was granted, for gold and tears could move mortal men in a way it could not the Gods, she laid in wait for her husband, the King. And when she sank the animal tusk into his chest, to tear apart bone and flesh, the blood gushed over her and tasted sweet as victory.
For a while, the woman ruled alone, wielding sceptre in one hand and sword in the other. But she found her subjects would not kneel to her, nor swear homage, and the court seemed to assemble before her twisted throne everyday only to mock her. She found she had neither language to condemn them nor words to banish them for the only words she had were those of her foolish council who sought to placate everyone.
Her brother grew unhappier still, for once he had hoped they could return to the serenity of childhood and now found only chaos, so begged his sister’s leave from court.
“I was made for battlefields,” he informed her, “not the council chamber.”
The Queen would have liked to scream and curse, would have liked to weep and claw at first his face then her own but the Gods saw that she choked on her vengeful words and could only echo her brother in sorrow:
“If it is battlefields you want, brother, battlefields I shall give you.”
And so the man returned to the castle by the sea and tried to recall his mother’s face and voice but could only hear his sister in his head. Day by day, his image of her grew weaker until his own hair began to thin and his flesh wasted away. Yet still he would not return to her side and when he heard that a new queen, more beautiful and more terrible than his sister, was amassing an army in the North, he sat in his empty halls and drank his tasteless wine and ignored his sister’s calls for mercy.
The woman found her fury had burnt itself out and she had now only the ashes of despair to feed her. She decided she would never swear fealty to the ungrateful chit who dared call herself Queen and under the cover of night, she fled the castle that was more akin to a cage and buried herself deep within the forests she had traversed so well as a girl.
It did not matter she decided if she could not be with her brother, skin against skin, breath upon breath.
She would be the trees. She would be the wind. She would be the air he breathed.
When his sister was gone and the land was submerged with snow where once green leaves had taken root, the man made his weary way to the new Queen. He knelt before her and felt a hundred eyes rake his back.
“And why have you come, ser?”
“To swear loyalty to you, Madame.”
“Loyalty?” the Queen asked, inspecting the rings on her fingers and the courtiers tittered and her councillors hid smiles behind their hands. The Queen smiled too, cold and hard as winter.
“I shall have to ask you to prove your loyalty, ser.”
“Go to the forests from whence you came,” she said before leaning forward, her voice dropping to a murmur that only he could hear:
“And bring me back a lion pelt.”
The man had learnt the hunter’s ways from his father. His arrows always struck home and he never failed to find his prey.
“I was wondering when you would come for me.”
His sister’s voice still made him wince, low-pitched and throaty as it was. She was thinner than he and looked older and there was a wildness about her, as she knelt against a boulder with fern and moss bruising her skin. Her hair fell in wispy strands to the hollow of her throat. He brushed it away with a hand.
“What are you doing, brother?”
“Consider it a mercy.”
His sister’s body was a mausoleum that housed both their ghosts.
His sister was returned to the earth and her bones were the rocks of the forest and her voice was the wind and he was lost in the wilderness of his homeland.
If I could only see her one last time, he murmured and then, because his mother had not lived long enough to warn him to be careful what he wished for, O Gods, please let me see her one last time.
And the trees rustled in warning but he heard only the stream beckoning.
He fell upon the marshy banks, hands groping frantically for something long lost.
And there she was, just beneath the surface:
Green eyes. Gold hair.
“Cersei,” he whispered.
And he knelt down to drink from her lips and her kiss was as soft and slippery as he remembered and the waters came up to engulf them both in a last, unforgiving embrace.