The king was a stubborn man.
“I am never going to be queen, but he will not let me marry for love.” Rhaella had maintained her tenuous thread of dignity throughout the duration of court. Smiling graciously when she was called to stand before her grandfather on the iron throne; Princess Rhaella was the very epitome of courtesy when he explained his plans to marry her to her brother, Prince Aerys. She even thanked Jenny of Oldstones for bringing forth the woods witch who hailed the prophecy of her child being the Prince that was Promised. “It’s all lies. Azor Ahai is nothing but a fable from some old book of Asshai. My son will not be the Son of Fire reborn.”
Joanna Lannister, one of the princess’s ladies-in-waiting, brushed the tangles from Rhaella’s hair and smiled into the frosted mirror at the reflection of the Targaryen beauty. “I believe in the stories of Azor Ahai.” The fair-haired lioness carefully placed the thick-bristled brush on the table and sat beside Rhaella. The two had become fast friends since Joanna had come to King’s Landing, and the princess trusted her lady-in-waiting utterly.
“I will have to tell him, won’t I?” There was an insufferable sadness lingering in Rhaella’s voice, as though she felt the weight of her royal status a sudden and overwhelming burden upon her shoulders. She looked tired and withdrawn from all hope of finding a solution. The night had arrived, and it was this time when Rhaella was at her least composed. Only Joanna ever saw her like this; forlorn and lost. Elsewise she remained the picture of strength and serenity.
“Yes, my lady. Ser Bonifer deserves to know you are no longer a free woman.”
Rhaella snorted. “I have never been a free woman, Joanna.” Despite not being in line for the iron throne, Rhaella was closely watched and guarded by her grandfather Aegon V and his men. In part, she felt that ser Bonifer was to blame. If he hadn’t named her the Queen of love and Beauty at the tourney of the Hand, she would not have been spotlighted by her grandsire’s spies. But the rest was her own doing; foolishly using the King’s Gate to come and go from the city. Of course it was the most heavily guarded by the City Watch, but Princess Rhaella had never had to think much of soldiers and spies.
Joanna rose and took a candlestick in its little brass holder, slipping her finger through the little hoop with which to hold it safely off the mantle of the princess’s great hearth. The fire within crackled gently; a soothing sound that oft helped the princess ease into a dreamless sleep. There was something about fire that always calmed Rhaella; she had always assumed it was her Targaryen blood. In fact, at that very moment one of her cousins was making arrangements to leave for Summerhall; one of her favourite castles that her family owned, with plans to attempt to hatch a dragon egg he had been given as a child. Rhaella found the whole idea fascinating, and begged her father if she could go. He granted her permission to do so, but now Aegon had seen an end to those plans. Rhaella knew in her heart she would never forgive him if her cousin was successful and she missed the first dragon in thousands of years being born into the world once more. Never.
“Might I give you some council, Joanna?” Rhaella turned on her little wooden stool to face the lioness and smiled sincerely. Joanna nodded and lifted the candle closer to her face. “If you are arranged to marry a man you do not wish to—…” The princess fell silent. Joanna’s eyes were glued to the rushes lining the stone floor of Rhaella’s room, an unusual expression sweeping across her face. “What is it?”
Lady Joanna looked up and regarded the princess a moment. “I am returning to Lannisport after you are married, my lady. I am to marry myself.”
“Who? Who will you marry?” Rhaella was concerned that Joanna too had been forced to marry someone she did not love, or even care for at all in fact. But the way Joanna smiled suddenly, and her cheeks turned a rosy colour that only accentuated her Lannister beauty led Rhaella to believe otherwise.
“I am promised to my cousin; Tywin Lannister of Casterly Rock, my lady.” Casterly Rock; perhaps one of the richest places in all of Westeros was certainly a fine place to be a wife. Rhaella could not help the slight pang of jealousy that crept up her spine. One thing that brought a smile unbidden to her face was the thought that perhaps Aerys did not know about this arrangement, and she would be the first to tell him. Aerys was rather fond of Joanna, despite the Lannister girl never once giving him cause to believe his feelings were reciprocated.
“I wish you a very happy life, Joanna.” Rhaella stood and took Joanna’s free hand in hers, lacing their fingers together like a lover might. Joanna smiled graciously and inclined her head a touch, before raising her fierce green eyes to meet the princess’s deep violet ones.
“Might I offer you some council, my lady?”
Rhaella grinned and said “Please, do!”
Joanna freed her hand and tucked her fingers under Rhaella’s chin. “Go to him, Rhaella. Tell him you love him, and never to forget you. Then you must return to the Red Keep and never speak to Bonifer Hasty again.” Her tone was not unkind, nor was it void of any emotion at all. Joanna was strong, and Rhaella knew that if it was not above her position in the kingdom, Joanna would speak her mind on a lot of things. For one, Rhaella knew that Joanna didn’t have much time for King Aegon. The princess had noted more than once how Joanna would tut exasperatingly under her breath whenever he ordered the entire castle and its rats to court just to hear that month’s expenditures.
The princess’s smile was waning. She planned to meet ser Bonifer soon in the Street of Seeds. She could not bring herself to imagine his reaction when he learned of her engagement, if he did not already know. His affections towards her were not unknown, and she herself had been careless in the potential for their discovery. She bid Lady Joanna rest and then took leave of her room to creep down the hall, still slipping her brown roughspun cloak over her dress and lifting the hood over her hair. In the dark, she attracted much less attention when wearing dark colours and her old handmaiden’s cloak proved an ample disguise to see her safely onto Shadowblack lane. It was only a short walk from Aegon’s High Hill onto The Hook, and after slipping silently down a couple of cobbled alleyways, the princess found herself on the end of the Street of Seeds.
Her heart was thumping fast in her chest as she cautiously wondered down the empty street, noting the fat black cat that hissed and spat as she approached. Keeping her hood up over her silver hair, Rhaella kept walking until she came to the house with the red door. It had been abandoned for years; save for the rats that now graced it with their presence. And of course now the little house played host to the intimate affair of a lowly knight and a highborn princess. She stopped before the door and knocked three times in three different places, as was her custom. Once above the brass doorknob, another in the top right corner and the third between the two great iron hinges. She waited a few moments, until the sound of heavy footfalls could be heard and the door opened. Before she could speak, Bonifer grabbed Rhaella’s wrist and pulled her inside, slamming her against the door as it closed.
He kissed her then, not gently but not unkindly, and pressed her wrists against the wooden frame behind her. “Tell me it isn’t true.” He whispered between kisses, crushing his mouth against hers and tightening his grip on her wrists. Rhaella wriggled beneath his iron grip and freed her lips from his to answer him.
“It is true, my love.” The last word caught in her throat, and it wasn’t until he kissed her against did the dry feeling subside. He released her wrists and pulled her close; wrapping his arms around her waist. Rhaella cupped his face and kissed him back. “Didn’t you hear me? It’s true, Bonifer.” Sorrowful tears pricked her eyes and threatened their release, but Bonifer’s unwillingness to listen turned them to tears of anger. She pulled away, and leaned against the arm that held her, pushing Bonifer back by his shoulders. “I am to marry Aerys.”
“Why?” He sounded so childish, as if her simple sentence was littered with obfuscation. She frowned and shoved him harder this time. Bonifer was tall, but skinny—he was not as strong as he liked to think. He was also too kind for his own good; something that both enticed and repulsed the princess.
“It is Targaryen tradition.” She answered plainly.
Bonifer let her go. He stepped back and rubbed his hand over his mouth, as if trying to process everything swimming around in his mind all in one single second. “Yes, but why?”
Rhaella sighed. “My grandsire is King of the Seven Kingdoms; he doesn’t have to have a reason why.” The house was insufferably small; Rhaella was beginning to feel closed in. The small hall was narrow and sparse, and the two rooms leading off it were empty and unusable. The fire that had demolished much of the bakery beside the house with the red door had left the two rooms littered with debris, and since then a thick layer of dust had accumulated. The stairs were creaky and every third one was broken as though someone had stepped right through it. The upstairs area was one large room with a single feather bed and a chest of drawers. Bonifer had lit the hallway and chambers with candles, but elsewise it was dark and cold and lonely.
“Don’t lie to me princess.”
“Don’t call me that!” Rhaella stamped her foot, ignoring the fact she herself was now acting like the child. Bonifer smiled and tilted his head, before stepping closer and cupping her face with his hands and kissing her again. This time his kisses were soft and gentle like a lover’s.
“The men in the inn told tales of a woods witch brought to the capital by your uncle’s whore.”
Rhaella nodded. “She hails from High Heart. I never liked that place.”
“What does she say, this… witch?” Bonifer wasn’t smiling anymore. Rhaella was now questioning whether he’d been smiling at all. With his face against hers, she hadn’t had the opportunity to see his expression. Perhaps that had been his plan?
“She says a lot of things, my love. She told my grandfather the Prince that was Promised will be born from the line of Aerys and me.” And that was when she finally cried. Bonifer held her, but Rhaella could sense his unease as he wrapped his arms around the princess while she sobbed against his chest. She reached up and tangled her hand in his short brown hair, running her fingers down over his bearded cheek. “I’m so sorry my love.”
“Run away with me, Rhaella.” The sudden strength in his voice made her jump, and she looked up to see a wild sense of passion in his dark brown eyes. He held her at arm’s length, looking deep into her purple eyes.
Rhaella spoke quietly. “Where would we go?”
“Across the Narrow Sea—to any of the Free Cities you desire. We’ll raise our children free and happy and we can be together like we planned.” They had never planned that. Rhaella was a princess who was born and raised and would most likely die in the capital with her family. She loved Bonifer dearly, but she could not fathom leaving the city, no matter how much she hated being oppressed by the politics of the realm.
“That is no life for a child; being on the run across the Narrow Sea. Especially any child of mine.” They could force her into ruffles and heavy skirts, they could even force her to marry Aerys, but no one would dictate to Rhaella how to raise her children. She was determined to be as good a mother, as her father was a sire to her and her brother.
Bonifer cupped her cheek with his calloused hand. “I will help you, my love. I love you, princess. I love you, I love you.” Kissing her between each word, Bonifer’s grip became more desperate, as if he knew he was losing her.
Her words fell against his lips. “I told you not to call me that.”
“My queen, my queen—you will always be my queen.” Rhaella could not help but laugh. Queen Rhaella sounded so alien to her, being the daughter of Aegon’s second son. The only way she’d be queen was if she married her uncle, and he was preoccupied with Jenny of Oldstones. Her father had married a woman he loved, and Rhaella was brought up to believe she was eligible to do the same. Aegon had taken that right from her on the words of a woods witch who didn’t even have a name. It sickened her.
Rhaella wriggled free and slipped passed Bonifer’s grasp as he reached for her to pull her back. She leaned on the bannister of the staircase and sighed. “This will be the last time we can meet, my love.” Her eyes scoured the floor, refusing to look at the inevitable pain that would be tarnishing her love’s handsome face. “Now that I am betrothed, I will be guarded more than I was before.”
“I see.” Bonifer said, and Rhaella noted the way his voice cracked as he cleared his throat. She looked up just as he brushed his finger beneath his eye.
“Do you? Do you really Bonifer?” She stepped forward and took his hand, bringing him closer towards her. “Come with me, my love. Make love to me one last time, and then leave for the Stormlands and never return.” She pressed his hand against her chest, allowing him to feel how he still made her heart flutter. Bonifer looked away.
“I’m not leaving the capital.”
“Bonifer, if you do not my brother will find you and kill you. He doesn’t like other men playing with his toys.”
Bonifer sighed. “You’re not a toy, Rhaella.”
“I am to him,” she looked down again, picking at the wood of the bannister; scratching her nail along the grain “you should have seen his face when the King forged our betrothal. He enjoyed watching me suffer and pretend to be thankful.”
“You played your part with ease, I am sure.” He was trying to hurt her now, perhaps to save himself some face when she inevitably left him. In truth, she could hardly decipher who was getting the better end of the bargain. She would leave the abandoned house and return to the Red Keep where she would lose Joanna and then marry her tyrannical brother. Bonifer would leave a free man; return to the Stormlands and marry a pretty girl from one of the lesser houses who would give him strong sons and sweet daughters. Her child would be the Prince that was Promised, apparently.
“If you love me—…”
“…if? Have I not proved my love for you already?” He stepped closer, clearly masking the pain he was feeling with this new sense of anger he had somehow managed to muster. “I won a tourney in your honour; I fought great men and even greater lords, and I beat them all with your favour wrapped around my lance. And then you came to me, you sought me out of that tavern. I did not ask to be your secret lover Rhaella, you chose me to fall in love with you. You commanded it.”
“Oh how awful it must have been to have to fall in love with me, I’m so sorry you were burdened with such an affliction.” Rhaella swept passed the tall knight and lifted her hood over her head once more. “Please, allow me to relieve you of your duty.” She was toying with him, she knew she was. Of course he was going to turn and grab her arm and tell her he didn’t mean it. This he did, and kissed her neck before turning her to face him.
“Tell me you don’t want to marry Aerys.”
“Of course I don’t want to.” Tears welled up in her eyes once more, blurring her vision. Oh please don’t let this be the last time I see him, not like this. She wiped them away furiously, but they continued to run down her face.
Bonifer seemed to struggle to speak again. He cleared his throat and rest his hands on the door either side of her head. “And… tell me you love me.”
“I do. I do love you.”
He smiled, but it quickly waned and his face fell flat. He was crying, but in the dim candlelight he was able to hide it well. “Good. Now go, before I steal you away.” As he pulled her away from the door to open it, Rhaella wrapped her arms around his waist and clung to him. The midnight air hit them both as a sudden gust of wind swept through the hall. She clung on tighter for a few seconds, before releasing him and running from the house.
Princess Rhaella never stopped running. She ran until she reached the castle, and continued until she reached her chamber door. The guards looked at her curiously, and it was only then that Rhaella remembered where she was. “Good evening, ser.” She said to the one with the tenuous smile, and upon wiping the tears from her eyes, she entered her chambers and closed the door.
The pain was unbearable, unlike anything she had ever known. Guards ran in between the maids, the news of Summerhall only just reaching the ears of the capital. The great fire was still raging, despite all efforts to save the summer home of the Targaryen dynasty. Rhaella flopped back on her bed, exhausted, as the Maester lifted the child into her arms.
“Do you have a name for him, princess?” Pycelle asked, carefully taking his hands away from the boy’s head. The little bundle screamed and cried, while all around them women did the same. There had been many at Summerhall before the fire had started, and Rhaella surmised that most of them would be dead.
She looked down at her son, staring into his deep purple eyes. “Bonifer.” She whispered.
“Rhaegar.” She said. The maids nodded their approval, and Maester Pycelle lifted off the bed slowly to give the princess some space.
“Let us leave the princess be; she needs her rest.”
“Crown Princess.” A familiar voice echoed through the crowded room; the lords and ladies parted to allow ser Barristan through. He reached the side of the bed and took to one knee. “Princess,” he said softly “The King and his heir are both dead. You and your brother are heir now.”
No, please no.