Lord Tywin Lannister was leaving King’s Landing, and all—from King Aerys down to the stable-boys--knew he left in anger and bitterness.
Prince Rhaegar paid little attention to the gossip. He knew that Tywin wanted his daughter Cersei to marry Rhaegar, and that his royal father had curtly refused. This suited Rhaegar admirably, and he had little interest in thinking on it. Cersei was pretty, but she was a maid of only five-and-ten, still a mere girl. Rhaegar had scarce spoken to her at all during her time at court. He did not know what girls like Cersei spoke of—dresses? Knights? Either way, he could not love her. She was no wife for him. For some lord or lord’s son, yes—but not for the prince. Not for the king.
Elia Martell, Rhaegar’s promised bride, was reputedly just as lovely as Cersei. And she was one-and-twenty, close to Rhaegar’s own age, and fond of music, poetry and painting besides. I will love her. She will be a fitting bride for the Prince Who Was Promised…
If that was who Rhaegar was. If that was who he would have to become. Either way, he knew he was destined for greatness, which meant great and heavy duties. Princess Elia, kin to the dragon herself, would be a suitable companion in that task.
Rhaegar would need her love and comfort, while he worked to ready himself for his future duty every day. This morning he intended to spend two full hours in the practice yards.
Entering the yard, he saw young Ser Jaime, newly of the Kingsguard, hitting a practice dummy with a wooden sword.
Jaime’s strokes were fierce, angry—even a little careless, for such a promising young knight.
“Your strokes are uneven, ser,” Rhaegar said, making sure to speak with courtesy so as not to offend the lad’s pride.
“I don’t care!” Ser Jaime said. He spoke with such excitement that his cap fell off his head. Something in his voice made Rhaegar look closely at his face.
The boy’s eyes were reddened, and his hair—
--his hair was tied back in a knot to hide its womanly length. Rhaegar squinted with curiosity before he realized what was going on. “Lady Cersei!”
“You can’t tell my father,” Cersei said, sounding like a petulant little girl. “You can’t.”
“I would not be so unchivalrous, my lady, but…” Cersei looked proud, despite her red eyes and nose and her girlish voice, proud and queenly. Rhaegar felt a sudden interest in what brought her to the yard in this state. “What are you doing here? And why do you weep?”
“I…I…” Cersei burst into tears again. Rhaegar gently put his hand on her shoulder, wanting to comfort, yet not wanting to be improper. “I’m leaving for Casterly Rock, and I don’t want to go. But Father says we must. And…I wanted to hit something with a sword. Jaime showed me how when we were small.” She looked up at him, eyes wide and…adoring? Could the girl be disappointed because we are not to wed?
The sun shifted in the sky, so that it shone on Cersei’s honey-colored locks and imbued them with its own radiance. Rhaegar could not tell where the sunlight left off and Cersei began. He caught his breath. I loved a maid as fair as summer, with sunlight in her hair. No, such beauty deserved more than a commonplace Myrish song as tribute…
“Your Grace?” Cersei’s voice was sharp and anxious, and Rhaegar came to himself with a start.
“Your pardon, my lady, I was…distracted. You were speaking?”
“Yes, your Grace. I…” She cast her eyes down, demurely, so her thick gold lashes brushed her ivory cheeks. “I wished to thank you. I am cheered and heartened now, after speaking with you. Your comfort and chivalry are princely indeed.”
Her voice deepened as she spoke, growing richer, more womanly. Rhaegar wondered if she were doing it on purpose. Likely she was—likely some septa told her this was how she should behave to catch a noble husband.
She was trying so hard to be a woman, and yet she was scarce more than a child.
A fierce, passionate, angry child—as stern in her wrath as Visenya must have been. The practice dummy was nearly in shreds.
“You are most welcome, my lady,” Rhaegar said. He withdrew his hand from her shoulder. He only just realized that he had left it there the whole time. “And now you should rest. You have tired yourself, I see.”
“Yes, your Grace. By your leave.” She dipped a curtsey, which looked odd in her men’s garb, and then was gone.
That night Rhaegar did not sleep well. He dreamt of riding a dragon, as he often did. But in this dream Cersei Lannister was by his side, riding a dragon of her own. Her gold hair blew in the wind and her eyes exulted as her dragon blasted fire.
When he woke up, Rhaegar summoned Tywin Lannister to promise him that it would be very much worth his while if he remained as Hand. Lord Tywin, after giving Rhaegar his usual cold scrutinizing glare, agreed.
* * *
Cersei was thrilled. She had been so angry and so sad to hear that she must leave King’s Landing.
But then she had spoken to Prince Rhaegar, and he had kept her secret of dressing in Jaime’s garb from her lord father. Better still, he had laid his hand on her shoulder all the while they were speaking. And he had looked at her as though he knew she was beautiful, as though he knew she was a lioness of the Rock. As he should. As he must.
King Aerys thought she was not good enough for Rhaegar. Cersei had learned this by eaves-dropping on the servants’ conversations. But she also learned Prince Rhaegar had asked Father to stay on. Rhaegar loves me anyway. He will marry me and make me his queen.
He had been so handsome, so gentle, so kind. Like a prince out of a story.
I will show him that I love him too. Her septa was always telling her that a lady could not be forward, but there were still things she could do.
That evening at court, when Rhaegar played his lute and sang, Cersei sighed and wept and fluttered her fan most prettily. He sang a lovely, haunting ballad Cersei had never heard before, about a lady who dove from her castle walls after her beloved died in battle.
When the prince finished the song, Cersei made sure to dab her eyes vigorously so he would see.
* * *
Dear Maester Aemon,
Greetings to you. I pray that your health remains good and that the noble work of Night’s Watch proceeds without hindrance. I thank you for your good wishes regarding my royal father and mother, and my brother Viserys. They are all well…
…I seek your help in a scholarly matter that has concerned me of late. All men know that Aegon the Conqueror had two wives, Rhaenys and Visenya. The dragon must have three heads. Queen Visenya was wrathful and proud of temperament.
When the Prince Who Was Promised arrives, he must have a Rhaenys and a Visenya for the other two heads of the dragon. Must they be blood of the dragon? Or is it possible for the other two heads of the dragon to come from other houses? If they must be blood of the dragon, how strong must their relation to House Targaryen be? Is an old and diluted blood tie truly any better than none at all?
Let us suppose, for the nonce, that they must be blood of the dragon. In that event I cannot be the prophesied prince, as there are no Targaryen women who I may wed. But my son may be. He will then require sisters. Perhaps a female cousin will do, after Viserys weds, but sisters would be better. In any case I will wed and sire children before Viserys does, and you know as well as I do that we may not have the luxury of waiting.
If I must sire a Rhaenys and a Visenya for my son to wed, then surely at least one of my daughters must be a fierce warrior and dragon-rider? And surely she would need a strong, strapping mother to birth her? No weak, sickly mother could birth a dragon-rider. Is that not so?
I await your advice with great eagerness. I am most grateful for any assistance you can give me.
My best wishes to you, and your brothers of the Watch.
* * *
“The glorious sun made bright the air,” sang Prince Rhaegar. His audience was a circle of devoted court ladies, yet his eyes never left Cersei’s face. Cersei pretended not to notice, but inwardly she rejoiced. “But the golden maid was still more fair.”
Rhaegar had written this song. He wrote it for me. Cersei just knew it. She was the only golden-haired lady at court, apart from Queen Rhaella. Lady Alerie’s hair was light brown, and sometimes it looked yellowish, but never truly golden. And he kept looking at her as he sang it, his eyes more beautiful than all the precious gems Cersei had ever seen.
She thought she would die from happiness. Prince Rhaegar was singing about how the sun was jealous of her beauty! It was exactly like being a lady in a song. I deserve no less. I am a lioness of the Rock.
Which is why Cersei, after hearing Prince Rhaegar’s betrothal to Elia of Dorne announced, tore her bedding apart in a wild and humiliated rage, and wept through the night.
She looked like a fright in the morning, but it hardly mattered. Father was furious too, and he was leaving King’s Landing in truth. Cersei did not think anyone could dissuade him this time, and she did not even wish for it. Everyone was smirking to themselves about how the haughty Lannisters had been put in their place. Everyone. The other court ladies--insufferable, jealous cows!--the lordlings, the king’s counselors, even the servants…they were all laughing at them. At her.
Rhaegar had never loved her. He was just amusing himself, singing songs and playing games, while courting Elia Martell all the while.
There was a rap at her door. “Go away,” she shouted hoarsely.
The door opened anyway, and Cersei whirled round, ready to hurl a pot of scent at whoever dared enter without her leave.
It was Prince Rhaegar.
Cersei curtseyed, but not very deeply. “Your Grace,” she muttered through clenched teeth.
“My lady, you must believe me that this alliance with Dorne is necessary.” She gaped at him, not expecting him to be so frank and bold. He continued: “I…I love you.” He sounded bashful as he said it. Cersei blushed, but she still felt angry. If he loved her, why was he marrying the Dornish girl? “If I do not wed Princess Elia then the Dornish will be offended and my father cannot risk that. But…”
“But what?” Cersei snapped, too angry to guard her tongue.
“Lady Cersei, how much courage do you have?”
He dared ask her that? He, who would wed an insipid, weak, sickly girl he did not love because his father ordered him to? He, who sang love-songs at her and was yet too craven and bloodless to marry her? Cersei flung back her head. “I am a lioness,” she said.
Rhaegar smiled, as if humoring the pretenses of a child, which made her angry. But then he came up to her and, ever so gently, touched her face. Cersei trembled. “Yes,” Rhaegar said, in his deep and velvety voice. “Yes, that you are. My proud, brave lioness.”
His! He had called her his lioness! Cersei thought she would faint.
“Cersei…” He was calling her by her name! “It may be my duty to marry Princess Elia, but that is no reason why I cannot wed you as well.”
Cersei stared at him, not understanding. “Do you mean that Elia is sickly and like as not to die soon? So then you and I can wed after her death?”
Rhaegar looked taken aback, though Cersei did not know why. It was not as though he loved the Dornish girl. “No, that is not what I meant. Cersei, your septas must have told you that Targaryen princes could take more than one wife.”
“Aegon the Conquerer,” Cersei said, nodding, “and Rhaenys and Visenya. Yes, of course.”
Rhaegar smiled, pulling her to him. “You will be my Visenya,” he said, “and you will birth children who will change the realm. Our babes will change everything, Cersei. They will fix all of my fa—they will fix everything. All will be better. You need only the courage to come with me.” He seized her hands, clasping them tightly. “Are you brave enough, Cersei?”
Cersei did not understand all that he said, but she understood enough to know that he wanted her, that she would be his queen. “Yes,” she said, and was rewarded with an unearthly smile.
When he took her, later that night, he was gentle if absent-minded. But she enjoyed it nonetheless. It was not like with Jaime--not as good, some part of her treacherously whispered—but it was Rhaegar, and she loved him, and he loved her. She would soon give him a son.
She had cause to rue her love later, after Jaime threatened to kill Rhaegar upon learning of her “abduction,” as he called it. When the king ordered Jaime seized, he drew his blade upon Aerys himself.
Her twin burned to death, dying in sheer agony, but not before Tywin led his armies of sellswords against King’s Landing, sacking the city. The Lion’s Rebellion nearly succeeded. Lord Tywin’s gold could command many sellswords, and even tempt some of the great lords and their bannerman to his cause. And the great lords were not eager to fight for Aerys’s reign without Tywin to rule for him.
Still, Cersei’s lord father failed. Prince Rhaegar returned to King’s Landing, leaving Cersei sweltering in a Dornish tower. He rallied the Targaryen hosts. He persuaded some of Tywin’s erstwhile allies that Aerys was likely to die of the wound Jaime gave him, that it was better to support the Mad King’s wiser heir than to rebel. He promised them the power and indulgences that had belonged to Tywin.
Her father was beheaded. Rhaegar married Cersei (“I gave my word,” he explained when Prince Oberyn of Dorne bluntly asked him why, as if marrying her was a duty), and she was brought to King’s Landing as queen.
The junior queen, inferior in status to Elia. Rhaegar had wed Elia first. He had lain with Cersei first, but the High Septon said that did not count. And of course, Elia came from a loyal and powerful House. Cersei’s family were vanquished traitors, and Cersei herself…
I am nothing, she thought bitterly. Queen in name only, wife in name only to Rhaegar, who was now absent-minded to her instead of devoted as he had been before she fled with him. I am no use to him now, not after I’ve birthed his Visenya. She was nothing but a prize mare to him. What a fool she was, to have been deceived by a pretty song and all Rhaegar’s pretty words about courage and changing the realm.
She could have won him back to her by pleasing him in the bedchamber. But he never came to her, and ignored her when she came to him.
Still, he had spoken the truth about one thing. He had promised her a child destined for greatness, and her daughter would truly be great. Not a brood mare. Not like me. No, her Visenya would be a queen in her own right. Cersei had wanted to name her Joanna for her lady mother, but Rhaegar had insisted on Visenya. More of his stupid dragon foolery. Well, never mind that. If Rhaegar wanted to give her daughter a queen’s name, then she would be a queen—a true queen.
Rhaegar thought her Visenya would marry Elia’s scrawny mewling brat, Aegon, and be his consort to fuck and ignore as he pleased. Rhaegar has a surprise coming to him. If she had to claw Elia’s throat out, if she had to drown her babes in their bath, no matter—she would do it. At the right moment, perhaps when Rhaegar was away at war, Cersei would pounce.
They may be blood of the dragon, but I—I am a lioness. Lionesses were built for the hunt. And they, Cersei thought, watching Elia stroll through the courtyard with her Dornish ladies and her babes, are my prey.
They thought she was tamed and insignificant, just like her House. They would see. She would submit to them for now, wait for the right moment, and then--I will spring. And they will learn that a lioness cannot be tamed.
And then her daughter, and Cersei through her, would rule. A lioness deserved no less.