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It had been quite some time since Cersei heard talk of another prophecy.

The last one had been years ago, when she was ten. Cersei had gone to a tent with Melara Hetherspoon and Jeyne Farman and they had demanded to hear their fortunes from Maggy the Frog.

Maggy was a great ugly blob of a woman and her prophecy about Cersei was even uglier, and that was saying something. Cersei had fretted so much about the prophecy for weeks before she finally told Father when he had briefly visited from King’s Landing.

“Does this woman have spies in court?” Father had asked her with narrowed eyes, his tone sharp.

“No, Father.”

“Was she consulting reports?” Father had swiftly continued. “Letters? Histories? Perhaps even seemingly inconsequential gossip, but words nonetheless?”

“No, Father,” Cersei had said, almost faltering. “She used blood magic –”

“Then that’s nonsense.” In jerky rustles Father had reached over to a pile of papers and pulled a blank piece towards him. “Do you appreciate the gravity of my offices, Cersei?”

Cersei had done her best to keep herself from fidgeting. “Yes, Father. You are the Lord Paramount of the Westerlands and Warden of the West. Those are great responsibilities. And Hand of the King. The Hand assists the king in ruling the realm. All the people speak of your greatness, Father.”

“And do you know how I manage all that?” Father had glanced up from his letter. He had not waited for her to answer. “I manage that with facts. Do you know the meaning of fact, Cersei?”

From that day on, Cersei had known the meaning of facts.

It meant a lot of things. But mostly it meant knowing who people were, what they wanted, and what they needed.

It meant Cersei stepping out of Father’s study that very same day and hesitantly, grudgingly, playing with Tyrion. The little Imp. Barely a handful of people loved him, but Cersei had come to learn that he will love you if you tried to like him enough. You didn’t kill someone you love. Tyrion had killed Mother when he was born, but Cersei supposed that as a babe Tyrion had all the brains of an exceptionally stupid chicken so he hadn’t understood about loving Mother.

It meant that right now, disbelief was starting to wash over Cersei.

The noon sky was blazing. They were leagues from home. They were leagues from King’s Landing. Cersei’s legs were sore. There was a sharp stinging on the skin of Cersei’s right ankle. Her mouth was dry and her stomach was rumbling.

And Prince Rhaegar was saying, in his mournful vague manner, “It concerns an important prophecy, Lady Cersei. We must do this for the good of the realm.”

The prince dipped his head in a very dignified and handsome nod, and then he was drifting towards a rock. Against the rock were his harp and his saddle, and around the rock paced three knights of the Kingsguard.

Cersei gaped at his silver head for a moment. No doubt that it was a very handsome and royal skull. Cersei wondered what thoughts were swirling in it, and she winced at her younger self’s drawings of herself and the prince riding a dragon.

She cleared her throat. With a brisk turn Cersei made for a copse of trees, well away from the other ladies and some men the prince had snagged on the road, when the skin on her ankle smarted again.

Seven save her, Cersei thought with a snarl as she hobbled.

The ground at the base of a tree was uneven and full of dirt. Under the dirt must be worms and ants and all manner of unpleasantness. Even the rocks large enough to sit on were not fetchingly rugged but crawling with something green and slippery that might have been moss, and something brown and slippery that might have been best for Cersei not to think about.

Dismayed, Cersei glanced around.

But they were almost out of the Reach. The farther from the Reach and the nearer to Dorne, cool winds were as scarce as pleasant greenery.

With a martyred wince, Cersei gathered her skirts around her and sat down beneath the tree.

No worms infested her. No ants scurried all around her.

Carefully, Cersei let out her breath.

A dark head popped out from the other side of the tree. “Oh. You.”

Cersei yelped.

She wheezed, wildly clutching her skirts in fists, before she realised that it was only the Stark girl.

Cersei glared as Lady Lyanna scuttled around the tree and plopped down beside Cersei. Her yelp had been a very undignified and unladylike yelp. Then the outfit Lady Lyanna was wearing hit Cersei.

“I thought you were a robber knight,” Cersei snapped. “Why are you wearing that?”

“I’m a squire now,” Lady Lyanna said with palpable pride. “The prince’s squire.”

Cersei knew that Lady Lyanna was fifteen, only a year younger than Cersei, but surely the girl couldn’t be this foolish. Princes didn’t regularly grant the position of squires by crowning candidates as Queen of Love and Beauty.

“Does the prince know that?” asked Cersei.

Lady Lyanna looked at her as if she was the one being foolish. “Of course. We made a bargain, you see.” Lady Lyanna picked up her hat and flapped it vigorously, fanning her face. “I don’t want to get married to Lord Baratheon. The prince needs to do something. He offered for me to be his squire. We’ll have adventures. I may even be in a song one day.”

Idiot, Cersei thought. But then – not everyone could be sensible and intelligent. It was a gift. It was a talent. Father had told her not everyone had the brains.

“The prince will try to get you with child,” Cersei said, patiently imparting collated intelligence. She was used to doing this with Jaime and, to an extent, bookish Tyrion.

Lady Lyanna frowned. “What?”

“Didn’t the prince tell you? About the –” here Cersei curled her lip “– prophecy? And don’t just say what like some poorly-bred bastard, you’re a noble lady.”

But Lady Lyanna was distracted. “Prophecy? The prince did say that he had to tell me something.”

“Yes,” Cersei said, flushed with superiority on account of her worldliness and also the shadow of disdain for the prince. Prophecy! Utter nonsense! “The prince will try to woo us, then bed us. That’s how you get someone with child.”

“I know lords get ladies with children on the bed,” Lady Lyanna said irritably. “They kiss with mouths open. Brandon told me. He’s my brother. I saw him pinch a woman’s arse.”

Cersei laughed. “A man puts his cock in a woman. That’s how. But they can kiss with mouths open whilst doing that.”

Lady Lyanna stopped fanning her face. She goggled at Cersei, her dark grey eyes darting all over Cersei’s face as if to spot a jape or a lie.

Cersei baldly stared back at her. Lady Lyanna had a long handsome face. Although not as beautiful as Cersei’s, of course, but even grimy with sweat and road dust it was good-looking in a wild earthy-like way.

Eventually Lady Lyanna stared out at all the other ladies and men of their party. She pointed to two auburn-haired ladies lounging barefoot by the hedges. “See those girls?” she rasped out. Cersei rather thought that she sounded shaken.

“The younger one must be Lysa Tully,” Cersei said, squinting.

“Yes. And the other one is Catelyn Tully. She’s betrothed to Brandon.”

“Your brother, yes, you told me. What’s that got to do with what’s happening?” Cersei said. “Unless Lady Catelyn can send for your brother to send for my father.”

“That means Brandon will put his cock in her,” Lady Lyanna said in horrified tones.

Startled, Cersei swivelled her head back to look at Lady Lyanna.

“I did not need to know that, gods,” Lady Lyanna said faintly. A beat later, she started cackling.

A giggle burst out of Cersei, unbidden. But she couldn’t help it as she watched Lady Lyanna laugh her open, cackling, guffawing laugh.

It was the first time in days that Cersei had laughed.

She had made conversation, had tilted her head charmingly, had encouraged the prince to sing whilst they rode, but he remained serious. He had not even smiled at her japes or witty remarks. Not to her or to anyone else.

Yesterday morning Cersei had even used the jape about a pirate, a lady, a mummer, a fool, and a sellsword entering a tavern. Jaime would have roared with laughter. But the prince had only huffed as the ladies around them giggled and Lady Lyanna cackled.

Cersei remembered being startled by Lady Lyanna’s laugh, and a touch gratified, so that she had sent a pleased smile at Lady Lyanna.

“That was great,” Lady Lyanna gasped out now, in between her petering giggles. She swiped at her forehead with the back of her hand. Then, with that hand sweaty, she rubbed it on the thigh of her breeches. “It’s horrifying, but also hilarious.”

“Have you got no handkerchief?” Cersei asked, her nose wrinkled at Lady Lyanna’s state of dress.

“I think I lost it.” Lady Lyanna fetched back her hat from her lap. “I’m starving. I think I still have bread left.”

This reminded Cersei of her hunger, too. But she had eaten all her bread and cheese. “I wonder if those berries by the hedges are edible.”

Standing, Lady Lyanna put her hat on and brushed the grass and dirt from her breeches. “I’ll share. Let’s see if the others will.”

“I can’t walk.” Cersei fought to keep out the piteous whine from her voice. She was just stating a fact. “I scraped the skin on my ankle.”

Lady Lyanna nodded. “It’s the sweating. You don’t remove your stockings so you swelter, and you lose. You remove your stockings so you still sweat and you scrape on your shoes –”

“And you lose,” finished Cersei. She rather agreed.

Lady Lyanna let out a bright peal of laughter as if it was the funniest thing. Cersei could feel her own lips twitch with amusement.

“You wait here,” Lady Lyanna told her. “I’ll bring us some food.”

Easing her shoes off from her ankles, Cersei kept an eye on Lady Lyanna’s back and so she was able to see the prince approach Lady Lyanna. Cersei could see Lady Lyanna straightening her back and moving half a step away. She could see the prince saying something with an intent set on his brows.

When Lady Lyanna returned to Cersei, she had a saddle bag in one hand and Catelyn Tully in tow. A meager breeze stirred the pink ribbons in Lady Catelyn’s auburn plaits and she had her skirts gathered in a knobby bunch in front of her.

“Lady Lysa is napping with one of the others,” Lady Lyanna announced. Not that Cersei particularly cared, but they had the food so Cersei only nodded politely.

Lady Catelyn looked at Cersei and then at Lady Lyanna. Then she carefully sat down and revealed, gathered in her skirts, a pile of berries still damp from a wash.

Cersei accepted a piece of bread from Lady Lyanna. Gingerly, she nibbled into it. It was knotty and stale. “I saw the prince approach you.”

Lady Lyanna tossed her dark braid over her shoulder. Her eyes flicked up in the direction where the prince had intercepted her before her mouth tightened into a stern line. For that brief moment Cersei could see how cold Lady Lyanna’s face could be, a startling contrast to that wildly gleeful girl from earlier.

“He told me about it,” Lady Lyanna said, ripping off the remaining bread in halves. “You were right, Lady Cersei. So I told him I’m not his squire anymore.”

“No?” Cersei was mildly interested. “You will stop wearing that hideous ensemble, then?”

“It’s not hideous just because it’s not a dress.” Lady Lyanna handed Lady Catelyn a piece of bread. “Anyway, I’m still wearing it. I told the prince I am to be Lady Cersei’s sworn shield.”

Lady Catelyn stared at Lady Lyanna.

Cersei laughed. “You’re ridiculous.” And Lady Lyanna had misunderstood her: wearing breeches was not unfamiliar to Cersei, once. Cersei laughed some more and she put a hand over her mouth to stop bits of bread from spewing. “You’re so ridiculous it’s funny.”

But Lady Lyanna only beamed at her. “I am funny, aren’t I.”

Lady Catelyn smiled uncertainly before she said, in a quiet measured voice, “Lady Lyanna said something about a prophecy and a bedding. I gather it is true, then?”

At their nods, Lady Catelyn only remained unimpressed. “I am betrothed. The prince is married.”

And King Aerys was the prince’s father, Cersei thought. Father had hinted that the king was rather unstable and relied on non-facts and delusions.

To think that Cersei had willingly went off with Prince Rhaegar, hoping that he had somehow seen that he ought to have married her when Father had proposed the match. Cersei had been immensely thrilled when she took the prince’s outstretched hand.

And now it turned out that Cersei was following a man who was following a prophecy, not spies or reports or letters or histories or gossip. Not facts. Father had said that knowing facts could help reveal other truths as well. Without facts there could be no tactics, no strategies. There could be no winning.

Well. It was not a Crown Prince’s mind that Cersei needed to marry anyway, in order to be queen.

“We have to go back,” Lady Catelyn said in a low voice.

“That is rather obvious,” scoffed Cersei. “We need to send for my lord father. And for that we need a raven.”

“For that we need a pen,” Lady Catelyn shot back, “and ink and paper. Do you happen to have those at hand, Lady Cersei? Even a raven?”

“All right, my ladies,” interrupted Lady Lyanna, “ladies of mine. We need to think.”

They sat there in a huddle.

They kept sitting there, huddled beneath a copse of trees, whispering heatedly at one another.

Lady Lyanna seemed to be venting her feelings on her hat, by turns angrily flapping it across her faintly pink face and neck and then morbidly wringing it.

At one point Lady Catelyn seemed to have forgot that she had cherries in her hand and had crushed them in her fist. She only examined the glops between her fingers, then proceeded to eat them.

“Don’t look at me,” she told Cersei in between dignified laps of her tongue. “I’d rather not waste what food we have.”

Other murmurings churned from amongst their little huddle, witnessed only by the ash wood leaves above them.

At one point Lady Lyanna said, “Let’s just steal the horses and tear out of here.” She snickered, biting on her bread. “Come to think of it, we could even take the prince’s harp as ransom.”

Cersei didn’t mean to giggle.

Lady Catelyn briefly closed her eyes. “The horses might die on the road if we tear out from here. And then the Kingsguard would be able to chase us down. We don’t even know where the nearest holdfast is. That is what we need, to be near enough a place from where we can send a raven.” Frowning, Lady Catelyn added, “That is, if the prince means to travel near a holdfast. He might want to avoid having our whereabouts known.”

Cersei said, “Why don’t we just spread this prophecy nonsense amongst the party and stage a mutiny? Surely the rest of us can take them down?”

“Three Kingsguard knights,” Lady Catelyn gritted out, inadvertently squeezing another handful of cherries, “and the prince who is also skilled in arms, against eleven ladies and two men. Think of what you’re saying, Lady Cersei.”

Cersei scowled at her. “Then we can seduce the Kingsguard knights. Disarm them with our charms. Then we steal their superior horses.”

The stale, stiff bread and the berries eventually dwindled but Cersei and Lady Lyanna and Lady Catelyn managed to come up with a plan.

*

One morning, just beyond Ashford, their party of seven and ten woke up to find all their horses had escaped during the night.

The prince was forced to lead them westward, nearer to Oldtown than to the ruins of Summerhall, unless they braved a great deal more Dornish sands without mounts.

“I’ve never been this far south,” Lady Lyanna chattily said as their party trundled along on foot. She was still impressively pink in the face and neck, with dark wisps of her hair matted on her sweaty forehead. Her hat was a flapping whirl in one hand.

Cersei grumped, “Is that so.”

She had put on her stockings to ease her scraped ankle, and it was quite warm. Although not as hot as Lady Lyanna made it seem to be. It was winter, after all, but Cersei supposed that Northerners were used to even colder weather.

“I meant to be this far south,” added Lady Lyanna. “I just didn’t think it’d be too soon, you see. I thought the farthest I could be yet for a while was Harrenhal.”

Cersei said nothing. She was thirsty. It might be that she had walked more than she’d ever had since her birth. She could smell the faint saltiness of sweat on her nape. She had been unable to bring along a comb or a brush. Godsdamned running away with non-factual-loving princes!

Glowering, Cersei glanced to where Lady Catelyn was walking with her sister. This was Lady Catelyn’s notion. She and Lady Lyanna had come up with this phase.

Cersei huffed sourly.

“Ankle troubling you?” Lady Lyanna’s eyes mildly roved down from Cersei’s face to Cersei’s feet.

“It’s all right.” Gods, even her thighs and the back of her knees had started to become damp. “I’d feel better if I kicked something.”

The crooked smile Lady Lyanna sent her was mischievous, almost secretive. More like someone? it seemed to say. Cersei could feel herself smiling back.

As the morning lumbered by their party passed apple orchards and harvested farms, meager rivers and copses. The prince and his white knights kept them close to the woods to avoid the occasional wagons, oxcarts, or farmers upon horses.

At one point Lady Lyanna picked up a driftwood branch from the side of a trail. She promptly started swinging it like it was a sword.

Two girls, ladies of House Whent and House Vypren, started giggling at Lady Lyanna’s antics.

Cersei was in the middle of scoffing – no good would come out of girls wanting to swing swords, they would grow older and be unable to switch places with their twin brothers, and their fathers would not permit it anyway – when she realised that Lady Lyanna did know how to wield and swing one.

Disbelieving, Cersei hobbled closer to Lady Lyanna. “You’ve had lessons,” she hissed, almost accusingly.

Lady Lyanna raised her brows. “I told you, I can be a squire.”

Cersei watched Lady Lyanna’s deft wrist movements. Not as good as Jaime’s, but Jaime was allowed and encouraged to be as excellent as he was.

Cersei went on watching Lady Lyanna handling the stick as if it were a wooden sword in the training yard. She watched Lady Lyanna’s dancing feet and watched Lady Lyanna’s firm set of shoulders and sure jut of elbow, and the rather fetching way Lady Lyanna’s arm muscles coiled, almost as handsome as her face – watched all of it with a dawning muddle of admiration and resentment.

Finally Cersei couldn’t watch it anymore.

“You can’t be a knight,” Cersei said, snapping her gaze away from all that proper-form swinging.

“Why not?” came Lady Lyanna’s gusty reply.

Cersei continued staring straight ahead. “Don’t be obtuse.”

“You’re the one being stupid,” Lady Lyanna panted. Cersei bristled, her hands curling into fists, but before she could retort Lady Lyanna continued, in a horrible imitation of Cersei’s accent, “You can’t wear breeches. You can’t be a squire. You can’t just say what, you’re a lady. You can’t swing swords.”

Cersei didn’t look at her.

Lady Lyanna returned to her Northern brogue. “Why can’t I? Why can’t you? You keep thinking of what you can’t do, Lady Cersei.”

Cersei didn’t mean to turn her head but it was too much. “It’s that you shouldn’t.” She thought she heard an odd quiver in her voice, but it must only be the exhaustion.

“Well, why not?” Lady Lyanna gave a careless toss of her head and, in a fluidly swift movement, shifted the driftwood to her left hand then over her back across her shoulders and then back to her right hand. It was an attractively perfect move, Cersei thought, outraged.

Carefully, Cersei uncurled her fists and ran her damp palms on her skirts. She straightened her back. “Why not, you ask? Because of consequences.” Why not run off with the married prince, who turned out to be a fanciful prophecy-believer? Look at them now. And what might be worse: what was Father doing at this moment? He must have known by now that Cersei was missing, but Cersei was worried that Father might do something which would displease the king. There was no knowing what the king would do. And it would be all Cersei’s fault.

“It is a fact that we have a rather frustrating set of mores, yes.” Cersei thought that she was doing an excellent work on keeping her voice level. “And it is also a fact that breaking them will have consequences, small or big.” She lowered her voice. “For myself, I now worry what my lord father must be thinking at this moment, and what his actions will be, and if he would anger the king with those actions.”

“Consequences,” Lady Lyanna repeated in a thoughtful voice. Her driftwood was now resting on one shoulder, and she had turned a bit pale.

They walked in silence for some moments, as the small sun shone its brightest and the countryside all around their party dipped into a drowse.

“But what if,” Lady Lyanna began, in a low voice which broke through Cersei’s increasingly grumpy mood, “but what if the consequences will be enough to change the standards?”

Cersei’s head snapped towards Lady Lyanna. In Cersei’s chest, her heart thumped as Lady Lyanna’s words echoed in her head. It thumped louder as Cersei turned over the words and as Cersei continued holding Lady Lyanna’s gaze. Lady Lyanna kept looking at Cersei as well, with a carefully blank yet thoughtful expression on her pretty face, as Cersei’s heart thumped even louder. Loud and louder and even louder, sort of a rising roar.

If Cersei knew enough facts about the trends in culture, about shifts in society, or about rebellions, she could use those facts and Lady Lyanna’s words to think of a strategy. She could use those to win.

Suddenly she wanted to know more about Lady Lyanna. More and more, aside from Lady Lyanna’s pretty face and Lady Lyanna’s attractively proper form in sword wielding.

Cersei huddled closer to Lady Lyanna. She was a bit taller than Lady Lyanna, because Cersei was the tallest lady in the party, but Cersei still felt unusually hesitant when she looped her arm around Lady Lyanna’s.

Lady Lyanna looked surprised.

Well, she was not alone there. Cersei was a bit surprised too. It was unusual of her to feel like she had to make someone who impressed her be impressed with her as well.

“I like how you think,” Cersei whispered, carefully letting her lips curl into a small smile.

“Really?”

The bemused crumple of Lady Lyanna’s face was rather amusing. And endearing. This time, Cersei let herself giggle. She gave Lady Lyanna’s arm an encouraging squeeze. “I rarely have someone say something very clever to me,” she said.

Lady Lyanna snorted, as if she didn’t believe that few people were ever clever to Cersei, but she still pressed closer to Cersei, their linked arms comfortably between them.

“Truly,” said Cersei, “I liked what you said. It was very clever.”

When Lady Lyanna ducked her head and turned her face slightly away, Cersei could still see that she was biting off a smile. Lady Lyanna’s heat-flushed cheeks turned blotchier. Pleased, Cersei pressed on with, “I should like to hear other thoughts you have. Anything at all. Mundane observations, that sort.”

“All right.” Lady Lyanna resurfaced again, her eyes bright and her bottom lip caught between her teeth. “What do you want to know?”

The countryside passed them by in a tedious trundle of hedges. Cersei let them cover a few more feet of hard dry road before she said, “What do you enjoy? Sewing? Reading?”

“Oh, I love riding!” Lady Lyanna beamed. “And I love songs, too.”

Since riding was a border dislike for Cersei, she focused on the songs. “What particular songs?”

Lady Lyanna’s beam widened, which Cersei didn’t think was possible. What if that pretty face got torn on account of too much stretching?

As Lady Lyanna chattered on, Cersei gathered that she favoured songs with vivid imagery, songs with funny turns of phrases, songs about monsters, songs about hunters, songs about the moon. Luckily Cersei knew of songs with vivid imagery and funny phrases and monsters.

“I have a song in mind,” Cersei told her.

“Oh, but you haven’t told me what you enjoy, Lady Cersei.”

She looked so earnest about it that Cersei gave her another melting smile, and it was no effort on Cersei’s part, really. It was easy to smile at Lady Lyanna.

Lady Lyanna looked appropriately dazed.

“I enjoy this song I’m about to share with you.”

Cersei sang a little song about baring your teeth when you smile, about predators with bared teeth, about monsters gnawing on bloody hearts. About the leisurely swiping from mouth to cheek with the back of your blood-specked hand.

In the end, Lady Lyanna was tilted towards her, face tipped up to gaze at Cersei intently.

“Gods,” breathed Lady Lyanna. The driftwood resting on her shoulder wobbled when she slapped a hand over her heart. “That’s so – dear gods.”

Cersei licked her lips. She was thirsty. If only Lady Lyanna’s rapturous gasps were liquid.

“It’s unfamiliar to me.” Lady Lyanna squeezed Cersei’s hand. “That song.”

“It’s mine,” Cersei said, mildly.

“Oh!” Lady Lyanna pressed even closer, her face pink and bright and arched up all for Cersei. “It’s so wonderful! You’re so amazing, Lady Cersei! What a song! Oh, what play of words!”

Cersei smiled and smiled. “Careful, my lady, you might swoon.”

“I am swooning,” Lady Lyanna declared, laughing, before tucking herself firmly by Cersei’s side.

*

The sky brightened to a wavering blue, and Cersei sweated enough that she could feel the insistent press of her smallclothes and the dryness on her tongue and lips, but Lady Lyanna’s company breezed it all away.

She even enjoyed how the sweat made her smallclothes and gown cling to her body, and how it made squeezing even closer to Lady Lyanna more exciting.

“And then I was so determined to finish the sewing, you see,” Lady Lyanna was saying, “that I stayed up past my bed time and still got up early to see Mother off.”

“Where was your lady mother going?”

Lady Lyanna glanced away from her with a distant sort of smile. “To hunting. She loved hunting. And then – a - a hunting mishap.”

Cersei squeezed her hand for a longer while, feeling an odd camaraderie. “You must miss her.”

“A lot,” admitted Lady Lyanna. “Looking back – I realise now that she wasn’t the tender motherly sort of mother.” Lady Lyanna swallowed. “But I admired her so much.”

“I, too, admired my lady mother,” Cersei said, and then to lighten this sudden melancholy she added, “But I never loved sewing.”

“I like it enough.” Lady Lyanna turned her face towards Cersei again, now smiling. “It makes pretty things. And useful things.”

“Useful for a sliced leg,” Cersei said, dryly.

Lady Lyanna laughed. “That, too. But sewing – you’re fixing something. You’re creating something, too. You’re like one of the gods.”

“The god of linen and lace, perhaps,” Cersei quipped with a smile, although she liked what Lady Lyanna said. It was very clever. Cersei had never thought of it that way. “Take care not to let the High Septon hear you.”

“I shan’t care what the High Septon says.” Lady Lyanna blithely tossed her braid. “Anyway, I don’t follow the Seven.”

Cersei made a light tutting sound. For all her cleverness Lady Lyanna could be such a child. “But didn’t you say that you’re betrothed to Lord Baratheon? The Baratheons follow the Seven. It wouldn’t do to be so outwardly inconsiderate.”

Lady Lyanna stopped her brooding pout long enough to pipe up, “So inward inconsideration is all right? You said you used to switch places with your twin brother. And nobody knew it was you with the wooden sword a few times.”

“Well.” Cersei trailed off, and they shared a smile.

“I wish I won’t be married off,” Lady Lyanna muttered in a rush. “My brother Ned – Eddard – could be unmarried if he wished.”

“That’s the advantage of second sons,” Cersei said in a wise tone, “and the disadvantage.”

With a single-mindedness Lady Lyanna swiftly continued, “I could be your sworn shield.” When Cersei opened her mouth to impart more intelligence, Lady Lyanna impatiently flapped her hat and her driftwood wobbled again. “I know, I know. Mores, consequences, that lot. But you just wait. I told you I can be a squire to some knight.”

“You can’t be a knight.” Cersei enunciated each word with vast patience.

Lady Lyanna slanted up at Cersei another one of her mischievous, secretive smiles. “Oh, but I’m already a knight.”

Cersei was about to tell her that she was, once again, being ridiculous and foolish and impossibly roguishly attractive, the Seven help Cersei, when the prince announced that they were to stop for a rest.

The prince also invited Lady Lyanna and Cersei to share his roasted apples.

They sat by a tall rock whilst the rest of the party ate, lounged, and attempted to wash parts of themselves in a nearby stream. It was very dull that Cersei started to notice the ache on her ankle again.

“Fossoway apples, the sweetest in all the realm,” Cersei contributed at one point. “Your Grace is very discerning.”

Prince Rhaegar nodded in his sad noble way. He fetched his silver harp from the side of the rock. “Please, have some more of the sweet apples.”

Lady Lyanna happily shuffled closer to the saddlebag, her dusty breeches scratching the patch of grass and becoming dustier. “Oh, look! This one’s just the right kind of crunchy.” She promptly broke a off piece and offered it to Cersei. “You must have a taste, my lady.”

Pleased, Cersei accepted it at once and popped it in her mouth. “The sweetest.”

“It pleases me to see that you have grown to be friends, Lady Lyanna and Lady Cersei,” said Prince Rhaegar. His strung out a melancholy note. It quivered nobly and finely in the air.

Lady Lyanna quivered closer to Cersei. “Would you like another bite?”

Cersei glanced at Lady Lyanna’s limpid eyes, then down to her pale parched lips. “You ought to drink, Lady Lyanna. Finish the apple. The juices will do you good.”

The harp gave a wretched twang. Cersei’s eye twitched.

Cersei addressed the prince. “Your Grace’s hospitality is incomparable.” She tilted her head, charmingly, but also in the direction of all this isolated countryside the prince had whisked them all into.

“My thanks, Your Grace,” Lady Lyanna added through her mouthful of apples.

“Nature is generous to her children,” Prince Rhaegar said, and punctuated it with another silvered note. “The brambles, the honey, the mossy apple trees. And the trickling brooks, why, even the tantalisingly unpredictable sun –” another twang.

“And my aching ankle,” said Cersei.

The sorrowful twang squawked.

“By the Seven!” Cersei gasped out. “I beg You Grace’s pardon, I think my ankle has worsened.”

Lady Lyanna immediately rallied. “Oh no! Has it? I must take a look at it.”

Cersei let herself be assisted to stand by Lady Lyanna. Draping herself along Lady Lyanna, with a hand on her shoulder, Cersei said, “My lady shall take a look at my ankle, Your Grace. Womanly matters. If it please Your Grace to understand.”

Bemused, Prince Rhaegar dismissed them with a slightly wild look about the eyes and a feebly distressed twang from his harp.

They shuffled down the slope towards the bank of the stream, Lady Lyanna huffily giggling along the way.

“I only need to free it from shoe and stocking,” said Cersei.

The stream was a clear grey burble dotted with clusters of rocks. Cersei lay her shoes and stockings on top of a rock before joining Lady Lyanna, who had discarded her doublet and was wading waist-deep amongst the waters.

“The clime here is so lovely,” enthused Lady Lyanna.

Cersei contented herself with leaning against a sort of alcove formed by a cluster of four tall rocks. She let her arms cool in the waters. Cersei scooped up some water and wet her sweaty neck and nape.

With a happy sigh, Cersei briefly closed her eyes.

When she opened them again, Lady Lyanna was drawing towards her with a beam and a bunch of flowers.

She offered a bloom to Cersei, one so red and so dewy. “I don’t know the name, but it’ll look wonderful on you.”

Cersei took the bloom. “On me?” she said, amused.

“You should tuck it behind your ear,” Lady Lyanna suggested. “Or with your hair.”

Cersei held Lady Lyanna’s bright smiling gaze as she tucked the red bloom behind her ear. Lady Lyanna’s face stretched into one of her wide grins again and she offered another red bloom, briefly worrying her lower lip.

Cersei lifted her other hand from the water and tucked the second bloom behind her other ear. She turned her head this way and that, coquettishly peeking at her rippling reflection and glancing at Lady Lyanna. “How do I look?”

“Astonishingly beautiful,” Lady Lyanna said, simply. “A Queen of Love and Beauty.”

Well. Something thumped in Cersei’s chest again, and it lodged in her throat.

“You clever little thing,” she heard herself whisper, almost a hiss.

Lady Lyanna had stopped grinning. Her eyes were lidded, and she was somehow very close now, and when Cersei met Lady Lyanna’s gaze she could feel something heavy and humid lick its way in the air between them.

The linen of Lady Lyanna’s tunic was damp with the stream water. Cersei purposefully bunched the waist of it in her fists, drawing Lady Lyanna close enough that Cersei could smell the sweetest apples in her short breaths, the sharp rise and fall of her rather flat chest.

“The consequences,” Lady Lyanna breathed out. Her hands briefly squeezed on Cersei’s shoulders.

And oh, she learned so fast. She leaned towards facts. Cersei could’ve moaned then.

And Cersei had checked: the rest of the party were now eating and clamouring for Prince Rhaegar’s company. A burbling in her chest, Cersei ducked down and pressed her lips against Lady Lyanna’s.

For all her mouthy confidence, Lady Lyanna was hesitant and clearly unfamiliar with what to do. That was all right with Cersei for she always knew that she was a leader. After the initial intense press of lips, Cersei steered them to butterfly kisses, sweet and quick and teasing, the stream water on their faces bitter and fresh. When she felt Lady Lyanna’s smile, Cersei smiled as well. She rather liked Lady Lyanna, and so she did her best to be thoughtful and didn’t immediately demand on the hard heavy course that she would have liked.

But for all Lady Lyanna’s inexperience, she was also enthusiastic and a quick study. She started to languidly caress Cersei’s shoulders as Cersei caressed her waist. She started to bury her fingers in Cersei’s hair, although careful not to dislodge the blooms, as Cersei curled Lady Lyanna’s dark braid around her fist.

Cersei turned them around in the water so she could back Lady Lyanna against the rock.

“Ooh,” Lady Lyanna gasped out. She promptly sought out Cersei’s lips again.

Grinning, Cersei brushed away the dark curl tumbled in front of Lady Lyanna’s nose. “Yes, ohh.” She opened her mouth, to Lady Lyanna’s immediate moan, and pressed herself along the length of Lady Lyanna’s invitingly arched body.

Somebody squeaked.

It was not Lady Lyanna. It was not Cersei, either.

Wildly, Cersei snapped her head up and looked around.

Lady Catelyn had her eyes averted behind a rock. Her whole face was unflatteringly red.

“I – I didn’t mean – I didn’t see –”

Cersei regretfully disentangled herself from Lady Lyanna. “What is there to see? Lady Lyanna was merely helping me with my ankle.”

“That’s right!” Lady Lyanna said in a high-pitched voice as she straightened her tunic. That lovely line of collarbone blocked from Cersei's sight. Cersei snarled.

Lady Catelyn seemed to recover herself enough to wryly say, “Ankle? I didn’t know ankles were in faces. What a revolutionary Lannister anatomy.”

She was still hotly red, though. It really didn’t look well with that auburn hair and those pink ribbons so Cersei let it slide. Mostly.

“Yes, my bare ankle,” Cersei said, in her most authoritative voice. “It has been sore, as you well know, Lady Catelyn. So if you would remove yourself. Lady Lyanna is examining my bare ankle, and you and I are not that intimate, are we, Lady Catelyn.”

Darting glares their way, turning even redder whenever she glimpsed them, Lady Catelyn said, “I just came here to signal the second phase.”

*

The second phase was mostly Cersei’s notion.

Clad in ratty grey cloaks, their party soon entered the ancient city of Oldtown. Cersei wrinkled her nose at the swaths of mouldy grey that she had to wear on the prince’s instruction. She wished to appreciate this city that was a seat of learning, but alas. Let this be a lesson, she thought, that you couldn't trust your ten-year-old self’s doodling.

The prince kept them skulking in the shadows like Silent Sisters, and even His Grace and the white knights were clutching strings of onions.

At Cersei’s nod, Lady Lyanna dashed from their sullen train and intercepted the prince.

“Prince Rhaegar,” she loudly said, her Northern brogue unmistakable, “I beg you to consider. Please let me be Lady Cersei’s sworn shield.”

Prince Rhaegar was frantically shushing her.

“I beg you, Prince Rhaegar.” Lady Lyanna threw herself down to her knees, effectively blocking foot traffic. Disgruntled noises started to buzz all around them. “Prince Rhaegar, please! I have proved myself capable with honour, and with the lance, and bravery. I swear on my honour as a Stark, on my honour as a Stark of Winterfell, that I will do well by the Lady Cersei!”

“Lady Lyanna!” Prince Rhaegar was hissing. “Control yourself! Ser Arthur, please –”

When Ser Arthur tried to haul Lady Lyanna to her feet, she promptly mimed fainting.

All around them, a crowd had gathered and was still gathering, excited murmurs almost tangible in the air.

Cersei breathed in. And let out her most distressed maidenly shriek.

She rushed towards Lady Lyanna in a rustling of the seven-times-damned hideous cloak. Cersei bent over Lady Lyanna’s prone form. “Oh, my fair knight!” she wept, tremulously. “Oh, my beauteous Lady Lyanna!”

Prince Rhaegar was stricken. His eyes took in the murmuring jostling crowd, then his three white knights, then Cersei sprawled over Lady Lyanna’s prone form.

“Stand, my lady,” he told Cersei in a low, severe voice. “Stand at once. This is disobedience. We are doing something for the good of the realm –”

“My fair knight, my Lady Lyanna, has fainted!” Cersei swept on, standing her ground. She burst into fresh loud weeping. “What has ailed my Lady Lyanna? Oh, I am so distraught, Prince Rhaegar! I am so distraught! You must forgive me, Prince Rhaegar!”

The prince's eyes were blazing. He looked as if he would be shortly ordering Cersei's arrest.

Prince Rhaegar gestured to his knights. The other members of their party worriedly moved closer and stepped on one another’s feet. The crowd stirred. The muttering became shouts of “It’s Prince Rhaegar! It’s the prince! It’s the prince!” From behind them Lady Catelyn made a wild dive for a septon.

Cersei felt Ser Oswell grasp her arm. With a jerk and a wail, she bent over Lady Lyanna as if to shield her. The mingled smell of musty cloak and Cersei’s tumble of unwashed hair was thick, but it was enough shield to see Lady Lyanna’s smirk. Cersei quickly pressed a kiss on those impertinent lips before straightening again to the sight of chaos.

Chaos, thought Cersei, that was satisfyingly in her favour.

*

“My brave maiden,” Lady Lyanna crooned, a bit dreamily.

Cersei preened. She laced her fingers with Lady Lyanna’s.

They were in one of the rooms provided by Lord Hightower. The hideous grey cloaks were gone. Cersei had already plied Lady Lyanna with cups of clean water. Lady Catelyn had triumphantly sent ravens to their families, and Cersei and Lady Lyanna were now standing by a tower window, peering down at Prince Rhaegar’s train. He was being escorted to meet with the honour guard his good-brother the Prince Doran of Dorne had sent to see him to Sunspear.

“I am brave,” Cersei agreed. “You are brave as well.”

Lady Lyanna beamed and swung their joined hands. “That’s because I meant it. I meant it when I pleaded to be your sworn shield.”

“Lady Lyanna,” sighed Cersei, exasperatedly, fondly. She shook her head. “One day. Perhaps one day.”

“Of course.” Lady Lyanna’s confidence was palpable, but then her voice dipped when she added, “I really like how poetic you are. Your songs. And cutting wit. Do you really like me?” She cleared her throat. “Or did you have to like me? Because of the situation we found ourselves in?”

Cersei turned to face her. The setting sun was a faint smudge of red-gold amongst the swaths of grey, almost no romantic light to lend at all, but Lady Lyanna’s dark grey eyes were frank and bold.

“I didn’t expect to like you,” Cersei admitted. “But here you are, clever and not an imbecile at all.” Amongst other things, which would be embarrassing to say aloud.

Lady Lyanna’s lips twitched. “You’d think almost all people around you are stupid.”

“Well, yes. Not you, though.” Cersei took the weight of their swinging hands. “And I’m still holding you hand. I even let you finish all the sweetest apple. And made you drink a lot of clean water to refresh you. I won’t do those if I don’t like you.”

“You were thoughtful,” Lady Lyanna laughingly summarised.

Cersei liked Lady Lyanna’s laugh as well. And how she made Cersei laugh a lot and brim with smiles.

“I suppose,” Cersei said absently.

“I’ve thought of consequences. I'll think of other consequences tomorrow,” Lady Lyanna said with a grin. “Right now I fancy a bath.”

At once Cersei gathered from the lilt in her voice what she must be suggesting. “Well, I rather detest the smell of myself, too,” Cersei began.

Lady Lyanna’s grin turned wolfish. With her unoccupied hand, Cersei slowly rubbed Lady Lyanna’s slick lower lip with her thumb. Lady Lyanna’s jaw grew slack. Cersei flicked her eyes up to see the same damp heat in Lady Lyanna’s gaze that she was feeling.

Lady Lyanna’s tongue was a quick sly wetness against Cersei’s thumb.

“I do need a bath,” Lady Lyanna breathed out.

“I do as well.”

Cersei licked her lips. Their held hands were locked tight. Distantly Cersei thought that a song about a brave maiden and a fair knight would sound lovely.

Lady Lyanna sidled even closer. “So we both do need a bath.”

“We do,” Cersei agreed. “We absolutely do.”

fin