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Drops of Life

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In less than a month, Mariah could already say which ones of her ladies were her goodfather’s appointments – the ones with the greedy smiles ; which ones were the Hand’s – they all had keen eyes following every movement she made and displayed the silent efficiency Viserys Targaryen himself possessed in smoothing every uncomfortable situation while the Dornish retinue and Mariah herself learned to navigate their way through the waters of the King Landing court; and which ones were her goodmother’s – kind and pious, always the peacemakers, making one feel at ease. They were the least numerous group and Mariah wondered why Naerys did not utilize her position. The Queen Mother lived at Driftmark. Naerys was the highest ranking lady at court but she did not seem to have any wish to use her position. But her kind ways seemed consistent and it was from her that Mariah got one of the most precious realizations in her early marriage. The ladies were examining silks and velvets from a recently arrived Essosi ship and Mariah was just eyeing a pale green that she liked very much but did not imagine she would like on herself when Naerys spoke. “Daeron likes you better in deep rich shades,” she said and Mariah glanced at her, surprised. At this moment, her goodmother was the only woman who did not try to push her into demure colours that did not suit her but suited the northern idea of how a decent lady should dress. Mariah knew better than wearing something revealing but she did feel the looks that came her way each time she put one of her gowns on. Only whores wore dark red – and the shade made her complexion and hair stand out even more, branding her as other for all to see. Her new husband, with his quiet ways and silent disapproval of the noise and splash of colour that his father’s retinue – the female part of it in particular – was not someone she would think as liking any of this in his own lady wife.

“Does he?” she asked politely, wondering at the way her heart had started beating faster. It caught her unaware indeed. She had always wanted Daeron to like her but she had not expected this delight that took her heart soaring – when he still utterly failed to win her fascination the way certain knights in Sunspear had. Derision was quick to follow – did she have to learn these things from his mother? Why had he not told her this himself? He wasn’t this brave, clearly! The happy glow inside flickered and died. She did not want a life with a husband who would talk to his mother and not her... especially about things that concerned the two of them. She did not want a goodmother who would rule over their lives, as kind as Naerys was revealing herself to be.

At least Daeron liked her. From what she had heard, her goodfather had never liked Naerys. And still, she wondered with some cynism if Daeron’s liking of her was not another way that he had found to differ from his father. Everyone talked about how different father and son were already – and the way Aegon had objected to the match was no secret. He did not even bother to hide that he would not have attended the wedding, had the King not forced him.

“Do you really like me in deep colours?” she asked him the same night as she undressed. She was not doing this to delay the moment of intimacy either – she had stopped these attempts about a week ago when the pain had become no more than a memory and discomfort was something that could either be waited out and overcome, or simply banished with a simple change in position. She truly wanted to know.

“I like you in your colours,” he said and smiled.

Mariah looked down, hoping that he’d take it as shyness when, in fact, it was guilt. She could say that he was being sincere, as he always was with her. She returned it with sincerity of her own, except for one matter – that she could not say she liked him back… Oh, she liked him well enough. She enjoyed being with him always, in any way and discovering the power and language that lay in his body, as well as her own but she still compared his thin shoulders and twisted spine to the men she saw every day. The fondness she had started feeling could not compare to the loss of a birthright.

He was not worth it.

Not yet…

“I’m glad to hear this,” she finally said because it was true and she had promised to herself that she would never lie to him.

“Who told you about this?” Daeron asked curiously. “I have told no one.”

“You must have told your lady mother.”

He shook his head. “Mariah, I have not. I have no idea…”

They looked at each other, both fascinated with the idea that his feelings had been so obvious, to his mother at least, that she had not needed words. He looked slightly embarrassed while she was a little scared by the moment he would realize the lack of reciprocation on her part. She wanted to like him so very much… and then, she realized why he had not told her. She knew it by the way he averted his eyes from hers. He would not realize that she did not feel the way he did… because he already knew. He would not make her feel uncomfortable by showing emotions that she could not return.  Her eyes welled up but she blinked the tears away. It would be a bad reward to make him feel uncomfortable and mortified.

“When I left Sunspear,” she said, “I didn’t think I’d find someone like you. I wondered what you were like.”

He looked back at her and there was no sadness in his eyes. Just seriousness. He never brushed her desire for serious conversations away by claiming that it was not a woman’s job to think this deeply.

“I suppose you did have a certain idea,” he said. “After all, my kin had left some… impressions.”

She nodded. “I missed out on the war,” she said. “They sent me to Essos and safety. But I did hear some things… They made me scared.”

He rose and made a step towards the fireplace that burned in Mariah’s bedchamber day and night. “Please,” he said.” I… I don’t think I want to hear it. Not now.”

“Because you think it’s all old women’s tales?” Mariah challenged, guilt and empathy disappearing as if they had never been there. The King’s treaty and compensations were a good thing and she understood the reasoning behind the unspoken order that the war should not be discussed. In fact, she had never thought about this but it now struck her to feel it like a wall rising between her and her lord husband. Of course, Daeron had had no part in it and she would never demand of him to brand his House as what her people thought about it but it would take years before they could even mention this in private. If it had not felt so nice to be talking to him, to be wed to him, to be with him, she wouldn’t have felt the disappointment so acutely.

“No,”Daeron said, still not looking at her. His hands were stretched towards the fire and he looked to be relaxing and tensing at the same time. “Because I think it’s all true…”

“Ah,” she murmured, not sure what to say. “What would you like me to change?” she asked, trying to smooth things over. “I know what people are saying and I can’t change the way I am but surely there must be some things that we can agree don’t matter this much? I may try to change my accent,” she suggested, knowing that it would be hard and suddenly feeling that she did not want to do it. The way she spoke, it was…

Daeron turned back and loked at her with seriousness that she had never seen in a sixteen-year-old. “There must be a few things,” he said. “But the accent is not one of them. I don’t want to change who you are, Mariah of Dorne. You have already lost enough.”

Gratitude and relief made her light-headed even when she wanted to weep because those who had actually cost her her birthright felt no pangs of guilt. Her goodfather… The so-called Dragonknight. King Daeron had gone to the Stranger without an ounce of remorse, she was sure. Daeron is a hundred times better than my father, Lady Baella’s voice echoed in her head.

He seemed to be waiting for something but when he didn’t find it – she did not know what it was, so she could not give it to him, - he turned back to the fire. “I find this hot chamber of yours surprisingly agreeable,” he said. “Perhaps I’ll order a bigger fireplace for mine as well.”

“Then why you never stay to sleep here?” Mariah asked spontaneously. “Why do you go down these long cold corridors to your own chambers?”

“Because you’ve never invited me. I didn’t want to disturb your sleep. And I rise very early in the morning. You simply won’t be comfortable.”

“You cannot know this,” she replied, taken aback by the sheer power of her desire to make him stay in the aftermath. And when he went to sleep, she moved in bed a little, so she found herself pressed against his back.

Warmth did agree with him, after all. He had said so. Mariah made herself comfortable and sank into a deep sleep where this time, there were no men with covered faces riding like storm in the desert of Dorne.