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The Drabbles

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“Elia, be reasonable. Cruelty is not like you.”

Reasonable? You’re asking me to be reasonable? Were you reasonable when you ran off with a betrothed girl of five-and-ten, leaving me and the children to the mercies of your father? You should pray to all seven gods that I don’t decide to kill you in your sleep.”

“Please, not this. This is over the line. Don’t hurt it. It’s worth too much to me.”

“Is it worth a realm? Tell me where the girl is so I can stop this madness, and you can have your damned harp back. Or else it is going in the fire where it belongs. Personally, I can’t wait to see those silver strings burn. I hate bloody harp music.”

“This was a commission from a well-respected artisan. Do you know how much was spent on it?”

“No, but I would imagine quite a bit less than the war. And since it’s treason to dismember you, this is the next best thing. So again, I ask: where is the Stark girl?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Very well then. This will hurt you a lot more than it hurts me.”

The harp goes up faster than she’d thought, the fire catching instantly on the worn wood, thin silver strings glowing red before melting in the flames. Rhaegar makes a move to attempt to salvage it, but Elia steps in front of the fireplace, and with a single glare, he stops.

“Make one more move and I’ll break your fingers. See how well you can play after that.”

“I can’t believe you just burned—”

“I’ll do a lot more than that when you come back from the Trident. Your precious scrolls are next.”

“Not the scrolls!”

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“Kids, stop complaining, your father is right—the matching outfits are a great idea.” Catelyn shoos the children away, looks down at the Mickey Mouse on her shirt, and kisses Ned on the cheek. “Honey, I love you, but these were a horrible idea.”

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Stannis is hard and unyielding and prickly, to put it gently. But even so, there’s something about talking to him, planning with him, that puts Jon at ease. Stannis talks to him not in condescension like Ser Alliser but instead like a person, like someone deserving of respect—though not idolatry—and it’s nice.

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The others don’t understand her love for him, because he doesn’t treat them the same way he treats her, they only see his hissing and scratching. He’s not that way to her; he lets her pet him, purring all the while, and he snuggles up into her side at night, and he never drops dead mice on her pillow like he does with the servants. Things are hard for her, after Father leaves and they have to live with Grandfather, but Balerion tends to her even more than he had at Dragonstone—he even tends to Mother and the baby too, sometimes—and he makes her feel like everything’s going to be all right in the end.

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She’d begged—brother, have you forgotten what our father did to me because of you?—but he hadn’t listened, not even a little; prophecy this, prophecy that.

And so just days before the wedding, Rhaelle takes matters into her own hands: she dyes little Rhaella’s hair, dresses her in blue, disguises her until she could be any other highborn child.

Under the cover of night, Rhaelle hands her off to Jenny, Jenny with flowers in her hair and a promise of safety on her lips, and as she watches them ride off into the dark she cares not what consequences she may endure, only that she has spared her namesake her own fate.

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It happens like this: We didn’t do it, but if we’d done it, how could you tell us that we were wrong?

It happens like this: Braavos is exactly what Lyanna thought it would be, crisp and new and free.

It happens like this: They crown him Aegon the Sixth of His Name, and her the Queen Regent, and for the first time in a long time she has reason to smile.

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“We can raise them together, Ash, your babe and mine.”

Ashara’s hand rests on her just-protruding belly, only a few months behind Elia’s own, and she laughs, “As if His Grace would let Brandon Stark’s bastard play with your royal children.”

“Aerys won’t be king forever,” Elia mentions casually, “and when he’s not, things will change.”

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They each get a dragon egg in their cradles, she, Aegon, and Dany, as per tradition; hers is black and scarlet, Aegon’s green and bronze, her aunt’s cream and gold.

No one expects them to hatch yet hatch they do, and Rhaenys names hers after the Black Dread lest anyone dare to insult her or her mother any more than they already do.

Bal never actually burns anyone, but as he gets bigger and bigger, as his teeth grow longer and longer when he bares them, the courtiers get nicer and nicer.

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It isn’t until she’s five that she really recognizes the meaning behind what some people say rather than the words themselves, when she learns that “No, not Princess Daenerys, the other one, the serpent’s daughter” did not mean what she thought it meant.

She’s staring at herself in the mirror one evening when the queen comes in to put her to bed, and she says, “I don’t think I want to be Dornish anymore, Grandmother.”

Rhaella’s eyes go hard in a way Rhaenys is unused to, and she demands to know the names of the people who had spoken; a day later, Rhaenys finds out they’d been dismissed from court without a word.

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He’s…not what she expected.

At first she thinks she’s the one doing something wrong, for surely, surely, the most beautiful, chivalrous, perfect man in the realm could only make her feel such unimaginable pleasure that she saw stars, not this…whatever this is.

Yet no matter how hard she tries, all she can manage to feel is bored, and then it’s over before it begins and he leaves, which brings her to the unwelcome realization that their marriage would be a very cold one indeed.

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“That was the most broody hipster I’ve ever met.”

“Maybe he was a little reserved, but—”

“Ten bucks says the first song he plays is ‘Wonderwall.’”

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“That was it?”

“What do you mean, ‘that was it’?”

Oh, I guess it was.

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“I dreamt that I lost you, that I lost you and Oberyn both.”

“You’ll never lose us, dearest.”

She splashes him with water from the pools, calls him the nicknames he hates, and soon the nightmare that had felt so real fades away.

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“What if I go mad just like he did?”

He clutches her hand like a lifeline as she swears, “You won’t. Not while I’m around.”

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“Look at us, sister,” says Aegon as he loops her arm through his. “After everything, can you believe this is where we are?”

The years have threaded his hair through with white by now, hers even more so, but she doesn’t mind; it means they’ve lived.

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It’s all a blur, but the one thing she can remember thinking clearly is, How unfortunate that you chose the Red Viper’s sister to target.

She’s no warrior, so instead she coats the tips of her guards’ spears with Oberyn’s own brand of poison, and all they have to do is nick the Lannister soldiers, then wait, and within moments the soldiers begin writhing on the floor until they don’t.

They fell Amory Lorch but Gregor Clegane is a different monster entirely, one Elia knows she cannot beat; instead, she hides with Aegon, hides with Rhaenys, and lives.

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Aegon’s been king in name if not in power for fifteen years now, and yet now, on the day of his coronation and sixteenth birthday, he looks more nervous than Arthur’s ever seen him.

“Hey,” he says, putting his hands on the boy’s shoulders, “you’ll be fine, you always have been.”

“I don’t know about that,” Aegon replies, but he does smile, which is good enough for Arthur.

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“He went down a little easier than I wanted,” says Lyanna as the guards escort Rhaegar to the black cells.

Elia looks over at her and grins, taking stock of the three children between them and the bright future ahead. “Oh, I have something special planned for him.”

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She survives her daughter’s birth, though barely.

She survives Essos, soothes Viserys’s nightmares, raises Dany the way Rhaella wishes she could have been raised.

She survives.

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Aegon is just turning to his friends to chat when Mrs. Blake calls out the next name: “Oh, and…another Aegon Targaryen?”

Aegon snaps his head over to where a boy responds, one with brown hair and gray eyes who looks just as confused as Aegon himself.

“I don’t know who you are,” warns Aegon, “but there’s only room for one Aegon in this town.”

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4. irresistible
20. breaking the rules

She had sent the first raven to her father hours ago and yet ever since she has not been able to sleep, even though the pallet that the inn had given her is satisfactory enough and neither Jayne nor Elia is prone to snoring or sleeptalking. Her mind whirls, but with thoughts she can never pin down, each more complicated than the last, until finally she surrenders to the racket.

Careful not to awaken her companions—gods know she doesn’t want to be peppered with Elia’s questions—she slinks out of the room and wanders outside to the garden where the inn grows its herbs and flowers. A misting rain had begun to fall, but she doesn’t mind; if she tries hard enough, she can almost imagine she’s back in Sunspear where mist heralds raging thunderstorms.

“Others steal your dreams?” comes a voice from the darkness. She would be startled, had the voice not been as familiar to her as her own.

She searches for where it had come from, and finds Daemon sitting on a stone bench needlessly sharpening his sword, protected from the rain by a towering maple. “Mayhaps,” she agrees, walking over to sit by him. “I’m thinking too much.”

“You’re more like your father than you know.” He gives her a faint smile, but it’s not faint enough to hide the dimples that had always set her heart to stuttering.

“I…I’m afraid.” The confession comes without her say-so, and she hates that after all this time, he can still drag out her innermost fears with nary a word.

He sheathes his sword and sets it and the whetstone aside to look at her properly. His blue eyes are as dark as the sky above them. “Afraid?”

“Of failing,” she answers. “My father has endured so much pain, I don’t want to inflict more. Dorne is a tinderbox, and one piece of false information, one misstep, and it will light up in flames. Who even knows if this Aegon is truly my cousin, and Myrcella…” She takes a shuddering breath. “I am lost. What do I know of cleverness? The last time I thought I was clever, Ser Arys lost his life, my friends were scattered to the wind, and a princess lost half her face. Who am I to undertake this task? It should be Areo, or…or someone else, not me.”

She startles when Daemon reaches up to put a hand on her cheek. His palm is rough from swordplay, and warm as the summer sun. “You’re Arianne Martell, heir to all of Dorne.”

“I don’t feel much like an heir.”

“You’re Arianne,” he tries instead, “the girl who used to stand out in the rain until she caught a chill because she felt it was Mother Rhoyne come to bid her a blessing.”

She smiles at the memory. “My mother thought I had lost my wits,” she says. “So did you. But you stood out there with me anyway.”

“What else was I to do?” She can’t see him in the obscured moonlight, but she can hear the tremor in his voice. “I was mad for you.”

“Are you still?” she blurts out. This is dangerous territory, territory that hasn’t been explored in years. “You’re so distant with me, but sometimes there are moments where…”

He doesn’t answer, and she fully expects him to leave in a rush, angry and irritated, but he doesn’t. “I could sooner stop being mad for you than I could stop breathing,” he murmurs. “Being distant is the only way I can stand to be around you. Your dalliance with that Kingsguard…it nearly broke me, Ari.”

“I didn’t love him. He wasn’t you.”

“Please don’t.”

“I need you to know,” she insists, wondering why she feels she must explain it to him. Why she must explain it here, outside some drafty inn on Cape Wrath when they have far bigger problems to deal with. “That night you told me you asked my father for my hand, I could hardly believe it. And then you told me he refused, and you just withdrew, you didn’t even wait—” She swallows. “I’d have said yes. It didn’t matter to me that manner of your birth, I didn’t care. I don’t care. I’d have run away with you if that’s what it took.”

He stares at her, as though what she’d said was the last thing he thought he’d hear. “It makes no difference now.”

No, she thinks, I suppose it doesn’t. More than ever Father wouldn’t let me marry a bastard, and it would be too dangerous to run away. Time has torn us from one another.

“Maybe not marriage,” she relents, “but we are neither of us betrothed nor wed, and we are far away from any prying eyes. I miss you, Daemon.”

She begins to slide her hand up his thigh, but he grabs her wrist. “We can’t. We’re too far past it.”

He’s right, she supposes, so she tries to take her hand away, but he keeps her in place. And then he leans forward and kisses her, hesitant, barely more than a brush, yet it alights something in her than she hasn’t felt in more years than she can remember, a yearning Arys could never ignite. Daemon Sand had made her a woman, and she had made him a man, and she hadn’t realized until this moment just how much she had missed him.

“This…Ari, we can’t…not after tonight.”

“I know.”

He looks at her a second more and then he’s kissing her again, ravenous and unbridled, and she moves to his lap already desperate to have him. He tastes the same as she remembers, feels the same but for the stubble on his jaw and the power in his body. Arys had been leaner, clumsier, had regretted every minute of their coupling, but Daemon…

She curses as he bites at her neck, and all of a sudden the cold mist is not nearly enough to cool her burning skin, and she needs more, she needs him, she needs.

He has her thrice that night, once in the garden and twice in an empty room they find, and each time it feels a little more like regaining herself, a little more like coming home. He lies beside her, afterward, exhausted and sated, and in his embrace she all but forgets about her harrowing mission ahead.

Somehow she knows he’ll be gone by daybreak, but for now he’s hers, body and soul.

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5. hold my hand
22. books

She’d grown up with tales of the massive size of Harrenhal, but she hadn’t fathomed its true eerie grandeur until she entered it. Sunspear’s Great Hall could fit twice over in the library alone, which is home to more books than she could read in a lifetime. A passing servant had been gracious enough to direct her to it, and after an hour of searching, she finally settles on a few novels to peruse over the next week. It’s as she’s distracted reading the introduction of one that she collides with someone, and the books tumble to the ground.

“Oh!” She had expected perhaps a serving boy or a page, but she gets neither, instead faced with the handsome figure of Brandon Stark. She hadn’t taken him for a library man; perhaps he got lost. “Forgive me, Lord Brandon, I was not minding my steps.”

“I often have that effect,” he says. He brings her hand up to his lips and smiles. “I shall not hold it against you, Your Grace.”

“Right. Well, if you’ll pardon me, I’ll just collect my books and be on my way.”

Brandon leans down to help her, and hands them all to her except the one she’d been looking at, which he opens and flips through. “You’re going to read this?”

“Yes. So may I just—”

Brandon squints at it. “But there aren’t any illustrations,” he says, confused. “How are you supposed to understand what’s happening?”

“Some people use their imagination,” she says, trying to keep the incredulity out of her voice.

Now I know why Ash has not made a fuss about being unable to marry him, Elia thinks. He’s a pretty face, but wouldn’t make for the most intelligent of conversation partners.

“Reading is overrated for women, I’ve always said,” he comments, still holding her book out of her reach. “What’s next, politics?”

If he weren’t a Lord Paramount’s heir, Elia would have brushed him aside long ago, but rude she cannot be. Carefully keeping her tone neutral, she corrects, “Where I am from, my lord, women are oft involved in politics. Mine own mother reigned for twenty years, and it was a woman who brought Dorne into a single kingdom.”

Brandon waves his hand dismissively. “Dorne is too attached to the ways of the Rhoynar.”

“You know,” she says, “Lady Ashara is quite a learned woman herself, and her grandmother ruled Starfall in her own right for more than forty years. Surely you show the women you bed some respect?”

“All told, there isn’t much talking between Lady Ashara and myself.”

“No, I imagine she prefers it that way.” Before he can work out her meaning, she plucks her book from his hand and makes her retreat. “Have yourself a pleasant night, my lord.”

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39. secret admirer

She wonders if he ever thinks of her. More and more often as the years pass, she wonders.

The tourney hadn’t seemed significant at the time, she a girl of twelve and he a new-made knight of six-and-ten, both of them full of life, neither of them yet burdened. He had caught her eye the way stained glass catches the sun, had asked for her favor, and it had bubbled up something inside her that she hadn’t known what to do with. Something happy, something exhilarating, something new, something exciting. She remembers how after she’d given Ser Bonifer her ribbon, Aunt Rhaelle had smiled, how she’d come over and whispered, Ooh, Ella, he’s a handsome one.

Yes, auntie, Rhaella had replied, but I don’t care about any of that. He’s a nice boy, and when we talked he listened to me. Really listened, like you and Grandfather do. And isn’t that what’s most important? For a boy to be nice?

Of course, darling, of course it is. Rhaelle had turned sad then, just for a moment. Rhaella hadn’t paid it much mind until after the marriage announcement when it finally dawned on her.

Did you know? she’d spat. Did you know about the prophecy? Did you know Father would force me to marry my brother? Why didn’t you tell me? Why did you let me think something could happen with Ser Bonifer? Why?

Rhaelle hadn’t given her an answer then; perhaps she’d had none.

And Bonifer...

Even now, after decades of horrors, Rhaella can still recall what he looked like the day of her wedding, how green his eyes were, the faint quiver in his gentle voice. I can’t bear to live a life you cannot have, he’d told her in those precious few minutes they’d had alone. I will devote myself to the Seven and if there is a way to free you from this marriage I will find it. I swear it by the old gods and the new.

She stares at herself in the mirror, meticulously dabbing on the tinted powder that has been her most faithful companion these many years. She’d long since stopped expecting Bonifer to find her the solution he spoke of, but every now and then she still thinks of him. Does he remember what he said to her? Did he ever try to write to her? To speak with her? Does he care? Did he ever care? Or did he just see her title and her beauty and say the words she wanted to hear? Was he ever the nice boy she thought or was he cruel like all the rest of them?

Rhaella clenches her hands together and breathes.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.

Don’t let Aerys take him from you, she commands. Don’t submit.

She already has so few untainted memories, she couldn’t stand to have Bonifer be ruined too. Not him. She can’t even bring herself to say his name aloud, so scared is she that somehow Aerys will find out and punish her for it.

So she keeps him in her heart, her might-have-been, her what-if. With Aerys as her husband not even her own body is hers to keep, but Bonifer is. She will keep him safe, her secret, her dream, and she dares to hope that maybe he has kept her hidden away just the same, his lost princess waiting to be saved.

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32. open your eyes

“My queen, we must speak about contingencies,” says the Grand Maester. “I have done all I can for the fever, and—”

“No.” Margaery glares up at him from where she sits by Aegon’s bed. She knows she must look a sight, but for the last three days his health has declined, and she hasn’t felt like eating, much less painting her face and having a bath drawn. “I refuse to speak as if my husband is already dead. He is your king and I will not suffer your insubordination.”

Maester Perwyn lowers his head in contrition, but nevertheless continues, “Forgive me. I wish I did not have to broach such matters, however we are faced with the possibility of making a difficult decision. Your son—”

“Is a prince scarcely nine years old and will not be a king for many a year yet,” she snaps. “Now go, or else I shall have you arrested for conspiring to commit treason.”

He complies, though not without looking like he wants to protest. When he’s finally gone, Margaery lets out a shaky breath, allowing herself to show weakness now that there is no one to see. She looks down at the still figure on the bed. He is deathly pale, as he has been for weeks, and she has to place her hand on his chest to make sure he’s still breathing, that his heart still beats.

The fever had ravaged the city, and despite the small council’s urges for Aegon to flee to safety, he had refused to abandon his subjects. Although her good-sister had wanted to stay as well, that was something Aegon refused to countenance. He had commanded Margaery away, but ultimately she had convinced him that the people must have a queen to look up to, a show of unity.

For all that, she is depressingly alone. Rhaenys and the children had retreated to Winterfell, Margaery’s ladies to Highgarden; hardly anyone is left, save for the essential castle attendants. And Queen Elia. She had remained behind, at least. Aegon hadn’t even tried to make her leave, for he knew it would do no good. Margaery had been afraid that the fever would take her good-mother as quickly as it took the young or the old, but so far the gods have been merciful. Margaery wonders every day how the queen can manage to look so strong and composed when her only son is lying unresponsive in his sickbed.

Where his mother and Margaery herself have avoided the contagion, Aegon has not been so lucky.

For so long he had seemed unaffected, and then in the span of only a few days, he had gone from a cough to a chill to this. He looks like death itself now, not waking no matter how much Margaery begs, no matter what the maester puts down his throat or massages into his limbs.

The worst part is that she knows Maester Perwyn is right. She should be thinking about what happens if Aegon doesn’t recover. But knowing such a thing and doing it...she can’t bring herself to even consider such a thing. Their son is so very, very young, and she fears the bidding war for regency that could result. Queen Elia had been accepted as regent for Aegon, but not without a drag-out fight and not without scrutiny or concessions.

In her darkest moments, she wonders if the gods are punishing her for not loving her husband these many years. He is a good man, a better father, and a dear friend, but love had never quite been something they had accomplished. At least, it hadn’t been, but ever since the fever hit him, she’s felt...something. This crushing ache in her chest, this consuming terror. Not just for the father of her children or the king, but for Aegon. For Aegon, who listens to her and values her counsel, who gifts her books he thinks she’d like, who makes sure she finds her pleasure when they lie together, who lets her soothe him through his anxiety attacks. Is it love she feels now? Are the gods punishing her anyway for not feeling this sooner? Or is it not love at all? Is it just fear for the future? She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know much of anything anymore.

“Don’t leave me,” she whispers as she takes his hand in hers. “Please. Aegon, I need you. We all need you.”

He doesn’t wake and, resigned, she snuffs out the candles and climbs up onto his bed to nestle beside him. She prays for the gods to lend him some of her health, prays for their children, prays for the realm, prays for them.

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34. good enough

“What do you think?” Myrcella looks at herself in the mirror this way and that, scrutinizing everything from the diadem on her head to the color of her shoes. Rosamund straightens up from where she’d been fastening the last of the buttons on Myrcella’s dress and kisses her on the cheek.

“You look beautiful, my lady, as usual. You have nothing to fear.”

“Oh, very well. I just want everything to be perfect.”

“It will be,” Rosie insists. “You have a perfect dress and a perfect man, hm?”

Myrcella smiles despite herself, thinking of Trys. When she’d been brought to Sunspear as a child, the concept of marriage had seemed so peculiar that she hadn’t spent much time considering it. She’d always enjoyed Trys’s company, but it wasn’t until they were both past their fourteenth year that she’d started to fully understand what they would be to one another. He had grown unsure over the last few years, to her dismay, but remains sweet as ever, and handsome where his brother is plain. She had called him her friend for a decade, and now, today, she would call him her husband.

“Give me a moment, will you?” she asks Rosie.

“As you wish, princess.” Rosie curtseys and leaves her be, ringing silence following her departure. Myrcella tries to find something to fix about her appearance, but Rosie was right: there isn’t a thread out of place. Her stomach does a flip. She thinks she looks pretty, but would Trys? He’s bound by betrothal to marry her, but what if he isn’t satisfied? What if—

The door opens, and Myrcella sighs, “Rosie, I thought I asked you to give me a moment.” She turns to the door and finds that it most definitely isn’t Rosie. “Trys! What are you—it’s bad luck to see me the day of the wedding!”

“I’m sorry,” he says, looking just that. “I—I panicked.”

“Panicked?” He comes toward her and, yes, she does see the fright in his dark eyes, and all thoughts of misfortune flee from her head. She takes his trembling hands in hers and asks, “What panics you? Is there a storm coming or something?”

“No, no, the weather is fine, everything’s fine…” He looks her up and down as if only just noticing her gown. “You look nice.”

“Thank you. But I still don’t understand. What’s wrong?”

“You deserve better than me,” he says in a rush. “You’re the daughter of the king and I’m just the third child of a lord, and you’re so beautiful and kind and—”

“Hush.” She puts two fingers on his lips to stop his rambling. “You are everything I could ever want, Trys, and I mean that. Most ladies in this world get saddled with husbands who are cruel or twice their age or drunkards or disrespectful, but you’re none of that. I know what kind of man you are, and I…” She blushes bright red but finds the courage to continue. “I’m rather fond of you.”

“Fond” isn’t the right word, not exactly, but what courage she’d had quickly retreats. “You are?”

“Very much so.” She laughs then. “And here I thought I was nervous.”

“You?” Trys asks. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” she confesses. “You’re a prince of Dorne. Your kingdom resisted the dragons for a hundred and fifty years. Your women are allowed to fight and rule and your house was founded by Princess Nymeria. Who am I to join that legacy? Who am I to follow Ari and your lady mother?”

Trys gives her a lopsided smile. “My wife? Or…or, well, almost.”

“It appears neither of us knows what we’re doing,” she says, flopping down on one of the couches. Trystane follows her, though more gracefully. “Or where we go from here. But…but maybe we can figure it out together. What do you say?”

He cups her cheeks and presses a soft kiss to her lips. She’s sure he’s smeared her powder and smudged her lip stain, but she doesn’t care. When he pulls back, her heart melts at the look in his eyes. “That doesn’t sound so bad.”

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Find Rhaenys. Keep her safe, and I will forgive it all.

Her words, her mission, they’re all that keep his feet moving, his blade swinging. He has to focus on the words, because if he doesn’t, he sees her, bloody and dying, her son dashed against the wall, the Mountain’s head halfway across the room. He was too late, too fucking late, and now look what’s happened. He could have saved them all, yet now there is only Rhaenys, and he doesn’t even know where she is.

At least, not until he hears the hissing yowl, and then the scream. It’s coming from Rhaegar’s old chambers—he should have known—and all he has to see is the knife before he’s running the man through with his sword and Rhaenys is throwing herself into his arms. She asks after her mother, after the baby, and Arthur can’t speak. He’s taken more lives than he cares to count, has made mistakes that he’s sure will land him in the seven hells, but he can’t tell this little girl that her family is dead, he hasn’t the strength.

She knows, though, of course she does. She must have heard them below her, heard what happened…

Find Rhaenys. Keep her safe, and I will forgive it all.

She grabs Balerion and he grabs her, and he doesn’t know where he can go—not home, he can’t go to Dorne, he can’t put them in danger—and he doesn’t know how to raise a child and he doesn’t deserve to and they’ll be hunted from now until the end of his days.

But she had made him swear, and so he will find a way. He can save Rhaenys, he must. Gods damn him, he will.

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48. shackles

“This isn’t the only reason you went out with me, is it?”

Arianne pauses what she’s doing to roll her eyes. “No, Arys, access to your handcuffs is not the only reason I went out with you.” The sound of the cuffs locking into place around the bedpost is satisfying, made even more so by the strain in Arys’s body as she straddles his hips. “But it does help. I’ve not been with a cop before.”

“But

She grasps him to shut him up, and can’t decide if she’s disappointed or gratified at how easy it is. She can’t say she particularly misses his talking, though. He’s a good enough lay, but his forte does not lie in stimulating conversation.

He also has a tendency to put his foot in his mouth, usually complaining about women who have casual sex while at the same time continuing this relationship (if it can even be called that). She’d have moved on a while ago, but he’s endearing in a doofus sort of way, and he’s convenient. Besides, she’s leaving the city in a week anyway—if she can wrangle herself some free handcuffs out of the deal, she’ll take it.

She gives him a wicked smile. “Now, officer, let’s see how durable these are.”

Chapter Text

He’s brought to her in chains, which she feels is appropriate. She had never had shackles around her wrists, but had nonetheless felt like a prisoner these many years, and to see Rhaegar supplicant before her is vindictively satisfying. As the father of her children, she had still had a speck of goodwill for him, but that soon vanishes when she sees he has the audacity to look betrayed.

“Thank you, Ser Brynden, Ser Barristan,” she tells the pair of Kingsguard.

Rebel and loyalist together, such was her edict. Barristan had not been pleased, but then, he wasn’t pleased by her deal either despite the fact that it made her son king and salvaged what Rhaegar and Aerys had ruined. The Kingsguard step back and Elia peers down at her husband from her perch on the throne. It was to be his, once. Not anymore.

“I did not expect this from you,” Rhaegar says. His voice is hoarse, his hair is lank, his clothes covered in dirt, and it vaguely occurs to her she’d never seen him disheveled before. “I never expected you would act against us.”

“Us?” she replies. “You mean you and the crown? I have no loyalties to your father, or to you. My only loyalty is to my family. Unbowed, unbent, unbroken, those are my words, whether you forgot them or not. I was hardly about to let the people I love be endangered because of your actions. The rebels’ cause was just, they gave us shelter, and, now, the throne. You threatened the downfall of your house, of me, of our children. I don’t regret my choice, not for one second.”

“What is it you intend to do with me?” His mask is flawless, even if his appearance is not; she wonders if he’s angry, or sad, or anything at all. She’s never been able to read him, and this day is no exception.

“I should execute you. No one would begrudge me for it.” It would be a show of strength, a declaration that she would not tolerate threats. “But for Rhaenys’s sake, and hers alone, I will not. I want my daughter to come to terms with you in her own time, and she won’t be able to do that if you’re dead. She’s too young to realize what all has happened, but she won’t always be. Exile is too good for you, however, and so I have decided to send you to the Wall. You shall have a friend there in Maester Aemon, but considering the Lord Commander is a man of my lands, and several of your new brothers will be men confined there because of you…I suspect your time there will not be enjoyable.”

“The Wall,” he repeats. “You would deprive me of my own children?”

Elia’s hands tighten on the arms of the throne. “You dare put blame on me?” she growls. “Look to yourself if you want a villain, or your father. You don’t deserve Rhaenys and Aegon. You abandoned them.” She nods to the Kingsguard. “Sers, if you will? We’re done here.”

Ser Brynden and Ser Barristan oblige, forcing Rhaegar to his feet. “Wait,” he objects. “What about Lyanna?”

The name once made her blind with rage. Now, after speaking with the girl and with Arthur, such is no longer the case. “She will return to Winterfell,” she says. “It was fortunate we beat back the loyalists so quickly, or else it might have been too late.”

“Too late?”

“For the moon tea, of course,” she says. “What, did you think the fifteen-year-old child whom you trapped in a tower would want to be a mother? Of your bastard, no less? You may have been foolish enough to get her with child, but she was perfectly glad to take up my offer, especially since I agreed to dissolve her betrothal on top of it. That was why she left with you in the first place, is it not? Because you promised her that? I have done what you did not, though Robert Baratheon is not happy about it.”

“You…she is no longer pregnant?” For the first time, his veneer slips. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

“I saved a girl from something she did not want and, perhaps, her life,” Elia replies. “Your obsession with prophecy is a madness in you, Rhaegar. I was not about to let you drag the Stark girl down with you.”

“The prophecy is true.”

“Oh? You know that, do you? I did not realize you could see the future.”

“The scrolls—”

“Are thousands of years old, written in a language that was translated centuries ago, from a prophet that may never have existed in the first place. It is hubris to think you have read them correctly, and I won’t allow my family, or Lady Lyanna, to suffer for it. No, I’ve heard enough from you.” She leans forward in her seat, taking one final look at him. “I do hope you enjoy the cold.”

Chapter Text

10. not wearing that
24. my child

“Over my dead body will she be wearing this monstrosity.”

“It was my mother’s. And hers before her. It’s tradition.”

Elia holds up the dress, wincing at the overabundance of dragon motifs, red and black fabric, and gemstones. “Yes, and it shows,” she says. “Mayhaps this was acceptable forty years ago, but now? Rhaegar, we are having our portraits painted, we can’t possibly have this displayed for all time.”

“My mother would be overjoyed to see her in it, and these days she doesn’t have much to be overjoyed about.”

“No, she doesn’t.” She thinks of the poor queen, trapped in a marriage with the most horrific beast Elia has ever known.

“Well, perhaps a compromise is in order. We’ll put her in it when we present her to the court, and then something less ostentatious for the portrait.”

“That’s agreeable,” Elia shrugs. “At least no one will be able to say she doesn’t represent the Targaryens.”

“It’s settled then.” Rhaegar glances at the dress, then back to her. “It really is awful, isn’t it?”

Elia snickers. “The worst.”

Chapter Text

14. first kiss
39. secret admirer

She doesn’t know what to expect from the heir to Highgarden. She’s aware that Uncle Oberyn has a regular correspondence with him, and that his family are staunch loyalists, yet the Reach has been bitter enemies of her mother’s family for millennia, and that’s a hard obstacle to overcome. Not to mention their ridiculous focus on pomp and circumstance, their tourneys and frivolity far too excessive for Rhaenys’s taste. To her, it reeks of showmanship rather than actual chivalry or talent. Uncle Oberyn and Uncle Arthur had both told her as much—though they participate in tourneys to keep the rust off, never do they show their true mettle, nor how they truly fight. With the Reachers...Rhaenys has a feeling tourneys are all they know.

Garlan Tyrell, at least, has an honorable and skilled reputation, something that comes from even several Dornishmen that have faced him in the list or met him at feasts, but of Willas there is not much to go on. Oh, his injury is talked about plenty, but Rhaenys doesn’t care about any of that. So what if he has a limp? She wants to know if he’s kind, if he has good humor, if he won’t disparage her countrymen and thus disparage her, if he won’t try to stamp out her outspokenness.

He had sent her letters since their betrothal was announced and had seemed cordial in them, but letters can mask a man’s true nature, and perhaps the letters hadn’t been written by Willas at all. She just doesn’t know.

And now she stands in the entrance hall of the seat that will one day be his, awaiting his arrival. He is punctual, which she does appreciate. He leans on a cane to balance, but otherwise shows no evidence of illness. He’s handsome, too, she can’t help but notice, though not as much as Garlan, and a far cry from his youngest brother, Loras. Not that that makes a difference. People say Father is the most beautiful man in the realm, and look what happened. Beauty does not always equal goodness, she had learned that lesson well.

“Princess,” he greets with a warm smile. “I trust your journey went well?”

“Yes, the seas were kind, my lord.”

“It pleases me to hear it.” He presses a kiss to her hand, his eyes never leaving hers.


She meets his only sister at the feast that night, a maid three, nearly four, years her junior. Margaery already shows the promise of a fair visage indeed, although there is a shrewdness in the way she speaks and the purposefully dainty way she gestures that leads Rhaenys to believe there is far more to her than most would believe.

“Willas is enamored with you,” she says, as one might divulge a particularly scandalous secret. “Your letters had him smiling for days each time he received one.”

“Oh?” She glances down the table to where Willas sits and watches him for a moment as he converses with some Reacher lord she doesn’t know. “He showed only courtesy to me.”

“Well, of course,” says Margaery. “Willas...he’s not Garlan, or Loras. Not as far as the ladies of the court are concerned. He is not ashamed of his injury, but nor does he suffer pity. I would imagine he wasn’t sure whether you would be one of those people.”

“His concern is understandable.”

And it is—how often had she wanted to scream at all the vapid ladies who pretended to comprehend what she and her family had gone through? All that cooing and those empty platitudes? But at least her wounds are invisible; Willas’s are on display to everyone he meets.

Margaery’s expression softens. “He’s a good man, you know. Your marriage will not be a bad one, I promise.”

She doesn’t know Willas, not one bit, and she doesn’t know Margaery either. Yet all the same, a flicker of hope fills her chest that maybe the girl is right after all. Highgarden is insufferable, but perhaps her new husband will not be.

Chapter Text

“Simpering little Rhaella? Father, you can’t.”

Rhaella listens with her ear pressed against the door, her heart pounding. Mother and Father had always doted on Aerys; she’d never heard them get in an argument before. Though, of course, she’d never heard this marriage proclamation before either.

“Aerys, you must. It is foretold. What is your qualm? Marrying brother to sister is tradition in our family.”

“In the last century, it’s only been you. Besides, Rhaella’s twelve, Father, I won’t marry a child. Just look at her, with all her dolls, and her stupid knights, and her weakness. I won’t marry…that.”

“You will,” says Father, using the voice he rarely uses but which always scares her. “I am your father, and I am to be your king. If I decree it, it is so.”

“But you’re not the king yet,” Aerys protests. “Grandfather is. What does he say about all this?”

She can’t see him, but she can imagine Father’s face going hard. “Your grandfather has washed his hands of his children. He cares not.”

No, Rhaella thinks in horror. No, not Grandfather. He can’t! 

He and Grandmother have been so good to her, had shown that love was important, too, not just alliances. They’d let Uncle Duncan and Aunt Jenny follow their hearts, and Uncle Daeron, and even Mother and Father. Why would he not let Rhaella do the same? Not that anyone has her heart, not yet, but one day they might! She can’t imagine being married to Aerys. He’s her brother, and he pulls her hair and calls her names and even if he were nice, she doesn’t want to be married now. She doesn’t want to have a husband and she doesn’t want to have children, not when she’s half a child herself. Aerys is right about that, at least.

“Then Grandfather is weaker-willed than I thought. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t care what you say, I’m not marrying her.”

“You will,” Father repeats. “Some things are bigger than you. This is one of them.”

She runs to her room in tears.


A hand over her mouth wakes her in the middle of the night, and her eyes fly open in fear. “Hush, damn you.” Aerys’s long hair is pulled back, a hood over his head.

“What are you doing?” she whispers back.

“Leaving,” he says. “Father’s got it in his head to marry us, and I’d rather die than be wed to you.”

“Where will you go?”

“Somewhere. Anywhere. What’s it to you?”

“Nothing,” she says. “Are you sure? Father will send men after you.”

“Let him,” Aerys shrugs. “When someone asks, you’re to say I wanted time to myself and will be gone hunting for three days. I’ve done it before. By the time they realize I’ve not done so, I’ll be long gone.”

The gravity of what he’s doing is slowly dawning on her, and she’s sure there’ll be repercussions even if she doesn’t yet know what they are, perhaps even repercussions on her, but if Aerys is gone, then they can’t be married no matter how much Mother and Father rage.

She nods, and then darts her hand out to touch his. “Be careful, brother.”

“I will.”

He hurries out of her room, a silver shadow. She wonders if it had been a dream, the next morning, except then a servant bursts into her room and asks if she knows where the prince is. He’s done it! she thinks to herself, victorious. He really did it.

“Oh, he said something about going hunting,” she says. Her voice is steady, the lie easy. “He’ll be back in a few days.”

The servant believes her, and when she’s alone in her room once more, she smiles.

Chapter Text

8. “Please, just—stay. Please.”

It’s queer; she remembers the way the dining hall looked that morning better than she does the exact wording of the letter or even the expression on Viserys’s face as he read it. It had been one of the most pristine days in years, not a cloud in the sky yet the sun not too hot either, the ocean smooth rolling waves. The herald bringing the letter hadn’t been odd either, for Viserys often received such things from the capital, mostly from Aunt Elia or his mother.

He had scanned it twice, his already pale face growing paler by the word. “What is it? Has something happened?” she’d asked him, before taking the letter from his hands to read it herself. It was in Princess Daenerys’s hand, small and neat.

Dearest brother,

As you know, King’s Landing has been ravaged by disease these past weeks. They’ve closed the passes in Dorne so I trust you and Princess Arianne are well, but it has hit our family hard. You know our brother, he thought himself untouchable. He came down with the sickness and despite the maester’s efforts, he did not recover. We, of course, had fled the city as soon as news of the affliction reached court, yet somehow...oh, Vis. It’s even taken Aegon. I don’t know how he contracted it, but it overtook him so quickly. The rest of us were spared, the gods only know why. Elia is inconsolable, even Rhaenys can’t reach her. Mother, too.

Which is why I am the one who must write to you. The both of us will have time to grieve later, but right now we must be strong. With Rhaegar and Aegon gone, that means you are king, brother. Our cousin Lord Robert has been sheltering us at Storm’s End until the illness has been cleared from the capital, but you must meet us here as soon as possible so we can begin preparations.

I am sorry. I know how fond you are of Dorne, but you must abandon it now. The realm needs you.

All my love,
Dany

Arianne had had to read over it twice, too. Uncle Rhaegar had always been lukewarm and spent far too much time in the library, but cousin Aegon...tears had slipped down her cheeks as the full scope of the letter hit her. She’d only seen him just two moon turns ago; he had been fine, he had been healthy, his mother had been bemoaning how long his sandy hair had gotten, he’d let her borrow one of his favorite books about the Age of Heroes. How could he be dead?


It’s been a week since the letter, six days since they boarded a ship to Storm’s End, and they’ve been told they should arrive before long. Arianne heads down into the cabin they share and sits next to him on the bed, relaying the captain’s announcement.

His response is dull, his voice quiet. “Good. Yes, all right.”

The initial shock had slowly evaporated, but had left behind a cold, grieving resignation. She’s not wanted to bring up her burning question, and she can’t muster up the courage now either.

What does this mean for us? she wants to ask him.

With him king, custom would mean that she, as his betrothed, would become his queen. But if she’s queen, then she has to give up Dorne, her birthright, the only thing she’s truly wanted since she was a little girl. To be forced to give it to Quent, especially when what she’d get in return is ridiculed in a court both for being a woman and for being Dornish, it makes her stomach churn.

Except if she refuses, that means surely the betrothal would be broken off, which is almost as bad. She doesn’t know what she feels for Viserys yet, but he’s been one of her closest friends the past few years, and he’s a good man who would make an excellent consort. And she knows how much he adores Sunspear, though that had taken everyone by surprise. He’d been perfectly content leaving the crown to Rhaegar and Aegon, and becoming Arianne’s right hand instead.

Now that’s all for naught. Whatever their betrothal will become, Viserys will no longer stay in Dorne. Turning down the kingship would mean it would pass to Rhaenys, and she shudders to think of how viciously the realm would oppose such a thing. Even if by some miracle she were coronated as Queen Rhaenys, the First of Her Name, her reign would be hounded by men who sought to unseat her or make her life otherwise a hellish mess. She could handle it, of that Arianne has no doubt, but even the slightest mistake would be catastrophic. She knows Viserys knows that, though it doesn’t make it any easier.

He clasps his hands together in his lap so tightly they turn white. “I shouldn’t be here,” he croaks. “This isn’t my crown. It doesn’t belong to me.”

“It does. By law, it does.”

“It should be Rhae’s,” he says, looking over at her with bloodshot eyes. “I’d gladly hand it all over, I’d never contest it. She’s better at this than I am, Aunt Elia too. I don’t know anything of being king.”

“And that’s what will help you,” she says. “You’re not entitled. You recognize your limits. You’ll have people at your side, you won’t have to do this alone.”

“Will I have you?”

His eyes search hers, more vulnerable than she’s ever seen him, and she has to avert her gaze. “I—Vis, I don’t know. Dorne is my home, it’s what I was born to rule. I want to marry you, I do, but if it means giving up my kingdom...”

“I know,” Viserys sighs. “I can’t ask it of you.”

She leans over and kisses his cheek. “I will think about it at least. I owe you that much. And I won’t leave your side while we’re at Storm’s End. I’ll help you through all that I can, I promise.”

He lets his head drop to her shoulder, and she slowly runs her fingers through his silver hair, praying to the old gods and the new for strength she hopes she has.

Chapter Text

“I hope you understand my position, Lady Arryn,” she says. The woman has said hardly two words so far, and Elia wishes she would just speak. “I had no qualms against your husband, and I know his cause was just. But all the same, he declared war against my son’s kin, and were I to spare him, I would be telling lords that I will do nothing against people who may threaten Aegon’s title in future. If there were another way, I would have taken it, and I’m sorry. I will of course arrange another marriage for you as befits your station, and the crown will pay the necessary dowry.”

“Marriage?” Lady Lysa looks up at her, her blue eyes wide. She is near as pretty as her sister, and yet there’s a meekness there that Elia had never sensed in the new Lady of Winterfell. “To...to whom?”

“I haven’t a clue,” Elia says honestly. “It wouldn’t be for a while yet. There is the requisite mourning period and, of course, however long you require for your personal grief.”

“Grief?” Lysa shakes her head. “I do not grieve in truth, I—it was my father’s wish that I marry Lord Arryn, not mine. He traded me away in exchange for an army.”

“I see,” says Elia, surprised by her vehemence. “Then there is some common ground between us, it seems. I, too, was married against my will.” She studies the young woman in front of her and quirks her head. “Is there a man you would marry instead? Or perhaps you do not desire a marriage at all?”

Red colors Lysa’s cheeks as she fidgets with the sleeve of her dress. “Oh, I...well there was...there was a boy from the Fingers. Petyr, he’s called, of House Baelish.”

Elia has to strain to hear her, and when she does, she winces. A boy from the Fingers? Elia acknowledges the girl’s predicament, but to arrange a match between the only available daughter of a Great House and a boy from a speck of a house she’s never heard of? She would be ridiculed for such a thing. A woman’s sympathies, they’d say, or That Dornishwoman knows nothing of custom. Were Lysa enamored with a Frey or a Royce or some such then she would approve it at once, but this...

“I’m afraid that is beyond my power,” she confesses. “If you were a lesser daughter, then mayhaps, but as of now you are your brother’s heir. I do not wish to cause you pain, but that is a match I am unable to make. By no means will I intervene if your brother’s regents agree to marry you to this Petyr, but that is all I can do.”

Lysa looks down at her hands, clearly disappointed yet not shocked by the refusal. “Yes, Your Grace. I-It was only a hope.”

“I want you to consider me an ally, Lady Lysa. If you have any request, any at all, please ask it of me. If it is within my abilities to accommodate, I will do so. All I ask in return is for my son’s throne to remain secure.”

“I understand, Your Grace. Thank you.”

“Do take care, my lady.”

Lysa’s smile is small, but lovely, and for the first time Elia sees a spark flare to life.

Chapter Text

She can hardly breathe from nervous excitement, but outwardly she looks nearly perfect. It’s mostly thanks to her mother and Ashara, the kohl around her eyes and the stain on her lips, the painstakingly perfect curls they’d somehow wrangled her hair into, the white damask of her gown sewn through with silver thread that had taken the seamstresses months to put together.

“Robb won’t know what to do with himself,” says Ashara conspiratorially.

Rhaenys laughs. “That’s the idea.”

Lace ostensibly prevents her bodice from being indecent, but from as close as Robb would soon be standing, there would be no mistaking the way her breasts strain against the fabric, nor her desire for him. He would enjoy ripping it in two, she knows that much.

The door opens just as Ashara is straightening the clasps on her silk maiden’s cloak, and the both of them smile once they spot Arthur in the mirror. Ashara checks the fit and closures one last time before offering, “I’ll be outside.”

Rhaenys kisses her cheek. “Thank you, auntie.”

“When did you grow into a woman?” Arthur asks once she leaves. “I could swear just yesterday you were a little girl.”

“Oh, not you too,” she groans. “Mother’s been doing enough of that, no matter how many times I tell her I’ll be staying here, not going to Winterfell.”

“You’re her firstborn,” he says. “You hold a special place in her heart, and she doesn’t want to lose you.”

“She won’t.” She sees his fond smile fade to a frown and asks, “What is it?”

“Rhaegar should be here,” he says. “Despite all that happened, he was still your father, he should see you wed.”

Rhaenys looks down at her feet. “He wasn’t, though, was he?” she asks quietly. It’s now or never. “My father, I mean.”

“What?” She can hear the catch in his voice; it’s the final, unnecessary, piece of confirmation she needs.

“I couldn’t figure out how to ask.” Her eyes move to his, searching his face for similarity to her own. Her coloring is her mother’s, but the resemblance is undeniable, now that she’s looking for it. “It’s you.”

“Rhaenys, no,” he objects. “What you are suggesting is preposterous, and treason besides.”

“Or love,” she persists. “I’m not blind, I’ve always seen how you and Mother look at each other, and how you look at me. Uncle Lewyn has known me my whole life, too, yet it’s not the same. And—I don’t know, I feel it.”

He stares at her a moment more, and then sits down heavily on the settee and buries his face in his hands. “How long have you known?”

“Years. But it’s only been recently that I’ve stopped denying it.”

“I never wanted you to find out,” Arthur despairs. “Neither of us did. You deserve better.”

“Better? Better is a man who ran away with a child-woman and started a war? A man who abandoned me and Aegon and Mother for over a year? How is that better?” she asks. “Nothing happened after Mother was married, isn’t that what counts?”

“How—?”

“I’ve done the sums. Mother was married at the new year and I was born at the start of the ninth moon. The records say I was born early, but I wasn’t, was I?”

His shoulders slump in defeat. “No, you weren’t.”

“What does it matter, anyway? I can’t inherit anything, the Targaryen crown will never go through me, and I’m a born princess from Mother’s side. Nothing changes, not really.”

Everything would change. If anyone found out…”

“They can’t, I know,” she says. “No one would believe Aegon’s legitimate when I’m not, even though that’s the truth.”

“The gods will wreak their own wrath upon me, I have no doubt.”

“What wrath? No harm has come of it.”

“No harm? I broke my vows, Rhaenys. I swore to be chaste and to father no children, I swore it in front of gods and men, and I broke that in the worst of ways.”

“Your brothers in white are so much more saintly? I care for them, but they all stood by during the Mad King’s reign while he burned men alive and raped Grandmother, and Uncle Lewyn has two children on his paramour. If you could do it over, if you knew lying with Mother would result in me, would you choose not to?”

“I don’t know. Mayhaps.”

“And Father?” she asks. “If he could do it over, would he choose to not pursue the prophecy?”

Arthur doesn’t respond, which is response enough.

“I thought as much,” she scoffs. “I would only want him here so I could show him the good we’ve done in spite of his actions. We’ve healed the realm, and ourselves, we did that.”

“Rhaegar loved you,” says Arthur. “If you trust nothing else about him, trust that. His love for you never wavered.”

“I know. But nevertheless, he chose some ancient fairy tale over his family, and I can’t forgive it. I won’t.”

“You’re as obstinate as your mother,” he sighs.

“And you.”

She sees no smile, only shame. “And me.”

“Have I hurt you with this?” she asks, her surety faltering at his relentless guilt. “Should I have not told you I know?”

He takes her hand in his, familiar and yet unexplored. “The fault lies with me. I should have said something long ago.”

“Well, there’s naught to be done about it,” she says. “But now there needn’t be a secret anymore. At least, not privately. We can only move forward.”

“Starting with your marriage,” says Arthur. “You can finally make a man out of that boy.”

Rhaenys grins. “Surely you know that I’ve already—”

“Do not say another word.” At her compliance, he opens the velvet-lined box on her vanity and removes from it her diadem, a simple thing of spun rose gold gifted to her by Grandmother. He places it gently on her head, careful to avoid mussing Ashara’s handiwork, and then steps back to see her in full. “You look beautiful.”

“Will you say it?” she asks. “I need to hear it.”

There is no mistaking what she means. “Rhaenys…”

“Please,” she implores. “Just once.”

She thinks he’ll refuse; she anticipates the disappointment. And then he leans down and whispers in her ear, words only she will ever hear, and she feels the last wall around her heart crumble away.

My daughter.

Chapter Text

24. my child

She doesn’t want to send her away. She wants to keep her close, comfort her with tale or song while the world falls apart around them, hug her tight and never let go.

But she has to, she sends her away, because she must. If the Holdfast should fall...

She can’t do the same with Aegon, he has to be here with her—he’s so smallbut Rhaenys is nearly three, old enough to know, old enough to run. She doesn’t understand fully what’s happening, or why, only that bad men are coming and that more than ever she must trust what her mother says. Rhaenys’s dark eyes are wide as she listens to the order, to Elia’s command to run. To hide. To find a spot no one would think to look and not to come out for anyone, not even Uncle Jaime. Elia tries to couch it in a game—It’s like when you crawl under the desks or crouch down in the clothespress and Mama tries to find you, right? Just like that—but Rhaenys has never been slow of mind; she knows this is no game.

Elia watches as she disappears down the hall out of view, then clutches Aegon to her breast and weeps. It feels as though a great fist is slowly crushing her heart as she realizes she may never see her daughter again. The Holdfast is supposed to be impenetrable, Maegor had made it so, and yet through the nursery window she can see men climbing its walls, murder in their very bones.

She has her Dornish guards outside the nursery, and the doors barred, but somehow she knows it could very well not be enough. If only she had even Jaime here, it would be a comfort, but he’s far away guarding Aerys. He wouldn’t be able to get to them in time even if he tried.

No, she will be alone, alone but for her infant son. He’s sleeping now, blissfully oblivious to the chaos outside, and she strokes the fine down of his hair, praying he doesn’t wake. It would sooth her, to know he never felt...

She takes a breath, trying to hold herself together. Unbowed, unbent, unbroken. She had faced hardship before; she will do it again. Rhaenys is her daughter, in look and in spirit, and Elia has to believe she’ll find a place to hide, somewhere dark and small where men could search for days and still never find her. She would grow up safe and healthy and strong.

It had taken a day and a night to bring Rhaenys into the world—through it all she had never lost faith, and she won’t lose it now. She can’t.

Rhaenys, she prays, no matter what happens, Mama loves you. Now and always.

Chapter Text

It’s only as Elia gets a full hour into her embroidery uninterrupted that she realizes things are too quiet. And then, just as she’s about to investigate, her door bursts open and Rhaenys barrels through, red-faced. “Hide me!” she giggles. “Mama, hide me.”

“Who is it after you now?” she laughs. It could be anyone; her daughter has enraptured everyone from the Kingsguard to the cooks.

“Papa! He’s gonna find me.”

She gets to her knees and starts crawling under the bed, but Elia grabs the back of her dress before she can get wedged beneath. “My bed is too small for that, baby. Papa’s bed is higher, why don’t you try his?”

“Where are you at, little starfish?” comes a voice from out in the hall. Rhaenys’s eyes go wide as she looks around the room.

“He’s found me!” she whisper-yells. “Where can I go?”

“Try behind the dressing screen,” Elia suggests. “Crouch down and he shouldn’t see you.”

“You won’t tell him?”

“Of course not.”

Rhaenys nods and does as Elia said, rushing behind the screen and curling into a ball. Not seconds later, the door opens once again and Rhaegar appears, looking rather sheepish when he only spots her. “You, ah, haven’t seen Rhaenys, have you?”

“If I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” says Elia loudly. To Rhaegar, she cocks her head in the direction of Rhaenys’s hiding place.

In two quick steps, Rhaegar reaches behind the screen and lifts her up, tickling her sides. “There you are.”

“Mama you told!”

Elia lets out an offended gasp. “I would never. Your father is just too good at this game.”

“Fair is fair, sweetling,” says Rhaegar. “It’s your turn to seek.”

Rhaenys pouts. “Fine. But I get Uncle Arthur on my team this time.”

“Ah, a challenge! It’s been far too long since my old friend and I have competed at this game. Come, let’s go find him.”

Elia rolls her eyes. “Be careful. I don’t want any skinned knees because you ran too fast.”

“Yes, Mama,” says Rhaenys. The end is caught up in a squeal as Rhaegar lifts her onto his shoulders.

With a parting wink, he takes her out into the hall and calls out, “Arthur! Your princess needs you.”

Elia smiles. Rhaegar may be the most melancholy person she’s ever met, but there’s no doubting his love for their daughter. She wishes he could be more like this even without Rhaenys around, but for now, she’ll take it. It’s good to see him happy, even if only for a while.

Chapter Text

It was a letter she never expected to receive, one that had at first sent her into a frozen rage and then had her wheels turning in a way she knows her mother would have been proud of.

Dearest niece, it had read, in the handwriting of her late father’s sister,

My outriders noticed a rather unwelcome set of occupants who entered the Pass this very morning. I had told him surely he must be mistaken—the crown prince? Why would he be near our lands without you at his side? And then the realm heard of your darling husband’s disappearance, and…pardon my candor, but if he could shame you so at Harrenhal, why would he not shame our kingdom?

I have not acted, for I do not wish to overstep. I leave the matter of this information in your hands, and await your command. Let it be known that House Manwoody will forsake neither our princess nor our kin.

Yours,

Deria, Lady of Kingsgrave

She had had it half-crumpled at the mention of what Rhaegar had done before Lady Deria’s words registered. Rhaegar had taken the girl to Dorne. Dorne! To have such callous gall as to—no. Her fury had quickly tempered to pondering; even now, a week hence, she knows the precious jewel she has in her hands. Not even Aerys, not even the remaining Kingsguard, know where Rhaegar had gone, but she does.

But what to do? While the Manwoodys are not a large house, no doubt their men-at-arms could overcome Rhaegar’s minute contingent of men, but then what? It would give her great pleasure to see Rhaegar’s head on a spike, if nothing else than for causing Rhaenys to wonder where her papa had gone, yet at the same time, such a thing would put everyone she loves in danger, and with Aerys’s madness to account for…

She wonders not for the first time what role the Stark girl played in all this. Were it someone else, were she Cersei Lannister, Elia would think her conniving, that she did this out of malice or perceived vengeance. Yet she recalls with perfect clarity the utter shock and offense the girl had shown when Rhaegar presented her with those roses, and the way she had rebuffed her own betrothed.

It doesn’t track. The girl had been impulsive, childish even, but a schemer? It’s not a word Elia would have used. Then again, she hadn’t thought Rhaegar was capable of something like this either, and look how wrong she was about that. Still, the niggling feeling that Lyanna Stark may not have been part and parcel to whatever plan Rhaegar has won’t leave her.

Regardless, no matter how Elia chooses to act on this, she knows she’ll need allies. Dorne alone would never be enough. However…

She calls her uncle into her solar, ensuring that no one else is around to hear. She shows him Deria’s proposal, watching as the implications dawn on him. “I have a plan in mind,” she tells him, “and I must ask something of you, though it is not without risk.”

“Name it, and it shall be done, niece.”

Her voice is steady. “I want to send you to the Vale.”

“The Vale? Why?”

She leans forward and places in his hands the sealed letter she had spent three days drafting. “I have a message for Jon Arryn.”


It started with a letter, and so it ends with one.

Lewyn back at her side, his mission successful, Elia pens a note to her aunt, two short words: Do it.

Leaving her children in Lewyn’s care, she takes several of her Dornish guards and heads south to find the fruits of her labor. Their trip is unmolested, but all the same she is glad when the familiar castle of Kingsgrave comes into their sights. Her aunt greets them in the yard, looking just as Elia remembered, her hair drawn into a severe knot and her hazel eyes shrewd.

“It’s been done?” Elia asks.

Deria smiles a shark’s smile. “Prince Rhaegar should have brought more men with him.”

“He underestimates Dornish loyalty,” says Elia. “I am not surprised.”

“Loyalty,” Deria scoffs. “The Dayne boy seems to have none.”

“I will deal with him later,” says Elia curtly. “I have more pressing concerns. Please, take me to Lady Lyanna. I would speak with her first. I know why Rhaegar took her, I would like to hear her explanation.”

Deria does just that, leading her to one of the guest chambers within the castle. Elia is glad her aunt had had the foresight to not banish the girl to the dungeons like the rest of them; she would rather have no reason at all to incur ire from the Starks or anyone else.

“I would hope,” Elia says without preamble, “that when I ask you why you did this, ‘love’ is not amongst the words that come out of your mouth.”

Lyanna looks tired, but unharmed. “I assure you, it is not,” she says. It is jarring, to hear the harsh Northern accent in her homeland, and a clear reminder of how cruelly audacious Rhaegar had been to bring her here. “Prince Rhaegar promised me that he could free me from my betrothal to Robert.”

Silly, naive child, Elia thinks. Rhaegar doesn’t have the power to do that. And if he did, he would not have stowed you away here without telling anyone.

“I was a fool to go along with it,” says Lyanna. She sounds contrite, at least, which is a start.

“Yes, you were. It was stupid to trust him, no matter how pretty his face may be.”

“It wasn’t because he was pretty,” Lyanna snaps. “He’s the crown prince, and I thought because of the…the rumors—”

“That he wants to depose his father, yes, I know. Empty words.” Elia sighs. “But you would not be the first person he bewitched. The only question is, where do your allegiances lie now?”

“With my family, as they always have.” She lowers her eyes, as if realizing for the first time who Elia is. “And with you, Your Grace. I acknowledge I am at your mercy.”

“Indeed you are. What I want most is to see Rhaegar burn,” Elia says. “For what he’s done to me and our children, and to the realm. I have certain…assurances, but I require yours. Swear the North to me, in this if not in perpetuity, and I will harbor no ill will towards you or your family.”

“As you will,” says Lyanna. “Whatever you desire for the prince, I suspect I will enjoy.”

Elia smiles. “Yes, I suspect you shall.”

The coup is less bloody than she expected—not without casualties, but with nearly all of the Great Houses sworn against the crown, Rhaegar apprehended, and Lyanna returned, Aerys’s forces are few. She hears something about wildfire, but with Ser Jaime’s help the king and his lead pyromancers are safely imprisoned, the capital under rebel control. Even Lord Brandon and Lord Rickard had been spared, thanks to her aunt’s offer and Lord Arryn’s acceptance coming through before Lord Rickard made it to King’s Landing.

And now here she stands in the throne room, Rhaegar prostrate at her feet, Lyanna haughtily observing nearby. “You stand guilty of high treason,” Elia says. “Lady Lyanna’s testimony was quite helpful in confirming your actions. You will never set foot near us again, I can assure you of that. I need merely to decide whether to be merciful and execute you now, or ensure that you spend the rest of your days at the Wall, where you will find none.”

“She told me what your plans were, about the prophecy,” pipes up Lyanna. “How you intended to make me your broodmare, as you did the princess.”

“I didn’t—”

“Death risks making you a martyr. The Wall, I think. Though of course,” Lyanna says, turning to her, “the decision is yours.”

“Then it’s settled,” says Elia. To Rhaegar, she adds thoughtfully, “I suppose I should thank you. Dorne now has unwavering allies where before we had none.”

Elia watches with satisfaction as Rhaegar is led away, free for the first time in years.

Chapter Text

She doesn’t like Dorne. It’s taken her a long while to acknowledge such a thing, such a failing. Her whole life has been about duty, and she’d worn it well, no matter Daemon’s yammering about choice. Maron is kind and handsome enough, and it is refreshing to see women of all standings speaking their minds, yet all the same, it’s dusty, it’s loud, it’s hot, the food is searing, and she misses her family. With the gap in their ages, Daeron had always felt more like an uncle than a brother, but to his sons she’d been close. Baelor, mostly, but she liked sitting down with quiet Maekar, too.

No one is mean to her in Dorne, exactly, but still she can sense the distaste from many, the wounds from resisting nearly two centuries of her family’s rule, and the Valyrians’ long before that, not quite healed, made worse by who her father was. It makes for a lonely time, even though some of her ladies accompanied her from King’s Landing to Sunspear.

She sits in her chamber, alone, once again trying to memorize the Dornish history her maesters had never delved into, from the arrival of the First Men across the Broken Arm to Princess Nymeria’s conquest to the complex politics since, many of the Rhoynish names queer on her tongue. It is slow going—not only had her maesters omitted much, but it turns out much of what they’d said is completely wrong—and she is not ungrateful to hear the knock on her door.

“Enter,” she calls.

Her princely husband walks in, apprehensive of her as usual but almost anxious as well. “Will you take a trip with me?”

“A trip? Where?”

He holds out his hand. “It’s a surprise.”


Indeed it is, for while she doesn’t know exactly what she’d expected, it wasn’t to get in a horse litter and ride for miles. They’re skirting the coast, that much she can tell, for in her peeks between the curtains, she can spot the blue, blue ocean to her right. It baffles her, though, as to where they could be heading. From her perusing of Dornish maps, she knows there’s nothing directly north of Sunspear. Ghost Hill is to the northwest, but otherwise there’s only bare land.

“Maron, honestly,” she says after what seems like ages. “We’ve been riding for hours, where are we going?”

“We’re nearly there,” he replies.

There’s a kind of nervous excitement in his expression, and that alone has her refraining from further argument. Of him and his sister, he’s the more reserved, she’s found out, or at least around her, so different from Daemon’s endless, restless energy.

It takes another hour, but finally the litter slows to a stop. She begins to step down, but Maron halts her, unwinding her scarf and tying it around her head as a blindfold. “Is this necessary?”

“I told you, it’s a surprise,” he says, helping her down. They walk across the uneven sand for several minutes, and then she hears the unmistakable gurgle of fountains and the sand gives way to polished stone. She frowns, perplexed. Perhaps this is some ancient Rhoynish settlement that had grown into disuse that Maron thought she’d be interested in? She can’t think of what else it could be.

Fortunately, she doesn’t have long to wonder. Apparently satisfied with their location, Maron stops and removes the blindfold. It takes her a moment to adjust to the brightness, but when she does she lets out a gasp. She’s standing in the middle of a palace, pink marble all around her and an expansive, intricate pool stretching in front of her with a fountain at its center. She turns in place, eyeing with wonder the grove of citrus trees and date palms, the unobstructed view of the ocean through the marble columns. Most enticing of all, the cool marble allays the sun’s heat, and only pure, tangy air fills her lungs.

“It’s not entirely finished yet,” Maron says, as though somehow interpreting her awed silence as disappointment. “But I thought…I know your time in Dorne has not been comfortable, and I want you to be happy here. It’s yours, Daenerys.”

Hers. He’d done all this for her, he’d built this for her, his Targaryen bride whom he’d only married because of a betrothal contract neither of them had a say in. He’d spent who knows how many dragons on this palace, and all because he’d noticed how the heat and the dust got to her. It’s so unbelievably sweet and thoughtful that her heart suddenly feels too big for her chest.

“Thank you,” she says, tearing her eyes away from the marble to look up at him. Tentatively, she kisses him on the lips, and finds it’s not at all unpleasant. “I can’t believe you’ve done all this just for me.”

“You’re my wife.”

“Yes,” she says, “but men are not like you where I’m from. Women are lucky to receive any true courtesy at all in marriage, let alone…this.”

“You’re in Dorne,” he says. “Our women are our equals in all things, and so shall you be. From this day until your last, you shall want for nothing, I swear it.”

She smiles. “I believe you.”

Chapter Text

“You are loving this, I can tell.”

Dyanna tries to hold in her laugh, but doesn’t very well succeed—her strong, invincible husband brought to heel by a common chill, his nose red and his voice hoarse, is just too charmingly amusing not to enjoy. “I brought you some food, my love.”

He glances at the plate of blood orange wedges in her hand and grumbles, “Anna, I don’t want to eat.”

“And I don’t want to ban you from my bed for a month, but I will.”

He takes the orange.

Chapter Text

You were born a queen, Rhaenys.

She doesn’t feel like one anymore; she doesn’t feel like much of anything down in this dank dungeon with the smell of her own blood around her, able to sleep only when she passes out from the pain. She thought she’d died when that bolt went through Meraxes’s eye and she fell to the ground, yet somehow the Ullers had brought her back. They haven’t harmed her, technically, they’ve just let her lie here, day in and day out, only bothering to come down now and then to make sure she doesn’t die.

“Bring me a quill,” she croaks to the gaoler when she sees him next, feeling herself teetering on the edge of madness from sheer isolation and agony. “You will have your peace.”

Chapter Text

Don’t you dare look outside, darling, everything is on fire.

The phrase comes into her head, but she doesn’t know where she heard it; it’s dramatic enough to be from Old Nan, or Brandon, but that doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t matter anyway, she supposes, since she won’t live long enough to figure it out. Everything is pain, everything is fire, from the throbbing between her legs to the emptiness of her belly to her sluggish thoughts to the overwhelming wrongness.

And then, through it all, somehow she hears his voice, somehow he’s found her.

She screams his name.

Chapter Text

Aegon loved Rhaenys more than anyone, more than Visenya, but Visenya was still her big sister, after all.

She had laughed when she was told Meraxes had been killed and Rhaenys had not made it out of Dorne. Maybe she could believe Meraxesnot even Balerion is invincible—but Rhaenys? For as much as she finds her sister’s love of songs and knights silly, she’s as much a warrior as their brother and Visenya herself, she’d never let herself be taken by Dornishmen, she’d fight back, she’d win, she’d burn them all, she’d...

It’s when she realizes that no one would dare joke about this that she feels the leash she keeps on her fury snap, like a hempen rope stretched too far.

I will find you, little sister, she vows, and I will bring you home.

Chapter Text

Being wed to Cersei has never been a treat. Not during their betrothal nor during their bedding nor during their year of marriage. She had never taken to Winterfell—has actively resisted doing so, in Ned’s opinionand had ever begrudged the fact that her brother had not been permitted to join her here. She blames Ned for that, he knows, even though he had no part in it and Ser Jaime’s duties are squarely in King’s Landing.

She had become even more irascible when she fell pregnant, but it did mean he no longer had to visit her chambers, so that had been a victory for them both. There is little affection in their marriage, and so it comes as a mild surprise when she goes to the birthing bed and it occurs to him that he prays not only for the babe’s survival, but hers. And not because her death would be inconvenient or some such; simply because of her. She does have a certain political aptitude (though had offended more Northern lords than she’d wooed), and on occasion she’s even quite civil to him. They have much to work on, but perhaps in time things would smooth out?

It’s a long labor, lasting well into the early morning hours, and then finally the midwife emerges from the room and gently hands him the child. “A girl, my lord.”

She’s a mix of them both, he sees, with Cersei’s bright green eyes and his own dark hair, and Ned’s quite certain he’s never felt such joy as he does now. “May I see her?” he finds himself asking.

The woman is plainly taken aback, but allows him inside and leaves them alone. Cersei is a far cry from her usual composure, looking utterly exhausted, her face sheened with sweat. “I am sorry I did not give you a son,” she says. She sounds angry, frustrated.

He sits in the chair by her bedside and shakes his head. “Think nothing of it,” he says. “She is healthy, as are you, that is my only concern.”

She frowns at him, trying to work through his words. “It truly doesn’t matter to you?”

“There is plenty time for sons,” he says, “and if none come, then I shall train this babe to rule. Winter is coming, and it cares not whether it is a man or woman who sits the castle.”

“You are not like most men, Lord Stark.”

“Nor are you most women, my lady.” He warily reaches over to take her hand, and for once, she lets it stay.

Chapter Text

It is rare enough for the maester to interrupt them in the evening hours, and rarer still for him to look troubled, yet tonight, he is both. “Humblest apologies,” he says with a bow, “but I’ve just received this in the rookery and thought it prudent to bring at once. It’s addressed to you, my princess.”

Daenerys shares a look of surprise with Maron and then wriggles out of his embrace to receive the letter. She notices the seal first, and dread falls in the pit of her stomach. The three-headed dragon imprint is welcome; the color of the wax is not.

Daemon.

She slits open the seal and scans the contents of the letter, growing more and more incensed with every word, until finally— “The nerve!”

“What is it?” Maron asks, alarmed.

She tosses the letter aside to rummage around in his desk for supplies in order to write a letter of her own. “What kind of man has nine children with his wife and then claims to still love someone else eight years after she’s wed?”

“Perchance he’s sincere,” says Maron, a frown between his brows. “Dany, if you…”

“Don’t you dare ‘Dany’ me.” She picks up a pillow from the floor and hurls it at him. “You’re the only man I’ve ever loved, and you know it.”

Her letter of response is short, to the point, hardly worth the parchment it’s written on:

Do not contact me again.

Signed,
Princess Daenerys, Lady of Sunspear

She seals it with the sun-and-spear of House Martell, commands the maester to send it at once, then returns to her husband to have her way with him—twice.

Chapter Text

“You’re going to be queen tomorrow.” Randa has been more morose by the day lately, her lovely lips in a sad pout. “Today’s our last day.”

“Stop being dramatic,” says Rhaenys, rolling her eyes. “This isn’t our last day. Or didn’t you enjoy having Robb in our bed as much as he did?”

A slow smile spreads across Randa’s face as she remembers. “Mm. Gods that was a good night. He does have stamina, your consort.”

“Almost as much as me,” Rhaenys purrs. “Are you up to the task, Lady Myranda?”

“Well, a vassal must always pay leal service to her liege.” Randa straddles her, her grin as salacious as their couplings. “How shall I serve you, Your Grace?”

“Oh, I’m sure we’ll think of something.”

Chapter Text

37. “Can I kiss you?”

She’s been prepared for this night her entire life, what to expect, how to act, to be quiet and pliant. To do her duty without complaint. But as she’s carried off through the halls of Riverrun by men she’d known since birth, her clothes more and more in tatters, her heartbeat quickens. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, she’d thought…

Lord Stark is all but tossed into the room shortly after she is, and the door is pulled shut and all of a sudden it’s just the two of them, each completely bare or near enough. Eddard isn’t horrible to look at, all told, but he’s no Brandon and on top of that, even if he were Brandon she doesn’t know that this…this…this fear would be any less.

Filling her head is no longer the fanciful tales of romance and love, but the more brutish ones, of wives who cry themselves to sleep at night.

But she’s a Tully of Riverrun, and she will not cower, she cannot. She feels clammy and her heart is in her throat, but her hands are steady as she lets the remainder of her wedding dress drop to the ground.

Eddard looks her up and down only once before looking only into her eyes. If she didn’t know better, she’d say he’s as terrified as she is. He reaches up a hand as though to touch her cheek, but changes his mind halfway through.

“May I kiss you?” he asks her.

She blinks, taken aback. “What?”

A blush runs up his neck, but he asks again, “May I kiss you?”

“Why?”

“I would have you willing, Lady Catelyn.”

He isn’t Brandon, and this wasn’t her choice, but it wasn’t his either. And even though they must lie together, how many men would ask for her permission? Somehow, she has a feeling that if she’d told him no, he would wait.

It is that, and not anything else, that has her saying, “Yes, my lord, you may kiss me.”

Chapter Text

50. “I still think you’re beautiful.”

Her childhood seems like a lifetime ago. Winterfell seems like a lifetime ago. The Winterfell she used to know, that is. She can scarcely believe it was only a couple years ago she was calling Arya names and fantasizing about her future husband with Sansa. It all seems so frivolous now, so stupid.

They had both been so sure their husbands would be good men, handsome ones, that they’d live their lives happy with a dozen children. What fools they were. She has Ramsay, and Sansa…well, no one knows where Sansa is anymore. Probably dead like everyone else.

It is strange, what she remembers from then, what sticks with her. So many memories have faded away now. She can hardly even remember Sansa’s face. Gods only know why she remembers that one day with Theon, a meaningless blip of a conversation so long ago, but she does. She had been upset that one of the boys in the yard had called her hair ugly, of all things; she’d thought that was the worst insult the world could hurl at her, a boy saying he didn’t like her hair.

But it had mattered at the time, and a drunken Theon had found her weeping on one of the staircases and she’d told him what happened. And then he’d told her he thought she was beautiful. He’d promptly thrown up and stumbled off to his chambers, and she doubts he remembers it and certainly knows he wasn’t serious, but for some reason it’s stuck with her through all the pain and despair. Theon had called her pretty, once. She’s not so anymore, if ever she was. Yet still, somehow, she holds onto that night like a tether. That stupid, childish, meaningless night, the last vestige of her innocence.

Chapter Text

74. “We can share.”

It’s not exactly roomy, hiding beneath the unused table in the back of the hall, but currently she’d rather be nowhere else. Certainly not amongst the guests, whom she’d only narrowly avoided in her quest to find a hiding place. She’d been a late bloomer, her mother called it, but now that she’s begun to look more woman than girl, so have come the men. Mostly old, gouty ones, too. Her mother and father came up with some excuse, she’s sure, to have this gathering but she knows better. She knows they’re looking to pair her off with someone.

It’s past time, Betha, they say.

You should be wed, Betha, they say.

Stop being so picky, Betha, they say.

So now here she is, hiding, fully aware that it’s very childish and that she really ought to button up her indignation. She does peek beneath the tablecloth every now and then, though, to watch the goings-on. If nothing else, feasts are good for that. She sees a woman stuff some bread down her blouse to save for later; the tallest man she’s ever seen nearly trample two other guests as he looks around for someone; her father’s cheeks getting ruddier and ruddier the more wine he consumes; a group of little girls gossiping.

She’s so engrossed that she doesn’t hear the patter of footsteps, and so when the tablecloth lifts, she lets out a surprised yelp. It’s no one she recognizes, just some boy with a shaved head and dark eyes who looks as surprised to see her as she is to see him.

“Go away,” she hisses.

He doesn’t. Instead, he crawls forward and lets the tablecloth drop so they’re both concealed underneath it. “Why are you hiding?”

“To get away from presumptuous men like you,” she snaps. “Leave me alone.”

“I’m hiding, too,” says the boy. “If I leave, he’ll see me.”

Who?”

The boy nudges aside the tablecloth and points at the clueless giant she’d spotted earlier. “I’m squiring for him.”

“And you’re hiding from him why?”

“Because it’s fun,” the boy shrugs. He thrusts out his hand and says, “I’m Egg. Who are you?”

“Egg?” she snickers. “What kind of name is Egg?”

“Mine,” he says, offended. “Well, it’s short for something but I can’t tell you what.”

“How roguish of you.”

“What’s your name? I told you mine.”

“I didn’t ask for yours.” He gives her a petulant look and she rolls her eyes. “Betha. My name is Betha.”

“If I promise not to talk, can I stay, Betha?” he asks.

She looks him up and down, from his stupid shaved head to his leather boots. She doesn’t particularly want to have this Egg here, but then again, if her mother asks she could say she met a boy and it wouldn’t be a lie.

“Very well,” she consents. “You can stay.”

Chapter Text

He’s pretty. She notices that first; it would be hard not to, even if the entire realm hadn’t always talked about his beauty, which it does. The silver prince, the songs call him, more beautiful than the dragonlords of old, with a voice that puts the nightingale to shame.

He is beautiful, she’s not about to deny such a thing, but almost unnervingly so, in a way. A perfectly shaved jaw, skin unmarred by scars, hair artfully pulled back from his face, not a flaw to speak of. His smile to her is subdued, his eyes doleful. She’d heard that about him, too, that being born amidst the conflagration at Summerhall had cast a curse of melancholy over him.

“Princess Elia,” he greets. “I am pleased to meet you at last.”

“The pleasure is mine, Your Grace.”

“Rhaegar, please,” he says, offering her his arm. She takes it and they begin walking along the grounds, the castle of Storm’s End stalwart against the spray of the sea. “How are you enjoying your travels?”

“Well enough,” she says. “But I’m afraid I’m not made for living north of the Red Mountains. It’s far too cold and with far too little sun here.”

Rhaegar glances upward and squints against the light. “The sun seems to be shining just fine.”

“Only someone who has not been to Dorne could say that. This wouldn’t even qualify for Kingsgrave, let alone Sunspear. Just as well for you, though, I fear you would burn that pale skin of yours.”

“I suspect you’re right,” he says. “Still, there must be some things you like.”

She looks around, trying to come up with something. “Well, it’s greener.”

“I hope to persuade you to appreciate more than that before the tourney’s out,” he laughs.

She hopes her smile is convincing. She’s no fool, she knows her mother has been sending letters back and forth to the queen, and with the Baratheons’ tragic end, Aerys’s well-known desire for a girl with Valyrian ancestor, and the fact that she is two-and-twenty yet still unattached, the answer is plain. She wouldn’t have been dragged up here for a stormlands tourney if it weren’t for some grander purpose, nor would her mother look so damned gleeful. For the first time, she wishes she could scrub Daenerys’s blood from her veins.

“Is that hope because I am to be your bride?” she asks him. “You needn’t pretend, Rhaegar, we both know why I am here.”

“Yes, I am to make the announcement at the final feast,” he says. “Do I dissatisfy you?”

“Why, I hardly know you, my prince,” she jests. “I cannot be expected to love you after ten minutes, can I?”

And I shan’t ever, she thinks but doesn’t say. She’d given her heart away a long time ago, and never really got it back.

“No, certainly not. Mayhaps friendship is more in order?”

“Friendship,” she agrees. “I think I can manage that.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t understand.” Surely this is a dream of some kind. It couldn’t not be a dream. He stares at the three youths in front of him and, more unbelievably, at the beasts resting at their sides. He’d envisioned a scene such as this since he was a child, but most certainly not this scene. He’d thought it would be himself and his siblings once, and then had been dead positive it would be his children, not…this.

“I named mine Vhagar,” says Dany, gleeful next to her black-and-scarlet dragon. “Visenya was a great warrior.”

“Nymeria,” says Doran’s boy next to his cream-and-gold. “She united all of Dorne.”

The woman with the green-and-bronze dragon is most mystifying of all to him. “Green,” says Mya Stone with a careless shrug. “He likes it.”

Indeed, the dragon chirrups when she says its name, and Rhaegar wants to go drown himself in the Blackwater.

Chapter Text

“He was a good man, a great man, and could have been the noblest king the realm has ever known…”

Elia’s glad custom dictates she wear a black veil, for it means no one can see her rolling her eyes at the High Septon’s speech. Has the civil war her widower began vanished from everyone’s memories already? If only they’d known what Rhaegar had planned, mayhaps they would not be so gracious. But then again, they hate her very existence, so mayhaps they would pay it no mind.

Elia places a white rose on Rhaegar’s body and leans down as though to give him a final kiss. “You’ll rot in the seven hells for what you’ve done,” she whispers. “The world is well rid of you, my dearest husband.”

The queen is next with a rose, her newborn daughter in her arms, and though her good-mother looks sad as she gazes upon her eldest son, there is grim acceptance there, too. Rhaegar had once been Rhaella’s salvation, and then had turned into her nightmare. After Viserys and Rhaenys both place their own roses, the High Septon says some more decorative words and lights the pyre on which Rhaegar’s bier rests. Rhaella turns away from the fire—Elia can’t blame her, after Aerys’s proclivities—but she watches his corpse go up in flames and feels the final burden lift from her chest.

At the funeral feast afterwards, Elia is the perfect hostess a she fields innumerable condolences from courtiers who never knew him. They’re kinder than they ever were, and she sees through it in a trice; she’s the Queen Regent now, and it is she they must appeal to to earn any favor at all. When finally she gets a reprieve, she locates the woman in the gray veil she’d seen at the funeral. She’d never met her before today, not in person, but she knows exactly who it is.

She stands at her side, but neither of them looks at the other, knowing there can never be a connection drawn. “I appreciate your assistance, Lady Lyanna,” says Elia.

“Thank you for allowing me to assist,” replies the wolf girl. “No one suspects?”

“No, not even the maester,” she answers. “A burst vessel in the brain, he said, an unfortunate death but a natural one.”

“I underestimated your skill.”

“My brother is not the only one who can brew poison.” She smiles to herself. “But it is you who delivered it, and quite well.”

“It was my pleasure.”

“The ship is ready to take you. The Queen’s Gambit, it’s called. You’ll find provisions on board. Braavos, you said?”

“Yes, I’d like a new start,” says Lyanna. “Jon will know nothing of his father, I can promise you that.”

“Then I wish you both the best. Do be sure to write if you need anything.”

“I will.” Elia doesn’t have to look at her to know she’s grinning. “To King Aegon, long may he reign.”

“And to Rhaegar,” adds Elia, “the King Who Never Was.”

Chapter Text

It’s the cold that hits her first. The nervousness is a close second, as much as she wishes she didn’t have any. She’s been preparing for this trip for months, ever since she passed her sixteenth name day, yet now that she’s here, gazing up at seven hundred feet of ice and, more importantly, about to set eyes on him after all this time, she feels a shameful urge to run and never turn back.

But she’s a Martell, and she’s a Targaryen, and she will not cower.

One long blast rings out from the top of the guard tower, an indication of riders approaching. She glances to her right where Uncle Lewyn sits on his destrier, and he gives her an encouraging nod. Ser Daemon Sand also accompanies her as Dorne’s finest sword, and out of courtesy Lord Stark had sent Ser Rodrik Cassel to escort them north. The castellan has not shown them any disrespect, which is more than she can say for some of the others in Winterfell and the winter town they passed through. Oh, none had been outright hostile—she is the sister to the king, after all—but more than a few had shown her that her family continues to be blamed for what her father and grandfather did. She’d tried not to take it personally, but still it stung. It’s not her fault that all this happened, and it’s not her mother’s fault either.

Lord Stark, though, at least he had greeted them cordially. His lady wife had been gracious beyond measure, and she’d met the children as well; from his heir Robb, near to her age, down to the littlest one, a babe still in arms. Lady Lyanna, Lord Stark had said, had left on a hunting trip for a few days; Rhaenys hadn’t doubted the trip was made on purpose, though she was admittedly glad that it was.

She’s jarred from her thoughts by the sound of the two massive gates opening, revealing some men of the Watch headmanned by who she assumes is the Lord Commander. He certainly looks like he’s from Bear Island, not that she’s met someone from there before.

She gracefully dismounts, Ser Rodrik, Ser Daemon, and Uncle Lewyn after her, and they all hand off their horses to the men. Lord Commander Mormont nods respectfully to her. “Your Grace, we are honored.”

“The honor is mine, Lord Mormont,” she replies. “Your service here is invaluable. If you’d be so kind as to show me around?”

Ostensibly, her trip is to assess the state of the Watch—see what or who they need, for the crown hasn’t made a trip here since her great-great-grandfather did as a boy—but it escapes no one’s notice that it had not been a representative of the crown, but the daughter of one of the black brothers.

The Watch is in a sorrier state than she ever expected, shockingly so, and she intends to have her mother send the necessary supplies and men. The Others are a myth, of course, but the wildlings are no laughing matter. Mormont had told her they’d seen increasing raids and there are rumblings of a King Beyond the Wall.

It is too late for a visit by the time they finish the walkabout, and her sleep is restless despite the plethora of furs and the roaring fire. At the crack of dawn, she stops the first man she comes across and commands, “Show me to him.”

He doesn’t bother playing dumb, nor refusing her, and he promptly brings her not to the barracks but to the library. He’s the only one there, and she’s not surprised—by the looks of the men here, he’s the only one who’s stepped foot amongst the books in years.

“Hello, Father.”

She feels a catch in her chest as she sets eyes on him. He looks older, but otherwise the same as she remembers. Same silver-gold hair, same indigo eyes, same lean frame, same air of sadness that she’d always wanted to fix when she was little. Beautiful still, far more handsome than all his black brothers combined, but…weary. Human.

“Rhaenys.” He doesn’t move for several seconds, and then rushes over and pulls her into his arms for the first time since she was no higher than his knee. He’s warm, and smells of smoke like he always used to.

She’s not sure what to feel. She recalls well what it was like to be loved by him as a child, he had been her favorite person in all the world and she had been his, but now…she doesn’t know. It feels different. She returns the hug, but it’s almost perfunctory, a duty she has to perform.

He leans down to kiss her forehead and murmurs, “I am gladdened to see you.”

“I didn’t come here for you.”

“Didn’t you?”

She doesn’t look away, but it’s a near thing. She hadn’t thought she was so transparent, but being right here in front of him, finally, the child in her is tempted to see only her papa, not the crown prince who nearly destroyed their entire family. How could two so very different men live in the same body? How could the man who had made her feel so safe be the same one who ran off with a girl of five-and-ten?

She steps back from him and rallies her courage. “Why did you do it?” she asks. “Thirteen years and I’ve never understood and I need you to tell me. Why were we not enough for you? Was it me? Was it Mother? Egg? Why did you leave us? All for a girl younger than I am? Why? Did you truly abandon us for some ancient fairy tale you read in a book? You risked our lives for that?”

“It was never you, you have to know that,” he says. “Of course you were enough. It was never…I love you, Rhaenys. You’re my little girl.”

“I needed you!” she cries. “I was scared and I needed my father, and you weren’t there. You said you’d always be there for me and you weren’t!”

Father shuts his eyes as though her words are swords. “I never intended for this to turn out the way it did. Not the war, not Lord Rickard or Lord Brandon, I didn’t intend any of it.”

“I don’t care. I don’t care what you intended, the fact is your decisions could have killed us all.”

“I know, Rhaenys,” he says wearily. “I know. Do you think I’ve spent a decade here not wondering where it all went wrong? Every day I wish I could change the way things ended up, every day I wish I could fix things with you, and with your mother too.”

“Don’t waste your breath. The gods will not listen, nor will we.”

“Starfish, I—”

“Don’t call me that!” she yells, near hysterics despite all her efforts. “You don’t get to call me that.”

“All right.” He gives her a sad smile. “You look just like your mother, you know. You have all her beauty, and her fire. I see very little of myself in you.”

“That disappoints you, does it? I’m not some silver princess?”

Father goes quiet. “Surely Elia has told you of the day we presented you at court?” Rhaenys does look away now. Mother had told her, as it happens. “My father wouldn’t even touch you, he said I should leave you outside, that you weren’t worth the Targaryen name. I told him you were as much a Targaryen as I am and that I wouldn’t change one hair on your head. I would move heaven and earth for you.”

“But you didn’t,” she snarls against the tears that threaten to well in her eyes. “You tossed me aside.”

“So this is it then?” Father asks. “You’ll hate me forever?”

“You have only yourself to blame. Don’t you dare ask my forgiveness.”

“Unbowed, unbent, unbroken,” says Father resignedly. “No, I do not expect your forgiveness, my daughter.”

She looks him up and down, once more fighting the urge to overlook it all, to pretend it never happened, to be a child again who thought he hung the moon in the sky. But suppress it she does. “Goodbye, Father.”

She manages to make it to the stables before the tears finally overwhelm her.

Chapter Text

7. “I dreamt about you last night.”

If he thought about it, he would think it inappropriate that he spends more time with Catelyn than Brandon does, that the brightest days of his week are when they share a lit class even though he’s very, very bad at it, that more times than he cares to admit he’s had the urge to run his fingers through her thick auburn hair.

If he thought about it, which he doesn’t. Because thinking about it would mean acknowledging that he’s in love with his brother’s girlfriend, and that is something he will not do.

She meets him in the North Hall atrium as she does every Monday and Wednesday, her cheeks pink from the cold and her face in a scowl. “How is it ten degrees outside and you look like you could stay out here for hours?”

Ned shrugs. “I like the cold.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed. The whole lot of you Starks are crazy, that’s what I say.”

Ned merely smiles. He holds the door for her and they find their seats; unassigned, technically, but theirs nonetheless. Ned glances at her out of the corner of his eye as she de-layers, shimmying out of her coat, hoodie, and scarf until she’s left in just a navy turtleneck that matches her eyes.

“Oh, I meant to tell you!” she exclaims. “I dreamt about you last night.”

“A-About me?” he asks, officially no longer paying attention to the lecture.

“Yeah, I thought it was strange, too,” she says. “I can’t even really remember what happened, just that you were in it with me.”

“Was it…a good dream?”

“Of course,” she laughs. “How could a dream with you in it ever be bad? You’re the best man I know, Ned.”

“Apart from Brandon, you mean.”

Catelyn’s face falls. “Including Brandon,” she sighs. “I know he drinks too much and I know he hasn’t been faithful. You must think me stupid for staying with him.”

“You’re not stupid, Cat. You love him, that’s all.”

“I…I don’t know that I do anymore,” she whispers, as though confessing to a capital crime. “I think I have feelings for someone else.”

“Who?” Ned’s heart is beating in double-time. The way she’s looking at him, he would almost think she means him, if he didn’t know better. And he does know better. She’d never fall for dull, boring, plain Ned who’s far beneath her league, certainly not after Brandon.

She opens her mouth to respond, but the professor’s voice rings out, “Mr. Stark, Ms. Tully, if you’d like to converse then do so outside my class, not during it.”

Catelyn flushes bright red—he wonders if she’s ever been reprimanded before—but Ned can’t stop wondering who she means. Jason Mallister, maybe? She’d mentioned once that her lab partner is handsome, and he’s on the rowing team, too.

Still, for all that he’s no Brandon or Jason, her words echo in his ears like a song on repeat:

I dreamt about you.

Chapter Text

He expects to see Matarys, when he dies. He expects to see Grandfather, and Mother, and Father, but Mat most of all. He has to apologize. He’d called his brother stupid one night then Mother had sent them to bed, and by morning Mother was dead—she must have been ill long before that, but she never let on—and Mat was unconscious. It took a day for him to die, and Valarr himself followed within the week.

I didn’t mean any of it, Mat, he wants to say. You look so much like Father that it was easier for me to be cruel to you, but I didn’t mean it.

Instead, all he sees is white. No family, no nothing, just endless white.

“Is anyone here?” he calls out. He turns in a circle, but still—nothing. White, and silence. “Anyone? What is this?”

Is this to be his punishment? Are the gods shaming him for not living up to his father? The great Baelor Breakspear, invincible, the Warrior reborn, handsome, charming, generous, the greatest crown prince of them all…Valarr is none of that. He’s only ever had a shred of any of those. Handsome enough, charming enough, skilled enough, but never special.

He would never know true renown, never know what it feels like to triumph legitimately over a fearsome opponent like Father did over Daemon Blackfyre. He would only ever draw the easy matches, or opponents who throw the tilt to make him look good.

Mat had been the one who showed signs of having their father’s prowess. The master-at-arms had been genuinely proud when Mat accomplished something, where it was almost always resignation when he trained Valarr.

Surely, this must be the gods’ wrath for his sins. What kind of older brother is envious of his younger? What kind of future king lets men lose on purpose against him? Mayhaps his son will be his better, if he has one. Kiera should be safe, she’ll have made it to Dragonstone by now, and Aerys has the most talented maesters in the realm. Perhaps Valarr can be the father of a great king, at least. That’s better than having no legacy to speak of, is it not?

It’s as he’s pondering this that a flash of black catches his eye, and he scrambles to find it again. “Mat?” he asks aloud. It had looked like his brother’s hair, dark and long. “Matarys! Where are you? Brother!”

And then he sees it again, and he runs towards it—then pitches forward. He shuts his eyes against a fall that never comes, and when he opens them, the white is gone. Or, rather, different. He’s staring up at the pristine white walls of a giant castle, and instantly sounds assault his ears, sounds and color.

Could it be this was all just a fever dream? Could it be he’d just passed out and now he’s…all right, he’s not sure where he is, but it feels real. A woman holding the hand of a small child approaches him and he hurries towards her. “My lady, I’ve lost my way,” he says. “Could you tell me where I am?”

She doesn’t reply, doesn’t even look at him. Well, she’s rude, but he does take after his father in looks far more than his mother; perhaps the woman didn’t like that. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had regarded him in disdain. The figure with the black hair is no longer in sight, but then Valarr sees a different figure, a pair of figures—a small boy with a shaved head, and a man at least half a foot taller than Father.

Joy blooms in his chest as he sprints across the field. If they’re here, then no doubt he is here, too! “Cousin! Ser Duncan!” he yells. “Cousin, I’m all right, see?” But Egg doesn’t look at him either, nor the knight, despite the fact that Valarr is right in front of them. “Egg? Egg, can’t…can’t you see me?”

“Come, lad,” says Ser Duncan. “Let’s find a place.”

They walk forward—no, through. Egg walks through him, as though he’s…he’s…

Abruptly, the boy whirls around with a frown, and shivers. “Lad?” prompts Ser Duncan. “What is it?”

“I just felt…cold for a moment,” says Egg. He shakes his head and turns back around. “Forget it, ser.”

“Aegon!” he tries one last time, but the boy and his knight keep walking, perfectly oblivious, and Valarr feels his feeble hope shatter into a thousand pieces.

This isn’t real. No, he isn’t real. He’s some kind of specter or ghost or something. Is this the destiny the gods chose for him? Is he to spend eternity as a haunt? Is he bound to this castle or to Egg? Or is he bound to nothing? And what had become of the glimmer of Mat that he’d seen? Or had that not been Mat at all? But if not Mat, then who?

He feels a curious pull then, like a string yanked taut, and with a forlorn glance at his retreating cousin, he lets the feeling guide him through the grounds and into the castle, up a winding staircase and into someone’s chambers, and then the pull stops. He looks around, confused, only to see a man emerge from behind a dressing screen, a man with dark hair. But it’s not Mat, not remotely. This man has skin near as pale as the walls of the castle, and eyes like Egg’s. There’s something familiar about him, too, but Valarr can’t place it.

“Why am I here?” he cries heavenward. “What do you want from me?”

There’s no answer, of course there isn’t, and as Valarr tries to leave—maybe if he talks to Egg again, he can make him hear—he finds that his feet are bound to the floor. He stares at the black-haired man in the room again; is this who he’s supposed to haunt?

“Who are you?” he asks.

He’s spared from wondering much longer when a pudgy man with lank blond hair enters the room and closes the door. “Alyn,” greets the black-haired man. “How is it looking?”

“No one you shouldn’t be able to best, Your Grace.” Valarr feels as though someone has staved in his chest. Your Grace? No…it couldn’t be…

“I will show them all that I am my father’s son,” says the man. Says Daemon Blackfyre. Valarr knows now why he’d been struck with that odd feeling earlier. He hasn’t seen Daemon since…gods, since they were children. It had only been once, but Valarr remembers the boy as goodnatured, friendly even. Everything his sire was not.

Valarr finds he has no choice but to follow Daemon through the tourney, listen as he tells everyone he is John the Fiddler, as he becomes smitten with Ser Duncan of all people. He nearly loses his mind when Egg is endangered, but somehow, some way, his cousin comes through alive, as does the hedge knight and even brave, broken Glendon Flowers. Valarr almost sobs in relief when he sees the army crest the hill; for the first time in a week, the gods let him leave Daemon’s side, and it is to Lord Bloodraven’s tent he rushes. He’s his last hope, his only hope.

“Uncle,” Valarr tries, once they’re alone.

He doesn’t know why he’s bothering, in truth. The woman hadn’t heard him, Egg hadn’t heard him, why would Lord Bloodraven be any different? Except the Hand tilts his head curiously, and looks around the room that to his reckoning is perfectly empty, and Valarr’s breath catches.

“Uncle Brynden, can you hear me? It’s Valarr. Please, tell me you at least can hear me.”

Bloodraven’s voice is little more than a murmur. “Baelor’s boy…”

Yes,” Valarr exclaims. “Yes, it’s me! I’m trapped, uncle. You have to help me. Your magic—it can free me from this place, can’t it?”

He lurches forward and touches Bloodraven’s arm. He doesn’t shiver like Egg did, but his hand clenches into a fist and then relaxes. “This is the work of the gods,” he says. “They have taken you where I cannot reach, little prince.”

Valarr sinks to the floor, feeling more hopeless than ever. Bloodraven extends his hand, and for a moment, Valarr could swear he could feel his uncle’s palm on his shoulder, solid and warm. “What am I to do?”

He doesn’t have to see Bloodraven’s frown to know the connection has been severed. He lets out a scream heard by no one and his vision goes white, the same whiteness as when he’d first entered this astral hell, and then he’s gone from Bloodraven’s tent and instead in a dank cellar.

No, not a cellar, a cell, lit by not so much as a torch. Valarr would think himself alone, were it not for the faint breaths of a figure curled up on the floor. Valarr crouches down and tries to identify his companion, but he can’t make out a single feature.

“Who’s there?” asks the figure, jolting upright. His voice is a rasp, but Valarr recognizes it nonetheless.

“Daemon?” These are unmistakably the Black Cells, so if Daemon is here, it must have been Lord Bloodraven’s doing. He supposes he can’t blame him. As much as Daemon is not like his father, he had nevertheless attempted a coup against the crown. Valarr leans against the stone wall and grumbles, “I’m stuck with you again, am I?”

“Who’s there?”

“Prince Valarr,” he sighs. Bloodraven had heard him, sort of, but Daemon is no mage. “It’s Prince Valarr and I’m a bloody ghost and the gods want me to spend forever in this accursed place. At least you’re alive.”

Daemon shudders, though Valarr doesn’t know if it’s because of him or the cell. “Are you here to hurt me?”

“No,” says Valarr, not that Daemon can hear him. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”

“Then I’m glad you’re here, whatever you are. I am glad to not be alone. Will you stay?”

Valarr doubts he could leave anyway, but he finds himself feeling sorry for the man. Perhaps Daemon had not wanted to rebel because he wanted to usurp the throne, but because he felt he had no choice. Perhaps Daemon had always felt beholden to his father’s legacy the same way Valarr had. Perhaps they are not so different. At least Father had not named Valarr after himself.

“I’ll stay.”


He doesn’t know how long he stays, exactly, even though Father had taught him how to measure time without the sun. He supposes the cells were designed that way, or maybe being dead has something to do with it. What he does know is that Daemon’s health steadily begins to decline as time passes.

He had talked aloud at first, meaningless drivel or stories of his time in Tyrosh, or anecdotes about his father that had made Valarr’s fists clench in righteous anger. But not at this Daemon, never at this one. The talking dwindles, though, and Daemon spends more and more time asleep, and more than once he refuses the food the gaoler brings him even though he’s only fed weekly.

He’s going to die, Valarr realizes. And then what? Will the gods be satisfied at forcing me to watch a man starve to death? And what of Bittersteel? Is he to crown Haegon with Daemon dead? Will the circle go round and round and round forever, Blackfyre against Targaryen until no one’s left?

He had already watched so many perish, and he’s tired. Can ghosts get tired? Somehow, he knows Daemon is the answer, he has to be.

In all this time, he’s never touched Daemon; the cells are cold enough as it is, and he’s never wanted to make his companion any colder. But he touches him now, to wake him from his slumber. “Get up,” he commands. “I’m getting you out of here and you will live, and you will renounce all claims to the throne. Aerys will not listen, so you will go to my uncle Maekar at Summerhall and you will act in good faith as your father never did. You will help my uncle eradicate Bittersteel. The Blackfyres will never again threaten my family, do you understand?”

Daemon is so quiet that Valarr thinks he’s fallen asleep again, but then, in scarcely a whisper— “I understand.”

Valarr doesn’t know how the information comes to him, how he knows to tell Daemon which hinges are rusted through or where the secret passage is or any of it. Daemon’s movements are clumsy from exhaustion and malaise, but he follows Valarr’s instructions to the letter and finally emerges from the passageway into the dark of night.

“Summerhall,” Valarr commands again. “Go to Summerhall.”

Daemon nods and Valarr closes his eyes. When he opens them again, it is not the white he saw before, but his little brother.

Chapter Text

“Mama, it’s so dark. I can’t see anything.”

“I know, baby, just a bit longer.”

Truthfully, she doesn’t know how much farther they have to go. She and Oberyn had stumbled upon the passageway many, many years ago, but they’d been children and had only traveled a few minutes before they got nervous and turned back. She doesn’t even know where this goes exactly, but it will at least take them out of the Red Keep, and right now that’s all that concerns her. The image of those men climbing the walls of the Holdfast she’d always been told was impenetrable is seared in her mind.

Rhaenys grips her hand tightly, while Aegon is blessedly silent as he rests in the sling on her back. He hasn’t cried once since they entered the tunnel, like he knows their lives depend on staying unheard.

After what seems an eternity, a glimmer of light appears ahead, and Elia approaches warily, fearing that they could emerge only to find themselves in the midst of Lord Tywin’s men.

But instead, as she peers this way and that, the street is eerily empty. She can’t get her bearings at first, but then she spots the sign of a tavern whose name she vaguely recalls Ser Barristan mentioning once in passing as a place for drunks and malcontents. She supposes they must have joined the army in looting the city.

Just as well for her.

“Come on,” she urges Rhaenys. “Hurry, darling.”

Scarves cover their heads, a thin attempt to shield them from prying eyes, but she knows it would only help for passing glances. There aren’t many Dornishwomen in the capital, and none but her with two small children in tow. She hurries them along the cobbled streets and finally comes across one she knows. A brothel is no place for babes, but for this one Elia would make an exception.

She bangs on the door desperately, hearing the sounds of soldiers frighteningly near, and then finally a woman opens it a crack. “Who are you?”

“Is Melessa here?” she asks. It’s a vain hope; she knows her uncle’s paramour helps the girls as a midwife and caregiver now and again, but luck would have to be on her side.

As it happens, luck is not. “No. You a friend of Missy’s?”

“Yes, very much so,” says Elia. “Get Chataya, then. She knows me. I need shelter until I can safely get out of the city.”

“This is no inn.”

Get her,” Elia demands.

The woman looks about to protest again, but then the door is pulled wide open, and Elia sighs in relief to see the madam standing there. “Come inside, quickly.”

“I pray I need not impose upon you for long,” says Elia. “I do not wish to put you in danger.”

“Never mind that,” says Chataya as she draws her into a warm embrace. “You are safe here, princess.”

Chapter Text

Organization is not Jena’s forte, but by god does she pride herself on maintaining a well-stocked medicine cabinet.

The action more familiar than she’d like, she hauls the veritable cornucopia of supplies onto the kitchen table and points at the chair opposite hers. “Sit.”

Baelor obliges, looking much like a sullen child. His nose is a mess, the bleeding only marginally quelled by the mountain of tissues he’s gone through. It’s already starting to turn black and blue, too.

“You didn’t even ice it?” she chides. “One of these days, I’m going to refuse to do this for you and send you to your mother instead.”

He smiles as much as his split lip will allow. “No you won’t.”

“I should. Now don’t move.” He’s a good patient, at the very least, staying perfectly still as she pokes and prods and douses the injury with various disinfectants. Once she’s done with her examination, she grabs him a bag of frozen peas to keep down the swelling. “Well, I don’t think it’s broken this time, but only barely. Care to tell me what happened? I thought rec hockey was supposed to be non-contact.”

“What do you think?” Baelor’s easy affability is gone, replaced with the kind of dark anger she knows is caused by only one thing.

She busies herself cleaning up the medical supplies as she tries to stop from getting worked up herself. “Who said it?”

“Some guy on the other team. I don’t know his name.”

“Retaliation isn’t like you.”

“I wasn’t going to,” he says. “But you know Maekar, he’s on a hair trigger when it comes to stuff like that. I’d have let him at it, but Anna’s due any day now and I didn’t want him to come home looking like, well, me.”

Jena feels her heart melting. She’s always loved the bond he has with his brother, though she herself has only rarely seen past Maekar’s thorny exterior. Careful not to hurt him, she leans forward and presses a gentle kiss to his lips. “I love how much you care,” she says. “You’re a good man.”

“I bet you won’t think so tonight.”

Jena scoffs. “You already sound like a car wreck, your snoring couldn’t possibly get any worse.”

Turns out, it can.

She knows if she were to wake him up and complain he’d readily go sleep on the couch, but she’d rather put up with the noise than an empty bed. Chuckling to herself, she retrieves from her bedside table a pair of earplugs, then snuggles up to Baelor and lets the steady rise and fall of his chest lull her to sleep.

Chapter Text

The Night’s Watch has gone from sullen workers to gossiping fishwives from one night to the next, that’s the first thing he notices. Rhaegar normally doesn’t bother with that kind of talk—what does he care what asinine matters they discuss?—but this time, it attracts his attention. Rather, a word catches his attention.

Dragons.

He bursts into Uncle Aemon’s quarters, desperate for clarification. “What is this the men are saying?” he asks. “There are dragons?”

Aemon takes his time answering. “Yes, three have hatched in King’s Landing,” he says calmly.

“So I was right, we were right!” Rhaegar exclaims. An excited buzzing the likes he hasn’t felt since the night Aegon was conceived begins to fill his veins. “Uncle, we were right.”

“No, dear boy. No, we were very wrong. It is Daenerys the dragons hatched for.”

It takes several seconds for Rhaegar to understand what his uncle is saying. “Daenerys,” he repeats. “Well, all right, that’s—still, Dany, Rhaenys, and Aegon, then—”

“No,” says Aemon again. “The dragons did not bond to them.”

“But…but then who—?”

Aemon chuckles. An incredulous chuckle, to be sure, but devoid of Rhaegar’s befuddlement. “They are unexpected, that much can be said. If the rumors are indeed true, it’s Doran Martell’s boy and Robert Baratheon’s natural daughter from the Vale.”

Rhaegar wishes to all the gods that his world would stop being continuously upended—first his sentencing to the Wall, then Oberyn’s visit informing him that Elia had birthed not only a girl but a bastard girl, then Rhaenys’s tearful anger, and now this. He would think Aemon jesting, but his uncle has never been much of a jester, and definitely not about this.

“They all have the dragon blood, you see,” explains Aemon unnecessarily. “Through Princess Daenerys and mine own niece.”

“Yes, I know my history.” Rhaegar massages his temples. “This can’t possibly be happening.”

“You know better than most how fickle prophecies can be,” says Aemon. “First we thought it was you, and then your son. What hubris we had to ever think we could see the truth of it.”

Uncle,” Rhaegar objects. “You can’t say this is well and good. Oberyn said Prince Quentyn is as shy as they come, and there can’t be a bastard dragonrider!”

Aemon raises an eyebrow. “No? Have I imagined the dragonseeds of our past?” he asks facetiously. “Dragons bonded to them, why not to this Mya Stone?” Aemon feebly touches his arm. “It matters not who rides the dragons so long as the Others are defeated.”

He knows Aemon’s right. Conceptually, he knows that. But to know it and to accept it, to accept that his entire life he’s been so wrong, is another matter entirely. He supposes Elia must be happy; she had never believed in the prophecy to begin with, had feared for the safety of their children no matter his assurances.

Rhaegar feels a headache coming on with a dragon’s vengeance—again.

Chapter Text

No matter what the rest of Westeros may think of Dornishmen, no matter that Oberyn knows sometimes he jumps into things without an exit, he’s no fool—when he enters this place, he knows exactly what it is. He also knows exactly what to say:

“Shit.”

“It’s the gloating that got you killed,” comes a voice replete with the harsh accents of the North. Oberyn hasn’t seen Brandon Stark in half a lifetime, but he looks the same as he did twenty years ago, feet propped up on a table as he whittles.

“You’re one to talk.” They’re both dead; there’s no need for delicacy or decorum, so far as Oberyn’s concerned. “What kind of fucking moron charges into King’s Landing and demands of the Mad King his son’s head?”

“At least I didn’t rub my victory in his face before I actually had the victory.”

It vaguely strikes Oberyn as downright ridiculous that the minute he gets to the afterlife, he vaults into an argument with Brandon Stark of all people, but he’s rarely been one to question his own actions. He opens his mouth to argue, but then a new voice, a resonant, commanding one, cuts through the air.

“Children,” says Mariah Martell, primly playing tiles with Queen Alysanne, “has it occurred to you that there is someone else you ought to be mad at rather than each other?”

“Ah, yes,” says Oberyn, wondering why this wasn’t the first thing he did. “Where is the dragon prince these days?”

“I don’t know,” says Brandon. “In all this time I’ve never seen him.”

“Oh, honestly,” scoffs Alysanne. She clears her throat and calls out, “Rhaegar, dearest, come here, won’t you?”

“Shouldn’t you be protecting him, not helping us?” Brandon asks.

All Alysanne has to do is raise one silver eyebrow and Brandon quiets like a kicked dog. “I never let my own husband get away with being a right bastard, do you really think I’d let my distant grandson do so?”

“It’s rather impressive, causing the downfall of our entire house,” puts in Rhaenyra, appearing seemingly out of nowhere with a glass of wine in her ghostly hand. “At least I had a good reason to go to war.”

“Yes, you did,” placates Mariah. “But that’s in the past now.”

No one has a chance to bicker further, for Rhaegar appears next, harp in hand. “You called?”

“Indeed.” Alysanne quirks her head in their direction. “These boys would like to speak with you.”

Rhaegar follows her motion and gives them an uneasy smile. “Oh. Hello.”

“Same time?” Oberyn asks his new companion.

Brandon grins. “Same time.”

Mariah’s request to not break any of the furniture falls on deaf ears.

Chapter Text

Let him be scared of me, she’d told Jon, with a bravado that had been genuine at the time. She’s a Karstark, and Karstarks are bred to be fearless.

She was able to ignore it through her wedding—the ceremony was something she was unused to, and she had to concentrate on the proceedings.

She was able to ignore it through the feast—a jovial atmosphere, dancing, wine, distractions.

She was even able to ignore it through her bedding—shouting insults in return, trying to maintain some form of dignity.

She can’t ignore it now.

She’s naked and her new husband is naked, and there’s no frivolities, no guests, no nothing to help her pretend it’s just another day. She knows in concept what comes next, but little else. She’d grown up in a household of men, who had told her nothing about her part in this except that she’s expected to shut up and take it, that she’s her husband’s property for him to do with as he likes. For all that she’d had to be hardened as someone of the North, she’s expected to be as gracious and helpless as some southron flower.

She’d had to be hardened, yes, but now…now she’s terrified.

She’s endured plenty of pain before, broken bones, gashes, her cycles, but this will be something different entirely. It’s that she’s saved herself for marriage, exactly, only that she’d never met a man she was inclined to let between her legs, but now she very much wishes she had.

She avoids looking at the Magnar—she cannot think of him as Sigorn, she cannot, not with this—as she lies back on the bed, stiff as a board. She attempts to relax, but trying only makes it worse. She shuts her eyes, hoping that would make it easier. Maybe if she doesn’t have to see his face, if she doesn’t know when he’s to shove inside her, perhaps that would be better.

Except minutes pass, and she feels nothing, hears nothing. Cautiously she opens her eyes and finds that he’s standing where she left him, simply looking at her. Not staring, not ogling, not judging, just…looking. Like he had at their wedding, like he had during their dance.

“You…not want,” he says in his broken Common Tongue. He gestures to her and then himself and adds, “You not want Magnar.”

“No, it’s…” He’s been kind enough to her so far, but then, many men are decent during the day, and not so during the night. “I don’t…know how.”

He frowns, as though trying to translate her words. “Magnar will show.”

She eyes him warily as he gets onto the bed, and it takes all her conviction not to cover herself, not to fight him off like she’d been trained. Show, she expects to mean take.

But that is not what he does.

With a tenderness that almost makes her forget how many people he’s killed, he runs his finger down her cheek, across her lips, then trails his hand down to her breast. Slowly, patiently. He looks up at her; she’d never realized that there’s blue in his gray eyes, how young he is now that he’s no more clothed than she, no weapon in his hand nor violence twisting his mouth. She’d never asked his age, but by her reckoning he can’t be that much older than she. Certainly not the twice-her-elder lord she’d grown up anticipating.

His other hand slides down her side, though no lower. Instead he leans down and kisses between her breasts, kisses the curve of the one his hand is not caressing. She feels her blood warm, feels pulses of…pleasure where he touches her.

He pauses again and asks, “Stop?”

Heart pounding, she shakes her head. “Don’t stop.”

Her body is thrumming, singing by the time his hand finally touches her center, still as methodical as he was in the beginning. It is her who asks him to enter her and—it doesn’t hurt, hardly at all, nothing like what she’d been told. He’s gentle, only losing himself at the very end when she’s overcome by a sensation she’s never before felt, one she can’t describe, and when he pulls out of her she can do nothing but lie there boneless. She aches, but it’s a good ache.

When she eventually has the strength to move, she turns her head to look at him, and gives him a languid smile. Her Old Tongue is even worse than his Common, but she wraps her tongue around the syllables as best she can and murmurs, I want.

Chapter Text

She boards a ship the moment word reaches Dragonstone that Aerys’s heart had finally given out after his latest bout of fury.

No one in King’s Landing is quite sure what to do—Rhaegar is gods know where, and her babe is scarcely a few months old. Elia doesn’t know what to do either, save for one thing.

Fortunately she has enough clout through her marriage for the gaoler to obey her, and he leads her down through oppressive gloom to the black cells. That alone has her fuming. The Lord of Winterfell and his son in the black cells? The ones reserved for the worst of criminals? Lord Rickard had done nothing but answer Aerys’s call, and what Lord Brandon had done was—well, it was stupid, but did not warrant this.

They’re in adjacent cells, at least, the better for her to address them both. “Your Grace,” says Lord Rickard, unchecked surprise in his voice.

“Aerys is dead,” she says bluntly. “The queen is in required mourning, and so this has fallen to me. What Aerys did is…egregious. I am certain imprisonment was only the start of what he had planned for you.”

“What is it you plan to do?” asks Brandon. She is oddly amused to see that his time here has not lessened his brashness.

“Somehow, I doubt you and your faction—you have hardly been subtle with all your marriages and fostering, Lord Rickard, yes I know all about it—will let this lie, and I am no fool. I know we will not have many allies after all this. As such, I have come to you with a proposal.”

“Proposal?” asks Rickard.

“Yes. Rhaegar has proven to be wholly unworthy of leading the realm. In exchange for putting my son on the throne, Dorne will join your coalition and denounce Rhaegar. The Tyrells are weak, Lord Tywin is still licking his wounds over Lady Cersei, and the crownlands are divided. Should you refuse and your allies attempt to oust my son, Dorne will rise in active rebellion. Suffice it to say, that will turn out no better for you than it did for the Young Dragon.”

“Lyanna?” Brandon demands before his father can reply.

“She will return to Winterfell. I do not know what her motivations were, but the responsibility was Rhaegar’s to not engage. No harm shall befall her, not from me.” The men are silent, even Brandon. “I can give you time to consider, but not long. You understand the city is currently in crisis. Like as not lords are already scrambling over themselves to discuss Aegon’s regency.”

“No,” says Lord Rickard.

“No?” Elia straightens her back, feeling what little patience she’d had vanish. “Very well then. Let it not be said I didn’t give you a fair chance.”

She prepares to sweep out of the cells, but Lord Rickard calls out, “No, we do not need time to consider.”

Slowly she turns around, admittedly surprised. “You accept my offer? You will support my son’s claim freely and completely? I confess I did not expect such a ready concession.”

“Aerys was the one who overreached,” he says, “and Prince Rhaegar. You are not our enemy.”

“And you?” Elia asks Brandon. “You are the heir to Winterfell—will you uphold your father’s agreement when you become the lord?”

Brandon clenches his jaw, but all he says is, “I just want my sister back.”

“Good. Then I will take you at your word.”

“Do you know where she is?”

“No,” says Elia, “but I have a few ideas.”


It is a simple thing, in the end. Her Dornish guards round up the pyromancers and Aerys’s sycophants, and she directs Lord Robert’s army to the Prince’s Pass on Ashara’s intuition. It is the queen’s seal that is required before any action is to be taken, but Rhaella puts up no protest, save only that they take her son alive.

They do indeed, Lady Lyanna and the Kingsguard as well, and within a fortnight, her son is crowned King Aegon of Houses Targaryen and Martell, the Sixth of His Name.

Chapter Text

In the back of his mind, he knows it’s irrational to be worked up over this. It’s just a letter. A friendly one at that, from a boy—no, a man, now—he’s known two decades now. Yet despite that, seeing the surname, the red wax, the dragon seal, identical to the one his foster father had received all that time ago, it swirls a sense of panic inside him the likes of which he hadn’t felt since that day.

Catelyn’s hand is soothing on his shoulder, but her words barely reach him. “Ned, this isn’t like back then,” she tries. She’s been trying for an hour now. “It’s Aegon. You know him. He’s a good person.”

“I know, but—”

“And Robb’s been down there for ages, happily wed,” she reminds him. “There is no harm. Aegon is not Aerys, and the children are not Brandon and your father. ”

“I know, but—”

“They’re excited,” Catelyn wheedles. “Sansa can’t stop talking about court, Arya about their sand steeds, and Bran about the Kingsguard. Rickon’s excited to go anywhere at all. They’ll be devastated if you refuse them this.”

“Cat, I know,” he says. “I know it’s silly. It’s just—the last time a Targaryen demanded—”

Asked—

those of House Stark to the capital, look what happened.”

Catelyn sighs. “Then we’ll go with them,” she says. “Ser Rodrik can oversee Winterfell for a few months. Perhaps we can see the birth of our grandchild. Rhaenys hasn’t much longer to go.”

It still jars him, knowing that his son is wed to the king’s sister, to the daughter of the man who had set events into motion that robbed Ned of half his family. He had insisted, in the beginning, that it be Rhaenys who came north, but it had been Robb who stifled him on that. Letting his firstborn go to the Red Keep…it had taken many long nights with Catelyn just like this to calm him enough to accept it. Long nights, and the memory of the expression on Robb’s face whenever he looked at his princess.

“This is a request,” Catelyn presses. “Aegon would understand if you decide not to let them go, you know that.”

Yes, Ned acknowledges, he would.

“All right,” he says, even as every bone in his body wants to stop the words from leaving his mouth. “Tell the king to expect us.”

Chapter Text

The news comes to her only in pieces, no one quite certain how it all happened, and some reluctant to tell her at all, what with her so soon out of the birthing bed.

But learn it she does: shortly after Rhaegar left the castle in the middle of the night—nary a soul seems to know why—his horse threw a shoe, stumbled, and he was flung from his saddle. His head struck the rocks below in his fall, killing him instantly.

Then, hardly a week later, Aerys was careless when getting up from the throne and sliced open his arm, too deeply for the maesters to save him. Privately, she wonders exactly how hard they’d tried to save him, but she doesn’t voice such things.

They’re accidents, not murder, and yet they’re too coincidental for Elia to think them anything else but the work of the gods. The gods had stopped Rhaegar from doing something he oughtn’t, and they gave Aerys the fate they gave Maegor the Cruel.

She isn’t especially distressed over their deaths; she’s distressed over what she’s to do. Her son is king by rights, yet already she foresees the bloody battle she’ll have ahead of her, lords of all kinds stating she, a woman and Dornish besides, is no fit regent. Or perhaps the mysterious alliance network of the Starks, Tullys, Baratheons, and Arryns will finally make a move. Either way, she loses. Dorne alone does not have the power to counter that.

No, she would need allies of her own.

She had been unsure of whom to approach, for none of the remaining kingdoms are friends to Dorne, but then it comes to her. There is one person who is. Or at least, there used to be.

She leaves most of the Kingsguard at the Keep, but takes her uncle and Ser Barristan with her. Lewyn would likely have been protection enough, but certainly no one would dare attack such a famed warrior as Barristan the Bold.

The men guarding the gates of the Hightower are baffled at her presence, to say the least, but she speaks before they can sputter out any greeting. “I am here to see Ser Baelor,” she says. “I have a matter of great importance I’d like to discuss with him.”

“Does Your Grace mean Lord Leyton?” asks one of the guards. “Ser Baelor is not yet our liege.”

“Yes, I am aware, thank you. It is Ser Baelor whom I must meet. If you’ll be so kind?”

The guards look at each other, but evidently decide that it would be unwise to refuse. “Follow me,” says the elder of the two. “You may leave your horses, our stablemaster will attend to them.”


Baelor is as astounded to see her as the guards had been, but covers it with a bright, easy smile. He kisses her hand respectfully before drawing her into an embrace. “It’s been many a year, princess.”

“Nearly a decade, by my count,” she replies with a smile of her own.

She remembers well how enchanting he’d been. She’d have married him, and gladly, but her mother had summarily shut that door for reasons she’d never disclosed. He’s older—they both are—but he looks a man now, certainly no longer the boy he’d been on their first meeting. It suits him.

“Might I ask what happened to Lady Rhonda?” she inquires. “I thought you’d have wed by now, but the guards told me the betrothal was broken.”

“She ran away with one of the cook’s apprentices shortly after the pronouncement,” he laughs. “She sent me a note, though. Said it had naught to do with me, but she could not fathom wedding anyone but that apprentice. Patrek, he’s named. I heard from them not long ago, come to think of it. They’re living in a village in the westerlands.”

It’s so absurdly charming that Elia can’t help but laugh as well. “You are not offended?”

“My father was,” he says, “but I have the mad idea that a marriage should be made of willing participants.”

“Mm. Mad is not the word I’d use.”

If only my mother had held the same view.

“I am sorry to hear of your tragedies,” he says. “To lose the king and your husband in such short succession—”

“Yes, it was tragic.” She doesn’t bother trying to make her words convincing; she doesn’t think Baelor would believe them anyway.

He leans back in his chair, appraising her for a moment. “Something tells me this was not a social visit.”

“I wish it were.” She takes a deep breath. “I will not lie to you, it is your help I seek. As soon as the mourning period is over, King’s Landing will become a snake pit, and I have no allies to stand beside me. I had hoped...”

Her voice trails off as she realizes the senselessness of her actions. It hadn’t occurred to her until now just how impulsive this journey had been, and how foolhardy. Why would the heir to the Hightower bother with her? Why would he help her when he could ingratiate himself with one of the other factions instead and gain connections at court that way?

“You’d hoped what?” he asks.

“I am a Dornishwoman in a court that hates me for that fact alone,” she says, looking down at her lap. “I had hoped to ask for your aid, ser. It was silly to come here, though, I see that now.”

He places a reassuring hand on her knee. “You have it. Any aid I can provide, I will.”

“You mean that?” The relief hits her like a crashing wave, and she clutches his hand. “Thank you.”

“Never forget that you have a friend here, Elia,” he says. “Always.”

His blue eyes are as soft as she remembers, and for just a moment she feels half a girl again, standing at the top of the Hightower with him at her back showing her all of Oldtown laid out below.

They begin to discuss exactly how he can help, what she should do next, and it’s not until well into their talk that she realizes he hasn’t removed his hand. Nor, in fact, has she asked him to.

Chapter Text

14. first kiss

She doesn’t know why she’s here. She really doesn’t. No, wait, that’s a lie, she’s here because of too many shots of whiskey. Speed dating is most definitely not her thing, and judging by the looks from the men who have sat across from her, they wish they hadn’t come either.

She hears the sound of the singing bowl and, grumbling, moves to the next table over. Only three more dates. Fifteen more minutes. I can do this.

To be fair, she supposes not all of the prospects had been awful. One of them had been promising, a twenty-something who composed commercial jingles. He’d said all the right things, had even made her laugh, and was handsome on top of that, but there had been something about him that just rang false. He reminded her of high school, of…

She clenches her jaw. Thinking of high school means thinking about Hyle which means being unpleasantly reminded of why she’s here in the first place. God, she should have never taken that stupid bet.

Unfortunately, everyone since had been lacking in more ways than one, and all she wants to do is go home, take a hot shower, binge some Netflix. She glances across the room at Hyle, who is fully engrossed in conversation with the girl across from him, a girl whose expression tells her Brienne’s going to owe him that steak dinner.

The singing bowl sounds again, and she prepares for the next lame date. She watches him as he sits down, appraising him generously. Well, he’s gorgeous, he does have that going for him. Firm handshake, too.

“Brienne,” she introduces. “Nice to meet you.”

He smiles broadly. “Jaime. Don’t look too excited.”

“Charming.” She sighs to herself; she’s seen his type before, too. Probably only came here to keep a mental tally of the attendees to make fun of to his friends later. “Listen, I’m just here on a bet, so…”

“Me too,” he says. “Sort of. More like moral support.”

“What a gentleman.”

“My little brother,” he elaborates, gesturing down the table.

She recognizes him as one of her early dates. He wasn’t attractive like Jaime by any means, but he’d been whip-smart, she could tell that even just in their five minutes. A degree from Georgetown in political science, a Mensa member since he was fourteen, plus a healthy dash of nihilism and self-deprecation. He’d had an easy wit, though, and seemed genuinely interested in what she had to say.

“Tyrion, right? I liked him.”

“He has his charms,” says Jaime. “It’s a shame not many stick around to see them.”

“Wonder what that’s like,” she mutters. She knows she has worth, but few others bother looking past her appearance.

“So, what’s this bet you’re involved in?” he asks.

“The result of drunken idiocy.”

“They usually are.”

He continues looking at her expectantly, and sighs. “Hyle bet me I couldn’t get someone from here to go back to my place.”

“Why would you agree to that?” he asks.

“Because I don’t like my pride challenged,” she says. “Of course, I’m going to lose anyway, so that’s great.”

Jaime takes a long sip from his water glass, his eyes twinkling with mischief over the rim. “Who says you’re going to lose?”

She goggles at him—is he really propositioning her? Her? “Sorry,” she says evenly, “I’m not really a one-night-stand kind of person.”

“Why, Lady Brienne, you’re quite forward,” he jests. “You said the bet’s just to take someone home, right? What this Hyle guy doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

“And how exactly do I know you’re not some serial killer?”

“Do you think I’m a serial killer?”

She peers at him, from the golden hair on his head to the slightly scuffed boots on his feet. “No,” she says at last, “I don’t.”

“Should be fun then,” says Jaime. The singing bowl rings before she can reply, and then he’s on to the next table.

She trudges through the final two dates, wondering all the while whether Jaime was actually serious. He’s nowhere to be found in the lobby afterwards, and she huffs. It’s a good thing she didn’t get her hopes up.

Hyle, however, does find her, a girl clinging to his side. “Better luck next time, Tarth,” he smirks. “I’ll let you know when—”

“There you are!” She sees Jaime stride up to them a scant second before he kisses her full on the lips. “Thought you’d skipped out on me.”

“I—huh?” Her brain is having a very hard time processing what just happened, and an even harder time processing that she’d just been kissed by quite possibly the most handsome person she’d ever seen. It was fake, of course, but still.

“Hi,” Jaime says to Hyle, politely ignoring her reaction. “You must be the Hyle she’s told me so much about. I’m Jaime.”

Hyle stares at him, struck dumb for the first time since Brienne’s known him. “You’re going home with her?”

“You wouldn’t?”

It takes all of Brienne’s composure not to grin at Hyle’s utter bafflement. “We should go, Jaime,” she says.

“Nice meeting you.”

As Jaime steers her out of the building, she can’t help but glance over her shoulder at a still-befuddled Hyle. She is going to enjoy every single bite of that steak.

Chapter Text

She’s not surprised by much anymore, but she is surprised to see Ned Stark at the door of her solar, looking—as ever—awkward but determined. And older. That most of all. Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that that tourney had been less than two years prior. It feels like a lifetime ago.

“How may I help you?” she asks, setting aside her mountain of papers. “You are to depart soon, are you not?”

“Shortly. But I wanted to speak with you before we left.”

“Speak with me?” She narrows her eyes. “I should hope I need not remind you that you swore fealty to my son, Lord Stark. And to me.”

“No,” he says quickly. “I mean, yes. I hold to that.”

She relaxes only slightly. “Then what is this matter you bring to me?”

“I—I wanted to thank you, Your Grace,” he says. “For providing my sister with moon tea and for allowing us all to return to Winterfell. It is more than many would do.”

“Ah.” She leans forward and clasps her hands together. “My son’s reign will not be one of tyranny and by your sister’s own admission she did not go with my husband because she desired him. Unless I am mistaken of your character, I believe that had my family been at your mercy, you would show us the same consideration.”

He does not hesitate. “Yes. The war was not your doing, and your children are no more than babes.”

“Just so.” She gives him a gentle smile. He bows respectfully, but before he can leave a thought occurs to her. “Oh! I’d nearly forgotten—I’ve had a gift made.”

“A gift?”

She nods as she gets up from her chair and goes to the trunk in the corner. “I hear your lady wife is with child.”

“Aye, she is,” says Eddard. His voice is soft; though their marriage had been arranged, she hopes it will be far warmer than her own was. “But you needn’t—”

“Nonsense.” She withdraws from the trunk a blanket made of gray wool threaded through with a white ribbon. “Normally, it would have been made of silk, but I felt that was impractical. I did take the liberty of sending some of Dorne’s finest spices, wine, and blood oranges with your steward, however.”

Eddard takes the blanket from her and when he looks at her there is true gratitude in his eyes. “Thank you. It will be well-used, I am sure.”

“See that it is.” Gently, she places a hand on his shoulder. “Grieve for your father and your brother, but do not let it consume you.”

She wishes him safe travels then, and when he smiles she feels that peace has truly begun.

Chapter Text

“If anyone sees us, I won’t know what to do.”

He said the words, he knows he did, but it’s becoming exceedingly difficult to remember why he’d said them, what with Garlan having him pressed up against the wall and his fingers slipping just beneath the waistband of his breeches. It’s still new, this…whatever it is, not just with Garlan but with any man. It had taken years for Aegon to realize admiration wasn’t the right word to describe what he was feeling, and even longer to realize he wasn’t not attracted to women, he was attracted to both. He finds Lady Margaery just as alluring as her brother.

Rhaenys had been the first he’d confided in about everything, when it got too much to deal with himself. She’d hardly so much as blinked, just hugged him and said she wouldn’t tell a soul. Garlan had come later, by accident. He is unequivocally the most handsome man Aegon’s ever seen, and sparring is already a peculiarly intimate activity no matter who it is you’re facing, and…well, Aegon’s only human.

He’d never been more mortified in his life, but Garlan had merely stared at him a moment, dropped his practice sword, and kissed him senseless. Aegon hadn’t known how to deal with it. He was betrothed—to Garlan’s sister no less—and Lady Alerie was in talks of matching Garlan to the Fossoways’ eldest daughter. Is it possible for the king to commit treason against himself?

The sheer horror of imagining what would happen if this ever got out had made him avoid Garlan like the Great Spring Sickness afterwards, until—now, actually, on an official state visit to Highgarden.

“Who could possibly see us?” Garlan asks. “No one even knows how to get to this part of the gardens. Except Willas, but he’s busy breaking the colts.”

Is this how Rhaenys felt all those years sneaking around with Robb Stark? Aegon wonders. Exhilarated but terrified?

It worked out for them, though, didn’t it? They hadn’t been discreet in the slightest, until finally Mother and Lady Catelyn had grown so weary of the escapades that they gave in and arranged the marriage.

“The maesters should call you Aegon the Thinker,” Garlan laughs. “You’re lost in your own head half the time.”

Aegon frowns. His father was lost in his head half the time, too, and look what happened there. He mislikes the comparison. “It’s not a sin to think.”

“No,” Garlan concedes. He gestures at what little space there is between them and asks, “Is this a sin?”

Yes, Aegon reflects. Men are not supposed to cavort with other men.

But then, people say all kinds of things are wrong that shouldn’t be. The law says a woman can never rule the realm in her own right, which Aegon thinks is absolute madness, and it also says Aegon’s preferences are punishable by death.

He looks at Garlan, whose skin is flushed with exertion, his honey eyes bright with arousal, his hands as deft with laces as they are with a blade. It doesn’t feel wrong, not really.

Where before their encounters had only been fevered, now Aegon is tentative when he presses his lips to Garlan’s, soft and slow, trying to shove his fears to the wayside. He shivers as Garlan bites his lip just enough to smart but not to hurt, and in retaliation runs his hand over the front of Garlan’s trousers, finding him hard as iron.

“I-I’m not sure I can come back from this,” Aegon whispers. He’s never understood how lords and kings could go from mistress to mistress as though they meant nothing. Sweet like Mother and Uncle Arthur or adventurous like Oberyn and Aunt Ellaria, it doesn’t really matter, but he wants what they have. Devotion, not flitting around like a hedonistic butterfly.

“Good,” says Garlan with an almost exasperated smile. “Now, how may I serve you, Your Grace?”

He begins to retort that it’s Aegon, not Your Grace, but then Garlan grasps him and for once, he can’t think at all.

Chapter Text

“You will be queen, my daughter, I swear by blood and fire.”

It had been figurative when she’d said it to her little Betha, a queen in behavior and comport; not in name, no, not with Rhaelle’s siblings very much alive.

But then…a week before little Ella is set to be wed and continue the Targaryen line, her pious knight, just fifteen to her thirteen, makes good on the promise he’d made her and they steal away on a moonless night. Rhaelle alone had fought against Ella’s betrothal, and so it is Rhaelle alone who receives her note: I am well, auntie, I am happy.

The rest of her family is obliterated in one fell swoop at Summerhall, and before she can even process her grief, the High Septon places a crown upon her head. Her title rests on the ashes of her family, and this time when she tells her daughter she will be queen, it is with somber certainty.

Chapter Text

Aegon whispers, “Be happy, Mama” in her ear before spinning her around into open arms. He was coronated only hours ago, the sixth Aegon to sit the throne, and his mother’s regency had thusly come to an end. She frowns in confusion at his words, but then she’s in Ser Baelor’s embrace, and Aegon watches as her face lights up like it always does when he’s near. Mother had brought Ser Baelor to King’s Landing to beseech him for loyalty when Aegon was still a babe in arms, and he’s remained here ever since; Aegon’s under no illusions as to why.

He has to walk past Mother’s chambers en route to his own once the feast has concluded, and movement inside catches his eye. He gets a glimpse of Ser Baelor pulling Mother in for a kiss the same way Aegon’s pretended not to see over the years, and with a smile, he leaves them to their joy.

Chapter Text

“Race you to the top!”

“We’re not eight anymore,” says Rhaenys haughtily, “and Mother and Uncle Oberyn said we have to behave while they’re meeting with Lord Baelor.”

“Oh I get it, you’re afraid you’ll lose.”

“I am not!”

“Prove it then.”

She thinks they’re in for it when they run into Lady Malora several flights up, but she merely laughs and tells them they’re halfway there.

Chapter Text

She wakes to his kiss on her forehead, “I am so sorry I ever doubted you, my queen.”

He feels no pain anymore from Robert Baratheon’s warhammer, nor does he see the stormlord, though he knows he’s still alive, barely. It is as if he is plunged into a vision of the future of which he had once been so sure; Elia’s eyes, filled with hate the last time he saw her, are now filled with affection and pride. And in her arms, a baby girl—not Rhaenys, no, for this little one is closer to Aegon’s complexion than her elder sister’s.

“The conquerors shall ride again,” she says, kissing first the babe and then him.

The scene that could have been starts to fade from view, and with his dying breath, it is Elia’s name he whispers.

Chapter Text

“Why are they all staring?”

Trys is young, doesn’t understand all the ways of the world, doesn’t understand why some people—many people—still can’t quite believe that in a few moments the septon would call Daemon an Allyrion, not a Sand. A year has passed since the legitimization decree penned in Aegon’s hand had been enough to finally win over her father, yet convincing the rest of her countrymen remains painfully out of reach.

“People always look at the bride, little brother, that’s all,” she says, and Trys, being just eleven as he is, accepts the explanation without complaint.

Arianne is a jumble of nerves as the septon dawdles through the preliminaries, and it’s all she can do to stop her hands from shaking as Daemon, her consort now in title and name, bends so she can clasp the Martell cloak around his shoulders.

But when he kisses her—oh, when he kisses her, all the nerves go away, until they are nothing but Arianne and Daemon, bound together in love and matrimony, forever.

Chapter Text

How could he have imagined this? His dreams had never felt so real before, yet this one had been, so real that when he’d awakened in a sweat, he could feel the smoke in his lungs and the blinding pain of his seared flesh. He remembers Daenerys’s face, too, when she’d seen him flinch away from her dragons; he’d been startled, not scared, but such a distinction hadn’t mattered to her.

She takes him to them again—no, not again, it hasn’t happened yetand this time he knows what to expect, this time he keeps his heartbeat steady as he reaches out his hand. Viserion sniffs him cautiously, but then lets his head be stroked.

“He likes you,” says the queen in mild surprise, and Quentyn feels a shift in fate.

Chapter Text

She tells her mother yes, because more than he made her laugh, he laughed with her. She had known nothing of the man before they came to visit, had expected him to be like every other Reacher. Instead, she had left the Hightower utterly enchanted and, more than once, had felt her cheeks flush as she remembered how he had kissed her cheek, not her hand, the day she left. It had taken some convincing, for as powerful as the Hightowers are, they’re not exactly the Lannisters, but in the end Mother had been swayed.

That betrothal trip feels like a lifetime agoit was a lifetime ago, judging by the gray that now peppers Baelor’s beard and her creaking joints—yet still she marvels at how closely she’d come to having a profoundly different life.

But it serves no purpose to think of what-ifs, not when even after so many years Baelor still looks at her like she hangs the moon in the sky and simply being in his arms soothes away all her worries until she is left with only peace.

Chapter Text

He finds it in the stables early one morning, a tiny black blob of patchy fur no larger than a rat. It’s covered in grime and fleas, its eyes gummed shut with infection, and Arthur knows it’s surely done for. It must have been the runt of the litter, judging by its size, abandoned by its mother. He should leave it here, or else give it a merciful death, and yet he finds himself wrapping it up in a cloth and taking it to the old woman who treats all the castle’s hunting dogs and mousers.

She curses him for bringing disease into her workspace, but he knows from experience that a smile and a kiss on the cheek will soften her resolve, and it does this time, too. She pulls on gloves thick as dragonhide, liberates the cat from his arms, and swats him from the room.

It takes a fortnight, but finally the woman tells him with no small amount of surprise that her remedies have worked, all the fleas meticulously eradicated, the tom’s eyes clear and golden-brown as amber. The sound it makes when Arthur goes to scratch his head is unlike any he’s heard, cracking and hoarse, and he gets clawed from wrist to elbow, but it’s alive and that’s what counts.

He had thought to gift the tom to Ashara, who in their youth had adored all the cats that would sun themselves on the flagstones of the Water Gardens. Yet the inky blackness of the kitten’s fur and the stubborn glint in its eyes remind him so much of Rhaenys that he ties a silver ribbon loosely around its neck and hides it in his cloak.

He shouldn’t go to her room at this hour, not when the cat would instantly erase all thoughts of sleep from her mind, but he can’t help himself. Elia stops in the middle of a bedtime story when he knocks on the nursery door, and before Arthur can properly preface the gift, the hellion leaps from his arms and jumps onto the bed as if it knows for whom he was intended.

Elia’s glare lets him know he’s in for a thorough dressing-down, but the way Rhaenys lights up like the sky after a storm makes it all worth it.

Chapter Text

She finds the egg on the first day she feels well enough to walk for more than a few minutes at a time. Aegon’s birth had caused most of her recovery troubles, but it would be a lie to say some of it did not come from Rhaegar’s betrayal as well. She had never loved him, and she had been shamed by him before, but never had she expected him to leave, and not in such a fashion as this.

They had been friends once, or partners at least. She had been too ill to travel with him to present Rhaenys to the king and queen, but she had heard of how he had protested his father’s cruel words, of his palpable ire, and she remembers his surety that Aegon, her half-Dornish Aegon whose hair is pale but whose skin is as brown as desert sand, would be the greatest king of them all.

(She remembers the bad, too, she remembers Aegon’s conception and how Rhaegar had paid her little mind, and she remembers Harrenhal, but letting herself be consumed by fury and resentment would mean losing herself, and that she will not do.)

She has never felt at home on Dragonstone, which is why she is confused at her own actions when she walks into one of the darkest, most desolate hallways whose walls are etched nearly from floor to ceiling in dragon motifs. It is something unknown that pulls her here, her heart or something more, not her brain. She pauses at the far corner, brushes aside the cobwebs and the old, mildewed rushes, and it is there she finds it. An egg, unmistakeable in its shape and hard as stone yet warm as the day is long. Scorching to anyone else, but then, she’s always had a tolerance for heat.

Its colors are what strike her the most: swirls of saffron and poppy and deep crimson; the colors of the sun, the colors of the Rhoynar, the colors of House Martell. It is a dragon egg, says the dreamer in her; It is a replica, says the pragmatist. Dragon eggs have not been seen in generations, certainly this cannot be one, certainly someone would have found it in all this time.

She should tell the maester at least, let him examine it, but instead she wraps it in her cloak and hides it away in her room, telling not a soul.

That is, until a moon’s turn later when she accidentally cuts herself on its rough scales and her blood drips upon it. Rather than slide off it, the shell seems to absorb it, and Elia lets it fall from her fingers in surprise as it cracks open. A creature she’s seen only in books emerges, and a sound no earthly animal could utter chirps from the creature’s mouth. She goes to her knees in awe.

“Impossible,” she whispers. But the dragon—Mother’s mercy, the dragon—crawls upon her thigh and looks up at her with eyes the same golden hue as the swirls on its shell.


Months later she laughs when the maester brings her Aerys’s letter. She laughs at its contents, at his demands that she, the children, and her ladies come to King’s Landing.

“We will go,” she declares, tickled that Aerys seems to think she fears him.

Nym rests comfortably on her shoulder, as she always does, and Elia strokes her head. The dragon had taken to her babes with little hesitation, and with time—and plenty of smoked meat—had taken to Ashara as well, but to no one had she truly bonded other than Elia herself. She is not large, not yet, comparable merely to the hunting dogs, but the fire she breathes is as real as Dragonstone itself.

There are those who caution her against her choice, bless them, but she is not worried.

“He has the Kingsguard, Your Grace, he has the pyromancers,” tries the maester for the umpteenth time as she boards the gangplank of the ship set to take her to the Red Keep, “and your beast is not yet grown. He might harm you.”

Nym lets out an indignant screech, and Elia smiles. “Let him try.”

Chapter Text

He is troubled, this young knight who discovered her secret and yet who’s vowed to keep it; with a frown he asks, “Where will you go, my lady?”

“I don’t know,” she says, “I just know I can’t bear a future where I’m married to Robert.”

Jaime pauses, then looks at her with a sparkle of rebellion in his green eyes. “Tell me what you need.”

Chapter Text

She only gets a brief moment with him before they are to take their places at the altar, and she can only describe it as somber: he is distracted with guilt and yearning for the girl he’d been made to leave behind at the Crag, and she retains the feeling of being no more than cattle sold at auction by her own father.

He’s pleasant enough, polite in a way she only rarely sees in men, but she’d always hoped her wedding day would be filled with giddiness and excitement, not...this.

Nevertheless, this is their new future, so she takes his hands and promises, “We will be happy.”

Chapter Text

“Bran, you’ve been on edge for days, won’t you tell me what’s wrong?”

“All my life I’ve wanted to be like Robb, but now I’m where he would be—where he should be—and I haven’t the faintest idea what he’d do.”

“Then don’t be Robb,” says Meera, “just be you.”

Chapter Text

40. exes meeting again after not speaking for years au

This is why she almost never gets drunk. Because she does stupid things.

Like calling her ex, whom she hasn’t contacted in near to a decade.

Sure, it’s an accident, a byproduct of the names in her phone being blurry and her hand-eye coordination being subpar, but the fact that she even still has his information in her phone speaks to something more insidious that in her drunken state she’s not equipped to examine.

He sounds positively baffled, and she doesn’t blame him; had he done the same thing, she’d have thought this surely a prank. More obviously, he sounds different than he did then. His voice is deeper. Stronger. She doesn’t know why that fascinates her. After all, when they dated it’d been in college and for a bit thereafter, and now they’re in their thirties. She’s sure she sounds different, too.

But...most of all, what floors her is that he says her name as a question before she can tell him who’s calling. Which means either he still has her number memorized after all these years, or else she’s still in his phone, just as he’s in hers. She doesn’t know what to do with that.

“Elia, is everything all right?” he asks at her continued stunned silence.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to call you.”

“Are you...drunk?” Does she detect a hint of amusement?

“A little,” she admits. “I was trying to call someone to give me a ride, I probably shouldn’t drive home.”

“You do know Uber’s a thing, don’t you? Or that you can hang up and call...uh...are you and Ashara still friends?”

“Of course we’re still friends. But she’s at a concert.”

“Wait, you went to a bar by yourself? On a Friday night? Why?

“If you must know,” she begins, choosing not to wonder why she’s bothering to tell him this, him of all people, “I found out my boyfriend—ex-boyfriend—is a cheating bastard and am very much trying to forget it.”

Baelor is quiet for a moment. “Anyone I know?”

“No. It’s someone I work with. I guess I should have known, given how charming he was, but being a doctor doesn’t exactly lend itself to having time for a real relationship, so...”

“Yeah, Elia, I remember.” He sighs, and she can picture him sitting down on his couch, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Sorry. I didn’t mean—”

“It’s fine. It’s the truth,” she says, really not wanting to deal with one bad breakup tonight and another from what seems like a lifetime ago. “Anyway, I’ll let you get back to whatever you were doing.”

“Okay,” he says. “Um...text me, or something, when you get home. I’d like to know you got back safe.”

He always was a worrier. It’s endearing to find out that hasn’t changed. “I will. Thank you, Baelor.”

“For what?”

Elia smiles to herself. “For picking up.”

Chapter Text

14. lab partners au

Normally, she can hold her own perfectly well in chem lab, thank you very much. It may not be her best subject, but it’s required for her pre-med program, and she is nothing if not dedicated to succeeding no matter how aggravating the subject. She’s never been intimidated that her lab partner has more of an innate aptitude for it, given that it means they’ve worked out a nice rapport and consistently get excellent grades whereas others are stuck with partners who can’t tell a base from an acid.

Today, however, is not one of those days. She can feel a bout of illness coming on, which completely zaps her of any positivity, and Ashara had confessed that she’s a few days late and can’t remember whether there’d been protection during her one-night stand last month, and Doran and his girlfriend are on the outs, and to put the cherry on top of a black licorice-flavored sundae, she has an exam coming up on Thursday.

When it rains it pours.

With most anyone else, she would be able to hide her frustrations, but Ray--it’s not his real name, Ray, but his real name is so pretentious she can’t use it without rolling her eyes--has always been perceptive.

“Are you okay?” he asks, in between flaring the Bunsen burner to life and handing her a beaker. “You seem a little preoccupied.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just...stuff. Don’t worry about it.”

He doesn’t; or at least, he pretends not to. She likes that about him, that he doesn’t pry. She knows he has a mental Rolodex about virtually everyone he sees, but he hasn’t ever used it on her.

“Anything I can do?” he asks.

Elia gives him a halfhearted smile. “Not unless you’ve got a fix-it wand lying around somewhere. But thank you.”

They work in relative silence as lab drags on--she likes that, too, that he doesn’t feel the need to fill the air with chitchat--and fortunately, his talents make up for her distraction. Not just the project, either; he saves her from setting her hair on fire. Yet another thing she’d spaced on. Never once this semester has she forgotten to put it in a ponytail. She shudders to imagine what could have happened.

He holds the door for her as they file out once their project has been turned in, and she’s somewhat surprised when he goes the same direction she does. His dorm is the other way, she’d thought.

“You don’t have class for a while, right?”

She blinks, a bit surprised that he knows that. “No, Anatomy and Physiology isn’t until four. But I usually spend that time studying.”

“Why don’t you let me buy you lunch? You look like you could use a break today.” The offer sounds innocuous, but then so had Anders Yronwood’s in the beginning, and look how that relationship had turned out. He must sense her trepidation, for he adds, “Or coffee, if you’d prefer.”

Coffee’s a possibility, she muses. Versatile enough to be a short encounter if she begins to feel uncomfortable, and without the potential implications of an actual meal. Plus, she hasn’t been able to justify shelling out the money for a macchiato lately. If he’s paying, however...

“All right,” she says. “I think I’ll take you up on that.”

He’s not her usual type--usually, she goes for tall, dark, and rugged, not tall, pale, and pretty--but then, this is definitely not a date, so it’s entirely irrelevant. Still, as they walk and he regales her with obscure facts about their university, she finds her mood start to lift.

Chapter Text

Most days, he presents himself to be the consummate king, the kind of ruler he thinks his father would be proud of, the kind of exemplary warrior his brother had been. Usually he succeeds, even if people do call him dour, irascible, unyielding.

But this day…this day, he reserves for himself. Those who have been in the castle the longest know to leave him be, and those who are new don’t ask. He makes a point to mark Baelor’s death in public to ensure no one forgets the man he was, how much good he could have done.

Anna’s death, he mourns alone.

She had never had the chance to be queen, though he is certain she’d have done as fine a job of it as she did everything else. No, she had been simply his—his love, his life, his light. His confidante and the mother of his children, trying as they can be.

She had stolen his heart when they were scarce grown, and his heart is where he keeps her now, always.

Chapter Text

War is...well, war is war.

Eight months he’s been on this campaign, yet it still hasn’t gotten easier. His whole life he’d been ostensibly training for battle, but no one had expected outright war, and no amount of practice could compare to the reality. No amount of training was adequate preparation for being splattered with gore from both friends and foes, the bitter bite of a blade, or the feeling of utter failure at the loss of life. He is their leader. He and he alone is the one to blame for each felled man.

Baelor would have the right words to say to him, but Baelor is on a campaign of his own, trying to make Marcher and Dornishman alike set aside their differences to fight a common enemy. Maekar does not envy him that task. They have written to one another on occasion, but only to exchange information, never concerns.

Those, he shares with Dyanna. Not all of them, mind—he knows she is worried enough as it is. In truth, her letters are all that keep him grounded, more often than not. He knows his men trust him, trust his tactics, but they hold no affection for him. He is their general and little else.

Dyanna had moved to King’s Landing shortly after his departure; their castle was too lonely, she’d said, their bed too empty. He misses the boys more than he can bear, as well. Daeron had been not quite five when he’d left, had only understood a mite of why his father had to say goodbye. Aerion, barely past his second name day, hadn’t understood at all, had just cried inconsolably as Maekar mounted his horse and put Summerhall at his back.

Dyanna tells him of their exploits, how Daeron has taken to play-acting Maekar’s triumphs and how Aerion had once overheard his grandfather curse and from then on delighted in repeating it. He can envision all of it happening as if he were there, which is at the same time welcome and painful.

He is tired. He hadn’t thought that at two-and-twenty that would be a possibility, but lately, all he feels is exhaustion. In two moons’ time they would reach the crownlands and face his bastard half-uncle’s army. He hasn’t heard from Baelor in months, enough to leave a pit of unease in his gut. Maekar’s company has emerged victorious from their battles so far, but he cannot do the same against the wall of troops Daemon will be fielding. Not without the swell of Baelor’s ranks.

The unease persists, despite his best efforts, but never does it consume him, for one reason alone: not surviving this war is simply not an option. He could take a wound that would leave him staring the Stranger in the eye, his blood soaking the grass in red, but it wouldn’t matter.

The gods themselves couldn’t keep him from his wife and children—Daemon Blackfyre doesn’t stand a chance.

Chapter Text

She’s never had a thing for older men, had never pictured herself with one.

At least, not until a few months back when she went by the station to take Olyvar for lunch and met the new partner he’d been assigned. More of a mentor to emulate, really, given that Oly had only just made detective, but a partner nonetheless.

Not that Edmure is that much older than her, plus her college years have come and gone, and just look at her parents’ age difference. Granted, nothing in their relationship, start to finish, is what Roslin would ever want, but still.

At the time, it had been little more than a passing introduction, nothing too memorable; she hadn’t bothered with makeup that day, and Edmure had been mid-bite of a bagel, but there’d been...something. She couldn’t even explain quite what the feeling was. A string pulled taut somewhere behind her navel, perhaps, or when a smell triggers a memory you know brought you joy but you couldn’t remember what the event was.

Something.

All she knew was that she began to invent more and more reasons to stop by: bringing Oly a homemade lunch, or a Thermos of hot coffee for when he had to stay late, or simply to say hello, and gradually those visits became longer and longer, and Ed became more and more present. She started to see him in things that had nothing to do with him—the dying sun reminded her of the red hue in his auburn hair; a pair of suede boots she saw in a store window reminded her of the shade of his eyes; a bird strutting by her window reminded her of the faint crow’s feet that appeared when he laughed.

But of course it’s all nonsense. She’s pretty sure it’s bad form to date your sibling’s coworker, especially when lives could depend on the bond between partners, and anyway, she’s heard Oly say he doesn’t stay with girls long. In theory she doesn’t have a problem with people who prefer a love-’em-and-leave-’em lifestyle, but she doesn’t want to be strung along either. She wants something real.

Who’s to say this wouldn’t be? has come the response in her head more than once. Who’s to say he hasn’t bounced between girlfriends because he’s never clicked with anyone else? Isn’t that better than staying with someone you don’t see a future with?

The voice has been persistent, but she’s steadfastly ignored it, and in turn has cut down on her visits to the station. She’s debated opening an account on a dating site. She’s worked her way through a few pints of ice cream.

And today, she bakes possibly the best cake she’s ever made for her mother’s birthday and they watch 9 to 5 like they do every year.

“So...Mom,” she says as the credits begin to roll, “have you met Oly’s new partner?”

“Ed Tully? Sure, once or twice. Nice man.” She gives Roslin the sidelong glance that never fails to make Roslin feel like she’s being X-rayed, like Mom has already figured out what’s on her mind. “Why do you ask?”

“No reason.” They sit in silence for a while, then finally, “It’d be weird, right? He’s almost a decade older and it’d mess things up for Oly and I’m probably not his type anyway—” She stops short when Mom grabs the plant mister from the table and sprays her in the face with it. “Hey!”

“You were babbling, Rosey,” says Mom. “Don’t be silly. Oly will be fine, and so will you, whatever the outcome might be.”

“What if the outcome’s bad?”

“Then we’ll pull out the old VHS of Steel Magnolias and have a good cry. Maybe find a shooting range and see if they’ll put up his precinct headshot for you.”

“I think that’s a little dramatic.”

“So are you,” She sprays the mister again, this time over them both. “But you come by it honest. Now come on, let’s save the boy talk for later. There’s cake to be had.”

Chapter Text

She doesn’t know what would have happened had Ser Jaime not burst into the nursery on the Mountain’s heels. She can’t allow herself to think about the alternative. She hadn’t even bothered to ask why Jaime wasn’t guarding the king or how he got there so quickly or even how he, barely into manhood, could hope to fend off the most fearsome brute she’s ever seen.

But that’s all so far from her cares now. The instant the Mountain focused on Jaime instead of her, she simply clutched Aegon to her and ran. The Mountain surely had not infiltrated Maegor’s Holdfast alone, and though girls matter less here, there is value in a princess’s blood, and Rhaenys is not yet three with no hope of defending herself.

She doesn’t know where to look for her; there had been no time to come up with a plan, only time to tell her to find a spot to hide and stay there no matter what. So she relies not on logic, nor even on faith, but on something unbreakable: a mother’s love.

For nine months, Rhaenys had been part of her; for the better part of a day, she had labored to bring her into the world; and for half a year, she had fought against her own body’s weakness to thrive, for no one’s sake but her daughter’s.

A maze of a castle means nothing.

She wends her way through the halls that had held her captive for nearly a year, forcing herself not to see the bodies of guards, most of them Dornish but others not, guards she knew, guards she was friends with. Some of them she’d known her entire life. But even them she can’t care about.

The invisible golden twine that binds her to her child leads her into the royal apartments, and the sound of Rhaenys’s shriek tells her the rest.

Of course, she has the passing presence of mind to think, of course it would be her father’s protection she sought in her darkest moments. I should have known.

The door to Rhaegar’s antechamber is ajar. She hasn’t so much as glanced in here since Harrenhal, but in all this time it hasn’t changed. The bassinet Rhaegar had commissioned in preparation for Rhaenys’s birth so he could have her by his side while penning letters at his writing desk or reading one of his books remains where it’s always been. Sparing only the briefest moment to bolt the door and place Aegon in the cradle, she rushes into the bedroom, Rhaenys’s shrieks echoing in her ears.

The man who snaps around when he hears her enter looks only vaguely familiarperhaps she had seen him at a tourney once—but he intends Rhaenys harm, and thus his identity is irrelevant.

Elia is not an imposing woman, she is no warrior—but neither was Meria Martell, yet nonetheless she cowed the Conqueror and his sisters.

“Back away from my daughter.”

There is a faint flicker of what might be hesitation in the man’s raging face, as though he hadn’t expected her to be here, as though she’s not supposed to be here. But the flicker is gone as soon as it arrived, and is replaced with a disparaging guffaw of laughter.

“The girl’s blood is what’s called for,” he says. “Once I’m done with her, then I’ll have you.”

She looks around in desperation. Rhaegar had never liked being a soldier; he had no want or need to keep knives or swords in his chambers. Where normal men perhaps find peace in the methodical grinding of a whetstone on a blade’s edge, Rhaegar…

In three steps she reaches the corner where he used to spend hours playing his bloody harp with its shining silver strings that she’d come to hate the sound of. Heart pounding, she grabs a length of wire he’d clearly meant to get around to restringing, and acts. This killer has dismissed her, as she has been dismissed all her life. His focus is solely on Rhaenys and the knife in his grip.

It is, in the end, his mistake.

Wire wrapped around her hands, she throws her arms over his head and yanks them back. She doesn’t feel the harpstring shred her palms, all she feels is it shred the man’s throat. There is a dull thud as his knife falls to the ground and Rhaenys cries her name, but it is not until Tywin Lannister’s man stops moving, blood pulsing from the gash that has become of his neck that she releases him. Rhaenys runs to her and Elia retrieves Aegon from his cradle, holding them both tight to her chest.

They are not safe yet, not even close, not with the rebels in the castle clearly having been commanded to murder her children, not with the probability that poor young Jaime has been slain and the Mountain will come for her. But she has her babies in her arms, and neither man nor beast will take them from her.

Chapter Text

“I fucking hate this. I hate it, Ari.”

“That’s why I’m doing it, not you. Keep your goddamn voice down.”

“It’s too dangerous. Especially now. It’s not just politics and infighting anymore, it’s war.”

“Oh really? I hadn’t noticed!”

Daemon works his jaw. “At least let me go with you.”

“You can’t, you know that. Men get noticed, women get dismissed, even princesses. The only reason I can move freely and gather the information I do is no one would dare harm—or suspect—a foreign royal. You’d stand out, Daemon.” She sighs, taking his hands. “And all you’d be is a distraction for me. I need to know that you’re safe.”

He pulls his hands from hers. “So, what, I’m supposed to just deal with radio silence from you with no idea whether you’re alive or dead?”

“What I’m doing is important, Daemon. People’s lives depend on it.”

“I know that! I know, I just…”

He turns from her and rubs at the scar on his palm like a worry stone. She knows the action well; she, too, has the same absentminded habit, for she, too, has the same scar. Once, they’d been young and naive and thought a silly blood pact would prevent all strife from reaching them. Now, that night seems more like a dream than a memory.

“Daemon,” she prompts. “Dawn is only a few hours off, I have to go.”

He doesn’t respond. It’s always been a fault of his. Or maybe not a fault, but a quirk. Of the two, he is the one who craves touch and affection most, but all too often he simply doesn’t know how to ask for it.

So she obliges, needing for them not to part in anger. She steps up behind him and wraps her arms around his waist, resting her head against the hard warmth of his back. She can feel him lean into her, just slightly.

Arianne does understand his position. Better than he thinks she does. But voicing it would mean also voicing doubt and fear, which is something she can’t allow herself to do. She has enough of that going on in her head, she can’t let the universe hear it, too.

Anyway, Daemon’s already near-panicking as it is; how could she tell him that every day she’s away from home she wonders if the heartache and danger is worth it? How could she tell him that of course it’s worth it, because what is her personal happiness and safety compared to the very lives of those she helps?

No, not even Daemon can move her from this. Which, in turns, presents the ever-growing fear of whether he’d finally say enough is enough and decide to find someone else. Someone who is close by, who isn’t gone for months at a time, who doesn’t have to keep him at arm’s length. She certainly couldn’t blame him if he did.

As the thoughts fly fast and debilitating, she inadvertently holds him tighter, clenching her fingers in his shirt. It’s that that finally makes him turn around. From this close, she has to veritably crane her neck to look him in the eye; they had both been short when they were children, but where Daemon grew tall, she had stopped at a paltry five-foot-two. He’d always poked good-natured fun at the difference, but there are no jokes now.

“Wait for me,” she blurts out. “I have no right to ask when I don’t even know how long I’ll be gone, but—I’m asking.”

She hears a familiar, specific whistle from several yards behind her and curses her luck. Her contact is not much for being delayed, and more skittish than a bird.

“Fuck, I have to go,” she says. She has a feeling Daemon’s lack of answer will haunt her.

But as soon as she goes to leave, he yanks her back. “I’ll wait,” he says, though there is a defeated sort of pain behind his words. “I’ll be here. Just...just as long as it’s you I’ll be waiting for and not your corpse or some ransom note.”

There’s no time for it, but she kisses him anyway. She has had to be stoic and strong in order to succeed in her missions, but around him it all inevitably erodes. They’ve had their ups and downs over the years, had even gone through a period of divisiveness where they chose to see other people—that had lasted all of a month—but through it all, they’ve always ended up back where they started.

The whistle comes again, louder and plainly aggravated. If she doesn’t leave now, she might not have another chance. So, with a final, fleeting glance to memorize his face, she disappears into the night.

Chapter Text

It is agony, though she knows it must surely be merely minutes, waiting for the midwife to clean and otherwise check for the health of her baby. She had labored for hours; she wants nothing more than to hold her child. A girl, which the midwife announced with mostly sympathy. Brandon had been so convinced it would be a boy, he had not even considered approving a girl’s name, nor pondered the possibility that the babe could be one.

Catelyn had conspired—and in truth, it had felt like exactly that—with her good-sister to think of names for a girl, too, and now she’s glad she did. Melantha, they had decided. Brandon’s great-grandmother, but also a riverlander by birth.

But as apt as she’s decided the name is, she is apprehensive of what her husband will think once he returns. Even though they can have more children, and even though sisters inherit before uncles here, she knows he will be displeased, to say the least.

Finally the midwife does bring her daughter to her and sets her on Catelyn’s chest, then leaves them in privacy as she begins to nurse. It had been a minor scandal when she insisted against having a wet nurse. It simply isn’t done, she had been told over and over again. But she wouldn’t have it. She was to be a mother, and would be one in all things, never mind whether it was done. Her mother had insisted on the same, and so would she.

Not long afterwards, once the babe has fallen asleep and Catelyn feels like following suit, the door opens again. For an instant, she thinks it’s Brandon, and joy supersedes everything else.

Her husband had not been inclined to be around for the birth—a hunting trip, he’d said, though given his other proclivities she hadn’t been sure whether she believed that—and she had been acting Lady of Riverrun for plenty long enough to know men have no interest in seeing their wives disheveled.

But she soon realizes it’s not Brandon after all. The newcomer is too short, his face too plain, his jaw clean-shaven.

“Oh,” she sighs, too weary to hide her disappointment. “Ned.”

It isn’t that she doesn’t like him. She does, very much. He’s Brandon’s opposite in almost every way, but on many an occasion they’d partaken in quite enjoyable conversations in which she felt he truly cared what she thought, and in which she felt comfortable voicing even her more outspoken opinions in a way she rarely experienced with Brandon.

And sometimes, she doesn’t dare admit to a single soul, she has had the passing notion that she might be happier if it had been Ned she married. Not that that matters, of course. It never would have. She’d been besotted with Brandon during their betrothal and the early days of their marriage, she’d hardly known Ned since he was in the Eyrie most of the time, and he’s a second son, unfit for the onetime heiress to Riverrun.

More than all of that, if he’d been next in line to Winterfell, if he hadn’t grown up under Jon Arryn’s tutelage of honor, hadn’t had a friend like boisterous Robert Baratheon to keep him the even-tempered one, who’s to say he’d be the same man as he is now? Perhaps he’d be just like his brother.

(Perhaps not.)

“I thought you were Brandon for a moment. Silly of me.”

“He’s hunting with Benjen and the others,” Ned supplies.

“Truly? Well, that’s better than a whorehouse,” she says. Then, “Shouldn’t you have gone with them? It’s uncouth for a man to see a woman in such state as I am now. There is quite a reason they say birth is our war.”

Though men view their wars and warriors as gods, the highest honor, where we women are valued for our wombs and little else, Catelyn reflects, thinking of all the times Brandon had not bothered to hide his affairs.

“Wars can be lost,” Ned says. “It is good to see you won yours. You are well?”

She feels a bit of her latent resentment fade at that. She knows all too well how the birthing bed can take away life as easily as it can provide. “Yes,” she answers, “I am well. The midwife says everything went as it should, and your sister was a help. It is kind of you to inquire.”

“You are my brother’s lady, it is only right,” he says.

What would be right is if my husband were here, not you, she thinks. Did you stay here because you knew Brandon would not?

But she hasn’t the energy to belabor the point, and not with Ned. The babe stirs in her arms, and she says, “You may hold her, if you like. Come, sit. I cannot yet walk.”

She shifts over to make room. Ned walks over uncertainly and, stiff as a board, sits on the edge of the bed. Gently, she passes the baby to him and watches as, once he finds the proper position, his face softens. Even the babe calms, looking up at him with her wide eyes whose color Catelyn can’t yet decide is Tully blue or Stark gray.

Not quite sure why she cares, she asks, “Does it vex you that you have a niece, not a nephew?”

“Vex me?” Ned bears a frown, genuinely confused. “She is healthy, is that not all that’s important?”

The answer is saddening, in a way. “Do you suppose Brandon will feel the same?”

“I am certain he will, my lady,” says Ned, but he has been a poor liar ever since she’s known him, and it shows now clear as day. “You should not worry about such things. You should rest.”

“I should,” she concedes. He carefully places Melantha in the cradle beside the bed, but before he can leave, she sits up and kisses him on the cheek. “Thank you, Ned. For caring.”

He opens his mouth to reply, then closes it and merely nods.

Yes, she thinks, watching him leave, I would have been happier if it were you I had wed.

Chapter Text

If she had her druthers, Rhaenys wouldn’t see her father at all. Knowing what he did means even just every other weekend is awkward and unpleasant. But the courts had decreed that to be the custody arrangement, and Mother doesn’t want to give Father’s family any reason to fault her, and thus Rhaenys must put up with it. She knows Egg doesn’t like it much more than she does, but he’s at least a better actor.

Of course, just because she has to comply doesn’t mean she has to do it meekly or happily. The ride to Father’s, this time, offers up a pristine opportunity.

The radio station currently playing is a rather generic one that offers an assortment of genres, but when an electronic song comes on next, only a few seconds of it gets to elapse before Father scoffs and quickly changes the channel.

That shouldn’t even be called music,” he says. “There’s no excuse for that much synth and reverb.”

In truth, it’s not the kind of music Rhaenys particularly likes either, but she’s not going to give him the satisfaction. “You know, Egg and I joined an EDM club at school. We’re having a great time.”

She has a feeling Father would have screeched to a stop were they not on the freeway. As it is, he snaps his head over to look at her, horrified. “You did not,” he says. “You couldn’t possibly. This…this barely even has notes. It’s trash, you know that.”

“Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s trash,” she replies. “You should be more open-minded.”

“Are you doing this to try to punish me or something? Is that what this is?”

“Not everything’s about you, Dad.”

“I will be speaking to your mother about this,” he declares. “Clubs should be for education or résumé-building, not for filling your ears with this nonsense.”

“It’s just music. And no one likes snobs.”

Father’s hands clench then unclench on the steering wheel. “I don’t like this, Rhae, and I don’t like this snippy side of you either.”

And I don’t like cheaters, yet here we are, she thinks. She keeps that to herself, though; it’s a topic she doesn’t ever enjoy broaching, let alone in the car.

“Well, too bad,” she says. “I’m not quitting the club and neither is Egg. Guess you’ll just have to learn to deal.”

Father glares at her again, then turns up the volume on the classical station. Rhaenys turns to look out the window so he doesn’t see her smirk.

Chapter Text

It is surreal to be here after all this time. After all the hardship, the degradation, the need to hide who she is, the realization that she had been on the same continent as her aunt and uncle and never knew it until word had reached her of dragons.

Yet here she is all the same, outside a giant pyramid in a slave city, seventeen years after being spirited out of King’s Landing, torn asunder from all she’d known.

“I am here to see your queen,” she tells the Dothraki guard. The language is not one of her favorites, or indeed one she’s particularly mastered, but gods know she’s rehearsed this conversation in her head so often no one could find fault with her pronunciation. “I am here to see Daenerys.”

“You look neither Meereenese nor peasant,” says the guard. “Who are you?”

Head held high, she answers, “I am Rhaenys Targaryen, princess of Dragonstone. I am the daughter of Prince Rhaegar and Princess Elia of Dorne, last remaining kin of the dragon queen.”

The declaration feels like a grievous error, so long has she had to keep her true identity quiet. “You are Targaryen?”

The guard is clearly skeptical, but perhaps desperation, or truth, shows on her face worse than she’d thought, for he turns on his heel into the pyramid and gestures for her to follow. When they reach the entrance to what she assumes it the throne room, he retreats into it for a few minutes, and then the doors open.

Queen Daenerys is slighter than Rhaenys would have thought, and younger, too. She is a woman grown, twice wed, and only four years younger than Rhaenys herself, yet she looks little more than a child.

She doesn’t look much like Viserys either, other than the coloring, which is a disappointment. Her memories of her youth are hazy at best, but one of the strongest ones is of Viserys impersonating a dragon and tickling her sides until she ached with laughter. She had heard of his death, and his mania, but such things have been too difficult to reconcile with the exuberant boy she’d spent endless hours playing with while war ravaged the realm.

“My guard has said something I find hard to—”

“Mother above,” interrupts the old man at Daenerys’s side whom Rhaenys had not before paid any attention to. He stumbles forward, staring at her as though he’s seen a ghost. “You look just like her.”

Rhaenys’s heart feels like it’s been run through. Not because of the declaration that she resembles her mother—she’s been familiar with that particular pain for years—but because the man’s voice is one she recognizes, pulling through that haze of memories like a lone lantern.

“Ser Barristan.” For an instant, her vision flashes back and she sees how he was near on twenty years past, standing just as straight but with flaxen hair rather than white, and far fewer crinkles around the eyes.

The disgraced former Kingsguard makes his way to her but stops short, seemingly unable to touch her. “Little princess, how is it you’re alive?”

“She is who she says?” asks Daenerys. “How can you be certain?”

“I am certain, Your Grace. This is Princess Elia’s daughter, I would stake my honor on it.”

“You stepped on Balerion’s tail once,” Rhaenys says, recalling the moment scant weeks before Ser Barristan had been sent to the Trident. “You didn’t mean to, but he tore up your cloak anyway.”

“That’s right,” says Ser Barristan with a choked sort of laugh. “That black bastard is still alive, did you know?”

“What?” That catches her off-guard. She had figured Balerion would have been long dead by now, if not by age than by some misfortune.

“Yes, he still roams the Red Keep, twice as ornery than he was as a kitten.”

It is a joyous thought, that she could be reunited with her beloved hellion, but first—

“Well,” inputs Daenerys, looking more than a bit lost at not only Rhaenys’s arrival but, perhaps, at realizing that she is not the last Targaryen after all. “Princess Rhaenys...what is it you want?”

“I don’t wish to rule, if that is your concern,” Rhaenys answers. “I only wish to return to Dorne.”

“Truly?” asks Daenerys. The queen in her is quickly reappearing, superseding the lost girl. “If you are indeed my brother’s daughter, then you have a better claim than I. You do not wish to press that claim?”

“That mound of swords has only ever brought pain and death upon my family, and its king and prince led to my mother and brother being slaughtered. I want nothing to do with it.”

“In that case,” says Daenerys, “you are free to join us when we take Westeros. Support me, and Dorne is yours.”

The authoritative tone of her voice makes Rhaenys wonder if she expects her to kneel. “I am a Targaryen, but I am also a Martell, and Martells have never bowed to dragons. I trust you are not asking me to do so now. Aunt.”

“Your word will suffice.”

“Then you have it.”

There is a loaded pause in which no one seems to know what to say, then Daenerys asks, “Will you tell me of our family? Anything you can remember. Viserys was too blinded by anger and regaining power to tell me much, and Ser Barristan was surely not privy to all that you were.”

“I was quite young when the Rebellion was waged,” says Rhaenys, “and I will not speak of my father. But what I remember, I will tell.”

Daenerys stands from her throne, walks over to Rhaenys, and embraces her. Rhaenys flinches, unused to such contact, but endures it. Daenerys seems to have been deprived of it, as well.

I am coming home at last, Mother, she thinks, the very thought welling tears of in her eyes. I am coming home.

Chapter Text

It takes days of negotiations, just the two of them, before they reach an agreement. Neither of them likes the deal, but then, that’s what compromise is. The little things take no time at all; it’s the sticking point that takes the dragon’s share of their time.

Rhaegar would not be moved on his demand that Aelyx, his Stark-looking infant bastard, would be raised in the Keep. He had not pressed for legitimization or princehood, but just the thought of the child being raised here had turned her stomach. Even with acknowledgement and residence being the only benefits the babe receives, it is far too much of a reminder of Daemon Blackfyre for Elia’s comfort.

And so she had had to declare her own dealbreaker: Rhaenys must be named heir. It didn’t—and doesn’t—matter to her whether he adopted Dornish primogeniture for good or whether he used a kingly proclamation, only that once all is said and done, Rhaenys would in due course be queen in her own right. He had balked, though she had expected that.

Refuse, and I will take the children away in the middle of the night and you will never see them again, mark my words, she had warned. Refuse, and your prince that was promised, two of your heads of the dragon, will be plucked from your grasp.

He must have seen the murderous sincerity to her face, or else even the possibility fo his prophecy being thwarted was too much of a risk, for eventually, he had agreed.

And he follows through. The next day, he informs the Small Council, and later the court, of his will. There is uproar to the highest degree, as predicted. Not only is Rhaenys a girl, they all complain, but she resembles a Targaryen no more than Elia herself.

Yet somehow Rhaegar quiets them, at least for now. He reminds them that Rhaenys’s namesake had been a queen in her own right, and had King Jaehaerys not skirted previously established law, the next Rhaenys would have been queen, too.

But perhaps Elia should not be surprised that he would convince them. Rhaegar’s silver tongue had managed to mend the realm, more or less, after the civil war he had helped start; this would have been simple.

The ravens fly that very day.

Rhaenys is far too young to understand the gravity of the decision, barely four as she is, yet every time Elia imagines the future, her half-Dornish daughter ruling from on high, it gives her vindicated pleasure.

She is not an ambitious person by nature, but if Rhaegar could parade his bastard in front of her, putting her children in danger by the boy’s very existence, spur talk of whether Rhaegar would favor his northern child over his trueborn ones, then by all the gods she will ensure her position. She will remind the realm that Dorne is not powerless. Dorne will not be threatened. More importantly, Rhaegar could never underestimate her nor try to set her aside—were that his inclination, or even a possibility, though she doesn’t think it is—nor think his role is the only one that matters.

Naming Rhaenys his heir, even if he only does so in defense of his prophecy, would remind him until he breathed his last breath that she, Elia of Dorne, would always hold sway.


It does work, in the end. Oh, there are always rumblings of dissent, fervent enough to make her uneasy, but nothing ever truly materializes. As the years pass, almost all of those who had opposed Rhaegar’s edict finally resign themselves to it, switching from staunch opposition to putting forth their sons or brothers or cousins—or even themselves—as a potential consort.

Elia never comes to accept Aelyx—how could she?—never mind that he has no title and that he claims he’s sworn his sword to his half-siblings. But much like the citizens of Westeros have accepted Rhaenys’s heirship, so has she accepted that he is here to stay. At the least, he seems as uncomfortable around her as she is around him.

She is profoundly skeptical when on his sixteenth nameday he approaches her and says that when there is an opening, he wishes to don a white cloak, whether for Rhaegar’s Kingsguard or Rhaenys’s Queensguard.

It would give me a purpose, he tells her. And mayhaps it would show you once and for all that I intend never to threaten my brother and sister. I love them, Your Grace.

It seems too grand a gesture, too good to be true—and yet when Lord Commander Hightower passes in his sleep, the boy indeed presents his case to Ser Arthur, Ser Gerold’s successor, who in turn presents it to Rhaegar. So it is that halfway to nineteen, Aelyx Waters takes the oath just as he’d promised.

She doesn’t know what to make of it, is only able to give him a nod, but he embraces it all the same.


Eight years hence, the moment Elia had envisioned for so long arrives. Participating in his umpteenth joust, a piece of wood that had splintered into the unprotected joint of Rhaegar’s breastplate festers, and within the week, he perishes, sending shockwaves through the realm.

Allaying Elia’s worst fears, one by one each lord paramount and each chief vassal sinks to his knee before the throne on which Rhaenys sits, swearing to her his fealty. Her consort, Prince Garlan, is seated in the chair at the base of the throne, pride his only expression, their twins at his side.

(That had certainly been a lengthy negotiation, too. Everyone knew the Tyrells were only nominally loyalists during the Rebellion, and as a Martell of Sunspear, she had not enjoyed the idea of marrying her daughter to a Reacher. But alternate options were few and undesirable, and Ser Garlan had been as charming as his uncle, so finally she had relented. That Rhaenys is besotted, now if not at the beginning, is a balm.)

Her daughter is a vision, Elia thinks with joy. She is clad in rich Targaryen crimson and black, her gleaming golden crown matching the dozen bangles on her wrists and the bands tying back her hair. She looks eminently content and confident on that mound of swords, eliciting the image of a dragon warming itself in the sun.

Her reign would not be without challenges, Elia knows—but no matter the rest, it is Rhaenys of Houses Targaryen and Martell, the First of Her Name, who is Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lady of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, for now until the end of her days.

Chapter Text

Elia takes particular pride in the fact that she is unanimously well-liked by the department. Even those whom she’d competed withand beaten—in the academy are on a cordial basis with her. Hell, it’s not even just the department: sometimes she gets holiday cards from the people she arrests.

So it comes as a peculiar, hurtful surprise when she starts getting furtive looks and cold shoulders from everyone. To her knowledge, she hadn’t done or said anything out of the ordinary, so the sudden shunning is all the more baffling. When she asks, they all pretend nothing’s amiss.

It is a week before finally she learns the cause.

Realizing Saturday morning that she’d forgotten her coat at work, she makes the quick trip in to grab it. Which is when she notices there’s a briefing going on in the conference room; not unusual, even on weekends, except for that in high-definition on the projector screen is a photo of her husband.

Well, estranged husband.

She hadn’t thought about Rhaegar in months, not since a telemarketer called looking for him, apparently going off an outdated list. Functionally, they have long been divorced. If not for her vindictive father-in-law using his sway to prevent a legal divorce from going through, it would be official.

Irritation and a whole boatload of confusion has her marching into the room unannounced. “What is going on here?” she demands. “Why is—”

She trails off, reading the text that accompanies Rhaegar’s photo. Chief Selmy shuts off the projector, but not quickly enough. Beneath Rhaegar’s personal details:

  • Allegations: Statutory rape, false imprisonment
  • Accusers: Lyanna Stark, victim, 16; Rickard Stark, victim’s father, 43
  • Alleged conspirators: Arthur Dayne, Gerold Hightower, Oswell Whent
  • Persons of interest: Myles Mooton, Richard Lonmouth, Jon Connington, Lewyn Martell

Silence engulfs the room, Elia’s head spinning. A rookie cop she hasn’t met before grabs her elbow as a steadying precaution. She’s worked the SVU for almost a decade now and homicide before that, yet seeing this blows her away. Whatever the mountains of problems she and Rhaegar had had, not in a million years would she have expected to see charges like these.

“Detective, go home,” Selmy says. “This case does not concern you.”

“Doesn’t concern me?” Elia splutters. “Doesn’t concern me?”

“No. This is a conflict of interest. You know protocol.”

“Damn protocol! Why is my ex-husband being investigated for rape? Why is my uncle a person of interest?”

“Because that was the allegation,” says Detective Manderly. Her nails, painted bright green as usual, drum on the tabletop. To Selmy, who looks ready to reprimand her, she snaps, “Oh, come off it. Wouldn’t you want to know?”

Selmy ignores her. “Briefing is over for today,” he says to the room. “Martell, a word.”

They all obey, and Elia follows him into his office. “You have to let me in on this. How am I supposed to do my job while this investigation is going on if I can’t know anything about it?”

“Detective—”

“Selmy, I’ve worked dozens of these cases, teenagers seduced or worse by older men. My mind is running overtime, I need the details—

“Detective.” The chief’s weathered face is all hard lines and crow’s feet, but his blue eyes are calm. “I was not planning to keep you in the dark about this. The allegations were surprising to all of us, we had to see what we were dealing with first. But I can’t have the rooks thinking skirting protocol is acceptable. The vets either. I will keep you informed, but you cannot be involved.”

It’s too little, given the magnitude of what she’d seen on the screen, but it mollifies her enough for now. Leaning forward in her seat, she says, “Tell me.”

Chapter Text

Normally, she doesn’t ever answer calls from numbers she doesn’t recognize. With the epidemic of robocalls, nine times out of ten the voice on the other end will tell her the IRS has a warrant out for her arrest or that her computer has a virus that only they can fix.

But this time, she does answer. Just a feeling.

“Is this Caitlin Tully?” the caller asks.

Catelyn, but yes,” she answers. “Who is this?”

“Officer Arys Oakheart, ma’am. There’s been an accident on the highway. One of the drivers involved, Eddard Stark, has listed you as an emergency contact. We were unable to reach his brother, and you are the next on the list. Are you in the area?”

It takes several seconds for Catelyn to process. “What kind of accident? Emergency contact? Ned, is he–”

“He has some minor injuries,” the officer says, “so he’s been taken to the hospital. Can you come down? He should be able to go home in a few hours and will need a driver.”

A palpable relief spreads through her, more completely than she’d have expected. “Yes, I can do that. Where is he?”


She is a bundle of nerves on the way to the hospital, which is helped not at all by the fact that the receptionist is profoundly unhelpful.

“Ma’am, I’m sorry, but we only allow family members to visit.”

“I am family. I’m his…” She must get creative, apparently. Quickly shoving her left hand into her pocket, she lies, “I’m his fiancée.”

The receptionist eyes her suspiciously, but short of demanding the URL of their wedding registry, it isn’t imminently enforceable. “Floor 3, room 127.”

“Thank you.”

Catelyn hurries up the elevator and down the hall, trying to stave off the discomfiting realization that this is the same floor her father had been on when he died. She barely even notices the nurse in the room, so focused as she is on cataloguing Ned’s condition. He is hooked up to an IV, has scrapes down the side of his face, and one arm is in a cast.

“I’m okay, Cat,” he assures. Her face must reveal more than she thought.

Between her relief and the fact that the last time she was here her father had flatlined, she finds herself rushing forward and kissing him on the forehead. He looks as surprised a she feels when she pulls away–the nurse, on the other hand, is purely irritated.

“He needs rest,” the nurse says brusquely, “Miss…?”

“Tully,” Catelyn answers. “His fiancée.”

Fortunately, the nurse has full attention on her rather than Ned, whose confusion is unmistakeable. “Very well. I’ll go over his treatment plan with you, too, then.”

Catelyn knows all the information would be typewritten as well, which she’s grateful for. She’s far too keyed up and muddled to pay due attention to the nurse’s instructions. She hadn’t really kissed him, only his forehead, but still it’s more intimate than she’d have anticipated. They’d only ever hugged before, and even then it was brief. She could chalk it all up to adrenaline, but it feels like more.

Which...takes her aback. His brother is by far the more handsome of the two, not to mention charming and unashamedly forward. Yet all at once, in a disconcerting rush, Catelyn recalls all the late-night study sessions in college, the coffee meet-ups to discuss life and job prospects, the group outings with mutual friends that always seemed to wind up with the two of them gravitating away from everyone else and chatting for hours.

Even more disconcerting is that Ned has turned from shocked to perplexed, with no disgust or embarrassment to be found. That, more than anything, terrifies her.

“…have any questions?” the nurse finishes.

Ned answers for her. “No, but I’ll ask if any come up. Thank you.”

The nurse departs, though not without a parting warning glance to Catelyn, leaving them utterly by themselves. She knows she is the one who needs to speak first, to explain herself, but finds herself at a complete loss.

Only one thought runs through her head: What now?

Chapter Text

Sansa enjoys visiting Dorne. She hadn’t at first, for her skin had burned so terribly red and had subsequently freckled, but she has since learned how to avoid such things and to see the beauty in the shifting sands. 

(The abundant lemon cakes are a not-insignificant incentive, as well. Without fail, the cooks bake her some to take on her return journey, but they never last as long as she hopes they will.)

She doesn’t visit often, granted, only for momentous occasions or tourneys, yet she enjoys it all the same. Even if, despite years of friendship with nearly as many Dornishmen as Northmen, many of the Dornish ways are still strange to her.

“You seem lost in thought, my lady.”

Sansa turns to see Prince Quentyn take a seat beside her on the edge of the pool. He is not handsome like his siblings, with a square jaw and stocky frame, and he can be frightfully tongue-tied, but she thinks that of all of them, he is the sweetest and most approachable. Arianne is far too intimidating to get to know well, and Trystane always seems to have a task at hand, making her feel like a nuisance.

And, after all, as she’d had to learn the hard way, beauty and goodness are not necessarily equals.

“I suppose I am,” she replies. Quentyn has no problem letting the sun kiss his skin; she, meanwhile, must remain beneath the shade of the umbrella. “Are you excited for the tourney tomorrow? Are you to participate?”

“Oh, no, I’m no good at tourneys.” He glances at her sidelong and asks, “Will you give your favor away?”

“Mayhaps.” She has had several requests, but has not yet decided. “Most every lady has a beau, so I don’t know who to choose. I shouldn’t like to make enemies.”

“I’m not sure how you could,” says Quentyn earnestly.

Sometimes, she wonders if he means for his words to sound the way they do, for he blushes so vividly as if he only realizes the intonation afterwards, but other times he looks at her like he knows what he’s said and is simply taking the measure of her reaction.

He is a puzzle. He has been since she first met him. Where so many other men are free in their affectionsor disaffectionsit is often difficult for her to suss out Quentyn’s intentions.

Then again, even more difficult to suss out are her own intentions. She has been slow to trust and quick to retreat ever since her time in the Red Keep, and though she’s working on both, she hasn’t overcome it all. Perhaps it’s Quentyn specifically that vexes herapart from his shyness, she hasn’t noticed a thing wrong with him, which makes her doubt. She’s not yet met a man without a flaw that could hurt her, and that wracks her nerves.

Bothered by her own demons, needing to do gain back control, she stands, pulls the ribbon from  her hair, and decisively ties it around Quentyn’s wrist. “There. Now I shan’t make enemies for certain. Unless you’ve a fair maiden and you haven’t said.”

“There’s no one,” says Quentyn, looking from the ribbon to her. “But I’ve told you, I’m no good at tourneys. You’re wasting your favor on me.”

“It’s my favor to do with what I will,” she says haughtily. “Or do you wish to return it?”

“No,” he says, with one of those rare, small smiles of his.

“Good, then we are in agreement.”

You deserve it far more than any jouster, besides. She does not dare voice the thought; even thinking it makes her redden.

She extends her hand, but instead of kissing it, he shakes it. Somehow that seems more intimate, though she’s not sure why.

She’s also not sure the feeling is unwelcome. Not sure one bit.

Chapter Text

23. weight of the world
49. coming home

It is one of life’s cruel ironies, the way she feels after her father finally divulges his truths to her and entrusts to her this task. For so long she’d held a grudge and wanted to be let in—only, now that she has been, part of her yearns for the naivety she’d had before.

It seems silly, in retrospect, to have believed through and through that Father would pass her over so heartlessly, never mind the letter she’d seen. Why didn’t she simply tell him she’d seen it and press him until he told her what it meant? Why didn’t she trust him over a scrap of paper she’d read without any context? Father has always been reserved, but never neglectful, and certainly had never shunned his Rhoynish roots for Andal.

So much pain could have been avoided had things gone differently. Perhaps she, not Quentyn, could have traveled to Meereen to propose the dragon queen marry her brother. “King Quentyn” still sounds ludicrous, but so long as she is the one who rules Dorne, she couldn’t care less what she has to call him. Perhaps she, not Oberyn, could have traveled to King’s Landing and taken care of the Mountain in less ruinous fashion.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

How nice it would be to go back. To not have the responsibility of traveling in secret through the stormlands to meet with the boy who claims to be her cousin, all the while trying to curb Elia’s wild ways and stepping on eggshells around Daemon.

Had it really been only a year and a half ago that her life had been so normal? Before the war that spilled no Dornish blood but affected them all the same, before her uncle was killed, before she had gotten the foolish idea in her head to seduce and manipulate Arys, before all of ithad it really only been only a year and change? Other than the tension between Father and her, things had been good. Things had been calm. Things had been boring, at times.

What she wouldn’t give for boring.

Yet she cannot rest, and she hasn’t the faintest idea when she can again. All of Dorne and beyond hinges on this meeting and its outcome.

She is burdened, and there is no one who can relieve her.


He just wants to go home. That above all else. It seems another life when he thinks of Winterfell and how only a year ago he was playing games with his siblings, hardly a care in the world. He hardly recognizes the boy he used to be. Even his mission now is so far removed from what it was.

What had started as an effort to right the injustice of his father’s imprisonment has morphed into a war in which his sisters are captured or dead, his brothers murdered, and Jon two thousand miles away. His mother is drowning in grief, his wife feels out of sorts, and Robb...well, Robb is left to fend for himself.

Everyone is too far into this war, too invested, to stop it or pull back. Such a thing is impossible now. But more than once, Robb has wished it could be stopped, or that they could have another try at it. There are so many things he would alter if he had the chance.

Most of alland it does shame him to think ithe wants it all over so he can go back to Winterfell. To be a lord but not a king, to get to know Jeyne without being in this crucible, to start a family of his own. To launch a search for his sisters and have them by his side. To hold proper funerals and burials for Father, Bran and Rickon. To invite Jon southward to feast with them just as Uncle Benjen had. To have a restful night, for once. He wants to go home so much it hurts to breathe

He is burdened, and there is no one who can relieve him.

Chapter Text

She hadn’t particularly wanted to go to her ten-year reunion. Most of the people she liked from high school she still hangs out with, and the ones she didn’t like she doesn’t see why she should care what they’re up to. But ultimately she had been convinced.

And actually, it’s not that bad at first—even if she does think it started a bit silly:

Garlan Tyrell, class president, and Jynessa Blackmont, head of the alumni committee, had co-organized the event, and along with the requisite nametags had handed everyone a ballot asking who the reunion king and queen should be. She’d done as requested, but really? Electing a court at prom is one thing; but a decade later? Not that it would really matter who she personally writes down, because no doubt the crowns would go to the same pair who were named at prom.

She also enjoys looking at the then-and-now yearbook photos and accompanying bios. She will admit it is kind of novel to see the trajectories of everyone’s lives, whether that be as upper management in a major corporation or a burger-flipper at a fast-food joint.

The bios also make her feel better about her own single-ness that there are plenty of others without partners; some of them are very much a surprise. One that especially stands out is Daemon Sand, whom she’d dated for all of eighth grade—as much as you can “date” anyone when you’re thirteen—but had parted ways with that summer and thereafter had run in a different social circle.

He’d been exceptionally kind, she remembers, and now that he’s out of braces, has exited the gangly stage that had lasted six years, and figured out what to do with his hair, he’s...rather nice to look at. Yet there it is in the Now section: Single.

She’s not here for that, however, so she peruses the rest of her classmates’ information, then gets swept up in a conversation with a former chem lab partner. Her partner had stuck with science, going on to get a master’s in biochemistry, and as she’s in the middle of telling a story about a fellow researcher, there’s a tap on Arianne’s shoulder. It takes her a minute, and then with an internal groan, she recognizes the face. Her erstwhile lab partner clearly recognizes him, too, and politely excuses herself.

Arianne wishes she hadn’t.

“Hi, Arys,” she greets with an overlarge smile. “Long time no see.”

Her ex-boyfriend has not aged well. What had been undeniable attractiveness in high school has given way to a receding hairline and pudginess that looks out of place on his once-lean frame. His appearance isn't important, but it’s hard not to notice that time has not been as kind to him as to others.

“How have you been?” he asks. “Is your job treating you well?”

“Yeah, it’s good. Can’t complain.” To be polite, she follows up, “And you?”

“I’m okay.” He shifts closer to her, which starts setting off warning bells in her head. “You know, I’ve thought about you a lot over the years. Especially recently.”

“Oh?”

Why me, she thinks. Why now. WHY.

“I saw in the yearbook display that you’re single,” he says. “I am, too. I think we should make a go of it.”

There’s almost nothing she’d like less, and frankly, being approached so suddenly and with such expectation is off-putting. “I’m, uh...I’m flattered, but I’m not interested. I’m sorry.”

“But why? You said you loved me.”

“When I was sixteen,” Arianne replies, stunned. She doesn’t add, Even then, only because you said it first and I’d have felt bad if I didn’t say it back.

He doesn’t look wounded; if anything, he looks more determined. “We’ve grown since then. We could make it work.”

“We don’t even know each other anymore, Arys.”

“But we could.”

He’s not going to give up, she realizes. At best, she’d spend the next half-hour continuously rejecting him until she’d have to completely leave the event or make a scene, which she doesn’t want to do. Instead, she resorts to the only thing she thinks would work: the threat of another man.

“It’s more than just not being interested,” she says. “I have a boyfriend, one whom I love very much.”

Regrettably, either she has a poor poker face, or else he’s simply that persistent, for he challenges, “Who?”

She doubts inventing some far-flung boyfriend would fly, so with no other option, she searches the gym. Most of her former classmates are married, engaged, or otherwise attached; of the ones who aren’t, most are men she’d never date or men who’d never date her. Except…perhaps

“Daemon Sand,” she says. “It’s Daemon.”

“I don’t believe you.”

The level of sheer entitlement grates on her enough to piss her off. “Fine, I’ll prove it.”

She has no idea how exactly she’s supposed to silently communicate in a handful of seconds to Daemon—Daemon, whom she’s barely even friends with on Facebook—that she needs to use him and have him not call the police for harassment. But, desiring nothing more at the moment than to have Arys out of her hair, she meanders her way through the crowd.

Daemon is helping himself to a glass of punch that someone had predictably spiked when he sees them both approaching. Already perplexed, he starts, “Um, hi—”

“Babe,” she greets, praying her expression is desperate enough, “you remember Arys Oakheart, don’t you?”

She links her arm through his with a brief wince that she hopes conveys that she’s neither delusional nor hitting on him. He stares at her, mystified, then looks over at Arys. “Uh, yeah. You were on the baseball team, right?”

“Yes.”

“I told Arys we’re dating, but he says I’m lying,” she exposits. “I guess he thinks you’re out of my league or something.”

“He thinks I’m—

“That’s not why,” says Arys.

“You really think,” Arianne retorts, “that I’d just go up to some random guy, pretend he’s my boyfriend, and count on him going along with it? That’s not a thing.”

“Can confirm that’s not a thing,” says Daemon. There’s a faint edge in his voice that tells her, with no shortage of relief, that he’s cottoned on to why she’s carrying on with the charade. “And I’d appreciate it if you’d leave my girlfriend alone, batter. She’s taken.”

With that, Daemon extricates his arm, takes her hand, and leads her to the other end of the gym next to the yearbook display. “He was a pitcher,” Arianne mentions. “There was always a designated hitter.”

Daemon smiles, revealing a set of dimples she’d almost forgotten he had. “I know.”

It’s petty, getting his position wrong on purpose, but she’s not going to complain. “Thank you. Seriously. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for what you did.”

“Anytime. Babe.” After a moment, he gestures in Arys’s direction and asks, “How’d you get mixed up again with that guy?”

“Well, you know we dated in high school. I might have led him on, I don’t know. He thinks we should get back together. Evidently he still hasn’t accepted the reason I broke up with him.”

“Which was?”

“He was pushy. You got a glimpse of that,” she says. When Daemon’s inquisitive expression turns into alarm, she hastily clarifies, “Not that pushy. ‘Needy’ might be a better word. He wanted me to need him in return, and that’s just not me.”

“Good for you for getting out early.”

“I guess. Anyway, thanks again,” Arianne says, not sure where exactly to go with the conversation. “If you ever need me to repay the favor, let me know.”

“Sure.”

She feels his gaze on her as she leaves.


Daemon’s performance seems to have done the trick, for although she catches Arys eyeing her more than once over the next few hours, he doesn’t come up to her again. She manages to return to having a good time—some of that might have to do with imbibing the punch, admittedly—even to the point of having genuine conversations with people who’d never had a good word to say about her.

(To be fair, she’d never had a good word to say about them either.)

There are those who clearly are stuck in their teenage ways, but them she avoids as vehemently as she does Arys. She doesn’t reflect on Daemon much, primarily because she doesn’t find a point in it. She’d thanked him, he’d told her it wasn’t a problem, and that was the end of it.

Or that should have been the end of it.

Arys’s bullshit had made her forget all about that ballot she’d filled out at the beginning. Not so, unfortunately, for Garlan and Jynessa.

“If we could have everyone’s attention, please,” Garlan says into the microphone. “All the votes have been tallied for reunion king and queen, who will have the esteemed honor of crowns straight from Party City and a solo dance.”

Arianne so fully expects the prom royalty to get this dubious distinction, which means it takes her a full seven seconds for her to comprehend that they call out her name. Hers—and Daemon’s.

Of all people? she finds herself bemoaning as Jynessa guides her over to the tipoff circle where Garlan stands holding a set of crowns. She glances up at the ceiling beams where the school’s assortment of championship banners hang, as if expecting to see one of the gods sitting there cackling at her for orchestrating this turn of fate.

She’d been liked well enough in school, but had always been selective about who she was close with, rather than be unanimously gregarious, which left her outside of the popular crowd. And sure, Daemon had been on the soccer team, but she wouldn’t say he was popular either, having kept too much to himself for all that. So to have one, let alone both, of them recognized in this way feels like some cosmic joke.

Nevertheless, she lets Garlan place a tiara on her head and sees Jynessa place a complementary crown on Daemon’s. Arianne glances at the both of them, and Jynessa makes a shooing motion, clearly indicating she expects Arianne to dance in front of everyone.

“So, this is a surprise,” she tells Daemon, reluctantly acquiescing with Jynessa’s urging.

“To say the least. Um…just so you know, I’m no better at this than I was in eighth grade.”

“It’s just slow dancing,” Arianne laughs. “You can’t possibly be bad at it. Come on, we may as well get this over with.”

She puts her arms up on Daemon’s shoulders as he places his around her waist. He makes a face as soon as the song comes on, some throwback pop-ballad.

“Don’t tell me you’re some hipster music snob,” Arianne teases.

“No, it’s just—my last girlfriend broke up with me during this song.”

Oh. Yikes.

“Are you saying I remind you of your ex?” Arianne asks, trying for levity and hoping he doesn’t take it the wrong way.

“Definitely not,” he says quickly. “No, you’re…no.”

She kind of wants to press him on what exactly that means, or whether it’s a good or bad thing, but he plainly isn’t keen on revisiting the matter. “Well, hey, at least she’s not here. Though I suppose that if she were, we could have killed two birds with one stone.”

“I’m not sure she’d have believed it any more than Arys does,” he says. “He’s been glaring at me all night.”

Arianne follows his nod, and indeed there Arys stands, wearing the only glower amongst a crowd whose expressions range from boredom to merriment. She sighs. “I don’t remember him being quite this possessive in high school. Then again, I didn’t hang out with you or guys like you, so that might be why.”

“Guys like me?”

“Uh, yeah. There was hardly some swarm of attractive athletes knocking down my door. Rhae tells me I give off an intimidating vibe, but I don’t know if that’s it. Arys was the exception.”

“And I’m that?”

She can’t tell if he’s pulling her leg or truly doesn’t see it. She takes in the thick brown hair, the close-cropped beard, the sky-blue eyes, the height, the powerful build. The dimples. When she’d chosen him to be her pawn tonight, what he looked like didn’t factor in at all. But now that there’s just the two of them…

The boy I knew has become a handsome man.

It’s an uncomfortable realization that not only is he handsome, but he’s exactly her type.

She clears her throat. “Yeah, you’re that. Objectively speaking. And sweet enough to go along with a scheme for a girl you haven’t spoken with since middle school.”

He frowns slightly but doesn’t respond. He’s not nearly as bad a dancer as he claimed; in fact, it’s quite nice being in his arms. His hands are warm but not clammy, and there’s enough of a height difference between them that she can rest her head comfortably against his chest. She feels...safe.

She pulls away when the song begins to fade to a close, but Daemon doesn’t let her go. His eyes flit up to where she assumes Arys must be, then down to her. Somehow, she knows what he’s going to do, yet despite being in the center of a gym full of former classmates, cheap plastic crowns on their heads, when he kisses her she lets him.

She’s been kissed before, and plenty, but she can’t quite recall a time that left her heart pounding, let alone one as short as this one is. Her only consolation is that when they break apart, Daemon looks about as stunned as she is. More than anything else, their current location be damned, she just wants to kiss him again, to find out if it was simply a matter of nostalgia or whether it really was that phenomenal.

“Were you—was that—”

“Uh-huh.”

“You never, with Arys, or whoever—”

“No.” He’d been fine, so far as her sixteen-year-old self was concerned, but he’d never left her reeling. And her flings since then were just that—flings. Still, reality begins to set in, especially as the reunion resumes. “This is crazy. There’s nothing between us anymore. What’s the point of revisiting the past? I didn’t want to when Arys asked, and I don’t…”

Somehow, she can’t bring herself to finish the rebuke. She can’t recall a valid reason that they broke up, in all honesty. With Arys there was a reason; with Daemon, they’d just mutually decided they should have other experiences. Besides, whoever heard of a romance between thirteen-year-olds lasting?

Daemon takes the first step as he never had back then. “At risk of sounding like Arys...I haven’t stopped thinking about you either, Arianne. Not in high school, or college, or after. About what could have gone differently, or what I should have done differently. In fact, junior year I’d finally decided to ask you to winter formal, but you’d gotten with Arys by then.”

Arianne blinks. “What? Why didn’t you say anything?”

“Would it have mattered?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.” She’d been content enough with Arys, but he hadn’t been someone she envisioned a lifetime with.

“Well, regardless,” says Daemon, sounding a bit rattled, “I shouldn’t have brought this up. You said yourself, no exes. So.”

She’d be lying if she said she’d never thought about him in the years after they’d separated. Sometimes, when she and Arys were going through a rough patch, she would reflect on the simplicity of her previous relationship. There was something to be said about quiet companionship. Yes, they had been young, but all the same, she recalls wondering more than once how it’d have been if she’d stayed with Daemon.

In any event, even if she’d wanted to ignore him completely, she couldn’t—their soccer team was perpetually successful, and despite being a defenseman, Daemon’s name was bandied about as one of the better players. And no matter the circumstances, who forgets about their first boyfriend?

“Your crown is crooked,” she says, to buy herself time on how to respond. She adjusts it. “How about…dinner? It seems we have some unfinished business.”

“Wouldn’t that be a date?”

“No. A casual meal between former classmates, to catch up.” She shrugs. “If we happen to hook up afterwards, so be it.”

“All right,” he smiles. “Dinner then.”

Chapter Text

There is perhaps nothing that distresses Robb more than when one of his girls comes to him in tears. Usually the worry is short-lived, for so is the cause of the tears—a skinned knee, a sibling spat, a bird that tweets too loudly—but he knows at once when his eldest seeks him out that this time is different.

Instead of telling him her troubles immediately, she merely buries her head in his shoulder. “What is it, sweetling?” he prompts, stroking her back. “If you don’t tell me, I can’t fix it.”

After several moments of weeping, she answers, “H-He said I’m n-not a real Stark because I don’t look like one.”

She doesn’t look like a typical Stark, or even much like him, that is true enough. Though her eyes are blue, they are so dark that sometimes they appear black. And the rest of her is her mother in miniature: pitch-colored hair that falls in ringlets, nut-brown skin, and a liking for food so spicy it makes Robb’s eyes water but which Mariah consumes with zeal.

But none of that matters in the least.

“Who said that to you?” he asks.

“Th-The kennelmaster’s ’prentice,” she answers. “I w-wanted to play with the pups and he said only the Starks or their ch-charges can visit them, and then he said I wasn’t one.”

Robb fumes, making a note to tell the kennelmaster to find a new apprentice today.

“That boy had no right to say that to you. You are a true Stark in every way, and you oughtn’t let anyone tell you different.” That doesn’t seem to comfort her in the slightest. A memory he’d not thought of in years comes to him then, of when he was no older than Mariah. “You know, when I was young, one of the cloth merchants’ sons said the same thing to me. That I wasn’t a true Stark.”

Mariah sniffles, eyes wide. “Really?”

“On my honor,” Robb replies. “Aunt Arya and Uncle Jon are the only ones who took after your grandfather; the rest of us resemble Nana Cat, and northerners are suspicious of southerners.”

“I s’pose.”

“I know now that that merchant’s son was in the wrong, but at the time it hurt me very much, just as you’re hurting now,” says Robb. “Was he right, I thought? Could I really be a Stark if I looked like a Tully?”

“But you are!” Mariah gasps. “You’re the heir to Winterfell and you have Grey Wind and everything!”

“Aye, I am my father’s son, just as you are my daughter. That I take after my mother and you take after yours doesn’t change that.” Mariah is still unsure, so Robb adds, “Mama doesn’t look like Grandfather Rhaegar, but she’s still a Targaryen princess, isn’t she?”

“And a Martell! She’s a Martell, too.”

Robb chuckles. “And a Martell.”

Mariah traces the direwolf embroidered on his doublet, deep in thought. “Are you sure I’m a true Stark?” she asks. “The ’prentice was very sure I’m not.”

“You could not be more of a Stark if you were a wolf howling at the moon,” Robb swears. He kisses her forehead and dries the tear tracks on her cheeks. “Now. Would you still like to play with the pups?”

“Yes, Papa,” Mariah says eagerly.

“Then let’s do it together.”

Chapter Text

Arianne is well and thoroughly exhausted. Which she supposes is the hallmark of a successful bachelorette party, but nevertheless. She will freely admit that her sisters-in-arms had done an excellent job setting up the whole thing, even if Sansa had turned as red as her hair from the moment the stripper arrived until the moment he left.

She wears a plastic crown on her head, a sash across her chest, and has a cornucopia of gifts ranging from thoughtful (lingerie from stores she deems too expensive to go to for herself and a gift certificate for a Swedish massage) to silly (a vibrator with twelve different functions and a flask in the shape of a bracelet).

Daemon isn’t home yet, which does rather surprise her. He’s never been a partier, tending far more towards brooding and dry wit. She’d figured his bachelor party would either not go much past midnight, or would maybe even just be held at their apartment. Apparently, she’d underestimated the combined powers of Gerris Drinkwater and Robb Stark.

Feeling a bit grimy from the festivities, she stashes her gifts in the closet, draws herself a bath, and tosses in a chamomile bath bomb for good measure. It’s a bit bizarre, she reflects as she steps into the scalding water, to think that in a week’s time, she’d be married. Just a hangover, rehearsal dinner, and the actual ceremony stand in the way.

She fidgets with her engagement ring, watching steam rise from the bathwater. It’s simple, just a slim band of gold that will double as her wedding ring. Daemon had lamented that he couldn’t give her something more ostentatious, but to her it’s perfect. They are simple together, so why should the symbol of their union be any different?

Besides, there are few things she finds more annoying than people displaying rocks the size of skipping stones, as though the bigger the gem weighing down their finger, the more love is in the relationship.

Truthfully, it’s hard to believe that she’s here at all. Though she’d envisioned what her wedding might be like since she was little, as every girl does, she hadn’t thought it would be with Daemon. They’d been together seven years and for most of that she’d felt he had one foot out the door. Not because he didn’t want her, but because no matter how much she tried to tell him otherwise, he remained half-convinced she was out of his league and she’d leave him for it.

And so the proposal had come as a complete shock, though certainly a welcome one. Too, it had the added benefit of finally getting her grandmother off her back. Her grandmother who had always been of the mind that while she and Daemon were only dating and he didn’t live up to the mayor’s social expectations, that meant Arianne was still available to have appropriate suitors pushed upon her. Sons of CEOs and politicians and old money, rather than the son of unmarried parents who had him shortly after high school then split up.

Perhaps, she ponders, that constant disapproval was what finally spurred the proposal. Perhaps Daemon had finally grown tired of it all, or perhaps he feared Arianne would eventually give in to one of her grandmother’s eligible bachelors if he didn’t step up.

Either way, she’s glad for it.

Dwelling pleasantly at the thought—and smirking a bit as she envisions the look on Daemon’s face when he sees the lingerie Rhaenys had gifted her—she closes her eyes and allows the steam to lull her to sleep.


She wakes sometime later to Daemon’s voice. “Ari? Are you back?”

“In here,” she calls. She hears two thuds as he kicks off his boots, then he makes his way to the bathroom looking, in her opinion, like a three-course meal.

“Hey,” he says, a lazy smile spreading across his face that tells her he’s had a few drinks.

She crooks her finger at him, and without a second thought he undresses and steps into the bath behind her, grimacing a bit at the now-lukewarm water. She lies back, tilting her head up to kiss him. “Did you have a good time?” she asks.

“Better than I thought I would. And you?”

“You should have seen Sansa when the stripper tore off his cop costume,” she says, remembering. “Remind me to show you the picture, it’s great.”

She feels the rumble of Daemon’s quiet laugh through her back. “I take it he was a good one, then?”

Arianne hums in agreement, then interlaces her fingers with his. “He’s got nothing on you, though.”

“You’re comparing me to a stripper?”

“I’m saying you’re handsome.”

“Ah.” His eyes flit to her left hand, and she realizes she’d been fiddling with her ring again, as has been her habit after going so long without any jewelry there. Instead of being concerned, he says, “There were some guys we got to talking with at the bar tonight and they mentioned how pleased they were when their wives took their name, and—”

“Daemon, you know I’m not changing my name.”

“I told them that,” he assures, “but I was thinking…well, wondering…what if I take yours?”

“Take my name?” He’d never objected to her declaration that she’d keep the surname she was born with, thank you very much, but she hadn’t thought he’d go so far in the other direction. “Why?”

He shrugs. “It’s just…Sand is so plain, for one, and it feels strange now with my mom having married. I don’t share a name with any of my family anymore. And since we’ll be starting our own, I just thought…I don’t know, that’s probably weird.”

“Daemon Martell,” Arianne muses aloud. “I kind of like it. People might think I’ve emasculated you, though.”

“Pretty sure they already think that,” he replies with a kiss to her temple. “But that’s their problem.”

Chapter Text

He has the dream on his first sojourn to Summerhall following Rhaenys’s birth. He is not unused to having dreams that he does not immediately understand, especially when he rests amongst the ghosts of Targaryens past, but this one is unlike the others. He does not get it all at once, only in pieces, one after the other, over the span of months. Sometimes he will go weeks without anything, other times it comes multiple days in a row.

It is not obvious in the beginning what the dream is about. Elia is all that’s easy to identify. With the sun shining down on her, her dress fashioned of colorful linen, and her belly faintly distended, he thinks it is a prescient vision of her from their upcoming voyage to Dorne. She has not yet lost the evidence of carrying Rhaenys within her, and Dragonstone is too cold for such light dresses, so Dorne is what makes most sense to him.

There is always a man with her in the dream, which Rhaegar figures must be himself. The man’s face is obscured, but with whom else would she be intimate? Admittedly, she has not been so with him very much, but if anything could lift her mood, it would be visiting her homeland.


The dream returns in increased clarity the night after the red comet appears and he visits Elia’s bed. Once more she appears in sunshine, a content smile on her face, the still-concealed man at her side, but this time she stands in a breathtaking garden and it is made evident that the distension of her belly is not post-birth softness but the unmistakeable roundness of child.

Yet it isn’t the garden or the bump that catches his attention the most. Rather, the newcomers in the dream: a gaggle of four children. None of their faces can he see, just the backs of their heads. They all have curls black as night, exactly like Elia’s, and their skin is her warm brown. That they take after her is neither surprising not disappointing; Rhaenys is Elia writ small, and Rhaegar could not imagine her any other way.

The number of children, however, does surprise him. Two girls and two boys, with another on the way—far more than his prophesied three.

But, he rationalizes when he wakes the next morning, in all fairness the prophecy had never stated he would only have three children, merely that three would be dragonriders who would defeat the Others. Perhaps their other two would be generals on the ground, or would in some other fashion help the cause.

Elia had looked...displeased to see him enter her bedchamber that night, had pleaded with him to let her rest, has barely spoken to him since, but no doubt the vision of her happiness at his side, soon to be mother of his fifth child, means they will reconcile and then some. That puts him at ease.


The next time he dreams the dream, it follows the final joust at Harrenhal. It is largely the same as last time, with one change:

“Are you happy, my love?” inquires the man at Elia’s side. He’s never spoken before now. He sounds different than Rhaegar knows his own voice to be, but it is a dream, after all. “Have I made you happy?”

“Must you ask such a thing after so long?” Elia teases. “Dear heart, never have I known more happiness than with you. You love me completely, and I love you the same.”

Well into the next day, Rhaegar thinks on the oddness of the scene, the unabashed, unfettered affection, especially given his wife’s negative reaction after the joust when he endeavored to explain that she should not be angry, for he hadn’t crowned Lady Lyanna to court her but rather to honor her achievements. Could Elia really see him in such a positive light one day? The dream indicates she will.

That very thing is one of the reasons he believes his journey to fetch the wolf girl will not cause an insurmountable rift. His faults shall all be forgiven. The dream, he’s come to trust, is as prophetic as that which foretells of his prince that was promised.


He is confident for weeks on end, up until he, Arthur, and Oswell make camp near Summerhall, the location where he had first had the dream. After a year of it being incomplete, finally the gods enlighten him the rest.

The pair walks in the same magnificent garden as before, hands intertwined. There is a glow about them both as they look at one another, a glow that cannot be ascribed solely to Elia’s swollen belly. Her smile is effervescent, one he’s seen only rarely.

She looks healthier than she ever has on Dragonstone, her figure fuller, her back straight. But when the man’s face appears unobscured, Rhaegar is taken aback. It is not him, as he’d thought, but Ser Baelor Hightower—tall and broad with that burnished golden hair and those eyes of deepest blue.

Ser Baelor leans down and kisses her, softly but with the promise of more.  “Some decorum, good ser,” says Elia. “What if the children see?”

“Is it so wrong for them to know I desire their mother?”

“Even in such a state?” Elia asks, gesturing to her belly.

“Mm, especially in such a state.”

Rhaegar hears a cacophony of voices and squeals, and the group of four children he’d seen before comes bursting into the garden. He can see properly what they look like now, and while the resemblance to Elia is undeniable, there are shadows of Ser Baelor in them as well.

“Gently, now,” says Ser Baelor.

“We know, Papa,” says the eldest. “We have to be careful of Mama’s baby.”

“Oh, I am not so fragile as all that. Come, little darlings, give me hugs,” says Elia. They all do exactly that, Elia kissing each of their heads in turn. “I could never be too fragile for you.”

They hug their mother for a few moments more, then restlessness gets the better of them and they break away into a game of come-into-my-castle. Ser Baelor puts his arm around Elia’s waist as they watch the babes play.

“Are you happy, my love?” he inquires. “Have I made you happy?”

“Must you ask such a thing after so long?” Elia teases. “Dear heart, never have I known more happiness. You love me completely, and I love you the same.”

She kisses him again—

And Rhaegar wakes in a cold sweat. The images seem as real as though the scene had played out before his very eyes. The realization that he was wrong catches his breath in his chest.

He had been so sure the man in the dream was him, that the children were his. He’d been so sure they were in Dorne, not in the gardens of the Hightower. He’d been so sure it was his future. Yet there is no question as to what he’d seen. It was not his future, but an alternate one. One Elia very nearly did have, had things gone differently.

He doesn’t sleep a wink over the next few days, so unable is he to rid his mind of Ser Baelor Hightower kissing Elia not out of duty or fondness but passion and adoration, her welcoming and reciprocating every moment. Nor can he rid his mind of their babes, dimpled and daring, every bit like Elia but for Baelor’s bright smile. Most of all, he cannot rid his mind of Elia’s pure joy and ease that she’s not had in all their time together.

“Sire, are you well?” Oswell asks him in alarm one afternoon when he nearly falls from his saddle. “We should stop for the night. You look ill.”

“I am not ill,” Rhaegar snaps. “We keep riding.”

Not content with being ignored because Rhaegar refuses to sleep, the dream begins to plague him while he’s awake, as well. It flashes forward, the children now grown, each of them strapping and comely. The eldest, a girl, reminds him so much of Rhaenys his heart aches. He sees the public moments—Elia presiding as Lady of the Hightower, included in all matters—and the private ones—the couple lying together frequently and ardently despite having no need to.

It haunts him as cruelly as a malevolent spirit, determined in its torture. For what reason, he knows not. When they make camp a day’s ride from the Gods Eye, he finds himself being shaken awake by Arthur. It’s disorienting; he hadn’t even realized he’d dozed off.

Arthur’s face is blank, as it’s been for months. Now, however, there’s a tinge of curiosity there, too. “You were calling out Princess Elia’s name in your sleep,” he says, helping Rhaegar sit up. “You sounded distraught.”

“A dream,” Rhaegar says. “I’ve had the same one since Summerhall. Before, even, but it was not as persistent then.”

“What kind of dream?”

Somehow, to admit what was in it would be akin to admitting deficiency. The absurdity of that—that a dream should make him feel shame—has him answering, “I dreamt she married Ser Baelor Hightower.”

Arthur is nonplussed. “Ser Baelor? Why?”

“How am I to know?” He rubs his forehead and amends, “I’m sorry. The dream has been most troublesome.”

“The dream that she married someone else.”

“It was more than that,” Rhaegar says, perturbed at Arthur’s dismissiveness. “They had children, they were happy. She was happy.”

“And that vexes you, her being happy?” Arthur’s voice has an edge to it that Rhaegar chooses to disregard. “You are wed to her, not Ser Baelor.”

“Yes, but I have not—”

I have not made her happy. Not like that.

He feels much like he’s swallowed a rock.

They are not owed happiness, people of his station and Elia’s, and yet the dream had showed him it was possible, for Elia particularly. She had certainly given him things to be cheerful about, Rhaenys and Aegon chief among them, and he doesn’t think she’s been despondent. But still there remains a discrepancy between how she was in his dream and how she is in reality.

“Your dreams always have a reason behind them,” Arthur says. “This one must, too.”

“But what?”

Measured, Arthur says, “Mayhaps to tell you this business with the Stark girl is not the right path. Mayhaps to tell you Elia should not be forsaken. Mayhaps you should not have left.”

Rhaegar wants to tell him that’s ludicrous. In place of not forcing Elia to have a third pregnancy that would kill her, he is pursuing Lady Lyanna instead—how is that not the right path to fulfill the prophecy? The only path?

All the same...the dreams had dramatically increased in intensity and clarity the further he’s traveled from Dragonstone. From Elia.

“The prophecy is paramount,” Rhaegar insists. “Elia will understand.”

Arthur laughs, though there is little humor in it. “No, she will not.”

“You are sharp of tongue tonight,” Rhaegar observes, miffed. “If you hold such an opinion, why did you join me?”

“Because you are my liege. I am bound to you.”

The rebuke—and it is plainly that—stings like a slap in the face. “Well,” he replies, “I would have you willing or not at all. Go, if that is your wish.”

“I wish for all of us to go,” says Arthur. “You have not doubted the meanings of your dreams before. Surely there can be no other explanation to you seeing Elia’s happiness with another man than that she will imminently be miserable and you will be the cause.” Rhaegar begins to object, but then Arthur concludes, “And you said yourself, Elia had more than just the two babes in your vision. Mayhaps you are being told the maester was wrong, or that the prophecy is not what it seems.”

Could it be true? Rhaegar wonders. Maester Pycelle had been beyond certain.

“You have given me much to ponder,” he says. “I will think on it.”

He allows himself to sleep that night, needing to see the dream again in full with Arthur’s words in mind. Only, it does not come to him. Not that one, anyway.

The sun beats down on Elia as it has before. But instead of standing in the middle of a garden, there is a rolling bay before her and a rocky fortress at her back. Aegon is at her breast, Rhaenys babbling away and trying to build a sandcastle nearby. Instead of being joined by Ser Baelor, Elia stares at him, as though it is Rhaegar standing on the beach with her.

“You left so suddenly, I thought you’d abandoned us. I am glad you did not,” she says. Her smile is small, guarded, but it is a smile nonetheless. She holds out her hand. “Come, your daughter has missed you.”

He takes her hand.

For the first time in recent memory, Rhaegar rouses feeling refreshed, as sleep ought to make one feel. He seeks out Arthur as the sun breaks the horizon and says, “I will find another way. We are going home.”