"I simply find it strange, is all," Lyanna spoke over Brandon's protests, eyeing the letter from King's Landing with no small amount of distrust. "To think, this link has existed for a long time. Black Alys has been dead for many a year. Did this knowledge somehow disappear for so long a time only to reappear, so conveniently, might I add, now?"
"You are a suspicious little thing," her father said, admiration shining through. "It will serve you well." Lyanna shrugged in reply to that. "Nevertheless, your brother is correct; to decline the invitation would cast us in poor light."
"I had no intention of suggesting we refuse." That was not entirely true. But then, her father need not know every single one of her thoughts. He certainly did not need to know what she'd gathered on the illustrious figure of the well-beloved Crown Prince's son last his path led him to them. Despite that, if her father was determined that she drag herself through a year or two at court, she would accept that. "I was merely wondering as to the reason behind such an unexpected invitation."
"Come now, you know as well as I that the Crown Prince's son remains unwed." For good reason. "If the Queen should offer a favourable look, it would not go amiss."
"He is ill, father; very, very ill, if rumours hold true." And no wonder. It was just what he deserved for his philandering ways. A man ought to grow up at some point. The Crown Prince's son had not done as much; she hadn't the inclination to look kindly upon those who refused to face reality anymore than she took to deserters fleeing the Wall. Lyanna could barely abide a frolicsome nature in her own brothers, let alone in a man she must share her life with. "I should think it more an insult if marriage were offered."
"Might be they mean to wed one of the younger sons off. In any case," Brandon spoke rather loudly, "this is not what is most important. You need not make any promises of that nature and shall have the excuse of an absent guardian until the eve of the new year should any unscrupulous cad press his suit."
"I do not know about cads," she offered in a relaxed manner. "I do, however, know that father might not agree with you." He was the one who had brought up marriage, after all, not she. Her lips compressed in mutinous challenge; daring her sire to deny it.
"'Twas my meaning you should not be insensitive should such an opportunity rear its head. Not at all that you ought to encourage any attentions." Not that encouraging attentions would change the course of fate. He knew as much. It was simply not fated that she capture the attention of a claimant to the throne. "We are understood then; you leave for King's Landing upon the new turn."
"If that is your wish, lord father, of course I am." She had no true objection to raise and her brother seemed almost eager to have her gone; presumably as he would soon have a bride to occupy his days with and a head-strong opinionated sister posed a threat all of its own.
"And glad I am for that. Brandon, leave us. I've a few matters to broach which needn't interest you." That too was most interesting. Lyanna smoothed a hand over her skirts. She prepared herself, if only because the painful squeeze of her stomach signalled the potential for troublesome requests rearing themselves. Her brother acquiesced and left her and father to their talk. "Your aunt will be there; I take it there is little need to remind you of your promise."
"I haven't even the faintest inclination to compete with her," she replied without much thought. Aunt Branda had soured long years past and whatever the cause of their current correspondence, it was unlikely that her ire had passed. "In any event, I am not her sister and have naught to gain by goading her."
Father's brow furrowed. "Do not speak such of your mother. She was a kindly woman." Except to her sister whom she could not suffer at her side for one reason or another. That, indeed, was a curious point of view. She chose not to pursue the line, however.
"Apologies, father; I did not mean any insult. Aunty has nothing to fear of me. I am going to court by request not desire and do imagine whatever Her Majesty's reason for calling me forth, it shall find quick solution."
"Would that I were as optimistic. I'd no wish to ask before your brother but are you certain you've no need of one of your brothers. I can write to Jon Arryn. He will spare Ned." A smile blossomed upon her lips, yet she shook her head.
"Poor Ned. He would not refuse, that I know. But what good would it do? Nay; I shall see you come the new year. Truly, father, I can survive."
He chuckled. "There was never any question of that." He patted his knee in invitation, a gesture Lyanna remembered well from her early youth. She accepted it and moved from her seat, throwing her arms around him in a loose embrace. "But you cannot fault an old man for wishing to know his daughter safe."
Warmed, she pressed a kiss to his cheek. Stubble scratched her lips and chin. "I should worry too, if you were leaving us." It would be absurd to resent love and care. She'd heard the argument made that it was a mark of disrespect for her father to fret so about her. But he fretted for all his children, and she much doubted he harboured disrespect for his offspring as such. "I will write, and you will know that I am well."
"One takes what one can. I daresay, you must not forget to write though. I take it as a promise."
"It is a promise, father. I shall write as often as I can." Though she did not doubt there would be much to keep her otherwise engaged. Still, it cost her nothing to give him her word.
Rhaegar paused, his pace faltering. His eyes strayed towards the end of the hallway, but to no avail. The shadows yielded naught forth. He sighed. Arthur placed a hand on his shoulder, distracting him from the flickering flames. "We don't have to be here." The unfortunate thing was they were the only ones waiting without. He said as much to his friend.
"I cannot leave him to suffer alone." And to think he had arrived in an unplanned manner and might have well happened upon the scene when only a pyre might be required.
The Dornishman did not release him. "As to that, it does you credit. But I doubt any man would wish himself beset with spectators at his deathbed." His friend had a way of putting such matters into perspective. Nevertheless, Rhaegar shook his head. "What good will our lingering do? The ravens have been sent. 'Tis not your burden to bear."
Certainly not, after his last encounter with his uncle that was clear. Rhaegar agreed in so far; he hadn't a duty to Aegon the man. Aegon his kin, however, had yet to release him from his obligations. He gave no decipherable answer to his companion. Thus, it surprised him little when Arthur produced even more words. "This is a bloody horrible situation. We might refrain from making it worse."
"If you fear an adverse response so much, you may make for King's Landing on your own." After all, he had a dragon, a considerable advantage over the horse-riding entourage insisting upon joining him.
"You are being deliberately obtuse," his friend accused, finally pulling back his hand, only to cross his arms over his chest. "Is it not enough that Duncan takes every opportunity to belittle you? Must you give him further cause? For make no mistake; he will see your presence at his brother's bedside as cause enough."
His father's namesake, Duncan the Younger wielded considerable power at court. Since his elder brother's inadequacies became well known throughout the kingdoms, he had attempted and succeeded to fill in the empty spot Aegon left behind, with the understanding that he was, effectively, his father's heir. That was to say, Aegon would most probably never wed, never have sons of his own; he would never even livelong beyond the first flush of youth, if his current state was any indication. Naturally, Duncan the son had forged himself a path to what would soon be his official position.
Rhaegar did not resent that. He hadn't a right to. Having been born the first grandson of the King's second son, there was scant option for him other than to accept his position with dignity. There was always the option of railing at fate, rebelling at its callous treatment and visiting grief upon those close to him; and he had considered his distaste for that particular path when he dared face the serpents living within him at length.
He did, however, begrudge Duncan the ease of his loathing. The whole situation would be much easier to bear if he were convinced his mere existence was a reasonable motive to shoulder the blame for Aegon's current situation. Unfortunately, Rhaegar did not see quite what Duncan meant when he stared with baleful eyes at him.
"You worry too much," he finally replied, shaking his head lightly. It was an unfortunate situation, that one could not show interest in one's kin without the threat of suspicion looming ahead. But it was, and he could do little but accept it and move on.
"And you never do enough worrying." Arthur sat upon the bench, leaning his head back against the wall. Despite his nagging, he would stay; or so indicated his actions.
The door to his cousin's chamber creaked open and the maester's head poked out. "The fever broke." Relief wrapped itself around Rhaegar, in spite of knowing the miracle would be short-lived. "Will Your Grace be staying, after all?"
"It would be best, I daresay."
"In that case, the rooms have been readied, Your Grace."
"I should like to see my uncle."
The Queen was not at all what Lyanna would have expected. For some odd reason, despite her Blackwood origins, her mind had forever associated her with Prince Aegon. But nay; her look called to mind more a starless sky than an autumnal field. The Crown Prince's wife was the one who had given Aegon his features. Lyanna straightened herself, not entirely ignorant of the speculative gaze the two levelled upon her.
"You needn't be so formal," Queen Betha assured. "My good-daughter and I are not in the habit of resenting a bit of disarray."
Jenny of Oldstones nodded her agreement. She had caused quite the stir when she'd wedded the Crown Prince. One would expect her to be a great beauty, at the very least, or possess an aura. Sorely disappointed, Lyanna had to make do with an unremarkably plain woman, noteworthy for a lack of any and all extraordinary traits. Certainly, her hair held a fair amount of reddish strands amid its otherwise earthy tones; but that was all. No matter; it was her fault for having expected to be entertained during her stint at court. She ought to have known that since no one made mention of Lady Jenny, as she was at times mockingly called, being in possession of striking looks, she was likely not.
"How was your journey?" the younger woman asked, indicating that Lyanna ought to take her seat. "The roads, as I've heard it, are in poor state."
Rain, sleet and healthy frost, and all of them in close succession. No wonder the roads were in poor shape. "I try not to complain; my lord father saw that I was as comfortable as I could possibly be."
"Northerners are nothing if not thorough," the Queen allowed, her expression losing some of its cheeriness. "I imagine 'twas why the response to my letter was delayed. Your father must have thought long upon the matter."
Sawolfyr stretched wide wings as though in preparation for flight. Rhaegar simply rubbed at the side of her neck, praising her softly enough that no one might hear. He dismounted, glancing about in search of his mother. What he did see, though, was his grandmother.
He offered her a courtly bow, though he did not go as far as to kiss her beringed hand. "I quite despaired of having you back with us," the older woman said, gifting him one of those smiles she reserved for those moments in which she was pleased. Rhaegar could only wonder what manner of mischief he was to untangle next. "Now, pet, shake the dust from your shoulders and pay my words heed."
"But of course, Your Grace." Had Duncan stirred trouble for grandfather with the Stormlords yet again? He did not particularly relish another run-in with Steffon Baratheon. The man was fair, aye, but as sharp as any blade he'd come across and not like to be taken in by a few pretty words. At least he was not half as bad as Lord Tully. That one could not be pleased. His stomach soured at the thought of Lord Tully and his two daughters. Not that he held any grudge against the girls, for he was certain they were goodly maidens; their father, however, had best pray whatever good-son took him on had a head for intrigue, else he wound find his lifespan severely shortened.
"Your mother is not best pleased with the Queen, that I can tell you." His steps checked at the words. But if grandmother saw it, she did not pause. "You know Her Majesty had it in her head to call Lord Stark's daughter to court. I daresay she hoped one of the younger girls might make a companion of her." He nodded. He'd heard as much. "There is but a small problem." He cocked his head to the side. "You are aware your uncle's relationship with Rogers' widow took a turn for the worst. Well, he has decided making calf eyes at the woman's niece is the perfect ointment for his wounds."
"Her niece?" He did not imagine Lady Rogers took the slight too well. For a brief moment, his brain conjured the image of a buxom servant girl thrown into the hallway with an angry statuesque woman towering over her, a river of oaths beating down upon the crying wench. Rhaegar shuddered. "Poor girl."
"Poor girl indeed. She has taken refuge with your mother-for you know how Rhaella's sweet nature has her helping out whenever she can-but that begets its own host of troubles." Grandmother cleared her throat softly. "You know how your father dislikes being outdone by his kin. Once he heard the poor dear came into your mother's keeping, he near tripped all over himself trying to get close to her."
"Fascinating as the situation is, grandmother, I do not know why I must know of it. The lady is not like to escape unscathed. She will have to choose one or the other." He felt sorry for the girl, but it was truly none of his business whom Lord Stark's daughter entertained.
"We were thinking that she would not," the woman disagreed, eyes meeting his. Rhaegar's gaze turned sharp upon her. He did not like the look upon her face. Not at all. "Come, you are a knight, and she a lady. It is only right that her plight should touch your heart."
The only thing the girl's plight touched was a nerve.
Lyanna shuddered as though someone had stepped upon her grave. She'd been hard at prayer, begging the old gods and the new alike that she would not become a means to shame her family. Though she'd written to father, and she knew either he or Brandon would eventually come, her instincts told her it would be much too late.
It was all auntie's fault. If she hadn't goaded the younger Duncan none of it would have come about. How she loathed that woman. She was not contended to whore to her heart's content but had to drag her into the mire as well. And put her in the path of Prince Duncan the Younger. At least Prince Aegon hid naught of his nature and one could smell the stench of decay upon him and see the signs of illness from miles away. Her lips thinned until she thought the pressure might break skin.
"I see you cannot concentrate at all," Princess Rhaella said upon a sigh. She put down her cards. "There now, child; it will all turn out well, you shall see." She wanted to believe her. But what chance did she stand against princes of the realm.
Before she could speak though, the door opened to admit a yet unknown figure. To Lyanna's chagrin she found herself releasing a long breath of relief. The young man had the look of a Targaryen and at a guess, she'd say he was the Princess' eldest son.
"Rhaegar," his mother greeted, jumping to her feet and trotting towards him so as to wrap him in an embrace.
"Lady mother," he answered warmly. There was no discernible emotion she could attribute to him, but his eyes were warm. Until they fell upon her, their gleam turning speculative. She had the faint notion that he was assessing her.
"How rude of me," the Princess laughed, "I have all but forgotten about you, my dear." She turned to Lyanna and beckoned her to a standing position. "Son, this is Lady Lyanna Stark." She dared a small nod towards him while he busied himself searching his mother's face when it turned to him. "And I should be most glad if you did her the great favour of giving her the protection of your name."
Her heart stopped. She had assumed they meant to have the Prince escort her home. Or some such scheme. Not marriage. "Your Grace," she found herself protesting before she could bite her tongue.
"Methinks the lady doth protest a tad much, given the circumstances. Shall you wait until either my sire or his cousin father a child upon you?" She gaped. "You'll find the pickings to be slim for a woman who is full of a bastard. Be it a royal bastard." Never in all her life had anyone spoken to her so discourteously.
The most troubling part was that the vile man was not wrong.
Furthermore, the Prince turned on his heel and she did not doubt he would have left had she not cried out, "Your Grace!" He paused and turned his neck enough that she could make out half his face. "Your manner is most insulting, your address coarse and your finesse lacking. Were I less desperate, I should rather die than accept your aid. But I am desperate."
She hoped he knew what it cost her to humble herself before him in such a manner.
"Nevertheless," he spoke, his voice smooth, reminiscent of his father's, "I am not, lady."
"I do not believe you would be so mean-spirited as to hold my rash reaction against me. 'Tis simply that I'd not heard of the plan before, and it did rather take me by surprise." She made a thoughtful sound, trying to stall. "The solution is not displeasing to me, and I should make you a good wife, if you but allow it."
The daughter of Lord Stark, descendant of kings, bartering like a common fishwife. The gods were laughing themselves silly, she did not doubt. "I will be forever grateful to you." To his face. In her mind she was quite content to curse him to the devil.
The Princess sat down upon her stool once more, picking up her cards. She seemed to be enjoying her game, ignoring her. Lyanna swallowed. "Surely you understand what a favour you would be doing me." How she hated that her voice trembled. He was facing her, listening with a serene countenance. The wretch. "I will do my best by you, Your Grace, to see that my debt is repaid."
Interest flickered to life upon his face. "And how do you mean to repay me, lady?"
"In the manner a wife repays her husband."
Okay, this is a bit of a joke. Don't take it too seriously, have fun if you can and do know it'll be a very short fic.
That's about all I have to say.
Enjoy and all the rest!
Grandmother had insisted that he come sit by her while his mother eased his newly-betrothed's nerves. While Rhaegar could not say he blamed her, one could expect she would show some deference to her means of salvation. A wife's manner of reward for his aid, she'd said; he found that hard to believe. "Do not look so put out," Shaera Targaryen chided, her dark eyes lit with humour. Presumably she found amusement at his predicament.
"Grandmamma, I assure you, I am the picture of contentment," he drawled, knowing full well she would not buy into it for a moment.
"Ungrateful brat," the woman said without fire. "You are very fortunate, don't you know?" He raised his eyebrow at her. "Very well, grandson; I shall draw the list for you. Although, between the two of us, all this should be very clear to you. Lady Lyanna comes from a respectable, old and powerful family, and her connection is to the main line," he nodded, "she has been educated according to her station an took well to it for I've heard her read," again, he could do naught but approve, "her mind is lively, her demeanour pleasant. The lady has three brothers, all of them surviving and in good health. Her mother did not die in childbed." That was no guarantee. One had to but look at the younger Duncan. "Your mother took her to the orphans and said she acquitted herself well, thus I must presume her manners are as charming as the rest of her." That was just as well. "And most importantly, she comes with a large dowry."
"Grandmamma!" That was positively obscene. He sighed and combed his fingers through his hair. "The poor girl thinks you are trying to help her, not fleece her."
"What fleecing?" she demanded, quick to chastise him for his outburst. "She's not a nitwit. Of course she knows we are not helping her for nothing. And it is a fair trade." Red-faced, the matronly figure of his grandmother wagged her finger at him. "Don't think you don't cost us good coin, boy, and we can't be expected to carry you your whole life." He flushed in indignation. But at the same time his grandmother's countenance softened. "Were my husband still alive, might be it would be different. But my son hasn't the head for it and your mother, may the Seven keep her, is a goodly, practical soul who hasn't the tongue for it, I fear. Do not mistake my nephew; he has both the mind and the tongue to cause you trouble."
"And Lyanna Stark can help with that?" Not to disparage the lady, but she did not seem the sort to pick foolish fights, which would be precisely the case were she to engage Duncan. Was that not why she sought to wed him in the first place?
Shaera tittered. "You young men spend too little time around proper ladies and too many hours in brothels." This time he blushed for something other than anger. "Someone like Lady Lyanna does not share herself with all men. That includes the good and the bad. Being your wife will give her courage she might otherwise lack. Just as being a wedded man will give you a reason to exercise restraint."
"Restraint," he echoed. "I was not aware my actions lacked restraint." Were he any more lacking in restraint he would have plunged a sword down Duncan the Younger's throat years ago.
"Come, boy. You aren't a green lad, and it is past time you wed. Lady Lyanna is the sort of woman I feel you could appreciate." He'd certainly seen other women to match her, he though; except for in rudeness, might be, and pride.
"Is there anything I ought to know about her?"
Grandmother gave him a sharp look. "If you mean whether my nephew or your father reached her; nay. Have no fear on that account. The girl is as pure as newly driven snow." Starks and snow. Rhaegar almost laughed. "Don't give me that look. You are not old enough that you might get away with it yet."
"I knew you were as spry as ever."
"I do beg of you, don't show me your cheek. You are not to divert me."
He shrugged. "Very well, grandmother. And when am I to take this lady to wife?"
"This evening. I have arranged with His Majesty; you need but call two of those friends of yours to witness, if you can manage it." He nodded dutifully.
The more he thought about it, the more it made sense to him. Both himself and the prospective bride had been caught, more or less, unawares. Naturally, she would be discomposed. She was young, and might be a tad naive. Not her fault and no reason to think ill of her. "I will endeavour to make this as easy as I possibly can for her."
"Good. She shall make you a good wife, grandson. If it were not so, do you think your mother and I would have suggested it?" Rhaegar shook his head. "If you but give her the chance, she will prove herself."
"I am not unwilling."
"And you must promise to be a good husband in return." Wide-eyed, he gaped at his grandmother. "Aye; you are doing her a favour by wedding her now, but she will pay it back with her dowry. The rest is for you to decide. You may live your lives as stalks thrown together, or you may build a life of your own. Do you understand what I am saying?"
"I understand." When his grandmother made up her mind, it was best to let her do as she would. Lady Lyanna was a good choice, his first reaction notwithstanding.
"Best you be off now and find those friends of yours before they drain the cellars."
Laughing at the slight pinch of annoyance in her voice, he drew to his feet and bent over her hand. "I'll make certain they're sober enough to stand up with me."
"You do that."
Rhaegar did not wait to find Dayne. And indeed his companion had absconded with a servant girl at the end of the stables. The young woman yelped at the sight of him and drew up the linens to cover her bare chest, slapping a hand to Arthur's shoulder. His friend laughed and pushed her back into the bed of hay with a low curse. He left her in the half-shadows and followed to where the light shone.
"You have the worst timing," Arthur accused. "Unless you were looking for companionship. In which case, I don't think Rosy would mind. Would you, Rose?" The girl produced a half-strangled sound, which Arthur rewarded with a warm chuckle. "See; she's a sporting sort."
Rhaegar allowed his gaze to travel over the dishevelled servant. She beamed up at him, showing slightly crooked teeth. But otherwise, her countenance was pleasant enough, with freckled skin and dark blonde tresses. She allowed her chemise to drop some at his obvious attention. But he merely nodded at her before turning his eyes towards Arthur. "Daresay if I begin my marriage in the arms of another woman, my grandmother will take my head."
"Beg your pardon?" the knight choked. "Marriage?" Then he laughed as though Rhaegar had told him the best jest he'd ever heard. "Trying to pull my leg, old boy. It won't work."
"As it happens, I am not," Rhaegar assured him. "I will send a squire to retrieve you, but it'll be sometime after the supper meal, to my understanding. Be ready." He glanced towards the girl. "You," he addressed her, "do not let him outstay his welcome."
"Aye, Y'er Grace," she answered, nodding her head for emphasis.
But Arthur was apparently not pleased with the conclusion for he neglected to return to his woman. "You can't just tell a man you're getting married and then be off."
"You know what I mean! Good gods, who is she? Do I know her?"
"If you knew her, I would not contemplate wedding her."
"Very amusing." Hands on his hips, Arthur demanded an explanation. "Do not think you are leaving until I am satisfied I understood what is going on."
"Father's beard; we'd be here until nightfall." Arthur remained unimpressed. "Very well then. I will explain." Drawing him closer, Rhaegar spoke low enough so as to not be overheard. "Apparently, my grandmother and my mother wish me to rescue a fair maiden from the attention of two surly dragons. One of which is my father."
"What?" His friend cursed. "You're not thinking of going along with it, are you?"
"I am." The other stared at him with no small amount of shock. "I'll have to wed sooner or later. Best take a wife they approve of and skip the embarrassment of squabbling like children."
"But who is she?" Arthur insisted.
"Lyanna Stark. I very much doubt you've had dealings with her."
Meantime, Rose had made herself decent enough to step out of the shadows. "Lady Lyanna?" she muttered, her face relaxing in a sort of pleased look. Arthur caught that and did not hesitate to question her reaction.
"Do you know her, Rosy?"
"Oh, aye. A lady from the savage North though she might be," the servant girl shrugged, "she is finer than many a court lady, if you ken my meaning, m'lord."
"How so, Rosy?" Rhaegar questioned, curious as to what someone like her might know of his betrothed. He sent an apologetic look to his friend, but Arthur was as curious as him.
"Hetty, m'sister, serves with the ladies, m'lords," she bragged with a wide smile, as though such an accomplishment was like to impress them, "and she sees all. I tell you this in the greatest of confidences." Her gaze dropped as uncertainty furrowed the lines of her brow.
"Never fear, Rosy, we shan't betray you. Speak freely."
"Hetty told me that one of the other girls, Gilly, had been sent to grab the linens for washing. The poor thing was so ill that day that she gave herself away, sickening all over one of m'lady's dress which her woman had left out. A pretty one too, Hetty said. M'lady, who had just then returned to her chamber, caught the moment. You can imagine the dread following." Despite the triviality of the information, Rhaegar found himself leaning in. "Something the like happened to another girl a few years back and she was whipped; hard. Gilly knew and expected as much. So she falls to her knees, ready to beg m'lady's leniency. But lo', no sooner than she understood the matter, m'lady called for her own woman and had her help Gilly in a chair. Poured her a cup of wine too. Arbour." Most servants rarely tasted such. "So she asks Gilly if she should call the maester for her. Gilly protests. It isn't the thing at all. But m'lady insists, so her woman suggests they get an acolyte. Said and done. And m'lady had the acolyte look at Gilly then and there and give her something for her stomach. She even paid from her own coin."
"Well, Rosy, I never heard you speak half so well about any other lady," Arthur cajoled. "You ought to beg His Grace to put in a good word for you to his lady."
"Don't jest," Rose protested, looking for all the world as though she would like naught better but to hit her lover again. "Not many of us are as lucky as Bailey. Why, if I could work for a mistress like the Northerner lady, I should happily scrub the floorboards."
Whatever the truth of it, clearly the girl's opinion was to the positive. He considered her for a few silent moments during which all attention reverted to him. "I doubt my lady has any floors for you to scrub, but she will likely need more hands to help her. Where do you work?"
"The kitchens, Y'er Grace." Her face was positively radiant.
Rhaegar nodded. "Dayne, find Lonmouth and Mooton when you're done here."
"Aye; I daren't call one without the other."
With that, he turned on his heel and left, not before catching the beginning of a giggle. His pace hastened, lest he hear aught he did not want to. Best to be well away, he thought to himself.
Duncan Targaryen envied everyone everything. He envied his father the high position as Crown Prince and when his brother had been well, he'd envied the man his chance at power. He envied his cousin those sons of his. Miscarriage after stillbirth after miscarriage, and Aerys still managed to have two sons. Two more than Duncan. He envied others' monies and youth, their chance to climb up into the world when he'd been stuck in the same positions for decades.
At the moment though, what galled him beyond the power of words, was his inability to pin that little Northerner maiden down.
Acid burned low in his gut at the sight of his father and grandfather, heads bent in discreet conversation. He wanted to know what was said and what decisions were reached. More importantly, he wished he were the one making those decisions. Alas, both men seemed in their best of health. The only mercy was that his brother lied even at the moment at death's door and the maesters fully expected to receive news from Dragonstone.
He had little doubt their talk had turned to Lord Stark's daughter. Trying to place her in such a position that she'd be untouchable. For the moment he was content not to press the matter. Branda had been incensed, crying and screaming like a madwoman, calling the girl all manner of names to his ever increasing amusement. She'd made his promise he would leave her be. But at some point he would wish to see the matter to an end. And when he did, the proud little thing would find her consequence ground along with that unseemly contrarian element to her nature.
Grabbing hold of his dragon, he removed Aerys' elephant with a small smile, looking into his cousin's face, fully expecting to see frustration in full bloom. His cousin did not disappoint, however, there was something else there as well. A sort of muted triumph. "I draw near to your king yet again," he spoke nevertheless, keeping close watch over the man.
"Never you fear, cousin, I've skill enough to defend my king." Aerys' ivory catapult rid the board of the onyx dragon. "I take it you are still somewhat distracted, Duncan?" The soft tone of voice did not bode well. Duncan narrowed his eyes in an icy glare. "I don't blame you. Heard your Branda screaming fit to wake the dead myself. If you were a smart man, you'd cut out her tongue."
"Don't you ever long for some spice with your bland stew?" he questioned, shrugging at the satisfied look Aerys sported. Of course the man had his many amours to fall back on in times of need, should his wife bar him from her bed, and even if she did not. "I let her vent her spleen, so to better sweeten her after." Had she not been as barren as the Dornish deserts, he might have wedded her too. He removed Aerys' dragon with a trebuchet.
"I suppose that is a method." He was close to the King once more. Duncan considered his cousin as Aerys put a heavy horse as guard to the prize. His defence would not hold out for long, he knew. Still, his cousin carried himself with dignity in the face of his inevitable loss. Years ago when he'd first learned the game, and Aerys with him, he recalled the man flipping the board over when he lost to Tywin Lannister. "If I were you, though, I would turn my attention to siring sons. Unless, of course, you mean for Daella to inherit."
"Heavens forbid," he chuckled. Daella was a sweet girl and a good daughter, but if she sat the throne, the lords would squabble over who would next crawl into her bed. Besides, she was barren as well. If her short marriage was not proof enough, then her many indiscreet affairs certainly made up in that regard. "The realm would burn."
Had Daeron lived matters would have been much different. Daella's twin, the heir his father always wanted, snatched away by a chill of all things, had been a babe-in-arms at the time of his death. There was ever so rarely any guarantee with children. The hand of the Stranger lurked about, fingers splayed wide apart, searching for the next victim to snatch. How Betrys had wept for their son.
He supposed the mistake had been his. Though Betrys was a Hightower, a descendant of Garmund and Rhaena, she'd been one of seven children where only one had been a boy. But who could blame him? Shining with a sweet light all of her own, the young girl had been everything a young prince's wife ought to be, kind, considerate and graceful. The only accusation he might bring to her was that she never quite managed to give him another son after Daeron. She had gifted him daughters aplenty though. Daella, Mylisant, poor Ailith, who had died within a year of her birth, and, last but not least, Jenny. Theirs had been a passionate union until her death in childbed.
Older and a little wiser when his sight landed upon Metylda Mullendore, he had been relieved to find she had two older brothers and an older sister, all of whom had sons of their own. Tylda, may the Mother grant her mercy, had been as plain of face as she was mischievous of heart. And the gods knew her face had been very plain. But one conversation, quite by chance, was all it took to reveal to him a lively mind behind her unexceptional visage. In other words, Tylda had been everything sweet Betrys had not, though he rarely admitted that to himself. With her he'd found another kind of passion; they spoke long into the night, their love of the arts leading to more than one heated debate.
Tylda had given him but three children. The first had been Valerion whose life had been as short as that of his namesake. Then had come Aelor, a boy whose nature was as mischievous as his mother's and ended with him somehow falling out of his cradle, hitting his head on the edge of a dais. The maesters could not save him. But that was after his mother's death. Tylda's last child was Ascelina, who'd survived both brothers and her mother. The last birth had weakened poor Tylda and she died within the moon turn of her daughter's birth, of a chill.
"Then you had best produce an heir." As his cousin spoke, Duncan had the heavy horse removed by his other dragon.
The trouble was that while he was not incapable of marital congress, the idea of taking another wife sat ill with him. Tylda had shown him that love could come again if he allowed it, yet to install another mistress in chambers that had been hers, to see another woman in her bed and long for the conversation they'd held well into the night. Duncan did not consider himself a sentimental fool. In all other respects, he had removed any and all traces of his first two wives.
"Might be you've the right of it." But then his cousin would not make such a suggestion out of the goodness of his heart. "Don't tell me, though, you mean to offer me someone." Aerys moved the rabble to the side. His king was open to attacks. "I do not think I could bear it." He conquered the ivory monarch, finishing the game.
"I daresay, you know better than I what you need in a woman, Duncan. However, if you are inclined to listen to advice, my suggestion is to seek a young, healthy bride. A Frey might be. Think of all the little children."
"A broodmare." He was not entirely opposed to it. "I'll consider the matter, cousin. But for now, I am more than pleased in my current state." Aegon might still survive, drat him. There had been so many of these false alarms as of late. It would not be seemly to rush into marriage. "Speaking of fine, young ladies; where is the Lady Lyanna? I thought your wife had her keeping her company."
Amusement flickered upon his cousin's face. "Being interrogated over a hand of cards, as I understand. Mother is adamant that the girl share with her all about the North. As though she cares one whit about the savage lands beyond the Neck."
"Is there any chance we'll see her in the great hall, do you think?"
"I would not count on it. They're on to our game, after all."
"A pox upon it. A man can no longer wench in peace for interference of his kin."
Aerys laughed. "I'll see if I can convince Rhaella to bring the girl down. She can't stay locked in those chambers forever; now, can she?"
Duncan did fear that the minds of women were addled, though; particularly the minds of women in his family. The Seven knew what they could do if they took to a task. He flashed a wide smile to his cousin before standing. "If you don't mind, I'm for the dragon pit."
A little exercise would work well to excise his pent up dissatisfaction.
She had brushed her hair for the seventh time. Lyanna put down her comb and fiddled with a bit of string escaping an embroidered flower before she could catch herself and deposit her hands in her lap. The Princess had been gracious and allowed her to remain within her chambers with her servant girl. Lyanna did not precisely know how she would repay the woman, especially considering she'd also been responsible for all the good fortune come her way. The only way she could think was to promise to her as well that she would be a good wife to her son.
"M'lady, you should eat a little," Bailey encouraged. "Your look is as pale as death, 'pon my word." She held the tray up for Lyanna to inspect. "At least a bit of bread and cheese, m'lady. You don't want to be getting sick." That was certainly true. She forced herself to take a small piece of cheese and nibble on it. The taste hardly mattered. It was as tough she chewed on ashes. "Don't be thinking so hard, m'lady. It can't do too much good."
Bailey had the right of it. Lyanna knew it did not help matters, but the only other option was to run about screaming. She was going to wed a man she'd never met before this day, share a bed with him and the gods knew what else. If it were only a matter of her keeping company with him, she might not have taken it so. But then she reminded herself he might have laughed at her plight and sent her tumbling into the awaiting arms of hardly kind men. He could not be all bad. And if he were the reprobate, as the heir apparent, then surely she would have heard.
"Tell me, Bailey, how long have you served here?"
"A good number of years, m'lady. Started out washing linens." She looked upon her then. Bailey was not in the first flush of youth, but she was not all that old either, by Lyanna's reckoning. "It must be two scores of years by now, lady." Kind eyes encouraged her without words.
"Do you know, then, the measure of my betrothed?" Her stomach squeezed. She just wanted someone to tell her she was not making a mistake.
"Know him? Aye, how could I not?" The servant woman put the tray upon the stool. "He spent almost all his years here, m'lady, before he began aiding His Grace the Crown Prince in running the other seat." He ran Dragonstone? So that was why the thing didn't fall in a heap of rubble around its master's ears. "And a good hand he is at it too. When Her Grace went there she took me with." Lyanna nodded.
"And the servants? How does he treat the lower orders?" A small smile twitched to life upon the woman's lips.
"You are not to be part of the lower orders, m'lady. Begging your pardon for speaking out of turn." She curtsied.
Before Lyanna could put another question in, the door opened to admit Princess Rhaella, who busied herself with shooing her women away. "Just do as I said," she spoke over their soft words. Then, turning towards Lyanna, she tsked. "I knew I should have stayed behind. My poor dearling, you've hardly eaten a bite. Bailey did I not say to feed her?"
"Your Grace, the fault lies with me," Lyanna quickly interjected. "I simply cannot swallow another morsel." The cheese would have to tie her over.
"Well, well," the Princess allowed, moving past the servant woman and bending to press a soft kiss to Lyanna's cheek. "You cannot blame a mother for worrying. And do not be too shocked. I have decided that a good-daughter is no different from a daughter. After all, I am to guide you through this, my sweet, as there is no one else to do it properly."
Bailey left them at the nod of the Princess. Lyanna was not entirely surprised to be uprooted from her seat and placed upon the edge of the bed. The Princess sat down next to her. "My dear child, you must be honest with me; have you ever known a man?"
Instinctively she knew the meaning was not as innocent as it might seem. "Known a man?"
"Have you lain with a man is what I'm asking."
Her face exploded in a rush of crimson she did not doubt. "I am a maiden," she managed past the thickening of her own tongue. She considered explaining that her aunt's actions had naught to do with her and bore no special meaning as to the climate she'd been raised in. "I would not dare..."
"Pray do not be cross with me," the older woman spoke sweetly. "I had to know, you see, for I must explain to you what goes on between a man and woman if you do not know."
"I know that whatever goes on between man and wife yield in children," she said. That was the extent to which the maester had explained the matter to her, promising that one day she would have her fill of knowledge upon the subject with a rather wicked wink.
"You are correct, of course." She breathed out in relief. "But there are some parts to it which may seems strange to you." Lyanna simply nodded her accord to proceed. "You see, when a man and woman come together, he will put that part of him which is different within that part of her which has been created to receive it." That, at least, she'd guessed from catching the barnyard beasts. It did not look comfortable. "You will lie on your back for this." Her eyebrow rose. "I expect you've seen the mating of beasts once or twice. Unlike them, for us it is more comfortable if we lie back."
"I see." She did not.
"The first time there is some pain, but you mustn't mind it. 'Tis only this one time, for your maidenhead will be broken. My advice is to take a fortifying cup of wine." The Princess smiled. "But even if you shouldn't, the act can be quite pleasant when your partner shows enough consideration."
How would she know if he did? "What a look you have about you, child. You truly need not be afraid. If your own mother were here with you she would tell you the same. Do you believe your lord father would knowingly harm his lady wife?"
"Nay." She felt her face heat up yet again.
"Might be 'tis better I tell you. A mother should never wish to imagine her daughter in such a position," the Princess mussed. "Well, beyond that, it has been my observation that men have a fondness for breasts." Was it too much to ask the earth to swallow her up, Lyanna wondered. "If he should be desirous to touch you there, leave him be. It hurts nothing and could even prove pleasing. Other forms of petting might be involved, for men are such that they need the constant touching."
Swallowing her nervousness, she somehow managed to ask, "Am I expected to," she trailed off, licking her lips hesitantly, "return the attention?"
"Heavens; I daresay he'll be in raptures if you do. Most men are." The trouble was she hadn't the faintest if she was brave enough to even look at him, knowing what she knew. Touch her breasts indeed, she scoffed. The Princess laughed and stroked her hair. "But if you do not feel comfortable, I don't doubt he will understand. It saddens me that you were not given the chance to know one another better; if I could provide, have no doubt that I would."
"Your Grace is most kind." Positively killing her by being so accommodating.
"Is there anything else you wish to ask me?"
Lyanna considered asking for a horse and a few men to return her to her father. Just as quickly she slammed the lid over that thought, locking it away in a dark corner. "I do believe I have all the knowledge I need."
"Very well then. Let us garb the bride then and we shall go to His Majesty."
The idea the King knew tonight she would be losing her maidenhead brought a wave of nausea over Lyanna. She choked back hysterical laughter and stood to her feet. Time to pay the piper.
Well, how's that for a chapter?
I tried to flesh the characters out a bit. You tell me if it worked out ;). Also, please don't tease me too much about Rhaella's advice. The one certainty you should draw from this is that ignorance is indeed bliss. :))
Anyway, do tell me what you think.
Fair Jenny was the closest in age to Lyanna of the younger Duncan's daughters. As her moniker so aptly suggested, she had the Targaryen looks her own mother had inherited from the long-dead Princess Rhaena. She regarded Lyanna through slightly crinkled eyes, her expression warm and inviting. To her own frayed nerves such kindness grew tenfold when accompanied by a slight lift of lips.
"Did I not tell you to wait for us with your grandfather?" Princess Rhaella demanded of her kin, tsking lightly at the blatant disobedience. "For shame, girl. Even the future husband has more sense than to risk his presence being known."
"Come now," the young Jenny cajoled, her thin lips spreading in an even wider smile. She reminded Lyanna of a clever fox about to talk the crow out of its prize, "Do you think I should be so foolish? Grandfather allowed my presence. He said I might as well make myself useful and lend Lady Lyanna a hand."
Somehow, Lyanna restrained herself well enough that she did not mention Fair Jenny's lack of help when she had needed it most. Alas, the time for such accusations was past. A wise woman would bury her complaints within the darkest corner of her heart. And she, Lyanna thought, not without a hint of ire, did not wish to appear unwise. Biting her tongue was the clever thing to do. At least until she had a cloak around her shoulders and a husband to show for it.
Scarcely were they arrived in the hall when another figure dashed up to them. The young girl was doubtlessly Princess Ascelina, allowed out of the Maidenvault. The girl, Lyanna had been told, was a sickly, frail thing even on the best of days and no one saw the wisdom of straining her poor health any further. Her grandmother tarried in her wake.
The little girl turned wide dark eyes upon Lyanna, her face cheery. She trussed a small bouquet of fragrant flowers towards Lyanna. Despite her young age, she was quite tall. "Grandmamma says I am to give you these," she told her, voice pleasantly low. She spoke quietly, as though shy or worried her gift might be rejected.
But Lyanna knew enough about shy young girls to accept the flowers. She bent and pressed a kiss upon each of the child's cheeks. "They are lovely." Lyanna took a moment to appreciate their scent as the girl beamed up at her. How unlike her sister she was, with the round face and dark braids. Briefly, Lyanna wondered if Prince Duncan the Younger had any idea the woman in his life had banded together to rob him of his prize. How he would chafe to know. Might be she would tell him one day how his youngest daughter had sweetly pressed flowers in her hands. That would serve him right.
The Crown Prince's wife drew to a halt at her side and shooed her kin away, even little Ascelina. "Go before us. I wish a word with the bride." As soft-spoken as her youngest granddaughter, the woman regarded her with interest. Yet again Lyanna found herself lost for words under the careful scrutiny. The Crown Prince's wife had no such troubles. "Lady Lyanna, how it shames me that my son has been instrumental to your predicament. I would tender apologies, but in such instances, I do not know that it would sufficient."
"Was it Your Grace who suggested this marriage?" There was poor-disguised guilt in the woman's eyes. As though she thought she was leading a lamb to slaughter.
"There were but few options." The older woman hesitated a moment before she reached out for Lyanna's free hand, the one unburdened by flowers. "I loved my husband dearly when I wedded him and I wished in that moment that all other people would know such joy." To think she was robbing a young girl of her chance must have wounded her. Lyanna nodded in understanding. "Were my son of a less disagreeable disposition in this, I would have simply sent you back to your father, assured that he would protect you."
"Your Grace," she interjected before the both of them grew maudlin, "my upbringing has been as such that I came to expect I should wed for my family's advancement." She was not daft and neither desirous of grand passions; not as far as she could tell. "Is your kin, Rhaegar, not a kind man? A man I may depend upon?"
"He is a fine young man." The sincerity of those words was very nearly palpable. He was, Lyanna realised, well-liked enough in a family that seemed little bashful at admitting to the lesser qualities of their stock.
"Then I see no reason why affection should not grow between us given time." Her aunt lived for passion. What had that gained her? Lyanna had no wish to give anyone as much trouble as the woman recently had, not to speak of the unseemly displays.
She had not been so very young when her mother died that the departed Lady Lyarra refrained from sharing thoughts upon marriage with her daughter. Love would come if her man was kind. A wife could not ask for more of her keeper, the woman had said. If she gave him her devotion and did her best by him, her efforts would be met accordingly and there would be affection between them. Was that not enough? Should she aspire to something as dreadfully overrated as passion?
"You are a brave young lady," Jenny of Oldstones offered. "Ascelina and I picked those flowers ourselves from my gardens. They will give you something to concentrate upon should you feel overwhelmed." Clever. Lyanna nodded her gratitude and strived for a smile. "There now," the woman consoled her, "you've a long night ahead. Let us not tarry, lest my niece return to collect us."
The threat of the Princess returning with more witnesses had Lyanna ambling towards the door in somewhat of a daze. Who would have thought her wedding evening should proceed as such. Lady Jenny did not offer her arm and Lyanna kept a scrupulous distance from her.
Nevertheless, they arrived to their destination before long and Lyanna was surprised to find that herself pressed into the arms of her betrothed, before a small audience, as the Crown Prince's wife entered a sealed chamber guarded by two Kingsguards. If they thought the scene in the antechamber strange, they said not a word, nor allowed it to contaminate their expressions.
"I wanted to introduce you to our witnesses," her betrothed said, his voice a pleasant breeze. It calmed her nerves and helped settle her that he had everything so well in hand. She nodded; her tongue, she feared, would not behave if she allowed it free reign. "Come along then." His hand slid to her lower back, the touch kind, but firm, pushing her inexorably forth.
As far as Lyanna knew a marriage required only two witnesses. Four men waited with her soon-to-be-husband though. "Allow me to present to you Ser Arthur Dayne," he started with the man closest to him. Lyanna looked at the tall fair haired man whose appearance was similar to the Prince's. House Dayne was of Dorne if she did not mistake her geography; interesting that he should sport such colouring. Nevertheless, at his bow she curtsied. She thought Rhaegar would press on. Ser Arthur had other ideas.
"Lady, I confess my friend's precipitous announcement that he was to wed took me much by surprise. I expected his kin were up to mischief." Lyanna allowed him to take hold of her hand and bow courteously over it. "But I am glad to find myself much in the wrong."
"Would that all men had such views on being in the wrong, ser," she replied sweetly. Lyanna was not and had never been in possession of a glib tongue. Other young woman around her knew just what to say, she forever found herself debating whether she'd land herself in hot water. By Ser Dayne's chuckle, though, she reckoned her response had been suitable.
"Dayne, behave," her betrothed ordered to the great amusement, she perceived, of the next in line. "I think you'll find a more refined conversation partner in Ser Richard, here, of House Lonmouth." The Knight of Skulls and Kisses, aye; Lyanna had heard his name bandied about court. She responded to his friendly greeting.
"From the look upon you face, I perceive my reputation precedes me," the man spoke softly. His voice was unexpectedly deep. It was not unpleasant, but rather in the manner of warm ale sliding down her throat, it smoothed its path to her ears.
"All good things, I assure you," Lyanna hurriedly spoke, lest she offend. He smiled at her and she could not help smiling back.
"Then comes Ser Myles Mooton. A veritable rogue, this one, lady. Best you tread lightly in his presence." The warning was half in jest. The other half she expected was that particular male desire to impress, for Ser Myles preened like a peacock. Still, there was naught particularly objectionable that she could see, so Lyanna accepted the introduction with little fuss.
"An honour, my lady." He leaned over and kissed both her cheeks. The familiarity of the gesture had her blushing.
"Ser!" The protest was soft, and accompanied by a gentle shove. Wholly unrepentant, the young man winked at her. She supposed his charming countenance afforded him some leeway, thus her ire faltered.
Myles Mooton grinned down at her even as she turned. Why did the lot of them have to be so tall? Lyanna would have sighed but for the fact that the last man was being introduced to her and she required her attention to be directed properly. He did not wait for Rhaegar to speak, "Jon Connington, my lady." As greeting went, it was brief and to the point. Cold.
"Ser," she heard one of the others mutter. It was not Ser Richard; that was all she could tell.
Lyanna curtsied but did not think the man found her aught other than an oddity. His flame-red hair put her in the mind of Tullys. The eyes were blue as well. She forced herself to smile. He too had been included among her betrothed's friends. Whatever his manner she had a duty to be pleasant to him just as much as she would be to any other.
Rhaegar chuckled. "You could use a little polish, Jon." The teasing seemed not to affect the other knight. Lyanna blinked as the hand upon her lower back retreated. She glanced up into the Prince's face. He looked back at her. "I expect everything is in order, but I shall go check." She nodded. What else could she do?
He entered the same chamber the Crown Prince's wife had. Left with the four men, Lyanna snapped to attention when Ser Richard broke away as his comrades as they gathered closer together. The knight placed himself before her, so that she could see naught other than him. "Ser?"
"My lady, you may think this forward of me, but have you any kin to give you away?" Looking into his eyes, she could see there something that had been sorely missing from her life recently. Kindness. His cheeks heated when she offered no reply. "Pray, do not think I mean to embarrass you."
Coming to herself, she shook her head. "I fear 'tis I who has embarrassed you." She brought her hands to her front, clasping then before her middle, careful of the flowers. "Your inkling is correct."
"His Grace and I, we've been good friends for many years. I would be most honoured if you allowed me to lead you within." And why should she not? Lyanna nodded her head, unable to speak. Small fine tremors were visible when she lifted her hand to his arm.
Gingerly, as though he dealt with spun glass, Richard Lonmouth led her to a bench along the wall and sat down with her. "You are all very kind," she managed to whisper somehow. Her eyes fell to her flowers, which she still clutched with some force. Lyanna lifted them to stem the flow of her thoughts. The pungent smell did distract her.
And just as well that she had done so, for the door opened and the witnesses were called within. Richard placed a hand upon her shoulder. "We still have a few more moments, lady."
And then they didn't.
But Ser Richard, whose name was so very much like her father's that she felt somewhat buoyed at the prospect of him standing with her, did not, at any point, rush her. His reputation was well-merited as far as she was concerned and Lyanna did not doubt he'd give her further reason to sing him praise before the ceremony's end. Her hope was that she might sing her husband praise as well. But it was not so easy.
Despite her tumultuous thoughts, when brought before the small gathering in the chamber, Lyanna felt herself relax, of all things. She had to do this; she could face the challenge sniffling and weeping, or she could hold her head up and act the highborn she was. So she raised her chin and fought to maintain her composure as her eyes landed on the old King.
The fifth Aegon had a small, assuring smile for her. The High Septon at his side had only a bland look. The rest of it proceeded in the manner all such ceremonies boasted, with vows exchanged, cloaks, by turns, loosened and pinned upon shoulders and a brief peck upon the lips which gave Lyanna nothing of her new husband's measure, except the knowledge she would not swoon if he should desire to put his lips to hers.
"Since my lady is not yet of age," the High Septon explained, "we shall need the consent in writing, so we may better prove the validity of the union."
Lyanna signed the papers they gave her. There was no time to quibble or search for further trouble. She dipped the quill in the inkpot and scribbled her name beneath Rhaegar's, taking but a moment to admire the fine hand he possessed. Gods, she hadn't seen anyone write with such an elegant stroke before.
And then it was done. She was a wife. Hands were pressed, cheeks were kissed, and this time she did not push Myles Mooton away, and congratulations were offered.
The King and his heir were kind enough to toast to the newly married couple's health. And Lyanna found she was not as apprehensive as before to look at the man she would from that day forth call husband. Rhaegar favoured her with an easy smile, but did not encourage her approach, when he caught her eye as Septa Mylisant offered a low murmur of blessing.
Returning her attention to the woman, she could not help but ask. "I cannot help but notice Her Grace Princess Daella is absent."
A grim little smile touched the septa's lips. "Daella is our father's eldest. As such she strives to please him in all." The woman's soft, wide violet eyes regarded her with something akin to sympathy. "It would not be much of a surprise on the morrow, should father find out this night about the marriage; now, would it?"
"I see." The septa gave a brisk nod. The bobbing had loosened what must have been a severe knot, for a tendril escaped her wimple. The colour was closer to gold than silver. A marked difference from her younger sister then.
A serene mask slipped into place as Mylisant Targaryen lifted her cup to her lips. As a general rule men and women of the cloth were supposed to live a simple life, but she suspected as much did not apply to the woman before her. In spite of the appropriately dark colour of the woman's kirtle, the black velvet shimmered in the low candlelight, more so as it was richly embroidered. But then the High Septon wore a fine garb as well. Lyanna did not suppose she might hold the apparel's condition against the Princess.
"And very glad I am for it," the older woman said. "Might I give you a word of advice? From one woman to another, if you will."
"If Your Grace would be so kind." What would a septa know of being a woman, Lyanna wondered bleakly. Their lives were spent in prayer.
"Do everything in your power to secure your safety. If you can, convince Rhaegar you must leave King's Landing for a time. I wish I could say my father was a forgiving soul, but he is not. And you have thwarted him." How horrible, to think so ill of one's parent. Lyanna did not know what to say, so she settled for a noncommittal sound. But in a way she had expected as much. "I will speak to His Majesty for you, lady."
"How grateful I should be if you do." Was it some manner of ploy to remove Rhaegar from court? She supposed he now had cause, but even so, would he accept. The Princess' words implied he would not. And there was Dragonstone. There was a story there as well.
Her questions would have to wait for another time. Lyanna felt a tug on her sleeve and instinctively looked down. The young Princess bade her closer with a crook of her finger. She acquiesced, allowing the girl to whisper in her ear and at the same time giving her the flowers back.
"Very well, Your Grace. I shall do as you say." The young girl managed a smile before dashing off to her grandmother's embrace. Lady Jenny pressed a soft kiss to the child's forehead.
Lyanna did not linger to watch the display further. She instead reached her husband's side, just as the conversation was coming at an end. Without asking, she placed her hand upon his arm, feeling the muscles tense before they relaxed. He did not push her away, but instead gave her a questioning look. She did not need words to know what he wished to glean. Thus she bobbed her head to the affirmative with more confidence than she felt.
They escaped with minimal teasing, mostly from Ser Arthur and Ser Myles. She could not help but wonder whether they'd imbibed too much. But the words hadn't been slurred in the least. Ser Richard had set himself the task of herding his companions away as Ser Jon watched the proceedings with a dispassionate eye.
"Do not mind them, lady," her husband soothed, putting an arm around her waist. "They mean no harm."
"Better a few ribald jests than a disrobing ceremony," she answered, not knowing from whence she grabbed that bit of pluck. Rhaegar laughed softly, tugging her closer.
"The advantage of a marriage such as ours," he murmured.
It was to his chambers that he took her. Lyanna was not precisely surprised. Her own chambers in the keep she'd shared with a few other ladies, for space was scant and courtiers were many. And the last of her days as a maiden she'd spent in the Queen's chambers, which she had also shared with various ladies-in-waiting.
Interest sparked to life within her at the new environment. She heard the door close behind them and even the bar slide into place but did not turn. Instead, she forced her gaze to the furnishing illuminated by a roaring fire and a number of candles. The bed was what had her heart galloping. A bed she would be sharing with a man. One of the many firsts for the night, she expected. Lyanna drew in a sharp breath as a weight settled upon her shoulder.
The warmth of his palm melted into her own flesh through the layers of cloth separating them. "You must be tired," he observed softly, stepping around her towards the bed. She did not feel tired. But there was little point in saying as much.
To her consternation though, he lifted one of the pillows and picked up a small dagger.
"What are you doing?"
She could have kicked him for answering with a low chuckle. "For the bedsheets, lady." It occurred to her that he meant to draw blood. She paled.
"I beg you wouldn't, Your Grace." He rolled up his sleeve.
"Lady Lyanna," her husband sighed tiredly, for the first time looking as uncertain as she felt, "I am not such a brute that I would demand s husband's right with you now."
Her mind worked hard to understand those words. It dawned upon her that he was being gallant and she ought to be relieved. "Your Grace, how ruthless if your uncle precisely? What would he be willing to do to obtain what he wants?" She deliberately left his father out of the questions.
Her husband gave her a long, contemplative stare. "What are you about?"
"If he challenges the validity of the marriage, he might do so by having the bride examined. If my maidenhead is whole," she paused, doubting she had to explain further. Her conscience was not thanking her already. "I am humbled you would show such concern for my comfort nonetheless."
"I had not considered that." Of course, he was a man. He had simply assumed a bloodied linen would be taken at face value. And might be in other circumstances it would.
"I would be left at his mercy until my father arrived. Rather, it might help to face this now and accustom myself to," she blushed and inclined her head toward the bed. "Marriage is forever."
"So it is," the Prince allowed, putting away the knife. Lyanna breathed out in relief and approached the large bed. She glanced shyly at her husband and he seemed to know it fell to him to lead. Unsurprisingly, the man was prepared for that as well.
The soft, drawn out pants coming from the trembling form beneath him were familiar and yet not. Rhaegar lifted his weight upon steady elbows, wondering whether the crush was too much for her to take. No complaints had been forthcoming from her. He gazed down into the flushed face of his wife and was assailed by an unexpected wave of tenderness. One of her hands was still lodged around his shoulder, the other maintaining a position at his nape, nails scraping softly at the spot there.
He was breathing hard as well, Rhaegar realised after a few moments, as the rush finally left him. Brushing a thumb to her cheek, he spoke softly, "A maiden no more." Lyanna nodded, her lips opening on mute agreement. She swallowed whatever sound she'd been planning to make. Was she in pain? Withdrawing from her, he kept careful watch over her expression. There was exhaustion there and might be some apprehension, but not pain. "Are you well?"
"Aye." The sound was so small he almost did not catch it. She did not hesitate to follow his movement when he settled on his side. Rhaegar rewarded that with a loose embrace which she burrowed herself into. Moment later he was startled by the weeping sounds coming from her.
Instinct prompted him to hold her tighter. For a brief moment he wanted to demand an answer as to her peculiar behaviour, but a crying woman would simply ignore the demand, he knew. So he allowed her the few moments, rubbing soothing circles in between her shoulder blades. There were many reasons for which she might be weeping, not the least of which was her torn maidenhead. Some woman, Rhaegar had been told, found the parting more difficult than others. He had no sins to weigh him down.
After a while her tears subsided and she shifted in his hold, sniffling lightly. "Apologies," she whispered, looking ashamed for some reason. His fingers paused in their whorls-painting on the canvas of her back.
"What for?" he kept his voice equally low and resumed his earlier activity.
"Turning into a watering pot." The words were tentative, as though she feared some manner of judgement. His wife hid her face into his shoulder, dark hair obscuring her visage further. "I meant to end this with some dignity."
He slid his hand lower down her back, his fingers feeling along the line of her spine. "Should I be cross with you, then?" She lifted her head from its shelter. "Would a lecture make you look me in the eyes?" She did as he wanted. "If you want to weep, lady wife, you may do so when it please you. If you want my comfort, I will give it willingly. And if not, you need but state your preference."
Something shifted in her gaze. "I was not upset," she told him. "Not about this." He presumed she referred to their wedding night but asked for no further clarifications. "It is simply that," she hesitated, then moved against him, before settling more firmly at his side, "I well know how silly this will sound, but I was so relieved. So very relieved. In that moment, I simply could not stop the tears."
Without another word, she curled around him, pressing herself into his form until her head rested under his chin and her arms encircled him as sure as his held her. He wondered whether the embrace came about as a result of their knowing one another. If ever he'd had any doubts about this woman, they had been dispelled. Her breathing turned languid against him. She must have slid into slumber.
Mindful of her comfort, he drew the covers higher around them and closed his own eyes. While there would be little sleep for him, he could lie abed for some hours yet. Which was what Rhaegar did. His bride slept easily, but not without the occasional twist and turn. He kept a loose hold on her throughout most of the hours, by and by having her return fully to him. He wondered if she dreamed, to be moving about so much.
Inevitably sleep did find him some hours later and kept him for a little time before releasing him into the waking world once more. At his side, his wife enjoyed her rest. The furs had slid lower, exposing her to the cool predawn air. Rhaegar turned to assess the fire burning low in the hearth. The flames could do with some stoking, he decided, sliding out of bed.
He dressed himself before approaching the small stack of chopped wood. One or two logs should do, he decided. Morning would come soon and there was little sense in building a great fire. Thus he set to work, his task easily accomplished. Once done he used the poker to give the flames some much needed encouragement. Before long the crackling and popping of burning wood filled the chamber.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Lyanna change her position yet again and smiled. Had she had an easy time of it sharing the bed with others as she'd done before? Might be he would ask her one day. Until then, however, he could do with something to drink.
A pitcher of mulled wine had been left out along with two cups. Rhaegar took the first and filled it. The wine had grown cold in the long hours but he'd never been very particular about such matters. Supposedly that was what came of travelling between the Red Keep and Dragonstone with such regularity. He'd grown used to the rigours and shortcomings of such a schedule. To think he now had a wife, well, it was rather unexpected. At least they were evenly matched in that the both of them would need time to accommodate.
He should take her to see Sawolfyr. Best get the two most important women in his life on the same page. Would she be afraid? He'd not seen a thing to suggest cowardice during their few short hours of acquaintance, yet he supposed that were she craven, she would have simply given in to either his uncle or his father. The damndest thing was that he found himself glad for it.
He put down his cup, the soft noise reverberating through the bedchamber.
"Your Grace?" Rhaegar startled at the noise. Given he was half-covered by shadows he could well understand why her eyes scrutinised the darkness. He stepped towards the bed, noting the moment she saw him. "I thought you'd left."
It was no hardship climbing back into bed when she turned the cover down for him, scooting over to the other side. "Leave on my wedding night? I imagine the slight would not go unanswered." She settled by him but did not close the distance between the fully. The backs of their hands were touching, knuckled grazing against each other. He felt the touch sear into him though, as if he'd been struck by lightning. It was not precisely uncomfortable. Just unexpected, to be so aware of another human being.
"What would you have done?"
"If I had left."
He craned his neck so that he might face her. Her eyes were upon the ceiling, hands clasped over the furs just beneath her bosom. Her chest moved up and down. "Followed you. Brandon tells me with startling regularity that I have no sense."
"Brandon?" he prodded.
"My brother. The oldest." Of course, his grandmother had said she had three brothers, after all. "Ned comes after. Eddard. I follow next, and then there is Benjen." She was smiling.
"Are you close in age?" The North kept mostly to itself. But then he might have checked the maester's writings. Rhaegar turned his own gaze upon the ceiling.
"Benjen is the closest to me in age. Brandon and Ned are only one year apart, and there is half a decade separating me from the heir. Naturally, Brandon was never too keen to have me around when we were children."
They whiled the remaining time until dawn away by speaking in hushed tones.
And why not take a moment. After all, trouble was never far away.
And presto, new chapter. Enjoy and do share your thoughts. :)
Promise we'll get into the fallout next chapter.