14. first kiss
17. last dance
She remembers how he was when they were younger, always shy even after he’d grown tall and handsome. She remembers the festivities that had been held on the tenth anniversary of her mother’s reign, how they’d all indulged a bit too much in wine, for they were four-and-ten and only just allowed the drink. She remembers the way Arthur had looked that night, the way the moonlight glinted off the dark waves of his hair, how nervous he’d been right before he kissed her. She remembers how the air smelled, of magnolias and orange trees and date palms. She remembers how profusely he’d apologized, and she remembers how eagerly she’d shut him up with a kiss of her own. She remembers how nothing had been the same since. She remembers them.
Now…she doesn’t know either of them now. She doesn’t know herself, and she doesn’t know the man in front of her. She doesn’t know this misery.
“Do you remember the last time I danced with you?” he asks.
“Doran and Mellario’s wedding.” Nigh on seven years ago that had been, and she recalls it clear as day. He’d been full of optimism and adventure back then, not like now, not when his eyes are haunted with the things they’ve seen.
“Do you remember what I told you that night?”
How could I forget? “Arthur, quiet.” There are more guests than she can count grouped in the throne room, and almost all of them with a working set of ears. If they were still children, it wouldn’t make any difference, but here…
Every step is painful, every breath is painful. In the sight of gods and men, she has been proclaimed Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife, and she wishes more than anything it weren’t so. Arthur’s eyes are overbright with drink; she wonders how he’d managed that under the White Bull’s watchful gaze. Or perhaps the old man had noticed after all, perhaps Arthur had done it on purpose, perhaps he thinks censure will spare him the task of standing outside the door tonight as she’s bedded. If only she could be spared.
She looks up at him. “You said that so long as the world still turned, you would love me.”
“I meant it.”
“It doesn’t matter. Not anymore. Now, it’s treason.”
You could have stopped this, she thinks viciously. If you wanted to, you could have stopped the wedding. You could have taken me somewhere, done something, anything. You could have spared us both the agony.
The courtiers applaud as the tune draws to a close, but all Elia hears is a key locking her gilded cage.