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Three Tully Daughters (UNDER REVISION)

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Day 24, 8th Moon, 312 AC

Working diligently beside fellow dressmakers in what was now her home, Sansa finished the finer embroidery she was known for and hung the dress to keep it in good condition until tomorrow. The Westerosi rubbed her callused fingers together, hardened from years of needlepoint.

Turning her head to the sewing room window she frowned. There were only busy streets and harbour of Braavos instead the snows of the North she longed for. Somewhere in this city, Arya was earning coin with her own skills while Sansa created gowns commissioned by Braavosi families.

It was just Sansa and Arya now; the last Starks of Winterfell.

Winterfell. Riverrun. The Eyrie. Casterly Rock. Highgarden. Storm’s End. Dragonstone. Sunspear. It didn’t matter what part of Westeros came to the mind of a Westerosi in Braavos or Pentos; they would never see it in its splendour again.

Every Westerosi ship was made into ashes by Daenerys with her dragons; Drogon and Rhaegal. The Targaryen woman had flown to Mereen once Viserion fell. Thus restricting the Others to the continent of Westeros; undead creatures unable to swim.

Sansa hadn’t seen an Other since seven years ago. At Jon’s behest with a resistant Arya alongside her, the two sisters, drugged, were sailed to Braavos. When Arya begged Jon to let her fight her emotional mask fell away she was that desperate, to no avail.

Her sister had become more closed off since the presumed loss of Jon. Painful as it was to Sansa for Arya to fade into a husk, she would never turn her back on her sister. Arya was absent for too long recently. Fear gathered within her each passing day.

A clamour of Low Valyrian cheers outside drew her out to the docks with stirring curiosity to sate. Leaving one of the ships were men with one or two obsidian tipped arrows in their quivers. Arrows to kill Others in Westeros as a sport. Sansa made her way back inside and picked up her work instructions from the far corner of the room; embroidery of a lavish wedding dress.

Similar cheers for daring Braavosi men repeated themselves for years. It tore at her heart each time. Westeros was her homeland, but now a hunting ground for wealthy men when they came of age. They called it the Wasteland of Westeros now.

Sansa wiped away a stray tear and pushed herself to focus on the dress, letting the soft sounds of her fellow dressmakers keep her to task. One seated beside her on a creaking bench, while another two were seated in front of the adjacent wall.

“Sansa?” her best friend said next to her. “You’re the most skilled at needlepoint in this house. Mistress Talea isn’t about to dismiss you for being distracted for a few days,” Sansa was reassured in Low Valyrian; the language of the Free Cities. It varied from city to city and interpretation was harder the further away another city was.

A tear escaped when she placed the silk aside with care. “There’s been no trace of her; Arya.” A knowing nod came her way. “I trust she can take care of herself. She told me never to seek her out, but I fear the worst. She’s never failed to return by day’s end before. Her haunts unvisited. It’s been four days.”

With all she’d lost, it was difficult to be optimistic; especially in Braavos, which Arya had told her to never leave their shared chambers Mistress Talea rented to them without carrying a blade.

Enduring the wait for Arya was worse than Cersei’s cruel words, Joffrey’s Kingsguard, or Ramsay’s flaying knife. This was her sister, and she hoped Arya was alright. Sansa needed word she was safe. Something.

There was a knock on the door and Sansa hurried over to it. Outside a stranger held a note and Needle with traces of fresh blood. “Valar Morghulis,” he greeted with a bow. “A message for Sansa Stark,” said the man in Low Valyrian.

It had taken time to learn the language of the Free Cities, but it was a necessity since Westeros was as good as gone. “Valar Dohaeris.” She accepted both from his hands. “I am Sansa.”

 

Sansa,

Valar morghulis,

Arya

-Look after Needle.

 

"No..." She shook her head and backed a step. "No..."

The message was clear, but Sansa didn’t want to believe it and turned back to the man. “Who sent this? What did they look like?”

Her emotions must have shone through her eyes, for the stranger looked at her with pity; Arya always said her eyes gave too much away. “High as your shoulders, brown hair cut short, tunic and breeches. She asked I delivered these if her wound festered. I’m sorry.”

No

Sansa dropped all pretence of calm, held Needle close and sobbed; oblivious to all around her and something unyielding sliced her side. The wet could only be blood after that pain, but she didn't care.

Arya was gone.

The last Stark slipped into darkness.

 

A pounding headache; the first thing that registered. Her closed eyes were heavy as though she hadn’t slept for days.

Beneath her body was the familiar hardness of her bed, while cool strokes of damp linen ran across her forehead. Someone was tending to her. Stirring in the quiet chamber, Sansa almost flinched when linen touched her closed eyes. She took a breath and opened them; beside her bed sitting on a stool was a stranger. A young woman roughly sixteen or seventeen.

“What happened?” Around her was a familiar bedchamber with a few differences, one of them was absence of a second bed. Needle was propped against the wall. It all bubbled to the surface. “Arya…”

The woman grown, just out of girlhood, beside the bed frowned. “Did you dream of home?”

“No,” Sansa denied and sat up but shaky. “Family. I dreamt of family.”

Another woman entered her bedchamber, but this person was several years older than the first. “Meralyn, I heard voices. She's awoken?”

Meralyn quickly became demure. “Yes, Mistress Talea.”

Sansa did a double-take of the second woman, for she looked nothing near the age of the business owner Sansa worked for. But a careful stare took in the woman’s appearance and her eyes and face had the same features yet younger. This made no sense and Meralyn on the stool was a new face.

 “Good,” Mistress Talea said, dismissing Meralyn with a wave. “Sansa, you won’t be assisting with sales for two sennights. Instead, full dedication to creating and completing a wedding order I received this morning,” she instructed. Another woman Meralyn’s age approached and Mistress Tela turned to her. “Tell the girls to gather everything for the square. I want our pavilion readied in a half-hour.”

“Yes, Mistress Talea,” was Meralyn's meek reply.

“And Sansa.” Mistress Talea glanced her way. “Put that sword away. You won’t be leaving the house any time soon.” 

Following the lead of Meralyn and the other employee, Sansa replied in the same manner. Mistress Talea left without looking back and closed the door; mannerisms identical to the older woman she'd worked for.

On her feet, she dressed into a two-piece fake gown. Her body held a significant difference; small and scar-free. Little more than a child and eleven at most. Grasping the wall for stability, Sansa stiffly opened the door of her wardrobe; all of the false gowns were meant for a child.

Instead of reaching for them, Sansa sought for Arya’s clothes in the wardrobe they shared but there was nothing.

Stifling a sob and eyes on the chamber door, she endured Arya’s absence clawing at her heart. Despite her lacking appetite, the delivered meal was eaten out of obligation more than anything. When her eyes fell on Needle, shaky hands pulled the skinny sword into her lap and traced its hilt. Arya had spent much time training to master wielding this sword to the point it was an extension of herself.

The writing of Arya's note stayed with Sansa; Look after Needle. And so she will, but Needle was Arya's; learning how to weild her sister's blade would amount to a great disservice. They were different people.

She took the sheathed skinny sword over to the wardrobe and rested it on the shelf, but the door remained opened. From where she stood, Sansa wept in silence; eyes closed and flashes of Arya sparring with admirable prowess against Jon in Winterfell. Those two had enjoyed it as much as Sansa worried about the future; such fluidity hadn’t been enough for either of them in the end.

Opening her eyes, a glance over at the looking glass reflected a tear stained face.  

With light steps she went to the water basin in the corner and wiped her face until the only trace of her grief was reddened eyes. Taking a breath and turning to the door to find it closed, the woman grown in a girl’s body tidied her chamber to the typical liking of Mistress Talea.

Downstairs was the same sewing room; two walls with benchs, a table in the centre, and a stand with an instruction book for each dressmaker in the last corner. With the exception of fabric bolts, threads and sewing kits, it was vacant.

If matters were the same now it would mean she needed to earn her coin by making gowns. Sansa had the weakness of a child now and the absence of the dragonglass knives for protection. Arya had taught her how to handle them, but they were gone. She couldn’t afford to be dismissed from here.

In her order book were details for the wedding dress; fabric, embroidery and measurements. She gathered the silk and the remaining Stark fell into the process as though it was little more than walking. Habit and memory took over. Marking, cutting fabric, sewing seams; step by step until the daylight was too weak.

Retired to the kitchen for a brief meal, she returned to her bedchamber with a goblet of diluted Essence of Nightshade. The need for dreamless sleep was dire in this situation. Drinking it, she was soon abed and her mind sinking into oblivion.

The next day the routine repeated itself. Working and eating, working and eating. Time was lost as she threw herself into the only thing that mattered; the wedding dress. She couldn’t afford to fail. Days became sennights, and soon enough the chatter, bartering and haggling of the upper Braavosi market square surrouinded her.

At Mistress Talea’s pavilion, a fine-dressed and ruby jewelled woman called ‘Lady Daena’ consented to measuring for a new dress. When Lady Daena insisted Sansa served her, wariness stirred but she acted at ease. She kept a careful watch all the same.

Behind a screen and writing down the numbers, Sansa’s silence was broken by the customer. “Dear girl.” Sansa looked up from the notes and met the woman’s eyes. “I’m glad you’re making gowns for me again. Truth is.” Lady Daena leaned close. “The other girls make gowns. But, you dear, make gowns of beauty.”

Courtesy is a lady’s armour, she thought. “That’s a kind thing for you to say, my lady.”

Lady Daena placed a gentle finger under Sansa’s chin and smiled. “I say what I mean, dear. I’d make my orders with another business otherwise. Your embroidery and styling is the envy of every dressmaker, I should think.”

Flattered and a little proud, warmth gather within her. She curtsied. “I’m honoured, my lady. This will be complete in a sennight.”

“Any art cannot be rushed. Do make sure you rest, sweetling.”

The woman left and a Dornishman in his twenties, or close to it, was wandering the market. He was looking at the displayed gowns with critique until his eyes rested on one appropriate for warmer weather; those black eyes left the dress until landing on Mistress Talea.

Curious but maintaining her role as a dressmaker, Sansa approached the order book to add Lady Daena’s.

He stepped into the shade of the pavilion approached the mistress. From the corner of her eye, she took in his appearance. A weak urge to curtsy before him stirred within her. His features were somewhat familiar, but younger; much younger.

Everyone was younger.

Her instincts were persistent about this man. In one hand was a partisan decorated with a gold snake on each side; a feature to be acknowledged and considered. The details screamed at her who it was, but there was no guarantee.

Olive skin akin to Salty Dornishmen, deep black hair, body tall and slender, strides were graceful and confident.

Watching the exchange between them, she seated herself near the display and eavesdropped with her back to them.

By reputation, this Dornishman was one of impulse and chivalry. If she made herself a curiosity to him, she had a chance of leaving if her assumption was true.

“You must be proud of your girls, my lady,” he complemented before dropping his voice too low for Sansa. Mistress Talea followed his lead. Their postures were calm at first, but an air of tension built the more Mistress Talea became agitated. 

“She is my finest dressmaker! Purchase a dress or leave!” Mistress Talea’s snapped, attracting the attention of people passing through the square.

Now with a valid reason, Sansa turned around and looked past the man’s back to the frustration on Mistress Talea’s face.

“She is a free person, is she not?” the Dornishman countered. “Should she wish it, the girl could come to Dorne and make dresses for my sister, Elia. The craftsmanship is impeccable.”

Struck with shock from the confirmation, her gaze whipped to the top of the order book.

 

Day 10, 9th Moon, 275 AC.

 

One fact dominated her mind. Westeros wasn’t a cold wasteland anymore.

Mistress Talea was muttering darkly to him while Sansa assembled a new identity for herself.

One way or another, she was going home to Westeros and needed to find a way to fit into the era of her mother’s girlhood. Her reflection in a window provided a quick answer to who she would pose as. The date meant she was younger than her mother by a year, which worked as Aunt Lysa was two years after Mother. Walking up to the pair, she curtsied before the second prince of Dorne. “My Prince, it prides me to hear such words. I am Sansa of House Tully.”

Prince Oberyn blinked at her once and his eyes developed a shine. “Tully of Westeros? Daughter of Hoster Tully, no?”

Behind him, Mistress Talea looked like she’d lost their argument.

With proof her new identity was convincing, Sansa continued with it. “Yes, Prince Oberyn, he is my father. Minisa Tully; my mother.”

The Dornish people had a reputation for impatience, but his was one of impulsiveness that'd gotten him exiled for a time.

He stared at her, thumb on his chin while she stared back. “I admit this makes me a curious man. What is a Tully girl of, I dare say, ten doing in Braavos? One would think you should be home. Family, D-“

“-Duty, Honour,” she finished with a nod.

The man's expressions were thoughtful and curious; he sat down and looked at her with intensity; gaze piercing as though they knew all her secrets. “You know your words,” he said. “But you neglect them. You’re not with your family,” he continued and raised his index. “The first word.”

She couldn't afford boldness now and relaxed her frame into demure. “Braavos is the only home I’ve known, My Prince, but not the one I belong to. I’ve been here for many years.”

He leaned back in his seat, eyes never leaving her. “Your voice speaks of grief.” he commented, a quick glance at Mistress Talea before returning. “Is Westeros what you desire?”

“More than anything, Prince Oberyn," she said with a solemn nod. "I’ve no memory of Riverrun, but long for it all the same. My father most likely believes I was stillborn. I don’t think I would be well received at Riverrun, but I want to go home.” Sansa would play on his earlier desire if it would get her back to Westeros. “I admit I’m curious about Sunspear, My Prince. Would I be welcome there? I fear I won't be at Riverrun,” Sansa said, baiting him.

Prince Oberyn tilted his head some and a triumphant smile emerged. “Aye, I do believe you would be, Lady Tully. You wouldn't be speaking to me like this if you didn't desire leaving. Are you in agreement to come to Dorne?” he asked.

A perfect opportuniy to escape. “I am, My Prince.”

“Then it is settled.” Prince Oberyn turned to Mistress Talea, who'd controlled her life for years, whether the woman knew it or not. “This child will be sailing to Westeros with me on the morrow. I shall take her to Sunspear where she will find a true home.”

Chapter Text

JAIME LANNISTER

Day 25, 9th Moon, 275 AC

 

Within his father’s tidy and boring solar, nine-year-old Jaime was going through the sentences Father set him to read without falter. Father was away at King’s Landing more than not, but when he was here Jaime read every morning. Father's serious eyes on him across the organised desk the whole time in the uncomfortable solar.

These days he read documents about the Westerland affairs. The Warden of the West, his father, would have a tight frown if he stumbled on a word. It took him a few minutes and earned him a nod. He hadn't made a mistake today and put the document down. Father gave no smile, but he never did.

The green eyes specked with gold were as hard as when he started reading. “Jaime," said Father. "Your lessons with Maester Gawin will be history. To rule the Westerlands after me, you must know the Westerlands." Jaime frowned and Father gave a level stare. "You will remember that." Picking up a quill, Father tilted his head to the door. "We're finished. Go.”

“Yes, Father.” He wasted no time getting out of the seat and solar. In the castle halls and well away from Father, he took a breath and his shoulders eased. "I don't want to rule. I want to be a knight, not a stuffy desk all day." 

Casterly Rock was huge, but he could walk to the training yard with his eyes closed. Free from Father’s scrutiny, he went to the yard. It was empty, but the master-at-arms would be here for his lesson soon. Very soon.

Not wanting to tarry, Jaime donned the armour like second nature.

Swordsmanship had to be the thing he was best at. Something about it just came to him. However, Father never seemed pleased about it. Cersei’s ease of reading made Jaime suspect he was a disappointment in Father’s eyes.

Shaking his head, he lifted the sparring sword from the rack, the heir of Casterly Rock turned at the sound of boots on rock. Two years’ time and Jaime would be old enough to squire for a knight. He couldn’t wait for his eleventh nameday.

An armoured man approached and picked up a sword and shield. Ser Dareon grinned. “Let’s begin, Jaime.”      

Every frustration melted from him; swords and shields meeting one another. Every breath was life entering his body. Here and now, he was just Jaime, not the Heir of Casterly Rock, not future Warden of the West. Him. Just him and his blade. Training to become a knight.

A man who protects the innocent and the weak. A man that rides into battle to defend the good of the world. A man bestowed glory and honour for noble deeds; the good of true knights.

A smile pulled at his lips and he did nothing to hide it. This was him. What he wanted to be.

“Shield up! Or I’ll ring your head like a bell,” Ser Dareon said, delivering a swing towards Jaime’s head.  

He blocked and fought on. Parry, thrust, delivering blows and dodging them. Confidence flowed within him until Ser Dareon used a new technique.

Spinning out of the way, he signaled for a short drink. There had to be a way to counter that set of moves. With his form steady he bit his lip and took a breath; Ser Dareon opposite him. That technique started and there was an opening. He took it, doing what seemed right.

Ser Dareon's sword thudded by his feet. “I yield! Good work, Jaime.”

Taking a step back, he caught his breath and approached his tutor who handed him a waterskin with a proud smile. Sometimes Ser Dareon seemed more like a father to Jaime than Father did. He couldn’t help the niggling guilt, but it rang true inside.

Ser Dareon, his large sword on the ground, clasped Jaime’s shoulder and gave him a nod. “Well done, Jaime. I’ll have to fight harder because my pride is in danger." Ser Dareon smiled. "You’re becoming quite the problem solver. New techniques on the morrow; you’re ready for them."

A grin spread across his lips. “Your pride is in danger. You're training me.” Ser Dareon just laughed, while Jaime hung his sparring sword and shed the plate armour.

“I won’t be going easy on you, young lord!” the knight promised, voice bouncing off the solid rock walls and ceiling.

Excitement shook within him for tomorrow.

Back up on the higher levels of the castle with an old letter in his pocket, he made his way to bath in his bedchamber or be scolded for the stench, as Father called it. Passing his sister’s bedchamber, he scowled and shook his head. His own was on the opposite side of Casterly Rock. A tall monster of rock.

So deep in his silent complaints, he almost missed the cries of a babe. Tyrion.

Abandoning lordly pretences, he ran along the halls and burst through the open doorway of the nursery; no nursemaid to be seen. The sight inside was familiar, but every time it was a blade to his heart.

Clearly unaware she had an audience, Cersei stood over Tyrion’s cot reaching in with a vicious look. “You killed our mother, you little monster,” she muttered to the dwarf babe. “Why did the gods let you live instead of Mother?” Cersei said, pinching Tyrion and the babe cried again. “I could rid us of you so easily,” she whispered, her hands creeping towards his neck.

His heart pounded against his chest. “No! Cersei!” he shouted, and ripped her hands from Tyrion. He stood in the way and Cersei stared at him, eyes wide until she blinked. “He’s just a babe!”

Hate covered his twin sister's face. “He murdered Mother, Jaime!” she said, trying to get around but Jaime wouldn’t move. “That little fiend killed her.”

“She died in childbed,” he said and kept Tyrion from harm. “What if Mother died in childbed with us? Would we be monsters?”

That question silenced Cersei but she was furious. “We’re normal. He’s an abomination.” She swept across and out of the nursery.

Turning to his little brother there were red marks on his belly; from Cersei pinching the babe. Gently rubbing the marks and wishing he could get rid of them, Jaime startled when small fingers grabbed his thumb.

Letting Tyrion hold it, even when it was pulled to Tyrion's chin, he searched for any hidden harm. “I’ll protect you, little brother,” he whispered. Tyrion murmured with a babe's lisp and Jaime smiled and retied the laces of his brother’s tunic. “You’re innocent, Tyrion.” Playing with the tiny fingers, he called for the nursemaid and took his leave.

Inside his bedchamber was the tub like any other day, but he was worried about his little brother. Cersei made it a habit of hurting their brother. Their innocent brother. Today scared him though, it was the first time he’d caught her being so close to killing Tyrion.

Father avoided the nursery. And if he saw Tyrion while Jaime played with him, Father was always bitter. Servants whispered that part of Father died the day Mother died in childbed. If Father wanted Tyrion dead like Cersei did, Tyrion would be. Father always got what he wanted, but Tyrion was a dwarf babe and something Father loathed. It made him uneasy.

He was too small to stop Father from doing something to kill Tyrion. For many years he would be too small and weak compared to Father.

Clothes on the floor, Jaime dropped the old note on his desk and got in the tub. Its steaming water relieved his muscles from training and he relished it. However, what nearly happened in the nursery bothered him. Shape and size didn’t matter; he loved Tyrion all the same.

Washing, he frowned while looking at the water. When he becomes a squire he wouldn’t have a servant to ready a tub for him. That made him grimace and he shook his head. Closing his eyes, he didn’t stir when light steps sounded in his bedchamber; the lightness of clothes dropping to the floor. Next to him was a sloshing of the water, now a little deeper.

Familiar hands grasped his shoulders and he opened his eyes. It was Cersei who often joined him and there was an annoyed expression on her face. “What’s the matter, Cersei?” Jaime said.

The look on her face told Jaime she thought he was really stupid for asking that. “Why do you defend him?” she asked with her eyes sharp and searching. “Mother is dead because of him.”

He turned towards her so they were face to face, looking his twin in the eyes. It was wrong she was so hateful towards a babe of all things. Jaime shook his head. “The maester said it happens with hale and healthy babes too.”

Cersei seated herself in his lap and Jaime's eyes landed on the desk where sennight-old letter was. But Cersei touching him how he liked it stole his attention. Leaning forward, his sister whispered in his ear. “But far less often.”

The words stirred something within him and he looked away, eyes returning to the curled letter on his desk. The little thing had left doubts in his head since he received it. The last part jumped to the front of his mind.

 

-, what does she do until you will agree? 

 

On his own lips were Cersei’s, her hand cupping his cheek; but the letter kept repeating itself in his mind. He sat still while she kissed him; normally he kissed her back. “Mayhaps you’re right,” Jaime muttered the lie, looking away from Cersei’s eyes. When he met her gaze, she had a smirk of victory and his heart sank.

Anger boiled from the doubts being proven true and he left Cersei in the tub and dried off. He turned to his twin once dressed, the letter hidden within the pocket of his breeches. “Tyrion’s innocent, Cersei.” His back to her, he left the chamber.  

Going to the lower levels of the aboveground rock castle, Jaime reached the best stable within his home where only the family horses were kept. He walked to his destrier and ran his hand against its chest; he was too short to ruffle the mane yet.

Cersei loved him but hated Tyrion, which caused him to shift on his feet. In the tub, his sister had given the affection he normally gave back, but while giving it she’d talked about Tyrion and Mother’s death. Something he made sure she knew he disagreed about. It was as though she was trying to change his mind while pleasing him when they were together.

Sadness stirred at the idea she was trying to control him with touch.

To his misfortune, Cersei knew the stables was one of his places to think, and she appeared with her a look of glee roughly two hours after he’d left her alone in his bedchamber. Normally she found him much faster.

“Father just told me the best news,” his sister said with joy and invisible waves of happiness coming from her. “He thinks that King Aerys will agree to marry me to the prince. The prince! Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. I’m going to be the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Jaime! To marry the prince and be Cersei Targaryen. The babes will have his silver hair and my green eyes, or my golden hair and his indigo eyes!”

She was his twin and someone he’d always been close with no matter what. The excitement of Cersei when talking about marrying the prince hurt him. It was as though he didn’t matter anymore. The old letter hinted at something like this.

He turned away and gazed at the horse instead, hiding the pain from his sister. She had a talent for knowing how he was feeling. Taking a breath and smoothing his features, he gave her a smile while she couldn’t stop talking. “Have you told Uncle Kevan and Aunt Genna?” he asked.

She seemed too overwhelmed with the news and his fake cheer for her must of fooled her. “Thank the Seven, I’ll be the queen. Hm? Oh, no I haven’t. Bye Jaime!” And she was out the stables’ door rushing back to the yard and halls Casterly Rock.

Now alone, for a while at least, he took the sennight-old letter out and was reluctant to read it. There was no sigil or name saying who it was from.

 

Jaime Lannister,

When the Lioness marries and breeds with the Dragon Prince she wants, what happens to the Lion?

When you disagree about something, what does she do until you will agree?  

 

Frowning, he shoved the letter in his pocket and went back up stairs, dejected about Cersei and the letter that sparked his growing doubts.

The one place Cersei avoided most of the time was the nursery, and he didn’t want to see her right now. Inside, his babe brother played on the floor with the toys given by Aunt Genna and Uncles Kevan, Tyg and Gery. Father never gave Tyrion any gifts.

Sitting down across from Tyrion, he watched the mismatched eyes look up at him. Tyrion giving a white-teethed grin. The Maester Gawen had said the last of the teeth were done and Jaime was glad. His brother wouldn’t be in pain and crying from them hurting. Reaching over to Tyrion's mop of hair, he gave it a ruffle earning a giggle that brought a brief smile to his face.

Tyrion grasped Jaime’s arm and stared at his eyes. “Big brotha sad. Jaime sad,” Tyrion said with conviction.

Not wanting the reason at the front of his mind, he nodded to the smart babe. “Yes, Tyrion. Jaime is sad.”

“Why?” It was asked wuth such an innocent voice; he almost laughed.

“It’s complicated,” Jaime said while that old letter repeated itself in his head over and over again. Out of the corner of his eyes, Father was scowling at the sight in the nursery before leaving.

“Grumpy fatha,” Tyrion muttered, playing with a toy but sad. “Not like me.”

Putting his hand on Tyrion’s holding the toy, he met the mismatching eyes and smiled. “I like you, little brother.”

The shine in Tyrion’s eyes lightened the mood. “Big brotha nice.”

He wrapped a gentle arm around Tyrion’s back. “Thanks, Tyrion.”

Tyrion grinned.

Chapter Text

SANSA STARK

Day 26, 9th Moon, 275 AC

Around Sansa was lush and green as they continued to sail inland; this was the first time she’d seen Westeros like this in years. So she roved her eyes over the landscape with abandon, taking it all in. While it was a sight lightening her body, it also meant they were north of the dry deserts of Dorne.

She was supposed to being going to Dorne as agreed. Plans had been changed behind her back; she swallowed and suppressed a shudder. Turning around so her view was to the deck, Prince Oberyn practised his thrusts and spins of his partisan on the deck with focus; the triple-bladed spear he was known to coat in poison before a fight.

The second prince of Dorne just quirked a smirk when he spotted her gaze; he was just as self-assured as her previous life. She remained silent and shook her head, dropping her eyes to glance at her ink-stained fingers from snapping of a brittle quill over a sennight ago at Gulltown.

They were making port near the southron border of the Vale; a sand steed led off the slim ship and onto land where it almost danced on the grass.

“My Prince?” she said, while Prince Oberyn wiped his forehead and approached with a confident strut.

“Aye, my Braavosi Trout?” The cheeky grin made her proverbial hackles rise at the moniker, but she kept her mouth shut. Prince Oberyn had taken to using the name as they sailed, but only explained why recently. Yet, no matter who she posed as, she was still a Stark direwolf at heart; but a quiet, patient one that will test the waters before wading forth.

Oberyn Martell was in his prime right in front of her. For him to be so young and Princess Elia still alive, it stood to reason King Aerys II ‘The Mad King’ Targaryen was alive as well with Lord Tywin Lannister as Hand of the King.

It was essential she was careful with all she did. She’d once made the mistake of viewing people as they should be, not who they were. A folly that’d left her vulnerable to plots, especially in King’s Landing.

A flash of the Sept of Baelor and her father’s execution made her heart heavy, but she pushed the emotion aside; she must keep peace with the Dornishman. “Please, My Prince, that moniker lacks dignity,” she said, straightening her full-length sleeves and met his eyes. “And I don’t think The Blackfish would like the rivalry,” she said to lighten the mood.

If she must be called a name, she needed something easily forgotten or dismissed. Prince Oberyn, also known as ‘The Red Viper’, was a name demanding attention and implied danger. ‘Braavosi Trout’ told a listener that Sansa’s story rang suspicious.

Prince Oberyn chuckled and leaned against his upright partisan, eyes shining with humour. “And what did I suggest in Gulltown after writing my sister?” he said, raising an eyebrow in mock questioning. “The formality is tiring, Little lady.”

She sighed at the reminder; that particular conversation went against everything she’d been taught as a child of nobility. “Oberyn. You asked I call you Oberyn; ‘for the journey is long and we’re not at court’.”

Taking the lull in the conversation, she obliged his wish in hope of an answer. “Oberyn?” He smiled in victory, and she fought off her frown. “Sailors and merchants in Braavos always spoke of a longer, hotter journey to Dorne. We couldn’t have passed the Crownloads yet.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You are a knowledgeable girl, sweet Sansa. Tell me, how did you learn about Westeros?”

Spinning a plausible story was easy enough. “Without significant coin, I couldn’t buy the information, so I exchanged my time for details about my homeland.”

Oberyn rested his left hand on the partisan handle above to his right, idly leaning on it. “How so?”

“My needlepoint was of good repute and Mistress Talea charged more if customers requested I did the work. The people would pay it without issue,” she began, confidence grew when he remained interested. “I offered, when they made their order, to write it under another girl’s name but make it myself if they would tell me something when I later gave the finished gown; Great Houses, things about kingdoms, people of import,” she lied, the words flowing from her lips as though she was Littlefinger. The ease disgusted her.

Had she been clueless and lived her childhood in Braavos, the concept was something she would eventually have done.

Oberyn had a mischevious smile. “Was I important?”

She could entertain the idea but shook her head because he would want details. “I’m sorry to say they didn’t, Oberyn." Her smile was cheeky. "Your sister was though.”

It was clear that bruised his ego, but he put on a look of mock-irritation. “Ah, Elia. My sweet sister…”

“They say she has the kindest of hearts.”

His eyes softened at the description. “Yes. That she is.” He smile towards the south, but focused on her again. “No doubt a customer took of advantage of you. What did you do?”

This had been a likely question; she was ready. “I remembered who they were and pretended to be busy at the market square so one of the other girls took their orders." Prince Oberyn chuckled and she nodded. "They paid Mistress Talea’s higher price for my needlepoint. I never offered twice."

The prince's lips quirked and fingers tapping the partisan, his gaze was that of a puzzle. “The day I found you, you gave gold to a woman in the markets. I’ve always wondered why. Did she cross you before and made an order that day?”

“She never crossed me,” she said, defending the woman she’d only spoken to twice. “Lady Daena was very kind and gave me information freely despite paying full price at her insistence. She commissioned a dress before you arrived.” It sparked a memory of the day Oberyn found her and promised passage to Dorne. She smiled. “I could almost say she treated me like we were family."

 

Braavos Markets

With her meagre belongings and Needle, Sansa was alongside Prince Oberyn when she sighted Lady Daena, who’d paid her a compliment that morning while ordering a gown to be made by her hand. So absorbed in the fact she was going back to Westeros, she almost missed the woman.

She glanced over her shoulder and the rubies of Lady Daena caught her eye. "Excuse me, Prince Oberyn. I need only a moment." He nodded and she hurried over. “My lady. Lady Daena!”

The escorted woman turned around but became concerned. “Good grace, Sansa! What are you doing on your own?” Lady Daena admonished.

She shook her head. “I have company, my lady. The Dornishman; a short distance away.”

Lady Daena rested her hand on her arm. “Dornish? Sansa, is everything alright?”

She gave a true smile. “He’s taking me to Westeros. Home. I’m going home.” Taking a small bag out of her pocket. “That’s why I called out. I can’t make your gown because we’re sailing on the morrow," she said, and put the coin purse in the lady's hand. "I’m sorry, Lady Daena. Here’s the coin owed.”

There was a curl of Lady Daena's lips despite her expression a little sad. “Thank you for your honesty, sweetling.”  A finger rested on her cheek and Lady Daena released a sigh. “I’m going to worry about you, Sansa. You’ve never owned a knife when you really should in this city, and now you’re about to sail across the Narrow Sea.”

Sansa blinked. "Is something wrong, my lady?"

The lady unstrapped something within billowing sleeves. “Please, child, I want to you carry this. Keep it close so I know you’re a little safer,” Lady Daena asked, passing a sheathed knife to her with a gentle hand. “The strap is too tight for me anyway,” she said, but it must be a lie since Lady Daena was a slender woman.

Curious, she slid it out by a margin and gasped at the rippling in the metal of the blade. “Lady Daena, it’s too much to give away,” she whispered, cautious of the people around them.

Lady Daena smiled and shook her head. “Nonsense, Sansa. Every innocent life is precious; more than a piece of metal. Take it. Dusk is before the darkness and the name of this knife. She will serve you well.”

“It’s -.“ She suppressed her urge to debate its value. To do such a thing here was too dangerous, so cooperated when the Lady Daena strapped it on. “I can’t believe you gave me this.”

“Best not speak of Dusk. Take care in Westeros, Sansa. You’re a sweet girl.”

“I will, Lady Daena. Thank you,” she promised, and was patted on the cheek. “I’ll never forget this kindness.”

Beside by Prince Oberyn’s again, they made for the harbour. What she’d ever done to earn that woman’s care, deep care, escaped her.

 

Turning her gaze towards the water, she answered the original question on whether Lady Daena had wronged her. “Lady Daena gifted me a map, but Mistress Talea found and sold it," she lied and looked towards the crew securing saddlebags on the sand steed. "So why are we making port at Saltpans?”

"This bothers you," he said, a casual turn of the partisan's pole within his hands.

Such an unannounced change of plans stirred fret within her. “My Prince, I pray you forgive me for questioning you. I believed we were making for Dorne by ship.”

The man's smile was relaxed. “We will indeed,” he said, but that made no sense with the ship unloading. “However, I thought it a waste not to explore first,” Prince Oberyn continued, untroubled by her line of conversation. “We’re going to Dorne, as you say, by ship. Just not immediately, Braavosi Trout.” He chuckled when she suppressed a scowl at the moniker. “Are we at court?” He turned away and approached a crate with the Martell sigil burnt into the wood.

When his back was to her, she gritted her teeth discreet. “No, Oberyn,” she replied.

He retrieved two items from the crate and approached.

Sansa met his eyes so he would know she meant her words. “I’m sorry, Oberyn. It’s habit to use titles of respect. Mistress Talea wouldn’t have tolerated us speaking without manners.”

In truth, Sansa didn’t like surprises and this one was unwelcome. Surprises too often meant suffering or grief; sometimes both. The day she’d rescued Jeyne Poole from Ramsay’s grasp in Winterfell, the monster he was avidly flayed Sansa's legs before Theon, or Reek, intervened.

“Understandable, Sansa,” he said, and tied a leather sheath containing a knife on each of her arms. Oberyn looked up with a teasing expression. “But each time you call me ‘Prince’ as we travel, I shall call you ‘Braavosi Trout’.” The prince's eyes sparkling with mischief. “Do we have an agreement?”

“Yes, Oberyn. We do,” she grounded out, fighting the manners early on enforced by her mother. Courtesies that helped her survive in court.

He smiled with ease and led the way off of his ship. “I am glad we are, Sansa. Formality suffocates me; leave such talk for court.”

With Oberyn’s gifts secure, Sansa reached for her skirt and swiftly pulled the laces of the deep blue piece a certain way. Soon it was rested on her back like a sheer cloak. The identically coloured breeches she’d been wearing beneath were in full view. Their appearance was akin to a loose skirt; stitched in a manner to fool the eye.

Lady Daena's blade, Dusk, was comfortably tied to her outer thigh and concealed by the length of the sheer skirt-turned-cloak on her shoulders. Prince Oberyn’s knives were on her upper arms and thus hidden.

Oberyn raised an eyebrow and cocked his head to the side. “Intriguing contraption, Sansa," His smile was approving. “You would fit in well at Dorne; not shy of practicality instead of convention,” he continued, mounting the readied horse and offering his arm so she could sit in front of him.

“Thank you.”

Accepting the help, she glanced at the green lush fauna of Westeros from the saddle. The sight was a dream. Prince Oberyn’s horse walked, trotted and proceeded to canter across the grassy hills beside the Trident river. The sand steed was on land again after the voyage from Braavos; it galloped along the flattest of land. “What inspired you?”

Sansa closed her eyes and the memory came forth.

 

“Braavos. Beautiful and deadly," Arya said, void of emotion. "Deceive people with a two-part mummer’s gown, or be dead yourself. Skirts are liabilities here, Sansa, unless you can get rid of it fast. You might need to run someday. We have only ourselves.”

 

Sansa looked at the sky and took faltered breaths to contain the urge to sob Arya had died without Sansa even getting to bury her. Oberyn’s arm around her middle was gentle and secure. Eyes closed, Sansa controlled her breath and withheld tears.

“I’ve upset you, Lady Tully," he said. "I apologise, for I do not know why.”

She shook her head. “It’s not you, Oberyn. It’s not. I miss her; Arya. She was a sister to me.” The loss stabbed her, but Arya would want her to grasp this second chance with both hands.

“I pray that she rests peacefully, Sansa. Mayhaps talking about her will help?”

When she nodded, her middle was held tight and the horse quickened. “Whirlwind and spring breeze; a fighter and a lady; impulsive and patient,” Sansa said. “We were opposites of one another, but I still loved her. In Braavos, I worked with a needle while Arya fought with a sword; she called ‘Needle’,” she said, focused on the land ahead. “Half a moon before you met me, I received Needle and a note written by Arya’s hand to say she was dying. Valar Morghulis; Look after Needle it said.”

A callused hand held hers. “I’m sorry you are so grieved, my lady, but I promise you; Needle is safe.” Oberyn thumbed her knuckles. “I admit it was a strange thing to see you own such a thing." He shook his head. "Not a sword, but something you stored with your clothes. I thought to myself, ‘Why does this dressmaker keep a sword, but not belted to her waist?’ It was a mystery, but now I understand. A keepsake and reminder of someone you loved.”

Closing her eyes and nodded. “Yes.” The rhythm of the horse was soothing. “She told me I’d be safer with the ability to run. Arya inspired me to design this when she said make something easy to remove if I must wear skirts. Slash the laces and the skirt falls to free my breeches.”

“She was wise. And you were clever, Sansa,” he said from behind her. “Beauty can be a distraction to what’s behind it; wits, wisdom, cunning. And you will grow to be beautiful, Little lady; a pretty dress will add to how dangerous you can be,” Oberyn said and when she turned around, there was a glint in his eyes. “You could be deadly using beauty to fool your enemies.”

“Thank you,” she said, eyes on the green land ahead.

The horse slowed to a canter which it maintained for hours without visibly tiring; only a glimpse of what Dornish sand steeds were renowned for.

The next few days were a sombre affair and Oberyn didn’t try to push Sansa into talking about Arya as they passed Crossroads Inn and later Harroway.

On the fifth night of their journey from Saltpans, they were camped a day’s ride on River Road from Harroway and she was growing tense from the prolonged, but appreciated, silence between them. Needing to break it, she used the one common ground they had after dinner.

“Oberyn?”

The prince’s attention turned to her, and a slither of doubt about her idea hovered like smoke but she pushed through.

“These knives,” she said, fingers on the straps hidden by the sheer cloak. Her companion looked at her with regard so she continued. “I’ve never fought with a weapon before. Only practise.” An urge to fidget was suppressed. “Will you please teach me, Oberyn?”

He appeared close to delight, and she smiled at the apparent restraint. “Why have knives and not know how?” he said in rhetoric, quick to his feet. “Of course, Sansa. They are to protect you after all.”

The dagger was drawn from the saddlebag and he held it by his side. Oberyn gestured to the flattest part of the clearing. “Most fights have swords, but fending off a dagger is the best way to start learning. Too much too soon and learning becomes difficult,” he said. “Women in Dorne can do this and so will you. Tell me, Sansa, do you dance?”

The question took her off guard and she lowered her knives. “Dance, Oberyn?”

“Exactly.” He grinned, and lunged forward as though he was a real viper.

On instinct from time with Arya, she spun to the side and swung to deflect but found there was no blade in sight. It took a moment and held by his thigh and still sheathed was his dagger. Her face warmed with the embarrassment of missing it.

He approached and took her hand. “Do not be embarrassed, my lady,” the prince said and Sansa made eye-contact. “You hesitated, Sansa. Swift and sure, and you will prevail. Knife fighting is like a dance. Footwork and watch your fellow dancer’s eyes.” Oberyn stepped away and gave an encouraging smile along with a small bow. “Will you dance with me, my lady?”

Smiling back and glad for the lightened mood, she bobbed a curtsy. “I am honoured, My Prince.” 

Oberyn quirked a smile. For two hours, Oberyn tutored her on the basics of knife fighting; waste no energy, no flourishing, watch the eyes, stand side on, be prepared for them to have moved to a new place.

By the end of it, Sansa rested on a log and the night chill cooled her face. “Here,” Oberyn said, his waterskin offered to her. She took a drink. “I imagine you wish to bathe in the river?” he said and walked over to pick up his partisan, stood beside his sand steed and back faced the water. “It is dark and no one is here to leer at you.”

Her body was of a child, so she lacked the appeal of a woman grown. There were people in Westeros with perversions, but the manner he’d taken a watchful position and given her privacy suggested he was no such man. She nodded and approached the saddlebag containing her spare clothes and a linen towel. “Thank you, Oberyn, I do.”

He met her gaze to nod and turned back towards the road ahead of him.

Sansa was hesitant at first, but removed her clothes and quick to enter the water. It was cold, however she forced herself to remain there and grow accustom to it. Despite Oberyn's reputed debauchery, she had to acknowledge how he’d been honourable while on the confines of his ship from Braavos.

Further at ease when she failed to catch the prince looking in her direction now, she went through the motions of bathing as though she was alone.

Grateful, Sansa wasted no time getting out and dressed. It was with quick hands she scrubbed the stains from her soiled mummer’s gown and breeches; hung to dry near the fire.

The woman in a girl’s body approached Oberyn who still stood by his horse. “Thank you, Oberyn.”

Lowering his partisan, he nodded. “Not a problem, Little lady.”

While she settled down on a blanket by the fire with her back to the river there was a rustle and sounding splash behind her; Oberyn bathing, no doubt.

For a sennight, the routine was established; break their fast and camp, eat lunch in the saddle, dinner beside a campfire, followed by knife training and making use of the river. Hardened from the past, Sansa was slow to give trust. However, her guarded manner towards Prince Oberyn was chipped away day by day.

Not once had he breached the limits of friendship. She was awash with guilt for her caution towards Oberyn, but she’d been hurt too many times by men and women alike; each in their different ways.

On the morning of the twelfth day since Saltpans, they crested a hill and ahead stood the splendour of Riverrun. “Here we are, Braavosi Trout. You’ve swum home.”

Words failed Sansa. Riverrun and not an Other in sight; guards manned the walls. Passing through the towns were nothing compared to this. She brought a hand to her mouth and grasped the saddlehorn with the other. Her appearance of a Tully could not be disputed thanks to her likeness to her mother.

Hoster Tully, her maternal grandfather, held a reputation of shrewdness and schemes. If the man didn’t recognise the risks towards House Tully by turning away a girl near identical to his eldest daughter, then he wasn’t Hoster Tully.

The sight of Riverrun in a peaceful and alive state was a balm to her. Hope rose in her with a pinch of scepticism, given Mother’s bitterness towards Jon Snow during Sansa’s girlhood. In essence, Sansa would be a bastard walking into Riverrun and uproot the lives of House Tully, including Catelyn Tully. She will be another Jon Snow brought to Winterfell. Names were the only difference.

She took a breath and sighed. A callused thumb ran along her knuckles. “My lady. Do you need a moment?”

“Yes please, Oberyn,” she said. “I want to be composed when I meet my family.”

“Understandable.”

In silence and astride the fire-red mane sand steed, Sansa stared at Riverrun. In girlhood, Sansa once aspired to be the lady her mother wanted of her, including following the ways of the Faith. Influence of the Faith was stronger here than in the North, and Riverrun was bound to have a septa teaching the children. Followers of the Old Gods were more receptive of bastards and spared Jon some of the Faith’s brunt he would of faced in the south.

There would be no such mercy for Sansa here, but Riverrun was the best chance towards success. Acceptance from all of House Tully will be improbable at worst and difficult at best. Like her time in the Vale with Littlefinger as Alayne, she must prepare herself for a new life.

She will always love Catelyn Stark, her mother, but she had to let go of hope of seeing that woman again. Seeing her again as a mother was impossible.

Should, by some miracle, Catelyn Tully not look down upon Sansa and become a sister in true sense of the word, Sansa would make her peace with the new future in regards to her. What would become of Lysa Tully was an unknown factor and something she silently prayed to steer in an improved direction. Petyr Baelish would be here.

She sighed and dropped her gaze.

"My lady," Oberyn said. "There is no shame in fearing what's yet to come." He lightly ghosted her knuckles with a kiss. "It's facing the fear that makes one brave."

Sansa did not fear entering Riverrun. Should she be rejected by Hoster Tully, Dorne might become her new home if she endeared herself to the Martell family well enough. Mayhaps influence the future through House Martell. Dorne would be her contingency, weak of one it was.

With one glance at Riverrun, Sansa dismounted and loosened the laces of her cloak until it slipped over her shoulders towards her waist where she tied them. Her sleeved bodice and versatile skirt became a single dress; breeches concealed. "I suppose I best look the part of a lady, Prince Oberyn," she commented and reached out for his arm to remount, but sidesaddle, in front of him on the black sand steed.

"Indeed, Braavosi Trout. And a dangerous one that fools the eye."

Sansa gave a weak chuckle as she released her hair from its ties. A desire for wind in her hair was strange but something about it was freeing. She turned to Oberyn. "Once we reach the bridge, you can't call me that moniker anymore. And I'll be required to address you by your title." Her lips quirked when his face had a half-hearted grimace.

"Very well, Little lady."

His circumvention of formalities amused Sansa and made her body lighter. "And Oberyn?" she said with ill-hidden mischief. Sansa turned her head towards him.

An eyebrow rose in question. "Yes?"

"Don't show off," she said.

The prince leaned back and chortled. "Me?" Oberyn spurred his black horse into a gallop, its fire-red mane waved in the wind.

A firm grip around her waist kept her in place and they thundered towards a lowered drawbridge. She giggled at Oberyn's antics in spite of herself, which turned to laughter by the time they were at the bridge. The prince rode in a circle until the horse slowed to a walk. "I see a little boy. Jealous one too," he whispered, and dismounted to help her down by the waist. He added a kiss to her knuckles with a bow.

Sansa wouldn’t lie to herself and deny she had fun with the moment of foolishness. Neither would she ruin his, for she couldn’t find it in her heart to do so. Her last moment of laughter was so long ago.

"Cat?" a young Braavosi voice said.

The accent soiled her mood, but she didn't let it show. Turning around, the closeness startled her and she stepped back.

"You look radiant, Cat," Petyr said, the boy looked a little self-conscious. This boy version of Littlefinger clashed with the sly, honey-worded man she’d learnt so much from. It disoriented her for a moment. "I have something. For you, I mean. I picked some flowers," he said, words fumbled. It was nothing like his smooth lies later in life.

He thrusted out his hand holding wildflowers; the movement made her jump back. But her feet touched nothing.

"Cat!"

"Lady Catelyn!"

"SANSA!"

Petyr, the guards and Oberyn were above on the bridge. Pulling out a knife, Sansa slashed the laces of her deep blue skirt and sheathed the knife with haste. A running river beneath her.

Above her, the skirt billowed out and drifted downwards like an overlong Tully banner with the embroidered white trouts on it. The fabric slowly descending towards her. There was a flurry of motion on the bridge but her back impacted with the river like a slap to her back.

She swam as Mother had taught her and broke the surface free of struggle in only her breeches and bodice. Right next to her was Oberyn offering to hold her above water. Sansa shook her head and trod water so she could search for a boat near a ledge along the river surrounding Riverrun. The ledge wasn’t far, so Sansa searched for her skirt, retrieved it and swam towards the opening. “This way.”

He wasn’t far behind her and kept his voice low. “Looks like the Braavosi Trout can swim.”

Sansa glared at him with the steel of a Stark. “Thank you for the assessment, My Prince,” she answered in kind, and turned in the water to hoist herself up with her arms. “This is not what I had in mind this morning,” she said, water dripped from the wrung fabric of the skirt she’d deliberately chosen for today; Tully colours and embroidery. “It had to be the bridge…”

Water sloshed and Oberyn climbed up onto the same ledge nearby and sat next to her. “Are you alright?” he asked and looked her over. Like water, guilt soaked her for grumbling over an accident. Sansa turned to apologise but he gave a dismissive wave. Oberyn’s focus was towards the drawbridge; an expression of pondering. “Looks like you are a true Tully, Little lady.”

“This wasn’t how I imagined meeting my family,” Sansa said to herself, but paused and turned to Oberyn. “Pray forgive me, but what did you just say?”

Oberyn gestured up at an audience gathering high above them on the other side of the river. Petyr Baelish at the forefront with a redhead girl on either side of him; girls close in their ages. “The older girl,” he said. “I’d dare say you’re twins. You did not lie to me in Braavos.”

Sansa had given him little honesty since meeting him in Braavos. Nearly everything she’d said was a fabrication. Arya was the exception. She turned her eyes to the other girl when movement draw her attention; the last memory of the youngest made Sansa shiver; Lysa.

Behind Sansa were multiple set of footsteps now, a tone of authority summoned her attention. “Shain!” a man snapped. “Stop gawking like a fool and have some sense man! By the Seven, get the girl a linen and dress before she freezes! Winter lingers and she’ll need a maester if you tarry.”

With a glance beside herself, Oberyn grinned at the man. “Blackfish!” he said. “It should’ve been I on the land and you in the water, no?” Oberyn’s face had no remorse upon uttering the cheek.

She glowered at him, but it went unnoticed for he wasn’t looking her way and some of the guards chuckled softly. Uncle Brynden appeared mildly amused.

Once her damp skirt was around her waist to conceal her figure, for her breeches clung to her legs, Sansa sought to put an end to this. “I do not think now is the time to be japing about monikers, Prince Oberyn,” she said.

When the Blackfish looked at her, Sansa curtsied and met his gaze without turning away from the stare of Tully blue eyes. “I’d think you’re Catelyn hadn’t Oberyn Martell shouted a different name,” Uncle Brynden seriously said. “So, Sansa,” he said as though testing the name. “Where did you come to be in the company of the Red Viper?”

“A Braavosi market square, my Lord Uncle,” she said, determined to rely on truth instead of lies. Becoming a female version of Littlefinger repulsed her. “We met a moon ago and travelled here since.” Lies will always be a part of her life; this life. However, that didn’t mean she couldn’t avow to honesty when it wasn’t dangerous to do so.

Uncle Brynden blinked and stared at her. "You're of Tully blood; I can see that. The Baelish boy couldn’t tell you apart from Catelyn, nor the guards," he said, and dismissed the men behind him. He watched them leave until the last was gone. "But there were no Tully twins. No babes snatched in the night. What do you know about your life?"

She squared her shoulders and crafted an answer with what truths she could afford. "Very little, my Lord Uncle. My earliest memory is when I was three, learning my letters in Braavos; Low Valyrian in Braavos; Westerosi in Braavos. I earned my coin with needlework in an establishment. I was told my name and that of my parents by Mistress Talea, but nothing more."

"Mistress Talea?" Brynden repeated, watching Sansa carefully. “Who was this woman?”

Oberyn intervened. "In true? Nearly her Braavosi owner.”

The description made her bristle, but she kept the irritation to herself; this conversation wasn't worth the semantics.

“Sansa was but a smallfolk there, Lord Tully. Very little coin to her name," Oberyn said, and gave her an apologetic look.

The attention of the Blackfish shifted to Oberyn. Talked about while she was in front of her uncle made her hackles rise, but she stamped down the urge to speak for herself since she was a child in their eyes. "And you met how? The girl’s told me where," the man needled, no doubt searching for a hole in their story.

Oberyn could ruin her chances if he wasn’t diplomatic enough. His traits were of a fighter, not a negotiator.

"A dressmaker's stall,” Oberyn said. "I know dedicated craftsmanship from average and remarked on a dress suitable for my sister, Elia. Sansa stepped forward in thanks. She didn’t look Braavosi and claimed to be your brother's and goodsister's daughter. Naturally, I had doubts, but she knew your words and has Tully colouring."

Uncle Brynden didn’t hide the scepticism. "And so you granted a child passage?"

"And so I did."

Uncle Brynden was reluctant and she took a step towards the man. She’d had such hope to be accepted here, but the journey had clearly been a waste. She swallowed and broke the silence, shoulders square to control her emotions. “I heard a phrase from a White Harbour merchant once that’s quite fitting to my one request,” she said.

Oberyn looked at her with curiosity while Brynden just watched. Her companion tilted his head. “Lady Sansa? What do you request?”

Allowing her longing for peace to bleed into her voice, she recited words she had lived by. “‘The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.’” The men looked intrigued, but she ploughed on while she still had the chance. “If the Lord Paramount of the Trident deems I am not his trueborn daughter, he will say ‘Sansa Rivers’ to my face.” If Riverrun fails, she will go to Sunspear.

Collecting herself internally, Sansa was silent and waited for Brynden Tully’s response. Coming down the stairs to this ledge were soft steps and Sansa turned.

A woman heavy with child, and a boy of one on her hip came into view from behind Blackfish. “Cat, sweetling, why did you jump into the Red Fork?” she asked with a warm voice, looking over Sansa’s face. The lady shook her head and led Sansa upstairs with a gentle hand. “Come along, Catelyn, let’s get you in a bath before you catch a cold.”

Sansa obeyed the brunette in numb shock. She had the same face as Mother; as Sansa. But her hair was brown. Minisa Tully. A grandmother she'd never met.

Beside her grandmother, Sansa gave her head a little shake. ‘Grandmother’ was the wrong title to be using in this life. If she was accepted here by the Lord and Lady of Riverrun, she must refer to them as ‘Mother’ and ‘Father’, because it was a risk to mix details of her previous life with the reality of this one. Sansa was of an age with her blood parents and mustn’t call them such.

Her grandmother was rubbing her back and the friction brought warmth to her skin. Gazing at her, she struggled to shake how alike their faces were when she compared Minisa’s to her own as Lady of Winterfell.

“Minisa, wait!” Blackfish shouted from the bottom of the stairs, boots pounding on the stone to follow them. “That’s not your daughter, but a bastard!”

“You’ve lost your wits, Brynden,” Minisa said and proceeded to lead Sansa away while he followed. “Find them and don’t talk about bastardy to Cat again. Leave her be.”

Chapter Text

 SANSA STARK

Day 15, 10th Moon, 275 AC

Through Riverrun, Sansa followed Lady Minisa who carried a small Edmure on her hip until they reached a nursery. Inside the decorated chamber was a collection of toys by a corner, and positioned against the wall was a cot with many painted trout.

Lady Minisa approached the cot and lowered Edmure with care. “There we go, my little lord,” she whispered to him and stroked his side with a gentle hand. She looked at Sansa. “Cat, could you close the curtains please?”

Obedient, she took one curtain and pulled until its full length blocked half the light. The process was repeated and all three of them were wrapped in darkness despite the time of day. A little yawn filled the nursery; the yawn of an innocent untarnished by the world. Beside the cot, Lady Minisa murmured, but it was too soft for Sansa.

She was in Westeros; at Riverrun. And the Tully features of her appearance should provide a strong case that she belonged to the family.

By the curtains, she took a breath and sighed. Should she choose to build her life on lies, there will come a day a mistake was uttered and get her caught. “My Lady Tully,” she said. “I'm not Catelyn.” Quiet steps neared her and she turned her head towards them and braced herself. “I look like her-”

A thumb stroked her shoulder and the same hand lightly rested there. “I know,” Lady Minisa said. “You're Sansa, aren't you?”

She released a quiet breath. “I am, my lady. Though why you did speak to Ser Brynden as if convinced I was Catelyn?” In the dark, she smiled and relief flowed through her. If Minisa Tully was behaving receptive to her presence there was hope yet.

The hand guided her from the window. “Winter has finally begun to thaw, and you’re freezing from the river, Sansa. Come with me,” Lady Minisa said, and led her to the door. “We'll speak more in private, but I'll call you Catelyn in the halls.”

With a nod, she followed Lady Minisa again but the walk was a few doors down the hall. Through a feminine solar and into a generous bedchamber, Sansa’s eyes landed on a steaming tub. “My lady?” She turned to Lady Minisa. “Do you wish for me to assist?” A tub wouldn’t be ready yet if it had been prepared for her; much less here.

There was a smile and Lady Minisa shook her head. “Unless you bathe you could fall ill, Sansa,” she said and set a stool beside the tub. “We need to speak and soon. So mine can wait.” Lady Minisa sat with her back somewhat to Sansa, Lady Minisa rubbed her swollen belly in idle circles. “Just let me know when you’re in.”

She unlaced and allowed her mummer’s gown and shift to fall once her knives were on the floor. The steamy water shocked her skin, but with a few breathes it became a warm pleasure instead of hot. “This is very kind of you, my lady. Thank you,” she said with her own back to Lady Minisa for privacy. She crossed her arms and gazed at the water, but looked over her shoulder to her grandmother.

Lady Minisa’s gaze was gentle. “Your colouring is Tully, and your face is akin to my own – Whent. Yet Hoster and I aren’t your parents,” she said, her brown eyes watched her. "Who are?"

She sighed. Honesty would confuse her grandmother, no doubt, but she needed to prove herself trustworthy. If she gave it in pieces instead of one single answer, it should be more digestible than shocking. A glance at the closed door built courage within her and she met Lady Minisa’s eyes. “My mother’s blood was Tully and Whent, my lady,” Sansa said. “And my father’s blood, on both sides, was Stark.”

Sansa was silent and held her gaze with Lady Minisa. The woman’s eyebrows were furrowed and a hand fiddled with loose fabric. “Such information suggests…” She brought a hand towards Sansa’s face and hesitated, but she rested her cheek against the palm. “My face; Catelyn’s; and yours. And ‘Sansa’ is a Northern name.” Lady Minisa sigh was prolonged and she shook her head with a confused expression.

“My lady?” Sansa asked, straightening up. “I don’t deny this is strange-” A finger rested on her lips.

The finger moved away and those brown eyes met Sansa’s blue. “My thoughts don’t matter,” Lady Minisa told her. “What truly matters is you're here, and near identical to my eldest; but paler skin.” Fingers ran through Sansa’s hair. “A more vibrant red. Otherwise, you look so much like her.”

Sansa’s eyes closed when a gentle touch brushed through her hair, she opened them. The closeness Lady Minisa acted with was both odd but warming.

“Tully eyes. Tully blue,” Lady Minisa said. “It’s no wonder you came to Riverrun.” Lady Minisa looked at Sansa with intent. “Am I wrong that you’re roughly ten?”

She nodded. “I am. And between ten and eleven,” she said, withholding her mental age of twenty-six. “My lady, what do you believe will happen? Lord Tully has no doubt heard about this morning’s incident.”

Lady Minisa smiled and ran her fingers through Sansa’s hair, the sensation left a sigh on the edge of Sansa’s lips. “He will want to speak with me if I know him. His decision will be the final one, so I can't really answer,” Lady Minisa said. Warm water ran down Sansa’s back. “Could you answer two questions and allow me to wash your hair? I need time to think about this.”

There was no surprise in her grandmother’s need for silence to process the information Sansa had flooded her with. “Of course, my lady.” Sansa turned in the water and met Lady Minisa’s eyes again. “What do you wish to ask?”

“If you are who you imply, at what age was your mother betrothed and to whom?”

Sansa kept her eyes on the brown ones of Lady Minisa. “She was betrothed to Brandon Stark when she was twelve, my lady.” Tempted as she was to be honest, Sansa mustn’t share her father had been Eddard Stark, not her uncle, Brandon. Such information could cause changes too soon and strip Sansa of advantageous knowledge. To flounder in the unknown could lead to more harm than good.

Expression serious, the woman nodded and tucked a lock behind Sansa’s ear. “Sansa, did you come here in want of a home and family?” Lady Minisa said with a bottle in her lap. “Should this be true, do you understand what you must give up if you’re to stay at Riverrun?”

She nodded her head to the woman stroking her hair. “I do,” Sansa said solemnly. “And, my lady, I’ve made my peace with it. I will see everyone, but their interactions with me will be different. It’s illogical to expect the same again.” She turned away and stared at the water.

Behind her was a sigh of pity. “There’s more to it than that, Sansa.” Lady Minisa said. A light grasp gathered her hair and water dripped onto her neck. “You need to understand you must let go and accept the situation. A new life starts with a new canvas; blank. Everything from before is a memory.” A hand rested on her shoulder. “It’s a difficult thing to accept, but the sooner you do the better off you will be.” The hand gave a light squeeze. “I’m sorry.”

Sansa’s nod was small so her hair wouldn’t pull. A hand tilted her chin up and water from a bucket pour through her hair. “I know, my lady.”

“Minisa,” the woman whispered, guided Sansa to standing and placed a folded towel into her hands. The lady turned her back to Sansa, who got out of the tub and dried herself.

She wrapped herself within the towel, for lack of anything clean to wear, but remained beside the tub. “Pardon?” she asked and approached her seated grandmother.

Lady Minisa turned on the stool and met her gaze with a soft expression. “Call me ‘Minisa’ in private, Sansa,” she said, stood and hovered a hand above Sansa’s shoulder. “May I?”

When she gave silent consent, Minisa lowered the hand and stroked Sansa’s shoulder with an idle thumb. It was peculiar behaviour to instruct a child known for less than a few hours to call Lady Minisa by only her name. Should her grandmother grow attached to Sansa, there was a better chance of success and trust in the future. “Minisa. I’m not uncomfortable, but why do you ask I call you by your name?”

Gently, her hand was taken within Minisa’s. “Deep down I'm conflicted when you’re formal with me. I suspect I’d feel the same if Catelyn or Lysa call me 'my lady'.” With a guiding hand, Minisa sat Sansa down at the vanity. “Could you pass me the brush?”

As bid, Sansa picked up the brush. “I don’t understand,” Sansa said, looking her in the eyes. “You’ve already been rather accommodating, Minisa, and gave up your own bath.”

The brush ran through Sansa’s hair and in the looking glass Minisa was gazing at the red hair. Stroke by stroke, it became neater until it shined. “I felt as though I should. You'd fallen into the river,” she said, handing the brush to Sansa.

With care, she placed it on the table and turned, giving a smile. “Thank you for your kindness.”

Minisa brought Sansa to standing and led the way to a wardrobe. Inside was a variety of dresses for a woman, but Minisa reached in and pulled forth an outfit made for a child. “When I heard Catelyn had fallen into the Red Fork, I knew she would need a warm bath to fight off the chill. So I got this; it should fit you, Sansa,” Minisa said, and gave her a dress in the Tully colours.

The dress in Sansa’s hands was laced at the back, unlike those Sansa made with lacing at the front so she could get dressed without help. Such luxuries as handmaids were unavailable in Braavos for Sansa, so she’d needed to make an alternative. Nonetheless, she was grateful for Minisa’s care despite her effectively being a complete stranger. “Thank you, Minisa,” she said, the dress and smallclothes within her arms.    

Minisa smiled and thumbed Sansa’s shoulder. “I’ll give you some privacy and wait in the Lady's solar,” she said, a slow walk to the door. “Just call when you need me for the laces. Catelyn would be doing Riverrun ledgers now, so call for her if I’ve left.”

“I will.”

Minisa made to grab the handle but stopped to turn to Sansa. “I ask only you say nothing to explain why you’re here or who you are. I don’t want my family frightened with gossip of magic,” she said. “Even my husband.”

“I promise, Minisa,” she said. In the Eyrie, she’d lived as Alayne Stone; Littlefinger’s bastard daughter. If rumours of her being a bastard developed here and she was turned away from Riverrun, it would have no, or at least limited, impact on her abilities in Dorne to change the future through the Martell family. Princess Elia had been the wife of faithless Rhaegar last time. Endear herself to Princess Elia and there was a chance of success.

“I just want to keep my family safe,” Minisa said. “Claim you were raised told you are my trueborn daughter; it’s more believable. The request isn’t to make things more difficult for you.” 

“Family. Duty. Honour,” Sansa said. With a glance at the door, Sansa moved away so no one would see her when the door is opened.

She chuckled at her words. “Just so, Sansa. When Catelyn finishes in the Lady’s solar, tell her you’re both to go to the Lord’s solar.” When Sansa nodded, Minisa left the bedchamber. The door closed quietly behind her.

The dress was one made for everyday wear instead of the presence of lords, but Sansa cared more that she had something for now. Although not a mummer’s gown, which she could conceal her knives with, she made do with this one and strapped all three knives to her legs under the shift. With no valuable possessions except for Dusk, Sansa wanted to keep anything of little or much value close.

Without tarrying, she was dressed but needed someone for the laces at the back. Inside the Lady’s solar was a girl seated alone at the desk and writing on parchment.

“Lady Catelyn?” Sansa said with her eyes on the child version of who’d been her mother.

The girl looked up and set her quill down. “It's Sansa, isn’t it?” she asked and stood. Sansa nodded. “My mother said you would need help with laces.”  

“I do,” she said and stepped aside within the bedchamber.

In front of the looking glass with Catelyn behind her, Sansa was flooded with choices while her laces were pulled and, at the top, tied. She’d been told by Minisa not to say a word in regard to her identity, and sparking a conversation would stir curiosity within Catelyn.

Catelyn walked to Sansa’s side and looked into the looking glass, frowning. “Turn to me.”

Wary of what could happen; she spoke not a word and obliged Catelyn. A mouth kept shut was the best for Sansa right now, so she watched what the older girl did; specifically the eyes. They darted between her hair and her face. Catelyn was judging her and her lips tightening.

“Younger than me, but older than Lysa,” Catelyn said, her eyes met Sansa’s and they narrowed. “You’re a bastard, aren’t you?”

Coldness engulfed Sansa as though she’d fallen into the freezing Red Fork again. If this is how Jon felt before he joined the Night’s Watch, she didn’t blame his decision. Maintaining the eye-contact, Sansa kept herself tall. To anticipate was one thing, but to hear the words uttered was another. Those words delivered by her former mother sapped her of hope for a good start.

“I take it you’re finished with the ledgers, Lady Catelyn?” Sansa asked and turned her attention to the looking glass so she could do a thin braid on either side that met behind her head. The rest cascaded down her shoulders and back. Simple, elegant and done in moments with enough practise. She turned to Catelyn who scowled.

“Yes. Follow me.”

Catelyn strode out of the Lady’s bedchamber and through the solar without pause. In moments they were outside a closed door with at least two, mayhaps three, people inside if one was silent. The adults of House Tully; Sansa had met two of three with yet to hear Lord Hoster Tully. The voices were muffled.

“Brynden, Minisa. Enough,” presumably Lord Hoster said with authority.

Sansa refused to take a bracing breath in front of Catelyn after such cold conversation. To look weak and unsure would encourage Catelyn to believe Sansa was a bastard; despite how close to the truth that might as well be.

She knocked.

“Come in,” called the same voice.

Catelyn opened the door and entered first. Going in herself, Sansa was close behind her and cast her eyes around the solar. They landed on Minisa, who gave her a small smile.

On the other side of the desk was a man she’d never met, and like Minisa his hair was brown. Also in the solar, but auburn hair like Catelyn and Sansa was the first Tully she’d met in this life; Uncle Brynden. In a seat, Uncle Brynden had a sour look about him, but the other man watched her. The first man had to be Lord Hoster; her grandfather.

However, unless Minisa had told him, he would be unaware of his relation to her. This was another instance of Sansa jumping from one circumstance to another, leaving her in a position of cooperating no matter what. She’d lived a pawn’s life under Cersei and later Littlefinger, but she needed better now. She needed the best outcome possible; she must be ‘Tully’, not ‘Rivers’. At court, the difference was everything.

Tullys weren’t the descendants of kings like House Stark, but have the Tully name and she would be more valuable in the eyes of Westeros as a lord paramount’s trueborn daughter. She had to pursue it with determination but keep her manners to appeal to Lord Hoster.

Within the area between comfortable seating and the desk, she curtsied deeply; her eyes on him. “My Lord Tully.” Dare to be presumptuous and call him ‘Father’ was equal to a step in the wrong direction. Beyond reproach was essential in Riverrun right now. She turned towards Minisa and curtsied again. “My Lady Tully. I apologise for the inconveniences I’ve caused you.”

Minisa shook her head and gave a smile from where she sat to the side of Lord Hoster. “There’s nothing to forgive, Sansa,” she said. “Catelyn, Sansa. Make yourselves comfortable.” The Lady of Riverrun exchanged a look with its lord, but there was silence between them.

She followed the instructions and sat beside Catelyn, but met her gaze on the man who’d decide her position, or if she had one. “My Lord Tully, you wished to see me?”

Lord Hoster nodded and rested his chin on raised wrists, eyes going between Minisa, Catelyn and Sansa. The Lord's face gave nothing but calm, while his eyes repeated the cycle once more. He lowered his hands onto the desk. “I did, young lady,” he said seriously. “Here you sit before me beside my eldest, and near-identical to her. Both of you greatly resemble my wife. You have the blood of Tully and Whent for all to see.”

Uncle Brynden crossed his arms, but Sansa returned her attention to Lord Hoster and nodded with demure. Lord Hoster had spoken facts, not questions.

He straightened in his seat and held Sansa’s gaze. “We’re sorry we sent you to Harrenhal since you were a babe, but I had to protect your mother from ailments. Both I and your mother were relieved when you returned upon defeating your illnesses.”

Grasping the story, Sansa cooperated and bowed her head. “I understand, Father. When the maester said I was finally hale and healthy, it joyed me to know I could come back home.”

Beside Sansa were two sources of rustling fabric. Catelyn and Uncle Brynden, the latter’s lips were tight and his eye bore into her.

“Catelyn,” Lord Hoster said. “Shortly after Sansa was brought into the world, she was raised away from Riverrun. To have a babe who kept falling ill and your mother becoming sick, it was too dangerous. Not to mention you were only a year old. I couldn’t risk it. It was for the safety of your mother I sent your sister away.”

Sansa turned and beside her, Catelyn’s stare was wide-eyed but changed to uncomfortable and tinged with suspicion. Refusing to let it bother her, she gave her new father her full attention. It was a fool’s choice to attempt living and giving one title to a person with her voice but a different one in her mind. She had to choose if she was not to address anyone with their mental name by accident. To call her former mother ‘Mother’ would be a disaster.

To survive the game of thrones this time, it was essential she used what their names would have been to her had she truly been Lord Hoster’s daughter. She’d done the same as Alayne Stone and called Littlefinger ‘Father’, so she could do it. The difference this time was addressing her grandparents as her actual parents; a more personal matter than parading as Alayne Stone.

“Sansa,” Father said. “Your mother and I never told anyone about you, because you were so sickly I suspected you would die. With such a resemblance to your mother, Westeros would believe she had an affair; she didn’t. You will stay in Riverrun for at least a moon so Westeros has a chance to accept the truth once I spread it. Is this understood?”

“Yes, Father, it is.”

“Sansa,” Minisa addressed with gentle eyes. “Could you repeat to us what you last said while speaking with Uncle Brynden?”

There was no favourable person in Sansa saying it. “It was a moment of strong emotions, Mother. I was happy to finally be home, but feared for my future,” she said demurely, but Minisa’s body language was expectant. She took a breath and nodded. “Yes, Mother. I requested that ‘If the Lord Paramount of the Trident deemed I am not his trueborn daughter, he will say ‘Sansa Rivers’ to my face’,” Sansa said despite her fear of reprimand, and omitted the Stark reference. “I’ve been raised with the Tully name for as long as I can remember.”

Uncle Brynden was on the cusp of scowling at Sansa.

“No one will be calling you ‘Sansa Rivers’,” Father reassured her. “The Citadel and Great Houses of Westeros will be told about your past; a sickly babe sent to a trusted healer in Harrenhal to protect my wife and heir. And when you had finally grew hale and healthy, you were escorted to Riverrun to reunited with the family.”

Sansa met his eyes. “Thank you for not casting me aside. I apologise my words are so few.”

The apology was dismissed with a small wave. “You are the second born daughter of my wife and me,” he said. “You will act with decorum as I have seen, and in no instance will you dress to a lesser standard than you are here in my solar. It is no less than I expect from Catelyn or Lysa, for they are your sisters,” he told her and stood to approach her. A man’s hand rested on her shoulder. “There will be a ceremony of the seven oils in the sept on the morrow.”

“Yes, Father,” Sansa promised, happy of his decision. “I shall bring no shame to our House.”

Catelyn’s breathing faltered and Sansa turned to her. “What of Lysa, Father? You’d let this girl usurp her as your second child?”

“Catelyn,” Father scolded. “Lysa loses nothing. Sansa is your oldest sister but raised at your grandfather’s castle.”

Mother rose from beside Father, approached Sansa and led her out the solar. “You needn’t hear this, Sansa. I apologise for her behaviour.”

“It was to be expected, Mother. I am suddenly changing matters regarding her family from her view,” Sansa said. Catelyn's words stung and she did her best to brush them off. “To imagine I would be accepted here without resistance from anyone is but a fool’s belief. I know what was truly said within the solar. Uncle Brynden is not in favour of this either.”

Minisa nodded at her words. “You’re not a stupid girl, Sansa. You understand at least this much about the world.” Mother stepped back and took a full look at Sansa. “I know the story is a falsehood; your father and I agreed to it. My father in Harrenhal will know as well.” Hands slow, Mother fiddled with Sansa’s loose locks. “For the life of me when I look at you, my heart and eyes tell me the story could very well be true. To me, you are my daughter.”

A persistent smile emerged and her cheeks warmed. “Mayhaps the babe is making you overly emotional, Mother?” Sansa suggested, walking beside the woman down the hall. Ahead, Oberyn watched both of them and she gave him a nod of acknowledgement. He didn’t move, face solemn and eyes fixed on Minisa Tully, but left with quick strides. “But thank you.”

“Mayhaps, Sansa,” Mother said. “Mayhaps, yet such likeness...Please don’t take Brynden’s bitterness to heart if you can. Every time I’m with child he channels his regrets behind your father’s back, yet he refuses to marry any suggested House.”

 Mother ran a hand along Sansa’s arm and Sansa nodded. “I can handle it,” Sansa said.

“You shouldn’t have to,” said Mother. Within a chamber came the giggles of a little boy and they entered. The walls were filled with books; in the centre was a table, but in a corner and playing with toys was Edmure. “I thought I put you to bed, lordling,” Mother scolded and picked him up. The toddler snuggled against her. “Let’s get you back in it.”

A yank of Sansa’s hair made her yelp. Giggles filled the air.

From a seat, a male chuckle filled the library. Oberyn Martell had multiple books on his end of the table while he was in a comfortable seat against the wall; in his lap was an open book and beside him on a small table was ink, parchment and a quill. “The mischief of babes,” Oberyn said.

A soft hand stroked Sansa’s head and she turned so she could see, although it was likely Mother’s. And it was. “Sansa, are you alright?”

Sansa nodded. “I will be, Mother.”

Mother gave a sympathetic smile. “I’ll put Edmure in bed and hopefully he stays in it.” Sansa new mother turned to Oberyn. “What was he doing in here?”

From where he sat, Oberyn shrugged. “Your youngest brought him here, I assume. Lady Lysa was leaving when I came.”

With a nod, Mother was walking away with Edmure. “Let’s get you back in bed, Edmure.”

Soon they were out of sight leaving Sansa and Oberyn in the library. At the central table, Sansa read the book titles. “Warcraft; Healing; Governance; Higher Mysteries; Dark Arts,” she rattled off and looked at the last book with mirth. “I hadn’t considered you to be a person with an interest in books, Oberyn,” she said, meeting his eyes. “Poisons. Well, you would not be the Red Viper without knowledge on poison.”

“Indeed not,” he chuckled, the feather of his quill brushed against his chin, the thoughtful expression was abandoned and he relaxed. “Links with rust are poor, no?”

“Links?” she repeated, blinking. “A maester’s chain? You, Oberyn?" He grinned at her. "It’s hard to believe,” she said. Oberyn was rarely vague but she'd grown used to his nuances over the past moon.

He gave a brief shrug. “I grew bored after the sixth link,” Oberyn admitted. “Could you see me in a maester’s garb?” he japed, raising an eyebrow and returned to his notes beside him.

Sansa stifled a laugh and beside Oberyn was a list of names, but not people. They sounded like toxins or benign substances. “No,” she said, amusement in her tone despite her efforts. “You’re too impulsive.”

The Dornishman glanced up and grinned. “Impertinent brat. What happened to Little lady's courtesies?” he said and paused in his reading to write something down, circling it.  “You’d still be in Braavos if I was not impulsive.”

“I thank you for that, Oberyn. Truly,” Sansa said. She would still be making gowns in Braavos but not for his help. “I forgot my courtesies?” Sansa said with an exaggerated gasp. And hoped she morphed her expression to one of blame. “You're a bad influence, Oberyn Martell.”

The prince winked at her with a wicked smirk. “And proud of it, for I have corrupted one fine lady.”

Sansa blinked and became serious. For as long as she could remember, she hadn't behaved in such a casual manner. She brought forth the manners and nuances that had made her the Lady of Winterfell.

The accuracy of Oberyn's comment left a wave of disbelief about her behaviour. She has a duty to both of her families and Westeros, so stored the memory of this moment in her mind to refocus on what was important.

She needed allies. Yet allies could be fickle, like House Tyrell’s lacklustre loyalty; she needed friends.

Reining in the humour from their conversation, Sansa stayed factual with her next words. “This has to be the only time I’ve seen you sit still aside from eating.”

“A project, if you will, Sansa.”

Sansa embraced the lady’s mannerisms she'd been taught in her girlhood and walked to the window. Below was the running water of the Red Fork. Her reflection had a serene face while inside Sansa's mind spun with questions on her next move in the game. Where do I intervene? What should be left to occur? Lyanna? Jon? The Lannisters? Targaryens? She speculated clasping her hands tight.

Cersei’s obsession for power would make the younger Cersei the Mad King reborn. That was inevitable. Stopping the wench from destroying Westeros' chance of survival against their foes was not up for debate; it was Sansa’s duty. Doing nothing would doom her home, friends and family.

House Tully almost had the right of it; Family, Duty, Honour. All three were important factors of life, however, Sansa viewed the words in a different manner where none resided above the others, for without any honour you were untrusted, without fulfilling duty there would be vulnerability to what mattered, and without family, there would be no home and people you love and rely on.

No matter what Cersei had to be stopped. Inside, Sansa grew sick from this line of thought. She was not the gods to play with the lives of people like a cyvasse piece. That behaviour belonged to Littlefinger, who served one person alone. To do nothing with the knowledge from her previous life was a waste and she had to do something. Honourable when possible, but if there was no other choice she must act.

To refuse a deed because it turned her stomach could be selfish if it would cause innocent people to die. 

She drew a line of what she would do because unlike Littlefinger she did have qualms. To dream of a perfect life was the notion of a stupid little girl, and she’d been through enough to have learnt the ‘perfect life’ didn’t exist. In time, hard and undesirable choices will have to be made; when to act or stand aside.

In her reflection, was an untroubled young Sansa when she spotted Catelyn pass through the doorway.

“Sansa,” Catelyn addressed her, disturbing the silence.

Turning she met Catelyn’s eye. “Yes, Catelyn?”

From the other side of the room was a stifled intake of breath. Sansa met Oberyn’s eyes whose flickered between Sansa and Catelyn. His stare lightened by a margin when he stopped and turned to Sansa. Full attention was on her for there was nothing in Oberyn’s hands, the quill put aside. “You’re a year younger, Lady Sansa, but how can you be so alike if not twins?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I was born like this, Prince Oberyn.” She mustn’t tell him, and after all his help she hated lying to him.

Sansa caught Catelyn staring when she turned her attention to her older sister, who broke her gaze upon noticing Sansa looking back. As though nothing had happened, Catelyn straightened up and became a proper lady; the manners Sansa had been taught as a child. “I’d like to have a word,” Catelyn said, her face hard. She'd raised Sansa and now looked at her as though she was filth. Sansa suppressed her Winterfell memories.

“Of course,” she said with a nod. When Catelyn turned to leave, Sansa followed.

The walk was quiet since Sansa didn't desire to be at odds with another Tully. Already, Uncle Brynden, the Blackfish, was clear about not wanting her here. The silence in the halls was reminiscent of another time in another castle during girlhood; one of many moments she regretted, for Jon never deserved it.

The demeanour of Catelyn was unwelcoming in her new home. To think Jon had to endure this from Catelyn, but Sansa as well, in Winterfell. It sent a wave of shame through the time traveller for what she'd done to him.

It was cruelty of its own. Worse than Cersei’s venom-filled words and veiled insults; at least she’d known what the woman thought during King’s Landing. Here and now, Sansa had no idea except for what she presumed about Catelyn. The wordless cold shoulder, in time, would torment Sansa in a different way as she interpreted their interactions; including the chance of being wrong and always wondering if she was.

Inside a bedchamber with no items, except Sansa’s plain grey mummer’s gown, Catelyn closed the door and came to the centre. “Don’t think for a second I believe that story,” Catelyn said. “I’ve never heard of you before. My mother and father never talked about you. Only bastards are hidden from a castle.”

Sansa remained on her feet; to sit down was akin to surrender or admitting defeat. “Consider something; not telling you about me would let you live happily whether I grew healthy or died.”

“If that’s right then why didn’t you come in a wheelhouse?” Catelyn asked.

Stubbornness was shining through Catelyn, but Sansa ignored it. “Banners are flown on a wheelhouse. Don’t you think Mother and Father would want everything arranged before another House knew about me?”

My-,”

There was a knock on the door and Sansa opened it which revealed Mother. “Sansa, would you join me for a walk?”

“Of course, Mother,” Sansa said and took the chance to avoid a fight. “Is Edmure asleep again?”

Mother smiled and wrapped a gentle arm around Sansa’s back. The walk was peaceful through the halls and a light squeeze on her shoulder. “Catelyn will be difficult, Sansa, so just give her time to adjust,” Mother said, and turned them towards a door towards the middle of Riverrun. “The guards said you were having a lot of fun astride Prince Oberyn’s horse. The dresses you brought with you made it clear how you could. Were you a rider before?”

Ahead of them was a man holding the reins of a grey horse. “No,” Sansa said. “I scarcely rode. It was a wheelhouse more than not.”

“Here, sit with me, Sansa,” Mother said next to a stone bench. She sat down next to her. “Do you believe you would enjoy riding a horse again?”

There were two stables built side by side, one was taken better care of. “With practise,” Sansa admitted. “There was something…freeing about that ride, but I’ve never felt like that before.”

Mother smiled and held Sansa’s hand within her own. “You’re always solemn or wistful, Sansa, and I get the feeling things didn’t go well for you.”

“No,” Sansa whispered.

She sighed and squeezed Sansa’s hand. “Well, since you like riding a horse but didn’t ride last time,” she said. “How about, as my daughter, you do this time?”

“Mother?” Sansa asked.

“Something new for a new life. Something to make you happy,” Mother said, an index stroked Sansa’s cheek. “I want that for you.”

Sansa swallowed and her lips curved. “I’d like that very much.”

Mother cleared her throat. “Henric,” she said to the man nearby but turned to Sansa. “This horse is mine, but with a babe in my belly and Edmure to look after I can’t ride her.”

“Are you…?” Sansa asked, but faltered with the question.

She nodded. “When you wish, go for a ride on Grey Grace. If you like riding her, Sansa, she is yours.” Sansa didn’t dare look away from her, who tucked a lock behind Sansa’s ear. “Humble,” Mother commented. “I mean it, Sansa Tully. If you like her, she is yours,” she said, stood and brought Sansa to her feet by the hand. “Would you like to meet her?”

“I would,” she said and kept her eyes on Mother’s. “This is very generous of you.”

Mother lifted Sansa’s hand to the horse’s lowered nose. “This here is Henric, Riverrun’s master of horse,” Mother said, with a gesture to the man holding the reins. “Henric, my daughter and second eldest, Sansa Tully. She’s returned from Harrenhal now that she’s hale and healthy.”

Henric nodded to both of them. “A pleasure Lady Tully. And Lady Sansa, a pleasure to meet you. You look so like your mother but Tully colours.”

She smiled and curtsied. “Thank you. It’s nice to meet you too, Henric.”

A soft hand fiddled with Sansa’s loose hair. “Any time you wish Henric to ready Grey Grace for you. Let us both know. I’d like to watch you learn, Sansa. See a pure smile as you ride,” Mother said. “Grey Grace is a gentle horse and I doubt you’ll have a bad experience with her.”

Sansa turned and smiled. “Thank you for this, Mother.”

Mother smiled with a hand on Sansa’s back. “Of course, I thought you might like the idea.”

“Lady Tully,” Henric said. “Did you want her prepared for your daughter to ride?”

“Not today, Henric.” Mother looked at Sansa. “Tomorrow mayhaps?” she asked. Sansa nodded. “Tomorrow, Henric.”

“As you wish, Lady Tully.”

They turned away and Sansa followed Mother in her walk of the yard. “Thank you for thinking about me like that.”

Mother thumbed Sansa’s knuckles. “You’re my family.”

A shadow was cast upon them in the yard and Sansa looked up.

“Lady Minisa Tully,” Oberyn said respectfully to Mother with a nod and turned to Sansa. “Lady Sansa Tully.” Sansa curtsied, as was her station. He must have deduced the outcome from her proximity to Mother. “Lady Tully,” Oberyn said. “Your daughter was a fine travelling companion,” he told Mother and his eyes fell onto Sansa. “But our journey has come to an end.”   

Sansa was no lackwit; Oberyn was leaving. “My Prince, I am deeply indebted to you for your generous assistance,” she said. The first rock she’d had in this life was leaving; Sansa would be floating in a sea of strangers once again had it not been for Mother. “Should our paths cross again, I pray the circumstances are joyous.”

The prince’s smile was small this time. “Yes, my lady, and so do I. Remember what I taught you and we shall see each other again, for I’m riding west.”

She didn’t hesitate. “I will, My Prince.” Sansa swallowed thickly. “I swear I will.” She kept her composure strong, but like Arya once said, there was no doubt her eyes told Oberyn everything she hadn’t said. “Thank you for bringing me home.”  

Mother’s hand ran down Sansa’s back once Oberyn had left for the stables. Clearly, the woman wasn’t oblivious to the turbulence within her newfound daughter. “Shall we go to the drawbridge and say a final farewell?” Mother suggested in a tone of sympathy and understanding.

Sansa agreed. She’d come to see a friend in Prince Oberyn; her only friend.

They waited by the western bridge for Oberyn to approach with his horse and restocked saddlebags. The drawbridge of choice struck Sansa as strange since his ship was to the east, but the man was unpredictable.

He was on foot when he reached the gate and turned to Sansa. “Farewell, Braavosi Trout,” Oberyn said quirking a smirk at her, giving her a bow and lifting her hand to his lips. “I am no Lannister. There is no debt between friends.”

Sansa gave a tight smile. “Farewell, Oberyn.”

Mounting the black horse with its fire-red mane, Oberyn nodded to the Lady of Riverrun and Sansa, leaving Sansa’s new home soon after.

From the battlements of Riverrun standing beside her Mother, Sansa watched Oberyn’s sand steed faded into the distance. A raven flew overhead in the direction of the departed man.

Chapter Text

 

ARTHUR DAYNE

Day 10, 10th Moon, 275 AC

Kneeling beside an unconscious man, he bound the dirty hands with rope and knotted it with a sharp tug. Around him, blood pooled from two armed but motionless men. Although given the option to surrender, they’d laughed and drawn swords; their fatal mistake. Arthur scowled. Two of three escaped true justice with quick deaths.

Alive but captured was the worst one. Arthur took a wrist into his calloused hand and pressed his thumb against the inside. The pulse had a steady beat, as was the man's breathing. This brute will live to pay for his crime.

For now, though, that one would remain limp after impact against the solid trunk of an old tree with ripe fruit. Groves of citrus grew strong here along the Torentine River of Dorne. In the air hovered a mixed tinge of orange and raspberry, however, a metallic one grew dominant and pungent; drying blood.

Sheathing his steel sword, Arthur took a slow breath and his pounding heart settled. Three against one was demanding. Three against one while protecting an assaulted woman was even more so. Admittedly, he'd knocked one unconscious at the first opportunity.

Arthur gave the remaining monster a glance; Lord Alijah Dayne of Starfall would decide his fate. Ashara’s soft words might provide the young woman with comfort; he had faith she could.

Turning around to the woman now safe, he knelt while the shaken innocent sat in a tattered dress against a tree. Several blood oranges surrounded her, but for the two within her hands. He’d been lucky. Had he stepped on one and fallen, his lifeblood would be staining the dirt and not that of two other men.

He held out a gentle hand and helped her to stand, but Arthur remained on one knee. She needed no men looming over her right now. Especially not now.

But she didn't speak. In shock most likely. However, the silence was becoming awkward and he cleared his throat. “What’s your name, my lady? I pray I wasn’t too late,” he asked, despite her attention on the fruit she held. Arthur took no offence. No doubt she sought to distract herself from what had and nearly happened.

When she met his eyes, the lady gave a minute head shake. “Estelle. My-my name’s Estelle. I’m ju- just a villager. A smallfolk.” Her body tremored where she stood and Arthur whistled to summon his sand steed. The sooner they left this place the better for Estelle. Her eyes were on him but he remained on his knee. Height creates intimidation.

“Call me ‘Arthur’, Estelle,” he said, giving a small smile. Formality wasn’t ideal. “You’re quite shaken. Do you want to come to Starfall so the maester can treat you? Or speak with my sister privately? You’re welcome to use my horse," he said.

Estelle bit her lip and looked past his shoulder. “Thank you, Ser. But…what about…about him?”

There was only one other man here. “He shall walk; as will I, Estelle. You won’t be touched by him again. I promise you that,” he said, getting to his feet but backed away until he was beside the saddle. “Do you want help onto the saddle?”

She gave a weak smile and approached. “Aye,” Estelle said.

When he held her waist, she flinched and he let go. "Sorry. Would you prefer mounting alone?"

"It's too high for me," she admitted. "I'll need help, Ser. I'll try again."

This time he was slow to put his hands on her waist and paused. She gave a nod and Arthur lifted her up onto the saddle sideways. “This is a regular saddle, but sideways or astride, my lady?”

She dropped her chin and looked at her lap. “Sideways please,” Estelle murmured with her eyes on the blood oranges in her hands. Considering the situation he’d found her in, he couldn’t blame the choice. Her face was pale, hair mussed and breathing still shallow.

“Estelle? Do you know how to ride?” he asked. A small head shake was the answer. Arthur sighed, but not everyone could afford a horse. “That's no problem, I’ll lead the way and my horse will follow. Could you hold the reins loose?” he asked. “Can you do that?”

The village woman swallowed and her breath quickened. “What if I fall off?”

Over his shoulder, he searched for movement within the grove, but the third man was still unconscious. “Hold the mane and relax in the saddle, Estelle. He’s gentle with my sister. You won’t fall off,” he assured and she passed the fruit to him, which he put in the saddlebag. Estelle moved her hands towards the mane.

Taking a breath, she gripped the white hair as though for dear life. Given the matter, he’d done the best he could. Lingering was pointless and Estelle no doubt wanted to leave. With long strides, Arthur hauled the man up and pushed him towards Starfall; hands bound and forearms within Arthur’s grip.

Leading the way by a distance, he was followed by the slow rhythm of his horse. The young woman spoke no word from the saddle.

It was silent walking, but when they broke through the treeline, and Starfall pierced the river mouth, the monster stiffened. “Yer a fuckin coward, Dayne. Kill me like the rest and be done with it,” said the man. “What? Afraid of spilling more blood?” Arthur could but slaying an unarmed man was dishonourable, no matter how vile. It was his duty to bring him to Starfall.

Arthur glanced at Estelle, whose eyes were fearful and her hands in her lap. This man had been the one Arthur pulled off her when she was pinned down. It was a recipe for distress if she remained here with them. “Estelle, do you trust me?” He got a frightened nod. “Sit astride and hold tight until you reach Starfall. I’ll see you there. I promise.”

The scum snorted. “So much for protector. I didn’t get her, but someone else will,” he mocked, which elected a whimper from the woman.

Arthur knocked the bound man onto the ground and rushed to his horse’s flank, spanking it into motion. “Hold on!” he shouted. Starfall was a straight shot from here. His white sand steed flew with her gripping its mane. Grunts of frustration came from the ground and Arthur stalked over. Intent on justice being served, he brought the criminal upright and resumed the forced walk.

“What, Dayne? Did I hit a nerve?” the scum taunted, head turned to look over his shoulder at Arthur.

“Your blood is not mine to spill. My brother will decide your fate,” he said in a plain manner.

The monster scoffed a laugh. “You decided the fate of the others. Why am I any different?”

This was a frequent question when it came to caught criminals within Dayne lands, but he answered all the same. “There’s a difference between murder and combat. I disarmed and knocked you out. The others chose to cross swords.”

“Hah, craven’s excuse.”

Behind the criminal’s back, Arthur rolled his eyes and said nothing. This man was trying to rile Arthur into action for a quick death. Typical rapists were castrated or sent to the Wall.

Neither fate was appealing; lose his cock in a passionate kingdom, or freeze in celibacy at the Wall. In other kingdoms, scum would favour castration. However, Dorne’s people would be a visual torment for the rest of this man’s life. Arthur held no sympathy for him though.

“No words? I’m right, aren’t I?”

He ignored the further jabs. It was pointless to react, and the direct heat rose as the day progressed. Arthur had left Starfall at dawn with the intent of a quick ride, thus lacked fabric over his armour to counter the sun. The Red Mountains was a cooler area of Dorne, but the relentless sun was the same.

Near Starfall was a bridge to the island where the castle stood proud. On the nearest end stood three guards who took the man. Dorne's sun was hot and harsh, hence their unshaded presence was for the criminal. Giving them a word of thanks once they had him in custody, Arthur ventured ahead and loosened his leathers. The breeze cooled his skin and he released a sigh.

Awaiting him at the gatehouse was his one brother; Alijah. Nineteen, eyes purple, and dark hair hinted with silver. HIs lord brother fell into step until they were in the Entrance Hall where Arthur sat and removed his light armour.

Alijah joined him on the bench. “Maester Eon and Ashara are with the woman now. Are you injured, Arthur?”

Arthur met Alijah’s eyes and shook his head. “I’m well, but how’s Estelle?”

Alijah presented a blood orange and Arthur raised an eyebrow. His brother pushed it into his hand. “Something to break your fast with,” he said. “Estelle’s in shock and grief, but bruises are the worst physically, I’ve been told. Ashara’s comforting her in the maester’s chamber.”

Tension seeped from Arthur’s shoulders. “Good. I’m glad I wasn’t too late," Arthur said. "What of the culprit?” he asked, biting into the fruit. Blood red juice dripping onto the chest of his soiled tunic.

Although Alijah was nineteen and the Lord of Starfall, and Arthur a seventeen-year-old knight. His brother never acted superior or pulled rank; they were a team.  

The lord released a sigh and turned to him. “King’s Landing dungeons to await a black brother of the Night’s Watch. Estelle’s account was quite vivid,” Alijah said and gave Arthur a grim look. “They killed her brother as well, Arthur. I’m not letting that man roam my lands again,” Alijah said.

Eyes on the fruit, Arthur shook his head and faced Alijah again. “There were two others, but it was me or them. I had no choice. If they have friends we’ll never know. The one we have isn’t likely to talk.”

His brother’s hand rested on his shoulder. “Don’t defend your actions. You have…prowess with a sword. Prowess you needed to survive today.”

“That’s no excuse, Alijah. I should have caught them,” Arthur said. His ancestors who’d lived as a ‘Sword of the Morning’ would have done better.

The hand squeezed his shoulder. “That’s horseshit and you know it, Arthur. Three against one. Of course, your instincts kicked in,” Alijah countered. “You’re not a Sword of the Morning yet, but those in the past would’ve done the same. You will become worthy of Dawn, brother. You’re closer than you think.”

Arthur snapped his head to Alijah whose face spoke conviction. Soft steps neared them and he turned towards the source. It was Ashara with a sad expression marring her effortless features. Dark tresses, haunting purple eyes and sixteen with a figure Westeros’ women envied. Arthur got to his feet and approached. “Ashara, how's Estelle?”

Ashara glanced at both of them. “Resting and freshly dressed. Estelle wanted to be alone but was on the verge of crying. She insisted on solitude though,” she said quietly and sat beside Alijah. Arthur sat on her other side. “She’s so pained and I want to help.”

Arthur leaned forward and gave her hand a squeeze. “I have faith you did all possible, Ashara,” he said and she nodded. “She wanted privacy and you gave it. Sometimes granting their wish is all we can do.” Ashara nodded with an emerging small smile.

His sister gave a meaningful look. "You give sound advice, but you should listen to your words and Alijah too," she said. "Estelle spoke with me and the odds were stacked against you. You did everything you could." She tilted her head at the end.

He raised his eyebrow. "Am I that predictable?" he asked.

A fond look came his way. "I guessed you would grumble to Alijah about not catching them all," she said and squeezed his hand back. "Determination to be a noble man, a noble knight, has always been written on your forehead. Always."

"I better start growing a fringe," he said dryly. Ashara's lips quirked.

A rustle beside Ashara drew his eyes to Alijah. Their brother produced multiple sealed letters from his light robe and passed them to her. “While you were at Estelle’s side the maester gave me these,” their older brother said with an apologetic tone. That alone gave away what they were.

Dread filled Ashara’s face and she opened all but one, their sigils visible to Arthur although upside down. They were from Houses of the Reach, the Stormlands, and the Riverlands. Ashara hated these letters. He glanced to Alijah whose expression reflected his sympathy. Lifting a hand each, they rested them on Ashara’s shoulders. Her attention went to her brothers. 

“It’s tiresome, that’s all,” Ashara said. She passed the open letters to Arthur who rested them beside his thigh. “Every lady weds into another House. I acknowledge that, but Houses outside Dorne frown upon our culture,” she said and leaned back. “So why bother sending betrothals for me? They want a pretty face with fair skin, but not who I am.”

Arthur turned and moved his hand to grasp hers. “Ashara, there are times you smile and the letter’s not a Dornish House.” He was a year older, but she was his little sister.

“That’s true,” she said slowly. “But what am I to make of someone who writes as a friend?" she asked. "Everyone wants something, but what does he want? We've never met and I don't know. Would Mother and Father refuse if he was decent? He’s not an heir, but a second son.” Arthur suppressed a flinch and hoped he wouldn’t encounter a similar problem.

On the other side of Ashara, there was a shift and Alijah leaned closer.  “Father abdicated Lord of Starfall to me, Ashara. Whoever you choose to marry can reside in Starfall if needs be. Second, third, or fourth son. I want you to be happy; we both do. Starfall is a castle.”

Alijah locked eyes with Arthur and he nodded. You’re the lord; I’m the sword. “Alijah and I won’t stand in the way of your happiness, sister. The only men I’ll oppose are brutes. Say the word and he’ll have to defeat me first,” he promised.

That produced a smile from their sister who hugged them both. “Thank you, both of you. Truly,” she said and opened the letter still in her lap; House Martell.

Princess Elia Martell and Ashara frequently wrote, so it was none of Arthur’s business to see its content. He rose from the bench and took his boiled leather armour to his bedchamber for tending to later. Symon, one of the servants, was in the halls lingering near his door.

“Ser Arthur, do you want a bath drawn?” the attentive boy asked. “I’ll clean your armour while the water heats.”

His servant took pride in a good job but was eager to please. Discouraging it though would offend the boy. It was typical of Houses to have limited regard for servants, but House Dayne was not one of them. “Thank you, Symon, but do the armour if there’s time. You do have your regular duties,” he said with a gentle reminder. Symon nodded and took off. Arthur shook his head at the sight.

Inside, he retrieved a cloth and wiped his sword clean of the part-dry blood. With careful hands, he hung it on the wall to dry off missed water and took off his swordbelt. Using water from the handbasin, he wiped and rinsed out the sheath, removing any blood within it. He stood that upside down against the unlit hearth.

The reflection coming from the sword had a contorted streak of red. Cuts are easily forgotten during a fight and he stood himself in front of the looking glass. But concern was unnecessary. The colour was from that blood orange; a dried line that started at his heart.

Although the bath wouldn't be drawn for a while, he removed his tunic and turned to the basin. Beside it was a pile of fresh linen. Taking one, he dipped it in and ran over his arms, neck and chest until he didn't reek. The rest would have to wait. 

In a fresh tunic, he climbed the stairs to the maester’s chamber but encountered Maester Eon outside. In the man's hand was a letter with the House Dayne of High Hermitage seal. “Arthur, I missed this one earlier. It's for Alijah. Would you know where he is?”

“The Entrance Hall, I’d wager,” he said. “But how’s Estelle?”

Maester Eon shook his head. “She wants peace to mourn, Arthur, but I’ll mention you came by. The continued concern will be appreciated, I’m sure.”

Arthur gave a small nod and held out a hand. “I’ll deliver the letter if you wish?” he offered, and it was passed to him. Following his own words to Ashara, Arthur left Estelle in the peace she’d wanted.

On his way down, Arthur detoured and visited the chamber with portraits of the former Swords of the Morning. High above the portraits on a mantle was Dawn; a superior sword made from the heart of a fallen star.

The white blade was dormant until the next Dayne true knight was deemed worthy to wield it. He’d never touched it, but Father said it as sharp and light as Valyrian steel. Inside a display case was the first Sword of the Morning's armour standing between the two oldest portraits. It was a relic for today's armour surpassed it.

Becoming the next Sword of the Morning was the best he could ever hope for. Alijah was Lord Dayne and Arthur was the younger brother. Betrothals came for his siblings, but none for him. He’d sent one to the single woman who could truly interact with him and look past his Valyrian-like features to see the person beneath. And outside Dorne, no House wants a second son.

He left the Swords of the Morning chamber and returned to the Entrance Hall. On his feet, Alijah was speaking with a patrol captain while Ashara looked at a lengthy piece of parchment. His sister was sitting where he’d left her earlier when she opened the Martell letter.

The more the captain spoke with Alijah, the pleased expression on his brother’s face grew. When Arthur began his approach, Alijah locked eyes with him and gave a smile that left him wondering what it meant. The lean captain finished and left, so Arthur closed the distance and held out the letter. “A raven from Mother or Father addressed to you. It’s unlikely to be from five-year-old Gerold.”

Alijah took it with a smile and broke the seal, eyes skimming the parchment until he tucked it into his pocket. “Thank you. I best find our Master-at-arms. It seems I need to discuss something with him. Have you seen him?” Arthur shook his head and gave an apologetic smile. Alijah nodded and made for the doors to the yard; the most likely place to find Ser Ulrick.

A hitch in breath came from the direction of the bench and Arthur sat himself down beside his sister. “Ashara? What’s the matter?” he asked and waited until her sad eyes met him. “What happened to Princess Elia?”

She rolled the letter up and set it on her other side. “I’m heartbroken for her. She believes herself dull and drab. Never sure if a man wants her for herself, not her royal title. Elia is so sweet and finally, there’s a man she believes wants her for who she is, not what she is,” Ashara said and dropped her gaze for a moment. “Princess Mariah refused the offer and Elia is devastated. She wanted him.”

A struggle rolled within Arthur and he furrowed his eyebrows. “But her mother loves her. Why did Princess Mariah refuse something meaning so much to Elia?”

Ashara swallowed with a pained expression. “Her mother wouldn’t tell her. She suspects her mother wants a political match; warden’s heir or mayhaps heir to the Iron Throne.” His sister frowned and shook her head. “But Prince Doran married a Norvoshi lady from Essos; a love match, not power. Why can’t Elia marry for love like her older brother? Doran will be Dorne’s next ruler, I might add.”

It was a solid argument and Ashara's frustration on Princess Elia's behalf was contagious. “She deserves to be happy. I’m sorry for her, Ashara. Princess Elia is a kind soul,” he murmured and got to his feet. "I best check on Estelle. There's nothing I can do for our princess and I hate that it's true, but Estelle lost her brother this morning. She'll need support."

Ashara gave a nod and he made to go.

“Arthur,” his brother called out when he was at the first corner necessary to reach the maester's chamber. Arthur paused and turned. “I’m sure Maester Eon took good care of Estelle. Stay. You too, Ashara. Stay for I have news; a patrol along the Torentine encountered Mother and Father making their way here from High Hermitage with our cousin Gerold.”

Surprise and curiosity stirred within him. “That’s unexpected. Do you know why?”

Alijah nodded. “Be dressed before dawn tomorrow and you both shall see.”

 

Day 11, 10th Moon, 275 AC

In his bedchamber, Arthur stirred on the featherbed. It was as though he'd hardly slept, yet light approached his closed eyes. A male hand rested itself on his shoulder and he rolled away, only to land as a tangled heap of sheets on the floor.

A deep chuckle rumbled and Arthur relaxed. "Gods be good, son." The light moved and metal touched wood. A candle. "Come on, Arthur. We, and I mean you, need to get dressed."

Arthur threw on a light robe within reach and stood up to brush himself off. There was no speck of light outside. He smiled and straightened up. "Father," he said, but paused and took in his father's formalwear. "Am I founded to hope?"

There was a smile on the shaven face of his father; eyes blueish purple and hair close to silver. Father guided him to the looking glass and stood just behind him. "What do you see?"

He used the looking glass to meet Father's eyes. "Someone with his hope at another's mercy," he said, fingers fidgeting with his robe.

"I see my son with potential. A man who is loyal, who can do what's needed. A man who wants to do good with his life," Father said and turned so their eyes met properly. "Do you know how Aegon Targaryen the Fifth began his life?"

Arthur shook his head. "No, Father. Only that his mother was from our House; Dyanna Dayne."

"Aegon the Fifth was the fourth son. My point is that being a second son has set you on a certain path, but you needn't stay on it. If you're prepared to adapt, you can become something more."

Father gave a smile but Arthur furrowed his eyebrows. "Father, there is one person who doesn't look at me and see an opportunity to boast or dream. They see past the silver hair and purple eyes. They see me-"

Father's eyes softened. "Arthur-"

"Let me finish," Arthur said and Father nodded. "But their family refused. Unless I marry an heiress with her head in the clouds, I go no higher. You and Mother taught us it takes two to manage lands and a castle. Ashara helps Alijah for now, and they do it well. Succession isn't by age outside Dorne; all the heirs are sons. How can I be something more than I am, Father?"

A sad smile came from Father, who lifted some parchment part way out of his pocket for a moment and slid it back inside. "That is somethIng a man discovers, son. However, ruling princess of Dorne, Princess Mariah Martell, intends to host a feast in your honour. She informed me the people in all corners of Westeros, including Sunspear, recognise you as a true knight."

Arthur was silent although Father stopped speaking. The feast didn't sit right in his mind. "There's never been a feast at Sunspear for that reason before," he pointed out. “Dayne true knights have never needed such a letter either.”

"Which tells me it's a message of sorts." Father squeezed Arthur's shoulder. "Come on, Arthur. Have a look at what your mother made you."

A set of clothes was passed to him and he locked eyes with Father. He laid it out on the bed and the artistry spoke of fortnights of effort. Mother was careful and slow with her needlework. Father's eyes met his. "A moon of work at least," Arthur remarked and turned the robe over which made his jaw slack. "More, definitely more."

Embroidered on the back was a list of names including Davos Dayne near the bottom, and near the middle was the namesake of Starfall's Master-at-arms, Ulrick Dayne. At the top was him. Arthur Dayne.

His mind was blank and his feet became heavy. "Father..." he trailed.

Two hands gripped his shoulders and Arthur turned his head. "A moon and three sennights it took, and we never doubted the decision. Your mother took great pains to have the names in the right order."

He exhaled and tilted his head to the ceiling. "Gods..." Arthur took a breath and nodded to his father.

Father smiled. "I'll wait for you in the halls."

A door closed behind him and Arthur held the robe in his hands, thumbing the names but numb of mind. This is truly happening. Shedding the robe he'd thrown on, he dressed and stood in front of the looking glass. He would do his family proud and show their faith wasn't misplaced.

His mind was blurred. From the Swords of the Morning chamber, Dawn was retrieved and carried by him and Father led the way to a tower. The tallest eastern tower of Starfall. Night sky still with shining stars. Atop were five lit braziers and his family standing beside one each; Alijah, Ashara, Mother, little cousin Gerold. Ser Ulrick was there too but in the centre with no brazier.

In front of Ser Ulrick was a suit of unused steel plate armour and Arthur rested the greatsword in front of it.

Ser Ulrick straightened. "Who stands below the stars for the gods to witness this night?"

He took a breath. "Ser Arthur of House Dayne. Household knight of Starfall. The younger brother of Lord Alijah Dayne of Starfall. To pledge to honour Dayne knighthood."

"Who of House Dayne deemed him worthy?" Ser Ulrick asked.

Father took a step. "Lord Ryon of House Dayne. Lord Regent of High Hermitage and father of Ser Arthur. The people support this choice." Father stepped back into the light of the brazier and picked up a pitcher.

Arthur met Ser Ulrick's eyes and knelt before the man when he drew a sword. The tip touched his right shoulder.

A child's throat cleared. "Do you vow to brave?" Gerold's voice asked.

"I swear this." There was a splash and the tower darkened.

The sword now sat on his left. "Do you vow to protect all women?" his sister asked.

"I swear this." A brazier died.

The tip was on his right. "Do you vow to protect both young and frail?" Mother asked.

"I swear this." Another flame died.

His left shoulder. "Do you vow to be just?" Alijah asked.

"I swear this." The remaining light was Father's brazier.

His right. "Do you vow to treat captured opposition with integrity?" Father asked.

"I swear this." It was pure darkness but for the stars which were becoming weaker.

Ser Ulrick's sword left Arthur's shoulder. "The stars wane and so dawn approaches. Make any additional vows within your mind to be witnessed by the stars and gods."

Arthur closed his eyes and poured his hopes into a wordless prayer. It seemed as though he was plunging deeper and deeper into himself until disturbed by light in front of his closed eyes.

There was metal, a sword tip, on his left shoulder. "Arise, Ser Arthur Dayne...The Sword of the Morning."

He opened his eyes to the sun, hands beneath Dawn and stood; Dawn shone as though it produced a light of its own.

Chapter Text

JAIME LANNISTER

Day 20, 10th Moon, 275 AC

In the yard with Ser Dameon for his swordsmanship lesson, Jaime sparred against the master-at-arms but not at his best.

Cersei was excited about a betrothal to Prince Rhaegar, and at the breaking of fast prattled on to Aunt Genna. She wanted to stun the prince so he would know she was the right queen for him. Rhaegar this, Rhaegar that. Jaime sighed and ducked under a sword that came from the corner of his eye.

It was all about Prince Rhaegar bloody Targaryen now, and nothing about Jaime. His sister used to talk all the time about her and Jaime being one soul in two bodies and belonging together. Always being together no matter what, and coming and leaving the world as one.

The way Cersei talked was always passionate; much like their time together. Since Cersei got the news of a betrothal to the crown prince there wasn’t much time together anymore.

There was a blow to his helm and Jaime moaned. His shield could have stopped that, but it was by his side. He should have lifted it.

“That’s the second time this morning. You’ve had enough for today,” Ser Dameon said and took Jaime’s sparring sword and the shield. “We’ll resume tomorrow.”

Sparring and training with Ser Dameon was his favourite thing. Swordsmanship was his best skill, and to be sent away for not concentrating enough made sense, but he hated that it happened. His ears rang from Ser Dameon’s sword hitting his helm, and he could have continued had he paid attention after the first time.

Ascending Casterly Rock to his bedchamber, Jaime loosened his armour along the way and left it outside his door. The bedchamber had a steamy tub waiting for him and he didn’t tarry getting bare so he could relax in it. Soothing heat covered his skin and Jaime rested his head on the rim. His mind drifted while the warmth sunk deeper into him. He closed his eyes and breathed.

There was a creak of hinges, a quiet thunk in his bedchamber. Jaime didn’t bother opening his eyes. One person liked to sneak into his bedchamber and join him when he bathed. A soft thud of fabric falling on the floor, a slosh of someone getting in. Jaime inhaled when soft hands roamed his body. Warm breath and pleasant pressure to his neck made him stir.

“Open your eyes,” the voice of Cersei said near his ear. “Show me the eyes we share. They mean we belong together and always.” Arms embraced him. “That our love is what it’s meant to be.”

Jaime kept his eye closed and grimaced. “Then why do you want to be queen? What happens to us, Cersei?” he asked.

“In King’s Landing, you will always be with me. Always.”

He pulled away and opened his eyes. It would show him if Cersei believed what she spoke. “How? I don’t want to be Warden of the West, but Father always gets what he wants. And you’re excited about the other side of Westeros?”

Cersei stood naked as her nameday and shook her head like he was a fool. “Queens get what they want,” she said and came to him. “And I want you with me. My love for you never changed.” When she kissed him, he nearly did back. “ I want you, Jaime.”

Jaime bit his lip and turned his head away. “No. You want me to do something for you again.” With a sigh, he met her eyes. “When you join me, you always want something.”

“I want you,” she murmured in his ear. “My brother and my lover,” she whispered. Arms around him, she pulled Jaime to her and kissed. Hands guided him to lean down and she deepened it. “I love my lover.”

His hand lifted towards her hair, but he closed it to a fist and lowered it. For a moment he’d wanted that to be true and kiss her back, but that old letter made him doubt her. When they’d talked about Tyrion being innocent or guilty, Cersei had done what he liked; this time she said what he liked to hear. He hid his face by kissing her neck. “Whatever you want, Cersei, I’ll do it,” he said.

Hands stroked his back and deeper breathing was near his ear. “You would?”

“I would,” Jaime said against her neck.

“The contract in Father’s solar. Steal it for me so I can read it. The marriage contract.”

Inside him, something burned and he stroked her hair once. “Next time I have a lesson with Father,” he said.

As normal, using his shoulders, Cersei pulled herself up against him. It made him inhale and Jaime didn’t try hiding that, it’s what she would want to hear. She kissed him long and hard while he waited for it to be over, but he had to kiss back for it to work. When she was done he breathed as though to catch his breath.

“Thank you, Jaime,” Cersei said while he dressed. He was thankful when she was gone.

On his bed, Jaime sat against a post with his feet on the quilt. Picking at his breeches with a frown, he shook his head. Like the talk about Tyrion, Cersei had done what she thought worked to get what she wanted. This time she wanted the marriage contract about her and Rhaegar Targaryen.

She’d told Jaime she loved him, that she wanted him and that they belonged together. If all she said was true about him and Cersei, and not Rhaegar Targaryen, then she had a poor way to prove it.

Over to his boots, Jaime shoved them on and marched away from his bedchamber for his lesson with Maester Gawen. “Go to the Seven Hells and get it yourself,” he muttered.

Inside the maester’s chamber for his lesson on the history of the Westerlands, he took a seat and scratched at the desk’s wood. The ravens in the rookery nearby were louder than normal. A letter from some other House mayhaps arrived, because Maester Gawen never fed the ravens before a lesson. It made them noisy.

Footsteps neared him and he turned his head. Carrying a sealed letter with red wax but no sigil was Maester Gawen, who held it out to him. Beside the wax was his name. “This came for you a minute ago, Jaime,” Maester Gawen said kindly. “Are you well?”

Jaime met his eyes and nodded. “I’m fine,” he said plainly. He wasn’t in the mood for details and neither did he want his father to know what they did together. That time when Mother found out years ago, she forbade them from being close like that again. Not that they listened.

“Ahhh,” the maester said. “I used to fight with my brother. I’ll prepare for your lesson while you read your letter, Jaime.”

He broke the seal and unrolled it. The words were written in the same plain font as the previous nameless letter.

 

Jaime Lannister,

The world, including your father, will be cruel to Tyrion because of the circumstance of his nameday and his disfigurement.

Tywin Lannister cares little for Tyrion. Cersei hates him and mayhaps injure him one day. He needs a brother that cares. Can you be that brother?

Spend time with him when no one will? Make sure he doesn’t get hurt? Teach him his letters, because Tywin and Cersei likely won’t?

He will not forget a kind deed and will love you for it. Help him. Protect him.

Protect him from Cersei.

Will you be the brother Tyrion needs? I know you can be.

-- 

 

The content of the letter unnerved Jaime for none of it was wrong. With a look over his shoulder, there was Maester Gawen at the bookshelf who’d said the letter had just come. Inside the rookery were two cages. One for Casterly Rock’s ravens and one for arriving ravens, if there was only one raven in the second cage he could sneak a reply. If he needed help from Maester Gawen for the right raven, Jaime would make something up.

The lack of a name at the bottom left a mystery, so Jaime took his chance to write a reply he could send one to this person. Quill in hand and parchment on the desk, Jaime was quick in case another raven was flying to Casterly Rock right now. One raven in the second cage would be easier than two.

 

Who are you?

Of course, I’d protect Tyrion. He’s my brother.

And…you’re not wrong about Cersei.

-Jaime.

 

His reply had drops of ink on the parchment, but that didn’t matter and he used the powder shaker to dry the ink. With the powder blown off as Father did with all of his letters, Jaime dashed into the rookery.

In the second cage was one raven. Gentle with the tired bird, Jaime tied the letter onto its leg and carried the bird to the opening. “There you go. Fly home,” he said although the bird wouldn’t understand him.

The steps of Maester Gawen approached. “Who was that to, Jaime?”

“Someone interesting,” he said and scratched his head. Getting caught hadn’t been part of the plan.

Maester Gawen smiled with an amused look. “Let’s begin our lesson, young lord.”

 

Day 31, 10th Moon, 275 AC

Three days ago he got a reply, which meant they lived nearby. The Westerlands, the Reach, the Riverlands. Mayhaps the Iron Islands but unlikely, since krakens ravaged and plundered; not care about something they gained no benefit from. 

 

Jaime,

I hear there’s to be a tourney at Lannisport if Rhaella Targaryen’s child survives. Hopefully, my family will attend and we can meet.

Can you imagine what could happen if I gave my name to House Lannister? It could endanger my family, for Lord Tywin would mayhaps see a threat where there is none.

I won’t risk what Tywin did to his enemies; Tarbeck and Reyne. Those Houses are extinct. My House won’t be added to that list.

Until the tourney, Jaime.

 

He’d burnt the letter that same day for good measure since the girl was so worried about her family. Jaime was at a loss why this person, he’d assumed it was a girl by the writer’s words, would bother with all she had done. The only people to benefit from doing it were him and Tyrion.

And this girl claimed she could risk her family just with her name. She’d said Father would see a threat in the letters, but Jaime hadn’t seen anything bad about them. There was no suggestion of betraying Houses or treason against King Aerys II.

Although the letters made him sad when it turned out the information and questions were true, he was glad she’d sent them; whoever she was. The first one opened his eyes to what Cersei was doing; manipulating him by using his want of someone loving him. Mother was the one who’d loved him while Father was always busy and cold. Mother died bringing Tyrion into the world, and Father hated Jaime’s babe brother for it.

The second letter told him things he would have done anyway. Father and Cersei hated Tyrion, which left Jaime, Aunt Genna and Uncle Kev to look after Tyrion. Uncle Tyg and Uncle Gery were at Casterly Rock once in a while and they liked Tyrion too.

This girl seemed interested in helping him and Tyrion, but should the queen have another dead babe there would be no tourney. Meaning no meeting this secret girl; he wanted to meet her.

Jaime entered the Lord’s solar for his lesson with his father. He’d already had another lesson with Father since Cersei said she wanted the contract, but she could steal it if she really wanted it. She was mad at him at the moment.

“Father,” he said and took a seat at the side of the desk. There was no greeting from his father, but the man finished a letter and rearranged the desk, including a map of the southron half of Westeros. “This isn’t the normal map,” Jaime said and looked to Father.

“It is not,” Father replied and used the feathery end of a quill to point. “Trading techniques; negotiations, speed, and price. The Westerlands will be finding a new supplier for food soon. Currently, we purchase from the Reach, but Lady Olenna Tyrell demands too much gold for the quantity we require. She will not exploit our wealth.”

Jaime rubbed his chin and searched the map for kingdoms with good land for food. “But that leaves the Riverlands and the Vale.”

“Indeed,” Father said. “Tell me, since Highgarden, much like the Vale, is a longer journey than Riverrun, what is appropriate to broker an agreement with Lord Tully? Ravens or in person?”

There was a short distance between Casterly Rock and Riverrun. With a wheelhouse, it might take three sennights to get there, unless horses were changed to keep them strong and fresh. “In person,” Jaime said. “They’re close and our House could get a better price.”

“Correct. Using ravens tells a supplier you’re not serious. The food would cost more without in-person negotiations,” Father commented. It was almost praise. “You were much quicker than Cersei in grasping the import of such trade conduct. You and Cersei, with your aunt and uncle, will depart for Riverrun in a moon.”

Jaime gave a nod but faltered. “Will Tyrion be coming, Father?”

His father grimaced but turned to Jaime. “I have other affairs in the Westerlands. He will go with you.”

To keep a smile off his face was a challenge. In Riverrun and on the way there, everyone would be in wheelhouses, including Aunt Genna. She would keep Tyrion safer from Cersei than Jaime could in Casterly Rock. Casterly Rock was too big to watch Tyrion all the time.

“We will host a tourney in a few moons, Jaime,” Father said, which sparked Jaime’s interest. “Go and find an area outside Lannisport for appropriate tourney grounds. One large enough for the Great Houses and their bannermen. You will tell me the location when you have.”

“I will,” Jaime said, an urge rising within him to do it now. Doing it meant he could go for a ride.

“Go.”

He walked like a lord until outside the Lord’s solar; in the halls, Jaime took off at a run for the stables. To ride horseback was a favourite aside from sword fighting; his heart would race and life rose within him every time. It was him and his horse with land flying beneath feet and hooves. The wind, the rush; he smiled.

With no waste of time, Jaime helped prepare the courser, a horse shorter than destriers but faster. It was one of the best types of horses a knight could have and he wanted to be a knight one day. A true knight was a good man and he wanted to be one just like Ser Arthur. Jaime prayed Ser Arthur was coming to the tourney so he could meet him. It was rare that Jaime prayed for anything.

Boosted up into the saddle by Ser Dameon, Jaime nodded to him and rode out through the Lion’s Mouth; the singular and grand entrance into Casterly Rock; twenty riders wide. Ahead was Lannisport, less than a mile away. His cousins lived there in a castle made of stone and mortar instead of solid rock three times taller than the Wall.

A quarter mile away from Lannisport was a light-breezed area large enough for the tourney grounds Father wanted. Room for wheelhouses and plenty for stands to fit hundreds, mayhaps thousands, of people.

He’d come here alone and took a look around to make sure he still was. Satisfied, Jaime imagined a jousting tourney on the land in front of him and got into the jousting position; sword in hand as though it was a lance. Spurring his horse, pictures of what he could one day compete in were before his eyes until he slowed the horse to a walk.

Father mayhaps said Jaime was too young to be a jouster, but that didn’t keep him from the dream. One day he would compete in his first tourney, determined to win; to prove himself skilled to both Father and his family. To prove to himself he could be a good fighter.

If the gods were good, he would get to see his favourite knight in the tourney and mayhaps meet him. Ser Arthur was a true knight and people said he was a brilliant swordsman. He couldn’t wait for it to happen. Jaime rubbed the neck of his horse.

“Woo!” a man cheered. Jaime turned in his saddle and grinned. Uncle Gerion, but he called him ‘Uncle Gery’, was on a horse and approached until they were side by side. “You were made for the saddle, Jaime.” 

“Thank you, Uncle Gery. I didn’t know you were coming home,” Jaime said. A wave of black and red rushed past them towards Lannisport, which prompted his turn in the saddle to get a better look.

“They’re gone, Jaime, but I do know one thing. That was a sand steed; a mount prominent in Dorne. You don’t get a red mane and tail like that anywhere else,” Uncle Gery said, smiling and taking off his Lannister crimson doublet to put it in a saddlebag. “And your father hates Dornish folk. Give me your doublet and we can find out what this fellow is doing. If good ol’ Tywin is in Lannisport I’ll say I dragged you there.”

“But you’re not,” Jaime said. “I’m done here, and I suppose I’m curious now.”

Uncle Gery bumped Jaime’s shoulder with his. “Our secret then,” Uncle Gery said and got his horse to walk. “Done here? What were you doing, Jaime?”

“Father told me to find a good place for big tourney grounds and tell him,” he said and matched his horse to Uncle Gery’s cantering. “It’s a tourney for King Aerys if the Targaryens get a new prince or princess.”

His uncle nodded. “That’s why I came home. There’s no better place to train for a tourney, but where the tourney is going to be.”

Jaime perked up in the saddle while their horses walked within the streets of Lannisport. “Do you know if Uncle Tyg is coming?” he asked, but in the yard of the Lannisport castle, Uncle Gery shrugged.

Dismounted and the reins handed over to a stableboy, Uncle Gery took a coin purse from a saddlebag and approached Jaime with a glint in his eyes. “I’d wager if your father is in Lannisport, he’d be glaring daggers at the Dornishman.”

He turned to his uncle and shook his head. “Why would Father hate them?” he asked and followed his uncle.

“Another time, Jaime. I want to have fun with my nephew,” Uncle Gery said and strolled through the gatehouse of the castle belonging to the Lannisport Lannisters. “Let’s find that sand steed.”

The markets were a small walk away, and Jaime wanted to have a look at the weapons there. “Uncle Gery? Can we go to the markets? I want to have a look-,” Jaime said, but his uncle spoke as well.

“-at the weaponry section,” Uncle Gery said with Jaime and patted his shoulder. “I should have known. Let’s go then, future knight.”

The markets of Lannisport were crowded and loud. Merchants shouted prices and what was for sale, while customers at the stalls tried to suggest a price over the din. Jaime grinned and grabbed his uncle’s hand to pull his towards the weaponry section.

Sometimes it was quality steel, sometimes exotic and strange to Jaime, but the sword was where he excelled and always wanted to know what new inventions and designs were available. What he could be fighting against in the future too.

There was a way to go yet because at the moment they weaved through the Westerosi and foreign herb and medicine section. However, Jaime hid his face and made for the shade to stay out of sight, Uncle Gery right behind him.

Ahead and tall among the customers was his father in an unpleasant conversation with a stiff expression. Father was always serious in Casterly Rock and only had a face like a stone if he was angry or annoyed.

Still quiet among the hustle of the port markets, he ventured closer to see who was speaking to Father. “Stay here, Uncle Gery,” he whispered. A chuckle was the only reply. There was an itch to know what angered his father, so Jaime crept until he had to hide under a table to stay out of sight but close to Father.

Father faced the stall but the person he spoke to was closest to Jaime. He didn’t dare peek out or Father would catch him.

“-at Lannisport for business of no concern to you, Lord Tywin,” said a thick voice that seemed vaguely familiar. “Lion of Lannister questioning me in front of the merchants,” the man said to Father, tone fearless. “Unwise after the increased tax you charged them for a time, I hear,” he taunted Father.

Salty Dornishmen had accents like this man; Father had had the maester teach him how to recognise the people of the other kingdoms, claiming it was important. It was proving useful now, but Jaime would never give Father that satisfaction by saying so.

Father was clearly displeased at the reminder of what he’d told Jaime was never his decision, but King Aerys’. During that lesson, Jaime hadn’t been overly interested since he couldn’t honestly imagine himself ruling the Westerlands and being happy about it. He cared for people, not the power he could have over them. As a consequence of his thoughts, Jaime had missed Father’s reply and needed to guess based on the stranger's answer. 

“My business is not with you, Tywin Lannister,” the Dornishman dismissed. “Would I not be at Casterly Rock if it was?”

Father would be furious; the anger hidden behind a calm face. Jaime remained hidden under the table. “What do you want, Martell?” Father said in a low volume Jaime almost missed. There must be a grudge or something between them.

The member of House Martell scoffed. “I am here on business. Good day, Lord Tywin.” Pieces of metal landed on the wood above Jaime’s head and the Dornishman left with his back to Father the whole time. To have the gall to deny Father what he wanted would be brilliant, but there’d be consequences if Jaime denied his father.

Jaime stayed under the table and waited until Father was gone. No one walked away from Father without giving Lord Lannister what he wanted. Anything always went the way Father wanted because everyone feared him; but not that Martell.

With both of them gone he could have chosen to walk, but Jaime slipped away through shadows and under tables.

A hand grabbed him. “Got you, Nephew.”

Jaime sighed, the race of his heart slowed. “Don’t do that. Gods, Uncle.”

Uncle Gery sniggered and pulled him away from the markets. “This way. He left the precinct for the taverns. Let’s find him. He pissed off your father, so he’s in my good books.”

He cooperated and jogged to keep up with his uncle. “Father called him ‘Martell’. They didn’t like each other much,” he said and his uncle raised an eyebrow.

“Did he now?” Uncle Gery said with a grin. “Oh, there he goes. I am not missing this.”

“Father or the Dornishman?”

His uncle laughed. “Do you think I want to see your father in a mood? Who am I jesting? He’s always in a bloody mood. The Dornishman, Jaime.” They entered a tavern full of people with a spare table or two. “Get the one the fellow has his back to.”

With swift strides, Jaime kept his head down, claimed a seat and swung his feet up onto the other. He had an eye on the people until his uncle was in sight with two tankards. Uncle Gery put one in front of Jaime.

“Uncle, are you mad? Father would have my hide,” Jaime said and lowered his feet.

His uncle grinned and shook his head. “Getting you drunk is not the plan, Jaime. It’s diluted ale. Mine’s wine,” Uncle Gery said and took a gulp of his own. “Keep your hands on your own and you’ll be fine. So…I snuck a look at his face, and it’s Oberyn Martell.”

Jaime blinked. The Salty Dornishman was the one Princess Mariah Martell wanted Cersei betrothed to years ago; Father rejected it. “What is he doing here?”

Uncle Gery shrugged. “Which road was he on when he passed? I didn’t see.”

“River Road. He was north of us, not south.”

“Shh, I want to listen.”

Two tables in front of them were Oberyn Martell talking to a minstrel who spoke too quiet for Jaime to hear. He glanced at his uncle.

“They’re talking of a song about a Tully girl,” his uncle said. “What are the names of Hoster Tully’s daughters and how old? I normally ignore those details.”

Jaime nodded and took a sip of the ale. It was weak. “Catelyn and Lysa. One my age and Catelyn is two years older,” he whispered so no one would hear. “Why?”

“Well, it sounds like another one jumped out of the river then,” Uncle Gery said and tilted his head towards the two men. Prince Oberyn handed the minstrel a gold dragon. “More than he makes in a sennight. Well, we’re here. Might as well listen.”

 

“A trout of ten,

Swam home again,

And people talked of her since then.”

 

“They say that she is beauty.

They say that she is grace.

Don’t say it near a lion’s face.”

 

“Knock on the lion’s door,

You’ll hear her roar,

The Westeros beauty she is no more.

 

“Sansa cares for the people.

She’s kind and never shouts.

But look out,

A lion‘s about.

Cersei oh hates the Tully trout.”

 

“Entranced by Sansa’s beauty.

Entranced by Sansa’s grace.

You’ll want to steal a kiss,

And not miss.

To Riverrun, you best be swift.”

 

“Cersei will oh hate her,

But so much more oh later.

When Sansa blooms,

The men will swoon,

And want to be a lucky groom.”

 

Within the tavern, coppers were tossed into a hat and the Dornish Prince took a draught, clapping. A hand rested on Jaime’s shoulder and gave a squeeze. Attention on Uncle Gery, who lowered his hand to the table, Jaime met his eyes.

“I didn’t know your sister was going to be mocked, Jaime. I’m sorry,” Uncle Gery apologised. “Did you want to leave?”

Jaime shrugged and took a slow drink. “Let’s go,” he said.

Chapter Text

ARTHUR DAYNE

Day 3, 11th Moon, 275 AC

Below deck of Star Chaser, Arthur reached through the narrow half-door and stroked the white neck of his restless sand steed. The stallion was a faithful creature gifted to him by a friend the year Arthur had been dubbed, alongside two other squires, a knight of Westeros.

This voyage was the sand steed’s first, and the rougher waters of turning tide were unsettling him. There was a name Elia had given it as a foal, but knights were advised against naming a mount. The death of a loyal friend was a painful thing. He had two. A black destrier, once Alijah’s jousting mount until Father had abdicated lordship.

He stepped closer and stroked the sand steed’s mane. It nudged his face with its nose. Arthur gave one more stroke and patted the neck. “There we go,” he murmured. “Not far now.” In the next stall over was his black destrier, he patted its nose. “You’re a good girl.”

Destrier was the broadest, tallest kind and used for tourneys. Warhorses; destriers, coursers and chargers were favoured outside Dorne’s heat. Those could wear the metal armour and bear a knight. Carrying a knight was a sand steed’s limit.

Although smaller and unable to bear armour, sand steeds could outrun all others. They were endurance and beauty that varied in colour, even fiery red; Oberyn’s was black bodied, but mane and tail of flame. Dorne’s renowned horses were said to run for a day and night, and need only a few drinks. Their smaller and elegant frames were to thank for that, if true.

Ashara’s grey sand steed with its snowy mane made no fuss; he left the grey mare alone.

Out of the cargo hold and on deck, he stood at the bow and gazed ahead. In the moonlight, glinting features and naked fires of the Old Palace shone. Steel, gold and coloured glass decorated its pale marble. Within the palace, a person or two had a flame still lit. Star Chaser was too far away to make out the minor details.

In the darkness, the ship-shaped hill of Sunspear was like a real ship at a port. What appeared to be the mast and sails were, in fact, the Old Palace atop the hill. Arrival by the morning would be a safe wager.

Feminine steps approached and stopped beside him. “Son,” Mother’s voice lowly said, and a hand joined his own on the railing. “It seems I’m not the only one who can’t sleep.”

“My mind’s too busy,” he said and glanced her way. Ashara had Mother’s face and figure, but the Dayne fair skin and purple eyes. Mother’s eyes were brown. 

She moved along the railing until they were shoulder to shoulder. “Hmmm…Your father spoke with me the day after your ceremony. At the feast, there might be a way for you to persuade the family who refused a betrothal. Not every fight is won with a sword,” she said.

He met her eyes and she had a small but loving smile. “It’s unlikely they won’t attend. But the House’s head said no, Mother. Don’t you think I should respect that?”

“We taught all of you to be respectful, and I would agree, Arthur; had you received a reply to your raven,” Mother pointed out and brushed something off his shoulder. “Silence isn’t necessarily rejection. Ravens are clever, but that doesn’t make them perfect. Something could have gone wrong.”

Arthur was silent. Hope flickered within him. “I pray that’s true,” he murmured and straightened his back to face Mother. “If they did receive the raven though, what are you suggesting that will make a difference? I have nothing to offer a House.”

Mother rested a hand on his cheek. “Arthur, you do. You’re a man any goodmother would be glad to have for their daughter. As my boys, you and Alijah never fought – that I know of – and jealousy was never a part of you. Just as arrogance was never a trait of Alijah.” She embraced him and let go, taking his hand.

“The feast is in seven days, Mother. Seven days,” Arthur said. The sails snapped in the wind. “You think I have a chance. But how? What are you saying?”

His mother gave a calm smile and looped her arm around his. “Come with me.” Arthur cooperated with Mother’s pull and walked along deck. “Convincing your fair lady’s family is possible yet. Who is she, Arthur? You’ve never told anyone.”

Arthur swallowed and gazed out to sea. “I’d prefer not to say. Embarrassed or ashamed is far from it, but if they still say ‘no’ I’d rather not be reminded with pity later.”

Gentle fingers touched his arm. “Understandable, Arthur. Is there anything you’ll share about her? Interests, personality, or what you like most about her?” There was a kind smile on Mother which grew when he nodded.

“She’s…,” he began as he attempted to summarise her in his mind yet failed. “A list of words never does anyone justice, but my sand steed was raised by her. I had to teach him to stop seeking treats in my pockets, but he’s a good stallion,” he said, while a smile crept onto his face.

Mother chuckled and Arthur turned. She was smiling, amused.

“What is it?” he asked. “She finds joy in training foals. Mine was her second one.” Upon receiving the white sand steed, he’d ridden to her home and bore witness to her happiness while in the yard with a red sand steed either two or three years old. He smiled.

“My son’s heart has been stolen,” Mother said and slowed her pace. “She seems like an interesting lady, Arthur.” They were nearing the doors for each of the family. “Was your sand steed a purchase? Raising a horse to behave well takes years of effort.”  

He shook his head. “He was delivered to me at Godsgrace as a gift; just old enough to ride,” he said. “In her letter, she was proud of training him, but couldn’t bring him herself. That was two years ago.”

Mother paused and gave her full gaze. “Two years ago? You were first knighted at Godsgrace with your fellow squires two years ago.” She stopped walking and grasped a handle. “Wait here,” his mother said and slipped inside the quarters she and Father shared.

The lapping of water against the ship was peaceful in the darkness lit by the moon. The wind was consistent, thus the snapping of sails happened little. When a door closed, light steps were by his side.

Although she was silent, Arthur followed Mother down to his own quarters, but she never opened the door. Within her arms was the lavender robe he’d worn when dubbed The Sword of the Morning.

“Wear this during our stay. It was still in your wardrobe at home after you’d packed,” she said, passing it to him. “The feast is for a true knight, but only we know you’re The Sword of the Morning now. This should solve that.” Mother rested her hand atop his. “I will do everything I can to help you, Arthur.”

Arthur gazed at the formal silk robe and met Mother’s eyes. “Thank you, but tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t want to seem arrogant.”

Mother had a fond smile and hugged him. “That’s my son…try and get some sleep, Arthur.”

“And you, Mother.”

Entering his quarters, Arthur bedded down for what remained of the late night. Star Chaser will be noisy in a matter of hours.

 

 

Voices. Shouted commands interrupted something he couldn’t properly recall as it slipped away. It was a good something though. His window had sunlight pouring in. The ship barely rocked; they’d made port. He climbed out of bed and got ready; the robe from earlier this morning in a satchel.

Opening his quarters’ door revealed the crew unloading the ship. On the wharf, his family sat conversing under the shade of a stationary palanquin. Midday heat had yet to make an appearance, so it was still morning.

Getting out of the crewmen’s way, Arthur joined his family until it was time to make for the Old Palace. Alijah got off the seat and took the reins for his and Ashara’s sand steeds; Arthur grasped those of his horses. The destrier will go to King’s Landing with him and the possible tourney later at Lannisport.  

Alijah and Arthur followed the palanquin on foot, for none of the horses in a state to ride. Sailing removes balance for a time. The brothers bantered when a flicker of colour drew Arthur’s eye; someone ran uphill ahead of the party.

Through the final of three parallel gatehouses of Sunspear, they were within the Old Palace’s yard where their host awaited them. Princess Mariah was flanked by her consort and most of their children; Prince Doran and Princess Elia. The youngest prince was absent; likely still exiled across the Narrow Sea; Oberyn.

Flanking Princess Mariah's left stood a man who was of a similar age and had to be her younger brother; Prince Lewyn. A woman stood beside him; his paramour.

Dorne was a hot region and greetings done inside. Pleasantries exchanged, and Guest Right invoked with bread and salt, Arthur and his family were shown to their guest apartments in the Tower of the Sun. Today they would be settling in.

He spent little time within his bedchamber and entered the yard. On the far side were the stables. Attached was a small paddock with sand steeds of varying ages. Among them roamed a red one roughly five years old. It could be the same one from two years ago.

Through the stables’ side, his white sand steed was led into the paddock by the one who’d given the stallion to Arthur. Her black hair gathered in a simple braid which left the light olive skin of her slender neck bare. “Hello, Glacier.” The stallion put its nose into her hand and she grinned. “You recognise me, don’t you?” She stroked his neck. “Glad to be off the ship, I wager. Hope you were good.”

Arthur entered the stables and sought the stall for his destrier. A huff made him turn. From a stall’s half door, his black mare was facing him. He petted the neck but watched the princess with the white sand steed she’d raised. Her back was partly to him. A slim silhouette created by the sun and translucent clothes.

The stallion trotted to the other horses outside. Her back to the stables, Elia stood with her arms at her waist. “I will miss this,” she murmured and knelt when a black yearling came to her for attention. “No lord will indulge a wife interested in horseflesh, Storm,” she softly said, stroking the mane.

Arthur gave his destrier mare one more pat and approached the princess’s side within the paddock. “Can I help, Elia?”

Her head turned; lips parted and surprise spread across her features. “Oh, sorry. I thought I was alone,” she said, standing up and brushing herself off. “Just thinking aloud about the future.”

Scratching his neck, Arthur cleared his throat. “My apologies, I’ll come back later,” he said and stepped away. “The stables are where I think best.” Arthur turned to go and suppressed a sigh. He was no lord. It was too late.

“Arthur, wait.” Soft fingers took his hand. Stopping, he turned and met her black eyes. Elia led him to the shade beside the stables. “Please. Don’t go on my account.”

“If you’re sure,” he said and leaned against the fencing. Steeling himself, Arthur swallowed; never addressing it would leave him wondering. “You spoke of lords and missing this; raising horses,” he said and looked to her. “I hope your betrothed won’t object to it.”

Elia shook her head. “Betrothed? Arthur, I’m not…I don’t have a betrothed.” Hope rekindled, but he tried not to be obvious. Elia turned to him, smiling. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said. “It’s been too long.” She pretended to pout. “You hardly visit, Arthur.”

He quirked a smile and sat on the stone bench. “Being on opposite sides of Dorne doesn’t make that easy.” A jape sprang forth. “However, you do watch tourney jousts hoping I fall off.”

The reaction was incredulous. “Are you serious?” she said, shaking her head and sat beside him. “Mayhaps I watch to make sure I’m properly training my foals to behave,” she said, smiling innocently.

He raised an eyebrow. “Or both?”

Her face was full of mirth and Elia laughed. The sound was a gentle melody. “Really, Arthur? What kind of friend do you take me for?” She rose and led him into the stables. With her soft black eyes looking up at him, Elia gave a smile. “Japing aside, I’m happy for you. A true knight at seventeen; your family’s proud. I know they are.”

Arthur nodded while humility and honesty warred within him. Telling the full truth now could be seen as arrogance, but neither did he desire to lie to her.

His elbow received a light squeeze, and Elia appeared concerned. “What is it, Arthur?” she asked.

“Nothing bad; the opposite actually,” he said, giving her a quick smile and checked the yard. It was getting busy. “And I owe you an explanation about something else. Could we go for a ride nearby? I’d rather not be overheard about either.”

Elia’s gaze was curious but she nodded. “Of course, Oberyn and I found a place years ago; it’s appropriate,” she said, but paused and looked to the Old Palace. “Meet here in twenty minutes? I’m expected for a quick discussion, but it shouldn’t be long.”

“No problem,” he agreed. “If it takes longer, Elia, don’t worry. I’ll be here giving this one…” he said and rested his hand on his destrier. “…some much deserved attention.”

She smiled and stroked the black horse. “Hopefully I won’t be long, Arthur.” When he gave her a nod she went on her way. Elia spoke to a servant for a moment and they made for the stables while Elia continued on to the palace.

Arthur remained for a minute and made for the palace. Within his bedchamber, he opened a satchel. A lavender Sword of the Morning silk robe was folded neatly inside. Satisfied, he slung the satchel onto his shoulder and opened the door of his balcony to let the morning breeze in.

Passing through the halls to make his return, he paused where Mother and Ashara were doing needlepoint with Princess Mariah in a spacious chamber. Arthur continued on; such activities were a time of leisure between women. He wasn’t needed.

Alijah and Father were a different story. Their paths never crossed with his, but the day had yet to reach the midday meal. His family had arrived at Sunspear a short time after breaking of fast.

Back in the stables, he hung the satchel and assisted a stableboy with saddling a sand steed. It earned him a smile and calm conversation. Opening the stall door of his destrier, Arthur led her to the paddock by the bridle and let her loose.

She was unlikely to cause trouble; good behaviour was the only kind he rewarded. Freedom after calmness within the confines of Star Chaser would make the girl happy.

A horse of two approached him, and he took care to pet it as Elia had done to avoid snagging the mane. It was Storm; the black one. Early experiences leave their mark on a horse’s behaviour; he was gentle.

The stableboy tethered the sand steeds to the fencing and joined Arthur’s side. “Thank you for helping out,” Timoth said, passing him some water. “Wait…Didn’t you come here with a satchel? That hook. I’ll get it for you.”

Timoth was gone from the paddock and inside the stables. No doubt something developed from handling eager horses. As fast as he’d disappeared, the stableboy was back and gave it to him. The boy seemed tempted to do something, but bowed his head and stood.

“I’d stay, but I’ve got duties inside, Ser Arthur,” Timoth apologised with another bowing of his head. “If you need anything, call out and I’ll get it.”

He smiled. “Thank you, Timoth. All I need is to think out here alone.”

“Aye. No problem. I’ll be inside.”

Eyes on the horses, both of his and those of Elia’s, Arthur sat the satchel in his lap and rested his hands atop it. Inside was his chance to show the Houses of Dorne that he was more than just a younger brother. To have a chance of persuading the House he was good enough for her. However, he shouldn’t keep important secrets from her.

Half measures weren’t an option; the good and the bad would need to come into the light. He’d kept relevant secrets before but he shouldn’t have. With Ashara as a sister, he ought to have known better. He should have been more considerate and thought about the matter from a lady’s position.

There was the possibility she viewed him as a good friend and nothing more. Her family could have forced her into a marriage with him all the same, she would’ve resented it and him. There was no excuse for the mistake of not talking to her about the truth before sending the raven from Starfall.

Ashara was his sister; a sister who could’ve been forced into marriage had Father been inclined by an advantageous betrothal. Luckily for her, Alijah was more intent on their sister being happy with a good man instead of a gain for House Dayne.

Head against the stables’ wall, he sighed. As Mother said earlier today on Star Chaser, silence isn’t necessarily rejection and ravens aren’t perfect. There might be a chance. Humble honesty with the one he trusted was a start. He trusted Elia to keep his title quiet. She knew him better than to see it as arrogance.

In the corner of his eye, vibrant colour fluttered near the palace doors. He adjusted in his seat enough for a better view; it was Elia donned in loose red silk which blew in the wind. Her shoulders were tense and she wiped her eye with a wary glance around the yard.

On his feet and through the stables, he encountered her at the entrance into them. “Elia,” he said and took her hand into his own. “Who’s upset you?”

Glassy eyes met him and she shook her head. “It’s alright. Don’t worry about me. What’s done is done,” she said and brushed something off his shoulder. “Please. One thing. You don’t have to. But…”

“Whatever you need,” he promised, which garnered a sweet smile from Elia.

She rested her hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eyes. “Don’t be afraid of saying anything you need to at the beach; whatever it is.” Her hand remained on his shoulder. “I won’t interrupt.” Hooves clopped behind him but she stayed as she was. Reins were placed within his hand. “I promise, Arthur.”

He tried to stop the swallow; she didn’t know what she was promising to hear. “Thank you. But if you want to speak-”

Elia gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze and smiled. “Arthur, you’re a good man. If there’s a serious need for me to interrupt – which I doubt – I will, but I’ll say it again. I won’t interrupt. I promise.” She led the way into the yard and mounted. As did he, and they rode through Sunspear’s three walls.

The beach wrapped around three-quarters of Sunspear. The easternmost side was too steep to walk and shaped like a ship’s bow. It was rock. Elia seemed confident while she led him towards it.

Arthur steeled himself. Telling her about being The Sword of the Morning would be last. It was easier and better news than what he needed to admit to Elia. Planning what must be said was more important. Phrased right, she might understand why he’d done it the way he had and not think less of him.

At the water’s edge, he dismounted and followed her into a crevice of the rock. It narrowed and there was almost no light inside the tunnel. “Where does this go? I can barely see.”

“A little more…slow down here…and turn left,” she instructed, guiding him by the hand. The light increased with each additional turn. “Oberyn rode off one day when we were little and he found the tunnel. Oberyn being Oberyn, he kept going through what seemed endless,” she said. “But it does have an end; an open one.”

Beyond another turn, the tunnel expanded and there was rippling of waves. It was the size of a bedchamber with the fourth wall missing; an unimpeded view of the sea. Elia sat on the sand and dipped bare feet into the water with the skirt at her knees.

“I scarcely come here, but it makes for a nice place to think,” she said, her dark eyes on him. He walked over and she rested a hand on the sand next to her. “Will you join me? The water’s quite cool.”

Lowering himself beside her, Arthur did as she had and he sighed at the coolness of the water. “It is,” he agreed and took a breath. “Elia, I need to apologise. I’m not proud of how I went about something rather important.” He was here to admit what he had done. Stalling would do nothing to help.

Soft fingers touched the back of his palm and remained there. Elia was silent. Eyes watched him and her face was of patience. Her thumb stroked the back of his hand in the sand and he lifted his eyes to hers. It was pleasant but unusual of Elia. She gave an encouraging smile. His heart was pounding.

He closed his eyes and gathered himself. If they were to have a chance of remaining friends, he couldn’t mess this up. Keeping it secret could come back to haunt him. “At the time, there were low odds of anything besides rejection. I received no answering raven, so there’s a chance it’s been refused.”

Stealing a glance at Elia, there was no confusion on her face. The calm was odd.

The sooner he got to the point the better. “Elia, I wrote a raven to your mother moons ago. I never told you because I expected nothing to become of the proposition. It was a betrothal raven. As I said, I received no answer and no one got hurt doing it that way.” He shook his head and turned to her. “But that’s no excuse, Elia. I should have asked how you, my friend, felt about it first. It was wrong of me to not to. I pray you can forgive me.”  

She lacked surprise and neither did she speak when he paused so she had a chance to. His hand got a light squeeze and Elia's thumb resumed running against his hand. The stroke was rhythmic and gentle. If upset or startled, she would’ve stopped that, yet Elia continued it like nothing was wrong.

He dropped his gaze and turned towards the wash of the waves. “It’s still unlikely she’ll accept the idea of a betrothal between the two of us. That’s why I never let on how I feel or courted you. I think she’s rejected it though.” She deserved the words to her face and he turned. “I should have said how I felt. I just didn’t want you to get hurt if I admitted it and your mother later refused. I’m sorry. I should have asked you first.”

Elia lifted his hand and held it with both of her own. “Arthur,” she said, her black eyes meeting his purple. “I forgive you.” She hesitated and lifted a hand to his cheek. “And Mother never received the raven. It was intercepted, read out to me recently and disposed of by someone else…” she murmured and swallowed. “…do you still feel this way?”

“I do.”

Hope crept into her features; a nervous smile among them. Elia’s soft fingers hovered on his cheek. “I want to try and convince Mother to give you a chance, Arthur. No matter what happens in the end.” Her fingers returned to sitting atop his hand. “You’re a man of honour, and I’ve known you for years.”

He released a breath. The explanation had been well-received and the news of the failed raven gave him hope. “You’re certain? I’m just a second son. Your mother might refuse a betrothal, Elia.”

A smile bloomed on the princess. “I’m certain.” A strand of her black hair blew free, but Arthur tucked it behind an ear. In the process, his fingers brushed the silk-like hair around the soft lobe. Elia smiled and leaned against them while he let go. “I’m certain, Arthur. I want to try.” She turned to him by the waist where she sat and one shoulder became bare.

The dress was threatening to fall lower, held where it was by her upper arm and chest. Elia flushed and the colour went further than her neck. Trying to lift it into place, she fumbled but her gaze darted to the other shoulder often.

Respect was deserved by any woman, so he adjusted the silk into place and averted his eyes to her face. Most other men in this situation would’ve shown less restraint. Pictures flashed within his mind and he fought to bury them.

Elia’s attention was on the sea. “Uh, thank you,” she quietly said and cleared her throat with a hand to her mouth. “So what did you bring with you? Inside that satchel? At the stables, you said you had good to tell? Is that part of it?” 

Relieved, he took the strap off his shoulder but stood away from the water. “It is,” he said and took the silk robe out. Arthur unfolded it and held it out to Elia with the front skyward.

She brushed sand off her fingers and accepted it. Gaze on the front, Elia looked it over. “Someone’s put a lot of work into this.” Elia glanced to him confused and turned it over. Her eyes went straight to his. “You’ve been made The Sword of the Morning?” she asked. “It’s known you’re a true knight, but not The Sword of the Morning. Congratulations, Arthur. This is fantastic.”

He received it back and changed into it on at Elia’s urging. “Thank you. I want to keep this quiet until tomorrow, but I wanted to tell you the truth.”

A smile shone his way and Elia straightened the robe. “No wonder your family is proud of you. You must be proud. There hasn’t been a Sword of the Morning for a generation at least. I wish I’d been there for the ceremony.”

“I’ll try my best to describe it on the way back. I had no warning it was happening until mayhaps an hour before,” he explained and glanced out to the sea. The sun was gone from view. “We best return,” he said, taking the robe off and packing it away. “It’ll be time for the midday meal when we reach the Old Palace.”

Elia passed him his normal robe which he threw over top his tunic and belted close. A glance from her and they left the sanctuary via the tedious tunnel. One peculiar whistle from Elia and their sand steeds made an appearance within a minute.

The journey back was free of trouble, and no one stopped him on his way to refresh and change out of the clothes smelling of a horse. In the Great Hall of the Old Palace, the midday meal passed in a peaceful manner. At the meal, he requested to speak with Princess Mariah privately. There were no reactions from the Martell family indicating who’d disposed of his raven.

It was afterwards that things changed and his heart was quick with nerves. Writing the raven had taken many re-writes before he was satisfied to send it. Now was different though. On the other side of the doors, the ruling princess was expecting him.

What he wanted to say was simple. However, Princess Mariah was unlikely to be a patient listener like Elia. She would want justification. And he had it with him; his The Sword of the Morning robe in hand and Dawn strapped to his back. It was the best leverage he had to convince her to consider him worthy for a betrothal to Elia.

Taking a breath, he went inside the solar and faced the challenge. It quickly became apparent it was not going to be easy, but he followed his mother’s advice. Polite and diplomatic. Dawn and his silk ceremony robe weren’t revealed until the very end.

Princess Mariah looked at him long and hard from the seat of her solar. “In the past, many suitors for my daughter have used titles to conceal their true colours and intentions. When I see them – and I will know when I do – you will have your answer, Ser Arthur,” she said.

It wasn’t much of an answer for now, but at least he was getting a chance. Not an outright rejection.

Chapter Text

SANSA STARK

Day 16, 11th Moon, 275 AC

Sansa carried a tray with porridge and tea and entered the Lady’s bedchambers. A fortnight upon Oberyn’s departure, Mother needed to remain abed and rest with what energy she had. And for a fortnight since, she’d taken it upon herself to bring Mother anything she needed. Meal placed on a small table, Sansa sat on a stool next to it. “I hope you’re feeling well,” Sansa said. A hand took hers and gave a light squeeze.

“The babe was kicking all night,” Mother with a tired smile complained, rising to sit against the pillows. Sansa passed her the tray. “Thank you, sweetling. Your father appreciates you doing this every morning, you realise that?” she asked and tucked a lock behind Sansa’s ear.

Sansa smiled at the gesture. “I honestly haven’t,” she admitted. What Hoster Tully thought about her was a mystery. “Father and I rarely speak. About duties, normally,” Sansa said.

Mother’s gaze went to the door and Sansa tried to turn, but there was a hand on her cheek and she didn’t fight. Mother stared at someone. “Sansa, you are my daughter and a sweet girl. You look so much like Cat, like me. In fact, the handmaids and guards still mistake you for Cat. People will adjust and recognise you with time,” Mother clearly said and thumbed Sansa’s cheek. Brown eyes met Tully blue. “You are mine and your father’s daughter.”

Sansa dropped her gaze. A thumb stroked her cheek and she met Mother’s eyes.

“Sansa,” Mother firmly said. “I mayhaps am the most expressive, unlike your father, but it doesn’t mean I am the only one who cares.”

Sansa shook her head. “Father. Father has his reasons for accepting me into House Tully and naming me his child. It’s not difficult to imagine what they are,” she said while Mother began breaking her fast. “My likeness to Cat manipulated the situation. Unless he wanted to be ruthless, his choices were limited.” The tea lowered onto the tray and Mother shook her head.

She took Sansa’s hand and gave a squeeze. “In the beginning, Sansa, it was as a ward with reasons. I won’t deny it,” she said with a hand holding Sansa’s. “But after everything you have done here for this family, and especially me when I’m too weak to rise in the morning; don’t you think he’d come to care for you more than a ward?”

Sansa hesitated. Time was rarely spent with Hoster Tully; Father.

Mother wrapped her other hand around Sansa’s. “Despite your sisters’ behaviour -yes, I hear Lysa sometimes, and Cat is stubborn - that doesn’t mean your father is blind to all you do here.” Sansa maintained their gaze. “He mayhaps not utter ‘daughter’ the way I do, but he is coming to see you as a true one," she said with a real smile. "Believe that.”

Despite the detachment she upheld since the ceremony of the seven oils, Mother’s acceptance and kind heart was softening the steel of Sansa; her shell against the world. The steel will always be there; it kept her alive for years. She gave a patient smile. “Your porridge will go cold soon.”

Mother chuckled at the redirection and reached for Sansa’s shoulder. “Come here, sweetling,” her mother said and pulled towards the bed. “You are a daughter to me and your father. And in time, your sisters won’t be so cold.” Mother kissed her forehead. “Go on, Sansa, I know you have a busy day ahead of you. I’ve heard Edmure has grown fond of you this past moon.”

Sansa smiled at Mother’s warmth and embraced it. “Thank you, Mother, and Edmure has,” she uttered and stood. “Rest well.”

There was a tired smile. “I’ll try, sweetling.”

Cloaking herself as the Lady of Winterfell, Sansa took a breath and left the bedchamber. In Mother’s lone company was the one situation Sansa ever dropped the guise and showed her true self.

For the past moon, Mother endured the illnesses and fatigue being with child made her prone to befall. With the want of helping, Sansa tended to her and the needs of Riverrun to ease matters. The more duties Sansa took on, the more relaxed her mother could be.

Within the Lady’s solar, Sansa closed the door to the bedchamber. At the desk, Catelyn worked on a ledger. “How’s my mother, bastard?” Catelyn asked but kept writing; a mimic of the one instance with Tywin Lannister at a desk in King’s Landing. Sansa smothered a shudder.

“Our mother is quite tired,” Sansa said and sat to work on the inventory ledger at the desk. “The babe kept her awake last night.” Taking a quill, it glided across the page until touching a resource due to be restocked as she had done many times in Winterfell.

Catelyn was silent.

Complete, Sansa rose and Catelyn ignored her but Sansa spoke regardless. “She is ‘Mother’ to me too, Catelyn. I pray you can see that one day.” Catelyn was parallel to the awful girl Sansa had once been.

Catelyn paused with her quill and continued with the coin ledger; a minute scowl on her face. Disappointed, Sansa left the Lady’s solar and made for the nursery where Edmure was likely waiting for her. It was routine that Sansa took care of the Tully heir; it kept a certain someone away from her too for the most part.

Standing against the railing of the cot, Edmure looked at her with bright eyes and a grin. “Sa’sa! Sa’sa! Sa’sa!”

It was too adorable. Sansa laughed and picked him up, her hair in a single braid over her shoulder where he couldn’t pull it; she’d learnt her lesson concerning his hands. “Hello, Edmure. You’ll have a sibling soon, I expect. Time we break your fast, I think,” she said, playing with the curly auburn locks alike to Rickon’s. Rickon was a toddler when she left for King’s Landing.

“You’ve done much here. Including help your mother,” a man said as fact and she suppressed her surprise. Beside the bookcase was Uncle Brynden; The Blackfish. “How did you learn to manage a household?”

“Lord Uncle,” she said with a brief curtsey. Everyone bearing the name ‘Tully’ was supposed to know Mother was tutoring Sansa on the duties of a high lady during her better days. Sansa held back on showing her skills and one at a time ceased hiding her abilities as she learned them. “Mother’s tutored me and I’ve worked beside Cat for the past moon," Sansa said politely. "I’ve yet to make major mistakes and I hope to keep it that way, Uncle Brynden,” she said.

Uncle Brynden gave a small nod and followed her while she carried Edmure to the kitchens. This was one of few conversations with him because he would watch her instead of talking when their paths crossed. It was the closest to a ‘thank you’ as well. Although it was a minor success of appealing to him, Sansa counted it a victory.

With Edmure fed, Sansa took him for a turn in the godswood. Riverrun had oaks instead of weirwoods, but she enjoyed the peace of traversing a godswood again. She brought Edmure here twice a week for a walk to keep his routine mixed. In tribute to Arya, Sansa wore her grey mummer’s gown while walking Edmure here; only the Blackfish would find it suspicious if he tried.

The Blackfish was beside her today instead of watching from the battlements, yet said nothing. Little Edmure walked quite well and babbled while she held his hand. Should Edmure ever be like Rickon at Winterfell, he would become a running nightmare with hate for baths. So far he was an energetic babe.

Had Sansa never told Mother the truth of her blood, odds were she would have considered using these walks as an opportunity to mourn the Starks. To remember them all, what they loved, looked like, and what had happened to each. But she did that in private instead. To be spotted melancholy within the godswood had great risks.

A throat cleared beside her and Sansa turned. Uncle Brynden had his eyes on Edmure. “Why the godswood for his walks?” he asked.

She had a ready answer and the truth. “Edmure is indoors mostly. I dare not venture outside Riverrun. He is young and the only male heir,” Sansa said.

Uncle Brynden was quiet for a moment. “Well argued,” he said and picked up Edmure, eyes on the toddler. “I’ll take it from here and play with my nephew.” He turned his attention to Sansa. “Go spend time with your mother.” He, with Edmure, left the godswood.

On a bench, Sansa took a moment and kept an eye out for Petyr. When she was alone he liked to attempt getting near. She needed to do something about Petyr, but she was limited at the moment. She’d told Mother but there was nothing she could do until there was significant merit to dismiss him from Riverrun.

In her previous life, the actions of Cersei Lannister were the core of some problems. Reduce her influence as Queen or sister and she could do less damage to the future. Take them away and Westeros would have a chance.

From Sansa’s first opportunity in Gulltown, she began her endeavour against Cersei Lannister with a note to her brother. It pointed out her manipulation of him and rhetorically questioned his future once Cersei married Prince Rhaegar. Both would give him thought. From Riverrun she’d later written another about cruelty towards Tyrion.

And apparently it had, but not without the response arriving and scaring her. It meant she could of left clues to who she was, or Lord Tywin had spies in Riverrun. She needed spies of her own, just as Varys and Littlefinger had.

 

Who are you?

Of course, I’d protect Tyrion. He’s my brother.

And…you’re not wrong about Cersei.

-Jaime.

 

Her efforts of two letters resulted in that messy and ink-blotted note from Jaime Lannister three sennights ago. Satisfaction stirred from the outcome. A wedge between the Lannister twins was in the process.

Although they began the progress she needed, Sansa stopped her letters except the suggestion of meeting at the Tourney of Lannisport. It was a celebration of splendour with all the Great Houses present to respect Viserys Targaryen’s birth.

For the sake of caution, she was going to be the patient wolf and wait to see if the wedge grew with time. Should the letters fall into the wrong hands, Lord Tywin’s wrath towards the Tullys in response was the last thing she wanted. The two Jaime already had will have to be enough.

The gods must have given her a smile because Maester Kym was elsewhere when Jaime’s reply arrived; at the time, Sansa was sending her father’s missives about ‘Sansa Tully’ to the Great Houses of Westeros and the Citadel. She’d burnt it within the nearest lit hearth so no one saw her with it.

Although changes to the future beyond Riverrun seemed to be occurring, things inside Riverrun were a different matter.

Catelyn acted as Catelyn Stark had to Jon, but forbidden to call Sansa a bastard; she did it only in private. Lysa was oddly the more accepting, with Petyr’s affections being the one conflict between them. When Lysa witnessed Petyr interacting with Sansa, she would accuse Sansa of playing with his heart.

Going indoors, Sansa checked on different matters of the household and walked to her bedchamber to retrieve her sewing basket. Unlike King’s Landing, there was no sewing circle and none of the gossipings included, thankfully. Instead, she went to Mother’s bedchamber, where she habitually threaded fabric together.

With quiet steps she passed through the Lady’s solar, now devoid of Cat, and entered Mother’s bedchamber. At the end of the bed was a comfortable chair and Sansa sat. Mother was asleep and the peaceful face drew a smile from Sansa. On the bedside table was an empty tray, but odds were she would wake Mother by taking it away.

Her current needlework was a standard dress instead of a mummer’s gown; another one intended for her wardrobe. If Petyr showed signs of courage the previous night, Sansa wore a mummer’s gown the following day to provide ease in avoiding him. Otherwise, her attire was a normal dress.

Sometimes luck was against her and Petyr would approach Sansa when she thought he’d stay away that day. Those days left her in the predicament of a physically limiting dress instead of a mummer’s gown. It was worse when that happened because her real dresses were prettier by far and made Petyr’s attempts for her attention more persistent.

If there was one thing she had to be thankful for regardless, it was his behaviour of a young boy and predictable to a point compared to his older self.

But Sansa’s strategy was losing its effect altogether. Now she made everything with the same level of adornments while she watched over Mother.

Mother in darkness and peace, but sunlight on her side of the bedchamber, Sansa whittled away time in silence and made the seams with the pace developed in Braavos. Her work was quiet and Mother always slept through it.

A murmur came from the bed, and Sansa settled the dress on the chair when she rose. With light steps, she approached but Mother appeared to be sleeping, so returned and resumed her sewing. An eye on Mother, Sansa watched the person who treated her like a true daughter; who'd taken to calling her ‘my daughter’ when Sansa’s doubts came to the forefront. She had to admit the reassurance Mother gave was warmth she missed since first leaving Winterfell.

The love of a mother.

Her silver and black dress seams complete, Sansa rested it on Mother’s vanity chair and stood to glance into the looking glass. A child’s face stared back. A child of almost eleven, her height identical to last time she was this age. Sansa was as tall as Catelyn; much to the latter’s displeasure, whose twelfth nameday was soon.

She was not Sansa Stark of Winterfell in this life, but Sansa Tully of Riverrun.

And Cat was not the Catelyn Stark who’d raised and loved her. Cat was a girl with bitter looks and silent stares at Sansa in this life. Minisa Tully was Sansa’s mother now, an adjustment Sansa was cooperative but sad about. While Minisa Tully was kind and gentle, Sansa wished Cat would be nicer.

Although Cat was her Stark mother in girlhood, that same girl was negative towards Sansa. It was painful to witness, but any change would need time. Mother gave Sansa the gentle treatment she had received from one other woman; a woman who for all intents and purposes was never coming back. Mother was alive, loving, and Sansa would do everything possible for her.

She placed her needle and thread in her sewing basket and took the stool beside Mother’s bed. A glance at the tray, Sansa turned towards the window and shadows were longer now. It must be well past the midday meal.

Silent, she left the Lady’s bedchamber for the kitchens because Mother must eat. A short distance to go, Sansa was stranded in the halls when Petyr came the other way. So far, Sansa had managed to disappear with grace or take a turn as though that was the plan all along. This time was different. To turn and flee would make him more determined in his pursuit of her affections.

There was no cluster of people for Sansa to make herself a part of. And frankly, Sansa was fed up with the necessity of hiding in her own home. She kept calm but pierced him with the steel of a determined Stark. The warning, however, failed to make him falter and change his mind.

Instead, Petyr took her hands and brought them to his lips. He would have received a broken nose a moon ago if Arya was in her position.

“Petyr,” Sansa scolded and tried taking her hands back with dignity. “I have somewhere to be,” she said.

“So fierce,” he said, eyes with want and a shine. If he was drunk it would explain how bold he was. “The others are nothing like you,” he complimented. It almost sounded like Littlefinger’s words when he was older; she suppressed a shiver.

“No,” she told him, louder than necessary; not that he noticed. The kitchens were near. In the Vale, the nuances of a man with lust were something she learned in the presence of Harrold Hardyng. In prior instances in Riverrun, Sansa had managed to escape being touched any further than her hands by Petyr. The gods were merciful Petyr was a young boy and not Littlefinger.

Sansa took a step back, which straightened their arms so he would need the effort to kiss her hand again. But her action worked against her because he slid his hands up to her elbows.

“Release my arms, Petyr.”

His grey-green eyes lit at her words. “As you wish, Sansa.” He took a step forward and slid his hands to her shoulders.

“No, Petyr. I’m not interested,” she objected.

He kissed her sloppily.

She slapped him hard and swept her foot behind his ankle, which knocked him to the floor.

Behind him and in view was Lysa. “You whore!”

Petyr lied dazed; a hand to his cheek. This was the first time Sansa used physical aggression; she’d needed it.

A crowd gathered in the hallway, hovering near the entrance to the kitchens. She shook her head. Her hate for the old Littlefinger's manipulations bubbled under her skin; she allowed it to surface.

“By the gods, Baelish!” Sansa shouted. “I said ‘No’! It’s been a moon and ‘No’ is the only answer I will ever give you!”

She made to step around him but Lysa stopped her. “First Catelyn, and now you with you here! Both of you play with his feelings because you find it funny,” she accused Sansa and knelt beside Petyr. “Well, I care!”  

Dread filled Sansa stomach at the implication Lysa was already infatuated with him; she couldn’t allow the matter to grow. Calm took dread’s place. Mother and Sansa needed a valid reason for Petyr’s dismissal. This ought to be sufficient.

Sansa kept her voice level and replied. “Find a way to stop him from pursuing me, Lysa, and we’ll both be happy,” she told her younger sister. No time was left for Lysa to retort for Sansa retrieved Mother’s meal. She has to put an end to this incident and the situation at large.

If Petyr got the opportunity to plant desire within Lysa again Westeros’s future would suffer.

 

Chapter Text

SANSA STARK

Day 16, 11th Moon, 275 AC

With Mother’s meal in hand, Sansa walked past Petyr on the floor, who Lysa fussed over his pink cheek. It was with muscle memory she left the hall where Petyr kissed her. What she needed so they could get rid of Petyr had occurred; something bad enough so Father could dismiss him from Riverrun if Mother pushed for it.

Around a corner, she nearly upended Mother’s meal on her uncle, who stared down the hall and looked at her. “Kindly explain what I see and why Lysa screamed ‘whore’,” he said.

“It was Petyr Baelish,” she said with calm and composure. “He kissed me despite the word ‘no’, and I slapped him. I’ve told him no for a moon.”

Blackfish sighed and shook his head. “Fostering the boy was a bad idea, Hoster,” he muttered and turned his attention back to her. “And your sister?”

She looked him in the eyes. “Believes I was teasing him and wanted it,” Sansa said. “I don’t; never did or will. He’s tried to catch me alone since I arrived.”

Uncle Brynden rolled his eyes and looked back down the hall.

Behind her, moving feet weakened; presumably the kitchen staff. They couldn’t have known, and in a typical situation she would have welcomed their help, but Sansa now had a way to rid herself of Petyr. This was likely the only time she didn’t want a rescue. Their presence alone might have prevented Petyr tonight had he had an audience to speak against him.

“Is that meal for my goodsister?” Uncle Brynden asked, to which she nodded. He handed her the tray. “Deliver the meal and be in the Lord’s solar in two hours,” he told Sansa. She gave a nod and left, leaving Petyr and Lysa behind. “Lysa, go to your bedchamber. Baelish, with me. The rest of you, scatter,” he reordered the chaos from this afternoon.

Chaos; Littlefinger said that when she’d watched the ships in King’s Landing.

His words held meaning to some degree, whether below or on the surface. One example was his comment on ‘growing strong’ after rescuing her. He’d been a part of Joffrey’s death and once the deed was done he had the Key to the North in his possession; her. At his holdings on the Fingers, he married Lysa and become Lord Protector of the Vale, and in all but title became the Warden of the East upon killing Lysa.

Everything he did lifted him higher in the ranks of Westeros. And in The Eyrie, Lysa talked about Littlefinger bedding her the night of Catelyn’s betrothal feast. Odds were he’d begun scheming to rise in Westeros around that time.

If her sister was deeply infatuated with Petyr now, it was clear she hadn’t acted fast enough in this life. Sansa’s actions were hard and fast tonight, hopefully, that was the sole reason for Lysa’s reaction. Her sister was young enough yet for there to be the hope of her attention turning to another; a betrothal mayhaps.

Sansa straightened her back; a kiss was nothing from what she had had to do to survive. Enduring a kiss was all she will endure now unless her life was at stake.

 

“With my wits and Cat’s beauty, the world will be yours, sweetling,” Littlefinger told her in the Vale.

 

As easy as it would be to dispose of Petyr the way Arya would have, Sansa couldn’t afford to. Trust from her family was the foundations of a stable second life. If she’s killed Petyr between arrival a moon ago and now by any means, she’d have lost the tenuous position here in Riverrun. The trust of House Tully was paramount and the priority; a matter she still dealt with.

Catelyn barely interacted with her beyond duty; Lysa was jealous concerning Petyr’s attention; Uncle Brynden was wary of her, and Father observed his newest daughter’s behaviour and abilities. She needed at least Father on her side, and according to Mother, he appreciated Sansa supporting his wife who was heavy with child.

Sansa entered Mother’s bedchambers who stirred in her sleep. Most likely disturbed by the smell of food Sansa carried. It was a shame she had to be woken after finally asleep for more than an hour.

“Mother,” Sansa whispered, tray on the bedside table. Mother stirred but remained asleep. On the stool and Mother’s hand in both of hers, Sansa thumbed the palm with a small amount of pressure. “I know you’re tired but you must wake. I’m sorry, Mother.”

This time Mother opened her brown eyes and blinked. “Sansa,” she said with a hand to her mouth. She sat within the sheets and Sansa tucked thick pillows behind her for support. “You wouldn’t wake me without a reason,” Mother said softly. She glanced at their hands and watched Sansa’s face. “You’re worrying me, sweetling. Show me your true self. What troubles you?”

“It’s Petyr. I’m concerned about Catelyn and Lysa,” Sansa said. Mother’s expression was one of listening without judgement. “I told him to leave me alone; to only talk because I don’t think of him romantically.” Mother’s expression changed to something more serious. “A guard told me he used to do exactly the same with Catelyn." The last was a partial lie; someone else was the source.

Mother encased Sansa’s hands within hers and led her to sit in the middle of the bed. “What’s happened, Sansa?” Mother urged. She wrapped an arm around Sansa. “Doubts about the family, yes, but not seriousness,” she remarked, her eyes turned protective. “What has Petyr done to my three girls, Sansa?”

“He forced a kiss on me although I said no,” she said. An overlong conversation with half-answers would worry Mother. "For a moon, Petyr’s pursued me. He used to try the same with Cat but never managed,” Sansa said. “And Lysa’s infatuated with him."

With a sigh, Mother ran a hand along Sansa’s arm. “Come here, Sansa,” she said. "It seemed like innocent play at the time. The hooked arms and brief hugs I witnessed.” She tucked a loose lock of Sansa’s hair behind her ear. “I never imagined he’d harass and assault a daughter of mine. Why didn’t you say something, sweetling? You turned him away for a moon?”

Sansa straightened up a little. “Would the words of you or Father have stopped him? He’s persistent and will circumvent any rules set to stop him.”

A hand ran along Sansa’s braid. Mother’s expression was deep sadness. “Petyr could have been sent away and out of your life, Sansa,” she said. When Mother swallowed something within her changed. “Am I the first you’ve told, sweetling?” Mother asked, gently wrapping her arms around Sansa again. “Are you hurt?”

Sansa leaned into the embrace and indulged in the warm safety. “When he kissed me, I slapped him. He wouldn’t listen to the word ‘No’,” Sansa explained, admitting her aggressiveness, Hopefully Mother won’t think less of her.

“And after?” Mother asked.

She spoke in a quiet tone. “Uncle Brynden came upon us in the hall when Lysa called me a whore. The situation was being dealt by him last I knew,” she said with her head on Mother’s shoulder. It was no crime to relish in the comfort she’d been long denied. Mother was the one person she dropped her guard around, and Mother might have deduced that.

She held Sansa close and rubbed her back for a while; the comfort from Mother lulling her into a relaxed state, Sansa admittedly could have fallen asleep.

“That boy will not remain in Riverrun,” Mother told her, drawing Sansa out of peaceful rest. “Your father won’t stand for it once your uncle tells him, and neither will I.” There was a peck to her temple. “And I’ll be having words with Lysa.”

Sansa lifted her head while wry amusement stirred within her; she met Mother’s eyes. “You might not have to,” she said, and the woman looked to her in silent question. “Uncle Brynden certainly heard and he’s arranged for a meeting in two hours.” Mother placed her hands on Sansa’s shoulders.

“The Lord’s solar?” Mother guessed.

She nodded. “Yes, but you need food and rest, Mother.”

Mother huffed and turned her head towards hers. “What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t go?” Mother asked rhetorically.

“One heavy with child and no doubt tired,” she said. “Surely Father and Uncle Brynden would be enough?”

Mother sighed, directed Sansa to rest against her shoulder and played with her auburn braid. “You’re a strong girl, Sansa. Taking the situation with your head held high-.”

“It’s not very high,” she said with a touch of mischief.

“-and making japes about it,” Mother said as though Sansa hadn’t interrupted. After a pause, she drew back and took a good look at Sansa. “I think that’s the first jape you’ve made here in Riverrun, aside from being in Prince Oberyn’s company,” she commented and traced Sansa’s cheek. Her hand fell to meet Sansa’s.

Sansa smiled. “It is.”

Mother laughed softly and gave Sansa’s forehead a peck. “You’re a wonder, Sansa. Tully and Whent for all to see and beneath you have something only I can name.”

“Strong and hard to break; steel,” Sansa murmured softly.

Mother squeezed her for a second. “Yes, Sansa, you’re a resilient girl to have withstood this for a moon.” There was a peaceful pause. “You will see a Stark, Sansa,” she murmured playing with the braid. Sansa’s lips parted, but Mother’s eyes had a glaze, so she didn’t interrupt. “It is said that Starks endured The Long Night with steel will. And you have that will.”

With a swallow, Sansa suppressed some of the emotions that arose. “That’s not something a person says lightly. The North considers it high praise,” she pointed out. “You think I’m truly worthy of such words, Mother?” Sansa asked.

“I know you’re worthy, Sansa Tully. Every day you spend in Riverrun you’re proving it.”

Sansa held back tears at the declaration. She brought forth her persona of Lady of Winterfell to keep them back. The mask she’d worn to protect herself at her worst and weakest moments. “Mother…,” she started. “Thank you.”

Mother leaned back and cupped Sansa’s face. “I know that expression, Sansa,” Mother scolded with a gentle look. “Don’t hide behind it. It’s alright to cry, sweetling. You can’t be steel all the time,” she told her daughter, encompassing her with a hug. “You and I know you’re steel, but you’re my daughter too. Let me be your mother.”

Chin tucked at the nape of Mother’s neck, Sansa wrapped her arms around Mother and closed her eyes. Her breathing slowed and Mother murmured sweet nothings into her ear.

 

CATELYN TULLY

In the Lady’s solar, Catelyn stood listening to deep breathing in the Lady’s bedchamber. She stepped closer to the open door of Mother’s bedchamber.

Mother was inside on the bed, the bastard embraced her arms as it wiped its eyes once. It assisted Mother to rise from the bed, and her supposed sister stool tall and met Mother’s eyes. “Mother…I love you.”

Catelyn witnessed her mother give the interloper a genuine smile as though the declaration was the most joyous thing. “Your eyes are no longer clouded when you say it,” Mother said and gave an affectionate embrace. “I love you too, my daughter.”

In the shadows, she watched Mother unravel the bastard’s braid and brushed the girl’s hair out until it shined. She saw the way Mother looked at the locks with a soft smile. Mother took up a small portion and made a thin braid on either side that met at the back. The rest of the vibrant hair hung free and fell past the bastard’s shoulders.

“That day in your father’s solar when you had your hair like this, the sunlight made it shine like molten copper,” Mother said, playing with a tress while she gazed at the looking glass over the girl’s shoulder with a smile. “Such a beautiful shade of red and the light only added to it; and your eyes, Tully blue. Your father said to me later ‘What else could she be but a Tully?’.”

Catelyn frowned. She glanced at her darker hair and continued to listen as Mother spoke.

“When I looked at your face properly for the first time, and something in my heart told me you were mine. There you were, standing proud like a lady and awaiting whatever outcome the meeting would give you. I had no name for the look of your eyes, but it was your steel will ready to face the world’s decision.”

She’s a bastard, Mother. Catelyn thought bitterly.

“And that same steel determination helped you rise above your obstacles. I am proud of you, Sansa. Like a trout to water, you’ve handled half of a Lady’s duties as well as care for Edmure. You are so easy to love, my girl.”

She shouldn’t be handling half of my duties in the first place! She wanted to shout in anger.

Catelyn cupped her elbows and went to a looking glass in the solar; it showed her own features. Tully colouring and the face of Mother.

“I hope Catelyn has that same steel beneath her skin as you do, Sansa,” her mother said from the bedchamber. Catelyn remained where she was by the desk and listened. “She’s going to need it.”

Grasp of the table, she resisted the urge to lash out at the ledgers she was forced to share with the bastard. The girl made it look like she’d had done it all her life. Catelyn was capable of her duties, but the bastard made her look like a novice.

“Why would you say so, Mother?” the girl’s voice asked.

Catelyn gave the answer her full attention. The girl had something she apparently lacked and she wanted to know.

“Catelyn’s going to be betrothed to a Stark soon,” Mother said. “Your father exchanged ravens with the Starks to betroth Catelyn to Brandon, and Lord Stark has agreed. I trust you can keep confidence about this, my daughter. Lady Lyarra Stark has reassured me Catelyn will be treated well in Winterfell."

That girl had no right to know what Catelyn’s future was and she shook with anger.

There was a minute or so of cutlery and the girl’s voice came from the bedchamber. “Mother,” she said hesitantly. “Catelyn…she doesn’t like change, and there are no septs in most of the North. Will she have to pray to the Old Gods?”

The eldest daughter of Minisa Tully bristled at the gall the girl had. To speak as though changing from the Faith of the Seven was as simple as changing dresses. It was an ill-begotten mockery and Catelyn wanted nothing more than the Seven to take this bastard away.

Out of sight, Catelyn scowled in the direction of the bedchamber and the pretty little girl that had enthralled all but Lysa and Uncle Brynden. However, Uncle Brynden was beginning to fall for her charms.

“Sansa, I know she hasn’t been kind to you. Much to my shame,” Mother said her voice contrite of what Catelyn had done. “If I was ever to request one thing of her, it would be that she made an effort to accept you. I want peace between my daughters; all three of you.”

The thought of making Mother feel she’d failed in raising her children made guilt run within Catelyn, but that was all she felt.

The baseborn sighed. “If Petyr stayed away from me there would be peace between Lysa and I. Catelyn, for the most part, pretends I don’t exist. But that is her decision. It’s not your fault.”

Cutlery clinked on a plate and Mother responded. “When you become a mother, Sansa, you will learn a mother believes the failings of her children are also her own.”

“Then I shall endeavour to make your wish a reality, but it may take time,” the bastard avowed.

“That’s the most I could ever ask of you, Sansa.” 

Catelyn grew irritated from the way Mother spoke to the girl, so she opened the solar door and made it sound like she was entering. “Mother? There’s been an incident between Petyr and Sansa,” she said, her teeth gritted when she said the girl’s name. Inside the bedchamber, the pair of them moved from the looking glass together; the candlelight made the girl’s pale skin stand out. “Father would like you to come to his solar soon.”

Mother met Catelyn’s eyes, who felt as though they were telling Mother something. Mayhaps she could see something bothered her eldest. “Thank you, Cat,” Mother said touching her cheek. “Is all well?”

“I’m perfectly fine, Mother,” she calmly said, forcing to keep her hurts out of her voice. Stepping aside for Mother, Catelyn followed behind the pair for the short distance to Father’s Solar. Strangely it was absent of Father and Uncle, but they wouldn’t be far away by now. The baseborn girl assisted Mother into her seat and received a peck on the cheek along with a quiet word.

The doting Mother gave the girl was ridiculous.

Taking her own seat, Catelyn watched the girl who’d come to Riverrun and uprooted everything for Catelyn since. She’d lost her friend to the bastard, fitting that the baseborn was the one he kissed. To Catelyn he was a friend and oftentimes he pined for the girl.

Mother gave her heart to the girl and Catelyn didn’t forget the way they’d spoken of love in Mother’s bedchamber. The duties Mother taught her were split with the bastard, who showed too much of a deft hand at them for her liking.

Beauty.

Wits.

Affection.

There was no end to it.

Catelyn caught herself from scowling in the presence of Mother and looked when the door opened. Entering the Lord’s solar was Lysa led by Father to the seating on Mother’s side of the solar while Uncle Brynden brought Petyr to an isolated seat in front of Father’s desk and with a hand resting on the back of Petyr’s chair.

Sweet little Sansa has made you into a pining fool, hasn’t she, Petyr? Catelyn grumbled in her mind.

“I expected better behaviour from you, Petyr Baelish,” Father said standing behind the desk. “Mischievous play with the girls is one thing, but to assault one of my daughters after she rejects repeatedly is unacceptable of a ward.”

Catelyn glanced at Sansa who watched Petyr.

Petyr made to speak. “Lord Tully-“

Father’s eyes narrowed. “You will speak when asked, boy. Interrupt again and I will turn you out of Riverrun tonight without a second thought,” he warned lowly.

“Yes, my Lord Tully.”

“Sansa,” Father called upon the bastard in a kinder tone. “Did you act in a manner to mislead Petyr Baelish to believe his affections were welcome?” 

Perfect little Sansa was seated like a practised lady. “No, Lord Father, I did not,” she denied. “I often took turns so our paths wouldn’t cross,” the bastard said.

“She slapped him hard enough,” Uncle Brynden muttered, hand gesturing to the clear handprint on Petyr’s cheek.

Little savage.

Mother stirred in her seat. “Hoster, I want the boy gone. He’s made too many advances on our children as it is.”

“No!” Lysa objected and rose. “Petyr did nothing wrong. She’s been fooling with his feelings,” her sister argued.

Father stared at Lysa until her anger simmered on the surface. “Sit down, Lysa, and control yourself,” he told her. “Your uncle has told me the contrary was witnessed by the kitchen servants.”   

Lysa sat down quietly out of respect for their father, but her sister was enraged by the direction this meeting was taking.

Catelyn was with her septa when the incident happened, and she wanted the friendship with Petyr, but if witnesses had told Father that the confrontation between Petyr and the girl had been less than welcome there was little chance that Father would allow for him to remain.

“My lady, could you elaborate on what you said?” Father asked, watching Mother look at her two daughters and the baseborn.

“It’s more than just Sansa, my husband,” Mother said with certainty. “From what I’ve been told tonight, Petyr has made attempts to approach Catelyn in a similar manner but failed.” Catelyn blinked and glanced at Lysa. Mother continued “All our girls will be better off without him here. Catelyn’s all but betrothed, and so will Sansa and Lysa in due time.”

One day Petyr had managed a brief kiss she pulled away from and left. With the exception of Lysa being present that day and deliberately kissing Petyr after, the three of them had been alone. Someone had to have watched for Mother to know about it.

Her father, with increased severity, stared at Petyr who appeared to be tempted to speak. “Baelish,” Father addressed. “To force yourself upon a girl, let alone my daughter, is intolerable. At dawn you will be escorted to your father’s keep in the Vale by a party of soldiers,” he told Catelyn’s friend with finality. “Keep your distance from my daughters in the future or there shall be consequences.”

 

SANSA STARK

Day 17, 11th Moon, 275 AC

From the battlements, Sansa watched a small contingent of mounted men, surrounding Petyr Baelish, spur their horses. It was relief at the sight of him leaving Riverrun, but also a concern. Going against the old adage of ‘Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’ made her fret about what alternate scheme Baelish could brew.

He had been a mastermind in her last life and influenced Westeros from the shadows, stirring trouble to his benefit. If he was Littlefinger he'd embed himself into the lives of the Waynwoods in some way. However, House Baelish was a minor House.

From what she observed over the past moon, Lysa’s affections was fancy for Petyr compared to her obsession in The Eyrie. All Sansa could do was hope Petyr leaving at seven instead of fifteen would make enough of a difference. If Lysa received attention from another young lord, Petyr mayhaps yet become a faint girlhood memory.

Although leaving now, Petyr had been present when she first arrived and there was a chance Petyr deduced her story and identity as falsehoods. If he knew, it could be used against her when he needed to manipulate a situation in the future.

Little time had passed to give the story of Sansa any chance to grow and take root. It must be perceived as nothing but the truth by the people of Westeros. She needed stability. Until then, she would commit to presenting herself as a trueborn and indisputable Tully.

Sansa turned away and walked along the battlements to enjoy the cool wind on her face. It hardly compared to the winds of the North, but it was the closest she imagined herself receiving any time soon. When she blinked the wind was colder but it was brief.

With Petyr’s presence removed from House Tully, he would have difficulty gaining a foothold in Westeros for some time. He and his ambition of the Iron Throne would be without help unless he got involved in an advantageous family in the Vale.

Last night Father told her how Petyr became a ward of House Tully; through the friendship of men who’d fought together in the War of the Ninepenny Kings. For a minor House like House Baelish, being raised in Riverrun was a large societal leap and garnered at least mentions amongst the Great Houses and court.

But Petyr was on the way to the Vale and Sansa didn’t take Father for a fool. He would’ve sent word of the situation to Lord Jon so he will permit Tully soldiers to traverse the Vale.

Anyone who learnt the story of what happened in Riverrun would develop distrust toward Petyr, thus staining his reputation in at least the Vale until he was older. The same could be said for matters of growing influence; he would have betters odds in a few years.

Atop the western drawbridge, Sansa stared out towards River Road that continued southwest to Casterly Rock and Lannisport. Oberyn had taken that road and she was waiting to see him again one day. His company was one that she missed, to her surprise. Wits and intellect combined with japes was a scarce mixture found in the hearts of good men.

Hopefully, he would return Needle to her one day. It was aboard his ship in the east to her knowledge, but with Mother so close to having a new babe Sansa couldn’t afford to leave temporarily. To leave at all wasn’t in her interest either as a Tully. An absence so soon would make her story more questionable.

“Sansa,” said Father’s voice. She turned and dipped her head. Eyes upon him again, there was an expression of regret on her father. “I’m sorry you felt alone concerning Petyr Baelish. Why didn’t you tell anyone?”

The question was straightforward and easy to answer. “Father, I was in a difficult position. Petyr began the day I arrived here,” she said, meeting his eyes. “My place within the family was tenuous at best. Had I said anything within the first sennight, I doubt it would have resulted in anything good,” Sansa defended with logic. “Who would have been believed? The newcomer or the favoured ward?” she gently pointed out.

Hoster Tully grimaced at the reasoning and nodded his head. “No one can argue that, Sansa,” he agreed but not happy. “But the next time something like this happens I want you to come to me,” Father said and she nodded. “Unexplainable as your presence is, I consider you a daughter.” He hesitated and she watched him place a hand on her shoulder. “I don’t want you fighting battles alone.”

Sansa gave a small smile and looked at his eyes. “I understand. Should it happen again I will tell you,” she said, observing his expression to understand the depth of the relationship between them.

Father seemed to be accepting her into the fold of his family. Any further after only a moon would have baffled Sansa. Tending to the Mother’s needs and Edmure must have sown some trust towards her within Father.

She tested the waters with a safe jape. “And Father? Whatever do you mean ‘unexplainable presence’? I was raised in Harrenhal until now.”

The man had a wry smile. “Indeed you were,” he murmured and looked out towards River Road. “You have a good head on your shoulders, Sansa. And worry not about Lord Whent. He agreed to the story two sennights ago.”

“Surely he needed proof for your request?” Sansa prodded.

Father turned to her and gestured towards the godswood. “He saw you walking Edmure while he was in the company of myself and your sisters. Lord Whent understood my decision and your mother's words no doubt played a role,” he said and half turned towards a castle entrance with an expectant look.

She followed him indoors and Sansa caught up to his side. “Thank you, Father.”

“You’re welcome, Sansa. I shall see you at the midday meal unless there was anything you need to discuss?” he asked, outside his solar door.

With a grateful smile, she shook her head and declined. “All is well, Father. I best retrieve Mother’s breaking of fast from the kitchens.”

“Very well then, daughter,” Father said and entered his solar to sit at the desk. There was a clutter of parchments and he took one from the pile.

Taking her leave, Sansa retrieved Mother’s meal from the kitchens and made for the Lady’s bedchamber. On her way to deliver it, there was Catelyn watching her with a bitter look but Sansa ignored it. Instead, she recalled her promise to Mother last night.

“Good morrow, Catelyn,” she said, gazing at Cat to gauge her response.

Dead silence.

She continued on and sighed, a little disappointed. At least she had tried meeting Catelyn halfway. Sansa entered the Lady’s solar and Mother’s bedchamber. Inside, Mother was sleeping so Sansa placed the tray on the small table which stood on the opposite side of the bed.

Sansa approached Mother’s side and gave her a feather-light kiss on the cheek. Mother needed the sleep so she left her in peace. Closing the door of the bedchamber and the Lady’s solar as she went; Sansa proceeded down towards Edmure’s nursery. The boy would need to move to a bedchamber soon.

“Lady Sansa,” Maester Kym called out while she turned a corner.

Coming to a stop, she faced him and he approached her with a sealed letter in his hand. "Yes, Maester Kym?” she said. She observed him for clues on what this was about.

“A letter for you, my lady,” he said holding it out.

Sansa accepted the letter and turned it over. It wasn’t Lannister red wax or Arryn blue; not that Petyr could possibly be there yet since he departed Riverrun this morning. She looked to the maester. “Thank you, Maester Kym. Could you tell me who sent it?” she asked, having neglected to take a proper look.

The maester shook his head. “Not who, my lady, but where,” he said. “It came from Winterfell.”

She lifted her thumb and had to stifle the gasp. Grey wax with the sigil of a direwolf. “The Starks? What interest would they have in me?” she said more to herself than the maester.

“I do not know, my lady.”

She met the maester’s eyes and nodded. “Thank you, Maester Kym.” He dipped his head to her and took his leave. Going to a quiet alcove of Riverrun, Sansa broke the wax and read.

 

Lady Sansa Tully,

It brings relief to a mother when all her children are safe and healthy.

Upon your father’s missive sharing the news of your return from Harrenhal, I felt I should write to congratulate you for defeating the odds of illness that kept you from your mother, Lady Minisa, for most of your girlhood. Although I myself never lost a child to illness in the North, it is harsh here in winter and not every babe survives the cold. You survived a long battle of your own and I wish you every happiness now that you’re with your family once more.

As you read this, I am venturing south to Riverrun to meet my future gooddaughter, your sister, Lady Catelyn.

May all be well for House Tully.

Lady Lyarra Stark

Lady of Winterfell

 

Sansa smiled.

Chapter Text

ARTHUR DAYNE

Day 24, 11th Moon, 275 AC

Finally in King's Landing, Arthur lingered within a hall that overlooked one of the training yards of The Red Keep. This one was allocated to the knights of the Kingsguard who honed their skills here.

His feet were fixed to the floor by their own doing. Below, Sers Gerold Hightower and Barristan Selmy sparred in plate armour and he could only watch on.

Their strikes and parries were sure. Each sequence was different from the last. The two knights did more than clash swords or glancing off the armour. The men wove out of the way of their opponent’s blade with ease alike to breathing. The speed and ferocity were beguiling of their ages.

They, like him, were regarded as true knights of Westeros; men unfailing of justice, humility, compassion and integrity. From the current knights of Westeros, there were three true knights. And all three were within a stone’s throw of each other.

He leaned on the window sill and remained there. The two below were men of high calibre; acts of valour and years of experience, both of which he lacked. He had far, very far, to go to ever become such a man as them.

It would have been one of the greatest honours had he squired for either true knight; especially Ser Barristan.

As Lord Commander of King Jaehaerys II’s Kingsguard, Ser Gerold Hightower directed the royal army during the War of the Ninepenny Kings, after the Hand of the King had fallen. Ser Gerold had served in the Kingsguard as far back as King Aegon V. Grandfather of the current king. Although his years of service were long, he was still ‘The White Bull’ and it showed in fierce swordsmanship.

Ser Barristan Selmy, before joining the Kingsguard, fought in the War of the Ninepenny Kings and slew Maelys I Blackfyre in single combat. That act ended the Blackfyre Pretenders; Iron Throne claimants had brought Westeros bloodshed and suffering five times. Ser Barristan Selmy had put an end to it and all of Westeros knew his name. At twenty-three, he was accepted into Jaehaerys II’s Kingsguard by Ser Gerold. The knight was thirty-nine now.

Arthur turned at the carrying conversations of ladies, and in the halls was Prince Rhaegar Targaryen in black armour, flanked by a man with fiery hair. There’d yet to be a session of court, but a glance was all he needed; silver-blond hair and indigo eyes. Exaggerated comparisons reached his ears often enough at Dornish tourneys.

Unless Lord Lucerys Velaryon had a son of roughly sixteen, it was indeed Prince Rhaegar. Not to mention the two aged members of the Kingsguard on his tail.

Towards him, the prince walked and came to a stop beside him. “I’ve heard things. Dawn is strapped to your back, I see. Come. Humour me with a spar, Ser Arthur.”

He gave a bow of his head, but the suggested spar could cost him that head. “It’s a pleasure to meet, My Prince. Mayhaps with sparring blades?” he suggested. “His Grace would not take kindly should I harm his only heir, Prince Rhaegar. I pray you to understand,” he said, employing what Father taught him about court life. Outright refusal wouldn’t help him here.

Prince Rhaegar turned his gaze to the window and Arthur caught a glimpse of disappointment. “Well reasoned,” he said and turned back to him. “We shall meet in the yard. My squire, Jon, will assist you with your armour, as I have no such need.”

Doing it himself was part of learning humility, but agreeing to the squire’s help should ease matters with the prince. “Thank you, My Prince.”

Prince Rhaegar left with a nod and made for the training yard.

On Jon and Arthur’s way to the guest bedchamber, two Martells donned in the hot red and orange of their House were walking in the opposite direction. Elia and her uncle, Prince Lewyn, side by side and in deep conversation. “-choose me to come to King’s Landing instead of your brother?” Prince Lewyn spoke in question. “Doran is the future ruling prince of Dorne. Obtaining favour with King Aerys would be to his benefit.”

Both seemed oblivious that Arthur and Jon were nearby. Elia turned her head to a window. “I don’t want to be near Doran any more than I have to,” she seriously said and turned back to her uncle. “Besides, the rest of Westeros looks down upon Dorne. The king would have no interest in us. And Mellario’s having her babe soon; she would want Doran there.”

Arthur discreetly loosened his dagger belt. It fell to the stone floor and clanged, echoing in the halls. The conversation between the Martells stopped but their steps continued. Knelt down to pick it up, he stole a glance towards Elia and her eyes were on him; gratitude on her face.

She approached while he belted the dagger back on and stopped with her uncle beside her. “Good afternoon, Ser Arthur, and…I’m sorry, ser, I’m afraid we haven’t met.”

The redhead puffed with pride. “I’m Prince Rhaegar’s squire; Lord Jon Connington,” Arthur’s companion said. “I’ll be Lord of Griffin’s Roost after my father, my lady.”

Elia had a circlet on her head and the looks of a Salty Dornish; it wasn’t difficult to guess. The lack of addressing her properly got on Arthur’s nerves and he rectified it with manners. “This is Princess Elia Martell, and her uncle, Prince Lewyn Martell. The ruling House of Dorne,” he introduced politely, refraining from emphasising the titles of ‘Prince’ and ‘Princess’ with any inflection.

Jon Connington all but ignored the Martells upon giving a nod in the direction of each. Instead of showing respect and lifting Elia’s hand as a lord would a lady or princess, the lordling pretended nothing was wrong. “I’m to prepare Ser Arthur for a spar against Prince Rhaegar. We’re expected soon,” he said, lacking a reaction to Arthur’s prompting.

Turning the squire away would relieve Arthur of the arrogant sixteen-year-old Stormlander, but he had to see this through. Peace in The Red Keep demanded it. The door to his bedchamber was close, but he didn’t waste the opportunity before him. “Prince Lewyn,” was followed by a bowed head. “Princess Elia,” he said, lifting her knuckles to his lips and looked her in the eyes.

A smile played on her lips. “Lord Dayne seeks you, Ser Arthur. I shall let him know where to find you. Good day.” Elia and her uncle left and turned a corner, their voices no longer bouncing off the walls as before.

Inside his bedchamber, Arthur retrieved the plate armour and proceeded to change out of the Dornish clothes as Prince Lewyn had worn. Shrugging on a tunic and chainmail, he began with his plate armour while the squire was slow with the straps and buckles. The extra set of hands was helpful, but the lingering near his neck and shoulders didn’t seem right. However, he pushed the matter aside.

Jon Connington passed him the helm when there was a hurried knock. “Thank you,” he said and turned to the door. “Come in.” It opened and his brother entered the chamber. He had a neutral expression. Arthur needed no prompting and looked at Jon Connington “Could you inform Prince Rhaegar I won’t be far behind?” he asked, curious what Alijah had to say privately.

The squire took a step towards the door and gave a nod, leaving without a word.

Alijah watched him go, scowling at Connington’s back. “Would it kill you to greet a Dornishman, you arrogant pig?” he muttered when the door closed. “Arthur,” he said and took a step closer. “Don’t show your full ability in this spar. Trust me, brother, match the prince but don’t beat him. Wear him out.”

“Alijah. I had no intention of besting him with force.”

His brother took a seat while Arthur leaned against the wall. “I’m watching your back, brother. Promise you will hide your prowess in King’s Landing,” he asked his body tense. “I’ve gathered that two of the Kingsguard might as well be temporary placeholders these days. They won’t live long. Their Lord Commander will seek potential replacements.”

Pushing off the wall, Arthur approached his brother. “Throwing away a good future is the last thing I want. I have no intention of joining.”

“I know.” Alijah rose and gripped Arthur’s shoulders. “The king can appoint men, willing or not, to the Kingsguard. You will be bound for life. There is no leaving. Gain the king’s or Kingsguard’s attention and you can say goodbye to your wants, brother. Don’t show your full skill in King’s Landing.”

Arthur gripped one of Alijah’s arms. “You have my word,” Arthur swore. Alijah released a breath and closed his eyes. The weight of Dawn increased although nothing had changed. He made to take off the straps of its scabbard, but a hand stayed his. “Alijah?”

“If you stop carrying a greatsword there could be questions. Have you drawn Dawn at all, Arthur?” he asked. “It was sheathed on your back at the port this morning.”

“No,” he said, meeting Alijah’s eyes. “But Prince Rhaegar recognised Dawn in the company of Jon Connington. Mayhaps some of the blade showed. He wanted me to spar with it.” He applied pressure to the hilt and there was a small metallic scrape. It hadn’t been sheathed properly.

Alijah’s face contorted and he was the embodiment of frustration. “Fuck. There’s no swapping Dawn now. If many of the Kingsguard weren’t so old there wouldn’t be a problem. The prince and his squire know you have Dawn. Rumours will spread. Seven Hells…” His brother rubbed his temples.

All of this talk had to have taken time and sane people don’t keep Targaryen royalty waiting. “I have to go unless you have ideas? Switching to a regular greatsword was mine too.”

“I don’t, but be scarce after the spar,” Alijah said, head tilted to the discarded robe. “Thank the gods you were in a plain robe earlier. Your formal one is not easy to forget.”

He gave Alijah a sure nod. “There’s that.”

“And pull your punches, brother.”

“I will.”

Tarrying any further would annoy the prince if he was a decent man, or anger him if he had a hidden temper. A firm nod to his brother, Arthur left the bedchamber for the yard where Prince Rhaegar likely awaited him.

The closer he got to the training yard, the more people were nearby. Some stood where he’d watched Ser Gerold Hightower and Ser Barristan Selmy earlier; and his first encounter with Prince Rhaegar. Tension built in his shoulders. Courtiers whispered and dread grew in the pit of his stomach. He’d fought in melees with no trouble, but required to hold back was new.

There would be at least one member of the Kingsguard overseeing the spar to ensure Prince Rhaegar’s safety. If their attention was fixated on Arthur for too long they’d deduce what he intended to do. A decent swordsman can spot when their opponent was toying with them, and the seven of the Kingsguard were said to be the best. They would work it out if he didn’t dull his technique well enough.

Two Martells donned in their House colours were heading his way. Elia made eye contact and hurried ahead of her uncle. “Arthur, there’s something you need to know,” she said and joined him. Lifting herself using his shoulder, Elia pecked him on the cheek. “For luck,” she whispered. “Word has it the heir is sparring with live steel. I think he wants you to use Dawn.”

He closed his eyes and exhaled. Shit, he’s trying to manipulate the matter, he thought. With a breath and opening his eyes, Arthur forced himself to relax. “He originally wanted me to. It doesn’t mean I must. Thank you, Elia,” he said and tucked a loose strand behind her ear. “I must go on ahead. The longer he waits the longer the idea will settle in his head.”

Elia gave a small smile and stepped back, which gave him a clear path. “Be careful,” she wished, Prince Lewyn in Martell colours behind her gave a nod.

“Always.”

The further he got to the training yard, the more lined with people the windows were. He kept from glancing outside. Pictures of a melee filled his mind, and he welcomed them. It was a good means to centre himself and enter the right mindset. This was a spar like any other, the opponent confident in himself and yearning for victory.

In the training yard, he ignored the people intent on watching. Ahead was Prince Rhaegar, Jon Connington flanking him but occasionally distracted. The two knights he’d watched spar, Ser Gerold and Ser Barristan Selmy were present along with the rest of the Kingsguard.

All seven were here, which meant King Aerys was here. It was standard that a king was never without a Kingsguard knight to protect him. Either King Aerys had an agenda concerning the spar or Prince Rhaegar was that confident and wanted to publicly best him.

Inside the armoury, he retrieved a sparring greatsword and was stopped from leaving when Alijah came in. “Pass me Dawn. You can’t spar properly with it on your back. It’s the height of a man.” He cooperated and unbuckled the strap when the weight of Dawn left his right shoulder. “And Arthur, there’s animosity between father and son. If King Aerys demands your best or with Dawn…,“ he said, trailing off.

“Then I must,” Arthur finished. He met Alijah’s eye. “What in the Seven Hells is he doing here?”

Alijah had Dawn in hand and propped its sheath against the wall. “I wish I knew, brother.”

He tested the weight distribution of his sparring sword. It was decent, but a more poorly distributed one would make his efforts look more genuine. The fourth one he tried satisfied him. A nod from his brother said it all and he made his way out to the yard where stood Prince Rhaegar.

Lifting his sword was unpleasant and when Prince Rhaegar did the same the edge of the prince’s was indeed sharp. “No Dawn? Do you not wish to use it?” Prince Rhaegar asked, mirroring Arthur getting into position.

“I’m rather fond of my head,” Arthur replied and reacted to the prince’s eyes moving to his left. Eyes said everything, not the sword.

A clang and he countered.

He retreated while vibration rang through his wrists. The prince’s eyes stayed on his.

Thrust, parry, block. The edged shine was reminding.

Arthur jumped, sword whistling below him.

He stayed his ground. Metal and harsh breath were all. He mirrored the prince’s technique.

“Get on with it! We don’t have all afternoon!” the king called out.

Dread washed through him and he rushed the prince.

Shoulders crashed when he spun.

Crossguard against crossguard, he shoved the live sword from the prince’s grasp.

Metal thudded on stone. Steel weighed in his hand.

He darted and blocked the way to the sword.

Arthur bowed his head to Prince Rhaegar. “A fruitful wager on my part,” he quietly said. “Well fought, Prince Rhaegar.”

“Ser Arthur,” the prince replied and retrieved the fallen sword. Rhaegar Targaryen left without a word. With a straight spine, he witnessed the king smirk towards Prince Rhaegar; apprehension trickled down his back.

The opportunity to leave was grasped and he exchanged the sparring sword for Dawn within the armoury; his brother in its threshold. Alijah led the way from the training yard and he followed. The lack of King Aerys commanding Arthur’s presence was peculiar, but the sooner he was out of sight and forgotten the better.

Through halls and deep into the trees of the godswood, he followed his brother until the stench of King’s Landing was weak. This far in ought to conceal them from prying eyes. He sat on a boulder’s edge and met his brother’s gaze. “I had to end it. With the king there, I didn’t know what could happen,” he said. “You’ve seen me spar thousands of times. How much did I give away about myself?”

Alijah gave a quick smile. “Not much. You mirrored the prince and made what seemed like a desperate move. What you did was the best you could in the situation,” Alijah said and sat beside Arthur, unbuckling the armour. “An impatient king is nothing to test your luck with.”

The removal of armour gave way to cool wind. “I know, but I can’t hide away for the rest of our visit.”

A sigh was beside him. “Look, stay here while I find out about the court. It was a quick fight. Gossip about the prince’s defeat needs a chance to die down. I don’t know how common his defeats are, but you roaming The Red Keep won’t help. It’s afternoon already. Explore or something here. I’ll find you later.”

Coming to King’s Landing to make a quick appearance as The Sword of the Morning during a session of court in the Throne Room was turning into stress and nothing but.

 

ELIA MARTELL

Elia attempted to ignore the stench of King’s Landing, especially the streets where she and her uncle walked. The pungency of shit was everywhere, including The Red Keep. There was no escaping it. How people of the court slept with it reaching their bedchambers were beyond her. She would struggle tonight, as would Arthur, Alijah, and her Uncle Lewyn.

Within her hands was a bag of scented candles purchased on the way here. Whether they would help the four of them sleep tonight remained to be seen. She doubted her chances.

An intersection of streets neared and she anticipated returning to The Red Keep. But Uncle Lewyn took a wrong turn. “Uncle? Do you mean to return to The Red Keep?” she asked, gaze upon the pale red stone standing tall near the coast.

He glanced her way and shook his head. “I want a reprieve from the smell. You likely do as well. Blackwater Bay is said to be better than The Red Keep,” he said and led the way east to the tied boats and gave several coppers to the assumed owner. “The Dayne brothers were quick to become scarce after the spar.”

After her uncle, Elia climbed into the boat while he took up the oars. “It didn’t seem like Arthur wanted to spar. He had that worried look about himself when we found him again,” she said, gazing at the rock edge of Aegon’s High Hill.

“And he should be,” Uncle Lewyn said, water sloshing when Uncle Lewyn’s laboured breath quickened. She snapped her eyes to his and he slowed the oars. “Think about it. Hightower is what? Sixty? Seventy? Harlan Grandison seems to have his days numbered. I’d wager another two aren’t far from it either. Whent’s younger but only just; mid-fifties.  Selmy is thirty-nine. Gaunt is early thirties. That’s an old Kingsguard on average, Niece.”

Air was stolen from her and she gripped the wooden edge. Jagged rock smoothed when they entered the bay from the river. The eastern side of The Red Keep’s walls ran along the cliff. Movement shone in several places.

“Understand why he’s worried?” her uncle asked.

She swallowed although her throat was tight. “Yes. It makes sense. I should have realised, Uncle. I’m sorry,” she said demurely.

“Don’t you do that, Elia Nymeros Martell.” The boat slowed and Uncle Lewyn put the oars down. “You were distracted and I wasn’t deaf to how those ladies spoke to you. They dealt cruel falsehoods.” He took her hands and she met his fierce gaze. “Slender and olive skin doesn’t make you unattractive. Different: yes. Ugly: no. Understood?”

His eyes softened and Elia nodded. “If I hear something enough and it’s hard not to believe it.”

Uncle Lewyn sighed and gave her hands a squeeze. “Jealous women, insecure women, will say what they must to make themselves feel superior. The same horseshit happened with your mother. Neither of you two are ugly. You have the traits of the Rhoynar, those ladies do not. Different scares them because different draws attention. Didn’t you see the men?”

A wave within her mind washed over her and she shook her head.

Uncle Lewyn smiled and took up the oars. “I watched over you, and you, Elia, drew men’s eyes. Some eyes lingered with appreciation. That is no lie.”

A smile crept onto her face and her head was a little higher. He gave her a nod and leaned back each time he pulled the oars. The rocking lessened and she relaxed, grip off the side of the boat. “That comforts me greatly, but I must ask. Where are we going?”

“Where the smell is easiest to bear. Just beyond where it first struck me,” he said with a sly smile on his face much like Oberyn when up to mischief. He’d taught Oberyn how to fight. It was too long since she’s seen her brother, but at least he was back in Westeros. The dress he’d sent ahead on his ship was something she’d wished to profusely thank him for. She was wearing it; the style was flattering.

He brought them to shore, rocks and treeline concealing the location. However, their boat wasn’t the only one. Inside the other was translucent silk; a Dornish dress. Elia faced her uncle. “What’s going on? That dress looks like Freya’s. Your paramour's.”

He grinned. “That’s because it is.”

Elia blinked but shook her head. “I should have known that business about unable to cope with the smell and an inn outside King’s Landing was nonsense.”

Uncle Lewyn laughed and pulled the boat onto the sand.

“Lover?” asked Freya’s voice with an echo from the left. “Is that you?”

“Aye!” he called out and turned to Elia. “She hates the smell, that’s true, but struggling and the inn were horseshit.” He threw the anchor onto the sand. “Sound like she’s found a perfect campsite. The smell is weak here.”

Elia glanced at the dress and went right with her uncle’s knife strapped on her hip. She would avoid the left for now. “I’ll take a look around, Uncle,” she said from the far side of the shore. There was a chuckle from her uncle and Elia went on. She’d rather have some distance between her and the probable cave.

The sunlight was weak and the sky getting dark when they’d reached the shore, but since then she’d ventured and found a path of rock and followed it up. Up was to The Red Keep, there was no other possible result, but she was surrounded by trees. At the top was a closed metal gate to The Red Keep, but she wanted to avoid alerting any guards. Going back down, there was a similar pathway that sloped the other way from which she’d come.  

At the bottom of it was a flat floor of stone and mortar, with a short drop into the water from stone that could be used as comfortable seating. The last time she’d had a swim was long ago and there was a chance to enjoy the water once more. A glance showed nothing new in the failing light and she sat down and listened. The rustle of leaves and the ripple of water was all there was.

She was alone, armed, and in darkness. If she needed to scream, her uncle would hear. However, proceeding without at least telling him was foolish so she made quick work of returning to let him know from the mouth of Freya’s cave.

“Alright, Elia," he said. "I’ll be closer than you think, but strap on my knife.”

On the flat floor of stone and mortar, she listened to her surroundings but it was the same as before. Swimming in a dress was asking for trouble and this was Oberyn’s gift. With Uncle Lewyn’s knife and strap on the edging, she shed everything but her smallclothes. Her efforts into the water were slow because anything below the black surface was invisible at night. Rock, vegetation, possibly lost possessions; it was unlikely she was the first to swim here.

The cold water shocked her body, but minutes later and it became pleasant. Retrieving the knife, Elia strapped it onto her arm and relaxed within the ebb and flow of the sea. The water dribbled down her shoulders and arms. Over her shoulder, the stone floor was further away than anticipated. The sea had pulled her quite the distance and the ends of two rowboats were further away than she would have guessed.

She swam with a stroke which made noise if her feet broke the surface by accident, but otherwise, she was silent. The closer she got and squinted, there was a silhouette where a chink of metal came from. Wary, she changed direction towards her uncle’s boat and hid behind jutting rock. She remained still and watchful, but the moonlight on silver disappeared.

Swimming the remaining distance to Freya’s cave, Elia stayed hidden and the silver reappeared. Firelight shone on the person’s face and it was Uncle Lewyn, the scabbard on his swordbelt shining while he came down the pathway.

She abandoned the worry and turned around to go back. It had taken a few minutes to swim away when hurrying. Her kicks at ease this time while the ebb and flow of waves were alone, except for the leaves of trees. There was a way to go and exhaustion wasn’t a choice.

A short distance remained, but the rhythm of the water was disturbed for a moment. She grabbed an edge of the rock and kept still, searching the water’s surface for clues of where or what it was. A suit of armour was walking away up to The Red Keep on the rock pathway with a torch in one hand. No one would jump into the sea wearing chainmail and a suit of armour. Throwing something away was more likely.

The armoured man and his torch were gone, so Elia slowly returning to the stone surface. There was something drifting out to sea; flowers. With a slow exhale, she leaned against the low stone wall and counted the slowing beats of her heart. There was a rocky perch beneath the water and she sat there, hidden while the waves ran over her skin. The water further out was rippled like a messed bedsheets in the moonlight.

The sea was peaceful and calm; almost a sentient being that ran along her skin with every wave. A small tugged on her lips in the silence.

A series of light splashes broke through and she snapped her eyes open. In the dark, she grasped the knife’s wet hilt and kept still. Movement draws attention. Her eyes followed the noise and someone, a man, dove out to deeper water from where she’d climbed in before. She stayed where she was. Leaving before they had a chance to go further out would give away her presence.

A head emerged a fair way out and their hair was a pale colour. Regardless, Elia checked the pathway. Empty. She pulled herself out and huddled near her dress but paused when silver caught her eye; it was on the stone floor. A scabbard that was the length of a man. She stole a glance out to sea and they were still going further. Footsteps on the rock. There was no time and she lowered herself back into the sea.

Safety was taken behind a corner but she refused to peek. It could get her caught. A discarded dress is easily dismissed as a tryst earlier in the day. The steps stopped near the middle of the floor. “Hmm, who do you belong to?” a man mumbled. Metal scratched metal followed by a chuckle; her uncle’s chuckle. “Ah. I won’t interrupt then.” The leather steps retreated and were gone.

An itch to find out stirred and Elia swam towards the way out. The sword hadn’t been sheathed again and the blade was milk-white. There was a complete set of male clothes here. She glanced at her dress; it was Dornish, but in a bundle that didn’t give it away.

Splashes neared and she hurried to the corner and lowered herself into the water to think privately. There was some time for dressing and she was in a near-perfect place where she could think things through. She hadn’t planned for this. Leaving without a word could give him the wrong idea. Close family had caused this man grief and self-doubt with their interfering plot; she won’t cause more. He didn’t deserve it.

Her heart quick but mind clear, Elia relaxed in her little alcove. If her instincts told her to think instead of fleeing, then there was nothing to fear. Heart fluttering, Elia emerged from the alcove and sat on the underwater rock perch. A head of silver was swimming back and she took a breath. She’d fussed over a falling dress near him, but Arthur was a decent man and had helped her without exploiting the matter.

A lady from any kingdom other than Dorne would be horrified by what Elia was doing. If she ever needed to argue about it, she had a knife and the pitch black sea was covering her. That wouldn’t satisfy most women, but Dorne was less frigid when it came to skin; Dorne's heat was testing at times. The result was more brazen behaviour in typical ladies of her kingdom.

Nerves gathered in her belly the closer he swam back, but she did her best to ignore them. He took a breath and stopped when those eyes landed on her, his mouth slack. “Elia?”

“Hello, Arthur,” she said, his stop making the water ripple around her shoulders. With a push off the rock, she kept herself afloat with her hands. “I had no idea who you were at first.”

He blinked. “How long…? That dress-”

“Is mine,” she finished with a nod. “My uncle knows I’m here. And that you are too. He knows I’m safe,” Elia explained and found a place where she could touch the seabed with her feet. “Freya’s camping in a cave nearby. Does anyone know you’re out here?”

He nodded and followed her example on the seabed; a key was sitting against the hollow of his neck while water trickled down his chest. “A guard gave me a key for the gate, but that’s it,” Arthur said, casting a glance in the direction of the rock path. “He got fed up watching me pace in the godswood. Alijah asked me to stay out of sight while he finds out if I got too much attention in that spar.”

Elia removed the knife from her arm and set it on the low wall. “Many of the Kingsguard are becoming rather old. It makes sense that he worries.” She rested a hand on his shoulders. “Neither of us wants that for you. You don’t want it either.”

Arthur shook his head and stroked her cheek with his thumb. “I don’t,” he murmured and calloused fingers ran behind her ear. She leaned into it, skin sparking beneath his touch making her sigh.

Her hands curled where they were spread on his shoulders. Lifting her eyes to his, she bit his bottom lip and let go, pulling away but didn’t get far. It was smooth, languid and gentle. She cupped his cheek to tilt it just right. Hands were buried in her hair. A hum escaped her and Elia's eyes slid shut; falling into a deep and dizzying abyss. Nothing else mattered. His chest was a steady support; a firmness beneath her touch. She caught her breath and strong fingers left a hot trail on her neck that stopped at the base. There was a peck on her nose which made her blink.

Arthur tucked a wet strand behind her ear. He had a soft smile. “I may be Dornish, but I had to stop,"  he said and stepped back. "I don't want to push you, Elia."

It was sweet and she rested a hand on his cheek. A kiss here and like that was more than her imagination had conjured; she'd taken an impulsive leap of faith. "Thank you," she murmured and settled against him. Slow arms wrapped around her in the dark night.

Chapter Text

RHAEGAR TARGARYEN

Day 25, 11th Moon, 275 AC

Within the Tower of the Hand, The Promised Prince instructed Jon to fulfil the duties required of squires. When the door closed, he was alone with Lord Tywin Lannister; the Hand of the King, who was stern as usual. The man’s possessions were packed beneath a window. He was to leave today for Casterly Rock.

Seated at the desk, the Hand poured wax onto parchment and pressed a seal upon it. “Arthur Dayne toyed with you yesterday. In the War of the Ninepenny Kings, those who failed to spot it died,” Lord Tywin said, setting the press aside. “Your public defeat came with a cost, court influence. What did you seek to gain, Prince Rhaegar?”

The Promised Prince approached the other window and stared. The morning sun gave a clear view of the bay and gardens from here. Silver drew his eye to the gardens. A red bloom was tucked into dark hair, flowing fabric beneath. He turned and faced Lord Tywin within the tidy solar. “A measure of the man, Lord Tywin. If my mother’s babe survives, will he toy with me at your tourney?”

“No,” he said with resolute. “The Sword of the Morning is the legacy of House Dayne,” Lord Tywin said, rising from his seat. “It’s a hard-earned but prestigious title. He will not shame it and discredit his predecessors,” he explained and tidied his desk. A scowl crept onto the man’s face. “Unless they bestow their sword upon any Dayne these days.” Rare swords were a sore matter with the Lord of House Lannister.

The Valyrian steel sword, Brightroar, of House Lannister was lost before Aegon’s Conquest, and all attempts of purchasing from another House were rebuked. Ownership was a grand source of pride. The crafting process of such swords became unknown after the Doom of Valyria centuries ago; a mystery of magic and steel.

The Promised Prince nodded. “Much appreciated, Lord Hand. Will you be present for court?” he asked.

“Naturally, and I will depart afterwards. Is there anything else, Prince Rhaegar?”

He had no further reason to bother this reliable man. A man his father took enjoyment in subjecting to slights and insults and courtiers did the same to gain the king’s favour. “No, I’ll leave you to your packing, my lord Hand,” the Promised Prince said and made for the door.

In the training yard for the Kingsguard, he took up a sparring sword and engaged Ser Oswell Whent. The one Kingsguard knight of the order present in their private yard. The Red Keep had several yards. The sworn brothers of the Kingsguard were his tutors.

He’d begun training as their student two years ago, but there was more to learn. The Promised Prince needed to commit more time to swordsmanship for a chance to defeat the future darkness and bring light to the realm.

He was the Prince that was Promised. His uncle, Maester Aemon of the Night’s Watch, believed he filled qualifying requirements; born amidst salt and smoke, beneath a bleeding star. Grieving tears while flame consumed both people and Summerhall. He’d been born among it all. He was the Prince that was Promised. No other child of his parents had lived beyond infancy; only him.

It is his duty to bring the light on the day that darkness robs people of all hope. He needed Dawn as a comrade in the fight to come, but a comrade reluctant to truly fight his best and neglected to use the sword of ancestors won’t do. He needed the man by his side. Dawn was that man; his title of The Sword of the Morning aligned with bringing light.

The Promised Prince must have Dawn help bring light to the realm so all would survive. He had to fulfil the prophecy. The Promised Prince was to lead, but leading needed men. He needed Dawn to accompany him in bringing light at the darkest hour.

His armoured shoulder was struck. “My Prince? Are you well?” asked Ser Oswell. “Distractions in a fight can cost a knight, squire, or guard his life.”

“I shall ask you to pardon me, Ser Oswell,” he said with a nod to the man. “You are correct, but it won’t occur a second time.” He lowered his sword and took off his helm, mirrored by the Kingsguard knight. “Did Ser Arthur fight like a Sword of the Morning yesterday?”

The knight seemed reluctant to speak.

“The truth. Good or bad, Ser Oswell.”

Their eyes met and the knight nodded. “No, My Prince. He fought honourably, but not as himself. Ser Arthur adopted your technique quickly. The jump to protect his feet yesterday is a manoeuvre of precision and stability with consequences if done wrong. Advanced swordsmen learn this,” Ser Oswell said. “The Kingsguard has yet to teach you that, otherwise he did nothing you don’t know.”

The Promised Prince frowned. “Speak freely. I will not anger.”

Ser Oswell squared his shoulders. “We have remaining technique to teach you if you wish to defeat him. The Kingsguard are carefully selected, My Prince. There’s much to be mastered to become a worthy knight.”

He nodded and brought his sword aloft with a firm grip. “Your frankness is valued. We shan’t waste daylight. Teach me to become a better warrior and complete earning knighthood, Ser Oswell,” he instructed.

The knight raised his sword and donned his helm. “Do you seek victory for the melee of your future sibling?”

“Yes,” The Promised Prince said. “Ser Arthur will be there. Have no doubt of that, Ser Oswell.”

The knight from House Whent adjusted himself. “Train with us rigorously each day and being the melee champion will be in your grasp, My Prince.”

“I shall be champion of more than just the melee,” he said. “Train me, but not rigorous today. The court will gather and I must be present. It is not negotiable.”

Ser Oswell nodded. “Understood, Prince Rhaegar.”

The Kingsguard knight took him through theory and strategy more than physical practise. The black armour of The Promised Prince was in the armoury. It was pointless to wear unless sparring. Some factors were stressed by Ser Oswell and The Promised Prince kept a mental note for later. Demonstrations were given, his sparring sword on the rack.

According to the sun, midday was approaching and the court session to follow the meal. His pages, Myles Mooton and Richard Lonmouth, appeared together but each bearing a note. One from Grand Maester Pycelle, the other was from his mother, the queen. Neither had wax, but The Promised Prince was at ease.

The Grand Maester’s confirmed a request made yesterday, and he smiled while enthusiasm for court built from his centre. Mother's was that he joined her for the midday meal in Maegor’s Holdfast before the court session. She had been first confined to the Holdfast five years ago.

He departed the yard for his mother’s bedchamber and suppressed a frown. The Promised Prince would visit Summerhall more once his sibling came into the world. If he finally had a surviving sibling the Promised Prince would need answers.

 

ARTHUR DAYNE

Arthur stood in his bedchamber that was near empty of possessions, except for a plain robe, his formal one, and Dawn. Everything else was on the ship since this morning. Body stiff, Arthur itched to leave King’s Landing at the first excusable opportunity.

Court was Alijah’s arena, not his. His brother was a lord who verbally sparred while Arthur was a knight fighting with blades. Each of them could fight in their chosen manner, but not well in the other. Words and politics were Arthur’s weaknesses, but it could cost him if he made errors today.

There was a court session in an hour and he was almost ready. Clothes held significance apparently, hence the predicament of plain or formal. Present himself as The Sword of the Morning in the ceremonial robe and risk everything, or abandon the intended court appearance and dress plainly to stand at the back of the gallery of the Throne Room.

He grabbed the plain robe, belting it over his tunic and breeches when a knock came from behind him. “Come in,” he said, strapping Dawn onto his back. House Lannister had lost Brightroar, but he would not lose Dawn; the ancestral sword of his family. Dawn was a rarer make than Valyrian steel but had equal qualities. Stealing was likely.

The door made little noise with a click indicating when it closed. Light steps approached and a small hand took his, guiding him to lie on the bed. Dawn prevented him from sitting. Elia rested beside him and their eyes met, hers searched his face. “Had our Houses been from anywhere but Dorne or the Iron Islands, you would be appropriately dressed to slip away from court,” Elia said, fingers trailing his cheek. She sighed and undid the strap for Dawn.

“Dorne is looked down upon. Yet they would pay attention to us?” he asked, and moved so the scabbard left his back, which thudded on the featherbed’s end.

Elia stroked his cheek. “From their eyes, a Dornishman or woman doesn’t come to King’s Landing without an agenda. No matter what you wear eyes will be watching you, Arthur. All of us,” she said and rested on the pillows. “If we were from the Vale, Reach, Crownlands, Stormlands, anything but Dorne or the Iron Islands, people wouldn’t care to pry.”

He removed the slipping red bloom from behind her ear. “So no matter which robe-“

“-it won’t make a difference to anything except how well dressed you are,” Elia said and removed a comb from her hair, setting it aside. The dark hair cascaded into a silken curtain. “Courtiers and Targaryens will want to know why Dornish people are here.”

His hand in her loose hair, he sighed. “I hate politics.”

“Let’s wait until court to think about it then,” Elia said, settling into the pillows so her eyes looked up into his. “Besides,” she said and stole a kiss, playful smile on her lips. “I find you most dashing without one.”

Last night apparently hadn’t been dreamt, and he leaned over to live it again. Instead of the bay’s dark water, this time Elia was on his bed in thin silk. Soft and warm skin, hair splayed around her. Hands roamed his torso and drew him onto his hands and knees. That arched neck called to him and he answered it, pampered it. Her short breaths stirred his mind. The peeking swell of her breasts and the gasps taunted him, but he nuzzled and nipped the crook of her neck. His hand ran from her slim waist along her belly. Elia shuddered and panted beneath him. His breeches grew too tight.

He guided her chin for a gentle kiss and pulled away, getting off the bed and retrieved the plain robe. Rampant pictures of her naked on his bed, in water, and in that cove at Sunspear flooded his mind. But that’s all they would be for a long time.

Opening the window to King’s Landing’s stench softened his cock. His nose hadn’t yet grown accustomed to foul onslaught. Elia was spared from the odour by a close of the window.

She placed herself in his hands last night and he won’t repay that with pressure for his own desires. Pleasure sat deep in the culture of Dorne, but respect and the word ‘no’ still applied.    

Thirsty, he poured water and passed Elia a goblet where she sat on his bed. “Thank you,” she said, goblet in hand. 

Skin flushed, lips darkened, and her hair in an alluring mess made an enticing picture. He pecked her temple and retrieved the decorative comb abandoned near the pillows. Court neared, but the comb should help. In a gulp, he finished his goblet and gathered her locks, working the comb through them meticulously. It made a good distraction.

Elia reached and gripped his plain robe’s sleeve. “You made the right choice by choosing plain,” she said and let go while he fixed her knots. “Learning what we have about the Kingsguard after coming to King’s Landing has made it a risky situation. Although the right choice, why did you make it?”

He nodded although her back was to him. “I must blend in. Not stand out,” he said and straightened his back. “After yesterday’s spar, I can’t afford attention.”

A hand rested on his knee. “Remember that at court and we have a chance of becoming but a faint memory to them.”

The comb ran without catching on anything. “Let’s hope so. That’s the last knot,” he said, placing the comb in her spare hand. How she had her hair earlier was a mystery to him. “I never did Ashara’s hair. Will you need a handmaiden’s help?”

Elia went to the looking glass, doing something complicated and tucked the decorative comb in. He approached and she looked at him via the glass. “A kind offer, but I appreciate the thought.” Turning, she neared and took his hand. “We’re on different pages, you and I. Yet, you’re kind to me regardless. In time, we will be on the same one,” she said and traced his jaw. Retrieving Dawn, she strapped it onto him. “We should make for court.“

Court and King’s Landing were Alijah’s battlefields. His brother was raised to be a lord and would survive among others. Wade waters of silver tongues and emerge unscathed. He, on the other hand, belonged where shields protect, weapons harm, and the threat was visible. This was not it.

Opening the door for Elia, Arthur followed her collected pace towards the inevitable. Members of the court could talk circles around him and make little sense of what they wanted. Walk into battle unarmed and without armour, as it were. Alijah intervened during one such occasion this morning.

Servants passed them bearing empty dishes and the number of them grew the further they walked. If servants were emptying the hall where courtiers ate then a little time remained before the king should arrive in the Throne Room.

“Ser Arthur,” an older man said from behind him. “I need a word with you.” A white cloak swept past and into an open-door chamber.

He swallowed and squared his shoulders, a short distance to the chamber remained. “What could he possibly want?” A soft hand brushed his and he met her eyes.

Elia shook her head. “I don’t know. Take care and listen intently. Be wary for double meanings, comments to influence, anything at all to manipulate you. We are in King’s Landing.”

With an exhale, his blink was slow. “I’ll try, but I’m not Alijah.”

“I know, Arthur,” she murmured and gave a small smile. “It would be poor of me not to notice. Exercise caution and don’t reveal anything that could be used against you – intentions, opinions and so on.” Elia squeezed his hand and continued on ahead of him to the Great Hall; the Throne Room resided there.

Inside the chamber, Arthur closed the door and the Kingsguard knight removed the white helm. Ser Oswell Whent had a solemn frown. “You need to leave King’s Landing.”

He blinked and stepped well away from the closed door. The chamber was strewn with discarded fabric and thread around the table and chairs in the centre. Midday light brightened the dustless surfaces. “Why?” he asked, keeping to short comments.

The knight quirked a smile. “You remind me of myself long ago.” Ser Oswell took a seat and shook his head grimly. “The difference being I sought glory but ignorant of the cost.” Ser Oswell gestured to a seat.

Arthur tilted the scabbard on his back and sat. “What is this about?”

The Kingsguard knight glanced at his wrists. “My youngest niece – an unwed maiden – died a few moons ago. Walter sent riders to inform me when she fell ill and when she died.” Ser Oswell went to the window. “According to Walter, my remaining niece, Minisa, is heavy with child but weak; an unfavourable combination and likely the same fate. I am bound here and why I’ve never met Minisa or her younger sister. Faceless names with a litany of questions.”

He searched the knight’s face, but whatever the agenda was it escaped him. There was no business in Arthur learning the man’s familial matters, yet Ser Oswell told him regardless. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” said Arthur, keeping himself clear of favouring either side of the matter; House Whent or the Kingsguard.

Ser Oswell shook his head. “Nothing. Just listen.” He crossed his arms, a thread fell from them. “Imagine remaining here and acting impartially; prayer literally all you can do about it. Would your knees buckle and bend? The perpetual argument on where you should be?” he said in rhetoric and turned to Arthur. “Leave King’s Landing and don’t look back, Arthur Dayne.”     

He straightened and fixed a furrowed stare at Ser Oswell. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Minisa’s secret daughter showed me once more what I’m missing concerning my blood, and that’s why I speak now,” Ser Oswell said and took a seat. “Leave King’s Landing and pursue the woman you desire. Leave King’s Landing and have a better lot than me. That hair is too distinctive, but say nothing at court. You’ve got enough attention already.” 

Suppressing a frown, he kept a plain face. “A brief visit to announce bestowment of Dawn at court. That’s all.”

A tight expression crossed Ser Oswell’s face and the man donned his helm emblazoned with a single flying bat. “Don’t. That will be a mistake. Blend in at court.” The door clicked shut behind the Kingsguard knight.

Alone in the chamber, he rose and approached the door himself. Tardiness at court would draw the eye. The last thing he needed. People flocked through the halls of The Red Keep, which eased him. Within the gallery of the Throne Room, he wove through the crowd until he encountered Alijah, Prince Lewyn and Elia near an idle corner.

Alijah turned and breath was near his ear. “Arthur. Where have you been? No matter. If Lewyn or I say something…odd, don’t gape. Grand Maester Pycelle was flustered all morning. I don’t like it and neither does Lewyn. Cautionary measure; don’t speak it.”

A tear of parchment slipped into his hand.

 

Hold her like a newlywed. If asked by the king, although unlikely, it was at Sunspear the day before sailing.

 

A hand took the parchment from his. “I’m not trying to be cruel, brother. It’s a tactic.” Purple eyes met purple and Alijah nodded. “Lewyn agreed to it. A ruler needs loyalty and interfering with major Houses unjustly loses it. Word will spread. Lannister is Hand, Arryn’s sister is here somewhere, and House Tyrell gossips to no end. Do try to avoid Olenna Tyrell.”

He frowned. “Dorne is looked down upon. Why would this help?”

“It should make the other prominent Houses wonder who is next if the king does meddle with a marriage.” Alijah gripped his upper arm. “I’m doing what’s necessary, Arthur, albeit ‘dirty’ as you would say. Will you cooperate?”

A nod from him eased his brother. “I was urged insistently to leave. Just this once, Alijah, but that’s all. Once, and once only.” Arthur leaned forward. “A mummery about marriage is unusual. Why are you resorting to this?”

“An old bat told me.”

He faltered and narrowed his eyes. Alijah and insults weren’t normal; it was a reference. “Wait…”

“A lonely one.”

Oswell Whent’s House sigil was nine bats, but his helm had one. It fitted the descriptions. “That’s who told me to leave.”

“They’re on your side then.” Alijah turned his head and stepped back. “We’ll need the far end of the gallery for this to work, but away from royal eyes.”

Coming around his brother, Elia glanced at Alijah who gave a nod in return. A gentle arm wrapped around his back and Elia gave a squeeze. “This goes against what makes you who you are, but it’s a necessary evil if what Uncle Lewyn suspects is true.”

Arthur mirrored her hold. “The three of you know court better than I do,” he said, moving through the filling crowd as Elia guided him towards the far end. “Swordsmanship is my strength, but that’s useless here.” At the far end of the gallery, her left side sat snug on his right. He settled a hand on her waist. “Why did your uncle agree?”

She smiled and nails trailed his jaw. “I don’t know, but I know that he did agree to it.” The fingers fell until they sat within the dip of his tunic. “Hmm, he was smiling at me when he explained. This is likely to reach Dorne and my mother. I think…” She chuckled. “I think Uncle Lewyn just wants me to finally be happy and tell my mother as much through this.”

‘This’ made a safe reference for the mummery he needed to make convincing. However, authentic behaviour would persuade the courtiers far more than forced mannerisms. He took a breath and leaned towards her ear. “You’re right this goes against my morals. It’s exploiting one matter to manipulate another. We shouldn’t be doing this.”

Elia sighed and dropped her chin. “Just for a small while as long as we need it. The whole thing can be very easily disproved when necessary.” A hand rubbed the base of his neck. She met his eyes and leaned near his ear. “Can we just fool ourselves until then?” she whispered. “Enjoy the pretence while it lasts?”

He stroked her neck and she pulled back, eyes imploring. A reversible lie that would make her, and admittedly him, pleased for a brief time. Giving a nod, he pecked her cheek and held Elia close on an angle. The Iron Throne in both their views.

The black throne was empty. The majority of attendees now stood shoulder to shoulder, breathing one another’s air in wait of the king. The Iron Throne itself was an ugly asymmetric thing, blades black and twisted; it loomed over everything and everyone. The monstrosity made from thousands of swords.

She took a hand and pecked his knuckles. Releasing it, Elia settled herself against him. A hand rested on his torso and inadvertently upon the open front of his robe and tunic. “The king,” Elia said. “I can hear armour.”

A hush fell and precession of timed steps filled the hall. Six of the Kingsguard along with King Aerys, Prince Rhaegar, Grand Maester Pycelle, and the Lord Hand Tywin Lannister approached the throne. At the base, the Kingsguard lined all entrance to the stairs. Behind them stood the Lord Hand, Crown Prince Rhaegar, and Grand Maester Pycelle. The maester wrung his hands and took a breath, hands steadied.

Lowering himself into the throne overlooking the crowd on the main floor and those of the gallery on the side, the king sat straight. “Fewer petitions? Smallfolk learn apparently.” King Aerys pointed at the nearest one. “You. Waste my time and it’s the dungeons for a sennight. State your business.”

The smallfolk swallowed but remained steadfast, his grief-stricken face tilted up towards the king. “Your Grace, Lord Darklyn of Duskendale want more coppers then we’ve ever paid. It’s starving us and our families. Children are dying, Your Grace.” 

On his throne, King Aerys scoffed. “I’ve demanded no more from Lord Darklyn than I’ve ever had. Guards! Remove the fool from my sight. The dungeons.”

The man snapped his head to either side. “Your Grace, please! Help us.”

Within the line of the Kingsguard stirred a three-headed red dragon on a black doublet. “Less smallfolk will weaken Duskendale, Father,” said Prince Rhaegar.

“Your Grace,” a stern voice pierced the room. It came from a tall and proud figure. Tywin Lannister, the Hand of the King. “This will impact on the Crown. Unchecked exploitation implies tolerance of such misconduct and other lords will follow.”

“Silence, Lannister!” called the king. All the voices ceased. “I am king and will rule as I see fit. So long as Darklyn pays tax to me the matter is his. Take the petitioner to the dungeons for wasting my time.” Two sets of timed feet approached the smallfolk man and removed him from the Throne Room. Silence permeated the air.

This kind of ruling aligned with failure, not over fifteen years of prosperity. The thriving of the Seven Kingdoms were the fruits of another person’s labour. The Hand of the King had used logic, but the king rebuked it. The line of petitioners halved in a shuffle for the exit. Their situations were either less significant or the king’s decision robbed them of hope.

He sighed and a soft hand grasped his, Elia’s eyes beseeching and sad. “It’s unjust, but voicing opposition spells trouble. He’s the king and the one we want to avoid the eye of.” 

Any more petitioners who ‘wasted’ King Aerys’ time met the same fate. Disputes between smallfolk ultimately lost coin or land to the Crown. Lord Tywin Lannister and Prince Rhaegar were all but ignored. The verdicts of King Aerys II shredded Arthur’s presumption of a wise king. All that remained was the ugly truth.

Twenty minutes passed and no smallfolk remained. The politics truly began then. Houses gave information of interest to the king, some Houses made suggestions that interfered with the matters of another House. Grand Maester Pycelle’s recommendations were the only ones King Aerys seemed to listen to and the king overruled Lord Tywin’s by declaring the opposite every time.

All in all, it was dirty fighting.

King Aerys lips parted for a moment and drops of blood trickled down his hand. “Any other Houses with complaints can wait. I’m not resolving more horseshit today,” King Aerys told the court. He turned his head to the Grand Maester below and nodded.

Grand Maester Pycelle cleared his throat in his stooping form. “And now…any requests? Or…announcements to be made?”

A man in a Frey surcoat stepped forth in the centre of the Throne Room, but people in the Throne Room sniggered. “I, Aenys of House Frey, have a request, Your Grace,” said the Frey.

“What?” King Aerys prompted.

“My son of one year has yet to be named. To honour House Targaryen, I wish with your consent to name him after your own hale and healthy son. Prince Rhaegar.”

King Aerys stared at the man and nodded. “As you will, Frey,” the king granted with a grimace. Arthur glanced at Elia who shrugged. The king must have had little choice politically. Aenys Frey turned on the floor and resumed his place.

On the now vacant space, the colours of Martell stood before the court. “I, Prince Lewyn of House Martell, have an announcement, Your Grace.”

The king slouched in his throne and flinched; hand gripped by his other. “What does a Dornish prince have to say that would interest me?”

The court sniggered.

Prince Lewyn was straight of back and stood firm. “Princess Elia Martell of Dorne is now wed to Ser Arthur of House Dayne in the sight of gods and men. Bound as one and cursed be he who seeks to tear them asunder.”

A soft hand on Arthur’s shoulder made him look. Elia’s face spoke of confusion. “Prince Rhaegar is rather displeased,” she quietly said. “Why would he be?”

He exhaled slowly and on either side of him the eyes of others were towards the throne. “I don’t know, Elia.”

The king gave Prince Lewyn a dismissive wave. “So be it, pious twit. But what I say will be worth the breath.”  

“Your Grace?” said Prince Lewyn.

King Aerys tilted his head down towards the Kingsguard lining the base of the stairs. “Lord Commander, have you seen this man fight?”

Ser Gerold remained still but cleared his throat. “Yes, Your Grace. Against Ser Gwayne and Ser Oswell. Prince Lewyn's skills are commendable against great adversaries.”

A chuckle came from the throne. “It’s decided. At the tourney, Prince Lewyn, compete and all coin won on the field will go to the Crown; a tribute to House Targaryen. You are to remain and train at King’s Landing until our departure for the tourney. Vow you will always commit your full ability.”

Prince Lewyn tilted his head up to the throne. “This I vow, Your Grace.”

“Pray to the Warrior my Kingsguard won’t turn you into a pulp. I’m done with you, Martell.” King Aerys shifted in his throne, leaned forward but lifted a red marked hand from the throne. The king was cutting himself on it. “Any others?” he said over the retreating steps.

Amongst the Kingsguard, the one with the bat emblazoned helm, Ser Oswell, tensed. Prince Rhaegar passed through the defensive line and stood in the vacated area before the throne. “I do, Your Grace. An announcement and a request, Father.”

On the black throne of swords, King Aerys stilled for a second but eased himself. “What’s your request?”

“That the invitation to train in King’s Landing is extended to Ser Arthur Dayne. He bears Dawn, thus he is The Sword of the Morning; a true knight of House Dayne. If he were to train with the Kingsguard, he could show his mettle at the tourney for all to see.”

The king steeped his fingers. “The Sword of the Morning, you say? I find that hard to believe.”

King Aerys clasped his hands together and stared towards the prince. Movement at the stairs’ base drew Arthur’s eye from the king to Prince Rhaegar. The silver-blond head of the prince lowered a moment but return to the throne. Grand Maester Pycelle from behind the Kingsguard shifted a step and turned.

The maester opened his mouth towards the king seated above the crowd. “I wonder if it is wise to leave Ser Arthur’s candidacy as The Sword of the Morning unquestioned, Your Grace.”

Elia’s soft fingers stilled on his chest; he gave her waist a squeeze. “Tell me later?”

She nodded.

King Aerys stared at Prince Rhaegar and turned his gaze to a disagreeing Lord Tywin. With a straightened form, the king placed his arms on the armrests of the throne with his head high. “Ser Arthur will stay in King’s Landing and compete in the tourney. How he fights shall determine if he is The Sword of the Morning. We’re finished here,” he said and rose from the seat, climbing down the many stairs.

Nine sets of feet joined King Aerys at the bottom. As one, they walked the length of the Throne Room and through the double doors, leaving the courtiers behind. Voices filled the air.

The clustered heat of the gallery weakened; steps of numerous feet trickled away. Two sets approached; his brother and Prince Lewyn.

“Arthur,” Prince Lewyn said. He faced the prince. “That vow I had to make; did he extract it from you? No. I must fight my best now until the tourney’s end. You, on the other hand, don’t. So don't.”

Alijah  clasped Arthur's shoulder. “Wait until the tourney.” His brother sighed. “Give the pretence of slow improvement compared to yesterday. Let the attention of King’s Landing focus on Lewyn against the Kingsguard.”

Lewyn neared. “We took a risk so we could flee. It failed. Moral high ground doesn’t survive court, so prepare yourself.” The man shook his head. “I’ll write a raven to my sister before someone else does. She’ll know it was me and not a scheme by Arthur.” Lewyn turned to Alijah. “On your way to Starfall, pass on a copy to Mariah at Sunspear. Better two letters in two ways and fast. You can leave. Us three can’t. There’s a part Elia must play for a while.”

The small hand on Arthur's chest rose up and trailed his jaw. Elia's face was apologetic, but there wasn't a need for apology. Yes, the crucial mummery that went against his morals must continue, but there were two choices; Either maintain the mummery until they can leave, or abandon it and get caught lying to the king.

It was a major risk to all involved. Elia didn't deserve that danger.

But to avoid the worst, since Elia was a part of the lie, she must be a convincing Dornish wife in the heart of King's Landing.

Eyes will be on both of them. And the door of a shared bedchamber.

Chapter Text

 

 

SANSA STARK

Day 2, 12th Moon, 275 AC

Seated near the end of Mother’s bed, Sansa embroidered a mummer’s gown of forest green and white using her personal technique. She kept an eye on Mother who was near the end of being with child; her belly seemed as though the babe would come into the world any day now.

A rustle of sheets drew Sansa's attention from her work. Mother yawned and her hand went to her swollen belly as though instinctive. Sansa knotted the last stitch and approached Mother, taking the stool by the bed.

Warm brown eyes landed on her and Mother smiled. “Sansa,” she said and took her hand into a gentle grip. “Sweetling, can you do something for me?”

“Of course, Mother,” Sansa said and scooted closer. “Anything.”

Mother looked amused more than anything and chuckled. “Go for a ride and enjoy the daylight. When I could watch your lessons on Grey Grace with Henric you were at ease and happy,” Mother said, thumb rubbing the back of Sansa’s hand. “For me, if you must. I don’t think you’ve ridden for a while.”

Perplexed, Sansa attempted reading Mother’s eyes so she could understand why. “You’ve never asked that of me,” she said, and rested a hand atop Mother’s. “What about you?”

“I think I’ll be fine, my girl,” Mother said, expression gentle and caring. “Six sennights here at Riverrun and hardly a day spent for your own pleasure? Go on, Sansa. Go outside. Have a ride in the open air,” she insisted. “I want this for you.”

Duty and pleasure battled within. Mother had died in childbed with this babe, and why Sansa’s first time meeting her was this second life. She wanted Mother to survive this time and had done everything she could so Mother had what she needed and a calmer time. Her words were simple and clear compared to the doubletalk of court and schemers, which Sansa was well practised with.

But Mother was heavy with child and needed to be taken care of. Sansa leaned forward. “You’re not a burden, Mother,” she murmured.

There was a quirk on her mother’s lips which smoothed to a smile. “I love you too, sweetling.” With her spared hand, Mother lifted Sansa’s and tilted her head to the finished clothes on the bed. “Put it on and ride for a few hours. No one will think poorly of you.”

She gave Mother a peck to the temple and light warmth grew within her when Mother smiled to Sansa’s silent surrender. If going for a ride would make Mother happy she would. Retrieving the mummer’s gown, she checked on Mother once more who nodded to her.

Mother wanted this so Sansa squared her shoulders. “I’ll find Catelyn and ask her to attend to you,” she said. There’d rarely been a time of Sansa absent from Mother’s bedchamber, so Cat would grasp the opportunity to prove herself.

Within the bed, Mother gave a smile. “Have some fun, Sansa.”

When she reached the closed door, Sansa turned and met Mother's brown eyes. “Would you like me to collect some flowers?”

There was a chuckle from the bed. “Just go, sweet girl.” Mother pulled a face of mock-threatening. “I’m telling your father if you’re back in here before the midday meal.”

Chuckling, Sansa bowed her head. Her mummer’s gown in hand, she left the bedchamber as bid and ventured to her bedchamber to prepare. Hours likely meant Mother wanted her to ride beyond the walls of Riverrun, so she strapped on her knives for precaution. Dusk was tied to her arm; it was her best and sharpest knife; her sheer skirt once upon her shoulders would conceal it.

Hair already gathered in a single braid, Sansa retrieved her riding gloves and made for the yard and gardens of Riverrun. Outside in the sun was Catelyn talking with Lysa and the septa of Riverrun in the gardens. Sansa did not like that woman and spent minimal time around her.

Lysa noticed her first and stiffened. “Good morrow, Sansa,” she said, likely still displeased with Petyr being sent away two sennights ago.

She ignored the bite in Lysa’s words and reacted as though it had been a polite greeting. “Good morrow, Lysa,” she said with calm. “Good morrow, Cat. Septa.”

Catelyn’s eyes tightened when she repeated the greeting back to Sansa. “Good morrow, Sansa.”

The septa said nothing and gave a short nod before walking away with a stiff gait. Sansa hardly prayed in the sept compared to Lysa and Cat; possibly offending the septa. Any prayer of Sansa's was done in the gardens; in the godswood was a fool’s risk.

“Our mother has asked something of me and I was wondering, Catelyn, if you would watch over her?” she asked. Catelyn was horrible, but if Cat at least became more diplomatic it passed off as growing up. Catelyn, herself and Lysa were eleven, ten, and nine respectively. Ages where some matters were brushed aside. Unfortunately, that truth applied to all children; including Petyr.

In her mind Sansa shook off the dark thoughts while Catelyn rose with the Seven-pointed Star book of the Faith in hand. “I shall,” Catelyn said polite, but her eyes hard. “And what requires riding? I can see your gloves.”

“Flowers to brighten Mother’s bedchambers,” Sansa improvised, well-accustomed to the need of believable answers since King’s Landing. “Vibrant colours that grow along the river.”

In the gardens the two sisters, her sisters, exchanged glances and Lysa nodded to Sansa and walked off. Catelyn, on the other hand, remained and stepped closer and whispered. “Being in my mother’s good graces means nothing to me, bastard.”

The aggression pierced her, but she refused to let it show. “Mother desires peace between us, sister. Would you deny her that?” she said watching Catelyn. “Mother and Father told you where I grew up. The only difference between us is what castle.”

Catelyn narrowed her eyes. “You’re not my sister,” Catelyn retorted. “An intruder masquerading as a Tully. That’s what you are.”

Sansa stood firm. “Sansa, intruder, or bastard, I don’t care what you call me in private,” she dismissed. “What I care about is our mother; her happiness.” She took a step forward and halved the gap. “Her body is growing weak, I assure you. Ask Maester Kym if you must, but she may not be among us for much longer,” Sansa warned her sister. “You know this to be true.”

The older girl said nothing but her face hardened.

In King’s Landing, Sansa had used a shell to hide her feelings; Cat could be doing the same now. She seized the moment and spoke her own fears. “It pains her to see us at odds, Catelyn,” she said in her attempt of appealing to Cat’s love for their mother. “Is that what you want for Mother? Needless pain so near what could be her end?”

She had Cat in a figurative corner, but the girl sneered and took a step back. “Pretty words, bastard. Mother was happy before you came here.”

A frown at the pettiness grew. This girl had been her mother in another life. “If I were to leave Riverrun, it would sadden Mother,” she said, eyes on Cat. “Life is what we make it. Make the best of the situation so Mother can have closure, Catelyn,” Sansa urged. “I am trying to give her that, but I need you to work with me.”

Catelyn glared and left in the same direction the septa had.

Sad, she watched her go, and when alone approached the stables. Inside the stall of Grey Grace, a gift from Mother, Sansa assisted the stableboy in saddling the grey mare and led it into the yard. Pulling her skirt laces, she had it around her shoulders she mounted the mare with ease when the stableboy pushed her up, foot in his hand.

Two mounted soldiers came up and flanked her. She’d yet to explore the west and approached the southwestern gate at a trot. In the saddle, she looked over her shoulder to the men. “What’s to the west?” she asked. House Vance of Wayfarer’s Rest resided many days’ ride this way on River Road, but that was all she knew.

“A town, Riverside, is a couple of miles along River Road, my lady,” the slimmer soldier said.

She gave the man a nod and spurred her horse to cross the drawbridge. The Riverlands was a fertile region and chances were there’d be flowers of some kind she could bring Mother as a gift.

Pace increased to a canter, Sansa kept a loose grip on the reins and smiled. Her horse almost pranced in its stride, no doubt happy to be on open ground. This part of Westeros was new to her, but the scenery of rolling hills and the Red Fork’s flow was something to behold. It was full of life here. A reminder of what she will fight for.

Relaxed in the saddle but eyes on the land, joy trickled into Sansa; Mother had been right to tell her to go for a ride. Brief so far, but it revitalised her more the further she went. Sansa wanted true wind against her face and nudged Grey Grace to a gallop.

More time than healthy had been spent by Mother’s side over the moon and a half, but she loved her. It was a blessing to have someone like Mother and the support she gave to help Sansa adjust to the truth of this new life.

Sansa was fearful for Mother but hadn’t dared to say why to anyone, even Mother. And Mother had a knowing look when Sansa came into the Lady's bedchambers with a sewing basket day after day. But does she know?

Watchful eye kept to spot the town, she slowed and scanned the area for Riverside; the town House Tully had the most interaction with in the Riverlands; aside from the Riverlords. Over to the tavern, she directed her horse and tied it to a post as did her escort.

As daughter of House Tully, being protected by two soldiers was logical considering there was less trust below The Neck compared to the North. She laced her skirt to her waist with deft fingers so she would blend in amongst the smallfolk.

She explored Riverside for the first time and took in the detail and compared it to Winter town in her mind. The population was larger, suggested by the greater number of houses. Surrounding her were the whispers and murmured greetings from the smallfolk. Sansa nodded their way and returned the greetings, which earnt a few smiles.

As the newest Tully and their lady, she smiled at the curious people. Kindness and loyalty won hearts more often than not.

Sansa took her time to learn about the town, and picked the grown blooms she saw. With the last in her hand, there was a young boy who fiddled with a ribbon between his fingers. It was probably he wanted her attention, so Sansa came to a stop when she neared him and the five-year-old took a few steps forward.

“For your flowers, Lady Sansa,” the sweet little thing offered as he held out the blue ribbon.

Accepting the ribbon and she tied her bouquet together with deft hands. She knelt until they were eye level and gave him a smile. “Lady Tully will be very happy,” she told him.

“For Lady Tully?” he asked, shock on his face.

“For Lady Tully,” Sansa said with a smile at the adorable expression. The boy looked like he would burst and ran over to a woman and started saying everything for all to hear. Exchanging smiles with the woman, Sansa continued on her way until familiarised with Riverside and had met a number of smallfolk and their families.

One of the soldiers broke the silence while they approached the horses. “You have a good rapport with the people, Lady Sansa.”

“Thank you, Ser,” Sansa said and accepted his assistance into her mount. “Treat the people less than yourself and they won’t respect you as much as they could,” she explained. In King’s Landing there’d been a distinction between Cersei and Margaery’s approaches towards the smallfolk.

With a wave to those who wished her farewell, she trotted towards Riverrun. She wouldn’t ride at a faster pace or the flowers will lose their petals. It was a mercy the wind was a light breeze. The return journey was slower and quiet until a black sand steed with a fiery mane and tail of red thundered past towards the castle.

Her soldiers gave a start but Sansa intervened “Stand down. It’s a friend,” she told them before they could ride in a defensive formation.

It would have mattered little because he was far ahead of them by now. Bouquet in hand, she tasked one of the men to carry it home and thanked them. At a gallop she took off in pursuit but he was far ahead.

Eventually he slowed to a trot and Sansa was beside him. “Oberyn,” she said. “In quite the hurry?”

“Braavosi Trout,” he said with an easy grin that turned thoughtful. “That reminds me. How did you come to cross the Narrow Sea?”

Sansa was neither oblivious to the true question nor stupid, so she gave him a safe answer. “As a babe or toddler, I would imagine. I have no memories of arriving there,” she supplied. “Only that I grew up making those gowns.”

“No matter.” He shrugged and turned his attention back to the path. “I thought to visit and see things for myself.” Their walking horses approached a crest and Oberyn turned towards her with observant eyes. “Tell me, Sansa, how's your family?”

Sansa was honest, for there could be will harm in it. “My elder sister is the least accepting of me, but Mother calls me her own child,” she told him let her smile show for what it was. “She said that something told her I was her daughter and nothing less.”

“You’re happy, no?”

Riverrun was a few minutes away, so Sansa engrossed herself in the memory of that night. “It was a joy to hear. That she’s my mother,” she said and met his gaze. Her answer could be construed in two ways; that she was truly her birth mother, or that Mother considered Sansa a daughter. She was coming to see Mother as her mother, so it was an honest comment.

Her attention on him, Oberyn seemed perplexed but nonetheless happy for her. “That is good news,” he finally said, holding the reins in one hand. “I heard the story Hoster Tully has been circulating in Westeros,” he commented with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

Unnerved by that look, Sansa pushed past the feeling and asked the important question. “Did the people seem to believe it?” Lady Stark’s letter came to mind. “The Starks do.”

“Do they? Aye, I would say people believe so, Little lady. In fact, I may have added something in Lannisport myself.”

She had no doubt she’d gone pale. “Should I be concerned?”

“The opposite, Braavosi Trout,” he told her with a smirk. “I said you're a girl to grow into a thing of beauty that will be the envy of all the women of Westeros.”

“Please tell me that was a jape,” she almost begged. His expression didn’t change and she swallowed. “Gods be good, you didn't do that,” Sansa continued horrified at the potential consequences.

“I did.” His grin had no remorse. “Word is Lady Cersei was furious and the mighty Lord Tywin will restrict her to Casterly Rock when he returns from King’s Landing.”

“Gods have mercy, I hope she never attempts to ruin me, Oberyn,” she said, a chill sunk in and filled her with dread. There was no doubt in her heart Cersei would never forget this rumour. Cersei had always done her best to look the most beautiful in King’s Landing during Sansa’s time there. 

He glanced at her and she continued.

“One word of Braavos and she'll tear my reputation to shreds,” she pointed out. “I live with two jealous sisters; I know what jealous girls do. The quiet and the vocal,” Sansa told him and noticed he was mildly contrite. “I am a trueborn daughter of Riverrun’s Lord and Lady, Oberyn, and that's who I am. I am nothing else.”

“We will never know for certain if you are trueborn, Sansa,” he said to her surprise. “But the word of the Lord and Lady will suffice.”

“I have the appearance of both Mother and Father, and I have Mother’s temperament. Who else could I be?” Sansa had to shake off a feeling of disgust as she remembered a similar phrase she sung for Littlefinger in the Eyrie, but this time Sansa was not singing. She was living. “I am Sansa Tully of Riverrun,” she said, letting emotion show. “Nothing will ever change that.”

They crossed the drawbridge and entered the yard beside one another, giving their mounts to the stableboys; one helped her down. The soldier she’d tasked with carrying the flowers approached and handed them to her. Accepting the flowers back, she turned to Oberyn. “Should I arrange for a guest chamber, Oberyn? Or were you passing through?”

“A chamber, Sansa, should your father permit it. I intend to be here for some time,” He rotated his partisan on its butt with one hand. “Rumour has it Rhaella’s child will survive.” Sansa smiled because it will; Viserys Targaryen. “I shall compete in the Lannisport tourney and rendezvous there with my sister; Elia. It’s been a long time. It will displease Lord Tywin, but I do care not for Lord Tywin.”

How much influence she’d played in this decision was a mystery, because she’d been the reason he’d come to Riverrun to begin with. The plan in Braavos was to go to Dorne. Needle came to mind. “What of your ship and crew in the Saltpans? Will you need to send a raven?” Needle was on that ship.

He seemed amused. “You needn’t concern yourself. They returned to Sunspear and should set sail for Lannisport with Elia. And Sansa? She’ll bring Needle.”

“Thank you, Oberyn,” she said, giving him a curtsey. That earned her a look of mock-disapproval. “You have my gratitude.” Sansa took her leave with a bright smile. “I shall organise for your bedchamber, Prince Oberyn.”

She left the yard and informed the chief handmaiden of Riverrun about the need for a guest chamber. On her way to the Lord’s solar, Father passed her followed by a handmaid bearing refreshments, bread and salt. Satisfied Guest Right will occur, Sansa delivered her flowers to Mother’s bedchamber. Inside, Catelyn watched over Mother whilst reading a book.

Placing the flowers in the vase nearest to the window, Sansa prayed Catelyn would do her best to be a lady around their guest. She had no desire for in-house conflict to be witnessed and spoil the visit for Oberyn. “Catelyn,” she murmured once she was beside her. Catelyn said nothing but acknowledged her with her eyes. “Riverrun has a guest; Prince Oberyn Martell. I felt you should know.”

Cat gave her a curt nod but didn’t move from her seat. Considering Sansa had dominated Mother’s time since unable to walk around Riverrun with ease, she left the bedchamber and hasted to the Great Hall for Guest Right where she had bread and salt with Father, Uncle Brynden, Lysa and Oberyn.

Later in the yard Oberyn’s saddlebags were propped against the wall. The man himself practised with his partisan inside the area reserved for arms training. It spun in his hands with such fluidity it screamed danger from where she watched.

“My Prince,” Sansa spoke clearly to draw him out of his focus. There was no chance she will risk getting near that partisan without him holding it unmoving.

“Bra-“

“Not here,” she cut him off. “Only when we’re alone. If word gets out, Father’s story will be destroyed.” Sansa watched his eyes and he nodded. “Your guest chambers will be ready for you briefly,” she finished with grace as though chambers were all that they had discussed.

“Very well, Lady Sansa.” Oberyn walked over to his bags and rested his partisan against the wall. His hand on his sheathed dagger’s hilt, he returned to where he had been training. “Your father is a generous man. He’s granted my stay until I leave for Lannisport.”

Sansa smiled at the news, and approached him when he gestured for her to. “I’m glad you will, Oberyn. Your company has been missed.”

“How’s the Blackfish?” he asked glancing over her shoulder, and Sansa assumed Uncle was watching the pair of them. “Has he accepted you like your father?”

She gave him a slight nod. “We’re coming to an understanding.”

“That’s good.” He held out his hand as though he was offering it. “Would you care to dance, my lady? It has been some time.”

He gave his hand a flourish and she laughed at his antics. Sansa pretended to place hers in his to be led in such a thing. However, both of them took a measured step back and drew their blades. “I have to admit, Oberyn, I’ve spent much time with Mother and helping the household,” she said, her technique might not be as good as it used to. She pushed her sleeves up to her elbows. 

“It matters little, Sansa. We’re not handling swords but smaller weapons. Strength isn’t your concern; it’s memory and reflex.” Oberyn looked at her form once. “Let’s see what you remember.”

She watched him with a sharp eye and her knife held as he’d taught her, waiting for him to make the offensive move. She always deflected and reacted; she preferred defence.

In her periphery, the Blackfish lingered nearby.

Oberyn struck out.

Sansa darted to the side and deflected.

It was much like a slow dance to begin with, until memories of training prior to Riverrun resurfaced. Confidence returned and she never remained in the same position for long. The pace increased a little at a time but she was beginning to tire; deflecting only was flawed. She tried to disarm him.

But he blocked easily. “Are you sure, Sansa?”

“If I constantly deflect I’ll become worn and beaten,” she reasoned, mild fatigue slipping into her voice. “What’s needed so I can disarm and escape?”

His dagger sheathed, Oberyn stepped forward and Sansa sheathed her knives. “What’s needed to handle any blade?” he asked rhetorically and became serious “Grip, motion and balance. Take those away with quick succession and you can flee.” Oberyn tapped her forearm, upper arm and shoulder in quick order. “Aiming for a hilt is a mistake. You want to get away from their weapon. Not closer.”

Oberyn taught her how to move away in a few steps; he pretended to be the threat.

Sansa darted away from him but struggled to see how this alone would help. She kept that to herself. Once he seemed satisfied with her movement, he added striking the forearm simultaneously.

The slow process of adding a new step was time-consuming, but it was a smooth flow which ended with an escape. Eventually, Sansa squared her shoulders for a challenge. “Oberyn,” she said, a little out of breath. “I’d like to try them without prompting if you think it’s not too early?” Sansa asked. She wanted to try.

He nodded “It appears you have an understanding of it.” His dagger remained in its sheath and Sansa tilted her head in silent question. “Not yet,” he told her. “Let’s see you join the steps together until they’re like water.”

Neither of them held a blade when he approached. Sansa dodged to his side and delivered slash to his arm with her bare hand, but imagining a knife. Next slash was to the back of Oberyn’s upper arm and she pushed where the wound would have been to take away his balance. This left her space and time to run had it been a real situation.

A nod to her, Oberyn went through the routine without being so cooperative to make it more realistic.

When they had a short drink he smiled to her. “Good. Very good. Pushing on the wound makes a good distraction when the shoulder is beyond reach.” With a glance at her, Oberyn seemed to make a decision and took a seat. “I think that is enough for today.”

“A little more,” Sansa asked, a little out of breath. “To make sure I have the technique.”

It seemed he granted it with an amused smile. “A few more times today then, my lady. We can continue this in earnest in the morning. Use a blade this time; don't worry about me.”

And so they did. Time after time. Her knife never cut his skin.

Strike the forearm as she dodged.

Slash the back of the upper arm.

Push the shoulder or upper arm away.

But on her fifth cycle, she tripped and delivered a cut above her own wrist.

Oberyn abandoned the training and retrieved a bottle and goblet from his saddlebag; a small amount poured into the goblet. “Quickly. Take this,” he urged and handed it to her. Sansa was reluctant and it must have shown on her face because he consumed the half goblet full in a single swallow and refilled it. “It's safe.” He offered the goblet once more. “There are many veins in the wrist.”

“I can afford a little blood first I think,” Sansa said, staying in place; there were guards watching from the walls. “I don’t know what that is and if you’ve taken an antidote for it.”

“You know me better than that,” he argued, eyes piercing hers. “If I wanted you dead, I’d have done it on River Road before anyone knew who I am; two soldiers are hardly a challenge.” He gestured to his sheathed dagger. “Or use my dagger here, if I was a complete fool. I am in the heart of Riverrun and training a girl with all the guards and Blackfish to see.”

He had a point so she accepted it and drank. He retrieved a linen and allowed it to absorb the blood coating her hand.

With her goblet empty, Sansa looked to the ground and sighed. “I’m sorry, Oberyn. Truly,” Sansa apologised and looked him in the eyes. “You’re my friend. It was a mistake to doubt you.”

“You’re tense here. Your sisters, I'd say,” he said once she’d relaxed. “You trusted a complete stranger on the journey from Saltpans. I could have done much to you if I was such filth.”

Guilt welled up inside her, and she reached out to him. “I’m sorry I showed such hostility. You have done me no wrong,” she apologised in hope he’d forgive her.

He nodded and tended to her cut with a new linen. “It was wise to be cautious. You did not know what I gave you and I do have a reputation for poison.”

Sansa swallowed and placed a slow hand on his shoulder. “We’re friends, Oberyn. I cut myself. It was not by your hand.” She squeezed the shoulder and he looked. “I should have known better than to doubt you. My decision led to this,” she pressed, concerned she’d ruined their friendship.

“It was an accident between friends,” he murmured, his eyes on her cut. He met her gaze. “You’ll heal fine, Sansa. We too are fine.” Oberyn took her hand off his shoulder and rested it in her lap.

She allowed a relieved smile to show. “The taste was very strange. Tolerable but strange,” she said, while she looked at the bottle he’d used. “What is in that bottle?”

“In Westeros, difficult to find. But in Essos, abundant.” There must be a story so she said nothing. “I fought for the Second Sons for a time. The methods used to heal their own were interesting. Maesters are too focussed on stopping pain; the healers I met focussed on blood,” he continued, his look was satisfied when the bleeding slowed. “Blood is life. Lose too much blood, you lose your life.”

Intrigued, tired and the cut stinging from the elements, Sansa stayed still and looked his way. “It must have been very different from what you learnt in the Citadel.”

“It was. Watch your wrist,” he told her. She lifted her other hand but Oberyn stopped her. “Don't touch. Just watch.”

Sansa witnessed in fascination as the flow became almost non-existent. “But how?” she questioned in astonishment. The blood around her cut seemed strangely thick.

The prince chuckled, rose from beside her and retrieved bottle to put the lid back on. “That's a secret; even to me,” Oberyn told her. “Always have some nearby, Sansa.” He handed her an unlabelled bottle. “Carry some in a vial. A sip is often enough.”

She glanced at it and met his eyes squarely. “You don’t want it back?” It was generous.

“I have another but not yet to use it.”

She should have known better and made a jape on the matter. “The skills of The Red Viper?”

“Exactly,” he replied looking smug.

Sansa laughed a little. “You're insufferable,” she told him from the bench. He made himself comfortable next to her healing wrist.

Oberyn cracked a grin and wrapped her wrist with a bandage. “Glad to be of service, my lady,” he responded and gestured to her hand. “Rest your hand, Sansa. There are many veins but thankfully a shallower cut than I suspected.”

“Thank you, Oberyn.”

“Of course, Sansa.”

Riverrun fell into a routine with the presence of Oberyn here. Catelyn, more so than Lysa, entertained the prince during the day while Sansa watched over her mother, growing more frightened for her by the day. Two days passed since her cut in the yard but now it was scabbed over and healed. Her father spoke to Oberyn every now and then, but as Lord Paramount of the Trident he still had matters to attend to.

Chapter Text

SANSA STARK

Day 5, 12th Moon, 275 AC

Beside Mother on the bed in the Lady’s bedchamber, Sansa’s talk about considered babe name came to a close.

There was a topic she wanted yet hesitated to discuss, but she broached it in the lull of conversation. “Mother?” she asked with demure.

Mother caught the tone and her eyes were on Sansa. “Yes, sweetling?”

She stayed in the arms which held her and spoke. “Cat seems confident in fulfilling the duties of a high lady.” Lysa didn’t participate in the duties Sansa and Cat shared. “But Lysa hasn’t shown much enthusiasm in such things.”

On the bed but alert, Mother’s nod was slow. “Had it not been for the incident with Petyr, and Lysa's behaviour thereafter, I wouldn’t be concerned,” Mother said, an idle thumb on Sansa’s hand. “So is your father. At Lysa’s age, Catelyn was well on her way to being prepared to marry someone like the Starks. I dismissed the difference before; believing Lysa would be ready when the time comes. That she learned at a slower pace.”

Sansa blinked at the news and nudged the conversation along. “What changed?”

She smiled up at her. “You.”

“Me?" she repeated, her mind churning. "How, Mother?” She couldn't keep the stun out of her voice and Mother chuckled. There was nothing Sansa had done that stood out in her mind.

Mother weaved her own fingers with Sansa’s and met her eyes. “You’re a dedicated girl who learned what a high lady must know in a short time, my daughter. You and Catelyn are ready for such duties and one day will be high ladies. However, Lysa’s neglect towards learning and her behaviour concerning that Baelish boy tells me she needs a different kind of marriage.”

Sansa’s mind stirred, but she tamed it. “And you’ve discussed this with Father?” she asked Mother. If Lysa was in a bannerman house Petyr would find manipulating her less beneficial to his ladder of chaos.

Mother stroked Sansa’s hair. “Yes, sweetling. Your father has organised for her to join houses with a Riverlord. When Lysa is old enough she will marry their heir.”

Sansa was silent and stared at her mother. The extent of change this could have on the future was exponential. Petyr had used Lysa to start the War of the Five Kings and begin his ascension in power. But there were other houses he could use, other girls and women, to manipulate Westeros behind the scenes. Petyr’s machinations began shy of a decade from now. The near future should still be predictable.

Mother broke the silence. “The lord has already visited to discuss Lysa,” she told Sansa. “She’s all but considered betrothed until she’s at an appropriate age to make it official. Not that she knows just yet.”

Nodding, Sansa took Mother’s hand within her own. “I’m glad you found someone for her, Mother.”

“So am I,” she said quietly. “He’s a considerate boy with firm parents.”

The bedchamber fell into a calm silence and Sansa took the opportunity to think because the future will be different. Naturally, it was going to be different regardless since she would do her best to stop a second coming of The Waste of Westeros; anything that happened will hold open the door to countless consequential changes. She just didn’t know what.

How will Baelish use or benefit from these events? She wondered grimly.

A quiet opening of the door drew her attention and her father came in. Mother looked up to him. “Sansa, I thought you’d be here,” he said and sat on the mattress beside Mother. “If all is well I’d appreciate a private word with your mother.”

“Of course, Father. I love you, Mother.”

Mother looked at her. “And I, sweetling.”

Rising and a peck on Mother’s cheek, Sansa left and retrieved her riding gloves. With the help of Henric, she was on her grey mare outside Riverrun, where peace of open ground removed the sense of time and her mind flowed. This time, thoughts about Mother.

On a crest where her horse nibbled grass, Sansa fought emotional pain while knowledge ate away at her composure. In the past, Mother died in childbed with this babe and over the past moon and a half she committed her time so she made a difference. With a heart so gentle, so kind as Mother’s, Sansa wanted nothing more at this moment than her mother to be spared by fate.

It was accepted as common for a mother to die in childbed, but the thought of it for the mother she loved tore her heart to pieces.

 I love my mother. Gods, please have mercy for my mother with this babe. If…if you can’t…If…if you can’t, please spare the babe…Let Mother live, please…

Hooves thundered towards her. “Sansa!” Snapped out of her prayer, she turned in the direction of the voice and Oberyn was galloping towards her atop an unsaddled horse. “Your mother,” he said, but faltered upon looking at her. “It’s time.”

Sansa needed no further words and spurred her horse the short distance to Riverrun. Crossing the bridge at a canter, she came to a hard stop and handed over the reins. Screams reached her ears and she ran through the halls. Gloves abandoned on a random table, she entered the chamber reserved for childbed where she joined the other women and Maester Kym.

She’d been present for a dressmaker’s babe in Braavos, so none of what she will witness will be new to her. It was evident, however, there was nothing for her to assist with; she was a child after all. Sansa turned to Mother and took a seat, the middle daughter laced her fingers with those of her mother’s to give what support she could. Lysa was absent. However, on the other side of the mattress, Catelyn was doing the same as her.

“I was here for Edmure’s,” Catelyn told her, gaze on Sansa. “It’s best to stay seated, Sansa.”

Her name was forced, but she was surprised by Catelyn's turnaround. There’d been no thawing between them like the slow one between Lysa and Sansa now, and Lysa still disliked her. Catelyn probably still hates me. I wish she didn't... she thought.

Sansa watched Mother, whose eyes were drawn to the sight of them on either side of her. “My girls…” Whatever she was going to say went unfinished; she cried out.

The grip on Sansa’s hand was too gentle, so she hardened hers and rubbed Mother’s arm with her unlaced fingers. “Don’t worry about my hand, Mother. I know,” she said and the grip from Mother tightened. “That’s it. Focus on the babe.”

There was little she could do in the busy childbed chamber, but that didn’t matter because her heart wanted to be beside Mother. Between the contractions, Sansa murmured sweet nothings into Mother’s ear, but the timing between them shortened fast.

Sansa gently ran cool linen across Mother’s forehead and prayed in her mind. If she worried Mother with her thoughts, it would increase the stress. She could have had tears, but she kept them in. She could have been sobbing, but she kept it in. She could have been incoherent, but she kept it in.

Over and over, Sansa spotted Maester Kym’s concern and didn’t know if he’d been like this during Edmure’s birth. Across their mother, Catelyn seemed more focused on composure and Mother than the maester. The words of other women were unheard because she thumbed the back of Mother’s palm instead, who's glance warmed Sansa until the pain took Mother again.

Eyes on the sheets, Sansa was filled with dread for there was so much blood. From the behaviour of the other people in the chamber, it was clear something was wrong.

What caused Mother’s death last time? She didn’t know and that terrified her; hopefully, no one could tell she was. Giving cause for Mother to worry was among the last things she desired, so she kept it in. She didn't want to lose Mother. The only mother she will ever have now.

Taking a moment to rest her unlaced hand, Sansa's fingers brushed against her concealed pocket. The shape of what was inside made her snap her gaze towards the blood on the sheets before she looked at her wrist. Could it work that way? Would it? Should I try?

Maester Kym’s next words made the decision for her. “There’s too much blood,” he told one of the women. “Retrieve clean bed linen.”

Sansa swallowed her nerves and asked Catelyn to get fresh water from the kitchens. Catelyn left in silence carrying the lukewarm water.

Keeping herself discreet by the headboard, Sansa glanced at the maester and women but returned her gaze to Mother. With her spare hand, she took the vial out of her pocket; her thumbnail removed the cork. The sound of it hitting the ground was muffled by Mother’s pain.

Holding the vial between her knees, Sansa inhaled to fight her nerves and slipped the small metal goblet from the bedside table. Sansa glanced at the others. They were busy. It was lace the water now or never.

Silent, she gave it to Mother with uncertainty which gnawed at her conscience. Mother was unfocused and swallowed. If this kills Mother, I’ll never forgive myself. I’d be a monster.

She put the goblet down and the vial in her pocket with no one looking at her. Rubbing Mother’s hand, Sansa took a breath when Mother was urged to push again.

By Mother’s side, she prayed to all the gods there could possibly be that Mother survived this. This caring lady may not have given Sansa life, but Mother’s heart made her feel as though life had happiness again.

Wrapping her fingers with Mother’s, Sansa cupped it with the other and held it under her chin; a silent prayer said over and over with her eyes closed. Eyes were moist; hearing was deaf. The cry of a babe pierced the air. Sansa’s eyes shot open and met Catelyn’s.

“A hale and healthy son, my lady.”

Sansa couldn’t believe it and her breathing calmed down from a pace unknown. Tears brimmed and, in her joy, she was on the verge of tears. The maester held the babe still while a woman wiped him clean and wrapped the tiny boy warmly in linens.

He’s alive. My brother. Oh Gods, he survived. He survived. “Mother…he’s beautiful,” she said with a wide smile. Catelyn brought the babe near Mother for her to hold.

But Mother’s expression remained painful and she shook her head. “Your father, Catelyn.” Cat obeyed, carrying the babe from the chamber.

The grip on Sansa's hand tightened once more. It made no sense, history said there’d been one boy and stillborn.

Mother’s scream rented the air once more. It sounded the same as before. She had another babe within her belly.

With a gentle hand, Sansa moved the brown locks from Mother’s neck and did what she could to cool it down. She had thought it was over and Mother survived childbed, but now there was another. All she could do now was hope Mother would endure and be alright.

The second child came into the world sometime later, but it had felt like years.

“Another hale and healthy son, my lady,” said the maester.

Shuddering to control her relief, Sansa watched them prepare the babe just as they had with the first. When a hand removed itself from Sansa’s, she glanced down and Mother reached for her cheek and held it. “Sweetling…thank you,” she said, voice weak and her face tired.

Sansa’s throat was tight. “Whatever it takes.” She cupped the face of her surviving mother.

Minisa smiled up at her. “Go get your father, Sansa.”

Too emotional to hold back, she embraced her mother with gentle arms and kissed her cheek as she shook with relief. “You lived. You lived, Mother. You lived.”

“Such a heart.” Mother gave a gentle kiss to her forehead. “Get your father for me.”

She pulled herself away from Mother, nodded like a fool and left the childbed chamber. Outside, Father cradled the first infant. He looked up at the sound of steps. “Sansa?”

“Another boy, Father,” she told him unashamed of the wet within her eyes. Tears yet to fall. “Mother’s asking for you.”

Father passed her. She brought her hands to her mouth and wiped her eyes.

They were alive and Mother was alive.

She glanced over where Catelyn and Lysa were seated nearby. Taking tentative steps, she seated herself next to her sisters. Catelyn spoke up. “You acted as though she is your own mother.” Intent on staying out of a verbal spar with Catelyn, Sansa ignored the jab and rested her head against the wall. “Don’t think being present changed anything.”

Father or Uncle will tire of her nonsense eventually, she reminded herself. Disgusted by the ridiculous behaviour, Sansa looked away from Catelyn and Sansa’s fingers touched the vial she’d carried since the cut near her wrist in the yard.

 

“A sip is often enough.”

 

But that was about her wrist. With Mother, she had taken a risk on near-pure impulse. Thumbing the empty vial within her pocket, Sansa reflected on everything about Oberyn and his behaviour.

He’d left the day he’d arrived here the first time; the library and his list. In the halls, he eyed Mother when she was with Sansa. He went to Lannisport, a place said to sell all kinds of goods. The galloping to Riverrun three days ago.

I don’t believe in coincidences, Sansa thought. There was no benefit in returning to Riverrun if his ship was sailing from Sunspear to Lannisport. To ride east was a waste of time now his ship was said to have left the Saltpans. Whatever the case, his presence resulted in Mother’s survival and that of not one but two babes. It was more than she could have asked for.

At the sound of women leaving the chamber, Sansa rose with want to enter. However, the maester closed the door from within, thus leaving the girls out in the hall. Wandering over to the window and gaze into the hollowed centre of Riverrun, she opened the window and leaned against the sill.

Breeze on her face, she exhaled and the tension within her body melted away. She had a mother and two new younger brothers.

The hairs of her neck rose, alerting Sansa to someone nearby. Keeping her position, she focused on her peripheral vision and Catelyn was ushered into the chamber by Maester Kym. Lysa and herself were left in the hall. Most likely they were to be shown their brothers one at a time, so not to disturb the babes with the presence of too many people.

Sansa took the empty seat next to Lysa and kneaded her hands together in the silent hall. Eventually, she turned to Lysa. “Did they do this with Edmure?” she asked, garnering a look of confusion from Lysa. “One sister at a time?”

Lysa’s eyes darted to the door and she leaned in. “Yes. Mother was very weak from childbed with Edmure,” Lysa whispered. She didn’t sound worried about Mother like Sansa was. Lysa had been absent for childbed and thus no reason for a similar concern.

Sansa couldn’t help her nerves. She’d lost too many people she loved and wanted to know for certain that Mother would pull through. Unlike most instances where she controlled her emotions, she had to walk to release it.

She took a turn so she wouldn’t disturb those within the closed chamber, but almost collided into Oberyn. Had it not been for his reflexes and grip they’d have hit one another. “Oberyn, I should have watched myself. I’m sorry.”

“You worry about your family. It’s only natural.” He lifted her chin and their eyes met. “Why do you worry?”

“I remember Arya.” Sansa tried to reining back her concern. “It was not childbed that took Arya, but Arya was all I had. Now I have Mother and I love her,” she said, watching his face. “Two hale and healthy babes, but I heard Maester Kym’s concerns.” She had to voice her thoughts. “What if he’s right? What if I lose my mother?”

His expression held sympathy and he removed the finger from under her chin. “The past was unkind to you. Mayhaps the gods will be kinder today,” he said, offering the crook of his elbow.

Her hand on his arm, she let him lead her at a sedated pace back the way she’d come. She’d spoken her mind and remained quiet beside Oberyn. Scepticism lingered within her mind, she was used to matters going wrong for herself and her family. Until she entered the chamber, she wouldn’t know.

In the hall of the childbed chamber with Oberyn, Uncle Brynden led Lysa out of the childbed chamber and in the direction of her bedchambers. Cat was nowhere to be seen. Uncle Brynden faltered when he spotted Sansa and held the door open. Removing her arm, she glanced at Oberyn, who dipped his head and walked away. She entered the chamber alone.

Inside, Mother rested on the bed where she had last seen her, but in a fresh shift and hair tidier by far. Her new brothers were asleep together in a broad bassinette at the bed’s end. Father seated next to Mother with a light grip on her hand with both of his. In the corner and watching was Maester Kym. She didn’t want him here but held her tongue.

Coming closer, Sansa looked at the two babes and traced the cheek of each of them. Their hair was the red of a Tully but faces with the high Whent cheekbones; Mother and Father in equal portions. “What are their names?” Sansa whispered.

“Oswell, the eldest twin. After his great-uncle,” Father said and gestured to the babe on the right. “And the youngest is Joseth. A nice name.”

They slept in peace and looked healthy. Her face softened at the hope they would survive infancy, and she gave the hair of the babes a whisper of a touch.

“Sansa,” Mother murmured, which drew her attention. Sansa took the stool by the bed and grasped Mother’s hand with her own against her chest. “You’ve done so much for this family.”

Her throat constricted. It sounded like Mother was saying goodbye. Blinking back tears and licking her lips, Sansa’s eyes landed on a small bowl with four pinches of a grain, familiar from her time in The Eyrie.

"No..." She looked at Father and he stared back sadly. With a breath, she broke the silence using but a whisper. “Why? Father, this can’t be true. Please,” she begged, her heart was breaking from the Sweetsleep by Mother’s bed. It could be used as a sedative or poison; a gentle poison. “Why?”

Mother glanced at Father and surprise was on both of their faces. A small hand touched her knee; Mother’s hand. “Clever girl; although I wish you didn’t know…Lysa and Cat don’t know what’s happening, but we had some time together,” she said and reached to Sansa’s cheek. “We have time, sweetling.” A thumb stroked below her eye. “You don’t have to be strong in front of me. Release it, my girl.”

Inhaling, she rested her hand atop Mother’s. “Mother, if I start-.” She shook her head and squeezed Mother’s hand. “I love you.”

“As do I,” Mother said and guided Sansa to lie against her neck. Fingers ran through her hair and the air of breath near her ear. “Sansa, you are my daughter. My girl.” She lifted her head and Mother nodded. “Maester Kym,” Mother said. “You’ve done everything possible for me. I’d like time with Sansa please.”

The maester bowed. “My Lady Tully,” he said and left the chamber.

Father watched the door close and took the stool on the other side of Mother. “Minisa?” He claimed her hand in his own.

Mother brought his hand to her lips and rested it in his lap, hers within his. “She is our girl, our blood, Hoster. Promise me you’ll protect her. And she’s strong enough to know what’s happening.”

“I promise, Minisa.” Father turned to Sansa and his eyes were grieved. Swallowing, her eyes no doubt reflected his pain. “She slowly bleeds, Sansa,” he said. “Maester Kym doesn’t know how your mother is still among us. If she suffers and wants rest, Sweetsleep is the gentlest way for her.”

She nodded and met Mother’s eyes. What she’d done in hope of saving Mother held too much risk to be uttered. And it had failed to save her. Sansa closed her eyes and released a breath. A hand cupped her cheek, a thumb ran across it. Eyes opened, hers met Mother’s brown whose lips were a warm smile. “Sansa, I know how much you feared this.”

It was a blow to the heart. She took a breath which shuddered. A tear escaped, followed by another and she suppressed the rest. “I know what is happening… I understand. I do.” Her throat tight and below her will hovered sobs she fought back. “I love you, Mother. I-I-I I know, but I wish there was something I could do.”

A soft hand led her to the bed and Mother brought her to rest against her. “We have time, Sansa.” She kissed her forehead and fingers ran through her hair. “Sweetling, I want you to do something for me.”

The words took effort to come out. “Anything,” she promised. “Anything, Mother.”

Mother tilted her head so their eyes met. “Every day, I wish you go for a ride and remember our happy moments.” She brushed loose hairs out of Sansa’s face. “Those are the memories that matter.”

Sansa nodded, eyes watery, her hand on Mother’s shoulder. “I give you my word,” Sansa swore with all her heart. “Every day I can.”

“I know you will. Not once did you disappoint me or your father, Sansa.” There was silence but a rustle of fabric came from the other side of the bed. “Sansa.” A hand stroked her face. “Let out your pain. I know you have it but using steel will to hold it back. Let it out.”

The tears began to fall now the dam holding them back broke. Her breath shook but she kept the sobs back; babes were in the room. Mother guided her up until her head was rested against Mother’s neck.

“Let it out, sweetling. It will help,” Mother murmured, a hand on her cheek and thumbing the tears away. “Let it out.”

Turned, her grief was muffled by Mother’s neck while it raked through her body. She shook with the breaths of sobs but silent. She was losing another of her family; her mother. On Sansa’s back, a large hand was near her shoulder, the fingers curled around and gave a grounding grip. In her hair, Mother’s small hand cupped the back of her head; thumb slowly ran against it.

She'd tried everything. Her breath shuddered while her hands gripped Mother. Sansa couldn't lose another mother. "I know, sweet girl. I know."

Taking a breath, she kissed Mother’s cheek and settled against Mother.

Lips pressed against her forehead. “You don't have to hide your feelings from family, sweetling.”

She sat up and nodded. “I didn’t think you’d want to see me a fright.”

Mother’s hand took her own and rested it above her stomach. “You deserve comfort, Sansa.” She turned to someone behind Sansa. “Hoster, you know which one.”

Sansa turned and he gave Mother a silent nod when he squeezed Sansa's shoulder. He left the chamber without a word.

When the door closed, she turned back. “Mother?”

“You will always have a place among the Tullys, Sansa. For you are a Tully,” Mother told her, firm but tired. “It was to be for your nameday, but I want you to have it.”

From the edge of the bed, Sansa held in Mother’s hand in both of her own. "I.." she coughed. “I’ll miss you, Mother,” she said, fingers sliding along Mother's. “You didn’t have to get me a nameday present. It hasn’t been two moons since I came.”

Mother smiled and brought her hand to her lips. “I’m glad I did, sweet girl. You are my daughter.” Sansa swallowed and weaved together the fingers of her hand with Mother’s. “Sansa, bring me Oswell and Joseth.”

So she did. With a gentle hold, she gave her brothers to Mother, who smiled once her babes were rested upon her. They were secure and sleeping within Mother’s arms. “They look healthy,” she whispered and stroked Joseth’s tiny hairs.

Mother looked at Sansa. “Maester Kym said it was a near thing,” Mother quietly said. “These babes, your brothers, have much to thank you for.” Sansa’s lips parted and Mother smiled at her. “No one knows. And your brothers wouldn’t be here without you.” Her eyes went to her babes. “I almost didn’t have the strength.”

Sansa looked to Mother’s eyes. “I’ll love them, Mother. I wanted you to know that.”

“Hearing it makes me happy, sweetling.” Mother looked at the twins and held them in silence, eyes going to each of them. “Oswell. Joseth. Return them to the bassinette, Sansa.” Mother kissed each of them on the forehead, and Sansa placed them in the bassinette. Taking Mother's hand, she sat on the side of the bed.

Father entered in silence bearing a small sealed bag. Going behind Sansa, he moved her hair to one side and cool metal rested around her neck; a pendant sat below. Sansa Tully, the pendant said.

“Sansa,” Mother said quietly. “Here or with the gods, you will always be my daughter, Sansa Tully.” Taking a breath, she held Mother’s hand in her own. “You’re growing into a beautiful elegant lady that I am proud of. You have inner strength and can withstand anything. You will prevail in all you do, my Sansa, I have no doubts. You are my daughter – our daughter – and we love you.”

“I love you too, Mother,” Sansa whispered and looked over her shoulder. “And Father. Thank you.” He nodded and sat on the stool. Focus on Mother, she brought their fingers to her lips before she spoke. “I don’t want to leave you, Mother. But I must, don’t I?”

A sad smile on her face, Mother reached up and cupped Sansa’s cheek. “Yes, sweetling” Mother whispered, stroking her face. “I love you, my girl.” Mother lifted the other hand towards Sansa. “Give me a hug and go to the hall.” Sansa took a breath and a tear fell; this was the end. “You can do it.”

Too choked up to say anything, Sansa kissed Mother on the cheek and embraced her, burying her face in Mother’s neck, who stroked her hair softly. Taking a breath, she sat up and held Mother’s hand close. "You're my mother. I wish we had more time." A slow breath, Sansa rose and walked to the door. She had to see her one last time. Turning around, Sansa met Mother’s eyes and bit down on her lip when tears fell. “Good-goodbye...Mother.”

A tear fell down Mother's cheek. “Goodbye, my Sansa.”

Sansa closed her eyes for a moment and nodded to Mother. Muffling a sob, she walked through the door and closed it behind her. Minisa Tully – Mother – had taken Sansa into her heart and loved her, and Sansa loved her back. She would never see her again.

In her bedchamber, she clutched the necklace in one hand and sat upon the bed, eyes wet with running tears. Her fingers ran across the pendant. Mother had loved her, and so had she.

 

SANSA STARK

Day 6, 12th Moon, 275 AC

Breaking of fast the following morning was a sombre affair in the Great Hall; barely a word spoken between the grieving family all donned in black.

The silence was broken by the maester entering the hall. “My Lord Tully? A wheelhouse approaches Riverrun,” he informed Father quietly.

“Thank you, Maester Kym,” Father said. It sounded as though he’d been expecting it. He turned to Sansa after he looked at all three sisters. “Sansa, you’re quite composed, could you greet our guests?”

Without saying a word, Sansa gave him a nod and rose. She left the Great Hall quietly.

The whole castle was silent. Every banner and flag changed over to a plain black. Walking the halls with her pain concealed, Sansa made for the eastern drawbridge, but from atop, there were no wheelhouse or riders in sight; she’d anticipated the Starks.

She turned for the west one.

 

Chapter Text

JAIME LANNISTER

Day 6, 12th Moon, 275 AC

Sitting inside the Lannister wheelhouse, Jaime stared out the window with his eyes alert for the castle they were to visit. The only castles he knew were Casterly Rock, Lannisport Castle, and the Red Keep once at King’s Landing when he was six. The visit to King’s Landing had been cut short when Father was angry with King Aerys for some reason.

There was nothing interesting to do in a wheelhouse but fiddle with the windowsill. Stirring on the seat wasn’t a help either.

“Jaime, sit still,” Aunt Genna told him, two-year-old Tyrion in her lap. “I’d say there’s an hour to go until Riverrun.”

Jaime rested his elbow on the sill and stared out looking for the castle. Irritation stirred from staying in the wheelhouse; had Uncle Kevan let him ride ahead with some soldiers, Jaime could be there already.

He’d sat inside this wheelhouse for two sennights with constant want of riding a horse. There was an itch within him, desperate for the saddle and riding free on open ground. Get out of this wheelhouse and just ride. Pleading Uncle Kev had fallen on deaf ears. Movement and Jaime belonged together. Stillness, however, built impatience and tension within him. Aunt Genna and Cersei were unhappy from his frequent stirring.

“Sorry, Aunt Genna,” he said and sought the castle of Riverrun.

When he got bored from doing nothing, it annoyed Cersei who seemed bored too. What she did to get what she wanted had become more obvious to Jaime since the letters from the unknown girl. Cersei didn’t care about him the way he once believed. When Mother and what little kindness in Father died with her two years ago, Jaime and Cersei already had each other. Their uncles weren’t always around and Aunt Genna had sons to look after. Her husband had them right now at Casterly Rock.

“You’ll be out soon, Jaime,” Cersei said beside him, but Jaime ignored her. She was a manipulator and her care was false.

Those nameless letters shoved in Jaime’s face the truth of what Cersei was doing. When she found out she is going to be the future queen and the wife of Prince Rhaegar, Cersei had been so excited; every word about being queen and marrying the prince. It had proved the letters right. Cersei’s claim about belonging together was a lie. Any time they were together Cersei would ask for something unusual.  

She might believe him stupid and blind, but she couldn’t be more wrong if she did. If he was stupid, Jaime would trust her without question after getting those letters; now he thought about things before accepting her words for truth. A person deep in their cups had blurred vision. His was clear and wide open now. 

“Be that way,” Cersei muttered, he kept his eyes out towards a town that came into sight. Her jealous complaining about a girl said in song to be prettier than Cersei tested Jaime; he’d been stuck in the wheelhouse with her for a fortnight. Any more whinging and he would go mad. These days Cersei was just a Lannister who tormented Jaime’s little brother.

A Riverside tavern was noisy but got clearer by the minute. Within it, a crowd sang. The words were familiar but the verse about a ‘Petyr’ was different from the original verse.

 

“A trout of ten,

Swam home again,

And people talked of her since then.”

 

“They say that she is beauty.

They say that she is grace.

Don’t say it near a lion’s face.”

 

He turned and Cersei appeared ready to kill the minstrel and singers. If looks could kill then everyone involved would be dead twice over already. With nothing to do he listened. The closer the wheelhouse crawled the clearer it was that people clapped in time to the words.

 

“Knock on the lion’s door,

You’ll hear her roar,

The Westeros beauty she is no more.

 

“Sansa cares for the people.

She’s kind and never shouts.

But look out,

A lion‘s about.

Cersei oh hates the Tully trout.”

 

“He was entranced by Sansa’s beauty.

He was entranced by Sansa’s grace.

Petyr stole a kiss,

And he did not miss.

From Riverrun he was dis–“

 

The clapping and song stopped; someone inside probably spotted the Lannister retinue. The last verse before they’d stopped was a little different and his curiosity stirred.

Cersei shook with fury. Her face had the crimson red of a Lannister banner. When her narrowed eyes landed on him, Jaime frowned in memory of how just talk by servants riled her up. She’d become aggressive towards them of late if they talked about Sansa Tully in awe.

There was more to the song, he knew, but it was for the best no one continued it. The rest of the words were likely the same as Lannisport in the final verse. The final one would infuriate Cersei. However, Jaime would call them idiots to continue with a Lannister retinue passing by Riverside. The minstrel would fear a reaction right now.

A few moons ago, Jaime would have been angry about the song like Cersei. Now it was amusing and he smothered his laughter with coughs.

Cersei looked ready to slap him. “It’s not funny, Jaime,” she snapped. “They’re mocking us!” His sister spun to face their aunt. “Stop the wheelhouse and get that minstrel. He shan’t sing again!” she demanded, but the portly woman was unfazed.

Aunt Genna gave his sister a glare and relaxed against the cushions. “Your behaviour in Lannisport over that song was disgraceful, Cersei.” His sister was hardly cowed. “You embarrassed House Lannister. It’s about a pretty girl and nothing more, but your tantrums spurred it to spread across Westeros.”

His twin stared back at their aunt with a bitter scowl. “Why are we going to Riverrun?” Cersei complained. “It’s a waste of time.”

Aunt Genna’s response was displeasure. “You’re to become the queen one day, Cersei. This attitude will keep you far from being as successful as your father.” That got Cersei’s attention. Any reference to matching Father’s achievements always did. “A beneficial trade agreement requires respect, and depending on ravens entirely is rude when you’re nearby. Be unnecessarily rude and your gains will be less than they could be.”

It seemed like a weak excuse to bring him, Tyrion and Cersei along. Father’s lesson on trade made sense, but Jaime’s aunt and uncle were to negotiate, not him. However, he was happy with the chance of exploring Westeros. Casterly Rock and Lannisport were like the back of his hand. Knowing what other kingdoms were like would be brilliant. Uncle Kev refuses, but if only I was on a horse, Jaime thought in longing.

Father was away in the capital again, so Uncle Kev was the lord regent and riding in front with Lannister men. Soon, Jaime would be free of Cersei’s maddening complaints. The wheelhouse driver had a spare pair of horses and changed over every several hours. The trip had taken a fortnight; a sennight less than normal.

Abandoning the countryside view, Jaime glanced at his twin and the look on her face matched her reaction to the second secret letter from that girl. Cersei had been looking through his things. It was the one about Tyrion, the one he forgot to burn until Cersei demanded to know why a girl wrote to him. She’d been furious about the girl. There was no regret about the ones he’d burnt to keep them secret.

Then there was repeated drama about the new song Oberyn Martell paid a minstrel a gold dragon to sing. Cersei had raged when smallfolk in Lannisport talked about Sansa Tully’s claimed superior beauty. So much so that Father restricted Cersei to Casterly Rock. An embarrassment to the family name, Father had said.

After such acts from his twin, Jaime was glad the writer left no name in the Tyrion letter. It was known Father didn’t care about Tyrion, so the letter Cersei found wouldn’t have mattered to Father; Cersei’s wild rage about the writer, on the other hand, bothered him. How will she be a good queen if she screams each time something doesn’t go her way? He wondered, grim and doubtful.

The wheels thudded and they rumbled upon wood instead of dirt. Decorating the castle, every banner or flag was plain black fabric. The Tully standard had colour; red and blue lines, and a silver trout on the centre. The maester taught him all the standards. “Aunt Genna?” he asked the large woman. “Why are there no Tully standards? It’s just black. This is Riverrun, isn’t it?”

She glanced out the window and nodded. “A death in the Tully family, Jaime. It’s a custom here when a member dies.”

“Oh,” he quietly said. When he was seven his mother died; that was two years ago.

Cersei, on the other hand, was content as though it didn’t matter. “I hope it was that Sansa wench,” Cersei muttered darkly.

“Cersei Lannister!” their aunt said with narrow eyes. “This is unbecoming. I won’t have you embarrass us again.”

Ignoring the drama, Jaime eyed Riverrun for strengths and weaknesses against siege. The castle stood tall within a wide flowing river; its water was a long fall and couldn’t be waded. An assault with a battering ram was impossible. The walls were on the island edges. Catapults and trebuchets would be important to conquer this castle. The way in were two drawbridges.

When the wheelhouse came to a stop, Aunt Genna led the way out with Tyrion on her hip. Uncle Kev joined them and outside the main doors of Riverrun stood a girl of eleven or twelve waiting for them. Aunt Genna turned to Cersei with mock sympathy. “Well,” Aunt Genna said. “If Lady Catelyn isn’t Hoster’s young beauty, Lady Sansa will certainly be a girl to contend with once she’s a woman grown.”

The girl approached Jaime and his family, and he had to admit Lady Catelyn was easy on the eye. Whether she was the same as Cersei, who became angry or cruel when things didn’t go her way, he would find out by watching the Tully.

Uncle Kev stepped forward and met Lady Catelyn halfway. “Lady Catelyn,” he said, head bowed for a moment. “We offer our condolences to House Tully and apologies for arriving at such a time.”

Lady Catelyn curtsied but shook her head. “You couldn’t have known, Ser Kevan,” she said, some sadness in her voice. “Lady Tully passed in the night in childbed; there is nothing to forgive.”

His aunt had always been a person who was of a sharp mind and joined his uncle’s side; Tyrion on her hip. “But the child survived?” Aunt Genna asked. “We pray it’s hale and healthy.”

Jaime perhaps was not one for formalities but he knew what his family expected of him. Glancing in Cersei’s direction, she wasn’t of the same mind and ignored the conversation in front of them.

“They are, Lady Genna. Twin boys,” Lady Catelyn said. “And yes, they’re hale and healthy; Oswell and Joseth Tully.”

“Tarly,” Tyrion parroted, drawing the attention from all of them.

How this girl reacted would tell Jaime whether she was the same as Cersei, who’d have raged. ‘Tarly’ was a House in the Reach, but Tyrion was two years old and the names sounded alike. Repulsion and offence taken was a typical response from others when they saw his brother. Some acted as though he didn’t exist, the most common thing. If she ignored him it would tell Jaime much.

Aunt Genna gave the girl a daring look, but the redhead didn’t react to his aunt. Instead, Catelyn had a humoured smile and took a step towards Tyrion. With a light grasped of his hand, she drew his attention to her. “Close, Tyrion, but not quite,” she said kindly. “Tul…ly,” she pronounced.

His aunt and uncle were staring at the pair. Cersei probably bored and disgusted wherever she was. Aunt Genna observed the girl in front of her. Uncle Kev was surprised and looked ready to intervene.

“Tulllee.”

She chuckled and released Tyrion’s hand. “Closed enough,” the girl said smiling and turned to his uncle. The silent tension faded. “He’s just a babe. It’s hardly considered an insult, Ser Kevan, Lady Genna.” She gave a curtsy in turn. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Sansa Tully. Catelyn and I are much alike, so I understand the error,” Lady Sansa said, giving them a ready escape for their earlier mistake.

This was the girl Oberyn Martell paid a minstrel generously to sing about. Uncle Gery had asked Jaime if he wanted Father to know who started it, but it was a song about beauty, not honour so he’d said no.

Aunt Genna nodded to Lady Sansa. “Thank you, Lady Sansa, that’s quite forgiving of you.”

Their hostess half turned towards the door. “If you will follow me inside for bread and salt? Your chambers will be ready for you shortly.”

Beside him, Cersei huffed and he turned. Cersei’s eyes were angry. You can’t be serious, Cersei. She lost her mother less than a day ago, graciously receiving visitors who made a mistake and didn’t give a wit about Tyrion’s interruption. I thought I’d seen the worst of you.

It must be about that song and its catchy verses. He stifled the laugh so it couldn’t reach Cersei’s ears and set her off again. Creating humiliation for his family was the last thing he wanted.

Jaime followed behind his aunt and uncle inside through the castle to the Great Hall where refreshments, bread and salt were served for House Lannister and Riverrun’s lord. Lord Tully looked grim but Jaime was comfortable around the man given the circumstances.

Aunt Genna was the Lannister with the shrewder mind between her and Uncle Kev, who let Aunt Genna take the lead when bread and salt were shared. “Lord Tully, your daughter made us aware of the situation. We’d be willing to delay negotiations for a time if you wish?” she said with compassion. “We’ll entertain ourselves so you have a chance to mourn.”

“Lady Genna, Ser Kevan, such a gesture would be appreciated. Thank you,” the Lord of Riverrun said with evident gratitude. “Is a sennight agreeable?”

Uncle Kev nodded. “More than agreeable, Lord Tully.” Jaime’s uncle was watching the lord carefully. Aunt Genna mayhaps had a better mind, but that was not to say his uncle lacked in wits. “We anticipated a long wait,” he admitted humbly from his seat beside Aunt Genna.

Lord Tully turned his hands outward towards the Lannisters. “Consider it an apology of sorts, Ser Kevan,” the widowed lord said. “You journeyed here to accelerate negotiations; not the opposite.”

Jaime ignored what else was being said until the location of their chambers was brought up. Following his aunt and uncle’s lead, he stood. Lord Tully led them to the guest wing; his aunt and uncle’s bedchambers side by side; Cersei’s left of Aunt Genna’s and his right of Uncle Kev’s. It was an unusual arrangement, but this the second castle he ever stayed at. Lord Tully gave a short tour of Riverrun and introduced them each to their servant.

Venturing through the halls, Jaime went to the yard where a flash caught his attention. Someone had to be sparring or training. Inside the fenced sparring area was a familiar looking Salty Dornishman, thrusting and spinning a partisan as if he’d been taught how since he could lift one. It was that Martell who refused Father in Lannisport. And paid the minstrel.

“I wouldn’t get any closer to Prince Oberyn when he’s training, Lord Jaime.” Jaime startled and looked in the direction of the voice. Dressed for riding, was Lady Sansa holding the reins of a grey mare. She gestured towards the fencing. “I thought to say something before you passed the fencing,” she said and she tied her horse to a post.

“Uh, thanks, Lady Sansa,” he said and returned his attention to the practising prince. “So that’s the Red Viper?”

“It is,” she said and stood beside Jaime. “He travelled with my escort home two moons ago.”

“So it’s true?” he blurted out. Swallowing now that she met his eyes, he continued with manners. “That you were raised in Harrenhal for ten years?”

Nodding, she gestured towards the stables where a saddled horse was being brought out. “Would you like to join me for a ride while I tell you about it, Lord Jaime?” Lady Sansa said with a knowing smile. “To my understanding, you were limited to the wheelhouse for your journey? I imagine a horse would make you feel at ease after such a time.”

Gods, a horse, he thought in relief. I was in that wheelhouse for two sennights. I’m riding that horse.

Nodding to Lady Sansa, he watched her untie the mare and lead the way. “Don’t call me ‘Lord Jaime’ if there are no adults around. I hear enough of it at Casterly Rock,” said Jaime, and he spotted the silent amusement on her face. “If I’m going to be called anything, it’s ‘Ser Jaime’ once I’m a knight.”

“A knight like your uncle?”

He would be. Father was firm on Jaime’s future as the next Warden of the West; teaching him the running of the Westerlands. “Yes, like Uncle Kevan.” A chestnut was brought to them and the stableboy laced his hand together so Jaime could hoist himself up. “For a while, anyway,” he muttered.

“Succeeding your father doesn’t mean the end of being a knight, Jaime,” Lady Sansa said.

“Of course it does.”

Once in the saddle, she turned to him. “Ride with me and I’ll explain.”

She led the way through the eastern bridge and they rode to a crest, where they stopped to look at Riverrun from the vantage point. It was quite a sight, and wanting answers, Jaime glanced at Lady Sansa. “So, how could I be both?” he asked sceptically.

“I’d like you to think about something, Jaime,” she said with a gentle smile. “How does your father manage the Westerlands and be Hand of the King simultaneously?”

Since Father was away most of the time, the answer came to him instantly. “Uncle Kevan helps when Father’s in King’s Landing.”

From the saddle, hands on the horn of it, she nodded absently and stopped herself from fiddling with her necklace. “So he has someone else take the role of Lord Regent when he’s away?”

“He does,” he said, doubtfully wondering how such a thing would be possible for him, “but I don’t think he’d allow Tyrion to help me.” Jaime sighed when he uttered that truth. It saddened him to say it. “Father hardly tolerates him as it is.”

“I feel sorry for Tyrion, he’s such a clever babe and I've only met him for a moment,” Lady Sansa said, fiddling with her necklace with its metal curved to spell her name. “Mother told me, even with my siblings, how she managed Riverrun in Father’s absence. So I imagine a lady could do it when you’re being a knight in the Westerlands?”

It sounded possible, and he knew Father would foist the lady of a respected House upon him when he was of marrying age. The only girl around his age he knew was Cersei, and he didn’t want someone like that around him for the rest of his days. Father always got what he wanted, so Jaime just hoped the chosen girl wasn’t like his twin.

In the mood to ride, Jaime spurred his horse east on River Road until blood rushed through his veins. Another horse was beside him but he focused on the rise and fall of his horse. He slowed to a walk and the girl was at ease beside him. “I don’t understand something,” he slowly said, biting his lip. “Why aren’t you hiding away like your sisters?” He wasn’t going to outright ask why she wasn’t mourning her mother.

Atop her horse, Lady Sansa took off the necklace and stared at it, thumbing it. “It may not seem like it, but I am mourning Mother,” she murmured. Turning her head to face him there was a pain in her eyes for a second and it disappeared again. “Some prefer being alone. Some scream until they can no more. Others do something that reminds them of their loved ones.”

Jaime wasn’t a fan of crying girls; it normally included someone screaming at him. This time he counted himself lucky. But there was a chance she might, so he was eager to get back to Riverrun when decency presented an opportunity. He’d already asked a sensitive question that upset her, so being rude wasn’t an option.

Taking a breath, he looked at the landscape around River Road instead of the girl so she could answer when ready. “Just before Mother died, she gave me this.” He turned her way and in her palm was the name pendant. “Her last wish was I rode every day and remember the times we were happy together.”

“Why didn’t she give it to you before? She was your mother, wasn’t she?” Her eyes were like ice but she didn’t say anything. Gods, she is kind and never shouts. I was expecting to be yelled at by now, he thought. The words of one song verse came to mind. An inadvertent snigger slipped out. Oh, fuck.

Her eyes narrowed; lips pursed. “One would expect you’d be sympathetic of such things, Lord Jaime.” She was pissed but, thank the gods, not going off as Cersei would have. “Seven sennights may not be a long time to you, but she was my mother; the mother I couldn’t see for ten years. Believe it or not, I did and still do love her.”

Hands by his sides in surrender and nervous, he swallowed. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t laughing at you.” Demanded answers were normal from Cersei, but Lady Sansa never spoke. “I knew my mother for seven years and it still hurts,” he told her quietly, hoping that would keep her from going off.

“It will always hurt,” she said, looking at the pendant. Lifting her eyes they met his again; expression controlled. “So what were you laughing at?”

It was as though he’d dodged an arrow, and Jaime thanked the gods for their mercy. “A tavern song about you and Cersei. Prince Oberyn had a minstrel sing it in Lannisport.” She looked at him in confusion but also something else. “It was being sung at Riverside when I was in the wheelhouse.”

“What relation does that have to now? Wait, Prince Oberyn?”

Relaxing, he loosened his tight grip on the reins. “I was there when he paid the minstrel a gold dragon. The song doesn’t matter to me, but Cersei, gods she’s angry. It would be easier if I said the words that matter.” Lady Sansa nodded and he took that for permission.

 

“Sansa cares for the people.

She’s kind and never shouts.

But look out,

A lion‘s about.

Cersei oh hates the Tully trout.”

 

Glancing away for a minute there was silence between them until the girl beside him broke it. “Who in their right mind would someone sing that? Let alone in Lannisport?” she questioned in bewilderment. “First rumours about me and now a song? At least it explains Lady Cersei’s glare.”

“Someone desperate for money I suppose.” He looked at her. “You didn’t know about it?”

She shook her head. “No. I imagine there are more words, but pray tell they didn’t mock your sister? I heard about Cersei in Lannisport.” Jaime half laughed and nodded, which made her groan. He laughed again. “Pray forgive me, but why do you laugh? I’d think you’d be furious.”

Jaime sniggered. “Let’s say I’m not too bothered with what Cersei thinks.”

Lady Sansa had a quizzical look about her but didn’t ask him about it. “I can honestly say I wouldn’t expect that from a twin.”

He shrugged. Explaining why he cared little about it wasn’t important. “We have our differences,” he said and shortened his hold on the reins, eyes on River Road.

“Don’t we all?” she said, gaze towards Riverrun. “Come,” Lady Sansa said in a better mood, hands on the reins like his. “Shall we race back?”

It was definite he would. Cooped up in the wheelhouse for so long left him so bored he could probably ride for a sennight and not tire of the idea. If he had to wager, there was quite a distance back to Riverrun. There was also the fact of a funeral sooner or later. Mayhaps I should go as an apology. I was a bit of an arse. As a Lannister, Aunt Genna would have my ear if I didn’t go.

“Alright,” he said eager for the speed. Galloping took away all his bothers, but there was something he needed to say first. “Lady Sansa?” he said and she turned in her saddle. “Would my family be welcome to your mother’s ceremony? I can’t make promises about Cersei, but everyone else would come; even me.”

Something seemed to douse any resentment she had for him. He got a sad nod when she replied. “They would be,” Lady Sansa said. “And thank you, Jaime. I’d appreciate you being there.” Now notably happier, the girl looked at him after a moment, her reins gripped to race.

“On three?” he said, his blood beginning to rush in anticipation. She nodded. “Three!”

“Hey!” she shouted from behind him. He laughed but slowed the horse to a canter until she almost caught up. “That was hardly noble, Ser Jaime!” Lady Sansa hollered over the thundering hooves. Jaime snorted and focused on the path ahead.

Over his shoulder, she was close behind him and irritation changed to determination. She disappeared but emerged again, her horse running beside his. “Did you just cheat, my lady?” Lady Sansa gave a look of innocence and he shook his head. “I suppose it’s fair.”

Riverrun came up fast and their horses flew down the hill, crossing the drawbridge at a thunder on wood; no doubt drawing the eyes of many.

“A tie?” he offered, both of them slowed the horses to a walk.

Like him, she was a little short on breath and visibly recovered. “A tie,” she replied at the stables, surrendering the reins to a stableboy. “Thank you for accompanying me, Jamie. It was a pleasant ride,” she said with a curtsy. “Even the cheating on both our parts,” she japed and took her leave towards the castle doors.

He knew she’d cheated.

In the yard with a grin, Jaime faltered when metal rang and he followed it until he found The Red Viper and The Blackfish in a spar. Instead of the partisan, he was known to fight with, The Red Viper was armed with a sword much like Blackfish.

From behind the fencing, Jaime observed their different styles and what the strengths of each were; speed against power, light armour against plate armour like he trained in.

“What were you doing with that Tully?” Cersei demanded from his side.

Eyes on the men, he rolled them. “What do you think I was doing? I thought it would be obvious,” he said, trying to brush her off.

Grabbed by the shoulder, he was forced to face Cersei. “I know what she’s doing. You should have been by my side, not hers!”

“There’s nothing wrong with a friendly ride,” he said. “What’s the big crime of joining your host for something harmless you like? Besides,” he pushed, turning away. “Surely you remember how boring I find the wheelhouse?”

“Clearly,” she snapped. “Your highlight was the thrice-damned song about that tart.”

He shook his head; this was ridiculous. “Be reasonable, Cersei. It was just a ride, it’s not like it matters. Why are you so bothered by something like horseback?” He walked away and a thought came to him; Cersei was here but not Tyrion. It took him a moment to consider the nursery Tyrion was to share with the Tully heir; Edmure.

Within his chamber, Jaime requested a bath prepared before the funeral. Aunt Genna had taught him and Cersei many things about lords, ladies and queens. Most, admittedly, went ignored until their aunt pulled his ear and scolded Cersei before something important at Casterly Rock. Smelling like a horse at a funeral would anger Aunt Genna; she’d set him straight if he dared do that. The Tullys would be offended too.

His servant would take time to prepare the tub, so he searched the castle for the older nursery and inside it, his little brother was playing. Lord Tully told Jaime’s family the twins were kept in separate in a nursery to protect them from falling sick in their first moon; that one was guarded.

Jaime entered and the little lion greeted him with a grin. “Jaime is happy.” Jaime picked him up and Tyrion pulled a face. “Horse stink.”

“Really?” he replied, pretending not to know. “Do I stink of horse, little brother?”

“Yes,” his brother said with certainty. “Jaime stink.”

Grinning at Tyrion’s look of disgust, Jaime was merciful and put him back on the floor. “Cersei left you alone?” he asked. It was something he always asked about these days. Being around Tyrion all the time was impossible.

“Sister no come,” the toddler answered happily. “Sansa Tulllee come.”

This got his attention; anyone visiting his brother in Casterly Rock was a rare thing. “Nice or bad?”

“Nice lady.”

Good. She treated him kindly when we arrived, but it wasn’t to gain favour with my aunt and uncle.

“She horse stink too.”

Jaime burst out laughing at that. He glanced at the youngest boy in the room and Edmure was listening. “Did you have fun?” he asked Tyrion, hoping his brother wasn’t alone because of the way he looked.

“Tyrion had fun.”

It was a relief to hear and Jaime ruffled Tyrion’s hair briefly. “I’ll see you later, little brother.” Jaime rose and left the nursery and returned to his chambers where he found the welcome sight of a steaming bath.

Cersei inviting herself into his tub was rare nowadays, but every now and again she would do it to try and wheedle favours out of him. Depending on what it was and if he wanted to do it. However, it seemed that his bath today was going to be interrupted. She entered his chambers without pause and stripped down to join him.

Not in the mood for it, Jaime got to the point. “What could you want? We just got here, and the funeral is soon.”

His brusque question didn’t please her and neither had he tried. “Less than a day and you’re interested in that wench?” she bitterly asked.

He huffed. “If that’s all you’re here to talk about then get out,” he said. “And Sansa Tully? We talked about her dead mother on that ride. Happy?” Cersei’s jealousy towards a girl who hadn’t done anything wrong was tiring.  

When Cersei dressed and stormed out of the room his bath was peaceful. Without the sister who was a regular pain in his side, he finished and made his way down to the Great Hall where the rest of his family was gathered and dressed. None of them had come expecting a funeral so all of their clothes were red, gold or brown.

Once the Tullys made their appearance, they led the way to the battlements where the ceremony would be carried out. Lord Tully went somewhere else.

Chapter Text

HOSTER TULLY

Day 6, 12th Moon, 275 AC

An open chamber was silent and empty but for one man kneeling beside a boat. He leaned forward and cupped Minisa’s face for what would be the last time. Generous mercy from the gods last night were hours he would keep alive in his mind. She’d chosen against the Sweetsleep and passed on in his arms for the eternal slumber. Now, she was at peace.

The boat was filled with firewood, kindling, and upon it, his wife rested; a Tully banner covering her body.

Minisa had always been a caring woman granted both wits and beauty; her character brightened his days when she was by his side. The love and support his wife always gave made him lighter when forced to make difficult decisions.

The impact of her first two children not surviving affected Minisa in such a way he’d feared the grief would weaken her, but sweet Minisa mourned each babe without letting it destroy her. She’d loved all their children, and she’d loved them equally. Her heart held such gentleness even he didn’t deserve, but their marriage had been strong and steady.

Being with child always weakened Minisa, and when Catelyn survived infancy Hoster was content to have his daughter as heir. Minisa had cherished their surviving girl; raising Catelyn by her own hand and no nursemaid in sight, for she fed Catelyn at her own breast. They raised her together and he treasured the happiness their child brought Minisa. However, she’d wanted a large family although Catelyn would be Riverrun’s heir; she’d wanted more children and he didn’t deny her.

Determined to ensure the best health, he’d sought help from the maester who advised time between any further children so Minisa wouldn’t suffer a strain. Food was fresher, Riverrun kept cleaner, and ill servants were to return once their ailments abated. Anything that would help her, Hoster provided. She bore four more hale and healthy children despite the high risk.

Two years after Catelyn, Lysa was brought into the world and again he was prepared to stop. However, his wife’s determination for babes remained strong. Concerned he told her to wait before they had another. Eight years later Edmure was another hale and healthy babe. It appeared to lift some weight from her shoulders; mayhaps relieved by a living son; he was relieved Minisa survived.

Within a year, Minisa was with child again but by accident. When she carried Edmure, Minisa became prone to illnesses, and the vulnerability remained although their son left her body. When her belly swelled with child once more, concern grew within him. The evident struggle made him fear the worst and he had been right to.

He pursued the use of moon tea with Minisa’s consent, but their realisation was too late and the maester deemed having the child no more dangerous than moon tea. She’d begged him no matter what, to love and nurture their babe as he had done with their other three. And he told her she needn’t ask, for her child was a part of her and there was nothing of Minisa he couldn’t love.

After the second twin, Hoster was with her and the infants for a time until their daughters were individually sent into the chamber; spending their last night with their mother but unknowing.

The final girl to see Minisa, Sansa, was an exception. From the moment she sat down, she deduced the truth and pleaded to be told she was mistaken. The girl was an enigma. For the past two moons, something in his mind repeatedly told him she was his. However, he fought the instinct and watched as Minisa did the opposite.

Minisa opened her heart to her and by the gods, both of them blossomed with happiness. The love between his wife and this child had been near-palpable. To accept the girl into his House as a ward with his name was the right choice. But Minisa, his sweet-hearted wife, asked Sansa to be more. To become as much their daughter as Catelyn and Lysa, and mean it in his heart when he called her ‘daughter’.

Hoster watched and waited with caution to see if the girl deserved such a title; he’d needed to know if she would be a danger to his family. In his mind, he refrained from associating 'daughter' with 'Sansa'.

Any final doubts were swept aside by the incident with the son of Lord Baelish. Lysa treated the girl cruelly when it happened, but Sansa did nothing to her. She was no danger and it lifted his concerns. So he commissioned a necklace for the girl’s nameday next year and showed Minisa. It would tell her she was considered one of the family.

His sweet wife…when she saw it there’d been tears of joy in her eyes, and Minisa told him he would never regret the decision. And he had yet to regret including Sansa as one his of daughters. Minisa may not have carried her, but there was no denying how much she loved her.

Leaning forward, Hoster placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and untied the boat. It was time.

The boat holding his sweet Minisa drifted towards the middle of the river. Hoster bowed his head and released the portcullis to block entry into the castle. He took the stairs to the ground-level of Riverrun and continued until he reached the highest of the castle battlements.

Waiting on the left were his children, all but the newborns, and his brother dressed in muted clothing. To the right, at a respectful distance, were Prince Oberyn Martell, the Lannisters and the household servants behind them. All of them in dark tones, except one person. His attention to the river, Hoster watched and waited until Minisa’s little boat came into view.

Given the bow by his brother, Hoster held an arrow coiled by oiled rope within a brazier until the arrow caught flame.

When the boat was the right distance downriver, he nocked the arrow and watched the wind’s direction with a flag. The aim was taken and the arrow released. Flying true, it travelled in an arch and the boat was alight and floating down the Red Fork.

Head bowed for a moment, Hoster released a breath and watched the flame of the boat travel the length of the river until a bend. He would never forget her. A hand squeezed his shoulder; Brynden gave a nod when he glanced to his side. They had their differences but not here.

Hoster stared at the water from where he stood, memories of his life with his sweet wife flittered across his mind. Against either side of him were Catelyn and Sansa, Lysa burrowing her head against his torso. Remaining there for a time, the Tullys mourned the woman that touched all their hearts.

Straightening himself up and a rub to the backs of his daughters, Hoster led them down to the Great Hall where the midday meal was to be laid out for them and their guests. In the empty hall, the three girls made themselves a little presentable; all three had varying hints of red in their eyes. That was remedied by a handmaid coming over and presenting them with spoons sitting in a bowl of chilled water.

When they were finished, Catelyn and Sansa looked the most composed of the three. With a look to each of them, he took his seat in the hall and the girls followed suit where they waited for their guests. Brought into the Great Hall by handmaids a few minutes later, the Lannisters and Prince Oberyn took their seats when the final dish was placed on the table.

The food served had the evident signs of effort when prepared. Warm but moist, tender and seasoned. The group ate in silence out of respect for his wife and the loss of a mother. Although there was silence, Hoster was patient, although the boredom displayed by Cersei Lannister was blatant. Ser Kevan and Lady Genna, had no relation to the woman he loved, exercised decorum and regard, as did the heir.

Lady Genna followed his gaze and became irate with the younger girl. Sansa’s eyes were on Cersei Lannister but his daughter turned back to her meal with no reaction.

Sansa always brought questions to his mind. She was an observant girl with control of her emotions when a situation demanded it. However, she had a heart; she’d suppressed her pain and focused on Minisa in those final hours until her mother coaxed her to let it out.

The sombre meal over, the Great Hall emptied of both guests and daughters, each taking their leave to pursue privacy or quiet entertainment. Lady Genna took her niece with intent once they’d left the hall. For the rest of the day, the prince and the Lannisters were to give relative silence so his family could mourn.  

In his wife’s bedchamber, Hoster lingered in silence. She’d loved her children, and with each one Minisa had held them here after the birthing chamber. He’d sat beside her and ran his fingers through her brushed hair and over the softness of the babe’s skin while they rested. Their child with her had always brought a smile to his face; the scene was one of peace. If only there was a portrait of one of those days.

Rising, Hoster approached Oswell’s and Joseth’s nursery to hold them. His and Minisa’s youngest sons. The guards at the door were mainly pretence because the world was not a place of innocent people. His most trusted men protected his sons from kidnapping or infection by illnesses carried by other people.

He will not lose the last children brought into this world by his wife. The idea tore at his heart and it would have grieved Minisa if it happened.

Reaching the nursery, the standing guards bowed their heads in respect which he accepted with gratitude by dismissing them for a reprieve. Hoster paused by the open door. Soft voices of children came from within. One of them was Sansa, his mysterious daughter, while the other was the Lannister heir, Jaime Lannister. On a seat by the door meant for the guards, Hoster used the window’s reflection that featured the nursery and who was inside.

Hands resting on the bassinette, Sansa looked at her brothers with a soft expression. “My mother fought to bring my brothers into the world,” she sadly said. “She was so happy when she held them.”

The Lannister boy had an empathetic expression and turned to her. “I’m sorry, Sansa,” he said. “I wouldn’t know how my mother felt about Tyrion. No one ever told me. I don’t think they will or just don’t know.”

Sansa became thoughtful and thumbed the rim of Joseth’s bassinette, lips quirking wryly but it was gone as quickly as it came. She gazed upon her brothers and faced the boy of nine. “I was told something once,” she whispered. “That you have no choice but to love your children.”

The heir met her eyes with a hint of longing. “Was that only mothers or fathers too?”

Jaime Lannister’s expression hinted at something more. It was no secret Lord Tywin loathed his second son, Tyrion; an unfortunate babe with disfigurement. Lord Tywin was one of, if not, the coldest man by nature in Westeros. The suggested extent of coldness by Lord Tywin towards his favoured children was a surprise.

Sansa’s eyes returned to the infants and her face was melancholy. “Mothers,” she said with longing. “I was told by a mother in Harrenhal, but I imagine the same applies to fathers too.” She’d never been to the girlhood home of his wife or his goodfather would have mentioned it, but her opinion had a genuine voice.

A quiet scoff made him focus on Jaime Lannister, whose look was disbelief.

Calm despite the reaction, Sansa was patient with the heir. There was a confidence about her. “You doubt me,” she spoke without surprise. “What reason makes you doubt my words?”

The boy turned away. “Father,” he said and nothing more for a moment. “He’s so busy as Hand that I wonder if he knows he is our father.”

His middle daughter walked until she was beside Jaime Lannister on the other side of the bassinettes. “Did he spend any time with you and your sister?” she said, eyes bright and watching the boy. “I’m not a fool to ask about Tyrion.”

Hoster nodded to her words although he sat alone. Sansa was quick to catch onto behavioural traits of her company. She had an unusual and swift tendency to understand the nuances of certain people but needed extended time concerning others. Once she understood a person it required a strong difference of opinion for a dispute, and those were a rare occurrence.

“He does,” Jaime Lannister stiffly said and took a breath. “But not like a father. Not really.” The heir looked down at Hoster’s sons, resting his arms on the bassinette frame. The boy’s expression became hesitant. “Do you blame the twins?” he asked.

Hoster stiffened. For Sansa to blame her brothers would clash with her behaviour and Minisa’s words. Once the girl had forced herself to leave the childbed chamber, Minisa told him their daughter cared for them already.

“For Lady Tully’s death?” Jaime Lannister added.

With a trace of upset, Sansa’s attention was fixed on the heir. She blinked and answered him with a question of her own. “Does a child choose the outcome when they’re brought into the world?”

“I don’t think so,” the heir said with conviction.

His daughter gave Jaime a look of approval but it was gone quick. Lifting her fingers to the necklace him and Minisa gifted her during the final night, Sansa grew quiet; her eyes downcast when she took a breath. It was a moment and she continued the conversation. “Every mother knows there’s a risk when their belly swells with child.”

Relief grew on the Lannister heir’s face. “So will you love them anyway?”

Sansa looked up and met his eyes. “Do you love Tyrion?”

“He’s my brother. Of course, I do,” he whispered with indignation.

She smiled at him, eyes soft when she gazed at her brothers but turned back to face the heir. “And I love Oswell and Joseth as much as I loved Mother and my memories of her.” Picking up Joseth, Sansa cradled the babe in her arms with care and faced Jaime Lannister. “Every child is innocent,” she told him, tracing the cheek of Joseth with a light touch.

Gazing at the babe in his daughter’s arms, the Lannister heir approached the window and turned back to Sansa. “If only Cersei believed that,” he said with disappointment. “She blames Tyrion for my mother’s death.” Turning away, the boy looked at something unseen. “Father hates him.”

Sansa had no expression of surprise from hearing this. “Cersei,” she uttered for a moment before straightening up. “I believe Cersei blames him because his body is different,” his daughter said. “She wants something to blame her pain upon, so she blames his disfigurement.” She put Joseth down and lifted Oswell, delivering a kiss to the babe’s forehead. “Lord Tywin is not a man I believe to be a lackwit. He wouldn’t have his reputation if he was,” she slowly said.

The heir met her eyes and his own held an unsaid question. “Father’s no fool, but what are you suggesting?” he asked her uncertainly, watching her.

Licking her lips, his girl went to the heir and met the boy’s eyes. “Mayhaps he cared for Lady Joanna to a point he needs to redirect the pain to cope; so he directs it to Tyrion,” she guessed, hesitation became confidence. “Don’t take my word as fact though. I could be wrong. We’ve never met,” she said.

The Lannister just shook his head at her. “You and my sister are both girls. But you don’t hate your brothers. Why?”

“Between Cersei and I, the difference could be I acknowledge the boys had no control in what happened,” his daughter said, stroking the sleeping babe in her arms. Closing her eyes for a moment, Sansa looked grieved and inhaled but looked back at the boy. “Accepting someone’s death is difficult and painful; mayhaps Cersei has not,” she said gently.

“Ugh,” he groaned running a hand over one side of his face. “Girls are confusing,” he said, sounding ready to sit down and give up. Instead of taking the comment as an insult, his daughter smiled at Jaime with mild amusement.

Rocking the babe in her arms, she placed Oswell in the bassinette. “We’re all very different, I’m afraid, Jaime.”

“I know,” he said as though defeated. “That’s what’s confusing.”

Her lips quirked and Sansa ran her fingers along the edge of the bassinette. “Some are impulsive. Some are patient. Some are thoughtful. Some hold a grudge. And some make exceptions,” she said and looked up with a smile. “There are others but that’s merely a few examples.”

The heir rolled his eyes and leaned against the wall. “It’s already a long list.”

“The possibilities are endless,” she teased, standing by the bassinettes.

Jaime Lannister held his hands up in mock surrender. “You seem to have an answer for anything,” he replied with a shake of his head. “Are you the Crone in disguise?”

That captured Hoster’s interest. What other questions could she have answered for him already?

Sansa was a clever girl and mayhaps used her wit to help him in one thing or another. Unless it was commenting on the conclusion she’d drawn about his family. They were valid possibilities. It was rare for a child of ten to have the insight she’d display thus far within the nursery.

“No, Jaime, I promise you I am not,” she calmly promised him. When the boy continued to look at her she explained further. “I’m just a girl who watches people so I understand why they do and say certain things.”

Jaime Lannister nodded and came to the other side of the bassinettes with a serious expression. “So you will always love your brothers?”

Sansa looked down from her side but he couldn’t see her face. “No matter what, I know I will,” she said, voice bleeding with certainty.

“That’s good.” The heir relaxed his shoulders.

She came around to Jaime’s side and lifted her head. “You feared otherwise, didn’t you?” she said, confident but soft.

Jamie was contrite and fiddling with the bassinette frame; hesitant, he met her eyes. “No offence, Sansa, but yes. Cersei blames Tyrion; I thought you might become the same,” he said, gaze on Sansa but his fingers restless.

“Never,” she said. Looking into the bassinettes, Sansa whispered and Hoster struggled to hear. “I’d give my life for them if need be.”

In his seat, Hoster took a breath and prayed it would never come to such a thing with any of his children. He’d already lost his wife; should Sansa die, it would leave a pain as though it was Catelyn or Lysa. To not care about Sansa after the love between Minisa and Sansa was impossible; she had committed so much time and effort to make sure Minisa was taken care until the end.

“Sorry.”

In the reflection, his daughter shook her head. “There’s no need to apologise,” she said. “What else were you to think? Cersei’s the only other example you’ve seen, isn’t she?”

The heir nodded. “It’s why I want to become a knight; what Cersei does to Tyrion,” he whispered. “‘Defend the weak. Protect the innocent.’” A bit uncomfortable, Jaime Lannister made for the door and Hoster made quick work of reaching his solar and holding the door half open as though leaving it. “Thanks for showing me the twins, Sansa. I best go to my chambers or something.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll see you on the morrow.”

It wasn’t long before the heir was out of the nursery and heading off down the hall, appearing to have missed Hoster’s presence completely.

As an adult, Hoster refrained from eavesdropping normally. However, the line of conversation had drawn him in. His daughter seemed well beyond her years for such an unusual topic. The topic itself was something shared between good friends, not guests who arrived that morning. It was odd and had Jaime Lannister withheld his family’s view on his brother, Hoster would want to investigate the foreknowledge, alas it was deduction by Sansa.

What could have brought on enough interest or ease between them to discuss something of such sensitivity?

He had to admit there was a similarity in the loss of their mothers. Yet to share thoughts on the subject was a surprise, for boys often held interest in matters such as arms training, lordships, and knighthood, instead of talking tragedy.

Entering the nursery to hold his sons, he found Sansa standing over the bassinettes and gazing at her sleeping brothers. Her attention turned to him and Hoster was greeted by Tully eyes. “Sansa?” he murmured, coming to her side.

“Father,” she said in the same manner. “Today was difficult on all of us. Is there anything I can do to help?”

He placed an arm on her shoulder with tentative care and gave a weak smile in reply. “I saw how much your last moment with your mother affected you, Sansa. You matter no less than your sisters,” he told her. “I see so much of your mother in you, Sansa. You have her heart.”

Her eyes widen with tears threatening to escape. “Thank you, Father. I’m…thank you.”

Bringing her into a slow hug, Hoster rested her head on his chest and shushed her. She gripped his doublet and quietly cried against him. Gaze on the heartbroken girl, the necklace that overjoyed Minisa brush against his fingers.

Farewell, sweet wife.

 

Chapter Text

ARTHUR DAYNE

Day 8, 12th Moon, 275 AC

Within the shade of the Kingsguard’s training yard, Arthur watched those knights. Lewyn sparred against one with vigour; Ser Gwayne and either man could win. Lewyn and Arthur came daily since court a fortnight ago. Trapped, they trained against the Kingsguard in preparation of the tourney to celebrate a new Targaryen. The king had bid it. Rumours said Queen Rhaella’s pregnancy was promising this time.

The absence of smiles from those white knights was frequent and neutral, but not this morning. Drained of any liveliness, the sworn brothers of the Kingsguard bore solemn expressions. Serious was normal, but not this. Whatever the cause, it was kept quiet; not an easy feat in the Red Keep. Something was wrong. His eyes darted from knight to knight, desperate for a hint of what made them this way.

On the other side of the yard was Prince Rhaegar. And that man’s eyes failed to match the rest of his body. Melancholy was typical of the prince, yet it was absent. Instead, grimness dominated the prince’s face but didn’t reach the eyes. One tell of falsehood, according to Elia’s teachings.

A silhouette blocked his view of the yard and its owner sat down beside him, black hair in sweaty strands on olive skin; Prince Lewyn. The man took a waterskin and turned to Arthur, face thoughtful. “You’d think I was used to Hightower’s hawkish eyes by now. Always watching me,” said Lewyn, who drained the waterskin and locked eyes with Arthur. “Today’s different, and I don’t fucking like it. Ser Oswell had a dire look when we sparred earlier.”

Dropping his gaze to the sparring sword in his lap, Arthur ran his fingers along the hilt. “Prince Rhaegar’s expression is forced, unlike the Kingsguard. He’s pretending.”

A huff came from beside him. “They’re all a serious lot any day, but you’re right about Targaryen,” Lewyn said and smiled. “Elia's teaching you well."

Arthur smothered a smile. “Her advice is invaluable. The scheming in the Red Keep; I'd have missed much of it without Elia’s instruction."

The prince hummed. "Learning to survive this pit takes time," Lewyn said, getting up. A hand grasped Arthur's shoulder. "Look out for yourself, Arthur. It shows."

He glanced up from the sparring sword. "What does?"

Lewyn frowned and sighed. "Your movements are calm, but that stiff back. Don’t let concern make you tense. Relax." The Dornish prince released his hold and stepped back. "Slightly better. Eye the yard and you’ll see something, but relax that back," he said and approached one of the Kingsguard. Ser Gerold nodded and raised his sparring sword.  

The waterskin in Arthur’s hand dwindled to empty while he noted the details of the yard. Ser Gwayne had a waterskin to his lips on the other side of the yard. Prince Rhaegar’s sword flashed with sunlight against a Kingsguard knight, Ser Oswell, one of four knights present that were normally five. A servant or two refilled waterskins but otherwise stood in the shade. An audience lingered near three windows. Lewyn was sparring against Ser Gerold instead of his normal Kingsguard opponent. Jon Connington’s attention stayed firmly on Prince Rhaegar, those eyes followed every move the prince made. The prince’s squire was like a dog seeking a master’s praise and attention.

Fourth and final sworn brother in the yard was a true knight like Ser Gerold and Arthur; Ser Barristan Selmy. The man was an inspiration Arthur pursued emulating since boyhood; a just man and an honourable knight. Ser Barristan observed Lewyn’s movements against Ser Gerold. When either man turned the fight to their favour, Ser Barristan had a hint of a smile. The interest was odd. Ser Barristan had sparred with Lewyn in a hard-won victory against the Dornish prince’s strategies. Prince Rhaegar normally had the man’s attention whilst training.

With the last few drops, Arthur glanced from knight to knight and Prince Rhaegar. The knights watched Lewyn often when resting from their own spars, but Prince Rhaegar paid attention solely to who he sparred; as one in training for knighthood would. Every Kingsguard brother in the yard had their eyes on, if not the crown prince, one of the two men visiting from Dorne; him and Lewyn.

He suppressed a shiver and rose. Approaching Ser Barristan with sparring sword in hand, Arthur’s back was to Prince Rhaegar. The Targaryen improved every day. Whatever the knights of the Kingsguard taught him, he trained countless hours to master it. That man was indisputably determined.

Scheming lurked everywhere in the Red Keep, and being Targaryen royalty didn’t exclude Prince Rhaegar from possibly doing so. What the prince wanted escaped Arthur; frustration and restlessness stirred within the knight.

A flash blinded him. His sword shot up and metal met metal; painful vibration rang through his arms. The light faded and Ser Barristan had a genuine apologetic smile. Arthur swallowed; a half-effort spar wouldn’t be enough now. The older knight likely concluded he’d held back for the past fortnight.

Ser Barristan backed away a step. “Apologies, Ser Arthur, I believed you were ready,” Ser Barristan said, drawing back his sword. “Impressive reflexes, though.”

Arthur glanced over his shoulder and Prince Rhaegar had his back to the sparring true knights. Releasing a breath, he lowered his sword and brought himself closer to the older knight. “Thank you, Ser Barristan,” he murmured while pride stirred in his chest. “That means more than you know.” Arthur swallowed and took a slow breath, his gaze steady on Ser Barristan. “But I ask one thing.”

The face of his boyhood hero was solemn but curious; the typical concealment of expression by courtiers was absent. It always was with this man. Ser Barristan’s eyes darted around the yard but returned to Arthur. “It’s urgent and for my ears alone, isn’t it?” Ser Barristan asked and he nodded. “Follow me to Maegor’s Holdfast. We’ll find privacy there.”

The pair of true knights returned their sparring swords and left the yard with nary a word; Dawn strapped to Arthur's back. It constantly was; his cloak or, like now, nothing covered the scabbard. Occasionally, Arthur stole a glance towards the renowned knight who’d said nothing since entering the Red Keep. Aside from greetings in passing, there’d scarcely been a conversation between them. Most of the time, the honourable man protected their king.

Traversing the halls, Arthur fought the itch of asking the most renowned and living knight of Westeros questions. Elia’s voice echoed in his head – ‘Being open about your thoughts will make you vulnerable in the Red Keep. Hiding them shall protect you, Arthur.’ And so he did in silence.

The white ornamentation ahead tightened Arthur’s core; what it represented. While an honourable duty, it wasn’t what he wanted anymore. He exhaled and relaxed his face. Drawing attention now was foolish. If someone learned of his discomfort, it could have an impact later. A person might suspect and spread rumours for an agenda. By the gods, he hated the politics of King’s Landing.

Ser Barristan led the way into the White Sword Tower’s Round Room; the common area of the tower. A cool breeze blew through its windows. Almost everything was white, sparse and simple; wood, walls, and furniture. In the centre was a weirwood table with masterful artistry and craftsmanship; the only exception, yet unfailingly white.

“No one else would hear us at this time,” Ser Barristan said and closed the door of the Round Room; entry to White Sword Tower. “What need I know, Ser Arthur? Is the royal family in danger?”

Arthur straightened and looked the honourable man in the eye. “No, but I worry for Prince Rhaegar.”   

Pale blue eyes bore into his dark purple. “Why? I ask you to speak plainly. I am a knight; not a man of politics.”

Something in Arthur eased at that request and he got straight to the point. “This,” Arthur said, removing Dawn’s scabbard from his person. “Dawn. When the prince and I met, he wanted a live steel spar against this. Only swift words reaching me prevented last time,” he said and Ser Barristan remained attentive. “Prince Rhaegar pursues it still.”

The blond knight stilled. “The Kingsguard and master-at-arms would never advocate a live steel spar. Live steel is for true combat, not training.”

Arthur both eased and tensed up from what Ser Barristan claimed. Prince Rhaegar pursuit was specific to Arthur and his ancestral sword. “One mistake and Prince Rhaegar could get injured, and I executed for it,” Arthur said. The inclination to plead the man was near, but he kept a level voice. “Ser Barristan, please convince him to stop seeking a live steel spar with me. If he will listen to a knight, he will listen to you.”

Ser Barristan blinked and a lip twitch fell into a frown. “The confidence is appreciated, but I’m afraid you’re wrong.”

Arthur opened his mouth but Ser Barristan shook his head. In defeat, he averted his gaze. Prince Rhaegar’s persistence would eventually succeed with no intervention to help Arthur.

“It is not me,” Ser Barristan said, voice filling the silence. Arthur whipped his head to meet the older knight’s gaze. “But I know someone who he might heed.”

A rush of air left his lungs and the weight melted from his shoulders. “Will they succeed?” he asked, resisting the want of fidgeting. “Will they act if you deliver my words?” A hand on his shoulder led him to a seat at the weirwood table, shaped like a shield. Upon setting Dawn on the table, Ser Barristan sat beside him.

The man met his eyes. “They would act; but I won’t promise success, for I won’t lie,” he said and poured two goblets of water. Ser Barristan took one and passed Arthur the other. “As a fellow true knight, swear what you said was truth.”

His nod was stiff. “I swear it. Every word, Ser Barristan.”

“Very well. I shall deliver the message,” he granted with a decisive expression. “Until I have done so, I need you to remain here for the prince’s safety. It is unusual and unlikely of him to come here.”

Arthur took a drink and set the goblet down, but left a significant gap between it and the White Book on the table’s centre. “I shall,” Arthur promised. “Should I inform my wife and Prince Lewyn to expect my absence?”

The noble man had a hint of a smile but eyes deep-seated sorrow. He shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, Ser Arthur,” he said. “Sooner is wisest for this matter; I ask only for patience here in White Sword Tower until I return.”

He nodded; fingers on the base of his goblet. This was the best chance he had of staving off Prince Rhaegar’s pursuit to spar against Dawn. 

Ser Barristan rose from his seat and pushed it into place. “You’re welcome to read The Book of the Brothers, the White Book, Ser Arthur, to pass the time should you wish. Be careful if you do; the deeds of every Kingsguard knight is in that book.”

Arthur nodded to the Kingsguard knight and chose his words with caution. “Should I, Ser Barristan, it won’t be damaged.” That ought to suffice as respectful but absent of overt interest.

The knight nodded and left the Round Room through the door they’d come; the singular means into and out of White Sword Tower. 

When the steps ceased their echo, Arthur rose and removed his gloves. In a corner stood a hand basin which held a lingering scent of lemon when he neared. Alone but limited to the common area, he refreshed and dried his hands and face. Once complete, he threw a glance to the door; it was ajar. With quick strides, he closed it and concealed his presence. Lifting Dawn from the table, Arthur secured it back on and tucked his gloves beneath its strap.

Now alone on the weirwood table sat the White Book. The deeds of Kingsguard knights, past and present. The deeds of the knight he’d looked up to as a child and respected as a man. Opening it to the right page with a gentle hand, he leaned over the table. No one was here to witness Arthur reading the book now.

 

Ser Barristan Selmy

Ser Barristan of House Selmy. Firstborn son of Ser Lyonel Selmy of Harvest Hall. Served as squire to Ser Manfred Swann. Named "the Bold" in his 10th year, when he donned borrowed armour to appear as a mystery knight in the tourney of Blackhaven, where he was defeated and unmasked by Duncan, Prince of Dragonflies.

Knighted in his 16th year by King Aegon V Targaryen, after performing great feats of prowess as a mystery knight in the winter tourney at King's Landing, defeating Prince Duncan the Small and Ser Duncan the Tall, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.

Slew Maelys the Monstrous, last of the Blackfyre Pretenders, in single combat during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. Defeated Lormelle Long Lance and Cedrik Storm, the Bastard of Bronzegate. Named to the Kingsguard in his 23rd year, by Lord Commander Ser Gerold Hightower. Defended the passage against all challengers in the tourney of the Silver Bridge. Victor in the mêlée at Maidenpool.

 

It was much to live up to as a knight. Although Arthur and Ser Barristan both were true knights, Ser Barristan had done far more to deserve the title. But in reality, it was a matter of Arthur keeping to his morals of doing what was right.

When he was two, Ser Barristan had been twenty-three and just slew Maelys Blackfyre the Monstrous in the war. Arthur was seventeen now. A young knight while his inspiration was twenty-one years his senior and nearing forty.

‘Inspiration’ was the keyword. As a boy, and before the opportunity to marry Elia, he’d imagined himself as a sworn brother of the Kingsguard while Alijah ruled Starfall as lord, and Ashara married to a good man. It had been the best situation he once believed for himself; because no one wants a second son who inherits nothing.

But now was different. There was a real chance to marry a kind and spirited woman who didn’t care he was a second son. He had new desires. Return to Dorne, ask Princess Mariah Martell for her blessing. Marry Elia, and still be a true knight of Westeros who is worthy of the title. He didn’t need a white cloak to be a good man; a deed was a deed, regardless of a cloak’s colour.

Wandering around the room, he took proper effort to see what he used to believe would become his eventual home. It was still possible if he doesn’t get out of King’s Landing. He ran a hand through his hair.

White wool hangings were on the whitewashed stone walls. Above the hearth was a white shield with two crossing longswords. The weirwood table in a shield’s shape had three white stallions as its legs. Three chairs at the table’s two curved sides and one at the straight top with a blanched cowhide cushion; seat of the Lord Commander.

It was a sparse room. And if he was to predict the rest of the tower based on the Round Room, the Kingsguard knights had the bare essentials in their bedchambers.

With little to do, he returned to the White Book and perused the nearby entries of the current Kingsguard. Each had their highlights, but Ser Barristan’s stood out the most. Turning to read the entries of the youngest existing members, he turned forward one page too many and his jaw dropped in horror.

 

Prince Lewyn Martell

 

That was all aside from the Martell sigil on the top left and the Kingsguard’s white on the top right. However, Elia’s uncle’s name was there in thick writing. It was no accident. There had to be a reason for a new member. Seven knights were tradition since Aegon the Conquerer formed the Kingsguard; over two centuries of tradition.

Going back eight pages, Arthur read the bottom line of each member. Harlan Grandison was still alive according to the book. He knew from this morning another four were alive; Hightower, Whent, Gaunt and Selmy. Those he hadn’t seen this morning were Charlton and Ball. He opened their pages and read the bottom lines.

 

Ser Amos Charlton

……

……

….captured the elusive outlaw with no injury to innocent citizens.

 

Ser Bryce Ball

……

……

……While successfully protecting an ailing Ser Amos Charlton within the knight’s White Sword Tower sleeping cell, Ser Bryce Ball was fatally wounded late at night in his 72nd year.

 

He hardly dared to breathe. Turning to the page after Lewyn’s everything was blank. No sigils and no name. No ‘Ser Arthur Dayne’ staring him in the face.

While that aspect allowed him to sigh and calm somewhat, he went to the window overlooking the Kingsguard’s training yard. Lord Commander Ser Gerold Hightower was the remaining of the Kingsguard down there; Lewyn sparring against him. The pair was alone; Sers Oswell and Gwayne, and Prince Rhaegar along with his squire were gone.

There was a bird whistle sequence the three Dornish visitors agreed to for warnings of urgency over distance, but doing it from the White Sword Tower would arouse suspicion. His position might give away what he’d discovered. Lewyn couldn’t flee unless he wanted to incur problems with King Aerys II; that king was already unpredictable on a regular day.

Had the king not decreed Arthur to train here in preparation of the tourney to come, he would have damned the prince's obsession, sought out Elia and fled today. It was pointless pondering, for he was required to abide by the king or face the dangerous man's wrath. Defy him in any way and King Aerys II could directly punish him, or indirectly through harming Elia. Arthur refused to risk that.

If Ser Oswell hadn’t persuaded Alijah into making a lie about Arthur and Elia being married, Elia could flee without him. Few would bat an eye. The Red Keep’s court cared little for the affairs of Dorne, despite wanting to know why Dornishmen were in King’s Landing. That was the only time they bothered.

But what is so bad about the Kingsguard that one of their own would urge me to leave the city or lie to the king about being married? Arthur wondered, eyes falling upon the table in the centre of the room. The current members of the Kingsguard, despite their age all exceeding thirty, were of the best swordsmen he’d met. Of what he’d seen, none of their orders was disgraceful. They were men Arthur respected.

Unless he was ignorant of something, the most logical reason for Ser Oswell’s urging was he wanted him spared from acts of dishonour. A sworn brother of the Kingsguard kept their oaths until the Stranger took them; protecting their king, on the battlefield, or abed. A Kingsguard knight lived a life of devotion and sacrifice; an admired feat and there were songs about the best members; such as Ser Barristan the Bold.

They protected the family who ruled Westeros; as demonstrated by Ser Barristan’s concern when Arthur spoke of the prince’s reckless, dangerous desire. They were good men who saw to every threat.

Whatever Ser Oswell’s reason, Arthur must be more careful when training from here on. In the yard, any skills he displayed were on par with the prince’s; never superior. Any measure to make him less interesting to the Kingsguard and Prince Rhaegar was essential. The attention towards him must be minimised.  

However, the recent revelation of Prince Rhaegar’s specific interest in Arthur and Dawn as good as rendered any effort near pointless. If it weren’t for Ser Amos of the Kingsguard in his weakened state, there would be no need to conceal the full extent of his swordsmanship.

Yet, he worried. Ser Amos Charlton had fallen ill last sennight, and if it bested him there will be another vacancy in the Kingsguard. Arthur swallowed at the prospect; long ago he would have welcomed the possibility, but not now.

Something was amiss within the Kingsguard and he had a real chance for happiness in Dorne. He belonged in his homeland.

Searching the Round Room for a quill and parchment, he raked his mind for an ambiguous phrase only Elia could interpret. He had to wait in White Sword Tower until Ser Barristan returned. However, the knight never specified when he will.

That ruled out waiting to personally tell Elia and Lewyn. A note was his best choice; they needed to know what Arthur did so they’d at the very least know to spend their remaining time together if nothing else.

Alone in the Round Room he’d promised to remain in, Arthur turned to the only source of entertainment present; the White Book. He kept an ear for voices of servants to deliver his note but yielded no success.

His note was well dried and sealed when a handmaiden entered the tower bearing two midday meals. One was for Arthur, courtesy of Ser Barristan she said. He must have had the kitchens notified. The other was taken upstairs; no doubt meant for Ser Amos Charlton.

The handmaiden came down and made for the door, but stopped when Arthur spoke, passing her the note to which she nodded. Arthur exhaled once she was gone; he’d done all possible considering he needed to stay here and away from Prince Rhaegar.

Much time had been wasted though.

 

ELIA MARTELL

In the bustling streets of King’s Landing with a Dayne knight at her flank, Elia turned onto the Street of Seeds. Her uncle said Arthur left the Kingsguard training yard hours ago in the company of Ser Barristan and not seen since. None of Arthur’s usual haunts of the Red Keep had a trace of his presence. Ease was slipping away from her; her belly knotted at the unknown.

Her next best option was locating the man he’d left with; Ser Barristan.

Asking questions around the Red Keep would spark rumours, and they’d grow into more than mere words. Courtiers had agendas. Asking one person was safer than several; if for but a time. What reached one person’s ears reached those of another sooner rather than later.

Since the first day in King’s Landing, she and Arthur always dined together; a show of unity so their ‘marriage’ became accepted truth. Today, however, he’d been absent in the Dining Hall for the midday meal. They must be seen together today so schemers are deterred from plotting against them.

Without the mummery, the court won’t worry if Arthur was selected for the Kingsguard in the event of a death. The Stranger took everyone eventually, and most white cloaks weren’t young. It was a high possibility the Stranger would claim one of them. Should King Aerys II command a married man to join the Kingsguard, Houses will become restless; the beginning of a king’s nightmare.

She must find Arthur and soon; more for their sake than King Aerys’.

Taking a breath, Elia suppressed the worry and eased herself into a calm and composed princess. Worry, anger, haste and distress, among other things, could be used against them should a courtier see it.

The Street of Seeds was a navigational nightmare after the midday meal. Store owners were refreshed and once again promoting their goods with boisterous voices; their customers haggling for lower prices. People finished with their purchases left with full arms while others were arriving, their eyes wandering from one display to the next.

The further she ventured, Elia anticipated more volume. However, the voices grew quieter the more she walked on; except for those of minstrels. Their words reached her ears, but she sought a specific voice. Find it and it, with hope, would help her find Arthur.

Clinks of coin upon coin with one voice singing made hope bloom within her. Although there was a crowd, a man with notable height was armoured in white with a cloak to match. The figure was familiar from the Kingsguard yard and she sighed; Ser Barristan. In front of him was blond-silver hair; Prince Rhaegar. It had to be, for King Aerys II ruled with an iron fist and cared little for smallfolk.

Remaining where she was, Elia blinked at the controlled pitch of Prince Rhaegar’s voice. It was more than rumour; his alleged ability to sing was true. However, she stood there song after song and neared the knight when she could, Elia noted a pattern in Prince Rhaegar’s song choices; they were all current Kingsguard members. An expression of admiration or gratitude mayhaps, for he was training with them each morning.

Four people were in her way when an unusual song made her freeze. If he was only singing about the Kingsguard, she prayed he’d simply run out of their songs. However, she either missed the one about Ser Bryce earlier or the prince excluded it from his repertoire.

Elia stayed for the new song’s duration; panicked mind catching the keywords hinting at who he referenced. The most repeated were of stars, dawn and white sword. Upon its completion, Prince Rhaegar sat down; a rest and water most likely, unless he desired singing himself mute.

Ser Camren’s hand grasped hers. “My Princess?” he whispered, a light grip towards the Red Keep.

The crowd thinned and Elia took to the shade nearest to Ser Barristan. “In a moment, Ser Camren, I’ve found the man, thus pointless to leave. Wait here.”

“As you wish.”

Some smallfolk children near the Targaryen were smiling and thus Prince Rhaegar had his back to Elia. She wanted as private a conversation as she could get and this would have to suffice. Nearing the knight on duty, Ser Barristan eyes were upon her faster than expected. “Ser Barristan,” she whispered, eyes on the prince but returned to the knight. “Why did he sing such a song?”

“I am not privy to discuss that, Princess Elia, but I can imagine why you’re here. I do apologise,” he said and observed the prince for a moment but returned his attention to her. “The tower.”

Elia swallowed and shook her head. “No…” she breathed. “Don’t do this.”

Ser Barristan opened his mouth, but shifting black and red clothes prompted Elia into fleeing and avoiding Prince Rhaegar’s sight. Apologies from the knight meant nothing if there was a song about Arthur as though he was in the Kingsguard. He is to be her husband. In the eyes of the court, Arthur already was.

She kept to the shadows the entire way back; Ser Camren at her flank. It took little imagination to conclude what tower Ser Barristan spoke of.

Nearing the gates of the Red Keep, Elia took a breath and did her best of ridding herself of tension and portray the calm, kind princess from Dorne. There was little benefit doing so since she was Dornish, but nonetheless, she did it.

Pace slow and at ease, Elia conversed on trivial matters with Ser Camren in the halls. No one could know her feelings and fears. If someone did, it would be exploited; unless it already was. She detoured to the Throne Room and peered inside. There was no gathering crowd for an impromptu court session. Mayhaps the oaths were yet to be taken.

Hall after hall, and stairs after stairs, she resisted biting her lip. The few courtiers roaming the Red Keep mustn’t see what she felt. Fidgeting or weaving her fingers was a persistent want. Ser Camren’s hand on her elbow was a constant squeeze slowing her down.

Arthur was a man who accepted her for herself; not her title. He was a respectful, compassionate man. In the absence of a shift for bed, necessary for the mummery, his restraint never wavered although desire burned in his eyes. The proximity showed her who he was deep down. An honourable man and she’d give herself to him in a heartbeat. But he wanted her mother’s blessing for marriage first.

Now she was losing him. The Kingsguard had selected him. A song already and in White Sword Tower. Fate was a cruel mistress. First, her family was the obstacle, and now it was the Kingsguard. The latter she couldn’t fight. Arthur was a man of honour and would keep the vows once he swears them. Their future in Dorne was but dust now.

White ornamentation on the outside brought a hitch to her breath; White Sword Tower. Arthur’s future home. Fingers to her lips, Elia took a breath and forced relaxation. It wouldn’t do for her to be a mess if Arthur hadn’t taken the oaths yet. If he had, seeing her in a state would hurt him.

Soft feet echoed behind her and Elia turned. It was a handmaiden with a basket of white clothing. Instead of going onward into White Sword Tower, the woman set her basket down and approached. “Would you be Princess Elia?” she asked, with subservient posture.

She nodded. “I am. And you would be?”

“Becca, My Princess.” She drew a piece of parchment from her skirts and held it out to Elia. “Pray forgive me for not finding you sooner. I couldn’t find you. This note was given to me at midday.”

Accepting the note, Elia paused and left the blob of wax sealed. “Who wrote this?”

“Ser Arthur, My Princess,” she said and approached the door. “I do know he isn’t here though.” Elia stepped aside while Ser Camren gave the handmaiden the basket back. “Thank you, Ser.”

Note in hand, Elia gave the woman a smile. “Take care, Becca.” Arthur wasn’t in the Throne Room either.

Becca curtsied and went inside, the door closing behind her.

Now alone, Elia sighed and prayed Arthur’s absence in White Sword Tower was a mercy from the gods, not a deception. Walking away and opening the note as she went, Elia made for her shared bedchamber; mind planning out the quickest route to check all of Arthur’s haunts once more.

Although the seal of her note was broken, Elia tucked it into her skirts. The halls were a foolish place to read Arthur’s letter; anything could be on it. Courtiers would see her reaction and rumours will spread. The bedchamber was safest to read it in the rat nest called King’s Landing.

Haunt after haunt, Arthur was nowhere to be seen and dread trickled into her heart. Her fear became words in her mind, Is he to be of the Kingsguard and why I can’t find him? Hand on the note within her skirts, Elia made refuge in their bedchamber and unravelled it.

 

The ball descends and the sun shall rise.

 

It was nothing like she’d expected, but she could breathe easy; Arthur’s note said nothing of him being made a sworn brother. On the second reading, Elia faltered. The sun was the sigil of her family. Descend meant fall, a word synonymous to death. Rise was associated with increasing rank, power or wealth.

Ball likely meant Ser Bryce Ball, and sun had to be her Uncle Lewyn. Both were experienced swordsmen; one replacing the other. She’d witnessed Prince Rhaegar sing about all of the Kingsguard, but for Ser Bryce Ball. While that made sense, it gave no explanation on Prince Rhaegar’s unfamiliar song about Arthur.

Unless she’d been absent for a song about her uncle, either Arthur or Prince Rhaegar had their facts wrong. She prayed they were both wrong, however, Arthur wouldn’t send her information as severe as this without being certain. If he was unsure, he’d have admitted it within the note somehow.

Rising from the bed’s edge, she paced within the room as though in a cage. One way or another she was losing a loved one to the Kingsguard. There was a reason she had no cousins by her uncle, but he loved Freya, who’d been by his side for as long as Elia could remember. She was like an aunt to her.

Inside she was torn; her uncle or Arthur would be bound to the Kingsguard until death. Guilt for her initial relief grew heavy on her shoulders. The family should come first, House Tully had the right of it, yet her heart was pulled in opposing directions; Arthur and Uncle Lewyn.

A creak snapped Elia into awareness and she tucked the note into her skirts. Open was the door of her bedchamber with Arthur in his lavender robes. He drew her into his arms and there was a click of the door closing. Ser Camren was guarding their bedchamber.

Head against his chest, Elia closed her eyes and swallowed. “Who am I to lose, Arthur?” she murmured. “Prince Rhaegar was singing on the streets about the Kingsguard, and he sang about you.”

The arms holding her stiffened. “What?”

Elia sighed and opened her eyes to meet his. “I received your note about balls and suns just now. You mean my uncle, don’t you?” Those purple eyes were solemn but sure.

A hand stroked her hair. “I am sorry, Elia. Yes. Your uncle is who I meant.”

She rested her cheek on his chest and sighed sadly. “Does he know?”

Her loose hair was tucked behind an ear. “I told him at the first opportunity. He’s been looking for you.”

She fiddled with the chest of his robe. “Who told you about Uncle Lewyn being chosen?”

“The White Book has his name and sigil in it. Written thick and the ink dry.” Arthur lifted her chin with a gentle finger. His eyes held a silent apology. “I’m sorry, Elia.”

With her finger on his lips, she shook her head. “You didn’t choose my uncle. Take not the blame of another’s actions.” Moving her hand away, she caressed his cheek and embraced him. “I don’t know what to think or feel,” she whispered. “Until the handmaiden gave me your note, I thought you were joining the Kingsguard. I couldn’t find you, the prince’s song about you, and Ser Barristan said you were in White Sword Tower. Relieved that you’re not, of course, but now it’s my uncle joining. He’s my family, yet my mind is at war with itself.”

Firm but gentle arms pulled her into Arthur’s frame. “This isn’t your fault. Nothing can be done but spend what uninterrupted time you have left with him. Once he takes the oath his time belongs to the Kingsguard.”

Elia nodded against his chest and pulled back. “Do you know where he is?”

Arthur nodded.

“Niece.” There was movement near the wardrobe.

“Uncle!”

Arthur kissed her cheek and left. The situation sunk deeper into Elia’s mind and she welcomed her uncle’s embrace while a tear slid down her face. He didn’t want this. It was obvious.

 

ARTHUR DAYNE

When word reached him of a court session to begin an hour from now, Arthur made his way to his bedchamber. However, Ser Camren stood guard in front of the next bedchamber down. Arthur had no desire to intrude upon what little spare time remained for Elia and Lewyn, but tardiness would anger King Aerys.

The decision to act was made for him when a squire with two servants bearing a crate knocked and entered Lewyn’s bedchamber. No doubt the signature armour of the Kingsguard was inside that crate. Tradition dictated a new protector of the king was donned their white cloak while dressed in the armour of the Kingsguard.

Entering the chamber himself, Arthur closed its door and went straight to Elia, standing beside her with an arm around her back. She was effectively witnessing her uncle losing his last shreds of freedom. Each piece fitted onto Lewyn was akin to a stone slab being pushed to seal a coffin. Although Elia kept herself admirably composed in front of three strangers, Arthur was not fooled.

Lewyn received the helm to hold when everything else was in place. In silence, the squire and servants departed, closing the door behind them. Lewyn was like his nephew, Oberyn; the Kingsguard wasn’t a good place for him.

Elia’s eyes were like glass but she didn’t cry when hugging her uncle. “What do I say to Freya, Uncle? She’s been like an aunt to me; always by your side.”

With a thumb, Lewyn stroke Elia’s tear track and took a hand into his own. “Nothing, sweet niece. She knows and will stay in the capital with me.”

Arthur did his best to conceal his thoughts on the matter. As a boy, he’d read what the Kingsguard vows entailed and chastity was one of them. For Freya to stay was pointless unless Lewyn had no intention of keeping to that particular vow. Failing to fulfil a task asked of you was one thing, but breaking an oath sworn on a person’s honour was a different matter. Vows and oaths were sacred to House Dayne, more so than other Houses, thus what Lewyn implied was difficult for Arthur to accept.

Eyes averted, he went to the window and gazed out towards the bay. Soft mumbles of Elia and Lewyn filled the silence; this was the last of their time together before the swearing of vows and becoming a brother of the Kingsguard. In essence, belong to the king’s will and whims.

It was doubtful Lewyn asked to be on the Kingsguard, but the intent of breaking a sworn vow echoed in Arthur’s mind. Betraying Elia’s family was something he’d never consider. Nonetheless, the knowledge was bothersome and Arthur would have to deal with it.

A knock pulled him back to reality in the bedchamber, and the door revealed Ser Oswell. “Princess Elia, Ser Arthur,” he said, nodding to each. Whent’s attention settled on Lewyn. “Prince Lewyn, please come with me.”

Both men left without a word and Arthur was alone with Elia in her uncle’s former bedchamber. She sighed and shook her head. “We all knew there was a risk of this happening.” Her hands took Arthur’s and she clasped it tightly. “I needn’t say it, but keep a low profile, Arthur; more than ever now. My uncle never did, and now…”

“I promise,” he said, removing the hand atop his and stroked her hair. “Come. We mustn’t be late.”

Wordless, Elia nodded and wove her arm around his in the halls. Murmurs of voices grew louder with each turn towards the Throne Room. Inside it, courtiers filled the main floor and the gallery above. But glimmering white drew his eye. Prince Rhaegar stood at the base of the Iron Throne while Ser Barristan was at attention in front of him. This was strange.

Any session of the court had a precession when King Aerys arrived with his Kingsguard, his heir, Grand Maester, and his Hand. Together, not separate. However, the Lord Hand was said to be riding to the Westerlands.

Arthur and Elia joined the flow filling the gallery and kept away from the bannister. The further they were from Targaryen eyes the better for them. Talk grew while neither of them spoke. There was no need to speculate why there was a court session now.

King Aerys II arrived in the same manner as always, with the exception of Prince Rhaegar; at whom the king frowned.

From the Iron Throne and looming over all, King Aerys II raised a hand and the Throne Room fell silent. Elia’s grip of Arthur’s arm tightened by a margin.

Unlike arranged sessions there were no petitioners or lords stepping forth to make announcements or requests; the king wasted no time. “Prince Lewyn Martell,” he summoned, voice bouncing off the walls.

The movement came from the main entrance into the Throne Room rather than the crowds. In white enamelled armour, but missing the cloak of a sworn Kingsguard knight, approached Lewyn; chainmail clinking with each step. In front of the Kingsguard’s defensive formation, he dropped to one knee. “Your Grace.”

Behind the Kingsguard was blond-silver movement; Prince Rhaegar. Arthur kept utterly still in hope of the prince’s eyes missing him. Regardless, the heir spotted him and smothered a flash of displeased confusion. Determination lasted for but a second and a calm mask took over Prince Rhaegar’s face when he turned to face Lewyn.

A squeeze of his arm from Elia told him she’d seen the prince’s behaviour. He rested a hand atop hers and dared the softest hum he could make. He’d seen it too.

Upon the seat of the Iron Throne, King Aerys had his eyes on those far below. “Do you swear to protect and serve your king?”

“I swear, Your Grace,” Lewyn said, his voice echoing in the hall alone.

“Do you swear to keep your king’s secrets?”

“I swear, Your Grace.”

“Do you swear to hold no lands, take no wife, and father no children?”

“I swear, Your Grace.”

King Aerys gave a nod of satisfaction and Ser Gerold Hightower approached Lewyn with a white cloak draped over one arm. There was nothing to be done to stop it and Arthur watched while the cloak was clipped into place on Lewyn’s armour. He was now a brother of the Kingsguard and rose to his feet.

"Until death you are a knight of the Kingsguard."

Arthur stole a glance at each of the knights; their expressions neutral. Behind the knights, Prince Rhaegar fought a small frown.

 

Chapter Text

ELIA MARTELL

Day 11, 12th Moon, 275 AC

Like gentle waves of a beach, warm air brushed the back of her shoulder and drew a lazy smile from Elia. Slow and soft breaths against her bare skin made Elia exhale and sink into the pillow.

Weak morning light touched blurry bundles on the floor, unhindered by the curtain hanging beside the window parallel to the featherbed.

Arthur’s peaceful breathing was slower than hers; his warm skin surrounded her bare body like a silent promise of safety. At her waist began the light press of an arm which, with her own hand atop his, ended at her breast; Arthur’s calloused fingers splayed over it as though they belonged there. In Elia’s mind, they did.  

The first time Arthur woke like this there had been profuse apologies for what he’d done during her sleep. For a Dornishman, he used to be reserved; almost too much so.

She smiled and stifled a chuckle at the memory. That happened a fortnight and three days ago; the first morning of the mummery. Every morning, she would find herself in this protective hold and draw languid patterns while Arthur slept. Elia normally stirred first.

On the third morning of the mummery, she’d awoken to hesitant kisses along her neck; Arthur’s warm hand low on her belly instead. That day she rolled back for his warmth, and their breath hitched at the firm press against her arse.

Right now he was sleeping and wouldn't know his cock teased her. Ghosting her fingers along Arthur’s hand spread over her breast, Elia closed her eyes. However, she stopped and laid her fingers upon his. Sleep was his true time of peace in The Red Keep. He deserved all she could give him.

The mummery and the court’s incorrect perception of ‘Dornish’ wore Arthur down some days, and she knew it. It was bolder than his nature.

In Dorne on its hottest days sleeping nude was commonplace. However, the rest of Westeros had a misinterpretation of an everyday basis. If Elia and Arthur ever behaved otherwise their lie to the king grew more likely to being called one.

They had to be what King’s Landing considered Dornish; regardless of inaccuracies about the passionate culture.

Arthur had been against her sleeping bare for the sake of strangers; arguing anyone could walk in on them and see her. She’d appreciated the concern, but there was no knowing what courtier a servant gave information to for coin. At that Arthur had relented, but in the same breath promised to be respectful and nothing less.

Strong light drew her eyes. Lit up by sunshine on her bedside table was a pair of half-full wine goblets and the bottle.

She was supposed to have drawn the curtain last night and internally groaned at the mistake. Eyes squinting, Elia gently loosened Arthur’s hold, took a sip, and turned onto her other side with an arm around his back.

Mumbling in his sleep, Arthur’s arms shifted and brought her flush against his bare skin. A small hum and he slipped into deeper, slower rest.

The act was innocuous for a sleeping man, but it had Elia taking long breaths while Arthur’s cock sat upon her upper thigh. The sensitive skin became something she couldn’t ignore and Elia swallowed hard. Thick and firm; warm and smooth. She took a breath and looked at his shoulder with her hand over it; some relaxed muscle beneath her fingers.

The pressure on her thigh was wet at the tip. His cock rubbed as she breathed. Elia’s belly began to warm, heat gathering within her. A desire for more of that heat grew and her cheeks flushed.

She slowed her breath so she moved less. The details of the wine bottle were an idea. The wine was the red of blood; darker than most Dornish reds. It was a strongwine of Dorne; a richer taste and sweeter. Common reds from Dorne were sou-.

Arthur's cock became heavier on her thigh and smeared her skin where it teased. The slow torture of a sinful promise quickened her breath. She wanted to know what it was like when a man beds a woman. Ladies of the court wouldn't gossip about it in whispers and smiles if it was dreadful.

She cupped his temple and caressed; silver lashes covered relaxed eyes, his face without tension. Arthur was asleep and dreamt with the hint of a smile.

Elia desired to curse her mother’s insistence of marrying as a maiden. Maidenheads meant nothing in Dorne, so as a Dornishwoman it was pointless.

If things were different, Elia would entrust Arthur to be gentle with her now instead of waiting to wed. The first time was said to be uncomfortable. But Arthur wouldn't hurt her if given the choice.

Silver hair hung over Arthur's eyelid and she brushed it away; those closed purple eyes often lingered on her and simmered when they were alone. He was at peace and oblivious to the ugly world right now.

A light kiss to his cheek, Elia rested at the base of his neck. The earthy scent made it tempting to press her nose against his skin for more, but she had self-control.

Warm air rushed through her hair and a coarse hand slid down her back, stopping low. Incoherently, Arthur mumbled something short. Calloused fingers left sparking trails on her skin. He rocked and moaned when his cock pressed upon her centre.

She trembled, forehead on his shoulder. It took everything for Elia to keep her sharp breaths quiet.

Elia wanted to respond and feel, but resisted. Arthur was asleep and not aware of what he was doing. The concept of abusing his trust left a sour taste in her mouth; it was selfish and despicable.

Looking up, his eyes were still closed and an arrow of sadness shot through Elia. He wanted her as she wanted him, but he wasn't a man of coercion and she had to remain maiden until wed by her mother's want; whatever the delusional reason.

Elia swallowed and settled down, all heat extinguished. With a sigh, Elia trailed Arthur’s jaw with feather light kisses and snuggled against him. His hold tightened. The imagination of giving herself to Arthur anyway stirred within her mind, but she pushed it back.

Mother’s insistence about marrying as a maiden existed long before he approached Mother for Elia’s hand; it had a proper reason; or a pointless one.

The fingers splayed on her lower back stilled. Arthur’s breath lost its depth. Most pressure upon her skin faded. Elia kept her arm around his waist and looked up. In the sunlight, Arthur’s eyes shone unmistakeably amethyst purple, dark and vibrant. He blinked at her and she pecked his lips; the strongwine would mask her breath.

Respecting the looser hold on her, Elia did the same for Arthur. “Good morning, my knight,” she murmured and gave a tender stroke to his jaw.

Arthur brushed her arm with calloused fingers, a trail sparked on her skin in their wake. “Elia,” Arthur whispered, caressing her face. His nose ran along her cheek, her skin hot beneath it. Elia sighed and leaned down into his hand, but Arthur squinted. “Gods, that’s bright,” he groaned, shutting his eyes. “I’ll be right back.”

She kept her back to the sun and took in Arthur’s lean, trim form while he rose from the bed. Every night, in the firelight, they bathed together before retiring to bed bare, their clothes in deliberate bundles on the floor. Firelight, while romantic, had done him an injustice compared to sunlight.

Some fabric rustled and the light dimmed slightly. Footsteps neared but stopped at her little table. Glass clinked on wood seconds after. Arthur reappeared at his side and climbed on; the sheets ignored. Streaks of light rippled on the fair tone of his skin while he got closer. Her lips parted and she wanted to reach out.

Arthur shuffled closer until a small gap between them. Gentle, he tucked Elia’s hair behind her ear and lingered there.

Smiling, Elia gave his bottom lip a quick nip. Over her temple ran his thumb. It drew a sigh, and Elia shifted until she was flush against him, fingers sliding up his firm back.

Calloused hands had a barely-there grasp on her waist when Arthur rolled onto his back, bringing Elia somewhat upon his chest. Hips on the mattress, Elia bit her lip at a thought and took a breath.

He captured her in a kiss, and Elia threw her leg over Arthur’s waist. Beneath her, Arthur’s belly went taut and she smiled against his lips. Her hands gentle on his shoulders.

At first, hesitant fingers ran through her hair and gave a massage making her dizzy. She hummed at the bliss and ran her lips over his neck. Arthur relaxed and moved with ease. One hand returned to her lower back and feathered her skin; it hovered at the lowest of her back.

Elia guided it further and let go; his touch slow and gentle on her arse, purple eyes returning to her black ones time and again. She nipped along his collarbone, taking breaths while he left sparks all over her body.

She couldn’t stop smiling between the nips she gave. Her heart quickened.

Arthur was finally, in an awakened and undressed state, allowing himself to do more than kiss and hold her. His firm fingers mapped most of her body. It was a major leap compared to how self-restrained he used to be when clothes were absent.

Elia copied his tracing fingers. Sliding up, she ran her lips over his ear and bit his bottom lip, initiating a slow kiss. Hands in his hair, she raked through it. On her cheek, a stroking thumb left hot tingling tracks. The hand on her hip had splayed fingers.

A click sounded from somewhere, but Elia was too drunk on the moment to care. At least once a day someone dropped something in the halls.

Arthur tensed beneath her. “Oh, shit!”

Her breathing was knocked out of her. She was on her back and panting. Her body covered by Arthur’s. Elia met lustful, amethyst eyes while silver hair tickled her face. Pressure against her centre was sweet torture as Arthur caught his breath.

She shifted beneath him and gasped at the friction; her heart raced in her chest. On her tongue sat a whimper of want and Elia buried her face against his shoulder, muffling her voice.

“Shh…” Lips gave a tender press to her hair, and fingers rubbed where he’d held her when flipping them over. “Sorry, Elia,” Arthur whispered in her ear and edged back for the torment to fade. “Servant came in.”

Encased in the cover of his body, Elia kissed down his neck and splayed her hands over his back. Arthur buried a hand in her messy hair, going back and forth; her head grew heavy and Elia’s eyes drifted shut. “Stay for a while this morning,” she breathed, her shaky hand finding his cheek. “Please, Arthur.”

A click of the door and Elia opened her eyes. Arthur turned back to face her and relaxed, but lifted himself off and left the bed. Sitting up, Elia blinked and Arthur barred the door.

When he sat beside her, she slid her eyes shut and wrapped her arms around his neck. Hot fingers brushed Elia’s cheek and her mouth parted for a soft moan. Firm lips rolled against hers and a hand ran down her back.

Elia lied back onto the pillows which brought Arthur down with her. His hand was low on her hip and tracing circles. Hers tugged his silver hair.

The press of his cock on Elia’s centre reduced her to gasps while heat pooled. The heat was all she could think through haziness.

Shifting beneath him, she chased the elusive pleasure. Arthur breathed slow, deep and laboured in her ear, which threw her mind higher into that haze. Tilting her head back, shaky panting reached her own ears. It was animalistic and coming from her own mouth.

Arthur groaned and brushed his lips over her neck. Her skin sparked from the touch. “Elia…” he breathed above her. His weight vanished and she met his darkened eyes. “I must stop. I don’t know what resolve I have left,” he murmured and lied down beside her. His burning fingers ran low over her belly. A concentrated look flickered with uncertainty.

She reached out to him with the heaviness of bliss and stroked his chest. “What are you thinking?” she whispered slowly, eyes hooded but watching his.

Arthur sat up and took her hand, pressing his lips to the inside of her wrist. Breath hitched in Elia’s throat. He swallowed and met her gaze, but he was unsure. “I’ve heard of what pleases a maiden…if you wish,” he said and brushed hair out of her eyes. “Only if you wish,” he repeated, his eyes carefully watching her face.

She stared for a second and smiled. Their marriage mummery must convince the court and spying servants; even more so because Elia and Arthur were Dornish. However, Arthur was still Arthur. At heart, he remained respectful.

Guiding his chin down towards her, Elia reached up for a soft kiss. An earthy scent surrounded her. Fingers slid down her cheek and left a burning in their wake. She opened her eyes and exhaled. “You’ll be gentle. I know you will be, Arthur,” she whispered, their shared breath making her dizzy. “I trust you.”

He might not have realised the light exhale he made, but some tension melted from his body while much remained.

Lying down beside her, Arthur propped himself on an elbow. A hand cupped her face; the stroking fingers on her temple drew a sigh from Elia. He had a brief smile of relief and took a breath, eyes lowering to her neck.

There, the fingers sizzled a path on her left while joined by pressure on the right; warm air brushed against her. At her nape, Elia’s eyes fluttered and she bared her neck; her breaths longer and slower.

The touch stayed there and hair lightly brushed and teased her skin while Arthur ran his nose from side to side. A tongue flicked her neck yet far too wet. She suppressed a twitch the best she could, but not enough. An apology was murmured while dry fabric ran over her skin.

Elia entwined her fingers with Arthur’s and gave them a short squeeze. He wouldn’t know her preferences; she didn’t either. When they bathed or slept, Arthur made a point of not lingering long and tempting himself; today was new. Today was learning more about both of them.

The bed stirred and a hand cupped her cheek. Opening her eyes, Arthur watched hers while his hand lowered towards her breast. “Elia?”

She gave a soft smile and buried a hand in his hair, her languid fingers dragged back and forth. A hand cupped her breast, his touch ever gentle but a rush washed over her. Through her mind flashed reaching up and pulling him onto her for a hard kiss, among other things.

Instead, she traced his jaw and looked into his dark eyes. Within them fought desire and tension. Elia bit her lip and brushed it against his. He deserved to take pleasure in a moment like this, but never will she push him.

On her back, she trembled when fingers ran down her chest; one scratched her and she bit back a gasp. His eyes darted to hers and to where it had hurt. Arthur kissed the valley of her chest. Finger on his chin, she captured his lips and wrapped her arms around his neck.

He sat up which brought her with him. Long and slow, Elia took care to avoid anything that could be too tempting for him. Respecting his wish was the least she could do.

The hold on her was firm. Hands left a burning on her back. Hot trails on her skin anywhere he touched.

Buried in Arthur’s hair, her fingers tugged light. A heady wave made her moan and the future filled her mind; Arthur unlacing a gorgeous gown as though he had all the time in the world, his lips on the nape of her neck as he did.

Hands lowered her onto her back and Elia blinked. His naked form was sitting up beside her and fingers traced the sides of her waist, her skin prickling beneath them. At her hips, they stopped atop her inner thighs and Arthur cupped her cheek, a kiss tender and short.

Warm air brushed her ear. “Elia?” He drew back, nervous eyes darting over her face. The touch on her thigh was gentle.

Smiling, she nodded. “Yes.” Anticipation and imagination stirred within her. Her heart quickened and breath shallowed.

A peck to her lips, Arthur gazed at her face again and slid away from her side.  

She shifted down to the end. Hands touched her knees with barely any pressure. She cooperated and hot breath teased her; heart hammering in her chest.

Unless he’d drunk the whole of both goblets this morning, this was all Arthur. An Arthur she’d never met but wanted to. Not once had Arthur gotten into his cups; this was a sober Arthur.

Purple eyes met hers and Elia stroked his hair, smiling.

Light strokes explored her. They left sizzling trails. She stirred against the careful touch. It was so gentle. Too gentle. Lips followed the fingers and Elia’s breathing hitched when hot air teased her core. Arthur stilled, the breath returned stronger and a gasp escaped her. Warmth pooled in her belly.

His hands relaxed and moved more. Calloused fingers brushed her nub and she whimpered; they paused and repeated the stroke. She trembled while a slow rhythm built.

Catching her breath was a struggle. Her hips jolted forward and she cried out when the fingers and hot air happened at once. Shaky, Elia closed her eyes, biting her lip once in a while between breaths.

After Elia bit her lip another time, it all stopped and she opened her mouth to speak when a flicking tongue made her moan. Gasping, she turned her head to the side. He did it again.

Each time it got better; he lapped instead of light licks, and she couldn’t muffle her voice anymore. Her hands grasped his hair. The fumbling faded and his fingers drew sure, tight circles instead. She was on a precipice of something and desperate for more of it.

Another lap and her back arched; her breath was erratic. It was like falling despite the featherbed beneath her.

Limp and sluggish, her pounding heart slowed. Around her form wrapped lean arms. Tilting to look up was hard, but she lifted her heavy fingers onto his cheek. “Thank you,” she whispered. 

Those purple eyes and that grin seemed proud.

He kept holding her and she rested a hand on his hip. “What about you?“

“Don’t worry about me,” he said and brushed her cheek. “Rest, Elia.”

Within his hold, she closed her eyes and snuggled against him. Thoughts and memory were rampant, she traced her fingers over his skin. His hand cupped the back of her head while lips rested on her forehead.

This was a man who cared about her, Elia, not Princess Elia Nymeros Martell of Dorne; a princess with nothing to offer but her royal blood. She was homely but no stunning beauty. Regardless, Arthur held her now like a precious jewel and every day before. In Sunspear, he’d supported her interest in horseflesh instead of looking at her strange.

She swallowed, her eyes pricked and Elia burrowed further against him. If Mother decides to disapprove a marriage between them, Elia would rip any sorry excuse to shreds.

Arthur was supportive of who she was, never demanded things of her, he’d argued and protected her when Elia’s dignity was at risk. What she had to say was never ignored. He fought his lust so they could marry with genuine blessings in a couple of moons. As far as King’s Landing knew, they were married.

If Mother attempted a political reason, Elia was ready to counter that too.

Arthur was a Dayne; a prominent and respected family. He was a true knight and the Sword of the Morning, both titles held influence and sway; no doubt any children would be taught the same good morals as his. He was honourable, and far and wide Westeros knew and acknowledged it.

There was hope.

She took a breath and relaxed, caressing his neck. With lazy eyes, Elia rested against him; a small smile graced her lips.

A life in Starfall flickered in her mind. In it were children with Martell and Dayne features. Arthur teaching swordsmanship to an avid son; and feeding a foal together was a little girl, hair only silver like Arthur’s, with an Elia who had the swell of a third child in her belly.

Tilting her head, Elia met inquisitive eyes while fingers traced her mouth. She kissed the pads of them and rested her head. The Arthur in front of her was nothing like the stressed one in the halls and court.

His jawline and cheeks had no tension, eyes expressive and a peace she longed would last forever. He ran his fingers down her cheek and she could fall asleep then and there in his warm hold.

The lightest of breaths brushed her ear. “Sleep. Elia Dayne.” It was a whisper that belonged in a dream.

She closed her eyes; the phrase repeated in her head like a murmured secret. Every part of her eased. Lightness overtook her mind and wrapped her in gentle peace.

 

 

 

 

A flurry of pictures faded. Whatever she’d dreamed left a smile on her lips. Eyes opened, Elia’s fell upon the silver strands of Arthur’s chest, her hand sitting upon it. It was a welcome change, so she stayed there and gave the lightest of touches.

Against her forehead pressed lips in a tender kiss.

Elia shifted and met Arthur’s eyes. “I fell asleep?”

Arthur stroked her cheek and nodded. “Brief but peacefully,” he said, helping her to sit up. He ran a hand through her hair and gave her a soft kiss. “Midday is a few hours away, but I must get to the yard.”

Rising from the bed, Elia made helping Arthur the priority. She was as bare as her nameday while she assisted Arthur with his armour. Strapping Dawn’s scabbard onto his back, Elia grabbed the helm. “Olenna Tyrell left yesterday for the Reach, but there are others like her with sharp tongues,” she said, hand cupping his cheek and looking him in the eyes. “Alys Waynwood is almost as bad when she wants to be. Take care; especially around her.”

He tucked the helm under an arm and pecked her cheek. “I will, but keep Ser Camren with you. Since your uncle was named Kingsguard, I’m always wondering if you’re well and safe.”

“His presence does make my day easier.” Elia went to the wardrobe and put on a shift and dress. “Will I see you at the midday meal?”

Arthur nodded. “You should, if not earlier.”

“Until then, Arthur.” Opening the door for him, Elia watched Arthur go until turning a corner. Back inside their bedchamber and completing the final touches, she emerged and nodded to Ser Camren.  

Taking corners with Ser Camren on her flank, Elia went about her morning with little trouble. Voices uttered ‘whore’ in the halls, but there were too many people to identify the craven speaker. It wasn’t a recent development, but she kept her dignity and never retaliated.

After breakfast in the Dining Hall, the echo of Ser Camren’s steps receded when she took to the gardens. The more pleasant of ladies would sit in the cloth-shaded balcony with tea or wine in their hands, but not a foul remark was thrown Elia’s way. The likes of Olenna Tyrell and Alys Waynwood wouldn’t roam here, unless bored and wanting to cause grief for the sake of it.

Joining them, Elia poured herself tea and glanced at the ladies. Sipping and talking were the usual women; Lady Rosby, Lady Florent, Lady Bracken, and Lady Darry.

A movement drew her eye to a woman approaching the balcony, holding a babe with light brown hair and its skin a tone said common in the Vale and upper Riverlands. The lady was easily older than Mother, but this had to be the first time Elia saw her in The Red Keep.

The lady herself had greying hair and shared a couple of facial features with the babe. She was a grandmother to the boy, most likely.

When Elia’s eyes met hers, the lady glanced at the others as though for a hint on what kind of person Elia was. Beside Elia stirred Lady Darry with a wide smile. “I’m glad you’ve arrived safely, Verity. How’s your gooddaughter? Was Darry Castle pleasant for her recovery?”

Verity, presumably Lady Verity, sat down on the other side of the round table. “She’s doing well thank you, but I dare say Lord Darry was happy to see us depart. My son’s heir has inherited quite the scream when he wants to be heard, Lady Darry.”

The other four ladies chuckled and Elia grinned at the reminder of her brother. “Some men never quieten down, but I pray the little lord does, Lady Verity. Oberyn was still loud last I saw him.”

Silence permeated the air, but Lady Rosby cleared her throat. “Lady Verity, meet Princess Elia, wife of the Sword of the Morning, Ser Arthur Dayne; they’ll be here until the tourney. And Princess Elia, this is Lady Verity Charlton; mother of Lord Audrey Charlton of Charlton Castle. She occasionally visits King’s Landing to see her gooduncle, Ser Amos,” she introduced and sipped her wine. “Lady Verity, Olenna Tyrell left yesterday, so worry not about thorns. Alys Waynwood is in The Red Keep though.”

Lady Verity adjusted her hold on the babe and relaxed in her seat. “That’s one less barbed voice to dread hearing,” Lady Verity murmured. She met Elia’s eyes. “Lady Rosby called you ‘Princess Elia’, but as the wife of Ser Arthur Dayne wouldn’t that have changed your title?”

Elia took a sip and shook her head. “My family is the overlord House to Arthur’s, so I keep my name,” she said calmly and smiled at Lady Verity’s nod. “My best friend, Ashara, is Lady Dayne of Starfall until Lord Alijah weds. And my goodmother is Lady Dayne of High Hermitage until the heir is a man and married. I go by ‘Princess Elia’ and my husband is ‘Ser Arthur’ or ‘Ser Arthur Dayne’ in a more formal setting.”

Within Lady Verity’s arms stirred the babe but he stayed asleep. The ladies cooed over the adorable little boy while he was peaceful.

She wanted to have a family with Arthur and raise their children in the peace of Starfall. Marry and be his wife for true. Everywhere but Dorne, marriage required the bride to be maiden while the Dornish dismissed the notion.

In Dorne, it was a contract between Houses that bound a man and bride together after swearing vows; not depending on the man taking his bride’s maidenhead after the vows and using bloodstained sheets to finalise the marriage.

However, the majority of Westeros had a bedding ceremony followed by presenting a stained sheet. That was only possible with a maiden bride or a hidden cut to produce a little blood. Elia was a maiden, so in the eyes of Westeros she was unmarried should a maester ever learn the truth. The image of Grand Maester Pycelle touching her made Elia clasp her hands tighter around the cup.

She needed to prepare for the worst and see the maester at the Great Sept of Baelor; fail to do so and she could be commanded to join the silent sisters if Arthur was named to the Kingsguard.

There had to be a way to keep the maester silent on the matter if she never needs his help. However, the maester of the sept had yet to attend court since she’d arrived. She doubted he ever had. That was no guarantee he wouldn’t reveal the truth to the king though. It was flawed, but it was better than nothing.

Not wanting to appear bad-mannered, Elia took a sip and paid attention to the newest of their circle. “When did you last visit King’s Landing to see Ser Amos, Lady Verity?” she asked when the fawning was coming to an end. As a Kingsguard knight, Ser Amos was required to stay in King’s Landing. Charlton Castle was near The Neck, so Lady Verity’s visits ought to be infrequent but long.

Lady Verity rubbed the babe’s arm absently. “Almost two years ago. And another babe; a Targaryen. Prince Jaehaerys was born and lived to the relief of Queen Rhaella…for a few moons. King Aerys became the joyful man of his youth again and doted on the boy despite it being a son. Had it been a strong daughter Prince Rhaegar would have a sister to marry. I pray the gods are good and the queen won’t have another stillbirth; she’s struggled ever since Prince Rhaegar.”

Elia relaxed so she wouldn’t shift in the seat. Doting on a second son when the first was healthy, a training warrior, and a grown man with acumen for court life, but disliked by the father made ill news.

Queen Rhaella was on the verge of bringing another babe into the world; and should it be another son, King Aerys would dote on this one too. How had Prince Rhaegar reacted and what will he do this time?

Elia seized the silence and spoke. “Speaking of Prince Rhaegar, what was he like when Prince Jaehaerys was alive?”

After a sip of wine, the grandmother eased back against the seat. “Polite and nearing manhood, but not overly interested in the babe. He rarely spent time other than reading his scrolls. Is it true he’s training against the Kingsguard now?”

Elia nodded. “And my husband. When King Aerys bid my uncle remain and train against the Kingsguard for the tourney, Prince Rhaegar suggested in court that Arthur did the same. And so it was bid by the king.”

Lady Darry swirled her goblet. “You should see the prince and Ser Arthur spar, Verity. It’s always a close match. Ser Arthur doesn’t humiliate the prince, but he doesn’t fight easy either.”

“I have no fondness for swords, Lady Darry, but Prince Rhaegar and Ser Arthur are close in age, no? Knights don’t typically scheme. They could become friends.” Lady Verity said. Her eyes dropped to the babe against her chest. “Friends are ever rare in The Red Keep. It’s good the prince is finally seeking some. I suppose he can now distinguish when someone is false or genuine.”

Elia’s belly tightened. Prince Rhaegar had a squire who sought friendship with him, but Jon Connington was treated more like a servant despite being a lord’s heir. If the prince wanted a friendship he could have formed one with his squire years ago. Jon Connington was but a year younger than the prince; a wasted opportunity.

Prince Rhaegar was attempting to befriend people of prominence when his mother, according to the Grand Maester, will birth a babe within a moon. Prominent people were a search for influence, and such behaviour suggested politics, not friendship.

If Queen Rhaella had another son it was likely King Aerys would dote on the boy as he’d done with Prince Jaehaerys.

With Prince Rhaegar older and more politically astute now, no doubt he acknowledged the option a second son could present the king; another successor for the Iron Throne. A prince befriended to important people would be more difficult to uproot.

The Sword of the Morning was the envy of Westerosi knights; a title earned with extensive merit. Who else has the prince approached of late to use politically?

Emotion boiled within her and Elia suppressed it for a few minutes while the ladies discussed how wonderful Prince Rhaegar was. When it was safe to leave she finished her cup. “I pray you to pardon me, my ladies. My seamstress will be waiting for me,” she said with a warm smile. “Lady Verity, you and your grandson were a pleasure, and I do hope to meet your gooddaughter at the midday meal. She’ll be lovely, I’m sure.”

Lady Verity looked like she was stopping herself from laughing. “I appreciate the sentiment, Princess Elia. Hilene has been at her wit's end of late. She will be polite though, fear not.”

“Thank you, Lady Verity.” Elia rose from her seat. “Until the meal, my ladies,” she said. The ladies gave her smiles and soon she was on her way. The seamstress was the truth, but off branched from The Hook due to the nature of her order.

Taking a few unnecessary corners within the gardens, Elia slowed and sat on a bench along the path. Aside from Ser Camren near her flank, she was alone. Faint clangs came from nearby. Taking a breath, Elia imagined the agreed tune in her mind and wanted to make it. She gave pause.

What point is there in raising the alarm when Arthur is already wary of Prince Rhaegar’s attention? He is more aware of scheming now. That alone is intervention. Arthur knows something is strange about the prince, so he won’t be compelled to befriend him. Exploiting Arthur’s status for political weight will require friendship first. Elia smiled to herself. You won’t use my husband so easily, Prince Rhaegar.

Although there was nothing she could directly do at the moment, she left the gardens with Ser Camren following. Within The Red Keep, Elia ignored the melody of a harp on her way towards the city of King’s Landing. It was the third day of Prince Rhaegar playing his harp in the mornings instead of sparring.

In the halls, Elia nodded to Freya, who was dressed as a handmaiden; Uncle Lewyn’s paramour. Through the front gate of The Red Keep, Elia was almost onto The Hook.

“Goodsister!” A Dornishman’s voice said over the smallfolk chatter.

Only one man would call her that. “Alijah?” she said in disbelief and turned. He wore a Dornish lord’s attire of robe and breeches in the colours of his House. She had to move. “Walk with me. I don’t want courtiers watching us.” He fell into step beside her and walked into the thick crowd. Taking the offshoot alley to the seamstress’s store, Elia spoke. “Gods be good, what are you doing here, Alijah? Why?”

Alijah glanced over their shoulders down the quiet alley towards the bustling of The Hook. With an exhale, he pulled a rolled parchment out of his lavender robe. “I’m here for you and Arthur. The initial announcement for the mummery won’t be enough,” he said, with determination plain on his face and handed her the parchment. The Lord of Starfall put his hand over the scroll before she could open it. “I know my brother, Elia. I doubt I took much of a risk.”

Elia kept the scroll sealed but put it safely in her skirts. “Alijah, what did you do?”

“As I said, I know my brother-“

This started to sound too serious for outdoors and she pulled him into the seamstress’s store to escape any spies. Ser Camren stayed outside. Inside, the young seamstress, Trish, was still working on an elaborate lavender and white dress; the work incomplete, thus Elia early. Elia released Alijah and stepped forward. “Trish, pray forgive me for barging in like this, but could I speak upstairs while you finish?”

“Aye, milady. My home is tidy.”

Leading the way, Elia kept Alijah away from the windows and closed them. She put a hand on her skirts. “What’s on this sealed parchment?”

He tensed and forced himself to relax with an exhale. “A contract with caveats; it was the only option I had that protects my brother and you,” he said seriously. “When the marriage was announced, no physical proof was provided. I’m sorry that Prince Lewyn was named to the Kingsguard. He no doubt hates the standing around all day.”

“He does. And you’re right about the mummery, but it matters little.” Elia sat on a stool and took his hands into her own, imploring forgiveness. “Alijah, I’m about to say a very hard truth. Nothing can protect Arthur; married or not. The wife of a wedded man named to the Kingsguard was sent to the silent sisters to nullify the marriage; Ser Quentyn Ball’s wife. ”

Alijah shook his head and sat down. Elia furrowed her eyebrows.

“Elia, that story is misinterpreted. People shortened it in retellings for a scandal story and missed key aspects. Ser Quentyn Ball never became a Kingsguard knight. He wanted a position and King Aegon IV promised the next opening. In advance, Ser Quentyn made his own wife join the silent sisters. However, King Aegon died, so Ser Quentyn reminded King Daeron when a vacancy arose. He didn’t get it, so sided with Daemon Blackfyre in the First Blackfyre Rebellion.”

Elia sighed and relaxed on the stool. “So husband and wife separated by their own accord and free of influence?”

He gave her fingers a squeeze. “Yes. No king demanded it of Ser Quentyn and all Kingsguard knights joined as unmarried men. The contract will protect Arthur, as well as you, Elia. I checked Kingsguard history before negotiations with your mother.”

Given King Aerys’ tendencies, pessimism arose in Elia. “What if King Aerys misunderstands history as I did? Or simply doesn’t care? If Arthur is named to the Kingsguard, then he’s named to the Kingsguard, Alijah.”

Alijah gave a grim smile. “The contract is the best option I have. If your fear is true then there’s little else.”

Elia glanced to the stairs and straightened herself. “I’ll have to make the idea appear as politically damaging as possible for discouragement,” she murmured and took a breath. “What are the caveats of this contract? I assume it’s a marriage contract.”

He looked her in the eyes. “It is. I counted on Arthur being Arthur when I signed it. Your mother is a gruelling negotiator; we spent the voyage to King’s Landing finalising the details. There are two caveats; one neutral and the other was a sacrifice I gambled on never having to fulfil. There’s an escape clause if the first caveat is met.”

Her fingers inched towards her skirts but she closed her hand so she wouldn’t touch it. Instead, she put the hand on his shoulder and Alijah dropped his gaze. “Alijah? What was this sacrifice?”

Purple eyes met hers. “The short of it is I don’t marry a woman of my choosing if you’re not a maiden.”

Elia gave a slow nod. She said the rest; it was political and what her mother would prefer. “And you marry me instead.”

“Yes.”

“Why? How would this protect Arthur?” Elia asked.

Alijah met her gaze, the hint of a smile on his lips. “That’s where I’m counting on Arthur and his knightliness for this contract. The first caveat is you stay a maiden until Fourth Moon next year. The second caveat was I’m to marry you if you’re not. If Arthur is named to the Kingsguard before Fourth Moon but you’re still a maiden, you and I won’t be obligated to wed. There’s a lot of floral wording to avoid trouble, but the points are in there.”

“How does any of this protect Arthur, Alijah?”

“In exchange for the caveats, your mother will support the mummery as though it’s the truth. After Fourth Moon, she’ll give her blessings for a private ceremony between you and Arthur.”

I’d best avoid horses for a while. The contract was a hefty demand towards the Lord of Starfall since he was barely involved, but Mother wasn’t Ruling Princess of Dorne in name only. “I am a maiden,” Elia whispered and sat back with a little smile when Alijah oozed relief.

A grin grew on his face. “That’s Arthur. I can guess your sleeping arrangements, but trust Arthur to keep his cock in his breeches. I knew I could.”

Unbidden, this morning flashed through her mind and her cheeks grew hot. Elia averted her gaze but it whipped back when Alijah laughed.

“The oh sweet, pure and fair maiden blushes?” Alijah asked, chuckling. “Never would have guessed that of my own brother. Or were you imagining something?”

Elia huffed and squashed her embarrassment. “Alijah! I acknowledge and am thankful for the personal risk you took for me and Arthur, but I ask you don’t pry. Just know Arthur and I will respect what you’ve done and won’t poorly repay you for it.”

With a guilty grin, Alijah cleared his throat with the ghost of laughter. “Sorry, Elia.”

She doubted that but left the teasing to fizzle out. While an agreement was all well and good, parchment is easily torn. There had to be another aspect for this to work. “You and I know what court is like. Bringing a marriage contract to prevent Arthur being named to the Kingsguard will result in us being laughed at.” She rose and walked around the small room. “How can parchment possibly protect Arthur from a king’s bidding?”

Alijah gave a polite nod but a secretive smile. “Don’t despair yet, goodsister,” he said and got to his feet. “Do you have many errands today? The sooner everything is in place the better.”

Elia glance at the stairs. “One or two after this; the Sept of Baelor is my next destination, and after it’s The Red Keep for the midday meal with Arthur.”

Calm took over his face. “The sept?” he repeated. “You’re not a woman of routine prayer, Elia.”

She nodded and put distance between herself and the stairs. “I have the same concerns as you, but not the resources you did. The sept’s maester was the best option I had because I doubt Grand Maester Pycelle keeps his mouth shut. That man makes me want to shudder. The maester of the sept isn’t involved at court, but if he witnessed court he could notify the High Septon of error should I be commanded to join the silent sisters.”

The hum of Alijah filled the air and he didn’t seem to have anything else to say. Elia took the stairs and the seamstress was packing away her bolts of clothes. “Milady, I’ve done my best for your order. Does the dress please you?” the young seamstress asked, wringing her hands.

With a cursory glance, it had the elements Elia requested. Nearing the dress, she ran careful eyes over it and nodded. “You’ve truly done well,” Elia said, drawing the owed coin from her skirts, as well as an additional six coppers.

Trish lost the tension in her face and folded her fingers over the given coins. “Milady, thank you,” she gushed. “Would you like assistance putting it on now?"

The offer caught Elia off guard, but it would put her intentions into play sooner. “That would be lovely.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Alijah-“

He sat and lifted a hand, a smug smile while he stared at the dress. “Say no more, goodsister.”

Elia and the seamstress went upstairs and she was helped into the dress; the other was folded with care and placed into a drawstring cloth bag once bare of Elia’s possessions. The design was tedious to put on and take off, but there was a reason for that. She cringed while returning to the ground floor; hopefully, that element of the dress won’t prove necessary. It might or might not.

Alijah’s lips parted. “A royal Dayne?”

Grinning, she met his gaze and raised an eyebrow. “Did you forget I am a princess of Dorne, goodbrother?”

He chuckled and stood up with a hand in surrender. “Banter another time. We need to organise matters.” He turned to Trish. “Seamstress, your work is exemplary.”

Trish made a curtsey. “Thank you, milord.”

Back on The Hook and Ser Camren trailing behind them, Elia wove through the people on the main streets of King’s Landing with Alijah. Ser Camren turned to the harbour, leaving her and Alijah alone.

The presence of Alijah in the city was a much-welcomed surprise, but her mind was still spinning with the news he’d given her. There was no manner in which Elia could repay him enough for the risk he’d taken for her and Arthur’s sake.

It had taken so much and more yet to be done to get it, but finally, she and Arthur will have a chance. Her lips bloomed into a smile.

Climbing the steps of The Great Sept of Baelor, Elia glanced up to the sky; the sun had over an hour before it’ll reach high noon. Inside the dark sept, several people were kneeling in front one of the seven statues of the gods; except the Stranger, the least prayed to of the gods.

Within the halls attached to the area of prayer were few people at all. One of them was a little busier and she glanced at Alijah who shrugged. “I don’t know, Elia, but it’s likely.”

Step after step, Elia took the same path as the smallfolk until one of the rooms weren’t sparse but plentiful. Through the gap of the door, there was a shelf lined with vials marked with clear writing. This was it. She met Alijah’s eyes and he stood himself outside the door. Bracing for the assessment, Elia exhaled and made her body melt of its tension. A relaxed patient was better than an anxious or persistent one. The maester should cooperate.

She knocked on the ajar door. “Maester?”

His back continued to face her from where he was hunched over a desk. “Aye? I need to finish this if you can wait.”

“As you wish.” Air shifted behind her, and Elia looked where Alijah was standing by the door, not behind her. He had a mischievous, almost smug, smile. What amuses you so?

Turning, Elia’s jaw went slack but she kept her mouth shut. A rattle came from the maester’s chamber. “Come in.” As bid by the man, she did but left the door open behind her; Ser Camren closed it from outside the chamber, but Elia and the maester weren’t alone. “Milady, milady,” the maester said to them. “Are you new at The Red Keep? Grand Maester Pycelle will treat you.” 

She didn’t want to look incapable of countering obstacles in front of her mother. “Mayhaps,” Elia said. “But I am already here, and no one likes wasted time. The journey back would be long and my matter is but a small one.”

“That is true,” he said as though his own was wasted often. “Small, you say?” He approached, eyes searching her face. “I see nothing wrong. Grand Maester Pycelle would treat you faster than I.”

That was the second time he mentioned Grand Maester Pycelle, but she ignored his attempts for her to leave. “I was on horseback outside King’s Landing and need some reassurance. That’s why you can’t see, Maester.”

He shook his head and gestured to a straw bed; white cloth over it. “Very well, milady; if you insist.”

“I do.”

At a hearth, a fire was lit and burning wood filled the air. Metal clinked against metal, but slower than the commotion of a bustling kitchen. She closed her eyes a moment. Heated water for washing his hands; he doesn’t want me here, but is going to do it clean like a proper maester.

Elia finally met her mother’s eyes again. So many questions to answer, but this wasn’t the place for them. Sitting herself down and she obeyed the directing touch to lie on the bed. Her belly tightened at what she must do.

In Dorne, she’d never needed something like this. But the other kingdoms cared about maidenheads and considered it the sign of a wedded woman. Elia swallowed and gazed at the ceiling; a complete stranger was going to touch her.

In The Red Keep, she’d overheard whispers between young maidens of how long Grand Maester Pycelle liked to take for something quite simple. She shuddered at the thought.

On her chin, a gentle finger guided her to look to the side and her mother’s brown eyes met hers. No doubt she wanted to know if Elia was maiden. Alijah’s explanation about the contract spoke of how determined Mother was for her to be and stay a maiden, for at least a little while longer.

Aside from the mummery in King’s Landing now, what is the benefit of staying a maiden before she even knew Arthur wants to marry me? She instructed I did long before Arthur made his proposal for a betrothal between us. I am far from a young lady and most my age are first babe mothers by now, if not more. Maidenheads, not once, mattered in Dorne and that’s unlikely to change.

Somewhere behind Mother the maester moved about the chamber. Elia took a breath and presented the sealed contract to Mother; it could get damaged when the maester lifts her flowing skirts. With a hand over Mother’s holding the contract, Elia nodded with a smile.

Mother sat, parchment in her skirts, and ran a hand over Elia’s hair. “Alijah Dayne told me, and your uncle wrote, about the risk you’ve taken for Ser Arthur.” Elia gave a slow nod. “You love the man, don’t you?”

She swallowed while her eyes pricked. “He makes me happy. Mother…please…”

Upon Elia’s lips, Mother rested a finger. “Shh…I wrote the contract, Elia. Don’t forget.”

“It was so conditional…”

Mother adjusted on the bed and leaned forward until her lips brushed Elia’s forehead. “No mother wants their daughter joining the silent sisters. By the standards of Westeros, you’re unwed. You know words are wind in court, Elia.”

Elia closed her eyes and, her throat tight, swallowed. “And the caveat about Alijah?”

“He was confident and willing to take a personal risk for his brother. It was but reassurance in truth.” Mother drew back until their eyes met again. “Keep to the contract and you may marry the man you love, sweetling.”

Her heart swelled and she clasped a hand over Mother’s. Tears of joy threatened, but she fought them back.

“Sweetling…” Mother took a heavy breath and turned serious. “The Kingsguard has many old men, and Ser Arthur is a knight of high calibre. I wish not for a broken heart, Elia, but keep what’s possible in mind.”

It was a bitter fact to swallow and she looked away.

A shadow neared Mother and drew Elia's eyes; it was the maester. “Is she afraid, milady?” In his hands was a piece of wet fabric he dropped into a basket by the hand basin.

Mother nodded. “As to be expected, but she’ll be more at ease once we have an answer.”

“Aye.”

Elia stiffened when the maester slowly lifted her skirts. The procedure was less than pleasant. Mother stroked her face through it all and kept Elia’s gaze on her. She was trying to keep Elia distracted but she felt everything the maester did.

This was necessary and she remained still with a bitten lip. Her smallclothes back in place and her skirts lowered, Elia with help from Mother rose from the bed. It is said Grand Maester Pycelle takes twice the amount of time.

“Your daughter is a maiden, milady. Her maidenhead is fine.”

Mother wrapped an arm around Elia and led her to the door. “Thank you, Maester. We shall leave you in peace.” In the hall, Mother murmured in Elia’s ear. “That is no man of the court. His speech was simple and to the point.”

There was a glimpse of crystal and Mother stirred as though to follow it. Elia stepped out of Mother’s hold. “Shall Alijah and I await you near the statues of the gods?”

“Please,” Mother said. “You’re as protected as possible from joining the silent sisters. Now I must fulfil my side of the agreement.” With dignity, Elia’s mother pursued the moving crystal, leaving Elia and Alijah together.

In the main chamber of the elaborate sept, Elia knelt before the looming statue of the Crone with Alijah, both of them waiting for her Mother more than praying. Within her mind, she’d formed a prayer or two that Arthur would know what Prince Rhaegar was trying to do, but she discarded the notion of muttering them. He would know something was amiss with the prince and act with caution around the man.

Instead, she reviewed the matter of the contract within her mind; Mother still had the parchment. The need for Elia to stay a maiden was a measure only useful in the sept and prevention of having to swear vows expected of silent sisters.

Silent sisters covered everything but their eyes, so her escape from any royal decree would happen in the sept. The mummery was most useful for protecting Arthur in court against being named to the Kingsguard, and Mother will support it.

Aside from prayer, the people of The Red Keep and The Great Sept of Baelor rarely interacted. The Red Keep wouldn’t care to know Elia was a maiden and unmarried; they would doubt it. And The Great Sept of Baelor wouldn’t be making an appearance in court, thus won’t contradict the marriage mummery. It was a headache to unravel amongst the stress but she understood now.

She released a long breath.

Beside her, Alijah shifted. He was twisted at the waist towards her. “What?” he whispered.

“Arthur. I see how the contract’s conflicting aspects work to protect both of us.”

He had a wry smile. “It was a voyage of headaches.” Standing up, Alijah offered his hand and helped her do the same. “I need to find Arthur. Explain it all to him.”

Elia nodded. “The Red Keep’s yard allocated to the Kingsguard. He’s there most days at this time. Not always, but most days. Make sure he keeps his armour spotless; there’s been no word of Ser Amos healing.”

“Of course. Thank you, Elia. Let me take that bag.” The man climbed the stairs towards the entrance and in moments was gone.

With only Ser Camren for company, Elia stood before the statue of the Mother Above. Courtiers would expect to see her praying before the tall marble creation in hopes of getting with child; Arthur’s child. Her imagination of children this morning returned. The son with her black hair, Arthur’s eyes, but skin a lightened tone of her own; the daughter with inverse features to the boy, all-silver hair, her eyes but Arthur’s fair skin.

She rested her hand on her belly without meaning to but lowered it quickly. In her mind, she’d been heavy with a third child, but hadn’t thought of what it would be. Son or daughter, she wouldn’t mind either way.

Firm quick steps neared and drew her from the daydream. Mother had tiny shakes of what would be hidden fury; she rarely was but Oberyn had done something pretty stupid as a boy. It was a strong memory. Hands squeezed together, flexed and when she reached Elia, relaxed. “Pompous, fat oaf,” she muttered. Mother exhaled and closed her eyes. “Let’s leave this place.” She glanced back the way she came and ,with Elia, left The Great Sept of Baelor.

What had the High Septon done, or refused to do? He’s the only fat man of The Faith there. Elia refrained from prying; Mother would speak of something when she desired to.

Little by little Mother’s body lost its stiffness while they walked to The Red Keep; Ser Camren on their flank. Any strong emotion is a vulnerability in The Red Keep. The return of Alijah to court would stir gossip; but Mother’s presence, Ruling Princess of Dorne, gorgeous in her Martell red dress, even more so. They were Dornish and looked down upon, but the arrivals will make the court curious.

Elia needed to know the reason Mother would give, so she could too when asked. And she will be. “What will you say you’re doing in King’s Landing?”

Mother had a reminiscent smile. “Joanna Lannister, rest her soul, and I used to make Rhaella laugh when we served her. It’s been too long. I’m sure she’d appreciate a short visit.”

“Wouldn’t your presence make it awkward? Didn’t she stop having ladies-in-waiting because of…promiscuity?”  

Mother smirked. “My brother is on the Kingsguard now, always around the man; king’s mistake. I won’t be touched, sweetling, worry not.” She gave a long sigh. “I’m sure poor Joanna is at peace now.”

Elia dropped her gaze to the ground. Mother had spoken so well of Lady Joanna when raising her and Oberyn. Lord Tywin was a sour and, away from court, insulting man. Thankfully he’d left for the Westerlands shortly after Elia and company had arrived at King’s Landing.

If King Aerys used to touch respectable or beautiful women other than his sister-wife, then it would make a safe wager he’d have no qualms touching someone less beautiful. She grasped Mother’s fingers until their eyes met. “He vowed fidelity to Her Grace in recent years, but will he keep to it?”

Mother’s eyes were fierce like a storm. “The Seven Hells will rain down upon him if he touches you, Elia.” She brushed a loose strand from Elia’s face. “Impulsive Oberyn, now he’s back in Westeros. Arthur, if he’s as smitten as you are. Lewyn, on the Kingsguard and is irritatingly good at passive aggression to the point of maddening. And I, as Ruling Princess of Dorne, would give him political hell for it.”

Elia kept her gaze on Mother’s eyes as though her breath depended on it.

Mother’s eyes calmed and she pecked Elia’s temple. “He won’t do anything to you if he has any sense.”

A smile grew on Elia’s lips and easy breath returned to her. “Thank you.”

Passing through the main gate to The Red Keep, Elia walked in step with her mother. Mother donned in the hot red and orange of Martell; and Elia in the lavender and white of Dayne, the elaborate dress purchased this morning. A breath tickled her ear. “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. for We Fight Until Dawn.

Many eyes turned to Mother in the halls and Elia smiled. Some started staring at Elia and a soft chuckle came from Mother. To fill her curiosity, Elia met her mother’s gaze. “What is it?”

The answer was a smile and Mother’s eyes roamed her face. “Your smile. When it’s a true one, your eyes light up. Just like now,” she murmured and tilted her head to the side towards other people. “Just look. I’m not the only one they stare at.”

The notion that people had their eyes on her when she was walking beside someone like Mother, instead of being ignored, brought heat to her cheeks.

“Happiness is your beauty, Elia.”

She bit her lip to keep everything at bay, but her eyes were likely shining. It was stupid to ask but she couldn’t fight the urge. She needed to hear it. “Truly?”

Mother’s smile was sympathetic. “Yes, sweetling. I speak true. Believe in yourself.”

They were approaching Maegor’s Holdfast when the frantic patter of a woman’s slippers on The Red Keep's stone floor neared. The levity of the moment was blown away. Elia, as well as her mother, turned to the sound. It was a handmaiden but with the face of her unofficial aunt.

Mother took a half step. “Freya?”

Uncle Lewyn’s paramour’s chest was racing. “Mariah, what-? I suppose both of you now-.”

Elia took one of Freya’s hands into both of her own. “Freya, breathe. Take a moment; we’re stilling going to be here.”

With one controlled breath, Freya’s eyes stared into hers. “By the gods, I’ve been looking everywhere for you, Elia.”

Soft fingers curled over her shoulder nearest to Mother.

Elia stiffened. “Freya. Tell me.”

Chapter Text

ARTHUR DAYNE

Day 11, 12th Moon, 275 AC

Refreshed from training and donned like a Dornishman, Arthur glanced up and it wasn’t yet high noon.

Eyes on the nearing and drifting sails, surrounded by the lapping and rustling of water and leaves, he sat down on the low wall of the stone and mortar platform. The stable of a castle was his place of thinking, but The Red Keep’s stable was a constant bustle.

This platform was his and Elia’s sanctuary in The Red Keep; actually, it was outside the main walls and level with the water of Blackwater Bay. Rough rock steps or a boat were the only ways here. On the first night in King’s Landing, he’d gone for a nude swim to get rid of his worry.

Encountering Elia doing the same thing hadn’t been planned, but he’d taken a chance and kissed her after that nip on his lip.

The fervent hands running over his back and hair while she’d pressed herself against him in the water were an imprint that returned to his mind most nights. This morning in bed, she was flushed against him, soon straddled him and later in the throes of passion as he gave her the Lord’s Kiss. It was by far his favourite memory now.

Keeping from giving in to his deeper desires had been a great challenge, but he’d fought his lust. The gasps, whimpers and moans she made from what he’d done almost defeated his control.

His only experience was talk; that of guards about their wives, and Oberyn’s bragging years ago. However, Elia clearly got pleasure while he learned what she liked during a Lord’s Kiss. He messed up a few times this morning. He’d admit that, but the reaction she’d reached in the end was one he wanted to see again.

Elia wouldn’t have faked it. I’m pretty sure she peaked. I wanted to bed her after seeing her like that. Seven Hells, I already wanted to. Not just bed though; give pleasure and make love to her.

Arthur hadn’t awoken and decided he’d give Elia the Lord’s Kiss; far from it. His mind was busy with fighting the lust to ground against her warm centre. When the servant came in and he’d covered Elia with his own body, the needy whimper on her lips made it so tempting. But that would have to wait.

Eyes closed, he released an exhale and sighed. Those pleading black eyes wouldn’t leave his mind. After we’re back in Dorne, Elia, you’ll need for nothing. I’ll be yours and you’ll be mine, I pray. You’ll be my wife for true; Elia Dayne.

His gaze on the water again, Arthur turned towards the steps back to The Red Keep but paused when a man’s silhouette approached.

It chuckled in amusement, their head shook with the sun lighting up thin strands of silver within black. “If it’s not the stables, it’s the water,” Alijah’s voice said. His body fully emerged from the trees. He was donned in Dayne colours and the way of Dornish lords. “It always is.”

At the remark, Arthur’s lips quirked. “Ashara would be calling me predictable. Is she here?” he asked, striding towards his brother. There was no one else further up the steps. “What’s brought you to King’s Landing?”

Alijah gave a mock hurt look but was quick to smile. “She’s at Starfall. I’m looking out for my brother,” he said and grew serious. “The minute you agreed to the mummery, I knew an unsupported announcement wouldn’t be enough. I’ve done nothing but sail since I last left King’s Landing.”

Although the topic was one not to be japed about, doubt niggled within his mind. Princess Mariah hadn’t said yes when he asked to marry Elia. “Support how? I got no answer for a betrothal in Sunspear.”

His brother clasped his shoulder and gave a confident nod. “Mayhaps, but I spoke to Princess Mariah and we’ve made an agreement. She will support the mummery if Elia stays a maiden until Fourth Moon next year.”

He blinked at Alijah. “That’s precise.”

“It gets better. She made the condition that you keep your cock in your breeches until then, or I’m to marry Elia instead.” Alijah shook his head and released Arthur’s shoulder. “Princess Mariah wouldn’t compensate with that one.”

I can marry Elia? “We haven’t-“

“I know,” Alijah said, a hand fished in his robe pocket. “It’s unlike you if you did, so I agreed.” He handed over a necklace with a centrepiece of amethysts, rubies, and pearls. “Ser Camren told me you commissioned this, so I collected it on my way back from the Sept of Baelor. A Dornishman in Dayne colours; the apprentice gave it to me easy enough.”

Arthur started. “Ser Camren? Elia? Sept of Baelor? Have I made an error and she’s praying for the best outcome?”

His brother chuckled. “You haven’t made a mess, Arthur. She went with her mother for the sept’s maester. Elia doesn’t trust Grand Maester Pycelle.”

“Neither do I,” Arthur said. Grand Maester Pycelle was a man of the court; they always scheme. He tensed, but for a different reason. “Princess Mariah is in King’s Landing?”

Alijah grinned with clear amusement. “How else will she support the mummery?”

Princess Mariah was a fierce woman who’d want to observe him around Elia. However, an alleged husband can’t reduce interaction with his wife because the goodmother was present. Arthur shook his head and inspected the jewel for Elia.

Mainly rubies with a few amethysts formed a circle, while a diagonal line of pearls speared it into halves; the sky at sunset with a white spear. Her House sigil with a hint of his House colours.

He smiled, put it in his ceremonial robe and turned to Alijah. “Do you know where she is?”

“Elia?” Alijah asked with an amused smirk and his thumb jerked towards The Red Keep. “Her plan was to come back after the sept and find you somewhere.”

Arthur glanced up at the sky; the sun was almost at high noon. “The Dining Hall.”

A step up and now level with Alijah, he led the way back towards The Red Keep. If she was coming back to The Red Keep after The Great Sept of Baelor, it was most likely she’d go to the Dining Hall. Every day it was routine that he and Elia had the midday meal together in public view. If she was anywhere, it would be there.

Within the halls of The Red Keep, its typical crowd dwindled and they made good time. It was good to see his brother again. However, the peace between himself and Alijah broke and dread filled his stomach.

Lewyn approached in his Kingsguard armour and cloak, but he wasn’t alone. In front of the man was the prince Arthur avoided. When Lewyn’s eyes met Arthur’s, the man became grim from where he flanked Prince Rhaegar. Lewyn mouthed something. Too many pauses within the words for him to guess, but whatever they were made Alijah sigh and lean towards Arthur. “Brace yourself, brother.”

“For what?”

“Not here,” Alijah muttered solemnly.

Curiosity burned within him. However, Prince Rhaegar gestured to a chamber and entered with Lewyn. Ignore a royal request, a softened command in truth, and there would be trouble. He will have to go in there and converse with the persistent prince.

Alijah looked around and exhaled. “We’re alone.” He turned to Arthur. “I’ll fight for you, Arthur, just as I would for Ashara. I’m not giving up.”

He dared to ask. “What was Lewyn saying?”

“Charlton almost Stranger. Name; White Book,” Alijah said with a scowl. “If Prince Rhaegar utters you’re a knight of the Kingsguard, it’s horseshit. Ser Amos isn’t dead and there are only ever seven men in the Kingsguard, regardless of their condition. Prince Lewyn said ‘almost’ not ‘with’.”

Ser Amos was far from decent health and had been for almost a fortnight by now. In the Kingsguard yard since taking the oaths, Lewyn used sparring to keep Arthur informed about the man. But to say Ser Amos was almost taken by the Stranger meant Arthur had between hours and days. This morning Lewyn had had no new information about Ser Amos’ condition, but now he did.

Worst of all, his name was in the White Book. Ser Amos’ replacement was chosen already; him.

A future of life in Dorne with Elia was falling apart. Despite everything, he was to be on the Kingsguard.

How Alijah intended to fight the decision made an interesting question; he wanted to know. Alijah was the political one and sounded ready for a fight in the Seven Hells.

His brother had an expression with absolute. “Pages aren’t everything,” he firmly said. “I’ll do everything I can, Arthur. You have my word. Dornish or not, a husband from a prominent House appointed to the Kingsguard ends with political backlash.”

The names in the White Book are the king’s decision. You can’t fight it, Alijah; just as I can’t refuse it. I won’t risk your lives for me. Arthur gripped the box in his pocket and prayed Alijah knew what he was doing. Should things go wrong, he wouldn’t know how to help him; Arthur wasn’t practised in politics.

Alijah clasped his shoulder. “He had ink on his fingertips, Arthur. Benign or otherwise, I’m keeping that in mind.”

Together they entered the chamber and on a chair was Prince Rhaegar; Lewyn standing at his flank. Alijah went forth while Arthur closed the door. Although Arthur was a man of the sword, it was strange to have a conversation in a chamber, but neglect to use the privacy a door provided.

In the tidy, well-furnished and well-lit chamber, Arthur joined his brother on the opposite side of the desk-size table to the prince. It was a solar or small library of sorts.

“Lord Dayne, Ser Arthur,” Prince Rhaegar pleasantly greeted. “Lord Dayne, it is a pleasure to see you again. I pray your voyage was merciful?”

Beneath the table, Arthur rested his hand low on the strap which Dawn’s scabbard was supported by. This conversation was unusual, but Alijah gave no overt reaction. Instead, Alijah replied just as calmly. “Indeed, Prince Rhaegar. Naturally, the coast of the Stormlands was a little rough, but otherwise a smooth journey.”

Prince Rhaegar smiled to Alijah. “That pleases me,” he said with a nod. The smile dropped away into a grim look. “The Red Keep’s court has been less than respectful to you and your companions, Lord Dayne, Ser Arthur. For that, I must apologise.”

Arthur blinked and squashed the urge to glance at Alijah. “Thank you. We ignored the insults though.”

Alijah nodded. “Arthur speaks truth, Prince Rhaegar. We and ours are Dornish. It was guaranteed to arise, but we’ve kept our dignity. ”

Prince Rhaegar had a small frown. “Nonetheless, it is unacceptable. Houses Dayne and Martell are undeserving of such. I shall see the matter improved.”

Now Arthur did look at his brother. This conversation was nothing but pleasantries and a promise the prince could only fulfil to a point. What does he want now? He hasn’t pursued a live steel spar since I spoke to Ser Barristan. The prince hasn’t looked at Dawn’s scabbard yet.

Arthur said nothing and merely nodded. Politics were Alijah’s forte and a field still foreign to Arthur.

His brother smiled at the prince. “That would be much appreciated, Prince Rhaegar, but we understand any change will be limited. The realm has a mind and will of its own; like us, they are people with opinions.”

Prince Rhaegar’s gaze was on his hands. “People will have their opinions.” His indigo eyes met Arthur’s, the prince’s face spoke of sympathy. “People like my father, and why we’re here. Ser Arthur, your wife is no doubt missing your company at the midday meal. I shall not keep you longer than I must.”

Arthur straightened in his seat. “Prince Rhaegar?”

“My father values my opinion little and ignored my pleas, Ser Arthur,” Prince Rhaegar said as though he was apologising. “He listens to the Small Council and I will speak to them in the coming days, but you deserve the respect of a warning.”

“A warning?” Arthur parroted, he couldn’t respond as though he knew why. “Have I angered His Grace?” He glanced at Alijah, but his brother had his hands together on the table with eyes fixed upon them.

The prince shook his head. “No, Ser Arthur. Grand Maester Pycelle was reporting to Father. He predicted Ser Amos Charlton won’t survive more than a couple of days.” Prince Rhaegar looked up. “Father, despite the backlash I warned him of, has chosen you. Any additional comments from me will further encourage the decision. I doubt you desire that.” 

Arthur shook his head. “No. I am a married man, Prince Rhaegar.”

“As the court knows,” he said and sighed. “To discourage the choice, I must speak with the Small Council. They will listen to me, and Father considers their opinions. I shall do what’s possible, Ser Arthur. I will speak to them all immediately.”

Arthur bowed his head to the prince. Any help was welcome help; if it was a lie at least he knew his fate. “I appreciate it.”

Alijah straightened in his seat and Arthur watched the solemn expression. “And if His Grace refuses to listen to their words?”

Arthur turned his eyes back to the prince. The man frowned but nodded, eyes closed. “That is a valid question, Lord Dayne. My time will be dedicated to speaking to these men.” Prince Rhaegar stood up and went to their side of the small table. He clasped Arthur’s shoulder. “What can be done, will be done, Ser Arthur.”

An unsure smile grew on Arthur’s lips. “Thank you, Prince Rhaegar.”

The prince stepped back, face serious. “Take what remaining time you might have with Princess Elia. My father’s mind won’t change easily.” He stepped back. “Your wife will be missing you. I shall not keep you any longer, Ser Arthur.”

Prince Rhaegar made for the door while Lewyn trailed him. There was a movement from Lewyn too brief for Arthur to identify, but Alijah gestured for Arthur to stay in the chamber and closed the door once Lewyn was gone with the prince.

Arthur’s back tensed, he began to fidget as Alijah stood, eyes closed and frowning, in the middle of the chamber in silence for nearly a minute.

“Alijah?”

His brother released a slow breath but eyes firmly closed. “That,” he began, opening his eyes which smouldered. “Was the biggest pile of horseshit I’ve ever been told.”

It all seemed legitimate to Arthur, but his brother was the political one. “How big exactly?”

Alijah clenched his hands into fists. “The whole damn thing!” he raged and took a breath. “You don’t deserve my anger, brother. He does.”

“What?” Arthur looked to the door and back. “How do you know?”

“Prince Lewyn,” Alijah said and sat down. Arthur took the other chair. “While you and Targaryen talked, I watched Prince Lewyn’s reactions behind him. I wasn’t staring at my hands as you might think.” His brother rose and went to the window. “Lewyn’s message, his reactions and the grimace on the way out; it’s too much of a coincidence.”

Arthur rose from his own seat and paced the chamber. “It seemed so genuine…” he murmured and ran a hand through his hair. He had me thanking him by the end of it. Arthur shook his head. “What was the point of it all?”

His brother came over and leaned against the table. “It appeared authentic so he gets what he wants; there’s political weight in your titles; a true knight of Westeros and Sword of the Morning.” Alijah sighed. “Arthur, he’ll expect you to befriend him out of gratitude.”

After everything the prince had said, Arthur could imagine himself doing just that hadn’t Alijah witnessed everything.

Alijah met his eyes. “He feeds you a story about how he’s going to stop you being named to the Kingsguard, and you’d feel indebted for his warning and effort; success or not.” He stood up and waved his hand at the door. “Did you see how he dodged my question? He repeated himself about effort. There was emphasis; he won’t attempt it at all.”

Heaviness set itself upon his shoulders. The whole conversation had been a scheme. The Targaryen had no intention of helping. There must be a way to fix or counter this without risking his loved ones. Alijah hadn’t mentioned the inked fingers of Prince Rhaegar. That could be something. “And the ink? His hands are normally clean of stains.”

“I have no evidence to suggest one thing or the other, Arthur. It’s useless to speculate about that, but one thing is certain,” he said and clapped Arthur’s shoulder. “It was horseshit, and we need to act fast.”

“But how?” Arthur asked while his stomach was in knots at the risk. “Outright oppose the king and you’re as good as dead. He killed two women over a dead babe; a wet nurse but later decided it was his mistress and tortured her whole family.”

His shoulder got a firm squeeze. “Princess Mariah is better at politics and more cunning than me. Find her, and there’s a chance using political pressure. Chances will be slim, so brace yourself. Princess Mariah and I know we can’t act blatantly against the king, but we can add pressure to the matter.”

Arthur nodded. “Let’s go, but we must be careful.”

“No. Just me.”

“What?”

Alijah went to the door and gripped the handle. “It takes one man to relay a message. Go to Elia and spend time with her. There’s no telling how long there is.”

His brother had a point. Arthur pulled out the box with Elia’s necklace and offered it to Alijah. “Take it. Throw it away. It isn’t worth Elia’s tears. I won’t do that to her.”

But Alijah wouldn’t take the held-out box. “Give her the choice, Arthur. It’s no mere trinket,” his brother said and left the chamber towards the Dining Hall.

When Arthur left the chamber himself, the lavender of Alijah’s robe vanished around a corner towards the Dining Hall. Down the same path, his eyes took in all the people traversing the halls. Eyes going from one person to the other, Arthur sighed and gripped the strap of his scabbard. He was no man of politics and out of his depth. Elia’s teachings on hiding his thoughts wouldn’t help him with this.

Neutral overlapping voices neared and he approached the typical seats where Elia ate with him. Donned in a dress of his House colours, and one he’d never seen before, was Elia, but with the company of a handmaiden beside her.

He studied the handmaiden from afar and in seconds relaxed his shoulders. In the seat on Elia’s other side, he sat down and nodded to the handmaiden. “Freya,” he said and wrapped an arm around Elia. “Have you and Lewyn spoken?”

Freya nodded while she met his eyes, her face solemn. “When I delivered his meal in White Sword Tower he told me to find Elia,” she said and rested a hand upon Elia’s. “I’m sorry. Truly.” The older woman leaned toward him. “If Lord Dayne and Mariah can counteract it, they hurried out of the hall minutes ago.”  

Arthur nodded and focused on Elia. If Freya knew, so would Elia. “Elia,” he said and thumbed her cheek. “You know and I know. I don’t want you in any grief I can prevent.” He removed his thumb. “What do you want me to do or stop doing?”

With two hands, Elia took his into hers. She blinked and visibly swallowed. “Don’t stop. Why should we? Why mourn what is yet to end? Regardless of what we do, there’ll be grief later. I won’t lie to myself and say Mother and Alijah aren’t disadvantaged.” She took his hand to her lips and kissed the fingers. “We have time, long or short, and it’s time better spent enjoyed together. Don’t stop anything, Arthur.”

He stroked her hair. “A king’s decision is final and it would take the gods to change it. You will only be more pained, Elia.”

Her black eyes shone wet and she shook her head. “It will hurt anyway,” she said and thumbed his shoulders. “If I had to choose my last memories, I would choose happier ones; wouldn’t you?”

Arthur dropped his gaze to his robe and nodded; he lifted his eyes from his pocket and took the plunge before he could talk himself out of it. “A few days ago I had something made. If you see it and don’t want it now, I’ll respect that. Never put yourself through pain for my sake. Promise me, Elia.”

“I promise.” She turned on the seat until face to face. A hand moved to his cheek. “Please show me,” she whispered.

A firm grip on the box, he took is out and handed it to Elia. “I’ll understand any choice. Don’t keep it if it will sadden you. Throw it away when I’m not looking or something.”

She leaned and gave a chaste kiss but kept close enough to whisper. “A good man with a good heart.” Those black eyes lowered to the box and Elia removed the lid. Her lips parted and she took a sharp breath. “Arthur…it’s beautiful.” Elia’s eyes turned to his and shone. “Rubies and pearls with a few amethysts, but my sigil. It’s us; a cloudy sunset with a white spear.” She took it out of the box, chain and all. “Would you?”

Out of his seat, Arthur stood and took the ends of the chain. “Of course.”

Behind Elia, Freya peered over her shoulder and smiled while Arthur rested the pendant on Elia’s chest. Freya lifted loose hair away which eased Arthur’s work with the clasp. “Arthur, it’s a gorgeous piece,” Freya said and lowered Elia’s hair. “Elia, Niece, are you sure?” She took Elia’s hand. “There is little enough purple that it’s still Martell, but will you be alright?”

Arthur sat and kept from interfering with Freya’s question. The idea of Elia in pain because of the gift tightened his chest. He prayed she didn’t know about the contract or his likely fate would grieve her further. There was no fixing the Kingsguard situation with a couple of days at best, hours at worst.

“I will be,” Elia said to Freya. She turned and her soft fingers stroked Arthur’s face. “I will be.”

Relieved, he released a breath and Elia gave Arthur a short smile. On his feet, he offered his arm to her and Elia looped hers over it. “Let’s get out of this castle,” he said. “There’s something I want to do. Is Ser Camren near?”

Elia nodded. “Just over there. And I tire of Steffon Baratheon, along with his lady wife, staring at us. Considering whom they are, Mother no doubt did something.” Steffon Baratheon had notably fought in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, alongside other lord paramounts.

“Ser Camren, would you join us?” Arthur asked while the man finished his meal. Wordless, the knight rose and stood at their flank. “Thank you.” Elia’s gaze was upon Arthur, but he gave her hand a squeeze. “We better go. I don’t want to see that liar again.” Arthur turned to Freya. “Freya, we’ll see you at dinner. Please tell the others.”

“Take your time, Arthur, Elia,” she said, giving a curtsy as though a handmaiden and not Lewyn’s paramour. “Don’t hurry back to this wretched place.”

Out onto the streets of King’s Landing, Arthur kept silent until they were at the plainer structured end of Street of Steel. “Ser Camren,” he said once he faced the man. “Follow us at a distance with an eye for anyone tailing Elia and I. Pretend you’re scouring the forges for a good craftsman on the right,” he instructed and turned himself slightly to the left. “I’ll do the same on this side but further ahead.”

“As you wish, Ser.”

The first handful had modest wares, but not what he sought. He walked away from another forge when Elia touched his arm. “What are you looking for?”

He inspected the wares of another forge. “A reliable dagger,” he said and moved on. “A knight can’t limit himself to long blades all the time. I’d be disadvantaged.”

While the answer was a true fact, it wasn’t the truth of why he was there. Forge after forge and ascending Visenya’s Hill as he did, the search yielded better results but the truth was further ahead. After Prince Rhaegar’s second spar request a fortnight ago, Arthur searched Street of Steel. Dawn had stayed in its scabbard and with good reason.

Near the hill’s peak, the building was the largest and towered over others on the street. Multiple floors and built of timber and plaster; atop the shop was Master Mott’s home. On each side of the ebony and weirwood double doors, stood one of two stone knights suited in red plate armour; one suit shaped like a griffin while the other one was like a unicorn; a show of the man’s ability.

When the doors were closed, Elia furrowed her eyebrows. “This has to be the finest on the Street of Steel. Did you see the red armour on the statues outside?”

He nodded. “Tinted metal; he’s the only one on the street.”

Her arm slid from his and she turned until they were close enough to whisper. “Then this craftsman will charge what he desires.”

“I’ve already paid in full, Elia. Expensive beyond belief, but I don’t care,” he whispered back. “Will you help me?”

She embraced him and kissed his cheek. “I’ll make sure it gets home. How could I deny you this?”

 

Day 13, 12th Moon, 275 AC

The scabbard on his back was fixed into place. “There. You’re ready,” Elia said and cupped his face in their bedchamber. “Should I need to, I won’t fail you, Arthur.”

He stroked her temple. “I know you won’t.”  

Elia made to speak but a knock on the door pulled her from the gaze. “One moment!” she called out. “Ser Camren went to Star Chaser with servants at first light.” In her beautiful dress of Dayne colours, Elia opened the door and it was her mother, Princess Mariah. “Mother. Come in.”

The ruling princess was donned in her House colours of Martell and nodded to Arthur. “Daughter,” she said and gave a light hug. “I’d like a word alone with Ser Arthur.”

He straightened and gestured to the seats by the small table; empty dishes in a pile were moved to a bedside table. “As you wish, Princess Mariah.” The door closed and he sat himself down.

“Prepared for court, I see,” Princess Mariah said, and took the other seat. “Sword of the Morning in all its glory.” She sighed and dropped her gaze but met Arthur’s again. “When you presented Dawn and your robe to me in Sunspear, I was sceptical. I’ve always been around men who use titles when requesting a betrothal with Elia. She is my daughter and sorrow is the last thing I want for her.”

Arthur shook his head. “Princess Mariah-“

“Ser Arthur,” she interrupted. “Ser Amos is dead. Lewyn instructed Freya to tell me. Neither of them will tell Elia and I ask you to do the same. If I’ve not done enough, Elia will face sorrow today. Let my daughter be happy until the last moment; a mother’s request. Let her hope. Only a fool wouldn’t see the pain both of you will suffer. You love her.”

He swallowed. “I do,” Arthur murmured. “And I will do as you ask, Princess Mariah.”

Princess Mariah placed a hand upon one of his. “Ask one thing of me within my power, Ser Arthur,” she told him. “You make my daughter happy; few men ever did, but they were ambitious while you are not. For her true happiness in this cesspit, I am indebted to you as her mother. Make your request and it will be done.”

A Kingsguard serves for life and he won’t have a paramour in hiding like Lewyn. He squared his shoulders. “Should I be named, protect my family if you attempt disproving the mummery for Elia’s sake. I’d rather carry the lie than have my family die.”

“And if you’re not named?”

His smile was small and Arthur looked Princess Mariah in the eyes. “I ask for your blessing to marry Elia, My Princess; willingly given. Denied if not.”

She nodded stiffly. “You have it, but hurt Elia and I will make you wish for the Seven Hells instead. She is my daughter and always will be.”

Arthur rested his hands together on the table. “It will never come to that; I give you my word, Princess Mariah.”

“Very well, and rest assured, Ser Arthur, no harm will befall your family at my hand.”

When Princess Mariah rose, he did as well. “Thank you.”

“They were respectable requests. Remember what I asked of you.”

He nodded. “It will be done.”

Out in the halls, Elia joined his side while her mother made a hasty retreat. Elia looped her arm over his. “Mother’s in a hurry. Whatever she and Alijah are doing has the names of Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell and Arryn flying around; Tyrell less than others though.”

Arthur gave her a smile and hoped it was convincing.

They took a turn to the gardens and Elia smiled at the sun on her face. “Sometimes Tully and Lannister too, but they’re normally dismissed because the children would become orphans in a sense.”

Upon a bench, Arthur sat and guided Elia sideways onto his lap. She raised an eyebrow and he wrapped an arm around her back. “More comfortable than stone?” he asked, a hand in her hair.

Elia hummed softly. “You’re not normally comfortable being like this.”

Arthur leaned back to pluck a purple bloom. Seated upright again and the flower tucked behind her ear, Arthur ran a hand through her hair. “I’m uncomfortable being watched, but most people are breaking their fasts now,” he said, his hand gently through her hair; that seemed to keep her distracted. “I doubt anybody’s looking.”

A small hand brushed his cheek and he guided her into a kiss; his hand on her waist in a light grip, hers holding his shoulders. She shifted to more of an angle and pressed her forehead against his. Hands ran along his body until on his shoulders once more; one rose to his cheek and thumbed it.

In his mind returned the image of pleading black eyes. His hands along her back, Arthur kissed her and traced Elia’s soft slim form. Gentle fingers gave his hair light tugs; her hum had an allure of its own. He memorised it all.

Settled against him and eyes closed, Elia was peaceful and Arthur smiled. Half hidden by her arm was the necklace he’d given her yesterday; hints of Dayne on a Martell sigil. She’d kept it.

The sun climbed the sky and while Arthur lightly brushed Elia’s waist. She was content with being held and her lips gave his neck feather-light pecks from time to time. With time came ladies of the court and he wanted to grimace. Moments alone in the gardens were rare because he loathed the thought of their intimacy being court gossip. Elia is a woman deserving of respect.

Arthur made to move, but Elia’s hand stayed his. “Don’t,” she murmured. “Let them talk, Arthur. I’d rather stay like this until we must.”

“You’re sure?” he asked, brushing her cheek and watched her eyes open.

She had a serene smile. “I’m sure. Do the people bother you?”

“If they start insulting you they will.”

Elia thumbed his bottom lip. “We’ll go when they do. Why flee a lovely morning like this?”

Relaxed when her fingers ran slow along his back, he held her properly again. “To our sanctuary when they do,” he said. She gave him a little nod.

They remained in the gardens until it was time for court. Many had glanced at Arthur holding Elia in his lap, but those people received little attention from him. She’d truly smiled and it was worth being watched by courtiers for him to see it. Mayhaps it was the lack of hiding that’d pleased her.

Lords, knights and squires alike eyed him on the way to the Throne Room. On the back of his ceremonial robe was the list of all the Swords of the Morning in history with his at the top; the design in itself was one to impress. The greatsword on his back peered out of its diagonal scabbard by a hand’s width; the pale steel of the blade clear to see.

Elia, in the lavender dress she’d obtained yesterday, drew the eye of men who were quick to glance at Arthur and look away. His House colours, lavender and white, were flattering for her olive skin; and with the ruby Martell circlet atop her head, it spoke of her princess status.

Near the Throne Room, he lifted their intertwined arms and kissed her knuckles. “You’re stunning when you’re happy,” he said and ran his thumb over them when her cheeks flushed.

She made to speak, but approaching boots stopped her. “Brother, Goodsister,” Alijah said and came to a stop in front of them. “Good. I found you. Elia, your mother wanted a quick talk with you, and you’ll find her near the front.”

Elia pecked Arthur’s cheek. “I’ll see you inside.”

When she was gone, Alijah gestured towards the twin doors of the Throne Room but leaned in towards Arthur. “Princess Mariah wants us on the main floor; the centre of the room preferably. Better visibility for the other courtiers.”  

Arthur cocked his head. “To what purpose?”

His brother had a mischievous smirk. “The Baratheons were worried yesterday, weren’t they?”

“...yes…”

Alijah’s face flickered with satisfaction. “It says something when the friend of the king is worried, doesn’t it?”

He huffed. “Get to the point, brother. I fight with swords.”

“A king’s friend is high on a societal level. If he’s worried, it influences lesser lords,” Alijah explained with a wry smile. “I’m a ‘dirty fighter’, as you would say. Come. Court begins soon.”

His brother led him to the centre of the room at the aisle’s edge where the king’s routine precession would pass. Here they were in full view of the gallery’s first few rows and anyone near the aisle. Elia and her mother were talking but too hushed for Arthur to hear.

He turned to his brother. “Alijah, could you finish sheathing my sword for me? I don’t want to hit anyone.”

Alijah raised an eyebrow. “Of course, you useless knight.” The strap shifted for but a second; a hand gripped his shoulder to the point it almost hurt. “Arthur-“

“-Is not an idiot.” Calm, Arthur turned until he faced his brother. “That liar is obsessed. Chasing a star is more likely to be successful than getting him to stop.” He prayed his brother got the reference; it was as blunt as he could make it.

The grip became a friendly slap on the shoulder. “Quite the claim since our ancestor was a star chaser, isn’t it?” Alijah remarked, humour plain on his face while giving Arthur a nod; he’d understood. “Be. Careful,” he said slowly.

Arthur tilted his head and stared Alijah in the eyes. “It’s a bright blade, but don’t make me want to roar, Alijah.”

His brother chuckled and shook his head. “Best you keep to blades, brother. Politics isn’t your strong point; you were too on the nose just now.” Alijah leaned in. “A Lannister would’ve caught on.”

Clinging chainmail reached his ears and Arthur glanced at Alijah, who ducked over to Elia and Princess Mariah. By the time the sound grew more pronounced, Elia was on his arm while Alijah stood on his other side; Princess Mariah beside Elia.

Voices dropped to silence and he fought a shiver when the royal procession walked by them on the main floor. Elia interlocked their fingers and gave him a squeeze; he raised an eyebrow and she took a breath. “One less Kingsguard today,” she murmured and swallowed.

He thumbed her fingers and nodded. Words would do nothing now. Eyes on the king while he ascended the stairs of the ugly throne, Arthur put on a confident face for Elia’s sake. She will draw from however he appeared to be, much as he’d grown restless from Alijah’s fury in that chamber.

Without petitioning smallfolk, Grand Maester Pycelle turned to the king instead of addressing the court for requests or announcements. “Your Grace, all necessary are present.”

King Aerys sitting in his black looming throne remained there but cleared his throat. “Arthur Dayne,” he spoke for all to hear. “Step forth.”

A sharp feminine inhale was followed by a whispered “No.” It made him drop his gaze. He must go or it would anger the unpredictable king.

Turning towards the aisle, Arthur’s eyes met Alijah’s. “Slowly, brother. Make a point.” Alijah looked past Arthur. “Elia, go.”

Stepping out onto the aisle with Elia on his arm, Arthur traversed slowly enough that is couldn’t be called tarrying. The crowd murmured but the king’s mood was more important; if King Aerys grew annoyed Arthur must speed up. At the end stood the five Kingsguard knights; normally six out of the seven were at court while the seventh guarded the queen in her chambers.

Elia still on his arm when he reached the space in front of the throne’s base, Arthur turned his head up to the king. “Yes, Your Grace?”

A smirk was spread across King Aerys’ face and Arthur resisted looking to Elia for guidance. He’d expected an unsettled king, not a pleased one. “Your wife is with you; good. Princess Elia, make yourself useful and remove Ser Arthur’s scabbard and Dayne robe.”

Whispers grew within the Throne Room and Arthur stole a glance at Ser Oswell and Lewyn within the Kingsguard. Lewyn grimaced when their eyes met and Ser Oswell had an apologetic expression. This is it then, but I won’t have Elia tormented and humiliated for court amusement.

Arthur stepped out of her reach and took a breath. “Your Grace, that task is well within my own abilities,” he said and loosened his scabbard a little. “I do pray my tunic and breeches aren’t next,” he remarked in a clear tone.

Laughter echoed within the Throne Room and King Aerys gripped the arms of his throne, his face red. “Enough! You, Ser Arthur, are named to the Kingsguard in light of Ser Amos Charlton’s death,” he announced, voice bouncing in the silenced hall. “Remove your scabbard, robe and kneel or I will show no mercy.”

Frankly, King Aerys was already disrespectful to Dornishmen, but Arthur refused to risk the king becoming further riled; Elia was nearby and King Aerys could amuse himself by embarrassing her. Would the king dare command Elia to remove her Dayne dress since she’s a Martell by birth? Would he? Gods I hope not.

He took off his scabbard and robe as commanded and got on his knees. Defying the king wasn’t worth the cost of Elia’s dignity and honour. Arthur awaited the oaths to swear when he completed the task. The sooner Elia is out of the Throne Room the sooner she is safe.

“Do you swear to protect your king and the royal family with your own life?” King Aerys asked in a tone that brooked no argument.

Arthur glanced at Prince Rhaegar behind the Kingsguard, and the prince was watching him with curiosity; those eyes went to Arthur’s scabbard after a second. With a breath, Arthur answered the king. “I swear, Your Grace,” he said.

“Do you swear to obey my commands and keep my secrets?”

“I swear, Your Grace.” Inside Arthur was bracing himself. The next was about children and wives, he knew. He stole a periphery glance towards Elia. As far as King’s Landing knew, they were married.

“Princess Elia,” King Aerys said in a smug tone. Arthur snapped his gaze to the king; he was smirking. “Stand in front of Ser Arthur and look him in the eyes.”

Arthur wanted with every fibre in his being to glare at the king for this. King Aerys was using this opportunity to make this as painful as possible for Elia. It was likely the king’s priority to embarrass Arthur.

The whipping of light fabric drew Arthur to look behind him. Storming towards the Iron Throne was a flame of Martell red silk. “Don’t take one step, Elia!” Princess Mariah shouted. The ruling princess of Dorne rested a hand on Elia’s shoulder and glared at the king. “My daughter has done nothing to you, but you’ve taken her husband! You will not use Elia for your amusement, Aerys Targaryen!”

Thank the gods. Arthur made his sigh as light as possible. Off to the side of her mother, Elia had wet eyes but swallowed periodically. We knew this was a possibility but I should have told you this morning. I’m sorry. But go before the king reacts!

Prince Rhaegar emerged from behind the Kingsguard line and stood in front of mother and daughter. “Princess Mariah, Princess Elia, if you would follow me,” he said respectfully and proceeded towards the doors.

Princess Mariah guided Elia by the shoulder out of Arthur’s line of sight, but the steps of three people echoed in the Throne Room. Above him, the king scowled and watched his son leave with the two Dornish princesses.

The steps were faint when a comment wafted from the entrance. “At least you’re decent, Prince Rhaegar.”

King Aerys bared his teeth for a second and dropped his gaze to the base of the throne. “Ser Arthur, do you swear to hold no lands, have no wife, and father no children?”

Elia and Princess Mariah were safe and out of the Throne Room, so Arthur tarried with the response for ten seconds and people began to stir. “I swear.” You have no honour to make a man abandon who you think is his wife.

The rest of it passed in a blur; the cloak from the Lord Commander, the final line of ‘until death’, all possessions with Dayne insignia given to Alijah, redressed into the full Kingsguard uniform and armour in his sleeping cell of White Sword Tower.

By the window of his sparse sleeping cell, Arthur stared out to Blackwater Bay where Star Chaser was sailing away, the Dayne colours for all to see. Alijah, Elia and Princess Mariah were safer and better off away from King’s Landing.

The sun was getting low when the door creaked and Lewyn came into the sleeping cell and came to the window. “I’m sorry you and Elia were ripped from each other in the Throne Room like that,” Lewyn said and held a dagger out the window until the sunlight hit the blade. “Do as I do and tilt your blade towards Star Chaser,” he explained and stepped back. “Alijah slipped a message to demonstrate it near sunset.”

Arthur gave Lewyn a nod. “Thank you.”

The man clasped his shoulder. “Use a sword though and wait. I’m assuming it’ll be my niece, so I’ll leave you to it.” Lewyn said and closed the door.

Out of the scabbard, he drew the pale steel greatsword and mimicked what Lewyn had done. Blade tilted towards Star Chaser Arthur bit his lip. “Come on, please be looking.” It was a piss poor goodbye, but better than nothing.

A few seconds later a milk-white shine, equivalent to the length of a man, a greatsword, lit up on Star Chaser’s helm.

He released a breath. Elia, I hope you find another person to truly love you. I’m sorry it can’t be me.

Arthur maintained the angle for a minute and brought his sword back inside. The milk-white shine coming from Star Chaser vanished soon after.

You didn’t get everything by ruining my future with Elia, Prince Rhaegar. Fakes are all you'll get. If it wasn’t for your scheming I would be marrying Elia in a few moons.

Chapter Text

JAIME LANNISTER

Day 14, 12th Moon, 275 AC

Stirring in his bed, a hint of light came through the curtains and made Jaime blink. He needed to be by the stables before sunrise. His third ride with Lady Sansa was yesterday and they agreed to ride each morning once the sun was above the horizon.

He faltered when climbing out of bed because the mattress was a different shape. There was company. Cersei.

Over his shoulder, she was indeed in his bed and naked. Poised, she pinned him down and kissed with passion. Shoving her off, Jaime got up and gathered his clothes for the morning ride. He frowned. I’m barring the door from now on.

“You’re not riding.” Cersei closed the gap and took him in her arms.

Pushing her off, Jaime glared at her and put on his breeches. “Why not?”

He was cautious when she sashayed to him and leaned near his ear and nibbled it. “We are one soul in two bodies.” He pulled away and threw her missing shift at her, but Cersei ignored it and the shift fell to the floor. “We belong together, Jaime,” she said, grabbing his shoulders and brought him close.

“No.”

Cersei’s expression morphed to bitterness when he shook her off so he could leave. “I won’t let that tart keep us apart!” His eyes on the door, he buttoned his doublet and stalked down the guest wing. With Cersei as naked as her nameday he could put distance between them. Hopefully, he wouldn’t have to tolerate her again for a while.

At the stables but Lady Sansa absent, he got comfortable and released a breath. This is getting out of hand.

He rubbed his face. Jaime resented the way Cersei was acting as though she owned him. With a glance at the door of the stables, he scoffed at the comparison crossing his mind. No one owned him.

It seemed as though every noble girl near his age who visited Casterly Rock and Lannisport wanted nothing more than becoming the next Lady of Casterly Rock, to have him as theirs. It was never the same girl twice. Thankfully he never saw them again after the first day, but nearly every other moon there was a new one; talking to him about how wonderful they thought Casterly Rock was and other nonsense to get him to like them.

They were strangers who made him bored and roll his eyes. At the time, Cersei had been the one who made him happy. But ever since those letters…Blind once about his sister, but no more and never again.

At Riverrun there were different kinds of people. People with different ambitions, different things they considered important, different views on situations.

Fighting to reach his forefront was the memory of Lady Sansa in her twin brothers' nursery. Cersei would have let Tyrion die if given the choice, already tried killing him in fact, whereas Lady Sansa would give her life to save her twin brothers. In that conversation, Lady Sansa gazed upon those them, held them, talked about them with affection. And Cersei would never have treated Tyrion like that; she wanted their brother dead.

Cersei was his sister and the way she acted made it difficult to genuinely care. It was moons ago since he’d last willingly been with her and naked as his nameday. He was glad about avoiding her, although there was a slither of loneliness within him. He wished he could be a proper sibling to her as he was to Tyrion; care and respect one another without going beyond that.

His wish was something Cersei likely refused to see, and her attempts to regain control over him made Jaime's dislike of her grow. Cersei hated him pulling away and she was in his bed and baths most of the time. Father was cold and distant; now Cersei was trying to get the control she used to have over him. It seemed Tyrion and him were the only ones who cared about family. His aunt and uncles cared but that was different.

Getting to his feet, he paced with arms crossed. The problem dominated his mind.

A tall figure approached from the corner of his eye. “The Golden Lion is bothered.” The Dornish voice snagged his attention. Prince Oberyn sat and seemed to study Jaime. “What is it that bothers Jaime Lannister?” he asked, casual but curious.

Reluctant about his troubles, he fiddled with his doublet.

The Red Viper lazed against the bench. “Is our Lady Sansa not a gracious lady?” Prince Oberyn asked with a smug look. “You ride with her every day.” The prince stared at him with those dark eyes. “You’re miserable, yet smile in her company. So it can’t be Lady Sansa.” Prince Oberyn smirked. “No,” he said. “It’s your sister. Were she not here I wouldn’t be so tempted to leave; nightmare that she is.” Prince Oberyn stood and leaned against the wall. “Your father refused a betrothal between your sister and I. It seems I was saved many troubles two years ago.”

Jaime's eyes met the piercing black ones of the prince. “Cersei was to be a future princess of Dorne?”

The prince's lips quirked. “She’s to become a Targaryen princess now. I wish them every happiness.”

He took a breath and pulled out a gold dragon coin, tossing it to the prince who caught it. "She's anything but happy since that song. A gold dragon is a lot of money so my uncle and I stayed in the tavern. We were curious. I talked my uncle out of telling Father. 'A song on beauty with no insults is nothing to fuss about.', I said."

Prince Oberyn raised an eyebrow and tossed the gold coin back. "Your sister took it in rather bad light, I've heard. Aren't you angry on her behalf?"

"Do you want me to be?" he asked and tucked the gold dragon in his pocket. "Lady Sansa was surprised when I told her about it."

The prince's chuckle was rueful. "That she was," he murmured. "As I am about you not telling your father."

"And I don't plan to," he said with a shrug. Prince Oberyn relaxed and Jaime gave him a smile. If Cersei was angered by the song and grumbling about it, she would focus less on controlling him.

The rhythm of walking horses approached them. Mounted on her grey mare, holding the reins of the chestnut he rode, was Lady Sansa.

“Your lady is here,” Prince Oberyn said, and walked away grinning, leaving Jaime alone with Lady Sansa.

Lady Sansa watched the prince leave and shook her head. “Good morrow. I pray you weren’t at his mercy for too long, Lord Jaime,” she wished him once a stableboy helped Jaime into the saddle of what had become his horse here.

Not really in the mood to discuss the prince, Jaime got a comfortable hold of the reins and turned to Lady Sansa. “It’s Jaime, my lady.”

She smiled at the reminder; it had become somewhat of a jape between them. “And it’s Sansa, my lord,” she said with poorly concealed amusement. “I apologise for being late. The head handmaiden needed to be informed of some changes.”

Above him and Sansa, Cersei watched and glared daggers at the unbeknownst girl. Jaime ignored her and looked to Sansa when he nudged his horse into a trot. Sansa rode towards the western drawbridge instead of the eastern one they always crossed. “It’s no problem, Sansa,” he told her. Wanting a distraction from what happened in his chambers, he increased to a canter and Sansa caught up soon enough.

“Jaime? Is everything well?” she asked with a concerned look. “We’re not normally this fast so soon.”

Horse slowed to a slower canter, he flashed a smile to reassure any of her worries. “Everything’s fine,” he lied. “I wanted speed for a moment. That’s all.”

On her face was a look of doubt but she didn't speak of it. “It was a surprise to me,” she said, eyes on the path ahead. “I apologise for overthinking.”

There it was again; the difference between Cersei and Sansa. One cared about her own wants and one cared about other people. Sansa was a pleasant person to the Lannisters since arrival four days ago, despite her mother's death. Sometimes he had no wish to discuss something and she never pushed. Cersei wouldn’t have let the matter rest until she knew everything.

Sansa was his one real friend. Sure, there were boys who roughhoused with him in Lannisport, but they were more interested in Jaime Lannister, son and heir of Tywin Lannister. The title; not the person. He wasn’t stupid.

He used to have Cersei, but that was long behind him now. A friend doesn't control their friend, and she was trying to do that. Since arriving, she had become a person he barely tolerated. The more he befriended Sansa, the more Cersei used closeness to convince him to abandon a new friend. Before those nameless letters, it would of worked.

In companionable silence, Jaime rode alongside Sansa and gazed at the land he hadn’t seen from within the wheelhouse. His eyes took in every inch of green and the bubbling of water gave him a peace his home never had. At a high point, he brought his horse to a stop and looked at Sansa who did the same.

She rested her hands on the saddlehorn and gazed ahead in silence. Something in her eyes told him she was in a memory; it was like Cersei's eyes when Mother died, and probably Jaime's too.

“Sansa,” he whispered. Her head turn marginally towards him, but otherwise she was still. “It helps when you tell somebody. If you want…”

The breathing of the resting horses and rippling water was dominant. Sansa blinked and sighed. “The first time I felt at home at Riverrun was a moon after I arrived. There was an incident and she took me in her arms without hesitation,” Sansa said softly. "Within myself, I knew Mother loved me as she loved my sisters.”

Jaime glanced away and met her eyes again. He was grateful she’d kept it short. Details about what happened would of made it awkward, because it was probably private. “A moon…?” he uttered. How much time did she have without doubts?

Sansa turned her gaze towards the land ahead and nudged her horse into a walk. “Tomorrow marks my second moon’s turn at Riverrun.”

Less than a moon… Jaime hung his head and sighed. “I am sorry, Sansa.” He turned to her and she was gazing at the land.

“Jaime,” she said, looking at him and her eyes showed no tears. “You have nothing to be sorry for,” Sansa said. With a nudge, her horse trotted down the hill.

Doing the same, he rode beside her westward along River Road. “Mayhaps, but I feel like it's only making you sad.”

She waved away his apology. “You’re right about talking. It does help,” Sansa said with a grateful look. “More than I expected in truth. And you offered to listen, Jaime. Thank you. It was my choice to speak,” she said, firm but gentle.

Releasing a breath that had been hiding within him, he nodded and copied her when she increased the pace to a canter. When he never talked about troubles bothering him it only made Jaime alone inside and unhappy. One was wearing away at him now.

Her eyes became serious but soft. “When the time comes, I will do the same for you,” she promised.

Instinct said Sansa was hinting at the lie he told her about everything being alright; she hadn't believed him. However, he couldn’t bring himself to do it and talk. She was his only friend for friendship’s sake. Jaime would bet all the money his House owned that his troubles with Cersei would disgust Sansa. She was his only true friend. Although a strangely forgiving and patient person, Sansa wouldn't want anything to do with him. Only Targaryens got away with it. I just can’t. It’s too risky.

There was too much at stake if he so much as uttered a word of Cersei’s advances. It would lead to questions. Questions he would never want to answer; such as his willingness before now. So he kept his mouth shut and nodded to Sansa. I don’t want to lose a real friend.

It was be a coward or be a fool. He was not the latter. The Targaryens were well known for their sibling marriages, but they were an exception in Westeros. If the realm knew about him and Cersei, everyone would be think about his family as filth. It was sin to the Faith.

He and Cersei had hidden what they did from everyone, but his mother found out yet not told Father. There was no deep love between him and Father, who cared highly about the reputation of House Lannister. Jaime, however, wasn’t stupid enough to risk everything by uttering the secret to a girl he’d met four days ago.

She seemed to understand him like an open book and never pushed. It made her an easy person to be around because she made him comfortable; but that didn’t mean he was going to be a lackwit.

As though she could tell he was stressed, Sansa spurred her horse into a gallop and glanced over her shoulder like she was challenging him.

Chasing her, Jaime was grateful for the distraction and followed Sansa to Riverside, around a sweeping bend until they were galloping back towards Riverrun. Near the drawbridge they slowed to a canter and trotted back into the yard of Riverrun. Cersei was scowling from floors above.

Silently, they dismounted and passed the reins to a waiting stableboy, who took the horses away and left him alone with Sansa. Will she speak about the lie?

Instead of an accusation, like those he was so used to from his sister, Sansa bobbed a curtsy and met his eyes. “It was a pleasure, Jaime,” she said. “I wish you a good day.”

Nodding thanks, he gave a simple reply. “And you, Sansa.”

Jaime remained in the yard and its relaxed fresh air while Sansa approached the castle. She had duties of a castle's Lady shared with Lady Catelyn. At the door, Sansa glanced over her shoulder and met his eyes but continued inside.

Tension flooded him, and the joy of riding faded because he was likely to run into Cersei, who knew he was back. He didn’t want to be with her, and he was uncomfortable to be around Sansa right now.

Although Sansa asked him him no questions when he rejected the chance to talk, he wouldn't assume she was blind to his bother. He had no plans of telling anyone about it.

On the way to bath in his bedchamber, Jaime encountered his uncle who was approaching the Great Hall to break his fast.

“Jaime,” Uncle Kev called out and paused near the doorway. “I’m curious about your daily rides with the Lady Sansa,” he said with a smile. Uncle Kev was always a pleasant man. Firm when Jaime and Cersei caused mischief in the past, but otherwise a good uncle.

“Yes, Uncle?”

Uncle Kev neared Jaime and rested an easy hand on his shoulder. “Do you like them?” he asked quietly.

Jaime raised a cocky eyebrow. “I’m not in the wheelhouse,” he said. Uncle Kev laughed. “They’re alright.”

“The wheelhouse from Casterly Rock was for your safety, Jaime,” Uncle Kev replied, amused. "One would say your rides were rather enjoyed.”

He shrugged. “They get me away from Cersei, and Sansa’s nice to be around,” Jaime said.

Uncle Kev’s lips twitched. “Lady Sansa, Jaime,” he said and tilted Jaime's chin up until their eyes met. “We don’t want to disrespect the Tullys and not call her by her title.” Jaime’s uncle wasn't overly serious, but he took the advice all the same.

“I will, Uncle Kev.”

His uncle stepped back and glanced towards the guest wing of the castle. “Go and bath, Jaime. You reek of horse,” Uncle Kev mock scolded. He nudged Jaime in the right direction with a chuckle and walked away.

“I haven’t had the chance!” Jaime indignantly said, but that made Uncle laugh.

Although laughed at, Jaime was lighter and returned to his chambers.The door open with no one inside. He sighed in relief and entered, bolting it. He wanted peace and quiet after fighting with Cersei the second he woke up today.

He relished the warm bath and quiet chamber with no Cersei, but he couldn’t tarry too long or his absence would be noted. Although he'd been respectful so far, Cersei had already upset and insulted the Tullys.

When she’d turned up for the funeral in her brightest gown, Jaime had been ashamed. In the Great Hall she hadn't tried to hide her boredom. She showed it. Lord Tully didn’t say a thing, but Aunt Genna certainly gave Cersei an earful for that.

Cersei would look at Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully with derision when the man wasn’t looking, or so she thought. Lady Catelyn didn’t have the same hold on her emotions like Sansa and stormed down a hall at least once.

It was an embarrassment his sister tried her best to irritate and offend Sansa enough to get her to shout; to no avail so far. Jaime was surprised Sansa hadn’t told her father yet. Had she, Lord Tully would have made demands for recompense of the agreed sennight for the family grieving their wife and mother.

The youngest Tully girl, who was nine like Jaime and Cersei. It seemed she handled Lady Tully’s death in the seclusion of her bedchambers. Gods, he was glad. One less upset Tully.

The water was cooling so Jaime climbed out and made short work of dressing. The food in the Great Hall would be taken away soon if he didn’t make haste. One time he’d taken just a little too long and had to ask Lady Catelyn where the kitchens were.

He arrived and food was still there. Inside the Great Hall was Lady Lysa, who murmured a ‘good morrow’ but kept to herself. It was possible she knew about Cersei and feared the same of him. The lack of enthusiasm was justified, so Jaime took no offence. Their mother died days ago after all. Losing your mother was painful; his was dead too.

Breaking his fast, he acknowledged those present but otherwise gave relative silence out of respect for the mourning family. His riding partner arrived a couple of minutes after him and didn’t say too many words herself. Taking her own seat beside Lady Lysa, Sansa nodded to him and chose food from bowls and trays.

Finished, Jaime left for the toddlers’ nursery, but Cersei cornered him in the halls with a bitter look. “Enjoyed your time with the tart?” she asked. “You left me like a whore.”

Arguing with Cersei with pointless, so he walked around her and ignored the remarks or risk encouraging her. Not that it made too much difference. Once his sister started something, she would keep going until she won; even repeating herself. Cersei hated saying anything twice; it made her sound like a fool.

More than once, Cersei’s attempts to anger Sansa met nothing but silence; it annoyed Cersei who left in a huff eventually. Although it worked better between the girls, Cersei was more persistent around him; she was determined to own him. It was honestly tiring. And frankly, he was sick of it.

Her voice followed him until he reached Edmure's and Tyrion's nursery. Jaime went straight to Tyrion, who smiled. Cersei shot a glare of disgust aimed at their brother and stormed away.

In his chubby hand was a puzzle piece and Tyrion put it in its place. Jaime ruffled the blonde hair and grinned mischievously. “Hello, little brother.”

“Jaime!” Batting away his hand, Tyrion sat on Jaime’s leg and got comfortable.

Help yourself.

“Cersei really grumpy,” the two-year-old said, making Jaime crack a wry grin.

Wasn’t that the truth these days?  “She always is, Tyrion.”

 

Day 16, 12th moon, 275 AC

In the square of the yard allocated to arms training, he practised his swordsmanship forms and Jaime glanced over at Prince Oberyn who lazed on a seat in the midday sun. “So what’s it like being in a tourney, Prince Oberyn?” he asked the only male noble anything near his age in Riverrun.

“Depends on your preference,” the prince said, rising and took a practise sword from the rack. “The sword? Or the lance?”

The prince joined him in the square and Jaime shrugged. “What’s jousting like?” Prince Oberyn made a gesture for Jaime to go on the offensive. He grinned at the sparring opportunity and feinted towards one side but struck on the other.

Except the prince deflected him with ease. “Never seen a joust?”

“I’ve never seen a tourney,” Jaime said, persisting against Prince Oberyn’s reflexes and skills. He liked a challenge.

“When the new Targaryen lives you’ll see one. He or she is expected soon.” They sparred in earnest, blood pumped within Jaime. “I’ve competed in two.”

Jaime kept his focus. “Only two? But how-”

“Do I fight like this?” the prince finished, deflecting Jaime's sword. “The fighting pits. Essos.”

“After you were banished?” The incident that led to it gave the prince the name of 'The Red Viper'.

“Aye, after I was banished.”

“Can you joust?” Jaime asked. Jousting was said to be exciting to compete in.

“I can, but enjoy a melee more.”

“Why?”

“So many questions,” Prince Oberyn uttered in mock irritation. His eyes dared a challenge. “Fight harder, Lannister, and I shall tell you.”

He wanted to know and put in every effort to at least keep the prince occupied. Jaime was no match for the man of eighteen. A weakness to exploit and seize was what he needed. But, by the gods, it was difficult against a man with reflexes like Prince Oberyn's.

“That’s enough,” Prince Oberyn said, returning the training sword to its place. “You’re exhausted. Take a seat before you drop.”

Sweaty from the spar, there was an impulse of retorting Martell’s remark; however, it was the truth. He’d tried everything he knew against the prince but never succeeded. He hoped to be as good, no, even better than him, one day. “So, jousting?” he asked once seated.

Prince Oberyn was amused and sat down. “Your horse is charging, and so is his,” he factually said. “One of three things happen; your opponent misses with his lance, strikes your chest, or strikes your chest and knocks you on your arse.”

He couldn’t help it. Jaime snorted at the blunt description and met the dark eyes. “Did you get knocked on your arse a lot then?”

Prince Oberyn scoffed a laugh. “Very little,” he said. “But there’s always someone better.”

Clearly the prince had little to say about jousting, so Jaimed asked about the other. “And the melee?”

His company grinned at the mention of it. “That’s where I’m the best.”

Jaime turned towards Prince Oberyn. “You seem certain about that,” he said, but the man smiled. Daring stirred and Jaime tested his luck with the casual prince. “Will you prove it in the tourney next year?”

Prince Oberyn raised his eyebrows in amusement. “Is that a challenge, Lannister?” he asked, head tilted to one side. “You shouldn’t bet against me.”

Jaime grinned and did it anyway. “Lose the melee and you owe me ten dragons. Lose the joust and you owe me twenty dragons as well,” he proposed, waiting for the prince to object. “But you don’t like the joust,” he said.

There was a glint in Prince Oberyn’s eyes. “We have an accord, Lannister. At the tourney’s end will you owe me thirty dragons.”

“A Lannister always pays his debts,” Jaime recited, relaxing in the seat and eyes towards the sky.

The man chuckled. “I shall win both,” he said. “And you shall dance with the Lady Sansa at its feast.”

Jaime snapped his head towards the prince so quick it hurt. “Wait, what?!”

“You wouldn’t oppose a betrothal to her,” Prince Oberyn taunted. “Admit it.”

“There’s nothing to admit!” There really wasn’t. Sansa was just a nice person.

Feet approached and both of them looked up. It was Sansa. “Are you so sure you shall win, Prince Oberyn?” Sansa asked with a teasing smile aimed at the prince. “From what I’ve heard, Ser Barristan Selmy is quite the jouster,” she confidently said. “Do you believe you will beat him?"               

Prince Oberyn feinted wounded pride. “So little faith, Little lady.”

“That’s why you call me ‘Little lady’, Prince Oberyn,” she countered, and the prince grimaced wryly. Sansa looked at the man with a polite smile, but her eyes hinting at victory. “There’s always someone better. You said so yourself.” Her lips had an innocent curl. Jaime had to smother a chuckle to avoid it being noticed.

“You wound me, Lady Sansa,” the prince japed.

Sansa gave him a sweet smile. “I advise practising against my uncle or Ser Kevan while you have the chance.” She made it seem he had little chance of winning the tourney.

Prince Oberyn gave a sweeping bow. “I shall heed your lady wisdom, Lady Sansa,” he said and walked away; Sansa covered her laugh with a hand.

There was an ease between the pair as though they were friends. Unless Sansa had a natural skill with people. Curious about her opinion on the bet, he asked. “Do you think he will win the joust?” Prince Oberyn seemed more confident about the melee and wasn't known for jousting.

She took the now-empty seat and glanced in the prince’s direction. “Who knows?” she said facing Jaime. “However, he relies on agility against Uncle Brynden. I feel it’s safe to assume Prince Oberyn could lose the joust. A lance to the chest and remaining on your horse; that requires strength,” she reasoned and Jaime nodded. “But if he does win and you don’t want to dance, I’ll just say you did if he asks.”

What she said was a surprise. In Casterly Rock during feasts, dancing with some bannerman's daughter despite not wanting to was required of him. “Thank you, Sansa. That’s…nice.”

There was a sympathetic look and she gave a smile. “You’re welcome, Jaime. No one likes being forced into anything.”

Is there not a selfish bone in her body? Girls love dancing.

Sansa stood and gestured towards the castle entrance. “The midday meal will be served soon. It's why I heard you talking,” she informed him. “Would you like me to delay it slightly so you may change?”

“No need,” he said. “It won’t take me long.”

She bobbed a curtsy and walked back inside, Jaime watching her go but spotted Cersei lurking near a corner with her eyes glaring at him. What have I gotten myself into?

Chapter Text

JAIME LANNISTER

Day 21, 12th moon, 275 AC

His back warm while sunlight ahead lit Jaime’s way; hooves pounded both beneath and behind him while grass and trees flew past. Jaime glanced over his shoulder and grinned at the determined smile on her face. “Come on, Sansa!”

A short laugh was just loud enough over their running horses. “You sound like I’m behind every morning!”

Jaime grinned and kept going. The crest before Riverrun was nearing and the agreed spot to slow to a canter drew close. A minute or two and his horse, Ser Brynden’s courser, a warhorse, started to walk the remaining length to Riverrun with its harsh breath slowing down.

A grey palfrey appeared beside him and Sansa chuckled from its saddle, her chest huffing like Jaime’s. She swallowed and took a slow breath. “It’s going to be strange riding every day without a companion,” she said and relaxed the reins of her horse.

Jaime grimaced at Riverrun and gave Sansa a nod. Inside that castle was a Lannister wheelhouse he’d have to share with Cersei for a fortnight again. For ten days it sat in the courtyard and in his face every morning.

She took a big breath and let it out. “I imagine the negotiations will come to an end soon.” Sansa glanced his way and frowned. “What is it, Jaime?”

“The wheelhouse.” He met her gaze and waved a hand towards Riverrun. “Two sennights with Cersei in it,” Jaime said and shook his head, tilted skyward. “Torture for half a moon.”

There was no reply, so he turned and Sansa had a lip between her teeth. She met his eyes with a nice smile. “You love riding. So it’s easy to understand your dislike for the wheelhouse,” she observed, bringing her horse to a stop and Jaime did the same. “On our first ride you seemed to dislike your sister, but now even more so?” Sansa said rhetorically, full attention on him. “I pray it wasn’t something my family has caused?”

The castle was in sight and he frowned. From the corner of his eye, Sansa seemed worried. “It’s not,” Jaime said. “It’s not their fault.” Slouching in the saddle, the Lannister heir let out a breath and gave her a quick smile. “You’re a good friend, Sansa. You’re kind; even to my brother when he’s alone,” Jaime confided but the reason for his dread returned.

She licked her lips. “But?”

“Cersei hates us being friends,” he told her. “But she won’t stop me.”

Sansa should know Cersei’s hate doesn't mean he would push Sansa away, but he dreaded the return home and saying goodbye. Without Sansa around to make him forget about Cersei’s bitter pursuit, Jaime was going to wish he was in the Seven Hells. Ever since the bet with Prince Oberyn, Cersei had become relentless in her attempts to find faults in and tear Sansa down as unworthy.

Sansa lifted a hand from her saddlehorn and it hovered there before she lowered it while releasing a breath.

Meeting his eyes, her uncertainty melted away. “I’m glad we’re friends, Jaime. And I pray that distance won’t be an obstacle for us; Riverrun and Casterly Rock,” she replied with a sure smile. “As for Tyrion, I treat people by their deeds, and he is delightful. Nearly three, I believe.”

He smiled and paused when he had a thought about those nameless letters. “Would you write?” he suggested which caught her by surprise. “It’s nothing like horseback, but will you if I do?” They could still be friends using ravens.

Sansa blinked at his question and a moment later had a look as though she realised something. She gave a sure nod. “I will write to you. But as ‘Sansa’ to ‘Jaime’,” she said, a smile grew while her eyes seemed bright. “Not the children of Hoster Tully and Tywin Lannister.”

Her answer wasn’t formal, but two people with their titles forgotten. He had longed for a friendship like that. Jaime gaped, but when he saw her mild amusement he closed his mouth feeling embarrassed. “How- how did you know?”

She adjusted the hold of her reins, smiling. “That a name has power? Or your lack of desire for it?” she asked, eyes on him.

That left him mentally stumbling for an answer, but Jaime made a quick decision. “Well, both, I suppose,” he divulged quietly. “Everyone wants to know the Heir of Casterly Rock, but they’re never interested in just me,” Jaime explained. People talked to him about the happenings of House Lannister, but not him. “Just Jaime.”

The understanding expression sent his way made Jaime curious. Sansa quirked a smile. “I can relate; more than you may think, Jaime,” Sansa said, eyes on something beyond the castle but dropped to reins in her laps. It seemed like she had a story to tell, so he didn’t speak.

“In Harrenhal, it was the only reason someone other than my healer would interact with me,” she shared and looked his way. “It wasn’t my personality or something that made me ‘Sansa’. It was Tully.” She looked at him and urged her horse into a trot. He copied her.

She glanced his way. “They wanted the prestige and power that my Great House name included. They wanted Sansa Tully so I would be of benefit to them in the future if I survived.”

So much of that explanation rang true to Jaime. The circumstances mayhaps different from his, but what happened within their different lives were the same. Be friends with Jaime Lannister. Please and receive favours from Jaime Lannister. Become involved with House Lannister. It was never about Jaime.

Who was the last person, aside from Sansa, that was interested in the person I am? My likes, hates, strengths and weaknesses?

Sansa straightened in her saddle and Jaime waited for more. If a girl wasn’t Cersei, they liked to talk when upset.

“No one cared I suffered when my health was struggling half the time. No one cared how pained I was being unable to see my family. No one cared I was abed often enough I can converse in Low Valyrian,” she spoke with restraint; there was sadness in her voice. Jaime would have ranted with anger about those things. “They only cared that I am Hoster Tully’s daughter.”

Part of her explanation caught his interest. “You can speak Low Valyrian?” he asked and wondered why she would choose such a thing. “What made you want to?”

Sansa smiled at the question. “Yes, it’s the language of the Free Cities, and varies depending on where you are,” she said. “I was curious and wanted to learn.”

Words were not his forte, so a language was certainly something difficult for him to learn to read. “But no one was interested?”

“You understand?” she asked. Jaime nodded. “No one was interested. Tully was all they cared about,” Sansa said. Shortly after she appeared to have shaken off an invisible cloud around her. The stiffness in her posture melted, face softened and hands holding the reins loosened. “I considered it likely the heir of Tywin Lannister would be in a similar position; the name, not the person.”

To have found someone who understood his problem so thoroughly about having no real friends made Jaime’s guard come up. He didn’t want to be disappointed. “This isn’t a trick?”

She shook her head. “No, Jaime. It isn’t,” Sansa reassured with that look of understanding again. “I want to be your friend for the sake of friends; not power or prestige.”

Letting out a breath, Jaime glanced back over at her and saw the little nod from her. He couldn’t believe it and smiled.

The boys in Lannisport always wanted something from him and he now knew why they were always doing what he liked best, mischievous or otherwise. They wanted to use his name for power, and now he was riding a horse next to someone who knew exactly what it meant to belong to a Great House, but no true friends.

She knew what it was like. And she wanted to be his friend. He couldn’t keep the grin off his face.

“Sansa and Jaime, then,” he agreed and Sansa had a soft smile. “To the Seven Hells with House names,” Jaime added enthusiastically.

Sansa started laughing in her saddle. “Never would I have guessed you would say that, but let’s keep it between us.” Taking the slack out of her reins, Sansa made herself poised to race. “A race back to celebrate?” she asked, bright with happiness but dignified.

He muffled a snort. “Why, by the gods, would I say no to that?” Preparing for the race took little time and he looked at her. “On three?”

Sansa chuckled, shaking her head. She gestured to a descending bird. “When that bird lands we go,” she countered, tilting her head slightly. “I fell for ‘three’ once before.”

The memory of their first ride made him laugh and they waited for the bird to reach its tree.

Their horses charged the downward slope towards Riverrun until one hundred paces from the drawbridge. Slowing to a canter and thundering across the bridge, Jaime and Sansa entered almost in unison, but Jaime had won by a hair. Trotting over to the stables and surrendering the horses, the pair re-entered the castle together smiling. When he looked to Sansa before she was due to take a corner, her happiness had vanished.

“Sansa? What’s wrong?”

“Listen.”

Watching as she turned a different corner, Jaime followed her and a voice he knew reached him. Cersei.

“-a few words? Your mother was weak if she couldn’t live to see her sons.”

Rounding another corner, Jaime witnessed Sansa’s back go ridged at those words while she stalked towards Cersei and Lady Catelyn. Without inflection, Sansa interrupted the dispute. “Good morrow, Lady Cersei.” Both girls jumped and turned to Sansa. “Or mayhaps not so, since the late Lady Joanna was insulted by the words of her own daughter,” Sansa pointed out.

Jaime didn’t quite grasp how his mother was insulted but Cersei certainly seemed to. Sansa didn’t take her eyes off of Cersei but gestured with a hand for Lady Catelyn to leave, who briefly squeezed Sansa’s wrist and fled. Sansa spoke again. “For Lady Joanna’s sake, I advise you to revoke those words.”

Day after day he’d heard Cersei offend Sansa, but getting no response. Clearly, Sansa had reached her tipping point and unable to ignore the words concerning her mother any more.

He wasn’t about to leave her to face Cersei alone like this. What friend would I be?

Walking up to Sansa’s side, he gave her hand a squeeze to let her know he was here for her. But that just angered his sister.

“You little cunt!” she roared at Sansa. Jaime saw Cersei’s intention and jumped in the way.

“Jaime!” Sansa cried from above him. “Ahhh!” she yelped.

“Get away from him, whore!”

“GUARDS!”

Pounding feet neared them.

Gods, my head hurts…

SANSA STARK

Into the wild eyes of Cersei, Sansa stared with patience while the guards restrained Cersei by the shoulders; there were three men unoccupied amongst them.

The superior guard spoke for the rest and held Cersei back with the unneeded help of a second man. “Your command, Lady Regent?”

“The Dining Hall. Restrain her there. Provide a seat if needed. See this done immediately,” Sansa instructed, using the mind and mask of The Lady of Winterfell. Cersei’s angered voice faded while the guards took her away.

On the floor, Jaime groaned but she needn’t the reminder.

“You three,” she addressed the idle guards. “One must locate Maester Kym and bringing him here. Another, find Ser Kevan and Lady Genna and lead them to the Dining Hall. The last, alert Lord Tully he’s needed there and express urgency,” she rattled off with calm. The men went separate ways with haste.

Turning around, Sansa lowered herself to her knees and looked into Jaime’s hazy eyes. “Jaime?” she murmured and took a good look at his state. “Jaime, are you awake?”

“It’s as though you’ve done that your whole life,” he muttered from the stone floor. “I’m sorry Cersei hurt you, Sansa.”

In a way, I have. Towards the end, at Winterfell, it was an endless loop of duties and orders.

Sansa shook the memories from her mind and focused on the boy in front of her. “You’re coherent,” she said. “Jaime. Does your head feel wet? Bleeding?” she asked, calm but thinking quickly. The ground floor was stone after all.

“No. Just sore,” he replied moving to sit up. Helping him, she exhaled when he looked at her own face. His eyes were getting clearer. “Why are you so calm? And what did you mean to Cersei about my mother?”

The young Jaime Lannister was resting against the wall and looking at her. The incident between Cersei, Catelyn and Sansa, and the way she dealt with it might have changed his mind about friendship.

She swallowed. Sansa hadn’t had a need to be stern and commanding like the Lady of a House at all during his visit. “If I’d been anything else, there will be one large confusing disaster between Houses. Clarity is essential for this to be resolved quickly,” she whispered.

Her gaze on her knees briefly, Sansa answered the second question. “Cersei told Catelyn that my mother was weak for not surviving childbed. She unwittingly called Lady Joanna a weak woman. Your mother doesn’t deserve such disrespect,” Sansa defended and prayed he would believe her. “I was defending both of our mothers and trying to stop Cersei from harassing Catelyn,” she reassured, watchful for his reaction; a little nod.

He appeared to be looking at her carefully. “So what you said wasn’t revenge?”

“It wasn’t an insult to your mother, Jaime. I wouldn’t speak ill of my friend’s deceased mother,” Sansa promised. She should have expected the suspicion considering all of the false friends he’d mentioned. “It’s petty to speak ill of the dead in such a way.”

Jaime was quiet but his expression relaxed after a moment. “I believe you, Sansa.”

Sansa released a breath she hadn’t known of holding. “Thank you.”

Staring at her in confusion, Jaime met her eyes. “What for?”

“For protecting me,” she said. Sansa turned solemn as her main concern came forth. “I feared you would hate me for standing up to Cersei; being the Lady Regent and giving those orders.”

“No.” He lifted a hand to his head and winced. “You weren’t doing anything wrong. I do still think of you as a friend, Sansa.”

He may think well of her now, but Sansa’s past life taught her everything had a price. “Do you believe you can still consider me a friend when we go to the Dining Hall?” she asked nervously, her hands restless. She could be stoic in front of enemies but he wasn’t one. “As Lady Regent like Catelyn, it’s my duty to explain what happened. And the outcome…Jaime, she broke Guest Right. My father and your aunt and uncle will be angered by this.”

He nodded and winced. “I know. I jumped in front of you to stop her from breaking it,” he plainly told her and got to his feet with her help. Something changed in Jaime when his eyes focused on her face. “Why are you so worried? This was Cersei, not you.”

She helped him onto a bench. “I didn’t pretend to be another person around you, Jaime. Duty demanded I managed the situation,” she said, watching his calm eyes observe her. The silence was unnerving. “I swear there was no duplicity during our rides or with Tyrion. It wasn’t a trick,” she promised, eyes flitting around his face for any signs of anger or disbelief.

Jaime took her hand; the action stilling Sansa from speaking her concerns. “Sansa,” he said. “I saw Aunt Genna handle Cersei after what she did in Lannisport. Do I hate her? No. Do I still like Aunt Genna? Yes.” Jaime’s words made Sansa feel as though she was the one with a child’s mind in this conversation. “There was a problem you needed to fix. This is like Lannisport and Aunt Genna. I don’t hate Aunt Genna, and I don’t hate you. Stop worrying.”

Sansa glanced down at their hands and he squeezed hers, so she looked up and met his eyes.

“We. Are. Friends,” he stressed, a small shine of amusement before he became serious. “Cersei still struck you, Sansa. Are you alright?”

Nodding, she gave him a relieved smile and looked at the reflection in the glass.

She was a bit of a sight; a pinking bruise and three thin lines of crusted blood on one cheek. Jaime was worse yet similar.

With a quick smile, she spoke to alleviate his worries. “Nothing that needs a maester, Jaime,” she said but said man still wasn’t here. “We can’t afford to wait any longer as it is. Our families would be in the Dining Hall by now.”

“Best we don’t tarry then,” he remarked. Offering his arm, Jaime turned in the right direction. “Sansa, are you ready?”

He was trying to lighten the mood after what had happened. Smiling, she hooked her arm and made a jape when they walked. “How chivalrous of you, Ser Jaime.”

Jaime gave a laugh and looked at her in surprise. “A jape, Sansa? I expected you’d be crying,” he admitted.

Meeting his eyes for a moment, Sansa recalled something. “It’s either laugh or cry in some matters,” she said and lifted a hand to her cheek; it was still tender but the sting wasn’t much of a bother. “Besides, it’s a mere bruise; hardly worthy of tears.”

Near the Dining Hall, there were voices coming from within and Jaime seemed to be brace himself for what awaited them. Sansa wasn’t nervous. She hadn’t forgotten her times in the Throne Room of King’s Landing. This hardly compared.

What exactly had Cersei done in Lannisport? All I’m aware of is she embarrassed the Lannisters there.

Entering the hall, Sansa felt Jaime drop his arm to his side, which she considered being rather appropriate for such a situation. When her father noticed her enter the room, Sansa saw the gasp he didn’t bother to stifle. Everyone else turned around at the sound and echoed it.

Father walked down to her and looked at her carefully; his hand barely touched the bruise. “Sansa…” he said. The next words were more to himself than anyone. “No one strikes my daughter.”

Sansa was more than prepared to carry out the proceeding, however, Father directed her and Jaime to seats and took the lead himself; standing in front of the Lannisters.

“I have been tolerant of your niece since her arrival, but this step is too far,” Father told Lady Genna and Ser Kevan, voice echoing within the hall. “Ignorant at my wife’s funeral; I chose not to act. Breaking the peace repeatedly during the sennight for my family to mourn; recompense within the trade agreement on the terms your niece ceased harassing my children,” he reminded them, anger seeping from his tone.

Father looked her way and exhaled soundly.

“Now, Guest Right?” Father all but shouted. “I see at least your nephew had the sense to attempt preventing it. Had he not, I would direct you to the Reach for your grain and damn the loss of trade for the Riverlands without a second thought!” There was a heavy pause and no one dared to interrupt. “I will accommodate Cersei Lannister no longer,” Father decreed in his anger. “The day is early and House Lannister shall leave. Accept my trade proposal as the agreement stood yesterday or nothing. Haggle with Olenna Tyrell for all I care. House Lannister has overstayed its welcome.”

Ser Kevan and Lady Genna shared a glance, which gave Sansa a bad feeling if she didn’t do something. It wouldn’t help her family if things continued this way.

When she slowly rose to her feet, Father faltered and turned to her. “Sansa? Do you need a maester?”

“I wouldn’t say a maester, Lord Father,” she replied. Meeting his eye, Sansa employed her experience in diplomacy. “May we have a brief word in private?” she requested, feeling the eyes of the elder Lannisters on her back. “Quite brief,” she said more so to placate the Lannisters wounded pride than her angry father.

“Brief,” Father repeated, and led the way into nearby a chamber. “Sansa,” he said slowly, taking her into a gentle hug and planted his lips on her forehead. “The injuries and guards speak for themselves; what could you possibly have to add?”

Glad Father’s love for her simmered his temper; Sansa gave a squeeze and pulled back from the hug. “Dismissing the Lannisters is in our rights, but do you want the consequences?” she asked, watching her father. “Dismiss them like this and Tywin Lannister will interpret this as a slight; regardless of Lady Cersei’s actions.”

Father sighed and placed a hand on each of her shoulders. The mention of the Lannisters made Father’s eyes become stormy. “Cersei Lannister struck you; my daughter and a breach of Guest Right. I won’t have that girl in Riverrun, Sansa. She is leaving one way or another.”

“I know that, Father. I’d be glad for it honestly,” Sansa said. “However, to punish all of the Lannisters for the actions of one undisciplined girl will strain relations between Houses. Send Lady Cersei with one of her relatives instead of the entire family,” she suggested, trying to protect her family from itself. “Dismissing all Lannisters immediately could have negative effects for us in the future; we need peace with the Westerlands.”

Her father thumbed her shoulders while looking into her eyes with deep curiosity. “I won’t allow this incident to go ignored, but you seem to have an idea, daughter.”

Relieved he was level-headed enough to listen, Sansa released a breath and nodded. “I do,” she said confidently. “They need to see we won’t tolerate disrespect. Your trade ultimatum of accepting or rejecting trade as it stands would be punishment enough, Father,” Sansa said, watching the reaction of her father.

He said nothing but watched her.

She continued. “The Reach has a reputation for plentiful quality. Lady Olenna will exploit this and make her goods costly; especially for the richest House of Westeros.” She emphasised the importance the trade agreement had for the Lannisters. “If the Lannisters refuse your trade proposal, not only will it cost them time with the Tyrells, but additional gold for food as well.”

Father blinked at her having this reasoning and adjusted himself in the seat. “I’m surprised by your depth, Sansa, but for what purpose would Ser Kevan and his nephews remain?” he asked her. “The sole reason for Lannister presence was negotiating the trade agreement.”

Glad that her father was showing signs of considering her suggestion, Sansa continued on. “If Ser Kevan is given the choice of leaving at a time of his own choosing, it’s unlikely he’ll remark poorly of us to Lord Tywin; even if Ser Kevan decides to leave today. However, Lord Jaime protected me from his sister’s first attempt, Father. He was injured more than I was. That mustn’t go unacknowledged. Jaime needs rest.”

 

GENNA LANNISTER

In the Dining Hall of the Tullys’ castle, Genna glared at her niece while Hoster Tully was with his daughter. Cersei was becoming nothing but increasing trouble since the name Sansa Tully was uttered in Casterly Rock and Lannisport.

When the foolish girl began to hurl cruel words towards the smallfolk to the point that she developed a reputation, Tywin limited Cersei to the Rock so her absence among the smallfolk would hopefully lead to his daughter’s damage fading with time. However, Cersei turned her jealousy onto the servants who’d dare to utter a whisper about Sansa Tully.

Ever since arrival here, Cersei had taken to offending the Tullys to the point that it was impacting on the trade agreement. The entire purpose of travelling to Riverrun had been to create a cheaper trade agreement than their current one with the Reach; a rather costly food supplier.

Cersei, the stupid girl, had ignored the need to give the Tullys peace for a sennight while they mourned their late mother and wife. Instead, she decidedly went and harassed the eldest two daughters to the point Hoster Tully demanded recompense in return for breaking the agreement for relative silence. Unable to offer anything except for gold or goods, Genna chose leniency concerning the price they were willing to pay for the quantity of food.

Yesterday Genna knew she was getting closer to a price that would satisfy both Tywin and Lord Tully.

Now she had the ultimatum of accepting a price higher than desirable or no agreement at all.

What, by the old gods and the new, compelled my niece to break Guest Right? I’d send her to the silent sisters and be done with her if she was my daughter.

At the opening of a door, Hoster Tully returned to the Dining Hall with his second daughter close behind him. The girl obeyed her father’s gesture for taking a seat and Genna turned her attention to the Lord of Riverrun. He looked at her nephew for a moment and focused his gaze on Genna and her brother. “It has been brought to my attention that your nephew was knocked onto the stone of the ground floor. In good conscience, I won’t dismiss him from Riverrun until he is recovered and fit for travel. Until such time, he shall remain here but not without members of the family. Your niece, on the other hand, will leave today in the company of either of her guardians, Lady Genna, Ser Kevan.”

If I can’t have the agreement we wanted, mayhaps I can knock much-wanted sense into the girl.

A step forward, Genna looked at Cersei once and met the smouldering eyes of Hoster Tully. “I shall be the one, Lord Tully,” she informed those in the hall. “My apology for Cersei’s shameful act cannot be put into words. I’ll prepare for travel immediately after this discussion.”

The quick cooperation appeared to calm Lord Hoster somewhat and he nodded at somebody behind the group. “Appreciated, Lady Genna,” he said with lingering anger. “And your decision concerning trade with the Riverlands?” he asked.

From her brother, Genna received a nod and turned to Lord Hoster. “House Lannister shall accept the terms of the trade agreement as it stood yesterday, Lord Tully.”

“Good. A handmaiden has been sent to pack your belongings, Lady Genna. Final documents for the agreement will be drawn before breaking of fast today,” Lord Hoster informed them and proceeded towards the doors. “At such time your wheelhouse will be ready for you once you’ve eaten.”

And he was gone.

And Genna couldn’t blame him. Tywin would have become livid if Cersei was struck by a guest at Casterly Rock.

Turning towards the remaining Tully in the hall, Genna observed Lady Sansa while the girl was seated beside Jaime as the Tully maester evaluated him. Jaime flinched when the man assessed his head. Lady Sansa made an interesting trout and Genna knew wits when she saw them.

The girl’s father had been on the edge of sending the entire House away when Sansa Tully asked for a brief word. Roughly five minutes afterwards they returned with one change to Hoster Tully’s decision.

Only Cersei was to leave with a guardian while the rest stayed.

Lady Sansa had been aware of what almost happened. The girl’s attentive body language stiffened when Hoster’s fury was making itself known in his words. Lady Sansa was far more relaxed now, but still concerned for Jaime; talking with him in low tones Genna couldn’t hear.

I’ve seen the way she handles herself. She is not one to rise to the bait, unlike her older sister.

She turned her eyes to Cersei, the cause of so many recent issues, and Genna led the idiot to an unused chamber in the guest wing. Surprisingly, Jaime also entered the chamber and took the seat by the window. “Nephew, are you well?”

“The maester says the stone didn't damage my skull, but I will need to be abed for a little while before returning to Casterly Rock,” Jaime explained. He hadn’t sounded too bothered by the news. “He said no travel for half a moon. Lord Tully plans to lend the wheelhouse for me to go back.” This time the boy sounded content. Interesting…

Cersei was scowling at the news. …your turn, Cersei.

“Cersei,” Genna spoke with clear disappointment. “You were to learn the importance of trade by coming here. Instead, I have to tell your father about your despicable behaviour? The funeral. The sennight of mourning. STRIKING. YOUR. HOST!” Genna was shaking with fury. “Your father will not stand for these displays! Have you no respect towards yourself and your House? You will be by my side until we return to Casterly Rock. When your father has returned from the capital, you will remain by my side. If you must be treated like a child, then so be it, Cersei!”

Genna gestured for Jaime to leave. He didn’t deserve to witness this after what he’d done to protect his family from humiliation at Cersei’s hand.

Cersei was seated on the bed’s end with wide eyes. Genna had never shouted like this, but she wasn’t done yet. “If you took one moment to think about the consequences of what you do, Cersei, you’d realise just what you’ve done to this family! House Lannister will be called a jape behind our backs. If the song about your jealousy of Sansa Tully’s beauty wasn’t bad enough, there will be one about Lannisters breaking the laws of Guest Right!” 

For the rest of the morning, Genna was silent with her niece unless something was necessary. The girl seemed more upset about Jaime staying behind than the humiliating impact her actions had upon House Lannister.

With her brother and her niece, Genna broke her fast in silence in a separate chamber from the Dining Hall. Like Genna, Kevan spoke no word and signed the trade documents for Hoster Tully while the copy for Tywin with Lord Hoster’s signature was packed within a satchel.

Little noise was in the courtyard when she directed Cersei into the wheelhouse. She gave Kevan a nod of farewell, the document for Riverrun’s lord, and climbed in herself. The second she closed the door, the wheelhouse left Riverrun for Casterly Rock, half the original escort with them.

Inside, Cersei moped and look back towards Riverrun. Genna sighed. By the gods, Tywin. If your daughter doesn’t cease embarrassing our House and learn common sensibilities, I WILL send the stupid girl to the silent sisters!

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The True Winterfell

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