When Ned Stark enters the throne room, Elia sits upon the throne, her son on one leg and daughter on the other.
“Lord Stark,” she says coolly, as though she isn’t trembling and the hem of her skirt isn’t soaked with the king’s blood. “We’ve been waiting for your arrival. Your friend Tywin Lannister has been wreaking havoc in the city.”
“The Lannisters are no friends of mine.” She had suspected as much. The Starks don’t seem the type to align themselves with lions.
“He sacks the city in the name of Robert Baratheon. Let us end this bloodshed, Lord Stark. Prince Rhaegar is dead. King Aerys is dead.” Her eyes flicker to Jaime Lannister, who stands at the foot of the throne with her good-father’s blood still slick on his sword. Aerys’ body has been drug to the side and covered by Ser Jaime’s stained white cloak. “Every Targaryen who has wronged your family is dead. I would seek private audience with you, as well as Robert Baratheon, if you would allow it.”
Ned’s gaze falls for a moment. “Robert Baratheon has succumbed to wounds taken at the trident. But I would speak with you privately.” He gestures to the men who flank him, and they retreat, letting the doors slam behind them. Elia doesn’t move, nor does Ser Jaime. She looks down to Rhaenys, who by all rights should be terrified, but instead stares Lord Stark down with her sharp brown eyes. My little girl has the blood of vipers in her. Aegon still dozes on her shoulder, blissfully unaware of the chaos.
“Lord Stark, I ask for your fealty to King Aegon and myself, as his regent until he comes of age. And in return, I have news of your sister.”
Ned Stark’s stern face softens. “I only want an end to all this,” he says in a voice so low she can barely hear it. “What of my sister?”
“I’ve received word of her whereabouts in Dorne. I bear you no ill will, Lord Stark. I had no hand in Rhaegar’s plot, and I cannot imagine the pain you have endured.” Elia thinks of the letter, of the way it turned to ash when she’d burnt it in her rage. She nudges Rhaenys off her lap and walks down the steps from the throne with Aegon still at her hip. She stops a few steps up, eye level to Ned.
“As little as it may help, I would like to apologize for the actions of my late husband and Aerys Targaryen.” Her eyes flicker again to the blood-soaked cloak on the floor. “And I wish to help you in any way I can to see your sister returned to Winterfell. All I ask in return is that you tell the lords and bannermen outside to lay down their swords and swear them to my son.”
Ned blinks. Despite his icy demeanor, now that she is closer she can see how he trembles. “I agree to your terms. I will ask my allies to swear their loyalty to you, as those who have wronged us are dead. Now, please, tell me where I may find my sister.”
She sends Lord Stark off with a letter to Arthur Dayne, in the best scrawl she can manage with her shaking hands. “Prince Rhaegar is dead,” it says. “For your new king’s sake, allow Lord Stark to take his sister home.” She had pressed the seal of House Martell into the hot red wax and hopes it is enough to stop him from attacking on behalf of Rhaegar, who he may not know is dead.
In the next few days, she spends more time on the throne than off, uncomfortable as it is. She receives one lord after another, each who wish to swear their swords to her son and win her favor, or avoid punishment for their rebellion. Most do it begrudgingly, she knows, likely wondering why anyone would want the Targaryens still in power. But she is no Targaryen, the blood of Dorne running through her veins and those of her children. So she bears the discomfort of the blades at her back and keeps her children close, unwilling to risk an attempt by a disgruntled lord or soldier. Ser Jaime doesn’t leave her side either, though he has seldom spoken since breathlessly explaining what had happened with King Aerys, before rushing her to the throne on that fateful day. He is still barely more than a boy, and haunted by his actions, though they both know their necessity.
Elia sleeps little. All her time not spent on the throne is spent in her chambers, making plans while Rhaenys and Aegon sleep in her bed. Her body aches for sleep and her cough has grown worse from suppressing it in the presence of others, but this she must do for the future of her children, when they had come so close to having no future at all. She shudders to imagine what the outcome would have been had Tywin Lannister or Robert Baratheon found her, rather than Lord Stark.
She must choose her council carefully, selecting the best of each region to surround her. She will summon ladies to court as well to secure loyalty, with the promise of brokering good matches for them. Elia feels Rhaella’s absence keenly now, as she had spent most of her life in the twisted chess game of King’s Landing’s court and would surely know how to arrange the pieces in her favor. But the queen is too heavy with child to travel, she’s heard. So she is alone in this, and she slaves over these decisions until the first rays of morning light streak through her window and sleeps with the dawn until she is inevitably needed once more.
Her brothers arrive as soon as they are able, and she nearly crumbles with relief. She weeps and weeps as they hold her between them and for just a moment, she allows herself to be as broken and scared as she has felt since the day she took the throne, or even since she first heard of Rhaegar’s betrayal. I have steeled myself for far too long , she realizes. Just to let a few tears fall lifts a heaviness from Elia’s chest.
Planning goes much more smoothly with Doran and Oberyn around. Doran always had a mind for politics, as she has, and Oberyn takes Ser Jaime’s place as her sworn sword. He does not request an official kingsguard position, and she would not ask it of him, but he swears that he will protect her and the children with his life, which she does not doubt. Elia chooses Doran as her hand, because as much as it does not suit her diplomatic mission, she trusts no one more.
Ned Stark returns from Dorne with the rest of her kingsguard, his sister’s body, and a baby with sad grey eyes. “He’s mine,” he tries to tell her, but Elia is no fool. There are few reasons girls of six-and-ten die, and childbirth is more deadly than fever or a sword.
She had hated Lyanna, had read Arthur’s letter and cursed her name. But now the girl is dead and she looks at her greying corpse and all she can see is a little girl. Lyanna was a child. Willful and misguided, but a child all the same. And Rhaegar had done this to her. Rhaegar, who protected none of his children, trueborn or bastard.
This bastard could be dangerous, she knows, though now he is nothing but a wrinkled infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. When he is older he could take arms against the throne, could feel he is owned her children’s birthright. She should keep him close. Her brother would claim him, would do anything for her, and he could grow up unaware of his true parentage. But the thought of seeing this boy, a living reminder of how her husband fractured the realm. It’s too much.
So, selfishly, she places trust in Lord Stark.
“I know who he is. As far as everyone else is concerned, he will be your child if you want to keep him in your care. He shall never know. And if I ever deem it necessary, I reserve the right to send him to the wall and you must heed me.”
Lord Stark does not meet her gaze, instead looking down at his sleeping nephew, but he nods. “He will never know, I swear it.” Elia hopes Ned Stark is as honorable as they say.
It is better that Elia is so busy. It gives her less time to dwell on another man who arrived with Lord Stark and the baby. As much as she was wounded by Rhaegar’s betrayal, Ser Arthur’s was a stab wound, open and festering. She had never trusted Rhaegar half as much as she did Arthur Dayne.
But he’d chosen Rhaegar and his prophecies. He’d chosen the Stark girl. He’d left her to die in King’s Landing with her babies.
She knows he’d done it with a heavy heart. It was clear in the letter he’d risked sending her. She’d watched as the words turned to ash in the flames.
But the words weren’t gone. Her foolish, traitorous brain had memorized them. Please understand. I must stay, it is my duty. Forgive me.
She pushes it from her mind, until he corners her in her chambers.
“You got my letter,” he says, his voice low.
“And you’ve been avoiding me, favoring Oberyn and Lewyn as your guards.”
“They are my kin, I trust them more than anything.” She hopes the words will sting.
“You don’t trust me.” He looks like a wounded bird, and she wants to slap the look right off his face.
“How could I? You’ve been quite incapable of protecting women so far. First Queen Rhaella, then me, and now Lady Lyanna. I thought your knight’s vows included the protection of women,” she spits. He clenches and unclenches his fist. The spiteful part of her wonders briefly if he’ll strike her, though she knows he’d never touch her, truly. She’d welcome it. She wants to truly hate him and his handsome, traitorous face.
He doesn’t strike her, instead bowing his head and dropping to his knees. “He threatened my sisters and brother,” he says. “I did not want to stay. Of course I didn’t. What Rhaegar did was folly and he wasn’t yet king. But my family –“ He squeezes his eyes shut.
She thinks of Ashara, who arrived at the capital with red-rimmed eyes in mourning of her baby, but still came in support of Elia. Lord Avan, who swore fealty to her son faster than most other lords. And young Allyria, who has begun to write Elia letters in her big, childlike handwriting. Are their lives worth the realm? And all Elia can think is yes, of course they are.
It is Elia’s turn to drop to her knees, and she takes Arthur’s hands in hers. She knows every line and callus of these hands. On instinct, she brings them to her lips.
“I have wanted to hate you,” she says, and leaves the words hanging in the air. It is not forgiveness, but it is a start.
Doran helps her to send out all the letters and once they are sent, the lords and ladies trickle in slowly. Mace Tyrell, who she has appointed Master of Coin for his loyalty in the rebellion, arrives with his infant daughter in tow, who he says will make a worthy companion for Rhaenys. Though he does not say it, Elia has no illusion he is not also seeking a match between Aegon and Margaery. She wonders how Lady Alerie feels about having her newborn ripped from her arms to be taken with a wet nurse to the capital.
Soon Rhaenys finds herself surrounded by little companions. Baby Margaery isn’t yet old enough to play, but her older cousin Arianne certainly is, and along with the fiery little Lyra Mormont and Asha Greyjoy they wreak havoc in the keep. The little girl from Tarth also accompanies them, as well as Lanna Lannister and Walda Frey, but those are the meekest of the girls.
Elia rarely sees her daughter in daytime anymore. With few other children at Dragonstone or in the Red Keep previously, she and Rhaenys had been constant companions since her birth, and she cannot help but miss those days. But then she’ll see her little girl running the halls, will hear her laughter echoing on the walls, and it reminds her of her carefree youth at the Water Gardens. She cannot begrudge her daughter the childhood she deserves.
And as much as Rhaenys is absent during the day, she always finds her way to her mother’s bed at night, leaving her companions to curl up in Elia’s arms as she sings her to sleep. These are the times when Rhaenys is her baby again.
Rhaenys has acquired quite the retinue, but Elia still has promises of other children to be fostered with the princess, as well as some boys for Aegon, when he is older. She does not call them hostages, nor are they treated as such. Rhaenys loves them like sisters. But everyone knows how strategically Rhaenys’ companions have been chosen. Elia hopes to quell any rebellion before it begins.
Brynden Tully is the most surprising arrival of all. She had offered him a spot in the kingsguard knowing of his skill and lack of inclination to marry, but she’d known he was likely to reject the spot. But he stands before her now waiting for the white cloak to be draped over his shoulders, and she wonders if this is his way of antagonizing his brother. She doesn’t question it too much, though. Ser Brynden will make a fine addition to the kingsguard.
Finally, things seem to have settled, when Elia receives a letter with a dragon’s crest and realizes there is only one person left alive who could have sent it.
As the birth of my babe draws close, I have begun to wonder if I will survive it. You and I, my good-daughter, both know well the perils of the childbed.
This babe within me is a strong one, I think. The little one kicks and rolls at all hours of the day or night, and I cannot sleep a bit for it, but I have come to appreciate any signs that my child is healthy. It may just be a mother’s hope, but I feel that this babe will thrive, even if I do not.
You must promise me good-daughter, that if I do not return to King’s Landing, you will protect Viserys and the new babe. I do not fear for my own safety now, only for theirs, and you are one of the few people left in this world I can trust with them.
I have heard news of the early successes of this realm you rebuild for your son. I truly hope I may live to see my grandson’s greatness.
I wish you the best,
She finds later that by the time she’d received the letter, Rhaella was already gone, and a moon’s turn later her children have arrived in the capital. But she keeps the letter in a drawer and swears she will read it to the new baby someday, so she may know just a bit of her mother.
Viserys, who had never held any fondness for his aunt, stares at her only for a moment before throwing himself at her and burying his face in her skirts. The poor boy must have felt so alone in the world. Losing a brother, then a father, then a mother. And all the tears she had left unshed come now. Tears for Rhaella, who barely knew a world without her brother. For Viserys, whose entire world had vanished. And for Daenerys Stormborn, who was an orphan minutes after her birth. She vows she will love them as her own, will protect them as Rhaella had asked. She may not be their true mother, but she will act as one to the children, just as the queen had done for her in the brief time they had known one another.
Elia hopes this is the last the realm has to bleed by the hands of Aerys Targaryen.
Aegon’s first word is “mama”, as was Rhaenys’ before him, and she thinks it may be the most beautiful sound in the world.
She presses a kiss to Aegon’s forehead and he giggles, her sweet boy. “Yes, my little dragon, I am your mama.” And I have built a future for you.