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the ice does not forgive

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HOUSE TARGARYEN

{KING RHAEGAR}, first of his name, passed away under mysterious circumstances,
-- his wife, QUEEN ELIA of House Martell,
--their children:
-- PRINCESS RHAENYS, their eldest child and only daughter,
-- her husband, TYRION of House Lannister
-- KING AEGON VI, a boy of sixteen, newly crowned king.
-- his siblings:
-- PRINCE VISERYS, Lord of Dragonstone,
-- PRINCESS DAENERYS, a girl of fourteen,
-- his mother, QUEEN RHAELLA,
-- the small council, also serving as a council of regents for Aegon:
-- ELIA MARTELL, queen regent,
-- LORD TYWIN LANNISTER, Hand of the King,
-- GRAND MAESTER PYCELLE,
-- LORD PETYR BAELISH, called LITTLEFINGER, master of coin,
-- LORD MONFORD VELARYON, master of ships,
-- LORD MACE TYRELL, master of laws,
-- PRINCE LEWYN MARTELL, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard,
-- VARYS, a eunuch, called the Spider, master of whisperers,
-- court and retainers:
-- SER ILYN PAYNE, the King’s Justice, a headman,
-- SER ADDAM MARBRAND, commander of the City Watch of King’s Landing
-- SER TYGETT LANNISTER, master-at-arms,
-- the Kingsguard:
-- PRINCE LEWYN MARTELL, Lord Commander,
-- SER BARRISTAN SELMY,
-- SER ARTHUR DAYNE, Sword of the Morning,
-- SER OSWELL WHENT,
-- SER ARYS OAKHEART,
-- SER ARCHIBALD YRONWOOD,
-- SER BALON SWANN.

HOUSE STARK

LORD BENJEN STARK, lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North,
-- his wife, LADY DACEY of House Mormont,
-- their children:
-- RICKARA, the elder daughter and heir, thirteen years of age,
-- BRANWYN, the younger daughter, a girl of nine,
-- his siblings:
-- {BRANDON}, his eldest brother, murdered on the command of Aerys II Targaryen,
-- {EDDARD}, his elder brother, killed during exile in Braavos,
-- his widow, LADY CATELYN of House Tully,
-- ROBB, his eldest child and only son, fifteen,
-- SANSA, his elder daughter, a girl of eleven,
-- ARYA, his youngest, a girl of nine,
-- LYANNA, his older sister, Rhaegar Targaryen’s estranged mistress,
-- JAEHAERYS SNOW, her bastard son fathered by Rhaegar, fifteen,
-- his household:
-- MAESTER LUWIN, counselor, healer, and tutor,
-- VAYON POOLE, steward of Winterfell,
-- JEYNE, his daughter,
-- JORY CASSEL, captain of the guard,
-- HALLIS MOLLEN, DESMOND, JACKS, PORTHER, QUENT, ALYN, CAYN, WYL, guardsmen,
-- SER RODRIK CASSEL, master-at-arms, Jory's uncle,
-- BETH, his young daughter,
-- HULLEN, master of horse,
-- his son, HARWIN, a guardsman,
-- JOSETH, a stableman and horse trainer,
-- FARLEN, kennelmaster,
-- OLD NAN, storyteller, once a wet nurse,
-- HODOR, her great-grandson, a simpleminded stableboy,
-- GAGE, the cook,
-- MIKKEN, smith and armorer,
-- his principal lords bannermen:
-- WYMAN MANDERLY, Lord of White Harbor,
-- MAEGE MORMONT, the Lady of Bear Island,
-- SER HELMAN TALLHART,
-- RICKARD KARSTARK, Lord of Karhold,
-- ROOSE BOLTON, Lord of the Dreadfort,
-- JON UMBER, called THE GREATJON,
-- GALBART and ROBETT GLOVER.
The principal houses sworn to Winterfell are Karstark, Umber, Flint, Mormont, Hornwood, Cerwyn, Reed, Manderly, Glover, Tallhart, and Bolton.

HOUSE CONNINGTON

JON CONNINGTON, Warden of the East and lord of Storm’s End,
-- his wife, LADY ASHARA of House Dayne,
-- their children:
-- ELLION, heir to Storm’s End, a boy of seventeen rumored to have been fathered by a Stark,
-- GRIFFITH, called GRIFF, a boy of six,
-- his wards:
-- MYA BARATHEON, legitimized bastard of Robert Baratheon,
-- THEON GREYJOY, heir to the Iron Islands,
The principal houses sworn to Storm's End are Selmy, Wylde, Trant, Penrose, Errol, Estermont, Tarth, Swann, Dondarrion, and Caron.

HOUSE HIGHTOWER

LEYTON HIGHTOWER, Voice of Oldtown, Lord of the Port, Lord of the High Tower, Defender of the Citadel, Beacon of the South, called THE OLD MAN OF OLDTOWN,
-- his wife, LADY RHEA of House Florent, his fourth wife,
-- their children:
-- SER BAELOR, Lord Leyton's eldest son and heir, called BAELOR BRIGHTSMILE,
-- Baelor’s wife, LADY CERSEI of House Lannister,
--their children:
-- TYBERIOS, twin to Marae, a boy of twelve,
-- MARAE, twin to Tyberios, a girl of twelve,
-- LYONEL, a boy of one,
-- MALORA, called THE MAD MAID,
-- ALERIE, m. Lord Mace Tyrell,
-- SER GARTH, called GREYSTEEL,
-- DENYSE, m. Ser Desmond Redwyne,
--her son, DENYS, a squire,
-- LEYLA, m. Ser Jon Cupps,
-- ALYSANNE, m. Lord Arthur Ambrose,
-- LYNESSE, m. Lord Jorah Mormont, presently chief concubine to Tregar Ormollen of Lys,
-- SER GUNTHOR, m. Jeyne Fossoway, of the green apple Fossoways,
-- SER HUMFREY.

HOUSE ARRYN

LYSA ARRYN, Lady of the Vale,
-- {JON ARRYN}, her first husband, executed for treason after the failed rebellion,
-- her second husband, LORD YOHN ROYCE, called BRONZE YOHN,
--their children:
-- PETRA, a girl of thirteen,
-- JONNEL, a boy of seven,
--Yohn's sons:
-- SER ANDAR,
-- SER ROBAR,
-- {SER WAYMAR}, a man of the Night's Watch, lost beyond the Wall,
-- their lords bannermen and retainers:
-- LORD NESTOR ROYCE, brother of Lord Yohn, High Steward of the Vale,
--SER ALBAR, his son and heir,
--MYRANDA, his daughter,
-- LORD LYONEL CORBRAY,
-- SER LYN CORBRAY, his brother,
--MYCHEL REDFORT, his squire,
-- LADY ANYA WAYNWOOD,
--SER MORTON, eldest son and heir,
--SER DONNEL, her younger son, the Knight of the Gate.

SWORN BROTHERS OF THE NIGHT’S WATCH

STANNIS BARATHEON, nine-hundred-and-ninety-eighth Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch,
-- SER DAVOS SEAWORTH, called SHORTHAND, his steward and right-hand man,
-- RENLY BARATHEON, his brother, a Watch recruiter or “wandering crow”,
-- MAESTER AEMON (TARGARYEN), counselor and healer,
-- CLYDAS, his steward,
-- QHORIN HALFHAND, First Ranger, lost beyond the Wall,
-- SER JAIME LANNISTER, called KINGSLAYER, a senior ranger,
-- THOREN SMALLWOOD, a senior ranger,
-- OTHELL YARWYCK, First Builder,
-- BOWEN MARSH, Lord Steward
--recruits in training:
-- SAMWELL TARLY,
-- BRIENNE OF TARTH, disguised as a young man named GALLADON,
-- GRENN,
-- PYPAR,
-- EDDISON TOLLETT, called DOLOROUS EDD
--brothers of Castle Black:
-- DONAL NOYE, armorer and smith, one-armed,
-- THREE-FINGER HOBB, cook,
-- YOREN, the senior of the "wandering crows".

Chapter Text

“Let us discuss betrothals,” Mace Tyrell said. “It is high time his grace married.” Here we go, Elia thought. Everyone’s favorite topic.

“Aegon is only sixteen, just barely a man.” Elia objected. “Rhaegar and I were not married until we were twenty.”

“Rhaegar was a prince then, not a king. It’s highly unusual that Aegon isn’t even betrothed.” Varys said. Elia sighed. Since the king had turned sixteen, they had been having this conversation whenever the council convened without Aegon’s presence, and it always ended out the same way-- with Mace Tyrell and Tywin Lannister at each other’s throats. Mace thought his daughter, Margaery, would be a perfect match, while Tywin championed his granddaughter Marae Hightower. Elia-- and Aegon, for that matter-- had had not seen either girl since Rhaenys's wedding several years ago, though it was only a matter of time before they were brought to court.

"Lord Tyrell,” Tywin ground out, “As I have told you half a hundred times, my granddaughter is also the granddaughter of one of your principle bannermen. Surely you would not be opposed to a daughter of the Reach as queen of the realm.”

“She is too young, my lord Hand,” Mace argued. “And a principle bannerman is no great house. The Hightowers may be wealthy, but the Tyrells are wealthier still.”

Lord Tywin narrowed his eyes. “You mean to challenge me when it comes to wealth?”

“There are other options besides Margaery and Marae,” Littlefinger said smoothly. “Petra Arryn has just flowered. A sweet, pretty little thing.”
Tywin turned his stony gaze on the master of coin. “Petra Royce, you mean? The girl is sickly and simple. Certainly not fit to be queen of the realm. And besides, the Vale’s succession crisis is not one we want to become embroiled in.”

“What of Lord Benjen’s oldest girl?” said Elia’s uncle Lewyn. “Maybe it’s time to try to ally with the North again. I’m sure it’s what King Rhaegar would have wanted.”

Mace sneered. “Yes, we should reward the Starks for insurrection with a queenship. Excellent idea, ser.” His deliberate ignorance of Prince Lewyn’s title made Elia stiffen.

“Watch yourself, Lord Tyrell,” she said mildly, with only a hint of warning. The Lord of Highgarden shut his mouth and settled back in his seat, looking annoyed.

“There is Princess Daenerys,” put in Lord Monford Velaryon. “She is beloved of the people, and from what I can tell, she and Aegon are fond of each other as well.”

“Dany would be a fine choice,” Elia conceded, “Were it not for the relation between them. In this matter I agree with King Aegon V-- the era of Targaryen incest should have ended years ago. I will not have my son marrying his aunt.”

“I agree,” said Lewyn. “No relatives.” There were nods around the table as the council ended up back where it began: weighing between Marae and Margaery.

“I would have to meet them both,” Elia said finally. “Aegon as well. Perhaps the decision we be made for us.” It was as much closure as they were going to get given the circumstances, so they moved on to other concerns.

“I’ve received word from the Watch,” said Grand Maester Pycelle in his quavering voice, producing a letter from on of his billowing sleeves. “Lord Commander Baratheon is requesting more men. He says that the free folk are growing bolder, and they have been losing brothers like flies.”

More men? I just sent nearly a hundred with that smarmy brother of his the last time he came to King’s Landing, not two months past!” sputtered Mace. “I vote to ignore him. What will Stannis do, march down here himself and besiege us?”

Littlefinger chuckled. “I second Lord Tyrell’s vote. Let the northerners deal with the Wall. We have more pressing matters here in the South.”

“Yes,” Elia agreed, though she made a note to revisit the matter later. The council went on to discuss gate fees and trade taxes, and though she made an effort to give the conversation her usual unwavering attention, Elia found her mind wandering back to the question of Aegon’s betrothal.

I am so glad, she thought with a pang of guilt, that Rhaegar is not here. For the matter of our children’s marriages, at least. Her late husband had once expressed to her his desire to have Aegon marry both Rhaenys and a future sister, Visenya. That dream, of course, had ended when Lyanna Stark had birthed a boy-- but Elia did not want to think about Jaehaerys Snow or his mother.

If it had been up to her, Aegon would not have to marry until he was ready, and with a bride of his own choosing. Truthfully, if it had been up to her, Rhaenys would be on the Iron Throne in accordance with Dornish customs, and she wouldn’t have to worry about Aegon’s betrothal at all. She had said as much to her brothers, and while Doran had gently told her that Westeros was not yet ready, Oberyn had put it more succinctly: “My own sister!” he had laughed, “Trying to start the second Dance of the Dragons!”

She wished her brothers were in King’s Landing with her now, preferably with seats on the Small Council. While Uncle Lewyn’s presence there was a comfort, she felt surrounded on all sides by Lannister men. Grand Maester Pycelle was Lannister to the bone, and nothing he ever told her had not been heard by Lord Tywin first and foremost. Tyrion she trusted more-- she had harbored a soft spot for him, ever since meeting him as a babe in Casterly Rock-- especially because he treated her daughter with such clear affection. Tywin’s brother Ser Tygett was the Red Keep’s master-at-arms, and even the captain of the City Watch, Addam Marbrand, was the son of a Lannister bannerman.

I am surrounded by lions, she thought, not for the first time. Doran would have been her first choice for Hand, but Rhaegar had reinstated Lord Tywin as a reward for his service during the Rebellion. It was a similar case for Lord Mace, who would have installed Paxter Redwyne as master of ships had she not quickly appointed Monford Velaryon-- who, while he hadn’t distinguished himself during the war, was loyal to the crown first and foremost, not to the Reach. Varys had clung on to his position as master of whisperers, and though Elia did not trust him, she could not deny that he was good at his job. Lord Baelish, too, was a useful but untrustworthy presence on the council.

One thing she was sure of: they all respected her to some degree or another. She had made sure of that. Even on the days when she could not stand, she had her chair wheeled to the head of the table and conducted meetings with as much grace and stiff backed elegance as she could manage through the waves of pain that radiated through her body.

Noticing a lull in conversation, Elia snapped back to herself. “If we are done for the day, my lords, I give you leave to return to your duties.” The members of the small council began to rise and trickle out, save for Lewyn, who lingered behind to help her to her feet.
“How old are you now, Uncle?” she asked, leaning heavily on his arm and wincing at her aching bones. “Five and sixty? And yet you’re more hale and hearty than I am.”

“Please,” her uncle said, handing Elia her cane. “We Kingsguard can only dream having the kind of strength you possess. If I had to stare down Tywin Lannister half as much as you do, I don’t think I’d ever get out of bed.”

That made her laugh, and Lewyn looked pleased. She knew he worried about her, tired and humorless as she had been of late.

"Yes," she said, "I admit that Lord Tywin's icy stare has done little to ease my woes over the years. Thank the gods he's on our side. I would hate to have that man as an enemy."

------------------

 

Upon returning to her rooms, Elia all but collapsed into her wheeled chair that sat just inside the doorway. Grimacing, she leaned down to massage her legs, which alternated between aching and numbness.
She sent her maid down to the kitchens for some tea and a pack of ice, and wheeled herself over to her desk, where a sheaf of unopened letters sat waiting for her. The first was from Rhaenys, sent from Sunspear and dated two weeks past. Elia smiled as she read her daughter’s words, hastily scrawled and smudged in places.

Mother-- Arrived in Sunspear last night. Tyrion is finally getting used to the spices in the food, which is good because if I have to hear him complaining about his runny shits one more time, I’ll go mad. Saw Quent in Yronwood last week, but didn’t stay long. Gwyneth Yronwood keeps telling him that he has to wait for her to flower so they can marry-- she’s only twelve but she’s about ten times smarter than him already. The Tor was boring, but Starfall was amazing. Have you ever met Ashara’s cousin Gerold? He’s from High Hermitage, so he’s not even one of the good Daynes, but he was visiting as well. A right ass, that one. I can’t wait to tell you what he calls himself, but I want to see your face when you hear it. Anyway, Sunspear is wonderful as always. Uncle Oberyn isn’t here, which is disappointing, but Uncle Doran and Arianne and Trystane send their love!

Several times Elia found herself chuckling aloud as she read. Leave it to her daughter to lift her spirits, even if she was leagues away in Dorne as part of the royal progress she had decided to undertake. Rhaenys had always been strong willed and spirited. As a child, she had been sweet and shy, taking after Elia in looks. As she grew older, though, the princess began to show who she truly took after-- Oberyn. Fond of riding and gambling and learning, Rhaenys was a charming and irrepressible woman who thrived on attention. She liked to hawk with the ladies and hunt with the lords, and had started sneaking out of the castle to explore every corner of the city from a young age.

When Rhaenys was seventeen, after Rhaegar died, Elia considered sending her to Sunspear to stay with Doran. The sands of Dorne would suit her wild daughter, as would the company of her cousins Arianne and the Sand Snakes. However, that plan changed when Tywin reluctantly brought his son, Tyrion, to court for the first time since he had been a boy. Rhaenys become fast friends with the dwarf, accompanying him on debauched jaunts around the city and spending hours reading with him in the library. Elia was not surprised when their friendship became something more-- Tyrion was one of the only people she had met who could keep up with her daughter, even if it was with his words and mind rather than his body.

When they announced that they were to be married, Elia was delighted and Tywin... well, she had never seen the Lion of the Rock look that shocked in his life. “I do not understand,” he told her in private. “My son is--”

“Your son is beloved of my daughter, and the heir to a great house. A fine match for a Targaryen princess. Joanna would be elated.” The look on his face had been hard to read, but he had not pressed the issue.

The two were married in the Grand Sept, and thousands flocked to see them wed. The following celebration was one for the history books. A tourney was held in their honor, where Ser Arthur and Ser Barristan rode seven tilts against each other before declaring a draw and together crowning Rhaenys queen of love and beauty with a crown of golden roses. Bronze Yohn Royce from the Vale won the melee, much to the delight of his young daughter. The revelry had lasted until the sun rose the next morning. Oberyn disappeared for an hour at a time, only to reappear disheveled and grinning before disappearing once more; Ashara danced and danced with any partner who would have her, as she would have done as a young girl before the war; Aegon got drunk for the first time, and had fallen asleep curled like a cat beneath Elia’s chair; and Rhaenys had glowed like the sun itself, her dwarf husband smiling so happily that he looked as handsome as his brother.

The wedding had lit up the darkness that Rhaegar’s death had brought, and the memory warmed Elia whenever she thought of it.

There was a letter from Ashara lamenting her older son’s thirst for adventure, and another from Olenna Tyrell asking for leave to bring Margaery to court. How did I let Mace Tyrell get a step ahead of me? she thought wryly as she tossed the letter away.

The final letter made her eyebrows raise as she saw the black wax seal of the Night’s Watch.

Queen Elia, it read, I am writing to request aid in the form of swords and men. Our numbers here at the Wall are insufficient. The free folk grow bolder, and are organizing in great numbers the likes of which we have not seen, and there are reports of other, more deadly things that threaten us as well. For the good of the realm, I ask for your help.

Lord Commander Stannis Baratheon.

Two letters sent to two different members of the small council-- at the very least. It seemed almost desperate, and Stannis Baratheon had never struck her as a desperate man. She could not imagine what was happening at the Wall to make him, who had eaten rats and boot leather for a year at eighteen, to beg for help.

And there was one more thing that gave her pause. Other, more deadly things, the lord commander had written. It was vaguely reminiscent of something Rhaegar had once told her, something he had read in his books of prophecy, but the memory eluded her. His books too were gone, taken with him on his mad voyage across the Narrow Sea. Upon his return, with his illness and eventual death, she had not thought to look for them until later, but never found them.

Other things, she thought with a shiver, and set the letter aside.

Chapter Text

The day was cold and clear, sun high in the pure blue sky-- Branwyn’s favorite kind of weather. Today, though, she wished more than anything to be inside the great stone walls of Winterfell. The day was cold and clear, sun high in the pure blue sky-- Branwyn’s favorite kind of weather. Today, though, she wished more than anything to be inside the great stone walls of Winterfell.

Today she was going to watch a man die.

It was Stark tradition, her father had said, for the children of a lord to accompany their father during an execution. For the sons of a lord, rather, but Benjen Stark had no sons. Rickara relished days like this one-- for that matter, her older sister couldn’t wait to be the one who swung the sword. Her cousin Jae did not seem to mind, but he had watched it happen for the first time when he was twelve and had just come to Winterfell, not when he was eight like her.
She had tried to confide in her fears to her mother, but Dacey hadn’t seemed to understand. “It’s just a bit of blood,” she said. “And your father will strike the head off in one stroke. Nothing to worry about, sweetling.”

But there was plenty to worry about. What if it took more than one stroke, and the criminal took forever to die? What if his headless body stood and ran around like a chicken? What if some blood got on her? What if she cried and Father and Mother were disappointed in her and everyone knew she didn’t have what it took to be a Stark?

“Alright, Branny?” Rickara asked from where she sat on her tall horse. Branwyn nodded and wove her fingers through her pony’s mane.

“You know your father wouldn’t be angry if you looked away,” murmured Jae on her left. “He would understand.”

“Did you look away?” she whispered back.

“No,” he said, “But that’s different. I was older, and... well, just different.”

The man who was to be killed-- a deserter from the Night’s Watch-- was scrawny and ragged and missing both his ears. Next to him, Branwyn’s father looked like a hero from one of Old Nan’s stories as he dismounted from his horse and removed his black leather gloves. He looked solemn, which wasn’t unusual, but there was no trace of the warmth that normally softened his gray eyes.

She caught her breath when her father unsheathed his greatsword. “Ice” it was called, but it didn’t look like any ice she had ever seen-- the Valyrian steel was dark as wet stone, and when Branwyn unfocused her eyes she imagined that she could see ancient magic dancing across the blade. It was so large that her father had to use two hands to lift it.

“In the name of King Aegon Targaryen, the Sixth of his Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, by the word of Benjen of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, I sentence you to die.” Lord Benjen’s voice rang clear in the silent courtyard as he lifted the greatsword high and brought it down.

She did not take her eyes away as her father beheaded the ragged man. He did it in one clean stroke, and it was over. The man’s blood sprayed across the snow and steamed in the cold air.

That was when she finally tore her eyes away. She didn’t want to see the glistening slick of red against the pure white snow, or the man’s limp body that was nothing more than meat, or the frozen expression on his severed head. When she lifted her gaze from the grisly scene, she met eyes with her aunt, who had been standing at her father’s left hand.

Lyanna Stark held her eyes for a long moment. Branwyn was not close with her aunt, despite the fact that she had been living in Winterfell for the past three years. There was something about the woman that scared her-- no, scared was the wrong word, she knew her aunt could be kind and even loved her, in her distant way. But there was a intensity to Lyanna, a coldness that felt like a wall Branwyn hadn’t yet broken through.

Though perhaps she was closer now, as Aunt Lyanna gave her a slow nod of approval across the yard where the man’s body still steamed in the cold.

“You did well,” Jae said, echoing his mother’s nod.

“Aye,” said Rickara, “I really thought you’d look away. Maybe you are a true Stark, after all.”

It sounded rude, but Branwyn knew her sister meant it as a compliment. “He died... bravely?” she said, unsure of what to say about the beheading as they kicked their horses into a trot, ahead of the rest of the party. “He didn’t scream or cry or anything.”

“That wasn’t bravery,” Jae said gently. “He was frozen in fear. Like a rabbit caught in a trap.”

“Snow’s right. If he wanted to die bravely, he would’ve stayed with the Watch and died fighting, with his sword in his hand. He wouldn’t have run south like a coward.”

“Oh,” Branwyn said. How had she mistaken fear for bravery? She felt foolish, but Rickara and Jae didn’t seem to mind.

“Race you to the bridge?” Rickara challenged their cousin.

“Only if you feel like losing,” Jae said with one of his quiet smiles, kicking his horse forward. Branwyn watched them disappear down the wooded trail, Rickara’s laughter ringing out behind them.

Branwyn was content to ride in silence. She preferred her calm little pony to her sister’s favored stallion, and liked nothing more than to ride quietly through the woods, letting her mind wander freely. But now her thoughts kept turning to the way the head had tumbled to the snow, and the way her father had been the one to do it. Was it really so easy to take another man’s life away? She didn’t even know the criminal’s name-- had he been a father himself? Did he have a family who would forever wonder at his fate?

“Branwyn,” came a voice from beside her. Her father had ridden up next to her without her notice, so lost in thought was she. “How are you feeling? Lya tells me you didn’t look away.”

“I’m fine, Father,” she said, relieved to see the warmth back in his eyes. She loved the way his eyes seemed to smile even when his mouth did not. She did not feel like voicing her fears and thoughts to him now-- perhaps later, in front of the fire, completely removed from the day’s events.

“Do you understand why I did it?” he asked her.

“He broke his vows and deserted the Night’s Watch. The penalty for that is death.”

Benjen looked pleased. “You’re right, that’s why he had to die. The oaths that bind men to the Watch are a serious thing. But I’m asking if you know why I did it.”

“Well...” she said, thinking it over. “I suppose you don’t have a headsman?”

“If I needed a headsman, I would hire one. But we follow the old way, and Starks never pay another man to dispense justice for him. My father always told us: ‘the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die’.”

Branwyn nodded uncertainly. “But I’ll never have to... will I?”

Father shook his head. “Rickara will, perhaps, when she is Lady of Winterfell. But you don’t have to worry about that, Wyn. You only have to understand.”

She nodded to show him that she did understand, when Jae suddenly crested the hill in front of them. “Uncle Benjen!” he called. “Come see what Rickara has found!”

“Nothing good, I’m sure,” Jory said, riding up beside them, Lyanna on his heels. Together, they spurred their horses over the hill to see what it was Branwyn’s sister had found.

Rickara was standing knee-deep in snow on the riverbank, Jae still mounted beside her. Her shoulder-length dark hair fell around her face as she bent over something cradled in her arms. She and Jae were chattering excitedly in hushed voices.

“Gods!” Jory swore as he reached them first, half-drawing his sword. “Step away from it, Rickara.” Lyanna reached them next, and Branwyn was shocked to see her aunt stiffen in surprise, hand going to her own sword.

“She’s dead, Jory, she won’t hurt me,” Rickara said with a laugh. Branwyn’s curiosity was like to kill her by then. Father made her stop at the bridge and helped dismount, making her approach with him on foot.

“She’s beautiful,” Aunt Lyanna was saying. “Such a shame.” Half-buried in a mound of snow was an enormous wolf, bigger than her pony, ice matted in her shaggy gray fur. Branwyn gagged at the smell, sickly and rotten, and then again when she saw the blind eyes that crawled with maggots. Father drew her against his side.

“A direwolf,” he said in disbelief. “I don’t-- they haven’t been seen south of the Wall in hundreds of years.”

“And yet here she is,” Lyanna said with one of her thin smiles. Branwyn suddenly caught sight of what Rickara was holding, and pulled away from her father’s side with a gasp of delight. The wolf pup was a tiny thing, fuzzy as a kitten, blindly nuzzling against her sister’s riding leathers in search of milk and warmth.

“Can I touch it?” she asked, and Rickara nodded. The pup’s fur was damp but soft.

“There are six of them,” Jae said. “Here, Wyn, you can hold one,” He put one into her arms. This one’s fur was lighter, and when Branwyn hugged it to her face it pressed it’s cold little nose to her cheek. She laughed and sat down in the snow.

“A sign from the gods,” Jory announced. Her father nodded thoughtfully.

“Aye,” agreed Hullen, the master of horse. “A sign, and not a good one.”

Lyanna walked in a circle around the body, peering at it closely. “I can’t figure out what killed it,” she said. “There’s barely any blood, and no wounds.”

“Childbirth?” Jae suggested, handing his mother another pup. “Perhaps the cold?”

She held the baby wolf up at eye level appraisingly. “From the amount of maggots on her, I think she was already dead when the pups came. That would explain the lack of blood.”

A hush fell over the party. “Even worse luck,” said Hullen’s son Harwin. “Pups born from the dead.”

“They’ll be dead soon enough, too,” Hullen said. “Mayhaps it would be better to end their suffering now.”

“No!” Branwyn cried, holding the pup protectively against her chest. “You can’t, they’re just babies!”

“We could keep them,” Rickara suggested. “Raise them in the kennels with the hounds.”

Harwin laughed. “That wouldn’t do, girl. Look at the size of their mother.”

Rickara persisted, stubborn as always. “Ser Rodrik’s red bitch whelped again last week,” she said. “It was a small litter, only two live pups. She’ll have milk enough.” She looked to their father eagerly, pleased with her argument.

Benjen scratched at his beard. “I don’t know...” he said. Lyanna walked over and handed him the pup she held. Blindly, it turned it’s head and took hold of the end of his braid in it’s tiny teeth. Her father laughed. “If you mean to soften me, Lya, it won’t work.”

“Uncle,” Jae said suddenly, eyes lighting up. “There are four female pups, and two male. Eddard’s children arrive next week. His son, and his two daughters-- add them to us, and there will be four girls and two boys. One for each. It really is a sign.”

“Yes!” Rickara said triumphantly. “And we’ll nurse them ourselves, we can soak towels in milk.”

“Oh, Father, please!” said Branwyn, rising and giving him a hopeful glance.

“You’ll have to care for them yourselves,” he said firmly. “All six of them. I won’t have you bothering Farlen in the kennels. And they had better be well-behaved-- no wild beasts prowling the halls and scaring the maids. All this, and they may still die. Are you sure about this?”

“Yes, father!” Branwyn and Rickara chorused together. Jae nodded seriously.

“Keep them then,” Benjen said, and smiled. “But let’s get them home quickly, now. I’m sure they must be hungry.”

Chapter Text

Arya rose even before her mother could wake her, to lean out the window and watch dawn break across the lagoon for the last time. She loved to watch Braavos come awake-- as the sun rose and warmed the streets, the city began to stir and come alive. Gulls swooped and called back and forth above the street sellers hawking their food to the early-rising dock workers, and the ever-constant roars of the Titan rang across the water. The western sky lightened over the water, and she breathed in deeply, taking in the scents of salt and smoke and frying food, trying to quell the nerves and excitement that set her heart a-flutter.

Today was the day they left Braavos to sail to Westeros. Soon she would see the land of her parents’ birth.

There was some kind of grand plan, one that seemed huge and complex and involved her uncles and her aunts, and too many Northern lords for her to remember. Sansa knew more about the plan, and Robb knew even more still, but it was her mother who had spent years of her life writing letters and making plans with people across the sea as she plotted their return from exile. Arya had always left them to their scheming, preferring to spend her days running through the alleys with her friends, picking the pockets of rich drunken men and watching the bravos fight at the Moon Pool, dreaming of one day fighting there themselves. She and her friend Toreo had been getting water dancing lessons from an older boy, and she was growing to be quite good.

It made her sad to think of leaving her best friend Toreo-- the son of a Tyroshi trader, he was a year older than her, blue-haired and clever. They had said their goodbyes last night, tucked in their favorite hiding spot beneath a bridge near the Blue Lantern.

“Don’t get killed without me to watch your back,” she had told him. “I’m the better pickpocket, and a better fighter besides.”

“I won’t get killed. By the time you come back to visit me, I’ll be a bravo, well on my way to becoming First Sword,” he said with a grin.
“Idiot, you don’t even own a sword,” she said, punching him on the arm.

Toreo had reached into his satchel and pulled out a large jar of blue Tyroshi hair dye, the same shade he used to dye his own. “Here,” he said, holding it out to her, “A going-away present. This way every time you see your reflection you’ll think of me.”

Arya hadn’t even thought to buy him a gift, so she gave him a kiss on the mouth in return, which he seemed to like just fine. After giving him one last hug goodbye, she went home and tried to use the dye, which didn’t show up as well on her dark brown hair as it did on Toreo’s own blond locks. Even so, Sansa and Robb had laughed when they saw the new deep blue sheen to her hair, while Mother had sighed and rubbed at her forehead.

Arya’s thoughts were interrupted as Sansa sat up in bed and yawned. “You’re up early,” she remarked, stretching and beginning to comb through her tangled hair, as red as Robb’s and mother’s. Apparently, Arya looked just like father had-- long face, brown hair, eyes as grey as the sea at storm. Not that she would know-- her father had died only months before she was born.

“I wanted to watch the sunrise one last time,” Arya told her truthfully. Sometimes Sansa liked to make fun of her, but this seemed like something she’d understand. Sure enough, her sister nodded sympathetically and smiled.

“As much as I’m excited to go home, I’ll miss it here,” Sansa said. Arya bit her tongue before she could protest that Braavos was italic their home, more so than Westeros. Neither of them had ever been there, and even Robb couldn’t remember much of anything about the country he was born in. Their mother had done her best to teach them and tell them stories, but while Sansa hung on every word and dreamed of knights and ladies and castles, Arya didn’t see how any of that was better than the canals and brightly painted houses of Braavos.

After they had dressed and washed, they made their way into the little kitchen of their house, where Mother and Robb were talking with their little group of allies-- the Smaller Council, Sansa had named it cheekily after one lesson about the government of King’s Landing. There was Cassio with his slave tattoos, dark-skinned Zhala, and grumpy Ser Jorah, all of them clustered around the table, going over their plan one last time.

Cassio’s eyes widened when he saw Arya. “Blue hair?” he said, feigning confusion. “Has there been a change in our plans? Are we going to Tyrosh instead?”

Mother frowned at her. “We’ll have to wash it out before we get to White Harbor. You need to look as much like a Stark as possible, not like a foreigner.”

Arya rolled her eyes, but didn’t try to argue. “I think it suits you,” Cassio said with a wink. She grinned at him. Cassio was a sellsword, wiry and muscular, with black hair he kept shaved down to stubble and green tiger stripes tattooed on his cheeks, courtesy of his youth as a slave soldier in Volantis.

Robb was smiling and bouncing on the balls of his feet like a child, and his excitement was rubbing off on her. “Lords and ladies!” she said to him, and he threw back his head and laughed. “We’ll be lords and ladies!” was what he and Sansa had been saying for years whenever they got to talking about their return to Westeros.

They said their last goodbyes to their house that leaned crookedly out over a canal. Arya wanted to kiss it farewell, the way she had kissed Toreo, but she knew that even romantic Sansa would think her mad. Instead, she settled for pressing her palm against the red-painted wood of the door and whispering I’ll miss you, too quiet for anyone to hear.

Zhala’s ship, Lotus Flower, had traded it’s usual purple sails for ones of white cloth, the better to not draw attention. It would take about two weeks to sail from Braavos to White Harbor, Zhala had told them. The tall Summer Islander woman would make sure they arrived safely, but would not be staying with them once they reached Westeros. “Why not?” Arya had asked when she found out, dismayed that yet another person she cared about would be left behind.

Zhala had given her a rueful smile. “Westeros is not my place, little alley cat. My ship is my house and the sea is my home. I could not leave it for anything.” Seeing Arya’s downcast face, she slung one dark brown arm around the girl’s shoulders. “But remember this: if ever you need passage across the sea, you know where to find it.”

Now, Zhala called orders to her crew in her native language, the liquid tongue of the Summer Isles. Arya could pick out a few words here and there-- “stop” and “sail” and “fuck”-- and resolved to learn more over the course of the voyage.

Her mother gathered Arya and her siblings close. “This is it,” she said, and Arya was surprised to see that her blue eyes were shining with emotion. “Our exile is nearly over. We’ll be home soon, my loves. I wish that--” she stopped and pressed a hand to her mouth.

Robb put a hand on their mother’s shoulder. “Father would be so happy, Mother. I know that wherever he is, he’s smiling.” There were tears in her brother’s eyes as he spoke, and Arya heard Sansa sniffle beside her. Even Arya felt her eyes prickle, though she didn’t know whether she was crying because they were leaving Braavos or because they were fulfilling their father’s dream.

“Oh, seven hells,” Mother said, laughing shakily and wiping at her eyes. “I told myself I wouldn’t do this. I just wanted to say that I’m proud of you all, and your father would be, too. Now go, I know you’re all itching to watch us cast off.”

Sansa and Robb ran to the front of the ship as they left port, but Arya lingered at the back, leaning over the railing and watching the bustle of Ragman’s Harbor get further away. As they passed Purple Harbor, Arya said a silent farewell to the towers and domes of the Sealord’s Palace as they grew smaller and smaller, and when they passed between the black granite legs of the Titan, she she waved up at his helmeted face and glowing eyes.

When he roared, she imagined he was telling her goodbye.

---------

They were barely a day’s voyage from Braavos when the seasickness caught up to Arya. She spent the rest of the day leaning over the side and retching into the waves. Sansa stood beside her, keeping her hair braided back from her face and bringing her water.

“It’s... not... fair,” Arya moaned, wiping her mouth. “Why am I the seasick one? You’re the one who never does anything.”

“I guess I’m just lucky,” Sansa said with a shrug.

“You’re enjoying this,” Arya accused her.

“Oh, you think I’m enjoying wiping the vomit off your greenish face and listening to you bemoan every god you can think of?” Sansa smiled. “Maybe just a little bit.”

“You’re awful,” Arya said, slumping down to sit cross-legged on the deck and leaning her forehead on the rails. “Where’s Mother?”

Sansa sank down gracefully to sit beside her. “Below deck. Lighting candles and praying for a safe voyage. I should probably pray with her, but I’m too busy being a good sister.” She glanced around, then lowered her voice. “There’s such a shortage of rooms on the ship,” she said conspiratorially. “We’re sharing, and I know Robb and Ser Jorah are as well. Do you think that Mother and Cassio--”

“Sansa, don’t be disgusting!” Arya exclaimed.

“Arya, don’t be childish,” Sansa said primly. “What adults do is their business. Besides,” she added, face softening and eyes going dreamy, “If they were together, wouldn’t it just be so romantic? A brave sellsword who would die for his lady?”

“Give me a break,” Arya said, she had to admit that the thought of Cassio and her mother falling in love wasn’t the worst. Cassio had been in the employ of her mother for as long as Arya could remember, and sometimes she secretly wished that he was her father. She certainly knew him better than her real one.

“It would be a star-crossed romance, though,” Sansa continued. “They could never marry. She’s highborn, after all. If she ever married again, it would have to be with a highborn lord, probably to secure an alliance. But they would always love each other from afar...”

“Sansa,” Arya said, shaking her head. “This is our mother you’re talking about. Not some made-up story in a mummer’s play.”

Sansa laughed sheepishly and blushed. “You’re right, I’m being silly.” She stared out at the waves for a moment, chewing on her lip as her copper hair whipped around her face in the breeze. Then, suddenly, she brightened. “Ser Jorah was telling me about the tourneys they have Westeros,” she gushed. “Knights dress in their finest armor and wear a lady’s favour around their arms-- and if they win the jousting, they crown a queen of love and beauty. Oh, I’d give anything to have that happen to me, to wear a crown of roses and know that I caught the eye of the most talented knight of all!”

You’re still being silly, Arya thought, but she found that she didn’t really mind listening to Sansa rattle on and on about Westeros, even though she had heard her do it a hundred times. Tourneys did actually sound rather interesting. Arya wondered if women ever jousted.

Even when her sister’s words petered out, they sat there together in companionable silence, their eyes on the western horizon.

Home, Arya thought, trying to push her longing for Braavos out of her mind. Look out, Westeros. We’re coming home.

Chapter Text

“You’re doing it again,” Mya said, slowing her horse.

“Doing what?” Theon asked incredulously. “I’m just trying to keep up with you. Not all of us are half-centaur.”

“You’re smiling like you know something I don’t. Have you poisoned my horse?”

“There isn’t enough poison in the stormlands to bring down that beast,” he retorted, nodding at her monstrous black destrier that she had aptly named Fury. She laughed and spurred her mount, riding to overtake Ellion-- she couldn’t stand not being the fastest on horseback.

Mya was not the first to tell him that he smiled as if thinking about some private joke or tantalizing secret. It wasn’t exactly untrue-- Storm’s End was full of secrets, and Theon Greyjoy knew them all.

He figured the first one out when he was ten, a scant year after he was taken from Pyke as a hostage to ensure the good behavior of his father. Ellion had been eight, and Theon honestly hadn’t meant any harm when he asked why his eyes were gray instead of blue like Lord Jon’s or purple like Lady Ashara’s. That made Ellion ask his mother, who had gone pale, and then Theon had to have a serious discussion with Lord Connington about how he was never to repeat any rumors he may have heard, because Ellion was his blood and that was final.

Oh, Theon had thought as the realization dawned on him. Ellion was a bastard.

He had hurled that at the younger boy a few months later in the heat of some petty argument, and then he had to have another serious discussion where Lord Connington cheerfully threatened to throw him into Shipbreaker Bay if he ever called Ellion a bastard again.

The next thing he learned was that Mya Baratheon-- his fellow hostage-- snuck into the rookery to write to her uncles at the Wall. That in itself wouldn’t have made anyone bat an eye (they were her last living family, after all), but coupled with the fact that she had fervently wished for the death of King Rhaegar Targaryen-- well, writing letters to her rebel uncles suddenly seemed less innocent. Not that he thought they were planning a second rebellion or anything, but still. She had told him not to tell anyone, and so he didn’t. (And when King Rhaegar did die, he was almost certain she had nothing to do with it.)

When he was thirteen, he realized that Lord Jon was-- well, he didn’t have word for it then. Buggerer, he would hear later, and invert and catamite, but when he was thirteen and saw Lord Jon kissing another man in the doorway to his chambers, all Theon could think was of course Ellion isn’t his son.

He must have made some noise, because the two men broke apart hastily. “Seven fucking hells, boy, you see everything around here, don’t you?” Jon swore when he saw that it was Theon. The man with him-- he looked Dornish-- laughed, arm still looped around Jon’s waist.

Face burning, Theon cast his eyes away. “I- I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I won’t tell anyone, my lord, I swear.” Then he had darted down the hallway, praying that Lord Connington wouldn’t want to have a serious discussion about this.

That morning at breakfast, Jon and Ashara had introduced their guest: Prince Oberyn Martell, the queen’s brother, who had arrived at Storm’s End late the night before. Oberyn caught Theon’s eye over the breakfast table and gave him a smirk and a slow wink. Lord Jon looked pained. Lady Ashara just smiled.

Theon was fifteen when thirteen-year-old Ellion told him about his dream of sailing around the world and visiting the farthest reaches of the map-- Mussovy and Yeen and Asshai and places no one had ever discovered before. “You can’t tell my parents,” the younger boy had said seriously. “They’d never understand. One day I’ll have my ship and my crew and they won’t be able to stop me. But for now, don’t tell.”

When he was sixteen, Lady Ashara’s belly had swelled with child and soon Ellion had a baby brother, a blue-eyed little thing they named Griffith. Theon wasn’t remotely fooled by the eyes. He knew too much by then.

All this and a thousand other things-- one of the cooks liked to sneak sips of the finest wines in the cellars; Mya had eyes for the captain of one of Lord Connington’s ships, a young man named Allard; one of Ashara’s maids liked to try on her jewelry; Ellion brushed off any marriage offers because he still hoped to sail around the world; Ashara sometimes got letters marked with the white wax seal of the Kingsguard; and on and on. At some point he had stopped stumbling upon secrets and started to seek them out instead. Theon sometimes thought that he would make a good master of whisperers, if he were so inclined. But he wasn’t, and so he contented himself with smiling.

Ellion and Mya had stopped and dismounted up ahead, where the forest suddenly sloped down to a rocky beach. “This is what we came out here for?” Theon drawled as he pulled up beside them. “I thought you said you found something interesting.”

“I did,” Ellion protested. He was sixteen, dusky-skinned like his mother and gray-eyed like whoever his father was. “Remember where Patchface came from?”

“Washed up on shore after a shipwreck,” Theon said. He had spent more time than he would have liked talking to Patchface-- the fool was rather mad, but he had become oddly interested in Theon after hearing him mention the Drowned God.

“Yes,” Ellion said, pointing at him. “Steffon and Cassana Baratheon-- your grandparents, Mya-- died when their ship, the Windproud, ran aground in the bay. Patchface was the only survivor. The ship was so destroyed that they could never find all the pieces, or all the cargo. Which brings us here today,” he swept an arm out to gesture at the little cove-- and the tattered, discolored sailcloth caught high up on one of the rocks, out of the tide’s reach.

“You’re telling me you found remnants of my grandparents’ last voyage?” Mya asked, eyebrows raised.

“Well-- I’m not sure that anything’s here besides that cloth. There could be more inside one of these caves, but I wanted to wait for you two before I checked.”

“How gallant.” Theon said, tying his horse to a nearby tree. “Don’t expect me to bring you two back if the tide comes in and we drown.”

They chose the biggest cave first. The entrance yawned like a black mouth in the side of the cliff, crusted with barnacles and mussels. Ellion held a torch he had produced out of his satchel, and the flames flickered off the slick stone walls.

“I’m starting to think this is a bad idea,” Mya said, voice echoing. “Who knows what’s down--”

Ellion cut her off, grabbing at her arm excitedly. “Look!” he whispered, using the torch to point at a dark shape on an outcropping near the cave ceiling. On closer inspection, it proved to be a small stone anchor framed in salt-eaten wood.

“That’s a killick,” Theon told them. “Usually found on smaller vessels, though. Could be from one of the lifeboats.” He was gratified when they turned to him looking suitably impressed. Wouldn’t my father be proud, he thought, putting my Ironborn knowledge to good use.

The wet sand sucked at their boots as they trekked on. After finding the killick, they had caught sight of a few boards and an iron nail, but none of that prepared them for what lay at the end of the tunnel.

The wet sand gave way to dry as the ground sloped up above the tide line. There were rocks like a ring of teeth against the dead end, and on them was a tangle of smashed timber and frayed rope. Ellion gave a triumphant laugh and ran ahead, torch flickering.

“Who knew,” Mya said to Theon. “He was right about something for once.”

Most of the wreckage was rigging and wood from the hull of the ship, but there were other things, too-- torn cloth, a handful of coins, a silver fork, the sole of a leather boot, a belt buckle. And, half-buried in the sand, a cloak pin in the shape of a golden stag.

Ellion handed the pin to Mya wordlessly from where he knelt in the sand. She held it so tightly Theon thought the antlers might pierce her skin. “It must have been one of theirs,” she said quietly. “Steffon’s, probably. An extra, in his trunk. He wouldn’t have been wearing it, otherwise it would’ve been with the body.”

Stoic as Mya usually was, it disconcerted Theon to see her so melancholy. “Well,” he said, and wiped his hands on his breeches, “We should get back before the tide rises. Wouldn’t want to spend the night in here-- reminds me too much of my father’s castle back on Pyke.”

“Aye,” Mya said, and swapped her plain black pin for the stag, still crusted with salt.


The sun was dipping low when they emerged from the cave, sitting above the wooded treeline to the west. They spurred their horses a touch harder than usual, eager to make it back home before night fell. Ellion wouldn’t stop chattering about the wreckage they’d found, just as excited as he would get when he found sea glass on the beach as a child.

“Yes,” Theon said, “Because finding ancient Valyrian artifacts and undiscovered lands is the next logical step from finding some old boards and a brooch.”

“You’re such an ass,” Ellion said, laughing. “What would you have done today otherwise? Bed some serving wench? Hang around the kitchens looking for gossip?”

“Probably,” Theon said with a smirk. He glanced over at Mya, who was still quiet. The breeze blew her short hair away from her forehead. He remembered when she had first cut off her long black waves a year ago-- “Now we look too much alike,” he had complained. “People will think we’re twins.”

Theon almost never told anyone the secrets he hoarded so carefully, but he decided he could sacrifice one, just to keep her from moping. “You know,” he said, “All the old Baratheon tapestries and paintings never got destroyed after the Rebellion. They’re sitting in some dusty closet in the bowels of the castle. I could show you, if you like.”

“Paintings?” she said, turning to look at him. “Paintings of--”

“Of your father, yes. And your uncles, and grandparents, and Argilac the bloody Arrogant. Better things than that rusty old pin.”

She narrowed her eyes. “All that and you never told me?”

“I was saving it for the right time,” he said, and winked. “Can’t give you everything at once. Then you wouldn’t even bother keeping me around.”

She rode closer-- for a moment he thought she was going to try and hug him, but instead she hit him on the arm hard enough to bruise. “Show me tomorrow,” she demanded.

“Yes, my lady,” he said sarcastically, and she hit him again.

The next morning, he rose as he usually did and washed his face, hands, and feet in the basin of seawater he kept by his bed. A Drowned Man ritual he rather foolishly clung to-- maybe it was stupid, but the sea was right there, and fetching basins of saltwater every few days wasn’t too much of a bother. The priests always said that the Drowned God was stronger in places where many had died at sea, and many had drowned in the waters of Shipbreaker Bay. A dark thing to take comfort from, and yet he took it all the same.

Mya was waiting for him outside his bedroom door, and all but dragged him down to the dark lower levels of the castle that were remarkably similar to the cave from the day before. “Show me the way,” she ordered, and he took her to the little closet he had discovered years ago during one of the many solitary explorations of the castle he had made as a boy before he had befriended Mya and Ellion.

It was filled with rolled tapestries, stacks of paintings, and various elk-themed heirlooms. Mya’s blue eyes widened with shock as she lifted her lantern. “Seven hells,” she breathed.

“Some loyal Baratheon servant must have done it,” he said. “To save them before the dragons could destroy them.”

Mya wasn’t really listening; she set down her candle and began to feverishly sort through the paintings, stopping when she found one of her father and cradling it gently in her hands.

Robert Baratheon had been a handsome man, if the painting was anything to go by. His strong jaw was clean-shaven, eyes like the summer sky. “I only have one memory of him,” Mya said. “He tossed me in the air and caught me. I remember thinking he was a giant. Someone told me that he would visit me nearly every day, even after he lost interest in my mother.”

Theon didn’t know what to say to that, so he only nodded and started looking through the stack of paintings himself. He found one of Renly Baratheon as a chubby toddler, which made Mya smile, and another of Stannis Baratheon as a solemn teenager. “You look more like him than you do your father,” he said, holding up the painting. Neither Theon nor Mya had ever met the man-- he wasn’t a traveling crow like Renly, and couldn’t leave the Wall-- but he occasionally wrote his niece short unsentimental letters that were more like field reports, though Mya treasured them all the same.

“I’m keeping this one,” she said fiercely, hugging her father’s portrait to her chest. That was stupid-- kind as Lord Jon was to them, he was still a Targaryen man, and hiding a portrait of the leader of the Rebellion was not a good idea. But Mya was stubborn, and he knew she had already made up her mind.

“Alright,” Theon said, and smiled. “It’ll be our secret.”

Chapter Text

“Uncle Tyrion!” Marei shouted when he entered the sitting room. She rose from the settee and threw herself into his arms, giggling when he picked her up by the waist and spun her around in a circle.

“Merry Marei,” he said, setting her down. “You’ve finally grown taller than me! I thought the day would never come!”

“Tyberios said that I was a dwarf like you and that I’d never keep growing, but now I’m an inch taller than him!” Marei said, sticking out her tongue at her twin brother. Tyberios rolled his eyes, but smiled all the same.

“It’s good to see you, Uncle,” he said, and even suffered through a brief hug.

“Have you been reading those books I sent you?” Tyrion asked, holding him at arm’s length.

“Of course,” Tyberios said eagerly. “I especially liked Maester Clayse’s writings on the bonds between dragons and riders.”

“That was one of Princess Daenerys’s favorites, too. I thought you’d like it.” That made Ty’s face light up-- Tyrion suspected his nephew harbored a bit of crush on the princess, though they had not seen one another since Tyberios was nine. In fact, the two of them would not be a bad match. Tyberios and Dany shared a love of reading, though his nephew was serious and scholarly while the princess tended towards whimsy. He missed Daenerys-- though she was young, she was one of Tyrion’s favorite people at court. They understood one another in a way that precious few could, the dwarf and a girl with a scarred face. Dany had wanted to come along on the progress, but Tyrion had let her down gently on the basis of her age.

“How could we look after a thirteen-year-old girl?” he had asked her teasingly. “Rhaenys and I can barely look after ourselves.”

She had huffed in irritation. “I’m nearly fourteen, Tyr, and a woman flowered! I want to see the Seven Kingdoms!”

He tugged gently on a lock of her silver hair. “Have your own progress, then, when you’re married.”

She scowled. Dany hated to be reminded of marriage. “Like anyone will have me.” She brought up a hand to trace the edges of the greyscale scars that covered one side of her face. “I look like one of the statues on Dragonstone.”

“Any man would be lucky to wed such a beautiful statue!” he had told her, and was rewarded with her brilliant smile.

“Promise me you’ll write?” she asked, relenting at last. “Long letters that will make feel like I’m with you.”

“Of course, little princess. I’ll write from every castle I visit.”

He had been keeping his promise. In fact, when he sat down to write to her from Oldtown, he would be sure to include details about how young Tyberios blushed at the mention of her name. Queen Elia is not the only one at court who could play matchmaker, he thought with a smile.

Cersei was the last to greet him, shadowed as always by her personal guard, hulking Sandor Clegane with his burnt face. “Dear brother,” she said stiffly.

“Sweet sister,” he said with a grin. “Where’s your husband? Oh, and baby Lyonel? I’ve been looking forwards to meeting my little nephew.”

“Maybe if you had arrived earlier you would have gotten to greet them. Baelor’s in the Tower with his father, not to be disturbed. Lyonel is asleep, and I won’t wake him up for you. The sight of your face is like to give him nightmares.” His older sister glanced around. “The better question is the whereabouts of your wife. Playing dice with smallfolk in the streets?”

“In the stables, seeing to the horses,” Tyrion said. “Though playing dice with smallfolk in the streets does sound like something Rhaenys would enjoy doing. Maybe you could point us in the right direction.”

“The horses,” Cersei repeated disdainfully. “Did you marry a stable hand or a princess?”

“A princess,” Tyrion said easily. “Don’t be jealous, sister. Just because you couldn’t secure a royal marriage doesn’t mean I couldn’t.”

Her nostrils flared, but before she could make a retort Rhaenys burst through the door, still in dusty riding leathers. “No need to bow,” she said with a grin. “I’m off duty for the night.”

“Aunt Rhaenys!” Marei and Tyberios chorused as Tyrion’s wife pulled them into a bear hug.

Cersei gave her a stiff nod. “Come along, children,” she said. “It’s time for bed. You can catch up with your aunt and uncle tomorrow.” The twins said their reluctant goodnights as the Hound took them to their rooms, while a household guard showed Tyrion and Rhaenys to their own quarters.

“Your sister is still a cunt,” Rhaenys remarked when they were alone. She began to strip off her leathers.

“Are you kidding? That was the nicest she’s been to me in years, and you didn’t even see the worst of it.” Tyrion kicked off his boots and dipped a cloth in the washbasin, wiping his face clean and passing the towel to Rhaenys when he was done. “I think having a newborn has softened her.”

“If your stories of your childhood are true, I pity her children. Do you think she punishes her sons by twisting their little cocks till they’re like to fall off?”

Tyrion laughed. “I was a special case. For all her faults, Cersei loves her children. She wouldn’t dream of treating them the way she treated me.”

With a little huff, Rhaenys squatted down to plant a kiss on his temple. “If your sister even lays a finger on you, I’ll challenge her to single combat.”

“My hero,” Tyrion said fondly, and climbed into bed. Rhaenys blew out the candles and got in beside him, fitting her stomach against his back and tucking his head beneath her chin.

“Gods,” she mused, “I’m still surprised that Egg even let us go on this thing. It’d be just like him to keep me from having fun just because he can’t.”

“Oh, Aegon was reluctant, but if even my father saw the sense in the idea, he couldn’t say no.” Tyrion had been delighted to hear his father grudgingly admit that a royal progress undertaken by the charming and much loved Princess Rhaenys was a good idea. If anyone thought that Jaime being sent to the Watch would make Tywin name Tyrion his heir, they were dead wrong. Tyrion didn’t know what his father had planned for Casterly Rock in the event of his death-- it would pass to Kevan or Tygett or one of their sons, no doubt. Hells, maybe Tywin still held out hope that Jaime would desert the Watch to come claim his birthright. Stranger things had happened.

Marrying a Targaryen princess didn’t seem to impress his father either. Where another man would have been thrilled, Tywin seemed caught between confusion and suspicion, as if it were some elaborate joke Tyrion (and the rest of the seven kingdoms) was playing on him. In fact, he seemed almost offended that Rhaenys Targaryen would deign to even look twice at his monstrous abomination of a son, let alone marry him.

“I worry about him,” Rhaenys said, pulling Tyrion out of his thoughts.

“Who? My father?”

Aegon,” she said impatiently. “His health has been so poor lately... how must it look to any enemies, a weak boy-king who’s practically a puppet for my mother and your father to run things.”

“Our parents are the best rulers the realm has seen in decades, whether the general population realizes it or not,” Tyrion said. “And the people love Aegon, poor health or no. You can’t be as charmingly empty-headed as he is without being endearing. He’s like a puppy-- when he’s sick you feel sorry for him, not scornful.”

Rhaenys hummed. “True.” Bored of the subject, she buried her face in his curls and inhaled. “Your hair’s gotten so greasy. You need a bath, husband.”

“You can give me one in the morning,” he said, and drifted off to sleep with her smile pressed against the back of his head.

The next day should have been spent hearing opinions and grievances of the people of Oldtown, but Tyrion and Rhaenys decided to postpone that for the following day, instead riding gleefully for the Citadel. The Citadel’s library was Tyrion’s favorite place in all of Westeros. The sheer sight of the towering shelves, the scents of leather and parchment, the centuries of knowledge that lay at his fingertips-- it was enough to make him giddy.

Even Rhaenys was quiet, eyes wide with excitement. “No matter how many times I see it, this place always takes my breath away, ” she said, skipping forward to the nearest bookshelf and running her fingers lightly over the spines. “Fuck Summerhall and Casterly Rock, we have to live here.”

“So near to my sister?” Tyrion said, waddling up beside her.

“I’d marry your sister if it meant daily access to this place.”

They spent nearly an hour wandering the shelves, and then two more reading. Tyrion felt like a man eating as much as he could before being forced to starve, and from the way Rhaenys’s eyes were flickering frantically across the pages, he knew his wife felt the same way.

She wouldn’t have even been his wife if it hadn’t been for a library. When Tywin had grudgingly allowed Tyrion to come to court, he had found the Red Keep to be full of staring eyes and insults whispered behind hands. How could Lord Tywin Lannister, Hand of the King and Lion of the Rock, have fathered that? Queen Elia was fond of him, though busy, and little Princess Daenerys always had a shy smile for him, but besides them all Tyrion had for company were books and whores.

He had been spending one hungover afternoon in the cool darkness of the Red Keep’s library, trying not to lose his breakfast onto the copy of Songs the Drowned Men Sing he was pretending to read.

“You there, Imp,” came a voice from above him. He looked up to see Princess Rhaenys standing with her arms crossed. “You’ve stolen the book I wanted to read.”

Tyrion blinked up at her. “You read?” he said stupidly. From what he could tell, seventeen-year-old Rhaenys’s primary interests were going riding with her Dornish cousins and getting attention through any means possible.

She rolled her eyes. “Some of us like to use the library for its intended purpose-- which does happen to be reading, not recovering from hangovers.”
“Forgive me, princess,” he said. “But from what I’ve seen of you, I’d wager you’ve used this library for the very same reason.”

Rhaenys laughed. “Accusing a princess of debauchery! I like your boldness!” She threw herself down into the chair beside him and dragged Songs the Drowned Men Sing towards her, flipping through the pages and settling in to read.

“And what interest do you have in Ironborn traditions, your highness?” he asked.

“Ironborn priests drown men and then bring them back to life,” Rhaenys said without looking up. “And supposedly ‘what is dead may never die’-- I want to find out if the drowning ritual makes them immune to drowning later on.”

“Why?” Tyrion asked, bemused. She finally looked at him, eyes dancing with mischief.

“I’m going to perform the ritual on myself in Blackwater Bay so that I’ll never drown,” she said, grinning. “Obviously.”

“I would come watch you do it, but I’m fairly certain that letting a princess drown is some sort of treason.”

“Come on, Imp, all the fun things are treasonous,” she said, eyes shining. And so a week later, Tyrion had found himself knee-deep in the frigid waters of Blackwater Bay at midnight, shivering as he watched the princess strip off her gown.

“Oh gods,” he had moaned, averting his eyes from the way the moonlight shone on the brown skin of her shoulders. “The king’s going to have me whipped. My father’s going to have my head. What in the seven hells was I thinking?”

“Quiet now,” Rhaenys ordered. She didn’t seem to be cold, even in her smallclothes with the water lapping at her ribs. “I’m starting to have doubts and your whining is making them worse.”

“Oh, please give in to those doubts. Let’s go back to the castle where it’s warm and dry.” She was staring hard at the dark water that was now up to her breasts and didn’t respond. “Besides,” he added desperately, “If you really drowned I would have to give you the kiss of life to bring you back. Surely we don’t want that.”

“What, you don’t want to kiss a princess?” she said, but started wading towards the shore.

“Thank the gods,” he breathed, and joined her on the muddy beach.

“Don’t act so relieved,” she said, looking over her shoulder and giving him a grin that made his stomach flip. “Now that I know you’re foolish enough to accompany me on something like this, you’re stuck with me.”

An approaching Citadel novice snapped Tyrion out of his memories. “Rhaenys?” said the novice, surprised smile on his face. Tyrion and Rhaenys stared up at him in confusion. The dark-skinned young man seemed slightly familiar to Tyrion, though he couldn’t quite place it.

Rhaenys was quicker though, suddenly leaping to her feet with a yelp. “Sarella!” she said in a loud whisper. “What are you-- are those novice robes? What--”
Sarella Sand-- of course it was her; Tyrion couldn’t believe he had missed Oberyn’s black eyes and widow’s peak-- grimaced and put a finger to Rhaenys’s lips.

“I’m Alleras here, cousin,” she said. “Don’t go shouting my secrets to all the maesters.”

“Alleras,” Rhaenys repeated. She looked fit to burst with glee. “I must admit, I’m a bit hurt you never told me about this!”

“Father, Uncle Doran, and the other Snakes are the only ones who know,” said Sarella. “But when I heard you and Tyrion were stopping in Oldtown on your progress, well-- I knew I’d find you here.”

“What will you do when you earn your maester’s chain?” Tyrion asked. Was she determined to play out this charade till the end?

“Oh, well,” Sarella shrugged languidly. “I’m not entirely convinced an entire chain is worth it. Though I could always take over for Maester Caleotte at Sunspear.”

“Tyr,” Rhaenys announced. “I’ve just decided that I’ll be shearing off my hair and joining my dear cousin at the Citadel. It’s been a pleasure being your wife, but alas, the pursuit of knowledge calls to me.”

“It’s been nice knowing you,” Tyrion said gravely. “I’ll remember you fondly.”

“You’re the king’s older sister,” Sarella said. “You could always make him decree that women should be allowed to become maesters as well.”

Tyrion didn’t think it was possible for Rhaenys to perk up more, but then again she always did like to prove him wrong. “Now there’s an idea!”

“If Alysanne and Jaehaerys couldn’t do it, I doubt Aegon can.” Tyrion reminded them.

“It’s true,” Sarella agreed. “There’s little love between the maesters and the Targaryens, even now. Archmaester Marwyn tells me that when King Rhaegar--” she stopped and snapped her mouth shut. “Well... they were not pleased with him.”

“And Aegon? What do they think of my baby brother?”

“Seven hells, Rhaenys, you’re going to get me in trouble!” Sarella glanced around and leaned in. “They think him easily swayed by his councillors, and wish that Grand Maester Pycelle took advantage of that more than he does.”

Tyrion snorted. “Pycelle is a Lannister man to the bone. Anything he might tell Aegon came from my father’s mouth first.”

“You might be surprised.” Running a hand through her close-cropped tight curls, Sarella flashed them a smile. “I should return to my duties. But I drink at the Quill and Tankard most nights-- you can usually find me there.”

“We should be leaving, too,” Tyrion said. “We have a Hightower feast to attend.”

-----------

Even Rhaenys could not complain about a feast, especially one as lavish as Baelor and Cersei could arrange.

Tyrion was thrilled to finally meet his newest nephew. Lyonel was barely a year old, with his father’s brown eyes and wisps of pale golden hair that looked more like Tyrion’s than Cersei’s. For all that his sister could be vain and cruel, it was around her children that she was softest. Holding Lyonel in her arms, Cersei looked happier than Tyrion had seen her in years.

Ser Baelor Hightower was also in attendance, of course. “Good-brother!” he said with one of his customary smiles. Dark-haired and handsome, the future lord of Oldtown already did most of the ruling in place of his father, Lord Leyton, who had not left the High Tower in years. Tyrion had always liked Baelor-- he was one of the few people who treated him no differently than a normal-sized man. Cersei had treated him terribly in the early years of their marriage, but he had kept smiling through it all, giving her (in Tyrion’s opinion) more kindness than she deserved.

“Ser Brightsmile,” Tyrion said. Baelor bent slightly to clap him on the shoulder.

“It’s good to see you again,” Baelor said. “We’ve been needing some excitement to liven up the place. The children have been trying to convince me to let them join you on your progress.” Tyrion laughed as Marei looked innocent and Tyberios looked embarrassed. He hopped up onto a chair next to his niece, Rhaenys sitting on his other side.

“Excited to go to King’s Landing?” he asked, stealing a link of sausage from her plate.

Marei sighed dramatically. “I suppose so. But I don’t know if--” she broke off and glanced down the table at Cersei, who was talking with her husband and paying them no mind. Marei lowered her voice to a whisper all the same. “I don’t want to marry the king,” she confided. “Father says I don’t have to if I don’t want, but Mother and Grandfather seem so set on it.”

Tyrion felt a pang of sympathy. He had never considered that Marei might not want to be queen. “You haven’t seen him in years, sweetling. You two could become the best of friends.”

“Maybe,” she said reluctantly, then brightened. “I am excited to see Margaery, though. And if she’s the other option, I’m sure King Aegon will pick her. Oh, and mother says there will be a tourney for the betrothal! If father rides I’ll give him my favor, but he won’t win because cousin Loras is the best I’ve ever seen with a lance. Although Sandy’s also quite good...”

“Sandy?” Tyrion asked, bemused. Marei twisted in her seat to point at the Hound, who stood behind Cersei looking bored. Rhaenys choked on her mouthful of Arbor gold, and Tyrion had to pound her on the back until she regained her breath.

“Sandy Clegane,” she wheezed. “Bless you, Marei, I’m never going to let that go.”

After dinner began to wind down, Rhaenys stood and gave the speech she had been giving at every castle they visited. “King Aegon sends his warmest regards to the people of his kingdom,” she said. “He wishes he could see you all himself, but since he cannot I speak with my brother’s voice and listen with his ears. We care about the lives of our people in all corners of Westeros, and want to hear firsthand your suggestions and thoughts. Please, don’t hesitate to make yourselves heard.”

They spent the next several hours seated at the high table as a line of people that snaked around the hall waited less-than-patiently for a chance to complain to the king’s sister about all manner of things. It was Tyrion’s duty to take notes, and to keep Rhaenys from crawling out of her skin from boredom.

Most of what he wrote down were petty things that could be dealt with by the Hightowers-- people loved to take advantage of royalty when they could. There were more interesting things as well-- a brothel that had started an outbreak of disease, a group of criminals on a spree of burglaries, a graverobber who had been stealing fresh bodies and selling them to the maesters to study-- but there was one complaint that Tyrion would make sure to pass along to his father.

“The Ironborn are growing bolder,” said a cloth merchant, her voice lightly accented and her ears studded with jewels. “Two of my ships have been attacked on their way to Lannisport.”

“When my father hears of this, he’ll increase the security around the harbors,” Tyrion assured her. “I guarantee it.”

She nodded. “I’m sure you’ll here of this from others as well-- there have been attacks as far south as the Shield Islands. I worry that soon they’ll be on Oldtown’s shores.”

“The Ironborn are idiots, but surely they aren’t so stupid as to attack Oldtown,” Rhaenys said.

The merchant shrugged. “All I know is that I don’t wish to lose any more crew or cargo.” She rose and dipped a curtsy. “Thank you for your time, princess. You as well, Lord Tyrion.”

Rhaenys let out a low whistle as the merchant strode away. “The Shield Islands are very southern. I’m surprised we haven’t heard of it yet.”

“If there are ships being attacked anywhere near the Rock, I’m sure my father has heard about it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kevan is already dealing with it. Still--” Tyrion rolled up his sheet of parchment and set it to the side. “I’ll send ravens to both of them tomorrow.”

It was a relief when the last citizen of Oldtown left after another hour and they were finally able to retire back to their room, exhausted.

“I want us to stay right here in bed for the rest of our lives,” Rhaenys announced when they were in bed, her head pillowed on his chest. “No more dealing with your bitch of a sister, no more exchanging pleasantries with lords, no more damn complaining. You’d think they could work most of their problems out for themselves.”

“Come on now, if we stayed here for the rest of our lives there would also be no more feasts or libraries or riding.”

“Oh, I think there would still be plenty of riding,” she said suggestively, fingers tugging at his waistband.

“Not so tired, then?” he chuckled. In response, she tilted her head up and captured his lips in a kiss that made his head spin. How many hundreds of kisses had they shared, and his stomach still fluttered each time?

Tyrion found he was not so tired, either.