When Brandon Stark awoke, he thought perhaps he was dead. This is not the black cells, he thought.
The Mad King must have killed me too.
He remembered watching his father burn in the Great Hall of the Red Keep as that filthy, mangy silver devil cackled, sitting upon the bloody iron throne.
Brandon had tried so hard to get to his father before darkness consumed him.
And now - now he heard a faint, soft humming by him. He blinked, trying to figure out where exactly he was.
Sunlight was hitting his face and it felt wonderful. Yes, I am dead. He winced in pain, a sharp jolt stinging his neck. Then he remembered that something had bound his neck as he tried to get to his father.
Maybe I am not dead, my neck hurts too damn much for me to be dead. But this is the South. Maybe I'm in one of their seven hells and that's why it hurts.
As his eyes adjusted, he slowly turned his head to see a woman gently tending to his neck. A beautiful woman. She looked familiar but his brain was too garbled to place her while he was trying to figure out if he was alive or dead.
Dark wavy hair framed a thin, tan face. When he moved his arm, she startled, pulling her hand from his neck and gazing at him. He was greeted by globes of dark honey, tints of sadness notable even in her surprised state.
"Lord Stark! Oh, you're awake," she breathed in relief.
"Princess?" he croaked. "Princess Elia?"
A small smile graced her face. "Be careful, your wound is still quite fresh. I'm just redressing it," she said gently, returning to her task.
"Why are you here and not a maester?" he asked weakly.
Her lips formed a tense line. "I do not trust the maester here. And I needed to know - be sure - you were alright."
When she moved over him slightly to the other side of his neck, he froze. The other side of her face that had not been visible before was slightly swollen and covered with a dark purple and black bruise.
He reached a hand up to her cheek slowly, which she saw out of the corner of her eye, but ignored and continued on her task. Who would hit a woman? The Princess no less? Maybe it was that cursed Prince. "Who...who did this to you?" he asked, voice shaking with anger.
He heard a loud, anxious swallow. "It is not important."
"It is. Please tell me, Princess."
She drew her hands back to her lap and sighed as she looked at him. "I will tell you, but you must promise not to get angry. I do not want you straining your neck and making your wound worse. Are we clear?" she commanded sternly. Gods, I did not expect her to have such steel in her voice.
He gave her a small nod. She looked at him for a few moments, perhaps still considering if he'd honor that agreement, before she spoke. "The King."
Now he knew why she said that. He tried to restrain himself, slightly easier because of his weakened state, but he could still feel his blood boiling. His father burning flashed through his mind.
"Why?" he asked, voice strained with rage.
"I asked him not to kill you, to release the strangle device that was placed on you. This was for my..." she paused briefly touching her cheek, wincing, before she continued. "For my insolence, he said."
Another memory comes back to him then just before he passed out in the Great Hall. A woman pleading with the crazed man for him. He looked at her with wide eyes. "That was you? Why?"
"Should I not have?" she asked, slightly bemused.
He let out a small incredulous laugh. It felt odd to laugh in such dark times. "No, I'm glad that you did. For I seem to be alive now. I assume I have you to thank for that then?"
"Do not thank me yet. I had to lie to him to convince him. After he hit me, I said perhaps it was better if you were alive so that the Northern lords could be witness to your trial for treachery and pledge their fealty to him," she said dryly. "It appears to have worked...for now. But I don't know how long I can keep this up."
He looked at her shocked. What was this woman doing? What was going on?
Perhaps I am dead, this makes no sense.
"I don't understand. Why do you want to help me?" he asked, still not understanding.
She sighed as she gave him a look of exasperation. It reminded him of the way his mother would look at him when he asked why he must go to lessons with the Maester. "Gods, Brandon Stark! We barely know each other and yet you seem convinced that I'm either heartless or stupid - or both! Do you not see that the realm will be engulfed in war now that Aerys has killed your father?" Her eyes shifted from exasperation to concern and she gripped his hand then. "The King had many of you and your father's men killed as well. We have to find a way to solve this before too many others die, do you not see?" she told him urgently.
He gulped, taking in what she was saying. Surely the North would rise when they heard of his father's death. Father. Perhaps they already had.
"I need to write to Ned...and Gods! Where is my sister?" he was starting to get agitated now.
"Now on that last front I can be of service," she said flatly before rising and walking to a desk near them, the dark blue silk of her dress swirling at her feet. She returned holding a piece of paper and handed it to him. "Read this, read it again, then speak. And please try to do so rationally," she said matter-of-factly as she sat down by the bed once more.
He took the paper as he eyed her skeptically and started to read. This is Lyanna's writing! Wait…
His eyes darted to Elia with an incredulous look and then he remembered her words, so he read the letter again. It didn't help.
"She…she went with him willingly?" he said in what could only be described as a whispered scream.
Elia raised her eyebrows and nodded before taking the letter back. "I received that on Dragonstone just after my oh-so-gallant husband left to, as I found out from this letter, meet with her. I suppose she thought he would receive this last missive before he left. When I read her words that she would be 'eagerly awaiting' her love, well - it seemed clear enough then. Especially after what happened at Harrenhal."
He groaned, sinking into the bed. "What the fuck, Lyanna? I came here for her! Father, Gods!" What madness was this? Tears began to sting his eyes.
She slowly raised a hand to his cheek, her touch surprising him, but not bothering him. In fact, it was rather comforting. "I am sorry, Brandon."
He looked at her, his eyes full of grief and anger. "Why are you apologizing to me? My sister...my sister ran off with your husband!"
She smiled weakly. "I am sorry for your loss, I mean. For your father. I know what it is to lose a parent, though not in such a manner. I am sorry that you had to go through that," she told him quietly.
He looked at her, and placed a hand over hers, closing his eyes. He couldn't keep the tears from falling - it was maddening, all these emotions, this pain.
Perhaps I would rather be dead after all.
Elia closed her eyes earnestly, almost as if she was in prayer. "Rest now, we'll find a way forward. You will not die, Lord Stark. I shall not let you," the Princess told him, cool and determined.