Princess Artemesia Martell’s arrival at the Water Gardens was sudden and unheralded, and the first clue as to her presence that was afforded her daughter was the ruling princess’s walking stick striking the floor of Elia’s bedchamber pre-dawn.
“Wake up,” her mother commanded. Elia sat up, clutching the sheets to her naked chest, as did the girl next to her. “Lady Ashara, I needs must speak to my daughter alone, leave us.”
“Of course, my princess.” Ash awkwardly attempted to slip from the sheets without revealing her nakedness. She managed to shrug into a robe and leave the chamber.
“Mother-” Elia began. Even though Princess Artemesia’s arrival had not been foreseen, her attempts to arrange a marriage for daughter were longstanding and widely known, and Elia had her defences ready: Dornish princesses, unlike other highborn Westerosi maids, were not expected to go to the marriage bed wholly innocent, she was entirely unlikely to catch a bastard, and as the beautiful, trueborn daughter of Starfall Ashara Dayne was a more than fitting paramour for the second child of the ruling princess.
Not to mention the fact that Elia was by now far too old to be abandoned at the Water Gardens with the little ones, and she and Ash could hardly be faulted for finding more adult pursuits to pass the time.
“Your brother is dead,” announced the ruling princess of Dorne, her voice hollow.
“No,” Elia insisted, starting to shake. But even as she denied it aloud, she knew it to be true. Oberyn had always burned bright, and it was all too easy to imagine ways that his flame might have been snuffed out: an ill-advised duel, a jealous husband, a spurned lover, a joke turned sour. “How?”
“Drowning,” said Princess Artemesia.
But- Oberyn was in Oldtown, studying at the Citadel, and he would not have left without writing to his sister of his decision. Surely, surely, not even one such as Oberyn could find death by drowning in a library.
Her mother’s expression softened. “When word was brought to me that my son was dead, I too thought it meant Oberyn, and though I grieved I was not surprised. The messenger had to tell me three times that he spoke of Doran.”
Elia’s shaking intensified. It was horrible but all too easy to imagine a world without Oberyn, but a world without Doran was impossible. He was solid and dependable, and had been more of a father figure to her and Oberyn than the prince consort had ever been. He was to be the ruling prince after their mother. He could not be gone. “Drowned,” said Elia, and the word felt mealy in her mouth.
“He was sailing back from Norvos with his new bride when they were struck by a storm, his ship was sunk and there were no survivors. You-” Elia buried her face in her knees, she knew what her mother was about to say and could not bear to hear it “-are the heiress to Dorne.”
Elia listened to the sound of her mother’s walking stick striking the flagstones receding into silence, and then the mattress dipped and Ashara wrapped her arms around Elia. She kissed Elia’s hair, her temple, kissed the tears from her cheeks. “I’m so sorry,” she murmured against her skin.
Elia clung tight to Ash and couldn’t imagine ever letting go. “Don’t leave me.”
Eventually Elia’s shaking subsided and she said, “We needs must go to Sunspear.”
Doran’s body washed up on shore. As did the body of Mellario of Norvos, who unbeknown to anyone on this side of the Narrow Sea, had been with child; Elia had vomited when they told her this.
Princess Artemesia stood straight as a rod in a way that would cost her later, silent tears tracking down her face, as they burned her son’s body. It was the funeral rites of a prince, meant to recall Nymeria firing her ships.
Oberyn had returned to Dorne for the funeral with the look of a man who who would like to fight the sea itself. Elia looked straight ahead, solemn faced; for every Dorish bannerman who was here to mourn their liege lady’s son, two more had come hoping to get the measure of the new heiress.
Elia knew that she did not strike an immediately impressive figure; she did not have her mother’s steel, or Oberyn’s bombast, or Lady Ashara’s great beauty...in this moment all she could offer the people of Dorne was grace and composure, so she kept her expression as inscrutable as possible, and gripped Ash’s hand tight under the balcony wall where no one could see.
“Mother,” Elia was waved into Princess Artemesia’s solar by a servant, “you sent for me.”
The ruling princess set down the letter she was reading, and even upside down the three headed Targaryen dragon was unmistakeable. “Queen Rhaella sends her condolences on the loss of Doran, and quite delicately suggests that we quietly dissolve your engagement to the prince.”
“I-”Elia began uncertainly. “I had no idea.” She, of course, had known that her mother had notions towards a royal match, and it did much to explain why she had been sequestered away at the Water Gardens of late.
“No one knew but the queen, the prince, and myself, which of course makes it easier to pretend that the betrothal had never been arranged at all.” Elia poked at the idea; having never met Rhaegar Targaryen she felt little and less about not marrying him, and although she did not necessarily mislike the idea of becoming queen of the Seven Kingdoms it was not a thing that would sit easily alongside her new role as heiress to Dorne. Princess Artemesia obviously agreed, “The future King of Westeros cannot be married to the next Princess of Dorne. Such a thing would threaten Dorne’s independence; your brother would riot.”
Oberyn would not riot, not if it was Elia, but the Dornish sands held no shortage of men no less hot-blooded. “I understand.”
“In fact, it is perhaps best to put the matter of your marriage aside for a time. The people of Dorne must learn to love and respect you as the next ruling princess; a husband would only muddy the waters as some of them would doubtless look to him instead. It is for that reason I have told Oberyn that it is best that he depart as soon as is decent.”
People who met Elia and Oberyn together always assumed that Oberyn was the elder, and directed their words to him. “I know that given the choice,” said Elia, keeping her voice deliberately even, “you would have chosen Oberyn as your heir.”
Princess Artemesia met Elia’s eyes for the first time since Elia had entered the solar, and her face softened somewhat. “That is not true. I may doubt your strength, daughter-” Elia tried not to flinch under the blow, her mother was showing her the respect of speaking the truth as she saw it “-but I doubt Oberyn’s temperament more. In truth, I have failed you both.”
“Mother, no-” Elia started to object, and then stopped because there was nothing further to say.
“I disliked pregnancy, and despised childbirth. I would have stopped at one child, but my court and councillors assured me that I needed a spare in case something should befall Doran.” Princess Artemesia’s laugh was dark and humourless. “I tried and failed and tried again until you were born, and when the maesters told me you were not like to live past infancy, I rose from the birthing bed and tried again for Oberyn...but after that I neglected you both. I let your brother run wild and made no move to temper his excesses. I sent you far from Sunspear and told myself it was to protect your health. I owe you an apology, Elia, for your weaknesses as an heir are my failings, and no fault of yours.”
Elia gestured helplessly. “I’m here now, and I want to learn.”
“Learn you will. Beginning tomorrow you will join my council, and sit by my side at court. I will expect you to manage my correspondence, and learn to understand the flow of coin in and out of Dorne. You will travel to the holdfasts of my bannermen and befriend their heirs, of so that come the day that they are your bannermen you will already have their loyalty.”
Elia felt the exhaustion deep in her bones at the prospect. “Yes, mother,” she said with all the steeliness she could muster, then curtsied, and made to leave.
“Oh, and Elia?” her mother called after her. “I was of a mind to marry off the Dayne girl.” Elia paused where she stood, formulating her arguments: her mother had already sent Oberyn away, she could not be so hardhearted as to take Ashara too, not when she had owned that it was her own neglect that made Elia’s position so difficult. “I elected not to; I would not ask you to do this alone, and a daughter of Starfall is a suitable lady-in-waiting for a princess of Dorne, but for the love of the Old Gods and the New, be discreet.”
Elia looked at the ground, her lips twitching into a smile. “Thank you, mother,” she said, fleeing the solar before the ruling princess could change her mind.
“Are you sure you’re able to travel all the way to the Riverlands?” asked Ashara, as servants bustled around them, packing trunks.
“I told you,” said Elia, taking Ash into her arms, “it was naught but a dizzy spell. The hall was over-warm, the braziers had been over-stoked, and Lord Gargalen is a bore. Anyone would have fainted, and at least my mother was not there to see it.”
The servants carried on packing, ignoring their embrace. Anyone who served in the crown princess’s household for any length of time knew that Lady Ashara Dayne was her bedmate in more than the usual sense, and although this guaranteed a certain amount of gossip, rumours that one of the most desirable women in Dorne was her lover had actually done much to enhance Elia’s reputation among her future subjects..
“Mayhap it would have been better if she had,” grumbled Ashara, bumping her nose against Elia’s. “She, at least, would have been able to force you to see a maester.”
“Ash,” said Elia, kissing the tip of Ashara’s nose, “you have seen me have fainting spells since we were children playing at the Water Gardens.” Overexcitement, Elia’s nursemaids had called it, and had usually blamed Oberyn. “I have always recovered quickly from them, have I not?”
“They’re getting worse,” said Ashara mulishly.
That was true, but it was something Elia preferred not to think about. “I’ve been working too hard,” said Elia, kissing Ashara’s eyelids, forcing her to close her lilac eyes and bat Elia away, laughing despite herself. “Which is exactly why you and I should go the great tourney at Harrenhal.”
“Your mother is sending you there to represent Dorne to the king, who Arthur writes grows more the fool by the day, and to meet the lords of the other six kingdoms or their heirs. That sounds a lot like work to me.”
“I am also going to feast, and dance, and watch Oberyn ride in the lists.” It would be the first time Elia had seen her brother since he’d decided that his next adventure lay in the Free Cities. “Arthur will be riding too, I’m given to understand. When did you see him last?”
“It would have been...” Ashara looked thoughtful, “it would have been just before he was elevated to the Kingsguard.”
“Then we will travel to Harrenhal, see what the world is like outside Dorne, visit with our absentee brothers, and escape the all-seeing-eye of my mother. And-” Elia pressed a quick kiss to Ashara’s lips “-if I feel at all unwell I promise to tell you.”
The other reason, possibly even the main reason, for Elia’s mother sending her to Harrenhal was that there would be plenty of second sons in attendance; highborn young men with nothing to inherit, at least one of whom might make a fitting consort for a ruling princess.
Selfishly, Elia was glad that Robert Baratheon’s younger brother seemed disinclined to ask anyone to dance, and Brandon Stark’s brother seemed both terrified and to only have eyes for Ashara.
Arthur Dayne, who had eyes like Ash’s, and whose elevation to the kingsguard and according vow of celibacy had reduced many a hopeful maid to wails and the rending of garments, did ask Elia to dance.
The sword of the morning was a fine dancer and a considerate partner, and when after only a few turns around the floor he felt Elia begin to sag in his arms, he asked, “Are you quite well, princess?”
“Quite well, ser, thank you. It is only that the journey from Sunspear must have fatigued me more that I realised.”
“Well, then-” Ser Arthur smiled, a lovely smile very like Ash’s, and twirled Elia in his arms until they were back where they started “-in that case, we must return you to my sister.”
“Are you alright?” Ashara asked as Elia regained her seat.
“Only a little warm,” Elia assured her. “Oh, but Ash! You must dance with your brother, especially as I have just deprived him of a partner. Go on!” After Ashara danced with Arthur, Oberyn took her in his arms. She danced with a knight of the kingsguard, a lord with hair the colour of carrot, the Stark heir, and then his poor, petrified brother.
Between every partner she looked back at Elia. Warmed by Ash’s regard, Elia smiled and nodded her encouragement. It was only when Ashara was dancing with the youngest Stark brother, a boy of barely ten, that Elia could no longer hide her yawns. Lady Ashara made a curtsy to the little lord, who blushed furiously, and made her way back to Elia. “Shall we retire for the evening, my lady?”
Back in their rooms Ashara was removing combs from her long dark curls, and Elia had removed her slippers and was sitting of the edge of the bed with her legs curled under her. Ash caught Elia’s eyes in the mirror and asked, “Did you not wish to dance more?”
Elia deflected with the truth. “I would have danced with you.”
Elia and Ashara were used to showing a certain amount of discretion in public - the people of Dorne were delighted by the rumours that their future princess and her beautiful, purple-eyed lady were lovers, but Elia could not be seen to be favouring Ash over her future consort and father for her children - and they both knew better than to let any hint of their true relationship be known north of the Boneway.
Ashara stepped up to where Elia was sitting on the edge of the bed and held out her hands. “Princess Elia Martell, may I have the honour of this dance?”
“Lady Ashara Dayne,” Elia took Ash’s hands and rose, her deep red skirts falling about her legs, “the honour is entirely mine.”
Ashara was already a little taller than Elia, but with Elia in bare feet the small difference in height was more pronounced. Elia’s hands came to rest on Ash’s shoulders, and Ashara gently took hold of Elia’s hips. They could not hear the musicians playing the feast from the rooms they’d been given, but through the open windows they could hear the revelries of those not high born enough to be invited inside.
Elia twined her arms around Ashara’s neck, toying with Ash’s loose hair, no longer held back with jewelled combs. They swayed together, not trying to follow any particular steps. “I would do this always,” said Elia, “if our positions allowed it.”
Ashara smiled at that, and her mouth sought out Elia’s...and a male voice said, “Apologies, my ladies, I was not told you were otherwise occupied.”
Elia and Ashara sprang apart, and saw Prince Rhaegar Targaryen standing in the doorway, just ahead of a flustered and overwhelmed looking maidservant whose facial expression appeared to scream: he’s a prince! What do you want from me?
Ash sank into a stiff curtsey. “Prince Rhaegar, it has been some years since we last saw one another at Starfall.”
Elia had forgotten that Arthur Dayne had been the prince’s companion since childhood, and that he and Ashara must surely have met on occasion. Mayhap that was why Ash was able to find words while Elia felt as though if she opened her mouth she’d be sick.
“It has been Arthur’s loss, and my own, that we have not visited Starfall more frequently,” said Rhaegar, and Elia relaxed slightly, thanks to her mother’s teachings she was by now familiar with meaningless diplomatic courtesies.
“I do not believe you have met my paramour:” said Ash; it was a title that she and Elia used sparingly, and rarely in front of others, “Elia Nymeros Martell, heiress to the throne of Sunspear.”
“I had hoped to finally meet you at this tourney, Princess Elia, but you both left the feast before I could find a moment to introduce myself. It was the only reason I followed you up here, I truly did not mean to intrude.” He was courteous, this silver prince. “Might we speak alone for a moment?” he asked, “After all, we were at one point engaged to be married.”
Ashara stiffened, and Elia touched the small of her back, meaning: Go on, I’ll be alright.
“I was only told after the engagement had been dissolved,” said Elia, after Ash had slipped away.
“You seem to have found love in another place readily enough,” said Rhaegar, he sounded more amused than anything else. “I wish that I could say the same, but it seems the Gods have other plans for me.”
“At the time she was naught but the infatuation of youth, and would have been easily enough set aside. Then my brother died, my circumstances changed, and the betrothal I did not know had been made was broken. I will have to marry soon, before I’m the death of my mother, but I expect it will be to some minor Dornish lord who knows how to share.”
“If your mother still wishes for a royal match,” said Prince Rhaegar, his purple eyes were not entirely unlike Ashara’s, but while Ash’s purple eyes were set off by her coal black hair, the combination of lilac eyes and silver-white hair made Rhaegar look washed out. “I could offer you my brother Viserys. He is something of a brat, but at the age of four I doubt he would be much of a romantic rival to Lady Ashara.”
“Thank you,” said Elia. It was easy to imagine a world where she could have come to like Rhaegar Targaryen, as a friend if not a husband. “But while my mother has been willing to wait this long for grandchildren, I suspect making her wait more than another decade for heirs to Dorne would be considered cruel.”
Prince Rhaegar bowed, making to leave. “My father is...well, your mother knows well what my father is, my hope is that you and l can have a better relationship.”
Elia curtsied. “Dorne has always prided itself on its good relationship with the Iron Throne.” With the partial exception of Daenerys and Maron that was a bald faced lie, but from the grin on the prince’s face Elia could see that he understood the jest.
Ash slipped in just as Rhaegar was bowing himself out. “What happened?”
“I believe,” said Elia, “that I just made friends with the Prince of Dragonstone.”
“Your mother will be delighted,” said Ash.
The very next day a mystery knight, identifying himself only as The Knight of the Laughing Tree, rode in the joust, unseating several squires, and insulting several knights. The king flew into a rage, and ordered his son to discover and unmask the knight.
Princess Elia was unaware of any of this because that very morning a raven had arrived from Sunspear, feathers red with blood, with the news that her mother was dead.
Elia woke in her borrowed rooms at Harrenhal, with Ash, red-eyed, clutching her hand. She could not feel her legs.
“I’m sorry,” said Ashara. Elia swallowed; so it had not been a bad dream.
Princess Artemesia had been old all of Elia’s life, silver haired and requiring a cane to walk, but she had also been an indomitable force of nature. She could not be gone, especially not if... “I cannot feel my legs,” Elia confessed, looking down at her lap, unable to meet Ash’s eyes.
She could see, though, where Ashara laid her hand on Elia’s knee, and she felt nothing. She watched Ash dig her fingernails into her thigh and she shook her head, still nothing.
“It will be okay,” Ashara promised. Elia shook her head numbly. She must go back to Dorne; she could not go back to Dorne like this.
Ash pulled away, and Elia reflexively seized her hand. “Where are you going?”
Ashara touched Elia’s cheek and pulled her other hand free. “To find Prince Oberyn. We are going to figure this out, my love, I promise.”
“I would offer my condolences on the loss of your mother,” the queen of thorns’ tone was abrasive, “but it seems like you have more immediate concerns.”
Elia and her party had come most of the way to Harrenhal by boat, but had completed the last half day of the journey by horseback, and quite clearly Elia could not ride. The solution Ashara and Oberyn had come up with was now standing next to Elia’s bed looking arch: Olenna Tyrell.
The Martells and Tyrells did not have a long and warm relationship, but Oberyn swore Lord Willas could be trusted, and Willas swore his grandmother could be trusted, and most importantly Lady Olenna had travelled to the tourney in a covered wheelhouse.
“I’d thank you,” said Elia, “were not my primary concern how I am to rule Dorne from a sickbed.”
The queen of thorns took Elia’s chin in an almost painful grip and forced her to meet her eyes. “If you cannot rule sitting down, my girl, you were never going to be able to rule standing up.”
Oberyn carried Elia to the Tyrell wheelhouse in the pre-dawn hours when none bar the servants would be awake to see, and they departed for Highgarden.
Elia well knew that she was in a foul mood on the road, and that she was taking it out on her blameless brother and paramour. Oberyn frequently took to horseback and rode ahead of their party, and Ashara worried her bottom lip raw trying not to snap back at Elia; though Elia increasingly wished that she would, she would relish an argument.
Lady Olenna insisted that they stop at Highgarden to rest until a boat could be readied to ferry them down the Greenblood to Sunspear; more quietly she insisted that Elia consult with her personal physician.
The man examined Elia and could discern no reason why she had lost the use of her legs, nor could he be sure that she would regain them. He could only blame it on the stress of learning of her mother’s death and advised her to avoid similarly distressing situations in future.
“Well,” said Elia dryly, “she can hardly die twice.”
Elia had, just about, managed to keep her temper with the physician, but it snapped soon after with Ashara; being tucked into bed like a child by your lover was humiliating and infuriating in equal measure.
“When we get back to Dorne,” said Elia, as Ashara fussed around the bed, “I will set you free.”
“What are you talking about?” said Ashara, still fussing.
“Pick a Dornish lord, whomever you prefer, and I will arrange a marriage.”
Ashara stopped what she was doing and looked at Elia, face white, lips curled. “I do not know if you were paying attention at Harrenhal, Elia, but I do not need your help to catch a husband.”
“Then why don’t you?” Elia spat.
“Because,” said Ashara helplessly, “I only want you. I have loved you since the first time you kissed me at the Water Gardens.” Elia thought back: they had been thirteen, three years before she’d taken Ash to her bed, playing pretend, and Elia had thought little and less of it. “When Arthur told me there was talk of marrying you to Rhaegar I threw up every meal for three days. I’d love you even if you had no legs. I would marry you if I could.”
“Ash...” At no point during the long, depressing and humiliating journey with the Tyrells had Elia wished so fiercely to be able to rise, but she couldn’t, so she said the only thing she could: “Come here.”
Ashara sank into Elia’s arms, her hungry mouth seeking out Elia’s. She straddled Elia’s lap and buried her hands in her dark hair. “Ow,” said Elia, “stop, hang on, ow.”
“What?” said Ash, pulling her hands free from Elia’s hair, obviously thinking she’d yanked it.
“Cramp,” said Elia, rubbing her thigh.
“Oh,” said Ashara, lifting herself up on her knees so that she wasn’t resting her weight on Elia, and then: “Wait, you can feel that?”
Elia grinned, and pulled Ash back down, smiling through the kiss.
The feeling in Elia’s legs gradually returned as they made their way downriver, and although she could stand and walk around her cabin with Oberyn or Ashara’s help, there was no way she was going to be able to disembark at Planky Town under her own power.
“I’ll be back.” said Oberyn, pressing a kiss to his sister’s forehead and disappearing up the ladder and out onto the crowded dock.
Elia looked at Ashara, who shrugged helplessly, and said, “It’s Oberyn.”
Oberyn retuned eventually bearing a cane of dark, polished Summer Islands wood that had once upon a time been their mother’s walking stick. Prince Oberyn took the knee before his sister, like a northern knight before his liege, and offered the cane up in both hands. “Your sword, my lady.”
Elia braced herself, leaned heavily on the walking stick and rose. Ashara clapped her hands over her mouth, and Oberyn pulled his sister close, and whispered, “We are with you.”
Using her mother’s cane, and with Oberyn and Ash following behind, Elia managed to descend the gangplank and alight into the waiting carriage.
Elia Nymeros Martell, ruling princess of Dorne, was crowned in the palace of Sunspear, seated upon the throne of her ancestors, with her brother and protector, Prince Oberyn Martell, standing at her right shoulder, and her advisor and consort, Lady Ashara Dayne, at her left.
Elia could not in all honesty say that she was looking forward to the journey to King’s Landing, but she had excused herself from attending the old king’s funeral and Rhaegar’s coronation by saying that she could not leave Dorne so soon after her own elevation. After that, failing to attend the royal wedding would look churlish; and owning that her health would not allow her to travel would look weak.
“I should come with you,” said Ashara, while they were sitting in Elia’s solar of an evening, “Oberyn could stay as castellan in my stead.”
“My brother would have us at war within the week.”
“Oberyn was kidding,” said Ashara, and frowned. “At least, I think he was kidding.”
When Robert Baratheon had tried to raise a rebellion after Rhaegar dissolved his betrothal to Lyanna Stark and offered himself for the northern girl, Oberyn had wanted Dorne to get involved, though on whose side Elia had never been entirely sure. Fortunately, in the wake of the mad king’s death there had been little appetite for rebellion, and old Lord Stark, while putting up a good show of being appalled, was in truth only too happy to trade the Lord of Storm’s End in for a king.
Elia snorted, and Ash sounded more certain when she said, “Ellaria would keep him from doing anything foolish.”
“I like Ellaria,” said Elia, seizing on the excuse to change the subject. She did not often like Oberyn’s lovers; Ash said it was because she did not like having to play second fiddle when it came to her brother, and Elia said that it was because it always ended in disaster. Ellaria Sand, though, was a good and kind woman, who did much to bank Oberyn’s fire, and who had kept Oberyn’s attention longer than any man or woman ever had before. And if his daughter’s recent closeness to House Martell kept Lord Uller in line, well, that was all to the good too. “I will be pleased to have both her and my brother for company on the road. In any case, if Oberyn were to stay he would let the terrible trio run riot, and I need you here to keep them in line.”
Ashara shook her head, but smiled while she did. “You like giving me all the difficult jobs, don’t you?”
Their mother’s death had caused Oberyn to reconsider his responsibilities as a father (Elia hadn’t even known he was a father, though she supposed that if she’d ever given the matter any serious consideration she would have concluded that there was not enough moon tea in Westeros for Oberyn not to have at least one bastard) and he’d brought his three baseborn daughters to live at Sunspear.
Elia loved the sullen Obara, the artful Nymeria, and little Tyene, whose innocent face belied tantrums that shook the foundations of Sunspear, like they were her own daughters, but by the Gods, sometimes it seemed like they needed more managing than the rest of her subjects put together.
Elia stood from the couch where she’d been sitting, leaning on the cane even though she didn’t currently need it. Ash rolled her eyes, she thought that Elia using her mother’s walking stick even when well was a silly affectation; Elia had countered that it was the point, that her adversaries at court should not know when the cane was an affectation and when it was a necessity.
“I am leaving a full month early so I can travel slowly with plenty of stops at the castles of my bannermen, and at Highgarden. Oberyn will surely force us to turn back should I show any signs of taking ill. The whole journey is being undertaken by carriage and litter; this will not become another Harrenhal. And you know better than most that I have been healthy of late.”
Ashara pursed her lips, and Elia realised perhaps she had not hidden the spells of blurry vision that had culminated in her temporarily losing the sight in one of her eyes nearly so well as she had hoped. To forestall an argument, she stepped close to Ashara and kissed her.
“Be safe,” Ash said against Elia’s mouth.
“Do not let the girls burn Sunspear to the ground,” replied Elia, nipping at Ashara’s bottom lip.
The Dornish party had brought gifts of lemons, dates, and oranges, as well as an entire wagon of sour Dornish red wine. The yard was full to overflowing with arriving wedding guests bearing gifts: Arryns, Tullys, Lannisters, even the Greyjoys...but not a stag in sight. Overwhelmed looking Targaryen and Stark retainers rushed from carriage to wagon and back again, but when Oberyn helped Elia out of their carriage they were met by the new king himself.
Elia stretched, and was relieved to find that any stiffness was the result of the long journey, and not the inexplicable weakness that heralded an oncoming spell of ill-health.
“Princess Elia,” said Rhaegar Targaryen, bowing, “I am so pleased that you were able to make the journey.”
“The last time we met,” said Elia, “we spoke of love, and ever since I had hoped you would find it for yourself.”
“The Gods have been good enough to shine a light on my path,” Rhaegar looked away from Elia to where his queen-to-be stood surrounded by her brothers, two raucous and delighted, one pensive looking; Lady Lyanna was being teased by her youngest brother, and the pensive looking one stepped in between them before the pushing and shoving could escalate. “I can only hope that they have also guided me towards love.”
Elia frowned at the word hope. Lyanna Stark was striking, to be sure, but she did not have Ash’s great beauty, Cersei Lannister’s poise, or Catelyn Stark’s grace; she did not immediately seem to be the type of girl a king would risk war to take to wife, not unless he loved her.
Then again, Rhaegar knew well of Elia’s romantic complications, so she curtsied to him and said, “I wish that for you too, Your Grace.”
Rhaegar bowed again, and excused the Martell party to go and find their rooms.
The evening before the wedding Elia took a stroll around the new Godswood that the king had planted for his bride in the grounds of the Red Keep.
The small copse smelled profoundly of earth where the ground had been churned up to plant trees that weren’t native to the south, and rang with giggles and the strike of wood on wood.
Lady Lyanna Stark was mock sword-fighting a small boy with silver blonde hair and lilac eyes who could only be Rhaegar’s much younger brother.
Lyanna saw Elia first and dropped the stick she was using as a sword. “Viserys, say hello to Princess Elia of Dorne.”
The small boy thwacked his own stick against his leg, looked at the ground, and attempted to hide behind Lyanna. “Hello.”
Elia curtsied. “Prince Viserys, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Viserys, run back up to the castle, okay?”
“Will you come see me before Mother says I have to go to bed?”
“Of course I will,” Lyanna promised, ruffling the little prince’s colourless hair, and watching him run off. “Rhaegar’s father was, well, I’m sure you know...”
“Rumours only,” replied Elia, “but those were enough.”
“Viserys has only ever had his mother and baby sister, and was desperately in need of a friend. I think he is happier to have me in King’s Landing than Rhaegar is.”
“I’m sure that’s not true.”
“I do wonder...” mused Lyanna. “I’m glad to have met you, Princess Elia, I ought to have found you at Harrenhal and told you I was sorry about your mother.”
“I understand that you too had much going on.”
“Ah, yes,” said Lyanna. “The Knight of the Laughing Tree. I have retired him, and Rhaegar allowed me the pretence a lot longer than Robert would have.”
“That’s why you chose Rhaegar over Robert,” Elia asked, curious. “not the crown?”
“I chose Rhaegar because Rhaegar is the only one to ever have presented it to me as a choice,” said Lyanna. “He told me, you know, that he had been briefly engaged to Elia of Dorne, but not why there had been no marriage.”
“Ah.” There were many reasons, all true, that Elia might have given: her brother had died, her place in the order of succession had changed, the queen mother had turned against the match. Instead she said, “I was caught abed with one of my female companions.”
Lyanna raised an eyebrow. “Anyone I might know?”
It was a lot of ammunition to hand to the future queen of the seven kingdoms, however much Elia might like her, but still she said, “Ashara Dayne of Starfall.”
Lyanna hooted with delight. “It is a three week ride from Harrenhal to Winterfell and the whole time I could not stop hearing about Ashara Dayne. I am told she is a very great beauty.”
“She is,” said Elia, feeling the heat in her cheeks. “She is also, sadly for your brothers, very much spoken for.”
Lyanna waved her hand dismissively. “Brandon is to be married soon, Ned would sooner cover himself in ice spiders than interfere with someone else’s love story, and Benjen’s love was pure of heart. You have nothing to fear.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“I must return to the Red Keep, I promised Viserys.” Lyanna offered Elia her arm, “Would you care to walk with me?”
The Royal wedding was wonderful. The bride was beautiful, the king handsome, and the young Targaryen children pelted each other with flower petals throughout.
A raven arrived at Sunspear announcing the birth of a healthy prince, Aegon Targaryen, and as a distant second, the death of his mother, Queen Lyanna, in childbirth.
Elia wept and wept, though she didn’t know why. She had liked Lyanna Stark well enough when she’d met her, found her engaging and charismatic, but she had only known her briefly.
“Shh,” said Ashara curling up next to Elia in the bed she’d taken to not out of illness, but out of... she supposed a kind of despair.
Elia had spent the journey back to Sunspear, as Ellaria’s belly swelled, thinking of her own wedding.
In truth, she ought to have married years ago, but there had always been some reason not to: spells of ill health, the mad king’s death and subsequent period of disruption, the arrival of Oberyn’s daughters. She had long had a list of four or five names, younger sons, men who she could easily bear to bed, who would not overly disrupt her domestic relations with Ash, and who could be easily bought off with a holdfast in the desert; all that she had needed to do was pick one, and she hadn’t.
The raven Elia eventually sent back to King’s Landing contained congratulations on the birth of Rhaegar’s son, deep condolences on the loss of his wife, and an offer to foster Prince Viserys at Sunspear with Oberyn’s daughters, for she well remembered Lyanna saying that what the boy needed more than anything else was friends.
“I think I need to consult with a physician,” Elia confessed to Ashara, in the dark, with her eyes closed.
A maester was summoned from the citadel, as was the midwife who in fifty years had delivered more living children in Planky Town than any other, and Olenna Tyrell was begged for a lone of her personal physician.
The physician was matter of fact, the midwife sorry, and the maester disapproving. “If only you had started sooner,” he’d said, shaking his head.
But the conclusion they all came to was the same: it was unlikely that Elia Martell would ever deliver a healthy child, or survive childbirth, and any attempt to do so would almost certainly result in a catastrophic deterioration of her health.
“I wish I could do it for you,” said Ashara in bed, resting her palm over Elia’s flat belly.
Elia took Ash’s hand and pulled it way from her stomach, twining their fingers together. “I would not lose you like that. Lyanna Stark...she was so alive. You would not have believed anything could have killed her.”
“My mother survived birthing three children,” said Ashara.
“And died bringing Allyria into the world,” Elia reminded her. “The funny thing is that not so long ago, before Ellaria, before Lyanna, I would have leapt at the opportunity to marry you to Oberyn; any child of yours would have been my legitimate heir. He would have been wildly unfaithful, of course,” Elia raised their joined hands and kissed Ashara’s knuckles, “but so, I hope, would you.”
“Sister,” said Oberyn, having been summoned to Princess Elia's solar in the dead of night.
“Beloved brother,” said Elia, gripping her cane so tightly that her knuckles turned white. She was holding it in her left hand, the right hand side of her body having recently been overcome with a muscle weakness that left her unable to grip with that hand. “I needs must ask you to do something that you may not wish to do.”
“Anything,” swore Oberyn.
Elia scoffed. “Wait until I’ve asked, at least.”
Oberyn swept the Martell cloak around his bride’s shoulders, and said... “With this kiss I pledge my love.” The kiss itself was awkward, but only because Ellaria's belly was swollen to the size of a ship and she might be taken to the birthing bed at any moment.
“With this kiss I pledge my love,” Ash echoed. She was sitting on a wooden pew next to Elia's rolling chair. Ashara didn’t kiss Elia; there was a septon present, after all, as well as Lord Uller, Ellaria’s natural father, but Elia could feel Ash's breath tickle her ear as she made her vow.
“And take you as my lady and wife,” said Oberyn, as did Ashara. Elia squeezed Ash’s hand hard, wishing it was only possible to transmit her all love, gratitude, and devotion through her palm.
After the ceremony, after Oberyn had paid the Septon and Lord Uller had departed, Ellaria said, “Oh! She’s kicking!”
“May I?” asked Elia; Ellaria nodded and Elia reached out for her swollen belly. The babe was Oberyn’s no doubt, the next princess of Dorne was kicking up a storm.
Ashara raised her eyebrows in a question; Ellaria took her hand and laid her palm over Elia’s, just in time to feel the next kick. “Welcome to the family, little one,” she said, threading her and Elia's fingers together.