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The Queen Who Knelt

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Rhaenyra was eleven when she learned about Maegor for the first time. 

It was a book on dragons which had piqued her interest. As the heir to the Iron Throne there were expectations of her, and the long hours she spent at the tutor’s table were an increasingly wearisome task. But that did not mean Rhaenyra did not enjoy her books. She did, and spent much of her free time in the Red Keep’s library reading, especially books like this one, beautifully illustrated by some maester’s hands. She studied the drawings of Balerion the Black Dread, her father’s late dragon, the greatest to have ever lived. And when she flipped the page, she gasped, for there was a drawing of a truly beautiful dragon.

Rhaenyra traced the silver beast’s illustration, admiring its shapely horns and wings, its pale fire. And then she read the accompanying paragraph. ‘Quicksilver, the dragon rode by King Aenys and his son Prince Aegon the Uncrowned. Slain at the hands of Maegor the Cruel in the Battle Beneath the God’s Eye…’ , she read. ‘ Battle Beneath the God’s Eye’? What battle is this? Rhaenyra got up and wandered to the section of the library devoted to history, and there she found books on Aegon’s Conquest, on the reign of the Good King Jaehaerys, on her father’s time as king. But she could not find anything on the battle or on Maegor the Cruel. 

When she asked her father, the King frowned and shook his head. “You are a little too young for that, Rhaenyra. You will learn that history someday, and it is a sad one.”

But no one likes being told that they are too young to know something, and so Rhaenyra’s mind kept coming back to the mystery of the man who had slain such a wonderful dragon. 

It was a day later when she, her brother Aegon, and Queen Alicent sat together when the question came to mind again. Rhaenyra and little Aegon sat on the floor at Alicent’s feet, Aegon painstakingly balancing wooden blocks on top of one another with Rhaenyra’s occasional help. Rhaenyra fidgeted for a bit, and then worked up the courage to ask. 

“Your Grace?” Rheanyra said, immediately flushing when the Queen raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t often that Rhaenyra would refer to Alicent in a respectful manner, and both knew that when she did, it was because she wanted something.

“What is it, Rhaenyra?”

“Who was Maegor the Cruel?”

Alicent gave her step-daughter a startled glance, and asked, “Where did you hear that name?”

“In a book in the library. They say he killed Quicksilver.” Rhaenyra was suddenly afraid that she was not supposed to know that.

Alicent sighed. “That he did.” Rhaenyra waited for the Queen to say more, but for a while Alicent was quiet. Rhaenyra gave an exhale of frustration and returned to Aegon, who by this point had begun pulling on her sleeve for attention. The pair returned to Aegon’s blocks.

“He was a brother to King Aenys,” Alicent said. Rhaenyra looked up and Alicent continued. “And he felt the Iron Throne belonged to him. In his quest to win his birthright, he killed his own nephew and slew Quicksilver.”

Rhaenyra winced, and turned back to Aegon, who by now had completed his project and stood next to a tower of blocks as tall as he was. He waved and babbled excitedly. 

Alicent leaned over and squeezed Rhaenyra’s shoulder. “His craving for the Throne,” she murmured, “cost him six wives, the life of his brother’s son, a dragon, and in time his own sanity.” Aegon walked forward, arms extended, and Rhaenyra pulled him into her lap. “It is a costly thing that your father has given you, little dragon.”

Rhaenyra didn’t reply, and instead tightened her grip on Aegon.

~~~

It was a few years later, in a stupid tourney with a stupid black dress on her shoulders that Rhaenyra realized a war was coming. 

They have already taken to calling us the Blacks and Alicent’s camp, the Greens. Rhaenyra felt slightly ill. Aegon is but a child. And then the thought came. So was Aegon the Uncrowned, once.  

The rest of the day, Rhaenyra watched numbly as knights went to joust, noting whose ladies wore black dresses, whose wore green. She smiled as her Criston unseated knight after knight, including those who had been given favors by Alicent. Will I be smiling when they meet on the battlefield? Rhaenyra’s smile fell and her gut twisted. 

The arrival of the Rogue Prince dispelled her thoughts for a time, but even that drama was marred for her. A third claimant. Or will you play kingmaker, Uncle? Will you side with me? With Alicent’s Aegon? Or will you seek it all for yourself? As she watched her father’s face, smiling in a way she had never seen before, a bitterness crept into her heart. In a good world, I would be as happy as Father is to see Uncle return to us. In a good world. But in this world, I have to think about strategy, about thrones and alliances and—

She needed air. With a quick word, Rhaenyra excused herself and left the hall for the courtyard, and then from there she wandered the Red Keep’s grounds. It was a vast, sprawling landscape, in parts delicately tended to in the ways that Queen Alicent ordered, and in parts barely kept, with vines and brambles growing freely. Rhaenyra aimlessly walked through it all, her mind racing as her feet followed the path. Then she stopped.

The path had led her to a clearing, and in the center was a weirwood tree with red leaves and a weeping red face. A heart tree , Rhaenyra realized, the ones the Northerners pray to. Rhaenyra’s faith was that of the Seven, but tonight she was in no mood to go to the sept, where she would doubtlessly find a Hightower of Alicent’s camp— a Green. So Rhaenyra walked up to the heart tree, and sat down, resting her back on the tree’s thick white trunk. And then, looking up at the night sky with the noise of the feast dimly echoing even here, she began to think. 

It’s not fair. Alicent knows I am to be Queen, why does she plot this? Why can’t she accept being what she is? Rhaenyra frowned. And she’s turned Aegon against me. The boy I taught to walk is gone, and a shrieking child is left in his place, a child who avoids me at every turn. She felt a prickling behind her eyes. In a good world, I would be his sister and he my brother, and there would be nothing between us.

“Your Grace?”

Rhaenyra looked up, startled out of her sulk. A boy her age bowed before her, and in the dim light of the distant torches, Rhaenyra could not make out his face. But she did notice the glint of a brooch on the boy’s black tunic, a brooch fashioned to resemble a wolf’s head. Rhaenyra quickly matched a name to the newcomer.

“Lord Rickon,” she said, waving a hand as the young Stark stood. Suddenly a flash of alarm raced through her. “Forgive me if it is not proper to sit like this, I know little of the Old Gods—”

Rickon laughed and shook his head. “There is nothing wrong with resting on a heart tree, Your Grace. I myself do so in Winterfell’s godswood whenever my mind is troubled.” 

“Tell me about Winterfell,” Rhaenyra said, suddenly interested. “I have only ever left King’s Landing to see Dragonstone, Oldtown, and the Eyrie.”

Rickon shrugged. “Winterfell is home,” he said. “It is a large keep, nearly as large as the Red Keep. But most of it is empty in the summer.”

“And in the winter?”

“In the winter, the smallfolk from Winter-town and the nearby area are let into the castle, where they will stay until spring comes. Winters are harsh in the North, Your Grace, and Winterfell is blessed with hot water springs. The smallfolk make use of them and the castle’s food stores until the thaw comes, when they can return to their fields and lives.”

Rhaenyra sighed. “I envy the smallfolk,” she said, looking up in surprise as the solemn Stark heir let out a snort. 

“Your Grace,” he said, amused, “countless peasant maidens would happily swap places with you, if you were to wish.”

“Then they are fools,” Rhaenyra said, bitterness seeping into her voice. “They live lives free of intrigue, lives in which a family can be a family, with no back-stabbing, no plotting, no—”

Rickon sat down besides her, Rhaenyra scooting over to make room for him as she spoke. The pair leaned on the heart tree, and then Rickon interrupted her. 

“You are wrong,” he said. “The lives we live are far more pleasurable than those of the smallfolk. You fret over jockeying for the Iron Throne, but to a farmer’s sons, their plot of land is far more valuable.” In the dark, he turned to the princess. “Even if, Gods forbid, Prince Daemon was named heir to the King tomorrow, you would live in comfort for all your days. If one farmer’s son takes the land, the other risks starvation.” 

“I would not live in comfort,” Rhaenyra said softly. “Aegon the Uncrowned and Maegor the Cruel did not let each other live in comfort.”

“They could have,” Rickon said. “Had Maegor been content with his position, or had Aegon accepted that the crown was not to be his—”

“Not to be his?” Rhaenyra hissed. “He was the rightful heir!

Rickon sighed. “And in the end, he died. Thousands died, everyone from the rightful heir to the lords to the knights to the smallfolk. Was it worth it?”

Rhaenyra did not answer. Would it be worth it, Alicent?  

“And that is the crux of the matter,” Rickon said. “When the lords and ladies go to war, the smallfolk pay every time, and there is no escape for them. For us, there is a way out. And when we take it, everyone avoids the horror of war.”

“It takes a special person,” Rhaenyra muttered, “to take that way out.” A flash of anger ran through her. What would you have me do, kiss Alicent’s feet and embrace life as her maid? “Has there been anyone in all of history fool enough to give up a crown?”

“There was one,” Rickon said. “Torrhen Stark, the King Who Knelt.”

An awkward silence fell on the pair, as Rhaenyra simmered in embarrassment over her faux pas. “Forgive me, Lord Rickon,” she finally said. “I meant no disrespect to your House—”

“There is nothing to forgive, Your Grace.” Rickon awkwardly sat for a bit. “May I have your permission to speak freely?”

“Of course.”

“You value the Iron Throne too much.”

“It is the legacy of my House!”

Rickon sighed. “It is. And it is House Targaryen’s great tragedy.” 

~~~

The next time the pair met was in Winterfell. 

In the two years since the tourney at King’s Landing, things had only gotten more tense. The picking of sides had begun with Rhaenyra and Alicent’s inner circles, but it had spread to the rest of the house and then the servants, the other noblemen, even the Kingsguard.

Father is no fool, he can clearly see the lines being drawn. Won’t he do something? Rhaenyra would inwardly scream at the king during small council meetings, but Viserys did nothing about the rapidly worsening situation.

Here in Winterfell, thankfully, the sorts of intrigue which plagued King’s Landing were completely absent. An exchange of vows had sealed the deal, and there was no sign of any Greens. 

These Northerners are an honest folk , Rhaenyra thought. Given their liege, it’s not hard to understand why.

Rhaenyra stole a glance at Lord Benjen, who sat at the king’s left side. He was a grim-faced man, a man aged by experience. Worn down by living in this icy land. Rhaenyra continued to look at the Starks, and on the other side of Lord Benjen, her gaze was met by another. 

Rhaenyra looked away, embarrassed, but then stole another glance. Rickon Stark

The boy Rhaenyra had met in the Red Keep’s godswood had grown over the past few years, into a young man who Rhaenyra found herself admiring. He has a comely face. A slight pink settled on her cheeks. And the rest of his figure is quite pleasant to look at as well.

The feast continued for a while, and people began to leave the great hall. Upon seeing Rickon take his leave, Rhaenyra did the same, her sworn shield Cole trailing after her. 

“Lord Rickon,” she said to the young lord. “It is good to see you.”

“I am pleased to see you as well, Your Grace,” Rickon replied. “Are you returning to your rooms?”

Rhaenyra shook her head. “No, not right now. I just wanted to be out in the cold for a moment.” She smiled at Rickon’s bemused expression. “It’s very different from our weather, back in King’s Landing.”

“Do you like the weather here?”

“I do.” Rhaenyra stretched in the cool air. “A person can relax here, not swelter in the humid air.”

Rickon laughed. “It is still summer, Your Grace. Winter weather may have you pining for King Landing’s heat.”

“Perhaps.”

The pair stood awkwardly in the night air for a moment, Criston Cole a few steps behind them. Then Rickon extended an arm.

“Last we spoke, you wanted me to tell you about Winterfell. Now you are here. Would you like it if I showed you our keep?”

Rhaenyra dismissed Cole with a smile and a wave of her hand, walked up to the young Stark, and looped her arm through his. “I would love to see it.”

And so Rickon gave the Realm’s Delight a tour of the heart of the Iron Throne’s largest realm. He showed her the greenhouses, the ten thousand year old godswood, the hot springs which bubbled deep in the castle, and the library, which had the largest collection of texts written in the Old Tongue in all of Westeros.

As the pair made their way to the outer wall of Winterfell, Rickon leaned over and whispered, “There’s one more place you must see, but I am not sure if you want to leave the keep, especially without your Kingsguard protector.”

Rhaenyra grinned. “I suppose I will have to trust you to be my protector.” Rickon returned her smile, and the two of them made their way to the stables. A little while later, a horse galloped out of the gates, heading for Winter-town. Rickon brought the horse to a stop in front of a tavern, and then he dismounted, before turning around and helping Rhaenyra to do the same.

The pair made their way into the tavern, where Rhaenyra beheld a boisterous scene. There were groups of people, smallfolk and merchants, chatting over rustic dishes and drinks. There were dancers and a bard, playing some Northern tune on his lute. Rickon grabbed Rhaenyra’s hand and pulled her to a pair of seats in a quiet corner.

“Do you like it?”

Rhaenyra looked around. “It is unlike anything we have in the Red Keep.” She smiled. “It is a happy place.”

Rickon studied her for a moment. “Have you ever left the Red Keep, and wandered through King’s Landing? Father always says one must know the people who one rules.”

Rhaenyra’s face fell. “No,” she sighed. “King’s Landing is not a city where someone can wander alone, especially not a highborn. And were I to bring a Kingsguard with me, I fear that I would not see the truth of the city.”

Rickon nodded in understanding. “The Throne demands much from the heir, it seems.”

“It does.” Rhaenyra played with one of the rings on her fingers. “In truth, it is not the Throne which demands the most from me. It is the battle for the Throne which keeps me awake at night.” She looked up at Rickon. “I do not fear the smallfolk of King’s Landing. I fear a dagger in an alley, a dagger in my back.” A dagger from Oldtown. “And even if I avoid an assassin, I cannot avoid war.”

“The Blacks and the Greens,” Rickon murmured.

Rhaenyra laughed. “So news of our factions has made its way to Winterfell?”

“The entire realm is aware of them. Everyone knows we will have to choose one day.”

Rhaenyra nodded, and rubbed her face. “I don’t want there to be a war, Rickon.” She looked away. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want Aegon to die, or Queen Alicent to die.” She studied the tavern. “I don’t want to ruin countless lives over the Iron Throne. I am not Maegor.”

“Then ask the King to name Prince Aegon his heir,” Rickon said. “If one of you two steps aside, the other will ascend without need for war.”

“Why must I be the one to step aside?” Rhaenyra scowled. “It is mine by right.”

Rickon sighed. “You do not have to step aside. You can press your claim when the time comes. House Stark will stand with you. But then you must accept the cost. Prince Aegon and Queen Alicent and Princess Haelena will die or suffer great misery. Many knights will leave home never to return to their wives and children. Many taverns like this one will lie in ruins, and the smallfolk will suffer most of all.” He reached over and gripped the princess’s hand.

“Do you think the Greens will kneel when the time comes?”

“No.”

“Then you must, if war is to be avoided.” Rhaenyra sighed, and for a while the pair was quiet, holding each other’s hands in their little corner of the world. When Rhaenyra finally spoke, her voice was low.

“You are right.” She looked at Rickon sadly. “But Seven forgive me, I am ambitious. I would have liked to govern the realm. I think I would have been a fine queen.”

Rickon looked away. “Perhaps you will never govern the whole realm. But there is a way you could govern half of it.” His cheeks colored and Rhaenyra laughed as she realized the implication.

“Milord Stark, if you want to marry me, speak freely. There is no need to hide the heart’s desires in a political cloak.” That said , she admittedly inwardly, I do think I would be happy, being Lady of Winterfell. Especially with Rickon Stark at my side.

“Marry me then,” Rickon said, staring at her intently. “You have a good heart, an empathetic intelligent mind, and you are truly beautiful. I think I have loved you ever since we met in King’s Landing. I would be a good husband for you, I think.”

I hope I can be a good wife for you.

~~~

The five of them met in Viserys’s chambers: the King himself, Queen Alicent, Rhaenyra, Prince Daemon, and Lord Otto Hightower. When Rhaenyra had told the king of her wish, he had been infuriated, and that anger simmered in him still.

“Why, Rhaenyra?” Viserys barked, his fingers drumming on the table. “I have overturned precedent, I have taken legal risks for your sake. All of this was supposed to be for you, to see you on the Throne when I am gone.” He scowled. “And then you came to me, asking for a boon. And what was that boon? To make Aegon my heir! Do you have any appreciation for the sacrifices made for your sake?”

Rhaenyra looked up at that. “I do,” she said softly. “I do appreciate all you have done for me. The reason I ask this is to prevent the need for more sacrifices for my sake.”

“What do you mean?”

Rhaenyra closed her eyes. “If I were to become Queen, the next day Lord Hightower would call for his banners, and Aegon would march to war for the crown.” She raised a hand to silence the Hand’s indignant response. “Perhaps he would win, and in that case I can only hope he would grant me the mercy of a quick death, or at least one with minimal humiliation. Or worse, if I were to win, the law would demand I order my own brother’s execution. Thousands would die to decide which one of us would have the honor of being a kinslayer.” She opened her eyes, and wiped at the tears which had begun to form.

Viserys had a stony expression on his face. “You cannot live in fear of hypotheticals, girl. Lord Hightower has sworn his loyalty to you.”

“Words are worth only so much,” Rhaenyra murmured. “Father, please. There was once an Aegon who fought for a crown and died. Don’t make me into a Maegor. You’ve heard the talk of Blacks and Greens, I know you have. Please, do something now to stop it.”

Viserys sighed. “You will not be able to run away from all of life’s challenges.” He glanced at Rhaenyra, with a resigned expression. “I will give you this. I am not happy about it—I wanted to see Aemma’s daughter succeed me. But if this is what you think will bring peace, then I will do it.” He glanced at Alicent. “I trust you agree with your daughter?” Alicent nodded, her eyes betraying the joy the Queen felt. “Very well. But remember, Rhaenyra. There will come a time when you will have to do the hard things, and not take the easy path through life.”

A moon later, the lords and ladies of the realm watched as Rhaenyra knelt before Aegon, and as the triumphant Greens celebrated the naming of a new heir.

Afterwards, Rhaenyra and Aegon sat together in a quiet alcove in the Red Keep. “Why?” Aegon asked, after a while. “I had thought you loved the throne more than anything.”

“You were wrong,” Rhaenyra said flatly. “We were close once. I love you more than the Throne. I love Helaena more than the Throne. I even care more for Alicent than the Throne—at least, I would not buy it with her suffering.”

Aegon averted his gaze. “We were close, once. When I was small.”

Rhaenyra laughed. “When you were very small, when you had just learned to walk, you were my shadow, following me up and down the halls of the Red Keep.” Her smile faded. “It is a shame we grew apart.”

Aegon nodded, and then awkwardly said, “We have little time now. You will be wed soon—” Father got the raven from Winterfell, and I gave it my blessing— ”And it is my hope that when you depart for your new life, we will leave each other as friends.”

“I would like that.”  

~~~

The wedding took place in the Red Keep, in front of the heart-tree where so long ago Rhaenyra had met the man who would become her lord husband. House Stark had little use for a wedding in a sept, and both Rhaenyra and the King agreed it was prudent that the new Lady of Winterfell embrace Northern custom. Queen Alicent had been very enthusiastic about the affair as well , Rhaenyra thought. Southern lords will tolerate the Old Gods, but they will have little appetite to fight a succession war for the sake of a woman who is beholden to them . For Alicent, the wedding was the final blow to the Black cause, and she was a cheery woman indeed.

It was a balmy day, and Rhaenyra noted with some amusement that Rickon and Lord Benjen were sweltering under their doublets and tunic. A day or so more, dear. Then we will return to chillier climes.

The wedding was a quick affair, and Rhaenyra’s maiden cloak was soon swapped for a white cloak with a gray wolf embroidered on it. The following day, she and Rickon found themselves on Syrax’s back, traveling to Winterfell, the rest of the marriage party traveling by carriages on the ground beneath them. 

Her life there was a busy one. The North was a region as vast as the other kingdoms put together, and Rhaenyra soon found herself juggling the complex politics of appeasing and balancing the various factions in the kingdom. She was happy.

House Stark was happier still when Rhaenyra grew pregnant. 

Cregan Stark was a quiet baby, and the old maids in the castle noted that he was the exact image of his father, back when Rickon had been an infant. Rhaenyra loved her son dearly, and a fortnight after his birth, she took him with her on flight. Mother and son flew in lazy circles above Winterfell, and as Rhaenyra clutched her son in one hand and Syrax’s whip in the other, she felt at peace. 

That feeling would be something she would enjoy as Cregan grew into a man, and after Rickon’s passing, into the Lord of Winterfell.

~~~

Despite all she had done, all she had worked for, there was still a war. 

It was Aemond. Aemond, who Vhagar had chosen. Aemond, Alicent’s pride and joy.

Rhaenyra had wept bitterly when news of the twin tragedies in King’s Landing had reached Winterfell. Cregan had murmured soothing words into his mother’s ears as she clung to him and raged, but nothing he said could undo what had been done.

Father is gone. Father who raised me, who taught me all I knew, who wed me to Rickon, who did so much for me is no more. His heart failed.

And if that were not enough, my Aegon is gone. Aemond slew Aegon, sweet Helaena, and his children. He butchered my baby brother. He killed my sister, nephew and niece before Father’s body had even been cremated.

That night, Rhaenyra and Cregan sat in the latter’s study, reading and rereading the letters which had come to them from King’s Landing. One was an official letter from the Grand Maester’s own raven on behalf of the Iron Throne. The other was a letter from one of Rhaenyra’s spies in the Red Keep, a scullery maid. 

“Uncle—”

“He is no uncle of yours,” Rhaenyra said stiffly. “He killed your uncle and your cousins.”

“Prince Aemond,” Cregan amended, “Has named himself King. He commands us to attend his coronation.”

Rhaenyra shook her head. “He is a fool.” Rhaenyra brushed the other letter with her hand. “The news of the kinslaying will spread quickly. The Hightowers will be split between those who are loyal to Alicent, those loyal to Aegon’s memory—” her voice caught— “and those loyal to this king. Aemond has slain Prince Daemon and Lady Royce’s goodson-to-be, and the Vale will not bow to him.” Nor will the North . “Rhaenys and her Sea Snake will not side with a kinslayer when other options exist.” 

“That leaves him with the Westerlands, the Stormlands, and whatever houses in the Reach that side with him.” Cregan frowned. “That is no small force, Mother.”

“We have dragons,” Rhaenyra said quietly. “He has Vhagar, the greatest one alive. But we will have Syrax, Caraxes, Meleys, and Seasmoke. They say Daemon’s natural daughter has tamed one on Dragonstone as well.” She looked at Cregan. “We could win this war quickly.”

And there would be a war. Rhaenyra may not have been willing to risk a war for her personal ambitions, but she would gladly fight one to see her brother’s killer removed from her father’s throne. Would Rickon? She remembered the smallfolk whose hearth she had shared all those years ago. Then her face hardened. Some things cannot be borne. No cowmaid would let the murder of her brother go unpunished. Nor will I.

A week later, Rhaenyra took flight on Syrax’s back, and made her way to Runestone, where the Rogue Prince waited. Meanwhile, from Winterfell the ravens flew, to the Dreadfort, to White Harbor, to Last Hearth and all the other keeps which were sworn to House Stark. The North would march to war.

Mercifully, it was a short war, lasting a little over a year. Rhaenyra saw no action in the war itself, as seasoned warriors like Daemon and Rhaenys had little use for a novice. Rhaenyra’s service in the war effort had been mostly in the form of reconnaissance for the Stark bannerman. Atop Syrax she had been able to sketch out maps of the Green forces below for Cregan’s use. 

But in truth the North and Vale’s forces had encountered little resistance, and the bulk of the fighting had occurred in the Reach, where rival houses had used the excuse of Aemond’s ascension to solve old grievances by the sword. It had been there where Rhaenys and Daemon had slain Aemond and Vhagar, in the skies above Oldtown. News of the kinslayer’s death had traveled quickly, and when Cregan Stark entered King’s Landing, he found no resistance. In the Red Keep, he found the frightened Queen Dowager and Prince Daeron, held hostage by a group of commoners who had taken control of the city in Aemond’s absence.

It was then that the dragon awoke in Cregan.

In the maester’s books, they would call it “The Hour of the Wolf”, when Cregan Stark anointed himself Hand of the late King Aegon, and pronounced justice on the forces of the upstart Flea and whatever was left of Aemond’s camp. When all was said and done, a thousand men from all walks of life were sent to the Wall and a thousand more were executed. Before returning to the North, Cregan appointed his lady mother to his post, and for the first time in its history the Iron Throne had a Lady Hand. And then, as the Stark bannermen marched home, the city waited for the return of the other Targaryens.

~~~

Rhaenyra and Alicent sat in Viserys’s solar, Prince Daeron sitting by his mother’s side. In a matter of days, Prince Daemon and Lady Rhaenys would arrive, and a new ruler would be crowned. Rhaenyra studied the woman sitting across from her, and Rhaenyra felt an ache of sympathy and grief in her chest.

Queen Alicent had won. Aegon was the heir— oh my, I remember our bitter fights before then, foolish as they seem now— and she was set to enjoy the rest of her life, see her son and grandson on the Iron Throne. And then for love of a throne Aemond destroyed it all.

Rhaenyra felt sorrow run through her again at the memory of Aegon’s death, but it was a dull ache now, something which she would remember at random points in the day. Alicent and her had scattered Aegon’s, Haelena’s, and their children’s ashes in Blackwater Bay as soon as they had been able to. I am glad we did. The funeral did Alicent good. It did me good. Now that their deceased family was at peace, Rhaenyra felt those who still lived could move on.

“Your Grace?” Rhaenyra gently said.

Alicent looked up from her hands and gave Rhaenyra a sad smile.

Rhaenyra took Alicent’s hands in her own. “Prince Daemon and I have decided on who will be Aegon’s successor.” In truth, that is why Daemon has not arrived. Rhaenys, himself and I have been constructing this compromise, and it must be perfect.

Alicent sighed. “Who will it be?”

“Lady Rhaenys,” Rhaenyra replied. It will not be me, but the Seven Kingdoms will be ruled by a Queen at last. “And Daeron is to be her heir.” The prince looked up sharply at that. “Daeron will be betrothed to Baela, Daemon’s daughter by Lady Velaryon.” And so Daemon’s blood will finally find its way to the throne.

Alicent nodded, her mind turning the plan in her head. “And Prince Daemon agrees to this? Is he content with only a grandchild being King?”

“He will succeed me as Hand,” Rhaenyra said. “I will be returning home after Rhaenys’s coronation.”

Alicent closed her eyes. “Must you go? You are a Targaryen, a dragonrider. Rhaenys, Daemon, myself, Daeron— all would benefit from your support in court.”

“Rhaenys will be fine, she has the Vale, the North, the forces of House Velaryon, and Daemon’s might to support her. And she will protect you and Daeron. As for me….” Rhaenyra smiled tiredly. “I am a Stark. I will return to Winterfell. It is my home.”