Actions

Work Header

A Seashell in the Tide

Chapter Text

The first time Daenaera Velaryon saw Lothar Bracken, she was a maid of fifteen, already turning into one of the most praised beauties at her grandfather's court, with the violet eyes shaded by long lashes that her mother was praised for and the refined features that had made her grandmother Dyanna Dayne the most adored woman at court in her time, rivaling Shiera Seastar herself. Slender and graceful, with a long mane of silver hair that she wore loose, with only a string of ruby to keep it back from her face, she could hardly make a step out of her chambers without being surrounded by a flock of admirers. Was it Edmyn Tully, recently widowed with no heir but the little girl who presented him to her? Or Donnel Swann? She couldn't remember, just like she couldn't remember anything particular about their early acquaintance – that was how little impression the boy made on her. Later, she would notice that he was one of those who showed no interest in courting and praising her which was quite odd in itself. But he wasn't rumoured to show interest in any other girl either which was why she was quite unpleasantly surprised to hear his name in the same sentence as her own.

"I don't think the idea is good, Your Grace," the Hand of the King was saying. "By the sound of it, the young Bracken won't know what to do with a girl like Daenaera."

She stood frozen, her hand still against the door of her grandfather's study.

"Indeed?" King Maekar's voice was gruff as usual but there was irritation underneath. "Are you sure that's the problem and not, say, his family, my lord Hand?"

Lord Bloodraven huffed and said it bluntly. "I happen to know that the young Bracken shows all signs of Aerys' inclinations."

Silence. Then, her grandfather's voice again. "Your little spies again, eh? You never gave up on them. I really don't know why I still bother with a Master of Whisperers at all…" A pause. "That's a shame. We could have bound those damned Brackens to us while Bittersteel still lives…"

Daenaera's heart was in her throat. No, no, no, she kept repeating soundlessly, as if she could sway the King's decision her way. He won't do this, she tried to reassure herself. For all the problems with his sons, Maekar Targaryen was ready to do just about everything for his grandchildren – and Daenaera, the eldest among them, held the top seat in his heart.

"Well," Maekar said, "it was a good chance. But of course, I am not going to make another Aelinor out of Daenaera. When she weds, it'll be to a man who can and wants to take her to bed."

Her relief was such that she almost burst into the room to hug him. Only the thought that then, he'd know she had been eavesdropping stopped her. It was not that she had set her eye on someone in particular but she most certainly didn't want someone who didn't want girls. She liked men. She wanted to do her duty. She wanted to bear children one day. All the things that, from their brief acquaintance, she was sure she wouldn't have from Lothar Bracken. She said a silent prayer to the Seven for sparing her – and for her grandfather.


Less than three years later, she sat on the couch in the new King's solar, listening to her mother and uncle arguing over the same subject.

"It isn't that simple, Daella," King Aegon was saying. "The Riverlands are a pot already boiling. I would have rather have Edmyn Tully for her but as you know, Father was against the match and now, it's too late, he's already wed. I dislike the idea as much as you do…"

"I doubt it," Daella Gargalen cut him off offhandedly. "I cannot help but notice that it's my daughter you're ready to sacrifice to him. Why didn't you promise him your Shaera, pray tell?"

"Shaera is too young," Aegon replied, trying to keep his composure. "And being the Lady of Stone Hedge is hardly a torture. I…"

"Being a wife of a man who's practically a eunuch is, though!" Daella reminded him. "No, Aegon, just forget about it. You provoked the disgruntlement with your lords, you save yourself. Leave Daenaera out of it. She isn't a pawn you can sell to the defective customer to deprive Bittersteel from his kin's support."

"We're all in it together," Aegon sighed. "If I fall, you fall as well and you know it. I pray it'll turn out better than you fear. He's still so young. With Daenaera's beauty…"

Did he believe the nonsense he was spewing? Daenaera couldn't say for sure. The Queen took a seat next to her on the couch and patter her hand but the girl extracted it angrily. Whatever Aegon did, he did it with Betha's support. Such was their relationship, much like the one that existed between Daenaera's mother and her husband, yet now Betha was ready to deprive Daenaera not only of such a bond but a true marriage at all. Another Aelinor out of Daenaera, Maekar had said. Another Aelinor out of Daenaera…

"You aren't being fair, Uncle," her brother Alyn spoke, quite civilly but no less determinedly than his mother. "We all know that Lothar Bracken will never consummate the marriage. We share friends and I know a thing or two about him… He won't do it even if Daenaera stands on her head and go to sleep like that. He just isn't interested."

Aegon looked troubled by this confirmation but didn't look away. He seemed to have taken his brother Aemon's advice too much to heart. Kill the boy, the Maester had said. The uncle Daenaera remembered from only three years ago would never force such a monstrosity upon her but King Aegon the Fifth of his Name only sighed. "I am very sorry," he said, looking at his sister.

"I do not agree to the match," Alyn said but even Daenaera knew it would not change a thing. Her brother had reached majority only a month ago and their uncle had been the formal ruler of Driftmark for him, just like their grandfather had been before him. Alyn simply didn't have the authority to be taken into account. Not against the King.

This time, Aegon did look away. His face was grey and haunted and that gave Daenaera some savage joy. At least she wasn't the only one to suffer, although his pangs of conscience would not last very long.

"I won't do it," she declared.

"You will," Aegon said.

"You cannot make me," she said defiantly and crossed her arms on her chest.

"Indeed I can. The stake is very high, Daenaera, and I regret that you have to pay the price. But he isn't the bad sort, they say. Perhaps with time he'll get used to you…"

At this moment, Daenaera was ready to throttle him. Her mother tried. Betha only shook her head and Daenaera heard her mutter something about never learning what not to say.

The new Lord Commander of the Kingsguard was left wondering if his duty included saving the King from his sister's wrath but finally he arrived at the reasonable conclusion that should Aegon want to, he could shake Daella off himself. For now, he just tried to keep her hands away which was not an easy task because she clawed at him like a furious cat, aiming for his eyes. Still, Ser Duncan looked at Lord Gargalen for a cue but the Dornishman just stared at his wife with no intention to intervene. He was against the match and had said so in blunt terms.

"You're going too far, Aegon!" Daella yelled. "Is my daughter this pitiful that she should wait for some so called man to get used to her? I think not. Just forget about the idea. I can't believe you're being this brazen. I won't agree."

"No one asked you," he finally snapped back, reaching for her hands again but not holding tight – he didn't want to hurt her, after all.

"I wish Father were alive! Him, you would have asked… oh yes!"

Aegon laughed curtly. "Yes, and he would have made his opinion quite clear, with his ridiculous doting on the children… But he isn't here, is he? We're alone in this mess, with lords who insist on harassing the smallfolk…"

"And that's why you think it's fine to harass my daughter instead?" Daella screamed. "Do you know why you are now so brave all of a sudden, dear brother?" she asked mockingly. "Because Father died, that's why. You weren't so brave to step over me and my children when Maekar Targaryen was alive…"

"I won't wed him," Daenaera said again, loudly. "I won't say the words."

Now, she, too, was screaming with horror and betrayal. Tears ran down her face. Her mother didn't know if it was Daenaera that she should calm down or herself, she was so enraged.

The meeting ended without anyone convincing the others in their rightness.


"Why isn't Aunt Daella here?"

Betha frowned at her daughter. "Hush now, Shaera, we're busy."

"But why isn't she here?" the girl insisted. "Isn't she going to come to the sept?"

"No," Daenaera said, looking indifferently down to her lap while her cousin was staring admiringly at her reflection in the mirror. "My mother doesn't want to attend this farce…"

Her voice was flat. She let the Queen and a few handmaidens brush her hair out, arrange the heavy folds of her sea-greeen bridal dress, touch some paint to her face. By now, she was quite sure that they had put something in her water this morning. There was no other way she'd feel so languid and indifferent to the upcoming wedding ceremony. She couldn't even muster any anger because of the calming potion – which was the best indication that there was a calming potion.

Shaera's eyes were wide with excitement. She was young enough to know nothing of unwanted marriages and husbands who did not desire women. She only knew that Daenaera's husband to be was tall and handsome and Daenaera was the most beautiful girl at court.

"I want to be a bride like you one day, Daenaera!" she announced and her innocent words almost broke Daenaera's tranquility. She shook her head.

"No, Shaera, do not speak so."

The Queen was deathly white, as Daenaera noticed with delight.

She did not protest when they finally led her to the Great Sept. Once or twice, she saw a reflection of her silver figure in the looking-glasses they passed by and each time the same thought came to her mind: that was what the Stranger must really look like. At one time, she thought she was even grateful for the potion they had slipped her because it helped her not to shake… but they had miscalculated the dose. Which she did not announce.

Just like announced beforehand, Daella was not in the sept. Alyn had refused to come as well, so each of the hundreds of guests started whisper when the King himself took his niece's hand and led her to the statues of the Father and Mother. Her future husband waited there. He did not look as terrified as she would have felt without the potion. Vaguely, Daenaera realized once again how handsome he was. Dark and handsome, the type of man that actually appealed to her. What an irony!

The High Septon was muttering something that was lulling her to sleep. But when at one point, there was silence and she realized that it was her turn to say the vows.

"I am not getting wed," she declared.

There was a slight movement among the crowd. The High Septon gave the King a look of confusion.

"Go on," Aegon ordered but he did not look at Daenaera. He was ashamed. As he should be!

"I do not accept him as my lord and husband!" Daenaera tried to yell but the High Septon just raised his voice and drowned her in the blessings.

"I do not pledge my loyalty!"

No effect.

"No, no, no!"

But no one waited for her vows anymore. They just proclaimed her the heir of Lord Bracken's wife.

She tried to cling to her cloak but the King ripped it away mercilessly. "Please child," he whispered. "Please do not fight me. It'll be easier for you…"

It was already late at night when Daenaera realized what had happened. And then, another primal fear rushed into her, shaking her like leaf: she had humiliated her new husband in front of everyone. And soon, they'd be alone…

"If something happens, yell," the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard told her as she moved down the hall to go out and into the bridal chamber, having been spared the humiliation of the bedding, at least. "I'll be there. I'll come."

She wanted to weep because of his concern. And it did soothe her a little, although her worries proved baseless: when Lothar Bracken entered the chamber, he didn't look ready to punish her. He didn't even look angry. He simply undressed and laid down without lifting a finger to beckon her. So Daenaera sat down at the window and stared at the black sky all night long.

And that was how their life together began: under the curse of the dark moon and the hopelessness of barrenness.

 

Chapter Text

"I thought you were praying."

Daenaera slowly turned around to meet her goodmother's disapproving stare. Lady Alyssa was a pious woman and no doubt found great fault with her goodaughter wandering through the area around the sept without actually entering.

"I am not," she said. Behind Lady Alyssa, Daenaera's handmaiden looked at her lady, silently asking if she should stay. Daenaera nodded that she could retire.

It was a nice day of sun and breeze. All around Stone Hedge, men and women were running on their errands, invigorated. In the practice yard, a few knights trained. Daenaera felt so disconnected from all that. Lady Alyssa didn't look joyous either. Daenaera had never seen her anything but sadly composed. Not that any woman wed to the Brute of Bracken could find much joy in anything. Daenaera was very fond of her but sometimes, the old woman was just too overbearing, especially with her hints of what Daenaera could already say was coming…

"Perhaps you should pray to the Mother," Lady Alyssa said.

"What for, a miracle?" Daenaera snapped.

Suddenly, the older woman grabbed her by the hand, the first time she was being rude. Daenaera was so stunned that she didn't react.

"Listen to me," Lady Alyssa spoke urgently. "I am not blaming you for what's going on…"

Yes, you do.

"But it cannot go on like this. He must come to you. You must give us an heir before things get out of control. Jonos is already throwing insults at his brother..."

And growing bolder towards me, Daenaera thought but she knew Lady Alyssa wouldn't say anything about that, although she must have noticed. The interest that her goodbrother showed her was getting more overt by the day. She knew this fire in a man's eye. They were not far from the moment when he'd try to kiss her. She had made it into a habit to never leave her chambers unaccompanied.

A prison… This old castle, oppressive in its imposingness, had turned into a real prison, getting narrower by the day. Eight years had passed since she had first set a foot here as a bride and every day, her hatred for the place grew.

To her surprise, her goodmother looked her in the eye. "I know it isn't easy for you either," she said, her voice softening a little. "But it's getting more dangerous here by the day. I won't say you do anything to provoke it with your gowns or manners, I won't speak against my conscience, but evil constantly attends on your steps. All you need is to look at someone or move a little to catch people's eye. That isn't a work of the Seven. Jonos is in the thrall of that curse…"

A curse, goodmother? Daenaera could not help but admire the way the woman had found to live with what was going on without forsaking either her son or Daenaera. A curse. Poor Jonos could not be blamed… Well, that was his lady wife's opinion as well. She blamed Daenaera for her husband's infatuation and already spreading words about her and her barren womb.

Daenaera waited for a while, wondering if Lady Alyssa would mention the looks her own husband, Daenaera's goodfather, gave her when drunk enough to lower his guard. But she didn't, yet something in her eye told the young woman that she knew about that as well. She thinks I've brought the Stranger to her home, Daenaera thought sadly. She drew breath.

"Perhaps it's time for me to visit my mother in Dorne," she said and the relief on Lady Alyssa's face, albeit expected, still gave her pain.


Just like she had expected, the change in environment proved quite useful. Sometimes, she thought that besides the Velaryon, Targaryen, Dayne, and whatnot blood flowing in her veins, she must have some snake blood as well. Why else would she bear the scalding sun without even getting a sunburn? Just two weeks under the Dornish sun, bathing in the sea and having long walks – blissfully without having to look around for Jonas – she finally started looking like her former self. But then, this was true each time she got to visit Daella here. Lack of responsibilities and prying eyes made her feel like flying.

"So, when are we going to the Water Gardens?" she asked her mother as the two of them sat in Daella's solar, Daella with her sewing and Daenaera with a book.

"Whenever you say."

The Water Gardens were Daenaera's favourite memory of Dorne. She had dwelled there for a while when her mother had wed the Dornishman and she had never felt more free or happier as she had been there, in the white foam, charging against others in the water that caresses of the sun always kept warm.

That was how a few days later Daenaera found herself seated across a pale marble table from the Princess of Dorne on a terrace overlooking the waterworks. The children below were either more numerous than she had imagined, or she had forgotten just how many of them the palace could house. She told so to Lady Carissa who only smiled. "That's what my son says when he returns after a long absence," she said. "And your brothers as well."

She reached for the branches of theblood orange tree that almost reached their table from below, outside the terrace, and picked a fruit. Daenaera's eyes were drawn to the golden chain with braided threads adorning the Princess' hand. At a closer look, she realized that they formed a snake with ruby patterns and dragonglass eyes.

Carissa noticed her look and smiled. "Mors gave it to me last month," she explained. "To make up for his former mistress' demeanor. The girl had brought it into her head that she could give orders to my ladies and claim in public that it was she who held his heart."

Daenaera wondered what had happened to the unfortunate girl. No doubt she had presumed too much but Daenaera hoped the Prince and his Princess hadn't driven her into the desert naked or something. If their daughter was something to go by, they very well might. Arianne Martell, the heiress of Dorne, would wed Daenaera's half-brother in a year and Daenaera still couldn't imagine what kind of marriage those two would have. Rumour had it that they were incredibly attracted to each other, yet neither of them shunned other company. Daenaera couldn't understand that but well , she was a maiden against her will, at the age of twenty-five. The diversity of life and feelings was avoiding her as committedly as ever.

"Why are you looking at me like this?" Arianne asked and Daenaera smiled.

"It's nothing," she said and the girl closed her eyes, ready to go to sleep in the heat.

Until they heard voices from the pillar gallery, at which point Arianne was suddenly wide awake and flying out the door. Since she did not bother closing it, the women could see her throwing herself at a boy towering over her, then dragging his head down for a kiss. Without bothering to look around, they went down the gallery, his arm around her shoulders. From time to time, they stopped for a kiss.

"They hadn't seen each other in months," Princess Carissa said, smiling, not disturbed at all. Daenaera looked at her. Even though she was quite used to the Dornish ways, such overt display of affection in front of one's mother still disturbed her. Perhaps it was because of the unnatural state of her own life. Maybe it changed her perceptions of people and their souls – not for good. Her brother and Arianne would wed, so where was the harm?

The Princess saw her face and shook her head, laughing a little. Under the terrace, the children gave savage screams in their new, just as wild game.

"I'm afraid that the maidenhead horse bolted the stable long ago," Carissa said. "What we insist on is not being made grandparents before the wedding. Preferably at least nine months after. That, at least, is a goal that Arianne and Alric can achieve."

"I am not sure right now," a voice said from the open door. "She looked so happy to see him that I think she forgot about all of your rules."

Carissa swiftly turned back and her smile of surprise and delight took years off her. "Lewyn!" she exclaimed and rose.

He kissed her hands and then embraced her. At the first moment, Daenaera could only see the Princess' face, alight with pleasure at seeing her son. Daenaera knew that Lewyn Martell had not been in Sunspear for almost a year. It was no wonder that Carissa was so happy. Daenaera felt a pang of envy at the thought that she'd never experience such joy. She'd never have a son. Or daughter. Nothing.

Finally, the Princess stepped back and her son came near. The sun shone in his black hair, turining it indigo. He must be very young indeed if he was younger than Arianne but somehow, it didn't show on his face. Perhaps it was because of his eyes. Black like embers. Or the eyes of viper. Not the eyes of a starry-eyed boy. Now, his body was another matter. He had yet to grow fully into his long limbs. Still, he moved confidently enough, without looking as if he was wondering what to do with his arms and legs which was more than Daenaera could say about her admirers in her youth. At least those who had been her age.

He finally noticed her and his eyes widened. He bowed his head respectfully. "My lady," he said and looked at his mother for explanation.

Reluctantly, Carissa make the introductions. "Daenaera, may I introduce my son Lewyn? Lewyn, this is Lady Daenaera Bracken. She's…"

"I know who you are," he interrupted, still looking at Daenaera. "I've always said it was a pity that Lady Daella didn't give the world a daughter, instead of all those boys," he added, giving a mocking look at his silver-haired companion who only smiled and made a gesture as if saying, "By the Seven, you're so kind, my Prince.". "It looks that I was right."

"Not quite," Daenaera said. "Have you forgotten about my little sister?"

"Too little," Lewyn said, dismissing her with a wave of his hand. "Perhaps she'll make the world happier with her beauty but not for many years yet."

Daenaera bit back a smile. She had heard such words quite a few times, too often sounding recited, contrived. But he looked like the words had just occurred to him. At his age, she had been just an accomplished flirt as he seemed to be. It was not something that could be learned. One either had it, or not.

"So," Carissa said pointedly, "would you tell me how it was at Tyrosh? No! Don't sit on that couch! What are you thinking? We'll never be able to wash the sweat off. Come to think of it, go and have a bath. Then, we can talk."

"I have only one question," the boy sat and obediently stayed away from the coach. "You have come to stay, my lady, right? We're more entertaining than the Brackens, it's warmer here, and we're far nicer to look upon…" he finished, giving her a wink.

Daenaera's lip quivered again but she fought this smile off as well, although it was harder this time. "I intend to stay for the wedding," she said. Granted, it was a year until then but it wasn't as if she'd be missed. He was right, so right, although he had only been flirting. There was nothing for her at Stone Hedge. And she wouldn't return at court. She had hated it ever since Alyn had died in the fighting to put down Lyonel Baratheon's rebellion. And she was not averse to showing Duncan her scorn. He could have at least faced the man alone but no, he had been too scared of a man nearing his fifties to fight his own battle after so many died for him.

"I am overjoyed to hear that," Lewyn assured her. "Why so short?"

Now really angered, Carissa gave him a look that made Daenaera shiver. Probably the look she had accomplished what she wanted to when he had been little. "That's enough. Go away and bathe so one is safe around you. You may see Lady Daenaera at supper if you remember that she's a lady and the your usual company you keep, or else you'll end up like… like Rhonda Sandstone!"

Was that the name of Prince Mors' mistress? Former mistress. Once again, Daenaera wondered what had befallen the woman.

After such a scolding, one might expect that the boy would go away in shame. Not this one. He grinned at Daenaera and promised, "I'll dream of you, lovely Daenaera, this night and every night from now on!"

This time, she laughed aloud at his temerity. Alas, that didn't humble either. He walked away, looking pleased with himself, and Daenaera shook her head to clear it.

"What was that?" she finally asked.

The Princess started peeling the blood orange and giving pieces to Daenaera. "Just Lewyn being Lewyn, I'm afraid. Don't mind him. He really doesn't mean to be disrespectful. He didn't choose to be stupid."

Behind her, the young Mikkel Gargalen stirred. Daenaera caught his eye and frowned. Despite the seven years and half of Westeros between them, she and the eldest among her half-brothers got each other just fine. Don't feel embarrassed, he was thinking. She likes him. She thinks him amusing.

Don't you go there, Daenaera warned silently.

Why, he asked and gave her an innocent look of purple eyes, a few shades lighter than his own. Don't you find him charming?

No. And don't look at me like this. I really don't find him charming.

All she got this time was the arch of a fair brow at which point she determinedly stopped giving him attention, refusing to regal him with a look even when he, too, turned and left because, of course, his sweat was not welcomed on the Princess' fine couches either.

Later, she might tell him to inform the other boy of her age. That should cut Lewyn Martell's interest off immediately. She looked much younger, everyone said so but she was still twenty five. Probably ten years older than the boy. Yes, that would do. Because, somewhat to her chagrin, she did find him charming. Which was pitiful, of course. By now, she should have been a mother of three, not seeking escape from her husband's home and wondering if she should find someone who was not even fully grown charming. But alas, it was not to be. She did not dare think what the rest of her life would be like.


Mikkel found her in the long gallery connecting the Tower of the Sun to some smaller, less official buildings. Daenaera stood near a column, drawing deep breaths and gazing out at the stars twinkling above the sea. In the torchlight, her dark scarlet gown bloomed like a flaming flower of colour and life, like the ruby rose stuck in her hair.

"Does he trouble you?" Mikkel asked without preamble.

Daenaera stared at him, marveling at his perceptiveness. Alyn certainly hadn't been this attuned to people's moods at age eighteen. None of the men she knew had been. And she knew she was putting up a good show on the reception meant to honour the visiting Pentosi magister. She was just as witty and charming, and chatty like any other Dornish lady, and just as ready for ripostes and flirtations. It didn't take her any efforts since she was genuinely witty and enjoying male company. By all rights, Lewyn Martell's unwavering attention should be something to shake off easily which she did. Just like she shook off easily everyone else – and there were plenty of those.

Still, he troubled her and she could not say why. She found him amusing and surprisingly mature for his age but there was a divide that she felt acutely. She was certainly not attracted to him the way he seemed attracted to her. He was… well, he was a boy. No matter how genuine he looked and believed he was, she didn't take him seriously. And yet he troubled her, and Daenaera couldn't say why.

"I don't know," she admitted. And then, accusingly, "You told me that he'd stop paying attention to me when he got to know my age!"

"Unfortunately, that turned out to be a wish of mine that was not to be," Mikkel replied drily. "Are you coming back inside?"

"No," Daenaera replied. "But you can go."

She was not in the mood to converse. Somehow, she could feel what he'd say. He and Alric both seemed to think that she should just take Lewyn to her bed and be done with it. They couldn't see a reason for her not to. Even their mother and aunt had hinted once or twice that Daenaera should take her chances where she could find them.

But neither of them walked in her shoes. Neither of them knew the fear that rose her from sleep when she tossed in bed over and over, the fear that if she gave up, she'd find herself dependent on men for what her husband would not give her. Despite the lack of personal experience, she knew that women could feel pleasure as fully as men did. And beside that? Was her fate to turn into one of those needy women chasing after men to beg for love and affection to fill their empty lives with? All the while looking over her shoulder because a walk of atonement was not something she was looking forward to.

Never. That was how Daenaera thought. She was a proud woman. She'd never place herself in a position to ask and beg to be loved and desired. Never. Even if she had to spend the next fifty years of her life the way she had spent the last eight.

The last thing she needed was someone to admire her and inadvertently show her all the things that she had missed on. All the things that she could only catch for a moment and never hold, her palm opening when the new tide took her.

 

Chapter Text

The next time Daenaera met Lewyn Martell, she was thirty one and attempting to break through a door without hurting the person behind it. A nursemaid and two servants anxiously shifted their weight as they waited for someone to arrive with the ax that they, of course, could not use because – the person inside.

By now Daenaera honestly wished to the Seven that she had just stayed in her chambers for a day longer to recover from the journey. Instead, she had opted for spending time with her young nephew and that was what she was doing now – behind the different sides of the door.

"Doran," she tried again, trying to speak calmly. "Would you open the door?"

"No!"

For a moment, she tried to think that she had not heard him right. He had seen barely two namedays. Surely he had some trouble speaking clearly? He must have said, "Yes". And this was definitely not glee that she had detected in his voice. Not at all.

Who was she jesting with? Sighing, she turned around hoping to see the servant with the promised ax. Instead, she found herself face to face with Lewyn Martell, now towering over her. In spite of the situation, she felt warmth inside as he recognized her immediately and smiled. "I didn't know you were here," he said. "I'm just arriving from the desert."

Daenaera smiled back. "That was not how I imagined my first days in Sunspear," she admitted and his smile widened.

"He locked you out?" he guessed and she laughed a little.

"How do you know? I swear, I left him alone just for a moment as I spoke to Lady Wyll…"

Lewyn didn't answer. Instead, he went to the door and made a great show of tapping and rattling. Then, he shook his head helplessly, just when the ax arrived. Daenaera raised a hand to stop everyone from coming near or talking. She didn't know what Lewyn had in mind but she was definitely interested. He was still smiling.

"That was very good, Doran," he said calmly. "Can you show me how you did this?"

Impossible! Doran would not believe such an obvious trick, would he? A moment later, Daenaera realized that no matter how smart he was, he was just two. Of course he'd believe it. He was so proud of himself that he truly wanted to show his uncle how clever he was. A moment later, they were inside and Daenaera glared at the latch that was totally innocent in all this.

"Does he do that often?" she asked when Lewyn had been shown how Doran had pushed a footstool to the door and climbed on it to do the latch.

Lewyn just shrugged and indicated that she should listen to the child talking to his toys. One of them was stomping its feet on the floor and screaming and the other snapped that it should stop it. Then, it grabbed the first toy and held it immobile. "You'll stay here until you learn to stand in one place," it said angrily, in such a good imitation that Daenaera grinned.

"Alric?" she whispered, and Lewyn nodded.

"They are in the palace sept, I think. But watch him, it becomes more interesting …"

Indeed, the Alric toy still held the other captive. The second one didn't promise that it would behave, though, because…

"Your time is limit. My isn't."

Daenaera gasped. "He understands the concept of time?"

"And that Alric's is limited," Lewyn confirmed. "His own isn't, so he usually outlasts most of his parents' punishments. We'll just have to wait for him to grow conscience. The fact that he's smart enough to take information and understand it doesn't mean he knows what to do with it." He scowled. "That's Arianne and Alric's fault. They wanted a child who would be very smart. They hadn't reckoned in the fact that cleverness without self-restraint is not a good thing. And he's too young for self-restraint."

Daenaera considered this. An overly smart child didn't look like such a great thing, indeed. But she wouldn't mind one. She wouldn't mind any kind of child. Just as long as she had one. Not that this was going to happen.

"Have you seen Arianne?" she asked sharply, cutting herself off those thoughts.

Lewyn nodded. "As soon as I came. She'll get better."

"Of course she will," Daenaera agreed, trying to sound confidently. Arianne had just lost a babe, a second one, in a chamber of blood and sobs. A miscarriage. An early one.

For a while, they were silent, watching Doran and his toys.

"I have to host the arrival of the Tyroshi delegation tonight," Lewyn suddenly said. Under those circumstances, Daenaera wasn't surprised. That was probably the reason they had summoned him from the desert. Not that she had asked out of genuine interest to his whereabouts, of course. "To be the Martell who welcomes them. Would you want to sit with me? Play hostess?"

Daenaera hesitated. Something in her screamed that she was starting something that she might not know how to get out of. But he was so grown up now, entirely different from the cocky boy he had been a few years ago. He was well-mannered, nice and didn't press her. Why not? It wasn't as if she'd be expected to do anything but spread her charm around. The festivities had already been planned.

"I would be happy to do so," she said and the joy crossing his face was so vibrant that the alarmed voice in her head howled again. She paid it no mind.


This time, it was very different. His courtship of her was discreet – so discreet that she could easily reject it with a single, soft word. But she didn't say it. She quite liked their little flirtation and the feelings it stirred within her breast – and some other parts. He recommended books from the library dating back from the times of Valyria, accompanied her to the Water Gardens and back, arranged the daily entertainments he took care to learn she liked. At the feasts, she sat next to him and watched the people in the hall whispering, trying to guess if there was something between the two of them. No one could claim that there was, everything was so measured, unlike his undisguised admiration and blatant attempts to seduce her in everyone's sight six years ago.

"I heard you've filled in for me quite admirably," Arianne said one night when a small company was sitting in her solar in the Water Gardens. Lewyn and Daenaera had come from Sunspear; Mikkel and his lady Isanne had arrived straight from Salt Shore.

Daenaera looked up. "I have?"

She looked so surprised that Arianne laughed. "Didn't you know?"

Was that what she had been doing? Filling in for the heiress of Dorne? Prince Mors and Princess Carissa were at King's Landing; Alric devoted all his time to Arianne in her slow, painful recovery. Lewyn fulfilled his sister's duties in ruling as well as his own. Where did this leave Daenaera? She was not quite ready to answer this question.

The light slowly faded and even the voices of the children grew more subdued. Somehow, Daenaera had never thought that they could ever get tired. The pale sunlight lent some colour to Arianne's pale cheeks, disguising the terrifying emaciation. Daenaera had heard that this miscarriage had almost drained her dry of blood, more than what was typical for such instances.

"Are you coming back to Sunspear next week?" Daenaera asked carefully and saw how both Lewyn and Alric tensed, expecting Arianne's reply.

Her goodsister wasn't quick to answer. "Perhaps," she said. "I don't know."

Silence and doom filled the chamber and then Lewyn determinedly put an end to that mood. "I am going rowing tomorrow," he announced. "A trip to the Isle of Dreams. Someone care to join me?"

His eyes were on Daenaera as he was saying it. Instinctively, she wanted to decline but when she looked away, she saw something so amazing that she just forgot about that. Isanne was shaking her head firmly and giving her looks like, "Don't you dare!" Isanne, her goodsister from the Vale. Isanne who still had trouble accommodating to Dornish ways and what she saw as lack of morals. Daenaera was so stunned that she actually thought about the proposal. Why not?

"We are," Mikkel replied and gave Alric a quick look. Then, everyone looked at Arianne who slowly shook her head, so Alric declined as well.

She must start living, Daenaera thought and wondered if this was what the rest of them thought about her.


"I could live there till the end of my life," Daenaera said, looking back at the island. Isle of Dreams, indeed. It was certainly something that looked as if it had come out of her dreams, blue and wrapped in shimmering mist. The flimsy dress was still clinging to her, the hem heavy with water. Her hair was matted by swimming and she felt happier than she had in years.

"I could not," Lewyn said from behind the row. "I love it but it's too quiet. Way too peaceful."

"You would last a day, though, I think," Mikkel said from his row.

Lewyn looked offended. "I'd last two if you please!"

Daenaera laughed.

Their small trip ended right in Sunspear since Lewyn was needed there early the next morning. That took about two hours more and when the Old Palace appeared in view, Isanne and Daenaera looked at each other in horror. It was so far away…

Unfortunately, they were recognized which only delayed their arrival. People shouted as enthusiastically for Lewyn as they had for King Aegon when Daenaera had been young. She smiled a little sadly, remembering her grandfather. Competent and caring, Maekar Targaryen had not been loved. He simply didn't have the gift of drawing people to him that Aegon and Lewyn had.

"What's wrong?" Mikkel asked.

"Nothing," Daenaera lied and tried to chase the pulsing in her head away.

"Are you hungry?" her brother asked. "I know I am."

Daenaera nodded and then realized that Lewyn had noticed the gesture.

"We won't reach the palace any time soon," he said. "But I think I can fix the situation…"

He looked around and before Daenaera knew what was going on, he headed for the stalls with open furnaces at their left. Just by turning her head, Daenaera took in the enticing aroma of a small cake filled with something. Her mouth watered.

Lewyn smiled at the old woman behind the stall and reached for his pouch. "May I have two?" he asked.

She only gaped at him, stunned. Daenaera realized that she was doing the same only when the woman was faster than her in closing her mouth.

"The Prince wants cakes!" a child cried excitedly, tugging her by the arm, and the woman startled into action, filling the loaf with some meat and rolling it in cheese.

"Thank you," Lewyn said politely, taking the cakes.

Daenaera bit at one without hesitation and felt the taste of grape and chicken. And honey! It was incredibly tasty. Next to her, Lewyn had attacked his own cake. Then, they realized the silence around them. Lewyn turned to the crowd, grinned, and said cheerfully, "It's good!"

The crowd roared with delight.

"How do you do it?" Daenaera asked a few hours later, sitting at the terrace overlooking the sea. "They love you so much. All of you."

The young man considered this and shrugged. "I am not sure," he said. "I suppose it's a family thing. But being liked is no substitute for being competent."

She nodded thoughtfully. "Do you ever regret being born second?" she asked curiously. "Anywhere else, you would have inherited."

"Never," Lewyn said without hesitation. "Duties and responsibilities are hard enough as they are. I wouldn't want Arianne's for the world." He paused. "Or the world peeking under her sheets."

There was anger in his voice. They both knew that the rumours about Arianne's barren womb were already spreading, making it worse than it was.

"I cannot imagine how the rest of Westeros can be so stupid," he said after a while, staring out at the stars. "Depriving women of their rights just because they're women."

Daenaera would have lied if she said she hadn't thought about inheriting Driftmark. She was older than Alyn. And the way things were, when he had died without heirs, she had lost against their distant cousins, so the line of Corlys Velaryon and the Queen Who Never Was had lost Driftmark forever.

"Women are deprived of a good deal of things just by being women," she said bitterly. She could not imagine a man staying for fourteen years in the sham of marriage that had been forced on her. Her hatred for the husband who didn't mistreat her in any other way was growing by the day.

The look in Lewyn's eyes told her that he knew what she meant.


The next morning, they awoke together in a tangled web of sheets. Daenaera moved her head slightly to release the hair pressed under his bare back but he rolled over and she found herself captive to her own silver locks. That seemed to amuse him because he laughed and held her closer. "Come here, and I'll let you go," he said.

She scowled but did as she was bid. To her surprise and indeed, relief, he didn't try to heap his passion on her. Instead, he spread a hand across her belly rubbing it. "Does it hurt much?" he asked.

"No," Daenaera said, not quite sure if it was true.

"Next time, it would be better," he promised. "And in a week, you won't even remember that it used to hurt."

Daenaera gave him a look of doubt, hiding her relief that there would be another time after all. She was probably the clumsiest companion Lewyn had ever taken to his bed. A thirty-one year old maiden!

"I'll keep you to this," she said lightly.

"I hope you will." His hand came up, caressing the hollow between her breasts and then her neck, the line of her jaw, her cheek. "I didn't really expect that you'd be… I mean, I know there are men who aren't interested in women or sex at all. King Aerys was one such. But I still couldn't believe that about that disgusting Bracken."

Daenaera curled up against him and laughed a little. "Why disgusting? He won't be a bad lord. He didn't commit any crime but make me unhappy…"

"That's what I'm talking about!" he explained and she realized that she was feeling like a young girl when she was anything but.


Her return to Stone Hedge was marked by the breath of the Stranger: Lord Bracken was on his deathbed. Daenaera couldn't really say she was sorry. He had never treated her badly but he had never been warm to her and his desire for her had been evident. One threat less to fear…

"I'd like for you to provide your brother with a home of his own," she told Lothar as soon as the mourning period was over and his immediate agreement filled her with rage because it indicated that he knew what had been going on, the harassment his brother had subjected her to, the fact that she had had to bodily push Jonos away more than once – with the Mallister boy's help once, even! - and he had done nothing. Not only did he fail as a man in bed, he failed at his other manly duties as well. She was supposed to be under his protection and he had provided her none. She looked down immediately, lest the vent her anger.

Lewyn would have never let anyone treat his wife like this, she thought. But Lewyn would make sure that everyone knew his wife was his wife in everything, wouldn't he? The thought of him ever getting wed upset her, so she focused on their ten months together where everyone important in his life had known that she was his woman and from her silvery head to her bare feet she had been a woman loved.

Lady Alyssa only shook her head sadly, making no attempt to defend her youngest. The explanation of the evil surrounding Daenaera might be a comforting one but the results were grim all the same. She didn't want a scandal. And it wasn't as if her son was going into exile or something.

Daenaera's goodsister, though, took it quite differently. The day they were to leave the castle, she lost her nerve and started screaming about harlots, seven hells, and the hunger of empty womb. In the great hall, where everyone could hear. Lothar only looked away, pretending to be deaf. Naturally! Lady Alyssa murmured something which the other woman ignored.

"You aren't yourself, sister," Daenaera said coldly. "Have a cup of tea and compose yourself. Aren't you happy that you'd have a home of your own?"

Lady Mylandra laughed shrilly. "It won't be forever," she promised. "One day, I'll return as a mistress of this place. For all your cursed beauty, you lack something in bed if you cannot attract your lord husband but only Dornish animals…"

For a long, terrible moment Daenaera feared that Mylandra had somehow come to know. She and Lewyn had become rather careless at the end. Even Prince Mors had lost patience and more than once, she had heard him barring his son's way to her chamber. Their quarrels had become fiercer – Mors angry, Lewyn even angrier. Your passion for her is more than I can put up with, the Prince had spat. Had someone else heard?

She gave her goodsister a look of utter boredom. "Are you done?" she asked contemptuously. "Very well. Leave, then!"

Mylandra didn't move. Jonos smirked. Daenaera realized that just a moment later, she'd be a subject to new ridicule. She could not make them leave. No one here would obey her wishes with Lothar present and impassive. Her shame would only grow…

"My lady," a soft voice said. The young Mallister, Patrek, the one who was always deferent and eager to do things for her. She had been amused and touched to find out that she had been an object of infatuation to a boy of fourteen when she had been twenty seven herself. Since the moment her goodfather had fostered him, he had been smitten with her, trailing after her like a puppy. He had grown out of his puppish ways but not his wish to do things for her. "I believe Lady Bracken asked you to leave."

To Daenaera's great amazement, that finally stirred Lothar into action, albeit a small one: he nodded and his brother and goodsister were taken out of the great hall, Mylandra still shrieking. Daenaera stared after them and thought of Lewyn. She had no doubt she'd be allowed to visit her mother soon. Just because their station had changed, that didn't mean that Lothat had changed. And she fully intended to take what she could out of life before it threw her in a new seastorm.

 

Chapter Text

When the dawn broke on the horizon, bringing a soft rosy gleam inside the room, the boy's posture had become a little easier. His face had lost the terrible redness showing the struggle to breathe. The hand grasping the sheet released it. He opened his glassy eyes, looked at his mother, recognized her and tried to smile before going to sleep – healthy, recovering sleep.

The castellan's wife looked up, her eyes welling up with tears of gratitude. "Thank you, my lady," she whispered. "Thank you so much."

Daenaera rose and grimaced a little, rubbing her back. She was tired, so very tired, but overjoyed. "Gratitude should go to the one who taught me," she said. "She was a good and meticulous teacher."

"I'll pray for her every day," the woman promised most eagerly. "For her and you."

I have no doubt that you will, Daenaera thought. Would you have if you knew her name, I wonder? She looked at the five-year-old and then looked away quickly, focusing on gathering her herbs and oils. Had Shiera Seastar felt the same way? Was that why she had taken Daenaera, by then almost still a child of eleven years, under her tutelage? Had she, in her dotage, perhaps regretted the decision that had forever robbed her of mothering children of her own body? The things that we do to ourselves, the woman had said more than once. Lately, Daenaera had occasionally started wondering what Shiera had done to herself. There could have been no doubt that Bloodraven had loved her – and in Daenaera's mind, the reverse could not be doubted either. Had Shiera been trying to fill a void like the one tearing Daenaera apart?

In the four years since she had become Lady Bracken, Daenaera had finally carved a place for herself at Stone Hedge, finally. She enjoyed the love and gratitude of her husband's vassals and household. And yet, it was not enough. Never. She was well aware of the rumours that she took such interest in helping other people's children because she was longing for her own – and she had never tried to punish those who spread them. Because they were true.

She reached for a vial and started wiping the neck off. She was now thinking about Lewyn. She always thought about him. Especially when she was tired and in need of reassurance. Angrily, she pushed the image away. She was not doing herself any favour. She and Lewyn, they had no future. And even if not for Lothar, they would have not had it. He was nine years younger, for the Mother's sake! Daenaera had just a few more years – ten, with the best of luck – before she started losing her looks. Undoubtedly, he would turn to other, younger women then.

But not yet. Heat rose in her stomach at the thought that just tomorrow, she was leaving for Dorne. Smiling, she finished her packing and headed back for her chambers.

A shriek rose in her throat at seeing a man's form silhouetted against the heavy curtains. But it had not found its way to her lips when she recognized him, stilled and wondered…

Fifteen years ago, or even ten, she would have started hoping. Now, she knew better.

"What is it that you wish of me, my lord?" she asked.

"You're leaving in a few hours," Lothar replied.

Blood roared in her ears. Would he try to stop her? If so, she'd shriek and fight her defiance all the way to high hell and back, for all the good it had done her at their mock of wedding. She would not let him…

"I just wanted to wish you a safe journey," he said. "I know you're happy there and I trust you'd do nothing to besmirch the good name of our House."

He believed no such thing. Daenaera quickly looked down. He knew what she did in Dorne and that was his way to tell her that he didn't really mind – and warn her, as well. She cared about his warnings not. His tolerance only made her derision rise. No man should be this tolerant. He should have cared what his wife did! She knew she would have cared even if she hated him – which she was starting to do.

Freedom. Dorne. Lewyn. So close.


Sunspear met her without enthusiasm. Like the Prince's family, the city was mourning the death of the infant, the little prince Arianne had finally managed to bear after three miscarriages. Daenaera's heart broke at the sight of the closed door to the nursery and Arianne clinging to a small soft ball. She didn't look happy to see Daenaera. Indeed, it looked like nothing could make her happy, ever. Alric's return would have helped but he was far away, at the Reach. Daenaera had seen him on her way here. It would be at least another week before he made it back.

"I wish I was in her place, as terrible as it is," Isanne whispered in Daenaera's ear when they were left alone, and Daenaera looked at her in terrified wonder before realizing that for Isanne, it might make sense. Unlike Daenaera, she was a woman who was desired by her husband. Fifteen years of marriage and nothing, not even a miscarriage. Isanne must feel as faulty as I feel unneeded, Daenaera thought as she was making her way to Lewyn's rooms.

Everyone in his chambers knew about their relationship and that was why Daenaera was so surprised when she noticed the hesitance of his attendants and servants. They would not look her in the eye. Their reverence felt too great. Indeed, they looked as if they were trying to delay her entering. And when she stepped into Lewyn's bedchamber, she realized why this was. In their hasty cleaning up, they had forgotten the small table ridden with a number of items that could only belong to a woman: a handheld looking-glass, already covered in dust, a few vials of perfume, an exquisite hairbrush, a few jars of facial paints.

Daenaera spun around to face the pale man who had reluctantly ushered her in. "You've been quite negligent in your work here," she said coolly, removed her heavy bracelets and threw them on Lewyn's very bed, as if she wanted to show someone her superiority. Then, she turned back to the door and left without hurry, although she felt sick.

It wasn't as if she had expected that Lewyn would be celibate. They only had a few months a year. Or two years. She knew that he had other women but those were usually shooed away when she sent word of her impeding arrival. Seeing the evidence of his other relationships stung more than she had expected. She bleakly wondered just how much time she actually had with him. Soon, the age difference and time apart would catch up with their relationship… if they hadn't already.

Yet when she woke up abruptly two nights later, she felt him in bed next to her without seeing him in the darkness. "I've missed you," he murmured and took her in his arms, and when the next night they made it to his chambers, there was no trace of the other woman's belongings but Daenaera's bracelets were still where they had been.


"I want to wed you," Lewyn said and Daenaera laughed.

When he didn't push the swing she was sitting in, she turned her head and looked at him to discover that he wasn't laughing.

"Don't say this," she warned. "You know it cannot be."

"Why?"

Because in a few years, I won't be able to catch up with you; because as much as I admire your mother, I could never live like her, to have a loving husband but one with a roving eye, and you cannot be anything but. Soon, my beauty will leave me and what will I have then? You'll chafe at the chains bonding you to me.

"Because I am wed."

"Are you?" he asked calmly and paused. In the distance, the shouting of the children got more exuberant with the approach of twilight which chased away some of the swelter reigning in the Water Gardens. Daenaera wanted to have a bath in the pools with Lewyn but with the Prince and Princess in residence, she could not bring herself to have him ask for the usage of their private pool. "Has there been a change in the state of your marriage that I have not been informed of?"

Daenaera shook her head. "Of course not."

"Then why? Do you not want me?"

"Of course I do!"

"Then why?" he repeated.

Daenaera sighed. "Lothar will never agree."

"Because you care so much about catering to Lothar's wishes," Lewyn said contemptuously; startled, Daenaera wondered how he had become so attuned to her moods. He had no way to know of her hatred of Lothar. Her husband was a forbidden topic between them and she was sure that neither her mother nor Arianne had started blabbering about her confidences to him.

"I don't," she said.

In the spur of a moment, he was in front of the swing and towering over her. "Is there someone else?" he asked fiercely.

Daenaera blinked. "What?"

"Is it the Mallister?" he pressed on.

Her eyes widened. "Are you mad?"

For some reason, that only made his anger grow. "Do not play me for a fool, Daenaera. Is it him?"

"Is it the woman who had her things all over your room?" Daenaera shot back.

Alas, that didn't cower him. "She's just someone to cheat time with. I am talking about something else."

"And cheat on me as well," Daenaera snapped, vaguely realizing just how ridiculous that sounded. She was cheating on her husband with a younger man and she talked about being cheated on by the man she was cheating with.

"If you say yes, there won't be any other women," he snapped. "Can you say the same?"

The conversation was getting more and more bizarre. She gave him a wary look. "What are you talking about?"

His eyes were anything but loving. "Last time I was at King's Landing, there were men from the Riverlands as well. Some of them knew you."

She was still not following him.

"That Mallister," Lewyn said, clearly angry that she was making him spell it for her. "The lord's second son. I think he loves you as well. Is it because of him that you hesitate?"

Finally, they were making some progress. Daenaera didn't take him seriously, of course – the boy was younger to her than even Lewyn. But it sent a thrill through her to see that he was just as tormented and jealous as her.

"Very well," she said. "Let's try."


Of course, at the end they lost, like they should have known that they would.

"Daenaera is lying," Lothar Bracken said evenly. "The marriage was consummated and I'll swear it."

"The Seven disdain those who lie to their faces," the King said evenly and Betha gave him a warning look. Antagonizing Lord Bracken was not the way to achieve anything.

"Why do you want this marriage to continue, my lord?" she asked amiably. "I thought Daenaera was not… to your taste."

"She's to the taste of my vassals," he answered. "She's an excellent lady of Stone Hedge."

His reply was an expected one. Really, he wasn't saying anything that should have surprised anyone. And yet the simplicity of it sent chill down everyone's spine. In their almost twenty years of marriage, they had not managed to achieve even the tiniest closeness. He wanted Daenaera just for her efficiency. And for saving face.

"I won't be one anymore," Daenaera vowed, realizing belatedly that this was another way she had built her own prison. "And you know the consummation is a lie."

He gave her a look as if she had wronged him. "Would you care to be examined by maesters and midwives?" he asked and this time, she screamed with rage and flew at him. He shook her.

"Do not try it again," he said.

"Let her go!" Aegon ordered sharply and made a step towards him, ready to snatch Daenaera bodily away if he didn't let go.

He did.

"We all know it's a lie," the King went on, ready to go to the heart of the matter without mincing words. "And we just want to put an end to this torture without anyone getting hurt. What do you want for your cooperation?"

Lord Bracken shook his head. "You cannot pay me enough."

And everyone realized that they had encountered what men in power feared most: someone who wanted nothing that they could offer.


 

"I can't believe it!" Lewyn burst out when Daenaera told him about their failure. "And the King just accepted it?"

"There wasn't much that he could have done," Daenaera admitted reluctantly. "This time, I cannot blame him. I am the one to blame. If I hadn't been this hasty…."

"… you would have still been a maiden," Lewyn finished for her. "No, Daenaera, no! You are not at fault. And neither am I. I'll now go and…"

"Go where?" Daenaera asked and his answer stunned her. She could hardly believe him but just an hour later he was where he had claimed he would go.

"Let me get this straight," the King said. "You want me to oversay the Faith… how?"

"I don't know," Lewyn replied. "And I don't really care, Your Grace. I just want to wed Daenaera. And I also want to squash her worthless husband," he added.

Aegon sighed. The audacity stunned him but he did not find it offensive. Had he ever been this young and in love? Yes, he had. He wanted to give this Lewyn Martell to Daenaera but it was not within his power. The Tullys were not fully reconciled with the Iron Thone yet. The unrest in the Riverlands was as strong as ever. And in Essos, the Blackfyres were still a threat. No, he could ill afford to lose the Brackens. And he really could think of nothing to bribe them with.

"You owe it to her," Lewyn insisted.

The young Martell had gone too far! Aegon tried to stare him down. "And who are you to tell the King what he owes someone?"

"I am not talking to the King right now," Lewyn snapped.

"He's talking to the man who paid for his children's mistakes with ruining his niece's life," Lord Gargalen elaborated.

Aegon looked away. He and Daella's husband had been friends once. Yet another thing he had lost to the Crown and making up for his children's choices.

"You don't understand," he told Lewyn. "I hope you do, one day."

Lewyn shook his head. "I won't, Your Grace! I'll never understand how someone can doom their blood for life to cover for their own children's mistakes and watch her fade without feeling an ounce of remorse."

"I do feel it. More than you can possibly imagine. But there are things that are bigger than her happiness – or my own."

"That's easy enough for you to say," the Dornish prince snapped, looking at the Queen meaningfully.

Finally, Aegon felt that he had tolerated him long enough. "Do you realize that I have the right to give you over to the Faith or call for you to pay for your confessed sinning with a woman wed?"

Lewyn glared back. "And who is going to make me pay for it? You and your sons don't have a good record of fighting your own battles. As to the bear over there," he added, looking at the Lord Commander, "I am no Lyonel Baratheon, with the weight of his age. I am a man in my prime. I'd love to fight him, actually, if the prize is Daenaera Velaryon."

But no matter the threats and hostilities, nothing could give him Daenaera for his wife, save for death or agreement on Lord Bracken's part. One was as likely as the other. In other words, not likely at all. By taking the risk to make their wishes know, Daenaera and Lewyn had brought fate over themselves. She'd never be allowed to Dorne again, as long as her husband lived.

 

Chapter Text

A long summer poured its blessings over the Seven Kingdoms – rich harvest, good time to repair one's home, good feed for livestock in one's pens. It also spilled its curses liberally – the disease of stagnant water, people dying here and there from the sun bearing down upon them. And the suffocating air, always that. In King's Landing, life took a break for a few hours after lunchtime every single day; often, this clogging of mind stretched well into the evening when people couldn't focus on anything for long, too hot and dazed to think straight.

That was just Daenaera's state when the sun started sinking. She didn't dare turn her head the way of the motion she caught in the corner of her eye because she knew that should she let herself even the tiniest distraction, she'd have trouble returning to the letter from Myr. She was tempted enough to march off to the Master of Coin's study and pass the letter to him. After all, Myrish lace was within his scope of duties, right? It had nothing to do with handling foreign affairs which had been Lothar's obligation for the last year or so…

She sighed. Who was she kidding? Myrish goods were a matter of utmost importance. The Blackfyre rebellions, all of them, would look like an innocent children's game compared to what would happen if the nobility of Westeros was deprived of their items of luxury. So, she kept struggling with the words written in Myrish – she spoke it fluently and did not need a translator – and wondering why the magisters had, clearly, never heard of scribes. It would make her work so much easier!

When the text finally started swimming before her eyes, she finally looked up and found out that the motion she had kept before had been placing a goblet of cooled wine at the table on her left. She took it and sipped, then, realizing just how thirsty she was, she drank it thirstily.

Her half-sister shook her head, pretending shock. "You did it like a habitual drunkard," she said. "Is this what politics does to a person?"

Aelinor was only joking but the descending darkness, the weariness and the concern roused old ghosts: Daeron, King Maekar… Daenaera had always felt a great deal of affection for her haunted uncle and he had reciprocated. As the years went by, she was starting to realize why he had always gone out of his way to indulge all her whims, why he had always stared at her with sadness he tried to contain. He must have known just how wasted and unneeded her life would be.

"Perhaps," Daenaera said, smiling. She refused to give up to self-pity. Things were better now. She looked at Aelinor's smiling face and thought how strange it was that the girl had not grown up at court of dark premonitions and dreams, and shadows birthing shadows enveloping everyone's life. Daella's longtime rift with her royal brother had provided Aelinor with a very earthly existence where her duty was to her family and Dorne alone, not prophecies and dragons waiting to be born. Daenaera pushed the goblet away. "I won't have any more of that, though," she said. "I must get ready for the feast and I haven't eaten today. It'll go straight to my head… Why aren't you ready, by the way?"

The girl shrugged. At thirteen years of age, she was not yet possessed of feminine vanity. Instead, she took the letter and squinted at it. "But it's illegible," she announced and looked at Daenaera. "Father says that's one of the reasons he regrets taking up the position of Master of Ships."

A sudden memory made Daenaera smile as she rose and headed for her bedchamber, with Aelinor following suit. "I can imagine what the other reasons are," she said. "There was the time when our lord grandfather insisted that your father left the Dornish fleet and join the Small Council as his Master of Ships. He said over and over that his goodson could not want to spend his life in the company of pirates, smugglers, brawny fellows who could not form a sentence, and criminals taken straight from the dungeons."

"And what happened?" Aelinor asked curiously, scouring through Daenaera's hairbrushes.

Daenaera smiled fondly at the memory. "The proposals came to end one night when Alor had had enough and announced to the whole family's hearing that although he and the King seemed to have dealings with the same sort of people, at least he took heart in the comfort of being able to send some of them to the wet grave and have others beaten to bloody pulps while Grandfather routinely had to invite them over and throw lavish receptions in their honour."

The girl laughed and sat on a nearby coffer as Daenaera submerged herself into the scented water in the wooden tub for a quick soak. "What's this soap?" she asked curiously as the new scent rose to her nostrils.

Daenaera shrugged and rattled off some of the substances. As she lathered herself, careful not to get her hair wet, and then dressed and brushed her hair out, Aelinor watched her as if memorizing a lesson. They chatted about this and that, about why Rhaelle looked so wan those last days, about the new Tyroshi arrival and the prediction of autumn coming soon, and Daenaera felt pleased that her mother and stepfather had brought Aelinor to court. This sister who could be her own daughter! Aelinor was quick-witted and graceful and she admired Daenaera which was beneficial for her. Daenaera was not ready to admit, even to herself, the first twinges of true insecurity. Aging had always been something she had dreaded, for she only had her charm and beauty. She still had those, still possessed the confidence of a beautiful woman but the first signs of aging were now reality and she was stunned at just how hard it was to actually accept it. She got tired more easily and if she spent another sleepless night, it showed on her face. She was probably the only one who saw the faint lines around her eyes but they were there. Just in two years, Aelinor would be praised as the most bedazzling maiden at court, like Daenaera had been once. Twenty-five years had passed, and Daenaera had nothing to show for it.

"Come on," she said. "Let's go to your chambers to get you ready as well."

Aelinor rose readily and an hour later, they were already in the great hall, a little late for the feast but not too much. Daenaera promised herself that she wouldn't look but she couldn't help herself: just like she had done every night before, her eyes went straight to Lewyn. A month since he had arrived here on Arianne's business, and they still hadn't had the chance to be alone. There were too many eyes, too many people who knew. She was followed everywhere. It was impossible.

"My lady?" she heard almost as soon as the dancing began. For all her newly reached, surprising accord with Lothar, he would not go as far as take part into a dance with her. But he didn't mind if she spent the entire night dancing which she did, although not as often as she had in the beginning.

"My lord of Myr," she replied, giving the envoy of the Myrish magisters her best smile. He was a few years older than her and they had spent the last two months in difficult negotiations. His red hair, so bright that he couldn't have been born with it, was longer than hers and he certainly wore more scents than her but for all this, he was a clever and worthy opponent. Daenaera couldn't say she had enjoyed their interactions but she accorded him lots of respect.

"Would you do me the honour?" he asked and led her into the formation. For the first time, Daenaera realized that beneath his silks, he was extremely lean and muscled. Who was this man indeed?

"I must thank you for the magnificent gift you sent me," Daenaera said. She had been stunned to receive the Myrish eye – stunned and a little saddened.

He smiled. "I had to mark our agreement," he said. "There were times when I thought you'd have me thoroughly defeated within minutes."

"So did I," Daenaera replied most honestly. In fact, Lothar had shifted the man upon her because he correctly believed that the way to go with this one was to worry the life out of him with a silken rope – but this had gone both ways. Daenaera had rarely seen such an experienced trader and diplomat.

He led her into a figure. "I thought about Myrish lace but I reckoned you already had plenty of that. It isn't easy to find a gift for a lady who has everything already. I thought you might appreciate my choice."

She assured him that she had and realized that he had taken her stock better than she had his.

In the noise and swirl of velvet and silk everywhere, she noticed Patrek Mallister's approach only when he took her hands in the Myrish man's place. She hadn't even known that he was in King's Landing.

"I haven't seen you for so long!" she exclaimed and saw how his face brightened. She focused on the steps. She really needed some rest and she would get it immediately after the dance was over.

"I am happy that you have taken note, my lady," he said. He was quite a good dancer and Daenaera was genuinely enjoying herself. Even the urge to look at Lewyn wasn't this strong.

"For how long have you been here?" she asked. "Are you here on your lord father's business? Do you have some time for entertainment? Did you manage to give the ladies here a good look?"

He was smiling down at her. He looked handsome, full of life, and so impossibly young. "Don't you know that my heart has already spoken? And the Seven has deemed to not let me meet a more beautiful lady than this only one."

His eyes were dark brown, earnest and serene, and yet there was no pressure in them. He was just stating a fact. Daenaera looked at him, utterly startled. She hadn't thought that he might still be this smitten with her. She didn't want him to be. She wished only good to him.

"Are you in love with him?" Lewyn asked, having joined her almost immediately as she left the hall. She looked around and he shrugged. "It's safe," he had said and she knew he was right. There was no one outside. They had come out separately. And by now, no one was paying attention to anyone else.

Still, his question took her aback. "No!" she replied before she even thought, and he visibly relaxed and even reached for her hands.

Daenaera stepped back immediately. She was not entirely sure that they would not be seen. But then, she reached out herself, again without thinking. In her heart, joy at having him near fought with the urge to laugh. She had noticed his ridiculous jealousy over Patrek more than once and she could not understand the reason. Why was he feeling insecure?

"I've missed you," she said. "I didn't think I'd ever see you again."

He pulled her under the branches of the walnut trees, well hidden from curious eyes, and held her tight. Daenaera clung to him, her heart soaring.

"When are you coming to Dorne?" Lewyn asked urgently.

She bit her lip. "I am not," she replied against his chest. "He won't go this far with his new trust in me. He didn't even let me go there to meet Carral's Ranna."

The youngest one of her half-brothers had shocked Dorne when he had returned from Essos with this girl in his wake – a woman with no family, no dowry, no connections. Thanks to her stepfather serving as Master of Ships, the scandal had reached King's Landing as well.

"That's because you asked him…" Lewyn murmured, although he knew he wasn't being fair. But being fair had brought him nothing this far. "I can tell you that Ranna didn't ask anyone for permission to leave! She wouldn't have been given it."

Daenaera refrained from pointing out that her situation was nowhere comparable to her new goodsister's. The only way the two could be measured against each other would have been if Daenaera had run away before her wedding – at which point Lewyn had been all but eight.

Weariness pressed against her heavily but her heart was still beating rapidly because of his nearness. Her eyes were closed, her senses perceiving the scent of him and the aromas of night. She let him move her back and press her against the trunk of the walnut tree.

"Daenaera." His voice was urgent. "It still isn't too late. Let's do what they did. I'm leaving in a week. Come with me. I don't care that we won't be able to wed. I just want you. In any way I can have you. Come with me and let's live the way we know how."

She opened her eyes, startled. "You're mad!"

"No."

"You're drunk!" she insisted, although she knew that he wasn't.

"Not that either," he snapped, his tenderness evaporating. "Listen, we don't have the time for this. Your husband's dogs are bound to look for you any moment now. I am not going to try and convince you just why you should accept. I do love you and you know it. I do think you love me as well but that's something that only you know. I want every moment of your future. If you're ready to give it to me, you know where to find me. And you have one week."


Lewyn was so good in demanding things of her. And he hadn't bothered to mention what he would give her. Would he still want her future life five years from now on? Daenaera's fears told her that he wouldn't; her memories shouted that he would. They shared values and interests; they were always happy in each other's company out of bed, not only in. And still…

 

Daenaera did care about the scandal. She did care about the consequences of her decision, should she choose to make it. But she had never wanted to be pushed into this sad excuse of wedding. She had never lied that she accepted it. Everything had been done over her expressed will. And if her uncle had been able to soothe – to an extent! – the hurt feelings of quite a few Great Houses, he'd surely manage it with the Brackens. No matter how he chose to present it, time was not running over for him, but it was for her. Soon, she'd be forty, her life as empty as ever since her seventeenth year. Even if Lewyn's feelings faded in a few years, she'd still have had those years. And staying in Dorne, even without him, was infinitely better than filling her life with obligations and court occasions.

Once she made her decision, she felt a great weight lifting from her bent shoulders. Suddenly feeling like she had been just let out of the black cells, she couldn't wait to tell Lewyn. But she had to – there was a guard at her door all night long, so she had to wait until she could go to her mother's chambers. In the crowded halls and hallways in broad daylight, she had the best chance of talking to him.

But someone had gotten there first. Her hand was already lifted to open the door when she heard her name spoken in anger that she had never heard in his voice, even in their biggest quarrels. Daenaera listened in horrified fascination as Lewyn and her stepfather discussed the content of the letter that had arrived from Sunspear just an hour ago.

"So, Arianne has already decided that I'll marry Agnelle Wyl?" Lewyn was saying. "It's so kind of her to let me know! Gods, I wish Nymeria had just done away with the Yronwoods and paid whatever the price was!" he went on angrily. "By now, no one but historical records would have remembered that they existed… So, they are seeking contact with that monster in Tyrosh? Is he really two-headed, by the way?"

"Alric and Carral swear that he is," Alor Gargalen replied. "Looks like he can promise them what they always wanted – displacing House Martell."

Lewyn spat an oath. "Why doesn't Arianne just expose them and execute them?" he exclaimed and by the sudden sound of footsteps, Daenaera knew that he was now pacing the room.

"You know why," Alor sighed. "Her own position is not this strong. Too many would make use of the transit period after your father's death to their own advantage. And she has no proof."

"Yes," Lewyn snapped. "They're too clever for this. So I'll marry the Wyl girl, steal the Wyls and Jordaynes away from the Yronwoods, and Dorne can enjoy peace for the time being? Is this the great plan?"

"Looks like it is." Alor's voice was even. "I have to admit that it's a good move on Arianne's part. Losing two Houses of such standing would make the Yronwoods at least think twice."

Daenaera's heart was trying to leap out of her chest. Lewyn interrupted, "It isn't a good move for me. I am sorry to break it to you but my plans don't include a wife in the near future."

Daenaera knew the true meaning of his words and yet they hurt. A serving girl passed her by, giving her a curious look. She cared not about that.

"Tell this to Arianne," Alor replied. "I don't insist that you leave Daenaera. You called me here to talk about Arianne's intentions and they are quite clear."

"Because she has no idea that I already have other plans!"

"Then tell her so," Alor suggested. "Perhaps she'll understand."

"The hell she will!"

Yes, Daenaera didn't think Arianne would, either. The new Princess of Dorne was lucky that her political match was also a love one, in this sequence. She would have married a man older than her grandfather if she felt it would be in Dorne's interest. Daenaera felt sick.

"You know she won't," Lewyn went on angrily. "She'll just give me a lecture about the things we all do for Dorne and so on, and so on, she'll drone about duty endlessly, of how I have always received and now I have to give something back and at the end, it'll turn out that I'll be the sole reason for Dorne's ruin, with my selfish choices."

The angry emphasis he put on the last word told Daenaera that his offer was no longer valid. She took a deep breath, lifted her chin up and headed back the way she had come. Tonight, she's send him away before he sent her.

 

Chapter Text

The seasons in the Seven Kingdoms were a capricious thing indeed – and so were the Seven. In less than two weeks, they changed their mind about a long summer equating prosperity. Sure, plagues were something common when the heat reached a peak and lingered there. But they were usually small scale and rarely reached the top of Aegon's Hill.

This one did.

The plague of stagnant water, they called it but the Red Keep received the sweet water from the local streams. The whip of black pus but too often, the pus erupting from the red boils was white, although people soon learned it was just as deadly. The death of infants, people whispered, because it was babes in arms that it took most often, but when it hit men grown, it killed them just the same.

It tool Lothar Bracken in less than two days. The sun did not have the time to set twice since that evening when, waiting for Daenaera to get ready for the feast, he lifted the sleeve of his tunic and saw the net of red blots, at which the servants promptly fled.

Of course, they didn't return. Daenaera worried that they might bring the disease in other parts of the castle, the few parts that were free of it yet but she didn't have much time to worry about that. Because someone had to take care of Lothar. She. After all, she was his wife, although he had not touched her in twenty years of marriage unless the passing brush of fingers as they exchanged documents counted. And she could not let anyone die like an animal in its lair, even him.

So she bathed and dried him off, holding her breath because the stench was unbearable. With diseases such like this, maesters couldn't do much and didn't tell her anything that common sense would not. She kept the windows open so they could both breathe, she washed her hands and face regularly with vinegar, ate the food the King's servants brought her as soon as they left it at the door, so it would not stay in their infected chambers. Something of all that must have worked because she didn't feel ill once – but she could do nothing to stop the quick approach of the Stranger towards her husband's sickbed. His were the only steps echoing like thunder in the empty chambers.

All along, Daenaera was terribly scared for herself but common sense reminded her that if she was destined to die from the plague, she must have caught it long before they saw the red spots. She might not share Lothar's bed but she shared his air… and she would keep sharing it as she took care of his rotting corpse, for his flesh died long before he took last breath, and the smell from the broken boils was such that Daenaera pressed her ball of amber to her nose and couldn't put it down for a long time.

It was over before the sun set over him for a second time. Daenaera covered him with the sheet, careful to hide his face, and then sat in her chair near the bed. She didn't dare close her eyes because she was so exhausted that she'd go to sleep immediately – and who knew, the corpse might be more infectious than the living body. Besides, she needed to find someone and send them for the gravediggers. The bodies needed to be taken away immediately. But she needed a few moments of rest. Right now, she couldn't negotiate the few steps separating her from the door.

Her life with Lothar had lasted one and twenty years. It had never become their life. She had nothing to show for it – no child, no good relations with his family. What would become of her now? A new marriage, certainly. She wanted one, she didn't want to spend the rest of her life alone but even if she didn't, her uncle would surely find her a new match as soon as the mourning period was over. She was no longer the prize she once had been, far from it, but she was still the blood of the dragon. She still had her looks. Perhaps she could even get the remains of her rich dowry back – everything that had stayed at Stone Hedge. There was no way she was leaving her materials and jewels for Mylandra to wear!

No, she didn't mind a new match. As long as it was a real marriage and the husband the King would find her this time was not an ailing old man, she'd go to the Father and Mother and say the words. Not that it would matter if she didn't! There was no doubt a lord who needed to be won over or rewarded. Someone who already had heirs.

She trudged heavily through the hall and stopped when she saw a silhouette in the falling darkness. "Is he gone?" her stepfather asked.

"Yes, he is," Daenaera replied and her tired eyes tried to focus on him. His paleness and staggering to his feet could only mean one thing. Besides, he seemed to have aged twice in the brief three days that she hadn't seen him. "You were ill?"

He nodded. "And I am no longer ill. I don't know how it happened. Or why. Perhaps there's no reason for those things. Come with me now. I'll send for the gravediggers."

For the next six days, Daenaera only slept, took baths, and sat in her mother's solar, snuggled under a pile of blankets. She wished that Daella were here but she had left for Dorne with Lewyn, taking Aelinor along, about a week before the plague came. Even so, she felt better being in her mother and sister's chambers than the ones she had only formally shared with Lothar and then she had shared them thoroughly with illness and death.

Alor was telling her what was going on in the castle and city. The Queen came a few times to check on her. Making sure that your bargain chip is still in one piece, Daenaera wondered cynically , although she knew she wasn't being fair. Anyway, Betha didn't offer potions and ointments that would help Daenaera recover her looks, quite ravaged from the ordeal, to make her a more attractive prize, not once. Even the King arrived once or twice to make sure that she was getting better. "You should have come to me when those cowards scattered," he said. "I can't believe you had to do all the caring of him alone."

"It's over," she replied. "I don't want to think about it."

She just wanted to rest and be ready for the next challenge life – and King – had in store for her. Couldn't you die just a year earlier, Lothar, she vented silently. Just a year earlier, and I would have gone to Lewyn. Now, it's too late. He cannot have me, so I'll have to make a match that with some luck would bring me satisfaction… or not. A year, just a year!

Patrek Mallister arrived when the sun of the seventh day died and Daenaera gave him a look of surprise. "Lord Gargalen isn't here," she said. "The Small Council still hasn't finished its work for today."

"It isn't the Master of Ships I am looking for," the young man replied. Her surprise grew and she pointed him to a chair. "It was you, my lady," he said and went on without preamble, "The rumours are that you'd be wed to Lord Tully before the year is over."

Daenaera was silent. She couldn't say she was surprised. The Iron Throne had many years yet to pay for Jaehaerys' abandonment of Celia Tully. It was strange to think that Lord Tully had been one of the men courting her more than twenty years ago. Of course, he was an ailing old man…

"Thanks for telling me," she finally said and tried not to sigh.

But Patrek kept staring at her expectantly and she was taken aback. "What? What do you suggest that I do?"

"I suggest that you wed me instead."

For a moment, she could only stare at him, unable to believe that he had truly said that. "But why?" she finally managed.

He shrugged. "I know I am probably not the husband that you desire," he said. "In any aspect. But I want you."

"Why?" Daenaera asked helplessly.

He considered. "Because I love you and I want you now that I see a chance?" he finally ventured.

"That's no reason at all!"

"I agree it sounds very foolish," he concurred. "but I have no other answer for you."

His voice was calm and collected but his eyes were a different story altogether. They drank her, devoured her, caressed her as if she was the finest piece of silk that he had ever seen. The strength of his feelings scared her. She couldn't requite them and he had all but said that he knew that.

"Why do you want me?" she asked. "I am no great prize for someone as young and vigorous as you. Sure, I do have a good dowry still but you aren't a pauper yourself. Why by the Mother would you…"

"Because you're you?" he suggested. "My lady, you are the only one I have truly wanted, ever since I first laid my eyes on you when I was all but a lad. Now that I have the chance, I won't let it go. Sure, you might prefer Lord Tully, for I cannot compare to him in standing and wealth. But I think I can compensate with other merits. I think you've had enough of standing and money."

Bitterness choked her. She had heard those same avowals and she had known them to be true, yet they had not brought her happiness. Forcefully, she shoved Lewyn to the bottom of her mind where he belonged. He was no longer a part of her life, let alone her future, whatever that might turn out to be.

A serving maid entered discreetly and started lighting the lamps. There were quite a few of them and the light showed their reflection in the looking-glass – he, a man in his prime, attractive, strong and vigorous, energy just steaming off his skin and she, a sleep-deprived, tired-looking woman nearing her forties, with visible lines in the corners of her eyes and deeper ones between her brows and around her mouth where exhaustion had cut most deeply. But he didn't seem to be seeing the same thing. "Daenaera, I will make you happy."

That was the first time he was addressing her by her name.

"You've wasted so many years with someone who couldn't cherish you the way a woman like you deserves. I cherish you. I shall do my best to accommodate your desires. Because you are my desire."

"Or your dream, perhaps?" she said, looking quite doubtful. "Will I still be your desire ten years from now? You'll be only thirty-five while I'll be nearing my fifties. Fifties, Patrek! By then, my beauty will be all but a fading memory. You'll be tied to an old woman who would only impede your future."

"You are my future," he said. "I thought I'd get over you. I never quite managed it. And I don't want to if there is no need. Even in your eighties, you'll be the most beautiful of women to me, Daenaera. The last eleven years proved it without doubt. Do you not want to be wed to a man who loves you?"

"Do you not want to be wed to a woman who can give you children? You aren't likely to get them from me."

The words stung but she had to say them. Children were the thing she had most desired for all those years. It was not easy to admit that she would never have them.

"I don't want children," Patrek said, his eyes never leaving her face. "I am not my father's heir, so I don't need one. I want you." He shook his head. "I know you wanted someone else," he said and there was the same anger and jealousy that she remembered from Lewyn's voice when he was concerned. "I don't know if I mean anything to you. But I will make it so that I matter in your life, I swear it."

All of a sudden, Daenaera made her decision. She didn't want to spend the rest of her life caring for a sick old man – the two days at Lothar's bedside had convinced her that it was no life for her. She wanted to take what life still had in store for her – and it seemed that this was a young man of the Riverlands, younger than even Lewyn. Why he wanted her was beyond her but she found out that she didn't really care. All that mattered was that he did.

"How are we going to proceed?" she asked.


Everyone was being strange.

Lewyn came to this conclusion after he got greeted quite hurriedly by Daella, exchanged a few words with Vorian Dayne who seemed reluctant to trade jibes, an unprecedented event in the history of their ascquaintance, and encountered Aelinor who downright pretended not to see him, turned right back and disappeared into the first gallery that she saw.

The day was a lovely one, the sky bright and blue, the air redundant with the salted aroma of sea, yet all went somewhat darkened, muted for Lewyn. Something had happened and he had to find out why.

"What's going on, Doran? Do you have any idea?" he asked when he spotted his nephew in a corridor, clearly headed for the chestnut tree garden.

"They're in Mother's solar," was the only reply he got, so he made haste for the direction he had been pointed at.

Arianne was reclining on her couch amidst a mountain of pillows but sat up when she saw him. Lewyn was a bit alarmed by the sight of her pale face and dark lips. She was probably with child again… a child she'd probably lose in a month or two. Alric who had been sitting on the floor with his head leaning against the couch rose immediately.

"What is it?" Lewyn asked. "What happened?"

"There was a raven from King's Landing," his sister said.

The plague! "Daenaera? Alor?" Lewyn asked, trying to sound calm.

"They're both fine. It looks like the plague had started to fade."

"Then why do you look like someone has died?"

"Someone did. Lord Bracken."

"Good," Lewyn said, matter-of-factly. "'Tis a shame that it had to be a disease to kill him. A man should have… and early on. So, what's the matter?"

Arianne looked down and blushed. "Daenaera… Daenaera got wed, Lewyn."

What surprised him was the fact that he wasn't surprised. "The King is quick indeed!" he said perfectly calmly.

She shook her head. Her lip quivered. "It wasn't a match that the King wanted. He wanted someone else for her. She chose her husband and they announced the wedding only after it was a fact."

"Did she, indeed!"

His voice was still even. He looked around, saw her goblet of wine and drained it.

"Won't you ask me who he is?" Arianne asked at last.

"Oh but I already know," he replied. "Patrek Mallister, am I right? Yes, by your face I can see that I am."

"Do you know him?" Both Arianne and Alric looked shocked.

Lewyn spun around so he was now facing them. "I have seen him. Ladies do find him charming. And he's even younger than me – a circumstance that cannot have escaped Daenaera's notice. I guess all those talks of the difference in our ages were just a ruse meant to disguise the fact that she was tired of me and has found me a replacement."

"No," Alric said. "It wasn't like this."

"Oh really?" Lewyn spat. He realized that he was taking his anger at Daenaera out of her brother but he didn't care about being fair. "And how was it, pray tell? I was sure that she'd come with me but she didn't. Has she decided that it was her husband that she wanted to stay with?" His tone made it clear what he thought of such a possibility. "I didn't think so."

He strode for the door without asking for permission to leave. In the stables, his sand steed was still being taken care of. He pulled the reins from the stable boy and rode through the city as if he was flying from the fiery pit of the seventh hell, not caring who he bumped into. Behind him, a few cries rose and they very much resembled curses. He didn't pay attention. He had no idea where he was going, he was just trying to run away from what he heard, what it meant for his future, for what he had thought was their past. Only when he was already riding down the seaside road, he looked at the city behind him and the vast blue expanse at his left and shouted his anger and disappointment. "Damn you, Daenaera Velaryon, I hope you rot in hell!"

 

Chapter Text

In the past, Daenaera had visited Seaguard many times over the years. She was well-known and liked here. She had made purchases and left orders to be taken to her in Stone Hedge. She had donated and worked in local charities. Many a woman had imitated her style of dressing, her way of doing her hair… She had friends in the castle as well. Or at least, she had used to.

The moment she saw Eriana Mallister in the solar in blue and yellow she knew so well, she knew that she had lost one.

"Stay calm," Patrek whispered, touching her hand, and as they came near, he looked at his mother and smiled. "Good day to you, Mother. I am pleased to see you."

She embraced him and then drew back. "I am happy to see you as well. But hardly happy to see your companion."

Patrek pretended not to understand. "Well, you can be happy now," he said, seemingly airily, but there was a warning in his voice. "In this single month, she's made me happier than I have ever been before. Can't you be pleased for me?"

His casual tone, or perhaps his refusal to justify himself, only seemed to enrage his mother. "How could I?" she exclaimed. "That's madness! What made you do it?"

He didn't think twice. "Love," he said.

"Love?" she repeated and her voice rose. "All men are the same! You go on heat and call it love, as if that excuses anything!"

She looked at Daenera and there was pain and disbelief in her eyes that made Daenaera look away. "I thought better of you," she said. "I thought you knew his passion for what it was, a torch that a boy felt once and just kept carrying and nothing more. I never thought you were the one to go on heat as well, ruining the life of a young man who never did anything to you!"

Daenaera wanted to refute it but she really couldn't find anything to say because it was true. She had been selfish and willing to take something for herself when she should have been the more level-headed one.

"Careful," Patrek said sharply. "I can understand your feelings, Lady Mother, but they aren't justified. And I won't tolerate any further insults to Daenaera. She's completely blameless in this. I went to her, she didn't find me."

"And what does it change?" she snapped. Her face was white, her hands shivering. "She should have known better!" She turned to Daenaera herself. "You won't be happy with your victory for long. You know it, don't you? In five years, at most, when your loveliness will start fading, he'll start looking for young, beautiful women… and fertile, as well! You'll both be terribly unhappy, that's what you've won!"

Daenaera hadn't expected anything less of a rebuke but it still took her in her weakest spot. Eriana was right in all she said. Of course, it wasn't true but the way she said it made it sound so convincing and Daenaera could find no words to contradict her.

Patrek took her hand. "Come on," he said. "We're leaving."

Under the disbelieving stares of his mothers and the serving maids who were peeking from the hallway, he led Daenaera out and left without turning back. To what future they were going… no one knew.


Soon, they had to meet their first real trouble. To this moment, Patrek had never lacked anything but he hadn't saved anything either. He had had no reason to – he was a son of a rich lord, secure in his future. He had nothing to start over with. Even Daenaera's dowry was a subject of dispute.

"Doesn't matter," he claimed often. "It's even better this way, in fact. I wouldn't want to be living off your property."

Daenaera didn't think it mattered but she knew better than wound his pride by saying so. In truth, she didn't mind this much the hardships of those first months when the downing realization that someone whose only skill was fighting wasn't valued all this much, especially when he had a woman to support, so he couldn't even take to the road as a hedge knight. Slowly, she was coming to terms with the idea that his love for her was great enough to make him not regret the lost comforts and stability even a little. A day of manual labour here and two there – that was enough for them to scrape by the day. That work didn't require any particular skills, so Daenaera couldn't say which one was more surprised when the blacksmith for whom Patrek had worked for just a week offered him to stay longer, telling him that he had a knack for the job. For them, that meant security at least for a while… until she could get her dowry back, so they could start with something.

He never mentioned his family – not even once. Not when he almost sustained a burning thanks to his own brief lack of focus. Not when he tasted the first meal Daenaera had ever prepared in her life – something that she would have hesitated to give a dog. Not when she carefully hinted that perhaps he should try and smooth things over with them. She didn't want to be a reason for such a breakup – but he wouldn't have it. "I am not going at any place where you aren't wanted," he stated and that was it.

Her affection for him grew with any day, any hour. It wasn't a burning fire but it was warm and steady, lighting her life in a way her brief, stolen moments with Lewyn had never been able to. That first night, she had been suddenly scared of what he would do when he found out that despite her infamous marriage, she was no maiden but he hadn't asked a thing, not then and not later. It was a new feeling for her, enjoying the physical side of a relationship without feeling the impending doom of separation.

Somewhere in their fourth month, she did something that she had sworn to herself she'd never do. She went against his wishes behind his back. She felt that she had no other choice. The money was short and sooner or later, winter would be coming. He had given up everything for her. She had to do her part as well.

The blacksmith's wife was quite surprised when Daenaera asked her to find her a job. What could this fine lady – for she was that, no doubt – do? She had been utterly useless when she first came to them, not even knowing how to sweep her room. But when Daenaera told her what she had in mind and the woman, still mistrustful, handed her some threads and a needle, the fabric that came under her hands looked nothing like one that she had taken. Sewing was a popular pastime for ladies and town wives never had enough time to master it to such extent. The clothes they produced were plain and serviceable, good enough for smallfolk . But who wouldn't want to have something that could be mistaken for belonging to a highborn? Soon enough, Daenaera's time was occupied with orders from women who wanted to have the beautiful things she could produce. As time-consuming and scantly paid as that was, it was better than nothing.

"I am helping Mistress Farrel," she said each time when Patrek saw her with the needle when he came to their tiny room in the evening. But that was an excuse that could not hold forever. Soon, women started coming to seek her in the blacksmith's house and the truth came out.

"What's the shame in making the pot boiling, Patrek?" Daenaera asked when confronted with the evidence of her lie.

"There's no shame," he sighed. "But that wasn't the life I wanted for you."

A sly gleam made her eyes dance with sudden humour. "To be fair, you did warn me that you couldn't provide me the life Lord Tully would have."

"I didn't mean that!" he protested and then kissed her.

The news came to the on the wings of rumour just a few weeks later – and Daenaera didn't like it one bit.

"The Second Sons?" she exclaimed. "A sellsword in Essos?"

"Just for a while, Daenaera," he assured her. "They're gathering men for the embroiling conflict in the Disputed Lands. Just until we can start with something."

"We won't be starting anything if you're dead!"

"But we won't be starting anything here either! Not with the smithy! Not with your embroideries! That might be a good life for many, Daenaera, but let's not fool ourselves. We've experienced better. We want better! I didn't wed you just so I can turn you into a smallfolk wife."

To this, Daenaera's objections sounded hollow and unconvincing. He was right. They were who they were. Everyone carried the blesses and curses of their origin.

"I'll go to Dorne, then," she said when it was clear that there might be as long as a year before they saw each other again. She wouldn't feel safe on her own here… and a little coddling would do her some good. Lately, she'd been feeling quite feeble, although not really sick.

Patrek looked conflicted. "Very well," he finally said. "Just one thing, Daenaera."

She tensed, making herself ready to hear something unpleasant.

"I don't want you to meet Lewyn Martell if you can avoid it."

Fear, shame and relief made her weak in the knees. So he knew. He had probably known all along… and he had wanted her enough to take her despite everything. "I won't be meeting him," she said, fully intending to stay true to her word. "Never."


"Blessed be the Seven!" Daella exclaimed as she rushed to embrace her. "Where have you been? All I've known about you for months has been rumours."

Daenaera blushed. Her pride had stopped her from letting them know the truth of her circumstances. "I was… unable to write," she said. It was the truth, in a way.

Daella took her daughter's face between her palms and examined her. "Is he good with you?" she asked carefully.

Daenaera blushed again. "I couldn't dream of a better treatment," she replied.

"Have you been ill, then?" Daella insisted. "You don't look good."

Daenaera shrugged. "I've been feeling faint for a while," she said, "Not ill, though. I don't know what's wrong with me. I guess it's another change coming with age." She smiled. "Just like the pains at my time of month lessened when I turned twenty-five. It's another stage of life."

One that she had started believing would not make Patrek turn away from her.

"Yes," Daella agreed, her eyes thoughtful and a little scared. "More than you know, I think."

She rose. "I'll call for the maester," she said. "I think you're with child."

 

Chapter Text

Arianne's babe emerged stillborn just at the time Daenaera's grew so big that its movements became rarer and along with Daenaera's keen sympathy, her fear grew. The Stranger visited the birthing chamber more often with older women and when she started feeling a growing weight in her waist and lower belly, panic settled in, not for herself but the babe. Everything in her life, since the moment the maesters and midwives had confirmed her mother's suspicions – it was all about the child, even the water she drank. When she shared with Daella, she thought there was a flash of fear in her mother's eyes as well before Daella said, voice calm, that it was normal in the last month, that the time for the babe to emerge was just getting near. Daenaera knew it was so but Daella's experience was one of a woman who had given birth to many children while it would be Daenaera's first, just after her fortieth nameday… But as her time was getting near, she was overwhelmed by the feeling that in her entire life, she had been gathering courage and strength for this trial that could not pass her by. If only I can bring it here safely, she would think, I'll be happy. It won't matter what happens to me. If I end up like my grandmother, it still won't matter.

When she was six months along, the presents started arriving – presents from her goodmother at Seaguard, royal gifts from King's Landing along with the hurried dispute over her dowry, settled in remarkably short time entirely in her favour . "Looks like I've risen in everyone's estimation," Daenaera remarked caustically. "The good broodmare that I am." And then, she promptly wished her words back, scared that she had invited some bad luck upon her babe.

She was constantly sick many times a day, all the way to the last month, so she feared for the babe. But the only part of her that kept growing was her belly, with her child clearly vigorous and keeping her awake. She wondered where it took all that nourishment from but she was glad that it was so. The Grand Maester who had arrived on the King's command to attend her could give no answer. And in the meantime, her hair became more lustrous and her skin smoother. She hadn't looked this glamorous in years. But she still felt like a dowdy drag when one day, as she was watching the children in the pools of the Water Gardens, the echo of footsteps and the sudden screech of heels frozen on the marble made her look up, straight in Lewyn's eyes. Dark eyes that immediately went down to her bulging belly. Crimson flush crept all the way up her cheeks.

For a long moment, neither of them knew what to say. "I thought you were at Oldtown," Daenaera finally said.

"I was," Lewyn replied. "I finished my mission there earlier than expected and came back. I didn't know you'll be the one to meet me." He paused. "Lady Daenaera… Mallister."

Anger rose in her, as quick as a jouster's lance, but there was some vindictive joy tingling it as well. So he hadn't forgotten her. He loved her and was jealous over her. Was this how men felt when they felled an enemy on the battlefield? Was Lewyn that? Yes! Yes, he was! With horror wrapping cold fingers around her and squeezing, Daenaera realized how grievously deluded she had been. She hadn't seen him in over a year and she had thought that she had gotten over him, that she had suppressed and defeated her weak spot that bore his name, that she had broken this inexplicable hold, the one that only he of all the men who had desired her held over her heart. She had been lying to herself all this time. She had barely managed to suppress all this under the fragile cover that tentative happiness had brought her, that thin veil of ice that bloomed overnight and disappeared as soon as the sun glared at it with anger. The sun – Lewyn…

Someone tugged at her hand. A handmaiden asked, voice trembling, "My lady? My lady, are you well?"

Their eyes unlocked and Daenaera exhaled, as if she was shrugging an enormous burden off her shoulders. "Yes, Malva. I was just thinking."

She placed a hand on her belly and the babe kicked agreeably, reassuring her.

When she looked up, Lewyn had disappeared into the building.


Three days later, when the sun was emerging from the warm waters of the sea and the babe was making itself comfortable, stretching and trying to turn into the limited room it had, another echo of footsteps made Daenaera look up and smile without thinking. "I didn't know you were coming," she murmured.

"Did you think I would leave you alone at such a time?" Patrek asked.

No, she hadn't. Not if he had a choice. Not while he still breathed. Love and shame filled her and as she looked at him, she got the stinging thought that he could feel her conflicted emotions. But he didn't say anything.

"Just two more years," he assured her when, after being introduced to those of her family who were currently at the Water Gardens, they sat down to talk about serious things. "Two years, and we'll be able to live not quite in the style you're accustomed to but quite comfortably."

Just a year ago, Daenaera would have protested. But they now had to think about their child as well. She rose to show him the many presents her mother showered her with, the jewels she had finally received from Stone Hedge. Many of those were worthy of a queen – or a king's granddaughter. She had been one of the people Maekar Targaryen had indulged most. Some of the chokers and bracelets she had even forgotten about, their sapphires and bleeding garnets fashioned in streams of gold. And when she lifted the lids of the boxes with the royal gifts, she felt, surprised, that some of her resentment towards her royal uncle had faded. Perhaps it was because of the contentment she had found so recently, or perhaps it was because she had to think of her babe now. It would have King Aegon's blood as well… There were few things that she wouldn't do to provide it with the best start possible. There was still the betrayed love she had once held for her uncle, still the bitterness, but she reached out and took the emeralds from their box.

"I am happy you're here," she said, trying to hide the fear that she felt from the inevitable meeting between him and Lewyn.


At the end, it turned out to be astonishingly civilized and Daenaera's relief was profound. So profound that she imagined Shiera Seastar shaking her head in disapproval. "You've taken after your grandfather," she would have said. "You don't see the merry things in life. Dyanna would have been quite displeased with you." But for all the things Daenaera had admired about the greatest beauty in that time – even an aging one, - Shiera's taste for making Lord Bloodraven jealous had not been one of them. Daenaera preferred things to be clear and as uncomplicated as possible, so she was pleased that the two men kept careful distance from each other, both clearly unwilling to upset her when the babe was due any day.

"He's getting wed?" Patrek asked when they were alone in her bedchamber after that first evening feast, if it could be called that.

"Next year," Daenaera confirmed. "Lady Saria has been quite ill, I hear, so the wedding was delayed to give her time to recover."

"Then what is he doing here?"

Daenaera stopped in the centre of the room and turned to him. "That's his family residence," she said calmly. "What are you trying to tell me?"

That would be the first really dangerous argument they were having since their wedding. Daenaera didn't want to have it. She sat on the bed. "You aren't being fair, Patrek," she said. "I didn't call him. I didn't expect him."

"You expected him." He was staring at her with hard, cold eyes. "You're expecting him still. I can say…"

Daenaera couldn't give his accusation the answer it deserved because the first pang came over her. Instead, she turned and entered the adjacent chamber, checking on the low couch, the small tub that women washed with hot water and soft soup every day, the tiny clothes shining clean on the lamp she was holding high… Only the little one was not there yet, but it was coming as well, the joy stronger than the pain eating at her. The belated guest that she had longed for and waited for so many years would soon arrive…


After a whole night of agonizing pains, there was still nothing. Just nothing. Just a stream of blood that kept trickling. The fear in the expressions of maesters and midwives – and her mother. Aelinor who poked her head in from time to time to be sharply scolded and evicted by Daella, her lovely face white. Daenaera faintly wondered if her little sister still thought the story of her elopement with Patrek was the most romantic thing ever before fear clawed at her again, making the pain stronger. A babe in a laboring womb is a drowning victim, she had heard women whisper when she had been still a child. Arianne's babe had died after a labour that had not even been a long one yet had pushed him out already suffocated… She pushed with all she had, only to get the pain tear her apart and the maesters shake their heads that it was going nowhere.

At one time, she emerged from the agony, driven by a sensation that was even worse, bad enough to make her open her eyes and try to scream. Two men were slowly lifting her up, forcing her to step on the floor…

"Come on, Daenaera!" Daella urged. "Strain yourself. Make a few steps."

"It hurts," Daenaera whispered, or thought she had whispered. "Oh it hurts…"

"It does…" Daella agreed, gripping her daughter's hand. "Come on! Just one more…"

"I can't…"

The gushing of hot liquid. Had she wetted herself? The next thing she remembered was a man's voice, soft and apologetic. "I know it like this as well… it helps… but the woman can die in your hands just like this."

And then, her mother's tones, fiery. "If you knew, why didn't you come to say so! You're supposed to be the Grand Maester, that's why my brother sent you over… Was I the one who should have thought of this!"

"But you went to it anyway, Your Grace. And besides, I don't really dare… it's someone else's kin, anything can happen…"

"Right!" Daella snapped. "Someone else's kin, so the pain isn't on you. But if she were yours, you'd enter the pyre barefooted… "

"They said the waters broke."

"They did."

"Good…"

The world turned into mind-blowing pain.

"Come on, Daenaera, wake up. Open your eyes."

Why should she? Her eyelids were so heavy.

"Come on," her mother kept insisting. "I want to show you something. Wake up. It's time. You've slept long enough."

Daenaera wanted to tell her to shut up because her voice was boring into her skull like a nail. But Daella was adamant. "Won't you try? It's long overdue. Open your eyes. I've got a prize for you."

The first thing Daenaera felt when Daella placed the red-faced newborn in her arms was terror. What's this? she thought frantically. Why is it here? I have to keep it, don't I?

Daella pulled the newborn back and handed it to the wetnurse. Before going to sleep again, Daenaera vaguely thought that she still hadn't asked if she had a son or daughter.


To everyone's surprise, she recovered extremely fast. As obstructed as the labour had been, she hadn't lost much blood and she hadn't had any significant tears which had been her greatest fear about herself, much greater than death. Her son was just a week old when she rose from bed to break her fast at the terrace of her solar and in another week she was pacing the galleries rocking him to sleep.

"I'll come as soon as I can," Patrek promised before leaving and she smiled.

"We'll be waiting," she promised back.


To Daenaera's great relief, the love for her child came, little by little. She'd been appalled at the disconnect she first felt for him. She had been longing for him for so many years! But now, everything was coming into place, albeit slowly. There was finally composure and utter fulfillment in her life.

"Who does he look like?" Alric wondered one day, looking at Jason. "I can't say."

"Himself," Daenaera replied, not quite looking at her brother. The events of the last two months had left her wondering why those who decided such things had spared her and punished him. Arianne was younger than her and not a first time mother. She had had a very easy pregnancy, unlike Daenaera with her constant sickness. Her babe had been smaller and slipped out more easily. Her labour had been nothing like Daenaera's torture. Yet Daenaera's child lived and Alric and Arianne's hadn't. It would be a while before she could look at any of them.

"I don't think he'll look like you," Doran announced after inspecting the babe carefully. "His father, more likely."

It felt so weird to hear such suggestions about a babe of her own, one that she had never thought she'd have.

"I think he'll be like you," Lewyn said, appearing at her side one night so naturally as if they had last seen each other mere hours before and not two months. He had left the Water Gardens the day of Jason's birth and as far as Daenaera knew, he should have still been in the desert. "Not much can ruffle him."

Indeed Jason lay in his mother's arms calmly, looking at him curiously. Unlike him, Daenaera's heart was beating fast with thrill and fear, and happiness.

"Have you been well?" Lewyn asked as she looked down to her son.

"Yes," Daenaera replied without looking up. "I'm fine now."

"I'm glad to hear it. I heard your mother sent Grand Maester Pycelle packing as soon as she was sure you were out of danger."

"Not quite," Daenaera replied, slightly innerved because he still wasn't taking a seat, instead looming over her. "He was very helpful during my recovery. But she misliked the way he handled the birth."

"If I had the right, I would have sent him packing," Lewyn claimed. "I heard that you almost died."

"We don't know it," Daenaera said sharply. "And anyway, you don't have the right. You lost it the night you considered the choice Arianne inflicted on you – me or the stability in Dorne."

He looked stunned and then, disbelieving. "You've heard?"

"I was going to my stepfather," Daenaera replied and the hurt from that night suddenly came alive, almost as sharp as it had been then. "I heard you saying this. That you had to choose."

He shook his head, stepped back, then came back to her, fists clenched. "And did you stay to hear what I chose?"

Daenaera bit her lip, suddenly scared, wishing to seal his lips shut. If he said it, she'd never…

"I would have chosen you." Lewyn's voice was like rumbling in the throat of a feral beast. "Don't you know that I would have chosen you?"

Terror overwhelmed her, for this was the cruelest thing he could possibly say to her, and for a moment she thought he was lying, to make her hurt like he was hurting. He stared at her, swore, and then they were kissing in the moonlight with the anger, blame and hatred of more than a year, the love underneath, the heartbreak, the forgiveness, and a babe under their joined lips.

"Come to my chambers, " Lewyn said when he drew back. "Just for tonight."

Daenaera knew what she should say. What she wanted to say. Had he kissed her with passion again, she might have said it. But instead, his lips brushed her cheek, her neck and collarbone with that tenderness and wonder that had always made her weep. He had loved her enough to take her no matter what. She had been judging him wrong, so very wrong. She gasped. "Yes," she heard herself saying. "Just for tonight."

Chapter Text

Daenaera woke up abruptly, her heart beating wildly. For a moment, she didn't know what had scared her so. A bad dream, yes. That was it. She snuggled up closer to the warm body next to her and closed her eyes, only to startle again and rise in bed, dragging the sheet with her.

"What's going on?" Lewyn asked sleepily, reaching for her, and her cold clammy skin scared him enough to rouse him fully. "Come here. Are you ill?"

"No," Daenaera replied, her voice screeching even to her own ear. "I must go now. Immediately."

"Are you going to come back?" he asked and while the genuine hope and love in his voice might have moved her once, now they only disgusted her.

"No," she said curtly, lit the candle at the bedside and scrambled for her robe. "I have no idea why I was as stupid as to come at all."

"Because you're mine?" He was watching her, his eyes intent. "You're my, my wife. I do love you, Daenaera. You belong with me."

"I don't," she snapped, fiercely wishing that she could undo what she had done, their hour of… By the Seven, they had made love all night long. After almost two years of being away from each other they didn't know satiation. Beside the weariness, her body relentlessly reminded her through a series of aches that she had given birth to a child not so long ago – her husband's child. Horror and regret shook her even harsher than this. How could she have committed this betrayal, this... folly! "Do me a favour. Never talk to me again. Forget that I exist. Please."

He started to say something but then what he saw on her face made him reconsider. Her horror was a real one. Her revulsion was also true. The last thing he wanted was to cause her pain and doubt.

"I won't," he said. "If that's what you wish."

"It is," she said and slid the door open and then closed behind her.

Lewyn's maneuver had been a very bad one. He did not doubt that it was him who she loved – but that was far from enough. He had only managed to win her hostility and suspicion now that she knew that she was capable of what she perceived as a betrayal. Not for the first time, he remembered that first night when he had encountered Mallister here, in the very Water Gardens, how the entire time he had imagined how he's slip poison into a goblet, Mallister would drink it and die, and Daenaera would come back to him, Lewyn. His idea that after making love to her again, everything would become suddenly and magically fine had been about as naïve as this. All that he had from the woman he loved now was her regret and the tinge of horror at her own downfall that he had instigated.


The sound of Arianne's displeasure filled the entire Water Gardens with deep hush, handmaidens darting about on their errands, servants stealing no time from theirs to woo them and just about everyone stopping under the Princess' terrace to hear her heated arguments with her husband.

"No! Can you explain to me why they'd lie about their taxes so brazenly? They can't think I'm going to fall for such flat excuses, do they? Who are the Dalts anyway? I can erase their House as fast as Nymor Martell created it!"

"You certainly can," Alric agreed. "But I wouldn't recommend it. There's no proof of them hiding income. The fact that everyone knows is no proof. Unless you order an investigation, at which point they'll scream you're targeting them just because of their good relations with Tyrosh."

"The Blackfyres and the Yronwoods through them!"

"Prove it," Alric invited. "You won't succeed. Edouin Dalt has surrounded himself with people who are too smart to let an ordinary investigation to yield any results. And should you start digging deeper, you'll dig a hole for us as well…"

"Whose side are you on?!"

Alric's calm was unruffled. "Stop being dramatic. You aren't a mummer but the Princess of Dorne, remember? If you can't hear things you really don't want to from me, who are you going to hear them from? How do you expect people to give you good advice if you're going to take such things as a personal insult?"

Daella kept her eyes on her book, although Daenaera noticed that it had been a while since she had last turned a page. Mikkel was not even trying to hide his interest in the conversation, although he had, wisely, decided not to intervene. Daenaera wondered what thoughts lingered behind his inscrutable face. Edouin Dalt was his neighbour and a boyhood friend. And they say he only receives rewards, she thought. At this rate, he'll soon be able to count his friends on one hand.

Arianne sighed and her lip trembled. "They're doing it because they think we're on the brink of extinction," she whispered fiercely. "They count the days to the fall of House Martell. Just one boy, they say. Anything can happen. That's why they're growing so bold. Oh why can't I give you another child who lives?!"

Alric held out a hand and she pressed her face against his shoulder. Daenaera felt uncomfortable witnessing such an overt love. "Calm down, my love, he said. "Don't cry. After all, is it possible for two people to have all the happiness in the world in one place?"

Daenaera looked down and the thought of what might have been pierced her with fury evoked by Arianne's worry for the future of her House. Had she stayed to hear what Lewyn would have answered would have alleviated at least a bit of her goodsister's concern. As it was, the current situation would only bring more trouble.


"Would you mind keeping me company?"

Lewyn's delight was immediately replaced by concern. Daenaera's expression made it clear that it wasn't a reconciliation that she had in mind. And he really wasn't keen on hearing more unpleasant things. The very fact that they couldn't act against the troublemakers in Dorne the way they wanted to – which, to Lewyn and Alric included pikes and heads – was enough to sour his moods for days to come. He didn't know what Daenaera wanted but he knew he didn't want to hear it.

"It's important," she insisted.

"I'm coming," he sighed.

Her eyes shone as purple as the twilight that was already starting to veil the gardens and waterworks before them. Far away, the children – probably the only souls unmoved by Arianne's helpless anger – were pleading to be allowed to stay in the water a little longer. Daenaera led him to the marble couch on the edge of the lemon grove and looked him in the eye. "I hear that your wedding is getting closer," she said.

"It is," he confirmed and remembered the day he had returned to see her bracelets thrown on his bed as a bold claim for ownership. She had been so jealous over other mistresses, yet the thought of a wife didn't move her at all?

That damned Mallister, he was to blame for twisting everything between them so wrong.

"Are you going to… father children on her, as you're supposed to?"

"Certainly."

What kind of question was that? Why was he taking the girl to wife if not for this – to form a living bond between their two Houses?

Daenaera drew a sharp breath and then perhaps made up her mind. It was hard to tell in that darkening twilight. "If you can promise me that you'll be as attentive and caring as possible, I'll give you the bastard I'm carrying. It'll be yours and yours alone – but only if you promise you'll treat it well."

Joy rose in him, surprising him with its intensity. To this moment, he hadn't even known how much he would have loved to have a child by her, a child born out of the only true love he had ever had in his life. But then, her ugly words sank in and he recoiled. "How can you talk like this? Do you hear yourself?"

"I do," she said and then barked out a harsh laugh. "It is going to be a bastard, isn't it? My bastard, which is as bad as it can be. Yours is another matter altogether. Do you really think I have something to offer to such a child but shame, dishonour, blood feud, and tears? Destroying my son's life in the process. The very pillars of his my husband's life. He's done all that I could possibly want of him and more – and that's how I repaid him. My life will be destroyed. It'll be different for you, of course."

"Don't you dare accuse me because of this!" he blazed up. "It wasn't I who made life this way."

"No," Daenaera agreed. "But you're the one who benefits from it. It's just the way it is. Men get some snickering and have their masculinity affirmed this way. I, on the other way, will only get scorn and dishonour, my husband turning his back on me and forbidding me access to my son. The only thing I'll get affirmed will be my whorish nature – for a single night of lust! If he chooses to vent his anger, I might even get the walk of shame and no one will be able to deny him that right. There won't be any comfortable place for my child with friends or bannermen. It's much better to be a man's bastard than a woman's one. Especially a woman wed." She paused, her voice still so unbearably controlled. "Fortunately, Patrek will come here only after the birth, so I can pretend that no such thing ever happened. I hope you never tell the child who its mother is. If you take it, of course. It'll be better for everyone this way. "

Abruptly, her composure broke. She started laughing until she wept, and then some more. Lewyn didn't dare touch her because he was afraid that she might do something stupid, hurt herself someone. "Forty-one! Forty-one!" she kept repeating. "I'll be forty-one when this babe comes. How the Seven must be laughing at me now! Forty-one – and just one night, and it can still destroy everything I have achieved… The punishment for my fall – but such a cruel one!"

There were already a hundred of different schemes running through Lewyn's mind. She could not stay in the Water Gardens when she's start showing. She'd have to give birth at Salt Shore, or perhaps Starfall… With Arianne's help and his own connections in Essos, he could make sure that Mallister would be held there long enough for Daenaera to make some good recovery, so he'd never suspect… Gods, what were they going to do if the child happened to take Daenaera's violet eyes or the hair of spun silver?

She was right about one thing. As his mind settled somewhat, he realized that the thought of his betrothed's reaction hadn't entered his considerations at all. She'd have nothing to do with this child. It would not reflect on the official character of their relationship at all, not the way it would for Daenaera should the truth come out. He wanted to ask what she'd do if he said he wouldn't take the child, or treat it like bastards were treated outside Dorne but he didn't dare. He suspected that the answer would include moon tea and tansy – and he could not deny that it might be the best way for the bastard of a woman wed.

In this moment, he knew, with certainty that froze him to the bones, that the birth of their child would not bring them closer but keep them apart forever.

Somewhere in the distance, the last shouts from the pools slowly faded.

"No one wants to leave," Daenaera said. "It gives them so much joy. A fountain of plenty, this is." She snickered grimly. "Just like me."

 

Chapter Text

Lately, Daenaera had taken to wander down the coast for hours, scaring both her mother and Maester Girard. Sometimes, she herself was startled to realize that she had left the castle of Salt Shore early in the morning and it was now well before sunset. Had she taken nourishment? She could not remember. She must have because if she hadn't, the babe showed its protestations quite vigorously. Like Jason, this one managed to take all the food it needed for itself, leaving Daenaera to vomit the rest.

"Yes, my lady, you ate," Suzette would say. She had come into Daenaera's service a few years before Lothar's death when she'd been a very young, recently orphaned child and had been thrilled to be reunited with her mistress in Dorne where Daenaera had sent her as soon as it had become evident that she wouldn't be able to keep her as she and Patrek were trying to survive. "See?" she'd add, pointing at the bag in the foot of the path. "That's what I carried our lunch in."

But Daenaera couldn't remember, too wrapped in her fears. The forthcoming birth terrified her, now with the recent memory of knowledge, and the certainty that she'd have to give up this little one gnawed at her heart. She had tried her best not to feel any connection to this child but the moment she had felt its first movements it had all failed. She wanted the birth to begin soon so the babe was safely out and at the same time, she wanted it never to arrive because the moment it did, she would lose it forever. Still, her belly became more rounded, the babe descended into the most favourable position possible, according to Maester Girard, and the moment was near.

Sometime in the late afternoon when the sun wasn't so bright, Daella came to them with Jason. Daenaera's little boy was already exploring the world on four feet or clinging to their hands and that one time when Daella had left him on the sand, he had tried to… well, eat the coast. And the sea fascinated him. He was constantly pointing at the white foam crests, the gulls soaring into the searing blue of the sky, their screeches piercing to the eye, the way waves lapped the sand and withdrew under their feet. Daenaera discovered them again through his wonder that was always, always tinged with bitter grief for all the things he showed her she'd lose with the second babe. She stared at the sea and longed to ride the seventh wave, the wave of happiness her stepfather had been telling her about when she had been a child. Run far away where she could undo her mistakes, atone for them, have both her children with her. Sometimes, she thought she saw a wave rising higher than the others but it was never for her. She'd be forever chained to her one night of weakness.

"We'll take good care of him or her," Daella assured her and while it was a great comfort to Daenaera, it was nowhere near enough. "Aegon has much to answer for," she added sometimes with wild anger.

But Daenaera knew that her royal uncle wasn't the only one to blame. If she had stayed to hear what Lewyn had to say… If she had resisted him in that night of theirs… If, if, if. She could have done so many things differently, yet she had done none.

Her fear that Patrek might return in the wrong moment had faded. Arianne had assured her that it wouldn't happen. No one of those who saw Daenaera at Salt Shore would breathe a word on the threat of Lord Alor's anger. She only had her conscience and regret to fear, and fear she did.

The night before her pains started, Arianne sent a raven from Sunspear and Daenaera knew that her life had changed again. Her goodbrother, the Lord of Seagard, had passed away. Patrek was now Lord Mallister and Daenaera his lady. They both needed to go back there as soon as possible. But Patrek still had duties to the Second Sons and besides, from Dorne's good relations with the Free Cities, Daenaera knew that he had taken a camp follower as a constant companion and she was with child due a little after her own. He wouldn't leave the girl without looking back before making sure that she had given birth safely, especially when she didn't have the benefit of care Daenaera had enjoyed at the birth of their own child. It wasn't in his nature. It was Daenaera who had to do all in her power to recover and leave Salt Shore for Seagard as soon as she was able to.

The walls closed around her even closer.


Her babe was born in mere hours and Daenaera almost sat up, alarmed, when she perceived the silence in the room. "Why isn't he crying?" she demanded and pushed herself further up. "Why isn't he crying?"

Maester Girard gave her a quick look. He didn't look concerned. "Your pains were too short, my lady," he said. "It happened too fast and he's stunned, that's all. Look," he added as the midwife turned the newborn with his head down and slapped him lightly on the bottom, at which Daenaera slumped back in relief. Now that her son was crying, she could feel all the pains and pangs of the aftermath. The pains might have been short but they had been extremely intense. And she had yet to expel the afterbirth.

When it was over, the wetnurse came to the bed, smiling. "Do you want to see him, my lady?"

Daenaera had long decided that she wouldn't even have a look. But it was as if another being had taken over her, stifling her will and leaving only that wild desire to take the child and hold him tight. "I do," she said. But she was too weak to actually hold him. Perhaps it was for the better but it didn't feel so.

People said that with newborns, it was hard to tell who they'd look like. But with this babe, it was more than evident that he was Lewyn all over – swarthy skin, a shock of thick black hair. Only when the eyes opened, Daenaera realized that they were not the usual newborn blue but dark purple. Somehow, she knew that they wouldn't change and unlike the fears that had tormented her right up to the birth, she now felt delight. She had left something of herself in her child, after all. She closed her eyes, breathed him in and imagined that the two of them were somewhere far away, never having to return. He and she, and the seventh wave…

The last thing she remembered before drifting to sleep was someone taking him from her arms. Her tears flowed.


A day later, she managed to rise and made her first steps. She had vowed that she wouldn't go anywhere to the nursery and yet it was there that they took her. A soft pushing of the door, a few steps, and she saw him – with Lewyn leaning over the cradle.

She hadn't even known that he had arrived. She knew that he was now wed to Saria Wyl but even when Daella had told her that the wedding had passed, it had only stirred a faint pang in her heart. The pain of knowing that she'd have to give birth only to give the babe up had not left room for any other. For the first time since she had been twenty-five, the sight of him didn't make her pulse with longing. Her only wish was to run at him and push him away from the cradle. He'd have this child forever. She only had days.

He straightened and looked at her. "Thank you," he breathed and all of a sudden, her stupid eyes filled up. Unthinkingly, he reached over to wipe her tears off as he had many times in the past but she jerked back. His hand fell down.

"Are you well?" he finally asked. "I was told that you were."

Daenaera nodded silently, not trusting herself to speak.

"Will you be good to him?" she finally asked, desperately needing the confirmation.

"I will," he replied and then hesitated. It was better not to tell her that Saria was with a child as well. It was bound to get her worried about their son's future, his childhood, Lewyn's treatment of him. With some luck, it would be years before she knew.

A stirring in the red covers brought the attention of both of them to the cradle. The newborn mewled and to Daenaera's horror, the front of her robe went dark with wetness. Without another word, she turned back just as the wetnurse came in. At the door, she hesitated and looked at Lewyn. "What's his name?" she asked. "Have you decided what you're going to name him?"

"Morgan," he replied immediately and her throat constricted again. She nodded, pressing her lips together to stifle her sob, and went out as the cries of the hungry babe faded and the milk tore at her breasts as it made its way down nonetheless.


Her entrance in Seagard was an unexpectedly grandiose one. She had planned on crossing the town as quickly as possible but she had not even left the Cape of Eagles when the whispers started. The townspeople came out in the street to see her. They knew, they had learned somehow. The romantic story of Patrek giving up everything for his bride had made its way even to the town prison, so men and women now cheered, happy to see their lovely new lady and the child in her arms. Daenaera Velaryon had managed to give them what her predecessor had failed at – a healthy heir. It didn't matter that the wild cheering scared Jason so much that he buried his head in his mother's shoulder.

Daenaera reached the castle amidst acclamations that approached those her uncle gathered. The ones that her much worthier grandfather had never received. Would people have celebrated her so if they knew that she had cheated on their lord? That she had given her child up? She very much doubted it. But she'd do her best to prove worthy of the adoration they now showed her.

Eriana's eyes when she met her were full of tears. She was drinking Jason in as if she could hardly believe it. "You've been blessed," she whispered and Daenaera suddenly wondered for how many years Eriana had hid her disappointment in not getting a grandson from her older son.

"Let's put him to sleep," she replied and with this, just like this, she entered this new stage of her life, as the new Lady of Seagard who had proven herself in the most important if all aspects.


'He doesn't look like his mother at all. Except for the eyes, perhaps."

The words themselves were innocuous enough but Lewyn looked up sharply nonetheless. Saria wasn't even looking at him, she was focused on the tiny clothes she was sewing. The babe was about to come in less than a month and she had started making changes in the nursery and wardrobe all of a sudden. Her golden-brown hair shone in the sunlight and she looked as innocent as the Maiden herself. Lewyn had been stunned to hear that she had visited the room they had chosen to be as far removed from her chambers as possible – and its new occupant.

"He looks like me," he said calmly, hoping that he was just imagining things.

Unfortunately, he wasn't. Saria left her sewing aside and looked him squarely in the eye. "Is Daenaera Velaryon going to make any demands?" she asked.

Lewyn sighed. His moment of hope had lasted less than a moment. He didn't answer because he simply had no idea what he should say. He wouldn't let his wife make trouble for Daenaera, of course, but he couldn't blame her for feeling offended. He had fathered Morgan on another woman mere months before their wedding and he had brought him here while Saria waited for her own child to arrive.

All of a sudden, she laughed. "If you could see your face, my lord," she said. "All men are the same… or all princes, perhaps?" Then she grew serious. "I've seen you with her when I was a little girl," she said. "Ten or eleven, I think. Even then, it was evident how smitten you were with her."

This much about discretion. Lewyn had prided himself on their relationship being something known only to those close to him when a girl of ten had seen it for what it was.

"I fully intend to treat you to the best of my ability, Saria," he said. "You'll never suffer such a situation with another child. I would have spared you as well this one if I could. And Morgan's mother will make no demands."

There was pain and longing in her eyes. The thought that they were not for him but for her wish for someone to love her like this was a meager comfort.

"Even now you won't say it," Saria whispered. "What is this hold of hers over you?"

She straightened and drew a breath. "I understand that you have to keep him," she said. "It's only right if his mother can't or won't. He isn't the one to blame for his existence. And I cannot respect a man who takes what he wants and then abandons the result. But that binds me in no way. I don't want him in my life, Lewyn. Or our children's lives. Take care to keep us at good distance. The Water Garden is a big palace. If needed, remove one of us to Sunspear. But I don't want him in my life."

He nodded, his mind already working on a way to make it up to both her and Morgan. He couldn't come up with one.

 

Chapter Text

On the eve of Aelinor Gargalen's wedding, Salt Shore was brimming with light and laughter. The joyous anticipation radiating from from the bride spread to everyone she looked at, everyone she bestowed a smile upon. Chattering servants and serving maids ran on their errands, busy attending the numerous guests that had arrived and the ones that kept arriving from all over Dorne.

Princess Arianne and her consort were among the last ones who made it through the wide gates as dusk descended upon land and sky, wrapping them in violet punctuated by the glitter of stars, and Daenaera smiled at realizing that it had been easier for her and Patrek to come all the way from Seagard than for Alric and Arianne to make it from Sunspear. "I was already picturing how Aelinor will get wed without you," she told Alric as he came near.

He opened his arms to embrace her and Daenaera startled when she bumped into something – something that gave an indignant wail. "Ah," Alric muttered. "I forgot about you."

Daenaera stared at the little creature he pulled out from something like a bag on his chest and then looked up at him. Then at the babe again. It did not cry again but it looked indignant, as if it wanted to say, "What's going on? I was comfortable in there!"

"Alric," she gasped. "Is this… is this Oberyn?"

"Yes," Alric replied and as she touched the babe's cheek, he looked around and waved close the nursemaids with the elder child, the girl. "He kept the Water Gardens awake for a good few weeks until we figured out we should just take him riding to get him to sleep, so he rode with me here and never gave a peep." He looked down at himself speculatively. "With good swaddling, without giving me anything else either," he added and handed the babe to the nursemaid. "And how are you, Elia?" he asked, touching his daughter's cheek. She grabbed his hand.

Seeing the two children next to each other, Daenaera couldn't help but notice how frail Elia looked compared to the babe. Small and pale, her hands incredibly tiny for a one-year-old. She was looking around curiously but didn't make a sound. Oberyn's nursemaid, on the other hand, had to hold him tight because he was wriggling all possible ways and then some.

"Tell me that you didn't ride in gallop," Daenaera said, horrified. Shaking a babe so for hours?

Alric shrugged. "Why, of course I did. That was the best way to get him to sleep and we were in a hurry anyway. Else, his nursemaids have to cover all the distance from here to King's Landing to get him to sleep. Horses are better."

Daenaera suspected that there was some great relief involved as well. After the litany of miscarriages, stillbirths and cradle deaths followed by the too early birth of too frail Elia, Alric was so relieved by the arrival of a healthy child that he was ready to give him whatever Oberyn wanted, for now, at least. If the little one kept it like this, Alric would soon get another Alric on his hands and then he'd have to apply all the measures Alor had taken in regards to him. But right now, everything was just as it should be. She even managed to greet Lewyn and the lovely and so young woman next to him quite coolly. She didn't know if she was disappointed or relieved to see that unlike Alric and Arianne, they had chosen to come alone. And tomorrow, Aelinor would be wed. All would be well.


"Are you feeling unwell?" Daenaera asked later the same night, after the evening feast. Aelinor did look quite pale and tired.

Her half-sister smiled. "No. And before you ask, I have no apprehensions about tomorrow. In fact, I can't wait!"

Daenaera smiled and remembered the time of her own wedding. She had been a year younger than Aelinor was now and smile had felt like something that she had long forgotten. Are you happy, she had wanted to ask upon her arrival at Salt Shore but she had read the answer in the happy glow on Aelinor's face.

"Are you happy?" someone asked and for a moment, Daenaera felt like she had asked that unndeeded question after all. Then, she smiled and patted her sister's hand, with her smooth young skin. Lately, the lines around her own eyes had become more pronounced.

"I am," she replied truthfully. The acute wound of the loss of her child had turned into dull pain settled deep down somewhere inside her but she was happy. She had turned Seagard into her home. Jason was growing up bright and precocious. Patrek valued her advice and sought her bed almost every night. She didn't even worry about the women he took to his bed while they were apart, although in the beginning, she had felt the gloating anticipation of those telling her about it. She was the only one who mattered and when they were together, there was no one else. She had even pushed the thought about Lewyn somewhere far away. The stab of pain at seeing him with Saria was fainter than she had expected. It was strange how someone's love and appreciation could take away so much of a lifetime of pain. She had even stopped thinking of her one night of betrayal this much. She couldn't change it. She was neither the first nor the last wife who had been unfaithful. "Truly."

Aelinor looked as if she wanted to say something; at this moment, Daenaera realized that she knew. But neither of them spoke. Daenaera rose and kissed Aelinor's forehead. "I hope you'll stay forever like this," she whispered.

A rattling on the window made them both look up and Daenaera went to open the curtain. The light of the few lamps lit up Vorian Dayne's face, outlined against the night of the dark moon. He was leaning from the elm that rose all the way above the third floor, trying to get their attention. Aelinor headed for the window but Daenaera determinedly pushed her aside. Suddenly, she felt both impish and prudent, so she opened the window and gave her young cousin a stern look. "Couldn't you wait until tomorrow?" she asked.

"No," Vorian stated. "May I come in?"

"No," Daenaera replied and held out a hand behind her, just in case Aelinor tried to let him in. "From tomorrow on, you'll have all the time in the world. But it isn't decent to enter your betrothed's bedchamber before the wedding."

She had some idea that he might have visited here quite a few times before but it was amusing to see the disappointment on his face. Had she been this young? She had been older when she had first met Lewyn.

"I'll stay just for a short time," Vorian started the negotiations. She shook her head. "I really need to talk to her."

Daenaera bit back her smile.

"I'll just come for a moment. I'll promise I'll leave before you know!"

"Tomorrow," Aelinor said from behind. "Come on, have patience. Show a little respect!"

"A goodnight kiss?" he asked plaintively.

Aelinor pushed Daenaera away and leaned forward, looking for all the world as if she had acquiesced. At the last moment, she slammed the window closed and Vorian barely managed to snap his hands out intact. From her side of the glass, Aelinor blew him a kiss and he grinned in reply before heading down.

"You could have left him without fingers," Daenaera noted.

"Who, Vorian?" Aelinor asked and laughed without any shade of guilt. "One doesn't become the Sword of the Morning without being quick. He was never in any danger."

She looked around at the oak bed with carved seashells, the couch under the side window, the coral-hued pillows and coverings of everything around. She had asked for such a refurbishing upon her fifteenth nameday and although Daella had reputedly being appalled by the bright colour, Alor had stated that his daughter would have what she had demanded. Tomorrow, she'd leave it and make her home elsewhere with her husband. She loved Vorian, had known him since her birth. They were of one blood – Dayne and Targaryen – and one heart and yet the change suddenly scared her. She smiled. By tomorrow, it would have been gone.

"How far along are you?" Daenaera asked calmly, noticing where Aelinor's hand lay.

"Just one month," Aelinor replied and smiled.

Daenaera relaxed immediately. Eight-moon pregnancies had been known to people since forever. There was nothing to fear. Just to rejoice. In the morning, all would fall in place. In the morning, Aelinor and Vorian would wed.

In the morning, Aelinor was nowhere to be found.


"Go to the seaside caves," Alor Gargalen ordered angrily without looking at Alric. "Of all the times to go there to reflect, watch the sunrise or whatever, to choose today…" He ran out of words, furious with his daughter's lack of forethought.

Daella looked quite annoyed as well. "We'll need at least three hours to prepare her – she hasn't even had her bath! What was she thinking…"

"No, no, Lady Mother," her goodaughter Isanne cried. She was holding her little son Errol who had clearly spent a bad night. Now, he wailed and buried his head in his mother's shoulder. "Look at the bed, everything is torn, there has been a fight!"

Daenaera looked at the coral shreds, almost hidden from view in shade of the bed curtains. Daella gasped and reached for the table to steady herself.

A thorough search led them to Aelinor's maid. Alone for many hours in the darkness of the underground tunnel, mad with fear, the girl could not tell them anything. As soon as they untied her hands, she curled into a ball there, on the cold rock, whimpering and talking to herself about a monster with two heads.

"Maelys Blackfyre…" Vorian whispered, his face losing the little colour it still had.

"But how?!" Alric started and fell silent.

"Someone has led him here," his brother Mikkel stated. "Someone must have."

He turned to his father. "I want all of our own people summoned," he said. "Every man-at-arms. Every scullery maid. Everyone who had been here more than two years!"

"No," Alor said, his face going white. "Those people have been with us for…"

"Yes, and that's it," his son replied, his controlled mask cracking. "Don't you understand, Father, that one or more of our faithful people here betrayed us? Aelinor wouldn't leave on her own. And he didn't just come and found the entrance in the caves by chance! We must know which ones of our people are missing."

"I'll be out in the sea before noon," Carral Gargalen said. "He'll still have a lead but with a few light ships and some luck I might cut it short."

"Do so," his father said urgently and without losing time, Carral turned and headed back to the castle.

"But what would Maelys Blackfyre want of her?" Daella asked plaintively.

No one had heard her approach and no one had any answer for her. But then, Patrek hesitated. "When I was in the Free Cities, I heard some things," he said reluctantly.

"What things?" Alor asked and his hands clenched into fists.

"That Maelys Blackfyre had claimed he'd make her his queen, a symbol of his victory against King Daeron's line. You see, many men coming from Westeros had started spreading the tales about her beauty and…"

"And you didn't think to tell us?" Vorian roared and came forward, Dawn in his hand.

His father quickly stepped between the two. "Take this sword down, Vorian," he snapped. "Mallister isn't to blame. Blackfyres have bragged about gaining possession of our women since the first traitor by the name of Daemon. No one takes them seriously nowadays."

But they should have; even as she reached down to wrap her sister's maid in her own cloak, Daenaera could only think in horror if Maelys Blackfyre had already found out that Aelinor was no maiden. What would happen when he found out about the babe? What would…?

The scream that tore from her mother's throat almost drowned her own.

 

Chapter Text

When the bolt rasped and rattled, Aelinor looked up from her book, surprised by the change in her daily routine. It was not time for her supper yet and despite his profound interest in her, Maelys never visited her this early. He was too busy with his plans and campaigns – in other words, his schemes to steal a realm that wasn't his and his barbarity in pillaging and murdering everyone who happened to stand in the way of the monster and his fellow self-titled kings. Or those who paid him. Or those who just didn't manage to remove themselves from the path of his stallion fast enough. In her six months with him, she had seen enough of war to hate it for a lifetime. She could never understand what warlords proclaimed a victory since she, personally, saw only dead men or men slowly dying, weeping or screaming in agony, be it of wounds or draught and diseases that followed armies more faithfully than any whore… Maelys Blackfyre, curse be upon him, had come up with a better punishment for her than he could have concocted, had he wanted to! His desire to drag her along to any battlefield he was headed for had robbed her of the little sleep she could have had, perhaps, as her child grew within her.

Her handmaidens were so scared of him that they would not dare talk to her unless absolutely needed, lest he thought they were conspiring with her. Dara kept serving her as her personal maid and no doubt, his spy. Aelinor had little to say to her, so she didn't speak when the woman announced, "I've brought you a visitor, my lady. My lord feels it's time for you to renew your wardrobe."

Aelinor's fear grew. She was too big already; just a few weeks later, no one would be able to believe that she was in her seventh month when it would be her eight. For now, Maelys sidestepped around the matter, watching her like a hawk and counting; every little thing that brought attention to her body was a reason for concern. She didn't say a thing. But when the lovely woman with a waterfall of hair shining in warm brown behind Dara, the merchant, touched a finger to her lips, she snapped to attention, although she didn't show it. " If I must," she said, sounding bored more than anything.

Dara rolled her eyes. "You were always one for pretty things, my lady. Why would you change now?"

And you've been coveting my pretty things all along, Aelinor thought and rose. "Is it fabrics that you've brought?" she asked.

The young woman crossed the solar and stood before her, squinting her eyes against the sunlight streaming from the window. "I can see why Lord Maelys wished for you to have those," she drawled. "Recently, I've been providing the pillow-houses with colours that would suit you extraordinarily. I'll never know why men die to bed a Valyrian-looking woman."

Her tone was very insulting but her eyes were wide and friendly. Aelinor huffed out a disparaging laugh. "Because we have class?" she suggested.

"Like your crone of a sister?" The woman's voice was rising.

Patrek's mistress, Aelinor thought. That must be her.

"What, you thought her husband would leave her for you?" she asked.

"I could have borne him the heir he needed!"

"You forget," Aelinor said. "My sister did. Or did you think that he'd let your bastard's birth overshadow the birth of his heir?"

"I told you she was arrogant," Dara said, coming close. "Just like her mother and sister. And her eldest brother behaves as if he's the King of the Seven Kingdoms."

Aelinor looked at both women with disdain. "I don't think I need new gowns," she said. "You may go."

Just like she had expected, Dara instantly became worried, her brown eyes widening with fear. "But my lord said…"

"That you'll have someone here to offend me jointly?" Aelinor snapped. "I don't think so! I am not interested in your goods either," she added, giving Patrek's mistress a haughty look.

Seemingly worried about her profit, the woman looked at Dara. "Have the fabrics brought over immediately!" she snapped and in her confusion, the elderly woman obeyed, pulling the bolt down anyway. Under no circumstances should Aelinor be allowed to stay unlocked.

When the rattle of the bolt stopped, followed by the echo of retreating steps, the brown-haired stranger came close and started whispering urgently, "I'm sorry for the insults but I have a certain image to maintain. My name is Tamala and I'm very indebted to your sister."

Aelinor nodded. "I got that," she replied in whisper.

"She and Patrek, and your betrothed are planning your escape," Tamala went on and despite having expected something like that, Aelinor's knees went weak and she had to sit down. Tamala came close once again.

"We must be fast. Almost no one in Myr knows where you are and this house isn't well guarded. But you'll be moved to Tyrosh in a week and unless we act before that, they'll have to start anew. In three nights, an acquaintance of mine will be at his post in the port. We'll come for you then. But you must like my fabrics and wish to have more of those shown to you.. This way, I could come over again in two or three days. It will be a great help for us to know for sure that you haven't been moved elsewhere."

It was a good reasoning and Aelinor nodded. Maelys kept moving her from city to city and house to house…

"Thank you," she whispered and went rigid at the sound of a closing door somewhere downstairs. "A man would always prefer a lady to a common whore…" she went on, raising her voice.


As the night drew near and the twilight veiled their faces in shadows, Tamala, Patrek, Daenaera, Vorian, and Carral exchanged information in Tamala's small solar.

"She isn't even that well-guarded," Tamala said again. "Clearly, they rely on no one knowing where she is. And they're right. I needed to put all my connections in the pillow-houses and those of my household in the city to find out where she is. Looks like Maelys isn't that interested in her now that she's lost her figure. He doesn't visit her all that much."

"That's good." Carral Gargalen's voice was ragged with weariness and lack of sleep. For days, he'd been playing hide and seek near the port with the men who demanded proof of intentions from every vessel coming into the port. The rulers of Myr were suspicious of everyone. They weren't still at war with the Band of Nine but everyone knew it was just a matter of time. And Liomond Lashare was not a friend either. To make it worse, he knew Carral by face. They had had their clashes at sea and their hatred had a tinge of rivalry, although both would deny it furiously. Liomond would delight in bringing Carral and his sister down. "This way, we can…"

"We must watch the movements around the house," Vorian said. "Perhaps we should enter during the change of guards."

"We don't even know if they change," Daenaera reminded him.

"My servants will get to know," Tamala assured her and Patrek frowned.

"I don't want you to get involved in this more than you are," he said but she shrugged.

"I'm perfectly safe," she said. "Everyone knows how jealous I am over your wife. And I've carved quite the connections here. No one will dare question me."

It was all Lady Daenaera's doing. While Patrek sent her enough means to keep her and their little girl in comfort, Lady Daenaera had been adding her own, extremely generous input. Her golden dragons had let Tamala start a business of her own, settle into a life that fitted her far better. While still bitter that her glorious youth could not prevail in her former lover's heart over whatever hold his wife held over him, Tamala was extremely grateful to the older woman and when the party had first approached her with the plea that she helped them find where Aelinor was being held, she had offered her cooperation without thinking twice.

"If Lady Aelinor can't be moved or you cannot leave immediately, you're welcome to stay here," Tamala now said and while Daenaera immediately said her thanks, Lady Aelinor's betrothed looked at her with greater, renewed worry.

"Why are you saying this?" he demanded. "If she can't be moved?"

"Because I saw her looks and the way her belly was," the young woman replied. "She can give birth any moment now. In fact, I'd advise that we find a midwife to accompany you on the ship, just in case."


Unbeknownst to them, the midwife was hurrying for the great white house as they spoke and Aelinor insisted that she wasn't giving birth even as her the pains wracked her body, her waters broke and her womb slowly opened. Through the mind-blowing pain, pain that she had never known before, she was silently pleading with her baby to stay inside, just a few weeks, just a few days more. It was too early even for her due date – and no one would believe that such a perfect birth, according to the midwife, had taken place before her seventh moon.

"I am not giving birth," she groaned adamantly even as the midwife cried, "It's coming! I can see the head!"

"I am not…" Aelinor insisted and then she did.

"It's a girl, my lady, a beautiful little girl!" Dara cried out and despite the fear that did not leave her, Aelinor felt awed and ecstatic when the child was placed in her arms. She rubbed her daughter's soft head with her chin and then almost dropped her as the agony ripped through her again, all the sharper for being unexpected.

At the time her son was born, Maelys had already entered her chamber, looming over the couch where the silver-haired newborn had been placed. As Dara placed the boy next to his sister, the monster's face closed, becoming even more repulsive. For a while, he kept staring at the small but perfectly formed babes, reconciling himself with the inevitable fact. The three women watched him with bated breath, for the first time reunited in their fear. Then he whirled around and advanced on Aelinor but halted well away from her bed of blood and filth. "You whore," he breathed and somehow, that was worse than any roar. "You promised me that you'd give me a son."

"I will give you a son, I will!" Aelinor promised fervently, rising and then falling back, something gushing from her once again, a new pain flaring. The afterbith. "Maelys, please!"

He frowned with disgust at the new stench coming from her. He turned around and made his way to the door.

"Throw them into the sea," he called over his shoulder and this time, Aelinor shot from her bed and fell to her knees.

"Please!" she cried out but Maelys was gone, the echo of his steps fading like a final verdict.

Aelinor turned to the midwife. "You can't take them away!" she shrieked seeing that the woman had already taken the two bundles in her arms. "No!"

In the elderly woman's face, there was only sympathy but she headed for the door anyway. No one was stupid enough to defy Maelys Blackfyre, especially over two lives that had only just begun.

"Don't do this," Aelinor said desperately. "Please!"

She turned to her maid in panic. "Dara, had I not been good to you? I…"

The eyes of the woman who had betrayed her were full of tears but she shook her head firmly. "It's Lord Maelys who pays me. I only obey his orders."

"Let me give you money!" Aelinor suggested frantically and when both of them stopped to look at her, she realized that she didn't have any. "Just don't throw them into the sea!"

"You don't have any money," Dara said. Her smile was now cool and calculating. "However, you have a few jewels…"

The ones she had laid out to wear on her wedding day. Her royal uncle's present… "That's all I have," Aelinor whispered, going pale.

"And that's your children's chance at life," Dara said. "In the sea, they won't live to see the new day. Stray dogs are vicious and sometimes they seek for food in the shoals, they say."

She turned to the door.

"Wait." Aelinor was swaying on her knees. "I'll give you the jewels."

Just moving over to gather them felt like she was trudging through mountains of snow. She stared at the babe's small faces and tears rolled down her cheeks. "Carry them to the house of Tamala the merchant," she begged. "Please!"

The women left without answering. Aelinor could only pray that they followed her wish, that Dara returned and told her that they had. But she knew there was no certainty.

That night, her maid didn't come back. And Aelinor met the sunrise on the way, being moved to another location. Deep in her heart, she knew that just in a few days, Maelys would force himself upon her and she didn't care. The wound in her heart overshadowed everything that he could do to her body.

 

Chapter Text

"You're really the best thing that has ever happened to Patrek and this town," Eriana said softly, overcome with affection and admiration for her friend whom she had not wanted as her goodaughter once.

Daenaera smiled and shifted uncomfortably. "I am very glad to hear that," she said and seeing that Eriana was about to summon the servants, she shook her head. "They can't help me," she said. "Even Suzette's massages can only do so much when I'm so close to my time."

Eriana studied her, trying to find out if she was really so calm. The maester and midwives had placed Daenaera's due date five days ago and yet there were no signs of impeding birth. Eriana had started worrying and Daenaera's women looked troubled as well. Only she looked calm and even a little amused by their impatience as she kept saying that the date was wrong, that she was near her time and not past it. But then again, what could she do but try to believe that? There were some herbs that could make the child come sooner but there was a good chance that they would poison it into the womb, and perhaps Daenaera herself as well. She could only wait and if she truly believed that the maester was wrong, that could only help her. The birthing bed was horrifying enough even without that additional fear.

"I feel the same way about your son, Eriana," Daenaera said slowly after a while. "He gave meaning to my life. He and Seagard."

There was no dishonesty to her words. Sometimes, days and weeks went before she thought of her former life as the unhappy lady of Stone Hedge or even her earliest one, as the King's granddaughter, the most adored girl at his court. Lewyn Martell had slowly retreated from her heart. Only the boy whose face she couldn't imagine wouldn't leave her thoughts. But even this wound had scarred. Daenaera had accepted that she could not wish the past away. Her life was with Patrek now and it was a good one. From the open windows of her solar, the wind blew the scent of honeysuckle and the salty breath of sea. Once again, she stared hard, trying to conjure a sail against the horizon. But there was nothing.

"It's good that Patrek isn't here," Eriana said, following her look. "Men are generally useless in moments like this. Mine made the mistake of entering the birthing chamber in the most unfortunate time. We almost didn't have a second babe because of that."

Daenaera laughed. Before giving birth, she had thought such tales just embellishments but now she wasn't so sure. And yet it wasn't Patrek that she wanted here. Well, she wanted him to return but a raven would do just as fine – a raven bringing the word that they were all fine, that they had retrieved Aelinor, that the threat by the name of Blackfyre had finally been eradicated. And yet there was none.

"Oh," she said, remembering. "I'm sorry, I must go…"

That child was taking a toll not only of her feet but her brains, it seemed! She had forgotten that she had summoned two master builders to present their plans for restoring the sept that sorely needed someone who knew what they were doing. A sudden storm had carved a hole in the roof and the following rains had only widened it. Daenaera feared that the falling stones would kill someone – and unfortunately, that was the greatest sept at Seagard, right on the central square. It was usually crowded – well, it had been before she placed guards around it since appeals to reason had done her little good. She planned to have the repairs started before her babe arrived. The first builder was probably pacing Patrek's study, waiting for her to arrive.

When she entered, he bowed, a grizzled man with huge hands that Daenaera liked immediately. They were rough and red, and strong – the hands of a man who had worked with stone and not only parchments. His expression was uneasy, though, and she realized that in her hurry to make up for the lost time, she had not changed and her robes revealed her belly quite obviously.

"I am sorry for being late, Master Turin," she said. "Show me your designs."

He produced a big board with a clay model, finished in such detail that the roof stood out – it was too wide and Daenaera looked at him, surprised. The quality of the work made the mistake even more unexplainable. At least until the man started explaining.

"I think we should remove the roof, my lady, and replace it with a new one. The old one is so… well, old. You'll need to have it repaired every other year, if not every year. Let's have a new one entirely and solve the matter. And the one I'm planning will end up in eaves, so the walls will be more protected against winter and spring dampness and people will find a shelter when rains come over them in the square. They'll say your name with gratitude."

In this moment, Daenaera knew that he was aware of her growing unpopularity with the people over the closing of the sept. Smallfolk thought that she wanted to deprive them of the blessing of the Seven and the tensions were running strong, with the guards that she had placed there not allowing anyone in. There were other septs in Seagard, of course, but this was the greatest one, more impressive than even the one in the castle. Why should I care, she thought angrily. If they can't understand that I'm doing it for them, the fault lies with them. I don't need their love. Have they ever loved my grandfather? Have they ever felt the tiniest bit of gratitude for the stability that he provided for them? If he could take it, so can I! But it still rankled her that a master builder thought she was so pitiful that she needed to buy their love. And then he said something about erecting a statue of her royal uncle.

It was a good thing that her babe chose to start its descent, else Daenaera would have explained to Turin what, exactly, were the chances of King Aegon having a statue if she had a say, and in no kind words either. As it was, she only said that such a monument was not needed and waited for the next master to come with his designs. She'd have enough time before she went to the birthing chamber to bring forth the new life. Better occupy herself with something useful than think of the fight that she'd either win or die in, of the possibility that her babe might be too big if the maester was right, that her age might make for harder birth, that Jason would be left motherless at such tender an age, that she might never know what became of Aelinor who she had secretly wished to have as a daughter and not sister.

Her son was born as the day drew to a close and she gasped when she saw Patrek crossing the threshold. "When did you come back?" she whispered.

He was smiling, happy and relieved to see her. "A few hours ago," he said. "To the greatest present of all. You did great once again."

Despite his joy, she noticed how he avoided her eyes and her heart sank. "What happened?" she whispered and her distress was such that her new babe started mewling against her.

"Maelys Blackfyre is dead," he said. "They all live."

That was what Daenaera most wanted to hear and yet it wasn't all of it. He wouldn't have looked like this if it was. But her eyelids were growing heavy and although the midwives wouldn't let her go to sleep, her mind could hardly form the questions. She just knew that the ball of worry in her chest would not go away.

The next day Patrek told her what had happened. "We managed to establish contact with your sister," he said. "She knew where Maelys held his defense plans for the island and she managed to give them to us. But he found out that they were missing and he…"

Daenaera's heart turned to ice. "Did he kill her?" she whispered, staring not at him but her hands, slim, white and slightly veiny. Age had finally started catching up with her more pronouncedly.

"No," Patrek said. "He cut her. He drew his knife upon her face, her breasts, her arms… He cut her belly as well, but we don't know if he wanted the child she is carrying to die as well."

What did it matter? The intentions of a dead man were hardly relevant! The horror of what she had just heard started making its way through Daenaera's mind. Aelinor disfigured… the last Blackfyre still growing in her womb… Silent tears overcame her and she noticed them only when Jeffory started squirming, trying to avoid the drops falling on his head.

 

Chapter Text

The invitation surprised Daenaera a little. The Laughing Storm had always been the one for grand gestures, grand tourneys, all grand but Ormund had done so only reluctantly and this far, Steffon had only followed in his father's footsteps. But she reasoned out that until now, he had never really had an occasion to throw a tourney. His wedding and his firstborn's birth had been swallowed in the shadow of his father's death and it was hardly expected of him to celebrate the birth of his second son more grandly than the arrival of his heir.

The fifth nameday of Robert Baratheon, the future Lord of Storm's End, was just the right occasion to display a ray of Lord Lyonel's love of splendour.

"I expect that you want to go?" Eriana asked as soon as Daenaera told her.

Daenaera shrugged. "Why, of course I do. That's a big occasion and most of my family will be there as well. I do want to introduce Jason and Joffery to their cousins."

She could see that Eriana wanted to object but time and soft clashes – soft but clashes anyway – had helped them both define their parts: now, Daenaera was the Lady of Seagard. If Eriana tried to meddle too much, Patrek would always disarm her, in Daenaera's favour.

It's hard to have a goodmother your own age, Daenaera thought and smiled. But in some aspects, we're spared the usual clashes. "Don't you want to come with us?" she asked and Eriana looked at her with horror.

"Please! All this traveling! And besides, someone has to stay here and look over things while you're parading around court."

Yes, that was another small thing that satisfied Daenaera. Eriana still saw her as the great beauty who had turned every man's head, captured attention whenever she went. In truth, Daenaera would prefer if the court wasn't there. She now spent more time in front of her silver mirror in her battle with time but she could say she was losing it visibly. She was an old woman. An old woman who was expecting again… For the first time in her life, she was scared to face the world outside Seagard. For the first time, she didn't have the allure of her beauty. Instead, she had lines on her face and a belly that, at the time of the tourney, would be visible…

"Do you want us to go?" Patrek asked her the same night as she checked Joffery's writing. Maester Zigwalt was less than pleased with her constant supervision but she wasn't leaving anything to chance. "Do you think you'll be up to it?"

She smiled. "If I am not, I'll tell you in advance. But I don't think I will be. I feel better than when I was carrying the boys."

It was true, in a way. She just felt the weight of her age which made her constantly exhausted. Forty nine namedays and a babe on the way didn't make a light combination. But she was spared the usual small inconveniences of early expecting. And since she seldom lied to him, at least that he knew about, he believed her immediately. "Is your mother going to be there?" he asked. "Your brothers?"

"Yes, I expect that they will."

Not Aelinor, though. She rarely went anywhere now. And with Jaehaerys' onetime wish for her child, the poor thing who had been born with one hand, to be given to him to determine her fate as the last scion of House Blackfyre, it wouldn't be wise even of them to go. But Daenaera did not doubt they would, once they learned that she'd attend. She wished her mother could bring Morgan along but what was impossible was impossible. Officially, Daella had nothing to do with the boy. Daenaera's longing to see him would remain unfulfilled.

Patrek didn't ask her any more questions and seeing the way he looked away from her, Daenaera couldn't help but wonder bitterly if he didn't think her unworthy of desire and therefore unworthy of jealousy anymore. His infatuations with younger women had become more blatant. She knew of three here, in Seagard, just in the last five years. Her, he sought less often now, although he was always happy in her company. It felt strange than in a rare moment of passion they had conceived this child that in the beginning Daenaera hadn't even realized she was carrying – she had just thought that her moon blood had stopped forever. Suddenly she realized that at Storm's End, everyone would take her state as a proof that her much younger husband still desired her. Words would combine her dying her hair with snickerings about his youth and how they spared their time… Now, that was not how she had imagined she'd enter her fifties but she had to admit that it was better than the alternative – the talks of how he had abandoned her for younger women.

Patrek knelt before the hearth to light the fire for her. When he rose, Daenaera smiled. "I'd rather go to bed now," she said. "Good night."

He would stay if she told him that she wanted him to. But the very idea of forcing him to sleep with her, even chastely, was repellent to her.

His relief was evident. He smiled. "Do you want to come with me tomorrow? I'll see how the strengthening of the sea wall is going."

"It should have been done like five years ago," Daenaera murmured. "Very well, I will come."

A small gesture of care, atonement for not desiring her anymore. But he could have not desired her without this gesture either. She smiled back. Her life could have been much worse. Her marriage to Patrek was much happier than her marriage to Lothar, if that could have been called marriage at all.

The morning came, grey and crisp. When they emerged from the building, her litter waited but Daenaera shook her head. "I'd rather walk," she said.

"Are you sure?" Patrek asked. "You look pale."

"I'm fine," Daenaera said. "I just didn't sleep much."

Her night had been full of demons that kept waking her up. Perhaps walking to the shore would clear her head, liven her up.

Patrek took her hand and walked her to the shore where the head mason ordered his men to stop working as soon as they came near. "Just a day or two before we're done," he said. "You haven't been late to summon us, m'lord, for sure."

"That's what my lady has been telling me as well," Patrek answered good-naturedly.

Daenaera who had grown up between King's Landing and Driftmark knew that the sea was not to be trusted with any building works. She made a few steps towards the wall they were working on and a pair of sea birds swooping by screeched in displeasure. Black wings, black day, Daenaera thought.

"By the Seven, Daenaera, do draw back!" her husband said sharply as the mason gave a similar warning. She stepped back – just in time to watch horrified as another section on the wall gave up. Right over them. Burying them underneath.

Even before the first scream left her lips, she knew that she had been widowed again.

 

Chapter Text

Daenaera waited for her daughter with increasing anger made stronger by the coming storm. The horse might panic and throw her off. The stupid girl might return with quite a few bruises or even worse! With each passing moment, Daenaera thought of a new thing to take from Amabel or unpleasant duty to impose on her. The problem was that even if she shut her up in her chamber for weeks without her beloved books, her daughter would likely spend the time daydreaming. Daenaera had never realized what a punishment an unpunishable child was until she got one. Amabel always found a way to amuse herself. If only she came back unhurt, Daenaera would find a way to bore her to death!

The little girl playing with her wolves and bears in the brightly painted corner gave her a look of caution. "Angi?" she asked and Daenaera sighed.

"No, Daena, I am not angry."

But her granddaughter kept giving her the suspicious eye, then rose, came over to her clumsily, embraced her leg as high as she could reach and smacked her lips. Daenaera laughed and leaned over, so the child could give her a kiss.

"Do you want us to read about wolves?" she asked and little Daenaera accepted eagerly. But Daenaera's heart wasn't into the tale. If she couldn't control her own daughter, if four-an-sixty and fourteen did not fit smoothly, what would it be like when Daena turned fourteen? By then, Daenaera would be seventy-six if she lived this long. There was little doubt in her mind that when Jason took another wife, Daena would stay in her, Daenaera's, care. Few were the women who would want to take care of their stepchildren if they had a choice. Daenaera's clashes with Amabel, although few, for Amabel was usually well-behaved, with only this penchant of riding like a mad girl in the most unfortunate of times, exhausted her a good deal already. What would be left for Daena when Daenaera lost all her stamina and became even more different from young people as she kept aging?

A lightning flashed, a thunderbolt split the sky in two and Daenaera's fear grew. Where was this stupid girl? After finishing her rounds about the castle for the day, she had escaped without asking for permission because, of course, her mother would not have given her one. Not with the promise of the storm that was now reality.

She must have spent an eternity at the window where she could see the castle gate before she recognized her daughter – pale, her clothes clinging to her, her hair dripping water, but alive. Fine. Her relief was such that she hurried out to scold Amabel without sending for her first. And the sight of the three newcomers that the storm had brought over with her daughter didn't deter her one bit. The Tully girls had seen her have words for Amabel more than once and that little ward of Hoster's could use the occasion to witness such things coolly. How could he expect to settle grudges in his lands or advance at court if he stared at each discontent person with the same fear that he was staring at Daenaera now?

"You can go upstairs, I'll send you wooden tubs immediately," Daenaera told their young guests. "It's Amabel that I'm having a word with. You didn't make her sneak out like that."

Petyr Baelish immediately made a step towards the stairs but since Catelyn and Lysa did not move, he stayed where he was. As usual, Daenaera felt vaguely uncomfortable with the adoration that he was staring at Catelyn with. Perhaps with time, it would develop into the passion that Patrek had held for her for many years, starting when he had been just a few years older than Baelish. Cat was a sensible girl and yet something in Daenaera bade her to warn her about… nothing, in fact.

"Never do this again," she told Amabel, suddenly unsure about her judgment. Perhaps she had long forgotten what it felt to be young.

Lysa and Cat looked somewhat disappointed. For as long as Daenaera had known them, they had been fascinated with other girls' mothers, even if they had thought Daenaera had been Amabel's grandmother when they had first seen her. Lysa didn't even remember her mother all that much.

Visibly relieved, Amabel ran upstairs, dripping water.

"Be careful!" Daenaera cried in her wake but it was already too late: Amabel didn't see Magdeen who was washing the marble landing of the second floor, slipped on the wet steps, screamed and fell; her foot got caught in the iron banister and she hung over the steps with her legs wide apart. Everyone rushed to help her. Jeffory appeared out of nowhere and carried her upstairs, forbidding her to even try to walk. Maester Zigwalt came to her chambers almost immediately and to Daenaera's enormous relief announced that she hadn't broken the foot. When Daenaera left, the three girls were already chattering about Amabel's recent engagement to Elbert Arryn and making guesses when Cat would wed Brandon Stark.

Daenaera stayed with Daena as she ate her supper and put her to bed personally. Then, she had to explain to Jason what had happened and assured him that his sister was fine. But when she returned to her chambers, she realized that Amabel wasn't.

"Cat told me that I must come and tell you," her daughter said and explained that she was now bleeding as if she was having her moon blood but she expected it in a fortnight and not earlier.

"Maester Zigwalt must have a look at you immediately," Daenaera said, biting back the angry reproaches that had Amabel controlled herself and behaved like a proper lady, this would have not taken place. Already, she knew that in her daughter's wedding night, there would be no bleeding… just like there hadn't been any in her own wedding night. Patrek had pretended to believe that it had been due to riding but it had always stood between them, an invisible wall that they never talked about. He had known that there had been another man. Would Elbert believe the same for Amabel? Daenaera's anger at her daughter disappeared, swept away by anger at the world that demanded everything of women and nothing of men. And when the next day the raven arrived that soon, there would be a wedding at King's Landing, her pride and joy were mixed with sudden fear for her niece.


From the port to the foot of Aegon's Hill, the streets were black with people who waved their hats in the air, bowed at the royal procession's passing, lifted their children high in the air and screamed themselves hoarse, "Welcome Princess!", "Look how lovely she is!", "May the Seven bless you!" and Daenaera smiled, for a moment letting herself believe that for Elia Martell, future would be as glamorous as this lovely, sun-swept winter day that had brought her to King's Landing. Rhaegar Targaryen, the Prince of Dragonstone, rode next to her and for the first time since Daenaera's arrival at the capital two weeks ago he looked happy. Smiling. Radiant. Perhaps this was because despite the affront his father was dealing him by not being here to welcome his bride to be, the King's absence meant greater freedom for everyone to be at ease and feel joyful. Perhaps it was because he had rode to the port to welcome a bride he had chosen himself, instead of accepting his father's choice of an Essosi girl of Valyrian blood. Whatever the reason, at this moment Daenaera believed that those two young people could be happy.

"I hope so," Mikkel said neutrally when she expressed these feelings to him a day later.

She frowned. "Why are you telling me this?"

They were sitting in the solar of the house at Rhaenys' Hill that House Mallister had kept for more than hundred years. Like the rest of the bride's retinue, Mikkel was lodged in the Red Keep but neither of them considered those quarters a suitable place for any earnest talk. Mikkel leaned over and refilled both of their cups with the Dornish red he had brought just for her. "I've seen our niece in love before," he said. "Twice. Elia likes a certain kind of men and the Prince isn't it."

That might be true but as a reason it was so weak that Daenaera laughed outright. "Very well," she said when she had demonstrated her feelings. "Now, what is the reason?"

"My Errol has been sleeping badly," Mikkel said and the concern in his face was such that Daenaera held her breath. "Just before I came here, he asked me if there wasn't any way for us to break the betrothal without ruffling any feathers."

The question was so silly that the reasoning with Elia's preferences in men sounded like a perfectly logical one. But this time, Daenaera didn't laugh. There was no way that her half-brother would tell her that if he wasn't truly worried.

"Does he have the dreams?" she asked, realizing once again just how distant from her kin she had grown with time. In the first few years after her wedding, she had visited twice but Patrek's disapproval had gradually stopped that and later, she had found herself with a city and lands to rule and small children to look after, so she didn't know something as important as the visions coming back in the young generation. The Seven knew that her own children had none of those – for which she was grateful.

Mikkel nodded. "He does," he said. "He was a great supporter of the match, as he should be." There was a touch of anger to his voice and Daenaera wasn't surprised. Amabel's small missteps looked like a child's game compared to what Errol Gargalen had done, eloping with the woman who had been expected to be betrothed to the Prince of Dragonstone in mere days. Daenaera had barely believed that he had done to his son and niece the same thing that Patrek's parents had done to them – but he had. She now wondered if Eriana had gone to her grave carrying just a small bit of anger with her, holding it to the last. But then, Mikkel smiled. "Of course, if he hadn't, I wouldn't have had my lovely grandchildren. I wish Elia gives poor Rhaella those very soon. Anyway, Errol supported the match till the very last night before we left Sunspear. And then, he wasn't. And he can't tell me what it is that he fears. He only knows that it will happen."

"Perhaps his judgment is coloured by Arianne's state," Daenaera suggested, looking at him carefully. He didn't say a thing and she asked, "Is she truly this sick?"

"She is," Mikkel said. "And she won't get better. Everyone says so. That's why Alric didn't accompany us here."

To this, Daenaera couldn't say a thing. The veil of happiness that the celebrations had spun for her had started tearing apart. She couldn't imagine how Elia must be feeling, wondering if her mother wouldn't die in the very day of her wedding.

"But I don't think that's it," Mikkel said. "Arianne's health had been declining for a long time before Errol started having those dreams. No, it's about Elia. About her marriage."

"Is she not a maid?" Daenaera asked without putting too fine a point upon it.

"She is," Mikkel replied without batting an eyelid. "As far as I know," he added after a moment. "But it'll be hard for her. It's so different here and it will be at Dragonstone as well."

Daenaera wasn't surprised to hear that the newlyweds would move to Rhaegar's own seat but it surprised her a little that Mikkel was so well acquainted with their plans. There must be really something to those rumours about the Prince's intentions, she thought. In the few trips to Dorne that Rhaegar had made before the betrothal was announced, there seemed to have been a good amount of work done. Daenaera wondered if her niece had been consulted or just told about the intentions of her betrothed and her family.

"It's going to be hard in the beginning, indeed," she agreed.

"I'm talking about Elia herself," Mikkel elaborated, having correctly guessed that she was thinking about the good deal of Dornish men and women that had come to stay with the bride. "Unfortunately, there is no one we can send with her, save for Ashara. Ashara Dayne. But she's so young. Naeryn would make a good companion – Elia loves her and she doesn't moon about but she's the last person who should make appearance in any Targaryen court. All other ladies are wed and busy with their own lives. I am satisfied with Lewyn taking the white, for he won't be blinded by any oaths should the need to protect her arise but he's still a man."

The idea of Lewyn following any oaths when someone of his blood might be in danger… or following the one for celibacy brought a brief smile on Daenaera's lips. She had yet to see him but she didn't doubt that the oaths would last as long as there wasn't any actual need contradicting them involved. She gave her brother a direct look. "So you want me to accompany Elia to Dragonstone and look after her," she said and when she did, it didn't look this ridiculous. Amabel would have the chance to practice ruling a great household, under the supervision of people chosen by Daenaera, of course. Daena would live in a royal household, with a good chance of making ties that wouldn't leave her unprotected should a stepmother hostile to her appeared. Daenaera herself would have the chance to witness key events unfolding and give support as the one that had been denied to her when she had been Elia's age. And of course, she'd have to watch Lewyn find another woman since he undoubtedly would do so. Surprised, she realized that while she hadn't felt desire for a long time – for the last six years, she hadn't even had a lover, - jealousy was as strong as ever. But it was such a minor thing compared to what she'd gain.

"Very well," she said, "I'll do it."

 

Chapter Text

The ship dropped anchor in a wind howling so fiercely that Daenaera could barely heard the shouts of the sailors as they went about their duties; she was sure that it wasn't easy for them to hear each other as well. Over them, heavy clouds turned the sky uniformly grey and she shivered and looked over Daena, making sure that she was properly clad. The little girl dropped the hand that had been stealing towards her hood and gave her grandmother an innocent smile revealing a good number of white teeth. Daenaera clutched the tiny hand more tightly, knowing that Daena would bolt to have another look at the deck as soon as she looked away. The child whimpered because Daenaera was too tall and it felt uncomfortable having her arm stretched up like this.

The second in-command came to her and dipped his head respectfully. "My lady, I'm afraid we can't get any closer, for the bottom in the shoals is insidious. You must be transferred by boat, down a rope ladder. I apologize but…"

Behind him, an old sailor rolled his eyes. Daenaera smiled. The second in-command was probably the only man on board who had not sailed her before.

"There is no need to fear that I'll fall into the sea," she said. "I was sailing ships at the time you were still sitting on your mother's knee, young man. I understand that this bottom can cut the wood in pieces right under us. A boat is fine."

The young man blushed but when the ladder was thrown, he still opened his arms from the boat to catch Daenaera, should something happen. She descended with more effort than she had used to but with steady movements. After her, first Daena and then Septa Imala were lowered in a basket. Daenaera sighed when she realized that both the child and the septa were clad in their best shoes after she had warned them not to do this. She hoped the leather could be brought back to decent state after soaking in the salty water that expected them in the few steps between the boat and the dry sand. She looked at the castle towering above them and immediately felt smothered by all this dragonness.

Inside, Dragonstone was just as grim as Daenaera remembered it from the time she had visited her uncle. She almost looked around expected to see him, his eyes haunted and sad always and when they looked at her, even more so. "Be strong, child," Daeron Targaryen would say from time to time. "Stay strong." Aemon had tried to dissuade her fears, claiming that his brother didn't know what he was talking about but Daenaera had known better.

In the chambers meant for the new princess, though, she felt that there was something living. Colours. Things of beauty, rather than majesty. Daenaera touched a bright yellow curtain and smiled. It looked like Elia wanted to bring the sun in, even when there would be no sun. A huge sketch was taking an entire table and Elia and three other women were examining it and taking notes; upon coming close, Daenaera realized it was a plan of the dragon castle.

"We're trying to decide what to change to make it more cheerful," Elia explained. "It is a great and impressive castle but it isn't very welcoming, is it?"

It wasn't for Daenaera and it certainly wouldn't be for a young woman who had grown up in the Water Gardens. "Are you changing the entire castle? The Prince's chambers as well?"

Elia's smile faltered and returned so quickly that Daenaera wasn't sure she hadn't imagined it. "He prefers more sedate colours and surroundings."

"I see," Daenaera replied, an unpleasant feeling coiling in her chest. Lothar, too, had preferred simplicity … No, that was ridiculous. There was no reason to think that Elia's husband was anything like her own. Especially if what she suspected was true. She recognized the soft radiance in the girl's eyes, those widened eyes, gentle, caressing everything around and holding a happy secret. She had seen them on Arianne's face before her babes had died in swift sequence. From that moment on, it had always been fear. But she didn't ask – it would be very tactless, given the fact that she didn't know her niece all that well.

Ashara Dayne was making calculations about a new carpet meant for a great staircase – and scowling. Daenaera could sympathize – calculations were her least favourite part of ruling a castle and a city as well.

"Do we truly need it?" the girl asked plaintively but Elia did not soften.

"Yes," she said.

"Imagine what it will be like here when the winter comes," another girl chimed in. Elysia who wasn't even Dornish but from the Riverlands instead had been quick to decide that Dragonstone, with its current furnishing, would not do.

Finally, Elia took pity on Ashara. "I'll do it," she said and Ashara shook her head.

"I'll manage," she replied and Daenaera smiled, basking in the sight of young women filled with energy and hope, doing their best to make a good home.

"We're terrible," Elia suddenly said and gave her an apologetic look. "We're talking about domestic issues that we've been dealing with this long month and you have no idea of. I am sorry. We'll leave that for another time."

Daenaera smiled. "It's fine," she said because it was. "I won't tell your mother," she added in a whisper that could be heard by everyone. The women laughed.

"My grandmother told me how amusing you were, my lady," Ashara said. "I can see she was right. And if you do take the next calculations from my hands, I won't tell your mother that you're letting us get away with being impolite."

This time, it was Daenaera who laughed out loud. By the Seven, Ashara reminded her of her! The way she had been before her grandfather died, the way she had been when she had been filled of hopes and dreams, and the knowledge that the power of her charm made everything easier for her.

The Prince of Dragonstone entered soon after and his eyes went slightly bigger at the sight of her. "I expected that you'd fill Dragonstone with dark faces, my lady," he told his wife. "That's the third Targaryen image I've seen of you this far."

"Not all Dornishmen are dark," Elia said sharply and he blinked.

"Forgive me," he said. "It was unworthy of me. I only wanted to say that I'm surprised at meeting a woman so clearly dragonlike."

His remorse was so evident that Elia couldn't stay offended for long. Daenaera remembered the whispers at the very time of the wedding – how immoral the Dornish were. How lusty. How dark. But she melted a little towards Rhaegar Targaryen because she was faced with the undeniable truth that he had been so absorbed in his bride and all the uproar around the wedding that now he didn't even remember that he had met her.

"I found you the chronicles you were interested in," Rhaegar told his wife and promptly made his escape, although Daenaera had that idea that he would have loved to stay if he had not been confronted with a flock of women planning changes in his home.

Soon after, Daenaera also excused herself. The journey had tired her and she wanted to make sure that Daena was settled comfortably. The long corridors echoed like they had used to and that feeling of unsettling returned.

Her granddaughter wasn't in her chambers. Oh her bed was made up, the sheets gleaming white on the soft bed and the nursemaid was dozing in a huge chair near a roaring fire but Daena was nowhere to be seen.

Panic roared within her. She could easily imagine what had taken place. Daena had pretended to sleep, waiting for the nursemaid to go into exhausted slumber and then she had left to explore the unknown surroundings. A trace of chairs dragged near the doors showed how the girl had managed to open them. Daenaera tried to remember how much time she had spent in Elia's solar. More than enough for Daena to go quite far… fall down a set of stairs… enter a room to have the door close behind her, with no chairs around to help her reach it… And even if she didn't, it was quite likely that she couldn't find her way back to their chambers.

Daenaera ordered herself to think straight. She needed to find Septa Imala so the two of them could start the search. With this thought in mind, she headed for the door leading off her chambers, throwing it wide open… and she almost bumped straight into her granddaughter. Daena gave her a look of pure terror from the wide chest she was being held against and Daenaera knew that the child realized fully well that she had misstepped.

"Thank you," she breathed, relief making her faint. "I was so worried…"

"I gathered that you might be."

Slowly, she looked up. Lewyn met her eye. He has always towered over me, even at sixteen, Daenaera thought, dazed. She reached over to take Daena but the little girl clung to Lewyn's arm like a leech and Daenaera made a step back to gain a wider reach.

"I found her at the wall," Lewyn said. "She could only tell me her name."

"Daena," the child said immediately.

"She can't say Daenaera," Daenaera explained, hoping that her voice sounded calmer than her heart felt. For a moment, she wondered how it was possible for them not to hear it. Lewyn's face bore the inevitable signs of aging but she could see that he was still as slender as he had been in his youth and just as muscled. Is he as quick, she wondered. Somewhat to her surprise, he wasn't wearing the white. He must be off duty. He now wore a beard; amused all of a sudden, Daenaera saw that Daena had twisted in his arms and was now frowning at the thing openly.

"Not like it," she announced. "Ish." And she touched her cheek to show where her face was itchy.

"I am sorry, my lady," Lewyn apologized. He was talking to Daena but it was Daenaera that he couldn't tear his eyes from. How much did he think she had changed? For many years, the difference in their age had looked negligible to the eye but now it showed. Daenaera's hair was almost the same colour but it was now due to certain potions that she applied with religious meticulousness. The lines on her face were not incised this deeply, in fact, but her skin had slackened visibly. The shadows under her eyes had grown deeper since Daena had started sapping her of energy with her liveliness, like running away from their chamber… Fortunately, the tooth that had rotten in her last pregnancy and had had to be taken out was deep in her mouth and thus invisible. But her lips had lost their defined contour. She had never been able to get rid entirely of the last flesh that this last pregnancy had left on her belly. He was almost the same but she wasn't.

Daena touched his beard and squealed before her fingers even made contact. Lewyn handed her to Daenaera, their fingers touching. He wasn't quick to withdraw his hand, his eyes never leaving her face; shocked, Daenaera realized that he was staring at her as if he still thought her beautiful. Not a woman who had aged well but the same young woman he had been infatuated when he had been sixteen and she, twenty-five.

"You must have been very scared," he said softly. Only then did she realize that it had showed.

Daena gave out an indignant cry at being separated from him and Daenaera remembered that he had always had a way with children. The memory of how he had convinced Doran to unlock the door he had locked so gleefully as Daenaera had stood helpless suddenly became real, more real than the present of the changes and the few white locks in his black hair.

"Would you want to come in?" she suddenly offered. At her age, there was nothing wrong to be thought of such a visit and besides, they had known each other for ages.

As soon as she made the offer, she regretted it. She didn't know what to expect of him but she was sure she wouldn't cherish the unpleasant surprise when he saw her in full daylight, instead of the semi-dark hallway.

"I'd like it very much," he said, leaving her with no choice but follow her words.

Daena would like to sit with them and sip at her tea like a lady. In fact, Daenaera would have liked it, too, but that was no way to teach her that actions had consequences. "No," she said firmly. "Because you did a bad thing by running away and getting lost. No tea with us."

Daena pouted. "Not lost," she said. "Not find me."

Daenaera bit her smile but Lewyn, the scoundrel, laughed out loud. Feeling that she had found an ally, Daena gave him her best smile but he wisely decided to not intervene, so Daena went to her bedchamber, sulking, and Daenaera looked at Lewyn who still looked amused. "Not lost," he said. "She simply couldn't find herself. A flawless argument."

Daenaera smiled. "I'm having a dozen of them a day. Mostly, it's guessing what she means because her mouth isn't as cooperative as her mind."

"As soon as I saw her, I knew who she was," Lewyn said. "She's what I imagined…" His voice faded. For a moment, his eyes turned wistful and then his smile returned. "She's the sweetest little thing. In fact, she reminds me of Aelinor's Naeryn and Mikkel's Errol. Silver hair, great charm, and a ready answer for every situation."

"And propensity to court trouble," Daenaera suggested and sighed. "Thank you. I was working myself into a full-blown panic. She dragged a dozen of chairs to open all doors and I didn't know how far she could have gone." She paused. "It isn't easy to be a mother when you're a grandmother," she said thoughtfully and looked him in the eye. "Do tell me about your family," she prompted.

He understood her, of course. His eyes turned soft, as did his smile. "My son is a sailor," he said and she listened eagerly. "He's been on Carral's ships since he was eleven. Last time I saw them, they were setting sail for the far end of Essos. Personally, I've never understood that longing for salty water and decks that keel over under your feet, let alone the dry food but that's what Morgan and Carral live for, so as long as he's happy, I guess I'll have to put up with seeing him even more rarely than typical for people of our standing."

Happy. The word had tumbled down so easily. Was that what he was most concerned with? Of course, every parent wanted for their children to be happy but was it more easily achieved for bastards, at least in Dorne? Perhaps. The lowered expectations conveyed lesser duties. At least Daenaera hoped it would be Morgan's fate.

"He's just the son I always wanted to have," Lewyn said, taking her hand for the merest of seconds. Daenaera knew what the gesture conveyed: gratitude that knew no limits. Unbidden, tears came to her eyes but she forced them back.

He didn't take her hand once again but in the broad daylight, the look in his eyes resting on her was just as infatuated as it had been in the corridor. "You're very lovely today," he said. "I like you clad in green."

Daenaera startled. Surely he couldn't mean what she thought he did? Not after all those years. Not after the age difference now showed so blatantly. "Patrek liked me in green as well," she said deliberately.

He only smiled. "But he didn't like you as much as I do," he said and changed the topic swiftly. "Do you fear Prince Rhaegar?"

She looked at him, shocked. "I like him very much."

"Everyone likes him. That was not what I asked. Do you fear him?"

"Why should I?"

"Because he fits too much with the doom of Dragonstone? Because Elia might never be happy with him?"

How effortlessly he had seen into her soul! She didn't know her niece at all but she had gotten some idea of Elia's general attitude to life. She loved it. She enjoyed it and thirsted for it. She was a woman of sun and colours while her husband was someone who enjoyed feeding his own melancholy.

Lothar hadn't been this different, although, if she wasn't mistaken, Rhaegar had already proven himself different in the most important aspect.

"He likes her," she said. "I can say. That's a good start."

Lewyn nodded. "You're right, of course." There was relief in his voice. He rose. "I have to go."

Daenaera also rose to see him off. And there, at the door, his meaning couldn't be mistaken. "Next time, I'd like to see you in blue," he said and left before she could ask him why he thought that there would be a second time.

When he was on his way, Daenaera entered her bedchamber. A thick rug, a wide bed, chairs of elaborate carvings. She sat in front of her looking-glass and stared at her own reflection, more than fifteen years older than the time Patrek had stopped desiring her.

"He didn't like you as much as I do."

"No," Daenaera heard herself say aloud. "Perhaps he didn't."

 

Chapter Text

The storm had been howling for two days already and Daenaera had gotten used to the constant roar from beyond the thick walls underlining every sound they made, everything they did.

"I can see why Aegon and his sisters were so eager to get out of here, even if they had to conquer a continent to do so," Ashara Dayne muttered, barely keeping her teeth from clattering as she dashed into the Stone Drum at her return from the sept. "I can swear storms at King's Landing aren't worse than they're here. They cannot possibly be."

"Would you rather return to King's Landing and the Red Keep, specifically?" Elia asked and cast her husband a sidelong look. Rhaegar looked uncomfortable but didn't say anything, although the implication was clearly not lost on him. Even someone as young and having resided at the capital as briefly as Ashara Dayne knew that the King wasn't a man they wanted to be around. Daenaera wondered when Rhaegar or someone else would have the courage to broach the subject in no uncertain means. And she had the distinct feeling that she had seen tensions similar to the one wrapping everyone in what was quickly becoming Rhaegar and Elia's circle before but she couldn't pinpoint the details.

"Is that Daena?" Rhaegar asked, changing the topic. Daenaera followed his eye and shook her head at the sight of the little girl just disappearing behind the huge door. By now, Septa Imala had most likely descended in panic. Daenaera's own fear flared immediately and Lewyn almost turned back before remembering that he wasn't a master of his own decisions anymore.

"Go," Rhaegar said impatiently. "Arthur will suffice. You have the greatest chance to bring her back effortlessly anyway."

Daenaera was surprised that he had noticed. Had she underestimated his observance? Daena was indeed fascinated with Lewyn, had been so since their very first encounter, and Daenaera smiled when she saw them enter Elia's solar, the doll of cloth her granddaughter always carried with her clutched under her arm.

"Give her to me." Daenaera commanded and Daena obeyed, unhappily, before going back to Lewyn who had headed back for the door. "Come here. Give me Ama."

Daena scowled but went back and handed the doll reluctantly. Her grandmother nodded. "Ama will stay here because you have behaved badly," she said and asked a servant to tell the septa that Daena had been found.

"How old is she?" Rhaegar asked after observing the interaction with some interest.

Normally, Daena would proudly say that she was two – she had learned this about a month ago – but she seemed to fear this so handsome prince who rarely paid people, and children especially, much notice. Now she pressed against her grandmother. "She's two," Daenaera said.

"Why is the doll called Ama?" he asked and Daenaera smiled, glad by his interest. Perhaps the child Elia was expecting had started becoming real to him.

"My daughter is called Amabel," she explained. "Daena couldn't say her name, no more than she can say her own."

He looked surprised. "She isn't Daena?"

"She's Daenaera."

"Like you," he concluded, looking at the child. "Perhaps our child will be as dragonlike as her, my lady."

"Perhaps," Elia said and smiled, and he didn't catch the strain in it.

Perhaps not, Daenaera thought. Will you think less of the child if it's a snake and not a dragon? I know your father's men will. Rhaegar and Elia had recently received the Master of Ships, Lucerys Velaryon, and Daenaera had only felt the pain of something lost forever – her own past. The injustice of having lost Driftmark no longer stung. The man she had seen had nothing Valyrian about him while Alyn's descendants certainly would have. Not his children, perhaps – but his grandchildren? Like her Daena. But Alyn had died before his son's birth and then both the mother and babe had followed at the birth. Now, Driftmark was allied with madness. Sycophancy. Aerys.

"Are you well, Aunt?" Elia's eyes were wide and concerned.

"Yes," Daenaera said. "I am."

The door was thrown open and the maester of Dragonstone arrived with a letter in his hands. Lewyn and Ashara walked in behind him as Arthur closed the door from the outside, his face anxious, and Daenaera was confused. Hadn't Lewyn gone to stand before the door once again?

Ashara crossed the solar and stood at Elia's side in a manner that could be only described as protective.

"Your Grace," the maester said, "a raven has arrived from Sunspear."

Suddenly, Elia went white. A look at Lewyn revealed that he didn't feel much better.

Elia reached over and took the letter. The maester excused himself and left as she was about to break the seal. But she didn't. Her hand trembled and she looked at Lewyn who came close but couldn't bring himself to open the letter either. They started at each other helplessly, clearly wishing for the other to summon the courage.

Finally, Ashara broke the silence and reached over. Elia nodded – a sharp jerk of her head – and Ashara broke the seal quickly, before their fear could infect her. Her eyes ran over the lines and Daenaera saw the moment she relaxed. "It's just a letter," she said. "Prince Doran wants to know how the Princess is doing here."

Lewyn and Elia's anxiety withdrew as well and with a sudden pang of love and sympathy Daenaera realized the fear that they were both harbouring, although they never talked about it in clear terms.

Arianne still lived.

"What's wrong with her?" Daenaera asked later as Lewyn came to her own solar. One of the good things her age brought was that she could receive men freely in private now. No one would have even thought of anything indecent and Lewyn had managed to make use of that, finding her in the library, the garden, anywhere – she didn't care to ask how he managed to keep tabs on her all the time. It was only natural that some of their interactions transferred to her chambers now, with Daena playing with the curtains because Daenaera still hadn't returned Ama to her. "You never told me and Elia gets upset whenever her mother's health is mentioned."

Lewyn delayed his answer for a while, pouring her tea and adding a few little cakes. Daenaera smiled. He was indifferent to those but she liked them and he knew it. He always remembered everything about her. Most likely, he had kept those from the morning meal for her. Then, her smile disappeared. They were talking life and death! By the Seven, why was she thinking about his small gestures to her? Arianne mattered. Lewyn loved his sister and Daenaera was very fond of her as well.

"The maesters aren't sure," he finally said. "It all started a few years ago, when one of her vertebrae swelled. And then the next one. She's now in constant pain, the bones jut out over the entire length of her spine, it's very painful to the touch and she experiences constant pain in her lower limbs… She's so exhausted that a simple cold takes weeks to heal and it looks like the consumption she suffered a few years ago is back…" He paused, realizing that he had said too much, too fast, and looked surprised that he could regain control over himself. "It can be any moment now," he finally said. "Sometimes… sometimes I think she longs for it."

"No!" Daenaera said immediately. "It isn't possible. Arianne loves life. She would never…"

"Five years ago, I would have said the same thing," Lewyn said and Daenaera reached for his hand without thinking. She remembered the times death would have been welcome to her. When she had had to give Morgan up, even to his father… In the three days of hell leading to Amabel's birth… How severe should Arianne's pain be to make her wish to put an end, any end?

"I didn't realize how poorly she was faring," she said. "Not before I saw all of you too scared to open the letter."

"This wasn't one of my best moments, was it?" There was distaste in Lewyn's voice. "I thought I knew fear at the battlefield – but there are things that can really scare me out my mind. And it isn't just Arianne. I have other concerns as well. In Vaith, my daughter is about to give birth and although it went brilliantly the first time, I cannot help but fear."

Daenaera didn't know what to say. She had heard of the many months Saria Wyl had spent bedridden after giving birth to her second child that had died young. No doubt he was seeing old ghosts. Whatever she said, it would be the wrong thing coming from the woman who had had things work out for her at the end. Four times, the last time almost in her dotage…

Lewyn made a visible effort and his expression turned back to normal. "Of course, that's just me worrying too much," he said lightly. "Everything is going great. Perhaps I'll have a granddaughter this time, what do you think?"

"Do you want one?"

He smiled. "Yes. Very much."

His eyes went to Daena and his smile broadened. "A curtain-loving one will be fine."

Daenaera followed his eye and gasped. "I should have known that she was being too quiet!"

Daena had grabbed one of the puppies roaming the halls of the castle because the constant storm disturbed even them and now child and puppy were eating the heavy tassels together.

"Stay where you are and eat your cake," Lewyn said softly but firmly. "I'll deal with them."

By joining them? Daenaera wondered. That seemed to be the only way to do it without tears – and Lewyn could never resist Daena's tears.

Lewyn reached the window, leaned over and said something. Daena looked unsure but a moment later, Daenaera laughed when Lewyn grabbed her granddaughter and walked back to the table, throwing her up in the air the entire way. The puppy trotted behind him.

"What if Elia's babe turns out to be dark-haired?" Daenaera asked when he resumed his seat. While over the years, she had found herself more dependent on couches with solid backs, he still felt as comfortable as ever on stools – another reminder of just how younger he was. At the time, she had feared that over the time, he'd no longer be attracted to her. That had been her greatest concern about the way the difference in their ages would show. She had never thought of their everyday life. Perhaps that was why they had never had one. What would have happened if she had summoned the courage to leave Lothar? "Is Prince Rhaegar going to be disappointed?"

Lewyn looked surprised. "No," he said, and it was clear that the idea had never occurred to him. "Why do you ask?" His eyes turned harsh. "Has he ever said something…"

"No!" Daenaera replied, terrified that she had been understood in this way. "I just wonder…"

"What?" he asked. "What do you see that I can't?"

"He reminds me of the King's Hand," she said softly. "No, not Tywin Lannister," she elaborating, noticing his surprise. "My grandfather's Hand. Lord Brynden. Always having certain expectations. Always looking at a purpose that I didn't know but I knew it was there. Even Lady Shiera couldn't understand him entirely, although she loved him dearly. And Rhaegar always talks of the children to come as dragons. Lewyn, what if they are not?"

"Then, he'll accept them as they are," he said. "Not as he wants them to be."

It was so easy for him to say. He hadn't been there when her grandfather had mercilessly tried to mould his sons into something that they were not. He had never seen Brynden Rivers, with his great mind and frightening clarity of focus. Rhaegar Targaryen shared blood with both men – and Jaehaerys who had not hesitated to ruin his children's lives for a thing as fickle as a prophecy. "Perhaps I am just a worrier," she said.

"Perhaps we must find you some occupation that won't leave you any time to worry."

She gave him a guarded look. "What do you mean?"

"Elia's state is becoming evident now and she tires more easily. As you know, ships come and go, carrying esteemed guests. Perhaps you could start making the arrangements for their reception and keep them company when needed? Although I must say I dislike the notion that I'll have to share you with them as well," he added.

"Ea you with dem!" Daena repeated happily and Daenaera had the passing thought that soon, they'd have to be careful with what they said in her presence.

She considered this option. Indeed, the transition from a lady of a town to a mere companion of Elia's was not going as smoothly as she had hoped. She still had too much time and energy left, even with Daena to take care of. "Elia might take offense," she said.

"She didn't."

She met his eye and then quickly looked away. He waited for her eyes to come back to him. "I do take care to learn what you need and give it to you," he said simply. "I am not Mallister. To me, you always come first."

He rose before she could think of something to say. Her husband's name hadn't been mentioned between them until now and she was both angry and embarrassed that he knew about this. She had never expected him to say it.

"If I come first, are you going to tell me why she left you?" she challenged and saw the surprise flickering in his eyes before he pushed it away.

"I forced her to join the Faith so I could keep living the way I wanted to without being answerable to a wife, don't you know?" he said nonchalantly and the lie pleased her, confirming that so long ago, she had been right to choose him. Loyalty was something that she treasured and she was glad that he was loyal to his onetime wife, no matter the details that she didn't know.

Now, the concern had come back in his eyes, making them deeper and alive. "Will you leave your door open for me tonight?" he asked. "Please."

Daenaera couldn't say that she was surprised. Ever since her arrival at Dragonstone a month ago, he had been making his way into her life with the same perseverance that he had once courted her with. Only, this time it was intent attention to her everyday needs and wishes. His desire for her was only expressed in words, never physical gestures, and still she didn't doubt that he desired her. Days had come to feel empty and drawn-out if he happened to take the day shift; when he was near, she felt… loved.

How often in this month had she stared at her looking glass? At the body that age and late childbirths had ruined? She had wondered if it was her that he was still infatuated with, or the way she had been like. The moment her clothes fell off, the truth would be out there and still Daenaera couldn't take this into account.

"I will," she said and wondered what in the seven hells she was doing. She wasn't even that interested in doing this anymore! That was the reason she hadn't had a lover in years…

"Are you going to need waking up before dawn, my lady?" Suzette asked as she helped her mistress get ready for bed.

Daenaera looked at her. The maid's face was impassive. "You have eavesdropped on me?" Daenaera asked, mildly curious.

Suzette sighed impatiently. "Of course I have. You have always been so peculiar about him that I had to see for myself that you'd get it right this time. Last time I left you to your own devices, you decided that he wouldn't wed you, remember? I could have told you that this man was mad about you and would have happily turned away a crown, let alone his place in his sister's court for you but I was unaware of your preconceived notions. Here, let's put this scent on."

"I am not going to bed wearing any scent!" Daenaera protested but the insistence of her old companion finally wore her down. Suzette did have a good professional eye after all… and a good memory, it seemed, since the jasmine she rubbed in Daenaera's skin was one of Lewyn's favourite scents on her.

"I thought you might have changed your mind," he breathed when, a little after midnight, he opened the door with carefully oiled hinges.

"Why?" Daenaera asked.

"I don't know. I just feared it."

She didn't know what to do. She stayed seated in the deep chair near the fireplace, staring at him. For the first time, he also looked insecure and it occurred to her that it was the first time he was anything than sure he'd have his way with her. He had been sure at sixteen. At twenty-two. At thirty-one… Faint tremors ran through him as if he were cold. He had been cold. Dragonstone must feel like the North for a man with the south flowing through his veins. And since that letter, he had become more subdued, his worry for the ones he had left behind returning in full force. Had his sudden plea for her to accept him been more a reflection of his need to be close to her, rather than part of his strategy to wear her defences down? The notion was unexpectedly soothing. She held out a hand and he was suddenly there, holding it. She rose and stood near the fire with him for a while, and then he turned to face her and brought her hands to his lips. Then, he reached for her robe and she held her breath but the touch of the hands sliding down her skin never wavered. "How I adore you," he murmured and started trailing kisses, from her lips down to her neck, her breasts, her belly… The remnants of her onetime fierce drive slowly rose from their sleep and as she buried her hands in her hair, she wondered if they'd be strong enough to let her experience the pleasure she had so rarely bothered to seek recently.

Lewyn seemed to have other plans, though, and as his mouth moved to her shoulder, Daenaera asked suspiciously, "What are you… doing?"

"Thinking of the rules," he replied readily. "We must set rules so we can have the most glorious time breaking them."

Laughter bubbled in her throat. He had found a way to soothe her insecurities. She had forgotten how he could make her feel like the most beautiful and wanted woman in the realm just by focusing on the foreplay but he was good at making her remember again… and again… and that was before they even truly started. She was surprised when he produced a little vial and proceeded to rub the ointment in… there… but oh, it was the first time in years that she felt no dryness, no pain and she wondered how it was possible to be unaware about the existence of something that made life so much better… Later, she told him and felt the laughter in his chest. "You should have asked," he said. "I would have been happy to show you. Just think of how many years you've lost."

"I'm still pleased now," she murmured and as he drew her close, she felt that feeling of oneness that had sent her floating on the waves of inner peace with him once, although she didn't look the way she had, they had never had each other's life despite her feelings, and that if Suzette failed in waking them up before dawn, they might face some very unpleasant retributions.

 

Chapter Text

An old lady did not need as much sleep as a young one, or at least between Lewyn leaving a little before dawn and Daena coming to her room a little after, Daenaera managed to function. For Daena, she did what she had never done for her own children – allowed her to sleep in her own bed when she came. That gave her an additional hour or two of sleep before she rose to attend Elia. In the afternoon, another hour or rest came. The arrangement was exhausting but made her happy. Still, she had no idea how Lewyn could go on without closing his eyes for a whole day and a half when he had a day shift after a night with her. But with time, the pattern changed. Lovemaking only came after a day shift – when he would not need to be fully alert the next day. "You aren't the only one who got old, my dear," he told her without a hint of regret. Sometimes, Daenaera envied him that.

"Do you not feel pained?" she asked him once as she lay snuggled under the furs he had somehow provided for her bed and watched him rub an ache in his knee away.

He looked up and smiled. "What for, the years behind me? Not at all. I've lived my life the way I wanted, except for one thing." He paused, his eyes going over her face like a caress. "No pain. No regret. I am quite pleased to take whatever I can from my age, instead of dream of getting my youth back."

That was not a bad way to live, Daenaera reckoned. Was it possible that she dreamed of getting her youth back because she had not lived it the way she had wanted? He rose and came to snap the furs away from her. She shivered and he trailed a snake of kisses followed by the slow movement of the furs inch by inch upwards, covering her again. Why had she ever thought that someone would stop being in love just because they were going old? That was what her children thought now. To them, youth was needed for being in love. She had thought the same… right to the moment Lewyn had swept off her feet once again, just in a different manner this time. "You have the morning shift tomorrow," she reminded him, a little breathless, when he took out that good, magical ointment and parted her legs to apply it.

"No," he answered cheerfully and kept working. "Arthur will take it. He's leaving for King's Landing with the tide tomorrow night, so he'll have plenty of time for sleep then."

In Daenaera's mind, the thought that Arthur would soon know about them flashed and went. She was too busy on what Lewyn was doing to her to think of much else.

In a way, this world was every bit as enchanted as the one they had made for themselves as they had been young and pretending to be man and wife in Sunspear, before the people who held them dear.


In Elia's eight moon, the excitement at Dragonstone was growing, as well as the fear. Daenaera could feel it cling to everyone she talked to, trying to infect her and sometimes succeeding. In the day, a look at her niece's pale face brought back the memory of Arianne's after a loss of yet another babe; at night, when the winter storms would crash waves against the rocks with rumbling that reminded her of the groan of a giant trying to demolish their castle because he thought it a sand one, Lewyn's concern was palpable – she could feel it in his very skin. It looked that after his fears for his daughter the raven arrived, informing him of the safe arrival of a little girl – Sarra had been well enough to write the news with her own hand – his fears about Elia had only increased. Could they be lucky enough to avoid misfortune twice?

"Yes," Daenaera would often say when, in the aftermath of their stolen bliss, reality pressed them with its relentless weight.

"Why?" he asked. "It struck us twice before… if you count Arianne's losses as one."

"Not this time," Daenaera replied firmly. "Elia might be Arianne's daughter but she's my mother's granddaughter. My niece. We all survived the birthing bed unscathed. And it's natural for a woman with child to lose her meals from time to time."

Sometimes, he even believed her and she didn't felt the slightest remorse for lying to him. There was no use to feed his fears but deep inside, she knew that Elia was too frail. From time to time didn't mean all the time. Certainly not so far along. But gradually, the prevailing emotion in her changed. It seemed to her that her niece became weaker and smaller with the arrival of each new maester arriving with their advice. And Prince Rhaegar kept summoning more of those until Daenaera finally felt like she was living in the Citadel!

When the Grand Maester made his appearance in all his white-bearded glory, Daenaera had had enough.

"Do they not have a good midwife here?" she asked. "If not, I am sure I can find someone from Driftmark, it's more populated."

Two men stared at her. "But… why?" Arthur finally asked. "The Grand Maester had arrived in person…"

"That's what I mean!" Daenaera assured him. "I wouldn't trust the man with a hound in labour, let alone a woman."

The hound in the room whined, perhaps understanding what Daenaera meant, or maybe infected with the men's horror. Daenaera felt mild annoyance. Really, did they need to look at her as if she had just offered that they kill Elia?

"Grand Maester Pycelle attended me when I was first brought to the birthing bed," Daenaera said. "Let's say that I don't have the utmost trust in his skills when it comes to childbirth."

Arthur and Lewyn looked uncertain but Ashara nodded. "Since they stepped in with their prescriptions of what to eat, she has been unable to keep her food down for more than a few minutes," she said. "And the restoring potions – she can't even swallow those! What use is their usefulness if she cannot drink them at all?"

Actually, Daenaeras thoughts went beyond this. She was convinced that the maesters' potions actually made it worse, in the sense that they left Elia more prone to return the little nourishing food they could force into her. Not that they would believe her if she told them. They were so all-knowing. They knew how things should be but how things actually were in the area of childbearing? What idea did they have? Daenaera would trust them over her own intuition the moment one of them writhed in birthing pains!

"Would you one of you talk to the Prince?" she asked but the cowards they were, they refused to have such a conversation, so Daenaera was left to deal with the matter on her own. Well, it couldn't be this different than the conversation she had had with Jason prior to Daena's birth, right? The confusion in Rhaegar's eyes did not surprise her one bit – or the insult. She couldn't even snap at him for making things worse. He thought he was helping.

"I realize you want the best for Elia and the babe, Your Grace," she said. "But it's too much. All those maesters are just straining her. And lying in bed all day isn't doing her any good."

"But the Grand Maester said…"

"The Grand Maester is a fool," Daenaera said curtly, having just run out of patience. "He might be good for ailments but women with children? Not at all, as I can personally attest. And Elia isn't ailing. At least she wasn't before she was surrounded by all that care."

He swallowed and started lining the books meticulously before him. Daenaera fully expected that he'd tell her to just go and keep Elia company but it seemed that a shard of common sense was trying to break through the wall of the misguided care he was giving his lady wife. "I guess we can cut the potions for a while," he said uncertainly and Daenaera smiled, deciding immediately not to tell him that she intended to cut all the nourishing food the maesters tried to put into Elia – tried being the key word.

"And let me find a midwife?" she prodded.

Rhaegar rubbed his forehead. "Pressing your luck to the end, aren't you, my lady? Very well, find a midwife if you'd like."

It took a few days but by the way the big woman from Driftmark looked at Elia, Daenaera could say that the girl might just get some adequate care now. The midwife made her rise, examined her belly, felt it and then demanded to be shown Elia's urine as soon as she produced some. Then, she asked what the young woman ate – which was only apples and some bread.

"The maesters tried to give me some beef and honey but I couldn't keep it down," Elia explained.

Alda shook her head. "Wasting good for all for naught," she muttered. "Worry not, my lady, your babe won't starve. Apples and bread are good. All is good, provided that it stays inside. And why are you in bed? You aren't ill. Go out in the garden. Stay in the great hall for long. You'll have enough time to stay in bed when the babe starts coming."

Even Daenaera hadn't been as brave as to insist that Elia leave her bed for more than an hour at a time. The maester near the window frowned, realizing that he and the rest of them now had a formidable rival for the Princess' care. But Elia was already rising, albeit gingerly, and only now, looking at her face that seemed lit inside, did Daenaera realize the true extent of the pressure she had been put through.


A few days later, the girl started getting better. Bread and apples turned out to be enough to make her cheeks rosy again, she walked more easily and was no longer short of breath. "They have been making her ill," Alda muttered, giving the maesters the distrustful look of a woman who believed that women could keep working in the fields till the very day they gave birth unless stupid men who thought they knew better made them sick by lavishing them with care. Daenaera couldn't even laugh at her indignation because sometimes she felt like they had avoided a true, close disaster.

"She looks better now," Rhaegar said and even smiled as he went to close the windows that had let the fresh air to his lady wife – but also the cold.

Daenaera smiled back and glanced at Lewyn, hoping that he'd be able to keep the pretense, keep the pain in. For Elia's sake, they had decided to withhold the truth, save for later the grave news of her mother's passing. It wasn't a lie – she had never asked them if Arianne still lived and besides, Doran had written Lewyn and not her. Even he, in Dorne, knew that so close to her time, Elia had to be spared as many bad news as possible. It could wait until the babe's safe arrival – but it was so hard to maintain a cheerful face! Daenaera's grief was somewhat dull, for she had not seen Arianne in many years, but her sympathy for the pain that was certainly tearing Alric up made her tears well up at the most inconvenient times. Lewyn simply avoided Elia altogether whenever he could. During the day, he chose to be mostly alone because he couldn't bear to pretend that everything was fine and he had to. If anyone realized that Arianne was dead, the rumour would reach Elia in no time at all. Only at night, shivering under all the covers and furs in Daenaera's bedchamber, he could find some measure of comfort in her arms. Only a year had separated him from Arianne. They had been inseparable as children and Daenaera could imagine – and remember – the pain he was going through. Arianne's death brought back to her mind the days of grief after Alyn's death.

And then, Elia's pains started in a chilly morning, with a whirlwind carrying snow in curtains so huge that they seemed to be rising from the very sea. It banked up so fast that soon, it was impossible to go from one side of the castle to another and in a moment of sheer terror, Daenaera thought the logs in their part would not last them enough to provide a constant flow of hot water and warm chamber for Elia who desperately needed them because the birth was turning out to be a very difficult one.

 

Chapter Text

"Where is he taking her?" Daena asked for a third time in the last few minutes.

"To King's Landing," Daenaera replied, also for a third time.

"Why?"

"Because she needs to be presented to the court," Daenaera explained.

"Why?"

"Yes, why?" Elia muttered from her bed.

Daenaera bit her lip. From the window, she could see Rhaegar striding towards his stallion, the wetnurse with the small bundle hurrying towards the wheelhouse. For a moment, Daenaera tried to order the woman to cover the little one better and she seemed to hear, because her hands went to Rhaenys' head.

The day was dark and forbidding. Winter was wrought and at Dragonstone, it was the true ruler. Not Aerys. Not Rhaegar. This harsh wind that was almost visible as he hit every naked part of one's face, this icy water the winds drew high above the sea surface and sent against the dry land with a fury. For almost a mile inland, one could feel the huge sputters of water flying in their faces. The sky changed from mid- to dark-grey. Nothing else, ever. The sun barely made any effort to bring a little colour from time to time.

Despite the winter aches and the ones brought over by her age, Daenaera was happy here.

Elia was not. Confined to bed, limited to the company of women and Lewyn alone – and Rhaegar, yes. He visited her regularly and Daenaera should not forget this – she could hardly take much pleasure of life. And now, her babe was going to King's Landing for weeks. Over a month, perhaps. Long enough for her milk to go dry. Long enough for her to sicken even more with worry because harsh winter was no time for newborn to leave their home. But Rhaenys was not just any newborn, was she? Daenaera had heard the fierce argument between husband and wife that had ended with Elia having as much say as she had when the name of the child had been chosen by Rhaegar alone.

"I am no one," she wept now, after Rhaegar and Rhaenys left, in one of those rare moments when she could no longer keep her true feelings behind the serenity expected of a Princess. "Not a partner. Not even a mother. Just a vessel to bring his child into the world, with no say at all!"

"Rhaenys is his daughter," Daenaera said. "She must be presented to the King and Queen. This is going to confirm her status and…"

"Not if she gets sick on the way there!" Elia snapped and even rose, propping herself up on her elbow. "And I told him so! No one drags their newborn child in the midst of winter in a stormy sea just to present her to court – no one would have thought about it twice if he had simply said the bad weather made it impossible for now! Or even that he would wait for me to get better, so he could present his daughter together with me, her mother! I told him!"

"He didn't listen?" Daenaera asked needlessly because finding excuses for Rhaegar did not seem to calm her niece down. Daenaera had no idea what could calm Elia down. But if she let the girl talk, perhaps she would let the disappointment go out and leave her. Perhaps.

"No," Elia replied. "Of course he didn't listen. I'm the one expected to listen, don't you know? I don't think he wants to hear what anyone has to tell him – anyone who hasn't been dead in a few thousand years, at least!"

Perhaps not. Elia fell back against her pillows, exhausted, but the angry, hurt fire in her eyes did not go away. Daenaera leaned over and smoothed the hair from her face. Elia caught her hand in a grip as weak as a kitten's. "Tell me," she said. "Tell me again."

Since Rhaenys' birth, sometimes Daenaera felt that she was dealing with two Daenas at the same time – two little girls who wanted to listen to old tales. Tales of Daenaera. Tales of her grandfather's court. Tales of the unforgettable time that she had spent in Dorne, the part about Lewyn omitted, of course, although Daenaera felt sure Elia knew. It was strange to see her niece shedding her skin and revealing a new being inside – or perhaps one that had been there all along. One who longed for home and sun. The people who loved her. Elia's favourite stories were about her parents and it was not by chance. But today, even the antics of young Arianne and Alric could not cheer her as fully as they usually did.

"Why didn't he wait for me to get better, Aunt?" Elia asked in the tiniest of voices when her eyes were already going heavy with sleep. "Why didn't he wait for me to get better?"

"Alric would never have done this, ever!" Lewyn said angrily that same night as they sat before her fireplace with a goblet of wine each. "I had forgotten how Targaryens treated their women," he added.

Or at least the ones they choose to treat so, Daenaera thought. Rhaelle. Herself. Shaera, for one, had been another matter! She looked at him.

"You knew."

He shook his head. "I suspected. I hoped I was wrong. In the beginning, I was just glad that he did not look the man Aerys was… before I realized that he resembled the man King Aegon was. Too much for my peace of mind."

He looked away and Daenaera thought about that time when he had gone to her uncle and declared his wish to wed her. He had been young and idealistic then. Full of foolish trust. Blind enough to think that being a generally kind person did not translate into being kinder to everyone. Someone had to pay. Someone always paid. Of course, Elia's wish going disrespected could not compare to the hell Daenaera's royal uncle had condemned her to but… it came from her own husband so early into the marriage. It seemed that to Rhaegar, Elia's part had been done by bringing Rhaenys into the world. She did not have any say in anything meaningful regarding the babe. Daenaera shivered.

"No," she said firmly. "We're making too much of it because we love Elia. We're biased."

After all, what could they do even if they were not? Lewyn rose and came near to rub her hands that were always cold these days. But in the last few months, ever since they had learned of his sister's death, his own were just as icy as hers.

The laughter came to hear about two weeks later – deep, full-throated laughter that she had not heard from Elia's lips in many months. It was a pained and breathless one but it was genuine. Curious, Daenaera hurried to her niece's chambers, noticing the laughter and giggles of Dornish and non-Dornish handmaidens alike.

"He's so handsome…"

"He resembles his father so much!"

"So handsome…"

"So handsome…"

Smiling, Daenaera shook her head as she entered the antechamber. What it felt like to be so young and careless, so taken in by a handsome face? She had almost forgotten.

Two men rose at her entrance. She barely looked at Lewyn because her eyes immediately leapt to the other man. Her heart soared with joy. Carral! Like Lewyn, time seemed to have slowed down for him. He was just as quick as he had been or at least, the difference was so tiny as to be invisible. His hug was as tight as she remembered. "So happy to see you again," he said.

Daenaera drew back and stared at him, looking for signs of aging because she somehow had the feeling that the world had stopped. It was surreal. "I didn't think I would," she said. "I mean, I expected to see you at Elia's wedding but you didn't show up even there."

"I was at the far end of Essos!" he explained. "Surely they told you this?"

Daenaera smiled and nodded. Even the sun seemed to shine brighter with him here. She had forgotten that there was always something of the sea about him – its strength, its fierceness, and its endurance. Often, the aroma as well – the salty scent of water clinging to him when he was coming straight from the sea, as he did now. She touched her finger to his arm and laughed when it came up sticky. The stickiness of sea. "I've missed you," he said.

"I have missed you as well." His eyes were dark and deep, and serious. "And so has Mother. So have all of us. You should really visit sometimes. When Elia comes, perhaps?"

Daenaera swallowed. She could not say what kept her away from Dorne. Her fear of the past, of seeing how they have fitted their lives without her? Her fear to see her son without him having any idea that he was her son? Her fear to see him with him having a very good idea who she was? Her guilt before a dead man who had stopped keeping faith with her as soon as her youth had started visibly leaving her?

"Yes," she said. "Perhaps."

Carral gave her a long look that made her wonder if he had heard the untruth. But he did not call her out on it. Instead, he said, "Lewyn showed me your Daena, in the courtyard with her septa. But I didn't need the explanation. I knew who she was as soon as I saw her. She's the loveliest little thing."

"She is, isn't she?" Daenaera agreed and smiled.

"She is. In fact, she reminds me of Aelinor's Naeryn and my own grandson, of course. Another fair-haired thing looking as if she doesn't belong in Dorne."

But she would be happy there, Daenaera knew. She loved children and there were so few her own age here – of any status comparable to hers. Daenaera did not have the heart to draw Daena away from her games with the cooks' children, much to the septa's horror. And Elia's amusement.

Perhaps she should go there, after all. She had deprived her own children of their mother's family because of her own ghosts. It was time to make it work, for Daena. "I'm going to bring her there," she said, with more confidence this time.

His smile was suddenly tight and when she looked at Lewyn, she saw that his was not quite relaxed either. "You should," Carral said. "Daenaera…"

"What?" she asked sharply.

"I did not come on my own. I…"

But the door to Elia's bedchamber opened and Daenaera felt a wave of shock that jolted her, would have taken her down, had she not been sitting in a chair. A young Lewyn, lithe and tall, with the same form of face, the same outlines of nose and lips, the same long, bluntly-tipped fingers. A violet-eyed one. The purple was very deep, so much that some might not even notice it in a particular light but Daenaera knew what she was seeking for. She glanced at Lewyn who looked away.

Fury seized her in a grasp so tight that had she actually had a way, she would have bumped their heads together. Soundly. Did they think this was a wonderful present? A reunion that she would be forever grateful to to them? A surprise that was supposed to keep her happy and grateful?

Did they not realize what it cost a mother to leave her babe, pretend that he had never existed? Save for sending money for his upkeep, of course. She had certainly thought that they did, what with the Maiden and the Mother being both among the gods everyone worshipped! She had thought that at least her own family and the man she loved understood this much about her!

"If you can promise me that you'll be as attentive and caring as possible, I'll give you the bastard I'm carrying."

Her own onetime words echoed in her head. At the time, Lewyn had understood that it was a way to protect herself. Now… now he had something to do with his son's – her own unacknowledged son's – arrival. She could see it in the way he averted his eyes.

For a moment, when the young man saw her, he froze and in this brief exchange of eyes, she realized that he knew. And that he felt none of the emotions that had grasped her by the throat. On his face, she saw no eagerness and no hatred. Just… curiosity.

 

Chapter Text

The first thing Morgan Sand did was draw back the curtains in Elia’s bedchamber – against her protests. “I am not asking about your opinion,” he declared. “It’s clear that it’s wrong. I mean, just how much sunshine there is here to think that it could enter this chamber and be too bright for you? There’s no need to look at me like this, my lady,” he added, bowing his head to Ashara. “I’ll have my way in this. What have you all been doing here, making her feel even sicker?”

Ashara looked at Lewyn, as if she expected of him to scold his son. He did not even notice, too preoccupied with the duel of murderous looks that he and Morgan were fighting. Clearly, he was included in the list of people Morgan was holding responsible for Elia’s state. Daenaera looked at Carral who merely shrugged. “The boy is right,” he said. “I can’t imagine how any of you could think that turning this chamber into a tomb did her any good.”

“Well, perhaps if any of you great maesters had been here, you could have voiced your reasonable objections just in time to save Elia from our poisonous ministrations.”

Lewyn’s voice was so caustic that Daenaera glanced at him, surprised. For all of Morgan and Carral’s vehemence, there was nothing truly malicious about their words – but his tone was so offensive that had it been any of their brothers saying this, Carral would have snapped back a reply that would make everyone around look for a cover under a table or something.  But now, he only looked away and for a moment, Daenaera thought she saw a flash of horror and mortification in his eyes. Morgan, on the contrary, stared right back at his father.

Lewyn’s hand shook; stunned, Daenaera thought that he was restraining himself from slapping Morgan. Barely.

“I think I could use some sunshine,” Elia said in a hurry.  

Her ladies looked horrified but she smiled at her cousin. “Here,” she said. “You can take me downstairs. Are you pleased now?”

“Immensely pleased,” Morgan replied seriously as he crossed the chamber to her bed. Realizing that he was about to reach down and just take Elia in his arms, Daenaera rushed over with a cloak. It was cold, in addition to being improper! She almost clashed with young Ashara who had gleaned Morgan’s intention a tad earlier than her. Of course, she knew Morgan better than Daenaera did. It was hard not to!

One of Elia’s attendants – the non-Dornish ones, of course – gasped when Morgan simply put his arms under his cousin’s knees and shoulder-blades. Elia sighed and settled comfortably quite effortlessly. Clearly, they were both used with this position and Morgan headed out without hesitation.

“He was always tall and strong for his age while she was as frail a child as she is a woman,” Carral said in Daenaera’s ear as they trailed them. “He was her favourite mount – after Oberyn, of course.”

“Of course,” Daenaera agreed and by the time they had reached the end of the staircase, Elia was already chatting animatedly to her cousin and even laughing at something that he said. Ashara was shaking her head at him but her voice held a strange mix of guilt and joy as well. Daenaera stayed open-mouthed as Elia actually declared that she wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of the courtyard since she was already downstairs – and Ashara shot to the nearest audience chamber and returned with a fur that Daenaera supposed had been taken from one of the couches.

“Do I make a lovely bear?” Elia asked.

“I think you’re currently a wolf,” Morgan said; now, when his voice was gentle and affectionate, Daenaera could hear Lewyn’s tones in him. Lewyn had been the same when addressing Arianne after one of the miscarriages that Daenaera had been in Dorne to witness.

Everyone stepped out of the way, following the pair with wide eyes. Daenaera shook her head, quite certain that the talks about the Dornish lack of moral had just gained new credence. But who could really think there was something wrong in their actions? One look at Elia’s face should disabuse anyone of such notions. In daylight, as grey as it was, the young woman’s true colour showed – and she looked a great deal worse than what Daenaera had perceived in the candlelight in Elia’s bedchamber. She shuddered to think just how fast they had taken sickness for almost normal.

Winter was howling and shedding white petals – not soft velvety white but smoky, stinging touches of ice that made Daenaera’s skin crawl. The walls of Dragonstone no longer looked like defenses of the home Elia and her ladies had striven so hard to create but a prison meant to keep them inside. The shocked faces of the few people they encountered felt like an unpleasant surprise. But Elia looked comfortable, cheerful, taking in the day as if it was the loveliest one there could be. Morgan was talking to her in a low, animated voice and she interrupted him with a string of questions. They both looked happy and for now, Daenaera was pleased.

She looked around and felt no surprise when she did not see Lewyn anywhere near; looking up, she saw him staring down at them from a window. She was not close enough to see his expression but she could see the darkness coming from him – and when Morgan looked up, as if he knew his father was there, there was the same darkness in his own expression.

Neither of them made much effort to hide it. Not then, not when their argument could be heard from three halls and two adjacent chambers down the hallway. “You just let her live in this bedchamber?” Morgan asked, incredulous. “Even after Rhaegar headed for King’s Landing without her? You didn’t think that she was settling herself up for years in this semi-darkness?”

“What should we have done?” Lewyn retorted. “Taken her out by force? Do you think I enjoyed watching her live between these walls?”

“I don’t know,” his son replied. “All I know is that she’s better now, after taking some fresh air. And I do remember a case like this one. We both remember how it ended up, don’t we? Are you aiming for the same glorious result for Elia – after she gives birth to the male heir required, of course?”

By now, Ashara had chased away the other attendants and was looking behind the curtains for any hidden servant-maids. Daenaera shook her head. She could not believe this girl sometimes. But of course, the young Dayne would not dare order her away. Not an older woman, and Elia’s aunt, at this. Although she would dearly love to – Daenaera could say. Her expressive face was easy to read but Daenaera graciously declined the indication that she might like some rest. Patrek had died before their sons were old enough for arguments, so all she had to compare were the quarrels between her brothers and step-father – and this one rated very high up on the scale of raging fury with angry accusations and years of tension.

Lewyn had certainly not mentioned anything about any serious issues between him and Morgan to her. Never. She felt both guilty and betrayed – a very peculiar feeling indeed.

Lewyn had gone quiet. Then, he said softly, “Morgan, Saria left me.”

“Lady Saria adored you! You could have made her stay if…”

“If what?” Lewyn asked, his voice rising. “Anyway, we aren’t talking about me and Saria here, are we? I might have left her to her grief for too long, thinking that I was helping – but do you really think Rhaegar will cut Elia out of his life now, when he still needs an heir? Even if she wants it?”

“Oh, I know the Prince of Dragonstone still need her womb,” Morgan assured him. “How very comforting! What I am trying to tell you is that Elia is getting used to this semi-life and I think it’s dangerous! I don’t want her to lose even a year if it can be avoided!”

Now, there was offensiveness equal to the one Lewyn had offered earlier! Looking down, Daenaera had to admit that Elia might have been better served if they had taken her out in the solar or even outside. But Morgan had not been here in those long hours and days before and after Rhaenys’ birth; he had not felt this crippling fear that still made him watch over Elia as if she were just as vulnerable now as she had been then.

Now, she did not look vulnerable at all. “My knight is here again, at my service,” she said cheerfully when Daenaera went to help dress for the supper – for she had declared that she’d gather them together in her chambers for the meal. “He was always ready to save me when I was a child – I suppose old habits die hard!”

“Did he?” Daenaera murmured, her heart racing. “So, he grew up with you?” she asked, although she knew that he had.

Elia smiled knowingly. “Oh yes, he did. My uncle’s wife, Lady Saria, was always careful not to disturb his relationship with our family even before things changed.”

“Did they change?” Daenaera’s heart was beating fast.

Elia nodded, avoiding her aunt’s eyes in the looking glass as Daenaera brushed her hair out with the silver hairbrush. “It’s so stupid, being jealous. Lady Saria could not hold onto it for long. She was not jealous of Morgan’s mother – at least, she was too smart to let it show. After a while, when my uncle made it clear that he would not repeat the disrespect towards her – really, he could hardly think of anything to outdo the insult he had already dealt her! – she did accept Morgan into their household and took care of his upbringing, although he was not her son. My uncle loved her for this.”

Daenaera was amazed to feel the stir of discontent at hearing this. She had long known that Lewyn had felt more than apathy towards his wife but to hear it spoken out loud still caused her unexpected pain.

“What went wrong, then?” she asked but Elia pretended not to hear – she clearly thought that Daenaera should ask Lewyn. Who had made it clear that he would not discuss it with her.

Rhaegar made his appearance this same night – angry, disappointed, weary by the journey. He strode inside when everyone was laughing and Elia had laid down on a couch between a solid meal and the dessert. Morgan was making them laugh, imitating little Arianne who had come to harass her father in the middle of a meeting with his councilors when Ashara gave the first slight shriek.

“No, no,” Rhaegar said, striding in and waving an impatient hand to stop the bows. His eyes immediately went to Elia whose laughter had frozen on her face. “I am happy to see how beneficial my absence is for you, my lady,” he said. “I’d just like to ask you to invite me over next time. I’ll feel really abandoned if…”

It was clear that his anger had little to do with their merry gathering, that whatever had set him to such agitation had taken place in King’s Landing, yet Daenaera felt chilled with fear. Behind his shoulder, she could see Lewyn talking to… Arthur Dayne? Was he not supposed to be at King’s Landing? The diners were soon allowed to leave and to her surprise, Daenaera found herself leaning on her son’s arm. Her throat closed.

“Careful,” he warned as they came to a particularly treacherous step.

“Thank you,” she muttered mechanically and stole a glance at him.

His face was not hostile and not friendly – just polite. “My father would appreciate if you’re safely returned to your rooms, my lady, I’m sure,” he said and just with a few words, their dynamic was settled. Daenaera accepted it with sadness and resignation – after all, what else did she deserve?

Before she even retired to her bedchamber, she already knew what had happened. How the King had refused to touch little Rhaenys. How she smelled Dornish. Fury battled with fear, for she knew what was the only way for Elia and Rhaegar to get out of this. And Elia was just too ill.

Of course, Rhaegar would wait.

Or would he?

 

Chapter Text

Much to Daenaera’s surprise, after the first sharp clash Rhaegar and Morgan seemed to reach some kind of understanding. It was not an easy process and more than once, her cheeks burned as she heard Rhaegar insisting to Elia that Morgan Sand should not dwell with them. He was trying to show himself as a better alternative to his father, he insisted, and it would not do to have not just a bastard but one born to a man of the Kingsguard so close by and enjoying Elia’s company this openly. Daenaera could not help but notice that he would not say so to Lewyn’s face – or Morgan’s, for this matter. He expected of Elia to solve the matter but to both his and Daenaera’s surprise, she would not. Her poor tiny frame that could only achieve reclining in bed instead of lying on her back was frailer than what could be expected of any woman who had given birth months ago but it turned out that the hidden vigour Daenaera had felt under her delicate manners from time to time was truly there. Her voice was fragile but steely. “I’m afraid I can’t share your notions,” she said. “Loyalty is a very important thing to me and you have assured me that it is one for you as well. Morgan has always been loyal to the family and me, personally, and I can’t respond in any other way but the one of loyalty.”

“I don’t doubt this,” Rhaegar replied. “So he will understand just how uncomfortable this situation is for you…”

“He won’t,” Elia said calmly. “Because it isn’t. I want him here almost as much as I want my own brothers. Morgan knows me well enough to be aware.”

Suddenly, Daenaera felt the urge to tend the fire, make it harder, warmer. This was the first time she actually witnessed the treatment Morgan was offered by the world and shame scorched her very soul. It had been irresponsible of her to create a life and doom it to such circumstances – and Morgan’s were some of the very best in the land. She had not been a naïve girl. It had been just unconscionable of her. An act of cruelty.

The air in the bedchamber grew chilly. It wasn’t just Daenaera’s imagination. Tremors were now passing down Elia’s arms and she tucked them under the cover.

“You told me that you would respect our ways,” Elia finally said. “This is one of our ways… and mine in particular.”

“I know.” Rhaegar’s voice was just as steely as hers. “You just waited to see my back to make it merry… your way.”

Elia bristled and while Daenaera hesitated what would be the best course of action, the young woman made the decision for her. “What,” she asked very slowly, “are you trying to insinuate? Say it, my lord!”

Rhaegar, though, seemed reluctant. Elia shook her head. “If you wanted to wed someone whose only loyalty would be to your ideas of decorum,” she said, “you should have never accepted me. Surely you knew what a daughter of Dorne could never be reconciled with?”

Daenaera wanted to yell at her to shut up. It was not that Elia was not right but… age had taught Daenaera that being right meant little when one’s lord husband held all the power.

“I didn’t expect…” he started and paused. “Do you know what people are going to think when the word of your free way with him spreads?” he asked and anger suddenly flickered in his purple eyes, making them more alive than Daenaera had ever seen them before. “What’s going on between you and Morgan Sand, Elia?” he asked. All vestiges of kindness had disappeared from his face.

Elia looked at him, stunned. “What?” she asked and then, she understood. “Nothing. We’ve been friends since we were born, you know this.”

“The way people describe him carrying you around, many will think you’ve been something else since you were born.”

Elia’s lip curled in derision. “Of course they will. We’re Dornish. Let them talk! We’re cousins, as you know.”

“As if it matters!” Now, Rhaegar looked truly furious. Daenaera realized that this might be the first time in his life when someone other than his father was denying his wish. “How many cousins do you have who are wed to each other? Two, as far as I know? No one can best you in incest…”

Daenaera’s hand flew to her mouth. Elia burst out laughing before she could disguise it. Rhaegar stared at her – and then he laughed as well. “Did I really say this?” he asked a moment later and Elia nodded helplessly, still giggling, because it was just too funny. “Well, do you see what your impertinence has made out of me, Elia of Dorne? I was never known to talk nonsense before.”

“I daresay you managed it all on your own,” Elia replied. “I can’t claim any credit.”

“Oh but it’s all yours,” Rhaegar protested. The twinkle in his eye was unmistakable. He seemed stunned by his folly – and rather delighted. “Very well then, Elia. I did promise you that you can have everyone you want here.”

“And some people that I don’t,” Elia whispered to Daenaera and the old woman wondered if Rhaegar was truly this oblivious about the dislike his friend Connington felt for Elia and her natural reciprocation. If he even knew the true nature of Connington’s feelings for him.

Since this day, Rhaegar seemed to grow even fonder of Elia. Oh he spent just as much time in his solar with his old books and scrolls as before – but any moment he did not devote to reading or plotting was spent in her bedchamber, much to his retinue’s amazement – and the disgruntlement of some of them, namely one Jon Connington!

“He might not be as bad as I thought,” Daenaera overheard Morgan say to his father one day and she smiled a little sadly. From what she had come to know of her unacknowledged son, lack of vivacity was a truly bad thing for him. She wondered what his childhood had been like, although she had read much about this from her mother’s letters.

“Happy,” Lewyn told her simply and watching Morgan with Elia, Daenaera could glimpse a trace of this onetime happiness. With Lewyn, not so much. In fact, Morgan got along with Carral better than his own father and Daenaera wondered if this would have been so if they had been a family – the three of them.

‘Lewyn and Morgan are too similar to live together for too long,” Carral explained casually when she asked him about these two. “I was a child when Prince Mors died but I don’t think his relationship with Lewyn was this much different when Lewyn was this age.”

Daenaera smiled, remembering the Prince’s shock and anger when it had turned out that Lewyn could not be swayed from his devotion to her – and Lewyn’s anger at his father’s anger! “No,” she agreed, “it was not.”

But she could not be swayed from her devotion from him either. Not anymore. She might never have Morgan – but Lewyn was hers, as he had always been, and that night her passion knew no borders, spanning age and the long period of time when they had been lost to each other.

For a while, she was happy. Amabel wrote regularly and kept her abreast with everything going on back home. Carral’s suggestion that she visited Dorne when Elia did no longer looked scary and throwing her back to guilt, shame and sorrow and when he left, she told him that she would likely do it. Daena was growing lovelier and sweeter than even Daenaera’s own children at the time. Elia was getting better – and when Daenaera saw her with Morgan, she could almost see a glimpse of childhood filled with games, quarrels, sunshine, and blood oranges. At night, Lewyn had somehow, so gradually that she did not even notice, made her leave her insecurities behind. Finally, everything was almost the way she had dreamed of it…

Until that night when the blood comet passed. Until the morning Elia asked her and Ashara attend her instead of her handmaidens – and the girl gasped and blabbered something about the maesters who should be summoned. Daenaera, though, knew better and felt sick even before Elia shook her head. “No,” she said hoarsely. “Don’t call anyone. I don’t want anyone to know.”

“But what is there to know?” Ashara asked, still not getting it. “This is blood, Elia! You have started bleeding when we all thought you were getting better…”

Elia closed her eyes. Daenaera saw the tears making their way through her dark eyelashes, although her niece’s voice stayed even. “I was getting better. Until Rhaegar came.” She opened her eyes, startled by a new thought. “Don’t tell anyone,” she murmured. “Please.”

“Why?” Ashara hissed as the two of them were looking through fabrics and towels and putting some water to boil. “What is she ashamed of when he was the one did something this monstrous?”

Ashara was so very young. Sometimes, in the glow of the girl’s beauty, charm, and exquisiteness, Daenaera forgot that she had no experience in life. She did not know how a man’s actions could reflect on a woman’s self-perception and not just her image. “She can’t help it,” Daenaera said and prayed that Ashara would never come to know this pain.


Since then, nothing was the same. The amicability that had developed between Elia and Rhaegar disappeared, at least to Elia. Daenaera was not sure Rhaegar even noticed, although he remained as respectful and affectionate as ever. Ashara seethed privately to Daenaera and picked up quarrels with her brother since his devotion to Rhaegar had started irking her – but she could not tell him what the matter was.

“Does it always have to be like this?” she asked sometimes and Daenaera could not decide if it was better or worse for a young girl to part with her illusions of chivalry and happy marriage between two people of noble character who cared for each other before Ashara had her own match arranged.

It was with horror that she greeted the news of the future arrival of Elia’s second child – and Lewyn was nothing short of horrified and enraged. “This wretched scoundrel,” he snapped and only the distinct realization that he’d only make the things worse for Elia stopped him from settling the matter with Rhaegar in the way men liked to do. Daenaera was relieved to see that considerations of heir or prophecy, and Elia not being this feeble anymore – all the things Elia said to try and convince herself that it wasn’t this bad – played no part in Lewyn’s reasoning. She had heard them so often that she had almost started believing them! But what Lewyn told her could hardly set her mind at ease. In his anger, concern, and disappointment he could not keep the truth to himself anymore.

“Saria got with child too soon after a miscarriage,” he said absent-mindedly, staring at the flames and talking to them and not Daenaera. His usual energy had dissipated and he looked what he was – an aging man seeing old ghosts come to life, rising new fears with them. Daenaera took his hand and squeezed it, knowing that this night would not be one of rekindled passion, the type he was so good at rousing in her. “And I knew it was too soon but she wanted to believe the maesters. The maesters!” he spat bitterly and mimicked their grave, yet reassuring tones. “The reason for this loss was in the fall, my lord, the collision of her belly with the floor. There’s nothing wrong with her constitution or this pregnancy now.”

“But there was?” Daenaera asked.

He nodded. “It wasn’t obvious. But she was still faint and swooned often which she never did, usually. She could hardly keep any food in. There was a constant trickle of blood but they assured us it was something that happened to many women without meaning anything.” He sighed. “I knew I should have never let her go along with this but I did – when I could have spared her so much. Both of us, in fact.”

All of a sudden, Daenaera realized that she did not want to know. She had tried to glean why Saria Wyl had left him and he had let the world think he had been the one who had forced her away – but she was better off not knowing. The certainty that he was not like this, that she had not chosen wrong in choosing him was enough, she now realized – but it was now he who wanted to talk and she listened, as he had done so many times for her in the past and still did now.

“What did you not spare her?” she asked.

“The birth come two moons earlier. The short life of maesters, herbs, and prodding that this poor babe endured – because his two years of life were pure torture. The tiny grave I’ll never forget. And the pains and discomforts of a womb pushed down.” Daenaera might have thought that he was indifferent to what he was describing. His voice was still even. But his expression was not. She gasped and almost crossed her legs. He did not notice.

Now, Daenaera knew what had taken place. She could imagine the frequent pains down there, the pains in the lower back, the feeling that something would fall… out. Lady Saria’s case was likely a very severe one. If she had left Lewyn, that meant that her intimate relationship with him had become either excruciatingly painful, or just physically impossible. What would I have done in her place, Daenaera wondered and she disliked the answer. She would have stayed and suffered either the pain in her body through the act, or the heartache at watching her husband go to other women. She would have done it to carry out her duty – and preserve her dignity. It would have never occurred to her to ask her lord husband to take the dishonour and disrepute on his own name to spare her the humiliation of letting the world know that she could no longer be his wife in deed. She was not this brave. She had never been. Sympathy mixed with awe as she realized why Lewyn had been able to felt whatever he had felt – perhaps still felt – for his lady wife. She was so different from Daenaera that they might belong to two different worlds and his feelings for both of them were as different as the women themselves. Suddenly, she wondered if he would have been unfaithful to Saria, even with her, as she had been to Patrek. This answer was not pleasing to her confidence – but what did confidence matter now? Patrek was dead and Saria Wyl was leading the life she had chosen. It was Lewyn and her now, like she had dreamed for years decades ago – and had never been able to overcome herself and take what she wanted like Lewyn’s wife had.

“Come here,” she said, determined to not let him sink into a past that he could not change. “I’m cold. Hold me and tell me more about this tourney that Elia mentioned about. Am I right in thinking that you won’t be just waving your spears around and we won’t be just sitting in the boxes, cheering and trading gossip?”

He rose and held her close, something that he was more prone to do now than in their early days all those years ago or even their first days here, when passion had been the leading force. Increasingly often, he sought her out for soothing his mind and heart. This was one of the changes of time and aging that did not make Daenaera sad at all.

“Let’s go to bed,” he said. “I’ll tell you.”

Chapter Text

 “How many tourneys have you attended?”

Daenaera smiled. “Do you have a few hours to spare as I count?”

Elia laughed. “I’m serious.”

“So am I,” Daenaera assured her. “You forget that I have lived for so many decades that I don’t care to count them.”

“You don’t look like it.”

Elia said it lightly and Daenaera smiled, no longer thinking that such words were mere courtesy. Lewyn had managed to instill her with confidence, it seemed… and it had lasted even when for many weeks, he had been consumed by his memories and feeling of guilt to another woman and was no longer prepared to soothe her fears and made her feel desirable. She just knew she still was. To him. And this was what mattered. This made her bloom as Elia became paler and frailer in the trials of a new pregnancy so soon after the harsh birth. Her face was now drawn and she did her best not to groan as each bump on the road made the wheelhouse shiver and brought a new surge of pain in her tightly bandaged breasts. Rhaenys was too young for such a long journey but Elia’s body refused to cooperate. Drying up was an agony that she did not want to show, yet was unable to hide.

“Seventeen,” Daenaera said after a while. “Seventeen great tournaments and I can’t remember how lesser ones. I’ve been on this earth quite long, you know.”

Daena, Ashara and Coral Hightide leaned over, asking a torrent of eager questions, and Elia leaned back against her pillows and closed her eyes, letting Daenaera’s voice wash over her, so much resembling the voice of Daella, her grandmother, Daenaera’s mother…

They stopped to dine in a house quickly sequestered for their use and Daenaera felt a rush of anger as Rhaegar came close to assist Elia out of the wheelhouse. She could see that Elia would prefer Morgan but Rhaegar either did not care or actually did not realize it. Daenaera wondered whether for him nothing had changed. For Elia, nothing could be the same, ever again.

“He has been talking about a prophecy,” Daenaera had told Lewyn the day before they had left Dragonstone. “It scares me.”

“He has told nothing of the kind to me,” he had replied.

“Not to me either! He has spoken so to Elia,” she replied, her fingers twitching and turning over her embroidery. But she had to be careful with her words. This far, Lewyn did not know how Elia’s second child had been conceived. She’d rather have it stay this way. “He reminds me of King Aerys, Lewyn. So lofty in his aims and so frightfully careless of the everyday burden of those he strives to save. Even Lord Brynden could not make up fully for the King’s lack of interest – and he was one of the cleverest men I’ve ever encountered.”

“That’s why we’re trying to put end to King Aerys’ reign,” Lewyn replied, taking her hands and stilling them gently. “Lack of interest combined with giving power to unworthy friends is a dangerous combination, Daenaera. I can see you aren’t enthused but playing the game of thrones is one of the necessities going hand in hand with the privilege of being Daenaera Velaryon and not Danida from the village of Nowhere.”

Daenaera thought about this. The game of thrones still excited her in a dark way but she no longer felt the aching desire and keenness from onetime. Perhaps it was age? Or had she become too domesticated? An old lady from the backwater who only cared about her crops and sewing? Lewyn laughed and felt her brow like a maester. “You’ll be fully healed after a tourney and a grand reception,” he said reassuringly and as she saw the great ruins of Harrenhal rising up in front of them, she knew it would be so.

 

 

It felt different. Weird. The last time she had been actively involved in politics, she had been right in the centre of all, armed with her beauty, charm, and high birth. Envoys and great merchants, and lords of all standing had been seeking her favour, alliance, or outright hostility due to aligning themselves with other factors. But she had always been in the light, richly dressed, smiling serenely, cheerfully, or sinisterly, always aware of the power beauty had in the world. After so many years of distancing herself from all this, she was intrigued and mindful of the way this kind of attention was focused on Elia, instead. Elia, with her gracious smile and voiced appreciation of everything she could. Elia the beauty. Elia the perfect lady.

“She takes after you,” Lady Whent said at dinner. “The Prince is so happy. Is is true, what I’ve been hearing? That soon enough, we might be blessed with a heir to the Iron Throne?”

Daenaera’s goblet stopped on its way to her mouth. Elia was past her third moon and it was safer now to assume that the child would not be lost but still, with her slight frame, some more months could have passed before the announcement could be made. Was this a bid to assure people further that Rhaegar’s succession was secure? It must be. Now, the speculating looks she could see constantly going to her niece took an entire new meaning altogether. “I’m sure there will be an heir soon enough,” she said easily, unwilling to say more before she could talk to Elia.

But the news of Elia’s state had reached men’s ears as well. Jeffory asked the question straight out as soon as he was alone with his mother and she confirmed before asking him to keep it… almost a secret.

He laughed, surprised. “Of course,” he said. “What do you take me for, Mother? Has life at Prince Rhaegar’s court changed you so much that you’re now suspicious of everyone?”

Daenaera considered this. “No,” she said slowly. “I think it’s taking me back to my old self, at least for a while…”

He smiled. “I like this self as well,” he said. “I’ve heard talks how you were at the old court and I was curious…”

Would you be so curious if you knew I had a relationship with a much younger man and bore him a bastard as I was wed to your father, she wondered. Seeing Jeffory and Lewyn together in Elia’s chambers made her feel unease that she could not wave away, as silly as it was…

When Daenaera asked about the rumours about Elia’s pregnancy, her niece replied the idea had been her own. “The tension is so high that you could cut through it with a knife,” she said. “Why has the King come? Lord Varys is…” She didn’t bother to finish. “We need to act quickly,” she said. “I couldn’t convince Rhaegar to use his father’s presence and Lord Whent’s friendship to settle the matter once and for all. He wants to do it the right way.” Her mouth curled in disapproval that she was quick to suppress. “As if there is a right way about such a thing! But he wants to be preferred – well, I did what I had to aid people’s preference of him…”

Smiles and compliments, and veiled promises, and now this. For a moment of madness, Daenaera wondered what would happen if the child did arrive safely. After Harrenhal, the King might easily take this as a threat.

The castle where Daenaera had stayed so many times as a cherished family guest was now a vortex of royal madness, ambitions running high, ringing of spears, and love or at least infatuation.  Daenaera had to play games of words and promises with the river lords, reassure Lord Arryn that her daughter’s absence did not mean that they had reconsidered the match with his heir, and keep Ashara Dayne under control… The girl was so drunk on her first great tourney that Daenaera could not be too cautious. The power of one’s own beauty was a charm that  Daenaera knew only too well… In a year or so, her own daughter would make such an appearance before the realm and she had to be ready about this as well. Perhaps it would be the tourney celebrating the ascendance of King Rhaegar, the First of His Name… She hoped so. Rhaegar, with Elia as his queen. She prayed that he would never do again to Elia what he had done once…

“Oh yes, aren’t they charming?” she murmured, answering the admiration of a table-companion and then oh so innocently cast a look at the high table and the King who was anything but charming, with his manic laughter and unkempt hair. “It’s been a while since we last had such a fetching couple.”

“We were more fetching,” Lewyn murmured in her ear some time later but of course, he could not come to her chamber while it lasted. Still, she danced with him once and felt the magic stir something in her own heart as well.

Politics had warmed her blood once and so had Lewyn. Experiencing both sensations now made her as deliciously excited as she would ever be. After all those years of self-chosen distance, she was still Daenaera Velaryon and not Danida from Nowhere and she would never lose herself again. Never.

Thank you, Rhaegar Targaryen, she thought. It’s because of your plans that I came back to myself.

 

 

The day the Crown Prince emerged as a victor, she felt anything but grateful. Hers were a pair of the thousands of disbelieving eyes following him as he passed Elia by – passed her by – to keep going… and searching in the crowd… finding a young girl… to crown… and crush Elia under his heel for all to see.

Done her worse than the worst Lothar had ever done to Daenaera…

“No!” she said sharply, grabbing Oberyn by the hand when he started to rise. “You’ll only make it worse.”

Elia stood stiff-backed, trying to pretend that nothing unusual had happened, and Daenaera was forcefully slammed back into the years when in her own life of a young bride, nothing ever happened. Nothing but the humiliation of being beautiful, sought… and rejected by her own husband.

“Don’t swoon!” Alynna hissed, ready to support her cousin’s weight if Elia did swoon.

“I won’t,” Elia said and she did not. She stayed as whispers rose, all the while till Rhaegar returned. She even accepted his arm, only to drop it as soon as they entered their chambers. He immediately reached for her because she swayed dangerously but she steadied herself on her feet and looked him in the eye. “Don’t touch me right now,” she hissed in a low voice. “You’d better remember it.”

“Elia, I only want to take you to your chamber. You look unwell…”

“Go out to celebrate your victory,” she said coldly. “You made it clear that I’m not part of it. Morgan will conduct me to my chambers. Leave.”

“We’ll talk about this later,” he said.”

“We won’t,” she said and looked around. Morgan went past Rhaegar and took her arm. Daenaera noticed how heavily she leaned against him.

Soon, Elia’s antechambers was turned into a beehive of indignation – oh, polite and not containing any curses but indignation anyway. Much could be said and was said about the Prince’s appalling conduct and speculated about the girl, although Daenaera herself supposed Lyanna Stark was as shocked as everyone else. It was unconscionable of Rhaegar to do such a thing to someone so young – and what had he found in her anyway? Lyanna was not even beautiful. Not even grown up.

“Adoration that he cannot receive from Elia,” Alynna said curtly when Elia fell asleep, “for reasons you know.”

Daenaera looked at her, surprised. “How do you know?”

“I happened to see her once or twice in the great hall,” her niece said. “She’s entranced by him.”

There was no compassion in her voice and Daenaera could not understand. Of course, she did not know Alynna this much but her impression was that the young woman was an honest person who strove to be fair. She, most of all, should understand the longings of youth.

“I looked at her when he gave her the laurel,” Alynna said. “And I kept looking. Honestly, I couldn’t bear to look at Elia trying to act as if nothing had happened! In the beginning, she was shocked. But then, she was thrilled. It doesn’t matter. He couldn’t have known what her reaction would be. It’s he who is the problem.”

In more than one way, Daenaera thought. In more than one way. Really, was an Aegon the Unworthy come again this much improvement over Aerys? Why should anyone expect honourable treatment by Rhaegar if he could treat his pregnant wife so dishonourably?

Daenaera herself no longer knew where the truth lay.