The soft thumping startled Rhalla from her light slumber. She pushed gently against her sister, but Aerea slept undisturbed. "Awake, sister," she insisted, shaking her twin's shoulder. "Twin, open your eyes." Aerea murmured something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like licentious language.
Her eyes opened slowly. "What is it, you little fool. Did you have a night terror?" Aerea opened her arms for the younger twin, but Rhalla shook her head. The night was cold, much too cold.
"Can you not hear it, Aerea? Something odd is going on." The thumping began again. Both sat up in bed, wrapping arms around one another as manner of protection. "Do you think 'tis one of the ghosts?" There was bound to be at least a few. Workers mayhap. Someone had even said they'd seen uncle Viserys. They'd not seen him, but one of the serving girl swore by the Faith that she'd seen a strange figure lying in the courtyard, half-rotten, with maggots crawling about.
"'Tis but the wind," Aerea tried to convince her as they shivered together, clutching tighter. "Only the wind. A storm must be approaching." The pounding grew louder and louder and louder still and then, suddenly, silence enveloped everything.
Neither one of the twins dared to move or breathe for fear that whatever had been there with them was not gone.
A screech cut through the silence.
"Dragon," they said simultaneously and rushed to one of the windows, thinking they might catch a glimpse of it.
Only darkened clouds lined by the silvery light of the moon greeted their sight.
Aerea wept bitter tears when she learned that mother had abandoned them. Though she was the one whose feelings were better concealed than Rhalla's, she still could not help herself.
It made matters even worse than they'd been left in the care of their step-father. He'd been kind to them, to be sure, when mother yet kept his company, for he'd needed an heir. But Queen Rhaena had fled to join her brother's forces, leaving behind the twins.
"Where is she?" the King asked again, Tyanna's dagger glinting maliciously, the bloodied tip bright red. "She must have told you something."
"Father, we know nothing," Rhalla had tried to reason with him. For that, the Mistress of Whisperers bent to share words with her husband so none but the two of them might hear. "Father."
"Silence, wretch," the King barked at her, standing from his seat. He took the dagger from his bride's hands and slashed another cut across Aerea's cheek. Rhalla was treated to a biting plunge of the blade into tender flesh.
And on and one it went. Each denial earned them another cut, another bruise until both girls were a mess of bloodied kirtles. Uncle Viserys had lasted for nine days, Aerea would tell her once they'd been dragged into the lightless dungeon.
"We shall last for ten to shame him," Rhalla declared in a faint voice, as if to rally whatever little force was left between them. "Ten days is enough for mother to return."
Ten days never were.