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A Wedding in Sunspear

Chapter Text

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Dramatis Personae - bolded are people actually present


The Bride:


Princess Loreza Nymeros Martell, (226) heir to Sunspear, Keeper of the Spear Tower


Her Family:

Rhodryn Nymeros Martell, (190) Lord of Sunspear, Prince of Dorne, her father

Lady Robarra Baratheon, his first wife, died (224) in childbed after three stillbirths and as many miscarriages

  • Prince Caddam Nymeros Martell, (212), died hours after birth

Lady Lenelle Manwoody ( 208 ) of House Manwoody of Kingsgrave, her mother

Prince Lewyn Nymeros Martell, (230) her brother, a new-made knight of seventeen


Prince Arion Nymeros Martell, (195) her uncle

Lady Rebanna Wyl, (199) heir to Wyl, his wife

  • Ser Maron Wyl, (217) their son

Larra of Lys, his paramour

  • Morgan Sand, (235) their bastard son, a boy of twelve, squire to Ser Maron Wyl


Princess Trystana Nymeros Martell, (199) her aunt

Duran Gargalen, Lord of Salt Shore, her husband

  • Lady Linette Gargalen, (222) heir to Salt Shore, her daughter
  • Ser Lucas Allyrion, her husband
  • Tremond Gargalen, Lady Linette’s son, a babe
  • Lady Joleta Gargalen, (225) her daughter, paramour to Lady Deneza Dalt
  • Lady Daenerys Gargalen, (232) her daughter, a maid of fifteen


Princess Daenella Nymeros Martell, (210) her aunt, called “Princess of the Breeze” because her whims can be altered by the breeze

Terence, an Orphan of the Greenblood, her husband

  • Manfrey Martell, (239) their son, a boy of eight
  • Yanna Martell, (241) their daughter, a girl of six


Ser Olyvar Sand, (184) Keeper of the Sandship, called “The Bastard of Sunspear”, her uncle


Ser Henrick Dayne, of the Daynes of High Hermitage, her paramour, sent away


Her Friends and Companions


Lady Emlyn Wells, her chatelaine

Lady Joleta Gargalen, her cousin and lady companion

Lady Rhona Santagar, her lady companion

Lady Elda Toland, her lady companion

Genna Sand, bastard daughter of Lady Anila Qorgyle, her lady companion

Alyse Ladybright, her friend from childhood, a lemon factor

Ser Ormond Yronwood, a hostage in Sunspear since the fourth Blackfyre Rebellion

Ser Rolyn Toland, heir to Ghost Hill

Serron Vaith, crippled in an accident as a child, a justiciar


Garwyn of Salt Shore, The High Seneschal

Maester Geuren, counselor, healer, tutor


The Bridegroom:


Ser Eliott Rowan, of House Rowan of Goldengrove


His Family:


Adwin Rowan, Lord of Goldengrove, his father, known for his love of books

Lady Sarra Fossoway, of the Fossoways of Cider Hall, his mother

Ser Alastor Rowan, heir to Goldengrove, his brother, a drunk

Lady Bessa Rowan, his sister, married Ser Waltyre Bracken

  • Betha Bracken, their daughter, a girl of four
  • Othor Bracken, their son, a babe

Lady Aelora Rowan, his sister, a maid of fifteen


Ser Corret Rowan, his uncle,

Lady Taria Tully, Ser Corret's wife

  • Ser Marq Rowan, his son, a knight of growing reputation
  • Dian Rowan, his daughter, now called Septa Donella
  • Ser Owain Rowan, his son, Ser Eliott’s oldest friend, to remain with him in Dorne


Lady Allana Rowan, his aunt, married Ser Jarl Jast


His Friends and Companions


Ser Lymen Osgrey of the Osgreys of Coldmoat

Ser Jon the Green, a household knight



The Guests at the Wedding



The Lords of Dorne:


Edgar Yronwood, the Bloodroyal, Lord of Yronwood, Warden of the Stone Way

Lady Emma Mertyns, his wife

  • Lady Alyse Yronwood, (225) heir to Yronwood, his daughter, married Ser Clarian Jordayne
  • Ser Ormond Yronwood, (229) a hostage in Sunspear


Jennelyn Fowler, Lady of Skyreach, Warden of the Prince’s Pass

  • Lady Ysilla Fowler, heir to Skyreach, her daughter,
  • Ser Quentyn Santagar, Lady Ysilla’s husband
  • Franklyn Fowler, Lady Ysilla's son, a boy of three

Lady Ariandra Fowler, her sister, married Lord Veryn Toland

  • Ser Rolyn Toland, heir to Ghost Hill, her son
  • Lady Elda Toland, her daughter, companion to Princess Loreza Nymeros Martell, betrothed to Ser Casson Vaith
  • Jennelyn Sand, her bastard daughter by Lord Allyster Wyl, a woman of sixteen
  • Devan Sand, her bastard son by Lord Allyster Wyl, a boy of twelve


Mors Allyrion, Lord of Godsgrace, Lord Justiciar

Lady Ryanne Manwoody, his wife

  • Lady Delonne Allyrion, heir to Godsgrace, a girl of nine

Ser Lucas Allyrion, his brother,

Lady Linette Gargalen, heir to Salt Shore, Ser Lucas’s wife

  • Tremond Gargalen, their son, a babe


Meria Blackmont, Lady of Blackmont

Ser Simon Leygood, her husband

Lady Alyssa Blackmont, her sister and heir, married Edric Qorgyle

  • Arron Blackmont, their son, a boy of two, twin to Arrelle
  • Arrelle Blackmont, their daughter, a girl of two, twin to Arron

Lady Synelle Blackmont, her aunt, assistant to the Keeper of the Spear Tower

Ser Marence Santagar, Lady Synelle’s husband

  • Lady Elysa Santagar, their daughter, a maid of twelve


Ashryn Dayne, Lord of Starfall

Lady Deria Dayne, of the Daynes of High Hermitage, his wife and cousin, died in childbed

  • Lady Alleza Dayne, heir to Starfall, his daughter, a maid of fourteen

Ser Qoren Sand, bastard brother of Lady Vallena Vaith, his paramour


Duran Gargalen, Lord of Salt Shore

Princess Trystana Nymeros Martell, his wife

  • Lady Linette Gargalen, heir to Salt Shore, his daughter
  • Ser Lucas Allyrion, Lady Linette’s husband
  • Tremond Gargalen, Lady Linette's son, a babe
  • Lady Joleta Gargalen, his daughter, paramour to Lady Deneza Dalt
  • Lady Daenerys Gargalen, his daughter, a maid of fifteen


Isabella Jordayne, Lady of the Tor

Ser Bryndyn Wade, her husband, a famous knight, died in the Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion

  • Trebor Jordayne, heir to the Tor, her son, a squire of twelve
  • Lady Brynelle Jordayne, a girl of ten

Ser Clarion Jordayne, her brother, married Lady Alyse Yronwood, heir to Yronwood


Dickon Manwoody, Lord of Kingsgrave

Sarae of Volantis, his estranged wife, proprietor of a pillow house in the shadow city

  • Lady Lysanne Manwoody, heir to Kingsgrave, his daughter, a maid of thirteen

Lady Lenelle Manwoody, his sister, married Prince Rhodryn Nymeros Martell

Lady Ryanne Manwoody, his sister, married Lord Mors Allyrion


Veryn Toland, Lord of Ghost Hill

Lady Ariandra Fowler, his wife, now paramour to Lord Allyster Wyl

  • Ser Rolyn Toland, heir to Ghost Hill, his son
  • Lady Elda Toland, his daughter, companion to Princess Loreza Nymeros Martell, betrothed to Ser Casson Vaith


Dylan Uller, Lord of Hellholt, Warden of the Broken Arm, a respected battle commander

Lady Derielle Vaith, his wife, recently returned to Vaith

  • Harmen Uller, heir to Hellholt, his son, a boy of eleven, a page at Starfall
  • Lady Ellaria Uller, his daughter, a girl of eight
  • Ulwyk Uller, his son, a boy of six

Lady Deria Uller, his sister

Ser Dalmor Laq, Lady Deria’s husband, died in a fall

  • Lucas Laq, the Knight of Laqstone, a boy of four


Vallena Vaith, Lady of of the Red Dunes

Ser Casson Vaith, her brother and heir, betrothed to Lady Elda Toland

Lady Derielle Vaith, her sister, estranged wife of Lord Dylan Uller

  • Harmen Uller, heir to Hellholt, her son, a boy of eleven, a page at Starfall
  • Lady Ellaria Uller, her daughter, a girl of eight
  • Ulwyk Uller, her son, a boy of six

Ser Qoren Sand, her bastard brother

Ser Allin Vaith, her uncle, married to Lady Anila Qorgyle


Allyster Wyl, (173) Lord of the Boneway

Lady Jeyne Swann, his wife, died of a wasting disease

  • Lady Rebanna Wyl, (199) heir to Wyl, his daughter
  • Prince Arion Nymeros Martell, Lady Rebanna’s estranged husband
  • Ser Maron Wyl, (217) Lady Rebanna’s son

Lady Jeyne Wyl, his daughter, Lord Bailiff of Sunspear

Lady Ariandra Fowler, his paramour

  • Jennelyn Sand, their bastard daughter, a woman of sixteen
  • Devan Sand, (235) their bastard son, a boy of twelve


Anila Qorgyle, Lady of Sandstone

Ser Allin Vaith, her husband

  • Ser Gallwel Qorgyle, heir to Sandstone, her son, a new made knight of eighteen
  • Lady Obella Qorgyle, her daughter, a woman of sixteen, betrothed to Ser Artyr Dalt
  • Emerik Qorgyle, her son, a boy of twelve, a squire at Ghost Hill

Genna Sand, her bastard daughter, companion to Princess Loreza Nymeros Martell

Edric Qorgyl, her brother,

Lady Alyssa Blackmont, Edric’s wife

  • Arron Blackmont, their son, a boy of two, twin to Arrelle
  • Arrelle Blackmont, their daughter, a girl of two, twin to Arron


Deneza Dalt, the Lady of Lemonwood, Keeper of the Tower of the Sun

Lady Joleta Gargalen, her paramour

Ser Artyr Dalt, her brother and heir, Lord Shariff of Sunspear, betrothed to Lady Obella Qorgyle

  • Dennet Sand, his bastard son, a boy of six


Ser Torren Santagar, the Knight of Spotswood

Corella Sand, his paramour

  • Ser Eldon Sand, their bastard son, a dashing young knight, Officer of the Threefold Gate

Ser Marence Santagar, his brother and heir, a hero of the Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion

Lady Synelle Blackmont, Ser Marence's wife, assistant to the Keeper of the Spear Tower

  • Lady Elysa Santagar, their daughter, a maid of twelve

Ser Quentyn Santagar, his brother

Lady Ysilla Fowler, heir to Skyreach, his wife

  • Franklyn Fowler, their son, a boy of three

Lady Rhona Santagar, his sister, companion to Princess Loreza Nymeros Martell


From King’s Landing and the Crown Lands:


Aegon V Targaryen, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Protector of the Realm

Queen Betha, of House Blackwood, his wife


Prince Duncan, his son, once heir to the Iron Throne, called “The Prince of Dragonflies”

Jenny of Oldstones, his wife, a common woman


Jaehaerys, Prince of Dragonstone, heir to the Iron Throne, his son, brother-husband of Shaera

Princess Shaera Targaryen, his daughter, sister-wife of Jaehaerys

  • Prince Aerys, their son, a boy of three
  • Princess Rhaella, their daughter, a babe


Prince Daeron Targaryen

  • his lover, Ser Jeremy Norridge


Princess Rhaelle Targaryen

Lord Ormund Baratheon, her husband

  • Steffon, their son, a babe


Ser Duncan the Tall, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard

Ser Willas Manderly, a knight of the Kingsguard

Ser Harlan Grandison, a knight of the Kingsguard


Ser Tybot Sarsfield, Master of Horse at the Red Keep

Lady Alysanne Mooton, his wife

  • Lady Tyia Sarsfield, his daughter, a maid of eighteen


Dontos Darklyn, Lord of Duskendale

Lady Amerei Stokeworth, his wife


Aurane Velaryon, Lord of Driftmark, a famous knight


Lollman Stokeworth, Lord of Stokework

  • Ser Jon Stokeworth, heir to Stokeworth, his son


From the Reach:


Gared Tyrell,  Lord of Highgarden, Defender of the Marches, High Marshal of the Reach, Warden of the South

  • Ser Luthor Tyrell, heir to Highgarden, his son
  • Ser Gormon Tyrell, his son
  • Garth Tyrell, his son
  • Moryn Tyrell, his son


Runceford Redwyne, Lord of the Arbor

  • Ser Horas Redwyne, heir to the Arbor, his son
  • Lady Olenna Redwyne, his daughter, a maid of nineteen, once betrothed to Prince Daeron Targaryen
  • her septa, Unelletine


Denys Hightower, (208) Lord of the Hightower, a widower

  • Ser Leyton Hightower, (234) heir to the Hightower, his son, a squire

Lady Alanna Hightower, (211) his sister,

Lord Jon Mullendore, Lady Alanna’s husband

  • Ser Martyn Mullendore, (227) their son,

Ser Humford Hightower, (215) his younger brother

  • Ser Nordon Flowers, his bastard son

Ser Gerold Hightower, (219) his youngest brother, a knight of great renowned

Lady Malora Merryweather, his widowed mother


Jon Bulwer, Lord of Blackcrown


Edwyn Oakheart, Lord of Old Oaks

Lady Alysanne Rosby, his wife

  • Lady Ellyn Oakheart, his daughter, a maid of twenty


Ser Joffrey Costayne, younger son of Lord Leo


Jothor Florent, Lord of Brightwater Keep, an old, querulous man

Daisy, his mistress, a blacksmith’s daughter, younger than his granddaughter

  • Ser Farin Florent, heir to Brightwater, his son
  • Ser Selman Florent, Ser Farin’s son
  • Alester Florent, Ser Selman’s son, a squire of fourteen
  • Lady Joslyn Risley, Ser Farin’s second wife
  • Lady Mariah Florent, Ser Farin's daughter, a maid of sixteen
  • Alton Florent, his son, a squire at The Crag


Samwell Tarly, Lord of Horn Hill, a hero of the fourth Blackfyre Rebellion

Lady Doryssa Hayford, his wife

  • Lady Leona Tarly, their daughter
  • Ser Daeron Darklyn, Lady Leona’s husband
  • Garth Tarly, heir to Horn Hill, their son, a boy of eleven


Ser Arwen Casswell, heir to Bitterbridge


From the stormlands


Belmor Dondarrion, Lord of Blackhaven, a new made knight


Ludwyn Swann, Lord of Stonehelm

Lady Donna Frey, his wife

  • Ser Manfred Swann, their younger son
  • Barristan Selmy, Ser Manfrey's squire


Alfros Connigton, Lord of Griffin’s Roost

Lady Elenora Westerling, his wife

  • Lady Dyanna Connington, his daughter, a maid of fourteen
  • Armond Connington, heir to Griffin’s Roost, his son, a boy of eleven, squire to Ser Arwen Caswell


Cedra Buckler, Lady of Brozegate, a widow

  • Ser Randyll Buckler, heir to Bronzegate, her son
  • Lady Jeyne Buckler, Ser Randyll's wife and cousin
  • Lady Betha Buckler, Ser Randyll's daughter, a maid of twelve


Ser Andrew Estermont, heir to Greenstone

  • Ser Eldon Estermont, his son, a knight of seventeen


Durran of Tarth, The Evenstar

Lady Cersei Hetherspoon, his wife

  • Lady Brianna of Tarth, his daughter and heir
  • Ser Adan Lonmouth, Lady Brianna's husband
  • Selwyn of Tarth, Lay Brianna's son, a babe


From the westerlands:


Tytos Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport, Warden of the West

Lady Jeyne Marbrand, his wife

  • Tywin Lannister, their son, a boy of five
  • Kevan Lannister, their son, a boy of three
  • Genna Lannister, their daughter, a girl of two

Ser Jason Lannister, his brother

Lady Alys Stackspear, Ser Jason's first wife, died in childbed

  • Damon Lannister, his son, a boy of three

Lady Marla Prestor, Ser Jason’s second wife, twice his age

  • Joanna Lannister, their daughter, a girl of two
  • Stafford Lannister, a babe

Lynora Hill, Ser Jason’s bastard daughter by a serving girl, a girl of five

Ser Tywald Lannister, his brother, died in the Peake Rebellion

Ser Tion Lannister, his brother, died in the Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion


Walderan Tarbeck, Lord of Tarbeck Hall, an old man (b. 184)

  • Ser Theo Tarbeck, heir to Tarbeck Hall, his son, a knight of forty years
  • Ser Alyn Tarbeck, Ser Theo’s son, a new-made knight of eighteen, called “The Younger Alyn"
  • Ser Alyn Tarbeck, his son, called “The Elder Alyn"
  • Lady Arryka Tarbeck, his daughter, a maid of seventeen

Lady Ellyn Reyne, his third wife

  • Tion Tarbeck, their son, a boy of five
  • Lady Rohanne Tarbeck, their daughter, a girl of two


Ser Reynard Reyne


Tyrion Broom, Lord of Bromm

  • Perrin Broom, his son, squire to Ser Jason Lannister


Geylman Farman, Lord of Fair Isle, an old but powerful man

  • Ser Tommen Farman, heir to Fair Isle, his son
  • Tytos Farmen, Ser Tommen's son, a boy of six
  • Lady Rohanne Farmen, his daughter
  • Ser Bonifer Lydden, Lady Rohanne’s husband
  • Steffon Farmen, Lord of Silverhill, his son,
  • Jonelle Serrett, Lady of Silverhill, Lord Steffon’s wife, a girl of eleven


Marwen Hamell, Lord of Goldenbowl Valley


Other Guests:


Ser Jon Arryn, heir to the Eyrie, a knight of eighteen


Wallyn Waynwood, Lord of Ironoaks


Gregor Darry, Lord of Darry

Lady Meredyth Carson, his wife

  • Lady Megga Darry, their daughter, still a maid at thirty
  • Ser Willem Darry, their younger son
  • Jonothor Darry, a squire of fifteen


Nosarro Fomittis, envoy from the Iron Bank of Braavos


Trino Lohar, a Magister of Lys

  • Sarra, his daughter, a girl of seven, a ward of the prince at the Water Gardens


Tresellar Saan, a great Lysene wine merchant


Doton Tonkori, son of the Archon of Tyrosh


Horhas Serrhar, a Magister of Myr

Vogarro of the Old Blood, a merchant and Freeholder of Volantis

Chapter Text

The family gathered to break their fast and Loreza regretted even getting out of bed. Her father smiled encouragingly, her cousin Joleta just looked at her with pity. She knew her eyes were red from the tears she shed as she watched Henry’s horse disappear through the gates of the Old Palace. The sight of the food on her plate made her sick.

“The dressmaker wanted to come in today for one last fitting,” her mother said in a soothing tone, “but we should put it off, anyway. It’ll be of more use when all your jewels are finished being reset.”

“If you think that’s best,” Loreza said. She picked up a piece of bread then threw it back down on her plate without taking a bite.

“Maybe you should go to the Water Gardens for a few days,” her aunt said, “take all your friends with you, unless you rather keep to yourself.”

Loreza rolled her eyes. Going to the Water Gardens was Princess Trystana’s solution to everything. “I can’t go to the Water Gardens, there’s too much to do.”

“Not today, surely,” her aunt said.

She wanted to be alone, but she didn’t want to think. Working was the best thing, she was sure of that.

There was a knock on the door.

“Yes,” Prince Rhodryn said.

Maester Geuren came in and approached the small round table they were all crowded around. “My prince,” he said, “there is news from the port.” He had a look of anxious concern on his fleshy face when he glanced at Loreza, “Lord Redwyne is here.”

“How can he be here?” said her mother, “he’s not expected for another ten days.”

“Yes, my lady,” the maester said, “but he’s already sent for leave to land. The message said that the winds were very fair.”

Joleta Gargalen stood from the table and walked to the eastern window where she could see far out to sea. “There they are,” she said, “three ships with blue sails. They anchored just outside the harbour.”

“Well, can’t they stay there until we’re ready for them?” her sister said, “what does he mean by coming so early?”

“Don’t be stupid, Dany,” Loreza said, “he didn’t intend to come early. And even if he had done it on purpose, it’s small cause to insult him.”

“Much less the Tyrells,” Lady Lenelle said.

“Are they coming too?”

“That was the arrangement, if I recall.”

“Indeed,” Maester Geuren said, he read from the paper in his hand, “Lord Gared sailed with them. And Lord Florent. Along with Ser Joffrey Costayne and Lord Hightower, and his brother Ser Gerold, and various other members of his family.”

“You wouldn’t slight Ser Gerold Hightower, would you Daenerys?” asked Ser Olyvar Sand.

“No, of course not, uncle,” she said with a fifteen-year-old’s exasperation.

“We’ll have to feast them too,” Loreza pointed out.

“We can manage that, surely,” her mother said. “Some capon and a few dances will do.”

“Not even the musicians are here for another three days.”

“The court musicians are more than good enough for anyone,” she said, “even Gared Tyrell.”

“Well, it’s not like we have a choice,” Loreza said. She turned to the maester, “Send word that I’ll be able to receive them in six hours.”

“Surely you don’t intend to go yourself,” Princess Trystana said. “Let your mother go in your stead. Lady Deneza will see to the feast, and we’ll tell Lord Tyrell that you’re indisposed.”

“I’m not indisposed.”

“You don’t seem well.”

“Please, let me go instead, my love,” said Lady Lenelle. “At least go to bed until it’s time to eat.”

“I’m perfectly well,” she insisted. “It’s my wedding, not Mother’s. I’ll greet Lord Tyrell and Lord Redwyne, I’ll dance with their sons at the feast, and then I’ll go to bed.” Alone.

“If you wish,” Prince Rhodryn said with another encouraging smile.

“See to it, if it please you, maester,” she said.

“As you command, my princess.”

It turned out that it was the reachmen who required more than six hours to put themselves in order and appear at the quayside in half a dozen barges. Lord Tyrell brought two of his four sons and a retinue of twenty knights. Lord Redwyne, brought one son, one daughter, and five bannermen but the Hightower party was so large she wondered who there was left in Oldtown. Ancient, gouty Lord Florent brought his son, his grandchildren, and a great sedan chair carried by four hugely muscled serving men.

The princess brought only thirty men of the city watch, and the Lord Sharrif, her ladies, a handful of household knights, and Lord Mors Allyrion. Lord Tyrell was clearly displeased with his paltry welcome, but her cousin was right, if he wanted better he shouldn’t have come so early.

And it hardly stopped him from talking her ear off on the entire ride back to the Old Palace with an endless stream of meaningless gallantries. Loreza smiled and thanked him as well as she could and happily handed them all over to the seneschal at the earliest moment it was decent.

She found her mother all of a flutter in the Keeper’s chambers in the Tower of the Sun. Arranging a feast at so little notice had not proved as simple as she had thought, even with the whole palace prepared for a fortnight's worth of them in a week’s time.

They were arguing about the danger of running out of duck before the bridegroom even arrived when Lady Deneza Dalt came into the room looking furious.

“What is it?” the princess asked her.

“Lord Florent isn’t satisfied with his chambers,” she said. “He’s making quite the scene.”

“What’s wrong with them?” Lady Lenelle asked. Lord Florent and his family were being housed in the Garden Keep by the southern gate. Their knights and retainers were either finding beds in the shadow city or erecting their pavilions on the tourney grounds.

“He’s says there are too many stairs,” said Lady Deneza, “but his real objection is that he isn’t in the Tower of the Sun.”

“There are a good many more stairs in the Tower of the Sun, and there isn’t room for him there.”

“Well, there’s room for the Tyrells and the Hightowers, so he thinks there should be room for him.”

Loreza scoffed, “He isn’t a Tyrell, is he? He’s not even a Hightower. Would he be satisfied with the king’s chambers, do you think?”

The other two women ignored her.

“I’ll speak to him if you like, my lady,” her mother said. “I’ll convince him that we gave him the least number of stairs possible to deal with out of consideration. Perhaps that will placate him.”

“I don’t see why we should placate him at all,” the princess said.

“Really Loreza!” said Lady Lenelle, “I insist you get an hour or two of sleep before you appear in public! You’re like to start a war, with the mood you’re in.”

She stalked out of the chamber and up the numerous stairs to her own rooms. Only Lady Rhona Santagar was there, no doubt Lady Emlyn had put all of Loreza’s other ladies to work somehow. She didn’t sleep, but sat looking at a book without reading it while Rhona’ attempts to have a conversation became more and more desperate.

After an hour Emlyn Wells came in, took one look at the princess’s face, and tutted. “Child, you need a bath,” she said. She took her by the hand and lead her into the dressing room, helping her unlace her gown while a large gilt wooden tub was filled. Lady Emlyn knelt by its side and washed Loreza’s hair for her, just as she had when she was a little girl.

“No one will blame you,” she said, “if you would rather stay here and cry yourself to sleep.”

Loreza shook her head, “That’s the last thing I want to do.”

“It’s very bad luck that this all had to happen in the same day like this.”

“No,” the princess said, “it’s my own doing. I should have sent him away weeks ago. Every day I thought “today’s the day”, but somehow it never happened.”

In the end, her father had shamed her into acting.

Prince Rhodryn had summoned her to his solar and she stood before him, already ashamed of herself.

“The king will be here in a week,” the prince said, “and your betrothed won’t be far behind him.”

“Yes,” was all Loreza managed.

“So what is Ser Henrick Dayne still doing in Sunspear?”

She had no answer.

“Send him away, Loreza,” her father commanded, “or I will.”

And so she had. And now, a scant day later, he was gone.

“Time will heal the pain,” Lady Emlyn told her, “but denying it will only make it fester.”

“I know.”

“So, stay here tonight.” She sighed when Loreza shook her head.

“I feel much better,” she told her chatelaine, “a bath was what I needed.” She certainly felt more awake. Maybe even awake enough to dance.

“Well, that’s what I get for trying to persuade a Martell not to do her duty.” Her pregnant belly made getting up from off her knees awkward, but she helped Loreza out of the tub all the same. “We’ll dress you in something other than red though. Your eyes are red enough.”

So clad in blue and gold, she sat between her father and Lord Tyrell and picked at a stew of shark in pepper sauce. Her neighbour had sniffed at it skeptically before asking to have another capon instead.

Lord Gared was a stout and red faced man with an enormous moustache.

“Well, princess,” he said with a leg in his hand, “the big day approaches.”

“Yes,” Loreza told him, “I’m very eager-”

“To meet your intended,” he interrupted. He chuckled to himself, “Yes, any maid would be. And Ser Eliott is a fine man. A fine man, indeed. And he’ll be very well pleased to find such a beautiful bride waiting for him.”

“Thank you, my lord,” Loreza said, “that’s very… reassuring. I hadn’t realized you knew him so well.” Although it was unsurprising. The Rowans were one of his most powerful bannermen.

“I haven’t see the lad in a few years, not since the tourney at Old Oaks. He did very well there, I seem to recall,” he chucked again, “though not as well as my son, Luthor.”

“Naturally not-”

“But his father and I were squires together during the war- not that little trifling thing ten years ago, the one before that- a fine man, he’s never been very martial, but still, a fine man.” The princess opened her mouth to speak, but Lord Tyrell wasn’t finished, “But you needn’t fear, my lady, his sons more than make up for it. Fine lads, both of them.”

“Yes, I’m sure they’re very fine. All three of them.”

“They are, my dear, they are. Ser Eliott especially. A fine lad, and strong.” Lord Gared took a large swallow of wine and wiped his mouth with his green velvet sleeve. “Your noble father needn’t fear for the future. With Ser Eliott to protect and guide you, you’ll be in good hands.”

Loreza’s anger must have shown on her face because her aunt saw the danger at once and leapt to her rescue. Princess Trystana listened to him drone on about his own sons and how fine they were while Loreza did nothing but smile whenever he happened to look her way.

She danced with Ser Luthor first. He was slim and comely, with shining brown curls on his head, but his conversation was no more interesting than his father’s. The younger son was still at his seat, stuffing lemon cakes into his mouth, and no one seem to expect the princess to dance with him.

Next came Ser Horace Redwyne, who only wanted to talk about the tourney, and then Ser Gerold Hightower, who was much more interesting.

“We’re all very honoured, ser, that the king would choose to invest you into the Kingsguard in Sunspear,” she told him.

“The honour is all mine, my princess,” he said as they twirled about. “I can think of no occasion more fitting. Although, I didn’t think quite so many of my kin would attend. I’m sure you’re quite overwhelmed with Hightowers.”

“Nonsense,” Loreza said, “of course they would want to come and see you.”

He would have danced with her again, but she plead fatigue and went to sit down against the wall with Alyse Ladybright. Her friend patted her sardonically on the head when she leaned against her shoulder and yawned.

“I could sleep in your bed with your tonight, if you like,” Alyse said, “I shouldn’t want you to be alone.” She smirked. “Unless, of course, you’re smitten with the Tyrell boy.”

Loreza laughed, “He’s not a boy, he’s twenty.”

“He tripped over the hem of my gown when he was dancing with your mother.”

“He rules the lists, I’m told.”

Lady Deneza came to sit down next to her. “My princess,” she said, “I thought perhaps I should warn you, though I doubt he would mention it to you.”

“What have you done now?” Loreza asked her good-humouredly. “Is it Lord Florent again?”

“Who else?” The Lady of Lemonwood took out her fan and shook her head. “It seems his lordship brought his ‘mistress’ with him, some common girl he probably found scrubbing pots in his castle by the look of her, so I arranged for another place beside him on the dais.”

“So what’s the problem?” Loreza couldn’t see where else they could have possibly seated her. It would have been different if his wife were present, but Lady Florent was thirty years dead.

“Ha,” Lady Deneza said, “he was mortally offended at the very idea that she would be attending the feast at all.”

“Well,” Alyse said, “they’re squeamish about things like that in the north. No doubt we’re all supposed to pretend she doesn’t exist.”

The older lady fanned herself rapidly, “He certainly seemed to think it indicated some moral failing on my part.”

Loreza could tell she was more upset than she was trying to let on. “I’m sorry,” she said.

“No, you needn’t be, my princess,” she said. “It’s the Keeper of the Tower of the Sun’s duty to absorb abuse from our noble visitors, and I’ve never made it a habit to be concerned with what child-fuckers think of me.”

“Child?” said Alyse Ladybright, shocked, “you can’t be serious.”

“Well, I’d say she’s younger than his granddaughter, at least.”

Lady Mariah Florent was sixteen. Her grandfather had to be closer to eighty than to seventy. Loreza shuddered in disgust.

Ormond Yronwood came to beg her for a dance and she found herself standing up with him despite her exhaustion. But Ser Ormond had always been charming, and difficult to refuse.

“I’m surprised you didn’t beg off, princess,” he said.

“Not you too,” said Loreza with a laugh.

“I don’t mean to imply that we wouldn't all be devastated not to have you here, but you do look tired.”

“I am tired,” she admitted, she smirked in spite of herself, “I didn’t sleep.”

Ormond smirked back, “What, not at all?”

“Not a wink,” she told him, “how could I?” Every time they had tried to sleep they had somehow ended up in another frenzy of tears and embraces, as though they had to make up for all the time they would never have. Some time in the dead of night she had collapsed into her pillows, completely spent. Henry had kissed the hollow of her throat and looked up at her with his hair falling in front of his dark, purple eyes.

“Do you think your lord husband will fuck you like that?” he asked her.

“I doubt it.” She tried to laugh it off, but her laughter turned to tears and soon he was kissing her everywhere and begging her forgiveness.

“I’m sorry,” Ormond told her.

“Don’t be sorry for me,” Loreza said, forcing a smile, “I’ll be a woman wed soon.”

She escaped him and went back to her seat only to be drawn into a conversation her cousin Joleta Gargalen was having with one of the Hightowers.

“I’ve heard Ser Quentyn Santagar is the great favourite here,” Ser Humford said.

“Yes,” she said a tad dismissively, “he was champion at the tourney two years ago when my sister wed. But that was a much smaller field than this will be.”

“Mark my words,” said Ser Gallwel Qorgyle said, standing near them, “this will be a young man’s tourney.”

“By which you mean your tourney, ser.” Loreza quipped.

“Did I say that, my princess?” he said boastfully, “there are two or three men in Dorne who may stand a chance against me.”

“We’re talking about the contest for jousting, not for pissing.”

They all laughed, except for Ser Humford, whose mouth was open in shock.

“My brother is almost as boastful as you are,” Loreza continued, “we seem to have a surfeit of young knights hungry to prove themselves.”

“Oh, Prince Lewyn is one of those two or three, undoubtedly. He’s already a better sword than Ser Quentyn Santagar.”

“But the gods only know how he will fair against the flower of the Reach,” Alyse said sweetly.

“Lord Rowan’s sons are both well regarded in the lists,” Ser Humford said, “his nephews too. I imagine Ser Eliott is quite disappointed he won’t be allowed to take the field.”

“I dare say there’ll be other chances,” Ser Gallwel said.

Ser Humford address Loreza beside him on the bench, “It’s an odd custom to not let a man joust at his own wedding. I think it’s even a little cruel.”

“But what if he should lose?” she asked, “it would be horrible luck.”

“Princess Loreza is suffering as well,” Ser Gallwel said, “or else she would have entered the lady’s archery contest.”

Loreza scoffed. “I promise you, my presence or absence won’t make any difference.”

“Who will carry the day them?” asked Ser Humford.

“Oh, my cousin.”

Joleta failed miserably at looking modest. “No one cares about the archery,” she said, “not when the Tzykanion game will be played right after.”

“Which you’ll rule as well,” said Ser Galwell.

“You needn’t be afraid,” she said, “I’ll see you’re on my team.”

“Thank the gods!” he said, “I was already planning to bribe the master of the games to make sure of exactly that.”

Loreza laughed and turned her head left to the man beside her. He smile died on her lips when she realized it was Ser Humford there.

“My princess, you look pale,” he said alarmed.

She stood up. “I need a breath of air.” He made to come with her, “No, don’t trouble yourself.” She turned from the group and walked away across the hall and through the great doors. Her cousin was following her, so she increased her pace down the corridor. By the time she got out into the courtyard, Joleta had caught up to her. “Leave me be,” she told her.

“This is so like you,” Joleta said, “you would be pretending that nothing is wrong on the way to the gallows.”

“I’m not on the way to the gallows, I’m getting married.” She hadn’t stopped walking, she had sped up so much she was almost running. They reached a gallery overlooking the gardens. A thin crescent moon was hanging in the sky. “It’s what I want. Marriage, and children. Heirs for Dorne.”

“Yes, I know.” Joleta said. “But you love him.”

Loreza shook her head. “So what?”

“So,” Joleta said, angry, “you should mourn him.”

“He’s not dead!” she said heatedly, “there’s nothing to mourn. We both knew this day would come. From the very beginning, we knew. And now it has. That’s all.”

“You’re acting like a fool.”

“I told you to leave me be!”

Joleta threw up her hands, “This isn’t bravery, you know. It’s just pigheadedness.”

“You’ve no right to-”

“Loree-” cut in a deep, strong voice. Prince Rhodryn was standing alone under the arch leading to the gallery from the courtyard. He approached the two women and gave his niece a smile. Joleta took the hint, curtsied and hurried away.

As soon as her father enfolded her in his arms, Loreza began to cry. He stroked her hair.

“I know you do this for my sake,” he said, “and I will never forget it.”

“Everything feels so empty,” she told him.

“I know.”

“I never realized how much I’d come to depend on him, just, always being there, beside me. How will I face this all without him?”

“You will, my love,” her father said, “you’re a princess of Dorne. You can face anything.”

Chapter Text

They were no more than two days from Vaith, Lord Manwoody assured Ser Corret as they set out again, as soon as the worst heat of the day was over.

He was glad; he was sick of the desert. They were all sick of the desert. In the Prince’s Pass, the land had been beautiful: forested mountains, and lakes, and crisp morning air. All that changed as soon as they entered the red sands. Here, they baked under the sun by day and shivered by night, and life was all about getting to the next well.

“How can people live here?” he heard his nephew Alastor ask Prince Lewyn as they passed a group of smallfolk leading a train of mules loaded with skins of wine and sacks of oranges. “How can they make a living when all they must do is think about water?”

The young prince laughed. “The desert dwellers say you’re never two leagues away from water, even in the dunes.”

“There’s more than one army that would be surprised to hear that,” Corret said.

“This wasn’t their land,” Edric Qorgyle said, “they didn’t know where to look.”

Alastor didn’t seem to believe it. “I’m sure that’s what they say, but I think this desert wants everyone dead. If thirst doesn’t get you, the vipers will.”

“Or you can just get lost,” said Ser Jon the Green. “I swear we passed that rocky outcrop three days ago.”

Prince Lewyn and Edric Qorgyle exchanged a look that was full of scorn. These soft northerners can’t even tell one rock from another, it seemed to say.

Eliott saw the look, and cut in before his uncle could, “Harsh places are always the most beautiful,” he said. “Especially if they’re wild.”

“Wild?” Qorgyle said, “this is a well traveled road.”

“Road?” said Alastor.

Ser Corret turned from the young men and led his horse back along the column of knights and men-at-arm to where his brother rode beside the great litter, suspended between twenty horses.

The ladies had been upset to loose the great wheelhouse they had taken from Goldengrove to Kingsgrave, but they had made themselves comfortable enough. Though Aelora was still complaining that the constant swaying made her sick.

Lady Sarra’s head was sticking out through the gap in the silk draperies as she was talking to her husband. He could see the half dozen women inside, sprawled on cushions and fanning themselves.

“Brother,” Corret called, “we should be in Bloodwell before dark. There’s an inn there, I’m told.”

“Thank the gods for simple mercies,” Lady Sarra said. She ducked back in to tell the others, and Corret heard feminine murmurs of relief and approval.

“I don’t think it will be the kind of inn they’re hoping for,” Lord Adwin said. They hadn’t seen an inn in more than a fortnight. There were some nights when they were able to take shelter in a holdfast of sunbaked mud brick, but just as likely, they had slept in tents around a well or in the shade of the rare clump of trees.

“It should be well enough,” he told his brother, “Lord Manwoody says it’s a substantial village. And in two nights we’ll be sleeping in Vaith.”

“Sleeping in Sunspear would please me more.”

Adwin was getting as peevish as the women. He was dressed in the Dornish fashion, with loose outer robes and a bright silk scarf wrapped around his helm and over his mouth to keep out the dust- even proud Lord Tarly had given into that necessity by the time they were five days into the desert- but even so, his brother was clearly uncomfortable. He had never been a great traveller. Or a great warrior. That had always been Corret’s place.

As the evening wore on the land began to change. The scrubby vegetation became more common and then, suddenly, or so it seemed to him, they were among olive trees and dozens of children could be seen beating the trees with sticks and gathering the fallen fruit.

The column was crossing an irrigation ditch when the outriders returned to report that all was ready for them in the village.

“Lord Dayne and his party are already there, my prince,” the rider told Prince Lewyn.

“Good,” the prince said. He spurred his horse and galloped off towards the well. The Dornish lords who’d been riding with him all followed him, even Lady Alyssa Blackmont and Lord Manwoody’s young daughter. And so did fifty mounted spearmen. They kicked up a fearsome cloud of dust.

“We can’t let them beat us, El,” Corret’s son Owain told Eliott. His nephew laughed and put his heel into his own mount.

“And so they’ll get there a quarter hour before the rest of us,” Lady Fowler said. She was a handsome woman of about fifty who looked as comfortable sitting astride a sand steed as she had sitting in her high seat at Skyreach. “The young are always in a hurry, but they hardly ever know why.”

“Ser Eliott is in a hurry to reach his bride,” Corret told her with a smile.

The path through the olive grove was too narrow for the litter to pass, so the ladies were obliged to leave it on the road to be disassembled by the small army of servants while they found other ways to cross the last half-mile. Corret pulled his wife behind him on his own horse. She clung to him fiercely. Taria had never been a horsewoman, although Dian had. Their daughter had often out raced her brothers.

He felt his grip on reins tighten. It had been days since he thought about Dian.

The village of Bloodwell was indeed a fair size for one in such an inhospitable place. It boasted a large plaza centred around the well that gave it its name. A carved sandstone rim had been built around where the pool bubbled up from the stoney ground, and canals radiated out from it like spokes on a wheel. There was an empty holdfast made of the same sandstone, and carved all about with the same swirls and shapes. It was more beautiful than defensive. When all the servants and men-at-arms and hedge knights who latched onto their party were counted, they were four hundred. And they would double the inhabitants of this village tonight.

Prince Lewyn was standing on the stairs to a building built of the same stone as everything else with his companions and a man of Corret’s own age who’s had hair so fair it was almost white. Lord Dayne, he knew at once.

Once the principal members of their group had dismounted and gathered around, it was Lord Manwoody who made all the introductions. Lord Rowan and Sarra Fossoway, his wife. Their son Ser Eliott, the heir to Dorne’s intended husband, his elder brother Ser Alestor, and his younger sister Lady Aelora. Corret himself, and his lady wife Taria Tully, his sons Ser Marq and Ser Owain. Young Lord Bulwer, as big as the bull that was his sigil. Lord and Lady Tarly, and their son. Thier daughter and good son, Ser Daeron Darklyn. Lord Oakheart and his lady, Lady Alysanne Rosby, who was once a famous beauty, and their daughter Ellyn, who rather took after her father in being tall and plain.

Lord Ashryn Dayne nodded and bowed and kissed hands as was expected. He brought forward a girl of about twelve who had his bright purple eyes, though her hair was as dark as any other Dornishman’s.

“This is my daughter Alleza,” he said.

“My lady,” Eliott said as he bowed.

“Ser Eliott,” she said with a smile, “I’m very glad to meet you. I’ve been so curious.”

“About me, my lady?” Eliott asked her, smiling uncomfortably.

“Oh yes,” she said, with mischief in her eyes, “all Dorne is curious about you, ser.”

“Indeed,” said Lord Ashryn. He beckoned to another man. He was very handsome and had olive skin and dark hair peppered with grey. “And this is Ser Qoren Sand, my paramour.”

They all managed to keep their composure, except for Lady Oakheart who purpled and turned away to run back down the stairs to the horses. She seemed willing to mount up and ride back for the Reach. Her daughter ran after her. Her lord stayed, though Corret could see the muscles of his jaw clench.

The Lord of Starfall was more amused than offended. All the Dornishmen seemed to think it was a great joke. Lady Ysilla Fowler had to hide a laugh behind her hand. But that was how it had been ever since they had cross into Dorne. For almost a month, every conversation, every meal and exchange of pleasantries, had been a test. They poked and prodded at them, forever trying to find the limits of their courtesy.

“Well, shall we get settled?” Lord Rowan said, as oblivious to the mood as always, “We all need a hot meal and a cool bedchamber.”

That night, they ate under the star-filled sky in the inn’s central courtyard; jugged desert hare and the local olives prepared a dozen different ways, all washed down with sour red wine. Ser Quentyn Santagar explained how there were hundreds of different kinds of olives, though only a few of the most widely planted ever made it outside of Dorne. The big purples ones they were eating tonight were found only in Bloodwell.

“What an odd name for a place,” said Lady Leona Tarly.

“There’s a tale behind it,” Ser Qoren Sand told her.

“Oh, let me tell it!” Lady Alleza cut it.

“Yes, do!” said Aelora. She had latched onto the Dayne girl as fiercely as she had to Lysanne Manwoody in Kingsgrave. They were now, all three, the very best of friends, as only young girls who’ve known each other less than a day could be.

“Well,” she said, “long ago, when the Andals first came to Dorne, this place was ruled by a vassal of House Dryland. They were kings on the Brimstone and claimed all of the deep sands. An Andal adventurer came to conquer the kingdom, I forget his name-”

“It was Bonifer Granster,” Edric Qorgyle told her.

“Yes,” she agreed. “Ser Bonifer made it across the desert, though only a few score of his men survived. When they arrived they were almost dead from thirst. And the men who lived here had no intention to let them quench it, they fought, even though the Andals were much better armed and their desperation made them fierce. In the end they fought to the last man, quite literally, and Ser Bonifer was the only one on either side to survive the battle. He dragged himself to the well and thrust his hands in to take a drink, but the water was red with the blood of all the men who had died.”

“How dreadful,” said Lady Leona, “to think so much blood would be split over a little pool.”

“Little pools like this were worth more than the blood of any man,” said Alyssa Blackmont, “then even more than now.”

“A well is more precious than life?” Lady Leona asked.

“Yes,” Lady Alyssa said.

“The well is life,” Edric Qorgyle said in support of his wife.

They milled about the courtyard when the food was done, clustering around braziers drinking wine and talking. All the voices sounded relived. Relived that they could finally see the end of these vast sands.

Aelora and her friends were sharing a cup with Prince Lewyn and giggling endlessly. His niece was smitten with the Dornish prince, Corret could see that plainly. He supposed it was natural enough, not only was he a prince, but he was tall and comely as well, with strong features and broad shoulders. And he was witty too, and easier around women than any boy of seventeen had a right to be.

“Niece,” he said, trying not to sound too sharp, “it’s late, you should be in bed.”

“It’s not so very late,” she argued.

“We’ll be back on the road before dawn.” She got up reluctantly with the other girls following her up the stairs. No doubt they would be sharing a bed and gossiping half the night. About Prince Lewyn. Or if not him, then Jon Bulwer or Lyman Osgrey. He would have to watch her, because he knew his brother never would.

Corret sat with the others around the brazier and listened to a singer play a harp and talked. Alastor was sitting with a flagon of wine in one hand and a cup in the other, scowling at where Lord Dayne was sitting with his head on his lover’s shoulder, his eyes half closed.

Who was fool enough to let him have wine? Corret thought. No doubt he demanded it of some serving woman and she, not knowing any better, gave it to him. Eventually, his voice rose over the general chatter about hunting and horses.

“Dornish women will fuck anyone,” he said to Lord Dayne, “but you still couldn’t find one who would have you?”

The group fell silent. “I beg your pardon, ser,” Lord Dayne said.

“Not that there’s much difference, the women all act like men, and the men all look like women.”

The Dornishmen seemed too shocked to say anything. Alyssa Blackmont looked as though she was about to prove his words by striking him.

“My nephew is drunk,” Corret told Lord Ashryn.

“I can see that,” he said. The man was angry, that was plain, but thankfully he didn’t seem the kind to demand satisfaction for drunken insults.

“And he will apologize.”

Alastor made no move to do so, he downed another cup of wine.

“Ser Alastor needn’t trouble himself,” Lord Dayne said. He stood and left them without another word, hand in hand with his paramour.

Eliott let out a humiliated breath. “My prince,” he said to Lewyn Martell, “please forgive him. I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything,” the young man replied, “it’s not your doing.”

“We’ll put him to bed,” Eliott continued, “and tomorrow he’ll be in his right mind enough to make amends.”

“As you wish.”

Eliott and Ser Lyman Osgrey pulled him up protesting to his feet. He was still muttering as his younger brother dragged him up the stairs.

Lord Manwoody shook his head as they all watched. “It’s fortunate for all of us that the sober one is the bridegroom,” he said, “my niece would eat the other one for breakfast, and still have room for bread and honey.”

Prince Lewyn chuckled at that.

“But Lord Dayne and that... do they really… you know?” Lady Ellyn Oakheart seemed more fascinated than anything.

“Fuck?” Edric Qorgyle said bluntly, “I assume so.”

Lady Ellyn’s face was so scarlet it glowed as bright as the braiser. Corret thanked the gods that neither of her parents were anywhere near.

"I suppose you imagine such things never happen in the Reach,” Alyssa Blackmont said.

“I’ve never heard of it….”

“Ah,” Lady Alyssa said.

Lady Ellyn was getting the sense that she was being made fun of. “But surely they’re not so… free everywhere. They can’t behave like that in Vaith in the high hall. What will Lady Vaith think?”

Prince Lewyn laughed out loud at that. Lady Alyssa joined him, though the others tried to contain themselves.

“What’s so amusing?” Lady Ellyn said, on the verge of tears.

Lord Manwoody spoke to her in a gentle voice. “Ser Qoren Sand is Lady Vaith’s brother,” he told her. “They’re very close, as I understand it.”

“Oh,” the lady said. “How strange.”

Corret couldn’t help but agree with her. He wondered, not for the first time, if his lord brother knew what he was getting his son into. They will hate him if he doesn’t become one of them. But was Eliott capable of that? I never could be.

Taria was already in the bed when he came into their chamber holding an oil lamp in one hand. The bed was sandstone too, but the three feather mattresses piled on top of it made it comfortable enough.

“Are you asleep, my lady?” he asked as he pulled off his boots and threw his tunic carelessly on the floor.

“No,” she said, “there’s too much noise.”

“Well, everyone is celebrating. The worst part of the journey is over,” he told her as he slipped in beside her. “Once we reach the river we won’t be falling down exhausted into bed every night.”

“And I won’t have to listen to Lady Sarra and Aelora complain about the litter,” she said happily. “Maybe we would have been wiser to go to Lannisport and take ship.”

“Yes, it’s a little late for that now,” he said. “And besides, then you would have to listen to Lady Sarra and Aelora complain about being seasick.”

“Thank the gods I escaped that!” she said with a laugh.

Corret ran his fingers through her auburn hair. It was beginning to grey around her temples, but somehow, it made it more beautiful. “We’ll be in Sunspear in less than a fortnight,” he told her, “then all this hardship will be a memory. They live like kings in Sunspear.”

“You mean like princes,” she said.

Chapter Text

Olenna had only just finished dressing when Lady Emlyn came with the invitation. Breakfast with the princess? And all the other ladies too?

That would have thrilled her once, but now it made her panic. The thought of being seen by any other highborn woman always made her panic these days. When they didn’t scorn her, they pitied her, and she didn’t know which was worse.

Septa Unelletine clucked at her as she fixed her hair and straightened the neckline of her bodice. “Be courteous,” she said. “Don’t act like everyone is against you. Princess Loreza doesn’t care enough about you to be against you. This invitation is just a formality, it doesn’t mean anything, so don’t try to convince yourself that it does. And above all, don’t start.... talking like you do.”

A lady should be an ornament to the eye, not an ache in the ear.

Lady Emlyn was waiting for her in the corridor and they set off together down a staircase. The woman was as short as Olenna, past forty, and just pregnant enough that her belly protruded through her gown.

“Do you have any other children, my lady?” Olenna asked her. She couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Oh yes,” the woman laughed and stroked her bump, “this will be my fifth. My eldest will be having a child of his own soon.”

“How splendid,” Olenna said without interest.

“Isn’t it?” she said, perfunctorily. “Now wait here, my dear, while I go fetch the Florents.”

Olenna was left standing alone in the corridor. She looked about her awkwardly. The corridor was really no more than a columned gallery on the ground floor of the tower, the wall separating it from the gardens was just a carved wooden screen, she could hear a fountain on the other side. But it was always dry here, she heard, even in winter. On the Arbor, winter brought endless rain, and sometimes even sleet. Every hundred years or so, it snowed. But here in Sunspear they didn’t have to worry about locking their doors against wet and cold, in fact they wanted to catch every cool breeze they could.

Olenna wasn’t kept waiting long, Lady Emlyn came back out with the Florents, Ser Farin’s wife, Lady Joslyn and her daughter Mariah.

Lady Joslyn greeted Olenna with simpering courtesy, kissing her on both cheeks on telling her how pretty she looked this morning. She tried to endure it with a smile planted on her face.  

“Come along now, ladies,” Lady Emlyn said in a motherly tone, “or all the food will be gone.”

They walked down a stone path through the gardens shaded with cedar trees. There was a salty wind coming off the Summer Sea, but even that seemed... dry.

“The castle is rather empty,” Lady Joslyn said, “especially considering that there’s going to be a wedding in two weeks.”

“Yes,” Lady Emlyn agreed. “But Prince Lewyn is coming from the Prince’s Pass escorting Lord Rowan’s party, and Prince Arion is meeting another party in Yronwood. Almost everyone is gone with one or the other of them.”

“I see,” Lady Joslyn said, “I hope Princess Loreza isn’t lonely. It would be sad for her to be lonely so close to her wedding.”

“How can she be lonely with you here?” The dornishwoman said in a slightly mocking tone, Lady Joslyn was probably too thick to notice. “And the princess has always known how to keep herself busy.”

“If the gods are good, she’ll be even busier soon,” Lady Joslyn said, “just as you will be.”

“Yes...” Lady Emlyn seemed to find the innocuous comment rather strange. “The princess’s garden is just here.” There was a gate in a wall overgrown with climbing orchids. As they went through, Lady Joslyn admonished her daughter to not slouch and smile more.

Inside, there were fruit trees and a fountain, and a large table standing in the shade. At its head sat Princess Loreza Martell with a dozen other ladies below her. The women all got up to greet them, although the princess stayed in her seat, as though she were the queen or something. She greeted the three newcomers with a word and a smile, but she let her chatelaine do all the introductions.

Olenna already knew the Hightowers, Lady Alanna and her mother Lady Malora; they had been guests on the Arbor before they had set out, but she didn’t really know any of the dornishwomen. The princess’s greetings to her the day before had been even more desultory than her greeting this morning, and at the feast Olenna had been trapped between one-armed Lord Uller and her brother. She had gotten away before the dancing even started.

Daenerys Gargalen was the princess’s cousin and a few years younger than Olenna. Lady Larra was a Lyseni with silver hair who was married to someone or other. Rhona Santagar and Elda Toland were the princess’s ladies-in-waiting, and so was Genna Sand. Septa Unelletine had warned Olenna something like that might happen, so she was able to smile through it, but Mariah Florent looked like she had a bad smell under her nose. Alyse Ladybright didn’t seem to be anyone important, except that she was the princess’s friend.

Lady Jordayne was short and plump, but still dignified, with hair beginning to turn grey. Her daughter, Brynelle was a little girl who insisted on being called “Nelly”. Lady Elysa Santagar was Lady Rhona’s niece. They had the same unfortunate abundance of freckles. Her mother was a Blackmont, but Lady Synelle didn’t have any freckles, just pox-scars. Jeyne Wyl was so tall and blonde that Olenna wondered if she was really dornish, though she stop wondering when Lady Emlyn call her the “Lord Bailiff”.

“Shall we wait for Princess Trystana?” Lady Emlyn asked.

“We’ll be waiting all day if we do,” Princess Loreza said.

Olenna was seated beside Daenerys Gargalen.

“My mother is always late,” she confided as they settled in.

“Oh,” Olenna said. She looked at the food. There was fried fish and eggs made several ways, a profusion of pomegranates and oranges, olives, and cheese. The bread was strange, it wasn’t fluffy like proper bread, but baked into flat discs.

Daenerys Gargalen took a piece, ripped it in half, and then started packing egg into the space inside it.

Lady Daenerys may have gotten her name from her Targaryen grandmother, but she hadn’t inherited any of the Targaryen look. She had brown eyes and curly dark hair and a put upon expression. “Usually, Princess Loreza makes us wait for her too,” she continued, “but she’s been in a very bad mood lately.”

“Why?” She was about to be married, what right did she have to be in a bad mood? “You would think she’d be very happy.”

“She’s just been really busy, I guess,” she muttered, “with the wedding, and all the guests.” The Gargalen girl blushed.

Olenna frowned. Everyone looked uncomfortable when they mentioned weddings around her. She look at the other ladies at the table. Lady Elda was whispering something to Genna Sand, and she could have sworn the bastard had glanced her way for a moment. Septa Unelletine would tell her she was being ridiculous, but they were talking about her. She was sure. They surely knew. Everyone knew.

“I think I danced with your brother last night,” Lady Daenerys said. “Do you only have one brother?”

Olenna looked back at her distractedly, “What? Oh yes, I only have one brother.”

“I don’t have any brothers,” she chattered, “well, I suppose I have a good-brother, but that’s not the same thing.”

“No,” Olenna agreed, “but you have sisters.”

“Two,” she said unhappily. “My eldest sister just had a baby six months ago.”

Olenna couldn’t care less that some dornishwoman she had never met had had a baby. She smiled and turned away from the girl. On her other side was Lady Jordayne, but she was attending to the conversation Princess Loreza was having, so Olenna attended to it too.

The princess was sitting wrapped in a shawl embroidered all over with suns with little golden discs in the middle. She had lovely hair that was black and curly, and long enough for her to sit on, but besides that- If she weren’t a princess no one would ever look at her. Her nose was long and sharp. Her eyes were sharp too, and heavily lidded. Her skin was olive coloured, though it was clear enough. Handsome, maybe, but no one could call her beautiful.

“But it’s all so complicated,” Alyse Ladybright was saying, “no one can remember everything, and mistakes get made.”

“It may be complicated,” Jeyne Wyl said, “but that’s hardly an excuse for mistakes.”

Alyse Ladybright blushed. “I only mean,” she said, “I don’t see why it should be so complicated.”

All the women at the table suddenly stood up, except for Princess Loreza. If I didn’t know any better, I would think she had no legs, Olenna thought as she followed everyone’s example.

Princess Trystana floated in unhurriedly. “I’m sorry to be late,” she said unconvincingly. She gave her daughter a kiss on both cheeks and her niece a kiss on one before sitting down next to the head of the table. “What are we talking about?”

“Customs duties on fruit,” Princess Loreza said with a smile.

“How thrilling,” she said. “And next we’ll move on to discussing the customs duties on wine. Things are sure to get heated then.”

“You joke, but I’m quite sure Lady Jeyne has had men killed for disagreeing with her about wine duties.”

“That was only once,” Jeyne Wyl said.

Princess Loreza laughed.

“I’m glad to hear you laugh again, Loreza” said Princess Trystana. That only caused the princess’s smile to falter.

Princess Trystana turned to her daughter and fussingly tucked a loose strand of her hair back into its net. “Where’s your sister?” she asked her.

Daenerys Gargalen shrugged. “I haven’t seen her this morning.”

“She should be here.” The princess noticed Olenna sitting on her daughter’s other side and smiled at her. “Which one are you, my dear?” she asked her. Olenna felt herself blush. She looked around, but none of the other women were paying attention to her.

“Mother...” Lady Daenerys said, blushing herself.

“I’m Olenna Redwyne, my princess,” she said quietly.

“Yes, of course,” she said, “now I remember.” Olenna knew what that meant, I remember, you’re that spurned girl. The princess smiled. Olenna knew what that meant too, pity. “Have you ever been to Dorne before?”

“No, never,” Olenna said.

“And how do you like it?”

“How could she possibly know that?” Lady Daenerys said, rolling her eyes. “She hasn’t even been here a day.”

“Don’t roll your eyes at me, Dany.”

“Sunspear is very beautiful, my princess,” Olenna said. What else was she going to say?

“Well, I hope you see more of Dorne than just Sunspear.” She turned her attention elsewhere and Olenna was left sitting there. Lady Jordayne was speaking to Elda Toland across from her about the wedding tourney, but Olenna hardly knew any of the names. And she somehow didn’t think they would appreciate it if she told them that Luthor Tyrell was the greatest jouster she had ever seen.

“My brother has unhorsed Prince Duncan before,” the Toland girl was saying.

“When they were both fifteen,” Lady Jordayne said. “Things might be a little different now.”

“I don’t see why.”

“Do they all intend to chance the lists?” Rhona Santagar asked, “Prince Jaehaerys as well?”

“Prince Jaehaerys isn’t much of a jouster, from what I hear,” said Lady Elda. “Do you know one way or the other, princess?”

Princess Loreza hadn’t been paying attention. No doubt she was still talking about taxes. “What was that?”

“Will Prince Jaehaerys compete in the tourney?”

“Oh no, of course not,” she said, “Prince Jaehaerys won’t be here. Only Prince Duncan and Prince Daeron will.”

Olenna felt as though someone had punched her and knocked all the wind out of her. If she had known that he was going to be here, she would have locked herself in her cabin on the ship and refused to come out. They wouldn’t have been able to force her out, even by breaking down the door and dragging her. Had her father known about this? Was this all part of some scheme to reinstate the betrothal? Did they expect her to beguile him or seduce him? She couldn’t do that, even if she wanted to. She didn’t even want to look at Daeron Targaryen ever again.

All the women at the table had looked at her when the prince’s name was spoken. She hadn’t imagined that, she was sure. Most had the courtesy to just glance quickly and look away again, but the wretched Gargalen girl smiled at her uncomfortably as though she were commiserating.  

“I suppose breaking a betrothal is better than marrying your sister, like the other one did,” she said quietly.

“What?” said Olenna weakly.

“Dany...” Princess Trystana said, she was looking pale and shocked, “that is possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say in all my life.”

Lady Daenerys didn’t look very chastened. “You mean the truest thing.”

No one was looking at Olenna, but she didn’t know if it was because they hadn’t heard, or because they were all as humiliated as she and Princess Trystana were. All she could hear was her own breathing, even though everyone was chatting much like before. The silence was unbearable.

“Lady Daenerys is right,” Olenna said, “in fact, the whole thing was rather a relief. I was beginning to be afraid that I would have to go through with it.” Once she started to talk, she found her courage, she was even able to look the older princess in the eye. “I never wanted that betrothal, anymore than Prince Daeron did. And, yes, he’s comely and dashing and a prince, but that doesn’t mean he would make a good husband. All he ever cared about was swords and lances. I was a good deal more bored by him than he ever was by me. I was glad I won’t have to marry him, and live at court and put up will all the scheming and constant trouble and ceremony. Everyone makes it seem like I should be upset and that they should be sorry for me, but they needn’t be. Marrying a Targaryen is far more trouble than it could possibly be worth, I’d rather die an old maid. I really couldn’t be happier about the whole thing!”

All the other conversation had stopped. Olenna hadn’t realized how loudly she’d been talking. But everyone had heard her, and they were all staring. Mariah Florent looked disgusted, and Princess Loreza had a crease between her full eyebrows. For what seemed like an hour, the only sound was the soft bubbling of the fountain behind them.

Olenna felt tears welling in her eyes. She wondered if she could possibly make the whole thing worse if she stood up without leave and ran away.

“Like I was saying, though,” Alyse Ladybright said into the silence, suddenly, “if we just got rid of all the books and tables and imposed the same custom on everyone, it would take much less time, there would be no mistakes, and it couldn’t mean anything but more money in the end.”

“There’s more to life than money, Alyse,” the princess said fondly.

“It would please no one,” Lady Synelle Blackmont said, “the Braavosi are jealous of their privileges, so are the Lyseni.”

“That’s the thing,” Alyse Ladybright said, “they all have privileges, but they’re all different. Can’t we see that they all have the same privileges and have done?”

Everyone seemed to think that was very funny. Olenna was absurdly grateful when they all stopped paying attention to her. Daenerys Gargalen and her mother were still looking at her, but the girl finally seemed ashamed. She handed Olenna a handkerchief and looked about to say something, but Princess Trystana shook her head at her and she bit her lip and stayed silent.  

No one said a word to her for the whole rest of the meal. She sat and picked at the fruit on her plate, dabbing at her face with the handkerchief. She kept feeling eyes on her, but her own stayed down until a hand touched her on her shoulder.

“Why don’t we walk back together, my lady?” It was Joslyn Florent.

“Oh,” Olenna said, “thank you.” She looked around her to find that the table was almost empty. Princess Loreza was gone, and so was Lady Daenerys.

They walked in silence back they way they had come an hour before. Out of the shade, the sunlight was so bright, it was oppressive.

“Well,” Lady Joslyn said, “she’s very elegant, isn’t she?”

“Who is?” asked Lady Mariah.

“Princess Loreza, of course,” said her mother, “she looked just as impressive at breakfast as she did at the feast last night.”

“Yes, I suppose she is elegant,” Mariah said, “but she’s not very courteous, she more or less ignored us.”

“How can you say that, sweetling?” said Lady Joslyn, “she invited us to break our fast with her, didn’t she? 

“That seems like the least she could have done,” she said, “and she’s not very pretty anyway.” Mariah Florent was one to talk, Olenna thought. She had the giant Florent ears and hairs on her chin. “Maybe that’s why she had to wait until she was so old before getting married.”

“Old?” said Lady Joslyn. “She can’t be more than twenty!”

“She’s one-and-twenty,” Olenna offered.

“I think I would die of shame if I wasn’t married by the time I was twenty,” she said, giving Olenna a mocking little smirk.

“You needn’t fear, my love,” her mother said, “I promise you.”

Olenna felt her face turning red, “I think I would die of shame if I had so little to me that I had to scorn others to feel better about myself!” She lifted her head up high and quickened her pace to leave them both behind.

Chapter Text

Dany made her way down the grand staircase in the Tower of the Sun as quietly as she could. The palace was just now beginning to wake, only a few servants were around, and squires carrying odd pieces of armour, but she had always been an early riser.

But so was her mother, and Dany knew that the moment she ran into her she would have no freedom for the rest of the day. She’d be roped into trying to figure out how many pigeon pies they needed, or something equally ridiculous.

She went out into the courtyard, past the bathhouse and the library. She could smell breakfast being made in the kitchens but tried to skirt around the buildings to not be seen. She scurried up the short steps to the Ocean Keep.

No one bothered Dany as she went up to the top story and into the large suite with the bedchamber where her sister was still asleep.

“Joleta!” she hissed when she was standing right at the foot of the bed, “Joleta, I want to talk to you.”

Joleta grunted in her sleep. Dany poked her. “Wake up.”

Lady Deneza Dalt, on the other side of the bed, woke up instead. “What in seven hells!” she said, “How did you even get in here, child?”

Dany shrugged. “No one stopped me.” She poked her sister again, “Joleta!”

Jolenta groaned and turned over, throwing her arm around Lady Daneza and murmuring into her chest. “Bugger off, Dany.”

“No,” she said, “I want to talk to you.”

She reluctantly turn over again and propped herself up on her elbows. “About what?”

Dany looked over at Lady Deneza uncomfortably. She laughed and rolled out of the bed, putting on a bed robe as she walked to the dressing room, still shaking her head.

“What’s so important that you had to chase Deneza out of her own bed?” Joleta asked her.

Dany sat down next to her sister. “Well…” she started, “Father’s coming today.”

“Yes,” she said, “and so is Uncle Arion, and Ariandra Fowler, and Lord Yronwood, and a hundred other people.”

“Yes, but...” Dany said, “Maron will be with them.”

Joleta seemed to understand at last, “Don’t tell me you’re nervous about seeing him.”

“No.” She said confidently. There was a flutter in her stomach every time she thought about it, but she didn’t think that was nerves. “I was just thinking last night… What if he says something to Father, or to his father?”

“About your understanding, you mean?”

“Yes,” Dany said, “Well, no. We don’t really have an understanding or anything.”

“Then what are you worried about?”

“If he says something too soon, they’ll all just say no right away. I feel like… we should get them all used to the idea first.”

“Why do you think they’ll refuse?” Joleta asked, “It’s a good match, for both of you. Even if you are cousins.”

“Mother will say he’s too old for me.”

“He is too old for you,” her sister said, “but that can’t be helped. And his grandfather will be sympathetic, at least.”

Dany rolled her eyes, “How can you say that?” she asked, “Lady Deneza is older than you.”

“Yes,” Joleta agreed, “but she’s not twice my age.”

“Our uncle was twice Lady Lenelle’s age when they wed.”

“That was different.”

“I suppose so,” Dany said. She bit her lip. “He wouldn’t say anything, would he? Not until we did have an understanding?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, “and even if he had, it wouldn’t be a disaster. It’s certainly nothing worth waking me up at dawn for.”

Princess Trystana found her while she was crossing the courtyard again, thinking about going for a ride to the tourney grounds.

“There you are,” Mother said, “is Joleta still asleep?”

“No,” Dany told her, “Lady Deneza’s already dressed.”

“Good, I should speak to her too,” she said. “After today, we won’t have any rest until the tourney is over.”

“Yes…” Mother seemed to say that every day, “I don’t see why you’re more worried about it than Lady Deneza. She’s been preparing for months and everything always turns out fine.”

“Everything always turns out because people like me and Lady Deneza worry about them. Now, what are you doing?”

“I was going to… nothing.”

“Good,” she said, “find Garwyn and tell him I want an inventory of all the game we have on hand.”

“He did that for you less than a week ago,” Dany complained.

“That was before the Tyrells showed up, wasn’t it.”

“He’s the senechal, Mother,” she said, exasperated, “if he thinks there’s a danger of running out of game, he’ll send the hunters out himself. He doesn’t need anyone’s leave to do that.”

Her mother only gave her a dirty look. “Just make sure you do it quickly, I’ve invited Olenna Redwyne to do her needlework with us. I’ll probably be too busy but I expect you and your sister to both be there. And to be kind to her.”

“We’re always kind to her,” Dany said, “though I think she would be happier if we weren’t.”

“And make sure you leave yourself time to get changed. You’ve all but grown out of that gown, I don’t want you looking shabby in front of the stormlanders, much less in front of your father.”

“Jolenta said they’re not expected before evenfall.”

“So think about it now and make sure you give yourself plenty of time,” she said, “and go find Garwyn.”

“The princess already has an inventory,” Garwyn said when she found him. “I prepared one less than a week ago.”

Dany rolled her eyes and left.

Her mother’s sitting room was deserted when she arrived. Only Olenna Redwyne and her septa were there. She sat with them and helped to sew a lace edging onto a table cover while she made excuses for her relations.

“My mother says everyone will be busy all the time now,” she said, “until the tourney’s over.”

“A wedding like this is a great undertaking,” Septa Unelletine said, “poor Lady Lenelle must be working herself to exhaustion.”

“No,” Dany said, “she has my mother to help her. And Lady Deneza’s doing all the real work anyway. And she’s used to these kinds of thing.”

Lady Olenna was quiet, she hadn’t lifted her eyes from her work in ten minutes. Dany couldn’t think of anything to say to her, and she never seemed to speak a word herself unless forced. Maybe she had used them all that one time in the garden. “This lace is very pretty,” she tried lamely, “did you work it yourself?”

“No,” Olenna said, with a little scoff, Dany hadn’t fooled her, “it’s Myrish.”


People started to trickle in after that. Elda Toland and Genna Sand cooed over the baby clothes that Lady Emlyn was making over and Nelly Jordayne cried in frustration when she found a mistake in her embroidery. Joleta sauntered in an hour late and sat down with the child to help her through it. Within ten minutes she was doing her work for her.

Mother and Lady Lenelle were even more late. As soon as they arrived everyone started talking about the wedding again. Dany was already sick of the stupid wedding and it was still more than a week away.

“I got a new gown with pearls on all the seams for the sept,” Brynelle told them. “I wanted to get another new one for the feast but Mother said that was excessive.” She said the last word as though she didn’t know what it meant. And she probably didn’t.

“Well, you’re growing so fast that no seamstress can keep up with you,” Joleta said, “you’ll probably only wear it once.”

“I’m sure you got two new gowns.”

Loreza came in and sat by Joleta on the settee, groaning and rubbing her belly.

“Are you alright, princess?” Joleta asked with a smile.

“I’m like a sausage about to burst its casing.”

“Oh dear,” Princess Trystana came over and felt her forehead fussily, “you’re not ill, are you.”

“No,” she said, squirming away, “it’s only my moon blood.” She groaned again, “It feels as though there’s a creature inside me trying to escape.”

“I’ll have some chamomile tea sent up,” she said instantly.

Loreza rolled her eyes, “That won’t… thank you, aunt.”

That was wise of her, Dany knew. Letting Mother get on with it was always easiest.

“I hate chamomile tea,” Dany said when she was gone. “And it never works anyway.”

“No,” Loreza agreed. “Only one thing ever works.”

“What’s that?” Joleta asked. Loreza smirked. “Ah,” she said, “well, yes.”

“What?” Nelly Jordayne asked.

“Never mind, child,” Loreza told her.

“Moon pains aren’t the only thing a good release will cure,” Lady Emlyn said, “better than milk of the poppy, in my opinion.”

“Releasing what?” asked Nelly.

“I said never mind, child,” Loreza repeated, “and anyway, there’s nothing for it now, if there?”

“Take care of it yourself,” Joleta told her.

“You think I haven’t tried?”

Dany giggled when she saw that Lady Olenna’s face had gone as red as her hair. Septa Unelletine looked like she was about to cry. No one else seemed to have noticed.

“Come riding with us this afternoon then,” Joleta said, “Dany wants to see the tourney grounds.”

Dany nodded. “Serron Vaith told me the stands will hold ten thousand.”

“That’s an exaggeration,” Loreza said. “And I can’t come, I have far too much to still do.” She hadn’t been doing anything but working lately. And Dany knew why, ever since she had sent Henrick Dayne away she’d been avoiding everyone, even the family. But she could hardly point that out, Mother had told her not to mention it and she would give Dany a lashing if she thought she had, especially in front of the visitors.

“It’s your loss,” Jolenta said, shrugging. She turned to the Redwyne girl, “But Lady Olenna will come with us, I’m sure.”

She turned red again. “Me, my lady?”

“Yes,” Joleta said, “you can ride, can’t you?”

“Of course,” she said. Dany didn’t think it was possible for anyone to be that red.

“Good,” her sister said, “we’ll go an hour after noon.”

But Joleta found Dany after lunch and told her that she couldn’t come either. Their cousin needed her help. “Loreza said that taking on more watchmen is more trouble than it’s worth, but she’ll be glad of it when the marchers arrive and start having tavern brawls everywhere.”

Dany couldn’t care less about the watchmen. “You’re not going to make me go alone with her, are you? She’s boring and she doesn’t like me.”

“The poor girl hasn’t left the palace since she arrived,” Joleta said, “maybe if she got some fresh air she would be more interesting. And Mother’s right, if no one else will pay attention to her, then we have to.”

Dany resigned herself to her fate and met Olenna Redwyne in the stables by the gardens. She didn’t react at all when Dany told her it would just be the two of them, but she looked confused when they mounted up and went through the southern gate.

“Where are the guardsmen?” she asked.

“We’re only going to the tourney grounds,” Dany told her. The Threefold Gate was open, so she moved her horse to a trot down the straight street that would get them out of the shadow city within a quarter hour.

Lady Olenna still looked uncomfortable as they passed through a courtyard where flowers were being sold. Dany stopped to trade a quarter-penny for two small bunches of yellow carnations. She tucked hers into her girdle and Lady Olenna held hers in her hand as she gripped the reins.

“What’s the matter?” Dany asked her.

“I don’t think Septa Unelletine would have consented to my going if she knew we wouldn’t have any guardsmen. We could have brought some of my father’s.”

Dany shrugged, “We’re only going a little ways,” she said, “and anyway. Princess Loreza had Ser Artyr take on two hundred more watchmen.”

“Yes but...” she hesitated, “she wouldn’t like it. Neither would my father.”

“Can I ask you something,” Dany said once they had started off again, “Septa Unelletine, does she go everywhere with you?”

“No, not everywhere.” Lady Olenna turned red, “But, I don’t have a mother or sisters so… And I like her company. I suppose you didn’t like your septa.”

“I never had a septa,” Dany said, “not like that anyway.”

“Then who taught you to read and such?”

“The maester.”

“Well, who taught you needlework?”

“Septa Allrica, but she was never my septa. She taught all the girls at the Water Gardens; she still does.”


They rode in silence through the city gates to the tourney grounds beyond them, tucked between the city, the olive groves, and the sea. Dany brought her horse to a gallop but slowed when she realized Lady Olenna had trouble keeping up with her. They rode through the small town’s worth of pavilions that was already growing around the edges of the lists and tzykanion field.

Rhona Santagar and Rolyn Toland were on the field practicing with Artyr Dalt and Eldon Sand.

“Lady Dany!” Ser Rolyn called over when he saw them, “have you come to play?”

She shook her head, “We’re only exploring. We’re not dressed for it anyway.”

“Well, we should stop for a while and eat something.”

All six of them gathered around the cookfire outside of Ser Eldon’s pavilion to eat cold chicken and drink wine.

“Everyone will be here,” Ser Rolyn said, “it will be a very interesting game.”

“It’s useless to speculate about it until the teams are announced,” Lady Rhona said.

“Well, what about the jousting,” he asked her, “are we allowed to speculate about that?”

“There’s no point in speculating,” Rhona said, “my brother will win.”

Ser Rolyn laughed, “Your loyalty is admirable.”

“Your brother?” Lady Olenna asked, “has he been a champion before?”

“Ser Quentyn Santagar,” Ser Rolyn told her, “indeed he has, several times. He broke my collar bone two years ago at Salt Shore.”

“That was your own fault,” Rhona said.

“I never said it wasn’t.”

“Who will you be putting you coin on, my lady?” Ser Eldon asked Dany.

“I don’t know,” she lied. “It will have to be one of my cousins, I suppose.” She smiled at him, trying to flirt. Everyone flirted with Ser Eldon Sand, he was the handsomest man in Dorne, even Loreza thought so. “Or was I supposed to say you, ser?”

He smiled back, “No,” he said, “your choice may be wiser, everyone expects Prince Lewyn to do well.”

“What about my other cousin?” she asked.

“Ser Maron Wyl, you mean? He always does well enough, I suppose.”

Dany didn’t see why everyone though Ser Eldon was so handsome. His nose was too big and his ears stuck out.

“I don’t see why there's this need to always champion one's own family anyway,” Ser Artyr Dalt said, “a sister’s love, as sweet as it is, has never made anyone a better jouster.”

“You’ve never heard of Florian and Jonquil, I see,” said Ser Eldon, “Or Queen Naerys and and Dragonknight.”

“A sister’s love is different.”

Lady Rhona laughed out loud, “Naerys and the Dragonknight were brother and sister.”

“So they were,” he agreed, “it’s easy to forget those kinds of things.”

“You don’t think love can make you more brave?” Dany found herself asking.

“Is that what you think, my lady?” Ser Eldon asked with a patronizing smile.  

She couldn’t help but scowl at him. He thought she was silly child who liked to sing about Florian and Jonquil. “That’s what my sister says,” she said defensively, “She says she and Lady Denza are so in love that nothing scares her anymore, as long as they’re together.”

“Yes,” Ser Eldon told her, “it’s plain to see how in love they are. Maybe she’s right.”

Lady Olenna looked confused, “I don’t understand,” she said, “Who are they in love with?”

Ser Artyr started to cough up wine and Dany had to bite her lip to stop from giggling.

They all rode together back to the Old Palace. The sheriff at the gate told Ser Artyr that outriders from Prince Arion’s party had already been through to say they would be arriving within two hours.

Ser Artyr swore and galloped off to see that the city watch was in good order and the rest of them rode back as quickly as they could. Dany tried to ignore her mother’s constant stream of admonitions as she changed into her clean new gown of gold and red and black.

“I told you to make sure you were back in good time!” Mother said.

“I was with Olenna Redwyne,” she said, “you also told me to be nice to her.”

They were all dressed up and lined up in the outer ward by the time the party came. Her uncle, Prince Arion behind his banner of two sun-and-spears, her father with their cockatrise on gold, Lord Edgar Yronwood with his iron gate. There were the stormlanders too, Lord Connington and his griffins, Lord Swann with his birds. Both the banner had the creature combatant, as though they fought each other as much as anyone else.

But the turtle of Estermont seemed peaceful enough though, and Lady Bucker’s sigil was three belt buckles. Lord Dondarrion wore black and purple and young Ser Arwen Caswell had a centaur on his shield.

When she saw Lord Gargalen dismount, Dany smiled and waved her arm at him, despite her mother’s disapproving cluck. He laughed and came right towards her, picking her up in his arms and spinning her about.

“My little chickie!” he said, “how are you?”

“Father...” she said abashed, “I told you not to call me that anymore.”  

“You still seem like a little chickie to me.” He kissed Joleta on both cheeks and Mother on the hand.

“You look well, my princess,” he told her.

“Yes,” she said shortly, “we are well, all three of us.” She turned from him, “Brother,” she said to Prince Arion. They embraced much more warmly, though brother and sister had only been apart for three weeks, and husband and wife for three months or more. Everyone said that Prince Arion looked most like his own mother out of all of her children, but even he hardly looked like a dragon lord. His hair was light brown instead of black, and he had almost delicate features. The prince embraced both his nieces too, and kissed Lady Larra on the mouth.

Then Maron came forward. He didn’t look like a dragon lord either, but Dany couldn’t imagine they were any more beautiful. He had sandy hair and eyes somewhere in between blue and green, a narrow waist and a powerful looking chest. She tried not to stare.

He came to their mother first and then turned to Dany and Joleta.

“Ladies,” he said with a nod, looking at Joleta.

She scoffed, “Cousin,” she said pointedly. She turned to her sister, “Doesn’t our cousin look gallant this evening, sister?”

Dany blushed, “Ser Maron always looks gallant,” she said.

“So he does,” she agreed, “look gallant.”

She welcomed the distraction when her father started to introduce them to the other man there.

“Lord Yronwood, these are my younger daughters, Joleta and Daenerys.”

Dany curtsied and took a good look at the infamous Edgar Yronwood. He was huge, just like everyone said, but Dany suspected it was as much fat as muscle. At more than forty, his blond hair was started to become streaked with grey. He bowed to them courteously enough, but there was no softness anywhere on his lined, hard face, for all the softness of his belly.

Their uncle was about to start the introductions to all the visitors but a hush had descended on the yard and Dany knew that Loreza must have finally arrived. The crowd of knights and assorted ladies parted for her as she descended down the great stair, dressed for the feast in scarlet and cloth of gold with a circlet of gold and diamonds across her brow. She was followed by her mother and four ladies, two carrying the long train of her mantle.

The princess smiled as she greeted her uncle and cousin and Lord Gargalen after them. She seemed to purposely wait until the tension in the yard was just about unbearable before she finally turned to Lord Yronwood, her smile completely gone.  

“Lord Edgar,” she said, “you and yours are very welcome.”

With silence around and every eye in the yard on him, the huge lord took a knee before her. Loreza waited entire seconds before extending her hand out for him to kiss. Joleta rolled her eyes so extravagantly that their mother elbowed her in the side.

“My princess,” Lord Yronwood said, with a tone as hard as his face, “I wish you every happiness.”

“Thank you,” she said stiffly. She waited another very long moment before motioning for him to rise. Dany saw Ser Ormond behind him looking like Lord Edgar’s younger, thinner, mortified shadow. As soon as he was up Loreza turned from him and towards Lord Connington.

Lord Yronwood seemed no more pleased at the feast, even as he sat in a place of high honour to the left of the prince’s brother on the dais. He stayed there alone unmoving when the dancing started, with just his son looking miserable for company.

Olenna Redwyne found Dany while she sat resting after a solid hour of dancing.

“Lady Daenerys,” she said after she sat down, “will you do me a kindness?”

“Of course,” Dany said, a little shocked.

“Will you tell me what it was I said today that made everyone want to laugh?”

“I don’t remember you sa-”

“It was about your sister, and the man she’s in love with, who makes her brave. There must be some joke I don’t know about.”

Dany had to struggle not to laugh again. “Oh, yes,” she said. She looked around the hall for Joleta and saw her standing against a pillar whispering into Lady Deneza’s ear. “Well,” she started, “there is no man Joleta and Lady Deneza are in love with, it’s each other.”

“Each other?” Lady Olenna said, “But how can they-”

“She’s her paramour.”

“What does that mean, exactly?”

Dany didn’t quite know what to say. “Um, well, it means they live together and sleep in the same bed and, you know…”

“But, how?”

Dany couldn’t help but just stare at her. It seemed a very odd question to ask about someone's own sister.

“I apologize,” Lady Olenna said after a moment, “I know you do things queerly here, I suppose I shouldn’t pry.”

“Yes,” Dany said, still at a loss.

“May I ask you something else?”

“Yes?” Dany said, full of dread.

“Why is everyone so tense this evening?”

“Oh,” Dany almost laughed in relief, “it’s just because of the Yronwoods.”

“Lord Yronwood?” she asked, “why would that-”

“My uncle hates him.”

“Prince Rhodryn? Why?”

“Because he was a rebel of course,” Dany told her, “and this is the first time he’s come to Sunspear since.”

“But that was ten years ago, and he was pardoned.”

Dany nodded, “They all were, for the third time. But my father says pardoning isn’t forgiving, or forgetting.”

“No, I suppose not,” Lady Olenna agreed, “and Lord Yronwood hasn’t forgiven or forgotten either?”

She shrugged, “I don’t see how he can forget that his son is a hostage.”

“I didn’t realize that,” she said. “That’s him isn’t it? Dancing with Dyanna Connington?”

“Yes,” Dany agreed. Even he had finally left his father abandoned on the dais. “Ser Ormond Yronwood. The prince doesn’t hate him, I don’t think.”

“He’s very comely.”

“I suppose so.” He had always been there, since she was little. She'd never thought about it. Besides which, he’d probably be as fat as his father in twenty years.

“That man keeps looking over here,” Olenna said.

“Ser Ormond?”

“No, the one two couples over.”

“Oh,” Dany’s stomach fluttered, “that’s just my cousin, Ser Maron Wyl.”

“He’s very comely too, isn’t he the heir?”

Dany didn’t like the way Lady Olenna was looking at him, “Yes,” she said, “well, he’s the heir to the heir, really. And my uncle says Lord Allyster will probably live forever so...” She trailed off when she realized that he was coming towards them.

“Hello!” she said much too loudly when he reached them and bowed.

“You look well, my lady,” he said. Dany heart sank.

“Thank you,” she said, looking at the ground, “this is Lady Olenna Redwyne-”

He bowed quickly and then held out his hand, “Will you dance with me, Dany?”

She took his hand and they walked together to the centre of the hall. Dany felt as though her feet were never touching the ground.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“For what,” her voice sounded breathy.

“You know for what.” They stood across from each other on the floor and she finally looked up to see Maron’s face. He was smiling and it made his eyes sparkle like moonlight on water. “When I look at you I- I don’t always trust myself to behave as I should.”

Dany felt herself blush all over, “I understand,” she managed to say.

“Then you forgive me?”

“Oh course I do!”

He smiled again, and took her hand to lead her in the dance.

Chapter Text

Lord Edgar was eating and drinking liberally. By the look of him, he did that quite often these days, though Ormond couldn’t help but suspect it was to avoid talking to him.

“I...” he started, his father put down his cup to look at him, “I was hoping I would see my sister.”

He scoffed and picked up his cup again, “I was obliged to come, Alyse wasn’t.”

Ormond was about to say that he hoped she would want to see him, but he decided it would sound peevish. “Is she well?”

“Well enough.”

“And Ser Clarian?” The last time he had seen his sister, or his father, was at her wedding to Ser Clarian Jordayne four years before. The first time he’d seen Yronwood since he was eight years old.

“He’s perfectly healthy too.”

“I’m glad.”

The last dish was cleared away and the dancing started. His father made no move to get up. Hardly surprising, but Ormond felt obligated to stay with him.

“And you’re well too, I take it,” Lord Edgar said after several minutes silence.

Ormond all but started at being spoken to, “Yes, I’ve never felt better.”

“Lord Toland tells me you’re expected to do well in the lists.”

“I intend to do as well as I can,”  he said. In truth, Ormond was a middling jouster. The most he could usually boast was that he hadn’t shamed himself.

“I look forward to seeing you.”

Ormond supposed that was the closest to affectionate words he was likely to get from his father, but he was at a loss to think what he could say to it. Thank you? That sounded ridiculous. He said nothing and let the silence drag on.

Lord Edgar used his goblet to point to the floor beneath the dais where the princess was dancing with some stormlander. “She’s certainly grown into quite a… Martell, hasn’t she?”

Ormond knew precisely what he meant. “She was already like that when she was ten. All the other children went in fear of her. We were more afraid of her wrath than the tutors’.”

“What works for playmates, works as well for lords,” his father said bitterly, “quite ingenious.”

Ormond refilled his own goblet and hoped his face wasn’t red. He had felt exactly like that in the yard. It was as though he was nine years old again and the princess had ignored him for a week after he pushed Gallwel Qrgyle into a fountain. When she wouldn’t speak you, no other child in the Water Gardens would.

“If you want to dance, Ormond, then go,” Lord Edgar said, “you needn’t sit here fidgeting.”

He didn’t need to be told twice. Before he could even look about for a partner Princess Trystana fell upon him.

“Are you dancing with anyone?” she asked briskly.

“No, I- ”

“Good, go ask Lady Dyanna.”

“As you say, my princess,” he said, “which is-”

“The one standing by herself looking devastated that no one has asked her to dance.”

He scanned the walls, there were a lot of unfamiliar ladies.

“The Connington girl!” she said.

He nodded and made his way to the lady indirectly, or else Princess Trystana would tell him off for being too obvious. Dyanna Connington was fifteen, with a mop of strawberry blonde hair so wild that not even a hairnet could control it. She was pretty enough for a girl, but painfully shy. She would barely look at him while they danced, and any conversation seemed out of the question. When the music paused she practically ran away from him to resume her lonely vigil by the wall.

Then he danced with Joleta Gargalen, then with Lord Swann’s wife Lady Donna. He had just sat down to drink some lemon water when Rhona Santagar joined him. She smiled and he felt better than wretched for the first time all day.

“Is he really so bad?” she asked.

“Is who really so bad?” he replied.

“Your father.”

Ormond tried to laugh, “I suppose we just… don’t have much to say to each other,” he told her, “but no, he wasn’t that bad at all.”

“You looked like you were desperate to escape,” Rhona said, “I was half afraid he was holding you hostage somehow.”

She only seemed to realize what she had said when she saw the horrified look on Ormond’s face. She covered her mouth with her hands.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“You don’t have to ap-”

“I just,” she said, “I forgot.”

“You forgot?” Ormond said sharpy. “How could you forget?”

She looked ashamed, “I don’t think of you that way,” Rhona said, “none of us do.”

“How fortunate for all of you.”

“I said I was sorry, Ser Ormond,” she told him stiffly.

“I know...” he said, “I suppose… I wish I could forget as easily.”

She put her hand on his thigh, “Forgive me,” she said, “please.”

He smiled, “I always do, don’t I?” She laughed at that. “Do you want to dance?”

“Yes,” she said, “but not here.”

“Where then?”

She sighed, “In your bedchamber, of course.”

“Rhona...” he told her, “you don’t have to bed me just to apologize.”

“I know that,” she said, “I had every intention of “dancing” with you before I even sat down, I promise you. I’ve been thinking about it all evening.”

His smile widened. Rhona in the hall was always good company, but Rhona in bed was always enough to make up for any bad day. They left the hall together.

She was gone when he woke up the next morning, but that was usual enough. Ormond had breakfast with Rolyn Toland and Eldon Sand before spending a few hours being bruised and thumped by Gerold Hightower in the yard. “Is that Artyr?” Rolyn asked when they paused for breath.

The four of them went to the table beneath the covered gallery where Ser Artyr Dalt and his sister were in serious conversation.

“I thought the Council was meeting.” Eldon Sand said.

“Oh, it was,” Lady Deneza said.

“And you finished so early?”

Lady Deneza scoffed but her brother shook his head, “Certain things were said, and after that business was rather impossible.”

Ormond felt a pit form in the bottom of his stomach, “Things?” he asked, “said by who?” They looked uncomfortable. “Please, just tell me.”

“Well,” Lady Deneza started, “Lord Yronwood and the prince… disagreed.”

Gods be good. “About what?”

“About Princess Loreza’s marriage,” she said, “what else is anyone talking about lately?”

“His words were… immoderate,” Ser Artyr told him. “The prince was rather-”

“Furious,” his sister finished. “He would have locked him up in the Spear Tower if Serron Vaith hadn’t convinced him it was impossible.”

“Why was it impossible?” Ser Gerold Hightower asked her.

She regarded him sharply. “We were in council.”

“Yes, my lady,” he said, “but what difference does that make?”

“You can’t arrest the Warden on the Stone Way for what he says in council,” she told him, sounding rather horrified. 

“I see,” he said, unconvinced.

“Why would anyone give his prince honest council if he had to fear being imprisoned for it?” she asked him, rather belligerently.

“It seems that privilege was abused,” he said.

“It’s not a privilege-”

“And Lord Yronwood’s council was honest,” Ser Artyr interrupted, “few can doubt that.”

“Then what happened?” Ormond said.

“Nothing really,” Ser Artyr said, “the prince stormed out and the session was over.”

“Needless to say, this was all before we could discuss the Braavosi envoy’s terms for the loan to rebuild the coastal defenses. And that’s been put off long enough...”

Ormond excused himself and went to the armoury to discard his mail. He walked briskly up to the gardens and across the courtyard, hoping that no one would try to speak to him if he were quick enough. He reached the Tower of the Sun and climbed the stairs to his father’s chambers.

Lord Yronwood was sitting at table on a balcony tearing into a brace of quail with his huge hands. He saw Ormond and motioned for him to sit down opposite him. He sat with ill grace and an angry expression.

“I suppose you heard all about it,” his father said.

Ormond was so upset that it was difficult to speak. “How could you?” he finally whispered.

His father put down the fowl and pushed his plate away. “Have you been made to answer for my words,” he asked, “by your… friends?”

He stood up and paced between the doorway and the table, trying to control the shaking in his hands. “I’m a fool to be upset,” he said, “I should be used to it by now. I’ve been made to answer for your words for more than ten years.”

To Ormond’s surprise, his father seemed to get smaller. He deflated like a skin all the wine had spilt out of. “I know,” he said.

“Do you?” he said. “Every time your name is mentioned, I don’t even have to ask what you said or did. I just know that whatever it is will shame me.”

“Shame you?” He looked so hurt that Ormond stopped pacing to look at him in shock. “What have I done that would shame you?”

“After all these years,” he told him, “you come here still nursing your grievance. Still unwilling to admit that you were beaten. That we were beaten, that you were wrong. I’m embarrassed for you.”

“I wasn’t wrong,” Lord Edgar said with conviction.

Ormond growled in anger and started to pace again.

“Is that what you think of me?” He sounded more sad than angry. “That I’m a peevish old man?”

“What else am I to think of you, my lord?” Ormond asked. “You certainly can’t care anything for me, seeing as you’re willing to antagonize the man who has every right to have me killed if you antagonize him!”  He didn’t mean to yell, but he could hardly control himself.

“It hasn’t been easy for you, I know,” his father said with perfect calm, “forgive me.”

“Why should I!”

“Someone has to stand up to them!”

“Stand up to them?” Ormond asked him, incredulous. “To who, the prince? Is that what you were doing when you gave all your strength to a hopeless rebellion lead by a fool?”

Lord Edgar scoffed, “It’s easy to say it was hopeless now.” Ormond opened his mouth, but his father cut him off, “It doesn’t matter. You’re right, we were beaten. But I cannot say we were wrong.” He sighed, reached for the flagon of wine on the table and poured two goblets. “Sit, Ormond.”

“I don’t want to drink with you.”

His father’s face hardened. “Do you think I’m made of stone?” he asked. “How do you imagine I feel about the little boy I lost growing into a man who thinks so lowly of me?”

Ormond couldn’t imagine what to say. “I have no notion what you feel about anything.”

“No,” Lord Yronwood said, “so sit and have some wine with me.”

Ormond sat, but he left the goblet untouched.

“I suppose you think it’s a very small thing,” he said, “this marriage.”

“What do you think it is?” Ormond asked him.

“It think it’s the prince being so eager to please these northerners that he’ll give them anything, even his daughter.”

Ormond could have laughed, “You said that in her hearing?” he asked, “You don’t know her at all then. And you’re the one with northern ideas if you mean to imply that he’s giving her to anyone.”

“Yes, I know, she’s more than a match for any husband.” Lord Edgar said, “but what will her children be?”

“It’s hardly the first time a princess of Dorne has married a foreigner.”

“No, but it’s all rather different now isn’t?” he said bitterly, “Now that we’re nothing but a mere province.”

“If you want to complain about that, you’re sixty years too late,” Ormond told him. “And Dorne will never be a “mere” province, Maron saw to that.”

“Oh yes,” his father said with energy, “Wise Prince Maron, who gave us peace forever. And all it cost us was everything we ever fought for.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“Is it?” Lord Yronwood asked. “Let me tell you a simple truth about these Martells. One that I doubt they ever told you. They have worked very hard for near a thousand years to convince us all that they are Dorne, but they’re not.” He had drained a whole goblet and poured himself another. “When the dragons, and all those who came before them fell on us, it was our blood that was spilt first. And last. Not even Princess Meria could have killed Meraxes by force of will.”

“I know that,” Ormond said, “they know that, everyone knows that.”

“Do they know?” he said, “What gave them the right to give this land away? This land that was made sacred by our blood.”

Ormond shifted “Now you do sound like a peevish old man,” he said. “Do you really expect me to believe that you acted from principle, rather than out of a desire to grab as much power as you could? If they don’t have the right to speak for Dorne than neither do you.”

“I never claimed I did,” he said. “I would never ask what was asked of us. And to expect us to swallow it without offering nothing in return was an insult.”

Ormond looked at him incredulously. “And what reward did you expect,” he asked, “in exchange for not committing treason?”

“Don’t be impertinent, Ormond,” his father said as he poured another goblet. “Every loyal vassal has a right to expect some sign of respect from his lord.”

“But you haven’t been a loyal vassal, have you?”

“Well, that’s the real crux of the matter, isn’t it?” he said, laughing. “Perhaps if they had given some sign that they valued our loyalty in the first place, instead of decreeing from on high and using force, maybe my mother wouldn’t have risen with Daemon at all. Maybe we both would have stayed home when the chance came again, if only all our worst fears hadn’t been realized.”

“You’re drunk,” Ormond finally realized.

“Yes,” Lord Yronwood allowed, “and I intend to stay drunk until this ordeal is over.” He proved the truth of his words by draining his goblet and filling it again. “It’s bad enough that I came and bent my knee to that glorified sycophant and his little tyrant of a daughter, but soon their master will come. And I’ll bend my knee to him as well.” He flung his half full goblet away from him. It flew over the railing of the balcony and disappeared. Lord Edgar immediately took the one he’d poured for Ormond and drank from it. “If you’re ashamed of me, son, it’s nothing to how ashamed I am of myself.”

“You hate them,” Ormond said. Seeing his father like this filled him with an odd mixture of pity and revulsion that twisted his gut and made him want to weep. “Nothing they could have done would have pleased you. You would have twisted it somehow. Nymeria married Mors Martell instead of Yorick Yronwood, and you’re still not over it.”

“You’re wrong,” Lord Edgar said. “I didn’t always hate them, my mother didn’t always hate them.” He chucked into his goblet. “You don’t hate them yet.”

Ormond chose to ignore his last words. “Really?” he said. “Pray tell me, my lord, what would have pleased you?”

“For a start,” his father said, “this could have been your wedding.”

He stood up abruptly, “That’s madness,” he said at once.


Ormond fought the urge to cover his ears with his hands. “How dare you come here and put me in this position?” he said. “I made a place for myself here. I have friends who even manage to forget...”

“A place?” Lord Edgar’s laugh was like a booming crack a thunder, “friends? Do you think any of your friends would lift a finger for you if it came to it? Do you think your precious princess who you admire so much for being so fierce would? Or that the fact you were children together will cause her to waver in her princely resolve?”

“Stop. I won’t be tainted by your bitterness.” He was proud of himself for not screaming at his father. He was a man, a knight. “You want to drag me into your pit of self-pity, but I won’t go. I won’t let you turn me against the man who’s been more a father to me than you ever have.”

Lord Edgar laughed again. Or perhaps he was crying, Ormond could hardly tell. I don’t know him well enough to tell.

“Do as you please,” he spat out through tears. “Kiss his ass until your lips fall off. It will do you as much good as it ever did me. But in another twenty years, you’ll have that drink with me, never doubt it.”

Ormond ran from the room without another word. He managed to control his own tears until he reached the deserted back staircase, but when they did come, they brought a rage with them that he had never felt before. He punched the wall so hard that the skin of his knuckles split and left a smear of blood on the polished sandstone. He wondered what Rhona would do if he found her and cried in her arms.

As soon as he judged himself fit to be seen he left his hiding place and wandered back to the gardens with no thought but to be as far from the Tower of the Sun as he could. He must have made a dozen circuits of the entire place when he heard Princess Loreza’s voice beckoning him. She had a trail of ladies behind her and a book in her hand.

“Princess,” he said, trying to smile. But then he remembered what had happened and was glad he hadn’t. “Please,” he started instead, “allow me to apologize for my fath-”

“Don’t be foolish, Ormond, you don’t have to apologize,” she said casually. “Besides, it wasn’t as bad as everyone is saying. You know how gossip gets.”

“Yes, but,” he said, “I… I don’t want you to think that I...” he trailed off.

“Share all his opinions?” she asked with a wry smile. “None of us are perfect reflections of our parents, are we? And we all do what we must sometimes.”

“I suppose so,” he said.

“What happened to your hand?” She passed her book to Genna Sand beside her and took his injured hand in both of hers. It had stopped bleeding but was redder and more swollen than ever. Her touch made him feel a little strange. Remembering what his father had said made him consider her has he never had before. Her hands were soft, and her touch was so gentle. But the feeling passed as swiftly as it appeared. She had been an elder sister to him, far more than his actual elder sister ever would be. And if she’d felt differently she would never have been shy about letting him know.

“It’s nothing,” he said, pulling his hand away, “Ser Gerold Hightower is a better swordsman than me, that’s all.”

“It looks painful.”

“No,” he lied. The truth was that that it was throbbing so badly he suspected something might be broken.

“Good,” she said. “In any case, I’m glad you mentioned Lord Yronwood. Have you seen him?”

“I haven’t, princess,”  he lied again, though he hardly knew why.

“Well, if you do it would please me if you would tell him that I’ll be in my garden for the rest of the afternoon, reading. Alone.”

“You want me to tell my father that you’ll be in your garden reading?” he asked her, confused.

“Yes,” she said with a mischievous look in her eye.

“And you wish to speak with him?”

“Did I say that?”

Ormond chuckled to hide his discomfort, “Princess, I don’t- you want to speak with my father secretly?”

She rolled her eyes, “Not secretly, Ormond,” she said, “privily. Will you tell him?”

“If you wish it, my princess.”

“I’m glad,” she said, “and you’ll have the maester look at your hand too, I hope.”

“Of course.”

“Good day then.”

The princess and her companions walked passed him towards the southern wall, and Ormond reluctantly turned back towards the Tower of the Sun.

Chapter Text

The town lay where the River Vaith and the Scourge met to form the Greenblood. The greatest river in Dorne was only half as wide as the Silverwater that Eliott had swum in as a child, and the Mander made it seem no more than a stream, but he knew it was as essential to the life of Dorne as heartsblood was to a living man. In a narrow band on either side of it, the land was green and fertile. They rode through fragrant lemon groves in blossom and small gardens planted with pepper.

Lord Manwoody had explained at length about how no one grew corn along the river anymore; there was far too much gold in olives and fruit to make it worthwhile. And gold can buy corn from the mountain valleys or even from the Reach.

They passed through the orchards and into the drylands, across a flat expanse where Daeron’s army must have hosted, poised for a battle that never came. The sand steed between his thighs seemed to float over the rough stony ground and never stumble or slow. In a hour they had reached a deep gully with a stream running through it.

“It was somewhere between here and that outcrop,” Ser Olyvar Sand told them, “the one up ahead that looks like a vulture.”

It did look like a vulture. Eliott wondered if that was why they had chosen this place.

“An excellent spot for an ambush,” Owain said, “any fool should have seen that.”

“I’m sure he would have seen that,” Ser Olyvar said, “if he had bothered to look, but why would he? All he was doing was accepting a surrender.”

“The Dornishmen came over that ridge, I assume,” Lymen Osgrey said.

“Yes we did,” Prince Lewyn said with his typical smirk, “they were only a hundred, all told, but it was enough.”

Ser Casson Vaith nodded, “They say it was over before the Kingsguard even managed to draw their swords.”

Eliott shook his head, “Forgive me,” he said, “but it was a dirty trick.”

“So it was,” Ser Olyvar said, though his eyes burned with a pride that gave the lie to his words. He must have seen Eliott’s suspicion. “Some things are worth a dirty trick. The Young Dragon was dead and all hope for his conquest died with him; that’s what those men cared about.”

“Didn’t they care about their own honour?”

Ser Olyvar smiled, not unkindly, “You have a good deal to learn about Dorne, Ser Eliott.”

Yes, I know, he thought.

They stopped to water the horses and look around some more. Eliott and his friends sat to pass a wineskin between them. Jon inspected every rock and grain of sand as though he expected to find them still splattered with royal blood. He turned over a small boulder and disturbed a nest of scorpions. Prince Lewyn exclaimed happily and started to catched them by the tails.

Ser Casson built a small fire while the others put the dead scorpions on skewers to cook. When the heat had cracked open the outer skeleton, Lord Manwoody took one and bit into it happily.

Prince Lewyn held another out to Eliott. “Try it,” he prompted.

He regarded it skeptically. Lyman made a face. “I don’t know... aren’t they poisonous?”

The prince chuckled, “It’s not going to sting you; it’s dead.” Eliott still hesitated. “They’re my sister’s favourite.”

He took it then; it wasn’t as if he had a choice. His friends made no move to join him. He took a bite into the fattest part of the middle of the creature and felt the shell crunch between his teeth.

“What’s it like?” Owain asked after a moment.

“It’s well enough, I suppose,” he told him, “tastes a little like crab.”

Owain and Jon both took one, though Lyman didn’t.  

“Does Princess Loreza like the desert then?” Eliott asked when they were all still eating.

“All Dornishmen love the desert,” Ser Olyvar said. He was an old man, past sixty, and a bastard, though you would never know it by the way he was treated. Even Prince Lewyn deferred to him, with actions if not with words, and he spoke proudly about how his uncle had been a squire at the Redgrass Field and had commanded the Dornish forces at Wendwater Bridge.

He certainly had led the party that came from Sunspear to meet them in Godsgrace. None of the Dornishmen seem to find it strange, so Eliott determined that he wouldn’t either.

Prince Lewyn rolled his eyes, “That’s very helpful, uncle,” he said. “She does love the desert,” he told Eliott, “but I think she prefers Sunspear.”

“And what does she like in Sunspear?”

“Working, mostly.”

“You make her seem so interesting,” Ser Olyvar said sarcastically.

“She is interesting,” Prince Lewyn said defensively, “and she works a lot.”

“I’m glad that someone does, between the two of you.”

Prince Lewyn grinned, “Perhaps the gods made her first-born for a reason.”

“Don’t look so pleased with yourself, nephew,” Lord Manwoody said, “even if the prince never manages to put you to work, Princess Loreza will.”

“No doubt she’ll try.”

“But when she’s not working,” Owain tried again, “what does she like to do?”

He shrugged, “Riding, needlework, reading, talking about working...”

“Lewyn!” Ser Olyvar said with a grin, “enough.”

On the ride back Eliott and his friends rode a bit apart from the Dornishmen.

“How bad can she be, do you think?” he asked Owain after making sure they were out of earshot.

“El,” Owain said sympathetically, “bad? Why would you say that? Everyone knows that Dornish women are beautiful.”

“And willing,” Ser Jon the Green said.

Eliott shot him a dirty look, “Well, no one has called this one beautiful. Or even pretty.”

“It’s true,” Lyman said, “I noticed that myself.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Owain argued.

“I think you should prepare yourself,” Lyman told Eliott, “for pimples at least. Maybe even a hump.”

“They would have mentioned a hump!” Owain said, “Although... maybe to lessen the dower...”

“I’m quite sure I’m the one who payed over the dower,” Eliott said glumly.

“What.” Jon said.

“Well, they didn’t call it a dower, but money was handed over, for my “maintenance”.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Jon said.

“Dornish...” said Lyman.

“Get used to them,” Eliott told him.

In the castle, Eliott found Alastor alone in his bedchamber reading, but failed to convince him that he should regret not coming with them. “I had no wish to bake under the sun again just to see where some fool died a hundred years ago.”

“The Young Dragon wasn’t a fool.”

Alastor laughed, “Anyone who would want to conquer this place is a fool.”

Eliott glanced over to where Samuel Reer was standing silently. But the man didn’t react at all. He’d come from Sunspear with Ser Olyvar Sand and Lord Allyrion and informed Eliott that he would be running his household in Sunspear.

“I already have a manservant,” he had said.

“I’m not your manservant, my lord,” he had told him haughtily. “I’m your senechal.”

“Do you know Princess Loreza?” Eliott asked him now.

“Oh course,” Reer said, moving closer to the brothers by the window, “the princess was the one who appointed me.”

She did?”

“Who else,” he said.

“So...” Eliott asked him, “what is she... like?”

Samuel stood up straighter, “Princess Loreza is the heir to Sunspear, my lord.”

“Yes, I know,” Eliott said, trying not to sound frustrated, “but she’s a woman too, isn’t she?”

“Certainly,” he said.

“So, what kind of woman is she?”

“A… a very good one,” he said.


“She’s a princess of Dorne, Ser Eliott.” Reer said pointedly.

“You mentioned that already.”

“I think you’ll find that, as such, she’s the object of some reverence.”

Alastor laughed, “We noticed that.”

Reer glared at him, “Yes, and people won’t take kindly to you asking these questions. As thought the princess were being… appraised.”

“I see,” Eliott said. He moved to sit next to his brother on the window seat. “I’ve offended you, I’m sorry.”

“You could never offend me,” Reer said, “but I consider it my duty to make sure you don’t offend anyone else.”

Eliott didn’t know what to say. “Yes,” he managed, “you can go.”

“You’re expected in the hall in a hour, my lord.”

It was an effort not to be sharp, “I’ll be there.”

The senechal left and Eliott let out a frustrated sigh. “I’m going to be wed to the wench in less than a fortnight and I’m not allowed to know anything about her.”

“Well, you don’t expect any of them would say anything against her, do you?”

“Lyman is convinced she must have a hump or something.”

“Does it matter what she looks like? Even if she does have a hump, marrying her will still make you the most powerful man in Dorne.”

“Will it?”

“Can you doubt it?” Alastor asked him, “She might be a Dornish woman, but she’s still a woman.”

“Don’t let Samuel Reer hear you say that,” Eliott said sardonically. “Besides, Lady Qorgyle is only a woman too; does it seem to you like it does her husband any good?” Lady Qorgyle had joined them in Vaith, but her husband hadn’t.

“He’s Dornish, he doesn’t know any better.”

Eliott inhaled, “You really have to stop saying things like that, brother. You might not care what they think of you, but I have to.” Alastor looked away from him, abashed. “You gave me your word.”

“I did,” he said solemnly, “and I’ll keep it, I swear. That lemon water of there’s isn’t so bad if you put enough sugar into it.”

“Well… good,” Eliott said, “we should get ready for supper.”

They supped in the hall much less formally than at the feast they had the night before. They sat around one large table, all of those who who had come from Vaith, and those who has come from Sunspear with Lord Allyrion and Ser Olyvar. The food was brought out all at once in the old Dornish fashion, rather than there being courses, and the only diversion was a lone lute player. Aelora whispered and giggled with her friends but the rest of them managed to keep to one conversation.

Lord Mors grinned broadly when Eliott told his father and uncle where they had been. “The host was so large that you couldn’t see the end of the camp, not even from atop the walls, but within two days all that was left was the latrine pits.”

“I never understood that,” Lady Leona Tarly said. “Why would they turn back? The army was just as strong as it was before, even if the king was dead.”

“Don’t be foolish, girl,” her father said, “rabble like that always cut and run at the first sight of trouble.”

The lady turned red and her husband jumped in to comfort her, “An army is only as strong as the man who leads it,” Ser Daeron Darklyn said. “They would have followed the Young Dragon to the ends of the earth, but not anyone else. The Kingsguard were all dead or captured too.”

“Ser Olyvar Oakheart died beside the king,” Lady Ellyn Oakheart said proudly; “he was my great-great uncle.”

“But they still could have won,” Lady Leona asked, “if there had been someone strong enough?”

Lord Tarly scoffed, “Oh course they could have.”

“You sound very sure,” Lord Dayne said.

He scoffed again, “I am sure, if the Dornishmen thought they had a prayer, they wouldn’t have resorted the treachery in the first place. Only those who were already defeated would stoop to a coward’s trick, against all the laws of chivalry. To kill any man under a banner of peace is monstrous, but your own king...”

Eliott sighed to himself and closed his eyes. What kind of fool would say that, here and now?

“Some would say that invading a realm without cause is fairly unchivalrous too,” said Alyssa Blackmont, who had a knack for making things worse.

“I’m sure there wasn’t really a peace banner,” Eliott’s mother Lady Serra said. “That’s only a calumny.”

Lord Mors smiled and motioned towards one of the old standards displayed along the walls of the hall. It was a large peace banner on a pole mounted with a pointed crystal. The seven streamers of the tail were ragged and torn, and the seven stripes were splattered with mud and a more reddish kind of brown that could only be blood, nearly a century old.

Lord Tarly looked disgusted, “And it doesn’t shame you, to display such a trophy?”

“No,” the Lord of Godgrace said simply.

Prince Lewyn and Lady Alyssa both visibly fought the urge to laugh. Little Lady Delonne Allyrion, who was all of nine and so small she needed to sit on two cushions to reach the table, did laugh.

“They say Prince Rhodry took that banner and drove the spike...”

“Delonne!” Lady Ryanne said, “not at table.”

“I’m sorry, mother,” she said, though she seemed quite proud of herself. And so did her father.

“If Baelor were not a half mad with milk in his veins it would have all come out differently,” Lord Tarly continued, undeterred. “Any other king would have returned and burnt this town to the ground, instead of making peace.”

“If?” Lady Vaith said. “Yes, and if goats could fly and breath fire they’d be as good as dragons.”

“Aegon the Conqueror did burn this town to the ground,” Lord Allyrion said, “we rebuilt it.”

“I suppose...” Lady Leona said, distractedly, “the king thought that, because it was hopeless, they wouldn’t fight. And that’s why we walked right into a trap. He didn’t see how desperate they were.”

Ser Olyvar Sand was smiling at her. “I think you reached the heart of it, my lady.”

She smiled back shyly.

“The heart of it is that they had no honour,” Lord Tarly said.

“It was dishonourable,” his daughter agreed, ‘but it was a choice between-“

“Honour isn’t a matter of choice,” Lord Tarly cut in, “a man either has it, or he doesn’t.”

“But maybe they thought-”

“And it’s not something a woman could understand. You sound like a fool prattling on about it.”

Lady Leona pressed her lips together as a tear ran down her face.

“I imagine anyone who disagrees with you is a fool.” Alyssa Blackmont said contemptuously.

“Sweetling...” Lady Doryssa Tarly said to her daughter, “you look tired. Why don’t you take yourself to bed a little early tonight.”

She nodded. They all rose as she left the table on her husband’s arm and then sat back down in uncomfortable silence.

“That girl...” Lord Tarly said scornfully. “I thought she would finally shut up when I married her off, but it seems it was all for nothing.”

Prince Lewyn made to rise from his seat again, but his uncle grabbed him by the arm. Eliott was close enough to hear them, though Lord Samwell wasn’t, “Don’t lower yourself,” Ser Olyvar told him.

Lord Mors looked even angrier. “My lord,” he said to his guest, “I must ask you to leave my table.”

“What did you say to me?” Lord Tarly asked him.

“If it please you,” he said through clenched teeth, “before someone does something they may later regret.”

The rest of the excruciating meal pasted in near silence and, when it was finally over with, Eliott found himself walking back to their rooms in a corner keep with his father and his uncle.

“Samwell Tarly has always been an ass,” Ser Corret said.

“But to be so antagonistic towards a man in his own hall...” Lord Rowan replied. “He must know that Lord Allyrion’s own grandfather was one of those who set upon Daeron. And the prince’s great-uncle.”

“Lord Allyrion was hardly the picture of courtesy himself. None of them have been.”

Eliott’s father seemed annoyed by that, “He’s the Lord Justiciar; we don’t want to make him our enemy.”

“You mean I don’t want to make him my enemy,” Eliott said.

His father turned to him with the lantern in his hand, “No, you don’t. He could make your life difficult in Sunspear if he chose to. So can Alyssa Blackmont.”

“Alyssa Blackmont is near hysterical.”

“There.” Lord Rowan said, “You see, you cannot say that. You can’t even think it. She is heir to a great seat, and she behaves as she’s expected to. Didn’t you read that copy of Maester Kasian’s History of Dorne that I gave you?”

“Oh course I read it, Father,” Eliott said, wounded. “It said that only the Dornish can ever understand Dorne.”

His Uncle Corret laughed at that.

“It’s not… neither of you seem to grasp how important this is.”

“Would I be here if I didn’t grasp it?”

“The Martells stand high in the king’s favour, we do not...”

“I know that.”

“.... this family is unlike to have a chance like this again. Not while I live. The way to heal fifty-year-old rifts is not to continually bring up grudges that are a hundred years old.”

“Except no one cares about the black dragon,” Eliott told him, “only about the young one.”

“Oh, they care,” Lord Rowan said. “If they cared less, they would mention it more.”

Eliott fought the urge to roll his eyes. Making up for supporting the black dragon had turned into an obsession with his father. His own father had been a squire on the Redgrass Field, just as Ser Olyvar had, though on the other side. The fact that he had known better the next time Bittersteel cross the Narrow Sea didn’t keep Lord Adwin from being convinced it was held against him, even now. And maybe he was right; how else to explain a man of his abilities being passed over again and again.

“This marriage can open many doors,” he continued. “For all of us, but especially for you, my son,” he continued. Eliott nodded. “But it will all come to nothing if the Dornishmen think we can’t get through one meal without insulting them.”

“Brother...” Ser Corret said, “the boy has enough on his shoulders without you piling the whole world onto them.”

“I’m not “the boy”, Uncle,” Eliott said angrily. “I know what my duty is, and I’ll do it. From now on, House Rowan will have no stauncher friend than Dorne, I swear it.”

His father smiled and clasped his shoulder, but his uncle shook his head skeptically.

Eliott knew sleep would be impossible for a few hours yet, so he climbed onto the battlements, hoping a walk would calm his mind. Before he could open the door that would lead out into the open air, he heard Dornish voices on the other side.

“You’ve only had to put up with it for two days, my lord,” it was Ser Quentyn Santagar’s voice; “we’ve been putting up with it for a month.”

“It can’t go on like this,” Ser Olyvar Sand said. “It will come to blows if it does. And I doubt the prince will be very happy if it happens at his daughter’s wedding.”

“I could always call him out before then,” Prince Lewyn said cheerfully.

“Don’t be an idiot!” Ser Olyvar said sharply. “Any man who would treat his own child like that in public isn’t worth the trouble of running through with a spear.”

“What are you saying,” said Lady Vaith’s voice, “that we should pretend we don’t hear Tarly the next time he opens his fat mouth?”

“That’s precisely what I’m saying.”

“Tarly may be the worst of them,” Ser Quentyn said, “but that doesn’t mean he’s the only one. Lord Oakheart is just as bad, if less graceless. And the elder brother...”

“He was drunk,” Prince Lewyn cut in.

“It was inexcusable.”

“It was,” agreed Lord Manwoody, “but in another month he’ll be gone. So will Tarly and Oakheart.”

“But they won’t all be gone, will they?” Lady Vaith said. “We’re in bed with these Rowans now, quite literally. And everything that comes with them. I can’t imagine what it was about them that the prince would find so appealing that he would choose them over every house in Dorne. The boy is comely enough, but there doesn’t seem to be much too him.”

“That’s not for us to say,” Ser Olyvar said.

“No, of course not.”

“Ser Eliott Rowan isn’t so bad,” Prince Lewyn said. “He even seems… willing to learn our ways. And he’s quiet, not stupid.”

“Learned and skilled in arms enough to be useful,” Lord Manwoody agreed, “but not strong enough to make mischief, even if he wished to.”

“A perfect consort, them,” said Lady Vaith.

“One certainly hopes,” said Ser Quentyn.

Eliott opened the door all the way and stepped right among them.

“Ser Eliott,” Lady Vaith exclaimed, “imagine you being… right there.”

“I only came to get some air, my lady.”

“Don’t let us detain you then, ser,” she said.

The four of them moved passed him and down the stair from the battlements. Only Prince Lewyn remained. “Do you mind if I walk with you?”

“Please,” Eliott told him politely.

The prince was six years younger than Eliott, but he was a good inch taller, and broader in the chest. He wonder if the Dornish called him a boy. They strolled along past sentries and rounded the corner of a bastion. Before them were the lights of the town, and the river held hundreds more, they were like a shining ribbon fading into the distance.

“There are so many boats,” Eliott said.

“Wait until you see the Planky Town,” Prince Lewyn told him.

“Yes, I’m always being told how much more there is for me to see.”

“Dorne is a big place, and you have many years to see it all.”

“I’ll have to occupy myself somehow,” he said, “since I’m not strong enough to make any real mischief.”

Prince Lewyn laughed, “Don’t mind them,” he said. “They see every outsider as the vanguard of an invasion. Loreza will like you, I’m sure of that, and then even Quentyn Santagar will suddenly decide that he likes you too.”

Eliott had no idea what to say to that. “And Prince Rhodryn,” he asked, “will he like me?”

“Father likes anyone who can make my sister happy.”

He was at even more of a loss. “I see,” he said, wishing to all the gods that he actually did. 

Chapter Text

Loreza opened the door to Lady Lenelle’s sitting room and was rather shocked to find more than a dozen people there waiting for her.

“You’re late,” her mother said as she took her by the arm and lead her to the centre of the room.

“You didn’t tell me there’d be as many guests as the wedding itself,” she whispered. She was red-faced and breathless from running up the stairs, and not in any state of mind to be seen in public.

“Don’t be difficult now.”

Loreza tried not to make her sigh too obvious. “Good morning, Lady Buckler, Lady Malora,” she said to the old ladies sitting on the settee by the window. They smiled and nodded graciously. Lady Malora had brought her daughter Alanna Hightower; Lady Bucker had come with her granddaughter Betha, and Dyanna Connington, and both their septas. Lady Joslyn Florent and her own daughter were sitting with them. Lady Olenna Redwyne was there too, which Loreza suspected was her aunt’s work, though she didn’t look as miserable as she had grown accustomed to seeing her. She was standing with Dany by the window; she even suspected they had been talking. The princess greeted them each in turn as she started taking off all her jewels and placing them on the silver tray Elda Toland was holding. Her mother helped her ladies unlace her and get her out of her gown until she was standing in nothing but her smallclothes.

The dressmaker had brought three seamstresses and four apprentice girls. Together they spent close to a quarter of an hour tieing, clasping, and sewing the princess into her wedding dress.

It was so beautiful that Loreza found herself grinning in spite of herself. “This work is very fine,” she told the dress maker. The gown was made of scarlet silk that was substantial enough to have a lovely drape, but still felt like water under her fingers. Couched gold thread and encrusted rubies and diamonds decorated the helm of the skirt and the length of the sleeves with a pattern of suns and spears and swirls. The skirt was slashed in the front to show a cloth of gold petticoat that was attached to the overskirt with a row of pearls set on gold filigree suns.

“You are very kind to say so, my princess,” the woman said as she simultaneously bowed and clasped shut the girdle. It had a metalwork sun and spear on the front picked out in rubies, orange tourmaline, and yellow diamonds. It was so tight it made her gasp.

“It’s not unbearable is it, my love?” Lady Lenelle asked.

“No,” Loreza told her. “I’ll need the help staying upright by the time the ceremony is over.”

Lady Joslyn sighed appreciatively when the apprentice girls folded out the train, edged with the same gold and gemstone work. “How long is that?” she asked.

“Just about ten feet, my lady,” the dressmaker said, “or a little longer.” The girls were half way towards the back wall by the time they finished unfolding it and smoothing it out.

Lady Betha and Lady Dyanna both exclaimed happily and proclaimed it was the most splendid gown they’d ever seen. Lady Joslyn said she quite agreed. “The princess will be the most beautiful bride that was ever seen,” she fawned. “Ser Eliott will think himself the most fortunate man in the world. Don’t you think so Mariah?”

Mariah did. Dany and Lady Olenna both rolled their eyes.

“Thank you, my lady.” Loreza said with a barbed smile. She turned to Dany, “What do you think, cousin?”

“She won’t be able to judge until we get all the jewels on you,” Princess Trystana said.

Lady Emlyn had them brought out one at a time, in a process that seem to take just as long as putting on the gown had. There were enough gold bangles to reach halfway up each forearm; they shifted and clinked annoyingly with the slightest movement. There were delicate filigree gold earrings and a tiara with a band of suns in ruby and tourmaline.

The worst was the ornate gold and gem collar that draped halfway down her chest and back and across her shoulders. Golden chains were joined together with rubies and yellow diamonds. “It’s so heavy,” she complained. “My shoulders are sore already.”

Her mother gave her a displeased glare. “It looks very princely,” she said pointedly.

Yes, it will look very princely when I topple over in the sept, she thought, but she had the wisdom to not say it outloud. “Well, what do you think now, Dany?”

Daenerys stood in front of her and almost cried with excitement. “Can I have it all when you’ve finished?”

Everyone laughed, even Loreza. She tried to remember if she found weddings exciting when she was fifteen.

“It’s perfect,” Princess Trystana said. “As long as we can keep the train in order.”

“We’ll manage, my princess,” Elda Toland said, “between the six of us.”

Mariah Florent came to stand beside Dany and affected the same expression. “It’s such a shame hardly anyone will see the necklace, my princess,” she said. “Your maiden’s cloak will cover it.”

Dany rolled her eyes again and Lady Olenna scoffed audibly.

Lady Lenelle was more kind. “Maiden’s cloaks are not our custom, my lady,” she said.

The poor girl just seemed confused. Dany looked like she was going to say something scathing, but the princess cut across her.

“Shall we try on the other one?” The faster they did, the faster she could leave.

Of course, she failed to consider that the wedding gown would take as much time to take off as it had to put on. By the time she was back in her small clothes it was a struggle to remain cheerful. The second gown, for the wedding feast, was much less ornate. It was sleeveless and simply cut, the rich golden tone of the bodice darkened into orange, and then scarlet down the length of the skirt. The front was slashed in a vee so deep that it didn’t please Lady Bucker.

“Well,” she said in a prim tone, “I hope it’s warm in the Feast Hall.”

Loreza let herself giggle at her with Genna and Elda as they put on another set of jewels, much to her aunt’s disapproval.

These were far less ornate as well. A band of diamonds and fire opals across her brow with a necklace to match and golden cuffs on her wrists.

The dressmaker was less pleased than the princess; she fussed about with pins complaining that the waist was too loose and the hem too high. “Don’t make it too low,” Loreza told her. “I’ll want to dance a great deal.”

In another quarter of an hour she was back in her own gown and listening to Lady Joslyn simper. “It will be the most beautiful occasion I will even attend, that is certain,” she said, “And Princess Loreza is the most elegant bride I-”

“That was very enjoyable, Mother,” Loreza said. “Good day, ladies.”

“Where are you going?” Lady Lenelle asked.

“I have a meeting to prepare for.”

“But.. you have to eat something,” she said. “Your uncle is coming to lunch with us.”

“I can eat in my solar.”

Her face hardened. “Daughter,” Lady Lenelle said, “I would speak to you.” She grabbed Loreza by the elbow and lead her outside into the corridor. Lady Emlyn followed after them and shut the door.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she said sternly.

“I have work to do,” Loreza said defensively.

“You’re getting married in ten days!”

“I know that,” she said, matching her mother’s tone, “and then I’ll be gone for three months. Everything has to be in order.”

“Speak some sense to her,” she told Lady Emlyn.

“I’m flattered that you think I can convince the princess of anything, my lady,” she said sardonically. She tried anyway. “The Spear Tower won’t fall down without you,” the chatelaine told her, “not even after three months.”

“I’d rather it fall down on top me than be told one more time what a beautiful bride I’ll be for Ser Eliott Rowan.”

Lady Lenelle made an annoyed groan, “I don’t know when you became such an unpleasant and solitary person, Loreza.”

Don’t you? “You could have warned me you decided to make a public spectacle of the thing.”

“Spare me,” Lady Lenelle said. “You’ve been making everything a public spectacle since you were three years old.”

Loreza was silent for a moment. “If I am being so disagreeable then maybe it’s better if you were without me now.”

Her mother shook her head. “When I tried to let you sit by yourself and be sad, you refused to, and now you’ve missed your chance. Because, as you so sagely told me, this is your wedding, not mine. And those are your guests waiting for you.”

Loreza felt tears forming in her eyes. She wiped at them angrily with her hand. “Alright!” she said, trying not to raise her voice. “But I won’t stay all afternoon.”

They went back into the sitting room just as her uncle, Prince Arion, was coming through the other door. He had brought both his sons with him. Ser Rolyn Toland and Serron Vaith had arrived too, no doubt while Loreza had been arguing in the corridor.

She kissed her little cousin on the cheek. “I’ve hardly seen you, Morgan,” she told him, “did I tell you you’ve gotten taller?” In truth he was already almost as tall as she was.

“Yes,” he said peevishly. “Twice.”

“Come sit with me,” Lady Larra called to him. She drew her son down to sit beside her and clung to his arm. He squirmed but she only held on harder.

“Don’t smother him, my lady,” Prince Arion told her with affection.

“I not smothering him,” she said, “but while he’s by me, I will hold on to him.”

“That’s what smothering means, Mother,” the boy told her.

Prince Arion laughed. “How was the lace?” he asked Loreza.

“I don’t believe there was any lace,” she told him.

“I’m shocked,” he said. “Your mother allowed that?”

“She looked beautiful,” Lady Larra said.

Loreza smiled. “Yes, well...” she took her cousin Daenerys’s arm and walked away with her towards the settee in the middle of the room where all her friends were sitting. Morgan broke away from his parents to follow them. “Where’s Joleta?” the princess asked.

Dany shrugged, “She went hunting with Father or something.”

“Didn’t you want to go with them?”

She shrugged again.

“Lady Betha was telling us about a particular necklace that is, apparently, splendid,” Serron Vaith said as soon as Loreza sat down.

“Do we have to talk about jewels?” Morgan Sand asked.

“What do you want to talked about, brother?” Ser Maron Wyl asked him.

“The tourney,” he said at once.

Dany groaned. “That’s all anyone talks about.”

Loreza turned to Ser Maron, “How is your mother?”

He shrugged, “Well enough, I suppose.”

“I’m sorry she couldn’t come down with you.”

“Yes,” he said with a laugh, “every wedding needs an example to show how very wrong it can all go.” Dany giggled, but Morgan blushed. Maron wasn’t finished, “Get my mother and father in the same room and you won’t need any follies,” Dany laughed out loud and Betha Buckler got a look of excited curiosity.

Loreza glared at the man, but it only seemed to amuse him. She turned away from him. “How do you think the tourney will go, cousin?” she asked Morgan. Maron rolled his eyes but he seemed to get the hint.

Morgan got over his embarrassment quickly enough. “Oh, it’s going to be very exciting!” he said, “They say Ser Corett Rowan is one of the greatest knight in the Reach and once he unhorsed Lyonel Baratheon and Ser Duncan the Tall on the same day! And Lord Farmen once unhorsed him and-”

“They’re both old men now,” Rolyn Toland told him, “well past their prime.”

“But they were so good,” the boy said with emotion. “It’ll be wonderful to see them. And they say Ser Marq Rowan is even better than his father was and-”

“When will the food be here?” Dany interrupted him.

Loreza would have told her off, but the food arrived at that moment. Ten serving men walked in carrying twenty trays that they arranged on a table by a window with practised efficiency. They all stood up to help themselves. The princess hung back as Rolyn helped Serron Vaith up. She handed him his stick and waited for him to steady himself between it and the wooden leg the maester had made for him.

“Shall I make up a plate for you, princess?” Ser Rolyn asked her.

“Yes, if you would.” As soon as he walked off she smiled at Serron. “I’ll brave the Florents if you promise to come with me,” she told him.

He laughed. “As long as there’s wine.”

Lady Joslyn was already at it with her aunt when Loreza and Serron came over.

“I’ve never thought of eating without a table before,” she told Princess Trystana when they all sat down again. “I think it’s rather clever, don’t you Mariah?”

Lady Mariah seemed a little sceptical, but she nodded anyway. “It works just as well to have a plate in your lap.”

“Aren’t you eating, Loreza?” her aunt asked her.

“Ser Rolyn is bringing me something.” He appeared at that moment holding two plates and balancing a third on his right forearm. He gave one to Loreza and another to Serron before sitting down with his own beside Jennelyn Sand.

He addressed Mariah Florent. “I’ve just heard that Ser Marq Rowan is an excellent jouster. Should I be worried, my lady?”

The young lady blushed. “I’ve never seen him,” she said, “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to worry about anyone,” Jennelyn Sand proudly.

Rolyn chucked and kissed her on the forehead. “Thank you, sister.”

“Oh, there must be someone,” Serron Vaith said to her, “everyone is talking about Quentyn Santegar.”

“I know,” Elda Toland said in an annoyed tone.

“You don’t like to speak about knightly valour, my lady?” Lady Joslyn asked her. Her own tone seemed mildly disapproving.

“I like it well enough when I see it in front of me,” she said, “but I don’t see why we have to talk about nothing else for weeks beforehand.”

“Why not,” the princess said dryly. “Weddings apparently require talking about nothing else for months beforehand.”

Lady Joslyn smiled obsequiously. “Nerves can make time move slowly,” she said. “Especially when one doesn’t know what to expect.”

The princess smiled, “I can’t imagine what you mean, my lady.”

“Only that there’s a great deal for a maid to expect.”

Loreza was rather dumbfounded. “Yes, I don’t doubt there is.”

“I’m sure that my cousin is more nervous about always knowing what to expect in her bed than anything,” Ser Maron Wyl said. Dany giggled, but the others all fell silent.

“Are you drunk?” Rolyn Toland asked Ser Maron.

“It was only a jape,” Maron said. He looked to Loreza for support but the look she returned to him finally caused him to stop grinning.

“I...” Lady Joslyn stammered. “How can you jape about a lady’s honour?”

“Well,” the princess, “I’m afraid I’ve stayed too long.” She stood left them all, and the room, without another word. Not even her mother stopped her.

She paused outside the door to her father’s rooms in an attempt to collect herself, and will away the pit in her stomach. The guards let her pass without a second glance and she knocked on the door to the solar.

Prince Rhodryn looked up from his writing. “You’re early,” he told her.

“I’m sorry,” Loreza said, “I can come back.”

“Nonsense, sit down.”

She did, on the hard back chair across from him.

“Are you pleased with your gown?” her father asked her with a grin that Loreza couldn’t bring herself to return.

“It will do well enough, I suppose,” she said. “There are enough gems on it to buy a free company. But my aunt approves, so it must be alright.”

“Yes,” Prince Rhodryn agreed.

The princess said nothing; she considered pretending the gown was all she came to speak about.

He regarded her with an unhappy look. “So, I assume this is about the secret meeting you had with Lord Yronwood.”

Loreza blushed. “It wasn’t secret,” she said defensively, “it was only… private.”

The prince did not look pleased. “And what did you speak of, in this private meeting?”

She looked down at her hands. “I mostly let him speak, in truth.”

They sat in silence for several long seconds. “Yes?” he finally said.

“He’s very upset,” Loreza said without looking at her father.

The prince scoffed. “The poor man,” he said scornfully.

“You really do hate him,” she stated. “I don’t think I ever realized that before.”

“I don’t hate him,” he insisted.

Loreza smirked in spite of herself.

“It makes no difference if I hate him or love him,” he said in a serious voice, “treason can’t ever be forgotten.”

“In my opinion, you may very well drive him to remind you of that all over again.”

“You go too far, Loree,” the prince warned. “I owe him nothing. I gave him back his life, his lands, and his wealth. I let him sit on my council and insult me to my face. He should be grateful that I spared him, rather than sulking like a child.”

“Why did you?” Loreza asked. “Spare him.”

“I may yet regret it, but at the time...” he shook his head. “The king was very eager that he be put to death. But the king can’t have everything he insists on, can he?”

“Certainly not,” she said instantly, “although his advice may be occasionally worth heeding.”

The prince looked at her sharply, “You were ten years old. And the situation was more complicated. Edgar Yronwood still has friends, even now...”

“Yes he does,” Loreza cut across him, “friends, and swords, and gold, and sympathy. And even those who aren’t his friends think you must hate him, since you’re so determined to keep punishing him. You commanded him to come here because you can; because you know he must hate the idea of this marriage. You wanted to make him bow and scrape. Not just to you, but to the king. Everyone knows it. You wanted him to sit on your council so you can show him just how little you care for what he says. No one in that room yesterday could blame him for defying you.”

Prince Rhodryn stood abruptly and paced to the window on the other side of his solar. Loreza stood by the writing desk, her apprehension growing with every moment of silence.

“Does he have your sympathy?” he finally asked.

“No.” She said, knowing it wouldn’t convince him. “But, I suppose I’m not entirely unsympathetic to his wish for...”

“What? What does he expect from me? How does he want his treason rewarded?”

Loreza closed her eyes in frustration. “You’re making this very difficult.”

“For who, for you?” The prince asked, “I don’t understand what you expect from me either.”

“I expect you to see that it can’t go on like this. I dare say you were right to spare him before, but since then all you’ve done is harden him against you. He’s not a cowed rebel, he’s a dagger in the dark. And all because you decided to take his betrayal as a personal affront. It’s petty and stupid.”

“What makes you think you can speak to me like that, Loreza!”

“Well, no one else is like to!”

“What did you promise him?”

“Nothing!” she said heatedly. “I told you, all I did was listen to the man. He needs very little encouragement to say exactly what he feels.”

“You have that in common, it seems.” her father told her. “I never imagined that you should go behind my back and do precisely what you knew I never would.”

“Never could,” she said. “Because you hate him. I had to force your hand. You have no choice but to do something now.”

He shook his head. “Why would you do that to me? Is this your revenge?”

Loreza blinked. “What?”

“You’re angry with me.”

“No!” Her voice was shaking.

“I would be in your place.”

“Is that...” the princess suddenly couldn’t look at him. He had tried to warn her. Three years ago, in this very room, he had told her that all she would get was a broken heart. But she hadn’t listened. She was too in love. “No. I’m only trying to do what’s best.”

The prince motioned with his hand and she came to stand beside him. She heard him sigh, “And what is best?”

Loreza took a deep breath in an attempt to fill the empty feeling at the bottom of her stomach. “Ormond,” she said.

He rolled his eyes, “You chide me for being too lenient with one breath then tell me to give up the only hold I do have with the other.”

“I wasn’t chiding you...” she trailed off. “We both know you would never use that leverage,” she said instead. “Perhaps it’s best if Lord Edgar not find that out. If you release his son yourself, he’ll take it as a sign of good faith.”

The muscles around the prince’s law were tight. “And will that appease him?”

“I don’t think so,” Loreza said grudgingly. “I’m sure he thinks you should have done it years ago.”

“No doubt.”

“He thinks you look down on him,” she continued, “the only thing that would appease him is to bind him to us in a way that’s more pleasant than hostage taking.”

The prince laughed. “Was that his suggestion?”


He seemed surprised, “You don’t really expect me to entertain that notion?”

“Why not? It worked with the Wyls, didn’t it? Even a miserable marriage will build bridges. And surely it’s time for that. Lord Yronwood’s cause is lost...”

Her father shook is head, “Bittersteel may be dead but as long as the Golden Company still...”

“That was not his cause!”

“I don’t need you to lesson me on that, Loreza,” the prince snapped. “His cause was to destroy everything my father built. He’s so full of pride that he would rather ally himself against his own people, with those who hate us, and plunge us all back into an endless war that we can never win, than to admit that Prince Maron achieved more with a few words than a dozen Vulture Kings did in a thousand years of raiding the marches. He learned treason at his mother’s knee, nothing I could have done would have stopped him. I tried, Loreza, I truly did. For ten years he threw every attempt at goodwill in my teeth. Bittersteel and all his pretenders were only ever the spear he wanted to plant in my gut. And yours. And your brother’s. If I did hate him, I would have every cause.”

“Then I will chide you,” she said. “If you want him dead, then by all means, provoke him into some new betrayal. It shouldn’t be too difficult. But if you are not willing to, then you have no choice but to forgive him; you must see that. These halfway measures serve no one. And every moment that he’s brooding in Yronwood feeling sorry for himself is another moment he can be plotting with his friends.”

“And if I do as you say, what will it change? Will he suddenly forget everything he’s lived for these past twenty years or more?”

“He knows his cause is lost as well as you do,” Loreza told him. “All he wants is reassurance.”

“Of what?”

“That he was wrong. That you... that we’re...”

“Dornish enough?”

She smiled, “Yes. This will be a start.”

The prince clicked his tongue. “This will be seen as a concession, you know that.”

“It will be seen as mercy.” She hesitated. “And Edgar Yronwood isn’t the only one who need reassurance right now.”

“My father wasted forty years trying to reassure every obstinate fool in Dorne, and here we are, more than thirty years after his death, and it’s the same place where he started.”

Loreza sighed. “That’s not true. Ormond doesn’t need reassurance; all he wants is to please you. He’s been a hostage half his life. If you send him back home and give him a wife who could never be against us, he’ll be ours forever.”

“What difference would that make?” The prince asked her. “The daughter is spitting image of the father.”

She shook her head, “Lady Alyse has been married four years without result.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Prince Rhodryn insisted, “perhaps they hardly try.”

“That’s not what I heard,” Loreza said, “and she’s always been sickly.”

“She’s lived this long, she can live to be a hundred.”

“Even if she does, Ormond will inherit. Or his children will.”

“Perhaps. I can’t share your certainty.”

“Even if I’m wrong,” she told him, “it’s still what needs to be done. And it could never harm us.”

Her father closed his eyes and sighed, but Loreza knew she had him. “I assume you don’t propose trying to convince Joleta to go along with this.”

The princess laughed, “I’d rather sleep in a pit of vipers.”

“Daenerys is too young.”

“Let them be betrothed for five or six years,” she told him. “That should be enough time for everyone to prove their sincerity.”

He sighed again, “You thought of everything, haven’t you?”

“I haven’t considered how we might convince Lord Gargalen.”

He laughed out loud, and she joined him. They laughed for longer than they should have, more out of relief than humour.

“We’ll do our best to win him over,” Prince Rhodryn said, “after the wedding.”

Loreza nodded, “And Lord Yronwood?”

The prince considered. “You’re sure he has no notion of this?”

“None,” she assured him. “He was thoroughly dissatisfied when he left my presence, I promise you.”

“Then we can’t speak to him before we speak to my good-brother.”

“No,” Loreza agreed, “but perhaps we should do something about Ormond before then? So that his father doesn’t spend the next ten days plotting unnecessarily. And it might even give people something to talk about besides jousting.”

“Very well, though I should like to tell Ormond myself.” Her father smiled. “I shall be sorry to see him go.”

“So shall I,” she admitted, “and Lewyn most of all. But it’s time.”

He seemed sadder as he touched her hair. “You were all children together, not so very long ago.”

Loreza rolled her eyes, “Now there’s only Lewyn left for you to marry off.”

His chuckle didn’t seem entirely natural. “That one may be entirely in your hands.”

“No,” she said. “Why would you say that?”

“They’ll be a time for that too, that’s all. And I have no apprehension about it.”

Loreza blushed. “You may not.”

“I can only pray that there will be someone you can depend upon,” he told her.

“To do what?”

“To tell you when you’re wrong,” the prince said.

Chapter Text

The covered litter was stifling in the late-morning heat. It stopped and jerked to a start again repeatedly as they wound their way through the shadow city.

“We could have walked there faster than we’re going,” Olenna complained.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Septa Unelletine told her. “It’s enough that I let you cajole me into this in the first place. I don’t like this city at all.”

Olenna hadn’t told her that she had rode through it unescorted just days before, and she’d decided that she never would. “Daenerys says that it’s very safe. And we’re only going such a short way.”

“Daenerys?” Septa Unelletine asked. “When did you start calling her that?”

She shrugged and pulled back the curtains to peer out onto the street. They were passing through a tiny square congested with chicken and duck sellers. In one corner, two dozen people were gathered around a group of finger drummers. A child with dark eyes seemed to feel Olenna’s gaze. It stared at her curiously. She pulled the curtain shut again and turned back inside.

“Daenerys also said a litter would take twice as long.”

“I must say, Olenna,” the septa said, “I’m rather surprised with how you’ve taken to that girl. That family...”

“She’s the prince’s niece.”

“Yes, sweetling, I know. But the sister...”

Olenna shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “It’s one of those Dornish things,” she said, “you told me to be sanguine about those Dornish things.”

“A few bastards is one thing, that’s common enough, but this,” the septa shook her head. Her lined, handsome face formed a frown. “I didn’t expect it. And I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you.”

“Well, Daenerys isn’t like that,” Olenna said. “The way she talks about it is strange but, like I said, it’s just one of those things.”

“Yes, I know but the mother is...”

“Princess Trystana?” Olenna said incredulously, “What can you possible object to about her?”

“I’ve heard rumours, that’s all.”

“Rumours?” Olenna furrowed her brow. “I thought you didn’t approve of rumours.”

“I assure you, I don’t,” she said. “But in this case...” she trailed off. “Models of proper wifely behaviour seem to be thin on the ground in Sunspear. Lady Daenerys is very young, and she’s allowed to run wild. I’ll wager there’ll be rumours about her too, soon enough. You’re in a delicate position, child.”

Olenna flicked the curtain open again so she wouldn’t have to look at her. “You don’t have to tell me that,” she said after a few seconds. “And besides, Daenerys and Princess Trystana are the only ones here who pay me any attention.” She had found them both rather overwhelming at first but Daenerys, at least, had improved the more she got to know her. She was clever and she knew everyone.

“If you hadn’t taken the first chance to make a spectacle of yourself...”

“I know,” she said regretfully.

“Honestly, sweetling, your lord father brought you here so that you can make a good impression, but it’s not the Dornishmen’s opinions of you that matter. You gain nothing by spending so much time with Daenerys Gargalen, no matter whose niece she may be.”

She shifted uncomfortably again, “She invited me to the tourney grounds today. I can’t snub her.”

“I never said you should,” Septa Unelletine said, “Just consider it carefully in the future.”

Olenna nodded. They spent the next few minutes in silence. She could hear through the curtains that they had left the noise of the shadow city and were passing into the open fields beyond it.

“I hope we won’t be here long,” the septa ventured. “A race, did you say it was?”

“A horse race,” Olenna confirmed. “It was someone’s whim.”

“Ser Maron Wyl’s, no doubt,” Unelletine said. “He’s dreadful.”

Olenna quite agreed. “If he’s racing his horse we won’t have to talk to him.”

They arrived near the viewing stands that were still being raised around a large field. There were no barriers, but Olenna supposed that there would be in time for the jousting. She heard her name and saw Daenerys waving her arms in the front row of the stand closest to them.

Olenna and Septa Unelletine climbed the steps to join her.

“They’ve only just decided on the route,” Daenerys said. “Over there.” She point to the far side of the field near the pavilions where a dozen figures on horseback were gathered around man with a hunting horn.

Lady Deneza Dalt was seated there with two men Olenna didn’t know. They had the look of the Free Cities about them.

Septa Unelletine’s mouth twisted when she saw the lady, she sat in between her and Olenna.

“Magister Lohar,” Lady Deneza said, “may I present Lady Olenna Redwyne.”

He was undoubtedly Lysene, with long white-blond hair that was artful curled and fingernails painted a bright green. “Lady,” he said with a little bow and an oily smile.

“And this is the Honourable Nosarro Fomittis, an emissary of the Iron Bank of Braavos.”

“An honour,” he said without looking at her. This one was taller and dark-haired with a rather silly looking cone-shaped hat.

Olenna began to turn away from them to talk to Daenerys, but Septa Unelletine nudged her in the side with her elbow. “Are you here for the wedding, Magister?” she said instead.

“Indeed,” he allowed. “Though, at this moment, I am here to watch the great nobles of Westeros race their horses.” He didn’t bother to hide how scornful he was.

“They’re starting!” Daenerys said excitedly.

The horn blew and a cloud of dust rose up as twelve horses charges off along the line of the edge of the field. They reached a corner and turned to come towards the sitting group. A few moments later they came rushing past them so fast Olenna couldn’t even make out who the riders were. They disappeared into a gap between two half constructed sets of stands.

“Aren’t they finished?” Olenna asked Lady Deneza.

“No,” she answered breathlessly. “They’re going all the way to the gate and back.”

Daenerys jumped up and ran up the steps to the top of the stands. Olenna made to go after her, but the septa grabbed her arm and shook her head.

For several minutes the only indication of anything was Daenerys’s alternating gasps and exclamations. The thunder of hooves slowly became louder and she came running back down the steps just as the first two riders appeared through the same gap they’d gone out from.

“Joleta’s right behind him!” she cried.

The horses were tired enough to make out who was riding on them. Joleta Gargalen was two lengths behind Ser Manfred Swann. He turned his head and saw her, and suddenly his horse shied and came to a stop. Lady Joleta didn’t have the space to avoid him. The animals crashed together, taking the riders with them.

“Oh!” Lady Deneza gasped. She bolted down the steps and made to run across the field. Daenerys blazed after her. By the time Olenna had followed more sedately herself, the next group of riders had come around. Ser Maron Wyl came past without giving anyone a glance, just ahead of several others. Ser Adan Lonmouth and Rhona Santagar followed after him, but Artyr Dalt circled around the fallen pair before stopping and dismounting.

“They’re alright!” he called to his sister, who was still running towards them. The horses were both back on their feet and whinnying.

“Seven hells!” she heard Lady Joleta yell. Lady Deneza reached her and pulled her up. By the time Olenna joined them, the group was a cacophony of Lady Deneza relieved admonitions, Daenerys’s squeals, Ser Manfred’s attempted apologies, and the stragglers galloping by to finish the race.

“What were you thinking!” Lady Deneza felt down Lady Jolenta's arms as though to check if anything was broken. “You could have killed yourself.”

“All I did was tear my gown,” she said distractedly, turning her head towards the finish line. “Who won?”

Lady Deneza let out an exasperated sigh.

“My lady,” Ser Manfred said, “I should not have… I’m mortified that...” Lady Joleta ignored him, but Olenna couldn’t help but notice how gingerly he was holding his arm. Ser Artyr must have seen it too.

“Are you alright, ser?”

“It’s only a bruise,” he insisted, “but Lady Joleta-”

“I don’t have a scratch on me,” she said, annoyed.

Other riders approached them from the other side.

“Gods be good!” Rhona Santager exclaimed, “what happened to you three?”

“We’re alright!” Lady Joleta repeated.

“I think Ser Manfred’s shoulder is dislocated,” Ser Artyr said.

Ser Maron Wyl reined up. “That’s ten dragons you owe my now, cousin,” he said to Lady Joleta. She and Lady Deneza both glared at him.

“You didn’t win,” Lady Joleta said.

“I did,” he stated happily. “It was a close thing at the end. Ser Adan almost-”

“Come ser, I’ll take you to a maester,” Ser Artyr cut across him to Ser Manfred.

He was looking quite uncomfortable now, but he still seemed more concerned with Lady Joleta. “Perhaps you should see the maester as well, my lady.”

“There’s no need,” Lady Joleta said. “And I would see to that shoulder now, if I were you. Or your chances in the lists will greatly diminish.”

“My lady, I hold myself entirely to blame-”

“I’ll see to your horse,” she said with growing impatience.

He finally went off with Ser Artyr on foot, grimacing in pain.

“The fool couldn’t control his mount,” Lady Joleta said as soon as they were gone. “Speed can never make up for poor horsemanship.”

“You wouldn’t have said that if you had won,” Ser Maron said.

“I would have won,” she insisted. “You were half a league behind me.”

“Not when I crossed the line, I wasn’t.”

Lady Deneza glared at him, “If she had, she wouldn’t have been half as boastful about winning some trifling whim of a race.”

He laughed. “Wouldn’t she?”

“I’m glad you won,” Daenerys told him. “You looked very fine.” Lady Joleta rolled her eyes.

“You weren’t even watching him,” Olenna pointed out, regarding her friend curiously.

She blushed.

“In any case,” Ser Maron said, suddenly uncomfortable, “I enjoyed it.” He turned his horse and cantered away towards the pavilions.

Lady Deneza turned to Lady Joleta. “You really could have broken your neck,” she said. “Why do you have to be so reckless?”

“It would have been worth it to beat him .”

“You’re impossible,” she said, cupping Lady Joleta’s cheek affectionately with her hand. Olenna looked away when they leaned in close and kissed each other on the mouth.

“Shall we get out of the sun, ladies?” Septa Unelletine had appeared at Olenna’s elbow.

It was hot. Olenna could feel sweat running down her back underneath her gown.

Lady Deneza suddenly started and exclaimed that she had left the dignitaries alone. She ran back towards the stands where they had watched. Olenna could see the tall hat of the Braavosi still sitting in the front row.

“Dany, catch Ser Manfred’s horse,” Lady Joleta said.

Daenerys took a minute or two to calm the still skittish horse with soothing sounds. She stroked it on the nose before grabbing its bridle.

“In fact, Olenna,” the septa said with an uneasy look on her face, “this heat may be too much altogether. Perhaps we should return to the castle.”

“Nonsense, septa,” Lady Joleta said. “You’ve only just arrived. I’m sure we can find you something cool to drink.”

“Yes, please don’t go yet,” Daenerys said, “there’s already an entire row of merchants. And a mummer’s show. It’s supposed to be very funny.”

“We could stay for a little while,” Olenna told Septa Unelletine. “Or,” she hesitated, “you could return without me.”

“Without you?” she asked in a shocked tone.

“I only meant-” Olenna said, “I would rather stay.”

She didn’t look happy, but she followed the three of them as they headed towards the pavilions. Lady Joleta lead her own horse, and Daenerys lead the other. It shook its head and neighed ever once in awhile. Olenna kept her distance and tried not to start.

“What kind of mummer’s show is it?” she asked Daenerys.

“I don’t know,” she replied, “but Ma- Ser Maron really liked it.”

“Then it no doubt involves a good deal of falling over on one’s ass,” Lady Joleta said. Daenerys glared at her.

As they approached the pavilions a boy ran up wearing the black and white livery of House Swann. “Ser Manfred sent me to get his horse, my lady,” he said.

“Yes, take him. Maybe a good brushing will calm him down.”

The boy lead the animal away, but he was soon replaced by Lord Duran Gargalen. Both his daughters took after him. They were all tall, with curly dark hair and a strength to their build.

“That was quite a crash,” he said, sounding impressed.

“The idiot is lucky neither of the horses broke their legs,” Lady Joleta said, “I would have murdered him.”

Her father laughed, “I think he’s suffering enough. I sent Maester Casdin to see to him.”

“He won’t miss the tourney, will he?” Daenerys asked him.

“I don’t think we need fear that.”

Lady Joleta went to take care of her own horse, but Olenna followed Deanerys and her father into a gold and red silk pavilion. Inside, Ser Manfred Swann was sitting on a stool in only his tunic while a young maester fussed over him. His right shoulder had an odd lump in it.

“How are you feeling, ser?” Lord Gargalen asked.

“You needn’t trouble yourself, my lord, it’s a trifle.” He winced, “I’m only grateful the Lady Joleta was unharmed.”

“Oh, she’s had more than her fair share of injury,” Lord Duran said happily, “but not this time.”

“Hold still, ser,” the maester said. He grabbed the knight’s arm firmly with both hands.

“Come back outside, girls,” Septa Unelletine said. She grabbed Olenna’s arm just as firmly and lead her out. They heard Ser Manfred’s scream of pain just as clearly through the silk.

“Well,” Lord Gargalen said to Olenna as though nothing were amiss, “I suppose you and Dany will make mischief together now, my lady.”

“We were going to see the mummer’s show,” Daenerys said at once, “and Septa Unelletine is too hot, so we’ll go to the ice seller first.”

The septa started to tell her that it wasn’t necessary, but the thought of ice was far too tempting for Olenna. “Yes,” she said, linking her arm with Daenerys. “Let’s go.”

Daenerys seemed to know where they were going. “Have you been to many tournaments before?” she asked Olenna as they weaved through more pavilions.

“A few,” she admitted. “There was a really big one four years ago in Highgarden, when Lord Tyrell’s son earned his spurs. It was about as big as this.”

“Who was champion there?” Daenerys asked.

“Ser Gerold Hightower,” she told her. “And Lord Tarly won the mêlée. I don’t suppose you’ll have a mêlée.” There would never be a mêlée at a wedding in the Reach, but who could guess how they did it here.

“Of course not,” Daenerys said. “I’ve never seen a mêlée,” she continued. “The only other tourney I’ve ever been to was the one when my sister wed. Everyone said the jousting was exceptional there.”

“Mêlées tend to have a lot of broken bones,” she said. “I’ve never seen what the great fuss is. But I suppose the men like it because it’s more like a really battle.”

“Do they want it to be like a real battle?”

They turned the corner of a pavilion and were suddenly among dozens of merchants selling food, and arms, and everything else to scores of people milling around looking about. Daenerys stopped to look at an assortment of gauzy veils edged with silver and gold beads being sold by a small old woman.

“I thought you wanted to find an ice seller, Little Chickie,” Lord Duran said fondly after a good ten minutes.

“Oh yes!” Daenerys took out a small purse of coins from down the front of her girdle and traded a few for two veils for herself and another for Olenna. Hers was a deep purple edged in silver tarnished black. “You won’t be so hot if you wear it,” her friend told her.

“Thank you,” Olenna said. She watched, oddly fascinated, as Daenerys tug the sting on her purse tight and put it away again. 

She took Olenna by the hand and lead her down the row of stalls to the shade of a bristled old fig tree where a man was shaving ice from a giant block packed in straw. She asked him for four. He folded four squares of paper into little pouches and scooped some of the shavings into them before pouring some bright red syrup on top. She handed the first to Septa Unelletine.

“You wouldn’t rather have lemon, would you?” she asked her.

“Uh, no, my lady,” the septa said, “this is... fine.”

Daenerys turned away from her and gave the next pouch to Olenna. It was wonderfully cool and the red was sweet pomegranate.

“Come!” She said, as soon as she got her own. Her gait was not quite a run, but Olenna had far shorter legs, so hers was. They went all the way down the row of stalls to a makeshift stage with a few benches set before it. “Joleta’s already here!”

She grabbed Olenna’s elbow again and pulled her along to where Lady Joleta was sitting near the stage with Ser Eldon Sand. He would be very good looking, Olenna thought, if he wasn’t a bastard.

“What took you so long?” Lady Joleta asked when they all seated themselves.

Daenerys shrugged. “We explored a little bit.”

“You mean you explored some silk,” Lord Gargalen said.

Daenerys looked sheepish. “Olenna got something too. See?” She flicked the veil Olenna had wrapped around her head with her finger.

“Did you buy it for her?” Lady Joleta asked.

Daenerys rolled her eyes.

“I think generosity is a virtue,” Ser Eldon Sand said to Lady Joleta. “And Lady Dany has it in abundance.”

Daenerys smiled unnaturally and stuck her chest out as she sat up straighter. “Generosity with coin?” she asked him, “or with other things?”

Lady Joleta rolled her own eyes, Septa Unelletine let her mouth hang open, Lord Gargalen looked wroth, and Olenna felt her face turn red.

Ser Eldon chuckled uneasily, “Such as youth?”

Daenerys laughed, but her father rounded on the man. “Far too much youth to interest you, I know.”

Ser Eldon’s smile fell. “I don’t know what you mean, my lord.”

He scoffed, “I’m sure you don’t have any idea at all, ser.”

The knight stood up and bowed, “Excuse me, my lord,” he said, “ladies.” Then he turned and practically ran from them.

Lady Joleta looked at her father incredulously. “What was that?” she asked him.

“He was rubbing it in my face.”

“He was doing no such thing.”

“It’s bad enough that he-”

“That he what?” Lady Joleta asked, angry. “It has nothing to do with you.”

He scoffed at her as bitterly as he had at Ser Eldon, “Of course it doesn’t. I’m only her husband.”

Daenerys started to laugh. She covered her mouth with her hand and looked at Olenna as though she expected her to share the joke. But she stopped when she saw her face. Olenna wasn’t sure if she was crying yet, but she knew she would soon enough.

“This is beyond anything,” Septa Unelletine said, standing up herself, “come Olenna, we’re returning to the castle.”

Olenna obeyed at once. The septa put her arm around her shoulders and lead her gently away from the stage, and them.

“I did try to warn you, child,” she said.

“Olenna!” she heard Daenerys’s voice calling when they had walked back amidst the pavilions. Septa Unelletine tried to keep guiding her away, but she resisted, she turned to face the Dornish girl. “I upset you,” she said, “I didn’t mean to.”

“You didn’t-” The paper full of ice she had bought Olenna was still in her hand. The syrup had soaked through as it melted. “Aren’t you upset?” she asked her, “She’s your mother.”

“Why would I be upset?”

“For your father’s sake.”

She scowled, “But Joleta’s right, it has nothing to do with him. In any case, he had no right to take it out on Ser Eldon.”

“How can you say that?”

“You don’t understand,” Deanerys said, “he just gets strange sometimes. They haven’t lived together since I was a baby. And besides, my father is hardly a septon himself.”

“What difference does that make?”

She looked away and bit her lip, “Perhaps we just shouldn’t talk about it.”

Olenna nodded. It wasn’t Daenerys’s fault. How could she know any better?

“Lord Redwyne!” Septa Unelletine called suddenly. Olenna looked about to see her father and brother both a short distance away. She hurriedly handed over her ice to the septa and wiped at her face with her sticky hands. She wiped them on her new veil as they approached and she saw that Lord Tyrell was with them.

“Olenna?” Horas said to her, “what are you doing here?”

“Lady Daenerys invited me,” she said defensively.

“That was very kind of Lady Daenerys,” Lord Redwyne said formally, bowing to her.

“It was my pleasure,” Daenerys said, with a courtesy Olenna didn’t know she was capable of. “My mother and I have grown very fond of Lady Olenna.”

“Then you and Princess Trystana have discovered what many already knew to be the true treasure of the Arbor,” Lord Tyrell said with extraordinary pomposity. Olenna tried to smile graciously.

“Yes,” Daenerys said, furrowing her brow. “In any case, we were going to see the mummer’s show, but Olenna is suffering too much from the heat. We were just walking back to the litter.”

That news seemed to please her father and Lord Tyrell very much. “Well, we can’t let you go without an escort,” the Lord of Highgarden said, with a smile on his face like a cat that had just caught a fat pigeon. “Luthor, my boy, why don’t you see the ladies there safely?”

Ser Luthor Tyrell came up from behind his father. He was a spitting image of him, with the same expression on his face. “It would be an honour,” he said, holding out his arm. Olenna looked at her own father uncertainly. He nodded and smiled so she took the young man’s arm, somehow unwilling to look him in the face. “My lady?” He offered his other arm to Daenerys, but she frowned and stepped back.

“Thank you,” she said, “but I think my father will be wondering where I went.”

“Of course, we mustn’t keep Lord Gargalen waiting,” Lord Redwyne said.

“Allow me,” Horas offered her his own arm.

“Oh,” Daenerys’s frown deepened, “you don’t need to do that.”

“I insist,” he said with his best attempt at a charming smile.

Daenerys looked at Olenna. She nodded. “Well, alright.” She placed her hand on his arm and let him lead her off back towards the stage.

Olenna and Ser Luthor started back at a sedate pace. There was silence for a time, but Olenna eventually forced herself to break it. “Have you ever been to Dorne before, ser?” she asked, feeling foolish.

“No,” he said. “At least, not to Sunspear. There was a hastilude at Skyreach a few years back and the jousting was quite good. Ser Eliott Rowan was there, in fact, and his cousin, Ser Marq. He’s very good, but I never did get the chance to face him. We were both unhorsed two matches before the final.”

“How unfortunate.” She finally raised her eyes to look at him. He was comely, and tall, though almost everyone was taller than Olenna. And he had the most wonderful, curly brown hair. But she couldn’t remember if she ever heard him speak about anything besides jousting. Prince Daeron had always been the same. The thought made it hard for her to not hate him.

“Yes,” he said, suddenly defensive, “it was just after I earned my spurs.”

“I saw you at Horn Hill last year,” she said quickly, “you were splendid.” Olenna noticed that Septa Unelletine was no longer beside her. She looked around in slight panic and finally found her a good ten paces back, watching them with a strange look in her eye. “I-” she stammered stupidly, “Was that a wedding too? At Skyreach?”

“I don’t believe it was,” he said, making it quite clear that the occasion for the tourney never even occurred to him. “No, I remember, Lord Fowler had just had a grandson.”

“Lady Fowler,” Olenna said without thinking.

“I beg your pardon, my lady?”

“She’s a lady,” Olenna told him. “There isn’t a Lord Fowler.”

“Yes,” he said with a little chuckle, “I sometimes forget about that foolishness.”

“Do you think it’s foolish?” She asked him before she could stop herself. “Women have ruled in the Reach too.”

“Needs must sometimes, I suppose,” he said, “and the right woman, with the right husband… but no, even then. It’s cruel to force a lady into a position like that. And in a time of war? Even a very uncommon woman would be hard pressed to get men to follow her then.”  

Olenna couldn’t imagine that Joleta Gargalen would have any trouble finding men to follow her, but she wasn’t graceless enough to say so. “I quite agree,” she said.

“Good,” he declared.

They’d reached the litter. Ser Luthor handed Septa Unelletine into it before turning back to Olenna.

“I expect we’ll be seeing a good deal of each other in the next few weeks, my lady,” he told her after he took her hand.

Olenna frowned, “I should like that a good deal, ser.”

She sat back in the cushions and watched him pull the curtains shut.

Chapter Text

The ship was rocking fiercely with another squall. Alysanne already felt greensick the moment she opened her eyes. She wrapped herself up in a shawl and hurried to the deck. She took a moment to ascertain which side was leeward before running to the gunnel to be sick. She had learned that lesson the hard way, but after almost a month a sea, she was becoming quite expert.

Tyia found her and sighed while she rubbed her back and held her hair away from her face. “How can you still not have gotten your sea legs, Mother?”

“It’s not so bad,” she claimed, “it’s only this storm.”

“This isn’t a storm.”

Perhaps not , Alysanne thought. But it was windy and choppy enough so the the spray from the waves crashing against the side of the ship was hitting her face. She had to cling to her shawl to keep it from blowing away.

“You should get back down below,” Tyia continued. “Father wouldn’t like it if he knew you were out here with only a bedgown on.”

Alysanne leaned on her daughter’s arm as they walked down the steep steps into the hold of the ship. It rocked again right before they reached the bottom and she nearly tripped. “Thank the gods I wasn’t born a sailor,” she said.

They had almost reached the tiny closet that was called their cabin when her lord husband came through the doorway and practically walked into her.

“Where have you been?” he asked her in surprise. “And dressed like that.”

“Mother was sick again,” Tyia said immediately. “No one saw us.”

Ser Tybot Sarsfield frowned but moved aside against the wall to let her pass by him into the cabin. Alysanne stood nervously as he closed the door, but he said nothing about her breech of decorum. 

“You’ve been sick a good deal,” he said instead. “Every morning, it seems like.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “I think I still expect to be on solid ground when I awake.”

He seemed pensive for a moment, stroking his short golden beard with his hand. “I don’t suppose...”

Alysanne turned to look at him. He had an odd expression, as though he were trying to keep himself from looking happy. “Suppose what, my lord?”

“Women often are sick, I’m told,” he said, “when they’re with child.”

She felt herself go red. “I’m not,” she said in a small voice.

Tybot didn’t bother to hide his disappointment. “You’re sure, I assume.”

She nodded, “It’s impossible. My moon blood-”

“All right,” he interrupted. “It was too much to hope for.”

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, looking at her feet. She hadn’t quickened in eighteen years; why would she now? She sometimes suspected that he had too little seed left by the time he got to her bed.

“It’s a son I want from you, not an apology,” he snapped, but he seemed regretful when he saw the look on her face. “Nevermind,” he said, “just get dressed.”

He left her and she dressed herself. Her maid was nowhere to be seen; she had been seasick for the entire journey too. She found a gown that laced up the front and put her hair up in a plain net. Everyone was dressing plainly at sea, even the great ladies; it was too much of a bother to be elaborate.

Alysanne went to find her daughter in the cabin she was sharing with several other girls. It was so cramped that they kept walking into each other. Tyia had been dressed before any of the others had been even awake, so she was the one lacing up their bodices and arranging their hair.

“We can’t be late, sweetling,” she told her.

“Of course, Mother, I’m sorry.”

They climbed the steps together back onto the deck and walked slowly the the forecastle. The wooden planks below their feet were slippery from the spray of the still turbulent sea.

“Lady Amerei said that in Sunspear they pass their goblets and plates down to their neighbours before their eat, to prove they’re not poisoned,” Tyia said suddenly. “Do you think it’s true?”

Alysanne frowned, “I haven’t any notion. I suppose we’ll have to do as they do.”

Tyia’s frown must have been very similar to hers. “She also said that whoever the champion crowns Queen of Love and Beauty is put in his bed that night with nothing but her crown-”

“What a horrid thing to say!” Alysanne interrupted. “Lady Darklyn told you this?” Amerei Darklyn had come to court soon after her marriage. She was half a year younger than her daughter, and already with child. She seemed to live for nothing but gossip. Alysanne would never have allowed Tyia anywhere near her, but they couldn’t afford to waste such a good connection, for her sake.

“Yes,” Tyia admitted. She seemed more frightened than titillated. “You don’t think that’s true, do you?”

Alysanne didn’t have any notion of that, either. “There’s never a Queen of Love and Beauty at a wedding,” she said.

“No,” she said, relieved. “Will we be staying as long as the king?”

“Of course,” her mother said. “The master of horse goes where the king goes, you know that.”

“Even if he chooses to stay for months?”

She put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “Your father will protect you, sweetling.”

Tyia nodded.

They entered the forecastle and the cabin where Lady Jenny was holding court. She had preferred to take her meals and play her music in the sun on the foredeck, but the miserable weather had driven even her inside. It was so dark in the room that candles were lit.

“Tyia, Lady Alysanna!” Lady Jenny said happily, “what wretched weather, come and eat.”

She was as joyful as ever, and seemed to give off more light than the candles. There were several blue cornflowers woven into her hair.

How does she manage to keep fresh flowers on a voyage like this? Alysanne thought. Some sorcery, she knew her enemies would say.

Jenny of Oldstone had made a lot of enemies since she’d come to court some five years ago. For two years after their marriage, the king had refused to even set eyes on his son’s wife. But she had won him over, in her own way. Her constant cheerfulness, and vague promises of doom, seemed to please him, all the while making his courtiers uneasy.

The devastation she had left in her wake was undeniable, but so was the respectability she now wielded. If the queen was happy to share Lady Jenny’s company then Alysanne could hardly refuse. No more than Tyia could refuse Lady Amerei.

The two young ladies had holed up by the window seat and were whispering in each other’s ears as though there was no one else there. Alysanne was left with only Lady Jenny and Meredyth Darry. Lady Meredyth’s round-faced daughter hardly counted.

“Have some hot spiced wine,” Lady Jenny said, putting a goblet into Alysanne’s hand. “There’s nothing like hot wine to make the world warmer.”

“Thank you, my lady,” she said. The first sip of wine was like climbing into a warm bath. The second almost made her believe the sun was shining. She pushed her quiet fear away. “I thought it was always warm this far south,” she said conversationally, “but perhaps the season is changing.”

“Already?” asked Lady Darry. “That would make for a very short summer.”

“The season is changing,” Lady Jenny said with absolute confidence. “And autumn and winter will have come and gone before we know it. All the seasons will be short for the next few years.”

The other ladies said nothing to this pronouncement.

“Do they even have winter in Dorne?” Alysanne asked when the silence became unbearable.

Lady Jenny laughed. A deep, clear laugh that sounded like a dozen little bells. “Megga, my sweetling, drink your wine.”

Megga Darry started, spilling wine on herself.

“Oh Megga!” Her mother despaired. She wiped her skirts with her handkerchief.

“If summer is over that means it will be winter soon,” Lady Megga said. “And snow.” She looked at Lady Jenny with child-like excitement, “I like snow.”

“Me as well,” Lady Jenny said.

Lady Meredyth frowned, “If you’ll forgive us, my lady, my daughter isn’t fit to be seen at the moment.” She pulled Megga to her feet, “Come now, dear, we need to change your gown.” She left without a fight.

Alysanne glanced over to her daughter, she had watched the scene with Lady Darklyn, but they had soon returned to their gossiping. Lady Jenny was smiling at her when she turned back. Had she made it too obvious how little she liked the idea of being alone with the woman?

“Do you like winter, Lady Alysanne?”

She felt a shiver down her spine. “No, my lady, I don’t believe I do.” In the winter everyone and everything was grey and cold. Food and sleep became necessities rather than joys. You felt trapped indoors.

Much like this ship.

“You haven’t eaten anything, Tyia,” she called, hoping to have something to look at besides the woman’s smile.

Tyia and her friend both came to the table.

“My stomach can hardly abide anything lately,” Lady Amerei said conversationally with her hand on her belly. “All this oarsmen’s food might be the death of me.”

“There’s fresh fish,” Lady Jenny said happily. “And oysters.”

“Oysters?” Tyia asked, surprised.

She smiled again and held out the tray to them. “A little boat came up along side the ship early this morning. That’s where this fish came from too. And there were pomegranates too, but they all went to the king’s table. The king is very fond of pomegranates.”

“But why would a boat in the middle of the sea have oysters and pomegranates, my lady?”

“Oh,” Lady Jenny said with a casual wave of her hand, “my husband says there are hundreds of little boats like that in the Stepstones. They keep the ships so well provisioned that many of them can stay out to sea for months and months.”

Pirate ships looking for prey might want to stay out for months and months , Alysanne thought. The Stepstones were full of pirates, but few would be bold enough to attack a ship flying the banner of House Targaryen.

Jenny of Oldstones leaned in close to Alysanne. “My grandmother saw a thousand stones with blood floating over them, and a man with two heads and nine crowns. A boy with bold eyes cut one of the heads off, but the other opened it’s mouth and said, “the dragons will return”.”

Alysanne blinked.

Lady Jenny said things like that from time to time. Her “grandmother” was a terrifying old dwarf who had come from the same bit of swamp as she had. She was not her real grandmother, Lady Jenny claimed, but she was one of the Children of the Forest. The she found the infant girl abandoned among the reeds and raised her as her own.

Lady Amerei giggled as she picked up another oyster from the plate. “You know what they say oysters look like?”

“No,” Tyia said, giggling herself.

“Well,” she said, “if a woman feels neglected by her husband a plate of oysters might do the trick.”

They both giggled again.

“My lady!” Alysanne chided her. “Not all of us have husbands.”

“Forgive me,” she said before falling into another storm of giggles. Tyia didn’t giggle anymore, though.

They left arm in arm as they’d come in. Tyia ran back down below to fetch two shawls and they strolled around the deck of the ship for an hour. The wind was still brisk, but the sun was making occasional appearances through the clouds. And it was far better than being boxed up in the hold.

“Do you think Megga Darry will ever wed?” Tyia asked suddenly when they paused to watch a flock a seabirds dive for fish in the middle distance.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a question of her marrying,” Alysanne said. It was impossible to picture the poor girl as a mother, or managing a household.

“The Darrys are very rich. She must have a large dowry,” said Tyia, who hardly had any dowry at all. “Surely they could find someone.”

“I dare say they could,” Alysanne agreed. “But I doubt they think that would be for the best.”

“But who will look after her when her mother is too old?”

“She has her septa,” Alysanne assured her, “and her brothers would never abandon her.” Too late, she realized that was not the kindest thing to say to someone who didn’t have brothers anymore than she had gold.

“Perhaps she’ll be a septa herself,” Tyia said tremulously.

Alysanne sighed, “Only if she wished it.”

Her daughter nodded. Alysanne felt a stab of guilt at the sadness in her face. Her daughter was pretty and gracious. She could get rather silly, but that was natural enough when you were eight-and-ten. Surely it wouldn’t be hard to find someone worthy of her, if she put the effort in.

“Not all men are so worldly that they would value a dowry over usefulness, or virtue.”

Tyia smiled. She slipped her arm into her mothers and they continued their stroll.

As they approached the bow of the ship Grand Maester Aethelmure voice was carried on the wind towards them. “Your Grace,” he said in a tone of long-suffering, “a decree will mean nothing if the lords feel able to ignore it, and they will. Not even the crown can oppose every lord in the Reach at once.”

“If Lord Tyrell can be persuaded-”

“He won’t be, Your Grace,” the maester told him. “He benefits from the flour taxes more than anyone.”

The king groaned and turned away from the maester in frustration.

Aegon Targaryen had seized the opportunity the informality of the voyage offered to throw off all the trappings of state in favour of a plain leather jerkin and the kind of boots a hedge knight might wear. Tybot, standing behind him, cut a more impressive figure in his silver studded doublet. Prince Duncan looked like a peacock in plain green and black silk. In the king's royal hand was a hunting knife that he was idly turning.

“I let them keep their control of the mills, I didn’t even mention the idea of setting minimum corn prices-”

“Your Grace, Lord Tyrell will not concede anything that will weaken his own standing.”

“If he can be convinced, then the Tullys will follow.”

“As you say, Your Grace,” the Grand Maester allowed. 

The king sighed. “But he can’t be convinced, is that what you’re trying to tell me?” He looked at the knife in his hand thoughtful. “There must be some way. Prince Rhodryn can be depended on to take my side.”

Prince Duncan smiled, “Then Tyrell, and Tully, and all the rest of them will oppose anything you say. Just on principle.”

“I strongly counsel against involving Prince Rhodryn,” Aethelmure said with a pained expression. “The perception of any favouritism towards him will be very badly received. And given the fact that this scheme will never affect Dorne in any way-”

“A disinterested voice-” the king began, but the maester only shook his head. “Damn them all!” he exclaimed. “Damn their short-sighted prejudice and folly!”

“As though the Dornish are any better,” Prince Duncan offered.

“They’re the only ones in all the Seven Kingdoms not vexing me,” his father said. “But according to you, they’re the only ones I should not be courting.”

“You would gain nothing but the enmity of every other lord in the realm, sire,” the maester told him.

“So you have said!” The king turned to Alysanne suddenly, “Do you have an opinion on flour tax as well, my lady?”

Alysanne started, “Me, Your Grace? No, how could I?”

“Everyone else does.”

“My lady wife would never presume, Your Grace,” Tybot cut in, “she’s a very wise woman.”

“And it is a wise woman who knows her place,” the king said, completing his thought. “Yes.” He smiled at her, “Forgive me for troubling you with my cares.” He strolled off unceremoniously with the prince and the master trailing behind him.

Tybot was frowning as he came forward to take her with one arm and Tyia with the other. “You shouldn’t have been snooping on the king’s conversation,” he said unhappily. 

Alysanne’s face flushed, “I’m sorry, my lord,” she said, “the ship is so small, and he certainly wasn’t making any effort to be secretive.”

“It’s unseemly to be butting in like that,” her husband continued as though he hadn’t heard her, “I don’t like being made to look like a fool.”

Her flush deepened. She wouldn’t have said anything if the king had not addressed her. “You’re right, my lord. Forgive me, please.”

He paused in his strides and smiled, bringing her hand to his lips to kiss it, “Gladly, my lady. Now I hope you’ll go and rest.” They’d reached the main hatch with its steps into the dark bowels of the ship.

“Yes, I will,” she told him, “come along, Tyia.”

Her maid was in the cabin rearranging clothing in the trunk and looking positively green.

“Marigold,” Alysanne told her, “you needn’t do that if you’re not feeling well.”

“I’m well enough to be of use, my lady,” the girl said.

Alysanne felt a twinge of affection for her. “It will only be a few more days, I’m told,” she said. “I can only imagine how miserable it must be for you. No doubt they have you crowded like apples in a barrel, wherever it is you’ve been sleeping.”

“Yes, my lady,” Marigold said woefully, “but I’ve been sleeping on the deck. It’s very comfortable there at night. And the sky is so lovely.”

“It must be,” Alysanne said, “I should come up and see it one night.” She laid back on the small, narrow bed and stared at the wood of the deck above her.

Chapter Text

There was a gap in the curtain drawn across the windows. The early morning light peaked through to shine right across Ormond’s face. He tried to move his arm up to cover his eyes, but Rhona was sleeping on it.

She stirred at his movement, but didn’t wake. Ormond could feel her soft breath on his chest; it felt better than anything they had done the night before. Her long reddish-brown hair was covering most of her face. He used his other hand to brush it away behind her ear. Her nose wrinkled up as she stirred again, he touched that too.

Rhona moaned, “What are you doing?” she asked him sleepily.

“Counting your freckles.”

She chuckled, “You’ll be counting a long time.”

“That’s alright.”

She turned her face up to look at him. “I hate my freckles,” she said.

Ormond kissed her on the nose, and then on the mouth. She moved on top of him as their kiss deepened. He ran his good hand down the smooth curve of her back and over the swell of her ass. She broke the kiss and pulled herself up straight, with her legs on either side of his hips. He grinned as he looked up at her.

“What is it?” she asked him.

I have a beautiful woman sitting on my cock, he almost said, but that wasn’t it. “You’re still here,” he told her instead.

Rhona smiled and shook her head, “Still here? Where else would I be?”

“You’ve never been here when I’ve awaken.”

She frowned, “Sure I have.”

“No,” Ormond said with confidence, “I would have remembered.”

“Well,” she said, suddenly uncomfortable, “I suppose I usually have some place to go.”

“But not today?”


“Good.” He sat up and kissed her again. Her hands slid down between them. She grabbed his cock with a sudden urgency.

“I need to have you while I still can,” she told him as she guided him inside.

Ormond gasped and held on to her waist as she moved on top of him. He took one nipple in his mouth and sucked on it gently. She grabbed both his arms to support herself. Their breathing got more and more ragged together.

The door to the bedchamber suddenly opened with a careless thud.

“Ormond are you-” Lord Edgar cut himself off as soon as his head was through the door and he could see the scene on the bed. “Oh,” he said in a voice that seemed entirely unlike his, “I thought you were alone.”

Rhona’s body was still pressed up against his, she had a look on her face that was somewhere between laughter and tears.

“I’m not, my lord,” Ormond said, uncomfortably aware of how breathless he sounded.

“No.” His father said. He made no move to leave. His wide, tall form filled the entire frame of the door. Ormond could see the lump in his throat move up and then down again. He seemed like some invisible force was trapping him there. “Uh,” he began, “good morning, Lady Rhona.”

Rhona turned scarlet. Ormond was suddenly aware that her breasts were in plain view. He grabbed the sheet that was bunched around her middle with one hand and pulled it up to cover her.

“Good morning, Lord Yronwood,” she said, with her eyes on Ormond’s face.

“I hope you’re well.”

“At this moment, my lord,” she said, “I’m rather more abashed than well.”

“Of course,” he said, going scarlet as well, “forgive me for intruding.” He backed out and closed the door.

Rhona laughed uncomfortably, resting her head on Ormond’s shoulder. He couldn’t quite bring himself to laugh with her.

“Does he always come charging into your bedchamber in the morning?” she asked.

“I don’t know what he’ll do,” Ormond told her. “When we… go back home.”

She smiled more widely and ran her fingers through his long, fair hair. “I should go,” she said.

Ormond did his best to hide his disappointment, but he could feel his face falling as she slid off of him and started to collect her smallclothes from the floor by the bed. “Must you?” he said.

“I may already have been missed.”

“You were going to stay.”

“That was a mistake,” she said, “I’m sorry.”

He watched the sunlight dance across her skin as she pulled on her drawers. “Please,” he heard himself saying, “can’t you stay? Only for a while.”

She stopped to look at him, her freckles ran all the way down her chest. “I-” she said, “No. I have duties, I can’t just lie in bed with you all morning.”

He turned away from her. “You said you wanted to have me while you still could.”

Rhona was silent for a few moments. “There’re still weeks for that,” she said. “Aren’t there?”

He closed his eyes and sighed, “Don’t let me keep you.” She left through the door to his dressing room.

Ormond lay back down in the featherbed and cursed himself. He’d been so happy yesterday, but now he’d found a reason to be miserable. For half his life, he’d dreamed of the day when he would be free, when he wouldn’t be “the hostage” anymore. But now that it had come, the idea of leaving Sunspear seemed more frightening than the idea of being made to stay.

But there was no reason to stay in this room any longer. He dressed in a sullen mood. Fryd put him in a tunic with the iron gate picked out in black beads across the chest.

“I suppose you’ll want to stay here,” Ormond said with idle resentment, “Yronwood will seem very quiet to you.”

“I’m sure I’ll make do, my lord,” the manservant said with a grin.

He found his father pacing in the corridor. Lord Edgar looked like a large boy. “Your man seemed to think you were alone,” he said sheepishly.

“It’s not his fault,” Ormond felt himself flush. “She’s never stayed before.”

“Before?” He fiddled with the sword on his belt. “How…?” He paused, “Women often would rather not be obligated to...”

Ormond wrinkled his brow at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I should have thought. You’re a man now, aren’t you?”

“There wasn’t any harm done, my lord.” Ormond wished desperately that his father would just go away.

“I hope not.”

They stood in silence.

“Is there something you wanted, my lord?”

Lord Edgar looked for moment as though he was reconsidering what he was about to say, but he cleared his throat and charged ahead. “I only thought… perhaps we could go for a ride along the shore.”

“Oh,” Ormond said, “yes, it would be a pleasure, my lord. But today I’m...” he paused. It seemed cruel somehow to say that he was already going riding. “I’m afraid I’ll be occupied all day.”

“Of course, of course, son,” he said, “some other time.” He turned and left down the main staircase.

Ormond took the servant’s staircase, to make certain he didn’t meet him again on his way to break his fast in the small hall. Gallwel Qorgyle clapped him on the back and congratulated him on his recent good news and his sister, Genna Sand, declared that he would be missed. Ormond thanked them both and lingered over his bacon and oranges before making his way to the stables.

Prince Rhodryn was already waiting for him there, filling a quiver with arrows.

“Ormond,” the prince said when he rose from his bow, “come with me.” He led him to a stall in the back and a splendid jet black sand steed with a snowy mane and a spirited looked in her eye. “My brother says that she’s the finest mare he’s ever bred.”

Ormond stroked her nose. She had long slim legs and elegant lines. “She must be, my prince,” he said. “A beautiful animal.”

“She’s yours,” Prince Rhodryn said with a smile.

Ormond’s heart stopped for a moment. “I don’t know what to say.”

“You needn’t say anything,” the prince said, he touched Ormond on the shoulder. “Let’s see how she rides.”

She rode better than he had imagined. They reached the drylands within the hour and found a herd of gazelles clustered around a waterhole. Ormond’s injured hand made drawing a bow impossible, but the prince felled an animal with three shots. They stopped to rest and eat in the shade of an acacia tree, sitting on the parched ground and leaning against their saddles.

“You’ve been very quiet,” the prince told him. “Are you apprehensive about the thought of returning home?”

“I’m very pleased,” Ormond said. That was true enough.


“I suppose,” he amended, “I’m glad to be going home, but I’m sad to be leaving Sunspear.”

That seemed to please Prince Rhodryn. “It’s natural enough,” he said. “But Yronwood is your place now. No doubt your lord father has need of you.”

He’s done well enough without me so far, Ormond thought. “I know.”

The prince regarded him pensively as he bit into a ripe fig, “You’re sure that’s all there is?” he said. “You are very sullen.”

“Am I?” he asked. “Forgive me, it’s only that...” He sighed, “I shouldn’t trouble you with my trifles.”

“I wish you would.”

Ormond almost laughed, “It’s stupid,” he said. “I’m falling in love with a woman who’s all but indifferent to me.”

Prince Rhodryn paused in his eating for a moment before he made a sympathetic sound. “What makes you so sure of her indifference?”

“She said it was a mistake.”

“I see,” he said with a sad smile. “I’m sorry for you.”

Ormond played with the short, brown grass around the tree with frustration. “I sometimes think…” The prince raised his eyebrows encouragingly. “Well, I was indifferent too, at first, I suppose. It was all a bit of fun.”

“And something changed,” he said, “for you at least. Yes, that happens.”

“Perhaps she doesn’t really know that, and I should tell her.”

Prince Rhodryn frowned, “To what end?”

He hadn’t thought about that before, but it came easily to him there in the shade. Why shouldn’t he think of a future with Rhona? Marriage, children by her? He was only a younger son, after all. But no had ever spoken of his future. Perhaps it was only because it had always seemed so uncertain. Until now. “I hardly know,” he said, trying to sound circumspect, “I suppose it would depend on what my father thought.”

The prince’s frown deepened. “You’re very young, Ormond,” he said. “there’s nothing wrong with indifference. Emotional attachments are for older men, who no longer have more important things to consider.”

Ormond put on a frown of his own. “I must confess, my prince,” he said, “that isn’t the advice I would have expected from you.”

He smiled wanly, “Perhaps it’s advice I should have given more vociferously in the past.”

Ormond didn’t have to be told what he meant. “The princess was very happy,” he said.

“I doubt either of them are very happy now.”

“This isn’t the same thing, though, there’s no reason-”

“There’s no reason to be hasty,” Prince Rhodryn said in a tone that was almost commanding. “And every reason to not let yourself be ruled by sentiment.” His looked softened. “You’ll be more than two-hundred leagues away soon,” he said, with a hand on Ormond’s shoulder, “that’s a far better place to decide your true feelings about the matter than here.”

“Of course, my prince,” Ormond said, “you’re right.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “Many things have changed now, for all of us. They may keep changing for a little while yet.”

One of the mounted spearmen in the prince’s escort rode back to the Old Palace with their kill so it could be dressed for their supper; the rest of the half-dozen followed them deeper into the scrubland. They found the trail of a leopard and spent the rest of the day in a fruitless search for the beast, but their spirits were still high when they returned at dusk to a table in a corner of the garden lit by torches.

“The morning was splendid,” the prince told Lady Lenelle, “but the afternoon was a waste.”

“Never mind,” she said, “sometimes a good morning is all it takes.”

The gazelle was served bloody on a large silver platter. Prince Arion speared the choicest piece with his dagger before anyone else could.

“I’m glad it’s been such a dry summer,” he said with meat in his mouth, “it makes all the game taste better.”

“How does it do that?” Ormond asked.

“There’s less water,” he said as though it were obvious, “the flavour is more… concentrated.”

“That sounds like nonsense to me,” Princess Loreza said.

“Think what you will,” he told her, “but once the rains start, nothing will taste as good.”

“Once the rains start, no one will be hunting.”

“My point exactly,” Prince Arion said.

“I hope it’s not this dry for much longer,” Lady Lenelle said. “I don’t want to think about what it will do to the harvest. Especially now that I can’t buy anymore land without being punished by the bailiff.”

“I’m not going to change my mind about that, mother,” Princess Loreza said. “If you had your way there’d be no more land left for anyone else.”

Prince Rhodryn laughed.

“The northerners are all complaining endlessly about the heat,” Ser Maron Wyl said.

“Of course they are; they love to complain,” his father said. “And the women all dress like septas, no wonder they’re hot.”

“And now they’re complaining about the food as well,” Ser Maron continued.

“Don’t forget the music.”

“What’s wrong with the music?” Lady Larra asked him.

“Lord Redwyne told me it was, what did he call it? ‘Far too unusual.’”

The princess laughed, “The poor man hasn’t heard anything yet. Besides, they only ever played about five songs in King’s Landing.”

“Like I say,” Prince Arion told her, “anything to complain.”

“And now you’re all complaining about them,” the prince said. “It’s almost poetic.”

Princess Loreza flushed.

“Is your hand still troubling you, Ormond?” Landy Lenelle asked solicitously.

Ormond looked down at his right hand, still wrapped in stiff linen. “It’s not so bad, my lady,” he told her. “I thought it was broken, but Maester Geuren says it’s just a bad sprain.”

“Oh dear,” she said, “I hope it won’t keep you from the tourney.”

“The maester doesn’t think it will.”

Ser Maron frowned at him, “How did you say that happened?”

Ormond hoped he wasn’t blushing, “I got hit, is all,” he said, “with a tourney sword.”

He scoffed, “Right across the knuckles?”


“Yet it’s your hand that’s sprained, not your fingers.”

“Yes.” Ormond pulled his hand down under the table.

“Imagine that,” Ser Maron said with a sneer. “Maybe, if you’re prone to mishaps like that, it’s better that you stay out of the lists until you’re ready.”

Ormond knew he was blushing now.

“You’re rather prone to mishaps yourself,” the princess said. “Perhaps you should stay out of all company until you’re ready.”

Ser Maron shrugged, “I was only giving the boy some honest advice.”

“I’m not a boy,” Ormond said, sounding quite boyish.

Ser Maron laughed, “My little brother is a boy, only he knows how to block a sword properly.”

“Maron,” the prince said in a warning tone, though it was his brother he glared at.

He shook his head and scoffed again.

“I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of one of Ser Gerold Hightower’s blows either, I don’t think,” Prince Arion said, a little uncomfortably.

“Well,” Ser Maron said, “maybe with him in the Kingsguard the king will be able to get something done.”

“I doubt that,” Princess Loreza muttered under her breath.

Lady Lenelle gave a little sigh. “Speaking of Morgan, Larra,” she said. “He’s such a dear.”

“Yes, I know,” Lady Larra said with fierce pride.

“He played his harp for us this morning,” the princess said. “Even Lady Buckler is in love with him.”

Ser Maron laughed again, “I’m sorry you had to sit through that.”

“You can’t say anything nice about anyone, can you?” Lady Larra said.

Ser Maron rolled his eyes.

“He can’t have your looks and your talent both,” Prince Arion said to her adoringly. “That would be too much for any boy.”

They kissed full on the lips right there at the table. Princess Loreza made a disgusted face at Ormond that made him laugh out loud.

“Really, Loreza,” her mother said, exasperated.

Princess Loreza walked back to the Tower of the Sun with Ormond when they had finished eating. Four serving men walked with them holding torches, two behind and two in front.

“I will be sad to see you go, though,” she told him. “It won’t be the same.”

“I dare say you’ll have enough new faces about you, princess,” he said. “You won’t be bored.”

“None of them will be you.”

Ormond hesitated, but decided he could hardly stay silent. “I’m surprised you’re so sad about my leaving, since it was your doing.”

“My doing?” she asked. “What do you mean by that?”

Ormond smiled, “I mean, I know you convinced your father to release me. Nothing else makes sense.”

She shook her head, “You’re wrong,” she insisted. “The prince thought it was past time, he didn’t need me to convince him of that. I would much rather have you here, in fact.”

“You’re not a very good liar, princess.”

“Well, I hope that’s not true.”

“Regardless,” he stopped walking so he could look her in the face. “Thank you.”

All of a sudden she was Loreza the princess, not the Loreza who was almost a sister. “Holding you hostage was doing more harm than good,” she told him. “That’s all.”

“Of course,” Ormond said. “I mean, I know you didn’t do it for my sake.”

She smiled sympathetically. “I’m happy for you,” she said, “and for your father. He has his faults, but he loves you very much.”

Ormond sighed. “He’s all but a stranger to me,” he told her. “Alyse is even worse.”

“Maybe so,” the princess said, “but she loves you too.”

“How do you know that?”

“You’re her little brother.”

“My princess?” They turned and found Rhona standing there in the middle of the path. “Lady Emlyn set me to make sure you have your shawl.”

“My shawl?” Princess Loreza asked her. “This is the hottest night I can remember all summer.”

Rhona smiled in the torchlight. Ormond felt a flutter just seeing it. “She says it won’t do for you to be ill when the king arrives.”

The princess rolled her eyes but let Rhona drape the shawl over her shoulders. “I was going to come inside now anyway.”

They started waking again. Somehow, Ormond and Rhona ended up walking behind the princess, side by side. He couldn’t stop himself from constantly looking at her. Princess Loreza noticed too.

“You know, Rhona,” she said, “I have my shawl, you needn’t stay.”

“Oh,” she said. “I… thank you, my princess, but...” Her face turned darker. “I think I should stay with you.”

Ormond stopped walking, suddenly feeling as though he’s been punched in the gut.

Princess Loreza frowned, “If you wish.”

She took Rhona by the arm and walked ahead with her along the path. “Goodnight, Ormond,” she told him.

“Goodnight, my princess.”

The torchbearers went with her, leaving Ormond alone in the dark.

Chapter Text

The harbour at Sunspear was small; there seemed little room left once the king’s four galleys crowded into it. But it was beautiful. The dawn light reflected on the water, still as glass. The ancient fortress of the Martells looked too elegant and delicate to be as formidable as Jeremy knew it was. The Winding Walls of the shadow city wending their way around it like a drape of fabric.

Jeremy stood right at the stern. The banner of the royal house was flying on a pole extended from the ship. He couldn’t help but wonder what the first Daeron would think to see the great, red three-headed dragon of the Targaryens here in such a circumstance. In the distance he could see preparations being made on the shore for the king’s arrival. The crowds were gathering, His Grace would like that.

Daeron came up to stand beside him, placing his hand on top of Jeremy’s as they gazed out together. “Look at all that fuss,” he said. “Mark my words, we will be standing in the hot sun for hours while they all make a show of greeting each other.”

“They’ll be greeting you too,” Jeremy pointed out.

“No,” Daeron scoffed, “they’ll pay me no mind. Princes are a penny for a dozen here.”

“You’re wrong,” Jeremy said. “Everyone will be watching you.”

“No more than in King’s Landing.”

“I suppose you’re right,” he conceded. “But it won’t be the same.”

The weeks at sea, of being confined to a ship, had given them a freedom they hadn’t had since they were boys. No one here cared if they spent all morning closeted in the prince’s cabin, or that they stood on the deck, his hand on Jeremy’s. But that was all over now. Within a few hours they would be back under the king’s disapproving eye. It was the worst kept secret in all the Seven Kingdoms. But it was to be a secret, still.

“Come,” Daeron said with a smile.

Jeremy followed the prince up to his cabin in the forecastle of the ship. They lay on the bed together with Daeron’s head on his chest. He stroked his silver-gold hair and closed his eyes.

“I mean it,” Daeron said after near an hour of silence, “everyone will be engaged. There will be hunting and games all the time. We’ll have plenty of time to be alone.”

“But we shouldn’t be alone,” Jeremy told him.

“I should be making nice?”

“Yes,” he confirmed. “And I don’t want to miss the hunting and the games. Neither do you.”

“Maybe not,” Daeron said, he played with the collar of Jeremy’s linen shirt idly with his fingers. “But I’d much rather be with you.”

“You will be with me,” Jeremy told him. “Every hunt and game. I promise.”

Daeron sat up, a frown on his handsome face. “You’re being difficult now. It won’t be the same, you said so yourself. Not with my father-”

“Well, there’s nothing either of us can do about it, is there?”

He didn’t answer. He fell down onto his back next to Jeremy and stared at the ceiling of the cabin with him.

“I hate weddings,” he finally said. “And the Dornish hate us, you know. Even if they pretend not to.”

“That can’t be true,” Jeremy said. “They were the crown’s greatest ally during the rebellions.”

Daeron scoffed. “It’s not as though they had a choice. Bittersteel hated them more than they hated us, that’s all.”

“I thought you knew her, though,” he said. “The bride, I mean.”

He shrugged. “I saw her a couple of time when I visited my mother. She was one of her companions. I never took much notice of her.”

“You must know something.”

“She was a girl,” he said. “She was dark and skinny.” He shrugged again, “My mother was never too fond of her, I don’t think.”

“What about her father?”

“I never met him,” the prince said. “He’s an old man, though. He was married to some Baratheon for nearly twenty years, but nothing came of it.”

“Everyone knows about that.”

“He was so desperate for an heir that he kept at it, even after the maesters told him it would kill her. So then it did.”

“That’s a common tale,” Jeremy said. “But Ser Eliott Rowan is pleasant enough, if I recall.”

“Sure he is,” Daeron said with a dismissive wave of his hand, “but I couldn’t care less that he’s getting married.”

“You’ll sing a different song once the jousting starts,” Jeremy said with a smile. “You’ll be very glad you came then.”

Daeron rolled over and looked at him, propped up on his elbow, “Maybe, but that’s more than a week away. And until then it will be nothing but misery.”

“All you need do is be courteous and dance with a few unmarried ladies,” Jeremy said. “Is that so hard?”

“It might be,” he told him. “Especially if it’s one unmarried lady in particular.”

Jeremy sighed. “You’ll have to face them all eventually. And her.”

“And make nice,” Daeron asked sardonically.

“You owe her that much, surely.” Olenna Redwyne was always a kind and gentle girl, and her love for Daeron was obvious.

“Not this again,” Daeron sighed. “Anyone would think you wanted me to marry her.”

“I didn’t say that.” The truth was he had been relieved when Daeron had broken his betrothal, even as he told him not to, but the idea of saying so seemed selfish.  

There was a gentle rap on the door of the cabin. The two men separated instantly. Jeremy fastened his doublet and climbed off the bed, moving to stand by the large window on the other side of the room. The prince sat at the table and picked up a quill to make it seem as though he had been writing.

“Yes?” he called.

His manservant stuck his head through. “You will need to dress, You Grace,” he told him. “It’s nearly midday.”

“I leave you to it,” Jeremy said. On the way to the door he grabbed Daeron’s shoulder briefly as he passed. It was the most he could do.

In his own cabin below the deck, he changed into his best doublet and the gold collar that his father had given him when he came to court. He had polished his high black boots to a shine the night before; when he pulled them on they reached up over his knees. They made walking awkward, but all the men at court were wearing them.

By the time he came up on deck, the boats were already docked onto the side of the ship. Daeron stood in the middle of a crowd of knights and lordlings, Ser Harlan Grandison stood next to him in his white armour and white cloak. Daeron said the Kingsguard knight was the only man in the world with finer shoulders than Jeremy.

He stood at the back of the group and stayed there as the prince climbed onto the boat and they were all rowed towards the shore. The boat was covered in red flowers and black silk drapery. Some distance in front of them in the water, a larger boat carrying the king was much more elaborately festooned. As they approached the jetty, Jeremy heard trumpets and cheers. A hundred or more spearmen in shining copper armour acted as a guard of honour that stretched from the gangplank to a raised silk awning where a dozen lords and ladies were standing waiting for the king. Countless others stood on either side in the hot midday sun.

Jeremy found himself in the middle of a crush of men moving at a slow pace. Prince Daeron had gone up to stand beside his father and brother to be greeted by the Dornishmen.

The tall, slender man at the front of the group could only be Prince Rhodryn. He was an old man, as Daeron said, near sixty at least, his hair was more silver than black, but he still seemed to posses the vigour and strength of a far younger man.

When the prince had bowed to the king, His Grace embraced him and called him cousin. Then he turned to the younger woman next to him and raised her to her feet. She could only be Princess Loreza, Jeremy decided. The coronet of golden suns across her brow made her unlikely to be anyone else. Her resemblance to her father was strong; they had the same prominent nose and well-defined jaw.

The king kissed her on one cheek. “I’ve never seen a more beautiful bride,” he told her.

The princess smiled shyly. “Thank you, Your Grace,” she said, “your presence here is the greatest honour I can imagine.”

“And it’s the greatest pleasure I can imagine,” the king said gallantly. “The queen regrets her health wouldn’t allow her to share in it,” he continued, “but she sends her love and good wishes.”

“Her Grace is too kind.” The princess smiled again.

“He brought two of her sons to make it up to you,” Prince Duncan interrupted.

That made her laugh. She greeted both of the royal princes affectionately. Daeron managed to be perfectly charming as he kissed her hand and told her she looked lovely.

For the next hour there was nothing but bowing and kissing and greeting for the great worthies, and nothing but stewing in the heat for everyone else. The sun beat on the back of Jeremy’s neck so strongly that by the time the party had progressed to the palace, Daeron told him it looked like pork crackling.

Maester Gillam spread some salve onto it in the dressing room of the prince’s chambers while Daeron's clothes were changed for the feast. Even his light touch made Jeremy gasp in pain.

“I believe it’s bad enough that the skin will peel, ser,” the maester told him.

“No matter,” Jeremy told him, “I’m sure my burn will match everyone else’s.”

Daeron came over and knelt beside the chair Jeremy was sitting in. He looked magnificent in black. It gave his pale skin an other-worldly appearance. His hair was tied back with a velvet ribbon so nothing could distract from his striking purple eyes. He pressed his lips to the angry red flesh on Jeremy's neck.

Jeremy saw the maester back away uncomfortably just before he closed his eyes and sighed. “We both have to go to the feast,” he told Daeron. “And I need to settle into my own chamber.”

“You don’t have a chamber, ser,” the maester cut in.

“I don’t understand.”

“All your things were brought here,” Gillam continued. “The porters claimed those were their instructions. I’m in the processes of rectifying the oversight, of course.”

“No, don’t do that,” Daeron said.

“Daeron-” Jeremy started hesitantly.

“The castle must be full-up,” he said, “we shouldn’t make trouble. We both know you’ll never use the chamber anyway.”

“That’s not the point.”

“No one will notice,” Daeron insisted. “They’ll all be too distracted.”

By “no one” Jeremy knew he meant the king. “I don’t know...”

“The Dornish take a different view of, um, these matters,” the maester said. “The arrangement is unlikely to provoke comment.”

“There,” Daeron said, as though the discussion was over.

And, in truth, it was.

Jeremy stayed in their chamber for ten minutes after the prince had left so that there would be no danger of them arriving at the feast together. As soon as he did, a steward beckoned him forward and lead him down the length of the hall. The man moved with such assurance, that Jeremy was halfway up the steps leading to the dais before he realized what was happening.

“Where are you seating me?” he asked.

The steward raised one dark eyebrow in puzzlement. “Where else, ser,” he said, “beside Prince Daeron.”

“No!” Jeremy said, louder than he had intended. The man raised the other eyebrow. “I mean, I couldn’t possibly sit on the dais,” he tried again. “The king wouldn’t approve.”

The stewart frowned. “If you’ll wait here, ser.” He climbed the dais and made his way behind the chairs to a lady sitting half a dozen seats to the right of the wall. She looked over at Jeremy with a troubled expression as the man bent over to whisper in her ear. The lady next to her turned bodily and regarded him openly with narrowed eyes. The first lady whispered something back to the stewart and he immediately returned to Jeremy’s side.

“Lady Deneza sends her apologies, ser,” he said. “Follow me, please.” They walked a short way to a table right at the foot of the dais. Several people budged down along the bench to make room for him, quite close to front of the room towards the dais.

“You’re Ser Jeremy Norridge,” the man seated to his left said the moment he sat down.

“Uh,” Jeremy said, a bit at a loss, “yes, I am.”

“Huh,” the man said. He was very comely with light brown hair and and sea-green eyes, but something about his almost mocking manner made Jeremy dislike him instantly. “Well, I have the honour to be Ser Maron Wyl,” he said.

“Well met,” Jeremy replied.

“Let me see,” Ser Maron continued looking about him. “This is Ser Humford Hightower, not the Hightower of the hour, but we make do.” He already knew Ser Humford from any number of tourneys. They nodded at each other.

“And this is Ser Ormond Yronwood,” Ser Maron continued, indicating a young man a year or two younger than Jeremy with blond hair that reached his shoulders. “He’s as green as a salad but don’t mistake him for one.” Ser Ormond’s cheeks turned pink. A young girl sitting across the table giggled, which only caused Ser Ormond’s flush to deepen. “Ser Eldon Sand,” he went on, “who you’re obligated to at least try to fall in love with.” Ser Eldon chucked. He was quite comely, Jeremy thought. No doubt all the Dornish maidens swooned over him. “And Lady Rhona Santagar, she’s very useful.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” said a lady with an alarming abundance of freckles.

“You should, of course,” Ser Maron said. He turned his attention to the other side of the table.

“This is Ser Horas Redwyne and Lady Ol-”

“We know Ser Jeremy,” Ser Horas interrupted with a peevish tone.

Jeremy tried not to start at the sight of them both there. Ser Horas glared at him, but Lady Olenna smiled courteously enough.

“I’m glad to see you again, Ser Jeremy,” she said.

“And I you, my lady,” he told her. He had always marvelled at her courtesy.

“Have I forgotten anyone?” Ser Maron asked sardonically.

“Me!” that same girl as before said with another giggle.

Ser Maron smiled broadly. “Lady Daenerys Gargalen,” he said simply, not giving her an epitaph. But she hardly seemed to need one. She had that unstudied, good-humoured energy that only a very pretty young girl could have. She looked at Jeremy excitedly.

“I’m surprised you’re sitting down here with us,” she said.

Jeremy was saved needing to reply to that strange statement by the herald announcing the king’s entrance. They all stood to watch Prince Rhodryn lead the procession with his lady wife on his arm. Next came King Aegon and Princess Loreza. Daeron was behind his brother with some other lady. He smirked and winked at Jeremy as he passed. The fool, he thought, even as he smiled back.

After a few toasts and short speeches they were all sitting down again. Servers came round to put a bowl of soup in front of each of them. It was bright orange.

“It’s made from carrots,” Ser Humford said with a sympathetic expression. “But it’s not too bad.”

When he put a spoonful in his mouth it tasted strongly of lemon and spices he didn’t recognize. Jeremy push it gently away, trying not to be rude. No one seemed to notice.

“Is that me Deneza Dalt is glaring at?” Ser Eldon asked Lady Rhona.

“I hope not, for your sake,” she said. Jeremy followed her eye to the dais and the lady who had sent him down to the table. “Have you done something to her?”

“What could I have done to her?”

“Joleta says she’s been grumpy all day,” Lady Daenerys stated.

“That’s hardly surprising,” Lady Rhona said.

“Maybe one of us is at the wrong table,” Lady Daenerys said mischievously. “She would hate that.”

Lady Rhona’s eyes flashed between Jeremy and Lady Olenna before she sighed at the girl. “That would be the kind of thing one doesn’t mention,” she told her.  

Ser Maron laughed out loud and Lady Daenerys blushed. “I’m sorry,” she said, addressing Lady Olenna.

The lady looked confused. “Why should you say sorry to me, Daenerys?” she whispered.

The burn on the back of Jeremy’s neck was becoming so painful it was difficult to attend to what was being said. If he had a choice, he would leave and go to his bed. No , he reminded himself, Daeron’s bed . But no one could leave while while the king was still at table.

“Do you intend to ride in the tourney, Ser Jeremy?” Lady Rhona asked him, just as Lady Daenerys opened her mouth to say something more.

He hoped he wasn’t grimacing. “Yes, my lady, I do.”

“Ser Jeremy knows all about knocking lances together,” Ser Horas Redwyne muttered in a false whisper. Then he chuckled to himself.

Ser Maron Wyl’s lip curled up in disgust. “What was that, ser?”

“What was what?”

“We didn’t hear you,” he continued. “Why don’t you say it outloud, so we can all share the joke.”

Jeremy couldn’t tell if it was anger or embarrassment that made Ser Horas turn red, “I made no joke, ser.”

“Are you sure?” Ser Maron pressed on, “You seemed to think something was very amusing. I’m sure Ser Jeremy would want to hear it.”

Jeremy didn’t want to hear anything of the kind. Ser Horas was glaring at him rather than at Ser Maron.

“You have yet another admirer,” he sneered.

Ser Maron banged a fist on the table, causing people sitting further down the bench to turn and look at him.

“Leave off,” Ser Ormond Yronwood told him.

“Why should I?” Ser Maron snapped at him, “He has no intention of leaving off.”

“Stop,” Lady Daenerys told him in a soft voice. “You’re upsetting Lady Olenna.”

The lady was pale as milk and staring at her bowl of soup. Jeremy felt an absurd need to apologize to her, but Ser Maron beat him to it.

“I didn’t mean to upset you, my lady,” he told her in a tone that was almost gentle. “And doubtless Ser Horas didn’t mean to upset anyone either.”

Ser Horas just scoffed.

Lady Daenerys smiled cheerfully. “Why would anyone be upset on such a happy occasion?”

“Exactly,” Lady Rhona said.

The bowls were cleared away. Jeremy found a plate with meat covered in sauce being placed before him. He could tell just from the smell that it would be fiery enough to twist his stomach and bring tears to his eyes.  

“Snake,” Ser Humford whispered to him unhappily.

Chapter Text

Dany was getting used to a feast every night, but this one was grander, and noisier, than all the others by far. Mariah Florent had to almost yell to Ser Rolyn Toland beside her.

“I think that’s Ser Duncan the Tall,” she said of the very tall knight in the white cloak dancing with Lady Lenelle.

Ser Rolyn smiled graciously, “Yes, my lady, I believe it is.”

“He lives up to his name, doesn’t he?” asked Dany cheerfully. “Do you think he would dance with me?”

“With you, Lady Dany?” Ser Rolyn said, “Of course he would.”

“Yes,” Mariah Florent said, looking at Dany with distaste, “he’s very gallant. He would dance with any lady.”

Dany rolled her eyes, but she was not about to lower herself and respond.

Olenna would surely have done it for her, but she was unusually subdued. She stared at the opposite end of the feast hall, at nothing in particular. Dany suspected her main objective was not to stare at Prince Daeron, dancing near the front of the room, but the last time Dany had tried to say something comforting to her about that matter, she had rather made a fool of herself.

“And who is that dancing with Prince Daeron?” Lady Mariah said with the slightest hint of a smirk. Olenna frowned.

“That is Lady Deria Uller,” Ser Rolyn told her impassively.

“Oh,” Mariah said, “I don’t believe I know her.”

“No, my lady,” Ser Rolyn said, “I expect that if you knew her, you would have recognized her.”

Her cheeks turned pink. “Yes,” she said, “I suppose I would have.” She pretended to laugh, “You’re very witty, Ser Rolyn. I wish I were as witty as you are.”

Dany rolled her eyes again.

“Thank you, my lady,” Ser Rolyn said courteously, though Dany could see him fighting a smirk of his own.

The few seconds of silence that followed were too much for Lady Mariah. “I think that’s a very pretty name,” she said. “Although it’s very unusual.”

“Whose name? Lady Deria’s?” Ser Rolyn said. “It’s a very common name in Dorne.”

“Most Dornish names sound unusual to me,” she stated.

“Like your own, for instance?” Olenna suddenly cut in.

Dany couldn’t help but chuckle.

Lady Mariah frowned at them both. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“No, I don’t suppose you do,” Olenna said. “And I can’t imagine that it would be worth explaining it to you.”

Lady Mariah turned pale instead of pink. Her frown deepened and she pressed her lips together angrily. “You-”

“Would you like to dance with me, my lady?” Ser Rolyn cut in before she could say something more.

Her frown turned into a smile, “With great pleasure, ser,” she said. Mariah smiled cruelly at Olenna as she walked away.

Olenna shook her head. “How could anyone be so ignorant?” she asked Dany.

Dany shrugged. Her mother would say that it was because she was never taught anything different, but Olenna was probably not taught much more and she didn’t seem as stupid as Mariah Florent. Nor as vicious. “She just likes to speak and doesn’t seem to care if she has anything to say or not.”

Her friend looked pensive. “We share that flaw, I’m told,” Olenna said.

“Do you?” Dany asked her.

“Talking is better than being talked about,” she said. “But maybe it’s small of me to accuse anyone else of being ignorant.”

She was looking over to where Prince Daeron was dancing again, her chin was starting to tremble. Dany clucked at her, “You shouldn’t-” she started, but she thought the better of it. “Do you want to go outside?” she said instead. “For a walk?”

Olenna just managed to nod and rise to her feet. They left through the main doors and walked along the peristyle walk to the gardens, where the paths were lined with lanterns of gold and orange glass.

“I think she’s trying to catch him,” Olenna said suddenly as they passed a pool of still water.

“Who’s trying to catch who?” Dany asked.

“Mariah Florent is trying to catch Ser Rolyn.”

“Is he a fish?” she said, hoping it would make Olenna smile. But her friend just looked more sullen. “I’m sure he doesn’t like her,” she said, “he’s just very courteous, that’s all.”

“Yes, I suppose he is,” Olenna said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if my mother told him to be attentive to her.”

“Like she told you to be attentive to me?”

Dany flushed. “She did tell me that,” she admitted. “But I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t like you.”

“I apologize, I shouldn’t have-” she said, embarrassed. “I told you I talk.”

“I’m glad you’ve come,” Dany told her. “I don’t really have any friends in Sunspear. Everyone here is always running around doing something.”

“In Sunspear?” Olenna asked, “I thought you lived here.”

“No,” she said. “I live at Salt Shore. I only came to visit my mother and sister. And to help with the wedding. Not that I’m any help.”

“I didn’t know that,” Olenna said. “I sometimes forget I’ve known you less than a fortnight. It seems longer.”

“It does,” Dany agreed. She laughed, “I don’t know where you live either. On the Arbor, I suppose.”

“Yes,” Olenna said unhappily. “I do live there now. My father thought it was best that I not stay in Highgarden after...” She turned away and picked a blossom off of a flowering bush growing by the path. “Well, I thought I had a lot more friends than it turned out I did.”

“That’s stupid,” Dany told her warmly. “It’s not as though you did anything wrong. Or anything at all.”

“I don’t know,” she said, sounding on the verge of tears again. “Maybe if I were more… he wouldn’t have done something like that if I...”

“What?” Dany asked her, shocked. “I don’t think that’s true.”

“Did everyone know?” Olenna asked her with shuddering breath. “Did everyone in all the Seven Kingdoms know about them but me?”

“Well...” Dany began hesitantly. She had certainly known, and she had never given Prince Daeron more than a moment’s thought before today. “Did no one tell you?”

Olenna looked uneasy. “It’s not normal, you know,” she said, “people speaking about things like that. Not to a maiden.”

“So they let you think that it was just because he didn’t like you or something?”

“I don’t know what I thought,” she said. “I’m an idiot for not seeing it. We’re were supposed to be married as soon as I flowered, but then they kept putting it off, and then a year ago...”

Olenna wiped at her face with the sleeve of her gown. She was bound up in so much brocade and lace that her small form seemed lost in all of it.

Dany touched her hand with her own, “It must have been horrible, blaming yourself like that.”

“I don’t.” She shook her head sadly, “He wouldn’t have been a very good husband.”

Dany laughed. “No, probably not.”

“It’s just,” Olenna said, fiddling with the blossom in her hand, “I’ll be twenty soon. I thought I’d have a home of my own by now. And children. People treat me like I’m still a child myself.”

“Yes,” Dany said, thinking of Septa Unelletine and Olenna’s horror at even going to the tourney grounds without her. “But plenty of people wed after they’re twenty. Princess Loreza is one and twenty.”

“I’m not Princess Loreza, am I?” Olenna said. “As far as everyone is concerned, I may as well be soiled. If anyone marries me now, it will only be for my dowry.”

“You don’t really think that, do you?” Dany asked her. “Your father is a great lord; everyone should want to marry you.”

“Do they all want to marry you?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Dany told her. She would have been pleased enough at the thought of never getting married at all, until three months ago. “Do you know what you should do?” she asked her friend, “You should go dance with the best looking man in the hall, right in front of him, and make him jealous.”

“I doubt that would make him jealous,” Olenna said. “Besides, who’s the best looking man in the hall?”

Dany shrugged, “Probably Ser Eldon Sand, though I never knew what all the fuss was about.”

“I couldn’t dance with him!” Olenna said hotly.

Dany rolled her eyes, “Fine, we’ll find someone nice and true-born,” she said, “like Maron.”

“That might upset my brother,” Olenna said, “although, he is the prince’s nephew, I could hardly refuse him.”

“Exactly,” Dany said. She put her arm through Olenna’s and turned her around to walk back towards the feast hall.

“And I know Ser Maron would do whatever you asked him,” Olenna said.

Dany stopped in her tracks. She hoped her cheeks weren’t red as she turned to her friend. “Why would you… I don’t know what you mean.”

Olenna arched one red eyebrow. “Is that a jape?” she said. “As far as I can see, impressing you is all he thinks about.”

Dany bit her lip, “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

“Daenerys,” Olenna said, “I very much doubt I’m the only one who’s seen it. I don’t think you’re very good at being secretive.”

“I don’t want to be secretive,” Dany said, “it’s just that, with Princess Loreza’s wedding and everything… everyone is so distracted, it doesn’t seem like the best time to bring it up.”

“Does your father disapprove of him?” Olenna asked.

“I don’t think so,” Dany told her. She didn’t think her father took much notice of Maron at all. And she suspected he wouldn’t be able to refuse his consent to anyone she wanted. Unless… “My mother does, though. And Joleta, but she would never say so.”

Olenna frowned. “Why should your mother disapprove of him? He’s going to be a great lord.”

“Well...” Dany hesitated to bring up family squabbles, but she felt that Olenna would be sympathetic. “She’s never really liked… I mean, you must know about Maron’s mother and father.”

“I admit,” Olenna said, “I’ve heard a few rumours.”

“I suppose it’s natural that my mother would take her brother’s part.”


“I just don’t think she would be very happy if I went to Wyl,” Dany said. “She would think they didn’t deserve it. And she can convince my father of anything if she tries, and the prince too. My sister’s marriage was all her doing.” That was what Dany feared most; if her uncle wouldn’t take her side then there was no hope. Though she knew she could count on Loreza to speak for her. Maybe then...

“But surely, she would rather have you wed than...” Olenna frowned again, “I’m sorry, I know it’s not my concern.”

“No,” Dany said, “please tell me.”

“What if you...” she turned pink. “I should think that she would prefer you marrying him, and soon, to… What if he changes his mind? Or worse, what if you’re in a delicate position when he does?”

“A delicate position?” Dany tried not to laugh. “That’s not possible.”

Olenna looked very relieved. She took Dany’s hand in her. “Oh good!” she said with sudden animation. “I’m so sorry, I should have known it wasn’t.”

Dany frowned. “I mean, it’s not possible yet,” she said. “There hasn’t been time for that either.”

Her friend’s face fell. “Daenerys, you shouldn’t.”

She pulled her hand away, “Why not? I’m not a child anymore.”

“Think about it,” Olenna said. “Do you really want to be wed to him?”

"You know I do,” Dany said, starting to get annoyed. “And he wants to wed me. ”

“I’m sure he says so,” Olenna said. “But if you give him… what he wants,” she blushed again. “Well, men are like that. And if his family is against it as much as yours is… why would he marry you at all? And then what will you do?”

Dany’s annoyance grew deeper. Olenna was almost twenty, a woman grown, yet she was more bashful than Nelly Jordayne when it came to matters of love. And she had no right to talk about Maron like that.

“It hurts me that you would talk about him as though he were a bad man; he’s not at all like people say he is.”

“Not to you, maybe.”

“What does that mean?” Dany asked her.

“He’s rude, Daenerys,” she said; “he upsets everyone.”

“Your brother was the one who was being rude.”

“My brother was trying to protect me!”

“And Maron doesn’t mean to upset people, he’s just very clever. They don’t understand him. He’s brave, and he’s gentle, and he’s already had his heart broken once. And he loves me. The way they all talk upsets him too, you know.”

“Really?” Olenna said. “He hides his feelings quite well.”

“Of course he does,” Dany said. “It would be too hard for him otherwise.”

Olenna frowned. “I hope you’re right,” she said. “I want to like him, for your sake, truly I do.”

Dany felt herself deflate. “I know,” she said, “I’m sorry. It’s just that no one will defend him but me. And I want him so badly, and I can’t talk to anyone about it. You can’t know how awful that is.”

“I thought I felt like that once,” Olenna said. “I even managed to convince myself that Prince Daeron loved me too… it’s all so humiliating now.”

Dany felt a surge of pity for her friend, and shame for herself. “I’m sorry I said that about your brother,” she told her. “If someone had spurned my sister, I think I would have said a lot worse.”

Olenna smiled. “I hope you wouldn’t,” she said. “And I hope you won’t… do anything rash.”

“It’s not rash,” Dany said, refusing to back down.

“If you’re so certain of his constancy, then there’s no harm in waiting until you’re wed, is there?”

Dany didn’t want to wait another moment, but she didn’t think that answer would impress Olenna. “I am certain,” she said in a tone of finality. “So, shall I ask him to dance with you?”

She finally agreed to the scheme so the two made their way back to the feast hall, where the music and noise was louder than ever. Before Dany could even start to look for Maron, she saw Lady Deneza motioning them over to where she was standing in front of one the windows of leaded glass. When they came to her side she immediately put a hand on Olenna’s forearm.

“How are you feeling, my dear?” Lady Deneza asked solicitously.

Olenna looked down at the hand as though it were a large spider. “I’m feeling very well, my lady,” she said. “The feast was lovely.”

“Good,” Lady Deneza said, looking relieved. “I would hate to think that anything would happen to upset you.”

Dany felt a hand on her own arm and turned to see Maron smiling at her.

“Do you want to dance?” he asked her at once.

She shook her head, “No, you have to ask Olenna to dance.”

“Do I?” he asked with one raised eyebrow.

“Yes,” Dany said. “And you have to take her to the front of the hall so that they can see you from the dais.”


Dany rolled her eyes.

“Very well,” Maron said with a smirk, “I’ll do as you command, if you promise to dance with me afterwards.”

“You know I can’t refuse you.”

As soon as he had led Olenna away, her mother swooped in.

“Why aren’t you dancing, my love?” she asked.

“I’m tired,” Dany lied. There was only one man she wanted to dance with, and she didn’t want to be stuck with someone else when he came looking for her.

“Nonsense,” Princess Trystana said. “You can’t be too tired to dance with the king.”

“I am!” Dany insisted.

“You’re growing quite willful, Daenerys, I don’t like it one bit,” she said. “Come along now.”

“Oh, leave her be, aunt.” Loreza had appeared and swiftly linked arms with Dany. “His Grace is just as tired as she is.”

Her cousin led her away from her mother and towards one of the carved pillars around the edge of the room.

“Stay and keep me company, Dany. If you can bear it.” The princess was wearing a green silk gown with a plain gold tiara and the loveliest emerald earrings Dany had ever seen.

“You look so splendid,” she told her.

Loreza smiled, “So do you, sweetling. You’ve looked more beautiful than ever the last few days.”

Dany tried not to blush. People said you looked different when you were in love. “So many exciting things have been happening.”

“If you like excitement, then maybe you should stay in Sunspear a little longer.”

“I think my father would miss me too much,” Dany told her.

“You can’t expect to be at Salt Shore forever,” Loreza said.

“I don’t,” she said, “but it’s not time for that yet.”

“I quite agree.”

Lady Emlyn came forward and announced some lord and his wife.

“Lord Darklyn,” Loreza said with a nod as they both bowed low.

“Princess Loreza,” the man said obsequiously, “you look in remarkable beauty tonight.” He was a tall man near thirty who would have been handsome if he didn’t have the pallor of a corpse.

“Thank you,” Loreza said perfunctorily, she turned to the woman on his arm. “Lady Amerei,” she said with another nod.

The lady was only a few years older than Dany, she curtseyed again when Loreza addressed her. “My princess,” she said in a tone that made Dany dislike her at once. It screamed of a desperation to be liked, “I’m so looking forward to the wedding. I can only imagine how beautiful you will be then.”

“You’re very kind to say so,” Loreza said with an unnaturally wide smile.

Dany let her attention wander and looked over towards the dais where Olenna and Maron were still dancing. She seemed pleased enough with her partner. Somehow Maron sensed than Dany was watching him and looked up to wink at her. She laughed and winked back, admiring the graceful way he moved when he danced.

“I’m sure you recall my cousin, Lady Daenerys,” Loreza’s voice cut through, forcing Dany to attend.

A different man was standing before then. This one had a round face and fair hair. He was undoubtedly one of the ones Dany had been presented to that morning, but she could hardly be expected to remember them all.

“My lady,” he said to Dany, and she bobbed a curtsey in return. “Every maiden is more lovely than the last here in Sunspear,” he said, “I’m quite overwhelmed.”

“That’s very kind of you to say, my lord,” Dany told him, as Loreza smirked beside her.

He paid them both another empty compliment or two before he slinked off to be replaced by someone who pleased the princess a great deal more. She greeted Deria Uller as an old friend, taking her hands and kissing her on both cheeks. And Dany supposed they were friends; Lady Deria had been one of Loreza’s companions long ago, before she’d even gone to King’s Landing. Dany, though, couldn’t recall ever speaking to her before.

“There was so much fuss today that I didn’t even notice that you’d arrived,” the princess said apologetically.

“I’m not surprised, princess,” Lady Deria said. “It’s a wonder you’ve found time to eat or sleep.”

Loreza laughed. “I’ve managed it most days,” she said. “I haven’t see you in an age.”

“It has been too long,” Lady Deria confirmed. “And you, Lady Dany,” she said, “you were half the height you are now the last time I saw you.”

“I’m nearly sixteen now, my lady,” Dany said cheerfully. “I may have stopped growing altogether.”

“I doubt that,” she said, “you’ll be as tall as Lady Joleta, at least.”

Lady Deria was gone too soon and the next supplicant was an old lady who was about as interesting as plain bread. Then came a man with a great golden beard and a woman on his arm.

“Ser Tybot,” Loreza said when he rose from his bow, “I hope you’ve found everything to your satisfaction.”

The statement seemed to surprise the man. “Everyone has been most gracious, my lady,” he said.

“I’m very glad to hear it,” she said. “There’s nothing more important to the prince than the king’s comfort.”

“Yes, of course,” he said. “Naturally.” Loreza looked pointedly at the woman next to him until he got the hint. “May I present my lady wife,” Ser Tybot said shortly. She curtseyed deeply.

“My lady,” Loreza said, “I hope everything is to your satisfaction as well.”

The lady was almost as tall as Dany and still very handsome, despite being well past thirty. She had the shrunken look of a person who was only just recovering from illness. “Very much so, my princess,” she said, far more smoothly than her husband. “Everything is so well arranged.”

This pleased Loreza a great deal. “Excellent,” she said.

The music stopped and people all over the hall were moving towards the front.

“What is it?” The princess asked Lady Emlyn.

“Prince Arion has convinced Lady Larra to play for us,” she said.

“Oh, how wonderful,” Loreza said. She addressed Ser Tybot’s wife, “I’m sure you’ll enjoy this, my lady. She hardly ever plays in public.”

Dany made her way towards the front with everyone else and found Olenna standing with Septa Unelletine near the edge of the crowd. She took her by the arm and led her through to get a better view.

“How was it?” she asked her.

“He’s a very good dancer,” Olenna admitted.

Dany giggled.

Prince Arion hadn’t taken his seat on the dais but stood at the front, very near to where his paramour had arranged herself before the dais on a stool with her lyre in her lap. Maron was beside him, so Dany led Olenna over to them.

“It’s the best place,” she said defensively at her friend’s raised eyebrow.

Her uncle shushed everyone until silence fell on the hall.

Once Lady Larra started to play the silence only seemed to deepen, everyone was struck breathless. Her long, slender fingers moved over the strings of the lyre so smoothly that the music sounded like water flowing in a brook. Then she started to sing, an Old Valyrian song about a dragon and her rider falling to their doom in the midst of a great battle, Olenna was so moved that she covered her mouth with her hand.

Prince Arion gazed at Lady Larra adoringly. He leaned down towards Dany. “Doesn’t she look beautiful?”

“She always does,” Dany whispered back. “And she sounds beautiful too.”

“Yes,” he said. “She was playing this song the night I fell in love with her.”

Maron smiled at Dany from behind his father’s shoulder. She smiled back, feeling a warmth in her belly that tingled down her legs. She wished she could reach across Prince Arion and hold his hand. Her uncle smiled too, though she couldn’t tell if it was at her or at the music.

When the song finished, Lady Larra blushed at the applause. Prince Arion went over to her immediately, and even the king came down from the dais to congratulate her.

“I would give a great deal to be able to play like that,” Olenna said.

“Lady Larra said once that she’s been playing the lyre since before she could walk.”

“You can tell,” Olenna said wistfully. “But I suppose it’s no use comparing myself.”

“Come on.” Dany took her hand and started to lead Olenna to where the lady was standing, but Septa Unelletine grabbed on to her other sleeve.

“No, my dear,” she said, “on no account.”

“Whyever not?” Olenna asked. “I only want to speak to her.”

“Child,” she said, “that woman...” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “that woman is a whore.” She said the last word so quietly that her mouth was moving without making any sound. “What would your father say if he saw you speaking with her?”

Olenna looked shocked; she was standing between the septa and Dany with her mouth slightly agape, but Dany was so angry that she knew her face was red.

“She’s my uncle’s paramour,” she told her, struggling not to raise her voice. “You shouldn’t call her a whore.”

Septa Unelletine’s jaw clenched. “You must do as you see fit, of course,” she told Dany. “But call her what you will, Lady Olenna will not be consorting with her.”

“Surely Lady Olenna can decide for herself,” Dany said.

Olenna looked between Dany and the septa uncertainly, then over to where Lady Larra stood, surrounded by admirers. It was clear to Dany what she wanted to do. She looked away. “I’m sorry, Daenerys,” she said. “It’s past time I retired, anyway.”

Dany let go of her hand, too upset to not look disappointed. “You don’t have to apologize,” she told her friend, “I understand.”

She left Olenna standing there and went without her. 

Chapter Text

It would seem that kind attention from one princess entitled one to kind attention from another, because as soon as the dancing began again Alysanne somehow found herself in the care of Princess Trystana.

She took her by the arm and lead her towards the far end of the room, by the doors.

“Has the food been agreeing with you, my lady?” The princess asked.

It hadn’t. All the peppers and strange meat had burned on the way down and was now making her stomach feel heavy and unsettled. The Dornish dishes they sometimes served in King’s Landing had not prepared her for what real dornishmen ate. “The food was delicious, my princess,” she said.

“I’m so glad you think so,” replied Princess Trystana. “We’ve had the cooks making all of Princess Loreza’s favourite dishes. To perfect them, for the wedding feast.”

“I’m sure that will please her very much,” Alysanne said.

The princess nodded gravely, “Though I pray it will not be the only thing that pleases her that night.”

“Yes,” Alysanne said uncertainly.

“Not that my niece is overly fastidious, of course,” she said quickly.

“No,” Alysanne agreed, not sure if they were still discussing food.

Princess Trystana nodded again. She was half a head taller than Alysanne, and still very handsome, though she had to be close to fifty. There were long streaks of silver in her black curls. But she seemed to have enough energy for several women far younger. “No indeed,” she said.

They reached a bench covered in cushions against the far wall where several women stood up at their approach.

“Have any of you met Lady Alysanne Sarsfield?” the princess asked.

“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure,” a younger lady said. She looked enough like Princess Trystana to be her daughter. Though she was taller and fairer, she held herself with the same air of easy confidence. “This is my daughter, Joleta,” the princess confirmed.

“My lady,” Alysanne curtseyed.

The princess turned next to a darker woman with thick black eyebrows and a friendly smile, “Lady Deria Uller.”

Alysanne curtseyed again.

“And Lady Ariandra Fowler,”  she said of a lady with a thin face and blonde hair turning to white.

“Lady Alysanne,” Lady Ariandra said, “I’m very charmed.”

“Shouldn’t you be dancing, my dear?,” Princess Trystana asked her daughter.

Lady Joleta rolled her eyes, “Yes, Mother,” she said. “Even I have to rest some time.”

“Who is it going to be?”

“Oh, I forget,” said Lady Joleta, “I’m sure he’ll come find me.”

Sure enough, at that moment, a man came towards the group and bowed to the princess.

“Ser Marence,” she said. “You’ve come for Lady Joleta, I assume. Go ahead then.”

Her daughter laughed a little, took the man’s hand, and went off.

Princess Trystana shook her head. “At least Joleta doesn’t make me chase after her all night before she deigns to dance. The other one is full of excuses.”

“What kind of excuses, my princess?” Lady Deria asked her.

“The gods only know,” she said, “she’s tired; her feet hurt.”

“Perhaps Lady Daenerys really is tired,” Lady Deria suggested. “She’s still very young.”

The princess scoffed, “Nonsense.” She sat down on the cushions and the other three women followed. “Her trouble is that she’s too much like her father.”

“Some children are,” said Lady Ariandra.

“Yes,” the princess said, “and many are like their mother.”

“Indeed,” Lady Deria said with a smile.

“How is your little boy?” Princess Trystana asked her, changing tack suddenly. “You should send him to the Water Gardens.”

“I intend to, my princess,” she said. “When he’s a little older.”

“He must be nearly six.”

“He’s not quite five,” she said. “And he’s very attached to Hellholt.”

“Well,” the princess said, “he should get over that as soon as may be.”

“Do you have any children, my lady?” Lady Deria asked Alysanne. She started slightly at being addressed.

“Yes,” she said. “That is, I have a daughter. She’s a woman grown.”

“Has she travelled with you?”

“She has, my lady,” Alysanne said. Tyia had been subdued that morning and all the time they were making their way to the castle and settling in, but as the feast when on, and no one had done anything especially frightening, she had started to behave more like herself. “But I have no notion where she is right now. Dancing, I expect.”

“Well, if it’s you she takes after, I’m sure she has more partners than she knows what to do with.”

Alysanne blushed. “Thank you,” she said. “But Tyia is very demure.”

This time, Lady Deria’s smile seemed amused, “No doubt she is.”

“How is Lord Wyl?” Princess Trystana asked Lady Ariandra, “and my good sister?”

“Everyone is very well,” she said, looking away from the princess and taking out her fan. “Lady Rebanna would have liked to be here,” she said, “but… well. ”

“She is always welcome,” the princess said. “Though no doubt, her lord father has need of her more and more, as he gets older.”

Lady Ariandra’s smile became tight. “You needn’t fear for him, my princess,” she said, “I assure you.”

“Lady Ariandra has come down from the mountains,” Lady Deria confided in Alysanne. “Have you ever seen the Red Mountains?”

“I have,” she told her. “From Summerhall.”

“Oh,” Lady Ariandra said, “that can’t be called seeing the mountains.”

A young woman about Tyia’s age approached the bench and dipped into a deep curtsey.

“Lady Elda,” Princess Trystana said at once, “won’t you sit down?”

“Thank you, my princess,” she said. She placed herself in the space between the princess and Lady Ariandra.

“My love, you’re looking thinner every day,” Lady Ariandra said, “have you been eating well?”

“Well enough, mother,” she said. “There’s been a great deal going on.”

“Yes,” she said, “I imagine so.” She turned to Alysanne. “Lady Alysanne, this is my daugher, Lady Elda Toland,” she said.

Before Alysanne could respond someone else had approached them. This time it was a strikingly handsome man who turned striking dark eyes on Princess Trystana.

“Ladies,” he said as he bowed.

“Ser Eldon,” said Lady Deria with an amused tone. “You’re looking very well.”

“I am very well, my lady,” he said without looking at her. “Thank you.”

There was silence for a moment and Alysanne saw Lady Ariandra hide her mouth behind her fan.

“Will you do me the honour of dancing with me, my princess,” he finally said.

Princess Trystana smiled, “Yes,” she said at once, “it would be a pleasure.” She placed her hand in his and let him lead her off into the centre of the room.

Lady Ariandra could hardly contain herself. “She was blushing,” she whispered as soon as they were sitting again.

“I do believe you’re right,” Lady Deria confirmed.

“I didn’t believe it at first,” she continued, “but now I think it must be true.”

Lady Elda looked at her hands uncomfortably. “I wish you wouldn’t gossip, mother.”

“It’s not gossip if they’re making it that obvious,” her mother retorted.

“What difference does it makes, in any case?”

“It doesn’t make the least bit of difference, of course,” she said.

“Then what’s the use in talking about it?”

“What are you talking about?” Another man’s voice said.

Lady Ariandra started. “Rolyn,” she admonished, “don’t sneak up like that.”

“I apologize, mother,” he said, amused. “We’ll make more noise next time.”

He looked quite like his mother, more than Lady Elda did. He had her long thin face. With him was a very beautiful young woman with delicate features and chestnut coloured hair.

Lady Elda seemed quite relieved to see him. “I’m sure you remember my brother, Lady Deria,” she said.

“I do indeed,” she said. “Lady Alysanne Sarsfield, this is Ser Rolyn Toland, and Genna Sand.”

Lady Ariandra narrowed her eyes, “You’re Lady Qorgyle’s daughter, aren’t you?” She asked the pretty girl.

“I am, my lady,” she said.

“Well,” the lady said, “look at you, who else could you possibly be?”

The girl turned pale, “I… I don’t know, my lady.”

“Oh, there’s no reason to be upset, my dear,” Lady Ariandra said, “it’s not your doing, is it?”

Now she looked on the verge of tears. Ser Rolyn took her hand, “Shall we dance again, Genna?”

She nodded and curtseyed before turning away.

“How could you?” Lady Elda asked her mother.

“Did I suggest anything that isn’t true?” Lady Ariandra said defensively. “Gods be good, she’s his spitting image.”  

“That’s only a rumour, my lady,” Lady Deria said. That caused Lady Ariandra to scoff.

“A rumour that’s always upsets her a great deal,” Lady Elda said.

“I would be upset too,” she said, “if my father behaved so abominably and refused to acknowledge me.”

Lady Elda covered her face with her hand, “If he had acknowledged her, you would say that was abominable too.”

“What rubbish,” she said, “being a terrible husband is no excuse for being a terrible father.”

Alysanne felt herself turning red. She had never felt more strongly that she was in the middle of something she should have no part in. She shifted in her seat and tried to turn away.

Lady Deria touched her on the arm. “Shall we find something to drink?” She asked her.

“Oh yes, please,” she said.

They strolled along the edge of the hall, between the great carved pillars and the windows of leaded glass. Lady Deria’s smile was almost embarrassed.

“Lady Ariandra can be quite… formidable,” she said.

“I gathered that, yes,” Alysanne said. “Who was that girl?”

“Genna Sand?” Lady Deria asked casually. “Like she said, she’s Lady Qorgyle’s natural daughter. People have been speculating about her other parent ever since she was born, the poor thing.”

“Lady Qorgyle?” It must have been a trial to her, especially if her lover refused to own up to it. That kind of thing never left a woman. In her place, Alysanne may have died from the shame. “But Lady Ariandra seems to be quite sure she knows...” Alysanne stopped herself. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t ask you to repeat gossip.”

“No,” Lady Deria agreed, “if you want gossip, go back to Lady Ariandra. I’m quite sure it’s the only reason she comes to Sunspear at all. That and to interfere with Lord Toland. Their daughter is getting married herself in half a year, and I don’t think she trusts her husband to make all the arrangements to her satisfaction.”

“Lady Elda’s father?” Alysanne asked, confused. “But… I assumed he was… dead. Isn’t Lady Ariandra wed to Lord Wyl?”

“Oh no,” Lady Deria said with a laugh, “they’re not wed.” Alysanne’s face must have betrayed her. “I’ve shocked you,” Lady Deria said, “I am sorry, I’m not one who enjoys shocking people.”

“I’m not shocked,” Alysanne lied. “It’s just all a little confusing.”

Lady Deria smiled kindly. “Well, my family is not confusing at all, if that’s some comfort to you.”

Alysanne could not help but laugh at that. “Just you, your husband, and your little son?” She asked hopefully.

“No,” Lady Deria admitted, “my husband has been dead these past three years.”

“Oh dear,” said Alysanne, “I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you,” she said. “He was a decent man. He fell from his horse one day and bashed his head in.”

“How dreadful,” said Alysanne, more shocked now than ever.

“These things do happen.”

“I don’t know what I should do, if such a thing happened to my husband.” Go to her lord cousin in Maidenpool and beg to be taken in, she supposed. Or join the Silent Sisters.

“First I shocked you, then I made you gloomy,” Lady Deria said. “You must regret you met me tonight.”

“Not at all,” Alysanne said earnestly. She liked Lady Deria a good deal, though she could hardly say why. Women shocked her all the time, but they hardly ever apologized for it.

“Let me make it up to you,” Lady Deria offered.

“There’s no need for that, my lady,” she said, “you didn’t offend me one bit, truly.”

“Maybe not,” she allowed, “but I should like to see you dance with someone.”

Alysanne blushed, “I haven’t danced in years,” she confessed. Even when she had been young and far more attractive then she was now, she hardly ever danced. “I’m sure I’ve forgotten how.”

“It hardly matters if you know how or not,” Lady Deria said. “Not if you have the right partner.”

She blushed again, “My lord husband isn’t fond of dancing either.”

Lady Deria smirked. She grabbed a goblet off a passing tray and handed it to Alysanne. “Have some lemon water,” she told her. “Do you see anyone you like?”

“Now you are trying to shock me, my lady,” Alysanne admonished her gently.

“Wait here,” she said.

Alysanne did, nervously. She tried to find her husband in the hall, but he was nowhere to be seen. She did find Tyia, though, dancing with a young Dornishman, looking beautiful and happy. When one dance ended she was immediately engaged for the next.

Lady Deria came back before too long, with her was a tall man with dark curls that fell to his shoulders and a grin that was as amused as hers. Alysanne recognized him as one of the lords who had sat on the dais that evening, but his name escaped her.

“Lady Alysanne,” Lady Deria said, looking pleased with herself, “this is Lord Gargalen.”

Alysanne suddenly had nothing to do with the goblet in her hand. She found herself shoving it towards Lady Deria before dropping into a deep curtsy. Lord Gargalen took her hand and brought it to his lips. His dark eyes met hers. “My lady,” he said.

When he took his lips away, Alysanne realized that she had been holding her breath. So long that she felt light on her feet. She couldn’t bring herself to look away from those eyes.

“Lady Alysanne was just saying how much she wanted to learn this dance,” Lady Deria’s voice cut in.

Alysanne had forgotten that she was even there. That she existed at all.

“Will you let me show you?” He asked. His voice was deep, and breathy. Alysanne couldn’t help but feel that he was not only speaking of dancing. And the idea didn’t offend her.

“If you would, my lord,” she managed to say.

He had never let go of her hand. As they walked together to the centre of the room all the music, and conversation, and noise seem to disappear. Alysanne was dimly aware of the crush of people, but they didn’t matter at all.

They reached the floor and joined the two lines of men and ladies preparing for the next dance, Their fingers parted as he positioned himself across from her. Alysanne was so distracted by the way he was looking at her that she forgot what was about to happen.

“I...” she started, feeling awkward, like she was a maiden at her first feast, “I really don’t know this dance at all,” she said.

Lord Gargalen’s smile widened. “Don’t worry, my lady,” he told her, “it couldn’t be simpler. All you need to do is follow my lead.”

The music started, a slow and stately song. They came together and joined hands once more, then moved around the room in circles and lines. He had been right, all she need do was follow him.

“Where did you come from?” He asked her in a wondering voice after another minute of staring at each other. Or was it an hour?

Alysanne smiled back at him, “King’s Landing.”

He laughed. It was deep and booming; Alysanne could feel its vibration inside her own chest. “That’s impossible,” he said, “I’ve been to King’s Landing, and I hated it.”

“Does that mean you have to hate everything about it?” she asked him.

“I thought so,” he said, “until now. You need to move around the circle.”

“What?” Alysanne said stupidly, “oh.” The dance parted them, but Alysanne barely registered the faces, or the touch of any of the other men who were briefly her partner before she made her way back around to Lord Gargalen.

She could feel herself blushing as he took her hand again. “You dance so well, my lord,” she said. Immediately reproaching herself for saying something so inane.

“So do you, my lady,” he replied. “It’s very pleasant to watch you.” His cheeks turned a little pink at those words, but Alysanne could hardly believe it was a blush. “Forgive me,” he said.

She shook her head, “I know what you mean.”

Alysanne didn’t notice when the music stopped, but thankfully Lord Gargalan did. He lead her away towards the edge of the room and its many seats. A new, much livelier song was beginning.

“Did you want to dance again?” he asked her.

“I don’t think I could,” Alysanne admitted. She was so breathless that anyone would have thought she had been running.

“Yes,” he said, “this is a dance best left for the young.” He sat down next to her on the bench and they watched a dance that was quite unlike the courtly march they had just engaged in. There was a good deal of running, spinning, and ladies jumping into the air. “And they don’t dance like this in King’s Landing.”

“No,” Alysanne confirmed.

A girl of about sixteen came over to sit beside Lord Gargalen. She clutched his arm and looked around the hall furtively.

“What are you doing, Little Chickie?” he asked her.

“I’m hiding from Mother,” she said bluntly.

“Here?” he questioned fondly. “This will be the first place she looks.”

“Every time I try to sit down, or do anything at all, she swoops in and forces me to dance.”

“I thought you liked dancing,” he said to her.

She rolled her eyes. “I do. But I don’t like being forced to dance,” she said. “And she never throws anyone interesting at me.”

“Uninteresting men have to dance with someone too.”

“Oh no,” the maiden said. Alysanne followed her gaze and saw Princess Trystana coming towards them.

“I’m sorry, Little Chickie,” Lord Gargalen said as he rose to his feet, taking Alysanne with him. It was only then that she noticed that they were still holding hands. She pulled hers away, then she put it behind her back, as though the princess would see blood on it.

Princess Trystana, who had been so kind to her.

“Dany,” she said sternly to the girl, who had resolutely remained seated on the bench, “Lord Velaryon is waiting for you.”

“If you make me dance with anyone more, I’ll scream!” The girl declared. Princess Trystana only narrowed her eyes, but the effect was terrifying enough. “I’m tired!” Her daughter said.

“You had strength enough to run in the other direction when you saw him coming, so you must have the strength for one dance.”

Lord Gargalen laughed. Princess Trystana and the girl both glared at him. The resemblance between them was striking.

“You better go,” he told her. “You’ll break the man’s heart if you jilt him.”

The girl scrunched up her face, “This is the last one!” She told Princess Trystana before stalking off towards the dancers again.

Lord Gargalen chuckled. “That was my daughter, Daenerys,” he whispered to Alysanne. She felt herself go red with shame.

“She seems to think she can do whatever she pleases,” Princess Trystana said to Lord Gargalen. To her husband. “And I can only imagine it’s because you spoil her.”

“She doesn’t think so at all,” he said defensively. “We both know she’ll be charm itself to Lord Whoever. Perhaps you ask too much of her.”

“All of ask of her is her duty,” Princess Trystana said. “There can be nothing more important than that to teach one’s children. Don’t you agree, my lady?”

Alysanne felt the heat in her face increase. She couldn’t see those words as anything but a reproach, even if the princess was gracious enough to look at her solicitously. “I do, my princess,” she said. “I agree entirely.”

“Thank you,” she told her. “And for all her charm, Daenerys has never understood her duty.”

“You’re wrong, my princess,” Lord Gargalen said.

“I hope you’re right. One of these days, we’ll see.” She sat down on the bench.

Lord Gargalen sat down beside her. Alysanne didn’t see any choice but to sit down too, careful to leave a good space between herself and him.

“Lady Alysanne and I were only just dancing,” Lord Gargalen said. Pointedly.

“I’m glad,” said Princess Trystana. “I was afraid you weren’t enjoying yourself, my lady.”

“Yes,” her husband said, “and we had some thought of dancing again.”

Princess Trystana looked between them, Alysanne trying to appear as small as she could, and Lord Gargalen, acting completely unabashed. “Oh,” she said, “I am sorry.” She stood, “Goodnight,” she told him. “And please, think on what I’ve said. About Dany.”

“I will,” he said, “if you wish it.”

When she was gone, Alysanne let out a shuddering breath.

“Are you unwell, my lady?” Lord Gargalen asked her, taking her hand once more.

She didn’t pull it away; she felt as though she needed the support. “I should go,” she said, “to bed.” Back to King’s Landing may have been better, however. She felt like weeping just remembering the thoughts she had entertained, how she must have acted. Here in the feast hall, with her own husband somewhere in the room.

Had he seen?

“So soon?” He asked, “Surely you can stay for one more dance.”

“No!” She said quickly, “I should find my daughter. And we should both go to bed.”

“Let me help you,” he said. “You do look ill.”

“I’m not ill,” she said. She forced herself to look at him. The way he was looking at her… She didn’t think anyone had looked at her like that before. “I need to go.”

“As you say.” He kissed her hand again. The heat of his lips felt as though it were spreading up her entire arm. “I hope you have pleasant dreams.”

Alysanne fled from him into the crowd of people milling around, talking and watching the dancers. She tried to find her daughter somewhere in the scrum. When she finally did, Tyia was sitting, sipping wine with a young man. She grabbed her arm.

“Sweetling,” Alysanne said, trying not to sound panicked, “it’s time for us to retire.”

“Oh,” Tyia said. She stood immediately, for all the disappointment on her face. “I’m sorry, Ser Galwell,” she said to her companion, “it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to dance with you after all.”

The young man didn’t look very upset, “Some other time perhaps,” he said to their backs as they walked away.

Tyia sighed when they got outside and started together along the walk to the tall, hulking Tower of the Sun across the great courtyard. “I had a very nice evening,” she said. “The way everyone was talking, for the entire journey, I expected to be terrified, but it was all quite ordinary. The food was very queer, and some of the dancing was rather, well, unrefined, but everyone was very pleasant. Don’t you think?”

“Yes,” Alysanne said to her, “I was met with nothing but kindness.”

“Mother?” Tyia asked her when they passed in front of a torch, “are you crying? What’s the matter?”

She wiped angrily at the tears on her cheeks. “I’ve had too much wine, I think,” she lied. In truth, she had only half a glass while she was eating before discovering that she much prefered the sweetened lemon water.

“I think I have too,” Tyia said, “I’m sorry. All the dancing made me thirsty.”

“Don’t make it a habit my love, that’s all.”

“I won’t,” she promised. “To think, this morning we were still on the ship.”

Alysanne left her daughter on the first floor of the tower, still sharing a bed with half a dozen other young ladies, and climbed the staircase higher up.

Her husband, as Master of Horse, had been given a chamber just a floor down from the king himself. The corridors up there were richly decorated with tapestries and paintings. The mirrors behind the lamps on the wall made it almost as bright as day.

The door from the corridor opened into a small receiving room that was darkened except for the light of the moon through the uncovered window. There was a light in the dressing room, however, and Alysanne found Marigold there, still unpacking clothing from the large cedar trunk.

“You should have been in your bed hours ago,” Alysanne told her gently.

“There’s work that needs to be done, milady,” she said. “I was resting all afternoon when I should have been doing it.”

“You’re not still ill, are you?” She looked flushed.

“No, milady,” she said. “Though what they gave us for dinner didn’t quite agree with me.”

“Nor with me."

She helped Alysanne out of her best gown and into a sleeping shift. She watched the maid fold the sleeves and over-skirts away lovingly as she freed her hair from all its pins and nets. Her own stomach was starting to roil again, an uncomfortable heat was creeping up her throat.

“I suppose we’ll grow accustomed to the food soon enough,” Alyanne told Marigold.

“I pray you’re right, milady.”

Alysanne was surprised to find Tybot in the bedchamber. He was sitting at a writing desk in his shirt sleeves with a single candle and a scatter of papers.

“I expected you to stay at the feast a good deal longer,” he told her without looking up.

The bed had already been used. The sheets looked as though they’d been hastily put back with an unpractised hand.

“I couldn’t find you,” she said, “and the food upset my stomach. I thought it best to come to bed.”

“Well,” he said, looking at her from his seat, “there was some business I had to...”

“Yes,” Alysanne said quickly. He was watching her with a familiar expression, she pulled back the sheets and climbed into the bed. She knew what was coming; she had been his wife for nearly twenty years, so she didn’t bother to bring the blankets back up to cover herself.

Her husband rose from his seat and stood at the foot of the bed, disrobing and leaving his clothes in a pile haphazardly at his feet. He came over to Alysanne and ran his hand up her thigh, pushing up her bedgown over her hips.

She closed her eyes as soon as he started to thrust into her. His huffing and puffing always came in a rhythm that seemed to lull her. But tonight, the feel of his breath on her cheek reminded her of the shiver she felt down her spine when Lord Gargalen had first looked up at her.

Her hand still burned where his lips had touched them.

Alysanne felt a tightness slowly building in her belly. With every breath, and every thrust it seemed to coil up, like wrapping a ribbon around her finger until the tip turned purple. She remembered his laugh, the affection in his eyes when looked at his daughter, the line of his jaw when he smiled, the creases around his eyes. The touch of his hand when he asked her to stay.

Alysanne cried out as her body shook, quite against her will.

Chapter Text

Olenna didn’t often break her fast with her lord father. In truth, she wasn’t often in his presence for so long. And when she was, she always felt as though it could only be to because she had displeased him.

But Lord Redwyne didn’t seem displeased. They were sitting on the balcony of his chambers, the usual Dornish profusion of fruit spread out on the table. Her father and brother conversed easily with each other, but Olenna hardly knew what to say. And they were unlikely to ever ask her view.

“Is that Lord Tarth’s daughter?” Her father asked.

“I believe it is,” Horas replied. “Marrying that one off couldn’t have been easy.”

Olenna looked over to see the lady herself. She was very tall, and plain of face, but other than that, she didn’t seem so horrible.

Lord Redwyne scoffed, “The idea of ruling Tarth no doubt helped. And her husband is an idiot.”

“He would have to be,” Horas declared. “I would never marry a woman like that. Not for the greatest lordship in Westeros.”

“Not even a Princess of Dorne?”

“Of course not.”

Lord Redwyne raised his eyebrows. “Then you’re a better man than Lord Rowan.”

“What do you mean by that, my lord?” Horas asked.

“Perhaps it’s an idle rumour,” he said, “but not one I have much trouble believing. Some men will do anything to gratify their ambition, and the Dornish...”

“Yes,” Horas said. “There are certain rumours that are clearly true about them. A man doesn’t have to work very hard, if you understand me.”

Septa Unelletine, sitting beside Olenna and delicately eating pomegranate seeds, cleared her throat gently.  

Horas started and turned to Olenna as though surprised to find her there. “In any case,” he said, “it makes me grateful, to have a sister myself who is so virtuous.”

Olenna blushed. She supposed it was praise, but for some reason she found it almost menacing. As though he was warning her. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“Yes,” Lord Redwyne said. “I hope that her example is instructive to all the ladies here.”

Olenna said nothing. Her father and brother regarded her silently for a moment longer before Lord Redwyne smiled at her. “How are you occupying yourself today, my dear?”

She was quite unused to being asked such a question. Her mother had died before she was old enough to ask her anything, and in Highgarden, she always did whatever Lady Tyrell wished. “Um,” she said uncertainly, “I believe we’re going to have a quiet morning. But at midday...” She trailed off, suddenly wondering if her plans would meet with his approval.

Septa Unelletine came to her rescue. “Lady Deneza has invited Lady Olenna to lunch with her in the gallery above the small yard,” she said. “I expect Princess Loreza will be there, my lord.”

“I see,” her father said. “Excellent. Are you going with the Gargalen girl?”

“I intend to, my lord, yes,” Olenna told him. They had made those arrangements the previous day, however. Before the feast.

“Excellent,” he repeated. “I would be more pleased if you’d managed to befriend the princess, of course, but that is excellent.”

Olenna blushed, and reproached herself for her fear of his disapprobation. It was foolish to think he would object to her spending time with the Dornish. Why else would be bring her to Dorne? Then again, he seemed pleased that she was finding favour with the very women he had only just finished criticizing for their lack of virtue.

But if Lord Redwyne was lowering himself to find favour with them, that could only be her fault. He once had every expectation of being goodfather to a prince, and now…

“Princess Loreza doesn’t seem to want to befriend anyone,” Olenna said defensively.

“Hush child,” Septa Unelletine chided her. “What a thing to say.” She turned to Lord Redwyne. “The princess has been very gracious, from the very first day. I believe she is quite fond of Lady Olenna.”

Olenna doubted that was true. They’d been in the same room often enough, but the princess had hardly spoken two words to her in the ten days she had been in Sunspear. It was only Princess Trystana who had taken any notice of her. Her and Daenerys. “I only meant,” she said. “She’s obviously far too busy to be more than civil to anyone.”

That was true enough. The princess arrived whenever she wished, and left without regard to anything. It didn’t seem to Olenna that she was ever any more courteous than she had to be.

“No doubt,” Lord Redwyne said. “But I hope you’ll make the effort in any case.”

He paid her little mind after that. He and Horas joked together about the tourney and other men. Things they would hardly solicit Olenna’s opinion on. They left the Garden Keep to Olenna, the septa, and their needlework. When the time came for the ladies to leave, Olenna almost demurred. But she knew Septa Unelletine would not be sympathetic.

“I supposed we can meet Daenerys there,” she said instead, as they started their walk across the gardens. “There’s no cause to wait for her.”

“No indeed,” Septa Unelletine said with a knowing expression. “You must makes amends with her, of course.”

“Amends?” Olenna asked. “For what?”

“Well, sweetling,” she said, “I do believe we managed to offend her last night.”

Olenna was a little incredulous. “I was only following your advice,” she protested.

“Yes,” the septa admitted. “I advised you to do as I believed your lord father would wish. And it seems I was wrong.”

“But...” she said. “You don’t think I should have acted… other than I did? You couldn’t possibly.”

“No,” she said, “but still, you must make amends with Lady Daenerys. And hope that she herself shows more judgement in the future.”

Olenna doubted that. Her friend always seemed so sure of herself. She would defend the Lyseni woman from any argument against her, no matter how reasonable. Just like she defended Ser Maron Wyl.

“Lady Olenna,” she heard an unfamiliar voice call to her. It came from a young woman walking towards them down the stairs of the keep. She had a cheerful face, plump, in that pleasant, youthful way, with thin brown hair and a small mouth.

“That’s Lady Darklyn, sweetling,” Septa Unelletine whispered in her ear.

“You are Olenna Redwyne, aren’t you?” The lady asked her when they met at the bottom of the stairs. “I know we were introduced yesterday, but I’m hopeless with names and faces.”

“Um,” Olenna said, a little astonished, “I am, my lady.”

“Oh good,” she said cheerfully. “It would have been quite embarrassing otherwise. And do you know who I am?”

Olenna was finding it hard to maintain her composure. “I do, Lady Darklyn.”

“That’s very good of you,” she said, “I was sure you wouldn’t remember me. I probably wouldn’t remember me.” She brought forward the girl who was with her, a very comely girl with blonde hair and high cheekbones. “And this is Tyia Sarsfield, my dearest friends in all the world.”

She blushed prettily and bobbed a little curtsey at Olenna. “Are you going to the small yard, my lady?” She asked.

“We are,” Olenna confirmed.

“That’s a relief,” Lady Darklyn said, “we have no notion where it is.”

“Well, we certainly do,” Olenna said, summoning her courtesy. “Why don’t you walk with us.”

“Thank you,” she said. But as soon as they started walking, she started talking again. “You’ve been here for quite some time already, haven’t you?” She asked Olenna.

“Not long,” Olenna said. “A little less than a fortnight.”

“And isn't it a strange place?”

“Yes,” Olenna said without thinking.

“Oh Ami,” Tyia Sarsfield admonished. “It’s not so bad.”

“She’s only saying that because every man in Dorne was at her feet last night,” Lady Darklyn confided. “She was too busy dancing to notice anything.”

She blushed again. “Well, you tell me all about it, then.”

“I wouldn’t want to shock you.”

“Since when have you been worried about that?”

“I wouldn’t want to shock Lady Olenna.”

“I don’t believe you could, my lady,” Olenna told her. “As I said, I’ve been here nearly a fortnight.”

“Let me see,” Lady Darklyn said. She touched her chin as though she had so many scandalous things to choose from, that she couldn’t quite decide. “I suppose you’ve heard about Prince Arion and his… well, I have no notion of what to call her.”

“Paramour,” Olenna said. “They call them paramours here.”

Lady Darklyn giggled. “Yes, I know,” she said, “but I’m not sure it applies in this case. What I heard is that he, the prince that is, is wed to some lady whose father hates him so much that he ordered him from his castle. And he didn’t want to face his brother, so he ran off the Lys, for four or five years, as I understand it. And when he came back, he brought this woman with him.”

“What’s so extraordinary about that?” Asked Olenna. It was nothing compared to all the other things she’d been hearing daily.

“My dear!” Lady Darklyn said. “It would be one thing if she was some magisters daughter or something, but he found her in a… well. The way I heard it, he had to buy her.”

Olenna was shocked. She looked over to Septa Unelletine. The expression on her face told her that she already knew, and wished that Olenna hadn’t found out.

Tyia Sarsfield gasped. “You can mean that she was a… slave, can you?”

Lady Darklyn nodded excitedly. “In one of those Lysene pleasure houses, where they breed them to look like dragon lords, you know. The prince saw her and decided he couldn’t live without her.”

“Are you sure it’s true?” Olenna asked her. It seemed too much, even for the Dornish.

“My husband says it’s true.”

“She’s always about, though,” Olenna said. “I never speak to her, of course, but Lady Lenelle is very attached of her. She would never allow her to be around her daughter. Not when she has this marriage at stake.”

“I’m not sure,” Tyia said. “All our mothers let Lady Jenny around us.”

“And the Dornish, you know,” said Lady Darklyn confidently. “I hear he has bastards too. Prince Arion, I mean.”

“Only one,” Olenna said. “With the Lyseni woman."

“That’s not what I heard,” Lady Darklyn said. “My husband...”

“Ladies,” Septa Unelletine cut in suddenly, “can we perhaps find some other topic of conversation?”

Lady Darklyn laughed. “I warned you I would be shocking.”

Tyia Sarsfield smiled fondly. “I heard that the bridegroom is arriving tomorrow.”

“And about time too,” Lady Darklyn said. “The wedding is in six days. One delay and he could have missed it.”

“That means she will only know him for five days,” Tyia said. “Princess Loreza, I mean. Before they wed. I don’t think I would like to marry a man I know so little.”

“I don’t think I could,” Lady Darklyn said. “I’ve known my husband since I was a child.”

Olenna tried not to frown, or to tell them both that knowing a man from childhood was no guarantee of anything.

“But I suppose it’s different when you’re a princess,” Tyia Sarsfield continued. “No one could be displeased with a princess.”

All four of them turned at the sound of running steps. Daenerys Gargalen was coming down the path that lead from the great courtyard and the Tower of the Sun. She joined them and immediately linked her arm with Olenna’s.

“Good day,” she said cheerfully.

Olenna felt herself flush. “Good day, Daenerys,” she said. “Have you met Lady Darklyn?”

“I have,” Daenerys said in the same happy tone. “Good day.” Lady Darklyn answered with equal cheer and introduced her friend. Daenerys smiled at Tyia. “You’re Lady Alysanne’s daughter, aren’t you?”

“I am, my lady,” Tyia Sarsfield said, a little confused. “Have you met my lady mother?”

“Oh no, I don’t think so,” Daenerys said, “but my f- my mother has, and she likes her very much.”

“Your mother, Princess Trystana?” Lady Darklyn asked excitedly.

“Yes,” Daenerys told her. She turned to Olenna and spoke to her in a much softer voice. “Are you...” She started. “Did you sleep well?”

“I did,” Olenna told her. “Last night was rather… I was very tired.”

“So was I,” she told her. “My mother says we should all go to bed early; no doubt we’ll be up even longer tomorrow, with the Rowans finally coming.”

“And I doubt anyone will take her advice.”

“No,” Daenerys laughed.

Lady Darklyn whispered something to her friend and giggled. Tyia Sarsfield shook her head.

“Lady Daenerys,” Lady Darklyn said boldly. “You must know Prince Arion very well too.”

Olenna turned red with embarrassment for the lady, but Daenerys could only frown in confusion. “He’s my uncle,” she said.

“So you must know his family.”

“Please Ami, don’t.” Tyia Sarsfield. Olenna could see her mind searching for a way to distract Lady Darklyn from her desired course. “Is it true that, in Dorne, you don’t perform the bedding ceremony?”

“At the wedding feast, you mean?” Daenerys said. “Yes, and I’m very glad. It sounds dreadful.”

“I don’t know,” Lady Darklyn said with a smirk. “I rather enjoyed it.”

“Well, I wouldn’t,” Daenerys declared. “And neither would Princess Loreza.” She looked at Olenna again. “What do you think about it, Olenna?” She asked solicitously.

“I...” Olenna said. “To tell the truth, I can’t really imagine a wedding without a bedding. They go together.”

“Not in Dorne,” Daenerys said haughtily.  

“Is there a wedding pie?” Tyia Sarsfield asked curiously.

“Of course,” Daenerys said. “And there’s dancing too.”

“That’s a mercy,” Lady Darklyn said. “Oh, we’re here.”

They’d arrived at the the small yard. Several archery butts had been set up and a small group of knights and ladies were letting fly at them. Lady Darklyn and her friend immediately made for the table set up in the shade under an awning, but Daenerys saw her sister standing with a long bow in her hands, so Olenna went with her towards the butts.

As they approached she made out the form of Prince Daeron, clad in plum coloured silk. Ser Jeremy Norridge was by his side, smiling at something the prince was saying to him.

Olenna paused; Septa Unelletine squeezed her hand. “Steady on, sweetling,” she said quietly. “You have no cause to fear facing him.”

She nodded and went to stand beside Daenerys. Horas was there as well, with Ser Luthor Tyrell and three or four other dornishman. Olenna knew them all by name now. Ser Galwell, the heir to Sandstone, Ser Eldon Sand, and Ser Arthur Dalt. Lady Joleta was not the only lady among them; Elda Toland was there as well, with her bastard half-sister Jennelyn. Lady Joleta greeted Olenna and Daenerys cheerfully.

“You need to practise as well, Dany,” she said.

“What’s the point,” Daenerys said glumly. “Everyone knows you’ll win.”

“Don’t let yourself be demoralized, my lady,” Ser Galwell Qorgyle said. “Lady Joleta may become unbearable if no one challenges her.”

“I thought she was already unbearable,” Daenerys muttered as she accepted an arm guard from the young knight.

Olenna heard the sound of a man clearing his throat. She turned to find that Prince Daeron was close by her. He glanced at Ser Jeremy, who nodded encouragingly. “My lady,” he said. “I’m glad to see you so well.”

You would have been more glad to never see me at all . “Thank you, Your Grace,” she said. “It’s a great pleasure to see you again.” He still looked just like he ever did, with the same silver hair she had once dreamed of running her fingers through, but he had a sheepish expression she had never seen before on him.

“I had no notion you would be here,” he continued awkwardly. “Though, of course, I’m very pleased that you are.”

Olenna didn’t know what to say. “Yes, so am I.”

Horas noticed her plight and came over to stand beside her. He was silent, but his mere presence was a comfort to her.

Prince Daeron looked almost nervously at him before he spoke to Olenna again. “I hope, my lady, that you’ll dance with me at the feast tomorrow.”

“It would be an honour, thank you,” she said. Septa Unelletine smiled at her in approval. Olenna exhaled as he turned away. Now that it was over, it didn’t seem so bad. She decided that she felt many things towards Prince Daeron, but regret at losing his affection was not one of them.

“Would you like a turn, Lady Olenna?” Lady Joleta asked.

“I...” She had shot a bow and arrow a few times before when she was at Highgarden—Lady Tyrell had a passion for hawking and thought archery respectable enough to tolerate it in her ladies—but she had never taken to it. She would certainly not be able to match the graceful way Daenerys was letting shafts fly, one after the other. “I’m sorry, my lady,” she said, “I wouldn’t know how.”

Ser Luthor Tyrell came forward eagerly at those words. “Allow me to show you, my lady,” he said.

Lady Joleta smiled and offered him her bow and quiver of arrows. She unlaced her own arm guard to give it to Olenna, but Ser Luthor took that too. “With your permission,” he said, approaching her and indicating her left arm.

Olenna allowed him to slip the guard over her forearm and tried not to look too uncomfortable when he looked up and smiled at her while he tied the laces.

He put the bow in her hand and started to give her advice on where to place her feet. She did as he told her, though she didn’t feel quite balanced when she drew the string back. It took all her strength to get her fingers back to her right cheek.

“You needn’t pull so far,” Lady Joleta said. “You can’t anchor your shot all the way back there.”

Ser Luthor frowned. “No, in my experience, my lady,” he said, “it’s not so important where you anchor your shot, so long as you do it consistently.”

He came up behind Olenna and put her arms around her. One hand went over her left hand the the shaft of the bow, and the other over her right on the string. His body was close enough against her that the back of her head bumped into his chest. She glanced at Septa Unelletine, but she was standing well back with a look smug contentment on her face. Ser Luthor leaned down and whispered in her ear. “I know my lady’s aim will be true,” he said. “She pierces men’s hearts with unequaled skill already.”

Olenna cringed instinctively and let the arrow fly without meaning to. It missed the target by a hair and embedded in the bale of hay that was holding it.

“Well done, my lady,” Ser Luthor said. But Lady Joleta was less impressed.

“You rotated your elbow out far too much,” she offered. “It should be straight up and down.”

Olenna nodded. She drew another shaft from the quiver Ser Luthor was holding and notched it the the bow. She pulled it back and turned her elbow straight, letting loose the second she saw Lady Joleta nod out of the corner of her eye, so Ser Luthor didn’t have time to touch her again. This time it hit the outermost ring of the target.  

Daenerys came over and clapped for her. “That was much better,” she said.

Olenna smiled. The next shot hit the outermost ring as well, but on the other side. She scoffed in frustration. When she drew another, her shoulder was already sore enough that holding the arrow steady was difficult.

“Oh come on, Olenna, just one more,” Daenerys encouraged.

She let fly. The shaft landed close enough to the previous one that Olenna decided it wasn’t shameful.

“If you practice, you may get somewhere,” Lady Joleta said with a smile. Olenna returned it.

The group around the archery butts all stirred at once and turned towards the short flight of steps leading from the bailey of the Sandship. Princess Loreza and two of her ladies were coming down into the yard and straight towards them. They all bowed as she approached. Except for Prince Daeron, of course. He inclined his head, slightly.  

“Princess Loreza,” he said.

“Prince Daeron,” she returned, not bowing either.

“Have you come to shoot as well?” He asked her.

“No,” the princess said with an affected laugh. “I’m not fond of making a fool of myself in public.”

Lady Joleta rolled her eyes. “She can’t compete in the tourney,” she said, “and the princess never does anything without a purpose.”

She rolled her own eyes. “I’m not sure if that’s praise or censure.”

“Praise, I have no doubt,” said Prince Daeron gallantly.

She smiled, then looked pointedly over the prince’s right shoulder where Ser Jeremy was standing.

No one said anything, so she kept staring. Finally Lady Rhona Santagar made the introduction.

“Ser Jeremy Norridge, my princess,” she said.

“Ser,” Princess Loreza held out her hand and allowed the knight to kiss it. Olenna saw Horas whisper something to Luthor Tyrell, who twisted his mouth in distaste.

“Ser Jeremy is my oldest friend,” Prince Daeron said, now that he seemed to realise he had no need to pretend that the man was invisible.

“So I’ve heard,” Princess Loreza said. “I’m sorry I didn’t have the chance to meet you yesterday,” she addressed to Ser Jeremy. “I can’t imagine how it was overlooked.”

Ser Jeremy seemed quite uneasy. “I’m very honoured that you would notice me so kindly, my princess,” he said.

“It isn’t kindness,” she said, “it’s simple decency.”

“Yes,” he said, even more uncomfortable.

“Well,” Princess Loreza said, “shall we go eat?”

Prince Daeron gave Princess Loreza his arm and they all began to make their way to the table under the awning. Horas and Ser Luthor hung back, so Olenna and the septa stayed with them.

“I don’t suppose we can get out of going with them,” Horas said glumly to Ser Luthor. “Or avoid witnessing more displays like that.”

“What did you expect?” Ser Luthor asked. “They can’t seem to help themselves, it’s in their blood.”

“Prince Daeron has a good deal of Dornish blood himself,” Horas pointed out. “Perhaps that explains it.”

“Yes,” Ser Luthor laughed.

Without a word he extended his arm towards Olenna, clearly intending for her to take it. He walked her across the yard to the table that was already crowded with people. Princess Loreza sat at the head with Prince Daeron beside her. There more more ladies there, who hadn’t been practising in the yard. Lady Darklyn and Tyia Sarsfield had joined Lady Deneza Dalt and a few of the Hightowers. Daenerys pulled out the chair beside her, halfway down the table. Olenna let go of Ser Luthor’s arm and went over to her gratefully.

“I was half afraid Ser Luthor would never release you,” she said with a giggle.

“Stop,” Olenna said, smiling. “He was only flirting, it doesn’t mean anything.” Not that flirting was something she had much experience with. It had never been in her own nature, and most men didn’t think to flirt with a prince’s betrothed without encouragement. But for every other young person at Highgarden, it had been a general preoccupation. Ser Luthor probably flirted without even noticing he was doing it.

Daenerys giggled again. “As you say.”

“So...” Prince Daeron said at the front of the table. “I hear that tomorrow is the day.” She regarded him without understanding. “That the bridegroom will be arriving,” the prince supplied.

“Oh, yes,” Princess Loreza confirmed, not saying anything else on the subject.

“You’ve never seen him before?” He tried again.

“No,” she admitted. “But my uncles and my brother all speak very highly of him.”

“What does Prince Lewyn say about him?” asked Jennelyn Sand curiously.

“Ah,” Princess Loreza considered, “that he’s very clever and good-natured.”

“But, to be fair, Prince Lewyn thinks everyone is clever and good-natured,” Ser Galwell Qorgyle said.

The princess did smile at that. “My brother is an excellent judge of character,” she said.

“Yes, but is he comely?” Lady Darklyn asked, probably a little louder than she had intended. Several people laughed.

“I’m sure Princess Loreza is far more concerned with more important things,” Tyia Sarsfield said in a mildly admonishing tone.

“I’m told he’s a very fine looking man,” Princess Loreza said, sounding coldly indifferent.

After the meal of fish and green salad, Olenna managed to avoid being dragged into anyone else’s company and walked back through the garden alone, arm in arm with Septa Unelletine.

“What do you think of Princess Loreza?” Olenna asked her.

“Well,” the septa said uneasily, “she’s very...”

“Please don’t say she’s elegant,” Olenna begged her.

“I wasn’t going to,” Unelletine claimed. “I was going to say that she’s very… well, Dornish, I suppose. And she can hardly be blamed for that.”

“I wish I could like her, but...” Olenna hesitated.

“Yes, sweetling?”

“She doesn’t seem happy, about this wedding,” Olenna said. “Everytime someone mentions it, or her betrothed, she just becomes very… cold.”

“Perhaps she’s anxious about it.”

“No she isn’t,” Olenna argued. “She’s trying to pretend it’s not going to happen. I mean… Ser Eliott Rowan is a very good match for anyone, even her.” Doesn’t she know how fortunate she is? What others wouldn’t give to be in her place?

“Not as good as the heir to Highgarden,” Septa Unelletine said significantly.

“What?” Olenna asked. “He never wanted to marry her, did he?” Olenna couldn’t image how Princess Loreza would react to Ser Luthor’s gallantries.

“No, my love,” the septa said. “But I’m beginning to think someone else may have caught his eye.”

Olenna had no trouble interpreting her significant look. “That’s impossible,” she said.

“You mean to tell me that you haven’t noticed how he’s gone out of his way to be courteous to you in particular this last week or so? Or that your lord father and Lord Tyrell have been speaking a good deal together too?”

“He’s only flirting,” Olenna insisted. “I’m sure he flirts with everyone.”

“Or perhaps he’s trying to know you better,” she suggested. “And you could stand to be more encouraging. Lord Tyrell is a famously indulgent father; he would never betroth his eldest son to someone he wasn’t partial to, no matter how much he would want to show Lord Redwyne his favour.”

“But...” Olenna said in a small voice. “Why would they want me? I’m...”

“You’re the Lord of the Arbor’s daughter,” Septa Unelletine told her, “You have more right to him than almost anyone.”

Olenna didn’t want to look at her. “I wish you hadn’t told me this,” she admitted, “I know it will only get my hopes up.”

“You mustn’t think that, Olenna,” the septa said seriously. “Lord Redwyne has done what he could, and now it’s your duty to see that his efforts aren’t wasted. A Tyrell marriage is almost as good. In some ways it’s better.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Olenna admitted. “But… I don’t know what to do. I could never be like...”

“Like one of those empty-headed girls in Highgarden who spend all their days looking for young knights to flirt with? I should hope not.” Septa Unelletine took her hand and spoke to her affectionately, “It’s a wife he’s looking for, a Lady for Highgarden, a mother for his sons, not a fool to play a courtly game with.”

“And how can I convince him it should be me?”

“Well,” she said, “pleasing a husband is a good deal like pleasing a father. You need to show him that you will be guided by him, that you value his judgement above your own. He must know that you think he is the best man in the world.”

Olenna nodded. “Then perhaps it’s for the best,” she said, “that I’m not marrying Prince Daeron.”  

Septa Unelletine laughed out loud.

Chapter Text

Eliott awoke in the morning with a dull ache in his head. Owain opened the door to their room with a laugh.

“Are you still asleep?” he asked. “Everyone is waiting for you. Not least your bride.”

He groaned and rolled out of the inn’s narrow bed, stumbling groggily over to the earthenware flagon of water on a side table and drinking straight from it. The water was as cool as if it had just been drawn from the well, though Eliott could already feel the heat of the sun through the glass windows.

“I was a fool to not get a good night’s sleep,” he confessed. “What were we thinking?”

As soon as the ladies had gone to bed, Prince Lewyn had lead all the young men of the party back to the Planky Town, where they spent most of the night crossing the treacherous plank bridges and exploring the wine sinks and brothels hidden in the warren of boats and skiffs.

“What were we supposed to do,” Owain asked, “refuse to go?”

“No, I suppose not.”

Out in the yard of the inn, preparations were being made for their ride into Sunspear. There were dozens of banners and a score of grooms polishing bits of tackle and leather until they shone, but they would clearly not be ready to depart for an hour or more. Eliott pulled a clean tunic on over his head and followed his cousin down the corridor into a small room where his lord father had chosen to break his fast away from the noise of the dining hall below.

Ser Corett scoffed derisively at the sight of him. “What kind of display is this?” he asked. “I’m sure your good father will be very impressed when you’re sick all over his shoes.”

“I don’t feel sick in the least,” he lied. “I only need to eat something.”

He sat down and helped himself to several rashers of greasy bacon. He gobbled them up and used a piece of bread to soak up the grease.

Lord Rowan looked more worried than displeased. “Everything needs to go perfectly today, Eliott.”

“It will go perfectly,” he assured him.

“Have something fiery,” his cousin Marq suggested, pushing a bowl of strange looking paste towards him. Eliott picked up a glob with another piece of bread. It was dragon pepper and aubergine, so hot it brought tears to his eyes. “That will clear your head for sure,” Marq laughed.

“Don’t make this sound worse than it is,” Eliott told him. “My head doesn’t need clearing.”

“I should hope not,” his uncle said with even less sympathy than before. In fact, only Alastor was looking at him with sympathy; he, at least, had had the wisdom to plead fatigue the night before and stay behind. Even his mother and Lady Taria shook their heads disapprovingly.

Aelora, of course, was acting as though she didn’t know what was going on.

“I’m so excited that I can’t even eat,” she declared.

“What do you have to be excited about?” Eliott grumbled.

“Meeting Princess Loreza, of course,” Aelora said. “Do you think she’s pretty? Prince Lewyn said she is.”

“Aelora,” their mother admonished, “you shouldn’t be concerned with how pretty she may be. There are far more important things.”

“Prince Lewyn told you that?” Eliott asked her.

The young prince had never told him any such thing, for all his efforts. Last night, in a brothel in the bowels of a boat, he and his soon-to-be good brother sat together among the piled cushions in the common room. Prince Lewyn didn’t seem to have any interest in going anywhere more private and Eliott was not about to either, half convinced as he was that it was some kind of test. Instead he drank an entire flagon of wine to build up the courage to be blunt in his questions.

“What does she look like,” he finally asked, “your sister?”

Prince Lewyn only shrugged. “They say we look alike.”

Eliott squinted and tried to imagine him as a woman, but there was nothing for it. His features had a sharp, masculine quality that would be totally out of place on one.

It took half of another flagon before he tried again.

“I just...I still feel like I know nothing about her. What kind of wife will she be?”

Prince Lewyn looked at him with good natured sympathy. “You really don’t need to fear her,” he said. “You’ll do fine as long you don’t try to go up against the Wall.”

“The Wall,” Eliott asked, confused. “Like in the north?”

“No, this one’s worse,” Prince Lewyn confessed. “It’s when my father and my sister agree. No one stands a chance against them when they agree. And, of course they always do.”


“Oh yes,” he said with a laugh. “Officially anyway. Maybe they argue when no one is watching. But, well… my mother has always said that those who are born to rule are just not like the rest of us.”

“I know there are more important things,” Aelora was saying. “But it would still be nice if she were pretty too.”

“I wouldn’t take Prince Lewyn’s word for it, though,” Alastor told her. “All brothers say that their sisters are pretty.”

“Do you say I’m pretty?”

“You are,” Eliott assured her.

He escaped and went back to his chamber where Samuel Reer was waiting, holding a glass of something vile.

“What is that?” he asked.

“To clear your head, my lord,” he said.

It looked and smelled like vomit, but Eliott downed it five quick gulps, then nearly doubled over coughing. It was even more fiery than his breakfast.

“It’s past time you were dressed, my lord,” Reer said in his usual stoney manner.

“Yes,” Eliott said between coughs. “Or we’ll be riding in the worst heat.” He washed his face and hands before sitting for his shave. Then he helped Hugh get him into his best finery.

Or second best. The very best would be for the wedding.

He wore snowy breeches and a doublet of white silk with sleeves slashed with gold and the Rowan tree worked over the heart. He put on a golden chain where each link was shaped like the curving branches of a tree. Finally, he pulled on boots of the softest, honey-coloured calf’s skin. He would be hot, but he would look like a Rowan.

They were all about to leave when his mother came into the room and adjusted his chain affectionately.

“You look so handsome,” she said, touching his face with ther hand.  

“Do I?” he asked her, embarrassed by how anxious his voice sounded.

“Oh yes,” Lady Sarra assured him. She looked nervously at Samuel Reer and Hugh. They both took the hint immediately, and both senechal and manservant left the room, closing the door behind them.

“I wanted...” she started again, fiddling with his chain again. “I’m glad I have the chance to speak with you.”

“You can always speak to me, Mother,” he said, “whenever you wish it.” He couldn’t remember ever seeing her so nervous before. She was having trouble looking him in the face.

“You see, Eliott,” she said, “women are different than men, in how we love. We could never ask for it, but we need it desperately. Far more than men do.”

“Yes,” Eliott said. He would have been embarrassed, but his mother was clearly embarrassed enough for both of them.

“What I mean to say is, we depend so much on our husbands to… to give us what we need.”

“What is it that you need,” he asked her earnestly, “exactly?”

“Kindness,” Lady Sarra said at once. “Gentleness.” She finally met his eye. “I believe you know what I mean.”

“I do,” Eliott admitted. In truth, he had given it surprisingly little thought. It was difficult to feel desire for a woman you’d never seen, who you couldn’t even form an image of in your mind’s eye.

“I know you do, sweetling,” his mother told him, smiling. “If you’re kind to her, she will love you. No woman could help but love you then.”

“But will I love her?”

“I’m sure you will,” she said. “You’ve always had such a gentle heart. And she will need you, that will make you love her.”

“I hope so,” Eliott said.

“And… if she should seem shy, or nervous, I hope you won’t be hard on her. It’s only natural for a woman to be diffident so close to her wedding day.”

She was blushing, his lady mother was actually blushing. He took her hand and squeezed it reassuringly. “I know, mother. I will remember.”

“It’s the most important moment in a woman’s life,” Lady Sarra said, “a solemn moment. It should be treated as such.”

“It will be,” Eliott said. “I promise.”

They walked down to the yard together where everyone was waiting for them. His uncle, Ser Corret gave a grunt when he saw him.

“You look much better,” he said gruffly. But he squeezed Eliott’s arm reassuringly. His father embraced him.

“I know you’ll make us all proud,” he said.

A pit was starting to form at the bottom of Eliott’s stomach.

He handed his mother and sister into their litter then mounted up next to the banner bearers and all his friends.

“You look quite impressive, El,” Lyman Osgrey told him.

“Yes,” Jon agreed. “I almost want to leap into bed with you myself.”

“Leave him alone,” Marq said, though he was laughing with the rest of them. “He’s as nervous as a maid.”

“Save some of those nerves for the wedding feast,” Jon advised.

“The bride is like to be disappointed with that,” Lyman said. “Dornish women like men with blood as hot as their own.”

“Perhaps you should give up drink altogether until then,” Jon added. “Gods forbid she should be disappointed.”

“Don’t talk about Princess Loreza that way,” Eliott snapped, wondering why he was so protective of a woman he didn’t know. She’s still my betrothed , he reminded himself. It’s my duty to protect her honour as I would my own .

Prince Lewyn and Ser Olyvar Sand had mounted up close by, but if they heard his friends’ crass remarks, then they made no sign of it.

“Good morning!” the young prince said cheerfully. “You’re not any the worse for wear, I hope.”

“No, not at all,” Eliott said. His head was remarkably better. Whatever Reer had given him had done its job.

They rode out of the inn’s yard and through the small town. Their escort of minor knights, men-at-arms, and various other hangers-on fell in behind them as they passed through the disassembled village of tents that had been erected the night before. They could already see the Sunspear in the distance. Or, at least, the top of the Spear Tower was visible on the horizon.

They rode for two hours along a coastal road with the sea cliffs on one side and endless olive groves on the other. Smallfolk were gathering along the road in little clumps to watch them pass. Eliott waved at a little girl with red ribbons in her hair sitting on top of a man’s shoulders.

A league out from the city, when they could see the other towers of the palace and the Winding Walls, they were met by a large party in the middle of the road. Eliott recognized Prince Arion at the front. He had met the prince the year before when he’d come to Goldengrove to negotiate the marriage treaty. He had hardly changed in that time. He wore the same perpetually amused expression he had then.

With him came even more banners than Eliott’s own party had, though he noticed that most of them displayed the sun and spear. A prince could have as many banners as pleased him, it seemed.

“Lord Rowan!” the prince called when they approached. “Well met, my lord.”

His lord father was well back of the lead group. He rode up now, looking as unnatural on horseback as he ever was. “Prince Arion,” he called back. “How gracious of you to meet us.”

“It is my honour to do so,” the prince said formally. “And to welcome you, and all your companions, in the name of my brother Prince Rhodryn.”

“The honour is ours,” Lord Rowan said stiffly. He seemed to get smaller under the prince’s sardonic gaze, just as he had before. Lord Rowan had never been forceful. His instinct was always never to offend. It made Eliott apprehensive about the idea of how he would behave to Prince Rhodryn. “I’m certain you recall my sons,” he said. “And the rest of my family.”

“Indeed I do,” the prince said. “Ser Eliott,” he nodded towards him. “Ser Alastor, Ser Corret.”

“Prince Arion,” Eliott said, trying to sound lordly and assertive. “You remember my cousins Ser Marq and Ser Owain as well.”

“Sers,” the prince said.

“And allow me to present Lord Tarly and his son Garth,” he indicated the huge lord and the small boy, side by side on matched black horses. “Lord Oakheart,” he continued, “Lord Bulwer, Ser Daeron Darklyn.”

“My lords,” the prince said. He scanned the group and frowned slightly. “Where are the ladies?”

Prince Lewyn spoke up from amongst their group. “They’re right behind us,” he said with his usual grin. “In about half a dozen litters.”

“I see,” his uncle said. His own grin was almost identical. “Then I supposed we must delay the pleasure of greeting them.” He turned to his own group. “This is my son, Ser Maron Wyl,” he said, indicating a handsome man to his right who was a slightly fairer copy of his father. “My good sister Lady Jeyne, the Lord Bailiff of Sunspear.” The lady was tall, blonde, and stern looking. “Lord Toland and his son Ser Rolyn,” he continued. “Lady Jordayne, and her son Trebor, her daughter Brynelle. Ser Marence Santagar and his daughter Elysa. Ser Artyr Dalt, the Lord Shariff.”

They all nodded at each other awkwardly.

The Dornishmen in the Rowans’ own party presumably thought introductions were superfluous. Lady Fowler cleared her throat. “Shall we move on, my prince?” she said, as though prompting a small boy.

“Yes, of course, my lady.”

They all turned their horses and soon they were continuing down the road to cover the last league together.

Prince Arion smiled at Eliott in a way that made him even more nervous. “You look very well, Ser Eliott,” he said.

“Thank you, my prince,” he said, wondering if he should return the compliment.

“Yes,” said Ser Maron Wyl, “I dare say he’ll do.”

Prince Lewyn laughed and Eliott could feel heat creeping up his neck.

Ser Maron noticed. “You don’t need to look so apprehensive, ser,” he said. “Princess Loreza is unlikely to eat you. And even if she does, the experience may not be entirely unpleasant.”

Eliott saw Owain stifling a laugh out of the corner of his eye, he could have punched him on the mouth. Ser Corret though, had clenched his jaw in an effort to control his anger.

“I see you’re as charming as ever, nephew,” Ser Olyvar Sand said sardonically.

“And you’re as humourless as she is,” Ser Maron muttered.

“Loreza, humourless?” Prince Lewyn asked.

“You’ll see,” his cousin said. “Though who knows, maybe Ser Eliott will lift her out of her sulk.”

“That’s quite enough,” Prince Arion said with an indulgent smile. He put his spurs to his horse and moved up the group to fall in beside Lord Rowan. Ser Corret followed him, glaring at Ser Maron as he passed him.

“Is it really so bad with her?” Eliott heard Prince Lewyn ask Ser Rolyn Toland quietly.

“I suppose it’s as one would expect,” he replied.

Eliott found himself oddly cheered by the idea that his intended might be as overcome with nerves as he was. Though what she was dreading was necessarily quite different than his own fears. He had a few days yet. Surely that was enough time to put her somewhat at ease. He was half-afraid he wouldn't be able to go through with it, if she was truly frightened of him.

As they neared the city, the crowds of people lining to road to watch them increased. By the time they got through the first of the three-fold gates the rooftops were full of them.

They took the direct route from the city walls to the palace, bypassing the warren of alleys and courtyards that had thwarted more than one army in the last thousand years.

Sunspear itself was built on a jut of land going out to sea, and approached by climbing a rise and passing through an ornate arched gate, covered in painted blue and green tiles. It belied how formidable the thick walls really were.

The inner ward was more of a courtyard than any other castle ward Eliott had even seen. It was like a small lake of smooth, polished sandstone surrounded on all sides by buildings in the same airy ornate style.

At the far end was the Tower of the Sun, huge and tall with a beautiful dome of many-coloured glass at it top. A large group of people were standing on the stair up to the entrance when Prince Arion lead them all to dismount in front of it.

At the door, they were met by Princess Trystana and a whole new round of introductions was started.

“How many of these gauntlets do you supposed there will be?” Lyman Osgrey asked.

“It’s traditional to pass through trials to get to the princess,” Alastor pointed out. “Perhaps there will be a dragon for you to slay, El.”

Eliott winced. “Maybe this isn’t the best place to speak of that.”

Princess Trystana looked him up and down appraisingly and gave a little nod before she introduced them to her husband, Lord Gargalen, and their daughters.

Next came Lady Deneza Dalt, who seemed rather distracted, and Lord Uller, still fierce looking despite having a left arm that ended above the elbow. Lord Yronwood and his son were both tall, though the father was twice as wide as the son, but the rest of the names and faces barely registered to Eliott, as though he had reached his limit for one day.

By that time the ladies had arrived. Eliott ran back down the stairs to hand his lady mother out of the litter and escort her to scrum of courtesy.

Introducing the ladies around took even longer but eventually, he found himself inside the tower walking up a great set of stone steps with Princess Trystana on his arm, and his family and the princes following behind.

“The prince and my niece are waiting for you in the audience chamber,” the princess said conversationally. “It’s far better to do these things privately. Don’t you agree?”

“I do,” Eliott agreed, with perfect honesty. “It was very kind of you to arrange it so.”

That seemed to please her. “Yes, there will be more than enough time for everyone to see you both.”

“We were told that His Grace had already arrived,” Eliott heard Lord Rowan say to Prince Arion behind him.

“Oh, the king is upstairs with them,” Princess Trystana interrupted casually.

Eliott could almost feel his father’s apprehension at that.

“Are you always clean shaven, Ser Eliott?” the princess asked him suddenly.

“Yes, my princess,” he said bemused. “I always have been.”

“Hmm,” she intoned critically.

“Really, sister, leave the poor man be,” Ser Olyvar said. “He looks very well.”

“I certainly never said otherwise,” she told him defensively.

They climbed several more flights of stairs before turning into a wide corridor covered in a long Myrish carpet and lined with spear-carrying guardsmen in bright copper-scaled armour. The doors to the audience chamber itself were twice as tall as a man and carved from cherrywood in intricate geometric patterns.

The doors opened as they approached, swinging out from the inside. It took four men to move them.

Inside, the king was waiting for them at the top of a short flight of step leading to a dais. The room itself was not as large as the doors would have let Eliott believe, so it didn’t take them long to cross it and pay their obeisance.

Eliott had only ever seen King Aegon once before, at a tourney when he was still a squire, but the king was still as he had been then, smiling and friendly, like everyone’s favourite uncle. He congratulated him and patted his arm, almost familiarly.

“You’re a fortunate man, Ser Eliott,” the king told him.

“Your Grace is kind to say so,” he said, hoping he didn’t seem as fumbling as he felt.

Prince Rhodryn was standing next to the king. Eliott hardly needed to be introduced to know the man who would shortly become his good father. He seemed to be most things the King Aegon was not and managed to project a stern dignity that the king lacked, even as he smiled just as broadly and embraced Lord Rowan like a brother.

He held out his hand and another figure came into Eliott’s view. It was clad in flowing folds of scarlet and gleamed with yellow gold. She took her father’s hand as he presented her to Eliott’s father.

“This is my daughter, Loreza,” the prince said with obvious pride.

“Princess Loreza,” Lord Rowan said bowing. “It’s very gratifying to meet you at last, after so many months of hearing you highly spoken of.”

“Thank you, my lord,” she said. Eliott liked her voice, it was deep without being in anyway unfeminine. “I hope I live up to such lofty expectations.”

“I do not doubt that you will, my princess,” he said, clearly charmed by her. “And I’m certain the two of us will find we have many common interests to discuss.”

“I look forward to it,” she said. Her eyes were restive, as though she was trying not to look at Eliott.

Lord Rowan took a few seconds to notice it. “Forgive me,” he said, almost snapping backwards, “I’m not the one you’ve been anxious to meet.” He moved aside to allow Eliott to come forward.

Princess Loreza took two steps towards him and held out her hand for him to kiss. He took it in his own hand and realized he’d been holding his breath. “My princess,” he manages as he bent down to bring her fingers to his lips. Her hand was small and soft.

“Ser Eliott,” she said. “I’m glad to see your face at last.”

He was finally able to look at her properly. There was certainly no hump on her back. She was, in fact, quite tall for a woman, but not nearly so tall as him, with breasts that were neither too big or too small. Her skin was a rich olive colour but her face was marred by her large, aquiline nose. It was her father’s nose, and it looked well enough on him, but on her it made her look very harsh, almost stern.

Her eyes on the other hand… They were large and dark and heavily lidded. It gave them a perpetually sleepy appearance, as though she had just come from bed. Eliott decided that he liked her eyes very much. “Yes,” he said, “I’m very glad to see you as well.”

She smiled. Shyly, as far as Eliott could tell. “Um,” he said, feeling himself respond to her look, “may I present my lady mother to you.”

The princess greeted her very kindly. “Lady Sarra,” she said, “you’re most welcome.”

“Princess Loreza,” his lady mother said. “I’m very honoured to meet you. You’re very beautiful.”

She smiled more widely. “Thank you. This is my own mother.”

Lady Lenelle Manwoody came forward and repeated her daughters greeting. She kissed Eliott and both his parents on the cheek. “Ser Eliott,” she said. “I’ve heard you spoken very highly of as well.”

“My lady,” he said. “You’re too kind.”

“I hope not.” Her daughter didn’t take after her much, though there was some resemblance in the shape of their full lips. But she was no less handsome for being near forty, with that direct manner that all Dornish women seemed to have.

Next he introduced his brother and sister to the princess. Alastor was perfectly gracious, and Aelora was so nervous that she trembled. But a kiss on the cheek made her glow happily.

When everyone was introduced at last there was a silence that no one seemed to know how to break. Eliott gave Princess Loreza an uneasy smile that she returned.

“Perhaps,” Lady Lenelle said after a few seconds, “we should leave the children alone for a while.”

“No,” Princess Loreza said, “I wouldn’t want to drive you all out. Ser Eliott and I will can go to the gallery. I’m sure it will interest him.”

“An excellent notion,” Prince Rhodryn said. Eliott saw him squeeze his daughter’s forearm encouragingly before she came over to him and took his offered arm. Her hand was so light that he barely felt it.

“Shall we?” she asked him.

“Yes,” Eliott said, a little breathless. “If my princess would be so kind as to show me the way.”

They walked together from the room, Eliott aware, as surely she was, of how keenly everyone was looking at their backs. The princess lead him down the spearmen lined corridor to an arched doorway leading to a wide stone staircase. It went up a couple of stories before ending at a wide gallery with a carved lattice railing on the inside and brightly painted frescos on the curved outer wall.

Eliott leaned over the railing and saw that they were overlooking the throne room. It was a vast room with a mosaic floor made of tiny coloured stones, formed into an image of the sun and spear. At the far end, a long set of steps lead to a high dais where the two high seats of the princes of Dorne stood. One beneath the Martell spear, and the other the Rhoynar sun.

There seemed to be a good many steps in the Tower of the Sun, as though to remove any doubt that some were higher than others.

He looked up to see the dome of the tower above their heads. The midday sun was shining through the glass and scattering many coloured light everywhere.

“It’s very beautiful,” he told Princess Loreza, standing beside him. Just as you are , he almost said, but Samuel Reer had told him more than once that she was unlikely to be pleased by “empty gallantries,” as he called them. He wouldn’t have tried it in any case, not after going out of his way to compliment Lady Obella Qorgyle’s beauty in Vaith and getting nothing but a scowl in return.

Besides, the princess wasn’t truly beautiful as much as she was… alluring. And unlike any lady he was used to seeing. The cut of her flowing gown left her arms and the top of her shoulders bare, but he was used to seeing that by now. The neckline scooped down so that there was the slightest peak of the hollow between her breasts. She wore a golden band around her upper right arm. It had a pattern of pearls and rubies that matched her earrings.

“Yes, it is,” she agreed. “I’ve always liked it up here.”

She said nothing else, and very soon there was silence. Eliott tried to think to what everyone had said of her since they’d left Kingsgrave, but nothing he remembered seemed to be of any use. She worked very hard. She was fond of the desert.


“Was your journey very unpleasant?” she asked, just as he was opening his mouth.

“No, my princess,” he said. “I mean, it was rather long but… I was glad to see the country.”

She stayed silent.

“Dorne is very beautiful.”


Eliott didn’t suppose he would have known what to say to that innocuous comment either. He tried again. “Prince Lewyn mentioned that you breed horses.”

“No, not really,” she said. Every time she happened to looked at his face, her eyes darted away again quickly. She preferred to look vaguely off over his shoulder than at him. “That is, I supposed I’ve been dabbling in it these last few years. But it’s really my uncle who breeds horses.”

“And you only ride them?” Eliott said, hoping to make her smile. He got nothing more than a slight twitch in the corner of her mouth. “But I didn’t know Prince Arion was interested in that sort of thing either.”

“He isn’t,” she said in a clipped tone. “My father has two brothers.”

“Yes, of course,” Eliott said, feeling foolish. His headache was starting to return. He would have killed someone for a glass of wine. “Forgive me.”

“No, there’s no need,” the princess said. She was fiddling with the pendant that hung around her neck nervously. “Uh… more than one person has told me that you excel in the joust.”

Eliott tried to look modest. “I’m fortunate to come from a family of great jousters. My uncle especially.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that too.”

That seemed to exhaust that line of conversation. Eliott noticed her pendant was the seven point star, set with more pearls and rubies. The sight of it made him anxious. Was she very devout? No one had told him that she was. And surely they would have. People were always praising ladies for being devout.

But pious modesty might explain her reticence, and would no doubt make her nerves even worse. He tried to think of something pious to say to her himself, but nothing whatever came to mind. In that moment, he wasn’t entirely sure if he could name all seven gods.

“Would you like to see the paintings?” she asked.

“Oh,” he said. “I would like that very much.”

She walked away from the railing and towards the wall. There was a gap between the ceiling and the top the the fresco that was filled with more leaded windows. They lit the paintings and let Eliott see every fine detail.

The fresco went all the way around the gallery, broken only by four arched staircase entrances. They depicted great events in the history of Dorne in a lively, realistic style that owed more to the Free Cities than anything he’s ever seen in Westeros. The Children of the Forest were calling down the waters to create the Broken Arm. The Children themselves were small and dark figures, without any clear form. An army was lost in the red sands, a thousand arms reaching up to the sun as though begging it for mercy. The ten thousand ships burned and a king knelt before Nymeria, placing a crown at her feet.

She didn’t look unlike Princess Loreza.

“Who are they?” he asked of three fierce looking figures, two women and a man, surrounded by symbols of war and discord.

“The Red Princes,” his betrothed said.

Of course , Eliott thought. Nymeria’s successors who bound the country together in blood as she had in steel. Half a century of invasion and rebellion that Maester Kesian called Dorne’s bloody birthing bed. They called them the Red Princes, even though two of them were princesses. Even the Dornish took time to get used to that idea.

 “‘Subtlety was not yet a part of the Dornish character, and fear ruled the conquerors as much as the conquered. In many parts of the land, the sun and spear were symbols of terror. Peace returned only when the terror had done its work and no one was left to object to the new bloody vision the Red Princes built .’”

If some part of Eliott had hoped that she would be impressed or pleased by that, then he was disappointed.

“You’ve been reading Kesian,” she said, her face betraying nothing about whether she approved of that or not.

“I have,” he admitted. “He argues that the geography of Dorne will never allow for true unity.”

Princess Loreza scoffed. “He argues that he understands Dorne better than we do.”

“He says quite the reverse, that…”

“Only the Dornish can understand Dorne?” she asked. Eliott was glad she was finally looking him in the eye. “Yes, and then we’re meant to marvel at his cleverness as he explains it to us.”

Eliott smiled. “You don’t agree with the sentiment?”

“No, it’s nonsense,” she said.

“I’m glad for that,” he said. “That you think I might….” He trailed off as soon as she turned her face away from him to look back at the wall. “I’m surprised you like history. No one told me you did.” That had been precisely the kind of thing he’s been hoping to hear for a month. He’d never met a woman who knew much history beyond the stories that septas told children. Aelora knew songs about how good and holy Baelor had been, to be sure, but not about how his neglect almost destroyed the realm.

She was silent for a few moments, giving him a strange look. “I do like it,” she confirmed, but she didn’t offer anything more. “Shall we move on?”


They walked in silence past more painted scenes. The Storm King Baldric VII dying in a pit of vipers, Prince Ullryn mourning his three sons, slaughtered at the third siege of Horn Hill, Meraxes falling out of the sky at Hellholt. Eliott looked at the princess as much as he did the walls. Her black hair was half bound up in a golden hairnet that matched the rest of her jewels, but the lower half was loose and fell in lazy ringlets so far down her back that he thought she could sit on it. It looked soft and thick, he wanted to touch it, to see what it smelt like. Like flowers, he imagined.

I don’t have long to wait , he told himself.

Princess Loreza paused in front of Deria’s embassy to the Iron Throne, looking as though she were steeling herself for something equally frightening.

“Have you been suffering from the heat?” she asked. “Has your lady mother?”

“Uh,” Eliott said, trying not to feel dispirited that they were reduced to talking about the weather, “it’s hot everywhere in summer.”

They both turned at the sound of someone running up the steps closest to where they were standing.

“Lewyn!” Princess Loreza said happily, her face suddenly coming alive.

Prince Lewyn ran around the curve of the gallery towards them.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to interrupt you but… well, I couldn’t wait.”

“It’s alright,” she said, “I’m glad you came.”

They embraced warmly, with Prince Qoren looking from the wall sternly. He lifted her up off her feet and spun her around a few times. When she was back on the ground he touched her on the face and looked at her concernedly. “You look… how are you?”

She took a step back from him, shaking her head slightly. “I’m very well,” she said.

The prince rolled his eyes. “So,” he said, turning to Eliott, “isn’t she wonderful?”

“Really, brother,” she said, blushing for the first time.

“What?” He said, unabashed. “I’ve been telling Ser Eliott about you for weeks, and now he can finally see for himself.”

Eliott have no notion of what to say. Perhaps he was allowed to give her a empty gallantry now.

“And I told him how sure I was that you would like him,” Prince Lewyn continued.

“How could anyone fail to like Ser Eliott?”

The bottom fell out of the pit in Eliott’s stomach. The look she had was rather telling, but it surprised him to know how upset he was about it.

“I knew you would think so,” the prince said. “He’s almost as clever as you are, after all.”

She laughed lightly. Her eyes shone twice as bright when she laughed. “You’re flattering me, Lewyn.”

“No,” Eliott said, the words tumbling out. “I don’t believe he is.”

Princess Loreza smiled at him with that same tight mouthed smile she’s been giving him all along. “You’re too kind.”

“Well,” Prince Lewyn said happily, “I’ll leave you alone again. I’m sure you still have a lot to talk about.”

“No,” she said, far too quickly. “I’ve already kept Ser Eliott here too long, he must be very tired.”

He was about to object, to claim that she revived him or some such nonsense, but what would be the point? “Yes,” he said instead, “it was a very long journey. And I should see that my family is...”

She nodded, “We’ll go back down.”

“Please, don’t trouble yourself, my princess,” he told her, “I’m sure I can find the way.”

“As you say, ser,” she said. “I hope you will rest before the feast.”

“I will, my princess,” he told her, bowing. “Prince Lewyn.”

He heard them go back to their conversation as soon as he was down the gallery and in the staircase. When he turned to look back they were embracing again, her head on his shoulder.

It could have gone a good deal worse , he told himself as he walked back down to the great corridor alone. It wasn’t just to expect her warm to him instantly. His mother had warned him about that. He had to be patient, gentle…

But she didn’t think he was impatient or rough, she thought he was an idiot who couldn’t speak to women. Eliott blamed Samuel Reer.

I should have told her she was pretty , he thought.

Chapter Text

Loreza was getting to be rather sick of all this feasting. There’d been far too many nights with rich meat and an overabundance of wine. And too many mornings with sore heads and turbulent stomachs. She’d been dancing so much that her feet were constantly hurting. So did her face from all the smiling.

But it wasn’t even near over; in truth it had hardly begun. And she would have to smile and dance until it was. All these great lords and ladies, the king, they had all come to see her be happy.

“They’re going again,” Alyse Ladybright said.

“Hm?” Loreza asked her. They were on a bench by a pillar, resting before the next obligation of courtesy presented itself. It wouldn’t be long. It never was.

“Prince Lewyn and Jennelyn Sand,” Alyse reported. “They’re dancing again.”

“Really?” She looked over to where her little brother was making his way to the dance floor, hand in hand with pretty blonde Jennelyn. “It’s not like him to dance with the same lady twice.”

“Three times, princess.”

“Oh dear,” Loreza said, scanning the hall to see if anyone else had taken notice. “Is her mother watching her?”

“Do you doubt it?”

“Then I hope it comes to nothing,” she said. “I don’t think anyone would be able to deal with Lady Ariandra if she had that kind of victory.”

“That’s cruel of you,” Alyse declared. “He’s grinning like a little boy.”

“He is a little boy.”

“I don’t think Jennelyn would agree.” That was true enough. Lewyn had always been a handsome child, but in the last two or so years he had gone from awkward and gangling, flushing pink whenever a girl looked his way, to tall and muscled, with confident smiles and a way of making girls laugh. Loreza wasn’t sure how much she liked it.

Though in all justice, she had been a good deal worse when she was seventeen.

“They hardly know each other,” she told her friend.

“I’m sure they’ll find something to talk about,” Alyse said with a grin. “She can tell him she knows where Wyl is, and he can wonder in amazement.”

Loreza rolled her eyes. “It wasn’t as bad as that.”

“You’re right, of course,” Alyse said. “You’re only the heir to Sunspear, it’s reasonable to assume you haven’t read Kaisan.”

“I regret telling you anything about it.” He’d clearly been nervous, and the gods knew she had done little enough to help him. She supposed she’d been too nervous herself.

Ser Eliott Rowan seemed at ease enough now, dancing with Olenna Redwyne. He felt her eyes on him and looked over with a smile. Loreza felt her stomach twist as she smiled back.

“Well, he’s comely, in any case,” Alyse said. “Perhaps it will all go well enough. Assuming he doesn’t talk too much.”

The princess frowned at her.

“I’m sorry,” her friend said quickly.

“There would be little point to this, if he were that kind of man.” Ser Eliott Rowan was the right kind of man; her father had taken a great deal of care to assure himself of that. Learned, courtly, skilled in arms; highborn, but not so high that anyone could mistake him for your equal. He’s a man that could be a strong support for you. Prince Rhodryn hadn’t said he was comely, but everyone else had.

Loreza had known it would be like this since she was a little girl, and she saw the wisdom of it, even now. This was a matter of a consort, a father for her children. Not something anyone should trust to one’s own judgement. Particularly when her own judgement where men were concerned hadn’t always been above question.

“I know,” said Alyse. “Forgive me.”

Before she could respond, Lady Emlyn was at her side and whispering in her ear. “Lord Tyrell is coming, sweetling.”

The princess pasted a smile onto her face and turned her head to watch him approach.

“Princess Loreza,” he said with a florid little bow, “your beauty is even more radiant than usual tonight, and I believe I know why.”

“Lord Tyrell,” she returned, “you’re too kind.”

“May I beg a dance?” he asked.

Loreza placed her hand in his and let him lead her out into the centre of the floor. He was more or less a buffoon, but he danced very gracefully. Lord Tyrell had been famously handsome in his youth too. The whole family was famous for being handsome in youth and going to fat in old age.

“Well, my dear,” he said as familiarly as though he were one of her uncles, “I promised you a fine man did I not?”

“You did, my lord,” she admitted.

“And did I not come through on my promise?”

“Yes. Indeed.” Loreza smiled and wondered if he actually thought that Ser Eliott’s good looks were somehow his doing. “I’m very pleased.”

“There’s little that pleases me more than a wedding,” he declared. “I hope when another joyous event arrives, that Highgarden will be graced with your presence.”

“That would be a great pleasure,” Loreza said. “But I didn’t know that...”

Lord Gared smiled smugly and placed a finger on his lips. “I’ve said too much already.”

She nodded, to his obvious disappointment.

“These are not decisions that should ever be made lightly,” he continued. “Yes indeed,” he added when she remained silent. “Your own father certainly considered very carefully. And you’re to be commended for your own dutifulness too, of course. Obeying one’s father seems to be unfashionable these days.”

Very unfashionable, Loreza thought. Lord Tyrell had cause for resentment. Ser Luthor had been betrothed to Princess Shaera, until she ran off to marry her brother. “I’m not sure I deserve that praise, my lord,” she told him. “The prince and I have always been of one mind where my marriage is concerned.”

“Of course, few ladies would ever object to a man like Ser Eliott. Indeed, I had quite forgotten how handsome he was.”

“Very handsome. And a very good dancer.” No doubt Lord Gared thought she would have pitched a fit, if presented with an ugly man for her husband. “And well read too.”

“Yes, well,” he said. “He gets that from his father.”

When the dance was finally over he offered her his arm, and she tried to seem gracious rather than obligated as she took it.

The lord of Highgarden lead her to where his own son was standing with his constant companion Ser Horas Redwyne, as well as several other men. Most of them had been presented to her that afternoon, but Lord Tarly took the opportunity to introduce her to his good son, Ser Daeron Darklyn. He was awkward, fiddling with the daggeds of his sleeve, and couldn’t be much older than her brother.

“My princess,” he said, “you are even more lovely than I was lead to expect.”

“Thank you, ser,” she said. “Do you intend to chance the list as well?”

“I do,” he said. “And I pray that my performance will be worthy of the occasion. And of you.”

Loreza couldn’t help but smile at how earnestly he was making an effort. “You crossed the red sands to be here, I’m sure you’re up to it.”

“I found the red sands quite lovely, my princess,” he said, almost believably.

“And it was pleasant to find out that what they say about sand steeds is true,” Lord Bulwer said. “Two days and two nights without tiring.”

“They’re the finest horses in the world,” Loreza said with a smile.

“In my opinion,” Lord Tarly said, “endurance is the least valuable of traits in a war horse. Quite useless in a charge.”

“Sand steeds weren’t made for charging,” she told him, though he was hardly addressing her. “Or indeed for carrying knights in armour. No one jousts on a sand steed.”

He looked at her as though he was struggling manfully not to sneer. “A knight that doesn’t don armour or fight with a lance is hardly worthy of the name.”

“I thought it was a noble heart that made a knight, not a sword or a lance.”

“Well said, my princess,” Ser Horas Redwyne said, not seeming to catch her sardonic tone.

Lordy Tarly didn’t bother to hide his sneer after that. “I consider it very fortunate that Ser Eliott Rowan is unlikely to have such romantic notions.”

Loreza smiled as graciously as she could. “You know him far better than I do, my lord.” She turned her shoulders slightly away from him. But he spoke again just as she was about to ask Ser Daeron another question.

“It’s folly for someone entirely ignorant in arms to presume to rule in a time of war,” he said. “Dangerous folly.”

“You’re not shy about expressing your opinions, Lord Samwell,” the princess told him. “I admire that a great deal.”

Lewyn appeared at her elbow. He smiled at Loreza with a perfect understanding. Tyrell, Tarly, and the others all clamoured to greet him, but he only nodded at them. “Sister,” he said, “I need to speak with you.”

She excused herself and they walked away together arm and arm towards the dias.

“Lord Tarly is a piece of work,” Lewyn said simply.

“He must be, if you’re willing to speak a word against him,” she told him. “But I find him oddly refreshing.” She turned to face him as they mounted to steps. “They all think just as he does; you do know that, don’t you?”

“At least they don’t try to make trouble,” he told her. “Quentyn Santagar nearly murdered him more than once on the road.”

“Ser Quentyn hardly requires an excuse to nearly murder someone.”

“Everyone is saying he’ll win the tourney,” Lewyn said as they sat back down at their seats in the centre of the table. He poured them both wine and then drained half his goblet in one large gulp.

“Perhaps he will,” she said. “But I doubt it will be easy for him. Everyone is also talking about Marq Rowan and Joffrey Costayne.”

“Well, would you rather they win, instead of Ser Quentyn?”

“What difference does it make?” Loreza asked. “I haven’t given it any thought.” Her brother chuckled uncomfortably in surprise. “I haven’t had any time.”

Lewyn narrowed his eyes. For a few seconds he regarded her without a word. “Maron is right,” he stated, “you’re not yourself.”

“What could Maron have to say about anything?” she asked, annoyed.

“He’s concerned for you.”

“I doubt that.”

“I’m concerned for you,” he amended. “When Henrick was here you were always laughing.”

Loreza felt her jaw tighten as she turned her face away. She heard Lewyn scoff.

“Is that how it will be now?” he asked her. “For three years you were inseparable and now you won’t even bear to have his name spoken.”

“No,” she said at once, “that’s not what I… no one mentions him in my hearing anymore.”

“Because everyone can see how miserable you are,” he said.

She shook her head. She had no business being sad about something that was so entirely her own doing. Henry hadn’t blamed her, and she loved him for that. When she told him she was betrothed it was he who gave her comfort. And in the painfully short months since he never once reproached her, though she was certain that she would have hated herself in his place. He loves me, he gave me everything. And I told him to go because I had no further use for him.

“It’s so strange that he’s gone,” Lewyn went. “I keep expecting that he’s somewhere about.”


“Did he have to leave?” he asked suddenly. When she stared at him incredulously, he rolled his eyes. “I know he couldn’t have continued as your paramour, but Sunspear is a big place.”

“Not nearly big enough.”

“He’s my friend. I’ll miss him too. And Ormond’s leaving as well.”

“I know.”

Lewyn pressed his lips together. “I’ve never seen you like this,” he said. “I don’t like it. Will you be alright?”

She smiled and put her hand over his on the table, “Of course I will be,” she told him. Before you know it . “Don’t trouble yourself about it,” she said. “Go ask Jennelyn Sand to dance again.”

Her brother’s cheeks barely turned pink. “No, not yet.”

Aelora Rowan had returned to her seat. She sat half a dozen chairs down and smiled shyly at Loreza. Little girls gave the princess that look all the time.

“Go dance, Lewyn,” she told her brother. She stood and walked over to sit next to Ser Eliott’s sister.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” she asked her.

“Oh yes, my princess,” Lady Aelora said. “The music is so lovely.”

“I’m very glad you think so,” Loreza said. “But don’t you want to dance?”

“I was dancing,” she admitting. “But I need to rest.”

Loreza smiled. “You had a very long journey.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “I thought it would never end. I was so anxious to get here.”

“And we were all anxious for you to arrive, I assure you.”

Lady Aelora smiled at that. “I do like the music,” she repeated. “Do you like music, my princess?”

Loreza had been rather hopeless at music for the years she had bothered to try. The queen had once told her that listening to her play the lute was like listening to a cat give birth. “I do,” she told Aelora, “but I’m afraid I don’t have much time for music anymore.”

“Oh,” Lady Aelora said, looking quite surprised. “How sad.”

Loreza regarded her with growing fondness. She was fifteen, as old as her cousin Daenerys, but she seemed much younger. She had a woman’s shape, but there was still a roundness in her face that made her seem like a girl. That and the innocent look in her eyes.

“Do you play yourself, my lady?” she asked her.

The girl blushed and nodded. “I can play the high harp and the wood harp,” she said. “And the lute, but only a little.” Her blush deepened. “I’m sure I’m not very good.”

“I’m sure you are,” Loreza told her. “I hope you will play for me sometime.”

“I would like that very much,” she said excitedly.

Ser Rolyn Toland stood in front of the dais and bowed when Loreza turned her head to regard him. “Are you not dancing, princess?” he asked her.

She tilted her head and looked him up and down, from the gold embroidered hem of his tunic to the mischievous glint in his eye. “No, I’m certainly dancing, ser,” she told him.

“Then won’t you dance with me?”

Loreza smiled to Lady Aelora by way of parting and went down the steps to meet Rolyn at the bottom. She took his hand and went with him to join the other dancers in the centre of the room. They didn’t speak as they danced- the music was so loud that they hardly could- but the princess kept her gaze on him, watching the graceful way he moved, and how the muscles in his calves tensed whenever he jumped into the air. She’d enjoyed watching his muscles move very much once, and feeling their hardness under his skin.

It seemed like a lifetime ago now. They had both changed since then, when they were little more than children, acting on impulses that felt beyond their control. But it had only ever been a strange and passing whim. As soon as he left her bed he was only Rolyn again, the boy who used to throw sand in her hair at the Water Gardens. Loreza had hardly thought about it in three years, but now that she had… it would be easy, to fall back into something so simple and familiar.

And she was no fool. She saw the way he looked at her from time to time. He was looking at her like that now. It made her chest swell and her breath quicken.

The dance was over sooner than Loreza though it would be. Though that was probably more because she hadn’t been attending to it. “There’s so much noise,” she told Rolyn. “Will you walk outside with me?”

He smiled and walked beside her out the doors to the courtyard. It was almost as crowded as the feast hall and filled with so many lamps that it was even brighter. Their progress towards the quieter, darker gardens was slowed by the constant stream of people approaching her to pay their respect. Lord Yronwood kissed the princess’s hand and spoke to her pleasantly.

“My princess,” he said, “allow me to congratulate you again.”

He almost sounded as though he meant it. “Thank you,” Loreza told him. “It means a great deal to me that you would say so. And I won’t forget it.”

“I hope we will always be good friends, my princess.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

Rolyn laughed as soon as they were alone by a fountain surrounded by flowering hibiscus plants. “I never thought I’d see anything like that,” he said.

“I don’t suggest getting too excited about it,” she told him. “He’s just in a good humour, that’s all.” And if the gods were kind, we would be in an even better humour soon.

“You act as though his good mood were anything but your own doing.”

Loreza rolled her eyes. “I don’t want to talk about Edgar Yronwood.”

“As you say,” he said with a smirk. “Would you rather talk about your betrothed?”

She tried to laugh it off, turning away from him to watch the golden fish swim in the water of the fountain.

“I saw his ass and knew at once that you would be pleased.”

“In truth,” Loreza said, with her sauciest smile, “I’ve always been more partial to broad shoulders than small asses.” She laughed when he stood up straighter and pulled his own shoulders back.

“What are you saying, princess?” he asked. “That he doesn’t please you?”

I didn’t say that at all. “I don’t-”

“You don’t want to talk about him,” Ser Rolyn finished. “Is there anything you would like to talk about?”

“No,” Loreza said, turning back towards him to look at his face. She took one step closer to him. “I don’t want to talk at all. I want to leave this feast and go back to my bedchamber. With you.”

She watched Rolyn’s expression move from surprise, to pleasure, and then to a kind of grim resignation.

“You don’t want that, princess,” he said. “Not with me. Not in particular, anyway.”

Loreza felt herself flushing. All her desire disappeared in an instant, leaving only shame in its place. “You’re right,” she admitted. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t need to be,” Rolyn told her, “I understand.”

“I just...” she couldn’t look him in the face. “I know that I’ve done the right thing. I suppose I hoped that would make it easier.”

“Some things will never be easy,” Rolyn said. “And perhaps they shouldn’t be.”

He was right about that too. She had no right to ask Rolyn anything, certainly not to amuse her for an evening and then just go away. She’d done the same thing to him as she had done to Ser Henrick Dayne. She’d been a silly, self-centred girl who’d enjoyed it when men were in love with her. Before Henry she had thought it was a weakness that she herself would always be safe from. But he made her forget everyone else. All other men just seemed boring when she knew that Henry was waiting for her in her bed. But she’d never really spared a thought to how it felt, to find yourself suddenly alone. “I shouldn’t have burdened you,”  she told Rolyn.

“You could never be a burden, princess,” he told her. He extended his hand as though to touch hers, then seemed to think the better of it. “I would do… I only want you to be happy.”

“I know,” Loreza said, feeling her heart wrench. Nothing she’d done had ever made Rolyn happy. She hadn’t made Henry happy either, in the end. He had lost everything, his friends, his home, his place in court, all for her sake, and got nothing in return. But perhaps it was best that it had happened now, while he could still remember her with some kindness. No doubt, she would have gotten bored with him too, sooner or later. “You’ll have to be happy enough for both of us.”

Rolyn winced. “You won’t consider giving him a chance?” He nodded over her shoulder and she turned to see Eliott Rowan walking through the flower strewed archway in the shrubbery.

“Ser Eliott,” Loreza called.

He smiled when he saw her and come over, bowing in a smooth, confident motion. “My princess,” he said. “I’m glad to have found you.”

Rolyn shifted his feet uncomfortably. “I will take my leave now, if it please you, princess.”

“Yes, if you wish,” she told him, making sure to meet his eye. “Thank you.”

“Goodnight then,” he told her. “Ser Eliott.”

Her betrothed watched as Rolyn walked briskly away, leaving them alone by the bubbling fountain with only a few lanterns. Her turned to face her with a determined air. “You look very beautiful tonight,” he told her.

Loreza forced herself to smile. If she had been in a better mood, it might have been funny. But as it was… did he have nothing else to say to her?

“It’s so hot during the day here, and yet so cold at night,” he tried again. “Are you cold, my princess?”

“No, not at all. Have you enjoyed the dancing?” she asked him, almost rolling her eyes at her own vapid question.

“Yes,” he said. “Very much. Although, I don’t know half the dances that you do here.”

“You’ll learn them soon enough, I expect.” Ser Eliott seemed like the kind of man that had to know everything.

“I’m sure I will,” he said, flirtatiously, “if my princess will consent to teach me.”

She smiled again. “I’ve been thinking about our conversation,” she told him. “Malcon has much more insightful things to say about the Red Princes than Kesian.”

“Malcon?” Ser Eliott asked. “ Reflections on the Orphans?

“You’ve read it?” Loreza asked him. That should have pleased her, but then she remembered a day when she’s been ill with a summer chill and Henry has sat by her bedside and read that book aloud to her. The thought of this man reading the same words made her dinner churn in her stomach. But she pushed the thought away as too stupid to be entertained.

“No,” Ser Eliott admitted. “I’ve only heard of it. And Grand Maester Alford quotes him from time to time. Though I can imagine what you must think of his opinions.”

Loreza chuckled. “I like them well enough, as long as he doesn’t try to cross the mountains with them.”

“But Malcon was Dornish,” he said with a knowing smile.

“So he was.”

“Don’t you think that rather proves Kesian’s point? That only the Dornish can know Dorne?”

She rolled her eyes. “No, it doesn’t. Though it may prove that only the Dornish are willing to try.”

“You don’t...” he began, but he trailed off almost as quickly, flushing a little.


“If you’ll forgive me saying so, my princess, you don’t always make it easy.”

She smile earnestly. “I can’t imagine we do. Perhaps we like the idea of being mysterious.”

“Beauty often is,” Ser Eliott said, drawing himself up to his full height.

Loreza frowned. “No doubt,” she said. “In any case, I have a very fine copy of Malcon’s book.” It was illuminated in a bright child-like style that had always made her smile, ever since she’d been a child herself. “I should like you to have it.”

“Thank you,” he said, sounding like he meant it. “I’ll read it most carefully.”  

The princess smiled; she knew that he would. And he would come to her when he was done, full of newly memorized passages. Perhaps by then they would talk about it in bed.

“I have something for you as well,” he said, as though suddenly remembering. He reached into a pocket a brought out a ring. “I meant to give it to you earlier, but...”

Loreza nodded. She would have forgotten too, in his place. “Yes,” she said, “I understand.”

“May I?” he asked, reaching out towards her, standing close enough so she could feel the heat of his breath.

“Of course.” She held out her left hand and he took it and slipped a yellow gold ring on her third finger. It was a large white moonstone with delicate scrollwork around the setting. It gleamed in the lantern light. “How lovely.”

“Not as...” he stopped when she frowned again. “It was my grandmother’s. My grandfather gave it to her when they wed. It’s white and gold, you see.”

“Yes, thank you” Loreza said, surprised to hear how husky her voice had become. Ser Eliott was still holding her hand. His own was strong and rough, a swordsman’s hand. Every man she’d ever been with had had hands like that. His face was bent down, he looked at her through his eyelashes. His green eyes gleamed in the lantern light as much as the moonstone. And his face was very comely, at least as handsome as everyone had said. His jaw had a strong, defined line, as clean-cut as his cheekbones. Light brown hair fell in waves down to his shoulders. It made a widow’s peak that drew her gaze back to his eyes. Their children would be beautiful.

I want him , she realized. If he were any other man, she wouldn’t wait five days. My patience is as short as my memory . She had wanted him from the moment she saw him. And they’d all known she would, her father, and her aunt, and her uncles. They all knew that all it took to please Loreza was a pretty man with strong hands.

Ser Eliott seemed to sense her change in mood. “Shall we return to the dance, my princess” he asked with one eyebrow raised. “I should very much like to dance with you again.”

“Yes,” she said at once. “That is, we should return to the feast hall, but I don’t think I have any dancing left in me tonight.”

“Of course,” he said. His face was kind when he smiled.

She took a step back from him. “And Lady Emlyn will be cross with me if I disappear for much longer.”

“I expect Samuel Reer is hunting me down too.”

“Are you pleased with him?” Loreza asked him.

“Very much so,” Ser Eliott said.

“Good.” She withdrew her hand from his. “And...” she added, “there’s a matter I should speak with Artyr Dalt about.”

“Matter?” he asked. “What matter is that?”

“Oh...” Loreza said. “The city watch is… never mind, I’ll leave you now.”

“Shall I walk you back?”

“No,” she told him. “I wouldn’t wish to interfere with your amusement.”

“It wouldn’t be a...”

“Goodnight, ser,” she said before he could finish, then left him through the archway.

Lady Emlyn had indeed been looking for her. She found her along the peristyle walk, immediately took her by the arm and started tisking.

“Where have you been, princess?” she said. “I was sure you had, well, gone to find a bedchamber, as they say.”

“I would never have done that,” Loreza said, with as much conviction as she could. But her chatelaine only scoffed at that.

“I would hope not,” she said. “And I should hope you will always show such wisdom from now on. Unless you want whispers to follow your children.”

Loreza glared at her.

She sighed. “I didn’t mean that.”

Of course you did. And with reason . “I know,” the princess said. “I’m not sixteen anymore, I intend to do my duty. Haven’t I proved that?”

“Oh, sweetling,” she said, “of course you have. I was insupportably unjust.”

“No, you weren’t.” No one knew her weaknesses better than Lady Emlyn.

“Ser Eliott seems very...”

“Comely?” Loreza asked.

“He seems as though he greatly wishes to please you.”

“He does,” the princess said.

Lady Emlyn only smiled sadly.

Chapter Text

Taria had fallen in love with the gardens in the palace at Sunspear the instant she saw them.

The place itself was a strange beast. When the Martells were nothing more than petty lords ruling a strip of barren land by the Summer Sea, they had a raised a castle that reflected their place in the world; a central keep, a bailey, a few stout towers in the curtain walls. It had only been noteworthy because some lord or another of that house had built the keep in the fanciful shape of a great galley, with a long curved prow and buttresses shaped liked gigantic oars. Thereafter, for a few hundred years, the Martells were known as the Lords of the Sandship.

But when Nymeria came to raise them out of their obscurity, the newly made princes of Dorne didn’t abandon their ancient seat, instead they made it the heart of their new palace. Over the next few generations they surrounded the Sandship with a dozen other towers and keeps, the greatest being the Tower of the Sun, large enough to be a palace in its own right, and the tall golden spire of the Spear Tower. They were all built in an airy, curved Rhoynar style, covered in painted tiles and leaded glass. Many centred around a great courtyard the size of many a town square, but elsewhere the towers were connected by stone paths lined with hardy, gnarled trees and a few fountains filled with golden fish.

The gardens were nothing compared to Highgarden, or even the godswood in the Red Keep, but it were shady and full of little side paths and corners to explore. Corret and his wife walked arm in arm along a smaller path that weaved its way between the Spear Tower, the small Keep of the Crone, and a clump of pomegranate trees. Taria was chatting away happily; her voice soothed him, but he couldn’t manage to attend to her words.

“You seem distracted, my love,” she told him.

“Distracted,” he asked. “No. I’ve been listening to every word you said.”

“Have you indeed?” She asked with a smile.

“Of course. You were talking about Lady Jenny. And I know she upset you more than you’re letting on.”

“Upset me?” Taria asked. “No. Not upset. She’s an odd one, to be sure, but friendly enough. And...”


“Well, I’ve never seen anyone sew as quickly as her. It was rather unnerving.”

Corret laughed. “It must have been black magic.”

“Make fun all you like, but it wasn’t natural.”

“Was Princess Loreza there?” he asked her, trying to sound as though it were a casual question.

“No,” said Taria. “She sent one of her ladies to make her excuses for her. Lady Lenelle seemed quite annoyed by it, as a matter of fact.”

Somehow, Corret wasn’t surprised that she would disoblige her mother.

“Poor Aelora was very disappointed, but it was a pleasant morning all the same,” she continued. “Lady Lenelle was sweet and Princess Trystana and her daughters are all extremely… interesting.”

Corret could imagine. He had danced with all three ladies the night before. The younger girl especially had a lively, youthful manner that made it difficult to imagine her sitting at needlework for very long. His own daughter had been the same. Is the same , he told himself. Dian is still alive, even if she had forfeited that name .

“And how is Lady Sarra managing?” he asked his wife.

“I think she’s getting on very well,” Taria said. “No one can help but love Sarra.”

“Quite true.” Corret lapsed into silence. The ground at their feet was covered in small flowers, struggling to come up from between rocks.

“You are distracted,” Taria said after a few moments, “and I wish you would tell me why.”

He took her hand and squeezed it. “Forgive me, my sweet,” he said. “I can’t seem to stop thinking about Eliott.”

“Eliott,” she frowned. “Why? He seems very pleased.”

“He’s relieved that she’s not ugly, that’s not quite the same as truly pleased.”

Taria scoffed. “Eliott likes to play the boy from time to time.” She frowned at him, “Are you saying she doesn’t please you ?”

“It hardly matters what I think.”

“That’s nonsense,” she said. “Eliott thinks very highly of your opinion, you know that.”

Corret wasn’t sure how much Eliott’s opinion mattered either. Even if the worst was true, it was hardly like they could pack up and go home. But he would never want his nephew to suffer that kind of pain. “I can’t shake my doubts about her,” he admitted. “After what we heard in Vaith. And in Godsgrace.”

Taria sighed. “I’ve been thinking about that too,” she said. “But now that I’ve seen her, I feel quite reassured.”

“Do you?” Corret himself felt quite the opposite.

“Well, consider,” she said in a tone of perfect reason. “If there were any... doubts, then the prince would have her wed quietly, to one of his own vassals. He would never allow her marriage to be such a great event. And the king! Would he risk the king being offended?”

Corret wasn’t sure how offended the king would be. House Targaryen had its own share of soiled princesses. Though, to be sure, that had been in the days when Aegon the Unworthy had set the tone in King’s Landing. His great-grandson was certainly not that kind of man. “This is Dorne, my love,” he said. “They do things… differently.”

“I know,” she said. “But she’s a princess. Her father made her a brilliant match. I can’t believe that either he or she would be so deceptive. Not when it can all be explained away by malicious slander. It’s so easy for rumours to spread.”

“That’s the thing,” Corret told her, “Ser Casson Vaith didn’t speak of it as though it were a rumour. And Lady Allyrion is her own aunt, you know.”

“Well, what did she say, exactly?”

“Only that there was a man, some Dayne, and that he was sent away from Sunspear very recently. She seemed to think it was more amusing than anything.”

“That could mean anything.” Taria argued. “Perhaps this was just some man she had hoped to marry. It’s hardly unusual for young girls to have their own ideas about such thing. It doesn’t mean that she...”

“You’re right, I suppose,” he said with a smile. He once knew a young girl with her own ideas about marriage himself. The niece of the lord of Riverrun could have done a good deal better than a man who was, in the end, nothing more than one of his brother’s household knights. Not a day went by that he wasn’t grateful. “Besides, Prince Rhodryn doesn’t strike me as the kind of man who would put up with...”

“No, he doesn’t,” she said, her voice suddenly much quieter. “There are some things that even an indulgent father could never forgive. I know that.”

Corret squeezed her hand again. It was the closest they had come to speaking of it for a long time. But sometimes she had a look on her face, in odd moments, that made him know that it weighed as heavily on her as it did on him.

“Speak of the Stranger, and he will appear,” Taria said. Corret turned to see the princess striding briskly down the path from the Spear Tower, carrying a bundle of papers and deep in conversation with Mors Allyrion. “Princess Loreza,” Taria called. Corret would have been happier to let her pass them by, but his wife usually had the right of it where courtesy was concerned.

“Lady Taria,” the princess returned. She walked over to them and accepted their bows with a little nod of her head. Lord Allyrion followed along at her heels. “I can see you’re well rested.”

“We are, my princess,” Taria said. “Thank you.”

She smiled. She turned to Corret. “Ser. I hope everything is to your satisfaction as well.”

Nearly everything . Corret regarded her carefully, from the jeweled sandals on her feet to her elaborately arranged hair. She seemed older than one and twenty, like a woman who was accustomed to having her own way, rather than a girl who was willing to be guided in anything. And she had an air about her. Corret knew that if she were to command, even he would obey, just out of instinct. There would be few men who wouldn’t. That realization did nothing to help his unease. “Yes,” he told her. “We’re all very comfortable.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“Lord Allyrion,” Corret said to the tall, slender man behind her.

“Ser Corret,” he answered with that Dornish grin they all seemed to save for him, patronizing and sardonic. “Good afternoon.”

“We were all sorry to have missed your company this morning,” Taria said to Princess Loreza.

“And I was sorry to have lost the pleasure of seeing you,” the princess said. “But I’m afraid there’s even more to be done than usual.”

“Yes,” Taria said, seemingly quite impressed. “I only only imagine how taxing it must be, with all your responsibilities.”

The smile the princess gave was was different. As though it were genuine. “Your understanding means a great deal to me, my lady,” she said.

“In a few days, there will be nothing but enjoyment for everyone,” Lord Allyrion said.

“Yes, exactly,” Princess Loreza said. “But not yet, I’m afraid. Excuse me.”

When the two of them were alone again, Taria gave him a look, as if she thought the conversation had proved her point. “I don’t know how you can believe anything less than good about her.”

“You see the best in everyone,” Corret told her fondly. “All I see is willfulness.”

“Maybe. But willfulness is not wickedness.”

“I hope that’s true.”

Taria sighed. “I hate to see you so careworn. Do you want my advice?”

“I always do,” he told her.

“If there is something you want to know, then ask someone.”

“Ask who?” Corret replied. “Princess Loreza?”

“No,” Taria allowed. “But there must be someone.”

Corret considered her words even as they finished their stroll and returned to the Tower of the Sun. He left his wife to her maids and went out again, back towards the Spear Tower. Just before it, a great set of sandstone steps lead up to the Old Gate and the Sandship. Once inside the keep, he twice asked for directions before finally finding his way to the open door of a large, well-appointed solar filled with paper, where Lord Dylan Uller was sitting behind a desk, talking to a woman some ten years his junior who shared his dark features.

“I understand that you have no interest in these things,” the woman was saying, “but I’m afraid there are some matters that you simply must attend to yourself.”

“I don’t see why,” Lord Uller said. “You’ve managed them all perfectly well these last five years. Why would they cease to heed you now?”

“Six years,” she amended. “And your neglect is starting to be remarked upon.”

“How is it neglectful,” Lord Uller argued, “I have you to look after it. And you don’t think it will come to violence between them do, you?”

“I doubt it,” the woman said.”Lady Janella may have the stomach for that, but Ser Alvyn certainly doesn’t.”

“Then what are you so distressed about?”

“Bannermen who are busy quarrelling with each other often forget to remit their taxes.”

Lord Uller chuckled. “Ah, now it comes out.”

Corret cleared his throat and both figures turned to look at him standing in the doorway. “Pardon me for interrupting you, my lord.”

“Not at all!” Lord Uller rose from the desk and crossed the room in a few short strides. He laughed and enfolded Corret in a one-armed embrace. “I’m very glad you’ve come, my friend.”

Before yesterday, it had been nearly fifteen years since he saw Dylan Uller, but time made no difference. They had fought together at the storming of the walls at Starpike. Uller had lost his arm in the same battle where King Maekar had lost his life.

“I know you’ve never met my sister,” he said, turning to the woman still standing by the desk. “Deria, this is Ser Corret Rowan.”

“My lady.” Corret gave her a bow and she returned the favour.

“Ser Corret,” she said, “I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Alright,” Lord Uller said. “I promised Ser Corret a drink, so you’ll have to hold off your pestering until later.”

“Don’t imagine I’ll forget,” Lady Deria said. She kissed her lord brother on the cheek and left them.

“Thank you for the rescue,” Lord Uller said as soon as she was gone.

“I’m sorry to hear that you’re having trouble.”

He dismissed the concern with a wave of his hand. “Deria will see to it, she always does. The gods know I have enough to concern myself here.” He went to a side board and poured them each a goblet of wine. He picked up the first and handed it to Corret before turning back for his own, then led him to a pair of leather settees in front on a small window. “I saw your son Marq in the yard this morning,” he said. “He’s already a favourite to win the tourney.”

“So I hear,” Corret said with pride.

“I was thinking the other day how curious it is that we both had two sons, with a daughter in between.”

Corret’s stomach twisted. “Perhaps you’ll have more sons.”

Lord Uller scoffed. “I doubt that.”

“My younger son is going to stay here,” he said, “with Eliott. Ser Eliott, I mean.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” his friend said. “And I hope you’ll be convinced to stay longer than you strictly need too. I know the king shall.”

Corret was beginning to feel like all this pleasant talk was becoming deceptive. He hadn’t come simply to catch up with his old friend. “Forgive me,” he started, “but there’s something I need to ask you about. And I trust that you will know that I intend no malice.”

He laughed out loud. “You haven’t changed one bit,” he told him. “What could be so important?”

Corret sighed. “Princess Loreza,” he said.

“Yes? What about the princess?”

“Well,” Corret said, not knowing how to phrase it, “I started hearing things almost as soon as we reached Kingsgrave, and then Ser Casson Vaith…”

Lord Uller scoffed again. “I can imagine what he said. Ser Casson was of the very strong opinion that he should have been in your nephew’s place. And his sister quite agreed with him, of course.”

Corret could almost feel the relief building inside him. An angry man with disappointed ambition, that was all it was. “But then,” he hesitated, “we heard the same tale in Godsgrace.”

“Heard what, exactly?”

“I don’t know how to say it,” he admitted.

“Just come out with it!” his friend said.

“Well, they all seem to think that,” he winced, “that the princess may not be coming a maid to my nephew’s bed.”

“What!” Lord Uller’s exclamation was almost a laugh.

“Forgive me, please,” Corret said, regretting this entire conversation. “I shouldn’t have doubted….”

“Where on earth could you have gotten the idea that Princess Loreza was a maid?”

It was Corret’s turn to exclaim. “What?” he asked. “I… I didn’t say that she wasn’t, I only… I only heard a rumour that there was a man, Ser something or other, Dayne.”

“Ser Henrick Dayne,” Lord Uller stated.

“Yes,” Corret confirmed. “Their names see to be connected.”

“I should hope they are,” Lord Dylan said, “considering that he was her paramour.”

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Whose paramour?”

His friend seem confused. “Princess Loreza’s. How can it be that you’re ignorant of this?”

“Do you mean that everyone knows?” Corret asked him, too shocked to know how he was feeling.

“Well, it could hardly be a secret,” Lord Uller said. “They lived together quite openly, for nearly three years. Of course everyone knows.”

Corret was finding it difficult to breath. “Who is this man? Is he kin to Lord Dayne?”

“Distantly,” Lord Uller acknowledged. “He was one of Lord Allyrion’s household knights, but then Ser Olyvar took him under his wing.”

Ser Olyvar Sand. The bastard . “And Prince Rhodryn,” Corret asked, “he did nothing?” He felt a rush of sympathy for the prince, for all he was angry at the deception. It could never be easy, when you had a daughter who you loved.

“What was he to have done?” he asked him. “Besides, the prince thinks very highly of Ser Henrick.”

Corret bit his lip. “He thinks highly of the man who deflowered his daughter?”

“No, he was a couple of years too late for that.”

“Are you saying there were others?” This was getting worse and worse.

Lord Dylan smiled, as though remembering something amusing. “She came back to Sunspear from King’s Landing when she was sixteen, right before Princess Daenerys died, and well… she was young, and a princess of Dorne. She was perhaps a little too self-indulgent, but I we were all young and foolish once. Ser Henrick steadied her. I believe the prince was quite relieved.”

Relieved? Corret supposed that some might consider flaunting one lover better than behaving like a harlot, but either way, it made Princess Loreza little better than a whore.

“My brother,” Corret said. “He couldn’t have… I can’t be sure how he will react to this.” He knew exactly what Eliott would think, and he saw no way that it would end well. Corret could have no one to reproach but himself. He should have known that there were certain questions that Adwin would be too innocent, or cowed, to ask. He should have taken a stronger hand. “I shall have to tell him.”

Lord Uller wasn’t laughing anymore. “You believe he doesn’t already know?”

“He never would have...” he began, but thought the better of offending his friend even more. “I don’t see how he could.”

“And I don’t see how he couldn’t,” Lord Dylan countered. “As I said, it has never been a secret.”

“It seems as though someone was eager to conceal it.”

“My friend,” Lord Uller said in a grave tone. “I don’t know who you think has mislead you, but I doubt it was Prince Rhodryn, and it certainly was not Princess Loreza. Neither would bother with a ruse so impossible to maintain. And neither would see any need to.”

“But my nephew will feel that he has a right to expect...”

“Your nephew’s children will rule Dorne,” Lord Uller snapped. “If he would throw that away over a matter that has nothing in the least to do with him, then he’s a fool.”

Corret said no more about it, and his friend seemed as eager as he was to pretend the subject had never been raised. Instead they drank wine and spoke of the old days, and of innocent things like tourneys and the trouble with the corsairs on the Stepstones. He tried to push it from his mind, to tell himself that nothing could be done. Surly Eliott’s humiliation would only be made worse by any attempt to redress it now.

But it was easier to tell himself to not think about something than to actually do so.

The feast that night was quiet compared to the great spectacle of the night before. Corret spent most of it watching Princess Loreza, despite how useless he knew it was. Her attention was sought after by everyone, by the great ladies of Dorne as much as by the lords. The esteem they all seemed to hold her in was obvious. But how could that be, if they all knew as Dylan Uller had said? But then again, Lord Uller certainly knew, and he was as eager as anyone.

Perhaps he didn’t know as much as he claimed. Perhaps it was all rumour. He had always been fond of gossip. But it had never been a secret, he had said.

Eliott was preoccupied with his betrothed as much as Corret was. He was seated next to Prince Lewyn, a few seats closer to the centre of the table than Corret; Lord Adwin and Lady Sarra were both between them. The young prince was being his usual self, disarmingly cheerful and quick to laugh. His reacted to most of Eliott’s questions with a chuckle.

“Princess Loreza seems to have a good many friends,” he said.  

“I suppose so,” Prince Lewyn said. “Most people do.”

Eliott took a long draft of wine. “And a lot of admirers?”

The prince laughed out loud at that. “She has those too, it’s true.”

Another drink. “Like Ser Rolyn Toland?”

Prince Lewyn shrugged. “They’ve always been friends. His sister Elda too.”

“They seem..” he began, “did he want to marry her?”

The prince rolled his eyes. “She’s the heir to Sunspear; everyone wanted to marry her.” Then he was distracted by something further down the other side of the table, and that seemed to end the conversation.

“My dear,” Lady Sarra said to her son, “you’re drinking too much.”

“Yes, you’re right,” he admitted, pushing his goblet away.

“Why are you tormenting yourself, asking those questions?” Adwin asked him in a quiet voice.

“I’m not tormenting myself,” Eliott answered defensively. “I was only… it doesn’t surprise me in the least that men would admire her.”

“But it’s you she’s going to marry, so what could it possibly matter?”

“Matter?” Eliott asked. “Of course it doesn’t matter.” He reached for his goblet again, but then stopped himself. “Mother, you seem tired.”

“I am, in truth,” Lady Sarra admitted. “It would be nice to go rest, but I suppose I must endure.”

“I don’t see why you should,” Eliott said. “Let me take you.”

Lord Adwin looked at him sharply. “You can’t leave.”

“I’ll come right back,” his son assured him. Corret watched his nephew rise and make his way along the dais to speak to Prince Rhodryn.

The prince leaned forward to address Lady Sarra. “I hope you’re not unwell, my lady,” he said.

“Thank you, my prince,” she said, “I’m very well, but I’m afraid I’m not the traveller I was in my youth.”

“Few of us are,” he said with a smile. “I wish you good night.” The king seated beside him said not a word.

Lady Sarra took her son’s arm and left the hall through the lord’s door. Corret moved down a seat to take her place beside his elder brother, so that his own wife wouldn’t hear them. “You did know,” he said simply. “I didn't want to believe it, but it’s true isn’t it?”

Lord Rowan didn’t need to be told what Corret was talking about. He glanced furtively over to where Princess Loreza was in conversation with Prince Duncan. “Of course I knew,” he said. “No attempt was made to conceal it from me.”

“But you attempted to conceal it from me,” he stated.

His brother flushed. “I knew it would upset you,” he said. “Considering...”

“It doesn’t upset you?” Corret asked in disbelief.

“You don’t understand the Dornish,” he began. “They would almost consider it suspicious if a young woman in her-”

“Eliott isn’t a Dornishman,” Corret pointed out. “I suppose you concealed it from him as well.”

Lord Rowan’s silence answered his question. Corret found it difficult to fight the urge to throw his plate across the hall. “Do you have no regard whatever for your son’s feelings?” he asked through clenched teeth. “This... paramour of hers wasn’t the only one.”

“Yes,” his brother admitted. “I knew that too.”

“A Rowan shouldn’t have horns!” Taria heard him well enough to look over with a deep frown on her face. It made no difference; he had never been able to keep a secret from her.

Adwin flushed deeper. “Fornication and adultery are not the same thing,” he said. “Eliott will would never have a chance for another match like this, not if he lived to be a hundred.”

“You’re blinded by your imaginary need to atone for sins that no one is holding you to account for,” Corret said. “The brilliance of the match will only make him that much more humiliated in the end. He would be better off marrying the dairy maid.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“And do you really imagine he won’t find out?” he asked. “They all speak of it as though it’s nothing.”

“In a few days, it won’t matter anyway,” Adwin said.

Corret laughed bitterly. “Eliott isn’t a fool. It’s not as though he won’t know the difference. Or do you just mean that he won’t be able to do anything about it then?”

His brother bit his lip. “You don’t intend to tell him, do you?” he asked. “And Sarra, I would not like her to be burdened with this.”

“No,” Corret said bitterly. “I have no intention of shaming you before either of them.”

Before Adwin could say anything more, the conversation was interrupted by the sound of angry voices coming from one of the tables near the foot of the dais. A man Corret remembered as Prince Arion’s son suddenly stood, grabbed the head of the man seated next to him by the hair, and slammed his face down into the table with a crunch that could be heard from the dais.

Blood was streaming down the man’s face on onto his black and purple tunic when he lifted his head again, as everyone seated around exclaimed and jumped out of their seat. The musicians in the gallery fell silent. Ser Maron moved to put his hands on him again but by then the prince had stood up and commanded him to stop.

When the prince stood, so did everyone else in the hall. Only the king was still seated by the time two other dornishman had succeeded in pulling Ser Maron away from his victim. One of the younger ladies had burst into tears.

Princess Loreza spoke into the mass of shocked faces. “Ser Arthyr,” she said.

Ser Arthyr Dalt walked forward to the front of the room before the dais and bowed deeply to her.

“Remove Ser Maron from the hall,” she told him. “Take him to a cell atop the Spear Tower.”

He hastened to obey, without even looking to the prince. Prince Rhodryn didn’t seem to object to his daughter speaking over him, however. The only one to object was Prince Arion. He stepped forward and opened his mouth to speak, but was silenced by the look his brother gave him.

Ser Maron twisted his arm out of Ser Arthyr’s grasp and walked out of the hall himself, still scowling and shaking with rage.

The man with the bloody nose was lead away as well, to see the maester presumably, and far more gently. Prince Arion left the hall soon after, looking as angry as his son; no one made a move to stop him.

The prince sat back down and called for the music to begin again. The hall quickly fell backing into the normal noise of conversation. Princess Loreza and her father whispered to each other as though no one else was there.

“Do you understand now?” Adwin asked Corret. “She doesn’t need Eliott. If you, or him, or anyone else were foolish enough to make a problem out of this, he would be the only loser.”

Corret gripped the table until his knuckles turned white. “It isn’t right,” he said.

Chapter Text

Dany couldn’t focus on anything. She would have spent the morning in the garden near the Spear Tower, where she knew that Maron would be able to see her from the window of his cell. But her sister had caught her within ten minutes and dragged her to the rooms she shared with Lady Deneza in the Ocean Keep.

“For all you know, he’s on the other side and can’t see you at all,” Joleta pointed out. “I won’t let you waste the whole day moping around.” She placed Dany in front of a window overlooking the sea and gave her an enormous bedsheet to hem.

“How could you expect me to work at a time like this?” She asked, with tears falling down onto the fabric.

“A time like what?” Her sister said. “You can’t seriously expect that anything of any consequence will happen to Maron. His father would never allow it.”

Dany shook her head. “The prince was so angry.” You could always tell when her uncle was especially angry because he would be stone faced and calm. Prince Rhodryn never raged when he was really upset. And last night, his face had hardly moved at all.

“No,” Joleta insisted. “It was bound to happen sooner or later. He was just annoyed that it was his own nephew.”

“That makes it worse!”

Joleta rolled her eyes. “You’re upsetting yourself over nothing.”

“How can you call it nothing?” Dany asked. The worst part was that she wasn’t allowed to show her feelings publicly. As far as everyone was concerned, Maron was only her cousin. “He’ll keep him locked up for days, at the very least. And Maron will suffer horribly from that. He hates being alone more than anything.”

“I don’t know what Maron expected to happen,” Joleta said. “You can’t just attack people at dinner.”

“You don’t know what was said,” Dany told her. She knew, she’d been sitting right there. “If someone had said that about me, you would have done the same.”

“Of course I know what was said,” Joleta said dismissively. “Everyone does by now.”

“How can you be so cold?” Dany burst into tears again. Her sister put down her work and came to sit beside her. She put her arm around her and smiled indulgently.

“What do you propose we do, break him out?”

Dany sobbed again angrily and pulled away.

Joleta sighed and went to the desk in the corner of the room to write a note. She sent it off with a page, and within a quarter of an hour Olenna and Septa Unelletine had arrived.

The septa sat off with her own work, but Olenna came to sit beside Dany and pinned the hem down for her. “You look as though you haven’t slept, Daenerys.”

“I did,” she said. It had taken her a long time to settle, even with her sister and Rhona Santagar in her bed to keep her company, she had cried into her pillow for half the night.

“I don’t blame you for being upset,” Olenna said. “It was dreadful; I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Neither have I,” Dany admitted.

“And I’m sorry for you too,” she continued. “It’s a very cruel way to have your opinion of someone changed.”

Septa Unelletine nodded sagely. “I can’t say I thought very highly of Ser Maron before this,” she said. “But I never imagined he was violent.”

“No indeed,” Olenna said shaking her head.

“He’s not violent!” Dany exclaimed hotly.

“He certainly behaved violently, Daenerys,” Olenna said.

“Maybe so,” she admitted, “but that was… you don’t know anything about it!”

She spoke far more harshly than she intended, and Olenna flinched at her anger. But she didn’t back down. “Do I need to? I can’t imagine any provocation that would justify what he did.”

The septa nodded again. “Princess Loreza couldn’t have been pleased.”

“No,” Joleta admitted.

“What’s going to happen to him?” Olenna asked her.

Joleta shrugged. “The prince will decide.”

Dany’s nerves got the better of her. She had to put the needle down because her hands were shaking so badly. Olenna took one and squeezed it. “It will all work out for the best, I believe.”

“Not for Maron.”

There was a knock on the door and Rhona Santagar came in. “Well,” she told Joleta, sitting down next to her, “I promised I’d bring you news.”

“About Maron?” Dany asked. “What is it?”

Rhona raised an eyebrow. “The prince has already summoned him down.”

“So soon?” Joleta asked. “And Dany was worried he would waste away.”

“What will he do with him?” Dany asked her.

Rhona shrugged. “That’s certainly not for me to say,” she said. “But he seems impatient to be done with it quickly. There are plans to go hawking with the king this afternoon.”

That could either be very good, or very bad. Perhaps the prince only wanted to let him go with nothing but a dressing down. Or perhaps he was summoning Maron to tell him he was being sent to Ghaston Grey.

She stood up and headed towards the door.

“Where are you going?” Joleta asked her.

“To the Tower of the Sun.” Where else would she go right now?

“What on earth do you think you can do there?”

“Really child,” Septa Unelletine butted in. “Stay here. Your presence would be unseemly.”

Dany ignored her. “Are you going to come with me, or do I have to go by myself?” she asked her sister. “I won’t bother asking Olenna.” She saw her friend flush out of the corner of her eye, but she hardly cared.

“I’ll come with you,” Rhona told her. “But I doubt you’ll be allowed in the audience chamber anyway.”

She forced herself to walk briskly, rather than run, into the courtyard and across to the Tower of the Sun. Rhona was three strides behind her the whole time. “You’re not going to...” she asked Dany as they climbed the main staircase. “Joleta’s right, there’s nothing you’ll be able to do.”

“I know that,” Dany told her. “I just want to be there.” Maron would be reassured, just knowing she was.  

They reached the audience chamber and entered through the large front doors. It was still deserted except for Loreza and Serron Vaith, speaking to each other in a far corner just below the dais. The princess wrinkled her brow when she saw them.

“Dany?” she asked. “What are you doing here?”

Dany flushed. “I...” she began. “I only wanted to see.”

“See what?” Serron Vaith asked.

Dany shrugged, feeling her blush deepen. “What’s going to happen?”

Loreza ignored the question. “Stay if you wish,” she said with a sigh. “But don’t try to speak, and don’t interfere.”

She nodded, grateful not to be asked any more questions.

Prince Arion came in through the side door, with Morgan close behind him. He didn’t seem to notice Dany, but glared at Loreza as though… well, as though she had imprisoned his son.

“Uncle,” she said, nodding. “You don’t need to be here either.”

He exhaled through his teeth. “Do you imagine I would allow you to do as you like with my son?”

“Allow?” Princess Loreza said in her most dangerous voice.

Before anything could escalate, the prince himself appeared, wearing riding clothes and an annoyed expression. Maester Geuren followed him, and Lord Allyrion and Lady Deneza. He lowered himself into the high seat on the dais and motioned for the princess to come stand beside him. The rest of them stood about near the steps.

“Let’s get this over with,” he told the maester.

Geuren shuffled off and returned a moment later. Maron came through the main door, flanked by Artyr Dalt and Ser Ormond Yronwood. Dany smiled as widely as she could manage at him. Maron looked so tired, his fine feasting clothes were creased from a restless night. His eyes met Dany’s, but all he gave her was a resigned expression.

The room was as silent as a tomb as Maron walked alone up to the foot of the dais and fell to one knee.

The prince waited whole seconds before speaking. “Do you have anything at all to say for yourself?”

Maron twisted his mouth. “I regret I caused you embarrassment, uncle.”

“Embarrassment?” the prince asked, his jaw tightening.

“Do you even realize what you did?” Princess Loreza asked.

“I...” Maron began. “I can’t imagine much harm was done.”

“You were drunk enough that I’m surprised you were aware of anything,” the princess said.

“Lord Dondarrion’s nose is broken,” Lady Deneza offered.

Dany could see the smirk on Maron’s face, even with his head bowed down. “If you had heard what he said...”

“Are you a child?” the prince cut in. “I couldn’t care less what he said.”

Prince Arion turned his body towards the prince. “Brother...” he began.

“There’s nothing you could say that you haven’t already,” he snapped.

“I dare say Ser Maron can defend himself,” the princess added. “Even without the benefit of breaking noses.”

“Not all of us are content to just sit and be insulted,” Maron snapped.

“It’s me you’ve insulted,” the prince said. “Me, and Princess Loreza.”

“That was not my intention,” Maron said.

“The Rowans don’t care what your intention was,” the princess said. “Much less the king. You can imagine how pleased he was.”

Maron didn’t seem to have anything to say to that. Dany could almost hear his teeth grinding.

“You’re my nephew,” Prince Rhodryn declared. “And you attacked my guest at mine own table. How dare you.”

Maron’s mouth twisted again. “Forgive me,” he said.

“Forgive you?” the prince said. “No one would dispute my right to lock you away until I can stand to look at you.”

“Is that what you intend to do, brother?” Prince Arion asked.

The prince ignored him. He balled his right hand into a fist a placed it in front of his mouth. He let out a disgusted sound. “Loree?” He asked the princess, though no one in the room would ever believe that he didn’t already know exactly what she would say.

She shook her head. “This can’t go unanswered,” she said. “The greatest lords in Westeros all saw him break the sanctity of your hall. His behaviour reflects poorly on all Dorne, not to mention our family.”

Maron raised his face up to glare at her. “You have some nerve invoking family to chastise me for defending mine.”

“Be silent!” The prince commanded.

Loreza continued as though she hadn’t been interrupted. “I know my cousin well enough to suspect that your forgiveness now will be no assurance that he’ll behave himself in the future. As long as he’s in Sunspear, he’s a liability.”

Dany could see how angry Prince Arion was becoming. Red was creeping up his neck, but he surely knew better than to raise his voice again. Only a fool enough to go up against father and daughter both.

Prince Rhodryn considered for a few moments more. He narrowed his eyes as he looked at Maron, and Dany felt her heart beating in her chest. If he was sent away, she didn’t know how she would be able to bear it. He’s only just returned to her.

“You will apologize to Lord Dondarrion,” the prince finally said. “Publicly.”

Maron looked as though he might be sick. He glanced at his father, but Prince Arion kept his silence. “As you command, my prince,” he said through clenched teeth.

“I warn you,” the prince continued, “if you give me cause to regret my leniency, if you mar my daughter’s wedding with your hot-headedness, packing you back to Wyl may not content me.”

Princess Loreza didn’t seem to mind so much that she hadn’t gotten her way. “We’ve all had to endure abuse from these northerners,” she told Maron. “They believe us to be governed entirely by baser passions, and you’ve proven them right. And you certainly didn’t help anyone. I’m ashamed of you.”

The prince motioned with his hand for Maron to rise from his knees. Then he stood from his high seat with an air of impatience. “Find the man, beg his forgiveness where all can see you, and we can put a close to this sorry episode. Ser Artyr.”

Artyr Dalt climbed the dais and stood by the prince’s side as he whispered something in his ear that Dany couldn’t hear. She was smiling again, and resisting the urge to run to Maron, all these eyes on them be damned.

Prince Rhodryn and the others left. Rhona Santagar gave Dany an amused smile then followed Loreza out through the side door. Prince Arion had a short, whispered conversation with Maron before he stalked out as well, still looking in a dark mood. The only ones to stay were Maron and Dany themselves, Morgan, and Ser Artyr and Ormond Yronwood.

“Let’s go, ser,” Ser Artyr said without humour. “The prince won’t go hunting until I tell him it’s done, and the longer he has to wait the worse it will be.”

“For all of us,” Maron said bitterly.

Dany came to stand with them. She regarded Maron’s appearance critically. It won’t do for everyone to see him like this. “Perhaps you should change your garb first,” she told him. “You look rather... crumpled.”

Maron smiled indulgently at her. “I expect I do. I’ll go to my chamber and change.”

Ser Artyr frowned. “Can’t that wait?”

Dany frowned at him.

“All right,” he conceded. “But Ser Ormond will go with you.”

Maron bristled at that. “I don’t need a wet nurse,” he said. “Certainly not one who still has a wet nurse of his own. Do you think I’ll bolt?”

Dany saw Ser Ormond’s face turn as red as a pomegranate. “Every time you call me a boy, you only prove how childish you are.”

Maron sneered, but didn’t respond. Dany surreptitiously touched his forearm, hoping it would calm him.

“Ser Ormond will go with you,” Artyr Dalt repeated. “To see that there’s no delay. Then we’ll both accompany you to the yard.”

“I don’t see why you should object,” Dany told Maron.

“Object? I wouldn’t dream of it,” Maron quipped. “A prisoner has no choice but to obey. Come on then, Morgan.”

The brothers left with Ser Ormond trailing behind them.

“Ser Maron seems to listen to you, Lady Dany,” Ser Artyr told her. “I can’t tell you how envious that makes me.”

Dany looked down at her feet. If she met his eye, her face would betray her. “He’s my cousin,” she said.

“Princess Loreza is his cousin too.”

She supposed he had a point. Maron always obeyed the princess, but he seemed to resent it. Loreza had never understood that he hated to be obliged to do anything.

“Are you going to join in the hunt?” Ser Artyr asked her.

“I hadn’t planned to,” Dany said. “I thought they were going hawking.”

“It hardly matters,” Ser Artyr shrugged. “It will be such a crowd that no one will be able to take anything anyway.”

“Yes,” Dany said. She tried to laugh, but managed nothing more than a weak smile. “Excuse me,” she said. “I should find my mother.”

But Dany didn’t try to look for Princess Trystana; she went out to find Lord Dondarrion herself. It wasn’t hard. At this time of the morning, all the men were in the small yard training. She skirted around its edge, avoiding the clouds of dust the horses were kicking up, and climbed the short stone steps to the gallery.

Lady Amerei Darklyn was already there. “Lady Daenerys!” she called happily.

Dany rolled her eyes before putting on a smile and going over to where the woman was sitting at the table under the awning. She hadn’t enjoyed their previous conversation in the least, but some things couldn’t be avoided.

“Good morning,” she said. “It’s not too hot today, is it?”

“Isn’t it?” Lady Amerei laughed. “Come, sit next to me, if you will.” It was a good spot, facing the top of the stair where Maron would surely come from. “Oh,” Lady Amerei said, “doesn’t my husband look dashing?”

Dany saw Lord Darklyn in his black and gold fusily taking a turn at the quintain at the far side of the yard. He wasn’t disgracing himself, but he wasn’t doing any better than a common squire either. And the man was far too skinny. “Yes,” she told his wife.

“I just love watching him,” she continued, and sighed forlornly with her hand on her heart.

Dany couldn’t help but smile. “It’s lovely, how fond you are of each other.”

“It is rather splendid,” She admitted. “But not many marriages are like ours. I wouldn’t want to fill a maiden’s head with unreasonable expectations.”

“I already knew that.”

“Truly?” Lady Amerei laughed. “Do your parents not get along?”

It was a rather rude question from a person who was almost a stranger, but Dany didn’t mind so much. “They don’t see each other often enough for it to matter any more. I hardly know what they were like before.”

“Oh,” Lady Amerei seemed a little disappointed. “But I’m sure Princess Loreza and Ser Eliott will be very happy. That’s what you’re supposed to say on the eve of a wedding, isn’t it?”

Dany shrugged. “He’s very comely.” She’d danced a dance with him, and her mother seemed pleased with him. But other than that, Dany had barely noticed his arrival. Loreza wasn’t acting any different now that he was here.

Lady Amerei leaned back in her chair and sat with her hand on top of her belly. She looked at Dany with eagerness, as though she was finally saying what she’d wanted to all along. “They say the more interesting the wedding, the better the marriage.”

“Do they say that?” Dany asked. It didn’t seem likely. But they said all sorts of odd things in the north.

“And it’s certainly been an interesting wedding already, hasn’t it?”

“Well,” Dany said. “Everyone’s gone to a lot of trouble to make it a very grand occasion and there are so many people...”

“Like last night, for example,” she bowled over Dany’s words. “That was very interesting.”

“Was it?”

“People have been saying all sorts of thing,” Lady Amerei continued. “But you were right there, if I recall. So you know the truth.”

Dany did mind her impertinence this time. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, my lady,” she said. “But I don’t know anything about it.”

Lady Amerei clucked her tongue. “Oh, don’t be cruel,” she said. “You needn't tell me anything. Just nod if I’ve gotten something right.”

“I don’t...”

“I heard that Lord Dondarrion was being boastful. About a lady, if you understand me.”

He was a good deal more than boastful , Dany thought. But she said nothing.

“That’s not the interesting part anyway,” Lady Amerei continued. “It’s who the lady was, and why Ser Maron would consider himself at liberty to defend her...”

Dany glared. “Really!” she said. “I can’t image why you would think I would say anything. You’re speaking of my own cousins.”

“Cousins?” Lady Amerei said triumphantly. “So it is true.”

Dany felt herself turn red. She stood. “Excuse me, my lady.”

There really wasn’t anywhere in the yard for her to go to get as far away from Lady Amerei as she wished, and still be there to wait for Maron, but she was spared any need to navigate that awkwardness by the man himself appearing at the top of the steps. Ser Artyr followed closely behind him as he made his way down into the yard. Morgan and Ormond Yronwood were still with them too, following behind like baby ducks.

Maron looked very handsome. He’d changed into a yellow tunic that had the foot and viper of House Wyl painted across it. His hair was pulled back away from his face in a way that added to the intensity of his eyes. Dany went down to the edge of the gallery and only descended the stairs herself when he was halfway to the middle of the open space.

Someone must have warned Lord Dondarrion about what was going to happen. He brought his charger over and dismounted just a dozen feet away from Maron. Ser Manfred Swann and Randyll Buckler came up to flank him, like guards. He took off his helm to reveal two black eyes and a nose swollen to twice its natural size.

The yard had gone deathly silent. The only sound was the snorting of horses being reined in by men whose attention was entirely fixed on Maron and his adversary. Daenerys wasn’t the only woman watching from the gallery, a group of them must have followed Maron there. Lady Amerei was already whispering to Elda Toland, and Mariah Florent stood near them with an eager look in her eye.

“Lord Belmor,” Maron said, loudly enough for the whole yard to hear him. “I must beg your forgiveness for my behaviour last night.”

The other man looked sceptical. “Must you, ser?” he asked.

“Indeed,” Maron continued. He looked so dignified standing there that Dany felt her breath coming quicker. “It was unconscionable. I degraded myself, my family, and my prince, and only your pardon can ease my shame.”

Ser Artyr Dalt grunted in a mixture of amusement and frustration.

Lord Dondarrion didn’t seem to know how to respond. He looked over to Ser Manfred, who could only shrug. “Then I give it to you, gladly,” he said. He held out his hand and Maron grasped his forearm with his own.

They broke apart again after only a few seconds. The crowd milling about the yard lost interest soon after. Maron immediately turned to Ser Artyr.

“Well,” he said. “That’s your charge done, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Ser Artyr agreed. “I shall tell the prince how earnestly you obeyed his command.”

“Let this one tell him,” Maron said, indicating Ormond Yronwood. “He never misses a chance to toady up.”

Ser Ormond turned red. “It’s a comfort to know that you’re not likely to be tolerated in Sunspear much longer.” He turned on his heels and left, giving Dany a little nod in the process.

“I wish I didn’t share Ser Ormond’s fear,” Ser Artyr said. “I don’t know what you hope to accomplish with your constant disdain for everyone.” He left them too.

Maron never disdains me, Dany thought. He smiled at her now. “You didn’t have to see all of that,” he told her.

“I wanted to,” she said. “I’m glad it all turned out.”

“Did it?” he asked. “Having to demean myself is not what I call a good conclusion.”

“It’s better than you being sent away,” she said. “And why are you so mean to Ser Ormond?”

“Ser?” Maron said with a sneer. “Our uncle only knighted him because he pitied him.”

That didn’t sound much like Ser Olyvar Sand. “I don’t think that’s true.”

“Are we going to go hunting?” Morgan asked suddenly. He’s been so quiet that Dany had forgotten he was there.

“Hunting?” Maron asked, surprised. “Did you want to?”

“With the king?” Morgan said, “of course I do.”

“Go then,” Maron said, looking at Dany and smiling a little. “It will please Father to have you there.”

“Alone?” his younger brother asked. “But I should stay with you. I’m your squire.”

Maron rolled his eyes. “If I need help putting my armour on today, I promise to send a rider after you.”

Morgan went away towards the stables, still reluctant, but Maron and Dany climbed the stairs and made their way on to the gardens, in search of some privacy.

They hadn’t been in the shade of the trees long when they saw Elda Toland sitting on a bench speaking with Genna Sand. She rose as soon as she saw them.

“Genna,” Maron said, stopping in his tracks. He stood before her. “Are you well?”

She didn’t look him in the face. “I never asked you to do anything.”

“I couldn’t do nothing,” Maron said. “Not while he insulted you.”

She glared at him. “Why not? I’ve faced a good deal worse than an indiscrete boy. Do you think I care what he says about me?”

“I care,” Maron told her. “I wish I’d done a lot worse than break his nose.”

“It’s not your place to care, Ser Maron.”

Dany could tell how much those words wounded him. “Of course it is,” he said, shocked. “How can you even say that?”

“I don’t need anyone to defend me,” she told him. “And even if I did, I have my brother.”

Dany frowned. Gallwell Qorgyle had been sitting there too, and he hadn’t said a word. But perhaps that hadn’t been a mistake, considering what had happened.

“Now you’re being cruel,” Maron said. “I would defend you, with my life. I don’t care if you never call me brother.”

His last word made Genna turn red. She turned her face away from him. “No,” she said, “you never care for anyone’s feelings but your own.” She exhaled through her teeth. “My mother is… And now the prince thinks I’m the cause of all this mischief.”

“That’s not true,” Dany jumped to say.

“You haven’t done anything worthy of blame,” Elda Toland said, standing beside Genna. “It all would have passed for nothing if Ser Maron hadn’t lost his temper.”

Maron’s face flashed with anger. “I’m willing to be reproached by Genna, but not by you.”

“There doesn’t seem to be any point in reproaching you,” Genna said. “You do as you please. I can only hope it will never please you to help me again. Good morning, Lady Daenerys.” She curtsied and walked away with Elda, back towards the yard where Maron and Dany had come from.

Maron let out a frustrated little scream as soon as she rounded the corner and went out of sight. “What was I supposed to do?” he asked Dany.

“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “But-”

“Not sure?” he said. “You think I was wrong?”

“No...” she started. “Well… It was very gallant of you, but, Genna is… things have always been hard for her. It’s all so complicated.”

“It’s not complicated at all,” Maron argued.

“It is though,” she said. “It would be different if your father...”

“That was never his choice,” Maron interrupted. “It makes him angry, in fact.”

“I know,” Dany admitted. “But her mother, and your mother-”

“That doesn’t change anything,” Maron said. “It certainly doesn’t make her any less my blood.” He made another little scream. “What was she doing spreading her legs for that little shit anyway?”

Dany shrugged. “I suppose she thought he was comely.”

Maron started. “Do you think he’s comely?”

“I did,” she said with a grin. “Before his face puffed up.”

He laughed. Dany looked around the garden. This path was out of the way enough to be deserted, but she could hear voices and footsteps through the shuberry. She took Maron’s hand and lead him along.

“Where are we going?” he asked her.

“Where no one will walk in on us.” They reached the gate to Princess Loreza’s garden. She opened it with one hand and pulled him through. The garden was empty. Dany turned and threw her arms around Maron’s neck. She barely had to go up on her toe to reach his lips with her own.

He pushed her on the shoulder. “What are you doing?”

Dany frowned at him. “You’ve kissed me before.”

“I know I have,” he said. “But maybe I was wrong.”

“Wrong?” Dany asked. “I wanted to kiss you. I thought you did too.”

“Of course I do, but,” Maron sighed and smiled, patronizingly. “I remember being fifteen. Who knows what you’ll want in a fortnight.”

She shook her head. “A fortnight won’t change my feelings for you,” she said. “And even if it did, I can still decide for myself what I want.”

“I dare say you can,” he said. He took a step back from her. “What have you decided?”

Dany stepped towards him so that they were as close as could be again. She took one hand in his and smiled the most alluring smile she knew how. “That I want you.”

He lifted his other hand to cup her face. “I want that as well,” he said. “I want you to be my wife.”

Dany laughed. “Well, good,” she said. “But I don’t want to wait that long. I think about you. All the time.”

Maron bit his lip. “I would hate myself,” he said, “if you did something you came to regret because of me.”

“But-” Dany said, starting to feel a little frustrated, “I wouldn’t. And even if I did… ” The only thing she would regret was not making him understand. The thought of being wed to Maron, of always being by his side, was thrilling. But the thought of laying with him, of giving him her maidenhead, was almost too much for her to bare. She stayed awake in bed almost every night and imagined how it would be, to feel his skin against hers. “I said I wanted you. Why can’t you just believe me?”

Maron looked stricken. “I believe you,” he said. “But if we’re to be married, then we’ll have so much time. There’s be no point in rushing anything.”

Dany twisted her mouth. “You sound like Olenna Redwyne.”

“What?” he asked with a laugh. “I hope not.”

The gate creaked, and the two of them both jumped back, letting go of each other’s hands. The High Senechal poked his head through and seemed pleased to find Dany there.

“My lady,” he asked, as though not noticing Maron, “have you seen Princess Trystana this morning?”

That was strange. Usually Garwen went out of his way to avoid her mother. “Not this morning, no,” Dany told him. “Isn’t she going hunting with everyone else?”

“No, my lady, I don’t believe so.”

“Is Ser Eldon Sand going hunting?” Maron asked with a smirk. Dany swatted him on the arm playfully.

“What did you need her for?” she asked the senechal.

The man looked a little uncomfortable. “Well, my lady,” he began, “Princess Daenella has arrived and I’m not entirely sure-”

“Princess Daenella?” Dany said happily. “Where is she?”

“I asked her to wait in your mother’s sitting room, my lady.”

Dany giggled in excitement and went past him through the gate and down the garden path. The gardens and the courtyards had become crowded with all the visitors; she had to weave her way through a group of poorly dressed hedge knights gawking at the Spear Tower. But the Tower of the Sun was far emptier. Almost everyone who was important enough to enter here was important enough to go hunting with the prince and the king. Dany hopped up the stairs and through the wide corridor to her mother’s rooms.

Her aunt was sitting on an upholstered chair by the window. She was so pregnant that she was practically round. She used both arms to push herself up.

“Dany,” Princess Daenella said, holding her arms out to embrace her, “look how tall you’ve gotten. I haven’t seen you in a year.”

“Longer!” Dany told her. She tried to hug her aunt, but her belly was so large that she couldn’t quite reach.

“Hold still so I can look at you.”

Dany stood up straight and let the princess look her up and down.

“You look more like your father than your mother, I think,” she finally declared.

“Oh,” Dany said. “Is that good?”

“Well, it hardly matters in your case, they’re both very handsome.”

Dany giggled. “I’m so glad you’ve come, aunt.” She gestured towards her belly. “I didn’t think you’d be able to.” Her aunt had some land between here and Godsgrace, on one of the smaller rivers that drained into the Greenblood. Neither of her parents would ever let Dany visit her there, as much as she would have wanted to.

Princess Daenella wrapped both arms around her bump and smiled widely. “We couldn’t have missed this. Don’t be silly.” She took Dany’s hand in one of hers and pulled her towards a settee. “So, niece,” she said. “Tell me all your news.”

She could feel her cheeks turning pink. “I don’t have any,” she said. “Salt Shore is quiet and everything here has been about the wedding.”

Her aunt looked sceptical, but before she could say anything the door opened and Ser Olyvar Sand came in.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked Princess Daenella. “In your condition?”

She rolled her eyes so only Dany could see. “It’s very nice to see you too, brother.”

He sighed. “Don’t be an idiot,” he told her. “Of course I’m happy to see you.” He came up to her and bent to kiss her cheek. “But I’m even more happy that you didn’t give birth by the side of the road. Look at you.”

“I’m perfectly well,” his sister said. She turned to Dany. “You think leopards stop hunting just because they’re with child?”

“You’re not a leopard,” Ser Olyvar pointed out. He sat down on the settee next to Dany and put his forehead in his hand. “Rhodryn will have a fit when he sees you. What could you have been thinking?”

Princess Daenella rolled her eyes again. “I was thinking that I wanted to see my niece wed.” She spoke to Dany again as though he wasn’t there. “I assume you’ve seen the young man,” she said. “I heard he’s very comely.”

Dany shrugged. “I suppose he is,” she said. “He dances well.”

“Loreza thinks he’s comely,” Ser Olyvar said, “it hardly matters if anyone else does.”

“That’s a mercy!” Princess Daenella said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t want to be stuck in this palace with her if her husband couldn’t please her.”

Dany giggled, but Ser Olyvar frowned. “I don’t think you need to be concerned.”

“I doubt he could be as pretty as that Dayne boy of hers.”

“Don’t even think of mentioning him!” Ser Olyvar said with sudden severity. “Certainly not to her.”

Dany heard the click of the door opening. Her mother came in already wearing a scowl. “The Others take you, Daenella!” She said. “What were you thinking coming here?”

The princess suddenly began to look defensive for the first time. “I came for the wedding,” she said.

“The wedding?” Princess Trystana asked. “How could you consider going anywhere so near your time? Not even you should be as reckless as that!” She was nearly screaming, and her face was purple.

Ser Olyvar stood to put a hand on her shoulder. “Calm down, Trystana,” he said in a soothing voice. “She’s here, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Dany’s mother didn’t seem to have any intention of calming down. “The king is here!” she exclaimed. “And half the lords of the Reach. We’ll be fortunate to even find a bed for you to have your child in!”

“You don’t need to panic so, sister,” Princess Daenella said with a scowl on her beautiful face. “It’s still a week or two off.”

“A week or two?” Princess Trystana actually stamped her foot. “You know as well as I do that that means it could come at any moment. The heir to Sunspear is getting married in three days! No one has time to deal with you!”

Dany could see that her aunt was getting upset. She was looking everywhere but at her sister. “I’m glad you’re here,” she whispered. “It would all be just a bunch of boring feasts without you.” Princess Daenella smiled.

“She’s here now,” Ser Olyvar Sand repeated, but Princess Trystana didn’t hear him any better this time.

“This is so like her!” She told him. “She does whatever she pleases and we have to deal with it! And of course she gave no thought to our brother and how anxious this will make him! As though he didn’t have enough to worry about!”

Princess Daenella started to cry. She put one hand on her belly and used the other to cover her face.

“Don’t cry, aunt,” Dany said. “The prince will be happy to see you.”

“I’m sorry I’m such an inconvenience to everyone,” Princess Daenella said through sobs. “I wanted us all to be together, but I’ll leave if I’m just a problem to you.”

Ser Olyvar rolled his eyes. “There’s no question of your leaving,” he said. “I doubt the prince will consent to you leaving your bed.”

The door opened yet again. “Who is it now?” Princess Daenella asked, blubbering. But she wiped her eyes and struggled up to her feet as soon as she saw that it was Princess Loreza. Even Dany’s mother made a visible effort to control herself.

“Aunt,” the princess said. “I can’t say that I expected to see you here. No one told me you were coming.”

She blushed as her niece kissed her on the cheek. “I wanted to surprise you,” she said.

“Yes,” Loreza said. “I’m famous for being fond of surprises.” She sat down on the settee and frowned slightly at her aunt’s belly. “And it looks as though we’ll be having another guest soon, too.”

“We don’t even have a bed for her,” Princess Trystana cut in.

Loreza sighed. “Yes...” she admitted. “Even the Tower of the Sun is full of Tyrells. And the Lannisters still haven’t arrived.”

“And it will be any day now-”

“I can see that.” The princess’s frown deepened. “You’ll have to take one of my ladies’ rooms, I suppose. The bed should be big enough for two.”

Princess Daenella blushed deeper than ever. “It doesn’t need to.”

“What!” her sister asked. “You mean your husband hasn’t come with you?”

“No,” Princess Daenella said quietly.

“I see what this is now,” she said with a scoff. “You quarreled with him and ran away. Again.”

“No!” her sister said more stoutly. And unconvincingly.

“It hardly matters,” Ser Olyvar Sand said to Dany’s mother. “It’s our sister’s health that should concern us now.”

“I quite agree,” Princess Loreza said. She stood up again, but put a hand on Princess Daenella’s arm to keep her down. “Stay here for now, I’ll send the maester to you. I can’t imagine you brought yours with you.”

“I haven’t,” her aunt admitted.

“And I’m sure you’ll be able to arrange about the bed, aunt,” she said to Princess Trystana.

She sighed. “Lady Deneza may be able to do better for her than someone else’s bed.”

“No, don’t trouble her now,” Loreza said. “I’ll have Rhona Santagar see to it.”

“If you wish,” Princess Trystana told her. And Loreza was gone as quickly as she came. “Well, that’s it then,” Dany’s mother said to her sister. “I hope you’re proud of yourself. Come along, Daenerys.”

Dany shook her head. “I’d rather stay with my aunt,” she told her. “She may need my help.”

Princess Trystana rolled her eyes, but left herself without another word.

Princess Daenella’s sobs resumed. “She hates me even more than she did before!”

Ser Olyvar sat beside her and put an arm around her. “She doesn’t hate you, Dae,” he said. “She’s been under a good deal of strain, that’s all.”

She managed to laugh through her tears. “You mean she’s working herself up interfering with everyone else’s business.”

He laughed softly. “That’s not what I said. Come lie down on the daybed and get your feet up.”

Dany and her uncle both helped Daenella stand and guided her over to recline on the bed in the corner of the room. Dany rearranged the cushions for her and heard her aunt sigh with relief as she leaned back. Obviously the journey hadn’t been as effortless as she had pretended. 

“I’ll need to have word sent to the prince that you’re here,” Ser Olyvar said unhappily.

“But, that will quite ruin his day,” Dany protested.

“Maybe so, but he’d never forgive me if I didn’t.”

Dany shrugged. “Then Loreza’s probably done it already.”

“True,” he said with another laugh. “But I best be sure.” He bent down again to kiss his sister on the brow. “Promise me you’ll rest,” he said.

“I doubt I’ll be given much of a choice.” When she and Dany were alone, the princess became quite animated again. “You still haven’t told me your news.”

Dany shrugged. “What did you and your husband argue about?”

She stroked her belly. “We didn’t,” she maintained. “But it’s been hard for him to be stuck in that thrice damned house for all these years. It’s been hard for me too.” Princess Daenella’s husband wasn’t high-born, or even a knight. He’d sold spices up and down the Greenblood before she’d married him. Dany’s mother always spoke of it angrily, but also said that she supposed it was just as well. Since Princess Daenella could hardly be trusted with a real marriage.

“And everyone’s always coming to us with problems they expect us to fix,” her aunt continued.

“Your smallfolk, you mean?”

“Yes, it’s very annoying,” she said with a flap of her hand. “But don’t think you’re getting out of it this easily. You must have news, who are you in love with?”

Dany was sure she was as red. “Why do you think I’m in love?”

“All girls your age are,” her aunt said. “I’m sure I was in love with seven people when I was fifteen.”

“Joleta’s in love,” Dany tried.

“I know all about that,” Princess Daenella said. “What about you?”

“Well...” Dany said hesitantly. “There is someone.”

“I knew it!” Her aunt exclaimed. “Well! Tell me who it is.”

Dany shook her head. “I think he’s in love with me too,” she confessed. “He told me he was.”

“Oh dear,” Princess Daenella said. “You’re mother’s told you about moon tea, hasn’t she?”

“Yes!” Dany said, blushing even deeper. “Well, my mother didn’t tell me about it, but I know about moon tea.”

“Hmm...” her aunt said. “It’s a good thing the maester is coming.”

Chapter Text

Barely an hour after dawn the heat was already oppressive. Jeremy was loath to leave the cool sandstone walls of the Tower of the Sun and step into the bright glare of the morning sun to make their way through the gardens.

Daeron didn’t seem to mind it. He always loved the heat. And he never burned in the sun, though his skin was pale as ivory.

“How tedious do you suppose this excursion will be?” his prince asked.

Jeremy grinned. “I’m rather looking forward to it. A long, hard ride will be nice after being stuck on a ship for so long.”

“You’re right, of course,” Daeron conceded. “And anything will be better than another feast.”

They arrived at a table set up under an awning in a corner made by the curve of a garden wall. Prince Lewyn sat at its head and barely paused in his eating to greet them. Lady Joleta Garaglen sat opposite on the young prince’s left side, an empty seat between her and Ser Artyr Dalt. The other four at the table, two young men and two young ladies, Jeremy couldn’t put a name to. He sat down next to Daeron as the others settled back down around them.

“I thought Lady Deneza was going to be here,” said one of the young ladies. She had dark hair, and striking purple eyes that looked remarkably like Daeron’s.

“She said she would be,” said Lady Joleta.

“Did she?” Ser Artyr Dalt asked. “I’m astonished she thinks she’ll find any time to break her fast at all.”

Lady Joleta’s face turned into an unmistakable scowl. “Well,” she muttered, “it’s always one thing or the other, isn’t it?”

Prince Lewyn chucked to himself. “Perhaps you should try what my father did with my sister.”

“What was that?” Daeron asked him indifferently. He leaned forward and grabbed a dish of eggs close to him and examined it critically, no doubt searching for any sign of fiery pepper. Daeron had taken to Dornish food with even less enthusiasm than Jeremy had. More than one night in the five days since their arrival had been spent in complaint about the state of his stomach.

The Dornish prince laughed. “He locked the door to her solar and forbid her to do any more work. The he commanded her to go enjoy herself. You can’t imagine she would agree to go on this excursion otherwise, can you?”

“No, I can’t,” one of the young men said. This one was tall and fair. “In fact, I’m quite surprised that a lock on the door was enough.”

The sound of hurried footsteps made everyone turn to see Lady Deneza Dalt running to the table with an air of barely controlled panic about her. “I’m sorry to be so late, my prince,” she said, addressing Prince Lewyn.

He shook his head and motioned towards the empty seat beside Lady Joleta. “I’m glad you came.”

Lady Deneza gave Lady Joleta a light kiss on the cheek as she sat down, but she just frowned again. Lady Deneza clearly noticed, but said nothing. “Are you spending the night in the Water Gardens?” she asked her brother instead. “Tell Dennet I’m sorry that won’t be able to see him, won’t you?”

Ser Artyr assured her that he would, but Lady Joleta let out an audible scoff.

Jeremy saw Lady Deneza close her eyes and purse her lips before answering. “What’s wrong?”

“Do you really have to be told?” Lady Joleta asked peevishly.

“Why don’t you tell me?”

Lady Joleta rolled her eyes. “You’re sorry not to see your nephew, but you don’t seem to mind that you’ve barely seen me for a fortnight.”

“Is that a jape?” Lady Deneza asked her with anger in her voice. “I’ve hardly seen my bed for a fortnight.”

“And I suppose that pleases you,” the other lady continued.

“Of course it doesn’t please me. My hair is going grey.”

“Then it’s a good thing you don’t have to deal with me as well.”

“Yes, maybe it is!”

“I’m glad to know how you really feel!”

Daeron looked at Jeremy with confusion in his eyes. None of the Dornishmen around the table seemed concerned at the lovers’ quarrel erupting over breakfast. Prince Lewyn was laughing into his goblet of wine. Jeremy shrugged.

Lady Deneza stood back up from her chair. “I don’t have time for this nonsense,” she said. “I hope you all enjoy yourselves.” She went back the way she had come just a minute before.

“Can you believe her!” Lady Joleta said to no one in particular.

“I don’t know what else you expected,” Ser Artyr Dalt said.

“I expected you to take her side,” she countered.

Soon, the meal was done and the group made its way together through the gardens to the stables near the southern gate. Lady Joleta scowled, but everyone else was cheerful. One of the younger ladies, the one with the purple eyes, attached herself to Jeremy to strike up a pleasant conversation.

“I’m quite excited about seeing Batarra,” she said.

“I confess,” Jeremy said with a smile, “I’d never heard of it before yesterday.”

“Really?” she said, surprised. “It’s always been the one place I wanted to see when I finally came to Sunspear.”

“You’ve never been here before, my lady?”

“No, I’ve hardly ever left Starfall before.”

She was a Dayne, then. Daeron’s grandmother had been a Dayne. Perhaps that was why they had the same eyes. “It’s a very long journey.”

“I suppose so,” she allowed, “but I like travelling.”

“As do I.”

“Has anyone told you the story about Batarra?” The lady asked, but before she could start telling it herself, they arrived in a bailey where a large group was assembling. Ser Harlan Grandison was waiting for Daeron beside three sand steeds tacked up with saddle and bridle ornamented with gold and copper.

“Ser Casson Vaith tells me that the colour of the sky means the heat won’t be so bad today, Your Grace,” he told them.

“I’m not sure Ser Casson can be entirely objective about what ‘so bad’ might mean,” Daeron grumbled. He looked around the bailey frowning, “Gods be good, will she never leave me in peace?” Jeremy turns to where his eye had fallen and saw Lady Olenna in the middle of a cluster of young women that included Daenerys Gargalen and the Dayne girl. “Her brother isn’t here, is he?” Daeron asked.

Jeremy’s turned his head to look behind them. “Not that I can see.”

“Well, that’s a mercy at least.”

Jeremy smiled. “You should say something to Eliott Rowan,” he told him. “He’s right there.”

Ser Eliott was standing by his horse, fiddling with his sword belt nervously. Beside him were his companions. One was Ser Marq Rowan, his cousin, who Jeremy had been meeting at tourneys since they were all squires, and another was Ser Marq’s younger brother Owain.

“You look half a Dornishman already, ser,” Daeron told him.

“Do I, Your Grace?” Ser Eliott asked self-consciously. He looked down at his silk tunic and baggy trousers, worn with a loose robe that was cinched at the waist. “I suppose one must dress for where one is. And I’ll be grateful for it, when the sun comes out.”

Jeremy raised one eyebrow significantly at Daeron. He was wearing light hunting greens that would have been more than comfortable for a summer hunt in the Reach. “We’ll be fine,” Daeron insisted. “I like the heat.” But it didn’t take much to cajole him into sending for some robes of their own, or to return to the tower to change.

When they emerged again some quarter of an hour later, Jeremy already felt cooler. Princess Loreza was waiting in the bailey, Ser Eliott and a dozen others around her. She and all the other ladies were clothed in linen from head to foot, and covered up as much as any septa, though Jeremy knew it was not from modesty. The princess had covered her dark hair with a deep saffron-coloured veil edged with small golden disks. Her long braid was draped over one shoulder and held together with red-gold wire.

“Prince Daeron,” she said with a smirk on her face. “You look very well thus.”

“I’m sure you’re jesting,” Daeron said to her. “But I’m told it’s certain death to dress otherwise.”

“Oh, it won’t be so bad today. Shall we get going?”

It was only then that Jeremy noticed the impatient looks on many faces. “I hope we haven’t delayed you, my princess,” he said to Princess Loreza.

“Delayed us? Of course not,” she said. “Though we have no time to waste. Unless we want to be riding through the hottest part of the day.” She turned towards the horses with a conviction that made everyone do the same at a noticeably brisk pace. Ser Eliott held out his arm, as though expecting her to take it, but the princess must not have seen it because she walked past him and vaulted easily onto the back of a grey sand steed.

Jeremy’s own mount was just as fine, a sorrel mare with a light mane and fire in her eyes. He could tell how swift she would be. The thought thrilled him, it had been far too long since he’d felt the freedom a fine swift horse could give. A few runs up and down the lists in the past four days hadn’t cured the restlessness that a month’s confinement at sea had given him.

The group, numbered close to thirty, slowly filed out of the bailey and through the courtyard towards one of the palace’s lesser gates. That path spared them the need to ride through the shadow city. There was only a short pebble beach to cross before they were riding through olive groves. The pace was quick at first, but it slowed when a few of the younger ladies fell behind. They stopped at the top of a high hill crowned with a watch tower so they could admire the view back towards Sunspear.

“Isn’t it lovely?” Jeremy asked breathlessly to Daeron as they crested the hill, Ser Harlan just a few paces behind him.

“Very lovely,” the prince said smiling, not even turning to look, his eyes only on Jeremy’s face. He smiled back.

Soon, the olive trees thinned and the horses were kicking up a fearsome cloud of dust. They turned inland from the coastal road and into scrublands covered by nothing by the odd clumps of desiccated grass.

The sun began to beat down, even when they were still in sight of the sea. The princess paused to draw her veil across her face so all that could be seen was a narrow slit across her eyes. The others all did the same. Even the men covered their faces with sheer lengths of silk secured to their metal half-helms. Daeron drank half the contents of his water skin and poured the other half on his head before he would consent to so the same.

In three hours they arrived in a little speck of a village built around a lonely looking well. The inn was small, dark, and made of stone. It seemed to Jeremy that it would be wonderfully cool inside, but Princess Loreza declared that they would eat outside, in the shade of some old, ragged fig trees.

The innkeep, a short old man with a round belly, shouted imperiously to several young boys as they spread carpets out onto the dusty ground for them to sit on. The princess settled down with her back against the trunk of a tree while everyone else gathered about her. Daeron chose to sit some distance away under the next tree, but Ser Eliott Rowan planted himself at the right hand of his betrothed.

The same group of little boys came out again to lay dishes of bread, olives, and fruit out before them. When they finished they didn’t go back into the inn, but gathered by the fence to the horse paddock to watch them eat with open-mouthed fascination.

Ser Eliott picked up what looked like a large green pear with the skin of a lemon. He dug his fingernails into the skin to peel it away then broke the flesh into segments. “Another kind of orange?” he said to Princess Loreza. “How many different kinds are there?”

“Oh hundreds,” she told him. “But that’s not an orange.”

“Not an orange?” he asked. “It tastes like an orange.”

“Perhaps it does,” the princess said, “that doesn’t make it any less a pomelo.”

“A pomelo, you say? How is that different from an orange?”

She smirked. “How is a horse different from an ass?”

“Any man can see the difference,” he returned. “Which is hardly the case here.”

“Well,” said Ser Rolyn Toland, “I think we can all agree; a well-bred ass is all anyone really needs.”

Princess Loreza chuckled. “For some tasks, maybe.”

The expression on Ser Eliott’s face changed. “Most would argue that a horse is always better, I think.”

Her smile wavered. “Like an orange will always be better than a pomelo?”

“You don’t agree?”

“I don’t see why I have to choose between them.”

Ser Eliott turned his head away. “No, I don’t suppose you do,” he snapped.

The princess wasn’t smiling at all anymore. “It’s only fruit,” she said.

He turned back to her. “Of course,” he said with an apologetic look. “It’s hardly a subject to upset oneself over.”

Daeron shook his head at Jeremy. “Happy couple,” he said quietly. “What will they do when they disagree about the colour of the sheets in their bedchamber?”

They rode for another two hours. The land became drier and more rocky. Occasional boulders and outcrops turned into steep-sided gorges that narrowed until no more than a dozen horses could pass breast to breast.

“Oh,” Jeremy heard the Dayne girl exclaim. “It’s just as beautiful as I imagined.”

He turned his head to see the ruins of an enormous gate, now nothing but a stone arc thirty or more feet high. When they passed under it, Jeremy could see that beyond, the walls of the canyon were cut into defensive towers and battlements. It was like a castle built into a cliffside.

They all dismounted and hobbled the horses before walking through the greatest of the doors. It was almost as tall as the archway, flanked on both sides by smooth pillars carved right into the rock. Inside was a wide, columned hall that ran for a hundred feet before breaking out into daylight once more.

Suddenly, they were in an oblong shaped gorge with walls of striped red and pink sandstone. Almost every natural surface was carved. Jeremy could see staircases and covered porticos and more doorways than he could count. This place wasn’t so much a castle built into a cliff as it was a town.

Jeremy found his companion from the morning among a group that had formed in the centre of the gorge, around a raised platform that might have once held a statue. She was standing with her head tilted up and a look of wonder on her face, circling around so that she could see every bit of the view.

“You seem to know a lot about this place, my lady,” Jeremy said.

“Lady Alleza knows a lot about almost everything,” Ser Casson Vaith said fondly. “And she’s always eager to make sure everyone else does as well.”

Jeremy was grateful to finally know her name.

She blushed. “I’ve read about it, that’s all,” she said. “Did you see how narrow the valley got right before the gate?”

“I did.”

“This valley is the only way through from the white sands to the sea for a hundred miles in either directions. The First Men built this fortress here to command the pass. The kings of the Broken Arm had their seat here.”

Jeremy ran his hand along the side of the platform, carved with scrolling flower and vines. There were still flakes of green and red paint clinging to it. “It does seem worthy of that,” he said.

“Yes,” Daeron agreed. “It’s not Dragonstone, but it will serve.”

“This was a long time ago,” Lady Alleza said defensively. “Before the Andals came to Dorne.”

“Why was the castle abandoned?” Jeremy asked her.

She shrugged. “The well ran dry.”

“That seems a common tale,” Jeremy said.

“I suppose there were many great battle here too,” Daeron said with the air of studied indifference he used when something interested him but he didn’t want people to know it.

“Certainly,” Lady Alleza agreed. “But most of them are only legendary, since the First Men didn’t write anything down.”

“That was short-sighted of them,” Daeron quipped.

Lady Alleza narrowed her eyes. “What they built lasted a good deal longer than most books, didn’t it, my prince?”

Daeron laughed. “I may as well go take a good look at it then.”

They wandered away, deeper into gorge. Jeremy and Daeron poked into dozens of man-made caves that must have once been shops and homes and storehouse. Daeron looked behind them and saw only Ser Harlan. The knight of the Kingsguard looked distinctly alien, walking among the sandstone in his long white cloak, but he had long learned the knack of being all but invisible. Indeed, Daeron seemed to decide that they were as good as alone, because he took Jeremy by the hand and pulled him into the back of one space, where a table have been carved out of the wall. The white knight turned his back and faced the entrance.

When they came out into the light of the courtyard once more, Daeron declared that he wished to see the place from a height. Up three turns of a stone staircase carved from a prominent outcrop the two men and the kingsguard came across a group under a portico. Princess Loreza was nowhere to be seen, but her brother was entertaining Ser Eliott and his companions instead.

“There are all these paintings on the walls in the back,” the young prince was saying happily. “I used to adore them when I was a boy.”

The hall was cunningly shaped so that the light slanted enough for them to see the painted wall perfectly well when they were lead towards it. It showed a scene of battle, with figures portrayed in an unnatural, ridged style, as though they were wooden dolls more than people. A little further down were more figures hurling stones from a wall not twice as tall as they were.

“They’re very lively,” said Ser Marq Rowan, clearly bringing out the only compliment he could think of.

“Yes,” Ser Eliott agreed. “They quite remind me of the painting in the gallery at Sunspear.”

“Do they?” Prince Lewyn asked quizzically. “I suppose they’re a little similar, though I never liked those as much. The maester used to make me walk along them and recite all the names.”

“And were you very good at it?” asked a pretty blonde girl at the prince’s side.

He laughed. “No, I was hopeless. My sister was quite ashamed of me.” The girl giggled, which seemed to encourage him. “I couldn’t tell Mors II from Lucifer Dryland.”

They laughed together until Ser Eliott interrupted.

“Princess Loreza was very good at it, I imagine,” he said.

Prince Lewyn shrugged. “She has to know about things like that, doesn’t she?”

“She seemed to the other day,” Ser Eliott continued. “It was all she would talk about.”

“She’s not usually so shy, I admit that. But she’s much more herself today.”

Daeron scoffed, and Jeremy couldn’t help but agree with his skepticism. As little as he knew Princess Loreza, he doubted anyone could consider her shy.

“No doubt,” Ser Eliott said quickly. “Now that she’s had a few more days to get over her disappointment.”

Ser Marq sucked in his breath, but Prince Lewyn only smiled. “Disappointment? Not at all. She likes you a good deal. I told you she would. She only had us come here because she knew you would like it.”

“That was very considerate,” Ser Eliott allowed. “But it’s natural that she would be disappointed. To not be marrying where she would wish.”

“I wouldn’t say that’s true either,” Prince Lewyn said.

“Please, my prince,” Ser Eliott said sighing. “I know all about it.”

“I assumed you would,” the prince said. “Everyone is being a little stupid not talking about it, if you ask me. Not that anyone does. My opinion counts for the least around here.”

Daeron laughed. “Yes, I know what that’s like.”

“I’m sure it’s to spare her feelings,” Ser Eliott offered.

“Yes,” Prince Lewyn agreed. “That’s why she hates it.”

“Well, I’m very sorry for her,” Ser Elliot said, though Jeremy was sure he was trying to convince himself he should be more than anything.

“Don’t tell her that, please,” the prince said. “She never expected she could have wed him, so she thinks that means she’s not supposed to have any feelings about it at all. It drives almost everyone mad.”

“Never?” Ser Eliott asked. “That surprises me.”

“Why should it?” he said. “There are those who thought he was too lowborn to be her paramour. And she’s very practical, even in affairs of the heart.”

Ser Eliott looked as though he had suddenly turned to stone. “What do you mean?” he said slowly. “Ser Rolyn Toland is as highborn as I am.” He looked at Ser Owain, then at his other companions, all of whom looked as shocked as he was. “Her paramour?”

Prince Lewyn’s brow creased. “Rol-” he stopped. “I think you’ve misunderstood me. I-” He looked about him, searching for a means of escape. “Jennelyn,” he said suddenly, “have you ever seen the kitchens here?”

“No, my prince,” the blonde girl said, jumping up slightly at his words, “I don’t believe I have.”

“There’s a stone cauldron in there that five men could take a bath in.” He held out his arm; she took it and they turned to scurry down the stairs.

As soon as they were gone, Daeron broke out into laughter. “Stop it,” Jeremy said under his breath. Ser Eliott had gone pale.

“How can he be surprised?” Daeron said. “When you marry a Dornish woman you should be glad to even have her to yourself for the wedding night.”

“What a thing to say!” said one of Ser Eliott’s companions, the shorter one in the green surcoat.

“Oh, I don’t think we should judge her harshly for it,” Daeron continued. “We all at least wish we could do the same.”

Ser Eliott was still silent when the five of them heard feminine voices coming up the same stairs that Prince Lewyn had just descended from. Jeremy almost winced when he saw who it was:  the princess herself and half a dozen ladies, Joleta Gargalen, her younger sister, and Olenna Redwyne among them.

“She’s only using this talk of being so occupied as an excuse,” Lady Joleta was saying. “She wants to cast me off, but she’s too cowardly to admit it.”

“Nonsense,” said Princess Loreza. “You’re making a difficulty out of nothing.”

They came into the portico and into the midst of the silent group of men. The princess smiled at her betrothed. “I’m glad to have found you, ser,” she said. “It would please me to show you everything.”

Ser Eliott started. He looked at her as though seeing her for the first time. And he didn’t seem pleased. “No,” he stated simply.

Princess Loreza raised one dark eyebrow.

“I mean...” he began again, “Prince Lewyn already offered to do so.”

“I see,” she said uncertainly. He turned his head away. “Don’t let me detain you, then,” she added. “We only just passed him on the stair.”

“Yes,” Ser Eliott managed. He inclined his head and left, taking his companions with him. Ser Owain visibly glaring at the princess as he passed.

Daeron chuckled and smiled at her. “You could show me around in Ser Eliott’s place,” he said, holding out his arm. “If you can bear the disappointment.”

“Disappointment?” the princess said with the smallest hint of sarcasm in her voice. “Not in the least, I assure you.” She took his arm and lead him in walking east along the portico. “The armoury is on this level.”

“Is it covered in paintings too?” Daeron asked.

“Yes,” she said distractedly. “Everything is, more or less.”

Daeron smirked down at her knowingly. “You won’t let it upset you, I hope,” he said. “I dare say he’ll get over it. And even if he doesn’t, it’s most likely for the best.”

Jeremy saw her roll her eyes, but he doubted that Daeron did. “Thank you for the advice,” the princess said. “Though I have no notion of what you mean.”

“No, of course not,” Daeron allowed. “But you must admit, it’s better for this all to come out now, rather than later.”

“Yes,” the princess conceded. “I suppose that’s true. Whatever “it” is, exactly.”

“But I hope you’ll take my word for it,” her continued, “seeing as I speak from experience. There are few things worse than being trapped with someone who causes you nothing but annoyance. And if you know there is something better for you... Well, no hell can be worse.”

Jeremy felt his cheeks grow hot. He turned in alarm to Lady Olenna, and indeed she look as though she couldn’t decide whether to scream or cry. He felt an absurd need to apologize to her. Lady Daenerys looked at Daeron as though she wished she was a dragon so she could set him in flames. She grabbed Lady Olenna by the forearm and pulled her away without a word.

Princess Loreza watched them go before turning back to Daeron. “I can’t say that was well done.”

“What? Speaking at all within her hearing, you mean?” He asked.

“Yes,” she allowed. “That too.”

Daeron’s mouth twisted. “I beg your pardon,” he said. “But that’s hardly your concern.”

“No, it isn’t. But since you were kind enough to share your own thoughts with me, I feel it’s my duty to return the favour.”

“Indeed? You’re very scrupulous in your duty, I’m sure.”

“I try to be,” Princess Loreza said. “I’ve always been taught that, when a person is born with every advantage—”

“Like you and I were, I suppose?”

“Yes,” she said. “In such a case, a scrupulous devotion to duty is the only thing that will save you from living a life of nothing but… selfishness.”

Jeremy looked at Daeron with some trepidation. There were few people in the Seven Kingdoms who would have dared say that to his face, but fewer still would be surprised that a princess of Dorne would be one such. Daeron didn’t look angry or offended, however, as much as he seemed confused.

“You think I’m selfish?” he said.

“Did I say so?”

Lady Joleta Gargalen forgot her own troubles long enough to give a short, loud laugh.

“You didn’t need to say so,” Daeron said. “I’ve heard it before. You think I should have spent my whole life playing out a mummer’s farce designed to please everyone but me. What good would have come from that?”

“A good deal of it, most like,” Princess Loreza said, “or it wouldn’t have been asked of you. But you’re right, I do think so. Some would say that’s what princes are for. And knights are for protecting women, not shaming them before the whole world.”

Daeron’s brow creased. “That’s unjust. I feel sorry for her, I do, but no one with any sense could think it a matter of shame. It had nothing to do with her, everyone knows that.”

“Do they indeed?” Princess Loreza asked, with a curl to her upper lip. “Does she?”

“Of course she—” Daeron stopped, half angry and half ashamed. “She’s better off!”

“Perhaps,” the princess said. She had a tired look in her eye, the same one Jeremy sometimes used to see in Daeron’s face when he still bothered about what anyone thought. “Though I doubt she thinks so.” One of the princess’s companions came forward as though to whisper something to her, doubtless some reminder of how unwisely she was behaving, but she raised a hand to keep her back. “The truth is you never considered her feelings, or even that she had any at all.”

“I don’t see why her feelings should be given so much more consideration than mine,” Daeron said. “And I must say, I expected you to be more sympathetic than this, given what I heard. But I don’t believe it. You’ve never been in love at all, have you?”

A darkness passed across Princess Loreza’s face. She gave Daeron such a look that it prompted Ser Harlan to stand beside his prince. Her lady put a hand around her forearm as though she were afraid the princess would lunge at him.

“Let go of me, Alyse!” she spat out. The lady jumped back as quickly as if a bird had pecked her. “You don’t know anything about it, Prince Daeron,” she said, in a voice remarkably calm and steady “or about me. I take my leave of you.”

She turned away from him without another word or courtesy. Her ladies behaved better and all bowed before following her up the nearest set of steps.

Daeron didn’t bother to wait before she was out of earshot to explode with rage. “That insolent little Dornish bitch!” she shouted. “How dare she! And how dare you let her?” he added to Ser Harlan.

The kingsguard looked sheepish. “Forgive me, Your Grace,” he offered. “It’s only that she’s… well...”

“What was he supposed to do,” Jeremy asked him, “cut her down?” He put his arm around Daeron and immediately felt him become less tense. He leaned back into Jeremy’s chest. “Maybe,” he said. “Few would mourn her if he did. Certainly not her soon-to-be husband.”

Chapter Text

Daenerys was still holding onto Olenna’s arm as they climbed together up a steep set of stairs carved into the face of the cliff.

“He’s horrible!” she said. Her face was still red. “How dare he act like we should all feel sorry for him! I’ve never heard anyone so rude.”

Olenna smiled, though she knew she should be ashamed of herself for it. The truth was, she had never been so happy to have a friend beside her as she had been at that moment. It had only been a look, but no one had ever defended her like that, not even her brother. Not to Prince Daeron.

“I don’t think he meant to be rude,” she told Daenerys. “He’s just never known what might hurt someone’s feelings.”

“That’s even worse!” she said. She was getting angrier. And anger seemed to make her climb faster up the steps. Olenna tried to keep up with her, but was almost too breathless to speak. “I hate him!” Daenerys continued. “I think I may hate him more than anyone!”

They reached another level where the stairs reached a ledge carved into the rock and extending along the cliff farther than the eye could see. It was covered with an overhang of yet more carved stone supported by wooden pillars bleached white. Olenna, doubled over from a cramp in her side, made her way to the shade and sat down on a rock that may once of been a bench.

“Are you alright?” Daenerys asked her.

“I can't climb anymore,” she gasped. Her head felt as though she was on a ship in a storm, which only made her especially aware of how high up they were from the floor of the desert, with the edge only feet away.

“Oh,” her friend said. She sat down next to her, not even sort of breath. “You should have some water, I suppose.” Daenerys removed a leather strap from across her chest to pass Olenna a small water skin attached to it. She’s hadn’t even noticed it.

She took it gratefully and let a thin trickle of lukewarm water dribble into her mouth.

“Don’t gulp it,” Daenerys told her. “Just take small slips, or it’ll make it worse.”

After a minute or two of sipping, Olenna finally no longer feared for her life. “You shouldn’t say you hate him,” she said without preamble.

“Hate?” Daenerys said, confused. “Hate who?”

“Prince Daeron,” Olenna said, sighing. “You shouldn’t say you hate him. He’s a prince of the Seven Kingdoms. And a Targaryen.”

Daenerys rolled her eyes. “I don’t think anyone would confuse him for Aegon the Conqueror.”

“Still...” Olenna said, “It wouldn’t do for anyone to hear you.”

“If you say so,” Daenerys said, obviously not taking Olenna’s advice very seriously at all. She looked past her shoulder to where the stairs continued, even further up the cliff. “Are you ready to move on yet?”

“No,” Olenna said. “I honestly don’t think I can climb any more at all.”

“But...” Daenerys said, “There’s a sept up there I know you would like to see. It’s only four or five levels higher.”

“I’m sorry, Daenerys.”

“It’s alright,” her friend said grudgingly. “I’m sorry you’re not enjoying yourself.”

“Oh, I am!” Olenna said sincerely. “I’m very grateful that you invited me.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” she shrugged. Her eyes flicked back to the stairs. “I don’t know why you live like a prisoner.”

“I don’t,” Olenna protested. “I don’t know how you can do whatever you like.”

“I don’t,” Daenerys said. “Well, maybe in Sunspear, but at home I have things to do all day. Especially during the grape harvest, or when my sister was with child and was sick all the time...” she trailed off. “I rather miss being busy.”

“I’m busy all the time too...” Olenna started to say, but she stopped when she saw her friend’s eyes move again. “If you really want to go higher you don’t have to worry about me. I’m quite comfortable here.”

“Oh, I couldn’t do—” she began, “are you sure?” It didn’t take her long to persuade her after that, and soon Olenna was alone, looking out across the canyon to even more carved holes in the rock.

Her mind wandered back to the scene below, how Prince Daeron had found her mere presence too much of an annoyance to bear. And was willing to say so in company. It had hardly been the first time; he used to do the same thing all the time, even when they were children in Highgarden. He really is terrible.

Olenna had always thought it was natural enough that a boy would rather run off to horses and swords than spend time with a girl, even if she was his betrothed. But it wasn’t horses and swords he was running to. That thought made her angry, especially when she remembered how kind Ser Jeremy had always been to her. Every time the prince was cruel, he would go out of his way to be kind. Perhaps he felt guilty.

He should feel guilty.

Her solitude was interrupted by a group coming up the stairs, speaking in loud voices. It was Princess Loreza, accompanied by Joleta Gargalen and Alyse Ladybright. Olenna was about to stand up to greet them, but the princess froze just as she stepped onto the landing.

“Don’t move, my lady,” she said in a tone of quiet seriousness. Olenna obeyed, alarmed by the look in her eye. “There’s a viper by your feet.”

Olenna felt her heart jump into her mouth. She turned her face down to see a snake with horney scales, almost exactly the same colour as the rock it was nestled in, curled in a coil not three inches from the hem of her skirt. It was too gloomy in the shade to see where its head was, or if it was even awake. But perhaps it was the panic that was preventing her from seeing clearly.

“Don’t lose your head, sweetling,” the princess said in a soothing voice. “Just shift your bottom away from it. Towards us. Slowly.”

She put a hand on either side of her and slid down the barest bit to the left.

“Keep going,” Lady Joleta said. “It doesn’t want anything to do with you either.”

Olenna closed her eyes, hoping it would make her braver not to see it, and felt tears sliding down her cheeks. When her hand reached the edge of the stone seat she jumped up and ran the short distance to the three other women, throwing herself into Princess Loreza’s arms.

The princess stiffened, but then brought her hand up to pat Olenna on the shoulder uncertainly. It took a few moments more for Olenna to remember herself, then she backed away, blushing. The viper looked like a tiny thing, from a safe distance. Olenna felt like a fool. Princess Loreza must have thought she was a hysterical child.

“Daenerys was only just sitting right there,” Olenna said, her voice still sounded scared. “Neither of us saw it.”

“I imagine you didn’t,” the princess said. “Not being seen is what makes them so dangerous. But you are alright, aren’t you?”

Olenna blushed again, knowing she wasn’t only speaking of the viper. “Yes, of course I am, my princess. You’re very kind to ask.” Princess Loreza smiled understandingly.

“Where did Dany go, then?” Lady Joleta interrupted.

“Oh,” Olenna took a moment to remember. “She wanted to go up to see the sept”

“And she left you here alone?” Lady Joleta pressed. “That’s not like her.”

“I...” Olenna hesitated, wondering which kind of weakness was better to admit to. “I asked her to, my lady. I needed some time to myself.”

“I’m sorry we intruded,” Princess Loreza said.

“No!” Olenna blurted. “You didn’t. Not at all.”

“I didn’t even know there was a sept up there,” Alyse Ladybright said.

“Oh yes,” the princess said. “It’s quite small, but lovely.”

“You mean it’s dark and few are willing to make the climb to disturb you,” Lady Joleta said with a smirk.

Princess Loreza smirked back. “I’m sure you would enjoy seeing it, my lady,” she said to Olenna.

She tried not to frown. Daenerys had said the same thing. Did they all think she was especially pious? Immoderately so even? Why would they? “Yes, my princess,” Olenna said. She could hardly have refused, though the steps hadn’t gotten any less steep, or numerous.

Only yesterday she had been grateful for Princess Loreza and the way she had of removing all possible objections. Septa Unelletine had baulked at the very idea of her going on this outing, calling it ludicrous that so many young women would even think of going off into the desert with a group of men. But the princess had simply said, “Have no fear, septa, I shall look after Lady Olenna,” and then all discussion was done. No one could have prevented her from going, not even her father. Indeed, she was obliged to go, whether she wanted to or not. Just as she was now obliged to climb the steps.

They started up and Olenna was determined to keep a slow pace, even if she were left behind. But Princess Loreza matched her steps, even shooting a look at Lady Joleta when she made impatient noises. Olenna suddenly felt quite ashamed of herself for ever thinking unkindly of her.

When they had climbed half as high as they needed to they stopped at the sight of Alleza Dayne, quite alone, wandering down a ledge and running her hand along a wall carved in bas-relief.

“Are you all by yourself, Alleza?” Princess Loreza asked her. “Have you gotten lost?”

“Oh no, my princess,” the girl said happily. “That is, I am my myself, but I’m not lost. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to come up with me, but I so wanted to go all the way to the top.”

“That’s where we’re going,” Lady Joleta told her.

The climb seemed even worse when Olenna knew they would have to go that high.

Lady Alleza didn’t seem fatigued. She chatted away without ceasing. “Ser Eldon Estermont thought it was strange that there would be a sept here at all,” she said, “since the First Men built it.”

“He’s quite right,” Alyse Ladybright said. “It is strange.”

“Well, the First Men didn’t build a sept, of course,” she said. “It’s hundreds of years later than everything else. A group of Warrior’s Sons made a septry in the ruins. They even built brick walls in one of the halls to divide it into sleeping cells.”

The Dayne girl was even younger than Daenerys, and so like her in many ways. They had the same need to impose their will on everything. But Olenna supposed to was natural enough, however jarring she may find it. Daenerys was the prince’s niece and Lady Alleza would rule a great seat one day. Olenna was almost tempted to envy them, but Septa Unelletine had been right about the danger they were in.

Horace had warned her about that even more strongly than the septa had, and told her how much it would pain him to hear his own sister spoken about the way all the men were talking about Genna Sand.

Olenna didn’t want that either. Having the freedom to wander in solitude couldn’t be worth it.

They reached a ledge where the staircase stopped and started to walk along it. “The statues and the painting in here will be completely different than anything else,” Lady Alleza prattled on. “Oh!”

They had turned to go through an ordinary doorway that opened to a large space carved into the traditional seven-sided sept, with a much less expert hand than the other caverns they had seen; but Olenna barely had time to take that in before she saw what made the Dayne girl exclaim.

Daenerys was standing with Ser Maron Wyl by the altar of the Maiden. Her hand was out of sight somewhere inside Ser Maron’s linen robe, but his was on her left breast. The laces of her over-tunic were untied and loose.

Olenna felt a pain in her chest and tears welling in her eyes, but all the others were looking at Princess Loreza. Daenerys and Ser Maron hadn’t moved.

The princess was completely sanguine. Olenna saw her swallow once before speaking in a calm voice. “Dany,” she said to her cousin, “get out of here.”

Daenerys disentangled herself from her... her lover and wiped her mouth with her sleeve. “But--”

“Go with Joleta. Out.”

Lady Joleta came forward to grab her sister’s arm and lead her back outside. Olenna followed them with Alyse Ladybright and Lady Alleza, leaving the princess alone with Ser Maron.

The four of them started right back down the stairs. Olenna looked over at her friend. She was breathless and her lips were flushed dark red—from the violence of her embraces.

“We...” she said to no one in particular, “we were only kissing.”

“I know, sweetling,” Lady Joleta said.

“Loreza was furious!”

“Yes,” Alyse Ladybright agreed. “I’ve never seen her so angry.”

“What is she going to do?”

“I couldn’t say,” she replied. “Princes do as they will.”

Daenerys began sobbing, but no one said anything more. They moved down the stairs and at a pace so fast that they were soon passing the level where her friend had left Olenna sitting alone.  

The group turned at the sound of a commotion behind them. Princess Loreza was hurrying down the stairs so quickly that she would soon overtake them, while Ser Maron ran behind her calling to her back.

“You have no cause to disapprove out of hand,” he said.

“I have every cause!” the princess snapped without looking back at him. They had come level with them now, but neither Princess Loreza nor the knight seemed to notice. Olenna saw Daenerys look for a moment as though she wanted to come forward and say something, but her sister held her back. “Any fool with eyes could see her mooning after you for months,” the princess continued, “but you! Even you should have more judgement than this. She’s a child!”

“She’s not,” Ser Maron said. Astonishingly, he was more composed than Princess Loreza was. “You saying she is over and over won’t make her so. She’s nearly sixteen. At which age all of Sunspear had made a sport of betting on which cock you would jump on next.”

That seemed to stop the princess in her tracks. She looked over at Daenerys, still red-faced from sobbing, but with a defiant look in her dark eye. Her frown deepened.

“No,” she told Ser Maron. “Not you. You’re twice her age!”

“I know,” he said. He threw up his hands, “I didn’t intend for it to happen! But I don’t see why you can’t give me the courtesy of not doubting my intentions.”

“Your intentions?” the princess asked contemptuously. “I can see plainly what your intentions are.”

“No!” Daenerys spoke up.

“Dany, don’t—” Lady Joleta said, but her sister ignored her.

“You don’t see,” she continued. “We love each other! And we’re going to be wed.”

Quite suddenly, Princess Loreza ceased to be angry and became as stone-faced as she had been in the sept. She pulled her shoulders back and drew herself to her full height, darting her eyes between Ser Maron and Daenerys once.

“Mother have mercy,” Olenna heard Alyse Ladybright murmur.

“What madness is this?” The princess asked, her voice perfectly calm again. “Who put that thought into your head? Our uncle?”

Daenerys matched her pose and lifted her chin up. “No, no one did.” Her voice only shook a little. “No one but me. And Maron.”

Princess Loreza was silent for a full half-a-minute. Olenna was beginning to suspect that her calm demeanor was only a way to mask a far deeper anger than that she had felt towards Ser Maron. If that was true, then the idea of marriage offended her more than the idea of her cousin fornicating in a sept, and that was a level of Dornish peculiarity that Olenna couldn’t possibly understand.

“Well, don’t think it again,” the princess told Daenerys. “It won’t happen.” She turn on her heels and continued again down the steps. Daenerys ran after her, and the rest of them followed.

“You can’t!” She called. “Loreza!”

Lady Joleta overcame her sister and reached the princess. “Loreza, stop,” she said.

Princess Loreza didn’t stop. “You knew about this,” she stated. “You knew and you never thought to tell me.”

“Dany would have told you herself,” Lady Joleta said. “She wanted to. Eventually. She didn’t want it to be a secret; she wants to marry him.”

The princess paused in her descent long enough to glare at her cousin. “Don’t even say that.”

“Why are you so against it?” Lady Joleta asked, “It’s a good enough match.”

“What? How?”

“You can’t say he’s not good enough for her.”

They had reached the level where the princess had spoken to Prince Daeron less than an hour ago. She stopped entirely and put her face in both her hands and paced back and forth across the ledge. “That’s hardly my objection,” the princess said. “Why would you want this for her?”

Lady Joleta looked wounded. “I don’t,” she said. “My sister wants it. She loves him.”

“Well then, if she loves him!” Princess Loreza said with biting sarcasm. “You’re not a little girl, Joleta. You know we don’t live in a world where you can just wed everyone you happen to fall in love with. Dany must learn that too.”

“Like you did, you mean?” Lady Joleta shot back. “It may have escaped you, but there are few heartless enough to be capable of such a thing.”

The princess stopped pacing. “Heartless?” she asked.

“Yes,” Lady Joleta said. “What else can you call it? Cruel? Stupid? Do you know what others would give to have what you did? What you just threw away?”

“Stupid.” The princess said, her voice was barely contained rage. “It must be. I’m the only fool in Westeros stupid enough. Everyone else is able to forget their duty completely, do as they like, and suffer nothing at all for it.” She made a disgusted sound in her throat. “Yes, I must be stupid.”

“Spare me!” Lady Joleta shot back. “We’ve all had quite enough of humouring your need for martyrdom. We know how noble and brave you are. But few would be willing to tell you there is nothing praiseworthy in feeling nothing. I have no intention of letting you drag my sister into your pit.”

Princess Loreza looked as though she could hardly speak. “You think I feel nothing?”

“What else am I supposed to think?”

The princess made a noise that Olenna couldn’t distinguish between a laugh and a sob. “You think I feel nothing,” she repeated. “Because I don’t spend days wailing and inflicting my feelings on everyone, it must mean that I don’t have any!”

“What do you feel, Loreza? Tell me!”

“What do you want to hear?!” Princess Loreza was all but screaming. She looked a completely different creature than the perpetually poised lady who had so impressed them all. Her hands were balled up into fists. “That I feel as though my heart is broken? That my life is over? That I destroyed the only man I ever loved, who loved me, and for what? A statement to shut up a few obstinate old fools and a man who knows less about how to make me happy than—than you would!”

Lady Joleta didn’t seem especially sympathetic. “I tried to help you...we all did,” she said. “But you wouldn’t take it. You would rather be wretched forever than admit to any weakness. You brought this on yourself!”

“Weakness!” the princess screamed. She took two long strides towards her cousin but before she could reach her Prince Lewyn had come to stand between them. He put his arm across her chest.

“Sister!” he said in alarm.

Olenna had no idea where he had even come from. She had been too enthralled watching the argument to notice the large group that had assembled at the top of the steps leading from the desert floor. Ser Eliott Rowan was among them, not bothering to hide his disgust. Prince Daeron was covering his mouth with a linen sleeve to hide his laugh. Olenna had no way to know how long they had been standing there.

Princess Loreza’s passion was killed instantly. She surveyed the watching group impassively as her brother whispered something in her ear. “Well,” she said, in her usual commanding tone, “I’ve had quite enough of this place.”

The group on the stairs parted to let her pass, then they all filed out of the canyon in near silence, back to where the horses were waiting for them.

Olenna looked around for Daenerys. She was walking with her sister’s arm around her shoulders near the back of the group. Still, by all appearances, sobbing. Olenna would have gone to her friend, but she couldn’t imagine what to say. She had never felt the fact that Daenerys was four years her junior more. And as much as the Dornish girl was self-assured and independent, she was still a child who would stamp her foot if she didn’t get her way. Olenna doubted she knew how fortunate she was to have someone who truly cared for her as Princess Loreza did. Lady Joleta encouraged the worst in everyone, and Lord Gargalen had seemed indulgent far past the point of fault the one time Olenna had met him.

They mounted up and left through the ruined gate far faster than she would have imagined possible. The pace was such that Olenna had to give all her attention to not falling off her horse and hardly saw the landscape at all. No one seemed disposed to slow down for her as they had that morning, and she found it difficult to even take any water.

It was coming on twilight by the time they arrived at a palace by the sea. She was parched and her thighs ached, but the setting sun reflecting on the pink marble was so beautiful that it took her breath away.

“I was afraid I wouldn’t get to see the Water Gardens,” she heard Alleza Dayne say quietly to Elda Toland. “I thought for sure the princess would just take us back to the Old Palace.”

“No,” Lady Elda said. “Princess Loreza never changes her plans. Not for anything.”

Even Olenna had heard of the Water Gardens. Prince Maron had them built as a sign of love for his Targaryen bride. The palace had certainly earned its name. It was huge, with no defences other than a few guards at the gate. The buildings were all low, none more than two stories high, built around innumerable pools and fountains, and gardens full of fragrant orange trees in blossom. Olenna followed the group through successive archways and up and down little sets of steps. Eventually they came to a terrace set among more orange trees that overlooked the largest pool in the place. Beyond it was darkness and the sound of the sea crashing against sand.

At the pool, a harried looking young woman was shepherding a group of children away into one of the adjoining buildings. It looked as though they had been swimming in it naked, the boys and girls together, like peasants swam in the river in summer.

Olenna turned away from the sight just in time to see a little boy running down the polished marble. He was mercifully not naked but wearing a long, garishly green tunic. “Father!” he called happily as he ran in Ser Artyr Dalt’s arms.

Ser Artyr picked him up, threw him into the air and laughed. He was a small boy, no more than five or six. Olenna could see some of the tension disappear from the party as they watched the display of affection between father and son. “Say good evening to Princess Loreza,” Ser Artyr told him.

The princess’s face turned from a scowl to a smile as he bowed to her. “Hello Dennet,” she said. “Are you as well as you look?”

The boy’s brow crinkled as he seemed to consider. “I think I am, my princess,” he said.

“You haven’t run away from the tutor, have you?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I told her that my father was here and I wanted to see him.”

“Of course you did,” she said. “Have supper with us, if you think you can behave.”

He nodded. “I know I can!”

They gathered at a table in an interior courtyard next to a fountain filled with floating water lilies. Their scent overpowered the orange blossoms and mixed strangely with the strong smells of the food that was being brought to their table. Olenna looked apprehensively at a meat pie in front of her, wondering how firey it could be, before her hunger made her take a slice anyway. The last time they had all eaten was at the inn in the desert.

The silence that had reigned on their ride returned as they all ate. Princess Loreza was at the head of the table, with Ser Eliott beside her. But they were not even glancing at each other, much less speaking. No one else was brave enough to start a conversation. Only Ser Artyr’s son, sitting on his father’s lap did not seem to notice.

“Isn’t my aunt here?” he asked Lady Joleta beside them.

Lady Joleta made a sound that Olenna couldn’t quite make out. It was somewhere between a scoff and a laugh. Perhaps she was grateful to have someone speak of something other than what they were all thinking about. No doubt most of the company was longing to ride hotfoot to Sunspear to gossip about it.

“No,” Ser Artyr told him, “but she asked me to send her love. You’ll see her at the wedding.”

Obella Qorgyle clucked her tongue and Ser Artyr winced at his own words. Then even the child decided it was best to be silent.

Olenna was having trouble taking it. Awkward silences were always more than she could bear. Daenerys was seated on her right, but was staring at her full plate, occasionally rubbing her face with her sleeve. Talking to her was impossible. On her left was Lady Obella, whom Olenna barely knew, though at least she wasn’t weeping at table.

“Um,” she began. The clatter of eating around them and the gushing fountain preventing her from being heard by the whole table. “I didn’t know Ser Artyr Dalt had a son,” thinking of the most innocent thing she could say. “I didn’t even know he was wed.”

Olenna thought she saw a smirk at the corner of the girl’s mouth. “He’s not,” she stated.

“Oh,” Olenna said, reproaching herself for not thinking of that. But she would never have been able to make such a mistake in the Reach.

“His is betrothed, though,” Lady Obella continued, certainly smirking now. “To me.”

Olenna went red. “I’m so sorry,” she said quickly.

“Sorry?” she asked. “Why?”

She must have turned yet redder.

“Stop,” Genna Sand said on Lady Obella’s other side. She was smirking too.

Olenna was in no mood to be mocked. She turned away from them. This entire excursion had been a mistake. She would have done better had she listened to Septa Unelletine. Every other woman here was Dornish. Surely there was a reason for that. She turned back to her pie. It wasn’t firey at all, though the way the meat was spiced was very odd.

There was nothing but murmurs for a few minutes, then Rhona Santagar began to speak in a loud enough voice to carry over the noise.

“I did enjoy the ride this morning,” she said to no one and everyone. “There’s nothing quite like a ride in open country.”

“Yes,” Princess Loreza agreed with a smile, but not much enthusiasm. Most of her attention, as far as Olenna could tell, was being spent on not looking at Ser Eliott. But Lady Rhona was on the other side of the table. “It was a fine day.”

Lady Elda picked up the banner. “I can’t remember the last time we all did something like that,” she said. “It must have been five or six months ago. When we rode to Spottswood and you jumped all the ditches in that orange grove. Do you remember, princess?”

“I do,” the princess said, far more genuine this time. “I’m not sure what I was thinking.”

“You had a splendid horse, I recall,” Lady Rhona said. “She looked as though she were flying.”


“I’m surprised you didn’t ride her again today.”

“No,” Princess Loreza said. She seemed for a moment as though that were all she had to say, but then her smile turned almost defiant. “That was Henrick’s horse,” she said. “I imagine he took her with him.”

They all heard a clank as Ser Eliott threw his knife down on his plate. Princess Loreza turned her head slowly to look at him, daring, it seemed, for him to say something.

He didn’t. He didn’t even look back. Instead he stood up and stalked away from the table, between the trees, and out of sight. His companions stood up as well. Ser Owain Rowan and Lyman Osgrey and the rest. Ser Owain spoke, his embarrassment at his cousin’s behaviour only just winning out over his anger for his sake. “With your leave, my princess,” he said through clenched teeth.

Princess Loreza had that look on her face that was beginning to be familiar to Olenna. Only her shoulders going up and down with every angry breath gave any indication that she wasn’t carved from stone. She gave the slightest of nods to Ser Owain before he and all the Rowan men left the table behind Ser Eliott.

Prince Lewyn looked much more distressed than his sister. “Should I… go after him?” he asked her.

She rounded on him. “Do as you like, Lewyn!” she snapped. He flinched, but then matched her anger with a remarkably similar expression.

“I shall.” The prince stood, causing everyone at the table to scramble to their own feet. “There’s certainly no point in speaking to you!” he said as he walked away by the same path as the Rowans. A few of the younger Dornishmen followed him. So did Ser Maron Wyl, no doubt happy for the excuse to leave.

Olenna looked around the diminished company. Daenerys seemed as though she hadn’t noticed anything, still too absorbed in her own cares. Ser Artyr’s bastard regarded Prince Lewyn’s empty seat with wide-eyed confusion. Prince Daeron didn’t bother to hide his amusement as he grabbed a blood orange and ate it. Rhona Santagar had her face in her hand.

The princess sighed and slouched back in her chair. She looked as tired as Olenna felt. “I’m going to bed,” she announced.

Chapter Text

Alysanne heard her name being called as she left the sept for the baking hot courtyard.

“Lady Deria,” she paused to return. Alysanne hadn’t noticed her during the service. But the sept had been packed to bursting with all the visitors still pouring into Sunspear.

“Are you all alone?” Lady Deria asked. “I wish I had seen you earlier. Though perhaps you pray better in solitude.” The lady linked arms with Alysanne and began to walk with her. She raised her other hand to shield her face from the sun.

“I don’t know if I do pray any better alone,” Alysanne admitted. “But I always have.”

Her companion laughed. “That’s wise of you, my lady,” she said. “When I was a little girl I could never pray with my friends. We would spend the whole time giggling.”

Alysanne smiled. “But you’re not a little girl now.”

“No indeed,” she admitted. “But it’s still nice to have a friend to giggle with. I hope that we could be friends.”

Alysanne felt her heart leap with a sense of gratitude. “I would...” she began, “I would like that very much, my lady.”

“Won’t you call me Deria? You must miss all your friends in King’s Landing terribly. You’ve been alone whenever I see you.”

She blushed. She was just as likely to be alone in King’s Landing. “My daughter is always a good companion,” she said. “But here, I always feel as though I’m interfering with her amusement. And my husband prefers me to be… I don’t mind being alone, most of the time.”

“No, neither do I. Most of the time.”

“Even without your husband?” Alysanne asked her with a little surprise. “Don’t you get lonely?”

“Loney?” Deria said with a good natured smirk. “No.”

“Of course not,” Alysanne said, remembering. “You have your little boy.”

Her new friend look at her with confusion for a second before she smirked again. “Yes,” she said. “I do indeed.”

“But you might wed again,” she told her, “and have more children. You’re certainly young enough.”

Deria shrugged. “I suppose I might if my brother wishes me to. Or the prince. But I don’t see why either of them would. Princess Trystana did invite you to her rooms to do needlework, didn’t she?” They had reached the steps inside the Tower of the Sun and were beginning the laborious climb to the princess’s rooms near the top.

Alysanne felt herself blush. “Yes, she was kind enough to invite me.”

“Good,” Deria said, “there’s another place where I should be glad to have a friend.”

“Why?” Alysanne asked her, “what are you expecting?”

Deria smiled in her amused way again. “Oh, you’ll see. Do you have any sisters?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Neither do I,” she said. “And I don’t suppose they can all be like Princess Trystana and Princess Daenella.”

“Princess Daenella? I must admit,” Alysanne said, “I’ve heard some very strange stories about her.” Tyia had repeated what she’d heard from Ami Darklyn the night before. Alysanne had reminded her of the stories that lady had told on the ship about the Dornish court, and how little reality had reflected them. She couldn’t imagine the princess would still be received at court if the things being said of her were true.

Deria laughed. “Whatever you heard, I’m sure it doesn’t begin to do her justice.”

“Do you know the princess, then?”

“I do,” Deria admitted, “quite well. She’s only a few years my elder. I was her companion before I was Princess Loreza’s. Though that was the most thankless duty anyone could ever have.”

“Is she bad tempered?” Alysanne asked.

“Quite the contrary, she’s generous to a fault,” Deria told her. “But she hates to stay still. It was tiring to always run after her, and makes excuses for her to her mother. Princess Loreza was less trouble, even when she was only five years old.”

Deria waited for Alyanne as she hurried into her rooms to fetch her sewing, and then they walked together down the wide corridor and through a set of doors. Princess Trystana was holding court in a large sitting room well lit by the sunlight coming through the open doors to the balcony. Two dozen women sat on setees and sofas with heads bent over their needlework. Tyia was there, as ever with Lady Darklyn, in the middle of a chatting group. The princess looked up and seemed relieved to see Deria.

“Oh, you’re here at last,” she told her. “Come and help us, the gods know there’s quite enough to do and not enough time to do it in.”

Deria and Alysanne both bowed to her, but when her friend went to sit beside the princess and Lady Lenelle, Alysanne chose a seat farther away, near the window next to a lady with long silver-gold hair. She said nothing but smiled at Alyanne and pushed a length of lace edging and a half-finished gown for a baby towards her.

“Lady Alysanne, you came too,” Princess Trystana said suddenly.

Alysanne started. Part of her had hoped that the princess wouldn’t see her at all. “Yes, my princess,” she said in a small voice. “You were very gracious to invite me.”

“No, not at all,” she said shortly, making Alysanne blush, “I’m sure Larra would appreciate your help very much.”

“Yes, indeed,” the lady beside Alysanne said. Her voice was melodic, and thick with some kind of accent. “I am so slow.”

“Your work is lovely, my dear,” the princess said, before she turned away from them both to speak to a woman who looked so glum and so determined to blend into the sofa that Alysanne hadn’t noticed her at first. “You could at least do some work yourself, Daenella,” she said, “since this trouble is all your doing.”

Princess Daenella had been lying down with her feet propped up on several cushions. Her pregnant belly was so large that she struggles to get herself up on her elbows. “You’re the one making trouble out of nothing,” she snipped at her sister. “The maids could do all this.”

“The maids!” Princess Trystana exclaimed. “Are you mad, there’s a wedding in two days!”

“I wouldn’t know, anyway,” Princess Daenella said, in a tone of long-suffering. “How can I know anything that’s going on, since I’ve been imprisoned in this tower.”

“Imprisoned? No,” Lady Lenelle said in a soothing voice. “The prince only wants you to rest.”

“I’m not tired,” the princess said, “I’m bored.”

“Then do some work,” Princess Trystana shot back. “Or your child will have to go naked.”

“I doubt she would mind,” her sister said. “She won’t be born with a scowl on her face like you clearly were.”

Alysanne saw Deria put down her work to cover her mouth with her hand. Their eyes met, but she couldn’t bring herself to agree with the amused glint in her friend’s eye.

“She, my princess?” said Lady Ariandra Fowler. “Do you think you’re having another daughter then?”

Princess Daenella smiled and stroked her belly. “Yes, I’m sure of it.”

Princess Trystana scoffed. “Nonsense, there’s no way you could be sure.”

“I was right twice before,” her sister countered. “Her name is going to be Trystana.”

“What?” Princess Trystana asked. “Why should you do that?”

Her sister seemed hurt. She looked down at the hands still on her stomach. “I thought it would please you,” she said in a much subdued voice. “Manfrey and Yanna are both so fond of you… more than they are of me.”

“Maybe if you saw them more often, they would have a reason to be fond of you.”

“I always knew as well,” Lady Ariandra said to Princess Daenella. “Girls just feel different from boys.”

“They do,” the princess agreed, “but I can tell with anyone.”

Princess Trystana scoffed again.

“Can you tell if I’ll have a boy or a girl, my princess?” asked Lady Darklyn from the settee by the window.

Princess Daenella turned her attention to her and narrowed her eyes, considering for a few moments. “A boy,” she declared with complete confidence. “Without question.”

“Well, thanks the gods for that!” she said, before breaking down into giggles.

The princess only narrowed her eyes further at that. “Boys make you sick far worse than girls do,” she continued. “With a girl you hardly notice you’re with child at all.” She looked over to her sister, “Which is why forcing me to sit here all day is useless.”

“I think most of the advice women are given is nonsense,” Lady Ariandra said. “No riding, no dancing… I don’t see any reason why you need to spend half a year or more being wretched every time you have a child.”

Princess Trystana looked as though she were about to say something scathing in reply, but Lady Lenelle cut her off. “The young people must be having a very hot and dusty ride,” she said.

“No doubt,” said Lady Emlyn Wells, “but that’s the way Lo- Princess Loreza prefers her rides.”

Princess Daenella giggled. “Sweaty, you mean?” she said, “yes, I imagine she does.”

Her sister put down her work with an angry motion, “Really, Daenella, you’re worse than a child!”

“Oh spare me,” the princess said with another chuckle. “You thought about it too, I know you have. But now that I’ve seen the man I know we have nothing at all to worry about.”

“The same way you know you’ll be having a girl?” Princess Trystana muttered.

The lady beside Alysanne leaned over to look at the small blind-hem stitches she was using to attach the lace. “You do that so well,” she said. “And so quick.”

Alysanne was rather grateful for the distraction. She looked at the lady properly for the first time. It took a few moments to recognize her as the one who had played the lyre to such great acclaim the first night the king’s party had arrived in Sunspear. She had seemed so beautiful and other-worldly then. She was still beautiful now, without a doubt, but to see her sitting and sewing with her striking hair bound up in a simple braid made her seem much more real...just an ordinary woman.

But she wasn’t an ordinary woman, if even a tenth of the rumours about her were true. She had been trained in Lys in the arts of love, they said, and knew all the magic they used there to ensnare men. She was Prince Arion’s paramour, that wasn’t a rumour, and had borne him a bastard son. That fact was enough to put Alysanne in danger of blushing again. She knew that many men kept such women, but she’d never knowingly spoken to one before. Her own lady mother had kept her very sheltered until almost the moment of her own wedding, so even if such things happened at Maidenpool, she never would have known.

And however much her predecessors may have turned a blind eye, Queen Betha would never stand for it at court, not from her own husband, or from anyone else. That wasn’t to say it didn’t happen, to be sure, but there would never be evidence of it in a princess’s sitting room.

“It’s nothing,” Alysanne told her, surprised to hear herself breathless, “not compared to you, and how well you play.”

The colour that rose up in the woman’s cheeks was a delicate and elegant as the rest of her. “When I was a girl,” she said, “I learned how to play, but not how to do needlework. Now, I think I would have liked it better to know something useful.”

Alysanne couldn’t help smiling. “But you know it now,” she told her. The way she held her needle was indeed a little more hesitant and unnatural that most ladies, but her stitches were even enough.

“Yes,” she said nodding. “Princess Daenerys taught me everything. When I first came here. She was very patient with me. I was worse than a little child then.”

Alysanne felt a rush of sympathy for her. It must have been terrifying enough to throw yourself into a man’s power and go to some new place. It was a relief to hear that she hadn’t been without any friends. Prince Arion had a wife, after all, and a true-born son as well. How they must hate her.

“Princess Daenerys?” Alysanne asked. “Her death must have been such a great loss to you.”

The woman nodded again. “Yes, it was. For everyone. For Dorne.”

“I imagine so.” They said the princess had been first in her husband’s councils, as well as her son’s. Some even whispered that she had ruled them both, in truth.

“But Princess Trystana is just like her,” she continued. “They are both very strong, but kind too.”

Alysanne looked over at Princess Trystana, frowning and still speaking to her sister in biting tones. She remembered to way she had spoken to Lord Duran at that first feast. In truth, the princess had cause for anger in both cases, but it didn’t make it easier to receive. “Is she kind?” Alysanne whispered.

Her companion seemed to understand her completely. “Always,” she said. “Very kind. And very determined to do what is right.”

The lady they were speaking of stood up suddenly, sending the room into disorder. “I’ve had enough,” she said. “I’m going for a walk.”

“Yes,” Princess Daenella said sardonically. “A walk sounds lovely.”

Several of the woman around Princess Trystana made as though to come with her, but she waved them off. “No,” she said, “the idea is to go alone.” The princess walked towards the door, but stopped right in front of Alysanne. “Unless,” she said, “you would consent to come with me, my lady.”

Alysanne was sure she flinched to be addressed by her. Her stomach twisted in dread, but she couldn’t refuse. “It would be an honour, my princess,” she said.

“Good,” Princess Trystana said, “come along then.” She linked her arm with Alysanne’s and began to lead her away.

Alysanne turned her head to look back at Deria, though she couldn’t imagine how she would be able to save her. Her friend didn’t seem to share any of her concern; her smile was as mischievous as ever.

She and the princess walked in silence down the great staircase, still arm-in-arm. Every moment was an agony to Alysanne, she wished the other lady would just get it over with. The gods knew Alysanne deserved it. A sharp rebuke would have been justified even after only the first feast, when she had made a fool of herself mooning after her husband, but it hadn’t been only the first feast. Every night since, Lord Gargalen had asked her to dance, and every night she had been the same tongue-tied idiot. She had promised herself more than once that next time, she would refuse him, she would plead fatigue or say that her daughter had need of her, but when the moment came she was helpless. It was only when the music would stop and they were among others what she would regain the presence of mind to escape.

But even when she was in the midst of staring at the man as he danced and smiled, she was sure that Princess Trystana was watching them. Alysanne would catch her out of the corner of her eye. She couldn’t imagine that she was pleased with what she saw. And Alysanne had learned enough about Dornish women in a week to know that they said as they thought.

“I don’t suppose you have any sisters, do you Lady Alysanne?” Princess Trystana asked suddenly.

Alysanne was so surprised by the question that she didn’t know what to say. Deria had asked her the same thing. “No, my princess,” she said, “I don’t.”

“That’s too bad,” the princess said. “I should like someone’s advice on what to do with mine.”

“I...” Alysanne began. “I’m not sure if having a... Princess Daenella seems rather...singular.”

Princess Trystana laughed. “I hope she is,” she said. “I have three brothers, and they never vexed me half as much all together. And I’m sure my daughters don’t give each other as much trouble.”

Still at a loss, Alysanne decided that her safest course was to not offend her any further. “I’m afraid I haven’t spoken to either of them for more than a few moments,” she said. “But they both seem like very pleasant young women.”

“Hmm,” Princess Trystana said, looking pensive. “The elder maybe, but I worry about Daenerys. Well, you saw how she was, didn’t you? Very willful.”

“She’s still very young, my princess,” Alysanne said.

“That’s what everyone says, but I don’t remember being like that when I was fifteen. Though, Daenella certainly was.”

Alysanne said nothing. The princess was thinking aloud more than she was talking to her, in any case.

“Perhaps it’s my own fault that Dany isn’t as I would like her to be,” she continued. “I neglected her when she was very little, and I’m doing the same now. Even when she was with me at the Water Gardens I never gave her all the attention I should have.” The princess paused just long enough to smile. “I can see what you’re thinking, my lady,” she said. “It was small of me to chide my sister for something I know to be one of my own weaknesses.”

The thought may have occurred to Alysanne, but she never would have given voice to it. And in all truth, the two princesses didn’t seem to her to be at all the same. She somehow doubted Princess Daenella ever questioned if she were doing right by her children.

Princess Trystana seemed to be expecting her to speak. They had left the tower and were crossing the courtyard to enter the maze of gardens, the princess stopped in the shade of a tree to look down at Alysanne expectantly. But she could think of nothing. She couldn’t agree with her, but she could hardly contradict her.

The princess finally gave up. “You would have a right to be disappointed with me,” she said. “Everyone speaks of how devoted you are to your own daughter. I doubt you know how admired you are.”

Alysanne felt tears forming in her eyes. She wasn’t sure how much more kindness she could take. “She’s my only child,” she managed to say in half a whisper. “What else could I do?"

Princess Trystana smiled sympathetically. “It’s easy to feel that way about one’s children, I know,” she said. “But children grow older, they have lives of their own. You need to have something for yourself.”

Alysanne swallowed. “I have my husband.”

The princess raised one eyebrow. “Hmm,” she said. “He certainly seems to have you.”

“I... ” Alysanne said. A part of her thought she knew what the princess was trying to say, but she was still more than a little afraid that this was some kind of trap being set for her. “He’s my husband.”

“Oh, what a coincidence,” Princess Trystana said. “There is mine.”

Alyanne’s heart jumped. She turned and saw him, Lord Duran Gargalen, walking briskly towards them down the garden path. It sank back down as she saw the look on his face when he realized she was there.

“How serendipitous that we should meet you here,” Princess Trystana said to him.

An look of amused confusion appeared on his handsome face. “Serendipitous?” he asked her, “you told—”

His wife cut him off. “Lady Alysanne was kind enough to take a walk with me,” she said, “and I was so enjoying her company that I quite forgot how much there still is to do, with the Lannisters landing in just a few hours. Poor Lenelle will need my help.”

Lord Duran’s chuckled without humour. “You forgot, my princess?”

“Yes.” She took Alysanne hand from around her arm and held it out to him. “I hope you won’t leave her entirely abandoned.” He took the hand without giving Alysanne a glance. “I knew I could depend on you,” she said, then in the next moment, she turned away, back towards the Tower of the Sun, and left them quite alone.

Alysanne was suddenly aware of how quickly her breath was coming, and the feel of her hand in his. She wished she had the courage to say something, but the silence seemed to drag on and on.

“I apologize,” Lord Duran finally said. He let go of her hand and took a step away from her. His voice seemed deeper outside the noise of a feasting hall. “She— Princess Trystana, she can be... She never expects anyone will refuse her anything, so no one ever does. No matter how uncomfortable it makes them.”

“I see,” Alysanne said, suddenly struggling not to weep.

“Yes,” he said. “You’ve made it quite clear that you find the attention I’ve been paying to you distressing, and that you much rather I let you be.”

“No!” Alysanne said before she knew she was speaking. “That’s not how I feel. I only—”

“You don’t need to be courteous to spare my feelings,” he said with a sad smile. Seeing it cut a knife into her heart.

“I’m not,” she said. “Forgive me, I— I hardly know how to behave.” She hardly knew what she felt; she only knew it was wrong somehow, that it needed to be hidden. “You’ve never distressed me, my lord.”

“I’m very glad to hear it,” he said to her. “I hope I never will.”

Alysanne had difficulty imagining he ever could. The way he made her feel confused her. It was frightening, but all the same, when she was away from him, she craved to feel it again. Because he somehow made her feel safe as well.

Lord Gargalen was smiling when she finally got the nerve to look up at him. It made her blush again. He held out his arm to her. “Would you like to take a walk with me, my lady?”

Alysanne took it without a thought. She had always taken his arm without a thought, but this time there was none of the shame she had felt before. Perhaps it was simply because they were here in this garden, in the light of day, rather than in the dimly lit feast hall. After all, she reminded herself, she was only talking to the man, enjoying his conversation. What reason could she have for shame? They were in few view of dozens of people taking similar strolls, she was hiding nothing. If her own husband were to see her now, he would have nothing to reproach her with.

There was a silence for a minute or so as they moved towards the large long pool in the centre of the gardens. They both began to speak at once.

“I—” he said.

“Does—” she began.

“Please,” he said smiling. “What were you going to say?”

“I was only thinking about the Lannisters,” she said. “Is it Lord Tytos that’s come?”

“No,” Lord Duran said with humour. “I imagine there would be more of a fuss if he were. It’s the younger one who’s coming. The one who... But I’m sure you don’t like gossip.”

“Gossip?” Alysanne asked. “I sometimes think gossip may be one of my weaknesses.”

“Yes,” her companion agreed. “Mine too. Though truly, I couldn’t care less about Jason Lannister.”

Alysanne didn’t think he was interesting enough to talk about either. She cast about for something else to say. “Everyone is talking about this excursion,” she finally said. “Did Lady Joleta go with them?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “I’m quite sure the whole thing was as much her doing as Princess Loreza’s. She loves riding about all day. And so does Dany. Maybe even more.”

“Did she go too?” Alysanne asked, surprised. “I thought she would be too young.”

He laughed out loud. “Maybe she is,” he said. “But I don’t have the heart to keep her from doing anything her sisters can, just because she happened to be born third.”

“Third?” Alysanne asked. “I’m sorry, I thought you had two daughters.”

Lord Gargalen smiled. His countenance softened even more. “Linette is my eldest,” he said. “But she stayed in Salt Shore. With my grandson.”

That made Alysanne laugh softly. It was strange for some reason, to think of this man as a grandfather. He didn’t seem old enough. Though he was older than her, and she was certainly old enough to be a grandmother. “You seem as though you miss them very much.”

That smile appeared again. “I do,” he said. “But Linette wouldn’t hear of coming, and leaving no one to attend to things at home.”

“Yes,” Alysanne said. “She seems very dutiful.”

“She is,” he said with a laugh. “She takes after her mother.”

Alysanne felt her face turning pink again for the first time since they began talking. She looked down at her feet to the path made of large flat stones. Being reminded of Princess Trystana’s existence put her resolution to not feel shame in danger.

“I’m sorry to be speaking of myself so much,” Lord Duran said. “Has your daughter gone on the excursion as well? I’m sure Joleta invited her.”

“No doubt she did,” Alysanne confirmed. “She’s been very kind, to both of us. But Tyia would never leave Lady Darklyn for a whole day.”

“They seem as close as sisters.”

“They are...” Alysanne trailed off.

“That doesn’t please you?” Lord Duran asked her.

“I...” She wasn’t sure what to say. In any other case, she would speak without hesitation about how happy she was, but saying that to him would feel like lying rather than meaningless politeness. She didn’t want to have any meaningless words with him. “I hardly know,” she said. “Lady Amerei has been so kind to her, so generous. And she has nothing to gain by it.”

“Surely your daughter’s company is gain enough,” he said gently. “Would that be so extraordinary?”

“No!” Alysanne said, with a soft chuckle. “Not at all. It’s only...”

“Yes?” he asked.

“No one has ever paid her notice before. Why would they? Then it all seemed to happen so suddenly. In a week they were inseparable. And now she’s in the midst of so much notice that… I fear for her.”

“What can you fear?” Lord Duran said. “She’s young and good-natured, and… when two people are meant to be friends, time doesn’t matter. It’s all perfectly natural.”

“Yes...” Alysanne said uncertainly. “And she was so lonely. Some people aren’t made for solitude, they just learn to live with it… I should be glad for it.”

“But?” he prompted after a few moments of silence. “What is it that has you uneasy, my lady? Do you question her judgement?”

“No,” Alysanne said instantly. “I have no cause to. And Lady Darklyn is silly, without a doubt, but she would never lead Tyia astray, I know that.” She turned away from him entirely now, embarrassed to feel tears well up in her eyes. She knew why Tyia’s friendship really upset her, but she didn’t want to admit it, even to herself. There was a group of people strolling nearby, coming towards them. Alysanne raised a hand to her face so they wouldn’t see her.

She felt Lord Duran take her other hand in his. “Come,” he said. He lead her away lightly down a path towards where the gardens ended against the curved sandstone walls of the palace. In one of the curves, a wooden bench with a back carved into a lattice sat in beside a small pool in the shade of a tree. He sat her down on it and took a seat beside, far enough so that she couldn’t see his face when she looked down, but close enough to hold her hand.

They were alone; Alysanne couldn’t even hear the crowds in the gardens, but he said nothing. Though she could feel him looking down on her as she wiped at her face with her handkerchief. Minutes passed.

Alysanne sighed. “What I fear most is that… she will only be disappointed. Lady Darklyn made a splendid match, but Tyia never will. It’s beginning to weigh on her, I think.”

“Are you so certain?” Lord Duran said. “She wouldn’t be the first.”

She nodded. “It’s not possible.”

“I see,” he said. “But that would mean she would stay with you forever, and it seems as though you would like that.”

“Yes,” Alysanne said. “Without her, I… I don’t know what I would do...”

He squeezed her hand. “I know,” he said. “Parting with your children will never be easy.”

She nodded. “If only… ” Alysanne sighed. “If she had had a brother, things would have been different. A boy could have found advancement but...”

“I suppose that’s true,” Lord Duran allowed. “But she doesn’t. And that’s no one’s fault.”

“Isn’t it?” Alysanne asked in a whisper.

“Whose fault could it be?” he asked. “The gods perhaps.”

“Or mine...” her breath shuddered and she felt tears flowing freely down her face. Lord Duran moved closer to her, and placed his other hand on top hers, still entwined with his own. “Forgive me, please,” she gasped. “I have no right to burden you.”

“You’re not a burden, my lady,” he said. “Is this what has been truly troubling you?”

He was so close to her that should could easily lean her head on his shoulder. It seemed so natural a thing to do. “N—” she began, but stopped herself. “Yes,” she admitted. “It has. It must be my fault. And he hates me for it, he always has.”

“Who hates you?”

“My husband.” Even mentioning him made her stomach twist painfully. She looked down at her hand and saw that her knuckles had turned white.

“Forgive me for being so... crass,” Lord Duran said. “But it’s just as likely to be his fault as yours.”

“Yes,” she said, “I thought so too, for many years. But now... Marigold proves it must be my fault.”

“Who is Marigold?”

Alysanne closed her eyes, ashamed of herself. Of what he would think of her. “She’s my maid.”

“Ah,” said Lord Duran. “I believe I understand you now.” He moved on arm to wrap it around her waist, pulling her even closer to him. Alysanne could feel the rough stubble of his cheek against her forehead. “But,” he continued, “that’s hardly anything to blame yourself for either. These things happen, that’s all.”

“But,” she said, “if she should have a son... I’m not sure what he would do then.” At the very least he would hate her even more. At the most, Marigold was only a common girl, but if she could bear him a son then so could another woman. “And the poor girl...” Alysanne said. “She’s sweet, I’m very fond of her. It’s not as though she welcomed any of this.”

She felt Lord Duran’s face form a smile. “Perhaps not being with child,” he said, “but she must have welcomed something.”

Alysanne shook her head. “No,” she said. “He frightens her. He’s done this before.” Nothing usually came of Tybot’s anger, but his way of quiet, disapproving brooding was terrifying. She’s received it enough herself to know that.

Lord Duran shifted in his seat. He put both his hands gently on her shoulders and looked her in the face. “What are you saying, my lady? Is your husband misusing this girl?”

Alysanne turned away from him and stood up from the bench, hugging herself with both her arms. “I shouldn’t have...” she said. “Forgive me, I’m being foolish, and jealous, and—”

“I don’t think that’s true.” He came to stand close by her.

“I don’t even know if she’s really with child,” Alysanne said, crying freely again.

“It hardly matters,” he said, “not if she’s in danger.”

“Danger?” she asked. “I...” Yes, the girl was in danger. Alysanne couldn’t imagine an outcome for her that would be happy. She felt a rush of anger rise up, taking her by surprise. Anger at her husband, and at her own helplessness. “Yes,” she said. “But there’s nothing I can do for her.”

“There must be something we can do,” Lord Duran said. He bent his head down to look her in the face again. “Surely we can’t let her stay where she is.”

Alysanne shook her head. “She doesn’t have any family,” she said, “or anywhere to go.”

He considered for a moment. The way his brow creased made Alysanne stomach flutter, despite her state of distress. “It’s clear then,” he said. “She needs a different place.”

“But if she is with child,” Alysanne protested, “who would take her?”

“I confess,” Lord Duran said, “I know little about taking on maids, but my wife will help us if I ask her.”

“The princess!” Alysanne asked, in sudden panic. “No,” she shook her head, “I couldn’t possibly trouble her with this.”

He smiled and took her hand again. “She will want to be troubled, have no doubt. There is nothing she likes better. Unless it’s having another servant to order about.”

“But...” She didn’t want to confess her last fear, not even to Lord Duran: Tybot wouldn’t be pleased if he suspected that she had interfered to take Marigold away from him. He didn’t seem particularly fond of her, but he hated when arrangements were upset without his say so. That was, after all, why he was so useful to the king as Master of Horse. But she would be a coward if she wasn’t willing to bear that, for Marigold’s sake at least.

And Princess Trystana. Even if she didn’t object to—why would she help her? Alyanne already felt as though she had a debt to her she couldn’t repay.

“Please,” Lord Duran said. “Allow me to help you. It pains me to see you so troubled. More than I can express.”

Alysanne raised her eyes to look at him. He was saying that he could help her, and she believed him entirely. Was the foolish of her? Perhaps it was, but somehow she had trouble caring. “Thank you,” was all she managed to say.

He touched her cheek with his hand. “You don’t need to thank me,” he said.

She stepped towards him and rested her face against his chest. Without a word, he wrapped her in his arms and held her. She could hear a light breeze rustling the leaves of the tree as she closed her eyes and breathed in the sweet, comforting smell of him.

Chapter Text

There could be little less pleasant than awaking to a morning that was already as hot as a bread oven, with the taste of sick in your mouth.

It was surely hours after dawn already; Eliott could hardly imagine what hour it had been when he finally managed to sleep. The whore was sitting up in the bed, clearly not aware that he was awake, humming tunelessly and fiddling with the ends of her hair.

They had arrived in the pillow house after dark, riding through the narrow streets filled with the smell of grilled meat and the sound of finger drums. In a spacious common room, on countless piled cushions, he drank while his friends commiserated, and the Dornishmen mocked him for his feelings.

They were more than willing to tell him everything now. If only they had all been as forthcoming on the road, he may have been able to avoid this mess all together.

She was notorious, her weakness for handsome men was well known. But this last one had been a good deal more than a passing fancy. All her reticence, her coldness, what he had taken for fear and modesty, had in truth been her mourning the loss of the lover who was still sharing her bed while he crossed the red sands to claim her as his bride.

Prince Lewyn still seemed to be taking Eliott’s disillusionment for jealousy. “She never had a thought of wedding him,” he said again, just as he had said at Batara. “And she agreed to your betrothal instantly. My mother was harder to convince than she was.”

Eliott was too angry at him to speak. He might have warned him. Any of them might have. She might have shown herself for the whore that she was, rather than teasing him with shy smiles and sad looks.

“If she never thought of wedding him,” Owain asked, “what was she doing fucking him?” Eliott nodded gruffly at his cousin’s words.

“What?” Galwell Qorgyll asked with a laugh. “Why does anyone fuck anyone?”

Why indeed? The thought of it made the wine go sour in Eliott’s mouth. It disgusted him, to think about the knots he had twisted himself into to deny what was in front of him all along. He wasn’t a fool; he could see her wishing he was someone else when she looked at him, and after he had chanced upon her and Rolyn Toland in the gardens he thought… He had woven some nonsense romantic tale about disappointed—and chaste—love that made him pity her. He’d all but determined that he would never reproach her for it, that he would be the perfect husband to make her forget him. But to find out it was some up-jumped hedge knight she was pining for and that Rolyn Toland had nothing to do with it…except that he’d probably fucked her too.

“I don’t see why she wouldn’t,” Eliott said, hearing the slur in his own words. “She doesn’t seem to deny herself anything.”

“Is that what you think?” Rolyn Toland said. “You don’t understand her at all.”

He was the last man in the world who Eliott wanted to hear from. “Then why don’t you explain her to me, ser,” he snapped. “Since you know her so well.”

Ser Rolyn said nothing. He only scowled in that typical Dornish way.

The young prince spoke up again. “I think he was the only thing she didn’t deny herself,” he said. “And it took a lot of doing, if I remember.”

“Well, it’s easy to see why she would be tempted to do something so against her own character,” Eliott said sarcastically. “For so illustrious a figure.”

Rolyn Toland made a disgusted sound. Eliott couldn’t help but realize that he was drinking almost as much as himself.

“There’s no call to disdain him,” Ormond Yronwood said. “You certainly won’t endear yourself to Princess Loreza if you do.”

“No,” Toland agreed. “She’s never had an patience for jealousy.”

“Oh, is that a fact?” Eliott asked. He addressed Prince Lewyn, determined not to give Ser Rolyn any notice. “And I suppose you just indulge her impatience. And her self-denial.” That was greeted by silence.

“You seem to have forgotten who she is,” said Galwell Qorgyle pointedly. “And what she is.”

Eliott took a long swig of wine. “No, I haven’t,” he said. “She a spoi—”

“She’s my sister,” Prince Lewyn said in a tone of voice Eliott had ever heard him use before. It reminded him of her. “My elder sister,” he continued. “It’s not my place to judge her. And it’s certainly not yours.”

“He’s not,” Eliott heard Owain said. “Forgive him, my prince. He’s drunk.”

“I admit,” the prince said. “That excuse is going a little stale. It seems to be the only one you Rowans have.”

Eliott barely heard him. “She’s a fortunate woman, to be so entirely beyond any reproach,” he said. “It explains a good deal.”

“What exactly did you expect from her?” Rolyn Toland said loudly, cutting across him. “She’s not a fortunate woman, she’s a grown woman. If it’s a little girl you want to marry you should go back to the Reach.”

Eliott had had enough. He had a vision in his mind’s eye of smashing the earthen wine jug into the man’s face—he could all but feel the bones cracking under it—but his friends were holding him back before he could even stand up. The next thing he knew he was in the corridor barely able to support himself against the wall.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Marq asked him. “Do you intend to start a war?”

The cool of the sandstone wall against his forehead made the swimming in his head subside somewhat. “He fucked her,” he mumbled under his breath. “He fucked my wife.”

Lyman groaned. “What did you expect, though,” he asked. “We knew they were all liars.”

“Look, El,” Owain said in a soothing voice, “perhaps there’s something to be said for a woman who… knows what she’s about. We’ve all heard the stories. At least it won’t be like fucking a corpse on your wedding night.”

“Brother,” Marq interrupted. “That’s not helping.”

“Well, he’s going to have to make the best of it somehow, isn’t he?” Owain replied. “So I don’t see how I’m making it worse.”

“That can’t be,” Lyman objected. “When Lord Rowan finds out—”

“Don’t be stupid,” Owain said. “Mark my words, we’re not going anywhere.”

Eliott didn’t know then whether to laugh or cry. He somehow hadn’t realised until that moment that it was true. This didn’t change a thing. That was when his friends despaired of doing anything with him that night and threw him into a room, hoping that a good fuck would give him some relief.

“Are you going to be sick again, milord?” The whore had finally noticed that he was awake. She brought him back from an disagreeable memory to a no less disagreeable present.

Eliott scowled at her. “Get me some wine,” he said, struggling to sit up with his back against the pillows.

She left the bed and crossed the room to a flagon on a side table. Not even the sight of her naked form did much to distract him.

The wine she poured for him was dark and even more sour than usual. It made his face twist.

“Why are you so sad, milord?” the whore asked him with pouty lips. She climbed back in beside him on the bed, propping herself up on an elbow to look him in the face. She wasn’t all that pretty, and certainly not Dornish. Her blue eyes and pale, freckled skin betrayed that as much as her voice. But she at least seemed willing to speak to him.

“I’m not sad,” he said, swallowing more of the horrible wine. “I’m just sick to death of Sunspear.”

“Are you sick of me?” she asked, teasing. She ran her hand down his stomach to touch his cock.

Eliott ignored her. “I’m going to be trapped here,” he told her, “for the rest of my life. These people all despise me even more than I despise them.” He poured another cup and emptied it in three large gulps.

“Who could despise you, milord?” she said. Her simpering tone couldn’t quite hide how little she cared. “You’re sweet.”

“Yes,” he confirmed, “so sweet I’ll rot your teeth. Owain is right though, I have no choice, I have to stay. Forever. And be a mummer’s monkey. With horns.”

He saw the whore make an annoyed face, but she forced herself to giggle. “Monkeys don’t have horns.”

Eliott laughed. Wine squirted out of his mouth. “This one will. Haven’t you been listening? They’re making me marry a slut.”

“How terrible for you,” a familiar voice said from the door to room.

Eliott and the whore started at the same time. Princess Loreza was smiling as she came in.  She looked much the same as she had the day before, dressed for riding with her hair arranged in a simple braid, but she walked into the room with an unmistakable demand for notice. The whore certainly knew her for who she was; she jumped out of the bed, as naked as anything, and tried to curtsy ridiculously. The princess visibly suppressed a laugh.

“Go on,” she told her, “I dare say you’ve done more than enough.”

The whore grabbed a random scrap of silk from the floor and ran out. When she passed by the princess she paused to catch the little glint of gold that was tossed towards her.

Eliott tried not to panic as she turned her eyes toward him. He couldn’t dress himself without leaving the bed, but that was out of the question. He returned her gaze, in despair of anything else to do. The few moments of looking at the self-important expression on her face made him hate her all over again. “What are you doing here?” He was pleased that his voice sounded more angry than shocked.

“What else,” she said, stepping towards him, “I came to speak to you. You weren’t hard to find.”

He took a swallow of wine and scoffed. “I see,” he said, “I thought perhaps you worked here from time to time.”

To his annoyance, her smile only widened. Her eyes sparkled with amusement. He hated her damn eyes too. “It’s very fortunate I came alone,” she said, “half the men in Dorne would kill you just for saying that to me.”

“Yes,” he said with at the scorn he could manage, “it’s only right that all your lovers defend you.” She laughed out loud at that. “Why in fuck are you laughing?”

“You’re very witty.”

“And that pleases you, I suppose.”

“It does,” she said. “I much prefer a witty husband to a stupid one.”

Her husband. It annoyed him that she would use that word, as though she even knew what it meant. “Why not have one of each? You can laugh at my witticisms and the other could laugh at yours.” Rolyn Toland would no doubt be overjoyed.

“If you’re going to be so amenable about it, it may be worth considering.”

Eliott scowled again, angry that she could be so composed, here and now. What kind of lady could walk into a brothel with such impunity? “Have a different one every night for all I care,” he said. “From what I’ve heard, you’re more than capable of it.”

Her smile became something different. It wasn’t anger, it was more like contempt.

“I’m not accustomed to being insulted to my face,” the princess stated.

“I’m not accustomed to being publicly humiliated.”

“Who has humiliated you?” she asked him.

“You have!” Eliott said, raising his voice. “The whole world will laugh at me. The whole world already is.” They were going to see him standing in the sept saying his vows, and know it was all a farce.

“If this is how you intend to behave, I don’t particularly blame it.” She sat down next to him on the bed, inches away from his naked body. “But I won’t have my consort acting like a fool. Not before half the court. Not against me.”

You won’t have it?”

The princess said nothing to that. She looked around the room with its carved screens and cushions and sickeningly sweet scent. The pillow house was well appointed for what it was, but there was no mistaking it. Her eyes moved from the clothes and dry wine jars on the floor, to Eliott lying on top of the bed sheets. Her gaze travelled from his face down along his torso to his manhood, flopped like an empty stocking. She didn’t blush, as surely any decent woman would, just raised an appraising eyebrow. Eliott blushed for her, and blindly grabbed the sheet the cover himself.

“I hope whoring isn’t one of your regular failings,” Princess Loreza said.

He couldn’t help but laugh at her hypocrisy. “It will be when I start poking you.”

The first hint of anger crossed her face, “That’s quite enough, ser. I think you made your point.”

He smirked and took another swallow of wine.

“And you’ve had quite enough to drink as well.” She took the flagon out of his hand and stood to carry it to the window where she emptied it into the alley below.

“What are you doing?” Eliott asked in horror.

“I won’t stand up in the sept with a greensick man,” she said bluntly. “Much less a drunk one.”

“You can’t stop me drinking.”

She laughed. “I think you’ll find that I can.”

Eliott wanted to slap the self-assurance off her face. “What else do you want to take away from me?”

Princess Loreza rolled her eyes. She came back to sit by his side and sighed deeply. “What are you doing, ser?” she asked him. “Because I can’t say it gives me a very flattering picture of your character.”

He laughed bitterly. “Did I disappoint your expectations?”

She smiled again. “Ah,” she said. “I see. I might ask what madness lead you to form those expectations in the first place, because it can’t be anything I said or did.”

He frowned, angry because he had to admit that it was a fair question. He had spent half a year devouring every book on the Dornish that his father’s large library could furnish. They had been full of princesses who had more lovers than gowns, but somehow it had never occurred to him… Did he think those old barbaric ways were dead? He had surely known they weren’t. Perhaps it was only their capacity to deceive that he thought was dead. Their open manner, maybe, had disarmed him. Until he had come up against the wall of Princess Loreza’s stiff courtesy, at least.

“You might have told told truth,” he muttered.

“When have I done less?” she asked him.

“I hardly know,” he said. “You’ve hardly told me anything at all.”

“I suppose that’s true,” the princess admitted.

She didn’t seem inclined to start then either. There was silence for half a minute before Eliott broke it. “One wonders why you would bother marrying at all,” he said. “Seeing how well you were provided for, in every way.”

Princess Loreza frowned. “For the same reason anyone ever wants to marry,” she said. “To have an heir.”

“You don’t need me for that,” he said. “Surely.”

Her frown deepened. “I need a husband.”

“And you chose me,” Eliott said bitterly. “Out of all the men in the world.”

“Of course I didn’t,” she said, in a tone as though she were speaking to a particularly annoying child. “My father did.”

That made Eliott laugh. Her painting herself as some kind of model of daughterly obedience was just too good a joke. “And you always obey your father.”

“I always obey my prince, yes,” she said. “I obey, and I expect to be obeyed.”

He could have murdered her to get his wine back. “You expect me to obey you,” he said, still chuckling.

“Is there some reason why it should be otherwise?”

“It’s not a husband you want, my lady,” Eliott told her. “It’s a stud stallion.”

The princess rolled her eyes. “That’s not how I would chose to put it.”

“But it’s true.”

“No,” she insisted. “No more than every husband has been. No more than every wife has been a broodmare.”

Eliott felt bile rising in his throat. He would have been sick again, except that he refused to show such weakness in front of her. “I won’t accept that,” he said. “I’m a knight. A man.”

Princess Loreza stood up, she pulled her skirts away cautiously from the edge of the bed. “Yes, I know,” she said snidely. “You’re a big, strong man, with a big, strong sword. That, ser, is the entire point.”

Eliott tugged the sheet closer to himself. “And any other sword your father could have presented to you would have done just as well, I suppose.”

She made an angry sound and walked away towards the window before turning back to him. “What do you wish me to say, exactly?” she asked him. “I met you three days ago. I found you as satisfactory as I could have found anyone under the circumstances.”

“Anyone who wasn’t him, I suppose you mean,” he said.

“What?” she said, with exasperation.

“I just wonder,” he said, “if all you need is someone to squirt in your cunt, why you didn’t just marry the one who was doing it already.”

She hardly seemed phased by his crude words. “I couldn’t,” she said.

“Perhaps not,” he allowed. “But you wish you could.”

She got an odd look on her face, neither angry or sad, but also both at once. “It’s neither here nor there,” she said. “He’s gone.”

Was he? No, Eliott would never be free of him. He would never be free of any of them. She would never truly be his wife. He had never realized how much he had wanted that, a wife; a woman who was his and his alone. His uncle Ser Corret’s marriage was like that. His wife all but worshiped him, was guided by him in everything. Eliott had seen from boyhood how strong it made him, to have someone he could depend on to always take his part. His father even had that in his mother, why would the gods deny it to him? Why would they wrap that disappointment up in a marriage that made him the envy of every man in Westeros? “Barely gone,” he said. “You waited as long as you possibly could.”

At last, Eliott could see some pink in her cheeks.

“What does that matter?” she asked. “He’s no less gone. And it’s you I’m going to wed. Tomorrow. Aren’t I?”

He couldn’t quite bring himself to laugh anymore. “Are you afraid I’ll cut and run?”

“Should I be?”

Eliott could feel himself deflating. “No,” he told her. “I don’t suppose either of us has any choice now. Even if the thought of wedding me repels you.”

“It doesn’t,” Princess Loreza said.

That made Eliott frown. It didn’t sound like the statement gave her any joy, but he had no trouble believing it. She just said the same way she said everything. A way that demanded to be believed. She wasn’t used to anyone disputing her, or questioning her. It was very doubtful that her lover ever did.

“Does it repel you?” she asked.

“No,” Eliott said immediately. And that was true enough as well. He had nothing to fear now, which should be a comfort, surely. But just because the thought of innocence in his bed had made him anxious it didn’t mean he would rather have… Even so, it was true, she didn’t repel him, for all that she knew that she should. It was a weakness, a lust that was unworthy of what any man should feel for a wife, but it was what he had felt for her from the first. Perhaps some part of him had known what she was all along, even if he refused to admit it. And now that he’s been forced to see the truth, at least she wasn’t the infuriating mystery she once was. No, fucking her would not be the difficulty.

“I’m glad,” she said. “There’s no need for our bed to be haunted by ghosts.”

Our bed. Eliott felt his cock stirring at those words. Damn her.

“The past is best forgotten,” she continued. “It’s the future that should concern us, the future of Dorne.” The princess had become very grave. Her eyes pierced him. “Do you understand me, Ser Eliott?”

“I do,” he told her. And he was grateful for the reminder. It wasn’t only her that he was marrying, it was Dorne. The Prince of Dorne had chosen him, that had to be worth something. “Don’t worry, I’ll be as dutiful a stallion as you could wish for.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “I suppose that will have to do. Get dressed.” It was unmistakably a command. “I was going to have you come down to eat with us, but it won’t do for anyone to see you in this state. I’ll have some food brought up. We’re all expected back at the Old Palace by midday.”

When she was gone Eliott lay back down among the pillows and groaned. In anger, frustration, or shame, he hardly knew. Tomorrow was his wedding day and here he was, drunk in a brothel. It would break his mother’s heart to see him now. He at least owed it to her to make her believe that he was happy. And even more importantly, all the lords of Dorne—the one’s whose sons he had made a fool of himself before—if they didn’t take him seriously then all was lost for him.

He dragged himself up and began to collect his clothes from the floor. They were wrinkled, and there were a few winestains down the front, but it would serve to get him back to his chambers and into a bath.

He looked decent enough by the time a girl came in with a tray piled high with food. It was the same fearfully firey stuff they all seemed to break their fast with everyday, but he was grateful for it this morning. He wished Samuel Reer were there to feed him his disgusting potion again. All he had instead was a jug of sickeningly sweet lemon water.

“Bring me some wine,” he told the girl.

She went red. “I’m sorry, milord,” she said. “There isn’t any.”

“No wine?” he asked incredulously. “In this whole house?”

“Well,” she hesitated. “There is… but, the pri— she said—”

Eliott waved her off angrily. His head was throbbing far worse than before, and the day was still getting hotter.  

Chapter Text

By dawn there was no one left in the common room but Ormond and Rolyn Toland. He had fallen asleep some hours before; the sofa was so comfortable that the noise of a dozen drunk people had barely disturbed him, but Rolyn looked as though he had been awake the whole night.

“You should drink some water,” Ormond told his friend. He fetched him a flagon from a side table. It was lukewarm after standing out all night, but Rolyn didn’t mind. He gulped the whole thing down.

“How much of an ass did I make of myself?” Rolyn asked.

Ormond hesitated. “You didn’t,” he told him. “Or at least, I think we can all agree it was Ser Eliott who was far worse.”

Rolyn groaned. “I can’t dispute that,” he said. “Not even I expected him to be so… insufferable.”

“Well,” Ormond said, “he didn’t make a good show of himself yesterday. But before that he seemed pleasant. And Prince Lewyn spoke well of him.”

“Prince Lewyn is the most undemanding acquaintance in the world,” Rolyn said dismissively. “He would think Aegon the Unworthy was a good enough fellow.”

Ormond laughed lightly. “I wouldn’t go that far.”

“Maybe not,” Rolyn allowed, “but he would try to like him. And we all tried to like Ser Eliott. We had good cause to try, after all.”

He supposed that was true. It wouldn’t help anyone in Sunspear to be at odds with Princess Loreza’s consort. Not unless she was at odds with him as well, of course. On the other hand, many had cause, good or otherwise, to find fault with him. His father had declared that Ser Eliott was clearly useless and taken by his own cleverness within a minute of seeing him. “Did you truly try to like him, though?” Ormond asked his friend.

Rolyn looked hurt. “Don’t you think I’m capable of it?”

“Of course I do,” Ormond told him. “But… some would think that you have little reason to.”

He frowned. “I’m not that petty,” he declared. “I didn’t have to try to like Henrick Dayne. And now that ass from the Reach gets to take his place.”

“That was different,” Ormond said. “He was your friend already. And he...”

“He loved her.” Rolyn interrupted. “He knew how fortunate he was to be loved by her, and not only because she...” He closed his eyes. For a moment Ormond thought he might cry. “She doesn’t give her love easily.”

“No,” Ormond agreed. “She doesn’t even give her good regard easily.”

“No,” Rolyn repeated. “Though it’s easy enough to love her.”

Ormond wondered about that. The gods knew that Princess Loreza had her share of faults; he had always supposed that loving her would be a rather thankless endeavour. Surely no one knew that better than Rolyn, but he was incapable of ever thinking of her as anything less than perfect. “Maybe Ser Eliott will love her, then. And that will make him behave differently.”

Rolyn didn’t seem to hear him. “The first time I saw her look at him, I knew I had no hope,” he mused, more to himself than to Ormond. “But maybe she never would have looked at him at all if I… Forgive me,” he said. “I must still be drunk. What kind of fool rips open a wound that should have healed three years ago?”

“Do you really think it would have changed anything?” Ormond asked him. “If you had… said something. Done something.”

“Probably not, in the end,” he admitted. “But I could have given myself the courtesy of trying.”

The lattice work screen slid open and Ser Owain Rowan walked into the room with Lyman Osgrey. Rolyn scowled at him, but Ormond forced himself to greet them. “Good morning,” Ser Owain replied. He sat himself down on the settee across from Rolyn and narrowed his eyes at him. “I see you’re still not quite yourself, ser.”

Rolyn smiled unpleasantly. “I dare say I feel well enough.”

Prince Lewyn arrived a moment later, as cheerful as only he could be early in the morning. He poured himself his own glass of lukewarm water and sat beside Ormond. “How long do you think we can get away with staying here?” he asked. “Before they send a party out to find us.”

Ormond smiled and shrugged. “An hour. Maybe two.”

“I’m sure Loreza is as upset with me as she is with anyone,” he said. “Perhaps she’ll let us be lost for a while.”

“That’s not bloody likely,” said Maron Wyl, stubbling into the room. He looked even worse for wear than Rolyn. His long dark blond hair was uncombed and falling into his eyes. “She won’t be able to bear the idea of someone enjoying themselves today.”

The prince rolled his eyes and shared a smile with Ormond. “We should wait for Ser Eliott at least, it’s only courteous.”  

The rest of the party trickled in over the next quarter of an hour, though Eliott Rowan was still nowhere to be seen. Prince Lewyn sent for some food to break their fast with, and they were all about to sit down around the low table when the ladies arrived.

Rhona was among them. Ormond felt his face turn red when she smiled knowingly at him. Everyone else’s eyes were on Princess Loreza. She scanned the room once before addressing Prince Lewyn.

“Brother,” she said, for all the world as if they were greeting each other back in the Tower of the Sun, “you look very well-rested.”

“Oh, I am,” he said sardonically. “And now that you’re here you may as well eat with us.”

“No,” she said. “I already ate. Hours ago.”

“It’s no surprise that you’re not as well rested as I am,” he said. “If you’re going to get up so early.”

“I’m always up early, you’re just hardly ever up to notice.” She turned from him to Ser Owain, who rearranged the shocked expression that appeared on his face when she’d arrived to stare back at her determinedly. “Well,” the princess said. “Where is he?”

Ser Owain furrowed his brow. He surely wasn’t considering denying where his cousin was, but he seemed at a loss nonetheless. “He’s upstairs,” he finally said simply.

The princess raised one eyebrow. “I’m not sure why I bothered to ask,” she mumbled to herself before walking past them all to the sliding screen on the other side of the room.

Ser Owain’s mouth was open again. “But...” he called to her, “you can’t just...” He was instantly silenced by the look she gave when she turned back to face him. He composed himself and tried again. “I doubt that he’s expecting company, my princess.” He said her title as though it pained him.

She didn’t answer.

As soon as the princess was gone, the room became more relaxed again.

“I thought she might run you through with a fruit knife or something,” Ser Lyman Osgrey said to Ser Owain, using just such a knife to cut a persimmon in half.

“She’s a princess of Dorne,” Alyse Ladybright told them. “She’s not accustomed to being told what she can’t do.”

“Clearly not,” Ser Owain quibbled.

Maron Wyl laughed loudly into his goblet of wine. So loudly that everyone assembled turned to look at him.

“What could you possibly be doing here?” Joleta Gargalen asked him. “Surely this is the last place I should expect to find someone as madly in love as you are.”

He scowled at her. “You’re even more annoying than usual when you try to play coy.”

Ormond looked over at Rhona. She was smiling to herself lightly as though enjoying the joke, but he was sure she was avoiding looking at him. Clearly she thought he was here for the same reason that Maron Wyl was, and that thought almost made him panic.

“Mother have mercy,” Rolyn said, “do we really intend to sit here sniping at each other all morning? My head hurts far too much for that.”

“Some of us deserve to be sniped at,” Lady Joleta said.

Elda Toland made an annoyed sound then stood to retrieve a vihuela that had been discarded by a cushion on the floor. Ormond vaguely recalled Prince Lewyn having played it the night before. Lady Elda, however, found it so badly out of tune that she needed a few minutes to pluck at the strings while they all watched her in exhausted silence. Rhona caught his eye at last, still smiling ever so slightly.

“I...” her smiled deepened when he addressed her. “I’m very glad you all came,” he said, trying to sound disinterested. “It was very dull sitting here in this room all night.”

“In this room, you say?” Rhona asked. “By yourself all night?”

“No, not by myself,” Ormond told her. “Rolyn was here.” Her chuckle made him go on. “Well, he was in such a state, that I couldn’t leave him alone...”

“You’re a very loyal friend,” she said. Her smile had turned mischievous. “But that must have been very lonely.”

Ormond smiled back. “It was no difficulty at all,” he told her, “until you arrived.”

“I don’t like the idea of causing you difficulty, Ser Ormond,” she said. “Not at all.” She stood and made her way across the room and through the sliding lattice screen door. He sat and tried to stop his breath from coming too quickly as everyone joined Lady Elda’s song in tired, murmuring voices. Or almost everyone. The reachmen didn’t know the words.


 They claimed the fields, claimed the skies,

They came at night to smoke and cries.

Yet never knew what they despised,

Until they let us soar.


They saw no path to their defeat,

The Carons sat with their conceit.

And lo there was no song so sweet,

The day they let us soar.

The screen slid open and Rhona smiled at him. Beckoning. He stood up and joined her, closing the door with one hand and grabbing for hers with the other. Elda’s song followed them up the stairs, but they didn’t make it to the top before her mouth was on his. It felt like a year since he had tasted Rhona’s mouth. She threw her hands around his neck and pulled him closer, so her back was against the wall in the corridor and Ormond could feel her heart beating as his chest pressed against her.

He broke the kiss, suddenly needing to see her face. Her cheeks were flushed and her breath was short. She looked up at him with all the desire he felt in her eyes. He lifted his bandaged hand and ran his thumb along the line of her jaw.

“I missed you,” he murmured against the soft skin of her neck. “Why did you stay away so long?”  

She didn’t answer him, but he heard her sigh and felt her fingers in his hair, urging him to continue his ministrations. She shivered when his lips touched her neck.

“We should get to our room,” she finally said, breathless. “Lady Sarae might kick us out if she thinks we’re fucking in the corridor.”

She was right, of course. The proprietor of the pillow house was notoriously scrupulous about such things, but Ormond suspected she would look the other way for anyone connected to the palace, let alone for one of Princess Loreza’s closest friends.

Rhona pulled him along to a door halfway down the corridor, but he barely had a chance to register the large bed or the silk curtains on the windows before they were both on top of the bed. He pulled at the laces on the front of her kirtle, trying to have the self-control to not just tear the garment in two.

She was pulling on his own laces just as frantically. Ormond could hear her moans of impatience in his ear as she pulled his britches down. Once her kirtle was off, there was still an endless numbers of ties and skirts.

“How can you bear to wear so many clothes?” he mumbled. Rhona laughed and pulled away from him. And first it was almost painful to lose the feel of her in his arms, but the pain vanished when she stood at the foot of the bed and met his eye. She had no trouble with the layers. As each garment fell to the floor, her smile became more and more wicked. By the time she was naked Ormond could feel tears welling in his eyes. She was beautiful. More beautiful than anything he would ever see, even if he lived to be a hundred. He reached his hand out to her and pulled her back towards him. When they came together at last he knew with total certainty that it wasn’t Sunspear, or his friends, or the life he had known since he was a boy that he feared leaving, and it wasn’t a family or a home that he barely knew that he feared returning to. All he feared was losing her. He would be content to live in the Old Palace, or Yronwood, or in the seventh hell, if only she were there with him.

After an hour, or a year, he hardly knew, they lay together on the feather bed, her soft cheek against his chest. Ormond steeled himself for the greatest joy, or the greatest disappointment, of his life.

“If--” he began, feeling his voice catch in his throat. “If I were to ask you to come to Yronwood with me, what would you say?”

She lifted her face up towards him, her nose crinkled in confusion. “To Yronwood?” she said, “but you’re not serious.”

Ormond felt his stomach clench. “I am,” he insisted. “I don’t want to be without you. Ever.”

Rhona sat up and turned away from him. She drew the sheets up to cover her breasts, as though she suddenly wanted to hide from him. “There’ll be other women,” she said, “in Yronwood. I doubt you’ll be without long.”

He felt a flash of anger towards her. A pain stabbed through his hand when he tried to bunch it into a fist. “I don’t want any women from Yronwood, or any other women at all. I want you.”

“I’m sure you think so now. But one night of self-denial in a pillow house is hardly the same thing as a lifetime of constancy.”

“You’re being cruel,” he told her. “And I don’t know why.”

“I’m being cruel?” she snapped. “How is it any less cruel to ask me to give up my position here, just to satisfy your lust? What would my brother think after all the trouble he went through to secure it? He didn’t do it out of love, he may never forgive me.”

“That would be foolish of him,” Ormond told her. “Surely his dearest wish for the whole business was that you would make a good marriage out of it.”

“Marriage?” Her expression changed, but not into one of understanding or joy. She looked as though she pitied him. “Ormond-- you can’t wed me.”

“Why not?” He asked. “I meant what I said. I don’t want anyone else.”

She smiled sadly. “I forget how young you are sometimes.”

Ormond blushed. “I’m only two years younger than you,” he said defensively. “That can’t be any impediment. Unless it is to you.”

“It’s not,” she said. “But perhaps those two years have given me the wisdom to know… your lord father would never allow it. He would think it’s ridiculous.”

“Why should he?”

She laughed softly. “You could do a good deal better than me, Ormond. No doubt he’s already made his plans for you.”

“He couldn’t have,” he argued. “He had no idea that he would be able to make any decisions at all concerning me until last week.”

“Well, now that he can, he’ll want someone better.”

“You keep saying that,” Ormond said, angry with her again. “There isn’t anyone better than you. You would think you were a bastard or something.”

“Fourth born is little better than bastard,” she said with what was clearly trying to be good humour. “And who will be your good-mother?”

Ormond winced. They said that old Ser Elryn must have gone mad in his old age when he married the daughter of a horse merchant who’d been his paramour for many years. As far as he knew, Rhona hadn’t seen her mother since she was a little girl. The woman hadn’t stayed at Spottswood long after her husband died.

“I don’t care about that,” he said.

“Lord Yronwood will.”

Ormond shook his head. “If I ask him...” he said, “he won’t deny me anything. He feels guilty, you see. He would do anything to make me happy.”

Rhona’s look became hopeful. Or perhaps Ormond only hoped that it was hopeful. “He’d resent it, eventually.”

“If you don’t want me, then say so. But don’t refuse because of some foolish idea that you’re unworthy. You’re the most worthy woman in the world.”

“I do want you. And I want you to be happy as much as Lord Yronwood does...”

“So I have your leave,” Ormond asked her. “To speak with him.”

Her nose crinkled again. Ormond couldn’t hope to guess how she would answer. But she was prevented from it in any case by the door to the room crashing open.

“Joleta!” Rhona exclaimed. “Do you not know the meaning of a closed door?”

Lady Joleta rolled her eyes at that, and at Ormond’s attempts to cover himself from her view. “Oh please Ormond, I saw everything you have when you swam in the Watergardens, and it holds just as much interest for me now as it did then.” She turned back to Rhona. “I would love to let you stay here all day, but the high and mighty princess says it’s time to go. And I’m not risking her anger for your sake. Not today.” She turned and walked right out.

Rhona sighed. She made to climb out of the bed, but Ormond grabbed her arm. “You didn’t answer me.”

She twisted her arm out of his grip. “There’s so much going on,” she said.

“There’s always a lot going on,” he argued.

“Let’s just get through one wedding before we start thinking about the next one.”

“There’s always another wedding too.” He pulled his breeches back on and left her to get dressed while he struggled with his boots in the corridor. The door next to theirs opened and Ser Eliott Rowan stumbled out. His eyes were as red as the wine stains on his shirt.

“Um,” Ormond struggled to say anything. How could it be that the world would think him good enough for a princess of Dorne, but wouldn’t think Rhona fit to marry an Yronwood? “We’re all leaving now,” he said.

“Yes,” Ser Eiott said. “I’ll have to get a better night’s sleep tonight.”

“Indeed,” Ormond agreed. “We all have to be at our best tomorrow.”

Chapter Text

Princess Loreza’s bed was large enough to sleep six, though it had seldom ever slept more than two for many years. On the night before her wedding, however, seven ladies crammed into it. They had all fallen asleep some time after dark, as exhausted from an afternoon and evening filled with last minute preparations as they were from their outing, so much more eventful than anyone had expected it to be.

It was not yet morning when Dany woke up. She was near the middle of the bed, nearly crushed between her sister and Genna Sand. She climbed over them and onto the carpeted floor, scattered all about with gowns and silken small clothes that no servant had gotten around to putting away. The first creeping light that came before dawn was starting to fill the room, no one had bothered to pull the curtain either, so she had no trouble making her way out of the bedchamber and towards the sitting room.

Loreza was already there. She was standing by a window, contemplating the Summer Sea. For a moment, Dany stood in the doorway and considered what she should do. She had woken in hopes of finding the princess, but now she wasn’t sure if she even wanted to speak to her. She had been angry with her cousin, so angry she couldn’t think straight, but a night and day to consider the situation for what it really was had just about convinced her that the anger was misplaced, or at least that it would do no good.

Joleta had told her so right away, even before they had left Batara. “Don’t get yourself worked up,” her sister said. “She’s in a bad humour because she hates any decision that she didn’t make herself. When she sees how resolved you are, she’ll give in. Just show her that you have as much force of will as she does.”

Maron had said much the same thing as well. As soon as they had returned to the Old Palace, they had found each other in the garden and shared all the embraces they had been denied the day before. Dany wept in his arms, half afraid that if she ever let go of him, she would never see him again.

“You’re not despairing, are you?” he asked her. “Nothing at all has changed. No one is even talking about it. Loreza herself made sure of that.”

“But it does change things,” Dany argued. “I was so sure she would be on our side, but the prince will never give his consent if she advises him not to, never. Even if my mother and your father both do. You know he wouldn’t.”

Maron chuckled and held her close. “Perhaps I should ask my father to advise against it. Then she’ll contradict him on principle and our problems will be solved.”

“Don’t joke, Maron,” Dany cried. “This is the worst thing that could have happened.”

“It’s not,” he said. His tone was so calm and sure that she couldn’t help but find it persuasive. “She has no real reason to object; she’s only doing it out of some kind of misplaced need to protect you.”

He had been perfectly right. That’s what her cousin had always been, protective. No matter how upsetting to Dany the way she chose to show it was, all Princess Loreza had done was out of love for her. When she realized that, she couldn’t stay angry.

She cleared her throat when she stood beside her cousin.

“Dany,” the princess said. Her voice sounded sad and tired. “You should be asleep.”

Dany smirked in a way she hoped was friendly. “That applies double for you. Don’t you need all your strength?”

Loreza didn’t look at her. “I just wanted some time to myself,” she said. “Before all the noise begins.”

Dany knew that was a gentle way of asking her to go, but she couldn’t help but think the meeting was serendipitous. “I want you to know,” she began, “I understand why you said what you said yesterday.”

Her cousin looked at her with an expression of mild surprise. “Good,” she said. “I knew you would eventually, but I’m glad it was so soon.”

Dany frowned. “Yes...” she said. “And… I know you think we don’t know our own minds—that we’re not sincere. You think that I’m too young to be and that Maron is never serious about anything. But in a little while, when you’re convinced that we are, I know you’ll see things differently.”

The princess sighed and closed her eyes.

“We can wait,” Dany said before her cousin could say anything. “As long as we need to. Years. That way, everyone will know it can’t be a passing fancy. I know it isn’t. And I know you think Maron wouldn’t be a good husband, but—”

“Daenerys, stop. Please,” the princess said. “I did doubt your sincerity, and I’m sorry, it was wrong of me. The gods know that Maron has his faults, but he was right; you’re not a child anymore. But you’ll never wed him, Dany, not if the prince’s consent means anything to you. My advice is to stop tormenting yourself and give up on that idea now.”

She felt the anger she had thought was gone surge up again. Loreza was telling her she took her feelings seriously with one breath, then dismissing them with the other. “No,” she said. “I won’t. And I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t want to wed him.”

Loreza closed her eyes again. “It’s not a question of there being a reason why you shouldn’t. There’s no reason why you should, and that’s much more important.”

Dany resisted the urge to stamp her foot. “I love him,” she said. “We love each other. I want to live with him, and have his children. Isn’t that a reason?”

“No,” the princess said. “Not good enough. Not for you.”

“Like it wasn’t a good enough reason for you?”

She was silent for a moment. “Yes,” she said at last. “Exactly.”

“And instead you’re going to marry...that man?” Dany did stamp her foot this time. She couldn’t help it. She had been too busy thinking about her own concerns to be any more than vaguely aware of the high drama that had occurred between the princess and her betrothed, but the greatest fool in the world would be able to see that it didn’t look promising between them. Joleta was disgusted with him. “You don’t even like him!”

“That’s not true,” she said immediately. “There’s a good deal about him that I like.”

“After how he behaved?” Dany asked her incredulously. “After what he said about you? I don’t understand how you can stand for it.”

“I have no intention of standing for it,” she said, suddenly stern. “But it was my fault as much as it was his. I expected too much from him. He has a great deal to learn.”

“About what?”

“About what it means to be my husband. And I’ve been far too distant with him. I’ve ignored how strange and difficult Sunspear must be for him, for my own selfish reasons.”

“You mean because of Henrick Dayne.” The look on her cousin’s face made Dany think for a moment that she had gone too far. But she hardly cared, she had nothing to lose. “You were never distant with him. You never had to worry about standing for anything with him. You were just happy.”

The princess’s face softened. “Maybe I was, while it lasted.”

“It only didn’t last because you willed it so,” Dany argued. “You know that’s true! If you really wanted to marry him, all you had to do was ask. Your father would have allowed it.” He would allow Dany and Maron to wed too. In a moment, if Loreza advised him to. If she wanted to, she could convince him it was the wisest decision in the world.

“Yes,” she said. “It is true. So I suppose it must follow that I didn’t really want to.”

“Why not?” Dany asked her, shaking her head. “You love him. I remember when you came to Salt Shore, for Linnette’s wedding. All anyone would talk about was how in love you were. I never wanted to be in love before, until I saw you there.”

Loreza turned away from her. She looked out to sea once more. “It was a mistake. All I’ve done is hurt us both. And you too, it seems.”

“But you couldn’t have helped loving him, anymore than I can help loving Maron. How can you say it was a mistake?”

“Loving him wasn’t the mistake,” she said with an angry energy. “The mistake was indulging feelings I knew from the beginning were a weakness, and flaunting that weakness before the entire world.”

Dany was crying. The tear flowed silently down her face, as though she no longer had the energy to sob passionately the way she had. It was so hard to stay hopeful, even after only a day. “I think it would have been brave of you,” she told Loreza. “I think Prince Duncan was brave to marry for love. I would have admired you if you had, the world would have.”

Loreza shook her head. “And what about Prince Daeron? Do you admire him?”

“No!” Dany said, at once. “I mean,” she amended, once she she saw the self-satisfied glint in her cousin’s eye, “I don’t admire him for how he treats Olenna, or how he treats anyone; but you can’t deny it was brave.”

“Certainly,” the princess said. “I suppose you can argue that bravery is just a particular kind of stubbornness. What about the harm he did, he and both of his brothers?”

Dany wiped angrily at a fresh tear. “What does that matter? Do you really think that they will remember how Lord Baratheon was angry with the king for half a moment? They sing songs about Jenny and the Prince of Dragonflies already. They will for a thousand years.”

“Children might,” Loreza snapped back. “But I’m a Princess of Dorne—those are not the kind of songs I want them to sing about me. And you, Daenerys, I would have hoped that you had greater ambitions than to be remembered for who you fucked.”

Dany didn’t know what to say to that. She knew that she should tell her that love, real love, was more than that. It was good, and pure, and the gods blessed it, and Loreza had no right to try to force her to be as unhappy as she was. “Do you know what I think?” she said angrily. “I think you hate yourself for what you did. And you hope that if you bully me enough you’ll be able to convince yourself that it was right. But it wasn’t.”

Loreza stared at her. Perhaps she was struck dumb. Dany waited for rage, but it didn’t come. The silence lasted until Princess Trystana came charging into the room. She hardly seemed to notice Dany at all, she went straight to the princess and pulled her away from the window.

“There you are!” she said. “Oh, you’re going to regret not getting every moment of sleep that you could.”

The noise had started. The bedchamber was already a flurry of activity when Dany reentered it. A maid was crossing to the dressing room carrying a steaming pail of water, while the princess’s ladies scrambled to get all the finery and jewels into good order.

“What are you doing standing there, Daenerys!” she heard her mother say. “You’re for the bath too.” Dany found herself grabbed by the arm and pulled along as well, but while the princess got to spend a quarter of an hour or more in the tub being scrubbed from chin to toe, Dany barely had the chance to get wet before she was chased out to make room for someone else. She and all the other ladies were still only half-dressed when they gathered around the low table in the sitting room to break their fast.

Loreza’s hair was already arranged. It was woven with strings of pearls and stuck all over with ruby pins. Lady Emlyn draped a white sheet over her shoulders so the wine and cooked eggs wouldn’t dribble on her silken small clothes. Everyone was too distracted by their giggling to notice that Dany was glaring at her cousin. She hated her for the fakeness she saw in her smile, for the way everyone in the whole world had always fallen over themselves to tell her how wonderful she was.

Genna Sand laughed loudly at whatever Rhona Santegar was whispering in her ear. Lysanne Manwoody heard them and covered her mouth to stifle her snigger. “I must confess,” Lysanne said, “I’m looking forward to the feast most of all. I want to see their faces when they see your dress.”

Their faces,” Loreza asked with feigned innocence. “Whose?”

“They’re a pack of hypocrites,” Joleta said. “They don’t seem to consider anything wrong with their tight breeches and short doublets.”

“Well, I’m not like to complain about it,” the princess said, causing Elda Toland to blush and Lysanne to collapse with giggles.

Princess Trystana pursed her lips disapprovingly. “I can only imagine what my mother would think if she heard you speak so an hour before going to the sept on your wedding day. She stood vigil all night before she was wed. And she fasted.”

Joleta rolled her eyes. “I saw you looking at Ser Martyn Mullendore, Mother,” she said. “His breeches were the same colour as his skin. He looked naked.”

“Is that what you did?” Dany asked her mother. “Stand vigil in the sept all night?” It sounded like a beautiful idea.

“No,” the princess admitted, “but I certainly felt the solemnity of the occasion.”

Loreza’s smile disappeared. “And you think I don’t?”

“Don’t chide her so,” Lady Lenelle said to her good-sister. “An inability to feel solemnity is not one of Loreza’s faults.”

“No indeed,” she admitted. “Loreza knows her own faults more than anyone. I just pray she knows that japing about them won’t make them disappear. Marriage is a serious business.”

“I agree,” Dany said, “It’s very serious.” She could almost picture herself in her own wedding dress, kneeling in front of the altar of the Maiden for the whole night, waiting for the moment when she and Maron would be bound forever. That would prove to everyone how much she loved him, as much as it proved it to the Maiden Herself. “And it shouldn’t be something you do just because it’s what someone else wants. It should be holy. And if you don’t mean it then that’s as bad as lying. To the gods.”

Her cousin was staring at the plate in front of her with eyes suspiciously bright. Lady Lenelle reached out across the table take her daughter’s hand. “Daenerys, how could you say something like that? Here and now? And about something you yourself understand very little. You should beg the princess’s forgiveness. At once.”

“No,” Princess Loreza said before Dany could even set an angry expression on her face. “She doesn’t need to apologize. She didn’t say anything that wasn’t true, and I agree with her entirely.” She looked up to meet Dany’s eye. “I’ve never been more serious about anything.”

She stood up and went to her dressing room soon after. Dany stayed where she was. She and Joleta and Rhona Santegar and Elda Toland and Genna Sand and Lysanne Manwoody all helped each other into their identical yellow gowns and arranged their hair into golden nets. Lady Emlyn came out to inspect them. She fussed over getting the neckline of Joleta’s bodice straight and tucked away loose strands of hair. When she was satisfied, she ushered them into where Loreza was standing as straight as a rod while the dressmaker knelt at her side, sewing closed the seam at her left ribs. Dany stood a little back with Lysanne while the others finished dressing the princess with practised efficiency. When the jewelled girdle was on and the collar was draped over her shoulders, Lady Emlyn held a silvered looking glass so Loreza could see her own reflection.

Perhaps it was the morning light, but Dany instantly thought that her cousin looked much more lovely now than she had ten days ago, when she’d fist been in raptures over the dress. The way she held herself was different. She seemed older. Maybe it was because it was all so… serious now.  

Loreza’s chin began to shake. “Mother...” she whispered, holding a hand out towards Lady Lenelle.  

“Out, ladies,” the chatelaine said quietly. “Everyone out now.”

Dany gave her sister a questioning look. “She’s panicking, of course,” Joleta told her. “Wouldn’t you?” Their mother sushed them, so they had no choice but to stand awkwardly watching the closed door to the dressing room and pretend to not be straining to hear what was being said.

After what felt like an hour, it opened again. “I’m ready,” Loreza’s voice called. Elda and Genna spread the train of the gown out behind her and the six of them stood, three on each side to lift it up off the ground, like they’d spent hours practising in the last week.

“Don’t let it touch the ground, Dany,” her mother nagged in a soto voice.

“I know,” she snapped, “I won’t.” Dany had been relegated to the very back of the train, so that when the princess started to slowly shuffle forward, she was yanked along whether she liked it or not. It was worst on the stairs, where it was a challenge to manage the train, her own skirts, and her two feet, all at once. Her mother tutted at her again when she had to stop and grab the wall to not topple down. “Have you forgotten everything you were told?” Princess Trystana snapped at her.

Dany fumed, but she managed not to snap back. That would only get her accused of ruining the whole wedding.

They paused for a moment in front of the great wood and bronze doors of the Tower of the Sun. The princess’s mother, chatelaine, and aunt spent minutes making sure every seam was flat and every jewel was in its proper place. “It will have to do,” Loreza finally whispered. “Enough, or we’ll never get there.” At her word, the guards opened the door and they found themselves at the top of the steps leading down to the great courtyard. Between them and the palace’s sept was a mass of townspeople broken only by two lines of spearmen who cleared a straight path so the bride could go and keep her vigil. When she’d prayed enough, they would have to clear another path to the liters that would take them all to Nymeria’s sept in the shadow city. The sun had only now come above the walls, the wedding itself wasn’t until midday, and it might be dawn again before the feasting was done.

They were all so silent that Dany heard her cousin’s deep intake of breath before she started down the stairs.

The people’s eyes were fixed on the princess. They lifted up children so they could see them over the heads of the guard. They threw flowers and bright bits of cloth into her path. A few shouted blessings, wishing her joy and long life, but the courtyard was more still than Dany had seen it in since her grandmother had died. The entire city had been silent. You could hear the shuffling of the smallfolks’ feet when they all came to see her bier.

Dany shook her head to drive out the daydream. Princess Daenerys certainly wouldn’t have approved of her thinking of a funeral on a wedding day.

The sept was lit by candles and so thick with incense that Dany could barely see the altar of the Maiden. Once the sun came through the leaded glass windows, it would be as hot as a bathhouse. As soon as they came through the door, a chorus of septas began a high chant.

They passed all the great ladies who had gathered to pray with the princess. Olenna Redwyne smiled at Dany from where she stood with Septa Unelletine. Near her were all the Hightowers and that horrible Florent woman.

Loreza stopped to greet Lady Sarra, who was waiting right next to the altar. Her soon-to-be good-mother gave her a kiss on the cheek. “You look so lovely, sweetling,” Dany heard the older woman whisper, as she wiped her eyes. “As lovely as the Maid Herself.”

Dany struggled not to roll her eyes.

The princess knelt on a cushion embroidered with gold work and held her hands together in front of her, lifting her eyes up to the mosaic of the Maiden that Nymeria herself had commissioned nine hundred years ago. Dany and the five other train bearers knelt where they were behind her. Her eyes followed her cousin’s up to the Maiden’s dark and sharp featured face. She looked determined, mayhaps a little angry. And no wonder. Her father once told her that She was made in the likeness of Nymeria’s granddaughter, who grew up to be one of the Red Princes.

Please, gentle Lady, Dany prayed, You know how much I love him. Please, please, let it all work out. I’ll never ask You for anything again. I’ll never ask any of the gods for anything. All I want is this one thing.

She prayed as hard as she could, but after twenty minutes her knees began to ache. After an hour her head hurt from all the incense. Some of the women in the sept began to whisper to each other. Soon, even Rhona Santegar was shifting in discomfort. Lysanne Manwoody stood up once, for a moment, before a glare from Princess Trystana drove her back down. But there was no help for it; the vigil surely wasn’t even close to done. Loreza’s eyes were closed. Perhaps she was sleeping, though Dany doubted it. The thought of keeping vigil through the night didn’t seem quite as romantic as it had.

It felt like another hour at least, her feet were both a mass of pins and needles, before Dany noticed the first sign of tiring from the princess. She was swaying to one side while her head bobbed forward. Maybe the septas’ chanting really had lulled her to sleep, or maybe it was the weight of the gold collar. Lady Emlyn poked her in the arm and she snapped back to attention with an audible gasp.

At a sign from Lady Lenelle, a septon came to stand beside Loreza. He held his crystal up over her and loudly proclaimed a blessing. The chanting stopped and all around, the ladies roused themselves as he asked the Maiden, Mother, and Crone to keep her in happiness, fecundity, and wisdom.

Dany stood up with the others and the blood rushed back into her legs with such force that she bit back tears. Genna stamped her feet back to life as discreetly as she could. The princess stood up as gingerly as the rest of them, though at least she had Rhona and Joleta to help her. When her train was in hand again they all walked along the periphery of the sept, past the altar of the Crone and the Smith, rather than try to turn her around.

There were still a few townspeople in the courtyard, though most of them had left to line the streets. The fountains of free wine wouldn’t begin to flow until after the ceremony, but there were already musicians and acrobats, and farces being performed on wooden stages all over the shadow city. Dany could hear the din, even in the palace. And it was just as well. That way, there were fewer people to see the commotion that was being made to get Loreza, and all her skirts, into the litter. Elda Toland and Genna eventually just gathered it all into a big bunch and threw it on the seat beside her.

The liter was huge, but it was as crowded as the sept by the time they all got in there. Dany was practically sitting on her her sister's lap just so they would all fit.

“Eat something, Loreza,” Princess Trystana said. “I saw how little you ate at breakfast.” She untied a bundle onto her lap with some figs, soft cheese, and a few pieces of bread. Loreza took a fig in her hand but made no move to eat it.

“Could I have some cheese, mother?” Dany asked.

“Don’t be absurd!” her mother said.

“Go ahead, Dany,” the princess said. “Have all you like. I couldn’t eat a thing. It’s all turning my stomach.”

They started to move and slowly made their way through the palace gate, behind all the litters, palanquins, and sedan chairs carrying their guests. The female half of them, anyway. The men were already there waiting for them. The prince, and the king, and Ser Eliott Rowan.

Loreza was breathing as hard as if she’d just run a flight of steps. Soon they were on the street and the people were calling her name. She smiled and pulled the curtain back, so they could see her.


Chapter Text

The most ignorant yeoman in the Seven Kingdoms knew the old saying, that Dorne was ruled by the sun as much as by any prince. Most of them could likely even repeat the first Daeron’s words about the sun being a Dornishman’s weapon, even more fearsome than his famous spear. But knowing a thing, and feeling its truth beating down on your head, hour after hour, were different things entirely.

Jeremy had been banished once again outside the shade of the silk canopies that sheltered the king, Prince Rhodryn, and all the family and lords deemed worthy enough to wait in greater comfort at the front door of Nymeria’s sept. The rest of them crowded around, spilling over the steps and down towards the line of copper-armoured spearmen that kept the crowd of smallfolk at bay.

It was an improvement from when he had arrived in Sunspear; Jeremy was at the top of the stair this time, close enough to Daeron that the king had seen him and frowned, but not close enough to speak to him, or to share the shade. He had gotten accustomed to always being at Daeron’s side remarkably quickly, and to be separated now stung a sense of pride that Jeremy hadn’t known he had.

They were all getting impatient. Prince Duncan was shuffling his feet and even the king could be heard to exhale loudly more than once. And patience, of course, had never been counted among Prince Daeron’s virtues. He had begun to groan and complain loudly to his brother even before the Rowan men arrived. When the bridegroom joined them at the door with his father and uncle and the rest of them, Jeremy heard his voice again.

“Oh, so he did come,” the prince said. “I confess I had my doubts.”

Prince Duncan, perhaps seeing a flush of colour starting to rise on Prince Lewyn’s cheek, scolded him. “I do wish you would shut up, brother.”

If the king, or the Dornish prince, or indeed Ser Eliott himself, heard Daeron’s outburst, they made no sign of it. Soon the Rowans fell into the same interminable game of standing and sweltering in silence. The bridegroom sweated visibly. He had clearly given consideration to the climate when choosing his garb, but even white silk would get hot when weighed down with that much cloth of gold. Jeremy would feel more sorry for him if the sun wasn’t burning the skin on the back of his still tender neck.

It was Ser Maron Wyl who broken the silence next. “Since when does she pray this much, anyway?” he quipped. His father, Prince Arion, shushed him.

Ser Artyr Dalt was standing next to Jeremy. “There,” the knight said to him, “do you see.” He pointed to the east, towards the palace. Jeremy squinted and saw that a man was standing on the battlements over the outermost gate, waving a red banner attached to a spear. “They’ll be coming now.”

“Thank the gods,” someone said. Probably Daeron.

A procession of covered liters started to appear on the street leading from the palace gates soon after and for the next three quarters of an hour the ladies slowly arrived.

Lady Jenny was among the first. Her husband greeted her with a kiss on the hand and the same look of adoring reverence he always gave her. “Was it very tedious?” Prince Duncan asked her.

“No,” she said in her high, dreamy voice. “It was lovely.” The red and orange orchids woven into her hair looked like they had been picked from the gardens at Sunspear. They were the only thing that weren’t wilting in the heat. “Princess Loreza looks as bright as anything.”

The steps became more and more crowded as the women came to join their men, each arrival seemed to push Jeremy a little closer towards Daeron and the other princes. Olenna Redwyne and her septa arrived in the same litter as the Florent ladies. She looked right through Jeremy to the carved wooden doors of the sept, and Lady Mariah Florent giggled when she saw at him.

By the time the groom’s mother and sister arrived, the front of the sept was near pandemonium, a hundred conversations replaced the unending silence. Lady Aelora Rowan all but skipped up the stairs towards her brother. She took his hand in both of hers as he kissed her on the cheek. “Oh, wait until you see the princess, Eliott. She’s looks so beautiful!”

Ser Eliott’s brother and cousins all laughed at that, but the groom himself looked a little queasy.

Finally, the largest litter of all came. It’s arrival signaled one door of the sept to open, causing more confusion among the assembled. Three richly adorned septons filed out, followed by as many holy brothers and several boys swinging censers.

Princess Trystana and Lady Lenelle emerged from the litter first. The latter climbed the steps quickly to join the prince, but Princess Trystana stayed a few moments to call back inside. By the time she came to join her husband, Jeremy was close enough to Daeron to hear everything the royal party was saying.

“May the gods protect her from making a fool of herself,” the princess said to Lord Gargalen.

He laughed. “I’m not the least bit worried about Prin-”

“Not her,” she interrupted. “Dany. She’s in her own little world this morning.”

There was an audible gasp from the smallfolk, and a few of the lords as well, when Princess Loreza climbed out of the litter. Seven ladies had come before her and were helping her make her way down to the cobblestones. The train on her gown followed behind her, neverending, as far as Jeremy could tell.

The Princess stood at the bottom of the stairs, unmoving and unsmiling, as a flurry of activity went on behind her. Joleta Gargalen snapped something at her sister, who snapped right back, but soon they were in good order enough to start up the stairs, slowly climbing step by step. The sun reflected brilliantly off the jewels and gold she was encrusted with, sending shafts of light in every directions. Daeron lifted his hand as one hit him in the eye.

“Some people clearly think very highly of themselves,” the prince muttered to Jeremy.

“What do you mean?” he asked him.

“It’s a bit much, isn’t it?” he said, indicating the princess’s gown. As she got closer, Jeremy could see the finer details; the sun and spear in precious gems and the circlet of yellow diamond suns, the rubies in the collar draped over her shoulders.

“I think she looks very well,” Jeremy said with a shrug.

“Anyone would look well in that much gold,” the prince said dismissively. “My sister didn’t wear half as much when she married Baratheon.”

“She looked very well too.”

“Poor taste, I call it,” Daeron said, not listening. “Showing off.”

Jeremy wanted to tell him that he thought showing off was the point, but the bride herself was approaching them. Her gold and ruby collar clinked softly with every step. “Wish you joy,” Daeron said with a sardonic smile when she paused momentarily in front of him. She didn’t smile back, not even when Prince Duncan offered his much more sincere sounding good wishes. She looks as gloomy as Ser Eliott. He was standing at the door watching his bride slowly make her way to him. Jeremy had to admit, he’d never seen a couple make less of an effort to look happy on their wedding day.

By now, Princess Loreza had made her way to the king. He took her hand and spoke to her for at least a minute. It was too far for Jeremy to hear, but he could see her lips moving in response, still unsmiling.

Prince Rhodryn had been standing beside the king. As soon as his daughter came before him she fell to her knees. Jeremy heard Daeron scoff as he touched his daughter's head with his hand in benediction, then he raised her to her feet. When he whispered in her ear, Princess Loreza smiled for the first time. Before Jeremy could wonder what the prince had possibly said, she turned away from her father and began to cover the short distance to where Ser Eliott was standing next to the septon by the doors. Her ladies followed after her, carefully swinging the train of her gown around.

Jeremy couldn’t tell if she was smiling when she reached the groom and placed her hand in his, but it pleased the smallfolk. They gave another roar, loud enough to drown out the words of the septon as he raised up his crystal to say a blessing. When he was finished, the septon led the couple into the sept and all his assistants followed.

They all came after them, the king, the princes, and all the great lords slowly shuffling their way through the broad doors, leaving the small folk behind in the sun. Inside Jeremy was so overjoyed to be free of the harsh sunlight that he imagined it felt like the Mother’s mercy. And he wasn’t the only one who sighed when he felt the cool air on his face. Daeron moved to stand near the altar of the Father with the king and the other worthies. Jeremy would have taken the chance to put some distance between them again, but the prince tugged on his sleeve.

“I do believe he was crying,” Daeron said in a low voice.

“Who,” Jeremy replied in the same tone, “Ser Eliott?” Jeremy was surprised to hear that. Besides, his mother had started weeping as soon as she’d arrived, and that seemed sufficient for her and all her children.

Daeron scoffed. “No. Prince Rhodryn. There were tears in his eyes, I’m sure of it.”

Jeremy smiled fondly. “Surely he’s allowed to be happy,” he said. “Won’t you cry when your daughter marries?”

“I’ll never have a daughter,” Daeron said with venom in his voice. That made Jeremy’s smile widen. The first time Daeron had told him he would never marry they must have been ten years old. Jeremy had laughed and told him that everyone knew that princes always married princesses. But he had shaken his head with a rare seriousness. “Not me.” It had been a few more years before either of them entirely understood why Daeron had spoken the truth.

“Please,” Prince Duncan hissed again, “just be quiet.”

They had all reached the middle of the sept. The group stood just feet away from the short flight of steps that lead to where the bride and bridegroom where standing between the altars of the Mother and the Father. The king turned his head to look at his sons, and his gaze fixed on Jeremy, standing behind Prince Daeron. Jeremy tried not to shrink beneath the glare, but it didn’t last long. When the septon started to intone the first prayer, King Aegon gave the ceremony all his attention.

When the septon finished the long chat, there was a song from the choir of septas while three other septons made a big show of swinging censers around the couple.

“What will happen now?” Prince Duncan asked Prince Lewyn.

“Um,” the young prince sounded like he was trying to remember himself, “they’ll be doing the reading now. From The Seven-Pointed Star.

That was ordinary enough. It was customary to read the passage about how the Maid made Hugor of the Hill a bride who bore him four and forty sons at any wedding.

The three boys holding the censers came down the stairs to meet another who had come from somewhere carrying an enormous copy of the holy book in front of him with both arms. They walked as a group to the presiding septon, who lifted his crystal once more and said a prayer to the Crone, asking that She might let them see the wisdom in the holy work. Daeron groaned.

“How long will this be, anyway?”

“It’s barely begun,” Prince Duncan replied in a whisper, “and shut up!”

The septon opened the book and began to read in a booming voice. While he went on, Jeremy looked up to admire the high dome of the sept. It was built in the Rhoynish fashion—without straight lines and with as many windows as possible to let light in through leaded glass. A pane behind the altar of the Warrior depicted two crowned figures kneeling before the god, shown with a spear and small shield. Mors and Nymeria, Jeremy supposed. He remembered being told that they had built this sept, but he wasn’t certain. Alleza Dayne would have known. Jeremy found her standing across the sept near the altar of the Smith. She saw him looking at her, smiled, and gave a little wave before her father grabbed her arm and brought it down. Jeremy laughed quietly to himself. It would perhaps have been wiser to have sought her company than to push in with the king’s family. It certainly would have been more pleasant to listen to her tell him everything she knew about the place and its history than it was to suffer the glares of the king. He didn’t dare speak to anyone at all, lest the king remember he was there. Besides, the only ones standing near him who weren’t princes were Edgar Yronwood, who had a look like there was an unpleasant smell beneath his nose, and his son, who was a bored as Daeron but trying not to show it.

The Seven-Pointed Star was closed and taken away with as much ceremony as its arrival had merited. Then there was a hymn, a song to the Mother that Jeremy had never heard before. As soon as the chorus of septas fell back into silence two embroidered cushions were brought for the couple to kneel on.

“This will be the first part of the vows,” Prince Lewyn whispered to Prince Duncan.

The septon took Princess Loreza’s hand in his. His voice boomed again across the sept as he asked he asked her if she consented to take this man as her husband by all the laws of gods and men. Princess Loreza cleared her throat lightly before Jeremy heard her voice for the first time that day.

“Yes,” she said, “I take this man.”

Then the septon took Ser Eliott’s hand and asked him the same. He looked up at the princess’s face for a moment before answering.

“I do,” he said, “I take this woman.”

Several people let out their breath. Jeremy had been holding his too, he suddenly realized. Not that he had believed for one moment that Ser Eliott would have made a scene in the sept, in front of half the Lords of Westeros, but stranger things had already happened here.

The septon placed the bride’s hand in the groom’s and began the Seven Vows, asking Princess Loreza and Ser Eliott to promise each other love, fidelity, honour, obedience, patience, protection, and devotion. It seemed to last half an hour.

When that was done the septas began to sing again. The couple got to their feet, the princess grasped Ser Eliott’s forearms with both her hands as he helped her up. Then the septon lead them in a procession around the altar of the Father. It should have been a simple matter, but with the septon and all his assistance, Princess Loreza’s seven ladies, and the three men attending on Ser Eliott, it became a triumph of meticulous coordination. The pace was painfully slow and they gave the altar a wide berth to prevent the gown’s train from being tied into a knot. They ended just to the right of where they began, in front of the image of the Father.

The princess and Ser Eliott knelt again while the septon chanted another blessing.

Father above, Font of Justice who judges the living and the dead, bless this man and this woman so that they will live by your law….

And so he went on. Daeron groaned.

“At least it’s almost over.”

Prince Lewyn chuckled. “Not quite,” he said. “They’ll be doing that another six times. Then it will almost be over.”

Jeremy could only see the back of Daeron’s head, but he could imagine the annoyed expression on his face. “The Dornish are the last people in the world I’d expect to make some much fuss over marriage vows,” he complained. 

The young prince chose to be amused by that. “I can’t imagine why you would think so.”

It was as Prince Lewyn said. When the first of the Seven Blessings were finished, everyone who had knelt stood up again to walk around the altar of the Mother. Her blessing was invoked to make the union both fertile and pure.

That’s rather a contradiction, Jeremy thought to himself.

The assembled wedding guests turned to face each altar in sequence, each time with the sound of shoes rustling across the stone floor. The Warrior was asked to give them safety, the Maiden to give each love for the other. The Smith, if He were good, would given them health and prosperity, and the Crone would light their way to virtue and honour. Before the altar of the Stranger the gods were asked to give them long life and to ensure that nothing would part them before death. Jeremy could hear Daeron chuckle again. “That might be sooner than the septon has any notion of.”

This time, it was the king who silenced him with a look and a finger at the mouth.

The princess and Ser Eliott returned to where they had started, between the Father and the Mother, and the septon raised his crystal again. Surely this was it, the last blessing that would proclaim them man and wife. They knelt, and the septon boomed again, with a loudness that could only come from knowing a long task would soon be done.

“In the sight of gods and men...” he began.

Jeremy felt something brush against his right hand. He looked down to see that Daeron reached behind himself blindly, even as his eyes stayed fixed on the princess and her new husband. Jeremy had to fight the swell of emotion that threatened to overwhelm him as he took the hand and clasped it with his own. He felt Daemon squeeze it harder.

The septon went on, “... that Loreza of House Nymeros Martell and Eliott of House Rowan are one flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever.”

All the assembled lords and ladies began to clap when the couple stood, their own hands still joined, and turned to face their congratulations. But Jeremy didn’t clap. He would hold onto Daeron’s hand for as long as he could, until people started paying attention to them again.

Chapter Text

A few hours of sleep must have done their work. Princess Loreza seemed a different woman when Eliott saw her again, for the first time since returning to the Old Palace at midday. 

They were sequestered in a small room at the bottom of the Spear Tower, waiting to make their entrance into the nearby feast hall. The noise could already be heard, along with the even greater clamour coming from the rabble of lesser lordlings, hedge knights, and squires gathering in the courtyard. The wine would flow freely there all night, as it would along the path of the Three Fold Gate in the shadow city. Eliott doubted the commander of the city watch would be celebrating much tonight. 

The princess smiled at him as she sat down in the hard-backed chair next to his own. The sight of her smile was almost as shocking as the gown she was wearing. He didn’t recall her smiling at him once during the ceremony. “Good evening,” she said in a cheerful tone.

“Uh...” he stammered, “good evening.” Eliott had accepted by now that the Dornish idea of modesty didn’t answer to his own and it wasn’t as distracting to him as it once was, but the dress his wife was wearing was another matter entirely. The gold silk of the bodice slowly turned into a bright orange, as though to draw the eye to the skin between her breasts that the cut of the gown exposed. The skin, and half her breasts themselves, almost down to her navel. It was traditional for a bride to be more daring at her wedding feast, but this... His Lady Mother might faint when she saw her new good daughter.

Eliott cleared his throat and turned his head so he wouldn’t have to look at her. Instead, he tried to remember how she had looked in the sept—sparking and demure—and the way she had leaned on him more and more every time they had stood up. 

By the time he had helped her into the open litter that would take then through the crowds lining both sides of the street, he could hear the sharpness of her breath beside him, like even inhalation pained her. The smile she had plastered on her face for the small folk was turning into a grimace. The steps to the Tower of the Sun were climbed on the verge of tears, but by then Eliott had no chance to help her, all her ladies swarmed around as soon as her feet were on the ground. He followed behind sheepishly with Owain, Lyman, and his brother. 

When the doors were closed behind them the princess stopped fighting the tears. She threw her heavy gold and ruby collar over her head and onto the floor. “Oh gods,” she cried, tugging at her girdle desperately, “I can’t… get it off me!” She fell to her hands and knees on the floor while her ladies undid her laces and tore the seam on the back of her gown.

“How many hundreds of times did we ask you if that girdle was too tight?” Princess Trystana berated her over the continued sound of her tears. “You’ve always let your pride overrule your good sense...”

“Not now, Mother!” Lady Joleta Gargalen snapped. “Gods be good, this is not the time!”

Princess Trystana huffed but said no more. Her daughter put her arm around Princess Loreza’s shoulder and tried to stand her up. “Come now,” Lady Joleta told her cousin. “We need to get you to bed.”

The princess got up on shaky legs. She was wearing nothing but her shift. The remains of her brilliant gown were discarded at the foot of the stair. One look at that stair made her sob again.

“You made it all the way here, princess, you can make it up a few steps,” said Elda Toland, no doubt trying to sound encouraging. 

They’d all forgotten that Eliott was there. He cleared his throat, but no one heard him; they were all too concerned with attending to his wife, apparently not realizing she could no more climb all those steps than she could fly. He wondered what they would do if he sent them all away.

Ser Olyvar Sand passed right in front of him. He put a hand on Lady Joleta’s shoulder to pull her aside. “Put your arms around my neck, sweetling,” he told the princess. She nodded and he scooped her in his arms as though she were a babe. Two of her ladies followed them up the stair. “It’s not all bad,” Ser Olyvar told his niece, “you’ll never need to do that ever again.” Eliott could hear her chuckle through her tears. 

“If the gods are good,” Genna Sand said, rather piously. 

Eliott and his friends watched as the ladies gathered up the jewel encrusted gown like so much soiled laundry in their arms and Lady Emlyn chattered to herself about how much there was to do before the feast. Eliott could feel Owain looking at him, ready to tell him he’d never seen any man be so pathetic a husband so quickly.

“Oh, Ser Eliott,” Lady Rhona Santegar said suddenly, confirming to him that he’d indeed been as invisible as he’d felt. “The princess is going to rest now. I think you’d be wise to do the same.” 

And so he had. He went to the chambers that would no longer be his after that night, changed his clothes, and watched as all his things were packed up to be carried away, higher up in the Tower of the Sun. When they came to fetch him he went obediently down to this room to wait to be told what to do next. 

Princess Loreza seemed to be waiting for the same thing. She played with the gold cuff on her wrist and stared at the tiles on the wall. She was wearing her hair half down, like she had on the first day they had met. It fell down to the small of her back in loose ringlets, with the top half arranged in a golden hair net. Eliott considered reaching out to run his hand through it—surely it was his right to by now—but he wasn’t entirely sure she would notice if he did. 

“Are you feeling better?” Now that he had to nerve to look at her closely, he could see that she was still paler than usual.

“Oh yes,” she said at once. “I apologize, there was no need to be quite as… dramatic as I was.”

“You don’t need to apologize, my princess.” He didn’t want her to. It had been one of only two times he had believed she wasn’t made of stone. The other had been...but no. That was the last thing he should be thinking about now. “The ceremony was very long.”

“Long?” His wife smiled and looked down at her wrist again. “Is that all you have to say about it? Your own wedding.”

Eliott couldn’t help but smile with her. “It was beautiful,” he said earnestly. “You were beautiful.” Surely even the Dornish couldn’t object to a man paying his own wife a compliment. 

She looked at him with eyes full of promise. 

“You were beautiful too.” She sat back in her chair, leaning on both arms in such a way that made it impossible for him not to stare at her breasts again. A ruby the size of a sparrow’s egg rested perfectly in the valley between them. “Is something the matter, ser?”

Eliott decided that he liked this Princess Loreza far more. “Your gown is very distracting.”

She laughed lightly. “I’m glad,” she told him. “It’s serving its purpose, then.”

“It’s as likely to distract everyone else as it is me.” He pointed out, trying to sound playful rather than jealous.

The princess smirked. “Everyone else will be disappointed.” But not you, her eyes told him.

A rap on the door brought in entrance of Lady Emlyn Wells. She floated in wearing a knowing smile and a gown that made her pregnant belly even more prominent than it needed to be. “Are you ready, children?” she asked. “Everyone is waiting.”

Eliott frowned at being addressed as a child, but Princess Loreza stood up with an eager smile. “Yes.”

“Good,” Lady Emlyn said. She walked over to the princess without giving Eliott a glance and started to make minute adjustments to her clothes and jewels. “Now, don’t try to leave the feast too early,” she told her. “It won’t be worth hearing about it for the next week if you offend someone by failing to dance with him.”

“You would never let me miss anyone,” the princess said pleasantly. “Or leave without your permission.”

“If only that were true.” She reached into the bodice of Princess Loreza’s gown and adjusted her breasts. “There, you look perfect.”

“How do I look, my lady?” Eliott asked. He would have to do something about his apparent invisibility to Dornish eyes. He wondered if he was important enough to be allowed to dance with her himself.

Lady Emlyn didn’t answer him, but she frowned in concern at Princess Loreza’s giggle. She took her face in both her hands and look into each eye, one at a time. “My love, did Maester Geuren give you something?”

The princess shrugged. 

“Well, what was it?”

She shrugged again. “I didn’t ask. Some tincture. But I feel so much better.”

“Yes, I imagine you do,” she sighed. “That maester is a careless young man and he thinks a tincture can solve everything.”

Princess Loreza rolled her eyes. “It will be alright,” she said. “I may even be able to enjoy myself. Can we please get this over with?”

“Alright,” Lady Emlyn allowed. “It’ll do you good to get some food in you, no doubt. And you’ll have me to look after you.”

Eliott had no intention of letting that stand. “There’s no need to trouble yourself, my lady.” He got up to stand next to his wife. “I will look after the princess,” he said. He put a hand lightly on the small of her back. She jumped and looked back at him in surprise.

“Hmm,” Lady Emlyn intoned. “Yes, that is a great comfort.” She turned around and went out the open door, clearly intending them to follow. Eliott offered the princess his arm. She took it with another smile. 

“Do I look happy?” she asked Eliott.

His heart sank. “I would hope that you are happy.” 

The princess rolled her eyes. “It would do no good, in this case, to be happy and not look it,” she said. “So do I look happy?”

“Yes,” he conceded.

The feast hall seemed to shake with noise of cheers as they entered. There were musicians in the gallery above, a score of them at least, blaring on fifes and banging drums. Many of the reachmen clashed their goblets against the top of the table, making the plates and knives rattle. When they passed where his cousins Lyman and Jon were seated together, they stood up and hooted. It was ordinary enough, Eliott had no doubt done the same at a dozen weddings in his time, but it was quite a different matter to be the object of it. Walking down the aisle at the centre of the feast hall, with loud men close to them on either side, felt more like being shamed in the village square than being wished well. 

The dais has been lavishly decorated. Their houses’ banners hung on the wall behind their seats, the sun and spear behind her chair and the golden tree of Rowan behind his. The seats were in the centre of the table, larger and ever so slightly higher than anyone else’s. A man’s wedding feast was the only time he could expect to sit higher than a king. They said that the First Men believed that every man was a king on his wedding day.  And every woman a queen.

Eliott’s mother was weeping again, though she was trying to be discreet about it. She smiled at him when he stopped to embrace her and touched his cheek. “What a pair you look,” she whispered to him. Aelora jumped with excitement beside her.

The men of Eliott’s family were more subdued, but no less earnest. His father gave him a long embrace and Alastor punched him in the arm like he used to do when they were boys. Even King Aegon smiled and patted him on the shoulder convivially, as though he were an old friend.

Eliott’s seat was on the left side of Princess Loreza’s. In between there was a single plate and goblet for them to share, both made from heavy polished gold and inscribed with the sigils and words of their houses. As soon as they sat a score of more little pages appear to fill the cups of all their guests with wine. One of them leaned over Eliott’s shoulder to fill the golden wedding goblet to the brim with dark red wine. He leaned over to his wife.

“Am I to be permitted to drink from this cup, or is it all for you?” he asked her.

She laughed the same short, sweet laugh. “You are permitted,” she said. “But pray don’t over do it. It would be very inauspicious if tonight were to go to waste.”

He hoped to all the gods there were that he wasn’t blushing, or at least if he were, that she didn’t notice.

Prince Rhodryn, Eliott’s own good-father, rose to make the first toast. “Lords and Ladies,” he said in a voice that cut through all the noise, leaving an awed silence in its wake as every head in the feast hall turned. “To the bride and the bridegroom! I pray the gods grant them peace and long life.”

Hundreds of chairs scraped against the stone floor as all the guests rose to their feet. “The bride and bridegroom!” they all said as one, raising their cups towards the dais. 

Eliott and the princess both put their hands around the stem of the great goblet where it met the bowl. It was impossible not to spill as they brought it to their lips and it sloshed onto the table. Eliott drew his chest back, lest any get on his white and gold doublet, which his wife seemed to think was funny.

The King rose next. “To Prince Rhodryn,” he cried. “Our most gracious host. May the Crone ever shine his way to wisdom.” The prince nodded his head in appreciation as the whole hall again repeated the toast and drank.

Then it was Lord Rowan’s turn. Eliott’s father raised his goblet. “To my son,” he said, looking over to him with a pride that made Eliott’s heart swell with affection, “the gallant bridegroom. May he...” his father’s voice broke. He bit his lip before he smiled again and raised his goblet higher. “May he be happy.”

“The bridegroom!” Voices called from below. “To Ser Eliott!”

Princess Loreza raised her eyebrows and smiled at him before they began the complicated maneuver of taking another sip of the wine together. It was low enough in the goblet, at least, that they was no fear of making a mess of themselves.

The three toasts they had heard were judged a sufficient beginning. The first course was a stew in a rich broth and a sauce of olives and dragon pepper. A golden basin was laid before them and one spoon placed on the princess side. She immediately took it up and scooped out a chunk of meat. She made of show of blowing on it delicately before bringing it to Eliott’s mouth.

He was conscious of the fact that most of the eyes in the hall were on him as he leaned forward to accept it. He felt the now familiar texture of snake meat. Not as fiery as it usually was. Perhaps the cooks had decided to be merciful as a wedding gift. 

It look a few tries for his wife to have a bite of stew unimpeded by giggles. And Eliott couldn’t help but laugh himself at how silly he must look feeding her with a spoon as though she were an infant. 

Lady Lenelle stood just as Eliott was about to take another sip of wine, taking the goblet in two hands. She lifted her own cup up prompting another quieting of the hall. She didn’t command the silence that her husband did, and it wasn’t until the lady began to speak that everyone realized what was happening. Many surely, had never seen the bride’s mother give a toast at a wedding before.

“To the princess,” she said in a voice that reached the rafters. “To the bride. May you be as happy as you are dutiful.” There were scattered laughs from others on the dias and Prince Lewyn chuckled into his wine. 

“The bride!” came the call from the tables below. Eliott raised the goblet towards his wife in salute. Over her shoulder, he saw Alastor raise his cup and drain it in one go. He tried not to frown. It would have been beyond rudeness not to toast the bride, and his uncle was there beside him, he would stop it from getting too far. 

The stew was cleared away and replaced with a salad of fennel with oil and vinegar, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Then came chicken with preserved lemons. A whole bird was set before them. Prince Arion wished them wisdom and Prince Duncan prosperity for all of Dorne. There was lamb with a jelly made from dragon pepper that looked innocent enough, but was potent enough to bring tears to Eliott’s eyes. The princess ate it with relish and licked the jelly off her lips, but he preferred the mound of carrots baked with earthy cardamom that had accompanied the meat.

Lord Tyrell rose to toast them. His belly, wrapped in a fine velvet doublet embroidered with gold, protruded in front of him. “To the blushing bride,” he said, though his face was redder than Eliott had ever seen the princess be. “May the Mother make her fertile, and grant her many sons.”

Princess Loreza gave a laugh. For a moment, Eliott feared she would choke on a piece of saffron honey cake and he debated how it would look to thump her on the back at the dais but everyone was too loudly cheering her future offspring to notice her outburst. “Come now, my princess,” he said into her ear, “that was a perfectly ordinary thing for him to say.”

She laughed again. “Oh yes, it’s entirely what I should have expected.”

His wife was then distracted completely by the entrance into the hall of several enormous fish, large enough to need several men to carry the platters. The pages scrambled to clear a large enough space on the table for the biggest fish of them all to be placed in front of the bride and bridegroom. They both stood to better appreciate it and make all the admiring nosies about its size and the gold leaf scales that covered its top side. The prince himself cut them the choicest piece from near the tail. They ate it with black olives and capers that made the whole dish taste like the brackish water the fish had come from.

Alastor rose to give his toast. Eliott was relieved to see that he seemed steady on his feet, and quite himself besides. “To my beloved brother!” he said with a good humoured smile that let Eliott know what any humour would be at his expense. “It was very kind of you, to submit to being wed before me. A great sacrifice, I know, but I’m sure you’ll learn to live with it.”

Princess Loreza decided this was very funny, and that gave even the Dornishmen permission to laugh at it. She raised the goblet to Eliott and drank deep. It was filled again as soon as she put it down. Not once had it been allowed to be less than half full. 

Then came venison baked in clay with dates. Eliott was beginning to feel the effects of so much rich food, and didn’t eat more than a few fresh figs from a bowl beside them after he had taken a few small bites just for show. His wife didn’t seem to enjoy it either. Though she was happy enough to accept half a fig that he tossed into her mouth from his own seat. 

“Do you know what’s coming next?” he asked her. It was so loud that he had to lead over to speak right into her ear. His lips almost touched her skin. 

“I have no idea,” she said with a giggle, reaching for another fig. She tore it in half and tried to repeat his trick of landing it in his own mouth, but it flew past Eliott’s head and over the table. She shrugged and put the other half in from a safer distance. “My aunt refused to tell me anything about it,” she continued. “Though, I can tell you how much it all cost, if you like.”

A lot , was all Eliott knew about it. “No thank you,” he said.

There was a collective gasp that moved like a wave from the back of the hall towards the front. The princess stood up for a better view and gasped herself, and Eliott couldn’t help but do the same. He thought nothing could equal the golden fish until he saw six blue and green peacocks, each in their own plumage, being borne on plates down the centre aisle. They both applauded with everyone else.

Again, the largest and most ornate of the birds was placed before them. Around her lay several enormous eggs covered in gold. Princess Loreza cracked one open and nuts and candied fruit spilled onto the cloth. 

The peacock tasted rich, sweet, and a little bit dry. The bird remained on its platter in front of them while they ate much more satisfactory rabbit in a creamy almond sauce and raspberries in ice with mint. The toasts were getting more raucous and less creative. Edgar Yronwood could do no better than to toast the gallant dead, which made the princess roll her eyes behind a hand. Eliott was so full by the time the wedding pie arrived that he could feel his belly strain against his wide belt. He sincerely wished he would be able to dance without being sick.

The pie caused as much commotion as the fish and the peacocks had. Everyone stood and applauded the pie that needed six men to carry it. It was as tall as Eliott and shiney with eggwash. On top was a sun and spear made from pastry crust. He offered Princess Loreza his hand and lead her around to the front of the table. His cousin Owain came forward to give Eliott a sword. It was his own sword, he was surprised to see, the one that his father had gifted him when he earned his spurs-- simple and practical, made for war and not for show, the only concession to ornamentation was the large moonstone set into the hilt. No doubt it was Owain he had insisted he use it, the sword was exactly like the kind of man he wished to be.

Princess Loreza put her hands over his and together they raised their arms above their heads to make a cut near the top of the pie. The birds flew out towards them causing the princess to shriek and take a few steps back. Eliott put her arm around her waist to steady her before he bumped into the table. She was laughing as he held her.

The pie was taken away and within half a minute they were given a slice on a golden plate, topped with a dollop of lemon cream. It was filled with large chunks of pigeon meat, whole eggs, and warm spices. While she held the plate, Eliott broke off a piece with his hand and fed it to his wife. Her eyes met his as she scraped his finger with her teeth and lips. She had the most extraordinary eyes, dark and heavy with an infinite number of eyelashes. The suggestion in them made him clear his throat uncomfortably. He didn’t even hear the cheers of the guests, or taste the pie when she fed it to him. He was sure that if she looked at him again, the whole hall would see what he was feeling.

The prince gave one last toast, wishing them a marriage that contained many good things, and then he order that the dancing begin. There was bustle and noise as the long tables were moved away to make space but soon Eliott was leading Princess Loreza to the middle of the floor to start the first dance. The music changed from the lively tunes that filled to feast to a stately march that had them shuffling slowly through the steps. Eliott chucked with discomfort at the knowledge that the whole hall was once again staring at him and his wife giggled in sympathy. After far too long a time, King Aegon lead Lady Lenelle to join them and soon you could hear the sound of leather shoes on stone reverberating against the walls. 

When the first dance was over, he followed his wife to a bench that had been prepared for them in front of a leaded-glass window. There were silk cushions on it and an arch overhead made of lattice-work covered in red and orange flowers. As soon as they sat, the princess held her hand out for some wine. She frowned with the first sip. “What is this?” she asked Lady Emlyn, as always hovering nearby.

“Lemon water,” she stated matter of factly. “You’ll thank me later.”

Princess Loreza rolled her eyes but made no complaint. When Eliott asked for wine, he was given the same, either because the lady thought that he needed it, or that it was wrong for him to drink while the princess wasn’t. He had eaten far too much to be the least bit drunk. 

Maybe she would leave Sunspear once her child was born.

“Are you ready?” She asked the princess when she had drained her cup.

“I suppose so,” Princess Loreza sighed.

“I’m ready too,” Eliott said to Lady Emlyn’s back when she bustled off. 

That made his wife giggle. “Oh, I doubt it,” she said.

The chatelain bustled back to her side a moment before the king approached them. Eliott and the princess both stood up to acknowledge him. “Ser Eliott,” His Grace said, patting him on the shoulder again, “what a fortunate man you are.”

Eliott wasn’t entirely sure what to say. “Thank you, Your Grace.” But he had already turned to Princess Loreza. “Will you honour me, cousin?” she asked with his hand extended. She took the king’s hand and they went off. Eliott was only alone for a few moments before Princess Trystana descended on him with an expectant look. He lead her to the line of dancers.

“You’re doing so well, ser,” his new aunt told him as the music began. 

Eliott felt like a boy being praised for learning to sit on his pony. “You’re very kind, my princess.”

“I’ve rarely seen my niece so happy,” she continued, “and you looked so handsome together.”

He had no notion what she expected him to say to this. “Yes,” he finally said. “She seems to be enjoying herself.” Princess Trystana smiled at him with a small, tight-lipped smile, and didn’t bother to speak to him again for the rest of the dance. 

As soon as they returned returned to their bench Lady Emlyn led over a tall man with a golden beard about Eliott’s own age. On his arm was a handsome lady whom he supposed to be his mother.  Princess Loreza stood and offered him her hand. “Ser Jason,” she said in her most polite voice, “it’s delightful to see you again.”

Eliott hadn’t even recognized Jason Lannister. He hadn’t seen him since they were both squires. That meant the lady wasn’t his mother at all, but the wife his brother made him marry to keep him out of trouble.

Ser Jason kissed the princess’s hand and made some courteous noises of congratulations. 

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to greet you properly when you arrived,” Princess Loreza continued. 

“Think nothing of it, my lady,” Ser Jason said cheerfully.

“Yes,” Lady Marla Prestor said from beside him, “we were made most welcome.” She turned to address Eliott. “And I suppose we should congratulate you as well, ser. I hope you’ll be very happy, and have many sons.” 

He smiled as graciously as he could and took her offered hand. “Thank you,” he said. “I hope we will.” Without another word, he offered her his arm and lead her to the next dance. As soon as they were out of earshot of their respective spouses, Lady Marla’s smile changed from courtly to saucy.

“You blushed, ser,” she leaned in to tell him so he could hear over the music, “when I wished you many sons.” She was wearing a strong perfume that smelled like sugar burning. “I hope I didn’t embarrass you.”

“You could never do so, my lady,” he said. “Your wish was very kind.” If he had blushed it wasn’t because of her, but for fear that the princess would laugh at the idea again. “After all,” he continued, as much to himself as to Lady Marla, “that is the point of all this, isn’t it?”

Lady Marla’s smile grew even saucier. She was wearing a gown that pushed her breasts up and caused them to spill over the bodice of her gown. The sight repelled him. “Is it son-making in general you don’t like, or just her?” She inclined her head towards to top of the hall, where her husband was dancing with Princess Loreza.

Eliott felt his blush this time, but it was anger rather than embarrassment that prompted it. If the steps of the dance hadn’t parted them, he would have said something just as insulting back to her, but by the time he had circled back he was calm enough to decide that so inappropriate a question could safely be ignored. He saw her moving her lips to speak again, but he refused to hear. When the dance was over, he handed her back to Ser Jason without looking at either of them. 

He frowned at the lemon water in his cup.

“There’s Lady Fowler,” Lady Emlyn said after a minute. 

Eliott saw her standing near a pillar talking to Lord Allyrion. “Yes,” he agreed.

Princess Loreza rolled her eyes. “She means go dance with her,” she said in a laughing tone. 

He rose and went to the lady, already resigned to the kind of evening it would be. Then it was time for Lady Lenelle, and Lady Qorgylle, and Leona Tarly. He tired to ask Lady Malora Hightower, but she claimed to be much too old for dancing and patted him on the cheek with a wrinkled hand. His only comfort was that Lady Emlyn was just as merciless a task master to his wife. In the same time, she danced with both Prince Duncan and Prince Daeron, as well as Lord Yronwood and Aurane Velaryon. She had a long conversation with Lord Tyrell, while Eliott danced with Daenerys Gargalen, before being led onto the floor by his son Ser Luthor.

After that, they were allowed to rest for a while. Ormond Yronwood approached and addressed the princess. “You seem to be enjoying yourself,” he said good-naturedly. 

“Oh, we are,” she replied back in the same tone. “Who knew there were so many brilliant conversationalists in Westeros.”

Ser Ormond laughed. Eliott considered him for a moment. He was tall and clearly strong, but the way the princess spoke to him made Eliott think of the way he spoke to his sister when she asked him how his hunt had gone. He seemed harmless enough.

“In that case,” Ser Ormond said, “I won’t even try to live up to those high expectations by asking you myself.”

“Oh, I wouldn't dare anyway,” Princess Loreza said. “I would never be given permission.” For a moment, Eliott thought that it was his permission she sought, and was about to say that he would happily give his leave, but he realized just in time that she must mean Lady Emlyn.

”I’m not offended,” Ser Ormond lightly, with a grin on his face, in case she might think he was serious. 

“Hmm,” the princess said. She looked over across the hall to where her chatelaine was making her way through a crowd towards a group of Hightowers.

“Quickly now,” she said, springing up from the bench and grabbing Ser Ormond’s hand. 

Lady Emyln was not too pleased when she arrived back. “Where did she go?” she asked Eliott.

He took great pleasure in shrugging innocently at her. “She went to dance.”

The lady made a frustrated sound and scanned the hall. “Ormond Yronwood,” she mumbled, “I should have guessed.” She turned to Eliott, “I can trust you, ser, to go dance with Lysanne Manwoody, who is just now standing by herself.”

Eliott saw Lady Lysanne near the back of the hall, by herself, as Lady Emlyn had said. A little ways behind her, Alastor was in a group of young knights, and matching each cup for cup. He frowned. Owain and Marq were both with them, they should have found a way to prevent that from happening.

“No,” Eliott said, ignoring the look of indignation on Lady Emlyn’s face, “I need to speak to my brother.” He took a fresh cup of lemon water and made his way around the perimeter of the dance. His brother and both his cousins were making toasts—mostly to each other as far as Eliott could tell—with Ser Luthor Tyrell and a couple of his friends. Lymen Osgrey was there as well, already red in the face. 

“The man of the evening!” Lymen said, raising his cup as soon as he saw Eliott. 

“To Ser Eliott!” Ser Martyn Mullendore exclaimed. They all repeated the toast and drank. Eliott, as discreetly as he could under the others’ eyes, switched his cup with his brother. Alastor made a face when he realized what he had done, but he made no complaint. 

“Marq,” Eliott said, “will you do me a kindness?” He tried to express with his eyes how disappointed he was with him for failing to watch over Lord Adwin’s son and heir, but Marq was just as much in his cups. 

“For you, El, tonight,” he proclaimed, “I will do anything.”

“Will you go ask Lysanne Manwoody to dance?”

Marq voiced his disappointment that his task didn’t involve more heroics, but went off to complete it all the same. 

“Do you have a quest for me as well, Ser Eliott?” Ser Luthor asked. “Perhaps I can dance with your princess for you.”

“You already have,” Eliott reminded him.

Ser Arewen Casswell laughed into his cup. “I don’t think that’s the kind of dancing he had in mind.”

Eliott felt Owain’s hand on his arm, as if his cousin was afraid he would so something, but Eliott was in no danger of losing his temper. He had known Luthor Tyrell and his like too long to take anything they said seriously. “You’re drunk, ser.”

Ser Arewen didn’t deny it. “I would get used to it, if I were you,” he laughed to himself in anticipation of his own joke—“she has many years of dancing ahead, I dare say.”

Owain tightened the grip on his arm, but Eliott said nothing.

“And if you scowl like that all the time,” Ser Martyn Mullendore added, “you won’t get any at all yourself.”

“Please remember ser,” Eliott praised himself for the steadiness of his tone, “you are speaking of my wife.”

“So he is,” Ser Luthor agree. He raised his cup, “to Ser Eliott’s wife, the blushing bride.” His friends joined him, but Owain, Lyman, and his brother took the opportunity to separate from them by some distance. 

“I’ll knock him off his horse tomorrow,” Alastor offered affectionately.

“Thank you,” Eliott chucked, “but I don’t see how you can if you keep drinking with him.”

“I’ve barely drank anything,” he said, slurring his words slightly, those the gods knew it could have been worse. “And I ate so much.”

“Why don’t you stop drinking altogether and start dancing instead,” Eliott suggested. He gestured over to a group of ladies sitting together against a wall. They giggled when they say him look at them. 

“Yes,” Alastor said, “I think I will.” He put the undrunk goblet of lemon water back into Eliott’s hand, straightened himself up before striding off towards them.

“I’ll look after him,” Owain offered.

Eliott was left standing with Lyman, he sipped at the wine he’s taken from Alastor and looked around him. His father was dancing with Princess Trystana and Ser Sleman Florent was already asleep on a bench.

“Ser Martyn might have a point, you know,” Lyman said to him.

“What!” Eliott glared at him, but his friend was unperturbed. 

“Even Owain said so the other day,” he continued, “you may as well make the best of the situation.”

“What in seven hells does that mean, “make the best of it”?”

“Well—enjoy yourself, as they say,” he said with a knowing grin. “Who know what they get up to here.” He lowered his voice, “maybe she can show you a few things.”

Eliott cleared his throat uncomfortably. If she ever did, Lyman would be the last man in the world to know about it. “‘Here’ is my home now,” he reminded him. “And yours too.” But his friend brought a thought to his mind that he’s been avoiding for two days at least. What exactly did she expect from him? No woman had ever complained about his performance in the bedchamber, but he was honest enough with himself to know that the kind of women he had taken to bed thus far in his life never would have complained about anything to do with Lord Rowan’s son. He drank the rest of the wine. “I need to get back,” he gave Lyman the empty goblet and left him standing alone.

When he returned to their bench, Ser Maron Wyl was there standing next to Princess Loreza and looking in black humour. He nodded sardonically to Eliott as he sat down. “You came back, ser,” he said in mock surprise. “You cost me ten gold dragons this morning.”

“Did I?” Eliott asked. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yes,” Ser Maron said, looking at his cousin, “I bet that you wouldn’t show up at all.” Eliott knew better than to respond. He didn’t imagine the princess would tolerate being spoken to that way. But she barely reddened. Speaking to Ser Maron seemed to have sobered her up completely.

“That’s what husbands do,” she said staring forward, “they’re always where they’re needed. You should try it yourself, perhaps.”

Ser Maron clenched and unclenched one fist before replying. “I intend to,” he said, “you know that.”

“No Maron, I don’t know that,” she said. “Finding a woman willing to marry you who is also not a child might prove impossible.”

He clenched and unclenched again. “Is this why I was summoned here,” he asked, “so you can tell me all my faults?”

“I believe you were summoned here to ask me to dance,” Princess Loreza replied. 

“And I believe,” he said in imitation of her tone, “that I’d rather gouge both my eyes out with a spoon.”

“You have my leave to do so,” she told him. He bowed stiffly and retreated.

“Are you all right, my princess?” Eliott asked her. He didn’t like the stoney impression she was wearing. 

“Of course I am,” she said. She shook her head slightly before she turned to face him. “I know better than to let Maron upset me.”

“Is he always...” Eliott trailed off when she waved Lady Emlyn to her said and whispered something in her ear. The lady sighed and looked around the room quickly. 

“Ser Eliott,” she said, “Arryka Tarbeck looks like she needs a partner.”

He scowled at her for so overtly getting him out of the way, but he was already too used to it to argue, so he went and danced with Lady Arryka, who had half a hundred pimples on her face and not a single thought in her head.

This time, he returned to find Princess Trystana in his seat. She and his wife had their heads bent together. “...Lord Wyl had always taken his part when he’s refused anyone before,” the elder princess was saying. “And his mother induges him out of spite.”

“I don’t see why we should give either of them a choice,” Princess Loreza said. “He should never have been allowed to wait so long. I know Lord Wyl has every intention of living forever, but I doubt he’s actually capable.”

“I certainly agree that Maron needs someone to keep him out of trouble,” her aunt said, “maybe even make him do something useful.”

Princess Loreza rolled her eyes. “I’m not asking for a miracle, just someone we can depend on.” She sighed, “and someone Lady Rebanna can be convinced is in her best interest too, if at all possible.”

“No one too close, you mean,” Princess Trystana said, nodding seriously. “I will give it thought. There must be someone… what about—no she’ll never do...”

“Aunt,” the princess interrupted her musings.

“Yes, dear, what is it?” Princess Trystana asked, shaking herself out of a reverie just as Eliott had seen her niece do.

“Ser Eliott wants his seat back.”

“Oh,” she said, springing up from the bench. “Yes, I dare say he does.” She smiled at Eliott and tapped him on the shoulder affectionately with her folded fan. “Though people are starting to wonder how long you both plan on sitting here.”

Eliott felt his face go hot. The princess’s smile grew more indulgent and she patted him with her fan again.

“Not much longer, I dare say,” Eliott’s wife told her, “now that I’ve spoken to you.”

The elder princess sighed and shook her head knowingly at Eliott as though to say, that’s just like her, to think of such things as House Wyl having an heir in twenty years time at her own wedding feast. Then she left them to themselves. 

“You think marrying him off with solve the problem, my princess?” Eliott asked her as he sat down. He found the whole affair interesting, in spite of himself. It had been the work of a thousand years for the princes of Dorne to manage the famously bellicose and independent family that ruled the entrance into the Boneway.  

She tilted her head and considered him for a moment, moving her eyes up and down his body before answering. “It might,” she said finally, “if he marries the right woman. He’d make a poor septon, in any case.”

“And he’s an only son,” Eliott pointed out.

She nodded. “Indeed. No one can deny the necessity of his marrying someone. Not even him.”

“But it doesn’t concern you?” he asked her, “that he might resent not being allowed to choose for himself.”

The princess scoff. “He’ll have some new fancy next week, I promise you. And he’ll feel whatever that will be just as strongly. It’s not his resentment I’m worried about.”

Eliott supposed she meant Lady Daenerys, the young cousin whose declaration of love had, or so Eliott was told, started all that trouble at Batara. “Why should you worry about her?” he asked. She was only a little girl, after all, around the same age as his sister Aelora. And she fell in love with every dashing knight who came into her view. 

“Because she has actual feelings,” the princess said. She was fiddling with the pendant around her neck in what Eliott was beginning to recognize as a nervous habit. It drew his eyes, for the first time in an hour, to the way her gown exposed her breasts. “But she also has a thousand times more sense than he ever did, so who knows how it will go...”

“Her mother doesn’t know what happened, does she?” Eliott asked. He had trouble imagining Princess Trystana as viewing her daughter’s choice favourably.

“Gods be good,” Princess Loreza exclaimed. “You would know it if she did, and I can only hope no one is mad enough to tell her.”

“I certainly won’t,” he promised. 

She laughed. The movement of her chest made her breast shake. She seemed to notice where he was looking and dropped the ruby pendant so it rested once again in that hollow. He curled his fingers around the edge of the bench, to keep them from reaching out to touch it.

“Do you want to go, then?” Princess Loreza asked him. Perhaps he was imagining it, but he thought her breath was quicker.

“Yes,” was all he managed to say.

She made a motion with her hand and Lady Emlyn was at her side again, listening as the princess spoke a few words in her ear. She nodded and hurried towards the door behind the dias, collecting some of the princess’s ladies on the way. 

“Ten minutes,” his wife said. She reached out her hand again and took a goblet. Eliott did the same, gulping down the sour water to keep himself from overheating and studiously avoiding looking at her. And ignoring the impatient stirring of his cock. He was vaguely aware that those gathered in the hall were beginning to anticipate what would soon happen, there were more eyes on them and ladies whispered to each other behind their hands. The prince and Eliott’s parents were returning to their seats on the dias. 

It was several long minutes before Genna Sand appeared through the small door. When the princess saw her, she nodded and stood to one side, apparently waiting for them.

“Alright,” Princess Loreza said to him. 

Eliott swallowed hard, his mouth was suddenly dry again. A boy whose name he didn’t know was standing at the other end of the hall, staring openly at them. Eliott stood and offered his arm to his wife. When she rose to take it, her touch on his arm felt like a spark from a flint stone. And the kindling of his desire caught flame , as the poet said.

The crowd parted for them. Most were trying, so it seemed, to maintain a fiction that nothing in particular was happening, even though everyone was turning to watch them slyly, making every dance and supposed conversation nothing but a cover for their curiosity. 

By the time they were climbing the steps of the dias, even the polite facade of indifference was growing rather thin. The music for the dance didn’t stop, but the musicians were growing less expert with every note. Eliott could see them behind the rails of the gallery, craning their heads to watch. From the back came the scattered sound of clapping and of cups being banged against the table. When Eliott turned to frown at it, two or three of the men began to hoot as they had when he first entered the hall. He couldn’t see them, but he could guess well enough who they were.

The princess jerked gently on his arm. “Ignore them, please,” she told him. 

Eliott didn’t see how he could do otherwise. His wife let go of his arm and kissed her mother, once on each cheek and wished her a good night. Meanwhile, his father folded Eliott into a strong embrace. When they parted, Lord Rowan said nothing but smiled and gripped his son’s shoulder.   

“Good night, mother,” Eliott told Lady Sarra, taking her hand and kissing her on the brow. “Sleep well.”

She gripped his hand tightly. “You’ll remember what we spoke about, won’t you?” she asked him. Eliott could feel his colour rising and his cock shrinking. His mother’s fears had been uncomfortable before, now they felt humiliating. But it would surely break her heart to hear that her compassion was so misplaced.

“I’ll remember,” he promised her.

She nodded. “May the Maid watch over you.”

Genna Sand held the door open for them and they entered a corridor lit only by a single lamp in a wall sconce. The air was so cool compared to the crowded hall that Eliott felt like he was back in the mountains around Skyreach, where they had swum in streams fed by melting snows. He hadn’t noticed how damp with sweat his shirt had become. It was clinging to his back.

The princess sighed and leaned against the stone wall. 

“There shouldn't be too many people along the walk, princess” Genna Sand said, “but there are torch bearers in any case.”

“Good,” she said. “I’m quite ready to be alone.”

Alone with him, Eliott could only hope.

The air was even sweeter outside. There was a breeze that was coming off the Summer Sea that wafted the smell of the night blooming flowers in the garden. Eliott could get used to nights in Sunspear.

He felt a hand in his, and though it could hardly be anyone else’s it still surprised him to look over and see that it was Princess Loreza. She smiled at him with a look that brought his cock entirely back to life.

“You haven’t had too much to drink, have you?” she asked with mock concern.

“No,” he grinned. “Certainly not.”

“Then what are you waiting for, ser?” She trotted out a few steps ahead of him, pulling him along by the hand. Four torch bearers came up to form around them, two in front and two behind, matching their pace to form a wall of light to protect Eliott and his wife from the view of the few guests who were walking in the gardens. They could hear the noise from the courtyard where the lesser lords and knights were being feasted in silk tents, but they certainly couldn’t be seen by them through the garden wall. 

All the lamps inside the Tower of the Sun were lit, but the place itself was deserted. The torch bearers left them at the door and not even the usual guards in copper armour stood sentry. As they climbed the stairs, the princess was a few steps ahead of him. She turned around and laughed, grabbing the front of his doublet to urge him along. At a landing, she stopped to catch her breath. Emboldened by the shadowy darkness and the sound of her panting breath he drew his arms around her waist and pulled her close, taking in the smell of hair. It smelled like the incense in the sept that morning, deep and mysterious like an unexplored land.

His wife leaned back into him to rest her head on his shoulder. His cock pressed against her lower back. 

“This tower is too tall,” she said breathlessly.

“I agree.”

She turned in his arms to face him, his lips brushed over her cheek. “Come on, then,” she said, flitting out of his arms and back up the steps.

They reach a door that opened to a corridor lined on both sides with the fresco of a great battle, but Eliott didn’t see it. He only saw the swinging skirts of Princess Loreza’s gown as she all but ran to the other end. There were two guards, the only ones alive in the palace perhaps, on either side of a set of double doors. They were already open. She stood in the doorway and held out her hand for Eliott to take. The guards stood like statues. For a moment he wondered how many men they had seen her bring through these doors, but he banished the thought from his mind and followed her inside. The statue-guards sprung to life to close them behind him. 

The anteroom of the apartment was round with several more doors leading away from it. Only one was open. It lead to a spacious chamber with a bed raised on a platform of carved wood, surmounted by a canopy of gauzy, translucent silk. Princess Loreza went straight to the window and opened the lattice shutter. Eliott went to stand beside her.

The view took in the whole of the shadow city. They could see the top of the feast tents within the palace walls, and beyond, the lights of the city as the townspeople celebrated into the night, drinking the prince’s wine and sweet cakes. They were high enough up that not a sound reached them.

“It’s lovely,” he whispered. This would be the view from his bedchamber now. For the rest of his life, if the gods were good.

“I’m glad it pleases you.”

Eliott raised his hand to his wife’s face and ran his fingers along her cheek and over her lips. She closed her eyes and sighed with contentment as he kept moving down along her neck, her chest, and towards that valley between her breasts. 

The princess suddenly opened her eyes and moved back. “Wait!” she gasped.

“What.” Elliot said, feeling a panic rise in his throat.

“I need to take off my jewels.” She crossed to room towards a door on the far side of the bed. “She’ll be barging in here soon if I don’t.” She stopped with her door on the handle. “Your dressing room is on the other side.” And then she was gone.

Eliott cleared his throat and looked around him. There was indeed a door at the closer side of the bed and in the silence he thought he could hear activity behind it. When he opened it he found both Hugh and Samuel Reer beyond, apparently waiting for him, among several unpacked trunks that held every garment, book, and assorted object Eliott owned. 

“Good evening, Ser Eliott,” Reer said with a stiff bow. Eliott said nothing as Hugh helped him off with his boots, belt, and doublet, but waved him off his breeches and his linen shirt. He watched as his seneschal placed his golden chain carefully in a box lined with velvet that he locked with a key. “Might I suggest you relieve yourself, my lord,” he said with no expression at all on his face, gesturing towards a privy hidden behind an embroidered curtain.

It was hard to piss with his cock as hard as it was, but Eliott was more handicapped by the thought of the two men on the other side of the curtain, and wondering if they would be staying in the room all night, listening at the door. 

But that was ridiculous. Listening at the door was exactly what he and Owain had done when his sister Bessa wed. After the bedding, they had stayed half the night singing songs and drinking. To encourage them, everyone had said at the time, though now Eliott couldn’t imagine anything less encouraging. Perhaps he was going native already. 

The princess wasn’t in the bed chamber when he returned to it, so Eliott went back to the window to look down at the city and all the people who were at that moment drinking to the success of his marriage. A success that depended on him pleasing her tonight, but surely on a good deal more as well. She needed a husband, not a lover; she had said as much. There was a flagon of wine on a table nearby. He poured himself a cup and drank it, waiting.

A door clicked and she was there, jewelless, with her hair down entirely, flowing over her shoulders, but she still wore the gold and orange gown. Without its girdle it looked formless, like it was about to fall off.. She looked down at the ground and bite her lip. Eliott saw something in her face that might, perhaps, be nerves, that perhaps she was counting on this going well as much as him. He smiled when she came to him and took the cup from his hand. She emptied it and put it aside on a table. 

“Are you ready now?” he asked her jokingly, “there’s nothing else you need to take off?”

“As a matter of fact...” she said. She brought her hand to the right shoulder of her gown and pushed it off. 

Eliott ran his fingers through her hair, leaning in to place a kiss on the skin where the silk had been. He felt her tremble under his lips. He brought his own hand to her other shoulder and did the same as she had done, causing the gown to fall to the floor at her feet.