Chapter 1: Fight
He had not killed his father.
There had been no dagger in the night, no poison slipped in a challis, or hands wrapped around his neck. Perhaps it would have been easier that way, quick and lethal; Jon would say it would not have been honorable, but Arthur was always more practical than that. It will not save any lives, he’d predicted, and though Rhaegar had doubted those words, almost been buried beneath the very guilt of it, he had come to accept the truth of it.
Whichever road he chose, the path would lead to war. It was their destiny, father and son. Had the gods ordained it? Had his father felt it, even as he held Rhaegar in his arms, in those first few hours of his life? It was strange to think that his father had hated him even as he drew his first breaths –
But no, that was all wrong. Aerys had loved him, and Rhaegar had loved him in return. He remembered being held, being kissed goodnight, remembered his smell, like lemons and anise. And Rhaegar remembered loving his father too, always yearning to impress, holding onto his hand so hard sometimes that it felt as though he lost a part of himself when his father let go. But that was before those dark years.
He had not killed his father.
It was Meleys who had done it.
His father’s own dragon was no weakling. Vermax was a brilliant red, fierce and powerful. Rhaegar had heard stories of his father as a young prince sleeping beside his dragonling, feeding it with his own hand and riding it throughout Westeros once Vermax was large enough. Their bond was as strong as Rhaegar’s with Meleys, as strong as any Targaryen rider to his steed.
But it had changed once his father grew ill, just as everything had. His father began to fear the dragon, kept him chained in the Dragonpit until he grew as frail as the king himself. And when they took flight, Rhaegar atop Meleys and his father atop Vermax (Aerys’ fear of his own dragon must have seemed so trivial then, so miniscule compared to his fear of his son, his usurper), Vermax had simply conceded.
The battle seemed to take mere moments, though later Rhaegar was told he had been in the air for near two hours. It had been a dream, or some nightmare, the sigh that came from Vermax after Meleys’ final, lethal attack. Not a scream, nor a shriek, simply a sigh. As though he were relieved, as though he was glad for an end to it, a release.
Had his father felt the same in his last moments?
Those thoughts were folly.
No, the only certainty was that Rhaegar had not killed his father. His father had died years ago.
Chapter 2: Flight
Rhaegar would not have brought Meleys to Harrenhal had he had the choice. It seemed such an awful boasting, a gross insensitivity, to flaunt before the people of the keep the very same creature who had brought them death and ruin so many years ago. His would be a gentle reign, he had decided soon after his ascension to the throne, he would not kill and burn and punish indiscriminately; love was a surer way to the people’s hearts.
Elia agreed with that, certainly, but did not believe that love was a language which nobles understood.
“It is not a matter of inspiring fear. It is merely a reminder of the might of the crown,” Elia said as she sat beside him, absentmindedly braiding her hair.
Rhaegar found it supremely distracting, as he always did, the sight of her lush black hair, those perfect curls set against her freckled skin. It had been the first thing he’d noticed about her, that first day in Dorne, when he had traveled with his father to meet his new bride.
She was younger then, though the years had been kind to her, kinder indeed than they had been to Rhaegar himself. He remembered his trepidation, though it seemed absurd now, fearing this young girl who was now a woman, laying naked beside him in their marriage bed, the mother of his child. Then, however, he had not known that, known that they would end here. He was only a prince, more of a boy than a man, on an adventure to see the princess who would one day become his queen.
Memories were fickle things. Rhaegar could remember little of his trip; “You do not remember me,” Elia had teased him once, “you only remember how I made you feel.” What did he eat, where did he visit, with whom did he speak? It seemed a blur now. He only remembered the exhilaration of being with her, the fire that ran through him whenever she took his hand, whenever their eyes met each other’s.
In truth, it was his first time being so close to a woman. His father’s own indiscretions had been widely known and it was distasteful, improper for a king to be mentioned in the same breath as mistress. In the recordings of his reign, Rhaegar did not wish for his accomplishments to be sullied by lechery; history, he suspected, would not be so forgiving of mistakes made in his youth either.
He kissed her, that much he remembered, with the sounds of the Water Gardens in his ears, the splashing of the water, the plop plop plop of the blood oranges hitting the ground, the laughter of children. “Did you do that so I would not do it first, my prince?” Elia had asked afterwards, while he still held her in his arms, smiling mischievously so that her dimples showed, and Rhaegar could not help but smile then too.
The doubts set in once he was away from Dorne, away from her, and he still felt so guilty for it now, for ever thinking her unworthy. It was riding Meleys again that made him hesitate so; the Targaryens were not human, not in the way others were, he had decided as a child. How could they be, if they could become one with these creatures which other men called monsters? And how could anyone not of their blood come to understand that?
It haunted him in those moons before her arrival in the capital, kept him up late at night, writing letter after letter, trying to explain it all, to himself and to her as well. One after another, those letters fell to the flames.
It was the night before their wedding when the gods finally answered his half-formed prayers, put him again on his path. They had compelled him that night to leave his chambers, driven towards her rooms on the other side of the keep, past the smirks of the Kingsguard patrolling the halls, likely thinking that it was lust which took him to her, a bridegroom unable to contain his excitement. Her ladies thought the same, Ashara Dayne discretely exiting once Rhaegar was brought into Elia’s bedchamber.
His bride-to-be was dressed in a white sleeping gown, the material so thin that Rhaegar could see the outline of her body, the small brown circles on her nipples, the dark patch between her thighs, her hair braided elaborately and perched atop her head. Her mouth was slightly open, an expression of surprise writ on her face, but it only made her somehow more beautiful. Something was lit within him at that moment, a desire that almost took over his body, made him want to touch her, pull that gown over her head and taste her lips once more, taste her breasts and her body and become one.
But no, there would be time for that later.
“I have something I wish for you to see,” He said, and Elia only nodded, as though it were all perfectly normal, as though she were expecting him all along.
She wrapped a shawl around her shoulders before following him, two ghosts moving through the Red Keep, up and up and up, through dark hallways and up narrow staircases until they stood at the roof, the cold wind lashing at their faces.
Rhaegar pulled Elia to him then, wrapped his arms around her, both to put her at ease but for his own need for closeness too, this desire he had been able to shake since seeing her half nude and so beautiful.
Magic was in the very air, a sort of holiness which Rhaegar had only ever felt before when he was alone in Summerhall. Meleys was circling overheard; Rhaegar could feel him, as he always could. He had been hunting that night, gone as far as Dragonstone before circling back once he felt Rhaegar’s call.
It was a while before Elia became aware of his presence, her face buried in Rhaegar’s chest, breathing him in. Strangely, it made him smile when he had to touch her face gently to get her attention.
“Look,” He said simply.
Her eyes widened at the sight of Meleys, by now perched on the walls nearly ten yards across from them, as black as the night around them, his green eyes shining like two pits of wildfire.
Some screamed when they saw the dragon, some wept, some ran as fast as their legs could carry them. Meleys had not been raised to feast on human flesh, preferred instead the boars and sheep of the thick forests across the Seven Kingdoms but the same could not be said for many of his predecessors. Fear was therefore a fairly customary response.
Elia, however, only laughed.
It was not a nervous sort of thing, weak and pitiful, nor was it the booming laugh of ignorance. Rather, it was the laughter that comes when one is presented with a present, some brilliant surprise that leaves the cheeks flushed and the body warm with happiness.
Her laughter was the balm for his worries. His question as a young husband in those early days of marriage became therefore not whether his bride was worthy of him, but what he could do to be worthy of her, of her courage and her beauty and that sweet laughter.
“Where have you gone off to?”
Elia’s voice brings him back to the present, away from memories and to the chambers of his keep, where his wife lay beside him, nude and black haired and beautiful as ever, made even more so by the faint white lines marks on her stomach, a reminder of the daughter she had brought into the world.
She continued, satisfied that she had her attention, “You do not need to ride Meleys. Only call him to you. He will enjoy hunting the lands around Harrenhal and half the lords and ladies of Westeros will be there. They will see him again.”
Again. Since the battle, since the day his father had fallen, since the war. They would see Meleys and think of him as their king, think of the cost of crossing him, he knew.
It was an unpleasant business but their night had been lovely thus far, lost in the pleasure of each other’s bodies and the quiet joy that came from their intimacy, and Rhaegar did not wish to spoil it.
“I will bring Meleys,” He conceded, holding his wife, content to just be lost in her warmth for now, “And it will be a wonderful tourney.”