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She lowered her eyes, bowed her head, but only slightly. “Your Grace, we are most honored to receive your visit,” she greeted him, with false courtesy and false smile.   

(“He is a guest under our roof, my lady, with all the attending guest’s rights,” Orys had warned her, the first time Aegon visited Storm’s End, many years ago.

“Why, are you worried I might try to poison his food, my lord?”

“Your lord father –“

Her lord father had chopped off the hands of Aegon’s envoy, also a guest under his roof.

“I am not my lord father.” She would never be as rash and reckless as her father; she had promised herself that, the day she wed his slayer.)

Aegon came with his child, this time. “I do not believe you have met my son, Lady Baratheon.”

She lifted her eyes to study the progeny of this dragon usurper. “You are most welcome to Storm’s End, Prince Aenys,” she said, holding out a hand to the child. The boy gasped, made a move to bury his face on his father’s chest, but Aegon forestalled him, whispering something in the boy’s ear that sounded like ‘the lady is being kind.’

Kind indeedWhy should I be kind to your child?

“What a fine boy he is,” she said, smiling her brightest smile.

He was small, in truth, Aegon’s elder son and heir. Past his eighth nameday, but he looked no older than five. Rearranging her face to look sufficiently grave and mournful, Argella added, softly, “He has the look of his lady mother.”

He did not, in truth. Rhaenys Targaryen had been slender and fine-boned, but not fragile-looking. This boy looked as if a gust of wind could easily topple him. But Argella was curious to see Aegon’s reaction when Rhaenys was mentioned. His beloved sister and wife, his one and only true love. That’s what everyone said. She wondered what the still-living sister and wife thought of that.  

Aegon did not flinch, the expression on his face as inscrutable as always. “My son thanks you for the compliment, my lady,” he replied.

She could sense her husband growing tense beside her. To a casual observer, Orys would look much the same, but she knew from the way he drew his breath, from the way the fingers of his flesh-and-blood hand were stroking the golden palm.  

“He is a trifle shy with strangers,” Aegon continued, still speaking of his son. “He needs to spend more time in the company of other boys.”

“He has his brother’s company, no doubt,” Argella said. She tried to recall the other son’s name. Maekar? No, Maegor. What strange names these Targaryens have.

“Maegor is only three,” Aegon replied. He turned his gaze to Orys. “And how old are your boys now, Lord Baratheon?”

“Twelve and seven, Your Grace.”

Lord Baratheon. Your Grace. No doubt they would be heartily embracing and calling each other Orys and Aegon behind closed doors.

“Ah. So they are also five years apart,” Aegon said, with a curious smile, as if that proved some kind of point he was making.

But not because they were born of two different mothers. It was because Orys was taken captive in Dorne while fighting your war.  

“A good sign, do you not think, Lady Baratheon?”

Lady Baratheon. Even the name enraged her, coming from Aegon’s lips. A good sign for what? Another one of your conquests?

“Indeed, Your Grace. I am certain you are right. You are most often right, after all.”

Orys eyed her warily, detecting the mockery underneath her words. As they walked behind Aegon into the great hall, he leaned towards her and whispered, “He is only staying for three days,” as if he knew she was close to the breaking point.

He could sense things about her as well; he knew her too well for comfort, had even breached some of the territories she had resolutely marked ‘forbidden.

Marriage had a way of doing that to people, despite her best efforts. Or perhaps it was more the fault of continuous proximity. Orys had seldom been far from her side since his return from Dorne.

_______________________

 “What does he want?” she asked, after Orys had spent half the day cloistered in his solar with Aegon.

“What makes you think he wants anything?”

“Of course he wants something. He always does. Is there another war he wants you to fight for him? Somewhere else he wants to send you?”

So you could lose another limb? And worse, lose your faith in yourself?

“He wants me to accompany him to Tarth, the only part of the stormlands he has yet to visit.”

“What else?” There was something else, she could tell from the catch in his voice. It was something he knew she would mislike, she was certain of it.

“He spoke of Davos,” Orys finally said.

Our Davos?” Their elder son, currently sparring in the courtyard with the master-at-arms, while his brother Raymont and Prince Aenys stood watching. Raymont looked eager, if somewhat envious that his older brother was now old enough to be allowed to spar with a grown man, but Prince Aenys only looked terrified, shielding his eyes with both hands when things got too heated.

No, Argella thought. No. You cannot have him. Not our son.

“A squire,” Orys was saying. “The right age.” Argella heard nothing else.

“You must refuse him. You must!”

“Must I?” There was a curious tone to his voice that would have given her pause at any other time, but the thought of her son serving the dragon king drove out all other considerations from her mind.

“What about the plan to send Davos to squire for one of the marcher lords? We have discussed that.”

“Nothing has been settled as yet. I have not made any promises that if broken, would cause offense to any lord.”  

“Davos is your heir. He must squire for a lord from the stormlands, to know his own people, his own land. What good will it do for him to waste his time in Dragonstone and King’s Landing?”

Aegon spends most of the year on his progress, travelling the realm. It will be good for Davos to know the rest of the realm, to have the chance to see the Seven Kingdoms in its entirety.”

All this talk one king and one realm maddened her. “Our son will not be king of the Seven Kingdoms. He will not be king of the rest of the realm. What good will it do for him, to be travelling the realm with Aegon? He will not even be king of the stormlands!”

“Too bad his father is only a bastard-born upjumped lord, not a king with thousands of years of history supporting him. Is that what stuck in your craw, my lady, your children being fathered by one so unworthy? Who had you envisioned as the father to your children?The King of the Reach? The King in the North? Did you share the sentiment your lord father conveyed in his contemptuous reply to Aegon’s offer of myself for your husband, back then?”

The unfairness of the accusation stung her. This had nothing to do with that at all. She lashed out, furiously. “Davos would not need a king as his father if he had the storm queen as his mother.”

“Too bad his mother lost her crown, and could not keep the loyalty of her own men.”

She laughed, bitterly. “And there it is. Finally. The thing you have always wanted to throw in my face.”

“I did not mean those words,” he said, aghast. “Argella –” he reached out for her, but quickly pulled back, as if stung, when he saw her recoiling from his touch. 

“You meant it. I know you did. You’ve always thought it, I suspected that all along. Where would she be, if not for my gallantry, my chivalry, my kindness? The great Lord Orys, so kind, so generous, so -”

“Don’t,” he said. “We have said too much in anger. Things that are not true, that are only meant to hurt.”

“You are wrong. Things said in anger could be the truest of all, when all pretenses of courtesies and good manners have been stripped bare.” She drove on. “You would send our son to serve Aegon? When you know how I feel about him, how much I loathe him?”

“Davos would be serving Aegon when he is Lord of Storm’s End. He owes the king his leal service, like I do.”

“Is that what your king fears? That if you die before I do, I would try to influence our son to deny Aegon his loyalty?

“He has no thought of that. He is not the scheming villain you take him to be.”

Argella scoffed. “He is as cuddly as a dragon, your king.”

“I know of another truth you will not admit. That it is not Aegon you truly despise and resent. Aegon was not the one who slew your father, who took your castle, your land.”

“Don’t you think I know that? I have to live with you, wake up next to you –“

“Suffer my seeds to grow in your womb.”

“Yes! Yes, that too.”

He nodded, as if this was something he had suspected all along. His voice was barely audible when he asked, “So it was all pretend, make-believe? Those moments when I thought you truly enjoyed it, going to bed with me? Your moans, your cries of pleasure, they were all lies? When I thought you might have had some joy in our union.”

“That was lust, mere lust. I am a woman with needs. And you are comely enough, my lord, and skillful enough to do your duty in that regard.”

She had hated it, at first, that he was gentle with her. She had hated herself even more for responding to his caress, to his touch. Why do you refuse to be the heartless monster I had thought you to be, so I could hate you in peace?

“Lust?”

“Why, do you think a woman is not capable of lust? Only a man? Do you think your show of chivalry would cause me to be so grateful that I would grow to love you?”

He flushed. “It was not for show. It was never for show.”

“Do you think I would fall on my knees, proclaiming my undying love for you? Is that the just reward you expected? It is not enough that I have given you sons, that I have been your faithful wife, that I have kept your castle and protected your land for you while you serve your king, this castle that used to be mine, this land that should have been mine. No, you want me to love you too. How do you think it makes me feel, to be under such an obligation to the man who killed my father and stole my inheritance?”

“There is no such obligation. I have never asked it of you.

“No, not with words, never with words. But with everything else. Your eyes, your expectant gaze, your touch. You are greedy, my lord. You do not mean to be, I know you well enough to know that, at least, but you are greedy nonetheless, when it comes to our marriage.”  

“There is no such obligation,” he repeated. “If I have somehow made you feel that there is, then forgive me for the mistake, my lady. But consider yourself released from it.”

 

_______________________

“It seems that I owe you my gratitude, Lady Argella.”

Argella raised her eyebrow. Lady Argella, not Lady Baratheon. What had brought that on?

“My son woke from a bad dream last night, as he often did. You stayed with him until he fell asleep again, he told me. You told him the tale of the goddess Elenei. He is much taken by her.”

“He was wandering the hallway.” Calling out for his mother, pleading for her to return, but Argella did not say this to the boy’s father. She had promised Aenys she would not. She had thought that it was her husband, at first, wandering the hallway again night after night like he did after his return from Dorne. But it was the boy she found, looking lost and bedraggled in his nightshirt and bare feet. Orys had spent the night in his solar, asleep, or sleepless, she did not know.

“It is often scary, for children to be in a strange place at night. My Davos was the same, when he was younger.”

“I have no wish to rob you of your son, my lady,” Aegon said.

“But you wish to take him as your squire all the same?”

“The bond that Orys and I have … I wish for that to exist between my sons and his sons as well.”

Our sons,” Argella said sharply.

“Of course. They are your sons too. You have given Orys much happiness, Lady Argella.”

“He might disagree with that.”

“You have given him a true home, a family, something he never had.”

“He had a family. Only they would not acknowledge him in the eyes of the world.”

Aegon took the arrow she aimed without flinching. “I love him. As my dearest friend, as my trusted companion -“

“But not as your brother?”

 “What do you think?” Aegon asked, instead of replying to her question. His gaze was unsettling. Mask upon mask upon mask. This man was an expert prevaricator, unlike her husband with his eyes that told too many tales and his face that betrayed too many secrets.

I think you would be a very uncomfortable man to be married to, Argella thought.

That had been her father’s proposal. Third wife to Aegon Targaryen. “His sister-wives are not true wives in the eyes of our gods and our people. You will be his only true wife, and your son his only true heir,” her father had said, trying to convince her of the merit of the match.

_______________________

He knocked before entering their bedchamber. Stood uncertainly on the threshold as if waiting for her to send him away.

She dismissed her maid with a nod.  

“I’ve told Aegon that Davos should squire for a stormlord. Perhaps when Raymont is older –“ he paused, waiting for Argella to argue against it, but she said nothing. That would be another argument for another day. She had to pick her battles more carefully, she had decided.

“Is that why Aegon was looking so glum at dinner tonight?”

“You noticed?” Orys asked, surprised.

“Of course. You did, why shouldn’t I?” Aegon did not look so unchanged to her eyes, in truth. It was Orys’ worried expression that she had noticed, the way his gaze kept flitting back to Aegon.

“No, it is not to do with our son. He was thinking of Rhaenys. He misses her still.”

Even a sphinx was capable of love, deep down, she supposed. Even someone seemingly as cold as Aegon Targaryen.  

“When I was in Dorne, the thought of losing you –“

“Why should you lose me? You were the one in peril, the one imprisoned. I was safe and sound behind the walls of Storm’s End.”

“There is no true safety, behind any wall, and we both know it.”

She did not refute him, for he was right.

He continued, “Did you …”

“Did I what?”

He shook his head. She knew what he wanted to ask, and why he would never ask it. He was afraid to know her answer.

“I did think of it. What it would be like, if you were dead.”

He nodded. He did not seem surprised. “You would rule the stormlands until Davos comes of age,” he said.

She scoffed. “Not likely. It is far more likely that your king would force me to wed another man, another leal subject of his, to ensure the stormlands’ loyalty to the Iron Throne. Triston Massey lost his lady wife in childbirth, the second year of your imprisonment in Dorne. No doubt Aegon would think him a good prospect and a suitable lord to bring me to heel.”  

“Did you mislike that prospect very much?”

“To be wed to Triston Massey, who was sworn as my father’s bannerman and then betrayed him to take Aegon’s side? That craven and turncloak? Of course I misliked it.”

“He was in that battle, but it was not his hand that slew your father.”

“But at least you were not a craven, a turncloak. You were fighting for Aegon all along, you swore your oath of allegiance to him and him alone. You were fighting for a misguided cause, perhaps, but you acted in good faith all the way through. The same could not be said of Triston Massey.” She closed her eyes. “He fell in battle, in single combat. It was not murder. You killed my father, but it was not murder.”

“Is that the only reason you did not wish for my death?”

“Davos would have lost his father.” And there would never have been Raymont, their bold, boisterous, loud, impatient younger son.    

“Davos was scarcely a year old when I was captured. He would not miss what he could not remember.”

“I do not remember my lady mother, but I miss her all the same. All my life.”

“And those are the only reasons?” He frowned, measuring his own words. “You were right, my lady. I am greedy.”

She rose, took a few steps towards him, then halted, waiting for him to come to her. He hesitated, until her hand beckoned to him.

“I suppose … I would miss you in my bed, if you were gone. I did miss you in my bed. Those three years we were apart.”

“As did I,” he said, gravely.

“But now, if I were to lose you now, I would miss you more than just in my bed.”

“Do you mean it? You are not just trying to be kind? Because we quarreled?”

She scoffed. “When have I ever been kind?”

“You are kinder than you think, gentler than you want to believe. When I returned from Dorne, if it had not been for your care, I would not have survived.”

“Perhaps that was why I lost my crown. I was too weak.”

“You lost to forces beyond your control. And there is no weakness in that, you told me that yourself, in the darkest nights after my return from Dorne. And there is no weakness in kindness.”

“You have been kind to me.”

“It was not for show.”

“I was not speaking only of that day. What you want, what you need from me, I don’t know if I can give it to you.”

“You have given me more than I could hope for. And there will always be that history between us, that beginning –“

“I could not bear it. She is the woman tamed by her father’s slayer. That is all I will be. Brought to heel by his kindness, his … love.”    

“As I have been brought to heel by yours.”

“There is no love. How could there be?”

“There is this life,” he said. This life they have made together.