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the songs that rang the loudest

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“Knights die in battle,” Catelyn reminded her. Brienne looked at her with those blue and beautiful eyes. “As ladies die in childbed. No one sings songs about them.”

George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

 

 

 

 

i- conquest

 

 

"Hold him." The Lady of Casterly Rock comanded.

Her face was bloodless and wan, golden mane limp and dripping with sweat, but she refused to let her voice waiver. Her husband sat cautiously beside her, paler than she had ever seen. She grasped her wrist with what strength she had left when he refused to comply.

"Hold him."

Pressed against her nude chest the babe squirmed as he suckled. Joanna brushed his hair, a downy curl of hair that promised to be as bright as his father's. All the maesters had unadvised it and Tywin had prohibited it, but Joanna had snarled and refused to hear it. If she was to die, she had said, then so be it, but the Stranger would have to wait while she fed her son. Her little, ugly, crippled son.

Tywin hated him. She had seen it in his eyes then, and now Tyrion was almost full and Joanna knew she still had much to say. She met her husbands eyes, green to her hazel, and made sure he heard her orders well. She knew she had to be strong now, for the sake of the living and not the dying, even now that everything inside her rebelled with rage and envy of their strong lungs and steady heartbeat.

It was no matter. She had always been the fiercest of the both of them.

"Tywin Lannister, you will hold your son. You will hold him and sooth him and when I die," she absolutly refused to stumble on the words, "when I die, you will go to the twins and tell them I'll be very cross with them if they are not the very best of siblings to their brother."

Her husband opened his mouth to protest but Joanna had years of practice in riding right over his words, even if her breath was becoming more labored.

"Tyrion is not to blame. He is not to blame. Not for being a dwarf and not for my death. The world has set him up to suffer from the first, but make no mistake, my lord. This is my last victory as the lioness of the Rock. I'll be damned if you befoal my memory by being anything less than a stellar father to my children. All of them."

Tywin went still, watching as she fought to steady her lungs. His eyes were red and his jaw kept moving like he wanted to snarl, but after a moment he twisted the hold she had in his wrist, entwining their fingers.

Joanna wanted to scream that she was not weak, and did he not see she was still alive, still stronger than him? She wanted to hold her children for a whole day, a whole lifetime. She wanted to fuck her husband a hundred times more, even as she knew it would never be enough. More than anything, she wanted to roar, high and loud and terrible enough to deafen the gods themselves. A woman's battle was in the birthing bed, and lions never took loss silently.

There were a thousand things Joanna Lannister wanted to do. Instead, she grasped her husband for one last long kiss and whispered to him of what she had found her two oldest doing in secret.

Then she leaned back on her feather pillows, moved the babe so his father could hold him without her having to relish her hold on either of them, and spent the last hours of her life teaching her husband to love their son.

It wasn't a roar, she decided, but for a finishing stroke it would do quite well.

 

 

 

 

ii- famine

 

 

Viserys appeared in the doorway and promptly stepped back.

"Come inside, Your Grace. A king must not falter at the sight of blood."

Rhaella did not truly fault him, not when it was her lifeblood that tinted the cabin red, and the scent of copper was overwhelming, but this was no time for a mother's sympathy.

Her son straightened at her words, aproaching in quick strides as if to compensate for his weakness, lifting his chin only when Rhaella nodded aprovingly. Viserys was young, and he was not Rhaegar, but neither had been his dead siblings and it had not stopped her from loving them. Now she would have to teach him how to, for she had nothing left with which to love her youngest.

"Mother, are you well?" It was a foolish question, and it was clear Viserys knew the answer but expected her to offer an excuse, like she had so many times before. She regretted it now.

She turned to the nursemaid instead.

"You, leave us." Then, to both their surprise, "Give the Princess to the King."

Viserys eyes went wide as the girl thaught him how to hold a babe and placed Daenerys in his arms. She opened her eyes, a true Targaryen purple, and Rhaella watched her son's awe at the fist his sister made around his finger. It was a weak hold and she a weak babe, but Viserys did not seem to mind, not even turning as the door closed behind the nursemaid.

Aerys had looked at her like that, once.

"Do you know who she is, Your Grace?"

The king nodded. "She is Daenerys Targaryan, First of Her name. She's going to be my queen," he said proudly, forgetting to whisper.

Her husband had long decided her daughters name, set as he had been that she had been carrying a daughter, a true Targaryan bride to Rhaegar, and Rhaella had not cared enough to incite his rage. Apparently Viserys had concluded that ,like the crown and the throne that rightfully belonged to him now, so did his sister.

"No." Rhaella said. Viserys looked at her incredulously. Rhaella remembered it was the first time he had heard her say such, and certainly the first time she had ever said it to him. She didn't care. Her lower body had been in agony for two days now, bleeding even as they spoke.

Aerys had looked at her like that once, when they were children playing at the king and queen they would be. Aerys had raped her, gotten her big with a creature conceived of firelust and pain. There would be no more Aerys, no more Rhaellas.

Rhaella lifted her arm. With trembling fingers,she lifted the long sleeves as high as they would go. Scars, deep and white and everywhere, flickered in the waning candlelight.

Viserys gasped and made to turn his head away. Faster than she had thought herself capable of, she gripped his quivering chin, forcing him to look. Daenerys mewed in discontent.

"No, Your Grace. This is what the king, your father, gave me in my last nameday, when he burned the current Hand. In my honour, he said." He gave me worse in the day he made your sister, she wanted to say, but stayed silent. There were tears in her son's eyes. She was glad. It meant he understood.

"Heed me, Viserys. You want to be a better king than you father, do you not? Do you want to be like the one who hurt your Mother so?" He shock his head against her grasp, aghast, and she went on.

"You must never marry your sister. Love her, protect her against the Usurper, against the whole world if you must. You will be the last dragons, and dragons are only as great as they are good to each other. Remember this always when I am gone, and you must teach it to her. Do you understand?

Again, he nodded. Rhaella smiled then, like she had not in years, in centuries, and he smiled back, trembling and entirely hers.

Good. Now go present the princess to the crew. They must know their new lady, and you know how Ser Darry has been looking forward to meeting her. But first, kiss your Mother farewell."

He did so, and more, gripping her painfully tight to hide his face in her hair, Daenerys between them. She let him stay like that for a time, until her head was swimming and she could not feel the pain that had been her companion for so long. It was time.

He must have known it as well, for when he lifted his head a teardrop she saw one teardrop falling in his cheek, then another. Tenderly, she brushed them off, stroking his smooth cheeks.

"Do not weep, Your Grace. Strong kings shed no tears."

 

 

 

 

iii- pestilence

 

 

"Promise me. Promise me, Ned."

It was the first time either of them had spoken in hours, and even now it was a struggle to take her eyes from the babe in her arms. She spoke quietly not to disturb him, sighing at the way Ned brushed a coil of black hair from the little face. His arms had moved around her some time ago, when her own had became too weak to hold Jon, and she could feel the rough brush of his beard as he turned his head to look at her.

He didn't speak, just waited to hear her, and she loved him for it. Ned had always been the better listener of the Stark siblings. It was fitting that he would be the one to hear her final request, he who would respect her will more than anyone else.

"Promise me you will tell him the truth. Not now," she hurried, seeing how he furrowed his brow," not while he's still young, but later. When he's ready to train with live steel and old enough to think for himself, you will tell my son the truth of his parentage."

Her son. By the old gods, he was so beautiful. Healthy, too. Lyanna hadn't believed that anything sane, anything good could have come from this whole ordeal until she had squeezed for the last time and heard a babe's wailing. Then the pain had been too much, and Lyanna Stark, who had once prided herself for being far stronger than those swooning southern ladies, had fallen in conscious to the sound of Ned running up the Tower of Joy, sword dripping red.

She loved her son with all the waning strength in her body, but he hadn't been worth all this.

"It will be dangerous." Dangerous for the babe, for Ned and his Tully bride and their young son, but Lyanna was selfish and dying and hungry for promises. She had never pretended otherwise.

"Life is dangerous, but living in ignorance is the most dangerous thing of all. I believe we can both attest to that, brother." They shared a wry look, so very familiar, and it almost seemed like everything is well and nothing is changed.

And then Jon fussed and Lyanna's breath catches in her chest, coughing and hacking and shaking her for long minutes. When the fit passes her tights are dripping red again and there's blood around her mouth, like a wolf muzzle after a fresh kill. Ned makes as if to clean it, but she liked it.

When next she speaks, it's in a disgustingly weak tone. "And yet I would have him live, and you as well. Promise me you will raise him as your own. Name him what you will, I care not, but love him. Teach him. Promise me you will be a better father than his own could ever be, and more honest."

She waits for his acceptance. She had known it would come before she asked, yet the moment between nearly left her senseless. When it came, it was all the permission she needed to close her eyes. In relief, in weariness, in victory.

"I promise. Lya, I will do well by Jon, by you. I shall do as you ask, when the time comes -Lya? Lyanna, listen to me. Do not close your eyes, do not, Lyanna. I promise, I promi--"

 

 

 

 

iv- death

 

 

"When they told me you were losing a bout with the Stranger I had to come see. The Bat of Harrenhall, bowing before a foe? A slander, I tell you."

Minisa looked worn, almost as pale as one of the ghosts of House Whent's castle was known for. Although her back was straight against the mountain of pillows, unlike Harrenhall's great melted towers. And why should she bow and cower? Minisa Tully had ran with the ghosts as a child. Her duty was done, the battle won, the soldier dying. Finally, after more than a decade of marriage, Lady Tully had given her husband a hale living son.

The boy was not here, naturally, Seven forbide Hoster's prescious heir be touched by the Stranger's breath. Still, Minie's smile was not strained. It was victorious. It was as it should be.

"I am afraid this time I am outmatched, my friend."

His hand found hers without thought and the mattress gave when he sat by her. The maids had done good work of making the linens look clean, or mayhaps the blood had simply stopped flowing out. It was all very proper. It made Brynden want to cut down someone.

"You will watch over them well, I expect."

"Aye, but not half as well as you would have."

She did not ask where her husband was, that his brother visited her and he did not. Brynden had been told Hoster was closed in his solar, as hasty in grief as he was cautious in everything else. There would be a row over that soon enough, but not yet. Minisa still drew breath, although her hunsbsnd seemed to have forgotten that.

"Hoster named the babe Edmure."

"A good Tully name. No doubt he was the one who choose it." Minisa did not smirk, because ladies do not smirk, certainly not the mother of future Lord Tully. Still, Brynden was certain it had been Minie who had dropped the name in a conversation, just so.

"You always more of a fisher than a trout. Never let a catch slip you by. That was how you married Hoster, if memory serves me right."

His brother had not noticed, but then again Hoster was not one to worry about what women thought.

He loved Minisa, that was true enough. Brynden understood her, and that was truer.

In any case, the memory made her laugh. He was not polite enough to pretend not to notice the wet cough she hid in a handkerchief. Cat's sewing, he could tell by the neat little lines, Tully colors satin that hid the red spittle.

"Catelyn is in the nursery, guarding the babe like a mother bear. He has taken a liking to clasping her hair, I hear."

Minisa's face went soft. There was something crumbling there, something angry. She would never get to see Catelyn as a mother in her own right. "She will try to be a mother to him, Brynden. Let her be, but not over much. She will forget to be a child if you let her, my Cat."

"I will."

"And take care of Lysa. She is too sweet for this world, trusts too easily. One day she will find not all songs end in true love. Or worse, she will not care to hear the ending. Hoster is not good with her and it will not get better from now on."

"I will watch out for them all, Minie." She had not mentioned the boy. That vow did not need to be spoken. He tightened his hold on her hand, leaning down, wet cheek to wet cheek. "I will. You have my word, Minie. You have done your duty. You have been honorable, my lady. Let me take care of your family now." Let me take care of you for once, at least this time let me take care of you.

His beard ticked with her shuddering sigh. "Yes, I have been, have I not? It is done. I think I will sleep now, Brynden. Wake me when Hoster comes. I should like to see him hold Edmure."

"I shall." He pressed her whiskey kiss to her cold, cold skin. "Sleep now, my lady. I will wake you when it is time."