“My lady, I am begging you, pray tell me you this is not your wish.” Stunned, Lyanna gazed into those blue eyes, lower lip jutting out. She suspected one of her brothers was close by, lying in wait with a mountain of snowballs by his side. It was a ploy.
“Why, good ser, of course I–“ she began, determined to not allow her actual sentiments to get in the way. The old gods knew what she would suffer for it, her ears smarted beforehand in preparation. But she never managed to finish, for the Southron lordling deposited the head of the rose in her palm. Not even an inch of the stem could be seen. He’d severed several years off of it like so.
“Mother be merciful! Your brother said that there is some wit to you,” he delivered the line over her own soft voice with such pathos that the she-wolf could not begin to guess what he played at.
“My brothers have been known to offer backhanded compliments before.” Her calm manner seemed to be wasted on the wretched suitor before her. “Which brother was kind enough to speak so well of me this time?” She hoped it was not Brandon. He was forever trying to rile her ever since she ruined those blasted boots of his. In her defence, the wine had upset her stomach and he’d been standing too close, the smell of horse and leather much too strong.
“The younger one.” The curt answer earned him a look of dismay. He hadn’t even bothered to remember Benjen’s name? “My lady, that is not my point. Do you wish to wed me or nay? That is all I want to know.” Then again, how could one protest a man who was aware one ought to never place themselves in a siblings’ squabble. Lyanna very nearly considered she had been wrong. And then she gazed upon her face. Charity fled like a hungering Wildling chasing an elk.
Lyanna rolled her eyes. He was staring expectantly. If she had to compliment him too, she did not know if she would survive the courtship. “’Tis my duty. Surely, your lord father has told you as much.” It was that blasted return from Essos. Lyanna did not know if she was not deserving of being struck down by the gods for truly begrudging a man his safe return. But Lord Baratheon should have just fallen into the sea and let her father’s plans drown with him.
Robert snorted. “I pride myself on my ability to ignore my lord father.” Her eyes narrowed at that. Was he telling her what she thought he was? The young man led her along the path a few more steps. “It would look strange to be standing completely still so suddenly.”
“Are you suggesting that we disregard the wishes of our makers with cruel, callous, calculated purpose?” He hesitated before giving her a slight nod. The she-wolf blinked trice, the response not quite sinking in for half a heartbeat.
And then it did. Her eyes grew wide and a delighted squeal had to be physically stopped from alerting anyone who might be loitering nearby of a nothing less than peculiar conversation. “I take it this is to my lady’s liking.” Robert offered her an easy smile. She nodded her head empathically, although he’d not asked a question. “Splendid. Then let us put an end to this nonsense.”
As excited as the prospect left her, Lyanna could not help but question him. “How would we accomplish the feat?” Lord Baratheon and her own lord father had ever convinced themselves that it was in the best interest of their houses to see Lyanna thrown into Robert’s arms. Any and all following protests from the two concerned parties were either dismissed, in the case of the maiden, and ignored, for Robert.
It was a horrid thing this they were about to do. Lyanna very nearly thrummed with excitement at the prospect, all eras for her suitor’s answer. When looking at her just so, a scheming light in his eyes, he did look as handsome as they said he was.
“Lady Lyanna, how goes your mumming?” Robert returned unconcerned, one of his hands clasping hers. The poor rose-head was crushed beneath his grip, light blue petal falling to the ground in a downpour. Her eyes fell to the downward path, following the last of the gliding petals.
“I’ve no experience,” the honest answer came. She was still gazing at the ground, intense stare focused on the spot where a trip of such ghostly apparitions as those produced by the victim of Robert’s carelessness produced. The truth did not sting. Not in a manner to leave her red-cheeked and glazy-eyed.
“Then you had best learn.” That earned him her attention once more. “It would be best, given the circumstances to try giving a reason for this falling through. We need something,” he trailed off, as if he were searching for the appropriate words.
“Horrific?” the she-wolf supplied, hopeful, already imagining herself as a sobbing mess, gesturing exaggeratedly towards a Robert smeared in crimson. But where to find a victim?
“Scandalous,” the stag returned after a brief pause. As if he was not scandalous. That had not stopped her lord father. “How susceptible to wooing is that companion of yours?”
“Leave Maryam out of this,” Lyanna warned. She was just as eager as him to have done with the matter. Yet not at the expense of poor Maryam. She was a silly creature and most of the time Lyanna sought to avoid her, but that did not translate to wanting any harm brought on the girl.
“There is not much I can do to convince Lord Rickard of my unsuitability otherwise.” He had a point. Lyanna frowned up at him. Much as she wished to give him leave in good conscience, the stupid had to be protected as well. She shook her head. “Then you do something.”
“Like?” she demanded, at a loss. “Is there anything your lord father would take such exception to as to put this marriage out of his mind? For good?”
He pondered her question with a grave look upon his face, leading them towards a conveniently placed bench. Robert swiped away the excess snow and gestured for her to seat herself comfortably. In the meantime, he busied himself pacing back and forth. “Insanity,” Robert revealed at a long last. “He even refuses to think too often about our Targaryen blood.” Indeed, the ruling house had mingled with the Stags of Storm’s End. Lyanna nodded her head. She knew the history well enough to understand the slim, but still existence, risk. Those bloody Targaryens.
“So I should pretend insanity?” How did one go about that? She had never seen anyone who was bereft of sanity. Not from a lack of trying, to be sure. She’d just never been permitted to get close to such individuals. “I am not certain where I would begin.”
In the end they worked it out between the two of them quietly, without much fuss. If insanity was what she needed to avoid becoming Robert’s bride, Lyanna would gladly embrace her role.
Benjen gave the two of them a sceptical look. “I think you truly are insane, if that is of any comfort.” He patted his sister’s hand gently and did not even dodge the slap she rewarded him with. Such a good sport. “But since you are family,” he nodded to Lyanna, “and you are nearly that,” Benjen continued, facing Robert, “I suppose I must help.”
“You really must,” Robert insisted. “The last thing I want is to be leg shackled to her.” Lyanna heartily agreed, although her vanity smarted at the comment. Not her heart though, thanked be the gods. She had worried for a moment, as the pain wormed its way in, that she might have developed some affection for the man. Shuddering at the unpleasant though, she nearly missed his following comment. “I am certain you understand my desperation.”
Desperation? That was mighty interesting. Lyanna perked up. She leaned slightly in. “Why would you put it thus? Never tell me there is a woman worthy of your heart in these Kingdoms of ours.” She was not exactly a stranger to the notion. After all, to her it was no secret that Brandon rode out early in the morning towards the Wolfswood. She knew why as well, but chose not to speak of it.
She would be jealous if she cared any for him. As matters stood, Lyanna’s pride had been pricked slightly. It was not a pain that a night’s good sleep could not cure. “Come now, Robert, I thought we were to be partners. Surely you can tell us as much.” What a joy it was to needle him. Lyanna laughed softly at the look on his face and slapped a hand against his shoulder good-naturedly. “There, there. You may keep your secrets a while longer. I shan’t pressure you.”
The generosity of her gesture was met with a scowl. Not bothered, Lyanna stood to her feet. “You may enjoy lingering here in the cold, but I have grown cold. Let us speak more on the morrow.” It was not as difficult as she had anticipated. “I’ll see if I can find something of aid in the library.”
Given that there was no danger to her loitering about the keep’s ground, neither offered to act her escort. Not that Lyanna would have accepted their company at any rate. She left their company for that of Meryam. It was best to let the silly goose know she’d be in the library. The last time she’d been missing from the girl’s side, her father’s men had ended up fishing for her body. Amused though she’d been at exaggeration and its consequences, she supposed no one would appreciate going out into the cold night to search for her this time around. And rightly so. Wishing to avoid attention, she took upon herself the task to keep her companion from doing damage.
Meryam stared at her dumbly for a few moments. “But, it’s dark without.” Lyanna nodded. “And it is near time we slept.” Again, the she-wolf bobbed her head up and down. “The stools are not comfortable to sleep upon.”
“You needn’t join me. Truly. I merely wished to let you know, Meryam.” The very last thing she wanted was for the other to destroy all her hard work by blabbering to all in hearing range of it. “You rest.” As if anyone could grow tired from sitting around all day long and knitting. The only tiring part of her body were her eyes.
Lyanna adjusted her cloak and left the bedchamber as swiftly as she could. The tower was not very far off, but she suspected that bring caught would not go well. Maester Walys might even take his cane out. Thankfully for her hide, she was undetected on her arduous journey and the library door opened for her with nary a creak of protest. The hinges must have been oiled well beforehand.
Shaking the light snow off of her shoulders, Lyanna threw her cloak on the first stool she saw and searched her small satchel for the candle she’d brought along. At nighttime there was only ever one sconce of light burning and every hour or so someone cam to check it. Making her way around the labyrinth-like arrangement of scrolls and books, Lyanna came upon the wall carrying the torch. She lit her stick of beeswax upon the joyful flame dancing lightly.
Then, with her own light in hand, Lyanna began searching the collection housed in the tower. Maester Walys was a firm believer that there was no such thing as sorcery. It stood to reason he would keep no books on that. But some of his potion scrolls contained what had been described as cursed drinks. Following the descriptions of such symptoms and claiming bewitchment would surely attest to her insanity.
Fingers resting upon the neat row of spines, Lyanna leaned in to better read the titles. Those in Valyrian she ignored. Her scant knowledge of the language made such material of no use. There were others, older tomes, written in the common tongue. Those were what she needed. Her search continued through the dusty tunnels, accompanied by the occasional sneeze or cough upon inhaling a mouthful of dust.
There was one small booklet Lyanna found, stacked between two great tomes. She pulled it out, wincing at a creak she heard from without. Holding the light over it, she read the very first lines. The neat script did not belong to father’s adviser. It seemed to be an account of sorts. Her attention was drawn by another book. This one she recognised as a complete compendium on plants. Lyanna hurried to pull it out when she heard the door opening, this time with a loud crack, as if to warn her.
With speed that amazed even her, she blew her candle out and shoved both books in her satchel. The added heaviness produced a wince from her. How she loathed having to carry weights. Of any kind.
Settling on the ground, Lyanna hid herself as best as she could. Footsteps rang out through the chamber and a man called out. As if she would be stupid enough to respond. Lyanna rolled her eyes and pressed her back even harder against the free patch of wall, drawing the dark coal over her head. Somewhere ahead a torch shined its light. Once more the man called out.
Seemingly satisfied when no reply came, he presumably walked away, footsteps growing fainter and fainted. The door could be heard opening and closing. And then there was silence. It was safe, the maiden told herself a few moments later.
Still, not wishing to test the bounds of her fortune, she forced herself to wait awhile longer before kneeling to the ground and placing both hands upon the ground to feel her way better. The curved shelves were no friends to here.
Soon, she told herself, she would be back in her bedchamber, listening to Meryam snore and wishing to smother her with a fine pillow. Lyanna sighed. The benches in the library truly were the very worst to sleep upon. Young and healthy as she was, her back protested at the very thought of lying upon a stool.
Fingertips brushed the solid surface in slow, circular motions. Lyanna advanced through the darkness, wondering if she would at some point see the torch wall. It also occurred to her that the keep would be best served to have another arrangement for all this. Straights rows. She would put it to father as it was possible. Provided, of course, that she would still be around to do so. And she just might if she moved fast enough.
A smothered snort sounded through the darkness. Lyanna could barely keep from giggling. Somehow she heroically resisted the impulse. It was no easy task.
It seemed her mumming was finer than she had credited it. At least it was good enough to fool Meryam in leaving her one her own to supposedly sleep off a headache. Benjen gave her a dry look as he unloaded the materials she had asked for.
Without waiting for much else, Lyanna began mixing the ingredients into a pitcher of wine, stirring lightly every once in a while. “I cannot believe Maester Walys leaves all this lying around.”
Benjen shrugged. “I might have fiddled with a few locks.” Ever the charmer, he grinned down at her. “I thought you’d appreciate having everything.”
The door opened, startling Lyanna, causing her to drop a bit too much Nightshade into the mixture. She grimaced, then turned to glare at Robert. “Close that, would you? You are not supposed to be here.”
“I came to see to your preparations,” he replied, entering fully. The door closed softly in his wake.
“How kind of you.” She continued on with her work, making requests of her brother. With the patience of a saint, Benjen carried all of them through, though he did mutter every once and again. Such was his nature, which Lyanna held no grudge against. “That should do it,” she said at a long last, inspecting the concoction obtained. Taking in the scent, she smiled. “Any volunteers?” the young woman questioned, holding out the pitcher.
Benjen laughed and held out a cup. “After you, sister mine.”
Lyanna poured. She took the cup afterwards and downed its contents in one go. “It’s not nearly as bad as I’d expected it to be.” Truly, it felt a bit tangy on the tongue, but nothing to be getting sick over. And the light tremors it would produce was just the thing she needed.
“Truly?” Benjen questioned. “Let me see.” He took the cup from her hand, poured what looked to be half the dosage, which according to what hey had read would only result in frissons and swallowed it all in a moment’s worth.
Nothing happened, of course not. It might need some time to settle.
“I believe it would be wise to taste this as well. Just to make sure it is not fatal to the lady,” Robert joked, stealing the cup from her brother’s hands.
“Oh, now you want to taste it.” They poured him half a cup as well and watched him drink. Robert wiped his mouth clean and placed the cup on a nearby stool. “We should leave your sister to ready herself.”
The company downstairs might not be very understanding at her absence from the hall during mealtime. Lyanna waved the two out of her bedchamber and waited for Meryam’s return. She missed Nan in such moments. Her companion, competent in the field of braiding hair and coiling it, was nowhere near as dear to her as the old crone had been. Might be father would agree to bring her back.
One could certainly hope.
Lyanna left the safety of her bed.
Meryam made her way in by a graceless stumble. Lyanna, though she’d made a half-hearted attempt, could not reach her in time to stop the fall. She was, however, able to help her up. “Why are you in such a hurry? There is time yet.”
“Not nearly as much as I would wish,” Meryam said, gazing critically upon Lyanna. “We truly must make haste, my lady. You look a fright.” Unfortunately not nearly frightening enough to send her companion screaming for the Frostfangs. Sadly indeed. Lyanna did not reply. Instead she seated herself on the edge of the bed and kicked her legs restlessly. What if the effects of the potion did not kick in on time.
In the meantime, Meryam was happy enough to search Lyanna’s trunks for a better dress than the one she wore. An easy enough feat. “I am so very thirsty,” she heard her companions say. “Is that wine you have there, my lady?”
Worry stole over Lyanna. “I’ll pour you some,” she hurriedly grabbed the pitcher only to let it drop a moment later. The frail pottery piece shattered in a thousand pieces, spraying shards and splattering blood-coloured wine all across the floors. “Oh dear.”
Lyanna made a show of kneeling, picking up pieces off of the ground. As expected, Meryam jumped in to relieve her. “Never you mind that, my lady. Step away from the mess.” Lyanna did as she was told, with an appropriate amount of awkwardness. There were times when her companion’s relative innocence was a blessing. “Wine stains are impossible to remove from fine cloth.”
Thanked be the gods for fine cloth and wine stains then. Lyanna walked to the bed, climbing up, waiting to be handed her clothing for the evening.
She took the proffered kirtle and inspected it in the light of the torch. “I believe this will do very well.” Well enough to mark a special occasion.
“He does not look well at all.” Lyanna jolted lightly in her seat, eyes going to Robert. He did not. Too pallid, wax-like even. She could not understand it at all. But he seemed well enough to eat and drink. He kept stealing glances her way every now and again, might be wondering at her tardiness. “Are you sure the draught can’t harm him.”
“Why would it?” she whispered back. “Look at us. We don’t have even the symptoms promised. Do you feel a chill?” Benjen shook his head and pushed a slice of roasted apple onto her plate, to make it seem as if they’d been speaking of food and not potentially having poisoned someone.
In fact, not a single tremor had been produced between the two of them. She was at a loss. “I ought to have known it would not work.” That was what she got for trusting old wives’ tales, even those that were written down. She should have just sacrificed Meryam on the altar of success. It was too late to turn back. “Go over as soon as you can and ask him how he’s feeling. We cannot have him dying on us.” Benjen gave a brief nod.
As it turned out, Robert felt mildly irritated at a sudden headache, but otherwise he claimed to be in fine form, even if his face told a different tale. Lyanna accepted his words without a second though. “Mayhap some more wine.” She offered him a cup of clear drink. “I am told it is good for soothing pain.” Even if it did ultimately result in only more pain.
“What a careful creature you are,” Robert jested, his fingers brushing against hers. Lyanna sucked in a breath. She allowed the cup to remain in his sole position, retracting her hand. Her guest lifted the drink to his lips and took a long gulp. “Dornish,” he said. “Always tart.”
In the next moment, under her very eyes, his smile wilted away. Violent coughing shook his whole frame. The cup fell from his hand which he brought to his chest, laying it over his heart as his other hand shot out to make a grab of her. Lyanna screamed out at the unexpected pain and piercing worry battling for dominance. She herself reached out for Robert, calling his name out.
No doubt their display earned them the attention of the whole keep. Her foot slipped on the slick, wine-covered floor. Before she could fall, strong hands supported her up. She saw another man move in to help Robert. He kept muttering under his breath and the whole chamber exploded in a flurry of activity.
All that Lyanna did want to know was what he was saying.
She managed to rip herself out of her helper’s hold and staggered forth, falling to her knees. “What is it, Robert? What is wrong?” How could the potion have had such an effect on him. She felt nothing, nothing at all. “What is he saying? For the love of the gods! What is he saying?”
One single word rang out in the sudden stillness. “Witchcraft!”
The slim volume landed on the table with a loud sound. Lyanna looked up at the man who glared at her accusingly. “You believe I am a witch? You can conceive of my being able to fell a grown man?” It was what she had done, but that, she suspected had been the nightshade, not her.
“He asked it himself,” the man replied. “He asked what you had done to him. What am I to believe?” The worst part was that even her father seemed to believe that she was responsible. What was he supposed to think, having discovered that the maester missed his powders, a slim volume of curses in her bedchamber and the situation of Robert Baratheon.
It was all such a muddle.
“I did not do it,” Lyanna insisted, licking her dry lips. Benjen must have told them as much. “I pray you, listen to me. It is not as you think it.”
“Then how is it?” Robert’s man demanded, suspicious eyes surveying her. “Tell me, my lady, if you are no witch, what have you done to him?”
The tears on her face continued to run downwards. There was nothing for it. She had to tell him. “We planned it together.” Her voice cracked upon the last word. “It was supposed to help us out of wedding.”
Again, this is a gift for Humpty and Dumpty mentioned in the opening note of the story. Hope you like this and that I didn't work myself out of my mind for nothing. Tell me what you think, guys, and also, thank you for the musical help. My muse is truly appreciative. :)
To the rest of my readers, you already know what to do on your own. Have a great night.
Chapter 2: Tales Of Yonder Shore
“Look at me. Look at me, Elia. It shall all be well.” It was a wondrous thing, the limits to which human belief could be stretched, not so much in the manner of a rope, but rather like a curling tendril of hair. Durable, yet all that frail at the same time. Rhaegar held the gaze of his lady wife, noting with growing unease the emptiness behind the dark pools. “Do you trust me?”
She snapped to attention, thin lips pressing even harder against one another, disappearing into a straight line. He could hear the pounding of his own heart, relentlessly beating a tattoo against his ribcage. The most important of issues was if he trusted himself. Rhaegar hesitated a moment. And in the space of his pause, she delivered her answer. “With my life.”
Relief washed over him. Rhaegar squeezed her hand in his own, willing her to take comfort in the solidity of the touch. “I shall convince the King.” This he said to himself as much to he did to her. His young bride sniffled softly, her own fingers wrapping around his tightly. No doubt she worried over the last words her good-father had spoken in front of her.
And good reason she had for that. Aerys Targaryen, supposedly gifted with all the wisdom of a ruling head, was the sort of man who would cut the nose to spite the face. No armour was thick enough to protect against such. And his son, try as he might, simply did not have enough support within the court to change anything. He could not even protect his lady wife. Had any malevolent god dreamt up such a scheme, he could not have done a better job of it.
“Don’t cry,” he whispered into her dark curls. “I shall not leave you here. You have my word.” A dangerous thing to promise and an even more dangerous promise to keep. It had occurred to him that he could simply turn his back on her and allow his father to, presumably, give her to the flames as he did with anyone he considered a traitor. But only a fool would make such a move. As her lor4d husband, she was his responsibility and under his protection.
“I’m frightened,” the woman admitted, surprisingly sharp nails digging painfully into his skin, the uneven edges marking her own unease at the prospect of having to face the King once more. “Why would he do something so cruel to us?”
His guess was as best as hers. Having no answer to give her, and suspecting that the question itself asked for now answer; he merely wrapped his free arm around her and drew her in a loose embrace. “The truth shall protect us. He will see that you are guiltless in the end.” Her warm breath ghosted against the skin of his cheek, a faint scent of wine lingering in its wake.
“It did not protect so many others.” He was, Rhaegar would freely admit, melancholy for the most part. If ever there was a glimmer of hope, a pessimism that came second to that very melancholy crushed such slivers beneath the heavy boot of reality. He’d rarely entertained any notions that might be considered optimistic.
Except for one.
To be so suddenly pushed into the position of the voice fighting for survival in such cruel circumstances left him weary. A fight was reason to give in to the call of the Stranger, not to cling to life with gasping breaths. Why ever should he be comfortable then, even with regard to his own wife, in making such flimsy promises and giving her such hope. Encouraging a love for summer in the tree expecting winter was nothing less than cruel.
And yet, try as he might, he could not shake away the need to comfort her. Even if it was all a lie. “You it shall.”
The door to the bedchamber opened, Ser Darry stepping in with an apologetic look upon his features. The remorse was almost palpable. “Your Grace, I fear I must insist that you make your farewells to Her Grace for the day.” Who had ever heard of it, a husband being commanded to upon when to see his lady wife?
Resisting the urge that coursed through him, that small call to rebellion which poked out its head every now and again, the Prince stood to his feet, bowed over Elia’s head and pressed a kiss to the crown of it. “I shall come on the morrow as well.” If he was permitted. There were days when even as much was not allowed to him.
The vague suspicion that his father enjoyed tormenting both himself and his lady wife with these impositions lingered in his mind. But he could not delve any deeper into them as Elia spoke, drawing his attention to her.
“I shall be waiting.” She gave a small nod of the head, lips arranged in a grim line. There was no wave, nor any encouraging sign.
Rhaegar had expected none. He left the woman’s bedside with firm strides, feeling less and less sure of himself. In the hallway, he glanced over his shoulder just once more, to see one of her ladies-in-waiting scurrying from a side-chamber.
The door closed softly in his wake and he was left standing in the hallway with the Kingsguard. They remained there for a few moments, silence dragging between them, thick and uncomfortable. The Prince gazed over Darry’s shoulder towards a young scullery maid who must have lost her way.
Hadn’t they all lost their way though? The though reverberated through his skull, putting him even more on edge. It was the very worst.
He began walking once more. “Where are you headed, Your Grace?”
“To the library.” Let him report that to his father. The man might have forced Elia into her bedchamber for an indefinite amount of time, but Rhaegar was still free to roam the keep and seek a way out of the tangle. And by the Seven, he would find it.
Thieves hand their hands cut off and were then given to the hangman. Some who were in good fortune managed to gain a one way journey to the Wall. If they were luckier even, they did not die in the first few months of service, but lived some years to become cooks, smiths, scouts or even warriors. With nothing to fight off, of course. But that was not such an important part.
What Lyanna got for her act of thieving was close enough to a horsewhip; close enough, that was, to leaved her much in pain. Every movement caused her kirtle to rub against the raw skin and without even a shift to protect her she could do little but wince at the end of every step. Contrary to what she’d been told, the pain did not ease with her practicing her step. It might well be that she had been willingly misinformed.
Suffice to say that Maester Walys had been displeased enough to insist on a swift and proper punishment for her actions. Her father had been sufficiently angered to accept. And her betrothal to Robert Baratheon was at an end. Given that she had reached her goal, Lyanna’s forlorn attitude seemed out of place. At least to her. Despite what her actions had brought her to, she should have by all means managed at least a triumphant smile.
As of yet, the best she did manage was a grimace.
Her face had fallen even further when she was told she would not be allowed to remain in her bedchamber any longer. Having gown in Winterfell, she was well aware that despite the sheer size of her home, news travelled fast. Much too fast for her to presume that not all the breath of Winterfell whispered about the witch-daughter of Lord Stark and her dark deeds.
Unfortunately, all opinions to the contrary, and even the words of Maester Walys had not managed to quell the newborn suspicion. And it so happened every day since the incident in the great hall that a pail of milk turned sour, a horse threw a shoe, a cat stole into the kitchens and compromised the butter; all sorts of inconveniences that were conveniently blamed upon the resident sorceress of the keep. Even more, people she had trusted came forth with such stories that her own ears came close to bleeding. he latest one involved her, the moonlight and a strange ritual dance. To her further embarrassment, there were those who wished to excuse her actions by claiming she had been possessed.
Neither of the two explanations helped. In fact, they made matters a little bit worse than before. And by the time Robert’s stay came to an end, the whole breadth of the Seven Kingdoms would be speaking of a Northerner witch. If insanity could be overlooked for a few added Dragons, witchcraft was not so easily tolerated.
And as Lyanna had been told, she had had enough time to hide in her bedchamber. It was about time she went about the keep and visited with Robert Baratheon, to patch the matters as best as could be contrived.
Such it was that Lyanna found herself limping down the hall, wincing every few moments and trying to keep up with her companion who, not only walked faster and faster, but seemed to be avoiding her on purpose. The she-wolf had to wonder how long it would be before she claimed her own water to be poisoned. A truly worthy question that would have to wait for another time to be answered.
Upon entering Robert’s resting chamber, Lyanna was greeted with the face of his own companion. The man gave her a harsh look, but nevertheless allowed her entry. She could tell that he’d not been pleased with the arrangement.
Robert, for his part, rested against a mountain of pillows and as soon as she made her appearance proceeded to jest upon the very delicate matter at hand. “Come to do me in, have you?” He chuckled at what must have been a look of horror. “Now, now, do not be shy, my lady. Come and admire.”
“Ser, I pray you,” she choked over her own words, tears gathering in her eyes, momentarily blinding her. Additionally to the pain of her back, her head was now pounding with unshed tears. All that Lyanna wanted to do was run out of the chamber.
The crack of her voice must have alerted him that she was not taking matters the same as he, for Robert, in a feat of mercy, cleared his throat gently. “Pray excuse the jest. It was done in poor taste. But I am much better, my lady.”
Lyanna approached the bedside under the careful supervision of both their companions. “I never thought it would come to this. Had I known, ser, I would have gone along with the plan of my lord fathers quietly.” That was a lie. Partly. She would not have done it quietly, but she would have complied.
Robert sighed. He held out a hand and looked towards his companion. “What nonsense. I prefer that we go down fighting.” For whose benefit he said it, Lyanna could not guess. She did however place her hand in his. “But I would have never though you would have such a high tolerance for Nightshade.”
“I knew it not either.” How could she have? A troubled sleep had not bothered her since infancy. “I pray that you may one day forgive my thoughtlessness.” She could not very well pray that he take her to wife now. Although, Lyanna suspected, it would be in her best interest if he were to.
Since it was not to be, however, she could only glance at his face, humbled by the good-natured manner in which he accepted her apology, poorly put together though it had been.
“There is nothing to forgive.” The Baratheon heir snorted at the look upon her face. “Unless, of course, you plan to finish what you have begun.”
Though he’d not done it in a mean manner, Lyanna could not help but burst out in indignation. “Ser!”
Rhaella wept silently as her brother proceeded to put their son in such a spot the likes of which had not been seen before in court. There was very little she could do in such circumstances but pray the Seven and her own gods that Aerys grew bored with the notion he had recently gained.
Lord Baratheon had written in such an upset manner about the hardships his son had had to endure at the hands of Lady Lyanna Stark that the whole court had been abuzz with little else. Even the incarceration of the Dornish Princess had fallen a poor second to the Northerner witch. It was might be for that very reason that her husband found it necessary to propose what he was.
“By rights,” the King’s voice rang out, “I should send her to her brother in pieces. My trust would be then avenged.” Except it would not be. Rhaella knew him well enough for the distrust to seep its way within her very bones. “You fend her with such vigour, Crown Prince? Why is that?”
The implications were clear before the eyes of all. If Rhaegar insisted, he would be labelled a traitor alongside his lady wife. But if he did not, he would lose Dorne.
“I simply wish that all evidence be gathered, Your Majesty.” Quick on his feet, her son saved himself gracefully, for the moment. The Queen would be proud, if she still had it within her to feel such emotions. As it was, she allowed herself a moment of hope.
“Be that as it may,” Aerys spoke once more, his arm piercing itself upon the blade of a twisted sword, interrupting his speech. The King cursed, snatched his injured lib away from danger and continued. “Be that as it may, a traitor can no more be the wife of a Prince than a gutter rat might make a fine knight.” Gutter rats oft made the finest of knights, his lady wife reckoned.
A collective gasp rattled the bystanders. Of course they would have little of intelligence to offer to the matter. If only Lord Martell had been allowed to speak before them. That man could easily talk his way out of the hangman’s noose, or the pyromancers’ flames as it so happened. Yet he had not. The journey between Sunspear and King’s Landing was not so easily made. Aerys had made sure of it. The wretch; Rhaella gritted her teeth.
And to think she could have spared the poor girl all her suffering. She was as much blameworthy as her fool of a brother. And now her son and his poor bride would have to pay for it. Such pain was intolerable. And she knew exactly who had fanned the flames of this raging fire. Her eyes drifted towards the Spider. No doubt he’d worked with the Lannister to foul her son’s marriage.
Tywin would have his revenge. At the expense of the innocents.
Well, she would not stand for it. Aerys could bring his little witch to court. Rhaella would show her just how scalding the fire of the dragon was.
“You shall have to wed her. There is nothing for it.” The words of his mother rattled him. For the King to so publicly announce his intention of discarding of his son’s wife was unheard of. Traitor though he’d named her, Rhaegar could well see that problems would arise.
“What does the High Septon say? Surely he would not have me disregarding my vows.” A man of the cloth, the Prince considered; there had to be at least an appearance of morality that he stood up for. And besides, he no more wished to wed a Northerner barbarian than the fish might wish to be caught in the fisher’s net. “Our faiths do not correspond. For certain that should count in the eyes of the Faith.”
“There is precedent,” his mother reminded him kindly. “Take this girl to bride, I say. Prove Elia’s innocence, and then break this second marriage. Otherwise it shall be your head he comes after. You are of more use alive.” Quite clearly put across, the point she made was unavoidable.
He would have to wed Lyanna Stark, like it or not. “A witch,” Rhaegar muttered under his breath, Most likely his cousin dear had stumbled upon an antidote and invented a fantastical tale to go with his lack of desire to wed. When Rhaegar saw him again, they would be having a long conversation.
“A witch or not, wedding her is the only way you may save Elia.” Complying with his father’s wishes would buy him time. But he would also have to, very likely, mount a defence against his second bride. A grasping, uncultured thing like her could ruin it all.
“I suppose I shan’t be allowed to send her to Dragonstone.” Nay, his father would wish to torment him further by forcing him into her presence, under the guise of making sure his own pick of a spouse for his son fared better.
Rhaella confirmed his fears. “Leave her to me, my son. I shall have her measure upon the glance.” The promise soothed him some, but not enough to put his worries to rest. “As for your lady wife, never fear, I have just the man to ensure her safe return to Dorne. All will be well, Rhaegar.”
He wished, truly he did, that he could trust in it as well. The notion that all hardships would pass was distinctively difficult to embrace when nothing good followed the bad to wash away the bitter taste. “We shall see, lady mother.”
Best to send Jon Connington to find out more about the girl in the meantime. The better prepared to face the horror he was, the better chance he stood at controlling the situation. Might be he should write to Robert as well. The man was bound to know a thing or two; his own lord father had been very much pleased to leave it at a name and assure him that he knew best in that regard.
By the way realm was faring, Rhaegar was very much reluctant to put his trust anywhere near his father’s knowledge of matters.
Chapter 3: Ships Sailing Through The Fog
The heavy sheet of rain poured down over King’s Landing. The rose-red brick of the keep glistened with every caress of the bold droplets rolling down from the heavens. The sky rumbled, the sound dispersing into the four directions of the compass. Heavy clouds weighed down upon the bend and pressed earth, their constancy nothing short of annoying in the reminder that unlike the rain, sorrows would not leave Rhaegar come sunshine.
He held still within his own the hand of his lady wife, looking into her face for what seemed to be the very last time. The clench of her fingers against his wrist burned like a brand into his skin, leaving his with the need to rub at it.
Despite the raindrops falling at a rapid pace, many had been those who’d come together to see the Princess of the Seven Kingdoms off. By degree of the King himself she was to presented to her brother in chains. Rhaegar took his eyes off of hers and picked up one of the shackled kneeling before her. The heat of her skin gave him pause as she demurely raised her skirts odd of the ground to expose to him one ankle.
The cruel metals brush caused her to tremble, her perceived as he did his father’s bidding, feeling the villain of the song when he looked up into Elia’s face. He longed to comfort her but knew he could not do so anymore than he could have Arthur be the one to take her to Dorne. It was not that he did not trust the other men. In fact he would put his life in their hands.
Ser Gerold nodded towards him, It was time to let her go. Swallowing the feeling of impotence at the rage still simmering within him, the Prince allowed the Bull to take the woman by the arm and help her into the wheelhouse. He did nothing but stare as the horses began their canter upon the sharp end of the whip.
And then the thread snapped.
Rhaegar turned his back upon the wheelhouse though he saw Elia’s head peeking out. Though they parted, to his mind they were still just one river splitting into twin arms. He would not forget. He would find a way to fuse them together. There had to be something he could do.
The world would go on spinning in her absence, he could not deny. And yet, through the rest of the realm would not feel the loss of a limb and the phantom-pain; he would. His world would be colder in her absence.If he could only feel it in his bones and not wear it on his skin. He could not afford to show them what he felt anymore. From this moment on, he had to be stone.
A hand touched his shoulder, breaking his train of thought. Arthur gave him a slow nod, a question. Rhaegar shook his head. “Your Grace, the storm is not breaking,” the other finally spoke.”We ought to head within.”
His lips parted to offer protest but all he could come up with was a choked sound. The Prince cleared his throat. “’Tis not that heavy a rain.” With a vengeance the droplets beat against his face. Stone could endure. He should be able to do so as well. “I shall go for a ride,” he announced, the split-second decision followed by his moving away in the general direction of the stables.
He found his steed in his stall. The horse snorted at his approach, nostrils flaring might be in anticipation of the ride. Rhaegar signalled for one of the hands to release the animal form its stall. The boy hurried to do his bidding, making the beast ready. Waiting, Rhaegar did not give much thought to the footsteps he heard coming from behind.
When he turned however, Arthur stood before him, ever the silent follower. “You needn’t come. I know you have no fondness for the rain.”
“What manner of man leaves his brother alone to face the deluge?” The Kingsguard nodded to the boy to have his own horse saddled. “Although, a show of gratitude would not be amiss. A silver stag or two to help the warmth back in my bones.”
Rhaegar could not help the amusement that washed over his. It was followed by bitterness. If only he could be pleased by a pretty face like his friend. It might do him good to find such comfort. But nay. He sighed and nodded his acceptance at Arthur. “A gold dragon even.”
“All the better.” The Kingsguard waited for him to mount his own horse before he did his own. Once they stood without, far from servants’ ears, Rhaegar gave him the questioning look he’d been waiting to give.Arthur shrugged. “He is not well, you know. I must make certain you remain within King’s Landing until the arrival of Lady Lyanna.”
Lyanna Stark. He’d not forgotten about her, just pushed her to the back of his mind. He could hardly bear to have her name spoken to him so soon after Elia’s departure. “It is no excuse to make a mockery of my vows, be he in poor health even.”
Arthur shrugged. There was naught he could say which would offer Rhaegar succour. He dug his heels into the horse’s flanks and set the beast to a swift gallop. His friend called after him, but Rhaegar did not slow down, allowing the rain to pelt him, closing his eyes against the slight discomfort. The cool caress eased his anger. He could think better.
Behind him Arthur gave chase, still calling his name, not seeming to care that the discourtesy could well be heard by those without.
Ser Darry stood before the Lord of Winterfell, watching impassively the emotions shift upon the other’s face.”Ser, surely you are aware that ‘tis not done so. I know not the manner of rumour which has reached the King, but my daughter is no common woman to be ordered to court on anyone’s whim.”
What did he care what the man thought at any rate, he could not help but wonder. His orders were clear. Return with the daughter of Winterfell, with or without the blessings of her father. It mattered not if the man screamed his protests at the High Septon himself. Every last one of them was bid to dance to the King’s tune. “You call being the lady wife of the Crown Prince a whim?”Though he’d said the words with dry amusement, a trait he’d borrowed from Oswell and his uncommon caustic comments set within a smile.
“Be it pardoned if I am mistaken, but the Prince has a bride. Very recently wedded as well.” It seemed the grouchy character did not appreciate the fine irony.
“Your own daughter had until very recently Lord Baratheon’s heir for her promised one. I reckon ‘tis passed; thus it is with the marriage of the Prince as well, my lord.” The bloody North was too far away, but even they must have heard. Or might be they’d been caught up in their own tale. “I speak once more the words of His Majesty: the daughter on my loyal lord is to be delivered into King’s Landing with the aid of Ser Darry and she is to bring with her the dowry settled upon her. Must I insist?”
Rickard Stark gave him a dark look. There was not a man in the land who was not aware of the less than savoury tales coming from the home of the crowned. But it was not his business to cast judgement. He continued to stare in stony silence at the older man, waiting either to take his sword out and spill blood or to have the daughter of the house called into the solar.
“Is there nothing else I could give?” the Northerner asked, trying for last bargain.
A thin smile spread upon his lips. “Your head, my lord.” Difficult as the choice must have been, he needed his answer. The hand moved to the hilt of his sword and Lord Stark stood to his feet, calling after the servant without.
A young man entered. “M’lord?”
“Find my daughter and have her brought to me.” He sat back down. “There, ser.”
Jon’s hand relaxed upon the hilt, fingers letting go slowly. It was ever more pleasing to have one agree quietly. “If it is of any aid, my lord, ‘tis very likely her home shall be Dragonstone.”
The man shook his head. “You’ve yet to meet her. My daughter brings me naught for contentment and all the trouble she can. I worry more for Dragonstone.” The words had been spoken with love though.
It was soon enough that the maiden arrived, creeping within the chamber like a shadow. He saw her standing in the doorway, her slight frame set atremble.Her eyes were not upon her father however. He bowed to the young girl, wondering if the King was aware she was but a child. Likely the man cared naught.
The child-woman stepped further within. “Lord father, you have called me?” The flushed cheeks withered in the glow coming from without, exertion dying and leaving the ghost of her behind.
“Aye, sit.” She obeyed the edict. If she could keep her obedience within court as she did in the home of her father she should not have much trouble. Rhaegar would not bother her and the King would soon tire of seeing her face no matter how much interest he had in the little witch,
Although, the unkind thought might well be undeserved. She looked close enough to a child for the idea of her being any manner of witch to be laughable. This was no wolf before him.
“Ser Jonothor Darry of His Majesty’s Kingsguard wishes words with you.” The girl’s face went bone white, the last drags of colour leeching away. Still she nodded.
“My lady.” He felt the fool bowing to her a second time when her eyes were upon her own lap. He could not be that frightening. “On behalf of His Grace, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, his father’s heir, on this I ask you, Lady Lyanna of House Stark, to accept this token of most sincere affection.”
He presented her with a wrapped gift which she took gingerly from his hands, eyes upon her father. At the old man’s nod she unwrapped it and pulled from within it a long chain of black pearls. “And with it know that you are from this day forth betrothed to the Prince, to be wedded upon your arrival within King’s Landing.”
“Father-” she finally spoke, doubt marrying even the lightest of flickers.
Rickard nodded to her once more. “I have already given my agreement to the match. I trust you shall not shame me once again.”
She frowned. The string of variably sized pears wrapped around her hand bending down to kiss her wrist. “Then I believe my answer is known to you, Ser,” she hesitated, as if trying to recall his name, “Darry,” came after a long pause.
“I need you to say it, my lady,” he acknowledged her spark of impertinence though he could not allow it to grow into a flame.
“You wish for my blood as well,” she sighed.
He chuckled. “Hardly. I want words. Others I make no promises for, my lady.”
“I gratefully accept the proposal made, ser. There, you have my words.” She stood from her seat and placed the dark beads back in his hands. Her last act of defiance, Jonothor presumed.
Fire crackled gaily in the hearth, spreading its soft light about the room. From without the last dying glimmers of sunshine were lost in the folds of a bruised sky, the first stars peeking out from behind the night’s veil. The moon should arrive soon enough, Lyanna thought idly. She looked away from the lancet as the door opened.
Meryam came with the black beads in hand, the uneven shapes, dangling on their string, falling down past her arm and in between her fingers. They looked to be wounds inflicted with the sharp point of a knife. Lyanna shuddered at the sight of them, and leaned closer to the roaring fire she’d insisted they start in her bedchamber. Ser Darry had allowed at her father’s insistence that they might wait awhile longer, for her to say her farewells and gather what was needful. Lips curling in contempt at the thought, the she-wolf waited for Meryam to draw closer.
“I was bid to put this on you,” she clarified for her sake, approaching cautiously. Even she feared a hex and would walk on eggshells when they happened to be in company of one another.
Lyanna did not like Meryam. She never had. But the girl was adequate company and growing, she had grown to enjoy having a female voice to share with her thoughts. While she loved all three of her brother and would lay down her life for any of them, the occasional pleasure she found in conversing with a mind alike hers could not be replaced. And now she’d been robbed of it. All for a silly scheme. Why, why had she thought that it would be a grand idea? Giving a nod of her head, she gazed away from the other woman, eyes peeled to the flickering flames. Wed a Targaryen. Even worse wed a man who already had a wife. She knew not if she could say the vows.
The cool kiss of death-blackened pearls slid against her skin, some snagging in her hair as Meryam made haste. Lyanna winced at the sharp pool and delicate tears rose to surface. The sting carried straight to her heart, reminding her that a marriage she would have after all. Just one that would bring her pain and sorrow.
Had Robert truly been that bad? Couldn’t she have grown to love him and he her? Her own lady mother had not loved her lord father, the tale went, but they had been successful in carrying on the line. They had three sons and a daughter and might have had more had Lyarra Stark not succumbed to death’s touch. And she, Lyanna perceived, would not have the good fortune of her mother. She wanted to weep for it and throw a tantrum the likes of which would frighten all suitors away and just leave her be. Yet she had already attempted that. It hadn’t worked; to her eternal regret and shame. Nay, she’d done it with her own two hands, ruined whatever hope she might have had. Lyanna could have kicked herself for being so foolish.
At the very least, Robert had been Ned’s friend. He would have been pleasant to her for that. But the Prince of the Seven Kingdoms owed his allegiance to none but himself. Who was to say that he would not turn on her? She was, after all, a whim; a means of tying matters over, she suspected, until the truth should be revealed in its entire glory.
She fingered her gift absently, worrying one of the beads between her thumb for forefinger, plucking at the thin band of silver-gold which held everything together. She could hear Meryam moving behind her, presumably looking for something which Lyanna could wear at her father’s supper table. The last supper she would be having in her home.
The knowledge curled low in her stomach, all sharp edges and elongated barbs. The pain flickered to life, crawling like worm into blood-moistened wounds, wiggling the fetid body through young flesh, leaving her a mess of broken lip-skin and bone-white complexion. Lyanna sighed, reaching out over the distance between herself and the burning flames. She held her hand over the highest-reaching of them and allowed the scorching heat to lick against her palm. Skin tingling with half-pain, she remained in that very position until something sounded out behind her. A lid being slammed shut.
The she-wolf startled and looked over her shoulder. Meryam held out a kirtle of washed-out gold, small blue roses embroidered by its hems. Standing to her feet, Lyanna undid herself the front of the gown she wire and shrugged it off, to remain in her woollen chemise. Her companion brought over the offering, pushing it over Lyanna’s head and then dragging it down as farter as it went. The laces on this one were at the back. They were done with a sure hand and then Lyanna was treated to her image reflected in a small looking-glass. The girl looking back at her brought a hand up to her neck. Strands of light gold fell like slithering rivers across the front of her kirtle, spilling past the high neckline to fall onto the first of the climbing roses.
“You may leave,” she told Meryam, whose relief was nothing more than another blow. Lyanna fell back in her chair, eyes plastered to her hands. She wondered if she might die in her sleep and never leave Winterfell at all. Such a calming though. But nay, her luck was not of such an ilk. Black pearls. The low dangling orbs looked to be bits and pieces of cadavers which crown had not yet managed to get their greedy beaks upon. She could feed the gift to the ravens in the tower.
In the end she could but stand to her feet and go through with the rest of the preparation ritual. She dabbed a bit of cordial upon her neck, the faint rose-scent clinging to her as she washed her hands after. Her doeskin slippers found their way onto her feet and she finally tied a black sash around her wait. The gaping wound cut through the summer imagery of sunshine and flowers.
For one last time she glanced into the looking-glass. Lyanna bits her lips to bring the colour out and pinched both her cheeks the pushed her hair backwards. And there she was, Lady Lyanna of Winterfell, bride of a Prince.
Without there was no one waiting for her save for Benjen who leaned against the wall, arms crossed o0ver his chest. When he saw her, he gave a shake of the head. “Your lips are too red.” She must have bitten too hard, Lyanna thought, allowing him to take her listless arm and lift it. “It shall all be well. Father will find a way to bring you back.” An optimist. The bitter taste of defeat, however, was not vanquished by such platitudes.
“We should go.” It should have been Brandon or Ned to walk her. Benjen was much too close in age to her and overly curious about her own feelings. Her other brothers would have restrained themselves. Alack; she would have to do with this one and properly glare at the other two throughout supper.
Only when they reached the great hall, Lyanna saw that Ser Darry had in fact brought along company. In particular her attention fell upon two women. One looked to be somewhere around her age, golden ringlets falling down her shoulders. The other was might be a tad older, with am unruly mane of blood-red hair. She knew their purpose before mouths were open to introduce them.
Father beckoned her over nonetheless and she came; like a trained dog. Introductions were mead and Lyanna found herself saddled with two new companions. Alys Velaryon kept throwing her long looks, as if expecting her to shed skin and become some sort of creature of the dark tales. The other, a nondescript Jeyne, made a point to keep her gaze away from hers. At the very least there would be no illusions, she told herself, sitting down at Ned’s side.
The feast awaiting had been hastily prepared. That much she could tell. But Lyanna took a serving of the aurochs roasted with leeks and placed upon her table roasted apples besides. She was given by Ned a couple of turnips soaked in butter, the creamy coloured sheen glistening in the low light. She ate her fill with more reverence than gusto; in the back of her mind all the while one thought kept repeating itself: this was her last night in Winterfell. The knife sliced into the soft apple, its brushed skin shredding under the sharpness of the blade. The morsel found its way between her lips, juice spreading over her tongue. Sweetness spread into her mouth.
She was dimly aware that conversation had broken out around her and would have remained so, half-retreated beyond walls of her own, had a hand not reached out to fall into her lap and distract her. Eyes snapping to her brother’s, Lyanna gave him a questioning look. But Ned merely nodded towards her plate. “You should eat before it grows cold.”
She took another bite, this time a strip of meat that had somehow landed in a pool of melted butter. She chewed on it, thinking that she should have liked venison pie better. The tender meat broke beneath the pressure of her teeth, the spices leaving behind their strength. She swallowed with some difficulty, hand reaching out for her cup. Watered wine helped her along.
It was clear that the whole breadth of the keep was sinking beneath the gloom’s weight, neither good food, nor strong wine, enough to spare or even trick. Guilt poked at her, scratching against the freshly healed wounds. Lyanna took another sip of her drink, hiding her face behind the cup. She would soon be in her bedchamber, she reminded to herself, fast asleep. And then she’d not have to think upon such matters. She would not have to think at all.
When her father finally gave them leave to stand to their feet, Lyanna was quick to leave her seat. But just as quick to be stopped by a look from her parent. “A moment, daughter. There is aught I should like to discuss with you.” She nodded her head, watching as the man spoke his last orders for the day.
In the interim she was approached by her eldest brother. Brandon took her by the hand and patted it gently. “I suspect you already know what father shall tell you, so I will strive to remind you that the situation is not so dire indeed.” He leaned in and whispered to her, “And if it happens to be as dreadful as you suspect, I am only a flight of a raven away. Whenever you’ve the need, I am there for you.” A valiant attempt, but one which she took as she took all of Brandon’s promises. Lyanna gave him a grateful smile and let him go on his way. Ned and Benjen simply bade her a light sleep and made for their own bedchambers, much to her relief. One brother to tease her was quite enough for the time being.
Once he was done, father called her away with him to the solar. Lyanna seated herself upon a chair, shivering lightly. The walls were as warm as they’d been fore however. She looked into the face of the ma who’d raised her and waited for him to speak. To tell her what it was that could not have waited until she departed on the morrow.
In a way, she was glad for it. For one last moment together with him.
“There are a few words of caution I could give you.” He sat down as well as she spoke. “I know not the reason for which the King wants you wed to his son. Nor do I presume to offer any. But this is too hasty, too much suspicious to be aught good. Thus listen well,” he held forth for her a piece of parchment. “Underneath the first layer, you have a thin sheet upon which you may write what you consider of import. Over it find some mundane details to share.”
She nodded her head in understanding, rolling the parchment and tucking it away in the sleeve of her kirtle for safekeeping.
Her father allowed her to leave for restorative sleep while he remained locked in his solar doing the gods knew what. Lyanna dragged her feet all the way to her bedchamber and opened the door, fully expecting to be met with Meryam’s frightened face. What awaited her was instead the duo from the supper table, washed and dressed for sleep. Their unnerving gaze lingered on her as she stood in the doorway. Had she might be chosen the wrong chamber? Lyanna took a step backward, meaning to gaze upon the door, but the golden Alys was quick at her side, tugging on her sleeve. “We should rest, my lady; a long journey awaits us on the morrow.” Jayne nodded her agreement.
“Where is Meryam?” Lyanna questioned, unable to help herself, even as she felt fingers working upon her kirtle and black pearls. She did not like to have been so swiftly divested of the familiarity of Meryam’s service, even if the other had been shying away like a frightened foal when ever Lyanna moved.
“She was pleased to leave you in our capable hands,” Jeyne chipped in, holding Lyanna’s sash in her hands. “Would it please you if I were to braid your hair, my lady? I know of a certain manner of plaiting to put Lysene curls to shame.” Stunned, Lyanna could only blink. “My lady,” Jeyne insisted.
“I suppose it cannot hurt,” she allowed after a brief pause, letting them push her towards the bed. Alys continued to walk about the room, checking trunks, presumably for the morrow. They must have been packed when she had taken her meal. Jeyne, as promised, knelt at her back, parting her hair in fine long strips and then tugging upon them. The slight pinch of every movement had Lyanna on edge before long. Her fingers drummed impatiently against the coverlets and sweet-smelling furs as she waited for the other to be done with the self-imposed and foolishly-approved task.
“There,” Jeyne said at long last, dropping the weight of the braid upon Lyanna’s back.
Alys was done with her inspection as well, for she scrambled upon the bed, knocking the covering out of the way and pushing Lyanna into the middle spot. “Now we sleep in truth.”
Settling like guards about her, Lyanna was trapped between the other two, having not even enough room to drop a pin. Whatever the explanation for such behaviour, she was left in the dark, in a most literal fashion when Jeyne blew out the candles. Having little else to do, she settled herself comfortably and eased her way into slumber, much too tired for aught else.
And sleep she did, well into the morning she slumbered, until insistent hands awoke her. “My lady, come, we must make ready.”
With an unwillingness that could not be mistaken, Lyanna waved her hand at the girl, trying to pull the covers over herself. But Jeyne, for surely she was the one, would not have that. Lyanna was dragged out of bed despite the bitterest of protests. She then followed through with her usual morning ritual, washing her face and hands with care.
Alys, close at hand as well, offered her the rose-water cordial, splashing droplets of the mixture upon Lyanna’s chemise as she was being dressed. “Might be a bit of rosemary,” she suggested, taking in the scent. “It should go nicely with the rose.”
Personally, Lyanna couldn’t care any less. She shrugged, which was taken for agreement by the Velaryon maiden who thrust the cordial into the other’s hands. Jeyne unbraided her hair gently as Alys occupied herself with returning the coal-beads to her neck, chaining her once more into the prison of smiles and obeisances. The heavy waterfall of her hair spilled in spirals over her shoulders, pieces of it catching onto her necklace. At least the braid had made it so that no snags were to be seen.
How much time she remained closeted with them in her bedchamber Lyanna could not be certain. But by the end she was more than grateful to be taken without and into the great hall where they broke their fast together, feeding on oatcakes and poached eggs with bacon, thin slices of cheese not far away.
What farewells followed and how the words were said Lyanna could not rightly recall, nor would the passage of time help with that. The whole episode became a murky, foggy marsh she could not step within for fear of losing herself into the sly bogs awaiting to trap her. Evading the danger, Lyanna would oft choose not to think upon it at all, for in her ears at times rang the promises Brandon made her and the accusing stares Ned could not help but let slip. Benjen, much like he was wont to, could only bemoan her departure and swear that when she returned he’d be a better rider than she. She dismissed that and hugged him close, not caring that people stared, wondering when the shy should fall of the youngest Stark.
It all came to an end in the blink of an eye. Lyanna was led to a wheelhouse which she was to share with her new companions. They’d been brave enough to spend the night with her. She supposed they fully deserved the dis-honour of being ladies to a witch.
Helped into her new dwelling for the gods only knew how long, Lyanna reclined against the pillows provided and closed her eyes. With a bit of luck they’d think she was placing a curse on some poor unfortunate soul and leave her be.
He would be lying if he claimed not to be curious. Rhaegar stood in the courtyard, in the very same spot from which he’d sent Elia off, ironically, to receive his, the mind shied from calling her bride. For in truth she was no bride to hi, but his father’s pawn placed in his way. A weight meant to drag him to the bottom of the sea. And yet knowing one’s enemy was the best sort of protective armour one had. Thus, with all the heaviness he felt, he’d forced himself to walk without, knowing very well that all eyes were on him.
Ser Darry was standing to his feet, reporting to the White Bull the progress of his mission when Rhaegar finally came to a halt. His own father was walking down the slippery stairs, his lady mother following at his heel. As his foot touched the flatland, the wheelhouse sprang to life, from within it releasing the long-awaited, ion the case of the King only, Northerner maiden.
Flanked by Lady Alys and the daughter of a household knight whose name Rhaegar could not recall, Lady Lyanna Stark was revealed before court in her entirety. And the sight she presented was, to Rhaegar’s mind, disappointing. When Robert’s lord father had claimed witchcraft, he’d thought that the son had come with some story to word off an antidote. He’s thought for sure the maiden must be part wolf and missing an eye or some such defect which would render her undesirable to his cousin.
But nay. Lyanna Stark was lovely.
Insipid as the words was, he could well apply it to her. In the same manner that flowers were lovely and twittering bird were. A shallow shell to cover soft flesh and hard bone; but pleasing enough for the eye to rest upon. What could have driven Robert away? She was barely old enough to be called a woman, let alone know any sort of witchcraft, even that of smiles and wiles. The woman-child gazed more at her feet than she did about her, might be a base of shyness attacking her. She hardly fit the part of the perfidious witch that he’d been told so much about.
“Finally,” his father’s voice distracted him from the girl. Rhaegar looked at the King and perceived that his lord father’s eyes lingered a bit too long upon the young face, as if he were searching for a sign. “You are arrived, good-daughter.” At that he felt his face sink under the weight of a grimace. She had yet to be properly introduced as she’d acquired the moniker already.
Her flustered face pinched slightly as the King approached her and she fell into a shaky obeisance. Her fingers were trembling upon the folds of her dress. “Your Majesty.” Her flinch when he stepped even closer was unmistakable. Rhaegar would have been amused were it not for the look on his lady mother’s face. The Queen’s thunderous expression left little doubt in his mind that whatever plans the King had, they were vile, revolting and nefarious.
And he would learn of them at some point, he was certain. But for the moment, he had his duty to see through. Rhaegar approached as well, watching, not without a hint of satisfaction, as the girl retreated farther and farther behind her own walls the more she kept glancing about. Good of her to not burden him with her idiocy as well; her presence was more than enough a plague. Her eyes found his quite suddenly, as if she’d heard the thought straight out of his head. The maiden frowned.
“Your Grace,” she greeted, her stoic expression returning after a moment. So close to her it dawned upon him that she was indeed very young. Her child-like frame barely reached the top of his chest and the small hand peeking out fro, the long sleeve of her kirtle bespoke of small bones and delicate built. He narrowed his eyes upon her. “I trust I find you well.”
If looks could kill, she would be drowning in a pool of her own blood. He was trying to decide if she had done it on purpose or was simply unthinking enough. But the answer did not come, for she kept her thoughts to herself behind a tightly clasped mouth and downcast eyes.
“My lady,” he offered by way of answer and left it at that. Let her understand what she would of it. He hadn’t the disposition or the inclination to comply to his father’s edicts more than necessary. His perceived rudeness did not seem to matter overly; either to the King or to the maiden.
Before long Lyanna Stark was being led within the keep with him and his lady mother walking behind. The chance having presented itself to him, Rhaegar leaned in, “Why is it that she is of such interest to him?”
There was little to commend her beside a passable visage and an old name, that he perceived. As for her being some sort of witch; he believed it even less now that he saw her than when he’d heard the tale. If she was a witch, he was a beggar. “Is it not as clear to him as it is to us that someone has spoken falsely?”
His mother shook her head coldly. “’Tis not about falsehood. ‘Tis the prophecy. The three-headed dragon and its song of ice and fire.” She said the words with such hatred. He partly understood it, for she’d been given to his father on account of the prophecy. He supposed he would grow to despise it was well if he did not rid himself of Lyanna Stark.
His gaze slid towards the back of her head, at the dangling thin braids that had been vaguely wrapped around one another to form a flower of sorts which swayed with her every step. His attention returned upon his mother when she spoke, “But never you mind. I shall keep the little witch busy while you take apart this foul plot.”
He nodded his head in agreement, more than pleased to not have to deal with his father’s plan whatever it might be.
Led into the great hall of the keep where refreshments awaited the arriving party, Rhaegar was forced into Lyanna’s company as she was served salt and bread and wine. She betrayed her age once again when she grimaced upon sipping from the wine. One had to wonder what his father had been thinking and how in the seven hells he could connect this insipid, colourless creature to the blood of the dragon.
Retreating a step backward to where Lady Alys waited patiently, Rhaegar put to her the question. “What think you, my lady, of your new mistress?” She looked up at him with shrewd eyes. Having served his own lady wife before, she was well aware of the situation and by the fact that his father had not had her thrown out as well, he suspected that she knew a great deal more than she let on.
A cutting smile spread upon her lips and those dark eyes of hers twinkled with mischief. “You wish a reason to lay blame upon the girl, do you not?” She scrunched her nose up at him. “I am here to serve the Princess of the Seven Kingdoms, not to please her princely husband.”
“Have a care,” he warned softly, moving back to Lyanna’s side as she gave her cup away and was drawn to the side of the King once more. His father was telling her something about responsibility and valour; he of all people. It was his fortune that he’d not been drinking anything or he might have been forced to relinquish it. The girl nodded her dead dutifully, eyes wandering about the chamber. She was searching, he decided; for something or someone. Her face fell slightly. So she’d not found it.
“I leave you to my son, for a few moments,” his father said. It sounded as if he was being lend Lyanna. True to his word, departing for the company of his Spider. What manner of poison was he being fed? What information was he being given? Rhaegar nodded towards Connington whom he saw appear from the crowd.
He looked down at her in an attempt to gauge the reaction she’d have should he leave her. But the child blinked up at him stonily. “You need not stand with me, Your Grace.” Was she a witch, after all, able to read thoughts? Before he could verify that, Ser Darry walked up to them, bowing to the maiden.
“Your Grace; my lady.” He pressed something into her hands and bowed once more before walking away.
Rhaegar peered down at what she’d received, but she, with movements quick as lightning, his from his gaze what looked to be a strip of cloth, pushing it into the sleeve of her kirtle. No matter, he would know soon enough and might be it would even aid him in send her back to her frozen tundra.
To his utter horror, they were seated together at the high table, at the right of the King. Rhaegar could do little but keep his cool as the girl occupied a place not rightfully hers. She had perched herself awkwardly upon the edge of the chair, eyes kept straight into her lap. It was as if she did not wish to see or be seen in return. Soon enough murmurs broke out as the lords and ladies broke into groups, whispering to each other.
Rhaegar remained well-aware of Lyanna and when her gaze moved to him, head turning just slightly so, he met her eyes with haste. And she spoke. Not like she had without, voice atremble and uncertain terror. Nay; it was something the like of cold courtesy. “Have I somehow offended Your Grace without my knowledge?” she questioned. He knew it to be a jab at the fact that he’d not spoken two words to her either.
Feeling generous, Rhaegar leaned in, to make it seem as if he were sharing with her some great intimacy. “Your mere presence offends me.” He pulled back, settling in his seat, eyes upon her face which had caught flame. “There, my lady, you have your answer.”
She bit her lower lip and reached out for the cup that had been long standing before her. A sly grin broke out on his lips. “Do you plan to curse me as well, Lady Lyanna? Might be I should not be drinking any wine.”
The colour in her face was leeched away by his words, he perceived. A kinder man might have been inclined towards mercy at that point. “Nay,” he continued nonetheless, despite knowing that more than just a pair of eyes was on them, “I suppose you would not use the same trick twice. What shall it be then?”
The soft line of her jaw hardened perceptibly. And when he met her eyes he was surprised by the pride he saw there. “I would not dream of granting you the favour of my curse,” she whispered, words filled with vitriol.
The muscles in his jaw twitched at her reply. Young, but not as unknowing as he would have her and teeming with impertinence. Elia would have never given him such a reply. But then again she was not Elia.
“Then what would you do?” he questioned, calmer than he felt.
Her eyes tore themselves from him and looked about the chamber. Her lips parted slightly as she drew in breath. And then those orbs were back upon his. “Were Your Grace riding through the desert and I in possession of water, I should fain feed it to the greedy sand.”
He laughed. Rhaegar could not help it. She’d not meant to amuse him; he could see. But stirred as he was, he could not stop. “Rejoice then, my lady, for to me you are that cruel desert of which you speak.” And she had indeed cut him off from all contact to his water.
Clues (for you-know-who-you are):
1) BABBAAABBBBBAAA BBAAAAABAABAABA ABBBAAABAB AAABAABBBABABAABAAABBAABAAABAA BAAABAABBBAAAAAAABAAAABBAAAAAABAAAB ABAAABAABA AAAAAABBAB AAAAABAAABBAABAAABAA BABBAAABBBAAAAABAABB AAABBABAAAAAABB BBAAAABBBABABAA BAABBAABBBABAAAABBABABABA BAABBAABBBAAAAABAABB AABBBAABAA BABBAAAAAABAABA AABBAABBBAABAAAABBABAABBA BAABBABBBA AABABAAAAAABABBABABB ABAAAABBAB ABABBABBBABABABAABAA AAAAABAABB AABABABAAABAAABBAABABAABB BAABAABAAAAABBAAABBBBAABB AAAABBABAABAABB ABAAAABBAB ABABBABBBABABABAABAA AABBBAABAA BABBAABAAAABABBABABB AABABAAAAAABABBABABB ABBBAABBABABABBBBAAA BAABBAABBBABAAABAABA ABABBABBBABABABAABAA ABAAABAABA AAAAA AAAABABAAABAABB ABABBABAAAABABAAABAA ABBBBABBBAABAAABAABAABBBAABBAB BAABAABBBA AABBBAABAA BAABA ABBABABBBABAABB AAAAAABABBABABB BAABBAABBBAAAAABAABB AABABAAAAABAAAB ABBBAAABABAABAB ABAAAABBAB AABBBABAAABAABA ABBBBBAAABAABAAAAABBABAAAAAABABAABBABAAAABBBAABBABBAABA
2) AAABBABBBAABBAB BAABB BABBAABBBABAAABBAAABBBAAA BAAABABBBAAAAABAABAABAAABBAABB BABBAABAAAABABBABABB AAAAAABBBBABBBBAABAAAAAAABAAAB AAAAAAABBAAAAAAABAAAABBAB ABAAAABBAB AAAAA AABABAAAAABABABABBBABABAABAAABAAAAAAAAABABABBAABAA ABABBABAAAAABBAAABBBBAABB ABBBAAABAB AAABAABBBABABAABAAABBAABAAABAA BAABAABBBA BBAAAABBBABABAA AAABAAAAAAABBAB BAABB BAABAAAAAABBAAA ABAAA AAABBABAAAAAABB ABBABABBBABAABB BAABBBAAABBBAAA BAABBABBBA BAAABAABAAAAABBAABAAAABAAABBAA AABBBABAAABAABA AAABAAABBBAAAAABAAABAAAAAAAABABAABBAABAABAAAB AAAABBABAABAABB ABBAAABBBABAAABAABAA ABAAAABBAAABBBBABBBABAAABBAABBAAAAAABBABBAABBABABBBBAAA AABABABBBABAAAB ABBBAABBABAAABAAABAA AABBBAABAA ABABBABABB AAAABAABAA BAABBAABBBAABAA BABABABBBAABAAAAAABAAABAA ABBBAAABAB BAAABAABAAAAAAABAABAABBBAABBAB ABAAA ABABAABBABABBBABABBA BAABAAABBBABBBAAAABAABABAABAAAABBABAABBA
3) AAAAAAABAABAAABBBAAABAABA ABAAABAABA AAABABAAABAABAAAABAAABBBBBBAAA ABABBBBAAAAAAAAABBABABBABAAAAA ABAAABAABA BAAABAABAAAAAAAABABBABABBBBAAA BABABAABAABAAABBBAAA BBAAAABBBABABAAABBABAABBA AAAAAABBABAAABB BAABABABAABAABAAAABAAABAAABBBBBAABBABAAAAAAABABABBAABAA BAABBBAAABBBAAA BAABBABBBA AABBABABAAAABAABAABABAABA BABBAAABBBAAAAABAABB BAABBAABBBAAAAABAABB AAABAAAAAAABBAB ABABBAABAAAAAAAAAABB BAABBABBBA ABAAA AAABBAAAAABAAABAABAA BBAAAABBBABABAA
The light drizzle continued to fall without, striking rhythmically against the painted glass. The low glimmer from without, barely discernible, cast the chamber in a diffuse warm glow. The colour of blood oranges spilled onto the stone tiles, spotted with shadows and darkened areas. The long drawn out rain-verses continued their dominance of the bedchamber.
Nested among a bundle of furs greater than any other she had seen, Lyanna listened to the symphony, half-sleep still, heavy lids sticking together with persistence as she tethered herself to the realm of the living, coming from the deep sleep without. She had been dreaming. Fragments of those illusions still swarmed in her head. She’d seen great things, but the words slipped from her and the images turned to cinders as wakefulness gripped her.
She came to with the creak of the door, lifting her head to see who dared disturb her. Lady Alys had entered the bedchamber, carrying in her hands a cup. Lyanna watched as she placed it upon one of the benches and moved about, going from coffer to coffer, pulling from each something or another. Jeyne was nowhere to be seen. But the she-wolf was more than certain the other would appear as well. In due time. Not despairing at the absence, she sat up, throwing away the furs resting heavy upon her shoulders. All the warmth had left her near to choking. Limbs heavy from inactivity, she stretched out, hoping the flow of blood would wake up the rest of her.
Alys turned towards her with a friendly enough smile. “We must see soon to breaking out fast. The King has ordered you be made ready. I was thinking this one should do, my lady.” She held out for Lyanna’s inspection, a kirtle as dark as the midnight sky. Upon the passage of a few moments and lacking a response, she pulled it back uncertainly. “If you do not care for this one, I can find something else.”
Brought out of her daze, Lyanna began denying any such wish profusely. “I was wondering whether the dark colour would not be seen as an overstep.” Rhaegar Targaryen wished little enough to do with her, might be even less than she wanted to do with him; it seemed to her a proclamation far too loud to take on his colours with such ease. “I do not wish to appear careless.”
“There is no danger of that,” the light haired maiden promised her. “Here, let me help you put on your garb and then we shall see to the rest.” And as she promised she did. Alys worked deftly on fitting the dress to Lyanna’s form as she washed her face with fresh water. The result was the expected one in that before long, Lyanna stood fully dressed.
Jeyne arrived as well, holding out a sliver sash. “I knew I would find it.” Pride shone in her face as she presented Lyanna with her offering. “My lady, this one if the one for you.” Seeing no reason to dissuade her, Lyanna nodded her head. It might seem like an acceptance, but she swore to herself it was a superficially adopted conduct. Until she could figure out a way of escaping and going back home.
Aye, she’d be looked at every time the milk soured in the wooden pails of Winterfell and if the bread was burnt eyes would linger suspiciously on her person; but she could live with that. She could ignore it, even if others believed she practised witchcraft. In fact, it was better that they did. That way no one would look twice at her when she slipped in the godswood.
The second of her ladies slipped the sash around her waist and tied a ginger knot. Her hair was then pulled out of the way and to her back, combed and tidied. Seated on a stool, she sat through the work of the two women, not minding very much the tugging. Likely they were casting her tresses in come elaborate monstrosity she might use to claim belonging to the Southron court. As if she cared.
If it were up to her, she would have simply walked down and eaten her fill, after which she would have seen to hiding away somewhere and not coming out unless it was to the news of being sent home. Her plans, however, were threaded upon by word of the King. What that man had seen in her she could not tell. But she knew that for at least one person her presence was not a blight. It was for that reason that she would go down there and subject herself to the scrutiny of so many others. She had to make sense of his insistence to be courteous to her.
The curious mingling of intent and understanding she perceived in the man’s gaze would not leave her be. In no manner could she find an appropriate explanation and her curiosity was given rise on account of a secret she perceived somewhere just out of reach. With a bit of good fortune she could find out what it was that he needed her for, dissuade him and make her way home. Such stood her reasoning as she glanced at her reflection in the uneven surface of her looking glass.
The almost Southron plumage of the lady before her eyes felt a gross lie. Lyanna swallowed softly, standing to her feet. “I daresay no man can find fault with your artistry, my dear companions.” It was time to repair to the great hall.
She left behind the reflection along with the featherbed, the mound of furs and other comforts that her bedchamber had offered. It was high time to put of her mask and try her hand at planting fright in the hearts of these great lords and ladies who thought to make a spectacle out of her tragedy.
Alys and Jeyne walked a half-step behind her, deep in conversation as they passed through the halls. It was to her good fortune that she had managed to memorise the road to the great hall as well as she had. Lyanna looked behind her, half-expecting to see others making their way there as well. But there was naught of the sort.
Instead someone cleared their throat ahead of her. She halted her step instinctively and gazed in front of her. A familiar man stood there. She could not match face with name, but she knew him to be a member of the Kingsguards from the cloth of his cloak.
“Lady Lyanna,” he addressed her directly, not waiting for her to signal that he might approach. The breach of conduct was further aggravated by the absolute lack of courtly comport. “His Majesty the King expects that you join him and the family for a private breaking of the fast. Allow me to show you the way.”
She was not quite certain as she looked at him, if he was so unpleasant because he resembled the Prince in his conduct or because resembling the Prince made his conduct loathsome and thus his presence irritable. If she could hit him over the head, she would. But Lyanna knew better than to do so. He had a sword. She had none. That reminded her; she ought to look into procuring for herself some sort of weapon. Much as she trusted the King’s men, she would rather have some personal assurance in the matter. Might be one of ladies could be worked upon. The thought lingered in her mind for just a few moments before she followed the knight whose name she knew not.
“Lady Alys,” she called to the first of her ladies, “and Jeyne, you as well, come walk beside me.” Safety was in numbers, or so it was said. She planned to enter whatever lair awaited her as part of a triad. Her two companions were quick to do her bidding, catching onto both her arms.
The knight looked back at them once, as if to make certain they’d not stopped following with the increase in number. He said naught at all at the sight they presented, thus Lyanna took heart and turned to Alys, a question on her lips. “Which one of the King’s men is he?”
“He is Ser Arthur of House Dayne. Best you be careful of him, my lady,” the maiden answered.
“Aye, he and the Prince are close as brothers. They look the part too,” Jeyne offered. Her words struck a cord within her. It was just another reminder that all these people, they had a place at court, a position that was theirs, which they had grown accustomed to. And she, she was just an interloper, come this day and gone the other; if the gods be good. But still, the knowledge fed a small abyss within her.
Ser Arthur took a turn to the left and Lyanna nearly lost her balance for being so deep in thought. Thankfully for her, she was saved form having to become intimately acquainted with the floors of the Red Keep by the secure hold of Alys and Jeyne.
“There is no need to be afeared, my lady,” Jeyne told her. “There shall be naught to hurt you at the King’s table.” Naught she was certain there would not be, what she feared was that someone would be there though. Or rather a couple of persons.
The Prince was not her only worry. His lady mother, the Queen, had not seemed to be anymore amenable to her presence in the Red Keep than her son had been. She could do little but hope for the best. When the Kingsguard halted in his progress, the three of them stood before a couple of massive doors. Alys and Jeyne released her and she understood they could not follow.
Thus Lyanna looked from one guard to the other, raising her head in a commanding manner. They opened the doors for her and she was allowed within, greeted by the sound of chair legs scraping against the ground and the King’s voice issuing commands.
At the sight of her conversation stopped abruptly. She curtsied, wondering where she should seat herself. Little as she wished to be paired with the Prince, she could perceive no alternative. Her only relief came when she noticed that there was another occupant at the table whom she’d not yet made the acquaintance of.
“Is that her, lord father?” the child questioned, looking at her with wide eyes.
“Aye, son. Come, Lady Lyanna. Sit next to your soon lord husband.” And her hopes were crushed. With a curt nod of the head, she sat down in the indicated spot. “I trust you have slept well.”
“Very well, Your Majesty. I hope that Your Majesty has found his rest as well.” She sat there, hands demurely in her lap, looking around the table. The child played with his food for a few moments before gracelessly shoving a spoonful of it in his mouth. A bit slipped past his closed lips to fall down on his chin.
Unthinkingly, she stretched forth and before anyone could say a thing of her actions, cleaned the bit of food off with her thumb. The boy swallowed and as if naught out of ordinary had happened, he hopped down from his seat. “I want to sit with Lady Lyanna,” he declared, walking around his lady mother to reach her. Without as much as a by your leave, he climbed in her lap. He placed his spoon in her hand and stretched out for his bowl.
“Viserys, love, come to mother and I shall feed you,” the Queen beckoned her son over.” Viserys rewarded her efforts with a shake of the head.
“Listen to your lady mother,” his brother cut in “and leave Lady Lyanna to her own meal.” But that did not work any better. In fact, Lyanna felt the child in her arms tense and an ear-splitting cry shook the chamber.
“Viserys,” the King attempted to quieten the red-faced child. To no avail. He wept something or another about wishing to eat with her and Lyanna was forced to speak, although she would have preferred not to do so at all.
“There, there,” she soothed in similar fashion to what she would do if Benjen was proving himself to be obstinate about a particular task set to him. “Your head shall hurt something dreadful if you spill too many tears,” she told him, hugging him to her chest so as to pull him firmer in her lap. “Of course we shall eat together if that is you wish, Your Grace.”
Spoiled little thing that he was, Viserys met her claim with a quietening of his cries. Without further ado, she lifted the spoon and set it into his bowl, scooping up some of the food. It was a bit difficult to move around him, but thankfully he saw fit to catch her by the wrist and guide her hand to his mouth. The gods only knew why he should wish to eat perched on her lap, but as long as she did not have to hear him cry, she was happy to indulge him.
Her own food was now out of reach, for she could hardly feed him and herself at the same time. Lyanna half-expected the Queen and older Prince to sit up as soon as the child had finished and she hoped, might be foolishly, that the King might do the same. She could then claim mistreatment and write to father. Naught of the sort happened. The King kept his seat, his Queen doing the same. It was only the Lord of Dragonstone who shifted in his chair, looking at her with thinly veiled annoyance. If she was such an eyesore to him, he might as well poke both those eyes out. He’d not have to see her then, she thought unkindly.
“Is it good, Your Grace?” she asked of the boy who was happily filling his stomach of honeyed porridge from the looks of it. The answer was a hearty nod, for which even she felt a flicker of satisfaction. Even without putting much stock in the constancy of children, her heart fluttered lightly.
Once he had had his fill, Viserys leaned back against her and held up a half-spoonful of porridge. Lyanna smiled down at him and accepted the offering, her stomach squeezing too tightly for her to refuse. Her own bowl sat untouched on the table. After the strange display, she was allowed to return to her own food, for Viserys jumped down and returned to his original seat. Lyanna hurriedly swallowed a few spoonfuls of porridge with as much grace and dignity as she could. Which was, she perceived, not much. What manner of dignity did she have left?
She finished her meal and wiped her mouth discreetly as the King made conversation with his younger son. She did not listen to their talk, for it was spoken too low for her to catch. But it sounded as if they were sharing some manner of secret.
“If my lady is done,” Rhaegar spoke, startling her. Lyanna nearly jumped out of her skin. “Your Majesty, I should return to my tasks.”
She nearly snorted at the manner in which he put it. Return to his tasks, he said. As if he’d woken with the dawn. If the man could be anymore conceited then she was not a Stark. Turning her gaze away, she allowed her eyes to land on young Viserys to whom she smiled.
“You may depart,” the King allowed, “just as long as you do not forget your promise.”
“I doubt he could forget it,” the Queen cut in, the bitterness in her voice unpleasant to listen to.
“Keep out of this,” the King warned. “Lady Lyanna, remain with me for a few moments longer.” His invitation was naturally met with a quick nod.
“Father, might I stay as well?” Viserys questioned, tugging on the King’s sleeve. His offhanded was accepted by the child, who ran to a corner of the room, presumably to await for the other two to conduct their conversation as his mother and brother left.
“Forgive my son and his moodiness, if you can, my lady. When the boy sets his mind to it, he can be rather charming.” Lyanna refrained from commenting. “You must understand he is obstinate; he needs time to come to terms with my decision, I perceive.”
She needed time as well. Gathering her courage, Lyanna dared to speak. “Then, Your Majesty, might be it would be better that I return when he is ready to accept this decision.” Hope bloomed in her heart. She held her breath, counting backwards when no outright denial came.
That she should keep it for too long was out of the question, however. The King made his reply. “It is better to proceed, my lady, as I have planned. Rhaegar shall see that I am right in this as he is wrong. I should like to ask, however, how he has treated you thus far.”
As if he had not been there to see for himself. Lyanna knew, though, that she could not answer in such a manner. Lifting her eyes off of the ground, in which direction she had gazed at his reply, she cleared her throat. “I can find little fault in his conduct.” He had kept away from her for the most part. That pleased her well enough.
“You do not think he avoids your presence?” He had a sly look on his face.
“I dare not voice such complaints,” she avoided neatly. It seemed she would be spending much more time with the Crown Prince. Holding back a sigh, Lyanna waited for confirmation.
“Of course he has. The situation shall be rectified. You must understand, Lady Lyanna, that you are my good-daughter that I have chosen with my own two hands.” Aye, an explanation for why would be welcome at that point. But she did not wish to ask for it. “Go now, it seems my other son is far less resistant to what is good for him.”
Clues: BAABBAABBBABAAABAABA ABAAABAABA BAABBAABBBAABAA AAAABAABAAAABBAABAAAABBABABBABABAAAABBABAABBA ABBBAAABAB AAAAA AAAABAABAAAAAAABABAABAABBABAAAAABABBABAAABABB AABABBAAABABAAAAABAAABBABAAABBBAABAAABBBABAAAABBBB AAAABBABAABAABB ABBAAAAAAABBAAA AAAABAABAA ABBAAABBBABAAABAABAA ABAAAABBAAABBBBABBBABAAABBAABBAAAAAABBABBAABBABABBBBAAA ABBBAAABAB AAAAA AAAABABAAABAABBBAABBAABAABAAAB AABABAABAABABAAAAABB AAAAABAABA BABBAAABAAABABBABABB
When she had been a girl, unknowing and quite naïve, Lyanna learned a very important lesson. The particulars stayed with her and were likely to remain there to her death day. She’d been might be seven or eight, thereabout, and had insisted that she wanted to follow father around. He had allowed it, not knowing what awaited them. And what did await them was, to be certain, quite the gruesome scene. One of the Black Brothers had taken it into his head to move to warmer climates. As necessity would have it, he was caught and thrust up and bound like a goose, then brought before her lord father. In theory, like had known what happened to traitors. Even so, she had been little prepared for the weeping man, begging for his life. Not even a man per se, rather a boy. She still recalled thinking he could not be older than her middle brother. Her father had not flinched though. Ice had been unsheathed and moments later the fine blade bad been slicing through muscle and tendon, shortening the sworn brother’s height by precisely one head.
As it happened, Lyanna had been looking on in horror at the head which decided to roll all the way to her. Muddled eyes had blinked up at her, mouth opening as if to release a last cry of pain. Needless to say, she had nearly lost what little food she had eaten that morning. Unpleasant, nauseating memories aside, there had been a lesson to learn there.
Death was swift, unpleasant and quite disgusting.
Except when it wasn’t. Lyanna’s death was slow and torturous. It was also in possession of Myrish lace and colourful glass beads. Standing on the dais, her arms outstretched, Lyanna glanced down at the seamstress every once and again when she managed to peel her gaze off of the Queen. Needless to say, the Queen had little trouble keeping her eyes on Lyanna. She felt rather like horseflesh with the way she was being scrutinised.
While Lyanna would lose nothing as dramatic as her head, she would soon be giving over her life. The King had made goon on his word and insisted that the wedding be held as soon as humanly possible. That had translated to Lyanna being shoved into a chamber where too many needles and pins tightened yards of silk around her until something resembling a dress began to take shape.
“I believe that will do,” the Queen offered, not moving an inch. How the woman could stand so still, Lyanna had no idea. “Let her see.”
The seamstress stepped away and called to her helpers who were holding up a wide looking glass. Lyanna had long since found that a good dress could brighten any image. As such, she remained impassive in the face of such splendour. “This is appropriate enough.”
The wolf on her dress, grey-furred and fierce, curled around her legs, as if bowing to the soaring dragon above. She would have protested such a representation if she could. But any such idea fled her mind at the look on the Queen’s face. She had not been wrong in her earlier assessment of the woman. Warm as a block of ice, her soon to be spouse’s mother left her with a bitter aftertaste on the tongue and more than a tad of worry in her soul.
If the Queen was pleased, then little else mattered. Dismissed without further notice, the three woman bowed and made their way out the door, leaving Lyanna still in her kirtle, wilting under the hard gaze of her nearly good-mother. “Tell me, girl, have you been instructed yet?”
“Instructed?” she echoed, surprise flashing across her features. “I know my vows,” she replies as best she could. The gods knew father had had her repeating them a few hundred times to make sure she knew them by heart.
But the Queen laughed at her response. Not the sort of laughter signalling amusement. A bitter sound, meant to mock. “Not that. I am surprised your betrothed did not teach you.”
An inkling of suspicion crept up upon her. The slow burn of a violent blush spread across her cheeks, plunging down beneath the neckline of her kirtle. She cleared her throat and stood there, at a loss. Rhaella Targaryen offered a brief sharp smile before she slouched in her chair. “What could you have possible done to merit such treatment? I take it Lord Baratheon’s heir did not take well to your practice of witchcraft.”
Gritting her teeth at the insult, Lyanna resisted the urge to close her eyes. “I am sure it makes no matter to me what other men think, Your Majesty, as long as my lord husband does not take issue with it. He is, after all, the only man whose good opinion I have need of.” And not even. Lyanna waited for the next insult.
As if that had been a signal of sorts, the King’s sister-wife snorted. “Husbands and good opinions do not mix in my experience. But try, Lady Lyanna, the gods may yet be kind.” She was rather certain herself the gods would not be at all kind, but Lyanna took the words with cool scorn. “You seem to have all the instruction you shall ever need. Just mind that you do not bleed hard too hard on your wedding night.”
That was ominous. Lyanna gave a curt nod of the head, not wishing to ask further questions of the woman and give her reason to add further insult to injury. And at any rate, she had been told enough to know that blood was to be expected and she should not worry. Whoever said scullery maids did not have more use than cleaning out pots and dishes.
The Queen stood to her feet, her eyes going to the doors. “It has been long enough and this dress shan’t make itself.” The seamstress and her girls were called back within. “She is all yours,” the older woman said, moving towards the doors herself. “I shall return once you are done.” And with that she left.
Arthur clucked his tongue, thankfully not rolling his eyes a second time. “She is just a girl, Rhaegar. The worst she can do is stain your tunic with tears.” Not that the knowledge brought him comfort. “Wed her and send her to Dragonstone. There, your problem is solved.”
He did not wish to send her to Dragonstone. His seat and his keep were meant for his wife, not the interloper his father thought to foist upon him. He glared towards Arthur and downed another mouthful of wine. Liquid courage enough for an army, he stood to his feet and drew in a long breath. “Nay, if my father wants her to be part of the family, then he may keep her here.”
To his mind that was the best solution. His father was determined, for whatever reason he had made up, to see the wedding through. But Rhaegar had not been idle either in the time they took to prepare for the nuptials. His future spouse was a contradiction he could not figure out despite his best attempts. There was something off about her. She could be exceedingly warm, but only to children and her face was mostly an impassive wall, except for the few occasions on which she allowed herself to relax in the presence of her women. For one so young, she was exceedingly suspicious.
And he found he liked it not at all. The manner of woman who though she would need full armour long before making anyone’s acquaintance was surely not someone without secrets. Just as well that she reminded him of that at every opportunity, lest he forget and feel anything other than contempt for her.
“I do not wish you my good fortune then, Dayne.” Just a girl, indeed. A girl for whom his father had seen fit to rob him of his lady wife and send her off as if she were a traitor. His friend smiled, a thin, razor-sharp thing. “Let us proceed then.”
The quicker the vows were spoken, the better. And the Seven knew the sept was far enough away. Where one had to consider that for the past few days rain had been pouring down mercilessly from the darkened skies. It seemed the realm conspired to make his feelings upon the subject crystal clear. He could only hope the message reached his father in whatever trance he’d fallen in.
The wheelhouse waited in the courtyard, large and decorated, slightly at odds with its grey surroundings. Rhaegar climbed within, fully expecting the sight which greeted him. Opposite him, seated uncomfortably was his bride, her skirts fanning out about her, material flowing in waves over the wood and onto the floor. Lady Lyanna gazed back at him with the warmth of a winter night, lower lip curling downward. “Your Grace,” she greeted him, voice clear, but not particularly strong. It seemed that sheer pride held her up so rigidly.
“My lady,” he answered with the same lack of passion, occupying his seat. He took the opportunity to further contemplate her. Alys had certainly worked her fingers to the bone, making her presentable. And still, she fit no better than she had before, all awkward lines and Northerner unease. Elia had never seemed out of sorts like her. His lady wife had been at ease from the first moment she stepped into King’s landing, taking to the milieu as she had been taught to. This one was decidedly less knowledgeable.
Her hand moved, at long last disturbing the tableau of pinched stillness she had willingly become part of. Her fingers spread out over the colourful beads sewn onto her dress. He supposed that some would consider her pretty in the excessive remoteness. She was like a stone sculpture in that, fit to be admired, but rough to the touch. Yet Rhaegar did not wish to touch her and admiring her was the last thing on his mind.
The wheel dragged over a rut in the road and the girl jumped in her seat, fingers clenching into the heavy folds of her skirts. Then, as if naught had disturbed her, she returned to her earlier position, mask back in place. Rhaegar leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes for just a moment. He ought to have known that ill fortune was his fate for in the next moment another rut on the path caused mischief. The wheelhouse shook and rattled, sending the maiden out of her seat.
Instinctively his eyes opened at her sound of distress, hands reaching out. Silk and beads and lace trimmings filled his hands, drifting against his fingers as they wound around her. He felt her palms press onto his shoulders, the weight warm despite the layers of cloth between them. The wolves dancing down the front of her kirtle brushed against his knees and the strong scent of rosemary filled the space around him. Time stopped for one instant, leaving him and her alone in the world. She looked down into his face, surprise written all over her features.
And then she moved, the spell broke. Lady Lyanna stepped away from him, the wolves following her every movement as she beat a hasty retreat to her bench. “My gratitude,” she said after a few moments of silence, one of the pins in her hair slipping away, the Lysene curl falling over her shoulder. She picked it up and twisted the tendril back into place, securing it.
“No need, my lady.” She held his gaze and nodded slowly. For whatever reason, he found the gesture oddly satisfying. He reckoned they were close enough to the sept for the feeling to trickle away and not affect him. Soon enough he would remember just why it was that he disliked her. But in that one instant, she seemed to him less remote. “Our journey is nearly at an end.”
“So it is,” she agreed, gaze sliding away from him. Her hand moved to the wooden bars and pushed inward, allowing in a draft of cold air. “Let us hope the road provides less bumps.” He tried to find in her words some meaning other than the obvious, but she was looking without and seemed to have naught else on her mind. In the end, he gave it up and looked without as well.
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Arthur raised one eyebrow at his long time companion. “You defend her with such alacrity. Have a care, Darry, men have lost their heads for a pretty face before.” The aforementioned individual slanted him a glacial look. ”Did you think I’d not seen you at her welcoming feast.” He made no reply, but simply shrugged. “ Jon, she is the wife of the Prince.”
“And I am a loyal servant of the King,” Darry snapped, hand going to one of the heavy brooches holding his cloak. He tested the clasp before his fingers retreated, falling to the handler of his sword, the challenge clear in his eyes. Suspicion did not alleviate however even with that show of bravery; Arthur’s glare grew in intensity, one hand touching the other man’s shoulder. “What is it, Dayne? Must you know every man’s thoughts?” His face flustered in indignation, Darry looked about ready to say more. Arthur was not quite certain whether the anger came from having the girl taken away or from the implied accusation, but the strong red remained all the same, a mark upon the face of his brother.
“Naturally, I must. Not only for him, but her as well. Any breath of scandal will topple this house of cards down. You know this.” It was bad enough that people thought the Stark girl a witch. It would only be worse if they thought her a seductress as well. “Think, man. Use that head of yours!” No doubt the King would make it out as someone trying to foil his plans and then there would truly be no peace at court.
The warning did not have the desired impact. Darry turned the full heat of his glare upon Arthur. “I am not you, Dayne. I do not feel the need to side with any one of them in this. My duty is to the King and the King wants her protected.” Neither brought up other desires of the King which both were equally guilty of closing their eyes to; they had long ago accustomed themselves to the bruises marring the Queen. It was more comfortable to pretend ignorance, safer and rewarding in its own right. “Not everything is about passion and love and all that rot. Some things are about doing what must be done.”
The furious discussion paused for just a moment. Enough that both heard steps echoing without the chamber. Arthur took a step back and glanced at the door, a stirring of anticipation coursing through his veins. It did not move. They kept waiting until the sounds faded entirely. Disappointment filled him. He’d lost momentum as well. “Do you want her?”
A self-deprecating chuckle bubbled on the other’s lips. It lasted for a few moments before Jon managed to compose himself in some semblance of respectability. “You don’t understand, do you? I can want her all day long. That is in no way relevant. I am a Kingsguard and she is the Prince’s wife in all but deed. I would be insane to act upon any feelings for her.” He hesitated. “But if I did, I would not admit it to you of all people.”
That certainly complicated matters. If Darry wanted the girl, it would undoubtedly cause them all strife at some point, as such matters did tend to become more unmanageable by the day. He considered telling him that Rhaegar would not keep her, but that would expose his friend. And he might warn the girl. What would become of all their careful planning then? “Just as long as you do not admit it to anyone else either.” Yet he had to wonder why.
There was naught to commend the girl. Certainly she had an old name, but that was it. “What happened on your journey from Winterfell?” Darry’s shoulder rose, the muscles in face drawing taut. “You cannot expect me to ignore what is obvious.” His companion sighed, loudly. “If you tell me, I can keep us both out of trouble.”
“She had a knife with her.” The revelation gave Arthur pause. Not the fact that she had a knife, mind, as much as the fact that she’s though she would have use of a knife. “I took it away.” Might be Rhaegar had the right of it and the girl was too suspicious by half.
“She used it on you.” Jon grinned, seemingly abashed. “Good that you took it off of her then.”
“Had I known what awaited her, I would not have,” Jon deadpanned. Ever the gallant, Arthur considered with an inward snort. Not that it would have helped Lady Lyanna. Even with a knife, her fate would still be the same. “You can believe what you will, Dayne.” With that, Darry pushed past him and made for the door.
A few moments later the sound of the door closing reached Arthur’s ears. He had not moved though, keeping his gaze upon the wall, trying to figure out the best course of action. Jon hadn’t as much as implied he would do aught to harm Rhaegar’s plans, but then again Darry was a follower, not a leader. Since Whent had already agreed to aid then, it had been expected that Darry would implicitly do the same. No one had considered Lyanna Stark for even a moment. And why should they have?
If he told Rhaegar, Darry could well decide to not join them after all. But if he did not, he would have to keep an eye on the man. Very much doubting the little lady had done aught to capture his comrade’s heart, Arthur wondered if he could work on convincing her to discourage Jon’s affections. At the very least until they could bring the Princess back.
What a mess it was all turning out to be. Arthur sighed and turned around, brushing a hand over his face. He’d best see to reaching the sept before the whole procession was over and done with. As for what came after, there would be time to deal with it.
Lyanna forced her lips into a stiff smile. It felt almost painful. But she looked upon the King’s face, feeling the warmth of his hand beneath her palm and she could not do otherwise. It was with no joy that she marched down the aisle, with all eyes upon her. She had prayed, she supposed not hard enough, that there would not be an abundance of attendees at her wedding. And yet the gathering would put even a full hall of her father’s to shame.
She dared a look towards the first of the benches. It was Jeyne’s gaze she caught. The young woman smiled at her encouragingly. A knot formed in Lyanna’s throat. She wanted to pull her hand away from the King’s, turn around and run. Run as fast as she could and as far as her legs would take her. It was such little thing that chipped away at her composure. A king look, a warm smile, things which she knew would not help her one bit after the spoke her vows.
It did not scare her to be tied to a man. It scared her out of her mind to be tied to the Prince though. Not so much because she thought he might take a hand to her, that she could deal with. Three brothers had taught her that some fights did have to be carried out with one’s limbs flailing about; but because he was as warm as winter frost, she was rather certain all her extremities would freeze, blacken and fall off. He treated her as if the fault lied with her.
Gazing ahead she caught sight of him, waiting at the end, two Kingsguards standing behind him. She knew two more had followed them within, walking after her and the King. Lyanna saw Ser Darry incline his head gently and she held back from offering a genuine smile. She might not be capable of forging her mask in time to face the Prince.
The High Septon’s beady eyes rested upon her as she came to stand by Rhaegar’s side. She allowed her lips to move, just slightly. The man was looking as if he’d swallowed something vile. Not that her soon-to-be husband sported any happier a façade. The man with the holy book held up the Seven-Pointed Star and began his little speech. Lyanna followed along until the point the Prince was to speak his lines. Like a perfectly-trained mummer he made vows to her in a clear voice. How could he go about it so calmly when she could barely breathe?
Petrified, the maiden registered that it was her own turn to speak the vows. She gazed from Septon to Prince and back again, lips parting, raspy breath coming out. In that moment, with the weight of an entire sept-full’s attention resting on her shoulders, the world ceased to exist. An interminable moment of pure stillness held her arrested, keeping her dumb and deaf to all but the thundering of her own heart.
And then the first word left her mouth, a tremulous ghost, throwing off its chains. The dam broken, her vows poured out like water over the riverbank, inundating the barren flats. She’d sealed her fate without even realising, the cloak around her shoulders pulled from her, changing hands as it went to rest with one of the courtiers.
Its dark twin of thick brocade was placed upon her person, clasped together with a fine heavy gold brooch. Fetters, even those with gems upon them, were bindings most solid. Lyanna looked down at the material trailing her form, running in dark rivers to cover all but the dancing direwolf trying to climb up towards the skies.
Before long she was presented to the court as Lyanna of House Targaryen to loud cheers and a few rancorous looks. Those Lyanna avoided as best she could, pretending she did not notice the sun and spear or the golden lion. The Prince’s arm was beneath hers as he stepped forth and she had little recourse but to follow lest she end up inelegantly sprawled upon the steps. One’s wedding was supposed to mark a passage from girlhood into womanhood, and yet she felt no more a woman than before.
Once at the foot of the stairs, Rhaegar Targaryen drifted away from her and she was taken by a group of women, eagerly expressing their best wishes, some even daring to give her half-suggestive smiles in the guise of encouragement. If that was the manner of courtly women, she did not wish to know what daring words men had to speak. Accepting the fuss, Lyanna tried to keep calm and aloof. If one waited out the storm, the sun was bound to shine. Someone tapped her arm, causing Lyanna to turn her head sideways. Jeyne and Alys stood side by side, having pushed through the crowd. Immensely grateful, Lyanna could not hold herself still, instead she held out both hands to the two. “I thought I would never have you returned to my side,” she said, interrupting the stream of someone else’s discourse.
“The crowd, Your Grace,” Jeyne said in a manner indicating an apology.
“It is a crush,” Alys supplied cheerily, squeezing her fingers. “How wonderful you were, Your Grace.”
She would have rather been wonderful in her own bedchamber back in Winterfell, Lyanna thought with some regret, but keeping herself busy with such ruminations could only lead to heartache. Instead she mentally shook away the burden and nodded at the two. “Let us make for the feast.” The only part of the wedding which anyone with a modicum of decency would call pleasant in such circumstances. Wine dulled a great deal beside the inhibitions of imbibers.
“I would have thought what happened after held more appeal,” one of the ladies around her commented, prompting the others to laugh behind their palms. Lyanna did not react. “Your Grace will discover what that is, I am certain.” Once more they laughed. Lyanna joined them with a smile of her own. She loathed court life already.
Incredulity penetrated the drunken haze he’d settled comfortably into. Rhaegar looked at the King, violent anger burning in his veins. “I beg Your Majesty to reconsider,” he managed to ground out, tongue still tied from the Arbor wine. “There is no need for such a spectacle.”
His father chuckled. “You believe me a fool,” he said, an almost charming smile upon his face. When decently groomed, the man seemed normal. Hoe frightening. Rhaegar tried to push away the hum of blood flowing in agitation. “Four witnesses. No less.”
It was properly mortifying. In certain circumstances the consummation of one’s marriage needed witnesses. That could only be explained by the lack of faith in the bride’s maidenhood or the new-husband’s virility. Since he was certain his own father was not questioning the former, his own pride boiled with need of retribution. He decided then and there that the man would pay. Somehow, he would make him regret this decision.
Instinctively his eyes darted towards the other participant. Any man with eyes could see she was unwilling. To wed him. Rhaegar presumed she’d not even considered bedding down with him. Something like satisfaction reared its head at the expression upon her face. She was white as a sheet and trembled too. What a sight to wake a man’s ardour. His lips drew in a straight line as the bard of the keep along with his minstrels began singing about the king taking off his crown.
“What will you do?” he heard Oberyn hiss as a gaggle of tittering women approached them.
“What can I do?” he answered, trying to keep a lid on his temper. And the harpies were upon him, cooing and giggling, making all those noises he’d been much more tolerant of when he’d wedded Elia. Tall as he was, he could still well see over their heads. His Northerner bride had fallen into the hands of a few charming courtiers who were trying their very best to ease her out of the elaborate gown, as much as was permitted to them. He also saw Jonothor Darry stepping out of the shadows, a silent guard watching the procession.
Distracted by on e of the women addressing him, Rhaegar turned his gaze away. He indulged her for a few moments replying to her suggestive words with an innocent string of words. He feared the day any of these creatures spawned female offspring. Nevertheless, he was still forced into relinquishing most of his garments to their greedy hands. He half wondered if they’d pull the fabric apart and squabble over precious stones. That would be entertainment.
Unfortunately, he would never find out the answer as he was led to the wedding bedchamber and fairly shoved in. In the low-lit room he saw his bride half-hidden beneath covers, a woman standing over her, telling her something. Her wide eyes darted towards him and he whole face exploded with colour. The helping hand she was given retreated as soon as she noticed him. Rhaegar did not recall her from among the keep’s servants and he had little time to wonder.
Before long the eager witnesses poured in after him. The woman in his bed bit her lower lip. It seemed to him she was trying to melt into the furs. Pity welled up within him at the pathetic sight. He was not quite yet made of stone. Still, even as he wished to spare her, a hand was clasped over his shoulder, “Well, go on. We haven’t all night.” He gritted his teeth and marched on, stepping over the thick carpets on the ground. The high bed would have likely posed no problem had he been less liberal with the filling of his glass. As matters stood, or floundered better yet, he took a good moment to climb into his proper place.
Curtains were drawn and chairs scraped against the floors. His wife’s horrified gaze was pinned to his face. “Please,” she whispered, looking wretched. “Please.” What could be possibly say to that? He’d intended to sneak in a knife and fool everyone into believing he’d done his duty.
Instead, he gripped the coverlet she held to her chest and pulled it from her fingers. She whimpered and tried to dodge out of the way only to be caught by the shoulders and repositioned. “Weren’t you taught your duty?” he questioned softly, feeling her grow stiff beneath him. “Hold still and it’ll be over soon.” If he managed his duty that was. Her trembling form distracted him. “Still.”
“I am,” she whispered back harshly as he drew the cover over both of them. “Just hurry.” The words every man wished to hear from his bride; just not quite with that amount of disgust interwoven into them. Rhaegar swallowed a retort and instead busied himself with gingerly lifting her shift, thanking the merciful Mother someone had thought to not remove it. It was bad enough to feel the slight creature beneath him. If he saw her, he might take to flogging himself in the sept the next he went to prayer.
In the interest of somehow preserving any remaining shred of decorum, he refrained from making obvious his movements. Instead, he slowly brought his hand downwards. As the warm flesh of his palm slid against her stomach she jolted, a hiss leaving her lips. He ignored that and carried on until he reached the point of interest.
“What are you–“ she questioned, might be louder than she’d intended to, and certainly louder than he wished her to. Someone chuckled.
He slipped a finger in. “Testing the waters,” Rhaegar muttered. She was much too tight, her rigidity only adding to the difficulty of penetration, and yet, strangely enough, the slippery sheath took him in. She’d been given something, he recognised a moment later and felt even sorrier for the girl. Instead of comforting her, however, he simply nudged her legs wider apart.
Tension swelled between them as she recoiled from the pressure that followed. He did not relent. Rhaegar did not know what sickened him more, the look on her face, or the knowledge that there were observers all about keenly aware of the look of her face. Biting her lip kept her quiet until the moment he met a barrier. Having gained momentum, he couldn’t stop in time, but rather felt a soft membrane break under his attack. Her cry ringing in his ears, Rhaegar gritted his teeth against the near-pain of her hold. Muscles contracted around him, involuntarily urging him on. Despite that, he was very much certain the tear-stained cheeks of his bride pleaded for something else entirely.
He drew out and closed his ears to her whimper. There was no sound coming from those gathered in the bedchamber. He imagined they were making bets with themselves, trying to figure out if the son was like the father. He slipped back in and the woman under him gave a low moan. He recognised the agonised ring of it. “It’ll be over soon,” he promised, more to spare himself the guilt.
“I wish it were over now,” she huffed quiet enough so that none would hear before grabbing onto his forearm, nails digging into his skin. Rhaegar couldn’t agree more.
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The marital bedchamber was invaded early the following morning. Or rather Rhaegar thought it was early. It was considerably difficult to make out the time of the day by the insistent shaking he was being given. Nonetheless, he opened his eyes with a grunt of dissatisfaction, temples pounding painfully. The sight before him did not help matters any.
Holding solid furs one-armed against her chest, his second wife had the temerity to glare down at him, haloed by the slight glow from without. “You are being summoned by His Majesty,” she let him know in that neutral voice of hers, each syllable crisp and cutting. Her gaze avoided his.
If he strained himself a little, it seemed that might be ‘twas not so much a glare on her face, but rather her customary stance.
Without deigning to rise, he angled his neck towards the chamber doors. They were closed. “Where is this summon? I see naught before my eyes.” Other than a little harpy who’d never enjoyed a fine drink and had little idea of how one ought to be treated after such an instance, he amended to himself. And then the memory of their wedding night sprang to mind, unwelcome and uncomfortable. He sighed and turned heavily on his back, bringing his arm up to shield his eyes. “Did they come in?”
“Aye. Gave me a right fright.” The last part was more a whisper than words addressed to him. But it was the most intimate admission n he’d heard from her so far. “Is the King a very patient man?” He removed his arm and looked at her then, not quite certain at the heaviness he felt in his chest. There were dark circles under her eyes.
“Not that I know. Why do you ask?” Rhaegar sat up and glanced towards the door once more. She inched backwards; he caught the sight of the covers sagging as her grip faltered.
“You are still abed.” And she wished him a thousand leagues away likely. Giving a rueful shake of the head, Rhaegar moved towards the edge. She said naught to that. “Am I expected to go as well?” Worry coloured her words, the bed dipped with her movements and his.
“Were you summoned?” He was on his feet, trying to locate his garb. Lyanna’s kirtle had been placed where his clothing would have been. He ought to have expected some sort of mishap.
“Nay,” his wife answered. Her austere reply suffered under the ensuing silence relieved by the rustling of cloth.
“Then you needn’t.” Finding what he needed, Rhaegar turned to face her only to see that she was looking towards the lancets. Maidens and their modesty. Only she was no maiden; he had taken care of that. Chilled, he tried to ignore the nauseous feeling coiling in the pit of his stomach. “Did you sleep at all?” He did not know why he had asked that. He could tell she’d not slept without an admission on her part.
“A little bit.” Not enough at any rate. He waited for her to turn around. She did not.
He forced himself to speak, even if it was to her turned back. “Sleep now then. I expect I shall be gone for some time. Bar the door after I’ve left and no one should bother you.” She did glance at him then, with a frown on her face nonetheless. The pinched expression seemed to have been pounded in iron upon her visage. “Or if you wish it, call your companions to you.”
But Lyanna was already shaking her head, holding one hand up, fingers splayed out in an arresting gesture. “Nay. I wish to sleep.” She seemed to consider the matter very carefully before daring to speak again. “Is it done, though? Am I allowed to?”
“You are a Princess of the realm now.” He quelled the impulse to sit down on the edge of the bed and instead began walking towards the doors. “You will find there is very little you are prohibited from doing.” The irony of his words struck him too late. And with that he was out the door, hung-over and annoyed; uncomfortable in his own skin. Loathsome feeling.
Without stood Ser Darry. “Your Grace,” the man greeted, his tone flat. Rhaegar nodded his head. When he did not move, the Kingsguard attempted to prompt him, “The King is waiting, Your Grace.”
It occurred to him that he’d just shared his first true conversation with Lyanna Stark. For all the painful japes they’d swapped and the cool greeting over a laden table, they had not truly spoken. Until that point, he amended.
“A moment more shan’t matter,” he assured the man though in response to the concern. Lyanna was moving behind the door. Lips pursing to keep from exhibiting anything, Rhaegar imagined her inching cautiously about the room. He listened for the telltale sound of a bar being dropped. It came within moments. By the look on his face, Ser Darry heard it too. He frowned. “Now we may go, ser.”
“Your Grace.” Jonothor Darry allowed him to step forth. The heavy Kingsguard armour assured Rhaegar that he followed close behind.
Still his mind was caught up in analysing every little detail of that peculiar reaction on the man’s face. Rhaegar has seen his fair share of discontent expression, be it within his father’s hall or on Dragonstone. As such he was certain he could recognise them fairly well. Darry’s moue suggested, however, aught a tad more layered than the customary indignation he was so well used to. It was not simply disgruntlement which held the knight captive, but rather its kin disconcert and distemper worked together to weave a wreath. And he had to wonder at that.
There seemed little cause to cause such disturbance, save for Lady Lyanna. His mind shied away from considering such a possibility. It was likely the strain of what had passed, he told himself, purging suspicion away. Darry was a man he trusted.
Upon the heel of that Rhaegar found himself standing before the door leading into his father’s solar. If there was one place he would rather not step foot it, then that was his father’s solar. Alas, duty called. He did not rap on the door, but simply nodded at Selmy who opened it, allowing his to pass.
His father was in the midst of explaining to his younger son the fascinating mechanics of a battering ram. He did not even blink at Rhaegar’s entrance. His brother, however, looked up with a grin and waved his hand, with none of the discretion befitting a prince of the realm. “And that is how one breaks gates.” There were times when Rhaegar forgotten his father had fought in a war. The unpleasant reminder was swiftly pushed away as his younger sibling left his comfortable position at a nod from their father.
Viserys skipped along in the care of a servant, to be taken, no doubt, to his septa or even to mother. The King did not stand. He gestured vaguely towards one of the chairs by way of invitation. “How long are you planning on staying?” his parents asked, startling Rhaegar. “Dragonstone shan’t manage itself.”
“I thought to leave by the end of the turn,” he responded calmly, wondering what manner of scheme his father was hatching. Doubtlessly, his head would be further aggrieved once he found out. “Your Majesty is good to worry, but I was not careless.” He’d left the running of the keep to the maester and his castellan.
“Good. I expected it to be so. There is one more matter I need to make clear to you.” The benign tone hid much, he was aware, but Rhaegar kept his composure even as his mind ran through countless possibilities. “As your father, I know you. I know you well enough to be aware that one sunny day does not bring summer with you. Do not think to somehow rid yourself if your duty once within your keep.”
A sliver of something coiled within him. “My duty. I know my duty.” The assurance was met with a dismissive wave of the hand.
“The point is fulfilling it, boy. I’ve no need of words. Be expedient and be efficient.” That did not bode well. Rhaegar waited for the man to continue. “I fully expect to be presented with some proof of your obedience in the matter.”
Resisting the urge to gnash his teeth together and spew a few choice words, Rhaegar pointed out, “She is very young. Some would say much too young.” Even for wedding; even in spite of her being flowered. “It would be wiser to wait.”
“So you can weasel your way out of the marriage?” his father snorted, rather blunt in his delivery. “I was not born yesterday. Do your duty, or there will be consequences. And don’t think I shan’t know if you slack.” Good gods, the man was determined. “It is not a difficult task.” Nay, it was only heart-wrenching. But apparently that was not aught his father was prepared to take into account. “We are understood, I hope.”
Lyanna did not allow herself much time in the sanctuary of the marital bedchamber. She has slept a couple of hours longer after her spouse has left, but even without the weight of his body nearby, it still felt too strange. In consequence, she had gone and lifted the bar, then scurried back to bed, only to have Alys and Jeyne wander if with a tray and pitcher.
They stole the sheets away from her, teasing good-naturedly as they went about their tasks. “And longer, Your Grace, and we would have called for the blacksmith to pound the door down.” They giggled and fussed over the heaviness with which she moved. Lyanna did not mid their attention.
She allowed Alys to comb her hair as Jayne brought her the bassinette. Washing away both sleep and shame, Lyanna easily slipped into her mask, countering her companion’s words and encouraging their meddling. “What would His Grace say, my lady, to find the blacksmith here? You know I should have been forced to tell him of your interference.”
Likely as not, he wouldn’t be much aggrieved for the man’s presence. The door, Lyanna suspected, would be another matter altogether. Jeyne swallowed her amusement. “Your Grace, truly, that is outrageous. Lady Alys oversteps.”
Before long she was dressed for the day, embroiled in a lively discussion with her companions and eating off her tray with too little care. “I hope you did not miss breaking your fast because of me,” she said, after a moment’s consideration. “I did not mean to sleep in, but I confess, I was exhausted.”
“Poor dear,” cooed Jeyne, “and so you should be. “Tis not everyday one becomes a wife. Alys and I are were up at the crack of dawn and safely caught every little morsel upon the table. We even had time to sample some wedding ale.”
Lyanna grimaced. Rhaegar had been drinking heavily the previous night. “I would be pleased to never see as much as a tankard of ale before my eyes,” she admitted, fanning herself gently with one hand.
“All men drink,” Alys consoled her. “You needn’t carry a grudge against His Grace over such small a matter.”
If she thought of it, Lyanna could see the wisdom of those words. There were so many other flaws she could despise. “I wondered for a moment if he would be unable to do his duty,” she murmured gently. “So much drink; it’s bound not to be good for one’s,” she paused, “prowess.”
“You were very brave,” Jeyne said after a short moment of silence. “I fear I shall cry such bitter tears on my wedding night.”
They spoke some more, topic veering towards safer territories of mundane gossip. Lyanna finished breaking her fast, following which she was prepared for a day at court, gown, slippers, ornaments all of display. It was not, she allowed to her herself, that difficult to come to terms with. As long as her husband visited her bed few times and far between, she was fairly certain it would be aught she could adapt to. Especially if she was allowed to keep Alys and Jeyne.
Yet as she had come to expect, Lyanna was soon disabused of notions of comfort. As ill fortune would have it, her companions were hardly the only ones to have knowledge of her state.
With a faint knock, a sliver of a smile and an assessing gaze, of the Queen’s handmaidens stepped within the bedchamber.
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Chapter 9: Spirit Cold
The rather cool manner in which she’d been received did not daunt her one bit, in fact Lyanna rather thought that it helped her keep a firm grip upon the protective wall she’d erected around herself. Rhaella Targaryen took her measure with nary a word, but only a small, devious smile. That was most certainly worst than words.
Lyanna kept her gaze upon the Queen, mind already working to seize her mask of calm and keep it in place. Aught seemed amiss with the way the other woman started at her. Alys and Jayne had been sent off with the Queen’s women, presumably to gossip among themselves. The only trouble was that such left Lyanna alone with Aerys’ sister-wife and without a shield.
The Queen rolled her shoulders, the small smile stretching even further, nearing grotesque proportions. “So now you are a wife,” the woman murmured. “How did you find your rest?”
“Fulfilling, Your Grace,” she allowed, resisting the urge to purse her lips. Instead, she forced herself to reach for one of the small cakes upon the table and brought it to her lips, biting into the soft dough. Her teeth sank deeply within, meeting to break the body between them. Sweetness filled her mouth, cloying, producing a sting in the back of her throat.
“I will admit you were far calmer than expected. Naught seems to shake you. Many a bride would have wept at such handling.” Lyanna considered the words with care. If the woman planned to make her weep she would fail, but that might well be a secondary goal. No reply was given, however, so the Queen went on. “Well, ‘tis in the past now. There are a number of responsibilities you are expected to shoulder as the wife of the Crown Prince. I thought it best to instruct you myself.”
The unexpected charity forced suspicion to the forefront of her mind. “Your Grace is most kind,” she murmured, scrambling to gather words to her. “I am aware of what my duties entail and, moreover, have the necessary knowledge.” She was no one’s fool, least of all this woman’s.
Bewilderment crossed the other’s features. “Truly? You are very young. I am most pleasantly surprised.”
She blinked steadily to buy herself time. “All keeps are run much the same. ‘Tis simply a matter of finding the right order. And we’ve maesters in the farthest regions of the North as well.” The answer, bordering on impertinence, was met with a low chuckle.
“I did not mean otherwise. What a sharp tongue you have. Someday you shall draw blood with it.” Her blood preferably, Lyanna considered. And someday had best come soon. “My brother would like you. Or he does like you.” That too she’d gathered on her own. “Do you know what happened to the last woman he liked?”
Trying to call to mind if she’d ever heard aught upon the matter, Lyanna pressed her lips together in fayed concentration. Unfortunately, the North had a most mystifying tendency of not bringing the most important bits of gossip to her ears. In the end she could but shrug.
“I imagine no one would have made mention of it to a child,” the Queen mused. “Very well, allow me to tell you then. I knew her well, for she served as one of my ladies once. And my husband, he’s been known to fancy himself in love with a pretty face before. This one was no different.”
“Such is the nature of men,” she ventured coldly. She supposed she ought to feel pity or even a sense of kindred towards the woman. After all, she would soon be like that. She would look upon her husband and might be know the names and faces of every other woman he’d brought to his bed. But only the gods knew what the future held. Thus she refused to delve deeper into the matter.
“You learn fast. Keep that close to heart and you shall never feel that manner of sting.” She laughed. “But we were speaking of my brother and his lady. He loved her well, you see, too well, some would say. Not enough to believe a word she said when one of our babes dies though.” Lyanna shivered lightly. Her mind made the leap easily. But the Queen did not seem bothered at all. “I shall only say this, there was so little of her left to bury, my brother confined it all to a small chest and threw it away somewhere. Ser Barristan and Ser Gerold know where it is, if you want to see.”
The very last thing she wanted to do was embroil herself in the marital troubles of the royal couple. “I am certain I need not concern myself with such matters.” The hastily produced reply elicited a satisfied smile from the other woman.
“There now,” the Queen murmured. “I’ve frightened you.” She rose from her seat and made her way to the door. On the other side a servant waited. Rhaella’s instructions were lost on her, but Lyanna saw the servant slinked away, as if fearful. Just as well. The woman was frightening. Not the sort that frosted the blood in her veins, but it was still enough to cut her breath short, the swell of panic slowly rising, but never enough to break and shatter her sanity.
Would it take a strong shove to break it? The clinical consideration was lost in a sea of uncertainty as the Queen strolled back. She sat down in her chair. “Some tea,” she explained. “Its warmth should do the trick.”
Lyanna would rather the Queen do an entirely different trick and disappear entirely from the chamber, leave her alone and never bother her again. Alas, such wishes would simply never come to fruition. So she could do naught but wait for the tea.
The same servant brought it in, upon a silver tray. There was only one cup, however. She looked askance at the mother of her husband, but Rhaella Targaryen seemed entirely within her element. She even poured the drink for Lyanna herself, a great honour under any other circumstances.
A small sip was more than enough to choke her. Lyanna coughed as the bitter tang scoured all the sweetness from the inside of her mouth. Despite her best attempts, she could feel her throat constrict, trying to keep the liquid out. Very much in the manner her body had attempted to keep her husband out. The irony stung almost as much. The painful swallow left her throat burning.
“My apologies, I forgot, this tea is a tad bitter.” The art of understatement was not lost upon Lyanna. She saw, through a slightly blurred vision, the hands of the Queen taking up her cup, adding something golden and glistening. “Naught a bit of honey won’t fix. Try this.”
If her throat were not screaming in protest at the very notion, blocking words, Lyanna was fairly certain she would have uttered a few choice words. The cup was back in her hands, rim resting against her upper lip, steam curling in soft threads against her skin. The liquid, carrying only a trace on the earlier unpleasantness, drifted through every rounded bend of her mouth, sliding down to rest in the pit of her stomach, the caress almost agreeable.
She was halfway through with the contents of the cup when the doors opened. Not quite facing them but neither facing away, Lyanna was afforded decent vision as far as entrances went. That, naturally, took naught of the concern once she recognised exactly who it was that visited with the Queen. Lyanna did not rise. She could not bring herself to.
The man in the doorway produced a small grunt as his eyes landed on her. “Your Grace, I see you have company. Forgive the intrusion.” Menacing acrimony suffused the observation. “Might be I have come yet too early.”
“Not at all,” the Queen assured him. “Come in and have a seat. I am certain Lady Lyanna shan’t take issue.”
“Is that so, my lady?” he chuckled, taking hold of a chair and dragging it to himself gently.
“Your Grace,” she managed in a placid manner, blowing over the surface of her tea. If he did not see fit to be civil she saw no reason to try either.
“I beg your pardon,” was the curt answer.
Lyanna raised one eyebrow at him, eyes clashing with his stabbing glare. “Court protocol dictates that I be addressed as ‘Your Grace’,” she let him know tartly. “I believe you would have been instructed upon these rules when your own sister entered the royal family.”
A subtle twitch of the jaw was more than enough to cause her to smile, thus she bit the inside of her cheek to keep herself in check. “Apologies, Your Grace. It slipped my mind.”
“Aye, I assume your sister was still your sister and not ‘Your Grace’.” He looked as though he’d enjoy naught more than to strangle her.
Pleased with the fruits of her labour, Lyanna drained the last dregs of her tea and placed the cup on the tray with a light sound as aftermath. “Your Graces shall have to excuse me, but I do not wish to interrupt further communication.”
Rhaella’s lips pursed slightly, but she nodded her head. “You may leave if you will.”
She would. Lyanna curtsied, the light bob causing her skirts to tremble. She was out the door and into the corridor faster than a heartbeat. Before long Alys and Jeyne came trotting down the hallway as well, with suggestions that they ought to sit without for a little while. “The sun shines and the breeze is not too harsh. Who knows when we’ll have such a chance again,” Jeyne offered.
Anywhere that was not with her kin, Lyanna would enjoy immensely. Thus her agreement saw all three of them threading a well-beaten path. ”Did that man do aught to you, Your Grace?” Alys questioned after a few moments of silence, linking her arm through Lyanna’s.
“That man?” she in turn asked for clarifications, eyeing one of the benches. The carved stone must have been polished with the way it shone.
“His Grace, the Prince of Dorne, the one and only Oberyn Martell.” That certainly ringed a bell.
“Alys, why do you say his name as if you would see his choke upon his wine?” Amusing mental composition aside, she was not aware that the man had ever done anything to merit the scorn.
“Your Grace is too sheltered,” Jeyne cut in. “The Martells must be smarting from their loss. It would be best to keep away from them, at least until your position is less precarious.” Which would be, presumably, when her husband accepted the vow he’d made. If only anyone would tell those people such a moment would not come; Lyanna suspected a good number of those who currently watched her like hawks would lose interest.
“I do not care about that. And I have hardly engaged him.” Besides, the Queen was much worse. “It would be best if we ignore all matters Martell though. It seems to bring out the worst in the two of you.” She tittered at her own observation and approached the bench she’d admired. “What is this carving’s meaning?”
“That’s Rowan Gold-Tree, Your Grace. Look, she wraps the apple in her hair. Are you familiar with the tale?” Alys bent to trace a finger upon the rounded shape.
“Aye, I believe so. Is there a companion carving immortalising her sister, Florys?” No man was worth such suffering. The sorrowful carved face slipped away from sight as she straightened her back.
“If there is not, there ought to be, Might be Your Grace should have one commissioned,” Jeyne suggested. “Better yet make it a challenge. We shall have plenty of benches then. One can never have enough.”
The nearest bench was some distance away, Lyanna perceived. Likely to encourage a bit of walking. She said nothing to Jeyne and would have urged them to be on their way if not for a most unwelcome interruption.
“Your Grace,” came the call of a now familiar voice. Glancing over her shoulder, she caught sight of the Dornishman they’d been so recently discussing.
Staying Alys’ movement, Lyanna took a step forth. “Calling after is hardly the most advisable manner of garnering my attention,” she said, waving her women a small distance away. “To what do I owe the honour?”
“Is it your custom to push away those who can aid you?” he questioned in turn, grabbing hold of her arm.
“Your Grace, let go of my arm,” Lyanna uttered deliberately slow. Even a slow-witted child would have understood her request. But the Dornish Prince, as if to savour his defiance, gripped her harsher than before. “This is most unseemly. Either Your Grace lets go, or I call for aid.”
He snorted. “It would be the word of a nobody against mine. Go on.” Dark orbs pinned her in place.
Still, she shook her head. “It would be your words against that of the Crown Prince’s wife. Last warning, Your Grace; best you heed it now.”
“You stupid trollop. You are not his wife,” the man laughed. “You may think you’ve won, but let me assure you, my lady,” he emphasised the title, “no trick of yours could possibly pry my sister from the Prince’s heart.”
Lyanna rolled her eyes. “Then why are you bothering me with this?” she spat, dragging her arm away so viciously it slipped from his grasp. “I know not what you think to do, nor do I care, but know this, the next time you touch me, you shall find yourself a limb short.”
“Your Grace,” a second intruder cut in, this one she did not even recognise. “Is there aught amiss?”
“Stay out of it, Ser Gerold. It does not concern you.” But the knight who was now standing at her side merely shook his head.
“Your Grace, His Majesty has entrusted her safety to us.” Lyanna supposed that might have discouraged any other man, but Oberyn Martell waved his hand dismissively.
“The way the lot of you act, you’d say she was the Maiden. Ser Gerold, be honest now, is she the King’s bastard? Would that I’d known the man when he was still capable of siring them.”
Blushing to the tip of her ears, Lyanna raised her hand in reply, but it was caught mid-strike and held firmly by the Kingsguard. “He certainly knew your mother when she was making hers,” the coarse hiss came. "Fortunately, Your Grace, you are much too old to be one of his.”
One would think is strange to describe the olive skin of a Dornishman as pale, but Lyanna could not describe the chalky complexion any other way as blood leeched away from his face. Her own mouth had fallen into a lax oval, making even the faintest traces of amusement impossible to express. Not that she found it impossibly so, but as far as set-downs went, it had to be mayhap the one best delivered. Without missing a single beat.
Alas, the bewilderment melted away from the Prince’s face to be replaced with white hot race. Instinctively drawing back, Lyanna’s retreat was cut short by the hold upon her wrist. It seemed she was to stand witness to whatever passed between the two men whether she wished it or not.
“Does the Stranger’s embrace call to you, Ser Gerold, or have you taken leave of your senses?” the Dornishman growled, voice thickening with emotion.
“I am never without my senses,” the knight assured the venomous Prince. “The same, I fear, cannot be said if you. Thread carefully, Oberyn Martell, for there is little mercy in these halls.”
Jaw locked, the other man seemed to digest the words. Nay, but ‘twas not the end of it, Lyanna grew certain as Oberyn’s lips parted. “You are threatening a prince, you filthy maggot.”
Half-expecting Ser Gerold to take action against such words, Lyanna attempted a second time to release herself from his grip, but all she saw when she looked upon his face was a pitying smile. “I shall take it as an imbalance of humours this once, Your Grace. The next time I will meet you with a sword in hand. And do not think your poisons will make a difference.”
Seemingly chastised, the Prince did not retort with aught, but it would take a fool to believe had concluded upon Ser Gerold’s word. But for the moment she was sheltered from the man and it was all that mattered as the knight placed her in Alys and Jeyne’s keeping.
“Your Grace should not seek out trouble,” he said after a few moments of walking. “Dorne is still very much a principal kingdom. You understand?”
Lyanna nodded. “I apologise for dragging you into the matter.” She was not, in fact, even in the slightest bit remorseful. And she would have been fine on her own. After all, Oberyn Martell would hardly have challenged her to battle; her husband would have been the one to fight if it came to that. Which Lyanna did not mind at all. Poisons, Ser Gerold had said; the man used poisons.
“Believe you me, Your Grace, you would not have managed to drag me had I wanted to be elsewhere.” But still, he had protected her after a fashion. It seemed strange to Lyanna still that upon the King’s word she would be afforded it.
“Might be ‘tis the King I should give my gratitude to then,” she mused out loud.
“Might be. And you will certainly have the chance, for I have been sent to bring you to him.” The Queen’s words came back to haunt her, A small chest, thrown away. She shivered. “Your Grace?”
For a brief moment the notion of asking him about the mistress seemed golden and bright. ‘’Tis naught. Let us be on out way. His Majesty must not be kept waiting.”
Chapter 10: The Dangling Shard
Land. Solid, dark, grass-covered earth. Lyanna was just about ready to kneel down and kiss it. Or she might have had she not been aware that a fair few pairs of eyes watched her with sharp attention, the awareness, very near cruel in its determination. “Lady wife,” Rhaegar Targaryen addressed her, holding his hand out. She realised with a slowly start that she’d been standing there unmoving, Alys and Jeyne behind her.
“Your Grace,” she returned, depositing her hand in his. He helped her down, for once not hurrying her along. Whatever his troubles, she would not give them thought. Those were his demons to deal with. She stepped carefully over the wooden board, the slant forcing her to pick up speed or lose her balance and fall in an inelegant sprawl. She gave in and simply adopted a more appropriate gait.
“Welcome to Dragonstone,” he whispered, the faint trace of bitter amusement striking a cord within her. He gestured towards the rolling mists and that imposing keep, looming ahead. Wyverns, dragons and gargoyles gazed down upon them, their unmoving eyes as daunting as any army ought to have been. For that was what those creatures were. An army, standing guard against anyone who might have dared approach with ill-intent.
She breathed in the chilly air. Soft grass whooshed with every step she took, the folds of her skirts dragging against the tall stalks. Lyanna tore her gaze away from the wild beasts and looked at the domesticated creature which might have fit very well among the stones. Her lips curled downwards for a single heartbeat. “Gratitude, Your Grace.” He caught her grimace and replied to it with a raised eyebrow. “’Tis pleasant to be on land once more,” she attempted to mend that fence.
“Aye.” The hand on her own dragged her inwards; she moved towards him out of necessity, not wish to be hauled up in the air.
The maester of the keep was there, among the gathered folk. He greeted them with a pleasant mien, putting Lyanna at ease. “We were most grateful for the good weather, else the journey would have stretched out over many a day.”
Rhaegar nodded his head. “My lady wife does not travel well at sea, I fear,” he chuckled, as though her upset stomach was the most amusing thing. Lyanna held back the urge to protest. The maester took the news in with a small grin of his own.
“First time at sea?” he asked of her, the kindly look lingering. There was aught almost paternal about the wizened mien. As though the man had known her from infancy was just then reacquainting himself with her.
“Aye. I expect ‘twas the nerves.” Her nerves were perfectly adequate. It was just her stomach that had somehow soured. She blamed it on the water which had gone stale even after only a few days of sailing. The gods knew what a longer journey might have done to her. She held the older man’s gaze, forcing an amiable smile upon her lips at his apparent efforts to alleviate her unease. “I am much better now.”
“And glad we are to hear it. Your Grace may depend on our knowledge that the discomfort shall be eliminated.” He fell into a spell of silence. His eyes widened slightly. “It seems I have forgotten the most important part, introducing myself.” Despite those words he never got around to stating his name as the other members of the household swarmed around them and her attention was swiftly taken by the master-at-arms, the castellan and the master of the hunt.
It was the novelty. Lyanna had noticed it in King’s Landing as well. Those smiles and prodding looks. She kept a neutral face as he hand was pressed left and right. She tried her best to keep up with the names and faces, but her mind was still very much occupied with the words of the King.
If there was aught a man could tell a woman that might change her life, then it had to be those words. And all for some farfetched prophecy. A prince of ice and fire, her good-father had said. A saviour. The child of two great bloodlines, meant to bring the whole world together beneath his banner and lead them through the end of the world. They were sweet words, the chance to be a mother to the one meant to save humanity. Nevertheless, she had to be a realist.
Bearing a child meant tying herself firmly to the royal family. With her maidenhead gone an annulment was out of the question unless by some miracle he decided he could not bed her. That was not an issue though. The issue was that from what she’d gathered her express purpose was to be a mother to this child. Yet a child, even one which took root in a woman’s womb, could still be forced out by the hand of man or by nature itself. And the gods only knew it was only the King who wised her with child.
The Queen, Lyanna was much certain she could not count on. Her blood had come rushing a mere day after she’s consumed the draught and yet she had had it too on the road to King’s Landing. It was rather strange. In fact, she had considered questioning the Grand Maester and had with great difficulty turned away from the thought. The Grand Maester could well be hand in hand with the Queen. That left her with only other maidens to ask. But who to seek council in?
Alys was young. Her own age. Jeyne was only slightly older. What would they know? Lyanna glanced over her shoulder. Her ladies were chattering, looking about with curious eyes. She caught Jeyne’s stare. A spark of something was there, but she turned her head away. She was not yet ready to confront the matter. Best to leave it for some other time, she told herself, attention snapping to the rising voices.
Rancorous laughter rang out from all around. Whatever these people thought of her, they were clearly glad to have the Prince in their midst.
Lyanna woke up to the sound of rattling. At first she thought her own mind had brought unpleasant memories, fashioning them into night terrors whose echoes remained even in her waking hours. With a grunt, she shifted around, the arm locked around her waist halting her progress within moments. She opened her eyes for them to fall upon Alys’ prone form. Relief washed over her. It had been a mere ghost of best forgotten visions.
But then the rattling began a second time, louder, seemingly closer and coming from somewhere below. A stab of fear pinched the tight cords in her chest, air coming out in short, sharp releases. The disturbing sound paused, enough for her mind to whir into a frenzy and convince her body to disengage from Alys’ hold.
It was only then that she noted Jeyne was absent. Terror prickled to higher levels. Where could she be? Was she injured? Was whatever creature made the sound responsible for her absence? Those questions she could not answer. Instead, Lyanna did the next best thing. She crawled her way to the end of the bed, trying to ignore the creaking wood and her own jumbling nerves. Once there, she glanced over the edge at the trunk. No sound came.
Silence rolled over the bedchamber and she drew in a shaky breath, turning to the side. Keeping her limbs upon the feathers-stuffed mattress, she swallowed with difficulty, then licked her lips and fought to gather every last sliver of courage before bending over the edge, hair flying over her shoulders with the motion.
Her heart lurched painfully as her eyes widened, teeth snapping together in a tight clamp. The space beneath was empty. Not even a small rug lied under the bed. She’d been frightened for naught. Searching the length of the shaded surface, she found little of interest. But the, she was much too old to be fearful of creatures lurking under the mattress. Lyanna chuckled lightly, a shake of the head swift to follow.
It was the blasted marriage. She must have dreamt of her wedding night or some other uninspired, torturous memory. As she convinced herself to climb her way down and stretch her legs, Lyanna attempted to still her wildly beating heart. It felt as though wild horses were stampeding about. Covered in only her shift too, she slid over the edge, wishing she’d asked for some steps. What if she fell off during the night? The bed was tall enough to land her with an ugly injury if she as much as hit the edge.
With her feet firmly upon solid wood and thick carpets she could breathe out in true relief. It had all been aught conjured by her mind due to a lack of activity, she presumed. As soon as she found aught to do, she would establish herself a nice routine to follow and it would not come to haunt her again. Whatever it had been.
Upon the heel of that thought a long creak struck though the silence. Her heart dropped into the pit of her stomach when it was followed by a thwacking sound. She whirled around, eyes glued to the large chest. It would be wise to run out of the room and call one of the guards. It would be wise to alert her husband. He was a man and he owed her the protection as long as she lived under his roof. If would have been wiser yet to cry out for help. But Lyanna had nearly killed Robert Baratheon with Nightshade in an ill-advised attempt to stop what might have been a fruitious union. She was, it had to be said, far from the wisest of creatures.
Thus in her lack of wisdom, she stepped towards the trunk. Her pace was halting and her heart felt squashed, but Lyanna did it anyway. She advanced until she was standing right before it. Her hand reached out, fingers stretching as if to grab hold of the lid and yank it up. Whatever was hiding there, she told herself, she would not allow herself to be cowed. In her mind the explanation of an ill-timed jest took root. Surely it was someone’s idiotic idea of a joke. They thought her a witch, after all.
Before she could do aught, the lid flew open and a bony hand reached out from the depths of box, spindly fingers catching her wrist in a damp, sticky grip. Lyanna cried out, the sound expelling itself from her lungs without asking permission from her brain. She trashed against the weak grip and fell backwards, landing with a thud on the ground, pain lacerating her backside. Red stained the place where those fingers had touched her, a rosy sort of colour. Her skin prickled uncomfortably, loud ringing in her ears.
She realised that sound was her. She’d not even heard her continual ear-splitting scream over the loud pounding of her heart. But it had woken Alys who was sitting up in bed and looking wide-eyed at her sitting on the ground and clutching her arm against her bosom.
Her companion said not a word as the arms rose from the chest a second time, a tremulous moan accompanying them.
The door rattled on its hinges as voices called from without. For the first time, Lyanna looked towards it. It had been barred. Her eyes darted back to the hand and the stone-still girl in her bed. She had to get up and remove the impediment, else no one would be able to get in and both she and Alys would die. But even as her mind spun the wild yarn, her legs would not move. A sob caught in her throat. This was punishment, she thought, for having dared to play at witchcraft.
A muffled order broke the silence. She thought she recognised the voice. Lyanna glanced to the door once more. A cry from Alys very nearly made her turn, but instead, she somehow managed to pick herself up and sprint to the door. The cold shock of frosty wood against her naked feet was barely registered as she fumbled with the rod blocking the door. Her clumsy hands barely managed to take hold of it and drag it out.
If until that point her world had spun in slow rolling waves, once the bar fell to the ground it all exploded with motion. The door swung on its hinges and missed her by a hairsbreadth as she jumped out of the way. Ser Darry stood in the doorway, sword drawn. He looked her up and down, eyes sweeping over her form.
“My lady, what is amiss?” The urgent note in his voice she barely missed as the coffer rattled once more. His stare moved from her to the bed. She turned as well, only to see Alys clutching the sheets to her chest and aught slowly rising from the box.
She was frozen. No matter how she tried to move, she could only stare at the human head peeking over the wooden edge. Her heart had risen from somewhere beneath her feet to her throat and was gleefully choking her.
“Oh gods,” she moaned helplessly, a wave of nausea hitting her. “Good gods.” She swayed, her legs suddenly unsteady. She would have fallen too had it not been for Ser Darry’s arm coming to hold her up. Balanced precariously against his armour-covered front, Lyanna stared in horror at the human making its way out from the trunk, gold and cloth and fine silver rolling off of him.
Ser Darry’s grip tightened. Behind them a deathly silence lingered, as though they were all ghosts gathered at the witching hour. Her sanity fought to find a thread of logic as crooked teeth flashed into view. Had she slept through the rattling, the creature would have risen and slit her throat in her sleep. The morbid image flittered its way into her mind, ruby-red blood splattering on the sheets, gurgling out of a gaping wound in thick, insatiable waves.
Her legs gave way completely and she faltered much in the manner of a rag doll. Ser Darry had in the meantime slacked his hold which left her heap at his feet. The creature in her chest emitted aught which sounded like laughter and to her consternation gazed at her with unadulterated joy. As though its mere presence had not turned her sanity inside out. Laughter bubbled on her lips in response, a shrill cry for her predicament crowding after. Her eyes moved slowly to Alys. Her face had gone white and she stood as though she were a statue.
Might be they could distract the creature long enough for her to escape. Lyanna returned her gaze to the man, or might be the boy. A lank, skinny thing, looking as though he’d not been fed as much as a crust of bread in years. The joy had not fled from his face. If aught, it looked to have intensified.
“What is the meaning of this?” a new voice cut through the heavy veil of quiet horror. Lyanna jumped. It was her husband. And sure enough, when she peered around, even from her inelegant position, she recognised his garb. The Prince had no need to push his way through the servants. They parted like a wave split against stone.
Looking up at him, Lyanna saw his eyes zero in on her trunk. She told herself she felt slightly better for his arrival as there was strength in numbers. “Desmer, what are you doing?” The question shook her to the core. He knew whoever that was. “Where is your mother?” If the first time his voice had carried consternation, the second time it sounded rather like the crack of a whip. Sharp, short, commanding. Her heart eased its way back into its original place.
Alys too visibly relaxed on the bed, though nowhere near enough to let go of the furs. Her knuckles were still white from effort. But her face lost some of its pallor.
The boy pursed his lips, head cocking to the side, sending his silver ringlets in a riotous slide. And just like that Lyanna’s heart began pounding once more. This time, she looked at her husband for other reasons. “Desmer, get out of there. Now.” The words were deadly calm. She heard the creaking of the floors and presumed it was her guest leaving the trunk. The creaking continued.
Footfalls rang loud from without and a feminine voice cried out the same name her husband had uttered. She did not manage to locate the source, as strong arms grabbed her and forced her to her feet. She found herself resting her weight against Rhaegar. Lyanna closed her eyes.
“Your Grace, what has he done now?” the same voice asked timidly. A shriek jolted her. “Your Grace, I am so very sorry. I let him out of my sight for just a moment.” She opened her eyes to look at whoever was speaking. “I did not know he would do aught like this.” The woman fell to her knees, grabbing a handful of Lyanna’s shift. “Forgive him, Your Grace, he is not well.” The servant woman looked up.
Her eyes were a light violet, the colour of a fresh bruise or early hyacinths. And her hair was likely a variety of gold, Lyanna realised as a strand of hair escaped a white cap. Her stomach roiled unpleasantly as she stared down into that pretty face, still too stunned to utter anything resembling intelligible words. Not for a lack of trying; her lips were moving soundlessly.
“Just take him away,” her husband finally stepped in. “Make certain he does not enter on his own again.” He seemed so calm about the whole matter. Her mind spat a particularly vile string of words at him, eyes flashing with unspent fury. But if she moved as much as an inch, she was certain she’d only fall again.
The servant woman thanked them profusely, although Lyanna deserved little of her gratitude, and rose from her kneel. She marched over to the boy and grabbed hold of his ear, pulling so hard the creature stumbled over its legs and lurched forth with a cry. He did not fall though. Lyanna, a slab of ice, against Rhaegar’s side watched as the child was dragged away and threatening promises left soft-looking lips.
And then, as though the spell had run its course, the gathering broke.
Murmurs rose like a thin stream behind her. She heard more than she would have liked to. Nevertheless, she had no reaction to it, as the Prince spun her around in his grasp, until she stood facing him, held at an arm’s length away. “Are you well?”
Lyanna could not explain the reason for which she burst into tears at that exact moment. Might be it had to do with the realisation that she would not die after all. Or might be because for the first time in forever, the man before her resembled a human being with a considerate thought for other people as well. Or might be it was not either but a combination thereof. If asked to pin it, she could spend an eternity on it without results.
What was tangible were the tears, rolling down her face in fat droplets. She felt her skin heat up and barely heard the order leaving her husband’s lips. She was aware though that his arms returned to cradle her and that she was pressed against solid warmth. Vaguely, she could make out words.
“…and bring the maester. Hurry along. Ser, stand guard at the door until the measter arrives, then send one of the other men. Rest for a little while.” Once more he sounded as though he were planning an outing. He did not sound as though he’d been frightened for even a moment. And there she was, trembling like a newborn lamb, ready to bleat even.
The front of his tunic was ruined, she realised dimly, from having soaked up tears and the gods knew what else. But if he felt bothered, he bore it out with exquisite patience. His eyes came to her. Rhaegar gazed down into what Lyanna did not doubt was a beet-red face with puffy eyes and tear tracks running down its considerable length. And she was still crying. She felt a dolt.
“I shall pick you up now, lady wife, and deposit you on the bed,” he told her, cool as ice. The hand at her back pressed against her spine and he bowed over. His other hand had slid to her knees, forcing her legs to bend as he swept her in his arms. Lyanna refused to admit even to herself that it felt gratifying in a way, to have him there with her, and not running out her bedchamber. He might have too, for even she could recognise there was no danger.
“Out.” That he addressed to Alys who’d not moved from her spot. The stubborn set of her jaw indicated that she would not be easily swayed.
“I can take care of Her Grace,” her companion iterated.
Her mulishness did not affect the Prince though. “Lady Alys, either you get out on your own or I’ll have you dragged out.” Her face crumbled at that, the haughtiness draining. She looked uncertain.
“ Your Grace, surely you realise I am not fit to roam the halls.” She’d only a shift on as well. Lyanna felt a twinge of sympathy but could do little other than stare as a mute.
Her husband lacked the shred of empathy, for he deposited Lyanna on the edge of the bed, stalked to the trunk, pulled out the first sturdy item his eyes landed on and sent the rolled ball of it to Alys. “Dress and leave.” That order she executed without comment, leaving Lyanna alone with Rhaegar. The door shut with a thud.
In the stillness even her tears dried.
Her husband stepped over the thick carpet, his booted feet making no sound. She heard not even one creak. But she could see him well enough. Lyanna shrank against the board, embarrassment flooding her. She’d acted like a pea goose. In front of all the servants as well. So much for her remote success.
Surprisingly though, she found no trace of anger in his eyes. The man sat down upon the edge of the bed and manipulated her until she was resting beneath the covers. He remained on top of those even as one of his legs stretched out alongside hers. Somehow he’d managed to throw a hand around her shoulders, her head falling against him. He was looking down at aught. Her stare followed.
“Blood,” she rasped, a new wave of disquiet on the rise. His fingers pressed into her arm. The other hand, the one not busy bruising her fresh with a firm hold, reached out for her wrist and tugged her arm closer for inspection.
“Hardly. Desmer is mischievous, not dangerous. I am sorry he frightened you.” Her eyes paid closer attention. Aye, it did not look near red enough to be blood.
“His mischief nearly cost me a good heart,” she muttered, unable to help herself. “I thought you’d sent someone to kill me.” A bark of laughter caused her lips to purse, her expression turning sour. “I am glad my suffering amuses you.”
“If I’d wanted you dead,” his voice returned gravely, “you would have been by now. The boy is ill, but his intentions have never been harmful. Take a few deep breaths.”
“Don’t tell me what to–“ Lyanna never finished, for his hold was turning painful, the cue wedging its way into her consciousness.
“Breathe in and out. Deeply.” His order brooked no arguments. Lyanna saw herself forced to do as he asked or die of asphyxiation. “That’s it. Good girl.” Had she been a mare, she would have been lured in by that tone. As it was, she was lucky enough her shiver went by without being taken notice of.
A knock on the door brought her back to reality as the man at her side ordered whoever was on the other side within.
When you finally know why you're afraid...and you're still bloody afraid. Thank you, evolution. Thank you.
The gentle throb in his temple was drowned by the sound of footfalls. Rhaegar looked up from the thick parchment he’d been reviewing and eyed the emerging figure of one of his wife’s companions. Jayne, or Jeyne, or something equally forgettable. He would have remembered it had she been a Jenny, That one was a sight rarer. Nevertheless, Jayne’s or Jeyne’s or whatever-her-name-was’ kin had not had enough consideration when bequeathing their offspring a denominator.
“Your Grace,” she greeted softly, lanky frame pausing before she arrived at his seat. “Her Grace asked that you not wait upon her. She will break her fast in her bedchamber.” The woman spoke in an awful quiet tone. Just the better for others not to hear. That gave him the distinct impression she had considerable more between her ears than his new wife.
Cocking his head to the side, Rhaegar heaved a sigh and tapped the edge of the table. “Let my lady wife know she is to come down immediately.” He did not mean to play the high-handed husband, but if she would wither away in her rooms and play the mumming martyr he could see no recourse. Indeed, playing tyrant to the woman-child did not represent his highest aspiration. Which of course meant Lady Lyanna would do her best to ensure he was relegated to that role specifically.
Might be ‘twas not intentional. And that was about how far he was willing to excuse her behaviour. But then he’d been more than generous with the little witch after her fright. She simply could not stay locked in her bedchamber for an eternity. His father would take it into his head that Rhaegar was not doing his duty by the girl and the gods knew what he would do to Elia.
Assuming his message was understood and would be followed with haste, Rhaegar resumed reading, wondering why of all things it had to be crops. Agricultural implements varied in such a manner as to dampen his mood. At least the other documents were sure to offer more thrilling subjects.
Steps rang in his ear once more. Again he glanced away from his reading to ask, placidly, after the girl’s rest. Only it was another shrew altogether standing before him. With a fiendish look upon her face, the lovely Lady Alys made excuses for his wife as well. “Her Grace begs your pardon, but she is unable to come to the great hall.”
It was not necessarily due to look on the woman’s face that he blew up. It had to do, though, everything with the fact that a mere slip of a girl openly defied him in his own home and not even discreetly at that. Before he was even aware of it, Rhaegar stood from his seat, spearing Alys with a piercing look. “I do believe my ears deceive me.”
Something flashed across her features, something looking distinctly like fear. Good. Would that his wretched wife took her cues from this one. “Your Grace-”
But he was no longer listening. Nay, he’d hear from the woman herself what the reason for such irregular behaviour was. Though he knew it would be upon the lips of all by the meal’s end, he strode without the hall, into the narrower corridor, mounting the stairs leading to the upper floors. He was well-aware that Alys was following, trying to slow him down. But he’d get the stubborn girl out of the chamber yet and give her a good shaking. He’d understood her fright and allowed her some leeway, yet if she did not reciprocate he would not indulge her any further.
As he stood before the bedchamber door a queer feeling gripped it. It might have to do with the look upon Darrys’ face; the man looked as though he’d swallowed a fistful of glass. His temper, already provoked, bristled at the accusatory glance. He said not a thing though. It would be utter folly to quarrel with a fellow knight. He simply motioned for the door to be opened in lieu of exchanging words.
And it did. With nary a sound. Rhaegar stepped within the familiar space and noted without delay that his lady wife had not even had the good grace to leave her bed. Something else caught his eye as well. The other companion was holding a rag in her hand. A rag soaked with blood.
Equally red was his bride’s face.
There were few situations which would have surprised him. That was one of them. He knew, of course, about the entirely female condition. He’d simply never given it much thought. Let alone in conjecture with his second wife. Surely the girl did not think she’d contacted some contagious disease and laboured under the impression that death awaited her. Or even worse that there was somehow need for her to be isolated on account of shame.
“I would hear your reason for refusing my invitation,” he demanded in soft tones, not entirely beset by the desire to punish her disobedience given current circumstances. Her eyes flashed with anger. “Lady wife, answer. Now.”
“I should think the answer clear,” she muttered tersely. Her eyes moved away from his face. So she was embarrassed. Rhaegar continued to watch her unabashedly. He’d heard that for some women the pain was slightly more pronounced, but as far as he knew, they were rarely induced to take to their beds and wallow in misery. Elia never had. But then, he’d not observed Elia very closely in her less than stellar moments.
“My lady,” he finally ventured, waving her companions away. At Alys’s hesitation, he merely glared. The other pulled her away and out the door. “Could it be that you have need of the maester?”
Something like laughter escaped her clenched teeth. “You are very good, Your Grace. Very, very good. My compliments.”
What was that supposed to mean? His ire rekindled. “Watch that mouth of yours, girl. It might just provoke a reaction. What devil has possessed you?”
As though he’d spoken the words of a spell, the she-wolf flew into a rage, madly swiping at the coverings impeding her movement. Before long she’d thrown them aside and was scrambling towards him with her claws drawn out. He caught her by pure instinct even as his gaze focused on the mess upon the sheets. “Bloody hells,” he breathed out, restraining the shrieking banshee clawing at his chest.
That was most assuredly not the normal amount of blood. It was simply impossible and struck him more as a scene out of the birthing chamber, which was equally implausible. He’d taken her maidenhead, thus he was more than certain. Between the sobs and the whirl of thoughts twirling in his head, he heard bits and pieces of bitter charges.
Invariably his gaze was drawn to the girl. She was poking his chest. A sight better than slamming into him with her fists. Nevertheless, he could not help but notice her bare feet, firmly planted upon what he supposed to be cool floors. The stupid child would catch her death before whatever imagined plot got her.
“Shut up,” he interrupted.
She did. Her mouth a lax oval, the she-wolf blinked up at him.
That was all the chance he needed. Without wasting another moment, he heaved her up in his arms and away from the potential danger of an ague. As soon as she was up though, her mouth began running again. “You,” she hissed, fingers digging into his shoulder. “What do you think you’re doing? How dare you? It’s not enough that I have to suffer like this, now I am to be twisted on the whims of a spoiled, arrogant, conceited toad. Well I shan’t. I would rather drown in the sea, or jump from a tower.”
“Will you shut up for a bloody second, you insufferable little wretch?” he matched her note for note. “In case it’s escaped your notice, I am trying to understand what manner of trouble is brewing in that witch’s cauldron of yours. And for the love of the Seven, stop squirming.”
“A witch, am I?” the girl snarled. “Would that I were, Your Grace, so I may turn you into a more deserving form.” She found him completely unaware with her blow to his side. Unfortunately, for someone so slight, she knew her aim. He did drop her, as he feared he would. “Cad.”
“Bitch.” He bent down after her. “Kick me again, and I’ll give you the beating your sire neglected to give you.” She glowered at him. “You’re a right terror, aren’t you?” Taking her to the bed, Rhaegar deposited her slight form on the edge. At least she was not yelling anymore; that was an improvement. “Now, repeat what you said before. And do so slowly, girl.”
Her chest rose and fell, the slight bosom more than conspicuous. “My name is not ‘girl’. I am not your greyhound bitch, for all you call me thus.” He pulled the furs over her, draping a larger one over her lap. “I am Lyanna Stark, and you would do well not to forget it.” It was uncanny, that capacity of recovery she possessed.
“I would, wouldn’t I?” he goaded even though he knew he should not provoke her in her condition. She was much too small to be any manner of hound, he went on even further in his mind, and not one of his at any rate. “Well, lady, am I to wait until kingdom come or will you speak?”
Her answer was baleful, sharp and to the point. “So gallant you are. I must be the luckiest bride in all the seven kingdoms.”
“What a finely honed sense of sarcasm.” His compliment was met with a belligerent glare. “I am growing bored.” To further his point, Rhaegar affected a mien suffused with ennui. “Might be if you exerted yourself a bit.” Again, it struck him he was arguing with a girl little more than half his age. Granted, she was cool, poised and more than a little confrontational. But that was no reason to take her up on any provocation. “Just tell me what in the blazes is going on,” he forced out, “Lyanna,” he felt compelled to add after a brief silence, teeth clamping on the indistinctive ‘girl’ in the nick of time.
She scrutinised his face with great care, deigning to offer mystifying conversation in the meantime. “You look genuinely stunned. I don’t suppose you are that good a mummer. Or might be you are. A Prince and all, pretending must be second nature to you.” He grimaced at her. “And I am rather in your way, aren’t I?” She sighed. What did that even mean?
The fuse of his patience had quite burnt itself out by then. Planted himself rather firmly before the huddled form, he heroically resisted the urge to cluck his tongue at her. “You are being deliberately vague.”
“Nay, not at all,” Lyanna denied. She gazed up into his face and he found, much to his consternation, that she looked as she had on their wedding day, in the carriage. “I believe I have been fed Moon Tea. Furthermore, it seemed to be quite plausible that you were involved, Your Grace.”
His face must have gone quite pallid. Rhaegar was rather certain given he could feel the blood trickling away. “What did you just say?”
“That I have judged you unfairly. Much as it pains me to admit.” She was in earnest, he realised with a sinking feeling. And he was beyond incensed. “In my defence, Your Grace, you have made your distaste for this alliance quite clear.”
By the gods, she could say the most outrageous things. His lips opened, fierce denial burning the inside of his mouth at the mere suggestion that he would ever use such an underhanded method. “If you were a man, I would call you out.”
The girl shrugged, infuriatingly, as though she had reason for her insult. “I have but just met you. And I did admit to being mistaken. Upon further consideration, I am content to declare it cannot have been Your Grace behind this.”
“How can you be certain it is what you claim?” Dare he hope it was just her rather unique situation and naught to do with some nefarious plot? Before he could do so, though, the she-wolf shook her head vehemently.
“I counted. It cannot have been.” Her eyes took a shy turn towards her lap. “There is aught else, of course.” He motioned with a simple nod of the head for her to continue. “After the unexpected visit I received from the boy,” it seemed she still refused to use his name, “Your Grace graciously kept me company.” In her bed. Just the two of them. “But you did not–“ Which was no lie; he had not. Bedding her once every turn was more than enough for him. “Alas, I did receive the tea. It was sweetened this time.”
“This time?” Rhaegar repeated, feeling for all the world as though he’d been bashed in the head with a very heavy object. He did not like the she-wolf, not even remotely. He did not wish her dead though. Just gone. A very distinct difference. “You have all my attention, lady wife.”
A rosy hue gave away her less than tranquil state. He was glad for it. At times that composure of hers gave him quite the fright. “I received a similarly tasting tea in King’s Landing, Your Grace. I thought little of it at the time. Indeed, it never crossed my mind I might be in peril. But in such a short amount of time to experience such profuse a reaction seems unlikely. Unless it is being deliberately brought about.”
The trouble was that even from where he stood, he could think of a good few names of associate with this scheme. He was afraid to ask, yet at the same time knew he must. “A vow is a vow and no matter how in the way you are, as you out it, it would be unconscionable to do something of that magnitude.”
“Might be we could help each other out,” she proposed after a moment of silence. Interest beset him. “It strikes me that neither has any wish to remain in this situation.” The gesture she used encompassed their surroundings in a perfect circle. He nodded. There was little else he could say as her words were an understatement. “For the time being, though, we must. I have no wish to be wedded to you.”
“So you’ve said. Twice, I believe, in one conversation. Goodness, you would easily disabuse me of any notion of charm, wouldn’t you; if only I allowed it.” A frank woman could bring a multitude of trouble. “You do not intend to sit idly by though.”
“It would go against my very nature.” The admission seemed forced. As though she did not wish to be sharing such intimacies with him. She probably did not. Before he went and developed any sort of sympathy for his little wife, he would have to be thoroughly convinced of her. “You want your wife back. I want my days of glory returned. It would be much easier to achieve it working together.”
“And you are willing to give up the chance for a crown?” His chuckle was not entirely devoid of confusion. “Are you one of those blessed souls which believes in love and songs?”
“I am not entirely without hope.” Again her voice cracked lightly. “I am not quite a sold on such notions either. But what I believe is of no consequence. What matters is Your Grace’s beliefs. We are in agreement, I hope, in that amiable fondness is preferable to mere tolerance.” Likely as not she was trying to keep afloat. The danger was great to her if she went without any manner of protection. “I could grow to tolerate you, for you are not nearly as loathsome to me on this day as you were before–“
“You damn me with faint praise,” he rejoined. “I suppose I will have to admit I too find you more tolerable these days, but I do not. You are extremely vexing; has anyone ever told you?”
“I try not to listen too closely for the opinions of others on me. I do not live for them.” The mutinous line of her mouth indicated she was stubborn as well, and quarrelsome, which he’d known. She brightened for a moment. “I should cast a spell on them, should I not, and see how they perceive me then.” He was talking to a girl. For all the cold haughty facade, he would so well not to forget she was just Lyanna Stark beneath it all.
“Who do you believe is responsible for this?” What he ought to do was call the maester and have him look her over. But then, the man could likely do little to stop the bleeding, which would eventually do so on its own. There was naught to do but wait it out, he perceived, annoying wishing he could do more than simply watch her in the clutches of the induced ailment. If wishes were horses and so on.
“I couldn’t say.” But she did have her suspicions. Him having been chief among them. A suspicious mind was a good thing, if she hoped to survive. It occurred to him that he could press further for an answer, but Lyanna shifted until she was lying on her side.
“Truly?” Nay, he would call the master after all and leave her in his care. As for the tea, Alys and Jeyne would do well to serve their mistress, and he had just the plan. A matter of time, truly, until he found out. Although to be entirely fair, he was going to regret it. As it turned out, he tended to regret learning the plans of others. “Try to get some rest. Might be aught will come to mind.”
Obligatory insanity dose.
Chapter 13: For The Best
Alys’ eyebrows knit together in very nearly palpable confusion. “I do not understand,” she said, placing her hands upon her hips expectantly. “You wish me to find the boy?”
Lyanna nodded. She was not particularly thrilled with the thought. Alas, she needed to gain as much favour with her husband as she could. “Aye. And bring him here. Jeyne has already gone after sweets.” She hoped ill people were allowed sweets. She truly did not know.
Had she met more dull witted people she might have been able to deduce or question whether they were allowed, but she had not. Caring for the mentally challenged had never been aught deemed a responsibility. Great houses rarely embraced such individuals as it were. “Forsooth ‘tis not a command you cannot carry out,” she offered at the continual hesitation Alys put forth.
The blonde recovered in time to shake her head. “Apologies, I did not mean to be obtuse.” Lyanna nodded and allowed her off with a slight inclination of the head. Alys did not test her patience. She was off, quick as a flash, going as far as to elevate her skirts for better speed.
Left quite bereft without the women she dared a glimpse towards Ser Darry. He would not admit it, but he was tired. She could see it in the way he held himself. Almost as though he had not slept. “You should sit down with me.” It was much too forward an invitation.
Members of the Kingsguard were honourable knights; men of great valour. Knights who honoured the realm with their service, exemplary specimens of their breed. She looked upon the man, his slightly drawn face, the smooth, near empty expression and wished, quite suddenly, that he might have been the husband assigned to her. While he was certainly older than the Prince, nowhere near as handsome and might be not from as lofty a house as some might wish, he was kind.
“That is not permitted, Your Grace,” he addressed her simply, bowing his head. She liked that. Not the excessive and exacting effect of their mores, but rather the way in which he insisted upon following them. An honourable man was worthy of admiration and that counted more than the handsomest of faces might.
But then she was being slightly unfair to the man she had wedded. If his own way, his own interesting bland of honour, Rhaegar should have some admiration as well. Just a little bit of it. In the meantime she angled a smile Darry’s way and patted the spot next to her. “Nonsense. If my guard cannot be trusted to seat himself by my side, who can?”
“Your Grace.” It was not censure. Lyanna was not certain what it was she heard in his voice. There was a thickness to it, almost as though the man contemplated a deeper meaning. Her eyes followed his features when they finally rose from their bow. The stiffness was visible. “It is simply not done.” Was that regret? She cocked her head to the side.
“But you are my guardian.” Surely naught could be taken amiss. They would just be sitting on a bench and within moments her women would be returning. It would be preposterous to expect something else.
“I am a Kingsguard.” Precisely her point. She raised her hand in a dismissal of his worries but the retreated it back to her lap, allowing the limb to drop like a useless weight. He had the right of it. It was not done.
She did recall she’d been warned a number of times to not encourage the attention of the soldiery. Of course a lady was to be gracious, calm and serene, even when discouraging suitors and admirers and she had never truly been permitted to make a man feel ashamed for admiring her. Still, it had been long established that she would be circumspect even if she carried a fondness. And she was certainly bot fond of Ser Darry in such a manner. Better not to give him the wrong impression.
It would reflect poorly on her. On him. And on her husband, she supposed. A sigh left her lips. “I suppose, Ser Darry, I had best listen.” She saw the rise and fall of his chest and surmised he too heaved a sigh. Besides, she thought to herself with a small pang, he was currently one of the few people she could depend upon. She would rather have him than not.
Electing not to comment upon it, Lyanna looked down at her lap, searching her entwined fingers as though they held all answers to life’s mysteries. She wiggled a few, more to convince herself she did not sleep. With great success the appendages danced to her tune. Before long she grew bored with the task. Neither Jeyne, nor Alys had returned and she could not very well get up and go in search of the two. They would come when they did.
A small smile flashed across his face and she caught herself smiling back. On such a serious face as his, smiles tended to look out of place. But he seemed at ease. She smiled even wider, despite a burst of wind coming from the north and picking at her hair. It had been half plaited, half allowed to fly as it would in loose strands. Lyanna wished she had told Alys to plait it all. Too late for that though.
Her eyes moved away from the knight as she heard voices. Too bad the moment had been cut short. While not certain, Lyanna suspected she might have managed a bit more conversation had she had time. Her hands stopped fidgeting in her lap and she folded the creases upon her skirts with a deft touch. It was then that she noticed a small ribbon had fallen away. It lied at her feet. She did not bother picking it up as the steps drew closer and closer and the voices rose. She gulped at the emerging forms.
It was Alys. She stood tall next to the boy. Desmer walked behind her, slightly stooped. Could he stand straight? Alys was speaking too and she answered every now and again monosyllabically. Her companion met her gaze and spoke once more, “See, here she is.”
Lyanna stood and was much surprised when the child took hr in with interest. He cocked is head to the side and departed Alys’ side, electing to head her way, paces uneven. In the low light provided by an anaemic sun she could make out his features very well indeed. No more thicker than before, he still strikingly resembled her husband.
“Desmer,” she spoke in greeting, inclining her head as she did so. “I am glad you came.” It felt beyond awkward to be treating him as her guest. He blinked at her but did not speak, not even to return her greeting. Instead he reached out.
Confused, Lyanna allowed him her hand. The peculiar boy moved with that until he was able to sit down. She followed suit, asking Alys to occupy a seat as well. Her companion did as she bade but turned to make conversation with Ser Darry. Lyanna left them to it and concentrated her attention upon Desmer.
“Are you still mad?” She stiffened, her hold on his hand slackening. Desmer did not seem to notice. “Brother explained that I am not to visit without your say-so.”
Rhaegar had? She drew in sharp breath, her nostrils pinching painfully within at the cool rush of air. “’Twas not properly done of you. But you may visit, as long as you knock before entering and I answer.” He nodded, a bright grin upon his lips, squeezing her hand back.
Lyanna glanced down at the binding hold and frowned. There were faint marks against his wrist, peeking out from beneath a well-worn sleeve. His clothing, she noticed, was not shabby. It was not quite new either, she reckoned. It did not fit precisely, having been made for a broader-shouldered man. But they covered him decently. Catching his other hand lightly, she raised it for inspection as well. It too bore faint traces.
Another gust of wind swept past them, tugging at her skirts and tresses and, without doubt, at her good humour which was slowly dwindling. She chuckled a little forcedly to cover the lapse. “Such weather,” she murmured, carding her fingers through her hair, smoothing it backwards. It some ways it reminded her of her home. Lyanna glanced towards the ornery clouds looming above them, trying to keep her mind from considering what the bruises meant.
It was no business of hers. Desmer was not hers. She was not part of his people. “Might be it will let up.” But then might be he did not have to be. She could speak to Rhaegar. Ask whether the child was cared for in unconventional ways. It could be that there was a need for certain measures.
“Do you not like snow?” Desmer questioned as Jeyne arrived, followed by a servant girl laden with pastries. The tray was placed upon the bench. He took the opportunity to snatch up one of the cakes, whichever he’d chosen and broke it off in two uneven halves, pressing one into her hand, seemingly unaware of the world around them.
Lyanna accepted the offering with a small smile and put it away back upon the tray. He was a messy eater. “I like the snow, when it is dark and one may sit by the window, looking without.”
Laughter met her statement. “Can’t see the snow in the dark.” Might be not he. She could see it perfectly, mostly because she could trace all movements. She’d had a lifetime to, after all.
“Your Grace, shall we be here long?” Alys cut into their conversation. The slight whine she heard gave her to understand cold weather was not among the lady’s enjoyed things. Before she could form a definitive opinion one way or the other, Jeyne reached for a pastry, distracting her.
“Nay, strive to endure a while longer,” she asked of Alys. It simply would not do to sit in the oncoming storm. And it was not as though she would be allowed to. But if she summoned the child to her chambers servants would talk. They would talk anyway, but she hoped to stave off some of it by electing to hold the interview elsewhere. Nevertheless, even she did not plan to come down with a cough or an ague or some other manner of cold. Hadn’t one of Lord Arryn’s brides died of an ague? Dreadfully unpleasant, she imagined, dying in a bed of sweat and with a stuffy nose.
That, Lyanna realised, had been beyond uncharitable. It was a most inappropriate thought to have in connection to the poor women who through no fault of her own had fallen to the Stranger. She sighed. She truly had no hankering for an ague. And one could die from them. Not to mention one could also live through them. Her eyes settled upon Desmer. He had something of his father in him, she supposed. But with how scrawny the poor thing looked, it could not be good for him to be kept in the whipping winds.
”Come to think of it, might be it would be better if we retired.”
“Indeed, His Grace did mention he wished to have words.” That had been Jeyne.
She started. “And you tell me only now?” It was not a demand. Lyanna made a point to keep her voice calm, flat even. She had no fear on the man she wedded. Not as it pertained to him ordering her about. It was what husbands did, and she might one day do the same to offspring of her own when the time came to shed the burden of this yoke aside. She stood.
The others followed suit and before she knew it, she had one hand caught in Desmer’s clasp and the other neatly placed upon Ser Darry’s arm. The elder of the two exerted a careful control over their direction. She leaned more towards him, for the boy still left her somewhat ill at ease despite her attempts to mend whatever breach earlier actions might have encouraged.
Nevertheless, Lyanna allowed that she might need to reconsider her strategy. Might be it would be good to ask Rhaegar himself. Intelligent though he may be, men were blessedly obtuse about such issues and, for better or worse, she did not suffer from such maladies. “Are you quite well, Your Grace?” the Kingsguard questioned, cutting through her train of thoughts.
“I am well.” She was mildly annoyed and somewhat hard pressed to keep quiet. But then there was little choice, was there not? She had to make do with what she did have, which was a too short supply of patience and enough obstinacy to prevail despite the lack of help she was certain to encounter. She allowed a tight-lipped smile to appear on her face.
She did not suppose it would be right that she drag poor Ser Darry in the mess. Better to have her eggs in more than one basket. With that in mind, she was much relieved to be at the stairs, letting go of Desmer’s hand and Darry’s arm. Her hands clasped together before her as she instructed a servant who happened by to lead Desmer back to wherever it was the boy sat during the day.
Alys took her arm then and leaned in. “Is it wise to engage him, Your Grace? We need not show him any attention.” Which was not untrue precisely.
“It might be helpful that we do,” she answered as Jeyne placed herself behind them as they mounted the stairs. She gave no more explanation than that, of course, for she herself was not certain whether to pursue the line. Her fingers clutched tighter at the other’s arm. If Alys was bothered, she did not say as much. All the better for Lyanna to continue thinking.
She caught movement from the corner of her eyes. Lyanna angled herself towards it and regarded Alys with a smidgeon of interest. Should she challenge the girl? Nay, best not to. She shrugged instead, her shoulders rising and falling with deceptive ease. “It makes no matter,” she offered. She turned towards Jeyne. “Did His Grace name a place where I should wait for him?”
“You may find him in his solar,” Jeyne said, keeping an unreadable expression upon her face. Alys, on the other hand, clucked her tongue, presumably to indicate what she thought of her husband inviting her to the solar. Lyanna did not take it to heart. She nodded towards Jeyne.
“And he said naught else besides?” Her question was met with a shake of the head. Showing more interest would be not be a good idea.
“Indeed not, Your Grace. He only indicated that he would be waiting upon your arrival.” Which mostly meant that she ought to hurry along and not make him wait. Lyanna was not particularly desirous of having him come after her once more. Her lower lips jutted out momentarily in a small pout. It would not work on her husband so she should get it out of her system before she was met with his brand of communicative interest.
Rhaegar was indeed waiting for her in his solar. As locations went, the solar was much better than her bedchamber. And it had the added benefit of not suggesting any husbandly rights were being exercised, which saved her from bitter tea. Those considerations aside, Lyanna looked into the Prince’s face as he dismissed both Alys and Jeyne. And her eyes lit up with uncertainty. “Has Alys done anything to displease you, Your Grace?”
Alys was, of course, not the subject they should have been discussing. She was though a much easier subject to tackle than the one he had in mind. But the man was far too smart to be caught on such a conversation. He levelled her a dry look. “It makes no matter. Lady Alys will have to wait for her turn. I believe we were to discuss about the moon tea.” He arched an eyebrow. She grimaced. “Surely you have not decided not to pursue the matter.”
“I have given that course of action some thought.” Incensed as she had been about the moon tea, it stood to reason that it might be used and since she had been tricked into consuming it the fault lied not so much with her as with those who had decided to trick her.
“I have not.” Those three words put a quick end to her hopes of the incident being forgotten. “And you, my lady, will put any such thoughts out of your mind.” She almost sighed. “Now that we have concluded that the both of us have no plans of abandoning this endeavour, when do you think I should come to you?”
She balked. “Beg your pardon?” Rhaegar did not explain himself. Presumably he had no need to. “I suppose any option Your Grace has in mind will suit me.” If she was not exactly being honest, then at the very least she was brave. Her husband gave her another one of those looks, the ones which let her know he found her most peculiar.
“You need not look so frightened. Unfortunately for the both of us, we must comply with the orders we have been give. So when is it that we are less likely to encourage consequences?” She attempted to count back and settle upon a date.
“I daresay it would not be much trouble either way,” she said in the end. Between his mother’s many miscarriages and her mother’s conceiving later in her marriage, it should not worry him overmuch. She tried putting precisely that to him, in as calm a voice as possible. He heaved a sigh.
“One ought to be prepared whether an outcome is likely or not.” That made sense. She nodded her head. “Well then, think, my lady, of when we should set this into motion.
Chapter 14: Something To Consider
She had a decided lack of regard for him, Rhaegar considered as he watched his second wife take a draught of her drink. She tipped the cup forth; he could even hear the liquid slosh about. And he simply watched her, unable, or unwilling, to do as much as move. He’d not yet decided which was which. “It would serve you in good stead,” he offered gamely, continuing their stilted conversation. Planned assignations were not his strong point.
“I do not doubt it would, Your Grace, but I must insist I shan’t be changing a thing.” He threw her a sideways glance. Her hand touched the point at the base of her throat. He wondered if she wanted to pluck at the tiny pearls dotting the collar. And a high collar it was. Aught which would have served her well a few decades past. “’Tis my custom to ride the beast when it strikes my fancy.”
That he could well believe. A woman like her would never allow the opportunity to ride past her. “I do not mean to disparage your skill.” It was her turn to give him a sidelong look. Nothing too objectionable. “That horse would try anyone’s mettle.”
“Not mine. I barely reached father’s knee when I got him. Pretty colt he was.” He had a sudden vision of tiny child atop an ill-tempered nag. Rhaegar gulped. The more one learned, the more one worried for future generations. “Not one rides him better than I, I promise. Even Brandon won’t touch him.”
“Clearly, the man is the soul of all that is reasonable and judicious, as far as I can tell.” Lyanna turned to face him fully, her mouth a small oval. “And quite clearly, you have worked your witchcraft over a good number of people if you were allowed atop that creature as a babe.”
She flushed and blinked her eyes in an owlish manner. “My pardons, I was not a babe.” She looked down for a brief moment. “Of course I was not. Very well, I was considerably older, but I have been put in the saddle as soon as I could walk and am competent.”
“You will not give the beast up?” She shook her head. “Very well, but know I do not like it and think you are putting yourself in harm’s way needlessly. I shouldn’t like to take the blame for your demise.” Her mouth quirked softly.
“Never fear, I doubt you will have the pleasure.” He cocked his head to the side and tapped a finger to the surface of the table. “Am I being impertinent?”
“Very much so.” And yet he grew a little less cold towards her. Rhaegar was not so thick as he could not recognise when he liked a body. “Do not stop on my account though. I find your mettle rather impressive and would hate to have the entertainment torn from me.”
“But of course, I live to entertain Your Grace.” The glare she reserved for him would look all the better on some old dragon. She momentarily turned her attention to the thick soup in her bowl and scooped up a spoonful. Rhaegar waited for a few moments, allowing her to eat a little. It wouldn’t do to have her faint dead away.
“Somehow, lady wife, I find that difficult to believe.” He ate a little of his own soup as well but found he hadn’t much of a stomach for it. He might have as well been eating sawdust. He was certain the taste was wonderful, but he felt nothing at all.
Lyanna did not reply right away. She pushed her bowl away and motioned for her cup to be filled once more. “Are you a good rider?”
He could be a bruising rider when it suited him. He could also keep his seat with a level of skill which surpassed his father’s, for all that was worth. He’d not yet won a tourney. “At the risk of sounding full of myself, I am rather good. Why do you ask, my lady?”
“’Tis always good to know as much as one can.” One of the rolls on the plate fell from its perch. Rhaegar reached for it and absently broke it in two, offering Lyanna a half. She took it with a murmur and bit into it. “How long must one linger over supper?”
He raised an eyebrow at that. “My gods, I thought you’d played hostess for your father.” She had not, he could tell. But then she was not particularly old. The chance had likely come her way. “Private meals are permitted, if it makes you feel more comfortable.” But then he did not doubt there would be more attention upon them. “It shall have to wait though.”
She nodded in agreement and placed her half of the roll upon the table, wiping her fingers upon a napkin. “No doubt it shall. I find it particularly difficult to sit still knowing what follows.” He did not find it any easier to keep still. Fortunately for her they could fret together and appear quite caught in their conversation. Which was true, in a sense, as they were caught in their conversation, blocking out most of what went on beyond the small space they occupied.
“I feel as though I should apologise.” There was neither agreement or its counterpart from Lyanna. “If I do though it will not help matters. The truth is we must go through with it. The best you can do is keep your chin up.”
“I was not suggesting we not go through.” He thought he saw her tremble. Or shudder. Without unduly praising himself, Rhaegar was quite certain such a reaction was distasteful. He sighed. There was nothing for it. “I shall do my best and you will do yours, I trust.” He nodded. “Good. We’ve naught to worry about then.” He gave a shallow agreement, if only to ease her conscience. What risk to let her believe that if it brought her some relief?
They continued through the meal with light chatter, nothing of note. He kept an eye on Ser Darry who was sitting at one of the lower tables. He was speaking to one of the guards. They seemed to be having a most enlightening conversations from the looks on their faces. He refrained from considering what its subject was. But he could not help but note the Kingsguard’s eyes drifted every so often to Lyanna.
Since there was a wealth of distance between them, he could not identify what there was in the man’s eyes. He could, however, take umbrage, and, might be, caution himself against giving in too easily to the girl’s charm. Indeed, it would be good to keep that in mind. He could not precisely put his finger upon why it bothered him.
In fact, the expression he held reminded Rhaegar of his wedding night. Or morning, as it were. The expression was very nearly the same. It held within it a suffocated protest as well as a plea. For what? That was more difficult to tell. On the one hand it might be that Darry held his wife in innocent affection, guided by some hidden hand, no doubt. On the other hand, it could mean that he would have to keep an eye on Darry.
Truly, it was hard not to feel ashamed. “Do you wish to leave?”
His wife started. “If ‘tis not too much to ask for.”
He stood, extending a hand. His eyes did not move from Darry. It was embarrassingly easy to note the man’s skin paling and his cup pushed aside in haste. Rhaegar curled his fingers upon Lyanna’s hand and deposited it upon his arm. He suspected he ought not to goad the man. There was little enough reason for him to be doing it.
But still, as long as the she-wolf played bride to him, even as he stood an unwilling groom, it would be an insult to her to allow a dalliance. Once the both of them were free, she could see to it that she found herself whatever comfort she sought. Meantime, they had other business to be about.
He led Lyanna from the hall without much fuss. Alys and Jeyne, or was that Jayne, followed behind at the behest of his wife. He allowed the intrusion with the hope that the two would put their mistress at ease. Rhaegar made an attempt to recall whether Elia had needed her ladies-in-waiting before retiring. And then he berated himself. There was simply no comparison there. Nevertheless, he had to endure the prattling of the other two women before they finally reached his bedchamber.
“And that is that,” he said with a note of finality to the last remark addressed before his lady wife could think to answer.
”Her Grace might have need of us,” Alys protested with her usual obstinacy.
”She does not,” he assured the impertinent lady whose eyes narrowed in distaste. Could he possibly lock them away somewhere and not have to bother with their annoyance? He supposed it would not do. Before the situation could devolve any further, Lyanna stepped in, apparently the only of left to temper them all.
”Come Alys, we shall manage very well with this situation. Jeyne, I pray you, have a care for your companion and I shall see the both of you come morning, aye?” They nodded, one with a concerned expression, the other with a more placid mien but one which should not be mistaken for blind acceptance. ”Good then, Your Grace, I believe we have matters to attend to.”
So they did. Rhaegar led her within, giving little mind to the slumping of her shoulders as they passed the threshold. But feel it he did nonetheless, for the dip was quite pronounced by the time the door closed behind them. Much as he regretted the circumstances and the actions, he could not very well allow her an escape. But then he had to admit his suffering would be of a slightly different nature to hers.
“More wine?” he questioned, following her movements as she looked about the chamber. Taking note of the way Lyanna cocked her head to the side when her eyes met an old tapestry, he wondered he if ought to make a greater effort. “My lady?”
“It will be better if I am drunk?” As though to underline the meaning behind her question, she turned her head so that their eyes might meet.
A blush crawled over his cheeks and he cleared his throat. Unfortunately for her, he’d never been in her position before and, as a man, had little difficulty in finding the act itself, without any further considerations, pleasing. “One supposes, my lady, that one’s senses can make something better or alternatively worse.”
“The great Rhaegar Targaryen admits to not knowing something. Your modesty is humbling, Your Grace.” There she was, the unruffled Lyanna Stark who could stand straight and unblinking in the middle of a storm. Would that she continue to do so without peril to her wellbeing. “Shall I take that cup of wine then?” When he failed to respond, she answered her own question. “If I do, I shan’t be able to quieten my conscience. I would rather there was naught of that nature come morning.”
He allowed her that much and walked to the lancet, leaving her to disrobe in peace. As opposed to the wedding night, there were no faces about, no smiles or yells or laughs to distract his attention. And he was not inebriated this time. In some way it was a much more frightening occurrence. As long as others were about he was not allowed to forget the circumstances of their union. In intimacy though, she stopped being the pawn his father placed around his shoulder as a weight and became the quick-witted and rather amusing young woman who did her best to live with the decisions of others thrust upon her shoulders.
Even turned away he still heard the whooshing of cloth. It did not take much imagination to know what it was that she did. He sucked in a breath and lifted his eyes to the stars. The sky was covered in them. Best of all the breeze was calm. Even if it had not been, the bedchamber was certainly warm enough with the fire burning in the grate. “Are you quite done?”
“Aye.” He heard the bed creak and the sheets rustle. Only after did he turn around. Without glancing at her, he made for the candles. They guttered, burning low. He blew them out with the merest of sounds. Having lived long enough in this particular keep, the lay of the land, as it were, was known to him. As such, stumbling about in the dark did not frighten him. In fact, he was certain that he would find his way to the bed at long last.
Some light still came from the fire, but that much he suspected she would allow, given that Lyanna had pulled the covers to her chin. Valiantly, he glanced at her. “Shall we get this over with then?” She nodded. He nodded back and undressed leisurely. He was not about to jump the poor girl. She might take fright and bolt and then where would they be. Lyanna did not look at him for long. Her face reddened and she tore her eyes off of him, electing to gaze fixedly towards the lancet. Presumably she too found some relief in the sight the stars presented.
Surprisingly, when he slid in behind her, she did not let out a shriek. Instead, her breath hitched. It was a sign of fright, that much he could not deny, but it was a sight better than yelling. “You are well?”
“I need a moment.” Of him she might have a thousand such moments. Rhaegar did not move despite the thought. “Just a moment.” She sucked in another breath. One of her hands planted itself upon his shoulder. “You may proceed.”
Her dispassionate claim was met with a nod she could not see as she was not looking at him. He attempted to move her gently. “This would be a bit easier if you deigned to cooperate.”
“I thought that was what I was doing.” A dry response. Nevertheless, she was not.
“Alas it is not. Look at me.” She did. “One day, I hope soon, you will find there can be joy in such an act. I am certainly sorry you must suffer the infliction of any less, but we’ve no alternative. Meantime, keep your eyes up here.”
Their second attempt at intimacy was clearly an improvement over the previous one. While Lyanna doubtlessly found little which to actively enjoy, she managed to relax enough that the pain she might have felt should not present much of a problem. In fact, her breathing was easy enough, suggesting that it was bearable, which was his objective.
Rhaegar eased his way to her side and brushed back her hair, wondering at the urge to give her praise. She was not pale-faced, nor was she biting her lips in agony. The she-wolf offered a small, gentle smile. Her form moved beneath the covers, indicating her hands were fully occupied with tugging her garb down. Consigning his concerns to the wind, he opened his mouth. “Wasn’t that awful, was it?”
“Not nearly as terrible as I remember it.” He chuckled at her sincerity and found the wherewithal to keep from taking offence at her words. He’d not attempted to endear her to the act and he had no plans to do so in the future, but he did not wish to harm her. Regrettable as her past experience was, he consoled himself with the fact that there was certainly better waiting for her somewhere down the lane.
“You damn me with faint praise.” Their hands met beneath the covers. She yawned. “I see I have tired you out.”
“Not at all.” She yawned yet again, bringing up her hand to cover her mouth. “It takes more than that to tire me. Why do you think this will be better?”
Because she was not cold. But he could not very well tell her that. “Affection goes a long way to aid. Alys has not said as much to you?”
With a frown, Lyanna sat up. “Whatever do you mean? Alys is not wedded.” Then she flushed. “Nay; I doubt she would know.” He wondered why she defended that one.
“I’ve the advantage of you, my lady.” Her frown deepened. “One needn’t be wedded in order to enjoy the act.”
“But–that is, a lady is required,” she trailed off. The she-wolf cleared her throat. “Nay, I cannot conceive of it. It would be unacceptable.”
Understandable. She was young and she was an innocent. “Not as much as you’d think. Some will be more accepting than others, and for those who are unaccepting, there are always other solutions.” She pulled a face. He did not elaborate. “That should not concern you though. I meant to say Alys might prove some insight into the matter. Might be that other girl as well. Jeyne? Jayne?”
“Jeyne.” He gave her a look.
“You are certain?”
“I should think so. ‘Tis not a difficult name, Your Grace.” There was a smirk upon her face, for he could not term the sharp grin as aught else. “Never say you’ve been labouring under the impression that she was aught else than Jeyne.”
“Unfortunately, I must say that I have.” He was not likely to forget the name again. “Pray forgive me.” She shook her head with a light titter. “Was that agreement?” She shook her head. “You are cruel. Makes one wonder what impugning your person might result in.”
“Oh, certain death.”
They both laughed. At the very least they should rub along tolerably well.
“You are a most frightening woman, has anyone told you?”
“Would it surprise you if they had?” There was still a smile upon her face. She pressed back between the covers and lifted them to her chin. “Nay; I think it mightn’t.”
He responded to that with a knowing smile. “You are most correct. But then I imagine that once I know you better, my mind shall change.”
“Are you in the habit of changing your mind?”
“Nay; my instincts rarely lead me astray.”
Chapter 15: A Cautious Ride
READ PLEASE: This chapter deals with the topic of abortion.
Ice licked along her limbs causing Lyanna to come to with an annoyed grunt. She'd heard the wind howling fiercely when she woke in the middle of the night, feeling disoriented and put out to find her path blocked. When she'd looked and came upon the sight of her slumbering husband, maidenly shyness had her squirming away. Having managed to escape his hold, she'd drawn the furs over herself, securing them the best she could before falling back into the night's restful embrace. To find herself back in his arms come morning was, understandably enough, a curious sport of disappointment.
She was not so insensitive that her fast-beating heart or the heat crawling up her spine did not give her pause. It did, however, present her with a perfect opportunity to raise her walls back up. Whatever kindness was between them, it was a means to an end. She would aid him and he would aid her and they would go their separate ways, each finding other people to be kind to. Lyanna grabbed his arms, pushing it away with more force than strictly necessary, before she could rein herself in.
It proved enough to wake him. Unlike her, he somehow suffered no even a moment's surprise. "Has the sun risen?" he questioned, voice sounding oddly tired. After so many hours of sleep, no less. She frowned down at him, for he made no movement to rise himself.
"'Tis almost risen," she answered. "You had best find your garments, Your Grace, and be off to your duties. We would not wish to encourage gossips, would we?" If her voice was less than warm, well, that might be forgiven, for she was not in the best of moods. And his lounging about as though he had no notion of what came next helped matters none.
"Are you well?" Then he did rise, on his elbow, closing the distance between them somewhat. Drawing back, she glared at him. "Now, now; after we got on so well just last night." The amusement bled away when she failed to indulge him. "Are you quite certain you are well? Shall I call for one of your women?"
Worry? From him? What for? She blinked in confusion and shook her head. But he was not about to desist. "I suppose it couldn't be helped," Rhaegar sighed, sitting up. "I am certain Alys or someone knows of something or another for such occasions."
It came to her then, the notion that he was under the impression he'd hurt her. What else could possibly make sense in such circumstances. Cheeks aflame, she hurriedly denied the possibility. "I am not unwell, Your Grace." Suspicious eyes flayed her. "I am not."
"One cannot expect the road to run smooth," he soothed, which only had the opposite effect on her. "The truth of the matter is you are rather," he trailed off, gesturing vaguely towards her.
All the good-will she felt towards him evaporated. "I am rather what?" If only she could grab hold of something sharp. She'd show him. The wretch. And after she'd come to hold him in some regard.
As though he sensed the leashed fury boiling just beneath the surface, he held one hand up. "You are rather small. It was my failing that I did not take that into account."
"I am not small. Favours are small. Pups are small. Children are small." She bit against the cry of frustration at the lack of comprehension on his face. He was being deliberately obtuse; just to stoke her temper. "I am not small, you fiend!" Testimony stood the pillow she shoved at him. "Find your garments and leave my sight." With that she turned her back on him and buried herself beneath the blankets, grumbling under her breath.
Silence ensued. The lack of an apology on his part further encouraged her ire. Why was it that men were so very disposed towards this manner of teasing despite the obvious exasperation they caused? Gods save her from these creatures so fundamentally incapable of even the most meagre hint of empathy.
The mattress dipped and quivered under his movements. And then, rather inelegantly, he started chuckling, apparently taking great pleasure in the whole of it. "And when, pray tell me, lady wife, have I treated you as any of the things you've mentioned? To tell you the truth, I find this very endearing." His hand pressed upon her shoulder and might have moved to rouse her had she not slapped it away. "Don't take on so."
She sat up and turned upon him, her expression as close to thunderous as it had ever been, Lyanna was certain. "I am not small, or helpless, or hurt. I refuse to be any of those things."
Once more he regarded her with a serious gaze, cocking his head to the side. "You wish to be a law unto yourself?" His fingers moved to push back a strand of hair behind her ear. Her gaze slid down, landing onto the exposed flesh of his chest. Lyanna bit her lower lip. "Who will be your enforcers?"
"I've no wish for enforcers." Even as she spoke the words she saw the ground her argument stood on crumble. There was much doubt in her heart that he would pull his punches having caught her so very unprepared.
"How is then your law to be protected?" Without warning, he caught her by the shoulders and pressed her back against the pillows. "You have to work smarter, not harder." She shivered, closing her eyes. 'Twas never an easy thing to feel vulnerable and she was at her most vulnerable. There were ways people could hurt one another, cut so deep into their brethren's flesh that no amount of bandages might staunch the blood. Her eyes closed.
"If you wish for a law of your own," he continued, his voice smooth, cold, almost as though he were an entirely different person, "then you must have a kingdom, a keep with walls. And you've only snakes in a field as far as the eye can see." His weight lifted, setting her free. She heard the faint rustles of movement. "Send for me as soon as you have received your tea," he instructed.
"I shall." She heard the door close and his footsteps carrying him further and further. She should not have pushed him. Thoughtless, careless, stupid, stupid girl. It was all good and well to proclaim herself above needed anyone, but she could not act it out and he had seen that, stripped her down to nothing and flayed away her arrogance all with a few words.
But there was no time to mope. As soon as Rhaegar had left, Jeyne and Alys flew in, twittering excitedly, grabbing and pulling at her as though they were completely unaware of the momentous occasion ahead. "When is my tea to arrive," she asked softly, accepting the wet cloth they passed to her so she might clean herself in relative privacy.
"Soon to arrive," Alys answered, nodding her head for emphasis. "We saw His Grace as we arrived. Looked right prepared to incinerate the lot of us." Her glee was most out of place she spoke the words. Lyanna's head swivelled towards her with unrestrained curiosity. It churned uncomfortably I the pit of her stomach and that part of her still fearful demanded she leave matters be.
"And why should that please you so well?" Alys paused in order to shake out the kirtle she'd chosen. Her smile widened just a fraction.
"Because," she began, her voice lower than before, "it means there shall be no doubt upon whose side His Grace stands in this matter. I know dragons; their temper is as fierce as they come and woe upon him who dares poke the slumbering beast into wakefulness." She helped Lyanna garb herself. "Aside from that, this is a most creative era we live in. Just imagine the manner of punishment he will heap upon the wretch who dares commit so disgraceful an act."
Curious and more curious still. "Jeyne be so good and see how His Grace's brother fares this morning. I wish to walk the gardens with him, if he can be spared." The aforementioned lady nodded her head dutifully and passed the golden girdle in Alys' keeping before making her way without. Left alone with the other, Lyanna waited until the ornament had been tied around her wait securely. "Alys, tell me truly, have you any experience with such potions as they might," she paused, searching for a delicate way to put it, "cause harm to a child."
Her lady-in-waiting looked appropriately shocked. "Whatever gave you such a notion, my lady?"
"You are rather adamant in your desire to see the culprits punished." Some might consider that a simple observation, devoid of subjective undertones. Alys did not. She flushed.
"I have never had cause to use such means, nor was I forced into it, but we are speaking of a deliberate and unrepentant attempt to murder. It would be one vile crime if they tried to poison you, my lady, for you are indeed an individual capable of defending yourself. You could be expected to search for such hidden traps." Turning away from her, Alys walked to the coffers and pulled out a pair of thick woollen stockings. Lyanna sat upon a chair. "But a babe hasn't the means to cry foul, nor even attempt to protect himself."
Again she paused, Lyanna took the stockings from her and donned them herself, trying the garters with care. "Himself?" No further words came from her lady-in-waiting. She hesitated to press further, but when no answer was forthcoming, she did so anyway. "Whatever it is, Alys, you may confide in me and the words shall go no further." As though to prove her point, she rose from her seat opened the door and looked to Ser Darry who met her gaze with vague alarm. "No one is to disturb me until I give them leave to come within." He nodded. "Bar their entrance if you must."
The door closed. "Some things, my lady, they change you in ways you wish they hadn't. I had a sister, older by a couple of years; sweet and gracious and all that was good. Except that she had one flaw. A fatal flaw. She was," Alys' breath hitched cutting her off, "simple, as it were. An innocent." Lyanna shivered, feeling the misery sink in. "My father had a squire about the same time. I was to wed him someday. I saw no problem with anticipating my vows. And he did not either, be it with me or my sister." What a horrible, horrible monster, Lyanna could not help but think. "But it was not I that sickened. And when he saw what he had done, he convinced my poor sister to take a draught. She knew no better. How could she have?"
Though the tears never fell, Lyanna could see them shining in the other's eyes. Still, Alys went on, "I thought she'd merely eaten something and stayed in her chamber to offer comfort. And then the blood started flowing." That explained her reaction.
"The babe was this big," she measured the length between her hands. "Looked like a pudgy ball of flesh. That bastard; he was not content to ruin lives, he had to take them as well. There is no excuse," her companion rasped, "no single good explanation for such barbarity. We put it about that my sister died of a fever. And he was sent to his father."
"He was not punished." Inconceivable. He should have been tied to a pole and flogged before a thousand witnesses.
Alys looked at her then, her eyes dead and cold. "He is no longer of this world."
Lyanna asked upon his fate no more. Yet she came closer to Alys and wrapped her in her arms, a scene which might have otherwise been a most strange display. "I never can get the image of the poor creature lying in a pool of blood out of my mind. A few years longer, he could have been running about the yard, climbing trees and calling me aunty. I would have loved him; he was my sister's. I would have cared for him." Had she loved the father? Might be; might be not. Her feelings could have easily been flattened underneath the weight of such a tragedy. "I swore I would never put any child of mine through such a proceeding. And to have another force such a decision is unforgivable."
Little wonder the mere mention of moon tea sent her into hives. Lyanna had no notion of how to soothe such wounds. She simply hugged the other closer. "So aye, my lady, I hope His Grace is as merciless as his father was with Lord Darklyn's bride."
"The gods give, and the gods take," she murmured the words; they rang hollow and she did not know precisely how to feel about that. In her heart though, the unshakable belief that anyone who harmed a child by measured planning was deserving of divine wrath gained further strength. The Queen's mistake had been to reveal her plan too soon. Or might be to choose incompetent aides. Whichever the case, her tale could have been the one of Alys' unfortunate sister, tricked into swallowing a cup of poison which would claim not one, but two lives.
Her knees trembled. She wanted to sink down and bow her head in prayer but that would give all away. "No doubt the tea will have been prepared for now," she filled the silence. "Jeyne will stay with me while you go after His Grace." That would give her time and reason to compose herself.
Alys did remarkably well picking herself up and acting as though she had not told one of the most horrific tales Lyanna had ever heard. But then, it could be that she'd the proper experience to pull such a thing off. For herself, she lifted the bar from the door and opened it wide, to see Jeyne standing there with slight confusion upon her face. She entered nevertheless as Alys scurried past her. "I saw to your request, my lady. Whenever you wish to take your walk, you may find the boy near the kitchens."
"Aye, the walk," she recalled as though through a thick fog. "Sit down by me, Jeyne." Her companion hurriedly complied, giving her a questioning look. But Lyanna had sworn she would not share the details with anyone, and she would not. "I find myself somewhat distracted this morning. Pray, do not mind me."
"Is this about His Grace? He truly did seem in foul temper when we crossed paths." That she did not doubt. Her and her big mouth getting her in trouble ceaselessly; one day she would have to learn better.
"Never you mind, His Grace." Her stomach roiled in a most uncomfortable manner. "I do wonder what could possibly be taking them so long with that tea."
Just as she spoke the words, a servant girl came in, carrying a tray upon which sat but a cup and a pitcher. Steam rose above the pitcher's rim, curling in elegant swirls, its destination heavenwards. The girl bowed and murmured something in a voice so small that she could not decipher kits meaning. Might be a greeting. "Ah, my tea," she said, standing, if only to be doing something. "Leave it on the table there and you may be off to your other duties."
Jeyne rose as well, but she made her way towards the table and picked up the pitcher. "I shall pour, my lady." Lyanna nodded, eyes stuck to the servant girl who seemed more shy than anxious. She must not be in on the manner of service she provided. Once she was gone and the door firmly shut behind her, Lyanna turned towards Jeyne. The cup held aloft in one hand, she gazed into the depths of its contents. "It smells rather strange," Jeyne commented.
In only all traps had such obviousness about them. Jeyne put away the cup and returned to her seat, waiting for Lyanna's nod, which she gave. Hardly had her companion taken her seat that the door opened to admit her second companion, who looked much restored, along with her husband who maintained the look of a thunderous cloud. In spite of such blatant ire he moved about with deceptive calm.
"There it is," she nodded her head towards the table, somewhat surprised when yet another entered her chambers. The maester's alarm indicated he might have been told something. It made sense the more she thought about it. Rhaegar was no maester, surely he could not be expected to know as much as a man trained for it.
"I was told there was aught amiss with the tea," the maester rasped, as if he'd been running all the way to her door. She eyed the beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
"Indeed. And there it is now, maester," Rhaegar spoke then. "Pray determine what it contains." The man nodded obediently and stepped towards the laden table. He picked up the cup and sniffed slowly. The odour had meantime spread through the chamber. Jeyne had been right. Something else had been added this time. "Nightshade," the maester declared, "and quite the quantity." He took a prolonged sip, making a show of considering what it was he was tasting, before he spat the liquid back in the cup. "Tansy, a dash of pennyroyal and some rue, if I am not missing my guess," he declared a moment later. "'Tis quite the concoction. The only thing I do understand is the nightshade." She did not either. All other herbs were known to be used I such potions.
"But you are certain 'tis an abortifacient?" Rhaegar demanded.
"That I am." So was the situation brought to timely end. "But this particular mixture, it could have just as easily killed Her Grace. For the nightshade to give off such scent there has to be a large quantity, as I said. It is very likely Her Grace would have suffered ill effects with as little as a sip."
"Is it possible that 'tis some manner of warning?" Jeyne asked for a brief moment of silence.
"The foul odour would have, without doubt, given the impression of wrongness," the old man shrugged. "As to whether it were intentional, that I cannot rightly say, my lady."
"You may depart, maester," her husband allowed.
"I should like a sample of the tea," the man requested, not moving from his spot.
"Take the cup, if you must." His desire fulfilled, the learned stepped without, cup in firm grasp.
"The woman responsible for it has been detained. Should you like to see her, lady wife?" Rhaegar blatantly ignored the other two, holding out his hand for her. She took it with a small nod. She wanted to look into the eyes of the wretch and see for herself what manner of reason she could possibly have.
Ser Darry followed.
There were dungeons deeper beneath. Naturally criminals of any manner were taken to such accommodations until a punishment had been determined. The woman was Almond. An occasional helper in the kitchens, but the vast majority of her work had to do with linens as Lyanna was given to understand.
"Stand," the turnkey barked at her, slamming his rob against the bars of the cell. The frightened woman jumped to her feet. One side of her face was bruised. Lyanna could not help a moment's sympathy before her heart hardened.
She and Rhaegar entered together. Behind them came the turnkey. Ser Darry remained posted at the wall, his eyes watchful.
Gripping Rhaegar's arm with considerable strength, she waited with baited breath.
The door opened with a stilted cry, allowing the lor of them in.
Gripped at the nape by the turnkey who'd moved around them, the woman did not seem as though she might pose the slightest hint of opposition. Just as well, Lyanna considered, sitting down upon a stool, for a brief moment avoiding the sight of the captive. Rhaegar remained standing, presumably because he knew it was a better method of intimidation. She certainly half a flicker of fear glancing at him in that moment, though she was not the target of his ire.
"My question," he began, the smooth flow of his words at loggerheads with his appearance, "is who ordered your serving Moon Tea." The woman looked down at her feet, the thin flesh covering her throat quivering visibly. "If you insist upon making this difficult, there will be little choice but to forcibly obtain the answers." Her lips moved, just a fraction. "Turnkey."
Whatever understand operated between the two, it must have been put in place for some time as no spark of confusion entered the man's eyes. He simply let go of the accused's nape and grabbed her wrist, lifting up her hand. A knife neared her thumb. Realising belatedly what they meant to do, Lyanna shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Blood was not among her favourite things.
"'Tis rather simple, you see," Rhaegar filled the silence, something in his voice twisting Lyanna's innards in a near painful manner. She recalled Alys' wish and shuddered. Was he like his father, in that regard? "If you do not confess of your own free will, I shall have to find witnesses. Your sister, might be. She is still with you, as I understand."
The pale face lifted, panic in her eyes. Lyanna felt a protest trying to crawl its way up her throat. She smothered it. He would not harm an innocent, not truly. Would he? Rhaegar nodded towards the turnkey and the blade dance upwards, a shriek of pain on its heels. No matter how she tried to evade the grip, the servant woman was caught. Half her thumb landed at her feet. Lyanna understood with mounting unease that while he might not harm an innocent, there were men who would not question his order were he to demand such an act. Supressing her revulsion at the sight, she failed to notice the hand reaching for her shoulder. Consequently, she almost jumped out of her seat, at his touch. "You may leave, if you wish."
"I will stay," she spoke firmly, suspecting a trembling reply would only harden him against her request. Rhaegar signalled accord before turning back to the matter at hand and proceeding as though she were not there at all.
"The way I see it, you have two options, either you tell me who it was that gave the order, or," he paused for effect, "I will bring your sister here and give her to you one piece at a time." He sounded as though he mean every word. His father had, after all, removed every single member of House Darklyn as well. It was to be expected.
"Pray you nay, Y'er Grace. I were ordered upon pain of losing my sister," the woman wept. "If I were to tell, she would," she trailed off, her meaning clear even without her spelling it out. The fact remained that this woman's sister faced certain death irrespective of the choice she made. To think that she was in part embroiled in such an action left unpleasant bitterness in Lyanna's mouth.
"You will tell." She would. The look in her eyes spoke volumes. Lyanna had the sudden notion that she ought have left when the chance had presented itself. Left with no option but to put up with the gore, she closed her eye for but a moment, taking a deep breath. They opened. "Leave us," he motioned the turnkey away.
Far from offering even the slightest measure of protest, the man pushed Almond away and left, making his way not only without the holding cell, but up the hallway, presumably to the adjacent chamber. Ser Darry remained in his earlier position. "There is only us, now. Speak, and I will make certain no ill befalls yours sister."
The wretched creature whimpered. "'Twere a man that came before Your Grace arrived. He carried a message from my mistress, saying I were to make a tea from what she sent me, else my sister would come to ill end."
"Your mistress?" He took her by the shoulder. "Are you saying 'twas my own mother who ordered this?" Lyanna winced. Of course, what son wishes to see their mother in such a light? She held her own counsel. He turned towards her next, "Did you suspect?"
Her tongue felt thick in her mouth. Lyanna met his gaze. "I," she hesitated, what if he did not believe her. After all, it was her word against the Queen's. Who was she to surpass his mother in import in so short a time? He could simply choose to ignore the evidence. "I did." She had a choice as well.
His lips parted, as though to deliver speech, yet no a sound made it past. Gazes locked, she had the vague feeling he was waiting for her to speak in hopes of delivering a scathing reply. She was not about to explain herself any further though. Unable to force his hand, it would be useless if he chose to deny his belief.
"Did it occur to you that I might wish to know?" Certainly. She gave no indication of it though. "Might be, the next you encounter such plots you will consider the wisdom of letting me know."
"Might be," she answered in the same biting tone he'd used. Doubtlessly when the first chance presented itself, he would be inquiring after her choice. "If I consider it pertinent." For the time being, though, it would be best for her if he returned his attention to aught that mattered.
He seemed to be having similar thoughts. If his sigh was anything to go by, she would be not be escaping him. "What of the nightshade?"
Rhaegar was not at all certain what he was going to do with the she-wolf set upon plaguing him. Not only had he failed one of those duties men were ever told to uphold, irrespective of how they felt about any one person, but he had done so in the face of an attack coming not from without, but from within. His own mother, of all people.
He'd not been eager to wed the girl any more than she had been to see the match made. Lyanna Stark was quite possibly the most frustrating creature ever fashioned by the gods, set upon this earth to torment him, at least in part. Yet even so he could not believe her guilty of any wrongdoing that would merit such treatment. And such he would say to his lady mother. If he managed it.
The trouble with such plots, which trouble was not tardy in arrival, was that they required the King's attention. He could hardly hope to storm back within the Red Keep, demanding answers, without providing the whole of it to his father. Rhaegar had little interest in involving the King. And so, the fires of anger were diminished, though not doused. He wondered whether he could get away with as little as a letter, but did not think it likely. The lack of trust between his sire and his mother was not aught which surprised him; and it seemed there was good enough reason as far as both parties were concerned. However, that did put him in an unenviable position.
Given time to think such matters through, he might have come to a satisfactory solution. But he hadn't the time, nor did the victim of this vile scheme. The best he could do, of course, was find out whatever he could of his mother's plans and foil them. At least enough for Lyanna to escape unscathed. She'd already promised her heart in no way called for thrones and positions of great power. There was no reason not to believe her. Not when she'd let the greatest opportunity slip by her. She might have gone to his father with the small matter of the Moon Tea. The man would have seen to it, to the last detail, that his scheme came to a successful ending.
He breathed out in relief. For all her icy demeanour and skittish ways, the girl meant no harm. Rhaegar gazed upon the space without, eyeing the few squires toiling with the master-at-arms. Might be Ser Darry could use one of the boys. It was not a comfortable duty that of guarding alone. Besides, he held little doubt Lyanna herself might enjoy the company of someone closer to her in age. He looked at the options presenting themselves. Surely one or two were near ready to take a knight's vow. And Lyanna was not difficult to guard despite the recent incidents. Wilful to a point and certainly capable of driving one mad, her intentions seemed mostly good. He consoled himself with such a thought.
The issue he gave no attention to was his own desire to put some distance between Darry and his lady wife. Not that he suspected the man. Jonothor Darry was a credit to his fellow knights. He knew his duty and he carried it out exemplary. The trouble was that Rhaegar was not so lacking in knowledge he that he hadn't seen the looks passing between the she-wolf and her dutiful guardian. All innocent up to the very point, but the potential was there. He did not hold the girl in any special regard, and she, he did not doubt, found the lack of affection troubling. Not at a surface level, certainly, for she did not know quite enough of herself, having only so very recently been thrust in her positon. But it would come. She would understand soon enough that to love and to be loved were some of the greatest feelings one could share with another human being. And Jonothor Darry did not look as though he'd mind sharing that with her.
Being a man himself, he recognised the sight of awareness when he saw it. Even more so when it twined with the vaguely distilled desire. But at the end of the day, Darry was his father's Kingsguard. He could not take a wife, in any event, nor would be able to keep a mistress in much comfort without his family's intervention. And Lyanna, whatever else she was, did not seem likely to take on the position of mistress with any relish. Not even for a man whose company she seemed to enjoy. For though she lacked Ser Darry's fire, she had within her eyes a certain amount of calm affection.
And why not? Was Jonothor Darry not a model of male chivalry by his own reckoning? He turned from the lancet. Of course any woman would look upon such a man and admire him. Yet there was no future there. Rhaegar had to end it for both Ser Darry and Lyanna. Once he no longer kept her, arrangements would have to be made for a new home for the lady. She deserved a family of her own; a man who would not hold her disastrous first union against her. A man who would see her worth and be willing to weather the storm that came along with wedding her. It was his duty to find such a mate for a woman who by little fault of her own fell in company with him.
At least he'd known what going against his father meant. He'd taken the risk knowingly. What Rhaegar did not particularly wish to examine was the knot tightening within him at the thought of a potential suitor coming about to claim his current wife's affection. She was delicate for all her wild ways. Rough handlings or dismissive countenances would bruise her. Although the notion needled him still that it was not the handlings or countenances he feared, but more so her positive reaction to a stranger's attention.
A ludicrous thought. Nails bit into the skin on his palm. He hadn't the fay to waste away on such notions. Forcing his attention away from Lyanna and whatever the future held for her, he gazed upon the letter Arthur had sent. Whatever his methods his dear friend had managed to incorporate word from Elia.
Guiltily, Rhaegar realised that he'd not thought of her as often as he should have. Nor as often as he could have, too. But the words soothed him nonetheless. Her brother's home offered comfort and care, and she was no worse off, except that she missed him and wished they could communicate freely. A small smile touched his lips at that. Might be he would have some occasion to visit Dorne. Doran would see to arranging suitable lodgings, he did not doubt.
Before he could go any further though, the door to his solar opened and a squire announced with an impassive voice that Mistress Ilva sought an audience. A pinching pain at the back of his head warned of unpleasantness. He nodded, nevertheless, to the boy, agreeing to have the woman come to his solar. If she had aught to say, and with Desmer running unfettered, he did not doubt she did, it was his duty to listen.
The neat form of his father's past mistress approached through the open door. Time had left its mark upon her, Rhaegar thought, considering her from his vantage position. She made her bows, graceful even when distressed. He supposed he could see why his father had taken notice. "Your Grace," the woman murmured.
"Speak freely, mistress; it must be important if you have sought me out." He watched her take a deep breath, as though in preparation, before she nodded vigorously. Effectively engaged, he took a seat, leaning back in it, with an expectant mien at the ready.
"I beg a moment, Your Grace." He nodded, allowing her the time. "'Tis a most important matter I wish to speak of." She seemed pained. For a brief moment he considered inquiring after his half-brother but refrained. It would all become clear in due time. Ilva stepped to the side, as though wishing for the protection of the shadows. "'Tis about Her Grace, Lady Lyanna."
Involuntarily, he started. "What are you about, mistress?" What could a laundress know about his lady wife that she felt the need to come to him. Earlier thoughts attempted to beset him before he knocked them back, frowning.
"The moon tea, Your Grace." Checking himself, Rhaegar clutched the edge of the table set before him. "I heard talk in the kitchens. About nightshade. 'Twas I who put in the nightshade."
He might have known the turnkey would not keep his mouth shut. Supressing a growl, he decided to focus on the matter at hand. "I do not understand, Ilva. Are you confessing?" His stare bore into her own, daring her to speak the words. The laundress licked her lips nervously, eyes falling to the ground.
He could see the skin reddening. Not an admission of guilt as far as he could make out. "Your Grace, I beg the boon of being allowed to recount the whole of it from the beginning." Then she glanced up, testing the waters, as it were. He allowed her that much with the full expectation that he would learn her place in the scheme, or if not, he would at least have some leverage to use against his mother.
"I received an order from His Majesty prior to Your Grace's return that I was to report back to him upon the matter of this marriage he has arranged." Ilva had never been the meekest of creatures. It did not entirely surprise him that she laid his father's plan before him. She inclined her head to the side. "He is the King for now, Your Grace."
"I was not contemplating flaying you, mistress. Go on." He eyed her. It was not unheard that a man might put in a servant to spy. But Rhaegar did not particularly worry over his father's constant vigil. He had Ilva and he had Desmer, and he might use both if it came to that.
"Then I started noticing the unusual frequency of the link with the moon on Her Grace's part. 'Twas too much blood for aught normal. Cook asked me to give a hand in the kitchens, seeing as one of the girls took sick, which I agreed to, hence my coming upon the tea. I know pennyroyal when I see it and I could well guess its meaning."
"And the nightshade?" So it had been a warning after all. He found some relief in that.
"I know from my own sire that a mixture of pennyroyal and nightshade would give off a foul odour. I hoped the warning would be enough." There she paused. Giving him such a look as to make his hairs stay on end. "I heard one of cook's girls was taken to the dungeons."
"You heard well. And you would be wise not to repeat what you've learned to the rest of the keep." He would be needing a new turnkey. "Does your brother still reside in the village?"
"Aye, Your Grace. He helps his good-father by and by, and otherwise works what he can for the rest of them." He nodded his understanding.
"Make certain fair winds do not take him far from home."
"Aye, Your Grace."
He dismissed Ilva, more than certain her laundry would not wash itself. The woman seemed pleased enough with how things had gone and he had little to complain of himself. The matter of the Moon Tea was at and end.
His moon settled for the time being, Rhaegar abandoned all letters and documents. There would be no progress for he did not feel within himself the power to look through endless veneers. Might be once he had dispelled the odd sense of accomplishment.
With that in mind, he stepped without the solar and made for the chamber where he knew his lady wife rested during the day. As expected, when he opened the door Alys and her other companion, Jeyne or Jayne, along with Lyanna herself rose in greeting. He could see clutched in her hand a square of thin cause upon which aught had been traced with coal. He did not recognise the picture as either heraldry or aught of significance.
"I should like a word with my wife," he dismissed Lyanna's women, watching as they curtsied and abandoned their mistress to whatever fate her husband had in mind, but not before Alys pressed aught in her hand. Soon enough, though, the two of them were gone, leaving behind a calm she-wolf whose eyes demanded answers.
"I did not think to see you so soon." They had broken their fast together that morning in relative silence, both preoccupied. She invited him to sit, doing the same while he complied with her wishes. A nervous motion of her hand followed. "Alys was saying some of the tapestries could use our attention." Lyanna chewed upon her bottom lip. "She and Jeyne will see to it that we have a list by the end of the day, if Your Grace approves."
"Already acting the good chatelaine, are we, lady wife?" he teased, enjoying the way her cheeks reddened. And if her countenance was rude with health than it was to his satisfaction, further proof that even the worst of mistakes could be rightened.
"I was raised to do so, Your Grace. It is the duty of a wife, I am told." She squared her shoulders and met his searching gaze. "I will make no changes, of course, but pray allow me some use. Otherwise there is little to do other than ride and take in the scenery."
"You do not need my permission, but if it please you, lady wife, make whatever changes you deem necessary." He reached for her square of cloth. She gave it up without a struggle, allowing him a glimpse of her more ladylike side; the one concerned, as it seemed, with preparing nests. He gave back her possession without comment. "I was considering placing one of my squires in your care." No use avoiding the subject.
Surprise crossed Lyanna's features, but she settled in her seat and simply asked, "Is there need for it? I find Ser Darry more than adequate."
"There is every need." Despite the pleasant manner in which he spoke and the slight amusement the she-wolf had produced in him by accurately guessing his intentions, he perceived the danger in her answer and struggled not to give away his reasoning. " Ser Darry is only one man. I expect he needs his own rest." As his absence proved. Not that he was put out at the sight of one of his own guards at the door.
"If Your Grace thinks it best, then be it so." She sported a light frown, as though wanting to question his sudden decision, but no further words left her lips until his acquiescing nod came. "Do you believe I am still in danger? Because of the nightshade?"
"Nay; that was a warning to my mind. I would, however, sleep easier knowing you were not unprepared should someone try to harm you."
It seemed so very strange that she was the same young woman who had lost her cool at the sight of jam. He wondered at the two very different facets of Lyanna and found the one sitting before him almost as endearing as the other. And then there was that part of her that tried to hide all vulnerabilities.
By no means was she the dull creature he had imagined her to be. The realisation bothered him. 'Twas not so much that he didn't want to like her; he did not wish to be charmed by her even as the knowledge of his defeat in that regard trickled through the cracks of whatever barrier he'd managed to put up.
"I should hate to trouble your sleep," she noted softly, her eyes shining with mirth, alluding to the fact that their occasional brushes left her the more disconcerted of the two. While he could not find kit within himself to see the situation in such a light, he offered a cheery mien for her benefit.
"Perish the thought." She troubled more than his sleep. Although he supposed that was not precisely fair of him to say given she'd yet to invade his dreams. "You might find your own sleep troubled though, my lady; on the morrow our subject will present themselves with various requests and troubles we are to see to."
"We, Your Grace?"
"Did your lady mother not aid your father in such a manner?"
"I expect she did. But I've little recollection of it. I was simply asking with the expectation that my presence might cause some confusion. Forsooth, they must be used to other faces."
"If they are, I trust they will keep it to themselves." He did not make mention of the fact that Elia, being raised in the enviable position of princess, had not been expected to see to such matters and had not been too eager to adapt to such tasks, explaining that if the Queen did not sit the Small Council or grant audiences than she must not be expected to see to petty squabbles. Rhaegar had not corrected her, expecting she would ease into her role given time.
"Then I should very much like to help, the situation permitting." She gave a swift nod, before returning to bothering her lower lip between her teeth restlessly. "I am not the best hand at embroidery, I fear."
He gave a short bark of laughter at the unexpected confession. "And yet you were prepared to undertake restoration of tapestries."
She tittered. "It was something to do. Your tapestries are safe enough, their pattern is clearly traced."
"That puts me much at ease, lady." He glanced towards the wall where one of those things rested as decoration. "I suppose it would be too much to have new ones made entirely." He scowled at a flock of sheep grazing leisurely.
Finally new chapter, thanks to a friend who talked me through a rough patch. Hope you guys enjoyed yourselves.
Chapter 17: Lightning And Thunder
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The worn look of the woman before her struck her. Her state, proclaiming loud and clear, that austerity was her province, the domain to which she was queen, her power not to be disputed, nor her rule doubted. And yet in her meanness, with a child clinging to her skirts and another in her arms, she was elevated; beyond the merchant, beyond the man and arms, beyond the lordling’s son even. Neither young, nor old, with no remarkable characteristic to recommend her, she stood out. Lyanna breathed in and out in a concentrated effort as the youngest of the children hid her face in against her mother’s shoulder.
This being not her first encounter with her husband’s tenants, Lyanna composed herself even though she wished to rush to the woman and ask about the issues plaguing her. Rhaegar would not appreciate such an outburst on her part and indeed, her own personal musing had underscored a useful rule of thumb. She settled in her seat more comfortably, crossing her legs at the ankles.
The man before them continued his diatribe, aiming the full force of his enmity towards the unconcerned neighbour and apparent reprobate. “This has been my portion, left to me by my own sire, as he had it from his sire before him. And this thief will not have what is mine.”
“What say you to this man’s accusations?” Rhaegar questioned, his face remaining impassive. Although Lyanna was not at all doubtful that the maester had already begun searching the records and if any transaction had taken place they would know soon enough.
“A man has only truth to rely upon. I have paid this man the price he asked for.” Having taken advantage of a momentary weakness. While she could voice no outward complaint, she had some trouble embracing such practices.
The maester returned, tome in tow. He gave it to her, pointing to one of the lines near the end of the page. “Your Grace, here are the records.” The monstrosity rested on her lap and she read the line with some interest.
“Indeed, it has been recorded that two moon turns past a piece of land has changed hands, just as coins have for its value. It seems to me, my good man,” she turned to the blighted yeoman with an expectation of acknowledgment, “that you’ve little recourse but to honour the contract.”
The ashen face turned bright with fury. “I was deceived! This man took advantage of me.”
Rhaegar held up his hand, silencing the tirade before it had a change to lengthen. “A man is at all times responsible for his actions. If by your own volition you have agreed to the terms, it makes no matter what the state in which you found yourself at the time. I hereby declare the terms of the deal binding.”
And that was that. Lyanna nodded her head in agreement though her heart whispered otherwise. She closed the tome and handed it to the maester. At least the issue was out of her hands. On went the petitioners, each of them with some trouble or another.
A merchant, of late arrived, had encountered trouble with a number of their guards, some of whom had thought confiscating his ware was the correct measure to take. The man made his case, his rhetoric measured. Lyanna pondered his story, glancing at Rhaegar to gauge his reaction. Unfortunately for her, he did not exhibit any response which might tell her one way or the other where the decision would fall. He enlightened her nonetheless once he started speaking. Lyanna supposed she was confident enough to confess to slight envy as she watched him. A man who was so certain of himself, safely ensconced within his walls, could no more feel threatened at the slithering of snakes than a giant did at the sight of a stick. And indeed his confidence shaped the behaviour of those before him. It was difficult to remain impassive in the face of a display and she found her breath hitching as the tension in the hall rose sharply. Of course, she would suffer no loss irrespective of his decision and she could only wonder what the men before them felt.
The knot released with an inaudible snap, Rhaegar’s words bleeding into her consciousness as the feeling dwindled into something nearly manageable. This time her opinion was not asked. Instead, the lord and master of the keep laid down the law with precise, cutting strokes of a clever tongue. And to have given each party some small victory was a particular smart move on his part.
The woman with the children followed. The eldest, a boy, clumsily stumbled in his mother’s wake. Lyanna took in his gaunt features. Coupled with the garments he wore, she could safely conclude that the meanness of his situation was indisputable. The mother fared somewhat better, although she too seemed to be a tree in a storm, leaning this way and that.
Her voice, a threadbare, faded thing, spoke of hardships and needy children. One would have to be made out of stone to hear such tales and remain impassive. Her first instinct was to leave her seat and order food brought out for the three. She was stopped short, however, by one single thought. It would be nigh impossible to award such care without a limit in sight. And her call proved justified when the maester whispered of a drunkard husband with a penchant for taking the belt to his wife and children when he ran out of coin to drink. “He was taken in by the guards, last I heard, for measuring his strength against one of their own.”
“Can his detention simply not continue?” she whispered back to the maester. “Surely, it would serve the poor creature better.”
“Unlikely. Her only other kin is a father of a like ilk.” Predictably enough, any further explanation was interrupted by a heartfelt plea from the woman to have her husband returned. To think she could still stand before them and ask to have the scoundrel released was shocking. Was she not thinking about her poor children?
It appeared Rhaegar had his own doubts about the situation, for while he clarified he would certainly not hold the man indefinitely, he could neither release him before he had served due time. “It is simply the nature of the matter,” he explained, firm, though not unkind to Lyanna’s ears. “He will return once the punishment has run its course.”
“Your Grace, I have children to feed.” And apparently a drunkard to sustain.
Turning gently towards the maester, she whispered, “Is it possible we may aid them in some manner?”
“Charity will only go so far. Once her man is released any monies she has on her will go towards his drink.” And they were unlike to solve his problem with drink. The thought of those children did not sit well with her. Wringing her hands, she looked from Rhaegar to the children and back again.
The woman protested the verdict and her heart squeezed ever so slightly at the pitiful sight they presented. “How old are the children?”
“The boy must be past his fifth year. The girl past her second or third.” Babes, both of them. Helpless to defend themselves and the gods only knew how much the mother could or was willing to protect them. Her mind whirled with those thoughts. “Might be we could use the boy for some menial tasks about the keep, but the girl is much too young. Her need for her mother is still too great.”
“Naturally,” she murmured. She had not lied when she’d said she could not recall her mother helping her father. What she did recall was being herded to their small Winter Town, provisions in tow. That she did remember, having to give out grain and such.
She would need to go down to the village. Surely Rhaegar would accept her interference. He had suggested she might work on her improvements and in any event she need not tackle any difficult problems as she would not take up the role permanently. The idea having occurred to her, she settled for asking her husband after they had dealt with the issues laid out before them.
Meantime, one of the servants approached her, pressing in her hand a folded piece of paper. She unfolded it slowly and read the single line written her. A smile, involuntary, was her first response. She refolded the missive and placed it upon her lap. The motion received a questioning stare from her husband, which she answered with a small nod to indicate she would explain.
A visit from her brother. At least they had managed that much, although Lyanna wondered why they had not gone the more usual route and written to Rhaegar rather than to her. Nevertheless, the gift horse was not to be looked in the mouth. Ned would enjoy exploring Dragonstone with her, she reckoned. Although the greater advantage might have been Benjen in his infinite curiosity.
Thus proceeded the rest of the cases until the hall had emptied and only she and he remained, among the household. And with that came her chance to present her brother’s missive and her plans for the immediate future.
He, somehow attuned to her thoughts, pressed for answers at the first opportunity. “My brother, Your Grace,” she replied easily, holding out the bit of paper so he might read as well. “He intends to pay me a visit.”
“And decided to announce his presence in such usual fashion as to arouse no suspicion.” Despite the slightly cutting edge of his words, she failed to detect an intent to harm. “You may wish to make to clear to him for future occasions that one addresses all those involved before deciding to do something or another.”
“Come, Your Grace. It is simply the visit of a brother to his sister. I have not yet had a chance to give proper assurance of my continued health to my family. Is it so very strange that he would write to me?” A refusal on her part would have doubtlessly signalled trouble ahead. “But if Your Grace so wishes, I shall write –“
“I know your angle, Lyanna Stark and you had best not think for one moment it will work. I will allow your brother’s visit, and you will make clear to him that I wish to know of his further plans in so far as my home is concerned.” She nodded her head obediently; she had her victory and needed no more.
“I will be sure to do so.” Seemingly pleased with her answer, his hard stare softened into an almost brotherly look. Vexingly enough, though, she felt no sisterly affection when he gently ruffled her hair, nor even sisterly annoyance. “I am not your hound, Your Grace. I do not require reward for good behaviour.”
“Fie, lady; to think that I should regard you as such. I expect at the very least deference and a pleasant disposition from my hounds.” She sucked in an indignant breathe.
“Anyone can stare up adoringly and follow; few can inspire such devotion though.” Her tart reply was met with an arrogant grin. He irked her to no end.
“You are entirely too easy to rile,” he answered simply, patting the top of her head yet again. Before he could goad her further on with his condescending attitude, the arrival of a messenger was announced. Just as they were preparing to move from the hall too.
She sighed and drew herself away from Rhaegar, eyeing the entrance through which stepped an olive-skinned man of otherwise nondescript features. What set him apart however was the small patch sewn on his sleeve. Worry gripped her as her husband demanded to know the reason for the man’s presence.
His answer was short and curt and altogether apt to shake down the stoutest of men. “Princess Elia has given birth to a daughter.” He held out a sealed missive.
Desmer stacked the blocks of wood one on top of the other. Lyanna sat in her chair, a long length of cloth in her lap, draped over her knees. The material spilled over, half resting upon the floor. She was not concentrating upon her embroidery though. Her eyes rested upon the young man happily labouring under her careful attention.
A sigh from her left side broke the silence. Unable to rein in her impulse, she turned to face Alys. Thankfully for her, Alys was more adept at embroidering and she actually managed to carry through with her stitching. “You stare at the poor boy as though he might hold an answer to your deepest questions.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I am simply glad he has something to occupy his time with.” Unlike her who had been fretting ever since Rhaegar had taken himself off to Dorne. Glancing down at her lap, her sight landed upon a woman dressed in right burgundy stripes with warm orange lines. Even the tapestry mocked her. She scowled down at it. “What is taking Jeyne so long to bring that thread?”
“This is not about Jeyne,” Alys correctly deduced after a bruef moment of silence. “Desmer,” she called to the child, “be a dear and find Lady Jeyne, aye?” The boy gave her a suspicious look. For some reason he seemed to believe he had to be forever in her company. Lyanna nodded at Alys’ request, strengthening it with her own.
“Pray do, Desmer. She is taking rather too long.” She knew where it was going, what Alys wanted to say. At least when alone, she would be brief, pressed by time as they were.
“He is not worth your suffering.” She nodded. “Not if you truly do not want him.” Once more she agreed. But Alys’ face morphed into a doubtful mask. “Yet I think you have no notion of what it is you want, my lady. Because you are suffering.”
She worried her lower lip with a fierce bite. Her lungs constricted painfully as she forced herself to breathe. “What is wrong with me?” The question, suspended between them, seemed to suck in all and every movement. It dropped with the same alacrity as that with which it had arrived in a rush of whispery breaths. “Am I so mean that I would resent what can only be right?”
“I do not know, my lady; are you bitter?” A question she had examined time and again since she’d managed to isolate the feeling.
“He is my husband and yet it is a temporary thing. I have no right.” Her answer felt hollow.
Alys rose from her seat and threw her length of tapestry onto the chair. She paced to and fro, seemingly pondering the words. “Then, by the gods, my lady, you had best steel yourself against the pain for you cannot have what you do not demand.”
“Demand?” Struck by the notion, her mind struggled to find some manner of tying her feelings and principles together. How could one make such a demand and expect compliance?
“Love respects.” The young woman paused in her pacing, turning her gaze upon Lyanna, the glint of it sharp, assessing, knowing. “It is natural to feel for the man who has been sharing your bed moon turn after moon turn.”
“I thought you did not appreciate him in the least.” Not that it mattered in any event. She held the other’s stare, concerned over what she would hear.
“Indeed, and I am beginning to believe I was in the right.” To that she could say very little, for she had her own doubts. In all honesty, all she knew was that he had her admiration. “I can see that look on your face, my lady. This is a decision only you may take.”
That was the rub. Any decision she would take would be easily overturned. “That is very unhelpful. Alys.” Further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Desmer and the long-awaited Jeyne. The boy was unable to pick up on the tension and Jeyne simply offer a silent question which neither she, nor Alys answered. Unable to openly press for such an answer she simply passed into Lyanna’s hands the red thread.
“Desmer returned to his blocks of wood, captivated by the activity. “I’ve changed my mind,” Lyanna found herself saying. “I would rather use a little blue. It would work so much better with the green. Do you not think so?” She pointed to the small figure with the red kirtle.
“Might be we could use some lines of silver as well,” Jeyne suggested, giving the problem her utmost attention. “I saw some very dark blue thread. It would make for a nice contrast with the silver.” Silver thread in a tapestry seemed somewhat opulent. On the other hand, the option was much more palatable.
“That should work nicely,” she allowed, returning her attention to her work. Alys too picked up her length of the tapestry and sat back down, sewing some manner of flower, she presumed. Some of the shapes had faded with time and might be worst of all, whoever had been its creator was not necessarily a great talent in outlining flowers,
“If you make the journey, Jeyne, get me some more yellow thread. Something a little lighter than this.” She held up what was left of hers.
“My poor Jeyne, I feel almost bad for sending you off after you have just returned.” She felt even worse thinking she had been less than forthcoming with the girl. It was not as if she valued her less than she did Alys. But for some reason she found it much easier to speak to the other.
“Think no more on it, my lady. I enjoy the exercise.” Whether that was true or not, she could not deny that Jeyne exhibited a brisk step. With that she was out the door, presumably racing along the hallway.
“Good on you, my lady,” Alys told her once she had returned to the embroidery.
She kept her lips firmly pressed together, her decision still not made.
Bout time we moved on. Hope you enjoyed and all.
“Must there always be some end goal with you?” Ned questioned, his arms loosening their hold. Lyanna gazed up at him, the small smile upon her face widening. “One of these days someone will humour you and then you’ll see what that’s all about.” Nevertheless he placed a soft kiss to the top of her head.
“Do not do that. Do you have any idea how long it takes to pin all this hair up?” She struggled against the affectionate gesture, half-wondering whether it was a male malady which pushed them to act as though she would appreciate their condescension. Sticking her tongue out at her brother she took a further step back and raised a hand to the string of pearls and newly-pinned curls.
Her attention turned to her other guest who watched the exchanged with an amused expression. “Robert,” she greeted, fixing a like mien for herself. She did not open her arms to him, nor beckoned him for a friendlier greeting. “I am glad you have taken the time to visit. Although I might have wished you refrain from bringing along this one over there,” she nodded towards Ned as she spoke.”
“I would have, my lady, but I feared my presence would not be appreciated without proper chaperones.” Thus relegated to such a role, her brother murmured something under his breath. He did not comment on her husband’s absence, though she had seen him searching as soon as his horse had left the way of the stables along with Ned’s. “Alas, I see you are well chaperoned already.”
“Ser Darry is a most dutiful man,” she said, understanding very well that the situation would turn awkward before long. Nonetheless she would have preferred her husband’s care even as she enjoyed the knight’s company inordinately.
“High praise. It seems, ser, I owe you my gratitude,” Ned addressed the Kingsguard, his words heartfelt.
Jonothor Darry remained impassive for a moment before making his reply. “Appreciative as I am of the sentiment, I do not believe the thought of it featured in my carrying out of these duties.” She did not understand the awkwardness of his delivery. Ned had been sincere in his compliment.
“A true paragon then.” Neither did she understand that. How men could make sense of the senseless. But she said little to that, hopeful that her brother might clarify. Unfortunately, he did not and she simply had to let the matter go.
“We are keeping your sister out in the cold, Ned, my good man. Might be we can stroke our good knight’s ego within the hall.” At that she had to laugh. She had only been considering her feelings. Poor Robert.
“I hear you loud and clear,” she responded to that. “Come then, let us make ourselves comfortable in the hall then over a cup of wine.” A small setting would have done just as well, however, with her position of mistress she thought she might get away with commanding the servants on this one occasion.
“Hopefully that is a cup each,” Ned teased. She slapped his arm lightly. “One must eventually think of one’s own self, dearest sister.” He wound his arm about her waist and guided her with easy steps towards the set of stairs waiting to be mounted.
“It occurs to me one thinks entirely too much of one’s own self.” Her set-upon brother frowned. She did not take the apparent displeasure to heart.
Alys and Jeyne, whom she had ordered within the hall for better insulation from the elements, had already called for wine and fresh-baked bread. Among other foods however, she spied apple pie, thus Lyanna abandoned her brother for just a moment to admire the handiwork carried out in the kitchens.
“Women.” Robert complained behind her, his voice carrying. She chose to believe he was doing it intentionally. “Give them the choice and they will be sauntering to fill their trencher.”
“Your vanity is no concern of mine,” she answered over her shoulder, recognising the brotherly jab when she heard it. And the informal nature of their gathering permitted an easiness on her part she was not quite ready to abandon just yet. “But neither would I wish you uncomfortable.” With that she turned around. “One must have much care of one’s home.”
Robert cocked his head to the side, a dark shadow passing over his features. “Indeed one must. Ned tells me you were ever industrious though, so I do not think my kin may find complaint.” How very strange. Lyanna was fully aware that Robert had refused her on grounds of an engaged heart, and yet to hear him praise her just then brought a wave of heat over her cheeks and ire sparked to life. She tamed it as best she could, settling for a nod instead of a retort.
“What manner of kin are you at any rate, that you should so deeply care, ser?” Rhaegar had never spoken of Robert to her. She’d surmised they were therefore not close in any significant manner. The young knight grinned, a charming display by anyone’s account and reached for a cup placed on the table.
“He has no need for my care.” An impertinent answer if ever she’d heard one. “I should nevertheless like to be made certain of your continual health in his home. Kin or nay, I’ve a duty to Ned. And His Majesty was quite insistent to see the wedding–”
She put an end to his speech with a slight raise of her hand. “I take your point.” Unwilling speak any further, she instead had them all gathered to the table filled with foods and drinks and tasked her women with entertaining Robert as she cleaved to her brother.
“I trust you will not judge him too harshly. He means well.” She had meant well herself, and that had turned out disastrously.
“Of course. You must know I would not hold kindness against a man.” She spied Ser Darry edging closer and gave him a small smile. “One is so sorely deprived of the noble sentiment at times that any small thread of it is a blessing.”
Her brother had a slew of stories to tell her, most of them involving some scrape or another. His attempt, unsubtle, was met with boisterous laughter and a concentrated effort to please. If he understood as much she was unable to say, but he doggedly went on.
She had not intended to find herself alone, on a narrow path, in the company of Robert Baratheon. Equally she had not meant to encourage chattiness in him. Whatever her intentions had been, however, she found herself dodging questions left and right, struggling for appropriate replies and hoping she gave nothing away.
“I would not be able to rest east knowing you were not given your due.” Blue eyes pinned her to the spot. “I do mean it, are you well?” What did he care? The bruised pride came back to haunt her. She shoved it violently away.
“Do I look as though I am struggling to you, ser?” She held out her arms, as though to suggest he was free to inspect her. Alas, Robert kept his eyes upon her face, firmly locking their gazes together. Her hand crept to the rows of black pearls she has received from the King. She had intentionally put them of. What she was not certain about was to whom she addressed the message. Her brother or her brother’s companion.
“The Prince is not the kind of man to gladly visit pain upon a woman,” he acknowledged, going some way to soothing her. “Even so, lady, are you well?” The second asking clarified some of his meaning and she felt a blush heat her skin.”It is not common knowledge yet, but it cannot be easy to be left all alone for a bastard.”
A huff escaped her slightly parted lips. “Not common knowledge?” She wished she were soothed by that as well. Instead it riled her. “I am the interloper here, ser.” The sharpness of her words was measured against her annoyance and Robert found something wanting in her sentiments, he must have, for he shook his head.
“Elia Martell lost her position to the King’s edict. Just as you gained yours to his orders.” What could she do but nod. “You mustn’t think yourself her inferior.” Sweet gods, she wished it were that simple. She felt like the lowliest, meanest woman. Rhaegar had been kind to her, in his own way, and she could find no reason to dislike the Dornish Princess with the exception that she possessed something she desired for herself.
“I do not wish to unburden myself to you,” she said, mayhap with more force than strictly necessary. “If you wish to help, you may do so with what I have asked of you.” Robert’s nod was weary. He looked as though he contemplated speaking but a sound coming from behind them snapped his attention away from her face.
She looked as well. Ser Darry had caught up to them. Robert wound an arm around her waist and she recognised the impertinence for what it was. “Might be, my lady,” he spoke loudly, the words deliberate, “someone ought to write to His Grace.” His actions were bold, however, they were not precisely punishable.
Pushing his arm away she put some distance between them. “I believe I shall walk some more. Ser Darry, come with me, as for you, my good man, my brother must be eager for your company. I will hold you no longer, except to get your word.”
“You have it already.” He bowed over her hand, pressing an airy kiss to the thin flesh. The spot burned even after his retreat and she could not help watching him walk away. Ser Darry watched as well, although she could detect displeasure in the man’s eyes rather than the curiosity she knew to be in hers.
“I pray you wouldn’t look so very fiercely after him,” she spoke. To her chagrin her voice barely rose above a whisper. The knight heard it. He gave her a contemplative look, eyes searching her features. Lyanna allowed him the reprieve, he would find very little there.
“His manner was not decent.” No disagreement could be heard. Unable to decide whether she would have preferred him to be a lot less decent or not, Lyanna kept her tongue in her head and her eyes upon the path. “You ought not to encourage him, my lady; he might well trifle with your tender heart.”
“Not my heart, ser; poor Robert has not a chance to engage that.” She met Jonothor’s gaze. “He is handsome and well-spoken, engaging certainly, and might be more than any sane woman could to handle, though she might well wish it, but he has one fatal flaw.” The air between them crackled with anticipation as the silence stretched. “He is not the one I hold dear.”
He inched closer as though called by some unknown order. In a manner so very typical of the males of their species, he cupped her cheek, his action equally impertinent and indecent as Robert’s had been. “It grieves me to see your pain.” She felt foolish for showing him as much. His thumb rubbed against her cheek comfortingly. “It brings me even lower to think you would hesitate to be yourself in my presence. If you wish to weep, my lady, allow me to offer my shoulder.”
There were only a few tears. Her insides were still raw with the realisation of her position. “It will have to be your chest, I daresay. I cannot reach the shoulder,” she jested lamely in an attempt to deflect the awkwardness. His other arm moved about her waist and she hid away from the world, telling herself that a few moments would not make a difference.
Ser Darry was kind and she had been equally fair in her dealings with him. This was not encouraging his affection. At best it was engaging his pity. She took her time, enjoying the safety. Her heart wrenched painfully, just as a traitorous voice in the back of her mind taunted her with the apparent perfection of Ser Darry. Why could she not grow attached to him? It would certainly serve that husband of hers right. Except that she already knew she hadn’t a prayer, let alone some chance of victory.
The knight drew away slightly, peering down into her tearstained face. His thumb moved to wipe the tears. “I am yours to command, my lady, and I can only hope that will be enough.” She cried more for anger than pain, much good it did her.
“I cannot begin to express my gratitude.” Which was true enough; she hoped he would continue anchoring her to the best of his abilities, something which the one she would be only too pleased to accept aid from was either unwilling or unable to give. That too, she realised, was not quite the full scope of the situation. It would be a lie to accuse the man of lacking a heart. Although the gods knew she wished she might.
She gazed up into his face, trying to place the expression she saw there. The issue, as ever was the case, would not simply untangle itself. ”I was wondering, ser, if you shall write to my lord husband about these past few days.” Far from fearing repercussions from the man she had married, she was nevertheless unsettled about such news reaching her good-father. The King, whatever his plans, counted on her and her womb to tie the Crown Prince to whatever scheme he had in mind. It was not without the realm of possibility he would react negatively to a perceived closeness between her and Robert Baratheon. Such a view would put both herself and Rhaegar in hot water.
“It is one of my duties, lady.” The explanation was kind, but his voice remained firm. She nodded her head and decided to take a gamble. After all, if she tried, she had a chance of winning the time she needed.
“Still, ser, may I ask for a reprieve? His Grace will doubtlessly find out what he wishes to know, but I would like the time nevertheless.” She fluttered her eye-lashes up at him, a tried and true method of gaining his cooperation as far as she could tell. “Wait a day or two.”
“What difference will a day or two make?” Suspicion crept into his voice and she swallowed a sigh. It was too much to expect no questions.
“Only as much as is necessary, ser. You must know Ser Robert serves yet in Lord Arryn’s house as squire. Lord Arryn, I know, is fateful to the throne, and though my brother joins Ser Robert, I know how it must look, his presence in my home. I simply wish a day or two to convince any eyes that there cannot be any question as to our loyalties.”
“A day or two, you say.” She nodded empathically, hoping to impress upon him this need of her as well as the conviction that she was not asking him to betray his duty. The man kept his eyes upon her. His hands moved away, leaving her without any manner of support, though she could not see anything in his face to indicate ill-favour with her cause. So she waited. “If my lady insists.”
It was a dangerous game to play. But what choice did she have? Robert had promised and she owed it to him to provide cover to the best of her abilities.
“Stewing in impotent rage ever so rarely helps matters,” Robert observed, his tone light, the smile on his face teasing. Lyanna stiffed against the hand at the small of her back, its inexorable push annoying. “Come, enjoy a walk with me, lady, if you’ve the heart for it.” Had she known no better, she might have accused him of flirting with her. As matters stood, she merely accepted the invitation with a brusque nod. “That companion of yours sure has a sharp tongue.”
“You had best not run afoul of Alys,” she warned in the next moment. “I will not tolerate any harm brought to my ladies. Kin or no kin, you will have earned my wrath should you attempt anything.” An innocent look crossed his face as he leaned slightly in. For whose benefit did he show such keen interest in her?
“One hardly minds the thistle when near the roses.” Unrepentant, practiced flirt that he was, Robert drew her nearer and whispered as they moved into an alcove, “I did not think to find so many eyes trained on you, lady. The servants must be paid something handsome.”
The washerwoman, she decided without questioning him. “It is rather dangerous to give them something to spread about, ser. Have you managed to write home?” He nodded, his hands falling to her waist, tugging on the girdle chained at her middle.
“An answer should come soon enough. Meantime, I’ve heard your knight must write your husband. You would truly be better off in his company, you know. I mislike his manner almost as much as I do the servant’s. If it comes to a battle of wills, you may depend upon it that his word will matter.”
“Why then are you contriving to give an appearance of dallying?” She trusted there was more to it than simple, perverse pleasure, although she found his company more entertaining than not when he was not trying to flirt her into an early grave.
“In some ways, I find your lack of understanding very trying,” Robert let her know, pulling away. With all the holding she’d engaged in with men other than her husband, Lyanna was beginning to think she too found disfavour with such naïveté. “That man of yours is much too comfortable in the knowledge that you are safe and sound, beyond the reach of, let us say, unscrupulous reprobates.”
“Men like yourself?” she snapped at him.
“Indeed not, my lady; I, at least, shan’t compromise you in any lasting manner.” Was that his way of admitting regret over what had not come to pass? “Although it occurs to me, that I do not know my kin’s tolerance per se.”
“I will not take the risk, ser, of anything lasting.” She was not so stupid, no matter what he thought of her innocence. If it was that at all. Robert nodded in a most understanding manner and replaced a smile upon his face.
“Let us away, this is quite long enough dallying. Your husband might be a ways away, but your brother is yet but a few paces away. I should not like to incur his wrath.” And she no more than him.
Guess who is getting an army of septas to watch her every step?
Chapter 19: Warm Greetings
The promised Rhaegar POV.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Word from the maester?” Rhaegar blinked in the dimly lit interior, the amusement of the day receding as his gaze settled upon the squire. No one liked leaving his home unsupervised and while he trusted Lyanna with the minding of the keep, she could not be in all places at the same time and take care of herself as well. He had asked the maester to make certain all was well with the girl, for in truth he’d come to value the presence she added to his home. Naturally, he was comforted with the knowledge that all was well in the first missive he’d received, along with it a promise no more messages would come unless there was a situation needing his attention. With such in mind the words out the boy’s mouth were troubling indeed. In fact, that wife of his had troubled him for as long as she’d been gone.
He reached out for the neatly folded paper, wondering if the news was so dire why it was it came by horse and not by air. Nevertheless, the tore at the seal and unfolded it with brisk movement. The sound of his own heart pounded in his eras. A reaction brought about by the many thoughts swirling in his mind. That girl, infuriating as she was, could have found her way in a spot of real trouble and he was not there to help her. Rhaegar could not know for certain what the squire saw in his face; he was aware, however, of the steps walking away from him. Might be it was the wiser choice.
With a frown he concentrated upon the letters neatly lined in straight chains. He’d been hoping the presence of Eddard Stark would have something to say to Lyanna’s safety. That might have been wistful thinking on his part. And if it did prove to be the case, he would return to Dragonstone specifically to shake some sense into the girl and possibly throttle her. Of the second objective he was not all that certain. What he did know, though, was that it would take the gods themselves, and might be not even they would succeed, to stop him if he found mischief was afoot.
The beginning of the tale, as all beginnings went, gave him no cause to suspect anything was amiss. His wife had received her brother with much joy, which he’d both expected and relished. She had been a model host to the man and mad no complaint when he brought along another companion. The blood froze in his veins as the maester detailed precisely who it was that had been invited in his home. Robert Baratheon was not unknown to him.
In fact, Robert Baratheon was not unknown to any man under whose protection resided young, beautiful women. And worse, hadn’t he been the man Lyanna’s father had wished her to wed? A stab of dissatisfaction pierced him. He did not imagine that beneath her haughty manner Lyanna was all that different from other women. She had indicated, thought might be not in so many words, that she too had need of affection and warmth; and he was here, while Robert was in his home.
Might be she felt something for the man. Whatever the truth of that which had played out in her father’s home, she could still long for the man in her heart. And he knew not enough of Eddard Stark to know if he would stop such a liaison just on principle. Might be he would not; Robert Baratheon and he had squired together for a time.
The only thing he would accomplish by such thoughts was to make himself ill with worry. Better that he call for his possessions to be gathered and he make for home. Just as that plan formed in his mind, the door opened to admit Elia. Without Rhaenys in her arms and having changed her garments for whatever reason, she regarded him with a smile. It faded upon further inspection of his current state.
“What is it?” she questioned, rushing to his side. Her hand, elegant fingers and all, dropped upon his shoulder as she peered at the missive.
“Naught which need concern you,” he answered gently, though firmly. “I am needed on Dragonstone.” That was it; he’d sealed his fate.
“But I have seen so little of you,” the Dornishwoman complained. Strangely, instead of inspiring understanding affection, she only managed to incur his annoyance. “And Rhaenys would no doubt love to spend more time with her father.”
“I too would like to spend more time with my daughter, yet I have to leave. I do this with a heavy heart.” He wishes there was some feasibly way of taking Rhaenys along. He could not, no matter how hard he wished it though; thus he gently pushed Elia’s hand away. “You will write me about her.” He’d said it in such a manner, but it was more a request he made of her.
“Of course, as much as you want me to.” The irrational irritation faded. “Is it truly that dire?”
“Aye. I would have stayed longer, if it were possible. You know that.” Elia nodded, a sad smile forming upon her lips. Rhaegar knew not what to make of that. He watched her with some apprehension. "Elia?”
“Forgive me; I do not know what came over me just now.” He’d felt it too, he reckoned, a terribly strong sense of bittersweet longing. As though they were taking leave of one another for the first time. Truly taking leave, that was. “Promise me you shall take care of yourself.”
“I promise.” He leaned in to kiss her. Lyanna did not intrude in that, for which he was thankful. At least so much h could have with Elia where the she-wolf did not disturb. He dragged himself away, looking into Elia’s eyes. “There are times when I wish the moment would never fade.”
Again she smiled as though it were a goodbye. “How well I know that feeling.”
Greeted by the sleep-filled gaze of a dazed she-wolf did not, in fact, give him further reassurance regarding the situation. Though he had to admit, even if only to himself, he was glad to find her bed empty of all but herself and what looked to be an unfinished creation. Lyanna still stared up at him, one hand rubbing tiredly at an eye as the other came to cover her yawning. “What a strange dream,” she muttered, loud enough for him to hear.
“Do you often find yourself dreaming of me?” He’d meant it as a jest. He’d meant to follow it with swift reassurance that she was of the waking world. But the expression on her face softened further until the light in her eyes was nearly drowned beneath a wave of tenderness. He found that in the face of such reaction he could not jest.
In the end it was she who laughed, warm and full, albeit still tinged with the last dregs of sleep. “I find it no hardship.” Her voice was clearer. He should have waited for the dawn. He should have further allowed the maester to let her know he was coming. Fool that he’d been, bent on finding out just what went on when he was not present, he’d kept silent, and made his eyes and ears do so as well. All of it to find naught.
Of course Lyanna was not like to give Robert any satisfaction. Of course he found her abed on, her very own, with the shield of a thousand layers to separate her from any attempt at seduction. He stared down at the thick wool of her shift and wondered at her not boiling beneath. Her words finally registered in his brain and a ragged breath weaved its way past his lips. She’d turned him inside out with such small a thing. It meant nothing. It was not even an admission of something as mundane as liking. They were simply words that revealed no marked preference. Why did his heart, contrary beast, see in it such wealth of hope?
“I should hope so.” Her head cocked to the side as though she contemplated him. Silence stretched out between them.
A sigh left her lips, finally. “Even in my dreams humility escaped you. You know, you ought to have more consideration for my poor heart and please me every now and then.” A shiver ran down his spine. The cover dropped lower as she sat up. The ribbon meant to fasten the front had come loose, leaving the cloth to part, gaping in a manner he would think provocative were he not certain it was unintentional on her part. It stirred him nonetheless. Smiling still, she lowered herself back upon her pillows. “Well then, out with it, what are you invading my dreams for?”
Could she not tell she was awake? Unwilling to look for an explanation to his actions, Rhaegar played into her expectations, wondering how far she would allow him to wander. “I’ve come to see you. What else?” He could think of a few. Unfortunately, none of them were anything he would wish to propose to her, even in the intimacy of her own chamber. “I wonder at finding you alone. No Alys. No Jayne.”
“Jeyne. It appears my dreams are no cure for poor memory either. And had you not taken off as you did, you would have known that Alys has been bedding down with Jeyne for some time now. I thought it best that they have a chamber for themselves.” Suspicion crept back into his heart. With a tug, he pulled back her cover. What he sought not even he could tell.
She did not seem to mind the actions, in fact, it occurred to him that she drew slightly away, as though making space for his joining her. In all honesty he should have told her then and there that she was not dreaming. That he was truly there. Another man might have. Instead he climbed in with her, thankful that he’d taken the time to remove his travelling garb beforehand. She made a strange little sound, like a purring noise, when he brushed against her. Where was the Lyanna who trembled in fright at his approach, the one who shunned intimacy of this kind? Warm of a bright summer day she opened to him like the petals of a flower to sunlight.
A subtle sweet scent rose off her skin, beckoning him. And then, as though struck by some spell, she closed her eyes. Pressing into his side, he practically felt her falling asleep. It had to be some manner of cruel punishment. If he thought about it a moment, he knew precisely what he was being punished for. A husband could have woken his wife with a plea for succour and found his peace within an embrace. He, on the other hand, was fairly certain any of his attempts would be meat with a bolt of lightning claiming his life should he dare touch Lyanna. Fortunately for him, frustration was not a deadly affliction. Uncomfortable, maddening and more than enough to have him climbing up the walls, yet survivable.
The lure of the woman sleeping soundly beside him was compounded by the fire’s gentle glow and his own short-sightedness. Might be he could still have something of her. Something she would not miss. Something small and harmless. He leaned in, brushing the line of her jaw with his lips. Her skin felt smooth. The blood rushing beneath warmed, giving healthy colour.
Rhaegar drew away before he convinced himself to take more. It would be prudent to return to his own bed, leave Lyanna to her strange and exhilarating dreams. But the empty bed needled him. Why would she leave herself so exposed? He would stay; to make certain naught untoward took place. The soft sound of her breathing lulled him to sleep in at long last in spite of his unsatisfied appetites and desire to keep watch.
When he woke, it was to a spill of warmth against his side. Rhaegar was not certain how long he’d slumbered, and did not feel the need to open his eyes. The confusing weight against his side was the problem. It was too slight. Or might be his mind had simply exaggerated Elia’s altered form. But then a familiar scent pushed Elia away and replaced her with another. He was not holding his erstwhile wife. Eyes snapped open and fastened upon the form of a much too trusting Lyanna. The arm he kept beneath her was only then regaining its life, with the movement necessary to curl about her. He winced at the pins and needles and then winced again at the ornery beast known as desire.
Sleep had only dulled it, he realised, that hunger from before. But it could only do so much. Lifting his gaze away from Lyanna, he glanced at the one uncovered lancet. The light filtering through was still low. Predawn yet. His wife moved, the arm she’d thrown over him retreating.
“Rhaegar?” She sounded surprised. And for some reason that woke the devil in him.
“Who were you expecting?” he baited, twisting until he had her trapped against him. Careful, he manoeuvred them until she lay beneath him. Much as she’d done the night before she wordlessly broke into a smile. “Who?” His demand hanging uncomfortably between them, he took the time to analyse the image beyond her face. Would he know? Would he feel a difference in her?
“Who else but my husband.” She yawned. “Have you returned long?” How could she lie there as though nothing were happening? Rhaegar resisted the urge to flay her with a few choice words. “How strange that I should dream of your return and wake to find you here. It feels almost as if I were a true wife.” She fidgeted beneath him. “I am glad you found your way here though. I truly had no notion you were to return and hadn’t thought to have the fire in your chamber lit.”
This wench, there he was, one hairsbreadth away from falling upon her and she prattled on as though in no danger. His pride smarted at her obvious disregard. “A husband is always glad to know he is wanted in his wife’s bed.”
Something shifted in her stare. “Bed? I did not want you to freeze.” It sounded more like the she-wolf he knew. Instead of feeling relieved, he only felt goaded. “You needn’t fear I will make a habit of it. From now on though, you must write before your return.” He knew she meant so that preparations might be made; or hoped that was it. The worm of doubt was restless.
“I come and go as pleases me.” Her arms lifted. She stretched, the gesture almost cat-like.
“That I do not dispute.” She glanced somewhere above his shoulder. “Still early.” Another yawn left her lips. “Might be some more sleep.”
“What has you so tired?” He must have betrayed something for she finally regarded him with a drop of weariness. Good. She was learning. Lyanna engaged his gaze with hers and seemed to ponder her response. That too, he felt, was a proper thing to do.
“The company, Your Grace. I had not realised a hostess had quite so many duties.” He bit back the first reply which came to mind and instead allowed a contemplative sound past his lips.
“Then shall we return to a more familiar duty?” He patted her side gently. Her eyes grew wide and round. Her form stiffened slightly, but she did not refuse him. Instead her head moved through the motions of a shallow nod.
Unable to think of a good enough reason to disrobe her beside his want, Rhaegar dared not push the boundaries. Just as long as she was wedded to him, he promised himself by way of assuaging his guilt. What he did dare, for the first time, was to drop his lips to hers. It was a thing done in the heat of the moment, more out of habit. Surprisingly, she tasted sweet and welcoming. His fingers curled in the hair that had escaped its braid.
What passed between them came dangerously close to a true coming together of lovers. He recognised that even as he laboured, lost in the bewildering giving of the woman beneath him. Through cloth, her nails burned a path down his back. She had seemingly succumbed to the same malady as him, clinging tightly. He kissed her again, turning a blind eye to the seedling growing within.
Once done he kept above her on shaking arms, wondering at the sight of her. He’d thought her severe. And she had been. She had been all those things he’d feared, cold, remote and uninviting. And then she was not. Then she was his Lyanna, glad to have him in her bed lest he freeze. He might have told her a servant would have lit the fire. He might have taken himself to his own chamber instead of risking doing as he’d done.
In truth, what transpired between them was not the cold understanding they’d agreed upon. And damned though he be by such aspirations, he wanted more. Elia had his child and Lyanna had touched his heart. A fine quandary to find himself in. Her breathing had calmed. With that the turmoil within him reached boiling point. He wanted to bolt, yet she held him still. Tethered firmly to her, his only escape was through her pain.
Lyanna’s hand crept to his face, cupping his cheek gently. “I truly ought to rise; else I shan’t be able to keep my promise.”
“I beg your pardon?” Confused, he leaned into her touch.
“I promised Robert we would ride together.” The whispered words made him freeze.
“What?” he demanded.
She gasped. “I’d forgotten. You do not know yet. My brother brought Robert Baratheon along.”
“What business have you promising him rides?” She seemed genuinely surprised by the outburst.
“He bragged he could race me and win.”
His fears had been unfounded after all. Robert did not plan on claiming his wife’s mercy. He planned on claiming her life, it would seem. “Out of the question!”
It only took about two thousand years. How did you guys enjoy it?
Frankly uncertain what to make of the soft smile directed towards his somewat distant kin, Rhaegar kept himself stiff in his seat, eyeing Robert with open distrust even as the man spoke. The brother, the middle one according to Lyanna, was somewhat reserved in his own right which left only his bride to carry the conversation. Although Rhaegar could see a glimmer of concern in Eddard Stark’s face whenever his eyes chanced upon the smiling Lyanna. Something dark and bitter twisted within him at the thought that the man could see, and presumably did see, something he did not. As her brother it stood to reason he knew her better, and yet it irked him somehow.
“I think it is quite shameless of you, ser,” his wife spoke, her voice light and airy, might be with a touch of flirtatiousness to it. The merest hint was enough to sour his mood further. He paused, spoon resting against the edge of his bowl. One of Lyanna’s hands, he could see, was in her lap, while the other had just abandoned its own spoon in the thick porridge in her bowl. “And I wonder at Lord Steffon’s patience.”
“He is patient but only to a reasonable point, lady,” Robert returned easily. His gaze slid to Ned, “Your brother will confirm this for me, I am certain.”
Dragged into the conversation most unwillingly, Eddard Stark blinked slowly before offering his answer. “There is no reason to distrust his words, Lya.” He called her that every now and again, although by the way her nose scrunched, Rhaegar surmised it was one of those childhood pet names she wished were forgotten. It did not suit her, not to his mind. Lya was a girl, surely too young to be of any notice. Lyanna was an entirely different matter altogether. Lyanna had a warm, full smile and fragrant skin, a comfortable embrace along with an intoxicating presence.
The hand in her lap moved ever so slightly, fingers twisting in the cloth of her garb, the thin Myrish lace straining. For a moment he feared it might snap and leave a visible irregularity for all to observe, but she let go and the material escaped with only a few lines of scarring. He reached out, despite himself, to touch the bereft hand, but she lifted it, placing it out of his reach upon the table.
“What a shame it is you would think so ill of your own sister, Ned. Of course I trust his word, he is, after all, your close companion.” Annoying yet thankful he had not been seen, Rhaegar dropped his hands back down. Just in time, for Lyanna turned to gaze upon him with luminous eyes, “Your Grace, is something amiss? You are not eating.” The words had been spoken in a quiet voice, almost as though she did not wish for them to carry.
He should eat. If he did, he had an excuse to keep them all in the hall. But he could not. The mere sight of food caused his stomach to knot impossibly tight. “I suppose I do not have much of an appetite.” A frown played upon his wife’s face. She commented no further.
“Then my lady and I should see to that race,” Robert spoke over the spreading silence, blatantly blind to the tension between man and wife. Rhaegar barely stopped himself from ordering the guests from the hall. He stood at a nod from Lyanna. Somewhat surprising was the way she allowed herself to slide into excitement as she and Robert exchanged what could only be innocent jabs. Why it bothered him as it did, Rhaegar would rather not contemplate overlong.
With the two competitors made busy with taunts and hurried steps, he fell behind, keeping company more with the brother than the wife. “She seems pleased,” the man commented gently, after what must have been a few heartbeats of silence. The relevance of that Rhaegar tested against the strength of a brother’s affection. He’d been dealt a tentative compliment in a way. “I am glad. Father shall be as well.”
“Is that the purpose of your visit?” Something akin to amusement passed over the other’s face. “Would it not have been better then to bring one of your brothers along?” He put little emotion behind the question, keeping his voice as neutral as he possibly could.
“My brothers trust my word. As for Robert, he insisted.” Was the man blind? Was it deliberate? Rhaegar looked forth to the woman and the man, their taunting flowing seamlessly into polite conversation.
“And you complied to his request so promptly,” he spoke. “He must be a very dear friend indeed.” But he waited for no response to that and instead hurried his pace until he caught up to Lyanna. If his wife was surprised at the hand settling on the small of her back she did not linger over it. Acknowledging him with a brief smile, she returned to her conversation.
Besides, they were already in the yard and the horses were being led towards them. Rhaegar watched Lyanna’s beast with apprehension. The horse was too big for her. She’d said she could handle it fine and it was not that he doubted her word. And yet the thought of her riding such a creature stood ill with him. All it took was a moment.
Nonetheless, he set her atop the steed himself, not surprised to find breeches beneath the folds of her skirts. At least she had been somewhat prepared. He did not relish the whole courtyard ogling her naked flesh in the event that the skirts rode up. Her hand lingered in his for a few moments as their eyes met.
“You will be careful.” It was not a request. Her fingers trembled lightly. Was it fear? Excitement? Anticipation, surely.
“I promise.” He too made a promise. This would be the last time she raced. For the time being, though, he was prepared to allow her fun. If only because she would be quite vocal about her protests should he do otherwise.
Alys glowered at him, her disposition as bright as it had ever been. “My lady is tired.” Her voice was firm. Rhaegar inspected her frame, wondering at her audacity. Of course, it was not at all her decision to make and he did not mean to stand in the antechamber for the whole night. Or it could be she was deliberately obstructing him.
“Your lady does not need you to stand up for her.” He moved her out of the way gently. In spite of his annoyance with the woman, he did not precisely wish to bring her any harm. Before she might further inconvenience him, he threw Lyanna’s door open and entered.
It appeared his move came much as a surprise to his wife who was sitting in the window seat, combing her hair on her own. The hand paused in its movements, sleeve drooping down to her elbow, leaving half the arm bare. The rest of her was adequately covered, pristine white embracing the flesh tightly. Unlike the chemise she had worn before, this one was lighter, the light from the fire burnishing streams of gold into the white. It almost seemed to dampen the material without actual touch.
He leaned against the doorjamb. “Tired, are we? But apparently not too much.” If she were tired, at least she was in equal measure buoyed. She had, after all, won her race. A small sound came from her, yet for all that she remained frozen in her spot, as though not certain how to react to his presence.
“Your Grace,” she finally spoke, more greeting than question, “I did not expect your presence here.” Climbing down from her seat, she allowed the comb to fall on her seat. “Is aught amiss?” Was there? He watched her closely. The sleeve still clung to its perch. He wanted to ask her why it was that she had received him so enthusiastically.
He wanted to ask her a lot of things. Rhaegar entered the chamber, closing the door in his wake, leaving Alys to whatever it was that she had to do. “Why did your brother bring Baratheon’s heir along?”
“Robert is his friend.” That was not an answer. Not enough of an answer in any event. Lyanna moved to the bed, climbing. She sat back down, tucking her legs beneath her. Her fingers moved to part her hair and braid it. “It did not seem natural for one to be here without the other. Though I confess it came as a surprise to me. His presence.” She watched him back as he climbed in her bed as well.
Rhaegar made himself comfortable. He wondered if she would try to send him on his way. He would not be able to read her mind, however he could see her actions very well. She lifted the covers and slid beneath them. “If ever you are given such word again, tell your brother he cannot bring whoever he wishes in my home.” She frowned. “Lyanna?”
“I cannot understand why Robert’s presence should bother you, Your Grace.” There was something there, something he should not poke too thoroughly unless he wished for some sort of response from her. His hand reached out for her shoulder, grabbing her like he had not done earlier in the day. “Truly, he and Ned are like brothers.”
“Nonetheless, he is no brother to you.” She bit into her lower lip, the same sweet scent which had attracted him the previous night so very strong as they lied down together; it still rose off her skin in waves. “It would behove him to act as he ought.” Her skin reddened as her arms reached out for him, an unspoken question upon the parting lips. He did not hesitate.
Rhaegar supposed it had to do with the predatory nature of man, but he did not much care to analyse it beyond the knowledge that he would have her again. He should not, truly he should pull back because he did not come to her with the ideal of duty upon his mind and he feared he would give her even more than he had before.
As though to confirm his fears, his hands no longer accepted the cover keeping his flesh from hers. As for Lyanna, she gave in with characteristic innocence and unexpected ease. Her hands followed the shape of his shoulders and back, slipping beneath his garment. He did not want to be a mere functionality for her, something cold and calculated. He kissed her, the last of cautions melting away even as the barriers between them.
If before he stood at a crossroad, the melding of two into one pushed him, inexorably, onto one path; the one path which held regret and not little amount of deception. She clung to him; or did he cling to her? Rhaegar was not entirely certain where it was that he ended and she began. It felt different, much too different from what he’d known before, from their cold, utilitarian unions, from the teasing, exploratory nature of his bond to Elia and even from the curious, tentative occurrence earlier in the day. He recognised that in the same instant as she gripped him tightly, when he held her close to him, when they slipped together into the unknown.
And suddenly, in the rudest of manners, his vision sharpened upon the panting figure beneath him, bringing her to the forefront of everything. She breathed hard as well, chest rising and falling, the sound of it compressed, lost in his skin. Like a puppet whose strings had been cut, her arms fell away, eyes opening ever so slightly. Dazed, he realised; that was what she was. He pressed a soft kiss to her damp forehead, just where her hair rooted.
“What was that?” Her voice held wonder. Rhaegar did not want to hear it. “Rhaegar?” Did she have to call his name so?
“Hush.” Her arms rose back to enact an embrace. He could blame no one but himself, he supposed. He did not want the blame.
“Everyone wants to play with fire, yet no one wishes to be burnt.” Rhaegar kept his gaze firmly upon the Kingsguard. He knew precisely what it was the man was saying. His lips curled in a silent snarl which he neither wished nor tried to hold back. His foul mood did not affect the knight in the least. “In the interest of the household’s peace, Your Grace, it might be best to call to you another one of my brothers.”
“Do you believe my wife is in need of such?” The better question would have been whether he believed it was not the case. After all, his letter to his lady mother had received a cold response, a response indicating she would not back down and, if need be, she would walk around him.
“I cannot answer that.” The man before him would protect Lyanna. Rhaegar understood it instinctively. He both admired and loathed such needless devotion to what was supposed to be a discarded pawn of his father’s. In the same manner, he recognised that he, as Crown Prince, would never be able to fulfil Ser Darry’s role. There would be a great number of matters taking precedence over Lyanna’s well-being, there still were enough of them to keep him locked in his solar and her without, with her own duties. In the end, he could not be there for her, for whatever reason. Naturally that gap had to be filled.
“Are you truly so devoted to your duty, ser?” Or was he led more by his desire? He did not speak the words. Darry looked at his wife with longing, it was true, but as far as he knew, the man had never reached out to her. That he could live with. It was human nature to love.
“Begging your pardon, that is for others to judge.” A small smile bloomed upon his lips; Rhaegar wondered whether the same answer would have come out of Arthur’s mouth. He supposed not, the braggart would sing his own praise up and down. “A word of caution, if I might.”
“Go ahead.” He leaned back in his seat, his mask melting back into safe neutrality.
“Her Grace seems to have reached some manner of understanding with Lord Baratheon’s heir. The details escape me, but given our current situation, it strikes me she exposes herself to considerable danger.” Not every man was Ser Darry, after all. Rhaegar suppressed a sigh.
Lyanna and Robert? The thought would likely chaise itself inside his head for the remainder of the day. There was a rightness to it for which he dared not speak. Steffon Baratheon’s abrupt refusal to go through with a wedding could have come about for many a reason. As for the rumour that the prospective bride dabbled in witchcraft; that was ridiculous, unless one considered the simple fact of Lyanna being herself witchcraft. She certainly had bewitched him with only that.
Should he intervene or leave matters be? Likely the answer would not come from the knight. “I will consider your words, ser. If that is all, you may leave.” He could write his father, ask for yet another Kingsguard as had been suggested, but the King would grow suspicious. He had chosen Lyanna for some reasons of his own, one which Rhaegar had not been privy to. That rankled as well. For the reason implied some manner of plan. His father’s plans forever ended I failure, one more spectacular than the other.
Who would be send if Rhaegar should ask? Arthur, of course, was amongst the best skilled with a sword in hand. If it was a matter of physical protection, he made the most sense. If it was a plot, then might be Whent would do. Or Hightower, whose experience with such matters was like to recommend him. Hightower also had the advantage of age over his brothers, but his father would not part with that man no matter how Rhaegar asked after him. And Whent came with the danger of a close bond with Darry, meaning he did not have a guarantee against the continuation of a more or less peaceful existence within his home should that be the case.
It did seem to be the case that all me wished to have a flame yet never feel its burn. Unfortunately for himself, Rhaegar could not say that even to that point he’d escaped unscathed. There were no visible wounds, yet in spite of all evidence to the contrary, he felt restless with regards to his guests. He was likewise pained by his incapacity regarding the solving of Elia’s situation. It was in times such as these that he found himself wishing he’d simply boarded a ship and feeling to Essos. That had to take him far enough from the troubles of court to take at least one breath unpolluted by needless worries.
His best intentions aside, Rhaegar turned his attention to the missive coming from Dorne. They’d not been parted long, yet Elia wrote of their daughter’s progress, as much progress as any babe could make, with obvious pride. In truth it had to have been written only days after he’d left. Did she sense them drifting apart? Was this an attempt at holding them together, at reminding him of his duty? It could well be, he decided, thumb brushing over the neat hand of his erstwhile bride.
Something caught his attention though. As his thumb pressed against the thick parchment he felt something just beneath the thin veneer. Thinking it might be just his imagination playing some cruel trick, he put down the missive and took a moment. Then he made a second attempt. As before, he found himself intrigued by what was hidden beneath. He reached for the letter opener and carefully parted layer from layer.
There was indeed aught beneath. Another message. One as clear as could be. One which gave him more to consider than he currently had. Rhaegar shivered at the sight of the words, eyes widening a fraction.
Sorry for any mistakes you encounter. I upload this from my phone and God knows phone-typing sucks.
Hope you enjoy the chapter, as always.