It wasn’t graceful. It wasn’t heroic. It wasn’t grand. It wasn’t anything. It was a quick slice by Yronwood’s sword, and Mors falling to his knees, falling to the ground, falling.
She heard a rumble, a cry from Yronwood’s men. The Pretender Prince is dead!
And now his witch!
There was no time. None at all. She could tend her breaking heart later, mourn her husband later, think of what to say to their daughters later.
She shifted in her saddle on the back of the horse that Mors had given her for her nameday, with a kiss, and a promise that she was faster than the wind that had carried Nymeria across the sea, and raised her sword hand high.
“To me!” she bellowed, and was pleased to see the way the cry sent a hush over Yronwood’s men.
Nymeria was not reckless. Nymeria was not stupid. Nymeria knew that even as she sat on this horse her husband had given her, as she watched his blood flow into the sand, as she called his men to her, that life was growing inside her. A fourth daughter, perhaps, to play with Dyanna, Elianna, and Ariadne, or a son with Mors’ eyes and smile. She knew that her warriors could see her swollen belly, knew that Yronwood’s men could see it to.
Did they think I stayed back to protect the babe? she wondered. She was the rear guard, at the head of the second wave, but the plan had always been that she ride into battle.
The sun passed out from behind a cloud and it is blindingly bright, and Nymeria’s sword flashes bright as she pointed it directly at Yorick Yronwood. “Mors!” she cried, and kicked her horse forward, and the fighting began.
“My Lady,” he said stiffly. “I had hoped it wouldn’t end this way.”
“What other way was there for it to end?” she dianded as four of her men took the stretcher that carried Mors’ lifeless form.
Lord Yronwood did not reply.
Nymeria glared at him. “I’ve fetters for you,” she hissed. Mors had called it her snake’s hiss, and had laughed. He was always laughing, and always stroking her hair and naming little things he loved about her. “Gold and shining.”
“A waste of what little wealth you have,” he replied evenly. “You won’t defeat me.”
“Just as I wouldn’t defeat Vorian Dayne?”
“I’ve cut off your strong right arm,” Yronwood said simply. “And it won’t be long before you are too great with his child to continue the fight. Return to the Sandship, My Lady, and live out your days with your children.”
Nymeria laughed, but it sounded almost like a sob to her own ears. Could there be laughter when Mors was dead? “As if you’d let me live out my days in peace.”
A wry smile crossed Yronwood’s face. “No. I imagine not. But the least you can do is not put your child at risk. I should hate to kill an unborn babe.”
“Fighting with a babe in the belly is no more uncomfortable than fighting with a broken rib,” Nymeria lied. She’d not fought when pregnant with her other girls.
“So you’d risk your child’s life?”
“Would you spare her when you came to rout me out of the Sandship?” Nymeria demanded.
“She is a lady of the noble blood, and a babe besides. I’d see to it that she was well taken care of.”
“Give her a cage to die in, I think you mean, just as you mean to send me to my cage.” Mors had never wanted her in a cage, how he’d loved it when she led, how proud he’d been of her ferocity.
Nymeria took her reins in hand more tightly.
“My mother taught me which wars to fight and which to flee. You’re no dragon. You’re nothing. I have fetters waiting for you.”
She kicked her horse and was off, riding back to her camp.
“We set him in your tent, Princess,” Lord Andrey told her quietly as she dismounted. Her back ached, her heart ached, and everything was not as it should be. We were supposed to spend tonight laughing, she thought sadly. She felt as though her heart had been punched right out of her.
She knelt by Mors’ side, and took his hand in hers. It was stiff, and unyielding, and so unlike him. She looked at his face, ashen now that all the blood had flowed out of him. This couldn’t be him. It couldn’t be. Not the man who had sat with her by the river, drinking wine and talking of dreams. It couldn’t be her husband, who had told their daughter stories before bed, and who had invited her to rebuild her home in his.
You were not supposed to die. You were never supposed to die.
The Valyrians had a saying—“All men must die.” How she’d hoped that she and Mors would defy Valyria forever.
Nymeria followed her daughter to the window and looked out over the sea. Sure enough, there were sails, painted yellow and red. Nymeria frowned. House Uller, she thought to herself. But why would they come by sea?
They said half the Ullers were half-mad, and the other half were worse. Nymeria had ridden beside Harwin Uller, the heir of the Hellholt, and he’d gone more fiercely battlemad than anyone she’d ever fought beside. He liked horseflesh and Nymeria was sure that if he were to come from the Hellholt to the Sandship, he’d ride, though gods only knew how hot the sun could get overhead.
She stared at the sails as they approached. It was a large ship—not one of the light, fast ships that some of the Dornishmen sailed along the rivers and which clung to the coasts, never straying far into the open ocean. This was a seafaring ship.
Nymeria turned away from the window and left the solar, Dyanna scampering behind her. Her daughter was near eight now, and inquisitive. Nymeria liked that in her. It will make her a good princess when I am old and frail. If she lived that long. If Lord Yronwood’s sons didn’t poison her in her sleep as she was nearly sure they wanted to.
“Are we going to the docks?” Dyanna asked as they crossed through one of the gardens. It is full of red flowers, which Mors had once plucked and tucked behind her ears. He is everywhere in this castle. Especially in her girls’ smiles.
“No,” Nymeria said.
“Oh.” Dyanna sounded disappointed. Nymeria ignored it.
She went into the main hall, clapping her hands as she came in. “Open the curtains. I want sunlight.”
“At once, Princess,” Abelard, one of the castle’s stewards, said hurrying to draw heavy silk curtains from the window. The hall would heat quickly, which was why they were left closed while the sun was in the sky, but Nymeria had an odd feeling in her gut, and she’d learned to trust odd feelings in her gut long ago.
She settled herself on the high seat in the hall, the one that Mors had had carved from her out of the hull of her flagship, and she waited, running her hands over the carved armrests as she’d always done when impatient. No one had ever noticed it except Mors.
“Mother?” Dyanna asked.
“Why did you open the curtains?”
“Men speak more freely when they are too hot.”
Dyanna nodded, then shifted, tugging her dress away from her skin. Nymeria patted her shoulder. “Get yourself some water.” Dyanna nodded and hurried away, but before she left the hall, she turned.
“Father always said that the weapons of house Martell were the sun and the spear. The sun…”
Nymeria smiled at her daughter, and Dyanna’s eyes glittered happily as she left to find water.
The front door of the hall opened almost at once after Dyanna had left. “Lord Ulman Uller of Hellholt,” announced Abelard, and Nymeria sat up a little straighter as the man came in. He was old, and stooped, and walked slowly as he came into the hall. He glanced at the windows, then at Nymeria, then pointedly wiped sweat from his brow.
“Welcome Lord Ulman,” Nymeria said, her voice bouncing from the columns in the hall. “I hope your journey was pleasant.”
Lord Ulman didn’t say anything, he just kept on walking towards her. It made no matter, and Nymeria waited for him, watching carefully. He had hazel eyes, just like his son Harwin’s, and yet unlike them. Older, wiser, more determined.
“Princess,” Lord Ulman said. “I hope you’ll forgive me for not taking the knee. They’re bad, you see.”
“I hear that about knees,” she said. “Abelard—a seat for Lord Uller.”
“Yes, Princess,” Abelard said, and he found a cushioned chair for Lord Uller to sit in.
Dyanna came back into the hall, carrying a pitcher of water on a tray with glasses. She poured a glass first for her mother, then for Ulman Uller, then for herself.
“You’re a lucky girl,” Uller told her, and Dyanna cocked her head, confused.
“I am, my lord?”
“Aye. Your mother brought you from the mouth of hell before you even were formed in her womb.”
“What do you mean, my lord?” Nymeria asked. Ulman Uller took a sip of water, then another.
“I come from Valyria, my princess,” he said simply, and Nymeria’s eyes narrowed, her lips tightening over her teeth. “Don’t look at me like that,” he said.
“What brought you there to begin with?” she demanded.
“I should have known you’d ask that question,” he muttered to himself.
“Why wouldn’t I? I am no friend to Valyria, and they hunted me and my Rhoynar across the oceans. Why would you go there, my lord, when you swore vows?”
“To your husband as much as to you. More him than you, truth be told,” he said. “A wise lord weighs his options.”
The words sent chills down her spine, and Dyanna looked between him and her. “Must I have my goldsmith make fetters for you as well? You were the first to join Mors’ cause, and yet here you are admitting you planned to supplant me after he died.”
“I was planning no such thing,” Lord Uller barked. “You condemn me before hearing a word from my mouth. I’m here, aren’t I? I’ve come back haven’t I? Besides, you can’t…well…I suppose you could. Water is not bread and salt.”
Nymeria straightened her neck, glaring down at Lord Uller. “I would not break guest right,” she said coolly. “You’ve done no treason yet.”
“And as I said, I wasn’t necessarily planning to to begin with. You’ve heard what they call you. A witch, a serpent, a liar. You bewitched Lord Mors into bed, and then crowned him, then stole his crown. My son rode at your side, and disavowed it all, but my son’s not always right in his judgement when the heat of battle is nigh. So if you were a witch, and a serpent, and a liar, what Dorne would you create, and what would needs be done to get you out?”
“So you went to Valyria, my old enemies to—”
“I did,” Lord Uller said. “Best to know the world, rather than heed the songs, and I’ll say this—I knew you were made of sterner stuff than most when you spent five years at sea, but I don’t think half of this gods forsaken land knows what they do in Valyria. They look at their steel and salivate like dogs over a flank, and don’t think twice about how much blood was spilled to make it. I’ll not bring Dragons to Dorne.”
Nymeria blinked at him. There was such fury in his voice, a bitter rage that made her ask, “What did you see there?”
“Beauty,” he said simply. “Blood and beauty. Beautiful men, and women, in parks and gardens. Wizards, and dragons, and lights in the sky like I’ve never seen before. Blood—slaves with open wounds from whips, blisters on their faces from working too close to the fire, stooped and pale and thin and all but lifeless. That would be you, girl, were it not for your mother.”
Dyanna straightened, tossing her braid over her shoulder in an attempt to look nonchalant, but her face was pale as she looked between her mother and Lord Uller.
“So you come here why, then?” Nymeria asked.
“I don’t think I ever understood why you had to come here. Why you didn’t stay, why you didn’t want to join Valyria and armor yourself in her steel. And that was an injustice. I am sorry you lost Ny Sar.”
Nymeria closed her eyes for a moment. It was hot, and the sun sent a dull red and orange through her lids. For a moment, for just a moment, she could pretend that the sound of the waves was the sound of fountains, that she was home. But she wasn’t sure she could remember what fountains sounded like. There were none in the Sandship, and her shadow city had more wells and pumps than fountains and aqueducts. This is my home now. How strange, that after so many years, after a husband, and two daughters, after Elia, after the seas and Chroya, that she could still, for half a moment in her heart of hearts think that wasn’t true.
“Thank you,” she said quietly. She opened her eyes again. His eyes didn’t look so angry now. They didn’t look half-mad either, the way his son’s did. They looked almost gentle. “Abelard,” she called. “Close the curtains. It is too hot in here.”
“Half the Ullers were half-mad, and the other half were worse.” Lord Ulman had to be of the half-mad half.
There were dimples in her youngest daughter’s cheeks, and her eyes were full of excitement, and Nymeria leaned over and kissed her cheek. “When you flower, we shall see,” she said. “I am sure that Alyse could devise a show for you as well.”
“Mariah War Born?” suggested Dyanna, reaching behind Nymeria and pinching the cheek Nymeria had just kissed. “Mariah the foe of Honey Cakes?”
Mariah blushed. She was plumper than her older sisters, and had a fondness for sweets that Dyanna had never had.
“Dyanna,” Nymeria intoned, and Dyanna stiffened. She was old enough to know better than that.
“It’s my show, mother. It’s my day.”
“I thought I had arranged it,” Nymeria said, and Dyanna flushed. “Remember, love. You will be Princess when I die, and you must never forget—nothing is yours.”
She pointed to the commons, who were shuffling about now, going to look for food, and drink, even as a minstrel that Nymeria had chosen began to play a song about the golden fetters. “Everything is theirs,” she said. “Even you.”
She kissed Dyanna’s forehead, and Dyanna grumbled. “It would be nice to be able to forget that for a day.”
“Forget it tomorrow,” Nymeria said. “But for no more than a day. Remember, they are yours—you must be with them.” She looked behind Dyanna to where Tremond stood. An Andal, not a Rhonyar. She knew that Ynis, her captain of guards, would be peeved, but right now it was important. They must see she is one of them. She is of them all—not one or the other.
“Princess?” Tremond said, half-bowing.
Nymeria looked at Dyanna. “I should like to dance with my people,” Dyanna said, standing, Elianna and Ariadne standing to join her.
“May I go too, Dyanna?” Mariah asked. She was younger than her sisters. Dyanna’s eyes darted to her little sister. Mariah looked nervous, and Dyanna’s face softened.
“If mother says you may.”
“May I mother?”
“Go on,” Nymeria said. It would not hurt to have all her girls know the commons.
Tremond gestured and another guard stepped forward and together the four of them descended from the dais. Nymeria reached for a glass of wine on a little table before her, and plucked up one of the honey cakes that Mariah had not yet eaten. Sweet Mariah. Not Mariah foe of honey cakes. She was not a warrior the way that Dyanna was. Her skin was thin, and her heart was big, and she lived in the shadow too much. She has that luxury. Nymeria never had.
Nymeria took another sip of wine.
“That frown cannot mean a good thing.”
Nymeria looked up. Alyse was standing before her, puppet in hand. Her eyes were sparkling, and there was a crooked grin on her face. Nymeria had noticed the crooked grin first. It had reminded her of Mors. “Do you miss me already?”
“Yes,” Nymeria lied. Better to focus on that than let her mind drift to Elia and her pole boats. Those thoughts never ended well.
“You’re the one who commanded that I leave,” Alyse reminded her, one hand moving to her hip, her head cocking. “It was you who said that I must go throughout Dorne and perform this story of your daughter’s goodness that her people would know her and love her.”
“I know,” Nymeria said quietly. Suddenly her heart was in her throat. Alyse was leaving tomorrow. It hadn’t fully hit her until just now.
She stared at her, and she stared back, and Nymeria felt small. She so rarely felt small these days—not when she stood taller than anyone in the room save Dyanna, not when she ruled all of Dorne from the castle she had once shared with two husbands, both of whom had died.
Alyse was a small woman, and plump—plumper even than Mariah. She had large breasts, and the sort of smile that could make any room warm and while they’d planned the puppet show, Nymeria had grown accustomed to the sound of her voice, of her laughter, of her sighs when they’d gone to bed together.
And she was leaving tomorrow. She’d be gone soon, just like Elia, and Chroya, and Mors, and Ullman, and her mother.
“I’ll be back,” Alyse said, her voice cracking. “Before you know it. I’ll be back. If you haven’t forgotten about me by then.”
“I won’t forget you,” Nymeria said.
“Is that a promise, princess?” Alyse asked. “A promise that you won’t take some dashing young lordling, or some Rhoynar warrior to your bed and forget all about me?”
“Only if they know you’ll be back in it when you come back to me, if only for the days you’re in town.”
That made Alyse laugh. “If you can convince your next lover to share you with me, I won’t be upset if you take another.”
“I—” Nymeria began, but somewhere behind her, the crowd let out a cheer and Nymeria’s eyes flicked over to see Dyanna and Mariah leading a line dance through the square. She smiled at them. They looked so happy, and carefree. They would be safe, she knew, if she left to be with Alyse. The night was about Dyanna, after all. Her presence may distract people from her daughter, who was now clapping to the beat of the song while dancing with a young blacksmith’s apprentice.
She looked back at Alyse, who had also been watching Dyanna and Mariah.
“Thank you,” she said. Alyse gave her a look.
“It was my pleasure and honor, Princess. Your daughter will make a fine ruler when it is her time.”
“And you are allowing people to see that—far more than I can.”
“That’s not true.”
“It is and you know it.” Alyse flushed. She hated taking compliment—at least a serious one. One that was meant with all of one’s heart. “Dorne is better for having you in it,” Nymeria continued.
“I could say the same of you, Princess.”
Nymeria felt her heart swell. I don’t want you to go. I want you to stay here and talk of stories and songs every day with me. But she knew that she couldn’t do that. She knew Alyse needed to leave. Everything is theirs. Even you. Even Alyse, who made her smile and laugh and dream like a little girl again, made her forget that she was a princess for just a few hours. Perhaps she was not so different from Dyanna, not so much older and wiser.
“Come to bed,” she said, “If I’m to lose you tomorrow, I’ll have you tonight at least.”
“You aren’t losing me for forever. Just for a time,” Alyse promised.
Nymeria stood, and descended from the dais, Alyse close behind her. She took the puppeteer’s hand, and together they walked back to the Sandship.
A year later, Nymeria met with her sister Elia of the Greenblood, a reunion long delayed. When Elia departed from the Sandship, she did so with Mariah at her side, and Nymeria watched from a distance as her youngest daughter became known as the Princess of the Greenblood thanks to Alyse’s puppets.
Once a year, Alyse and her silken puppets returned to the Shadow City beneath the Sandship once a year for a month at a time, but she never stayed in the city’s inns the way that the other players in her group did. She spent her nights with the Princess of Dorne and her daughters, telling them stories, and laughing, and when the sun set over the Sandship, she would help the Princess forget that she was, in fact, a princess.
Nymeria looked over at him. The moonlight washed over his skin, and his eyes were dark as he looked at her.
Davos was young, and muscled like a dream, and he had bedded her with an energy she was unused to, the energy of a boy who has only just become a man.
“Sylva owes me her seat. I should have thought she might expect that I’d take a shine to you.” Nymeria had given Sylva Dayne Starfall when she’d sent Sylva’s uncle Vorian to the Wall. Sylva had had a daughter of her own, a girl named Aliandra, and had had another daughter named Anya even before Davos had been born, the third in line for his mother’s seat, but the only one who wielded Dawn, the Sword of the Morning.
Davos grinned sheepishly. “I…”
“Forgot how old I was?” she said and he flinched. “Does that bother you?”
“No,” he said. “It’s just…not what I was expecting. You do not look so old.” Nymeria rolled her eyes, and Davos hurried to continue, “It’s just that—you don’t hear of dashing young knights falling into the bed of a…of a….”
“A woman old enough to be their mother?” He winced, and Nymeria laughed. “You’re the first to tell me I am young for my age.” Mors had hardly believed she was so young, Ullman had constantly said that she had the wisdom of men thrice her age, and Alyse did her best to make Nymeria forget that she was old at all. “Though perhaps that’s your youth. All my other lovers told me I was old for my age.”
“That I can’t believe,” he said earnestly.
“You didn’t see me after years at sea. That will age anyone.” Starvation, and fear of slavery…
“I suppose,” he said. He reached out a hand tentatively and cupped her breast. She closed her eyes and smiled, letting the warmth of his hand spread across her skin again. He was right. She was not so old—nowhere near so old as she felt. She’d crossed the world, and ruled Dorne for twenty years, and couldn’t remember what it was like to be a girl, but she still bled once a month, and still had managed to catch the eye of this man who’d come to woo Dyanna, as all the lordlings and knights had come to do for years now.
Dyanna had yet to wed. She would, of course, but she would choose her own husband, Nymeria had decided that long before. Dyanna liked the game, of deciding who would be hers. She was a flirt, and Nymeria was quite sure she was no longer a virgin, but that did not matter. Quite as much as it did not matter that Nymeria lay abed with a boy—a man—Dyanna’s own age.
He was dashing. He had arrived right as Alyse had been leaving, and Alyse had said to her, “If you pick that one, I must remind you that you promised you’d still be mine.” Nymeria smiled, imagining the three of them in the bed she’d once shared with Mors when next Alyse was in the castle.
If he stays in my bed that long. He was young, but he was not the heir of Starfall. He may still seek to find someone else…
“So, who shall follow me?” she asked.
“Follow you?” Davos asked. He didn’t understand.
“Well, now you’ve had the Princess of Dorne. Who can possibly follow me in your bed?”
Davos blinked, his face reddening again. “I…I had not thought of that, Princess. I…”
“Had only thought of me?”
“Yes,” he said. He sounded hurt, he sounded earnest, and Nymeria twisted onto her side to look at him. So young. “I…if you do not want me any longer, I shall of course respect your wishes, but…I’d stay by your side if you’d have me.”
“You’re sweet, you know,” she said, and she lifted his hand on her waist now, to her lips and pressed a kiss to his palms. “So you’d be my paramour?”
“If that is what you’d like.” He is still bright red.
“You keep blushing.”
“None if this has gone as planned.”
“You were to woo and wed and bed my daughter, but you find yourself here instead.”
“I was…well, I had a plan.”
“And I’ve shattered it and have my own will.”
“Aye,” he said. He sounded almost wistful. “I was to sweep her off her feet, and be…well it doesn’t matter.”
“You’ve swept me off my feet,” Nymeria pointed out.
“Have I?” he asked. “I…I rather think you’ve swept me off mine.”
Nymeria laughed, her eyes dripping down him. Muscled like a dream indeed—so unlike Ullman and the fat he’d gained in his old age, and Mors…Mors had been muscled but not like this. He had been more lean than Davos was.
She stretched, and watched the way he watched her. Does he want me, or love me?
And even as she thought the question, she realized she didn’t need to know the answer. He was young, and she could wait to find out the answer. His gaze was sweet, and in awe of her and…
Why did she need to have an answer? Why did she have to know right this very moment? Couldn’t she just enjoy the way he looked at her? She didn’t need anything from him, after all. She had an heir already, and a seat of her won. She had the love of her people, she had peace. She didn’t require anything else. It could be about what she wanted, the way it was with Alyse. And not even Alyse had looked at her with such awe and reverence and lust all mixed together.
“I quite like that,” she said, leaning forward to kiss him. His lips were soft against hers, and his arms wrapped around her and held her close. “Does that make you my conquest, then?”
“If you like,” he said, grinning. “But I don’t think you can conquer what is freely given. I don’t think that’s how it works.”
His hands cupped her rear, and she felt him stiffen between them. There’s that dashing man. Not a nervous boy.
“How does it work, then?” she purred, and Davos rolled them over so that he was hovering over her. “You must show me, because I am worldly and know more than you, and if it is as you claim, then you must prove it.”
Davos kissed her, he kissed her until her stomach was rolling as it had when she’d been on the deck of her ship sailing on the open sea.
If her people found it odd that Nymeria would wed a man her daughter’s age, none remarked upon it. Davos Dayne was the Sword of the Morning, and there was not a man in Dorne who could defeat him with Dawn in his hand, and he tolerated no ill thought of his wife, at whose side he sat until the end of her days.
When Nymeria died, after ruling Dorne for nearly twenty seven years, there were whispers among the Andals in Dorne that Oberyn Nymeros Martell, and not his much older sister Dyanna, should take his mother’s seat at the Sandship, but Davos made no push for his son. Instead, he remained at the Sandship to advise his goddaughter Dyanna, until a spring fever took him.